The Quest for the Legends (ILCOE)

Chapter 52: The League Finals

“Charizard, Focus Blast!” ordered Robin Riverstone, pointing decisively towards May’s Tyranitar. The Fire Pokémon roared in response before closing his eyes in concentration; a ripple of energy spread out from his body and struck Tyranitar powerfully. The dinosaur keeled over in pain with a suppressed groan.

“Come on, Tyranitar! Stone Edge!” May called, clenching her fist.

The great Rock Pokémon straightened himself with a deep, rumbling roar as the other girl quickly countered with a command to fly up to dodge. No sooner had sharp boulders torn themselves from the earth under where the dragon was circling than it shot straight up into the air, outspeeding the rising rocks before curving neatly out of their way while they lost their momentum and crashed back down on the arena.

“Another Focus Blast!” yelled Robin.

“Rock Slide!” May ordered as the Charizard dived, its eyes glinting triumphantly before it closed them and began to concentrate. Tyranitar raised several chunks of rock from the ground, but a ripple of focused energy hit him before he’d had the chance to send them at their target, and he staggered backwards, the levitating rocks trembling in the air.

“Don’t lose focus!” May shouted. “Finish the attack!”

Tyranitar gritted his teeth, struggling to stand on his shaking legs, and the boulders twitched ever so slightly in Charizard’s direction, but then the dinosaur simply slumped down on the ground, giving way to unconsciousness. The Rock Slide crashed down on the arena as well, as if to accentuate his fall, while the audience cheered wildly.

Mark saw the edge of May’s mouth twitch on the status screen before she mouthed something inaudible, took out Tyranitar’s Pokéball and recalled him.

“And it’s down to a one-on-one!” boomed the voice of the announcer. “Robin Riverstone has managed quite a turnabout here by taking down May’s Tyranitar with her last pick, Charizard! Only minutes ago it seemed like a sure victory for May Wallace, but the gap has closed considerably with this surprising turn of events! Will Robin use this situation to wrench the ticket to the finals from May’s grasp?”

It was probably a good thing the in-battle commentary was only audible to the spectators; Mark imagined it would probably have irritated May to hear it described like that. Which, he supposed, was probably the reason they made it that way; he figured it would inevitably be distracting to have a loud voice talking about you in the background while you’re trying to think.

May had picked out her next, final Pokéball, but Mark already knew what was in it; he’d been there when she’d picked out her team. “Floatzel, go!” she shouted as she hurled it into the arena. “Aqua Jet!”

Everyone around Mark cheered wildly as the sea otter materialized. “Would you look at that!” said the commentator. “It seems like May’s last Pokémon happened to be a Water-type! This is going to be tough for Robin’s Charizard.”

She would hate that description, Mark thought with vague amusement as Floatzel shot up in a splash of water to tackle Charizard in the air. It hadn’t happened to be a Water-type; she’d specifically noticed that Robin seemingly always used her Charizard and that it was her team’s greatest Water weakness, in addition to having a battling style that involved a lot of quick manoeuvres and dodging, and therefore reserved Floatzel for the job of taking it down. The happenstance was that the switches had aligned favourably along with a bit of luck so that Robin had been forced to send out Charizard last against a fairly healthy Tyranitar – which, granted, had made May smirk with the confidence of victory a bit too soon, but this was merely falling back on the original plan.

“Charizard, Solarbeam!”

While Mark was thinking, Charizard had flicked its tail indignantly at the already falling Floatzel, but it had only barely brushed against her, and now the dragon Pokémon opened its mouth and began to form an orb of light between its teeth.

“Floatzel, get in the pool and shield with Ice Punch!”

This was a special technique they’d practiced the day before. The otter landed in the pool, already gathering power from her Nevermeltice, and then swished her paw above her in swift circles so that a rounded sheet of ice formed between her and the Charizard. As the dragon fired the Solarbeam, it quickly melted the ice and formed clouds of steam above the pool, but not quickly enough to eat through the entire shield before the gathered solar energy was spent. As soon as the beam faded, Floatzel leapt out of the steaming pool with a gleeful chuckle.

“Ooh, a clever spin on an ordinary move!” said the commentator. “But what else do you expect here in the semifinals of the Ouen League?”

“Sunny Day!” called Robin, frowning.

“Taunt!”

As the Charizard was preparing to clear the skies, Floatzel screeched some very creative insults at her opponent. The dragon stopped abruptly, something flashing in its eyes as it ignored its orders and instead lunged straight towards Floatzel with a roar.

“Nice save there from May,” the announcer said. “Sunny Day might have turned the tides of this battle, but Taunt prevented it from success! Things are looking steep for Robin after all!”

“Charizard, stay with me!” Robin shouted urgently. “Air Slash!”

Her Pokémon stopped mid-dive and swung its wings in a cutting motion, sending a sharp gust of air down at the sea otter; she was knocked down and hissed in annoyance.

“Waterfall, Floatzel!”

Quick as lightning, Floatzel whipped herself into the pool before shooting back up out of it, bringing a vertical column of water behind her. She smashed into the Charizard as it was preparing to pull off another Air Slash; water sprayed over the dragon in her wake, making it growl as its tail flame hissed and steamed, but Floatzel was already diving back down into the haven of the pool when it attempted to retaliate.

“Another Waterfall!” May ordered.

“Fly to dodge, but be wary!”

“Aqua Jet!”

Charizard was quick to begin its ascent, but Floatzel’s Aqua Jet was even quicker; one second she was swimming circles in the pool, and the next she was tackling the Fire Pokémon in mid-air along with a hefty splash. This time Charizard was sure to be ready for her, however; ignoring the spray of deadly water, it smacked her aside with its tail, causing her to land in a heap on the ground instead of the pool.

“Solarbeam now!” called Robin.

