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    Gonna be a tl;dr Master! Shinneth's Avatar
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    Dec 2007
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    Default Re: Travels of the Trifecta! (Anime, PG-13)

    ( I'm a little behind schedule, but work has been hectic for the last 2 weeks so I haven't had as much free time to write lately. This chapter is pretty short compared to recent ones, but it's not supposed to be a giant epic anyway; that's the next chapter's job. Expect that by mid-August at the latest! Additionally, this fic has been officially planned up to Chapter 25, which will cover the rest of the Galactic Battles episodes. And yes, I am inserting a scene at some point that will show Conway catching a Shuckle. A very fitting choice, indeed. Also, I'm copypasta'ing in FFN's formatting, which unfortunately means they neutered every sentence (except the few I fixed) that ended with "?!" and sort of kills the mood in my opinion. My apologies, but it's irritating enough coding in the italics throughout the chapter as it is. I do kinda-sorta have limits. Peace! )

    Perilous weather seemed to be around every corner during Paul and Conway's journey, regardless of whether they were together or separated. The further up north they traveled, Mother Nature's natural disasters proved to be more challenging. Thankfully, at this point, both were granted a break from the blizzards that threatened to stall their progress. Conway was back in the southeastern area of the Sinnoh region while Paul was stable in Snowpoint City. While the latter still had to deal with the bitter cold temperatures, even he was graced with the sun breaking through the clouds, giving the northern tip of Sinnoh a reprieve at last.

    Even Ash and his friends had a relatively easy time reaching Sinnoh's northernmost location, as they primarily traveled via a well-heated tunnel… the path that "normal" Pokémon trainers took; the beaten path Paul staunchly refused to take advantage of. Thus, regardless of the fact that Ash and friends' progress towards Snowpoint City was significantly slowed with Dawn's participation in the Sandalstraw Contest and the Pokémon Ping-Pong Tournament, the trio managed to reach their destination not too long after Paul, whose progress was only hampered by his own stubbornness.

    Only two significant people were left dealing with the harsh winter elements: Reggie, who had to deal with the slick roads among other things on the way up to Snowpoint City…

    … The second was none other than Brandon himself. Much like his second son, Brandon was not keen on taking the easy way up; after all, the only Regigigas book he had on hand still wasn't entirely specific about the exact location of the Colossal Pokémon. He circled around entire diameters of various mountains and often met with risky situations of his own. But Brandon was far luckier than Paul, so far surviving the brutal mountain habitat quite well. However, his extensive search through the mountains was the main reason why he had not yet reached Snowpoint City even though he had a huge lead over his son.

    Despite Brandon's very thorough search, he remained empty-handed with no clues as to where to head other than Snowpoint City. While the fruitless search was understandably irritating for the Pyramid King, Brandon actually relished every moment of this journey. Being back in his home region for the first time in well over seven years and immersed in an adventure for the ages made Brandon feel young again. He only wished he had Byron and Palmer with him to share the experience of what their heyday was like. This was more than enough to convince Brandon to press on, of course.

    This rugged adventurer was long ago taught to expect the unexpected; to go above and beyond, and to remain vigilant in pursuing a goal no matter how often one is met with failure.

    But there was one thing he did not expect to come up in his journey: the Battle Pyramid he left behind in Kanto so long ago. Just as Brandon finished sliding down the base of yet another mountain (once again finding nothing of relevance to his journey), he felt numerous unnaturally powerful gusts of wind beat down over him. A massive shadow soon enveloped the Frontier Brain as he looked up, trying to find the cause of the powerful breezes, only to find that his view of the sky had become completely blocked. However, the whirring of certain engines was all too familiar for Brandon; it didn't take long for him to figure out what was hovering over him… and honestly, Brandon was not sure whether or not to be relieved or worried.

    He had gone well over a month without contacting his fellow Frontier Brains, Scott, or even his assistant. Brandon knew this brash move was going to come back and bite him eventually… he just didn't expect it to play out quite like this. Impressed as he was with the fact that his Battle Pyramid was indeed fit for crossing lengths of ocean, the comfort soon became the concern and uncertainty of what this all meant.

    One thing that was apparent, though: whoever was in the Battle Pyramid knew exactly where Brandon was, because as the vessel flew by the Frontier Brain, he noticed a very long and sturdy length of rope hanging from the edge. In the middle of the mountain range, there was no ample space for the Battle Pyramid to land properly; hence whoever piloted his facility inherently knew Brandon would be able to climb his way towards the Battle Pyramid, even in midair.

    To know he had that kind of strength… it wasn't too hard for Brandon to figure out who had just discovered him. With very little trouble, he climbed his way back into the facility he had gone so long without seeing. No one was there to greet Brandon once he safely made it onboard, meaning there must be only one person inside, and that sole occupant was stuck at the steering wheel at the bridge. Brandon decided to pay the lone pilot a visit promptly.

    "Sam!" he shouted out, effectively startling his assistant, but Brandon also cut himself off as he found his base of operations looking quite different from how he remembered it. Extra screens and various digital devices had been implemented flawlessly into the Battle Pyramid's structure. "What in the…?"

    "Uh, nice to see you again, as well," Samuel nervously greeted. "I guess you're expecting an explanation right about now, aren't you…?"

    Brandon sternly nodded, but was soon distracted with the new gadgets surrounding him. "First… find a place to land. I believe there's much we both need to be caught up with."

    Samuel quickly agreed to that. "Say no more. Let's just hope I can find a space to land…"

    The Frontier Brain couldn't help but be highly intrigued by all of this technology installed into his facility… without him knowing of it, especially. While he waited for Samuel to make a landing, Brandon recalled that he vowed to do something like this once he returned to Kanto in order to make himself available in case of emergencies, such as Reggie's recent incident. If there was one glaring weakness on Brandon, it was his lack of familiarity with certain forms of technology. A true old-school man, Brandon often shunned the newest ways to make life easier. He was at least able to pilot his Battle Pyramid, though he had the drive to learn that much: it enabled Brandon to continue his life as an adventurer while maintaining his duties of being a Frontier Brain. It was a worthwhile skill to learn, though he often left most of the technological work to his assistant.

    Luckily, a stray area of stable ground was discovered and Samuel promptly landed the Battle Pyramid, loathing the silent tension in the control room. "So…" he finally said. "I guess this wasn't something you expected, right?"

    "Indeed," Brandon agreed, looking rather indignant. "I'll admit you're impressive to be able to cross the ocean without any problems, but I was very clear about my intentions in the note I left you all. So why are you here?"

    "I was sent by Scott's orders, Brandon," Samuel explained, sounding helpless about the matter. "The other Frontier Brains weren't very happy about the way you left us… but they were worried about you nonetheless, and I can see why. Sinnoh just gets more and more treacherous up north."

    Brandon scoffed at the idea that his coworkers actually doubted his survival skills. "I was doing just fine," he claimed. "The search has been long and arduous, but nothing I can't handle. I assume these new bells and whistles you installed in the Battle Pyramid played a role in finding me so easily?"

    "Easily?" Samuel almost wanted to faint. "I've been looking for you since the day you left, Brandon! And that was a long time ago, you know. I even stopped by your old house to see if you were visiting your family. Reggie said you had left days before I arrived."

    "I only went there due to a family emergency," Brandon coldly explained. That was a very dark time for him, but also an important event that made him aware of his own faults for being impossible to communicate with. "But while I was there, I found the book I was looking for. I was in Veilstone City for only a few hours… aside from the time it took me to get there by boat from Canalave City, I've been fully dedicated in my search for Regigigas."

    Samuel blinked. "Oh, right. Reggie told me about that, too. So you've had the book this long and you still haven't found it…?"

    "Even the book was vague about its precise location," Brandon told him. "I didn't want to take any chances, so I've been scouring this mountain range and leaving no stone unturned."

    To that, his assistant just sighed and shook his head. "I'm pretty sure it's very close to Snowpoint City, Brandon. We ought to set course for there immediately."

    "What…?" That got Brandon's attention. "Why do you sound so sure of yourself?"

    "Well, you've noticed by now the enhancements I made to the control center," Samuel explained with a nervous smile. "I'm able to cover a lot more ground with these updated GPS systems, which is how I found you while I was scanning the surface. I figured only you would be crazy enough to scale these mountains all by yourself…"

    The Pyramid King just stared at Samuel, unimpressed with his attempts of making the conversation lighthearted. "Continue."

    "Ah-… right, right," Samuel bowed sheepishly. Spending so much time restlessly searching for his boss made him quite flustered. "I did all of this not only to improve my chances of finding you, but of also finding Regigigas… you know, so you'd be more inclined to continue your journey here."

    "The way you were talking," Brandon pointed out. "Before this explanation… you sounded like you knew of Regigigas' location."

    "Aha, well…" Samuel thought he had done an adequate job in making Brandon's life easier like this, but wasn't sure just how well or badly the Frontier Brain would take it. "I wouldn't say I found it, per se, but since I've greatly enhanced our communication systems and increased our range, I decided to call up several people in Snowpoint City over the past few days to see if they knew anything about Regigigas. I also asked about your whereabouts, but no one's seen you set foot there yet."

    Brandon tried not to look too anxious for Samuel to finish his explanation. "I am slowly but surely making my way up here. Now, who tipped you off about Regigigas?"

    "I'm that easy to read?" Samuel asked him, but not expecting a response. "I'd rather not jump the gun just yet, but there's a nice lady who watches over the Snowpoint Temple where Regigigas presumably "sleeps", so to speak."

    "Sleeps?" Brandon echoed, sounding bewildered. "Then its location is confirmed!"

    "Well, the shrine maiden was still a little vague when I talked to her, but she promised she'd go into more detail once I found you," Samuel explained. "But from the sounds of things, capturing that Pokémon is going to be much trickier than you'd expect. I have faith that you'll succeed, but there's something you really need to know before we set off, Brandon."

    His voice grew somber near the end, making Brandon both curious and wary of what was about to be said. "What might that be?"

    Samuel found it difficult to look Brandon in the eyes by this point. "I meant it when I said I have faith you'll succeed, but the bottom line is that you have to succeed. As long as you capture Regigigas, you'll be in good graces with the Battle Frontier committee despite the way you abandoned your post." He took on an ominous tone from then on. "But if you come back to Kanto empty-handed… they're not going to forgive you so easily."

    That feeling Brandon had about karma coming to pay him back for his actions? It came back to him, more powerful than ever before. "Then failure is not an option," he realized. "Thank you for letting me know, Sam. I'll do everything in my power to capture Regigigas… hopefully this shrine maiden will understand the situation."

    "The committee was awfully vague about what your punishment would be," Samuel noted. "I guess the fact that you have tenure means that they're not sure how to punish you effectively, given that they can't really fire you on the spot after everything you've done for them over the years…"

    "But that doesn't mean they won't try to find a loophole," Brandon countered. "For as long as it's taken me, I imagine they're all quite furious. The longer I take, the greater the consequence I'll suffer should I fail. It's very important that we execute this mission flawlessly."

    Samuel smiled upon hearing this. "That's why I went out of my way to upgrade your facility. I know you're not really into that, but you're going to need all the help you can get when it comes to this. I want you to succeed, Brandon, so I'll do everything in my power to make sure that happens." He then smiled again, looking a bit embarrassed. "Besides, I kind of like working with this stuff. You were going to need this eventually, so…"

    Brandon nodded. "Much as I disapprove of taking the easy way out of things, I'm not left with much of a choice here. The stakes are too high, and unlike some people, I know when to set aside my pride, as the risks involved simply aren't worth taking. You've done well." He had a clear person in mind when he spoke of overcoming pride… all too clear.

    "We'll make it work out," Samuel assured him. "More importantly, it's relieving to know you're alright. It's not that we doubt your abilities, Brandon… but when you go a while without contacting us, it's only natural that we start to get worried."

    "I understand," the Frontier Brain stated humbly. "And I was planning on having our communication systems upgraded anyway after what happened with my family, so I thank you for accomplishing that ahead of time."

    "It was my pleasure," Samuel insisted. "But now we'd best hurry and reach Snowpoint City as soon as possible. I'll go ahead and contact the shrine maiden so we can officially set up an appointment for a visit to the temple."

    As the Battle Pyramid ascended from its landing point, Brandon smirked, eager to speak with someone who might possibly know more about Regigigas than anyone else. For all the hardships he endured, after months of searching, the reward for his patience and persistence was almost within reach.

    "Alright, I think we've got a connection going," Samuel reported a short while after; the Battle Pyramid swiftly approaching its destination. "Ready, Brandon?"

    To that, the Pyramid King smirked. "I was born ready."

    Shortly afterward, the large screen installed in the control room was activated, displaying only quiet static until the call was made. After a few rings, the static faded out to clearly display a modest-looking young woman wearing a typical shrine maiden outfit. Aside from her fringe and forelocks, her black hair was completely covered up as well.

    "Ah, Samuel," she acknowledged. "It's a pleasure to hear back from you. I see you have a friend with you this time. Might this be…?"

    Samuel smirked and gestured at his boss. "Right; this is Pyramid King Brandon, the one I was talking to you about last time."

    Brandon nodded to her. "My assistant has spoken quite highly of you, miss…"

    "Maria," the shrine maiden finished for him. "It truly is an honor to speak to one of the world's greatest trainers."

    "So you watch over the Snowpoint Temple," Brandon acknowledged. "And you have extensive knowledge of Regigigas?"

    Maria bowed to him. "I believe I may be able to help you in seeking what you find. You are aware of the legend behind Regigigas, correct?"

    The much-coveted and rare book about Regigigas was brought up for Maria to see. "I've been following this book, which appears to be the only known book on that subject in every library across every region," Brandon informed her. "I already had some knowledge of the legend, such as the creation of the three subordinate Regis and how it towed continents with ropes, but it appears that there is much more to the story than that."

    "Indeed," Maria affirmed. "Regirock, Registeel, and Regice aren't merely subordinates of Regigigas; it is also their duty to protect Regigigas from outside harm as it sleeps."

    "So it's sleeping presently, you say," Brandon pointed out. "You know where Regigigas is?"

    Maria nodded. "Legend has it that Regigigas and the others saved the Sinnoh region eons ago from a catastrophic volcanic eruption which destroyed a majestic forest that once existed in this area. Through the efforts of Regigigas, the rest of the region was saved. Afterward, Regigigas disappeared within the same bright, bluish light in which it miraculously came from. According to legend, Regigigas now sleeps within a precious jewel orb. Regirock, Registeel, and Regice transformed into a triad of pillars that protect the orb from malicious outside forces."

    "A bit more detailed than what was written in this book," Brandon commented. "But I currently have a Regirock, Registeel, and Regice in my possession. If this legend is true, then there was a previous generation of the three Regis…"

    "It is merely a legend," Maria reminded him. "But I've watched over this temple for years as it is a tradition in my family. The orb rests upon a pedestal where three large pillars surround it. Each pillar is purely made of the respective elements… rock, steel, and ice. My family has kept the shrine sacred for centuries now, as the temple is not exactly a secure residence…"

    Samuel blinked upon learning about this. "Is that why it's so hard to find information on Regigigas? To prevent people from trying to disturb its resting place?"

    "Precisely," Maria sternly answered. "The Snowpoint Temple is by no means a venue for tourism; even the residents of Snowpoint City respect that. If Regigigas' location was to be spread out across the world, thieves and others of ill intent would swarm this shrine, which has little in the way of defense for the sake of preserving this ancient establishment."

    "A very wise move," Brandon commended her, but in the back of his mind he realized what Samuel meant about Regigigas being a tricky one to capture; how it in the world could he convince Maria to surrender the precious host of the sacred temple and leave the burden on his hands alone? "You and your family have done well to preserve this establishment, Maria. Would it be imposing of me to request a visit to the Snowpoint Temple?"

    Though Brandon feared Maria would turn him down, he felt at ease when she gave him a warm smile. "Your assistant has told me much of your background as an archeologist in addition to your reputation as Kanto's finest Frontier Brain. It is only natural that you've been drawn here to Sinnoh, seeking the temple hosting a Pokémon so closely connected to the ones in your possession. You are always welcome to the temple, Pyramid King." She looked so gentle and trusting… almost too quickly, Brandon thought. "I know you will respect it… and I feel that you were destined to come here one day. Will I be seeing you two in the near future?"

    "We're on our way as we speak," Brandon replied with confidence. "Shall we decide on a point where we will meet?"

    Again, Maria looked completely agreeable and flexible to this arrangement. "There is a large clearing a few miles beyond Snowpoint City's limits that is situated between the city and the temple. I will escort you personally to the temple."

    Samuel looked closely at the digitized maps displayed on the new GPS system he installed into the control room. "From the sounds of things, you're talking about the Valhalla Plains, right?"

    "Yes, let us meet each other properly in the Valhalla Plains," Maria affirmed. "Let me know when you are about to arrive, and I will be punctual with my arrival as best I can."

    "No pressure," Brandon assured. More than anything, he was grateful to get a chance to access this temple, thus had no heart to be stiff and professionally stern as he often was with others. "We look forward to meeting you, Maria."

    "The feeling is mutual," Maria assured him, giving the Pyramid King one final bow. "I will see to it that we shall cross paths when the time is right."

    This arrangement seemed to be going well so far… "No sooner and no later, Maria. Until then."

    After one final bow from the shrine maiden, the call had ended. Both Brandon and Samuel remained silent for a while as they assessed their situation at hand.