“Get back in the pool to shield!” May hissed.

By the time the dazed Floatzel had pulled herself insistently back to her feet with an annoyed mutter, however, Charizard had already charged a beam of solar energy and fired it straight down at her. She screeched as it knocked her to the ground, vapour rising from her body as she twisted in agony; when it faded, she threw herself straight back into the water as if to relieve the pain.

“Waterfall!” May ordered without missing a beat.

“Air Slash, Charizard!”

Yet again, Floatzel sprang out of the pool, if not quite as quickly as before, and brought with her a stream of water. Her hesitation allowed Charizard time to pull off its attack, however, and it sent a burst of concentrated wind down at her, but it only slowed her down a little before she struck. The Charizard roared in pain as it was doused with water yet again, its ability to withstand the super-effective attacks clearly waning as it tired; it completely failed to counterattack this time, and Floatzel landed safely in the pool.

“Another Air Slash!”

“Aqua Jet followed by Ice Punch from above!”

The sea otter darted out of the water and smacked into Charizard’s body like a wet rag, using its momentary paralysis to whip herself onto its back, her paw already grasping her Nevermeltice. When she smashed her fist between its shoulderblades, the dragon grunted in pain, but more importantly, it was still soaked with water, and the freezing cold of the Ice Punch handily froze that water into layers of ice.

Charizard’s eyes widened in surprise as it tried to flap its tired wings, but the freezing around its shoulders made it difficult, and with Floatzel’s weight dragging it down, it just couldn’t keep itself airborne. With a panicked roar, it was sent descending straight down towards the pool, and Floatzel cackled with a victorious glee as they broke the water with a splash.

Robin Riverstone only looked on for a second as her Charizard was submerged, its tail flame bubbling furiously as it struggled to resurface while Floatzel persisted in dragging it down, before she pulled out a Pokéball. “Charizard, return,” she said calmly as a red beam absorbed her Pokémon to safety, and the audience exploded into cheering before she’d even said the last word.

“A brutal tactic, but it worked!” said the commentator. “After an exciting match, May Victoria Wallace is the winner and will face Taylor Lancaster in the finals a week from now!”

Mark only half-heartedly joined into the cheering; it was a bit difficult for him to be thrilled about a Charizard being dragged into a pool, and he’d never been much for shouting and screaming over the outcome of Pokémon battles, anyway. But now at least May would get to face Taylor like she’d always hoped to and could become Champion while she was at it; she’d definitely be happy.

-------

She wasn’t. The moment they met again outside the Pokémon Center, she was already ranting.

“Can you believe Tyranitar?” she began furiously. “Losing to a Charizard? I mean, no offense to the species of Charizard, but he’s a Rock-type! And he got creamed! Didn’t even get a single hit in!”

Mark was a bit too taken aback to reply, though in his head he could almost hear the speech Alan would be making if he were there. When he said nothing, she went on: “I mean, it was all because Charizard was running a speed-reliant dodging strategy and Tyranitar’s never been very speedy, but he should have gotten a hit in several times while it was busy attacking and not dodging.”

“Well, Charizard had a Fighting move,” Mark said with an uncertain shrug. “And as you say, it had a strategy Tyranitar wasn’t very well prepared to take on.”

“Still,” May insisted. “I thought I had the 2-0 in the bag, but now it just looks like your average win-thanks-to-luck-slash-opener-outprediction, which is pretty lame.” She sighed in irritation. “Tyranitar’s been disappointing me a lot lately, you know? It’s annoying.”

“Aren’t you just expecting too much?” Mark said hesitantly. “I mean, the speed thing was really working against him, and we’ve seen Robin’s Charizard dodging the most amazing stuff from slower Pokémon. Only reason Floatzel did so well is she’s even faster – and you knew that; that’s why you chose her for it after all. Plus, it all worked out anyway – you won the battle, and you get to face Taylor.”

May took a deep breath, and Mark could see her relaxing a little. “I guess maybe he couldn’t have done any better,” she said after a moment. “No use complaining after the fact, at any rate, not when we have Taylor to worry about. God, I need a nap.” She closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead. “Yeah, nap for me. You do what you like.”

-------

Most of the rest of that week went into training, strategizing and general preparations for the finals. Mark was there for most of it, feeling rather more invested in this battle than the previous since it was the finals after all and he really did want to see Taylor go down; he didn’t often have much to offer in the way of suggestions, but his Pokémon sometimes did, and thankfully it had turned out there was more to May’s battle preparations than just her marching back and forth and thinking aloud.

The fact Taylor had proceeded to the finals of the League had gotten considerable media attention, with a lot of public outcry about the fact someone most unhypnotized people viewed as something between an undeserving brat and a scumbag cheater was now a very serious candidate for Ouen Champion. Taylor himself had been interviewed a couple of times, always answering his questions with a bizarre sort of oblivious nonchalance, though there was a suspicious lack of direct accusations against him whenever he appeared in the media. May, on the other hand, had become the only remaining representative of fairness and justice in the world, with the public rallying around her in the hope she would beat him in the name of true Pokémon training.

May mostly found the attention irritating, though she did take satisfaction in the fact everybody apparently hated Taylor too. She refused to be interviewed, telling the journalists who approached her that she had better things to do, such as actually training for the battle (unlike a certain someone, said with an irritated glare). Mark figured that was probably a good thing; May’s actual personality wasn’t very conductive to being held up as a paragon of hope and justice.

On the evening of the day before the battle, before turning her Pokémon in for the pre-battle examination, May ran over the battle plan one last time, pacing in front of her team.

“They’re stronger than you,” she told the Pokémon bluntly as they listened in grave silence. “We’ll have to accept that; we can’t try to upstage them that way. Don’t think the fact there are six of you and four of them is going to even it out by itself, either, because it won’t. The advantage we do have is that he gets three switches and I get five. That’s two extra favourable matchups I get to make, and I plan to milk that advantage for all it’s got.”

She turned around at the end of the line, the Pokémon following her with their eyes.

“So Raichu is going out first.” She looked at the mouse Pokémon and he nodded nervously. “Taylor starts with something which, in all likelihood, takes him down, unless it’s Feraltwo and maybe even then. But Raichu should be able to put a dent in it anyway, maybe even paralyze it. And then I can send out whoever is the best counter for it, and they should win. Taylor sends out a counter, of course, and it wins, and I send out another one, and so on. But ultimately, even after Raichu is probably beaten in the first round, I still have one extra Pokémon as a backup plan.

“But there’s only one backup Pokémon, one extra counter, and there is no chance we can get another. There is no way any of you is going to beat two of his stupid super-clones in a row. That inherent advantage of two extra switches is all we get. And once he’s whittled that headstart down, we can’t have any more mistakes. We can’t have any more losing with a type advantage.”

She abruptly stopped in front of Tyranitar and gave him a hard, cold, silent glare. The dinosaur looked wordlessly down at the ground, though his expression remained the neutral it always was.

Again, Mark could almost hear Alan’s protests, but he remained sitting where he was, saying nothing, if feeling a bit uncomfortable. In the end, Alan just wasn’t there, and much as he would have liked to have been the sort of person who would call her out, he just wasn’t Alan either. It was one instance, in a stressful situation, and surely it would be futile to try to argue it now? If she kept doing it, anyway, Alan would try to do something about it once they rejoined him.

“We can not lose this battle,” May went on, now pacing again, her voice becoming quietly fierce. “Either I become the champion or that little git does, and some idiot who goes around stealing Pokémon and begging his brother for overpowered clones and hypnotizing everyone who gets in his way should not win the League.” She clenched her fist. “Taylor’s been waltzing around here, reveling in his complete lack of talent and effort, acting like everyone who honestly works to be any good is weak and inferior, but we will show him that we’re not weak. We’ll show him that having a brother and a hypnotizing legendary clone isn’t enough.” She took a deep breath. “And while Taylor really needs to just die in a fire, the best we can do is beat him in a battle. So don’t mess this up, okay?”

Surprisingly, Tyranitar was the first to nod emphatically, followed by the others voicing their agreement out loud. He didn’t look hesitant to battle the way Lapras had been at all; it made Mark feel a bit better. May watched the chorus of her Pokémon with satisfaction and waited until they were quiet again.

“So see you tomorrow. Be nice to the drug testers – Floatzel, that means you. I want you all to give it all you’ve got in the battle. Any final comments?”

They looked at one another and shook their heads.

“No? Great. Until tomorrow, then.”

May took out Pokéballs to recall them, and within seconds, the last shape of translucent red had been absorbed into a ball, leaving the two kids to find their way back alone in the darkness.

-------

Mark lay awake in bed that night, something nagging at him uncomfortably.

“Chaletwo?” he muttered as he looked at the ceiling.

“Mm?”

“How come you don’t intervene in stuff like that?”

“Like what? I haven’t really been listening to your thoughts. I’ve got stuff to think about on my own.”

“Like May being mad at Tyranitar for not having beaten that Charizard like it’s all his fault. I mean, you were there since I was there, right?”

“Mm. I saw that, but she’s too valuable to our cause to start arguing with every questionable thing she does. It’s no worse than any other sort of jerkish thing to do just because she’s a trainer and he’s a Pokémon.”

“I guess.” A few moments passed in silence. “Chaletwo?” Mark then asked again.

“What?”

“What Entei and Suicune did,” he began hesitantly. “How much do you know about that? How it works?”

“It’s really pretty straightforward. What did you want to know?”

Mark shrugged. “Everything, I guess.”

Chaletwo gave a mental sigh. “Right.” There was a short pause. “So you have a soul. It resides on a separate plane of existence – the spiritual plane, or whatever you want to call it. The same place Spirit uses to shift in and out of the physical world.”

Mark nodded slowly.

“Well, while you’re alive, your soul is anchored to your body – your brain, specifically. When your brain stops working, that anchor breaks. The soul usually floats around in the vicinity for a little while afterwards – how long exactly varies – but eventually it disappears off to wherever it is the souls of the dead go. Free-roaming souls, before that happens, can be detected and communicated with fairly easily with even weak psychic powers. When I killed you, I grabbed your soul before it could go anywhere and anchored it to myself, if you will.”

“Huh.”

“And, well, it’s pretty simple to anchor a soul to any physical object. You’d need psychic powers to do it to somebody else’s, but a bit of the kind of power any legendary has will do to transfer your own, provided you know how to do it. Normally they wouldn’t know, but I guess they talked to a Psychic legendary – heck, Mew might have told them for all I know. It’s also not hard to create simple objects like gems, and those are pretty convenient for anchoring souls to since they’re pretty durable. So that’s what they did. And when their souls are anchored to the gems, they can’t proceed to where the dead usually end up. They can’t do much of worth either, mind you, but a psychic can detect them with some effort, communicate with them and resurrect them into any decently whole body, and they’ll be alive and well. With their power stored away beforehand, they should be able to recover that, too, since power is always partly tied to the soul itself and they could pretty much pull it back from wherever.”

Mark took a moment to let this sink in. “So this... ‘anchor’,” he said. “Is it something like your physical link to me?”

“Not quite. The physical anchor is more... well, physical. It allows me to channel a bit of the power of my body through you – for telepathy and the like – even though my body isn’t technically there. That is also why that anchor allows the Destroyer access to my power. A soul-anchor wouldn’t do that. Hence why Entei and Suicune are safe.”

Mark considered this. “What if you just had a soul-anchor to me?”