    "So you probably figured out why I said pulling this off won't be easy," Samuel finally said, looking to Brandon. "Nice as she is…"

    Brandon did not at all feel confident about his chances, not expecting a moral roadblock to threaten his progress on this long journey he embarked on. "I can't help but wonder what the consequence would be for awakening Regigigas," he admitted. "We are not hostile, but even so…"

    "I really doubt she'll just let you have Regigigas," Samuel told his boss, painfully honest in his tone. "Your qualifications are second to none, but that probably won't be enough…"

    "All we can do is keep a low profile in regards to our motives," Brandon decided, sighing heavily. "Best not to give up before we even start. We've already realized that failure is not an option in this mission, Sam."

    Samuel nodded in agreement. "It's a good excuse, but the committee's going to want some kind of result they'll be willing to pardon you for. Not to mention we'll have to be careful about how far we spread out this information…"

    "That's right," Brandon realized. "Maria's kept Regigigas largely a mystery to the world in order to prevent the temple from being overrun. We can trust Professor Oak with this undeniably, but otherwise…" This was where being antisocial came in handy; Brandon at least was fully confident that he wouldn't let this precious information slip into the hands of untrustworthy people.

    "We can keep a secret," the Frontier Brain assured his assistant. "It's too early to concede defeat at this point, so let's set our minds to our goal and think of a way to appeal to that shrine maiden. The fact that she respects us already gives us an advantage."

    Reluctantly, Samuel nodded. The sudden weight of morality was set upon his shoulders just as heavily as it was on Brandon's, but he was also a witness to just how displeased Brandon's fellow Frontier Brains were with his actions. Samuel knew he wouldn't be able to do anything to help his higher-up if this mission were to fail for any reason.

    While that worry lingered within Brandon as well, the detailed information he received from Maria was intriguing… particularly the part of the legend that insinuated that there was more than one set of Regi subordinates out there in the world. Or perhaps something else… the theories simply fascinated him.

    "We're ready for liftoff," Samuel reported, setting the Battle Pyramid's course straight for the Snowpoint Temple. "From our position, if the weather cooperates, we should be arriving there sometime tomorrow afternoon."

    For once, Brandon preferred not to rush things. "Good. We'll have some time to think this over before we meet her." He looked to Samuel. "Keep a steady course, but there's no need to rush, understand?"

    "Completely," Samuel nervously agreed. Though he was more than familiar with just how amazing Brandon could be at times, it was hard to tell how well he would fare with a moral issue. After all, this was the man who went several years without even seeing his sons in person.

    Knowing that he would soon be in Snowpoint City, Brandon remembered Paul's promise to destroy him in battle the second the two crossed paths in Sinnoh's northernmost civilization. That promise was made a month ago, making Brandon briefly wonder if Paul would really still be in Snowpoint City, given that Paul surely would have made it up there even by foot much sooner than that. He was completely unaware of the several mishaps that impeded Paul's progress, but Brandon also figured that Paul, even after winning his seventh badge, would wait for his father.

    For rarely being around his own sons, Brandon knew them both very well as if had had been living with them all this time. Paul in particular... for all the similarities they shared, it wouldn't be a stretch to say Brandon knew Paul better than Paul knew himself.

    Eager as Brandon was to face his fiercest child, he kept his priorities straight. After all, this battle would be an uphill battle for Paul; not him. There wasn't much need for Brandon to be concerned about, and if Paul were to surprise him, Brandon would be more than pleased. The battle was just a little treat for him to enjoy for this lengthy, arduous journey; as such, it was shoved into the back of Brandon's mind as he used what hours he had remaining to think of a way to appeal to Maria and finally capture Regigigas.

    Around the same time much further south in the humid, swampy dwelling known as Pastoria City, Conway – or rather, "Colin" – had just stepped outside from the Pastoria Gym. He admired the gleaming Fen Badge in his hand that he had just earned from Crasher Wake after a hard-fought battle. While the likes of Paul and Ash had little to no trouble with this particular Gym Leader due to overwhelming him with strategies based on type advantages, Conway's current team didn't really have much in the way of super-effectiveness against Water-types. At the same time, save for Aggron, Conway at least didn't have a team completely susceptible to Water-type moves.

    Thankfully, Conway made up for his lack of experience with his abundance of knowledge; since the night where he and Paul concocted plans for combating Maylene and Candice, the rogue trainer decided he would do thorough research of each Gym Leader he would face prior to battling them. As such, Conway had a plan for dealing with Crasher Wake, though it necessitated him to teach his team a new move or two (particularly Electric-type moves such as Thunder in conjunction with Rain Dance for Castform). Cases like Quagsire that made it even more difficult for Conway to land a super-effective hit were dealt with via the strong Psychic-type moves he already had in his arsenal. Crasher Wake was strong, but Conway managed to outlast him through his resistances to Water-type attacks in Slowking and Castform in its Rain incarnation while strategy took care of the rest.

    His methods earned Crasher Wake's respect and was wished well with his pursuits to qualify for the Sinnoh League. Though Conway was interested in the prospect of participating in such a prestigious event, it was going to be televised across the entire Sinnoh region and that was something Conway knew he had to avoid if he wanted to keep his status a secret from his family, friends, and enemies. It was still quite a while before the Sinnoh League Conference would commence… perhaps if Conway dealt with Sloan before that time, he would entertain the thought of going after all… he had chosen the path of battling out of necessity, though as far as pure preferences were concerned, Conway was still a little unsure as he enjoyed Contests just as much as traditional battling.

    The possibility of facing Paul in the League, however… or even Ash, Dawn's traveling partner… those were all interesting prospects to think about trying for if Conway could return to his normal life in the near future.

    However, to get that far in the League and even to make it there to begin with, Conway knew he was going to need some more variety in his team. Not that he was dissatisfied with Slowking, Aggron, Heracross, Castform, and Smoochum (though Smoochum remained to easily be the least-experienced of the team and thus the one that needed the most work). There was still at least one more spot he needed to fill and more likely than not he would need to use Maylene and Reggie's services with the daycare in order to store future Pokémon he would capture. What he had now wouldn't be enough to conquer every major Gym Leader in the region for certain.

    The difficulty of the battle with Crasher Wake was indicative of that. While Conway pondered over that issue, he also wondered where he would go next from here. One of two obvious options was to go east towards Sunyshore City (coincidentally where Paul would be aiming for once he conquered Candice's Gym) and face Volkner… though Volkner had quite the reputation across the region. Though he was widely considered Sinnoh's strongest Gym Leader alongside Byron, he had something of an attitude that made him very unpopular. Regardless, Conway knew he wasn't ready to take Volkner on yet with only two badges under his belt… not to mention his team was pretty weak against an Electric-type-themed team. He wisely decided to hold that match off for later, as most trainers did.

    Pastoria City hosted a site called the Great Marsh: the Sinnoh region's answer to what most others would simply name the Safari Zone. While an unpleasant place in general with trainers forced to wade in waist-deep muddy water while practically glued to the surface with the muck covering it, it was an ideal place for catching a wide array of Pokémon species of varying types that Conway lacked on his side. He certainly didn't need any more Psychic-types, but Conway figured it would be beneficial for him to have a Grass-type like Shroomish, Carnivine or Tropius… or perhaps Poison-types like Gulpin, Roselia or Drapion.

    But successfully capturing anything in the Great Marsh required a great amount of patience and skill; time and effort Conway couldn't afford to waste when he was so far behind in collecting badges. Most trainers were already past the halfway point as it was; Conway was going to need to work overtime in order to catch up. He was certain fate would bring him his next destined teammate, much like how he ended up with Smoochum. It was an illogical belief, sure, but Conway had gone through so much and learned that most of what he thought he knew turned out to be wrong all this time that he was willing to try anything at least once… even daring to dream. At least it gave him the strength to press on.

    Finally, Conway decided he would face the less-extreme but more widespread swamps beyond Pastoria City to the west, circle around and reach Hearthome City next. This city was significant to Conway, having hosted the Tag Battle tournament in which he became a runner-up and was able to show off his glorious skills on live national television across the region… even if it wasn't appreciated by the people who were important to him. Not to mention it was the city where Conway first met Paul, Dawn, Ash, and Brock; the first two of which became very significant people in his life now… or were, before the tragedy with Mars struck. Now Conway was dead to Paul and might as well be dead to Dawn as well; it was a long time ago when he last saw her in person and the widespread news of his death might have gotten her attention. It just wasn't worth the risk, much as it pained Conway to force Dawn out of his goals and his life. But he was convinced he was damaged goods now anyway, all thanks to Mars. Conway refused to inadvertently drag Dawn into the dirt right with him; he knew she deserved better than that.

    With no travel mate to interact with or slow him down, Conway made swift progress in his journey back to Hearthome City; obviously, his goal for this location would be to earn the Relic Badge from the eccentric and foreign part-Gym Leader, part-Coordinator, part-absentminded wanderer, Fantina. This classy woman was a specialist in Ghost-type Pokémon; something Conway knew he could manage with the team he had. Though it was risky as Ghost-type moves would be just as dangerous to Conway's Slowking and Smoochum as their Psychic attacks would be to her Pokémon, the nerdy trainer was confident at least in Slowking's abilities and thought this would be a good time for Smoochum to start taking notes on the sidelines. Since many Ghost-types were partly Poison-typed as well, this was a perfect opportunity for the Steel-type side of Aggron to completely negate any attacks of that type. Only Heracross was mostly unsuited for taking on this kind of challenge. Regardless, unlike with Crasher Wake, Conway felt completely secure in type coverage and security with what he had now, which made him quite eager to meet and defeat this foreign Gym Leader.

    Still, though the journey progressed more quickly solo, Conway still couldn't help but feel a little lonely all this time. Contrary to his nerdy nature, Conway did not enjoy being this socially withdrawn.

    Conway had little time to dwell on his situation any further as he heard a panicked "Make way…!" from a distance. Briefly startled, Conway looked around, trying to find the source of the voice, but was soon cut off from that as somebody crashed straight into him; Conway was absolutely flattened on the ground by a young man who appeared to be around his age, though that was certainly not the detail Conway cared about right this second.

    Not far behind the boy pile was an orange bicycle, which looked as if it would fall to pieces at any time now, apparently being stopped by a rock jutting out from the ground, which promptly launched the rider straight into Conway.

    On top of Conway was an energetic blond who was perhaps just a tad taller (and possibly a tad older) than him. Conway didn't get much of a word in edgewise before the stranger rudely cut in first to complain.

    "What are you, deaf?" he whined, forcing himself off Conway's body while struggling to get back on his feet. "I told you to get out of the way!"

    To this, Conway just frowned. "What exactly was stopping you from just making a turn to avoid me completely? All this road and you insisted on getting right behind me?"

    "What was that?" the boy was immediately confrontational, it seemed. His large and furiously energetic (yet borderline adorable at the same time) amber eyes glared down upon his victim. His orange and white striped shirt matched his eyes while his distinctive green scarf blew with the gentle breeze coming by just then. "I don't like your tone. Just for that, I'm giving you a fine!"

    While Conway managed to get up, he almost fell down again in bewilderment upon hearing that statement. "A… a fine?"

    "And don't make me double it!" he threatened. "Nobody delays Barry's quest for greatness without paying the price. Now hurry up and pay your dues! You've got ten seconds!" He looked down at his Pokétch, which seemed to be a more advanced model than Dawn's. For some reason, he skipped the first half of the countdown. "Five, four, three, two…!"

    "Wait! Just… wait!" Conway urged, already frustrated with this guy, holding his hands up. "Who are you to charge me for inconveniencing you? You certainly don't look like royalty."

    "Shows what you know! And you weren't paying attention!" Conway's new acquaintance pointed out. "The name's Barry and don't you forget it!" Just then, he looked intrigued. "And you! You look kinda familiar."

    That word… "familiar"… was an instant red alert in Conway's head. He assumed this meant Barry had seen the news of his apparent demise and recognized him, which would compromise his entire mission if Barry were to spread this news around. "F-familiar…? I'm sure it's just a coincidence," Conway insisted. "I don't get out much."

    "No, I've definitely seen your face before!" Barry countered, invading Conway's personal space to get a closer look. The fact that Conway was wearing Paul's clothes as part of his "Colin" disguise went straight over Barry's head, ironically enough. "Believe me; I know a loser when I see one."

    Conway couldn't believe this. All because Barry was too ignorant to avoid a crash, he had to deal with this hyperactive boy nosing around in his business, scrutinizing him. "I don't have to take this, you know," Conway reminded him. "I can't pay your fine anyway since I'm out of cash and I'm certainly not giving you my credit card…"

    "Aha!" Barry had reached an epiphany. "I get it now! You were in the Hearthome Tag Battle Tournament!" Apparently Conway's words went in one ear and out the other. "You were that obviously newbie girl who lost to Paul!"

    The fact that Barry knew Paul was quickly overridden by the fact that Barry assumed Conway to be the wrong gender. That statement was enough to make Conway fall over again, aghast at the statement. "A… a girl? Are you serious? I don't even sound feminine!"

    "Huh, for real?" Barry asked him, genuinely surprised by his mistake. "No, you were definitely in that tournament…" It took a moment of awkward silence for him to realize the truth. "Ah, alright! Now I got it!" he said with a smirk, pointing directly at Conway. "You're that hopelessly geeky trainer who lost to Paul!"

    His position changed suddenly, now looking up at the sky thoughtfully. "Isn't that what I called Dawn when I met her? I got you two confused, for real? Oh well; easy mistake…"

    "For you, maybe!" Conway shot back, highly offended and not knowing that he was giving himself away. "It would be obvious to anyone else that I'm a boy!"

    "I don't have time for your gender issues, man," Barry brushed off; his tone careless. "Alright, I think I've figured it out. You're not denying it!"

    At least Barry wasn't identifying Conway with the recent death in the news incident… at the same time, he wasn't sure just how honest he could be with a guy like this and if he would really be safe admitting to participating in the tournament. But Barry seemed sure of himself now, and Conway really was in no mood to play mental games with a simpleton.

    "Alright, fine," Conway quietly admitted through his clenched-together teeth. "Yes, I did participate in that competition. I'm Colin."

    "Nah, that's not how I'm remembering it," Barry denied, pondering over this detail. "That's similar, but not really pronounced that way. Kinda sounded like "highway"…"

    The last thing Conway wanted to do was give his real name to a total stranger at a time like this. At the same time, he was certain someone this simple-minded couldn't conjure his real name from thin air. "You just got my gender wrong and now you think you know my-"

    "Conway!" Barry realized. "That's right! Mash "Colin" and "highway" together and you get "Conway"! It's so obvious!" He smirked at the shaken trainer before him, who couldn't believe he would deduce something like that on his own. "So what, is that like your secret alias to make you cooler or something? You'll never surpass Paul!"

    Ah, the other relevant and surprising topic that had yet to be addressed. "You know Paul?" Conway asked finally, hoping to lure Barry away from any topics related to his true identity.

    "Never met him, but I saw him wipe the floor with you on TV that one time and he just looked awesome," Barry recalled. "He won the whole tournament!" Neglecting that Ash had won alongside him… "One day I'm gonna be as strong and cool as he is," he proclaimed before holding his thoughts once more to realize something. "Oh, so you're saying you know him, too? Well, of course you do. You battled him and you're wearing clothes that look like his…"

    Barry, in spite of his harebrained mannerisms, was awfully quick to pick up on details that he really cared to find. "So what, are you trying to be his biggest fan? Aren't you a little old for doing stuff like that?"

    Conway was about to respond before Barry cut him off again. "Ack, I don't have time for chit-chatting with a poser! You just wasted a huge load of my time! I ought to fine you indefinitely for this!"

    "Will you shut up and stop interrupting me?" Conway finally barked out, his patience having run out. "And stop expecting me to pay you; it's not going to happen!"

    "Alright, nobody asked you to be that rude!" Barry countered, pointing at him. "Fine, if you're not going to pay up, then battle me!"

    All of a sudden, a challenge to battle within a few minutes of meeting each other…? Actually, that was pretty common practice for trainers. It was merely something Conway went out of his way to avoid until he felt he was a safe distance from his hometown to risk being seen by someone who might have seen the newscast or simply remembered the incident. "Wait, you mean right now…?" Conway was still a little slow on the uptake of accepting challenges, nonetheless.

    Barry whined and threw a fit while standing in place. "Just accept the challenge already! I'm in a hurry, you know…!"

    "If for nothing else but closure on a case like you, I suppose I must accept," Conway conceded, taking out one of his Pokéballs. He smirked just before aiming to throw it; "What a perfect time to test your readiness before the next Gym…"

    "Like I said, I gotta get a move on to Hearthome City!" Barry reminded Conway, though this was the first time he brought up his destination. "So let's make this a three-on-three, alright?"

    The fact that he and Barry were headed for the same location only deeply bothered Conway, as he was not eager to run into this guy a second time after this encounter. Still, if he could defeat this opponent badly enough, Conway thought he could perhaps convince Barry that he simply isn't ready to face Fantina yet; as shallow and simple-minded Barry came off, Conway had a hard time picturing his new acquaintance as anything more than a first-year trainer with no more than a couple of badges earned.

    "Just what I had in mind," Conway agreed. "By all means, go right ahead…"

    "Fine!" Barry conceded, taking out a Pokéball before throwing it. "But only because you look indecisive! Let's get an early lead, Staraptor…!"

    Seeing the Predator Pokémon made Conway smirk self-assuredly, as this further indicated that he was making the right first choice. "Your perceptive skills are betraying you," Conway told him before finally unleashing his competitor. "Smoochum, it's time to make your debut…!"

    Barry just blinked, staring blankly at the cute little Pokémon that was designated his Staraptor's competitor. The fact that Smoochum by both her types was superior to Staraptor went right over his head as he couldn't believe he was facing something that looked so docile. The fact that Conway mentioned "debut" made it obvious that this was Smoochum's first battle against a trainer.

    Conway was confident, knowing the advantage was on his side in spite of Smoochum's lack of experience. He was ready to make Barry regret that the two had ever met and he would do so in the most embarrassing way possible: by beating him with an unseasoned battler in Smoochum.