“Wouldn’t work, even if I could make one without being dead. I wouldn’t actually be able to communicate with you or do anything useful without that physical access to my power. As I said, power is always partly tied to the soul too, but there’s practically nothing you can do with that without a body to channel it through.”

“Just ‘a body’? I mean, what about my body, if you’re anchored to that?”

“Well, that would be your body, already anchored to your soul. A second soul has no real business being there; at most it can cling on to some parts of your brain you’re not using at the moment, maybe prod slightly at your subconscious. It can’t really use the body; it might as well be anchored to an inanimate object in that regard.”

Mark nodded, feeling he more or less understood it. He hesitated before continuing with why he’d started this discussion: “So you and Molzapart never considered... doing it their way? Just saving yourselves with some soul gems and waiting it out?”

“To be honest we never thought of it,” Chaletwo replied after a moment’s pause. “We knew of the basic idea behind soul gems, but we didn’t view it as a reversible process, so we never considered it as an option.”

“What if you’d thought of it?”

“We want to save everyone, not just ourselves.”

Mark pressed on. “What if you’d thought of it and Pokéballs didn’t exist, or something, so you couldn’t stop it altogether? Would you have done it?”

“Who wouldn’t?” replied Chaletwo, his telepathic voice turning defensive. “What are you trying to prove?”

Mark wasn’t exactly sure, but continued anyway with newfound persistence. “What if you could preserve yourselves, in soul gems, or save everyone else, but not both?”

Chaletwo’s reply was suddenly fierce. “What’s this sudden barrage of moral dilemmas about? Yes, I can sympathize with Entei and Suicune, if that’s what you’re asking, but it’s no use wondering what we would or wouldn’t have done in some hypothetical scenario. Here and now we’re trying to save the world because it is possible and we don’t have to sacrifice ourselves to do it, and that’s what matters.”

“Entei seemed pretty sceptical of your attempt,” Mark responded, his voice shaking with something that was not quite anger. “What if it doesn’t work? What if we fail to capture all of them and the mad legendaries break your Pokéball and kill you? You have to have thought of that at some point. And sure, you hadn’t thought of soul gems before – but now that you have, now that you know of a safe alternative that could guarantee your survival... don’t tell me you haven’t at least thought about it.”

“It’s crossed my mind,” Chaletwo said after a pause.

“So what? Why did you decide to stick around anyway? Or are you just waiting for the right moment to tell us, sorry, you have to go on without me?” Mark found himself having gotten quite worked up by now; a flood of suppressed fears that had been boiling within him since the encounter with Entei was bursting out all at once. “Do you legendaries actually care one bit about the world? Or do you just live out your eternal existence thinking of mortal creatures as something to occupy your minds with while reminding yourselves how glad you are that you aren’t them?”

“Whether you want to believe it or not, Mark,” Chaletwo responded, clearly trying to be calm, “I do care. And I’m not going to hide in a soul gem while you might need me. Don’t speak of legendaries as if you know all of us just because you’ve talked to Entei. We all feel that fear when we realize we aren’t as immortal as we thought, and I won’t deny that it was a motivating factor for Molzapart and me, but otherwise our views and priorities and our ideas for how to deal with the War are different. We try to prevent it from happening with the help of humans; the Beasts of Johto put their trust in mortal Pokémon to save themselves; Mew seems almost suicidally content with the whole idea.”

Mark took a deep breath, feeling a bit better now, whether it was because of Chaletwo’s words or just because he’d let it all out. “Wait, what?” he asked after a second. “Mew is what?”

“Content with it. Flat-out refused to help us prevent it, apparently because we can’t fight fate or something like that. It’s stupid. I couldn’t convince him to even try to save himself.”

Mark pondered this for a moment. He’d known it before, technically, but never really given any thought to it. “Huh. So Mew is willing to die.”

“But not to save anyone else,” Chaletwo pointed out. “He doesn’t want the War stopped at all.”

“Mew didn’t want you to tell anyone about the War, either,” Mark thought aloud. “That’s a bit odd, isn’t it? Doesn’t want to save himself, doesn’t want anyone else saved, doesn’t even want anyone to know what’s coming...” Something horrible was creeping up on him. Mew couldn’t be...

“There’s no way,” said Chaletwo immediately. “He... he wouldn’t have told us, or the Beasts, if... there’s no way. I think he’s just gotten a bit tired of life by now. He’s two thousand years old, after all, and he’s been kind of down pretty much the last twenty years.”

“I guess.” Mark pushed the thought forcibly away. “You know what’s funny? I was always under the impression Mew was pretty cheerful when I was little.”

“He used to be. Well, he was like this for a while after the last War, too; I think it was Chalenor’s death. Then later, as he got over that, he slowly shed that and became his better known happy, playful self, all the way until... well, yeah, until around the time we started asking him about the War twenty years ago.” There was a slightly awkward pause; Mark could feel Chaletwo’s momentary guilt faintly in the back of his mind.

“Maybe there was some sort of an effort to stop the last War too that failed horribly?” Mark suggested.

“He never mentioned anything like that to me.”

Mark shrugged. “Maybe Mew doesn’t tell you everything.”

Chaletwo didn’t respond, but Mark could tell he’d been thinking the same thing. There had to be something Mew knew that they didn’t. And though he was doing his best to convince himself Chaletwo was right that Mew couldn’t be the Destroyer (how could the Creator and Destroyer be the same, anyway?), he couldn’t shake the unsettling possibility from his mind.

He waited a moment, wondering if Chaletwo would say anything; he didn’t. Mark sighed and pulled the comforter over his head.

It was a while before he managed to drift off into a dreamless sleep.

-------

His stomach felt fluttery as he ate breakfast with May. Thoughts about Mew and souls and the Destroyer swarmed around his head like flies, and he found himself having little appetite. May was eating just fine, but she was silent and focused and seemed a bit paler than usual.

They didn’t really speak until May looked at her watch and stood up from the table without warning, preparing to leave. Mark realized with a jolt that it had to be time for her to get her Pokémon and unconsciously sprang to his feet after her; she stopped and turned back towards him.

“Um… good luck,” he said awkwardly, trying to seem cheery and positive. “Hope you win. Champion, huh? I mean, that’d be cool.” He tried to smile, feeling a bit stupid and not sure if May actually appreciated good lucks at all.

At first she just looked at him blankly, but then the corners of her mouth turned up into a genuine, if faint, smile. “Thanks, Mark,” she replied. “I appreciate it.”

And with that she turned back around and hurried out the door, leaving Mark to finish his breakfast alone.

-------

The audience stands were already nearly full when he got there; Mark was thankful for the numbered seats as he pushed past what seemed like hundreds of people to find his place. May was already waiting on the trainer stand further away from him, but the closer one was empty; Taylor had a tendency to show up kind of late to his own battles, something May had of course noticed and raged about several times.

She wasn’t raging now, though. She was just standing there, flicking her gaze around the audience, fiddling with her Pokéball necklace, and shifting on her feet every now and then. Mark realized with an unsettling feeling in his stomach that the confidence she had oozed when she’d battled him was completely gone. She wasn’t just being cautious; she really wasn’t sure she could win. And from her, that was so unusual as to be almost frightening. May wasn’t supposed to look nervous.

The squabbling going on in the audience fell suddenly quiet as the door to the near trainer stand opened and Taylor stepped through it with a self-assured grin. He waved cheerfully to the audience as he closed the door.

Somebody a couple of rows above Mark yelled “You suck!” Somebody else booed, and other people joined in; within seconds, it seemed half the audience was doing it in unison. Taylor’s grin vanished abruptly to be replaced with a frown, and he turned his gaze over towards May instead, grabbing a Pokéball from his belt. She took a ball from her necklace as well.

“Hello,” came the announcer’s voice over the PA system. “I’m Robert Witham, your on-site commentator for the Ouen League, and… I will not be commenting on this match.”

All around the audience stands, people looked up in surprise.

“This is an act of protest against the League’s outrageous double standards and disregard for its own rules in allowing Taylor Lancaster to get this far. I refuse to participate in this ridiculous charade, even if it costs me my job. That will be all. Thanks.”

There was a burst of cheering after this announcement. Mark saw May looking around the audience stands in confusion; this had to look very odd to someone who couldn’t hear the commentator. Taylor, on the other hand, ignored it completely, still just standing there turning over the Pokéball in his hand, until finally there came the order for them to ready their Pokéballs.

“Go!” they shouted simultaneously, throwing the balls they were holding. May’s ball released Raichu, as planned; Taylor’s released a huge, menacing, blue bipedal alligator with a grossly enlarged lower jaw and fangs, a prominent hump on its back, and sharp, blood-red spikes growing along its spine. It was pretty much a Feraligatr but more, and as it faced the mouse Pokémon – Raichu looked truly tiny next to it – it let out a threatening growl that made Mark shudder.

On the status screen, he saw a victiorious grin flash across May’s features for a second: the opening matchup was as ideal as she could have hoped for. But there was no time to celebrate, and without hesitating, she gave the first command of the battle: “Raichu, Thunder Wave!”

The mouse Pokémon crouched down, holding his lightning-bolt-shaped tail above his body, and began to charge electricity in his cheeks. The status screen close-up showed his curved ears perked up, his eyes wide and shining: whether it was his monstrous opponent or just the stakes of the battle, he was clearly nervous, and it couldn’t have helped when Taylor ordered, “Earthquake, Feraltwo!”

“Finish the Thunder Wave!” May called immediately, and Raichu bravely kept his focus as the clone stomped a heavy foot upon the ground. A wave of electricity left him a split second before a powerful ripple passed underneath him; as the Thunder Wave settled into Feraltwo’s muscles, Raichu fell down, discharging a shower of sparks.

“Charge Beam,” May ordered immediately. Her Pokémon stood up with relative ease, and there were surprised murmurs in the audience; only Mark noticed Raichu spitting out the stem of the Shuca Berry he’d been keeping in his mouth before he began to charge electricity again.

“Earthquake,” said Taylor, visibly annoyed that Raichu hadn’t gone down in one hit. Feraltwo, however, was having a hard time moving thanks to its paralysis, and as it was growling and struggling to budge its foot, the mouse managed to send a concentrated beam of light shooting into its body. It looked pathetically unaffected, but Raichu’s fur was sparking with added power, and May was quick to order another Charge Beam.

As the second attack hit, Feraltwo was knocked backwards a little and grunted in pain; the power-up resulting from the charging was clearly working. A second afterwards, however, it regained its mobility, and Taylor smirked as it roared and stomped its foot.

“Detect!” May called quickly, and with a flash of heightened awareness in his eyes, Raichu nimbly skirted around the Earthquake waves, dodging them all with an effortless ease that made Mark feel a bit bad for Jolteon. He knew Detect had disadvantages of its own and Raichu had learned to dodge Earthquakes the hard way too, but something about it just felt too easy compared to how Jolteon struggled to do it using his natural speed and reflexes.

“Another Charge Beam!” May called as the last ripples passed the mouse Pokémon. The audience cheered as Raichu landed completely unharmed and began to charge his body with electricity yet again.

Taylor frowned, clearly realizing he couldn’t just brute-force this. “Feraltwo, use a Haze!” he called just as Raichu released a beam of electricity that made the alligator Pokémon visibly twist in pain. By now, Raichu’s fur was all standing on end, crackling with the static electricity left over after each Charge Beam attack; he had to have gotten at least twice as powerful as he originally was, and if Feraligatr pulled off that Haze, that advantage would be lost.