    Smoochum was too eager at the prospect of battle to figure out what was going on in her trainer's head, but was ready to fight nonetheless.

    "You're fighting me with that?" Barry asked Conway before slowly growing angry. "Wait, what… what is this, are you trying to insult me?"

    "In the midst of battle? What a rude thing to do," Conway remarked, very amused. "But try and focus on the battle now. Smoochum, Confusion!"

    Barry's reaction time was clearly lacking as he was far too late to give Staraptor a command before it was caught in the Psychic-type trap, only able to move as Smoochum wished it to. "Huh…? Staraptor!"

    "Display the power of gravity before our guest, please," Conway calmly commanded; his smile widening as Staraptor swiftly hit the ground, and hard. Smoochum couldn't hold Confusion any longer, but looked happy at her early success.

    "Gah!" Barry cried out, flailing in panic over a fierce first blow. He knew this wasn't the time to be joking around now; Conway apparently was a legitimate threat to him now. "You're not getting away with that! Come on, Staraptor!"

    "I prefer Staraptor when they stand still," Conway suddenly said, somewhat randomly. "It's easier to admire their frightful beauty that way. Smoochum, Powder Snow!"

    Of course, his aim was to confound his human opponent with vague words while his Pokémon took advantage of the break in the battle to attack preemptively. But this time, Smoochum was far too slow to effectively freeze Staraptor in time, as it broke free with ease and was soon high in the sky once again, circling over the Kiss Pokémon.

    "Just for trying that, you're getting a mega-fine!" Barry cried out, well in the midst of another tantrum. "Staraptor, take that girly thing down with Steel Wing!"

    Conway didn't even want to guess what a "mega-fine" would be, but he had to quickly think of a plan for Smoochum to brace herself against this attack. Inexperienced as she was, it would be difficult for her to match Staraptor in a direct clash.

    "Sing!" Conway commanded, hoping Smoochum would get that much out before the clash, but Staraptor swept in and slammed into the poor, young Pokémon full-force. Being super-effective, Smoochum was already in bad shape as her defenses were absolutely pitiful. Seeing this firsthand left Conway horrified as Barry looked disappointed.

    "Geez, it's still able to battle?" Barry complained. "Alright, whatever. Staraptor, Close Combat!"

    "No…!" Even with neutral damage, Close Combat was a devastating move that was far beyond Smoochum's abilities to withstand. A few stiff kicks from Staraptor's talons knocked the baby Pokémon unconscious.

    "That's more like it!" Barry celebrated, pumping his fist into the air victoriously. "Hah, so much for type advantage! At this rate we'll be out of here within the next minute, Staraptor!"

    Insane as Barry was, at least he loved his Pokémon, unlike a certain former companion of Conway's, which was in a way refreshing. Still, exchanging the inability to care for a lack of sanity and common sense seemed in more ways than one an unfair trade in his eyes. After a sigh of acceptance that he had been defeated, Conway recalled Smoochum back into her Pokéball and looked to it sadly.

    "I was in a little over my head, I suppose," Conway admitted quietly. "My apologies. I won't let it be at your expense in the future…" Glaring at Barry, who was still as smug (and impatient) as ever, greatly fueled his drive to compete. It was hard to explain, but something about Barry greatly livened up Conway's competitive drive. As a result, he felt a stronger desire to win this battle. "So you're not a complete imbecile," Conway somewhat complimented, which only made Barry frown back. "Good to know. This may not be such a waste of time after all."

    "Bring it!" Barry challenged, shaking his fists. "And make it quick; I didn't battle just to hear you talk to yourself!"

    Conway narrowed his eyes at this, unable to forget for even a moment why he wanted to defeat this guy so soundly. It wasn't going to be a complete shut-out, but Conway knew it was still early enough to make an impression, and the best way to pull that off would be to use his strongest, most reliable player on hand. "Come forth and conquer, Slowking…!"

    Like Conway's previous Pokémon, Barry couldn't help but stare on, dumbfounded at his opponent's choice. "Wow, your taste in Pokémon is kind of… terrible, you know?"

    "Famous last words," Conway replied with a smirk. "Slowking, Psychic!"

    The much more powerful rendition of the Confusion attack was just as (and probably more) effective keeping Staraptor's movements completely controlled. Oddly, Conway wasn't doing anything other than keeping Staraptor in place for the first few moments, prompting Barry to complain again.

    "Oh, come on!" he cried out. "This is an obvious stall-off! What, are your Pokémon just like you and too weak to throw a punch?"

    Conway preferred to think of it as he was too "mature" to be throwing punches, but what was the difference? He made it no secret that he was more inclined to special attacks. "Strategic mental combat is an effective battling strategy, believe it or not," he claimed, unafraid to spill his own strategy out at a time like this because Conway had a feeling Barry would just forget it three seconds later and go off on a completely unrelated tangent. "Now, I just submitted you to the laws of gravity moments earlier… at this time, I would like to show you firsthand the laws of friction with objects in motion."

    "Aw, I should've figured!" Barry grumbled. "A nerd would submit me to the most boring stuff in the world right in the middle of a battle… they're the worst!"

    Conway couldn't help but be amused with this. "Believe me when I say this will be anything but boring. Now, pay attention: the laws of friction are largely irrelevant when the object – in this case, your Staraptor – is under the control of Psychic. This means I can make it move much faster than it can naturally on its own. Observe."

    After a signal to Slowking, Staraptor, still helpless in Psychic's power, moved several times faster than it could naturally as it shot up and down like a rocket in the sky and past a tree, where several leaves were shaken from their limbs once Staraptor zoomed past. Barry watched both in horror and awe, as this was rather interesting to watch.

    "Now, say I put a huge rock in Staraptor's way," Conway hypothesized. "Do you think Staraptor will be stopped by the rock, or is its friction plus its mass even stronger than that and will blast right through the rock?"

    Barry grasped at his hair after hearing that. "Either way, that's not going to end well with Staraptor…!"

    "Indeed," Conway agreed, as he gleefully planned for this all along. "Slowking, Power Gem!"

    A large, golden rock formed in the air as Barry looked on helplessly. "You wouldn't…!"

    "You've been quite a pain today," Conway admitted, sounding almost helpless himself about the matter. "But trust me; this will be fun. You wouldn't believe how much it pays off to train a Pokémon to handle two attacks at once. Slowking?"

    The Royal Pokémon nodded, knowing this was its cue. At the very last second, it released its Psychic hold on Staraptor in order to focus on forcing it back with the Power Gem attack. Staraptor was completely helpless all this time and had no way to make a difference even with its freedom back mere moments before it smashed into the massive, sparkling rock.

    There was an explosion that followed this; trails of glitter from the rock rained down over the trainers as they watched on to see the result of this catastrophe. Staraptor did manage to force its way a short distance into the rock, but that was it. What remained of the rock smashed Staraptor ruthlessly into the ground, and needless to say it was going to be out of commission for quite a while.

    Barry gaped at the sight for a while before coming to his senses and recalling Staraptor back to its Pokéball. Apparently he didn't handle defeat with even half the grace of Conway. "… Staraptor… I'm gonna avenge you! I'll make that nerd pay in more ways than one and win this for both of us!"

    "Then go ahead; show us what you've got next," Conway invited. "Slowking here barely broke a sweat."

    "I'll make you sorry for what you did!" Barry promised as he threw his next Pokéball. "Roserade, gimme a hand here…!"

    This was an interesting choice, as the type advantages and disadvantages were even. Conway could use his Psychic-type attacks to exploit Roserade's vulnerability in its Poison-type while its Grass-type could critically injure Slowking's partial Water-type identity if Barry played his cards right. He was realizing by now that Conway wasn't only inclined towards special attacks; his opponent was also keen on keeping his Pokémon well-defended even without directly using defensive moves. So far most of Conway's blows have been aided by Psychic or Confusion. While Barry had more of a melee strategy, Conway clearly preferred alternative options… which made him quite a threat, much to Barry's surprise. By being comparatively passive compared to Barry's battling prowess, Conway successfully created an air of mystery around himself by mostly hanging in the background without doing too much. He was clearly one frightful contender, and even Conway didn't give himself enough credit in that regard.

    After some consideration, Conway decided to keep Slowking in this round. "Very well; I'll stick with Slowking. By all means, take the initiative.

    Asking Barry to attack was already suspicious, but Barry really had no other choice. He tried to shove his concerns aside and focus on the match. "It's your funeral, then!" A funny choice of words considering what Conway recently went through. "Roserade, Poison Jab!"

    A bum rush strategy could succeed or fail depending on the situation. Barry wisely decided to overwhelm Conway with a never-ending stream of physical attacks which would force Conway to fight back by traditional means.

    "Protect!" Conway called out, wondering why Barry didn't just call for a Grass-type attack instead. He was fully expecting something like Grass Knot or Energy Ball; certainly not Poison Jab. Slowking successfully surrounded itself in a protective barrier of light, blocking the first wave of Poison Jabs.

    "Poison Jab, Poison Jab, Poison Jab!" Barry repeated, shouting at the top of his lungs. "Protect's not going to hold out forever! We'll force Slowking out and beat it into submission! Go for it, Roserade!"

    Conway frowned at this, hoping Roserade would back off with a recharge and then finally use a Grass-type attack like a sensible trainer would call for. What Barry said was true; Slowking's Protect barrier would soon break and Protect had a good chance of failing when called for a second time consecutively.

    All he could think of for the moment was to attempt to hold Roserade off until it tired itself out, making it child's play to defeat. It wasn't very likely it would work out as Conway wanted it to, but it didn't stop him from trying his best. Fast-paced as battles were, Conway knew it was best to stick to his plan, as improvising was very risky for players like him.

    "Keep defending, Slowking," Conway ordered. "You can outlast a Roserade easily."

    "Doesn't that pink thing just make you mad, Roserade?" Barry asked his partner, smirking. "I know it makes me mad, and we're gonna make it go down no matter what! So just keep using Poison Jab! That geeky trainer doesn't know about the true power we've got inside!"

    "True power?" Conway wondered out loud. "Are you just tossing out a red herring for me or are you going somewhere with this?"

    Barry just pouted for a moment, putting his hands on his hips. "What, you claim to be smart and you don't even know who my dad is?"

    "How is your father's identity even relevant to your own strength?" Conway asked him, looking skeptical. Father topics were never fun to talk about. "You're not your father; you're your own person and you make your own destiny."

    "My dad's one of the strongest trainers in the world!" Barry proudly proclaimed. "I've got his genes and people say I fight like him all the time! Flattering, really. You know what the Battle Frontier is, right?"

    Conway's jaw nearly dropped when he heard the words "battle" and "frontier" used together. "You're implying that your father is a Frontier Brain?"

    "Who's implying?" Barry shot back. "It's the truth! My dad's Tower Tycoon Palmer of Sinnoh's Battle Frontier!"

    To this revelation, Conway gasped. Since the Sinnoh Battle Frontier was relatively new, Conway wasn't as privy to all its dirty little secrets like he was with the longstanding Kanto Battle Frontier. But now it suddenly made sense why Conway was so pumped and ready to take Barry on… while vastly different, Barry had a special way of getting underneath Conway's skin; a way only pulled off by Paul in the past. Both were sons of the most powerful Frontier Brains of their respective chapters… it was hard to say it was just a coincidence now.

    "Man, you must've been living under a rock to not know that," Barry mocked. "Everyone knows me and loves me!"

    Conway had a very hard time believing that; maybe it was also a personality clash, but Conway couldn't figure out how Barry was by any means tolerable to the general public. He wasn't coldhearted and antisocial like Paul, but Barry made up for that by being outrageously obnoxious and possibly even haughtier than Paul himself is. Conway also wasn't exactly keeping up to date with everything considering what he had been through in the past month. Taking care of Paul was a full-day job in itself and life had been nothing but sheer disaster for him since the two split ways.

    "What is it with these Frontier Brain children?" Conway muttered. "I swear, Reggie's the only sane one and he's emotionally unstable…"

    "Hey, what's with the mumbling?!" Barry complained. "We're in the middle of a battle; why do I even have to tell you all of this?"

    Conway just rolled his eyes, looking back at the fight where Roserade was still spamming Poison Jab at Slowking, who was clearly struggling to keep up its defensive barrier any longer. "Why in the world are you only using one move? And a Poison-type move, at that!"

    "One move's all I need to beat you!" Barry replied. "You think you're so special with all your training and you think Roserade's gonna tire out… well, think again!"

    Barry had a point: for all the minutes that had passed since this round's beginning, Roserade really didn't look all that burdened by the sheer amounts of energy it was putting into every single punch. "No Psychic tricks this time; we're gonna force you to fight!"

    Conway was about to retort until he heard a piercing sound of something shattering; namely Slowking's barrier. Unprotected, Slowking was forced to take in these blows directly without being given much of a chance to counterattack. "Curses," Conway quietly grumbled, watching the battle closely. "I can't get Slowking to focus on a Psychic attack if Roserade keeps hammering at him. If he can't get out of there, we're sunk…"

    "We've got 'im now, Roserade!" Barry victoriously proclaimed. "Just keep Poison Jabbing till there's nothing left!"

    Cheap as this strategy was, it was genius against a trainer like Conway, who had no reliable method of countering it without possibly sacrificing his own Pokémon.

    It was making Conway seriously consider a kamikaze move just to throw Barry off the trail. This opponent left much to be desired in regards to personality and brainpower, but otherwise was indeed more than the average trainer… the progeny of Frontier Brains seemed to be in a league of their own.

    When it came right down to it, Conway was honestly out of options. Slowking needed to focus in order to truly use its power and it was impossible to do so while getting endlessly Poison Jabbed. A move that would take them both down would be abrupt and wouldn't require much time at all to execute.

    "Guess we'll just have to shove back after all," Conway decided. "Time to let loose a bit, Slowking. Water Pulse!"

    By sacrificing the control of its power, Slowking had a tendency to be unstable. This wasn't a strategy Conway often resorted to, but it was a desperation measure nonetheless. It at least allowed Slowking to conjure up power more quickly, and hence was able to haphazardly hurl Water Pulse straight into Roserade… which of course wasn't enough to keep Roserade down by a long shot, but it gave Slowking ample time to surround itself in a barrier of pure Psychic energy. While looking similar, this was nothing like Protect. A point blank ranged hit from Water Pulse at least knocked Roserade back considerably, but both it and Barry stared in shock as Slowking was no longer calm and collected.

    "This is it!" Conway called out, pointing directly at Roserade. "Fire!"

    Slowking was anything but slow on the uptake as it zoomed across the gap between its opponent in a split second and attached itself to Roserade, letting the built-up psychic energy loose, resulting in a massive explosion.

    As the dust and smoke settled, the nerve-wracked Barry and Conway squinted at the battle site, seeing pretty much what Conway expected: Slowking and Roserade were unable to battle.

    "I-… I swear, your Pokémon are all the same!" Barry spat out as he recalled Roserade. "Psychic this! Psychic that! A-and that was cheap!"

    "No more cheap than your own strategy, thank you," Conway corrected as he much more calmly recalled Slowking, glad to have the odds evened out again. The final round would have both sides' Pokémon at full health and energy, which hopefully would conclude well. "Well, the next round should definitely decide the battle overall."

    Barry growled and shook his fists. "Don't talk about what's obvious! What are you gonna have, another Psychic-type for me to smash?"

    "Guess you'll just have to find out," Conway replied with a smirk, taking out his last Pokéball. "I'm rather interested in what you have in store for me as well."

    "Like I'd tell you before you send yours out!" Barry barked back. He looked very stubborn about this minor detail.

    To that, Conway nodded. "Understandable. Perhaps we should just send out our Pokémon simultaneously so we'll both be surprised."

    "You're on!" Barry agreed, looking down at his Pokétch. "Alright then, in five! Four! Three! Two…!"

    Conway nodded and threw his Pokéball. "Let's come forth…!"

    Barry followed a couple of beats later. "It's your turn…!"


    There were several moments of awkward silence after this; after all, it was rather unexpected on both sides that they would actually have the same species of Pokémon.

    "Wh-what's this all about?!" Barry cried out in confusion. "What are you, a witch?! How could you know that I was going to send out Heracross next?!"

    That was by far the most bizarre accusation that was ever directed at Conway. "… Oh, you were serious?" he asked Barry after a pause. "I had no idea that you had a Heracross."

    "Well, one of us has to switch out!" Barry declared. "There's no way we can keep up the battle when our Pokémon look exactly the same!"

    Conway hated to admit it, but Barry was right. "Well, you could tie your scarf around yours and that would solve the problem…"

    "Not unless you tie something to your Heracross, too!" Barry protested. "That would be giving my Heracross an unfair weight handicap!"

    "Well, unfortunately, I don't have anything to tie around my Heracross," Conway pointed out with a sigh. "It's also not fair if one of us switches out because we'll have the strategic advantage over each other. We would both have to switch our Pokémon…"

    Barry was not satisfied with this at all. "What are you doing with a Heracross, anyway? That's totally unlike you!"

    Never mind that Barry only just met Conway today… what would he know? "You said you wanted something different," Conway reminded him. "So I chose Heracross. What in the world are you complaining about?"

    "I wanna see what your strategy is with something that's not gonna stall me or trap my Pokémon with Psychic!" Barry explained, still rather whiny. "And I've already decided on my strategy and I'm not gonna change my mind!"

    "You're behaving like a petulant child," Conway grumbled. "You're insisting the match stays as it is? Our Heracross are even the same gender… what are the odds?"

    Said Heracross looked at their trainers' bickering back and forth; both rather annoyed that their trainers were unable to tell the difference between them. Though visually, for humans it was rather difficult most of the time, many Pokémon species were offended regardless of the typical "All Heracross look alike"… disregarding the gender differences, of course, but that wasn't even relevant in this case.

    "You're the immature one!" Barry claimed, pointing at Conway. "You oughta be honored to battle somebody like me! It's not every day you run into the son of a Frontier Brain!"

    "Well, you ran into me, first of all," Conway corrected for him, very annoyed at how Barry could be as astonishingly wrong about his conclusions as he could be right. He couldn't help but notice the irony of what Barry was saying… for being a fan of Paul to this extent, Conway found it surprising that Barry apparently was unaware of the fact that his idol was also a Frontier Brain's son. "Second… your background remains irrelevant even now. So please stop wasting your breath and don't bring it up again. I only need to be told these things once." If even that.

    "So even after learning that, you treat me like I'm not a threat?" Barry argued. "Like I'm below you or something?"

    Conway was baffled at where Barry's mind must be at this time. "Er… what? I've never even implied that, much less ever said such a thing-"

    "There you go, on the defense again!" Barry complained tiredly, not caring that he interrupted Conway at all.

    "Because you keep accusing me of things that aren't true!" Conway barked back, about to lose his cool with this guy… he definitely stood out from Paul. Paul really never got Conway this flustered by himself. Barry was single-handedly driving him mad with his insanity. "Of course I'll defend myself against your lies!"

    Barry just rolled his eyes and waved Conway off. "Whatever; you've so got issues. Let's just get this battle over with before I start sending you bills every week!"

    "Fine by me," Conway stiffly agreed. "Now, let's…"

    Something was wrong… very wrong. The second Conway refocused on the battlefield, he realized neither Heracross were present. He looked around frantically before finally looking up, seeing them both high up in the sky, flying away. "Oh no…!"

    "What the heck is this?!" Barry cried out as he realized what was going on. "Where are they going?! Why?!"

    "I have a feeling we may have offended them," Conway supposed, looking on thoughtfully. "All this time, we've been arguing and completely ignoring them… and maybe they wanted to battle after all."

    "Heracross, you get back here!" Barry cried out, aiming his Pokéball into the sky. "Return, now!" Though he attempted to recall Heracross, it failed as the laser from the Pokéball simply couldn't go out that far.

    Conway shook his head, knowing it would be hopeless to get them back unless they chased after their Pokémon to wherever they were headed. "We're out of range to get them back so easily," he told Barry. "We'll need to go after them."

    "Then let's book it!" Barry decided immediately, forgetting about everything he had left on the ground. "Before they get too far away to catch up with…!"

    Conway just gaped at how speedy Barry was and groaned when he realized he'd have to push his limits just to keep up with the guy. Physical endurance was definitely something Conway struggled with, but he just had to grin and bear it in order to reach his Heracross.

    Barry was both disappointed and unsurprised about this weakness. Just as he considered complimenting Conway, he decided against it once he saw how pathetic Conway looked just by trying to match his pace. "Come on, get the lead out, nerd! We're losing them!"

    Conway just coughed and moaned in response, wondering if this was what cardiac arrest felt like. Eventually, the pair did lose track of the Heracross and petered out… Conway especially, as they stopped at a road to catch their breath.

    "I'm blaming you for this completely!" Barry breathed out. "You're such dead weight!"

    "S-sorry," Conway quietly said in a rather pathetic tone. He was laying flat on his back on the ground. "I've really neglected improving my own physical endurance…"

    "Well, we're lost and we don't have any idea where our Heracross went," Barry grumbled, kicking a rock. "Great, just great!"

    While Conway was catching his breath, he cautiously watched the sun, realizing (without needing a watch to check) that it was late afternoon heading into evening. With that, he was able to at least tell which direction was west. "Well, we were both heading for Hearthome City," he mentioned. "And it looks like our Heracross went off directly east from our position. I wonder if they smelled a source heavy with tree sap or honey… they do tend to act on their own when that happens."

    "Hold on; since when were you going to Hearthome City?" Barry asked him, sounding suspicious. "You can't be heading there… I am!"

    "I was heading there long before you ran into me," Conway explained. "It has nothing to do with you. I'll be challenging Fantina."

    "But not until I'm done with her!" Barry shouted defiantly. "Sorry, but I've got a score to settle with that lady. You'll just have to wait your turn, and since I'm a lot faster than you, I'm definitely going to reach her before you."

    Conway shrugged, because he honestly didn't care who got there first. "Whatever you say. But this really isn't what we should be dwelling on right this second."

    Barry blinked before it all came back to him. "Oh! Right, Heracross… uh, what are we going to do about that again?"

    "We need to predict where our Pokémon are before we start the chase again," Conway instructed. "We won't find them if we run around haphazardly. How well do you know this area, Barry?"

    "Uh, depends on what we're talking about," Barry answered, unsure of what Conway wanted from him.

    Conway looked around, not expecting Barry to be of much help here. "Is there a forest or garden or a city nearby? To be flying off that quickly, they must have smelled something sweet."

    "Well, let's see," Barry mumbled as he remembered his Pokétch had a map function that could make it easier to tell where they were. "If we're southeast of Hearthome City and north of the swamps, then the closest place from where we are would be… Angel Grove City. I think this road leads straight to it."

    "Anything notable about it?" Conway asked.

    Barry looked up and tried to think. "I know they've got a really big juice bar called Ernie's but that's about it."

    Juice… yeah, that sealed the deal. "That's all we need to know," Conway assured, getting up and dragging Barry by the road immediately. "Come on! There's still time!"

    Though taken off-guard from Conway's sudden revival, he followed along steadily. Mismatched as they were, they still were able to work together towards a common goal whenever necessary. They eventually made it to Angel Grove City by evening and were quickly directed to Ernie's Juice Bar, as it seemed their Pokémon had caused quite a commotion since arriving.

    When Barry and Conway entered the juice bar, they were aghast at what they saw. Innocent civilians, what few still remained in the establishment after all this time, were backed up against the wall in horror as two ferociously hungry Heracross had torn the place apart to suck up every drop of juice they could find. Apparently they were very adept at scaring people off in order to have a monopoly on the juice and were very much enjoying their reward until they heard a loud, indignant "Heracross!" from both their trainers at once.

    "How dare you be so rude!" Barry scolded, promptly taking out Heracross' Pokéball and managed to successfully recall it. "Good to see you're okay, but we're going to have a talk about this tomorrow; you better believe it!"

    Conway just shook his head with disappointment as he recalled his own Heracross. "We didn't mean to hurt your feelings, but really, you're usually above this sort of nonsense."

    While it was a relief to have their Heracross back, Conway and Barry both felt uneasy when they sensed a taller figure looming over them. Judging by the apron, bowtie and especially nametag, it looked like this was the bar's owner himself, Ernie.

    "Ah, crap!" Barry cursed before turning around and bowing a bit, scratching his head. "Okay, right. We didn't mean for all this to happen. We're really sorry about your place, believe me! You'd believe the son of Tower Tycoon Palmer, right?"

    At that attempt to pull rank, Ernie showed them both a bill with an outrageous price to pay… obviously for all of the damage and juice consumption.

    "Ack!" Barry cried out. "Are you kidding me? What kid has that kind of money, I ask you? What, are you gonna make us work off the bill?"

    The smirk and nod on Ernie's part indicated that… yes, if it came to that, he would go that far.

    Barry brought his hands together, looking up at Ernie with fear overcoming him as he tried to beg for mercy. "Oh, have a heart! Just put it on my dad's tab, okay? Come on, please…?"

    Conway sighed, bumping Barry aside to get Ernie's attention, which he did very well considering he was holding quite the flashy credit card in his hand. "I'll cover the damages," he offered. "You take cards, right?"

    Without a word, Ernie took Conway's credit card and made his way over to where the register was. It seems that was enough to sway him. "Be sure to count both of us!" Conway reminded. "I don't mind covering for him!"

    At first, Barry was baffled that Conway would be carrying credit cards of all things and was even more bewildered in regards to his offer to pull him out of the fire that was this mess when all Barry had done was antagonize him all day. At the same time, Barry was finally beginning to feel a bit of respect for Conway as a person. After doubting his integrity all day, the creepy guy went out of his way to save both of them with no benefit for himself to reap. It was very… noble, oddly enough. More importantly, it was something Barry couldn't ignore.

    "But that bill… that bill was huge!" Barry exclaimed. "Conway, you didn't have to…"

    Conway smirked and shook his head. "Nice to see you calling me by my name rather than "nerd". But still, you're just as innocent as I am; there's no reason to make you needlessly suffer a punishment you don't deserve."

    Barry blinked at that statement. "But if it were the other way around, I totally would've ditched you…"

    That made Conway just stare at Barry; the look clearly said that he wished he could be surprised by this. "Well, I at least appreciate your honesty," he said flatly, clearly annoyed by the mere thought. "Don't worry about it. You should be happy I'm actually paying considering how much you fined me all day."

    "Hey, yeah!" Barry smiled, very content with that answer. "What goes around comes around, huh?"

    "Uh, sure… let's go with that," Conway awkwardly concurred. "Too bad we're losing daylight now. I may as well stay the night in the city."

    "Count me in!" Barry cheered, practically inviting himself along. "We're both going to the same place anyway."

    Conway wasn't sure what to make of this. "That doesn't mean you have to stick by me or anything," he assured. "No need to feel obligated."

    "Nope; made up my mind," Barry said, obstinacy coming to the fore. "You're clearly a trainer I've gotta look out for and I've been bored out of my mind by myself, so that's that. You're coming with me."

    As a traveling companion… Conway wasn't sure if he wanted to go through that again. While it would be immensely useful to have an ally close by him, it was… Barry. Conway could make do with the hard-to-get-along-with Paul, but Barry flat out annoyed Conway most of the time. It was hard to explain, still.

    Then again, Conway figured a different spin on a traveling companion might do him some good when it came to getting over the Paul thing. He'd keep himself from getting too emotionally invested this time… and with someone as flaky as Barry, it would be best to not take his partnership to heart to begin with. Through this, Conway would learn from his previous mistakes, and who knows? Perhaps this would even enlighten him on how to appeal to Paul again someday. Even now, Conway didn't like the thought of never seeing Paul again, and as crazy as Barry was over the guy, it was obvious that Conway wouldn't have an easy time getting Paul off his mind as it was.

    "I suppose it would be a fulfilling experiment," Conway conceded, trying to remain open-minded about this. "So long as you behave, that is."

    "Well, you'd better behave too," Barry warned. "I've still got my eyes on you, and if you try anything, I'll fine you and your kids and your grandkids and your great-"

    Conway cut him off right there. "I get the point. We'll both behave."

    "So that's settled," Barry decided, extending a hand. "Glad to have you aboard, Conway!"

    Paul never did anything like this… for once, Conway wished he would have. After smiling sincerely, Conway accepted and shook Barry's hand. "Here's to wishing for many happy days by tomorrow, Barry."

    This was not something Conway expected to come up in his journey, and he was almost certain that he and Barry would be parting ways in the near future for whatever reason… most importantly, Conway didn't want to get Barry too involved with his problems. Obnoxious as he tended to be, Barry was still a relatively stand-up guy and didn't deserve to have his life put on the line because of Conway's issues with Saturn.

    Still, in a way, it was a pleasant surprise… and Conway was willing to take any opportunity to be lighthearted and fun-loving as he freely used to be on this long and depressing journey of his.

    The chase had taken a lot out of both trainers, thus once all dues were paid for in full, Conway directed Barry to the finest hotel Angel Grove City had to offer for a relaxing night of expensive pampering.

    "Magmar, Flamethrower one last time!"

    The Spitfire Pokémon fired off what must have been the twentieth attempt at a widespread Flamethrower attack under the command of Paul, who, in order to last in the cold in spite of his weakened condition, finally caved and contacted Maylene briefly to bring out his Fire-type (exchanging Weavile to do so) for support against the weather. As Paul's newest Pokémon, Magmar needed all the training it could get, anyway.

    The end of the third day since Paul's ultimatum was nigh as the sun started to set under the horizon. Upon noticing this, Paul sighed and held up a hand to Magmar. "That'll do for today," he called out. "It's been three days now… this should be enough," he determined. "This strategy will crush Candice."

    He recalled Magmar back into its Pokéball and started to head for Snowpoint City, which was only a small distance away from where Paul was training. "It's not too late," he realized. "She's probably still at the Gym… if I could get this over with today…"

    Then it would finally allow Paul to move on from this dreadfully frigid place and allow him to clear his mind of all the terrible things that have happened just by trying to reach Snowpoint City. Paul desperately wanted the ability to leave, and his strong desires would only fuel his drive to battle and defeat Candice properly. There's no time like the present, after all.

    After resting up his Pokémon at the Pokémon Center for a few moments, Paul walked briskly towards the accursed establishment that revealed his true weaknesses to both the Gym Leader and a sizable crowd of local children. That was all in the past now… it wasn't easy, but Paul finally managed to push it in the back of his mind in favor of conquering the Gym he spent nearly a month trying to reach.

    As he approached the Snowpoint Gym, he heard some commotion from a distance near the building, which proved that Candice was still there and available. However, Paul slowed to a stop as he got a good look at who was making the noise… who else would annoy him so badly (other than Conway)?

    Ash Ketchum and his friends; all decked out in winter gear suitable for the climate (though it seemed Dawn still had something against wearing pants as her legs remained just as bare as they were in her normal outfit). Ash was all hyped up to the point where he forgot to put his coat back on once he was back outside, which Dawn gladly handed over to him. Candice was carrying a case of sorts… also present was a girl with short, spiky red hair. This was a new one for Paul as he was pretty sure he never met this friend of Ash and friends, but at this time he really didn't care.

    But this was the kind of mindset Paul wanted to avoid; the mere presence of Ash alone would not deter him from accomplishing this task. Knowing it was too late to exit without making a scene, Paul took a deep breath of mental preparation before closing in on the group. The only sound coming from Paul was the sound of snow being crunched underneath his shoes, which was enough to alert the group of his presence.

    "Paul…!" Ash called out with surprise, not expecting to run into him in a place like this.

    Paul tuned it out completely and looked directly at Candice instead. The way his eyes pierced into hers was jarring… this was her first time seeing Paul this clearly and it wasn't really even hitting her yet. Still, her instincts told her to just play along for now until her memories would remind her of what this was exactly about. After a hard battle, she was understandably weary and therefore vulnerable to Paul's intense focus.

    "So you must be Candice, the Gym Leader?" he asked politely, but the tone in his voice made it obvious that he was forcing it out… mainly due to his irritation that Ash was present now of all times.

    "Y-yes," Candice uneasily forced out her reply, still a bit shaken by this young man's presence. Despite his question there was a feeling of inherent knowledge within him… as if he weren't really asking a question at all. It was perplexing to be caught off-guard like this.

    Paul figured he might as well be straightforward with his intentions here and now. Getting his point across as soon as possible was priority one right now. Within that Gym laid dark memories of the weaknesses that Paul was now using everything in the fiber of his being to hide. He kept a strong tone in his voice as if to tell the world… "No, there really isn't anything wrong with me after all." It simply wasn't true no matter how convincing Paul could make the statement sound… but it was the impression that counted.

    "I challenge you to a Gym Battle."

    ( TBC )

    Chapter 19: Black Ice Battle!
    plurk | SPPF | dA | ff.net

  2. #62
    Registered User Andre27's Avatar
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    Dec 2009

    Default Re: Travels of the Trifecta! (Anime, PG-13)

    Just found this story again. Barry's in now huh. Should be fun.

  3. #63
    Rocking the Lucario Thundagere's Avatar
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    May 2010
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    Default Re: Travels of the Trifecta! (Anime, PG-13)

    I have to say, I'm very much impressed by this story. Although I didn't notice any grammar errors, there were a couple of context errors. All the same, I very much enjoyed it and I can't wait till the next chapter!

    Made by Blue Dragon!

  4. #64
    Gonna be a tl;dr Master! Shinneth's Avatar
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    Dec 2007
    Kentucky. The boonies.
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    Default Re: Travels of the Trifecta! (Anime, PG-13)

    (Finally, Chapter 15, aka Let's Stretch Out A Pyramiding Rage! As Far As Humanly Possible! Yeah, you enjoy that. This'll likely be the last chapter before the Diamond & Pearl anime series ends too, sob.)

    "So you must be Candice, the Gym Leader?"


    "I challenge you to a Gym Battle."

    All those present at the entrance of the Snowpoint Gym stared on at the very determined Paul who had just shown up in the area a mere moment ago. Short, quick, and to the point… that was who he was; naturally, that left those surprised by his appearance a tad shaken. This was especially true for Zoey; for her this was her very first impression of Paul, and it was less than pleasant for her, to say the least. She looked to her mentor, Candice, wondering how she would address this stranger.

    Candice had just come fresh off an intense four-on-four battle with Ash… naturally she was flighty anyway, but in her present state, she hadn't quite caught on yet that she very well knew who this person challenging her was. But that voice… that very distinct voice was subconsciously guiding her as she stumbled into an explanation to serve as her official response to the direct challenge.

    "I'm sure you must have come a long way for this," she said, clearly uneasy in turning him down, but brought out a smile so that she wouldn't worry the others with her sudden, insecure sentiments… though Zoey had already well caught on. "But I just finished a battle with Ash and I'd like to give the gang a rest. … How about tomorrow?" Just by having to address him, she was sensing the familiarity…

    Much to Candice's relief, Paul softened a bit as he consented to her suggestion. "Alright then. Tomorrow it is."