May seemingly realized the same, as she quickly ordered, “Get one more in!”

Raichu charged for a moment while Feraltwo struggled against its paralysis, but just before he fired the beam, the Feraligatr clone regained its mobility and – stomped a foot on the ground. Before Raichu had the chance to recover and Detect, an Earthquake was already speeding towards it. The mouse Pokémon managed to leap over one or two ripples, but wasn’t as agile as Jolteon without the assistance of a move like Detect and was quickly caught in the attack. Sparks flew from his body as he collapsed on the ground and shivered violently.

Taylor’s status screen image was smirking victoriously, and Mark had a sudden powerful feeling that this was all planned, somehow. Taylor’s clones, what with being all contained in mind-controlling Clone Balls, could hardly have the initiative of their own to decide to use one attack instead of another. Judging from May’s murderous, outraged stare towards her opponent, she agreed.

Down on the arena, Raichu struggled to stand up, loose sparks still flying from his body. He seemed to have lost the static charge he’d had previously. “Grass Knot,” May ordered quickly.

“Another Earthquake.”

“Detect!”

It didn’t really matter which command “counted”, because Raichu never could stand up; Feraltwo managed to move almost immediately this time, and as more Earthquake waves passed under the fallen Electric Pokémon, he dropped back on his stomach, defeated.

There were uncertain whispers and sounds of annoyance in the audience. One person somewhere cheered but quickly fell silent again. May, pressing her lips together, took out a Pokéball and recalled Raichu in silence.

“Floatzel, go!” she called as she threw out her next ball. “Bulk Up!”

The sea otter materialized on the arena and wasted no time before she crouched down low, strengthening her mucles while growling threateningly at her opponent.

“Feraltwo, Focus Punch!”

“Quick Attack!” May countered immediately.

The Feraligatr clone closed its eyes and curled its clawed hand into a fist that began to glow with white energy. Floatzel spent a moment finishing her power-up and then sprang up, darted towards the other Pokémon and tackled it in mid-air. The alligator grunted, losing its focus; the white glow disappeared from its fist and it opened its eyes.

Taylor clenched his own fist in annoyance. “Giga Impact!”

“Dig, Floatzel!”

Mark saw a grin flash across May’s face as Feraltwo lunged forward, preparing to throw its whole body at Floatzel. The sea otter sprang up, cackling, and then pretty much dived into the ground, a flurry of dirt surfacing in her wake. The clone missed her by several feet and crashed onto the ground next to the hole, only to be hit as Floatzel emerged from the ground underneath it. It groaned as the otter dug her way out by its side, rubbing her fist in discomfort: Feraltwo couldn’t be very pleasant to punch.

“Earthquake!” Taylor ordered.

“Bulk Up and then Quick Attack, Floatzel!” May called.

Floatzel crouched down immediately to strengthen her muscles, but Feraltwo was having difficulty standing up; its mountainous form shook with effort as it tried to push itself back to its feet, but its arms gave way before it had gotten itself upright and it had to try again, clawing desperately at the ground with its legs. Mark supposed the bulk the genetic modification had added to it might not be quite matched by additional strength, and the paralysis couldn’t be helping either.

The sea otter sprang back up, darted towards the alligator at a great speed and tackled it down. Feraltwo roared in pain, snapping its jaws in her direction, but Floatzel had already retreated to a safe distance away.

“Quick Attack again!”

Feraltwo made a second effort to stand up that might have eventually succeeded if Floatzel hadn’t come smashing into it a split second later. The creature was knocked down yet again and stopped moving.

Taylor waited for a second before he took out the Clone Ball to recall it. He did so in silence, warily watching Floatzel, who cackled victoriously as Feraltwo was absorbed into the Pokéball beam. Mark noted properly for the first time now that the sea otter was completely unhurt, if probably tired; she hadn’t been struck with a single attack while battling the alligator. That was pretty impressive, wasn’t it?

“Raitwo, go!” Taylor called as he threw out his next pick.

The fact Mark had just seen May’s Raichu made the clone that formed look all the more disturbingly off. Again, it was considerably bigger, to the point of being noticeably taller than Floatzel, and darker in color. Primarily, however, its ears weren’t Raichu’s almost butterfly-shaped ones; they were a more Pikachulike conical shape, and as it let out a deep, decidedly unmouselike growl, thready blue lightning sparked between the yellow balls set on its eartips.

“Thunder Wave!” Taylor ordered as his Pokémon assumed a fighting stance.

“Taunt!” May called quickly.

Floatzel barked something about brainless man-made clones, a malicious grin on her face, and Raitwo ignored its own command in favour of hissing loudly at her.

Taylor frowned. “Thunderbolt.”

His Pokémon was only too eager to obey, electricity crackling in its cheeks and ear-balls before it sent a bolt of lightning towards Floatzel. She made a respectable effort to dart out of the way, but the lightning was too fast for it to be anything but hopeless; she screamed in pain as she was stopped in her tracks and an electrical current coursed through her body before she fell to the ground.

“Dig!” May blurted out.

“Another Thunderbolt!” Taylor countered.

Raitwo began to charge again, but Floatzel managed to stand up and dive into the ground in a spray of dirt, dodging the attack narrowly.

“Thunderbolt again.”

Floatzel came out of the ground directly underneath her opponent. This time, she emerged explosively, dirt again flying all around as both Pokémon were thrown into the air. Even while airborne, however, Raitwo managed to discharge the Thunderbolt it had prepared, and Floatzel was shocked in mid-air before she tumbled back to the ground, her body charred and limp.

May recalled her silently as Raitwo landed on its feet, bruised but not looking very hurt. She placed the Pokéball back on her necklace and didn’t hesitate before she took out the next.

“Flygon, go!” she called. “Use Earthquake!”

The antlion Pokémon screeched in challenge as he emerged on the arena, but wasted no time before giving his thin wings a powerful flap that sent Earthquake waves rippling across towards Raitwo. It made no effort to dodge, instead just staying down on all fours and letting off sparks as the attack hit; both it and its trainer looked unnervingly unfazed.

“Raitwo, Magnet Rise!”

May glared seethingly at Taylor as his Pokémon closed its eyes and slowly levitated a few inches into the air. Mark knew why: she’d been trying to teach Raichu that move for ages, but he’d had trouble with it without having a good reference or tutor and eventually she’d given up and taught him Detect and Earthquake-dodging instead. Mark could only guess Raitwo had been genetically modified so that it would come naturally to it.

“Supersonic, Flygon!”

Flygon’s wings vibrated to produce a sound only the Pokémon could hear. Raitwo winced, teetering a little bit in the air as its concentration faltered, but stayed airborne.

“Raitwo, Hyper Beam!”

May shot a disdainful glare across at Taylor. “Flygon, Rock Slide!”

Despite its confusion, Raitwo successfully fired a huge, bright beam of energy straight at Flygon, hitting him in the chest. He cried out in pain as he was blasted all the way into the wall below May’s trainer stand; she looked down, her grip on the railing tightening. For a moment Mark worried Flygon had fainted already, but then he sprang up with a growl and sent chunks of rock raining down on the recharging Raitwo.

“Earthquake, quick!” May called. Raitwo was now buried under a pile of rocks with too little energy to pull itself out; as Flygon sent ripples across the ground between them, a shower of sparks emerged from the gaps between the boulders, indicating a successful hit. May gave a satisfied grin on the status screen.

Taylor grimaced. “Another Hyper Beam, Raitwo.”

“Roost,” May ordered, and Flygon settled gratefully down on the ground and closed his eyes to be bathed in a healing glow.

It took several seconds for Raitwo to recover enough energy to pull itself out of the heap of rocks. Once it had, it began to charge an orb of light in front of its mouth, but seemed to get distracted halfway through so it fizzled away into nothing. Clearly the confusion was doing something, at the very least.

“Try again,” said Taylor impatiently.

“Flygon, stick with Roost!”

The Dragon-type nodded, continuing his rest for a few more seconds. This time Raitwo did manage to fire the beam, and it smashed straight into Flygon, sending him crashing into the wall again.

“Rock Slide!” May called sharply.

“Another Hyper Beam!”

It took a few moments for Flygon to pull himself up, and in that time Raitwo had already recovered somewhat, but nonetheless he had the time to send more boulders flying in Raitwo’s direction that buried the oversized mouse Pokémon under again.

“Earthquake!”

Flygon was just pulling up when the pile of rocks exploded and a beam of energy came blasting straight at him. He cried in surprise, but did manage to produce a weak Earthquake before it hit him; after he’d smashed into the wall yet again, he didn’t stand up. On the opposite side of the arena, however, Raitwo’s battered body was also lying motionless under the remains of the Rock Slide.

Mark quickly went over the situation in his head as both trainers recalled their Pokémon to some cheering from the spectators. This meant three of May’s Pokémon had fainted so far and two of Taylor’s – exactly half of each team. So far, they were even.

“Go!” shouted both May and Taylor in unison as they threw their next Pokéballs.

Out of May’s ball came Skarmory, who gave a metallic cry as he focused upon the opposing creature. Mark identified Taylor’s pick immediately as a Scizor clone, though it was of course bigger and darker, had wings much bigger and sturdier than those of an ordinary Scizor, and curiously, though its right arm was a fairly Scizorlike pincer, the left one ended in a curved, metallic scythe.

“Skarmory, Taunt!”

“Sciztwo, Swords Dance!”

Unfortunately for May, Sciztwo was unnervingly fast; its idea of a Swords Dance was mere seconds of swinging its mismatched arms, and it had already finished it by the time Skarmory had registered the command and spat an insult at it.

“Agility!” May called.

“Superpower,” Taylor ordered lazily, and Sciztwo darted towards Skarmory, swinging its pincered right arm before it smashed it into Skarmory’s body. He screeched in pain as he was thrown downwards; Mark winced as he could see a clear, visible rounded dent where the blow had hit.

May looked rather shocked and pale at this, but once Skarmory had recovered his flight and was zooming through the air to gain speed, she was quick to give another order. “Skarmory, Swords Dance!”

“Crabhammer!”

Incredibly, though the Agility had improved Skarmory’s standing considerably, Sciztwo was still quicker. Again, it zoomed through the air, water solidifying out of the air around its pincer, and smashed it into Skarmory’s body. The steel vulture screeched, but recovered quicker this time and began to spin around in the air to power himself up.

“Skarmory, Drill Peck!”

“Another Crabhammer, Sciztwo!”

Could Scizor even learn Crabhammer? Mark guessed that the ability to use the move had been engineered into it somehow; it just seemed too bizarre to watch it conjuring water out of thin air as it darted towards its opponent. Skarmory dived to meet it, still spinning rapidly, and drilled his metallic beak into Sciztwo’s torso as it bludgeoned his wing with its claw. With his wing bent out of shape, Skarmory went spiralling downwards, taking the Scizor clone with him, and they landed in a heap on the ground.

“Skarmory, Roost!” May ordered. The steel vulture stood wearily up and hurriedly hopped a short distance away before settling down on the ground and closing his eyes. A blue glow enveloped him, and slowly the dents began to mold themselves back to their original shape.

“Superpower, Sciztwo!”

May’s eyes widened for a split second as the insectoid Pokémon stood up, ignoring the wound in its chest, and darted at the vulnerable Skarmory, swinging its pincer. The bird screeched in pain as his body was crushed against the ground, the metal crumpling together like paper. Mark didn’t even notice May pulling out the ball before Skarmory’s form turned a translucent red and was recalled to the safety of his Pokéball.