    Though he was determined to settle the score once and for all as soon as he could, Paul could deal with another night of waiting… it would give him the chance to rest and review his planned strategy… again, nothing like Conway's, and not nearly as effective as his former partner's… but it was better than nothing, which was what Paul had the first time he challenged Candice. The result from that… Paul was sure to prevent an embarrassing loss like that in the future. Having no further business with Candice, he turned around and started to walk off to where he would be staying for the night. He was concerned with the confused and tense look on Candice's face, but was relieved that she still managed to keep her word and not treat him as a familiar.

    If only his escape from this group could be this simple. Ash was definitely not settling for letting his rival go already. Though he knew better to bring up what happened in Squallville… knowing Paul, he would definitely blow it off. He opted for proving to Paul that he was indeed progressing as he held up his freshly-won Icicle Badge.

    "Hey, Paul! Check it out; I just got my seventh badge," Ash told him gleefully, unable to contain the giddiness of winning a hard-fought battle not even an hour ago. "One more and I'm in the Sinnoh League! So how many do you have?"

    Paul stopped, but didn't turn around to face the group again. But his eyes widened as his rival specifically mentioned that the badge he just won… was his seventh.

    How many badges did Paul currently have again…? Oh, yes. Only six. Ash was officially ahead of him. Paul resisted the surge of pain that coursed through his body as that fact registered in his mind… he was definitely going to have to take more of his medication once he got settled in. Of course, there was no way Paul would admit to Ash that he was the one behind in the journey to the Sinnoh League… even if only by a small amount. Paul may be terminally ill, but he still had shreds of his pride remaining.

    It was time to drop the act and just be himself. "That's none of your business."

    Following that, it was definitely time for Paul to get out of there as he briskly walked away, managing to get away this time.

    "Hmph," Ash sulked. "What's his problem?" Not a day went by that Ash, whenever meeting Paul, would not end up complaining about his attitude.

    Brock was a bit more understanding over the matter, though he could tell Paul did seem to carry himself a bit differently from the time the group saw him last. "Ash, that's how he is," he said reassuringly. Really, that's all that could be said for anything related to Paul.

    "Who is?" Zoey finally asked, already getting bad vibes from merely seeing Paul for the first time.

    Dawn was quick to give her rival the details. "His name is Paul. He's really Ash's rival…" Dawn laughed hollowly at her own statement; even now she wasn't certain if "rival" was really the best word to describe Paul and his significance to Ash. "They seem to get into fights whenever they meet."

    Though it had yet to reach that point, Dawn worried one day that a confrontation between the two would get physical. That was the last thing she wanted to see, though with Brock on hand, he would be able to patch Ash up should he suffer any severe blows. Still, it was scary for her to imagine the scenario all the same.

    Candice meanwhile kept her eyes on Paul until he was too far away to see. Having heard his name multiple times now, remembering his voice and demeanor… it finally came back to her. She was glad she didn't spill any details on accident, but even though she had dealt with Paul in the past, this was her first time seeing him interact with his so-hated rival. She remembered Paul namedropped him a few days ago during their brief meeting. Though he spoke of Ash in such a vile way, it still shook Candice to see the friction right before her very eyes.

    "Dawn… you and Zozo are rivals too," she said, sounding uneasy. "But it's nothing like this; that's for sure…"

    It just then occurred to Candice… none of Paul's peers knew about his recently-diagnosed condition. Then again, she remembered Paul wanted her to keep her mouth shut about that detail especially. Zoey remained unsettled by Candice's reactions, but as daylight was swiftly fading, it was time for the group to go their separate ways for the night.

    Nighttime was no excuse to Paul; now that he had a little extra time for last-minute preparations before his Gym Battle, he knew it was important for him to go over and review his strategy. Just to keep his senses sharp, he decided to spend a little more time getting his newest Pokémon, Magmar, up to speed with the rest of his team by using Electabuzz, the only other Pokémon on his team that wouldn't be used for the Gym Battle. It was a shame, as Electabuzz had a powerful Brick Break attack that would devastate Candice's team, but Paul was still determined to challenge himself as much and he possibly could… now that he knew he was dying, it made sense why Paul needlessly made things so much harder for himself.

    By undergoing these extremes… Paul felt alive. Otherwise, he practically regarded himself as the walking dead.

    While Ash's presence in Snowpoint City bothered Paul greatly, it was likely only because this issue was stacked on top of so many other problems Paul was having right now. By having Ash around, it was just one more setback Paul had no choice but to deal with. Not to mention, seeing the familiar trio knowing they weren't aware of his most serious problem made it a bit harder for Paul to communicate with them than it already was. His illness prevented him from saying much to Ash at Squallville and even cost him the PokéRinger competition in a way. On the plus side, Ash had finished his business with Snowpoint City today… with any luck, Paul hoped, Ash would be out of the area completely by the next day.

    "Use Smog!" Paul commanded Magmar, testing out the effectiveness of his Pokémon's move set. Magmar delivered, just as Paul expected with all of his Pokémon, as a thick, poisonous haze covered the field and all those present within it.

    It was very dense; very widespread. Paul nodded with approval. "Alright. Electabuzz, try to find it and use Brick Break. Magmar, I expect you to defend."

    He was looking forward to evolving Magmar very soon. Both it and Electabuzz were long overdue for it; Lairon aside, they were the only active teammates who had not fully evolved. Paul intended to have his full team at their maximum potential before it was time for the Sinnoh League Conference. However, Paul had neglected to actually rest yet even though he reached the Pokémon Center, instead opting to train immediately and go over his plans for Candice tomorrow… which also meant he neglected to take his medication. Most importantly of that, he did not take his antibiotics. As a result, once Paul was consumed with the Smog attack, he found himself coughing uncontrollably. Poison-type attacks were going to be risky measures from now on as long as Paul was a potential target. It was apparent his disease rendered his body extremely vulnerable to an array of bacteria and poisons.

    Paul winced as he coughed so hard that he felt the tiny speckles of blood shooting out from his mouth. His lips trembled a bit as he realized what he had just done, completely forgetting about the training. Magmar blocked Electabuzz's Brick Break efficiently, but once the Smog move cleared out and they clearly heard their trainer in pain, they looked over to him with concern. Once he noticed, Paul stood straight and silently assured his Pokémon that he was fine. There was one important thing Paul always kept in mind… that a leader must not even look weak. The last thing he wanted was his Pokémon doubting his abilities… even though his past actions had already given them all more than enough reason to worry for his health; both physical and mental.

    "Adequate," he said hollowly, attempting to shrug off his ailment like he did with every other problem in his life. "Now, Electabuzz… see how your defense holds up against Magmar."

    Meanwhile, inside the Pokémon Center, many of Paul's peers huddled near a fireplace in the lobby. Brock (holding Happiny) and Dawn (holding Piplup) were filling Zoey in on everything they knew about Paul. Zoey's trusty Glameow was by her side as her friends exposited about this unsettling stranger she just met.

    "Wow," Zoey remarked, somewhat in shock. "I've gotta admit I'm surprised Paul was Chimchar's first trainer…" Thinking it over, something else very apparent and odd occurred to her. "Whoa, and from what I can see, Ash and Paul couldn't be any more different if they tried."

    "Which is exactly why the two of them couldn't ignore each other if they tried," Brock pointed out. That much was evident given how many times those two had crossed paths in the vast region of Sinnoh over the past year. It was both fascinating and horrifying at the same time.

    Dawn looked around, realizing something. "Speaking of Ash, where did he go?"

    "Didn't he say he had to use the bathroom?" Zoey asked.

    "That was at least half an hour ago," Brock noticed, sounding concerned. "We'd better check up on him."

    Dawn nodded in agreement. "I mean, he can get distracted real easily; that's for sure… but where else would he go at this hour?"

    Zoey stood up, frowning and clearly concerned. "From what you both have been telling me, I've got a feeling we should check outside first. If what you said is true, Brock…"

    Brock understood what Zoey was getting at. "It's true that he's staying the night here as well… wherever he is, Ash is sure to follow."

    "Then we'd better hurry," Dawn sputtered, already paranoid and concerned. "If we leave those two alone for too long…"

    "He'll have to answer to me," Zoey assured. Ever since the Wallace Cup tournament came and went, Zoey considered Ash a good friend of hers just as she felt with Dawn in spite of their conflicting viewpoints initially. She learned from him, Nando, and Fantina that there really was no problem with being a Trainer and Coordinator simultaneously. Not to mention this was her turf; Zoey wasn't about to let any friend of hers be harmed in her neighborhood. She was the proactive one of the three, immediately heading outside while Brock and Dawn hastily trailed behind her.

    It was like yin and yang with Ash and Paul, almost. Though it was an unpleasant, twisted version of the concept where the two were unable to compliment each other or maintain any form of balance. Aside from the recent trend of Ash's Pokémon evolving every time he battled with Paul…

    Meanwhile, Ash was caught up in watching Paul train, having discovered him through the window just as he was leaving the bathroom. Even Ash could admit that his rival, in spite of his usual cruel ways, certainly had effective methods of training. It seemed true after all that Paul's Pokémon, his formerly-owned Chimchar aside, worked well with his brutal training and managed just fine without constant praise and support. Why that was the case was beyond Ash's comprehension, but he had a feeling Chimchar's designated replacement, Magmar, was going to be a fierce contender in future battles. Of course, Ash already very well knew of Electabuzz's capabilities since the day it defeated Pikachu as an Elekid… the very day he and Paul met. He had watched several rounds of Electabuzz assaulting Magmar with Brick Break; Magmar mostly staying on the defensive to build its endurance.

    "Hate 'im or like 'im… Paul's really good at this," Ash admitted to Pikachu, who quietly agreed while watching the training alongside its trainer. "That attitude sure hasn't changed since we met, but y'know, we've learned a lot from him from all our battles, haven't we?"

    Pikachu concurred with this, leaning against Ash. "I know you're down, buddy," Ash comforted. "Just wait; I promise you we'll beat him one day. I sure hope it's sooner than later…"

    As he watched Magmar just stand there and take the blows, Ash remembered one of the most important lessons he learned from Paul… albeit indirectly. "Either way, I can't say he was wrong back when Grotle battled Honchkrow. I've got to understand how my Pokémon change after they evolve… I'll never stop believing in them, but I don't wanna let 'em down and think they're exactly the same as they were before evolving. Grotle, Buizel, and Chimchar could still evolve at any time, you know," he pointed out. "I can't be caught unprepared again if it happens."

    He smiled; Ash knew he couldn't dwell on the past for long since he scored a major victory today. "Maybe Paul will open up a little more if I thank him again for what Torterra did," he hypothesized. "Grotle did an awesome job in our Gym Battle and I owe Torterra's training for it. Whaddya say, Pikachu?"

    An ecstatic "Pika!" from his Pokémon's end told Ash all he needed to know. He smiled as his thoughtful and serious side quickly faded away into his happy-go-lucky self, as he usually was. Very few people could drag Ash out of his happy wonderland state of mind… Paul stood out as one who could do it effortlessly.

    Ash proceeded to go outside to meet up with Paul at the training grounds. At the same time, Paul was focusing on Magmar again with its Flamethrower attack. It seemed Electabuzz's endurance was being tested this time around as it stood its ground in spite of the intense flames threatening to singe its bright yellow fur. Seeing Electabuzz handle such an attack this well placated Paul, at the very least.

    "That's good," he remarked. "Now use Flamethrower and face the sky." Paul was testing Magmar's trajectory abilities, apparently. Magmar fired a perfectly angled pillar of fire from its Flamethrower attack high up into the night sky. Paul looked up thoughtfully as he took note of how much Magmar had improved over the past few days. It really seemed as if it was on par with the rest of his team at last. However, his only word to express this feeling was… "Good."

    Just one short moment later, Ash reached Paul, attempting to catch his attention. "Hey, Paul!"

    "Huh…?" Paul looked to the direction of that familiar, annoying voice and surely enough found Ash with Pikachu approaching him, though when Ash stopped running to him, the two were still a good distance away from each other.

    Ash immediately jumped to the subject that was on his mind, paying no mind to what Paul was in the middle of just then. "Man, you should've seen how totally awesome Grotle was today. I wanted to thank Torterra again for the help."

    Paul honestly wondered how Ash could possibly think that he would care about such a thing when he was right in the middle of preparing for Candice tomorrow. Figuring he would get no further with his training with his rival getting up in his business tonight, he recalled Magmar back into its Pokéball and trudged his way back towards the Pokémon Center; Electabuzz trailing not far behind.

    Ash continued trying to get through to Paul as he walked by. "That battling style Torterra showed us a while back worked out really well."

    A while back, indeed. Paul clearly remembered that night when Torterra went off on its own – quite odd behavior for Paul's starter – to give Ash's Grotle advice in order to deal with the drastic changes in its physique. This had nothing to do with helping Ash, per se; merely Torterra expressed sympathy for its fellow species… after all, years ago, Torterra had dealt with the same grief when it evolved to Grotle. Unlike Ash's Grotle, Paul's Torterra had no real support whatsoever from its trainer when this happened.

    Of course, the way Paul trained, even if it had undergone some changes since he started, never had much in common with Ash's methods. Paul knew better to train his Turtwig for speed when he started out. He already had about four years of Pokémon experience when he began, all thanks to being with Reggie for most of his journey before his retirement. Still, in spite of these differences, Paul's Torterra was just as bad as Ash's Grotle as a Turtwig when it came to exploring things with its massive jaws… most of all Paul's head and various parts of his body. It agitated Paul to no end, but there was no helping it; this was the burden a trainer had to carry if they were to choose Turtwig as their starter Pokémon.

    There were unique benefits and drawbacks to choosing any of the typical starter Pokémon in each region beyond the advantages and disadvantages of type. By choosing Piplup, as Dawn and Barry had, the trainer would have to deal with a Piplup's pride. It was no easy feat to bond with a Piplup and become the one thing that surpasses said pride. To choose Chimchar, like Reggie had, one would ideally need to be physically competent and patient. Chimchar could be mischievous or otherwise incorrigible, and as they evolved, their power would become increasingly difficult to control without a trainer's support and help. Chimchar ended up being a perfect match for Reggie, who could give such a Pokémon the unconditional positive regard a Chimchar would need to excel and mature… and it helped that Reggie was born naturally strong and agile; able to keep up with his starter even when it became Infernape. Needless to say, this did factor into why Paul was unable to work with his former Chimchar.

    But his actual starter… Torterra, as a Turtwig, was a much better match for a trainer like Paul. The ability to assert authority, stubbornness, and a more calculated approach was necessary for Turtwig. This wouldn't stop the Tiny Leaf Pokémon from exploring absolutely everything possible with its jaws, so physical and mental endurance was a must. In spite of his susceptibility to illness, Paul was someone who would keep going until his body gave out.

    When Paul's Turtwig evolved to Grotle and was no longer able to trap Paul within its jaws with ease, the at-the-time more immature Paul made sure to rub it in for a long time, "getting revenge", so to speak, for the countless times he had been bitten by his starter. When Paul's Grotle became Torterra, all hope was lost for Torterra to enjoy that freedom ever again. At the same time, Torterra significantly matured and felt a greater desire than ever before to protect its trainer.

    Paul didn't like thinking about it, but Ash seemed to be the ideal trainer for his former Chimchar, yet at the same time he was showing competence with Grotle. Now being one badge ahead of Paul, it begged the question… was Ash beginning to truly measure up as a rival worth his time and attention?

    Instead of searching out those feelings, which was making him feel sick already, Paul chose the route of hypocrisy as he passed by Ash. "You said you were serious about wanting to win in Snowpoint City," he reminded. "So why do you still need Torterra to hold your hand?"

    Ash's friendly gestures quickly gave way to his anger as he turned around, glaring at Paul as he passed by. In times like this, where he went out of his way to give Paul a compliment, it was extremely difficult to contain the anger he felt. Thankfully, after almost four years of training, Ash had come a long way. Ash of his Kanto days would have tackled Paul by this point.

    "Using a Grass-type in an Ice-type Gym…?" Paul wondered out loud, bringing forth the aforementioned hypocrisy. "I guess you chalked that up to blind faith."

    Paul was very well aware of how hypocritical he was being, but silently justified his words with his belief that Ash really had no idea what he planned on doing in most battles and just winged it, hence he had no business trying to make a battle harder for himself. Paul, however… he had things planned out, and unlike Conway, Paul knew how to turn the tides in his favor if his strategies didn't go as planned.

    While the rivals briefly conversed, Zoey and the others discovered them and silently watched and listened in on the conversation, though not overtly trying to hide. However, after hearing Paul's extremely rude response, Zoey couldn't take it anymore. She wasn't used to this kind of blunt rudeness from people, and seeing it get under Ash's skin made her blood boil. Zoey felt bad vibes around Paul since he arrived earlier that day… now she was ready to confront him.

    "Stop right there!" Zoey shouted at Paul before he could completely re-enter the building. He paid no attention to the audience while going inside. "Just who do you think you are?"

    In spite of her fury, Paul stood still, completely unfazed. Dawn had a feeling something more vicious was about to come from this confrontation, thus she was very quick to restrain Zoey. "Zoey…! Stop!"

    "He has no right talking like that," Zoey growled lowly. Ash knew exactly how Zoey felt; this wasn't too different from how he reacted to Paul in their early days. He had mellowed out considerably since then, but he was no less angry about the situation, and the greatest struggle of all would be bringing himself to forgive Paul for what he had done to Chimchar in the past.

    At a time like this, Ash knew he had to be the bigger man. After all, Paul had a Gym Battle upcoming. Ash would no doubt feel terrible if his short temper affected his rival's performance. He held up a hand to Zoey, signaling her to stop, though speaking gently. "It's okay, Zoey."

    "Hmph." Paul was very ready to retire for the night now. Surrounded by chatty people, all of which he found annoying in their own special ways… now he knew for sure this redhead truly was no better than the ones he was already familiar with. He quietly used this opportunity to step inside the building and walk steadily down the hallway to where his room was. Electabuzz was quick to follow.