There were whispers in the audience. On the status screen, May actually looked truly upset; she spent a moment staring at the ball before she minimized it and reattached it to her necklace, her face pale. A second passed as she looked across at Taylor, her former steely glare conspicuously gone.

“Blaziken, go!” she called all of a sudden, her expression hardening again as she flung a new Pokéball into the arena. “Sunny Day!”

“Sciztwo, Crabhammer!”

With its frightening speed, the clone darted forward even before Blaziken had fully materialized, gathering water around its pincer. It smacked it straight into Blaziken’s head, and he screeched as he was knocked down, but was nonetheless remarkably quick to recover, turned his beak towards the sky and let out a loud crow. Immediately, the sun intensified greatly, and within moments the arena was sweltering hot.

“Crabhammer again,” said Taylor warily.

“Heat Wave, Blaziken!”

Sciztwo zoomed forward again, but it was having a much harder time summoning water from the air now; steam rose around its pincer as it tried, and this made it stop and hesitate long enough for Blaziken to ready his attack. Super-hot air rippled towards Sciztwo, and as it hit, the clone’s metallic armor glowed white-hot; it bent and twisted out of shape, distorting Sciztwo’s form into something half-melted and nightmarish, and its wing membrane burst into flames, burning up completely. Mark shuddered as the Heat Wave faded and the creature shook its head, quickly summoning more water to cool its mangled body that instantly turned to steam.

“Blaze Kick!”

“Sciztwo, use a... an Aerial Ace,” Taylor ordered.

The Scizor clone was not quite as fast as before, but nonetheless managed to take a leap towards the sky while Blaziken’s feet flared up, and it delivered a precise slash with its scythe as it came down. The chicken let out a cry of pain as blood squirted from his shoulder, but he still kicked Sciztwo away easily. It was thrown flat towards the ground and landed on its back.

“Blaze Kick again, while it’s down!”

“Aerial Ace!”

But Sciztwo was too hurt to pull it off fast enough. Blaziken lunged forward again, and a blazing foot immediately thrust Sciztwo down and held it there until it stopped struggling.

Taylor recalled the charred heap of metal that was his Pokémon, and as soon as it was gone, Blaziken gasped for breath and collapsed onto all fours. He must have been struggling just to keep himself standing there towards the end; Mark winced at the thought. Blood was still dripping from the Pokémon’s shoulder.

There was dead silence in the audience as everyone looked at May. She looked around for a moment and then took out Blaziken’s Pokéball to recall him without words.

Taylor had already taken out his next ball and didn’t even wait for May to ready hers before he threw it and called, “Go, Mewtwo²!”

As the tall, skinny figure of the legendary clone began to form, the corners of May’s mouth turned up into a manic grin; she began to chuckle quietly as the light faded from its form, and she threw her final Pokéball amid crazed-sounding laughter. Mark knew what she was thinking: in all those matches they’d seen him use Mewtwo², it had only ever used Psychic moves, as if Taylor had never bothered to teach it anything else.

“Tyranitar, go!” she shouted as the rock dinosaur began to take shape on the arena. “Crunch!”

“Psychic,” Taylor ordered as the light faded from Tyranitar’s body, and May looked incredulously across at him as Mewtwo² obediently held its arm forward and gave a little flick of its wrist. And Tyranitar was thrown straight into the wall under May’s trainer stand.

She stared down at him for a second as the audience whispered amongst themselves, her face reddening.

“You can’t do that!” she shouted furiously at Taylor as Tyranitar rose to his feet with a roar. “You can’t do that!

Taylor just smirked as Tyranitar lunged towards his opponent. “Another Psychic.”

Another flick of Mewtwo²’s bony, two-fingered hand, and Tyranitar was sent flying to the side. Mark’s seat shook as the dinosaur crashed into the wall below the audience stand.

“Do something, Tyranitar!” May yelled heatedly. “You can’t let a Psychic slap you around!”

“Another,” Taylor ordered.

Tyranitar was pushing himself to his feet and gritted his teeth as Mewtwo² moved its hand again, and incredibly, this time he wasn’t sent flying. He strained against the force that was trying to move him and miraculously managed, very slowly, to stand up, to wild applause from the audience.

“Not… weak!” he growled as he took a struggling step; it took a moment for Mark to realize in amazement that these were the first intelligible words he had ever heard Tyranitar say.

“Go Tyranitar! You can do it!” he shouted in excitement with everyone else as the Pokémon grinned triumphantly and turned towards Mewtwo².

Taylor sighed. “More power,” he ordered, and Mewtwo² swung its whole forearm, easily blasting Tyranitar into the wall on the other side of the arena.

There was a crushing silence as it dawned on everyone that from the beginning, there had been only one way this battle could go. On the status screen, May clenched both of her fists tightly as she watched Tyranitar struggle to stand. At Taylor’s command, Mewtwo² telekinetically threw him back at the opposite wall. He tried to get up again, and Taylor ordered another Psychic; after being smashed head-on into the other wall one more time, Tyranitar didn’t move.

May stood there for a moment, fists trembling, as the audience broke into whispering, talking, arguing and then shouting. Finally, she held forward Tyranitar’s ball and silently let it absorb him before turning straight around, exiting the trainer stand and slamming the door behind her.

“The winner is Taylor Lancaster,” said the very reluctant voice of the announcer as some of the audience booed in protest, and Mark looked quickly around. Taylor was grinning like an idiot as he recalled Mewtwo², one fist triumphantly in the air. Most people were staying in their seats; the awarding ceremony was still left, but Mark didn’t really want to see it and he was kind of worried about May.

He stood up and squeezed hurriedly past the squabbling crowd to exit the stadium.


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