    The others looked on; only Brock remained perfectly calm at this time. Zoey was still fuming. She remembered the unusual expression on Candice's face when Paul confronted them all earlier that evening. There was more to this guy than what there appeared to be, even though he and her mentor spoke as if they were meeting for the first time.

    "I just hope tomorrow at the Gym Battle, Miss Senior wipes the floor with that jerk," Zoey muttered; loudly enough to get the attention of those who remained in the area with her.

    She had no idea Candice had already been there and done that. Regardless, Zoey was already mentally making plans to speak to the Gym Leader the next day.

    "Don't let the attitude fool you," Brock calmly warned. "Paul is a force to be reckoned with."

    To that, Zoey just sighed and shook her head. "After everything you guys told me about him, it's frankly hard to believe. How can a guy who treats his Pokémon so poorly be a good trainer?"

    "We're… still trying to figure that out ourselves," Dawn admitted, looking down at the floor. "But there's never a moment of peace when he and Ash meet up."

    "I really don't mean to pick a fight," Ash said as he came in, smiling awkwardly. "He just acts like that no matter what I say to him. All this time I've traveled… I've never met a guy like him before."

    Zoey narrowed her eyes as she continued to glare daggers at a now-empty hallway. "Someone needs to keep an eye on him. I don't trust him in a battle alone with Miss Senior."

    Ash, Brock, and Dawn all looked to Zoey, but none of them said anything; they understood what she meant… she was worried for her mentor and wished Paul had never come to Snowpoint City.

    Just as Paul swiftly swallowed down his medication (in the comfort of his own designated room, safe from any outsiders), he was beginning to wish he had never come to Snowpoint City as well. The journey to it was disastrous in itself, but his entire stay in the snow-covered civilization had been nothing but heartbreak, disappointment, and failure. Now Paul couldn't even muster up the will to tell himself there was nothing wrong with him… not when a group of people had just acted as if there were everything wrong with him. He worried that he looked noticeably weak and that Ash (or more likely one of his friends) would catch on.

    For anyone, it would naturally take more than just a few days to come to terms with a terminal illness that was physically crippling. Despite that, Paul still hated that he couldn't be an exception to that rule. He still wondered why it had to be him, let alone how he was going to tell his family about it. Under this much stress, Paul couldn't hide his emotions if he tried. The fact that he remained relatively composed just moments ago in the face of adversity brought his adrenaline to an all-time high, which only caused him to crash down even harder when he finally made it to his bedroom.

    He was quick to retire to his bed, feeling the dizziness come to him as an initial side-effect of his medication. Paul hated having to rely on it, but the pharmacist at the hospital was pretty blunt about the consequences, so he really didn't have a choice. The anxiety of facing Candice again was daunting enough for this unfortunate young man, but now he had to learn on the eve of the fated battle that his incompetent "rival" has suddenly surpassed him. Though his loss to Ash in the PokéRinger competition initially didn't faze Paul that much, the misfortunes that befell Paul since then and the fact that he got absolutely wrecked by Candice's Abomasnow… whom Ash had presumably defeated… was giving Paul a newfound doubt in his abilities. His body was quickly breaking down and his feet were feeling heavier with each passing day. It was reasonable to worry that this terminal disease would play a part in making Paul fall from grace, culminating in Ash's long-awaited victory against Paul in a proper battle.

    Paul felt so torn; he felt the desperate need of another person's support. Reggie… even Conway would suffice for this particular moment. Conway had been taking care of him since they started out, but Paul no longer had that luxury. At the same time, he wanted to be alone.

    He didn't want anyone to see him like this… ever.

    Sleeping proved to be difficult that night for almost all parties.

    The following morning, Paul woke up much earlier than he usually did. Insomnia brought on by his anxiety disallowed him to get much sleep, anyway. However, Paul was in no mood to deal with the peanut gallery today; he wanted to have his Gym Battle with Candice in peace and leave this frigid city once and for all.

    Paul was sure to take his medication as soon as he woke up so he would have the energy to accomplish what he set out to do.

    Meanwhile, further in the city, Reggie was finally finished with his assigned task of bringing a snowed-in customer his Pokémon back. Additionally, being the good samaritan he was, Reggie and his Pokémon actually helped clear out the snow in Alex's (his young customer) neighborhood, allowing residents to easily make their way into the city and go on about their lives. It was a challenging task to uphold, but Reggie was more than happy to be of help since he had one of the best things one could have on hand during a snow emergency: Infernape. The rest of Reggie's Pokémon also did their part to clear the roads and side blocks that the city's snow plows were unable to reach.

    There was no monetary gain to be had in this job that no doubt took days to accomplish, if only because the residents would not allow Reggie to put himself in any danger by overdoing it. Aside from that minor annoyance and Alex's family's insistence on letting Reggie stay the night at their house in a guest room while he worked, it made the breeder feel at ease knowing that these people would no longer be cut off from the outside world. Snowpoint City certainly was a dangerous place to live in at times…

    One could say Reggie was easily sidetracked, but he wholeheartedly trusted that Maylene was doing a good job taking care of the Pokémon in Veilstone City, even though his ability to contact her to check on the status of his home was severely limited. Power outages were frequent until the snow finally let up shortly before Reggie finished his job.

    Reggie didn't know it yet, but this type of work would prove to have a very positive effect on himself and his Pokémon in the near future.

    All of that was behind Reggie now, however; he was quick to start the drive home this very same morning. Due to the very convenient timing on both parties, one might say it could have been fate that Reggie would just happen to spot Paul on the sidewalk as he drove through the city. Genuinely surprised to see Paul still at Snowpoint City (as Reggie figured he must have reached this place at least a week ago), Reggie of course couldn't resist honking his van's horn at his little brother to get his attention. It had been ages since he'd seen Paul in person; of course Reggie wasn't going to pass up the opportunity to catch up with him.

    Paul stopped short and held in a gasp as a very familiar van pulled up next to him. Of all people to come across in Snowpoint City… even Ash's presence was not much of a surprise to Paul since he suspected Ash may have been coming up this way since their encounter in Squallville. But his own brother…? Surely there had to be an explanation for this. "Reggie…?"

    "Hey, Paul," Reggie casually greeted after stepping out of the van. "How's it going?" However casual Reggie was behaving, deeper within his mind were many questions and concerns… not the least of which being, where is Conway?

    "Well enough," Paul tersely replied. Now that the surprise of his brother's presence had worn off, Paul had to focus on staying casual himself, because he certainly was not ready to confess to Reggie of his doomed fate, the hardships he suffered reaching this place on his own… but then he realized that Reggie had no idea that Conway was no longer with him. It was easy to make up excuses on the phone, but in real life… Paul had a feeling he was soon to be busted.

    To make matters worse, Reggie was the type who had a sixth sense when it came to his little brother. It was only a waste of time for Paul to feign ignorance or "being okay"; Reggie would see right through it almost every time. "Well enough? I figured you must be having a blast here, Paul," Reggie assumed. "You've been here a while, haven't you?"

    "Yes, well…" Paul looked to the side; one of his telltale signs of fibbing. "The weather here has been… dangerous for the last few weeks, I've heard."

    "Glad to see you're playing it safe," Reggie said, sounding relieved. He believed this much, if only because he personally dealt with the dangerous weather his little brother spoke of on the way up. Still, both siblings did their absolute best to not behave in a way that was suspect, though naturally suspicion was on both their minds as their reuniting like this should not have happened under normal circumstances.

    Paul remained focused on trying to expose his brother; that at least would hinder Reggie's ability to figure out what he was hiding. "So… what brings you up all the way here? Did you think I couldn't do it?"

    "Actually, it's pure coincidence," Reggie said with a slight laugh, rubbing the back of his head sheepishly. "I figured you'd be long gone by now… guess there's no wonder where you're headed next, right?"

    "Sunyshore City," Paul confirmed with a nod. "I've conquered every Gym in this region that you had seven years ago… this far in, I don't intend to break the trend now."

    Reggie smiled. "I'm flattered, really. I'm sure you'll do great there."

    After a pause, he looked around. "So, is Conway off on another shopping spree?"

    One of the dreaded subjects Paul didn't want to talk about, but knew he would have to at some point. If only it weren't now… not when he had a Gym Battle to focus on. After a moment's hesitation, he nodded again. "He blows so much money, it sickens me."

    Ever sharp, Reggie caught the brief pause before Paul's response. He debated whether or not to interrogate Paul about it, much as he hated to do so. Thankfully (even on Paul's end), the brothers wouldn't be able to get much further into their conversation at this time.

    Paul had only just started out towards the Snowpoint Gym, hence he was still right in front of the Pokémon Center. While Ash and his friends were watching the weather report, Ash overheard the van honking and was quick to look out the window to see what was going on. When he discovered who was outside, he couldn't contain the excitement he felt and had to tell everyone.


    Brock, Dawn, and Zoey looked over to Ash who just shouted all of a sudden. They quickly stood up and followed Ash to the window; evidently the good weather was sticking around in Sinnoh for a while, which was all they really needed to know. When Dawn caught a glimpse of the familiar figure outside, she was instantly excited. "Wow, it's true!"

    Like yesterday, Zoey had no idea why her friends reacted so strongly to people who were complete strangers to her. She was again quick to ask, "Who's that guy?"

    "That's Paul's big brother, Reggie," Dawn happily explained to her rival. "He's a breeder down in Veilstone City."

    "I'm sure he has his reasons for being here," Brock said assuredly. "That's a long way to come from…"

    Ash simply grinned and raced to the front door, very eager to reunite with an important friend of his: the one who taught his Staraptor (at the time a Staravia, of course) Brave Bird, a move he's made good use of since his trip to Veilstone City. "Come on! Let's go say hi!"

    Back outside, Reggie and Paul were discussing another topic.

    "Have you gotten past the Snowpoint Gym?" Reggie asked, if only for the sake of clarification. For being in Snowpoint City this long, he figured defeating Candice was priority one for Paul regardless of how perilous the weather had recently been.

    "Coming soon," was all Paul had to say about that; he obviously had no desire to confess to Reggie about his first failed attempt at the challenge. Not only was the end result catastrophic in that it confirmed his illness at last, but it was a pure blemish on Paul's record as well. Having all four of his Pokémon taken out with ease by just Abomasnow… it was hard for Paul to contain the hatred that he felt for himself for being so inadequate at the time.

    "Well, keep in mind that Candice is tough," Reggie advised. In Reggie's days journeying through Sinnoh, which was eight years ago, the Snowpoint Gym was obviously run by another Gym Leader at the time when the young Reggie faced it. Candice was about Reggie's age, thus a beginning trainer herself during Reggie's conquest. When Reggie first reached Snowpoint City to earn his Icicle Badge (Paul was not with him, as this was merely a month or two before their mother passed on), Candice was a trainer he had to defeat before getting to challenge the Gym Leader. The cute little pigtailed girl adamantly declared to Reggie that she would one day inherit the Gym, so it was no surprise to Reggie at all when he learned a couple of years ago that Candice succeeded in achieving her goal.

    Unlike Roark, Reggie wasn't close to Candice, per se, but remembered her well enough to consider her a familiar and on the very rare occasion would catch up with her. What he remembered most clearly was the very intense battle he had with her back in the day. Even back then, Candice was all about the "kiai" and didn't hold back even an ounce of her strength. After all, she was facing a mighty type disadvantage in Reggie's at-the-time Monferno. The fact that she put up such a good fight was telling enough for the elder brother; she was indeed tough. Candice was a menace to face even with type advantages… now it was no wonder that she was an absolute nightmare to face with type disadvantages. Paul didn't lose to her just because he lacked focus and common sense in his exhausted state… he grossly underestimated her, and finally Paul was coming to understand that.

    "I have a plan for her," Paul grimly assured; from what he learned of his landslide loss, he was not about to go into this rematch without a strategy again.


    Caught up in the moment, Ash had forgotten to put on his jacket before rushing out into the below-freezing temperatures. Just in the mere attempt to keep up with their friend, Brock and Dawn also forgot to suit up. They quickly made themselves known to the pair of brothers, both of whom were secretly relieved to have a break in their tenuous conversation, even if it was the likes of Ash and his friends.

    "Would you look at that!" Reggie exclaimed, pleasantly surprised. "Wow, it's been a long time."

    "Yeah, it really has," Dawn agreed, all smiles as she usually was. She was even more cheerful getting to reunite with a good friend of hers, though her mere presence reminded both Paul and Reggie of Conway and his notable absence. Paul in particular imagined Conway completely losing his mind in a situation like this, highlighting the traits of Conway that Paul had always found pathetic.

    "It's great to see ya," Ash greeted before asking the question that was on everyone's minds. "What're you doing here?"

    How to put it succinctly… that was the true question. But Reggie had enough time to mull over that and finally had an appropriate answer to give. "I just finished bringing a Pokémon I was watching back to its trainer," he said. That much was true; complicated as things got after that. Still, Reggie would soon enough see firsthand the benefits reaped from his hard labor. But why Ash would be here in this remote location as well… that wasn't too hard for him to figure out. "You challenging the Snowpoint Gym, too?"

    Ash was more than happy to brag about his victory once more. "Yeah, I battled Candice yesterday and won the badge!"

    "Really? Awesome!" Reggie congratulated, happy to see Ash had made great progress since they last met. Truthfully, Reggie too could see a bit of himself in Ash just like Paul could; though Ash clearly retained more of his innocence through the years than Reggie did. Then again, Ash wasn't tasked with raising a baby brother throughout the majority of his Pokémon journey like Reggie was. However, the breeder did not regret this and never once found caring for Paul a daunting task, nor thought of Paul as someone holding him back or slowing him down.

    He looked to his younger sibling with a knowing smile. "Hey, hear that, Paul? That's great, huh?"

    "Hmph." Paul obviously hated being reminded of that. Not only of Ash being ahead of him, but defeating the person who wiped him out while barely breaking a sweat.

    "He's your rival, isn't he?" Reggie playfully teased. "So you'd better keep up with him."

    The discontented look on Paul's face contorted into one of pure stress and aggravation; he hated it when Reggie rubbed in things like this. So many negative thoughts were going through his mind at once and he hated this entire situation. Never before had he wished so much to be in the Snowpoint Gym again.

    Reggie just smiled at him. "Okay if I come watch your battle?" After all, it was an unexpected treat for him to run into Paul when they hadn't seen each other in person for weeks. He was very talented in hiding it, but Reggie felt a particular aura of discomfort around Paul; something must have happened… something Paul was withholding from him. However, this wasn't the time to crack the tough nut that was his brother. Reggie figured there was no harm in getting to enjoy watching him in a Gym Battle for once.

    "Whatever you want," Paul replied in a soft, neutral tone. Given his expressions just seconds ago, there was no doubt that he was repressing something fierce, if only because he was surrounded by several people at the moment and all of them were roadblocks in his path towards his seventh badge.

    Zoey was perplexed at best as she carefully observed the interaction between the brothers. It was then that she came to the conclusion, "Man, that guy Paul may be the total opposite of Ash, but he's absolutely nothing like his brother, either."

    "Ah, for sure," Dawn agreed, slightly shaken by the scene herself… if only because it was her first time seeing Paul and Reggie interact in person. However, the same was true for Ash and Brock as well. Naturally, Ash was for the most part oblivious to the negative nuances surrounding this conversation. Brock, on the other hand, was ever-silent, ever-observing. He had caught the details that went over the heads of everyone else, but reserved himself from making a remark of any kind.

    However, concentration for all parties was soon broken as they felt the area rumble abruptly around them. Piplup was the first to notice, but seconds later everyone was shaken by the disturbance. It wasn't obvious what the cause of it was at first.

    "What's that?" Ash cried out just before a shadow enveloped them all. It wasn't blinding darkness, but it was definitely a stark contrast to the pleasant sun they were all graced with. Everyone looked up to see what was obscuring the sun, but no one could make out what it was exactly until it passed over them, allowing the sun to shine down over them once more.

    A large square-shaped shadow was on the move, and at last the group could finally get a clear look at what caused such a commotion.

    Dawn, however, couldn't even hazard a guess as to what it was. "What's that?"

    Pulling both hands together into fists, Ash knowingly grinned at the sight. No other aircraft had that kind of design; Ash knew this model by heart as often as he visited it in the not-so-distant past. "It's the Battle Pyramid!"

    Hearing this prompted both Paul and Reggie to gape at Ash with sheer and utter surprise. Of course, they immediately identified the aircraft as well, but kept their mouths shut about it and didn't expect anyone else to be familiar with it.

    "Wow, you guys know about that thing?" Reggie asked, clearly impressed, and at the same time aghast that he underestimated how cultured Ash's group was.

    "Yeah," Ash affirmed proudly. "I finally beat it, but it took me a bunch of tries."

    And just like that, Paul's entire world came crashing down once again. It had a habit of doing that quite a bit lately given what's happened recently, but this? The very idea was ludicrous; this was no small feat to brag about. He couldn't be lying; that wasn't how Ash operated. The Kanto native simply wasn't cunning enough to pull off a convincing lie, but he sounded purely honest when he outright told Reggie and Paul that he had already defeated their father… the man they had yet to defeat. Not only that, but Ash defeated the man very few people have ever defeated in the past.

    It was not just Paul's father Ash defeated; it was one of the world's highest-ranked trainers. A previous Elite Four hopeful, and by this point there was no doubt that he would be a shoe-in for an Elite Four position if one were ever to open up… but years ago, Brandon had accepted his destiny and remained a Frontier Brain as the pillar. He was the glue that held it all together and was the standard set for all trainers to strive for; not to mention fellow Frontier Brains.

    The revelations were coming to Paul all at once, and for the first time he was truly at a loss for words other than, "What…? You beat it?"

    His lack of composure definitely got Reggie's attention, but the elder brother couldn't in all good conscience blame him. He too felt a great shock to his system as he realized he had trained with, battled, and taught Brave Bird to a young man who had already surpassed him in many ways. This begged the question of why Ash himself was not in Kanto as a Frontier Brain with his own facility, but simultaneously the brothers' minds raced back to the fact that Brandon just arrived in Snowpoint City. In little over a month's time, the family would be reunited in person once again, but for once, Reggie wasn't exactly feeling joyous over this occasion… especially after learning about Ash.

    "Hey, I'm not saying it was easy," Ash assured. "But now that I'm thinkin' about it, why would Brandon be here?"

    "While he's in the area, we might as well find out," Brock suggested. "You know he wouldn't forget somebody like you, Ash. This is a great opportunity to catch up with him."

    Ash nodded vigorously. "You're right, Brock! He has to remember us! C'mon, let's go give him a call!"

    Within seconds, Ash had already raced all the way to the front door of Snowpoint City's Pokémon Center. Brock trailed not far behind with Dawn and Zoey bringing up the rear.

    "What are they going on about?" Zoey whispered to Dawn. "They seriously know a guy who owns a flying pyramid?"

    "I'm just as confused as you are," Dawn sympathized. "I haven't got a clue what anyone's talking about… but I guess we'll find out soon, won't we?"

    Zoey couldn't help but feel apprehensive about this. "Well, if Ash and Brock like this person, I guess they can't be too bad…" No worse than Paul, certainly.

    Paul and Reggie watched the others dash inside as they mulled over how to handle this… not to mention the whole "Ash beat Brandon" thing was still sinking in for both of them.

    "Did you know about this…?" Reggie quietly asked his brother. Said brother turned to face Reggie with a rather sudden outburst.

    "Of course I didn't!" Paul barked out. "Did you?"

    Reggie shook his head. "No, but he did say he was going to be in the area the last time we were together…"

    "That was a month ago, Reggie," Paul countered. "You really think he's been up here this whole time and still hasn't found Regigigas yet?"

    "He would have let us know if he found it," Reggie reminded him. "The fact that he's actually in the city now must mean he's desperate for clues…"

    Paul nodded. "Makes sense. I think we'd better go pay the old man a visit with them, then."

    "I can give us all a ride," Reggie offered. "Good thing I've got a van for such an occasion. Still, I'm sure Ash will be in for quite a shock when he finds out that Brandon is our-"

    Just then, Paul gave his brother a harsh nudge. "Not a word out of you, Reggie," he warned. "I've got a plan, but I'm going to need your cooperation, and that involves making sure the others don't pick up on that bit of information."

    Was Paul ever thankful he took his medication when he was supposed to for once; he was sure he wouldn't be able to handle the stress of Ash, his father, and all of the revelations in between in addition to the possibility that he could vomit blood at any time; the latter at least was controlled by that medicine with ease.

    "If you don't want Ash to know, I'll respect that," Reggie promised. "But what do we need a plan for…?"

    Paul just let out an aggravated sigh and shook his head. "You're so naïve… we always need a plan for the old man, even if it's just to talk to him. If you think he's going to be emotional like he was at home, think again. He only acted like that then because he thought you were going to die, remember?"

    Way back when Reggie had been struck by lightning… while he made a fantastic recovery, it was true that Reggie almost died that day. Even still, there were lingering side-effects to worry about, as their bouts were completely random. Reggie grew somber after listening to Paul… he knew his wise little brother spoke the truth. Now that Reggie was fine and neither he nor Brandon knew about what ailed Paul, it would be back to business as usual with the three.

    "Right back to not being his sons…" Reggie quietly stated. "I guess you're right; there's not much use in telling everybody that he's our dad. Brandon will just flat-out deny it because we haven't beaten him."

    "We'll reflect on this later," Paul instructed; his harsh tone and unwillingness to let his emotions get the better of him for long was very reminiscent of his own hated father's nature. "Listen to me very carefully, because I don't have time to repeat myself."

    The Battle Pyramid was very effective in drawing the attention of nearly every resident of Snowpoint City… as well as tourists and honored guests.

    Even guests without any sort of honor whatsoever, such as the mere trio of persons representing Team Rocket in their attempt to create a presence in the Sinnoh region, watched in awe as the Battle Pyramid soared right over their heads and into the unknown.

    A period of awkward silence later, self-proclaimed leader Jessie spoke up. "Tell me that's not the Battle Pyramid…"

    Of course they knew of this facility; they went where Ash went, no matter the time or the place.

    "I'd be lying if I did," James quietly stated, still staring at the sky with mild disbelief. "Though from Kanto it's quite a haul."

    "Even flyboys need a change of scene!" was Meowth's explanation. "Though most guys would vacation in beaches, ya'd think."

    James simply couldn't take his eyes off the sky. "As I recall, that man is not the type who fits in the "most guys" category…"

    Jessie's Wobbuffet popped out just in to give its usual "Wooooh-buffet!" reaction.

    "No way," Jessie muttered, still unable to suspend her disbelief of what she just saw.

    Further out at the Snowpoint Gym, the rumbling and the loud noise disrupted Candice's training. She dashed outside as quickly as she could to see what was going on and came out just in time to see the mighty Battle Pyramid as it flew past her Gym and beyond.

    "Oh, wow…" she quietly marveled. This was quite the enchanting sight for her. Even though Candice knew she would be having a Gym Battle soon, this phenomenon intrigued her far too much to go by ignored. The young Gym Leader kept up with the happenings across every region; this allowed her to quite easily identify this highly unusual aircraft. There was no doubt in her mind.

    This was also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and Candice wasn't about to pass up on it. She promptly dug a Pokéball out of her pocket and tossed it out. "Come on, Dodrio!" the Gym Leader shouted, unleashing her method of transportation. "Let's go check this out! Follow that pyramid!"

    All this time, Brandon had no idea how conspicuous his entrance into Snowpoint City was. His mind was firmly fixed on Regigigas and figuring out a way to get Maria to concede to his desires.

    "Maria's on her way right now," Samuel informed Brandon, now in charge of handling the new systems installed into the Battle Pyramid while Brandon piloted his facility. "And we should be reaching the Valhalla Plains within a couple of minutes."

    "Good. Very good," Brandon commended. "We'll likely get there before her, then. Punctuality will make a good first impression."

    Samuel gulped at that. "It's now or never, isn't it…" Just then, the interface lit up and the plasma screen went from black to static, making a ringing noise. "Huh? Another call…?"

    "Her again?" Brandon inquired. "She'd better not be cancelling…"

    "The transmission's from the Snowpoint City Pokémon Center," Samuel reported. "It isn't Maria."

    Brandon found this very odd; he wasn't expecting a call from anyone else, much less in Snowpoint City. "Most likely a misdialed number," the Pyramid King assumed. "But go ahead and patch it through."

    His assistant heeded the order and allowed the call to go through. The static on the display screen abruptly disappeared, displaying a crisp, clear picture of Ash and his friends, who were all smiles upon seeing the visage of an old, familiar friend.

    "Hey, Brandon! Long time no see!" Ash greeted, full of energy as ever. "It's Ash from Pallet Town!"

    Not that Ash even needed to remind Brandon who he was; people who could manage to defeat the Pyramid King were few and far in between. Additionally, Brandon had just seen Ash's visage on a television a little over a week ago in the PokéRinger competition, winning the whole thing. Brandon smiled up at his young challenger. "I'll be. So how are ya, kid?"

    "Great!" Ash replied. That enthusiasm of his would never die out. "Me and my friends were in the area and we saw your Battle Pyramid fly right over us, so how about we meet up soon if you're not too busy?"

    While Samuel looked concerned, Brandon's smile never faded as he silently gave the okay in the form of a nod. "I would enjoy hearing what you've been doing since you conquered the Battle Frontier," he said. "We'll be making landfall in the Valhalla Plains just outside of the city."

    "Not that far, huh?" Ash assumed. "Count us in! We'll be over there as soon as we can."

    "I'll look forward to seeing you," Brandon assured. "Until then, kid."

    He ended the call, now in much brighter spirits than before. "To think that little upstart is here as well… this will prove to be a very interesting day, indeed."

    "Brandon, this is a business trip," Samuel reminded nervously. "Not for pleasure…" It was strange that he was the one saying this rather than his boss, come to think of it.

    "I assure you, he won't slow us down," Brandon promised. "Remember, Sam: I have not set foot in my home region for seven years. My priorities are perfectly fine, but I won't pass up any opportunity to enjoy my time here while I still can. There's no telling when I'll be in Sinnoh again after today…" Brandon's voice grew quieter, taking on a more serious tone. "After what I've done, let alone the usual demands of this job, I may be old and gray before I can enjoy Sinnoh and the people in it again."

    Samuel looked Brandon in the eye; something he rarely dared to do. "Having any regrets?"

    "My regrets… are ones beyond my control," Brandon admitted. "I wish I could do things differently, but had I done what I wanted, the safety and financial security of my family would be compromised. I honestly can't say whether or not the Battle Frontier would have fared better without me, but that's another thing I didn't want to risk, even after having the chance to move on up…"

    "You've definitely made a lot of sacrifices over the years," Samuel noted. "And I believe the rest of the committee sees that. I guess that's one reason why they've been lenient on you so far."

    "But I don't need their pity," Brandon stiffly claimed. "All I need now is for this mission to go off without a hitch…"

    All of a sudden, there was another call coming in. "Huh; weird," Samuel remarked, raising an eyebrow at the interface. "Another call from the same Pokémon Center…"

    Brandon nodded immediately. "Perhaps they forgot to tell me something. Go ahead and accept it."

    It was not Ash making the call, but rather someone else who was very familiar with Brandon. While Ash, Brock, Dawn, and Zoey were busy with the brief call to Brandon, Paul and Reggie very quietly eavesdropped; Paul in particular looked focused on getting something accomplished. Reggie had already planned on giving everyone a ride to Brandon's location, to which the others graciously accepted. As they all raced towards Reggie's van outside, Paul snagged the elder brother by the arm just as he was about to follow.

    Paul seemed to have an agenda of his own as he ordered Reggie to stall for time by offering to load up everyone's belongings into the van's trunk (seeing as Ash, Brock, and Dawn were going to leave Snowpoint City today, anyway). While the others would be inside the van and waiting (Reggie insisting on not being helped), Paul was left on his own to call Brandon himself. If this was the way the remains of Paul's family had to reunite, then Paul decided he would have to lay some ground rules here and now.

    When Brandon's visage appeared on the screen once more, Paul made sure to put on his best frown.

    "Ah. I had a feeling you were lurking around somewhere in this city," Brandon smugly remarked. "Would it be off of me to assume you've been interacting with some friends of yours, kid?"

    "Those people are not my friends," Paul spat. "Now drop the casual act. I called you for a reason."

    It really was jarring for Brandon to be ordered around by his own son… but he had come to expect no less from Paul; this was how Brandon raised him to be in his early days. "Very well. State your reason."

    "Expect to see me with the group when you land," Paul forewarned. "They already know about Reggie battling you in the past, so that much is unavoidable. Regardless, these people don't need to know any more than that, so when you see me, we're to be on no more than a strictly professional level." There was no clearer way Paul could put it, honestly. "So keep that in mind: familiar, but professional. Are we understood?"

    How many children would talk to their own father like this? Though Paul barely considered Brandon a real father to begin with, he couldn't ignore the genetic evidence. That bore no relevance to how much respect (or lack thereof) Paul had for the man, either way. The Pyramid King might have been offended if he wasn't so absorbed in how Paul was gradually becoming more and more like himself as the days went by.

    "So it's as I thought," Brandon presumed. "You know that Ash Ketchum boy quite well. Are you actually ashamed of your family roots?"

    "It has nothing to do with that," Paul stiffly assured his father. "I'd just prefer that idiot doesn't stick his nose where it doesn't belong, and he's had a terrible habit of doing that every time we crossed paths in Sinnoh." The only thing Paul had to be ashamed about now in regards to his father was the fact that Ash defeated him already… quite a while ago, it seemed, while Paul himself continued to struggle in pulling off that feat.

    Surprisingly, Brandon knew what it was like to be plagued by someone who seemed to carry only a small fraction of his own intelligence, and the Frontier Brain too was easily irritated by people who were ignorant and overly curious. He could see that in Ash the very day the two met in Kanto, so there was at least a clear understanding between Brandon and Paul on that subject.

    "If that's what you wish, kid, consider it granted," Brandon assured. "Just don't ever say your old man never did you any favors from now on."

    Paul rolled his eyes at that. "I'll see you soon," he muttered before ending the call. Goodbyes with his family were always awkward if not dealt with immediately. Besides that, he didn't want to waste too much time explaining things to Brandon, because there was one more important thing he had to accomplish before getting on the road.

    "Paul, what's the holdup?" Reggie quietly asked, suddenly popping in. "Just how long do I have to stall the others? When they're excited like this…"

    "Stop whining," Paul commanded in a sharp tone, already in the midst of dialing another number. "I just need a few more minutes. Tell them I'm in the bathroom, tell them a story… I don't care. Just don't go anywhere until I finish up here. Now get back out there and keep distracting them."

    Reggie sighed, consenting to the order, scratching his head on the way out. "You're obviously up to something, but what…"

    Just as he stepped outside the Pokémon Center, Paul's next call was finally answered: a familiar young lady with short pink hair appeared on the screen, less than enthused to see who was calling her. "Oh… Paul. Nice to hear from you again…" Even she couldn't force out a drop of false sincerity from her tone, but it wasn't like Paul cared about civility to begin with.

    "Maylene, if you're busy with anything, drop it now," Paul instructed, remaining ever-so-callous. "I need to make some… exchanges, and I need them processed now."

    The Gym Leader heaved out a sigh as she prepared herself with an abundance of Pokéballs. "Sounds like you're in a hurry, so I won't bother asking why. Which ones are you trading in, and what for?"

    She hated when Paul was like this, especially during a time when Maylene felt there was so much to tell him… Conway's "death", Reggie being absent… but she could tell just by looking into Paul's eyes that she would only get yelled at if she strayed from the main subject even a little.

    "For the moment, I'm giving you Gliscor, Honchkrow… and Torterra," Paul replied, clearly hesitating before deciding on the last Pokémon he would send back to Reggie's for the time being. All three of these Pokémon were scheduled to battle against Candice today, after all. However, the sudden rush of stress and anxiety coming with Brandon's arrival came with the expense of some logic on Paul's end. Still, he put great thought into who would be replacing these three Pokémon for a very important and specific purpose.

    "In exchange, I'm going to need…"

    "Ash, did you say Battle Pyramid?" Dawn asked her traveling companion inside the van, which was finally driving off to its destination: the very subject Dawn initiated. The rookie Coordinator was still completely in the dark and decided this was a good time as any to clear things up. What she saw in the sky was certainly a pyramid; there was no doubt about that. The very idea of a flying pyramid, however, was still a bit much for Dawn to comprehend in spite of the wacky adventures she had since leaving Twinleaf Town.

    "Yeah, it was the final facility Ash challenged back in the Kanto Battle Frontier days," Brock explained for Ash… which was of course for the best; exposition was not one of Ash's strong points.

    Dawn nodded and smiled, pretending she understood this perfectly. "The Battle Frontier! That's… uh…" Just like that, her cluelessness was made obvious to everyone again, though at least Zoey was in the same boat, more or less.

    "It's a group of facilities, somewhat like a Gym, but more intense where you challenge and battle against an amazing group of powerful trainers called Frontier Brains," Brock told her, not the type who would mock Dawn for being this ignorant. Again, Dawn was still in her first year of training and mostly absorbed with Contests and creating appeals; her knowledge of what an average trainer could do, much less special challenges reserved for those with shining potential, was limited. "Brandon is the most powerful Frontier Brain," Brock continued. "And everyone calls him the Pyramid King."

    Up in front, Paul quietly listened to the conversation going on behind him, but visually showed no signs of interest in what the others were saying; he didn't want to look too desperate to learn about how Ash defeated his father to make up for that unexpected and uncontrolled outburst earlier. If there was one thing Paul could bring himself to respect his father for, it was his strength. Even he couldn't deny that Brandon was one of the best trainers this world had to offer, and admittedly Paul was intrigued about how Brandon achieved this.

    Brock paused for a moment, remembering something important that he learned several months ago that was quite relevant to this conversation. It was a question he always meant to ask, but got distracted and thus never got around to it. "Reggie, didn't you challenge him, too? I remember seeing the Frontier Symbols on display in your house."

    This took Paul back as well; not quite as far, but back to just before all of his troubles began. Brock confronted Paul with this very same observation. While Brock was not nearly as irritating as Ash and Dawn were, the breeder had his own special way of getting under Paul's skin… his skills of observation could prove to be more invasive than Ash's curiosity any day.

    Reggie, however, took this all in stride. After all, despite his struggles to rectify the unfinished business he left behind four years ago, the breeder (until recently) was fine with simply moving on with his loss and his decision to retire as a trainer. It was almost as if Reggie were browbeaten into this business again by his family. "Yeah, but I never got the Brave Symbol, which is proof of winning at the Battle Pyramid," he explained, sounding completely at ease with his shortcomings.

    "Hmph." It wasn't easy, but Paul was at least very quiet and inconspicuous about his discontent with Reggie's attitude about the incident. Brandon too was not happy when Reggie never tried to challenge him to a rematch; it was a decision that broke both Brandon and Paul's hearts. While Brandon was much better at hiding this, the young Paul felt utterly betrayed. The unpleasant memories of four years ago smothered Paul's mind and concentration like an intangible tsunami of uncontrollable elements: sadness, disappointment, hopelessness, shock, uncertainty…

    Even the medication wasn't enough to keep Paul even and painless. He was going to have to double up on it just to get through the rest of the day and it was hardly even noon yet.

    It didn't matter how well Paul covered it up, though. Brock was observing him carefully as well as Reggie; more so than ever before. Paul's sudden emotional reaction in regards to Reggie not having a Brave Symbol back when he crossed paths with Ash near Hearthome City ages ago was a very obvious sign to Brock… that Brandon indeed was a strong influence on how and why Paul was the way he was.

    "That's right; Brock told me," Ash recalled, also curious about this subject when he learned about it some time ago, though his line of thought didn't go nearly as deep as Brock's. "So why did you stop battlin'?"

    Reggie's cheerful, casual demeanor faded a bit just then. He knew he'd be faced with this question someday, from somebody other than his relatives…

    "Because I learned one thing," Reggie said in a low voice; his tone serious and a complete contrast from how he normally spoke. "That I have a lot more to learn."

    The answer was… very, very vague and barely addressed the question at all. Even Paul was surprised by how Reggie seemed to change the minute that question was asked, considering he was perfectly casual and feigning cheerfulness just like he always did. He didn't seem to be struggling with maintaining this façade…

    "About what?" Dawn asked innocently; if nothing else, she felt she might be able to relate to Reggie when it came to having more to learn. It was only to be expected with her: a first-year Coordinator who was anticipating her debut into a Grand Festival once she could gain just one more ribbon. "I mean… Brock said you had enough badges to get into at least four League Conferences and you were one step away from beating the Battle Frontier. For all the time it took to earn that, you must have learned a lot already…"

    Reggie nodded, but Paul noticed he still looked rather grim… mildly so, but still enough of a stark contrast from Reggie's usual behavior. "The truth is, Dawn, you'll always learn something new no matter how far you make it," he told her. "That applies to all of you: even if you become Top Coordinator, the best Pokémon Breeder in your region, or even a Pokémon Master… the fact of the matter is that no one really ever masters everything."

    "So what you're saying is… we should never think our journey is over even when we reach our goals," Zoey assumed. "Is that right?"

    "Exactly," Reggie affirmed. "There are a lot of trainers out there with the same goals in mind as you guys. That's why it's important that you never lose your focus and don't let the achievement of your goal become your greatest weakness."

    "But Reggie," Ash calmly interjected. "If you never got the Brave Symbol, then you didn't reach your goal, right?"

    Brock noticed Paul tense up right after that inquiry was made. Clearly, this was some sort of soft spot for Paul even though it seemed to not have much to do with him.

    "That's right," Reggie said; his head feeling heavy all of a sudden. He finally thought to cover up his fatigued sorrow with a smile, but it was far too late to fool anyone intuitive enough to notice something strange was going on. "My goal was a lot like yours back in the day, Ash. I wanted to be a Pokémon Master… the Champion of the Sinnoh Region, like what Cynthia is now."

    Like Cynthia… merely namedropping the woman who single-handedly flattened Paul's team in a battle so long ago made it very difficult for Paul to keep his cool at this point. Interestingly, Paul never hated or even remotely disliked Cynthia. He disagreed with her, sure… but women who were mature, powerful, and atypical of their gender's nature stood out to Paul in a good way. In a way, one might say he even admired her in spite of all their conflicting views.

    "Feel free to not answer if we're overstepping our boundaries," Brock calmly offered. "But what lesson did you really learn from your battle with Brandon that convinced you to stop battling from that day forward?"

    "That lesson…" Reggie's voice had a hollow sound to it as he tried to put his complex feelings into words… words these naïve kids (Paul notwithstanding) could understand.

    Then, all of a sudden, he smiled. It was just as false as the happy act Reggie was putting on, but nonetheless helped put most of the others at ease. "When I was defeated by Brandon, his lesson was the most important one I ever learned. He made me aware… of my own immaturity."

    No one felt compelled to ask Reggie any further questions on the matter, although many more questions circled around their heads after hearing their driver's response. Zoey was aghast at how complicated Paul's family situation seemed to be, and she still didn't know the other half it; then again, neither did her friends.

    Still yet, Brock was officially suspicious now. Going by Reggie's oddly serious behavior and Paul's intense reaction when he found out that Ash conquered the Battle Pyramid… the pieces of this puzzle were slowly but surely coming together for him.

    The air was tense inside the van as the rest of the road trip to the Battle Pyramid was dead silent. Thankfully, their destination was just up ahead.

    Brandon was quick to step outside as soon as the Battle Pyramid made landfall at the Valhalla Plains. The area beyond the city was utterly desolate compared to civilization not far away, though at least it seemed this area was often walked through by trainers; otherwise it likely would have been just as treacherous and snow-filled as the previous routes to the city. Instead, the snow was only lightly scattered about, leaving only dirt uncovered. Truly, the plains were more like a frozen desert, though at least there were several trees in the area. Most likely it was just a cleared section of what was once a forest.

    The Pyramid King was pleased to see a van coming right towards his facility. Since Maria never specified what vehicle she would be driving to meet up with him in, Brandon had no way of knowing if this was Maria he was about to encounter or his son and the other kids. Though if it were the children, Brandon couldn't help but wonder who would be driving them. Brock never struck him as someone with the ability to drive, and Paul completely neglected to tell Brandon that Reggie was in the city at the same time as everyone else.

    However, that mystery was soon put to rest as he saw kids pouring out from both sides of the van after it parked. Ash and Brock were to be expected, as was Paul, but Dawn and Zoey were completely new faces to him. Brandon briefly wondered why Ash's previous traveling companions, May and Max, weren't with them, as it was after his and Ash's last battle when May decided she would split ways with Ash; Max having no choice but to follow suit.

    That small bit of curiosity was pushed far back as Brandon witnessed Reggie stepping out of the van; he only allowed himself to be visibly shocked by this for a moment (and at the time he was too far away for anyone to catch this). Brandon figured this was part of why Paul was so serious about keeping their family ties under wraps; the surprise of seeing both his sons here would naturally make Brandon start with the questioning and blow the cover Paul tried to maintain. After all, he expected Paul would still be up here as he was itching for a battle, though he figured Paul would wait for the catching-up with Ash to finish and the crowd to clear out before following up on his promise. If Paul didn't want his peers knowing about their relation, Brandon assumed this meant he didn't want them watching their battle, either.

    But Reggie… why in the world he would be all the way up here, Brandon had no idea. Nonetheless, he needed to make the best of his time before Maria arrived, as it just then occurred to him that he might offend Maria if he made her wait too long before getting to the business part of the reason why Brandon came all the way here to begin with.

    He couldn't help but notice Paul was lagging behind a bit while everyone else approached him. He was staring straight up at the Battle Pyramid, reflecting on the promise he made and how soon it would all come to a head. It wasn't much of a surprise to the Frontier Brain; he figured his youngest son had a lot on his mind right now.

    "What a nice surprise," Brandon remarked as everyone came within a reasonable distance, Paul excluded.

    Reggie nodded and smiled, though his lack of surprise to initially see his father here made it clear that he had indeed been in the city and probably was with the others the time the first call was made. This would give him plenty of time to concentrate and put on an act that complied with Paul's wishes. "It's been much too long, Brandon."

    The fact that Reggie referred to his father by name rather than the much more affectionate "Dad" confirmed all of these suspicions.

    "Great to see so many familiar faces," Brandon said, enjoying the nostalgic feeling of being met up by many symbols of his past, both distant and recent. During this, Paul finally drew himself away from the van… he simply couldn't help himself by gazing at the Battle Pyramid, being just as big (if not bigger) than he remembered it being when he was last there four years ago. Same could be said of Reggie, though he was presently more concerned with keeping up a convincing act. As Paul quietly rejoined the group, Brandon couldn't help but smirk as he made a subtle jab at him. "If I remember, you're Reggie's younger brother, right?"

    Under any other circumstance, Paul honestly would have tried to strike his father. It bothered him way too much how that statement, obvious as it was that Brandon was just playing his role as Paul requested, sounded so natural coming out of him… as if Brandon might have said that even when there wasn't anything to hide. What the Pyramid King had just said had Paul unable to bear the wait any longer, even if they had only been together for all of a couple of minutes so far.

    "So you do remember me," Paul replied; his tone especially harsh. He wasn't going to be able to handle small talk for very long, and since that much was obvious to him, Paul decided to cut straight to the chase. "I'd like to challenge you to a Pokémon Battle… right here and now."

    "Huh…?" Brandon couldn't believe the official challenge was coming this soon. Everyone immediately gaped at Paul for the very sudden quest, especially since he asked in such an impatient and demanding way. Even Brandon wasn't sure how what he said would spark Paul's competitive side so quickly in spite of the company Paul was desperate to hide their relation from. Reggie especially was taken aback by this; he remembered Paul and Brandon's promise to battle way back in Veilstone City, but for the life of him, he couldn't figure out why his little brother insisted on it before even getting the chance to catch up with their estranged father.

    Then again… it was obvious at least to Brandon that Paul never had any interest in "catching up" – seeing Brandon for a couple of hours in Veilstone City was more than enough for him, apparently.

    "Battle…?" Ash wondered out loud, being the only one vocal enough to react this way. For all the times he'd encountered Paul, whether it was battling him, being forced to work with him, or even just talking with him… never had he seen his rival look this focused before. It didn't occur to him just how deeply it hit Paul when he told him about one of his greatest victories to date.

    However, just before anyone else could react to this, a distinct pattering noise was heard in the distance, getting the attention of most of the group. All were surprised to see an approaching Dodrio ridden by Candice quickly coming up and stopping not far away from the others. Rather than addressing the group, Candice immediately trotted over to where she could get a good look at the Battle Pyramid, admiring the structure for all its glory and prestige.

    "Incredible! It's the real Battle Pyramid!" Candice marveled; her eyes sparkling with delight.

    "Miss Senior?" Zoey called out, definitely not expecting her mentor to show up at a time like this. She wished she could be surprised to see Candice being so distracted by something as amazing as this that she would forget to address the others first like normal people would.

    "Ah!" the Gym Leader squealed. Needless to say she was glad she abandoned her post at Snowpoint Gym to check this out. "And it's… so huge!"

    Brandon had no idea who this was, but he figured it was best to gently bring her back down to earth. "Sorry to make such a fuss," he apologized. "But I'm Brandon, the Pyramid King of the Battle Frontier."

    Candice bowed respectfully. "I'm honored to meet you! I'm Candice, the Snowpoint City Gym Leader." To say she was honored was an understatement, but like certain others (though for different reasons), Brandon's mere presence in this remote location was a lot to take in. Still, there was more yet to come as Candice heard another noise steadily growing louder as it neared the landing site of the Battle Pyramid. "Huh…?" It appeared to be a jeep.

    The rest of the crowd took notice to this as soon as Candice acknowledged it, though Brandon smiled knowingly. Though he just received several surprise visitors all at once, he figured this finally must be who he came here for, and proved to be correct when a certain modest maiden stepped out of the jeep after it was parked. She was a little surprised to see a crowd surrounding Brandon, but didn't show this through any facial expression.

    "Oh, it's you, Maria," Brandon called out, pleased to see the only person who could help him find what he was looking for.

    Like Candice, Maria was humbled in the presence of Kanto's finest Frontier Brain and gave him a respectful bow. "We've been waiting for you, Pyramid King."

    The others looked utterly dumbfounded, not recognizing this woman at all or what her purpose for appearing was. Noticing this, Brandon was more than happy to explain. "I'd like to introduce you all. Everyone, please say hello to temple maiden Maria."

    "It's an honor," she greeted, bowing again. It seemed to be an automatic gesture for someone like her. However, modest maidens like her were ideal love interests for desperate and love-starved boys like Brock, who cried out at the sight of her and instantly jumped over to Maria's side. She felt a bit beside herself as she watched Brock kneel before her as if he were about to propose a marriage.

    "With a beautiful maiden like you, I must make a pilgrimage to the Snowpoint Temple right away…!" That's all Brock could get out before a very familiar and routine sharp burst of pain exploded from his backside. As usual, the culprit was Brock's Croagunk with its expertly-executed Poison Jab, which never failed to paralyze Brock long enough for Croagunk to drag him away from any targeted ladies, such as Maria for today.

    There was the usual awkward silence that followed as Croagunk dragged his victim/trainer away, save for a weak whine from Brock. "No fair; I haven't even left yet…" The others just couldn't look away; it was quite the definitive trainwreck. Even Brandon was taken aback by it, though Paul was the only one who looked visibly annoyed at the entire scene. He had just demanded a battle from his father, after all, and he was getting highly irritated with all of these distractions that delayed their fated clash.

    Dawn thought back on what Brock had said before getting Poison Jabbed, as well as how Brandon introduced Maria to the group. She looked to her rival for some answers. "Zoey, there's a temple here?"

    "Oh yeah," Zoey recalled. "The Snowpoint Temple. It's a bit far from here, but it's an ancient temple with a rich history."

    "That sounds awesome!" Dawn remarked; meanwhile it very quickly occurred to Reggie and Paul why Maria was here and why Brandon came to Snowpoint City. Naturally, especially after what the Regigigas book implied, Brandon would be drawn to this place after learning about it. Brandon explained this for those who didn't catch on immediately like his sons.

    "You see, my purpose in coming to Sinnoh is to investigate the Snowpoint Temple," he said… only confirming what the brothers believed to be the case. Naturally, someone as proud as Brandon wouldn't admit to this lot that he had been in Sinnoh for well over a month and only found out about the temple itself recently… it was also convenient and expected of Brandon to not say precisely what he was investigating.

    "Of course," a quickly-recovering Brock realized, thinking back on his encounters with Brandon back in Kanto… particularly the first time. "You do research on many ancient civilizations, right?"

    "Correct," Brandon confirmed. He was pleased to see that he was well-remembered by his Kanto-native acquaintances.

    "But I never imagined you were going to travel here in your amazing Battle Pyramid," Maria brought up. Though it was true she was contacted by the Battle Pyramid's communication systems, Brandon never once said anything about actually bringing his massive vessel straight to his destination.

    The fact that Brandon had attracted so much attention by doing so actually had him mildly flustered. "It appears we've caused a bit of a scene," he admitted. He then realized his faithful assistant was right by him, only now noticing his presence. Then again, a lot had happened in the short amount of time that passed since making landfall. But he decided the time for small-talk was over; now was the time to get down to business, and already Brandon had everything planned out in his head. "Now, Sam?"

    Samuel was startled briefly, suddenly being addressed after all this time. "Sir?"

    "Please go on ahead with Maria to the temple," Brandon requested, surprising both his assistant and his designated host for this investigation.

    It just begged the obvious question. "Huh…? What about you?" Samuel thought Brandon understood that this was strictly a business trip…

    "Take a look," Brandon urged, gesturing to Paul. Exasperation at Brock's antics aside, the fierce and focused look on his face told Brandon what was more important to do right now. "Look into his eyes…"

    The eyes that took after Brandon's own, no less.

    "How can I refuse this battle the young man requests?" Brandon rhetorically asked his assistant. "I'll catch up with you soon."

    He made sure to sound very self-assured about that much, knowing Samuel was having doubts about wherein his boss' priorities lied.

    "Thank you sir," Maria said with a bow, understanding the situation perfectly. She nodded for Samuel to follow her to the jeep, having a feeling she wouldn't be waiting long for the Pyramid King's arrival to her humble abode.

    Meanwhile, Reggie looked to Paul, concerned about his motivations for jumping to this battle when Paul was so strict about keeping things between Brandon professional. To engage in their promised grudge match at this time and be forced to hold back on what so much of this battle was based on while Ash and the others were still around… it was confusing for Reggie, for once, to understand the motives driving his little brother.

    "But Paul… why now?" he quietly asked, making sure to keep his complicated question simple as best he could.

    "Because I have to do what you couldn't," Paul harshly replied, not even batting an eye at his older brother… not with his smug father still right in front of him. "And that's that."

    It was more than that; Reggie knew it had to be, and Brandon saw through the lie as well. Normally, Paul would have waited for an opportunity to get rid of the potential peanut gallery before issuing his challenge… but all of that changed the second he learned that Ash defeated Brandon already. This wasn't just doing what Reggie couldn't do; this was to prove that Paul could do anything that Ash could do. The loss from the PokéRinger competition, the revelation that Ash was ahead of him in badge count, the fact that Ash was gradually showing more competence as a trainer… all of that was already worrying Paul, who feared his illness would play a role in Ash surpassing him someday if he kept improving at this rate.

    But now Paul's image of Ash completely changed after learning that a kid his age managed to beat his own father, a world-renowned trainer… and still come off as a total amateur fresh off that victory when Ash met Paul in the first place. Now Paul was convinced that Ash had been holding back on him this entire time; that Ash was purposefully not giving it his all to someone who didn't have his credentials. Of course, that simply wasn't Ash's way, but never even in Paul's wildest fantasies did he think that Ash could ever be Frontier Brain material. To learn that he already was… that was the whole basis of issuing the challenge now. He figured if Ash could beat Brandon, so could he… and he knew Ash wouldn't be able to resist watching Paul achieve this.

    As if on cue, Ash spoke up. "Hey, Brandon! It would be really great if you'd let us watch your battle."

    Just as Paul thought… of course his rival was intent on seeing the outcome.

    "Hm…" Brandon personally didn't mind, but since Paul had been behaving oddly all day, he figured it was safest to get the OK from him first. "Young man?" he addressed his son… in that professional way that Paul so wanted, even though just hearing it continued to anger Paul, as this was really no different from how Brandon would talk to him normally.

    "I don't care," Paul blurted out, not meaning to put so much emotion into that. Even under his own rules, Paul found it hard to contain that rage of his… rage that could only be contained by a vengeful son for his neglectful and overly-proud father. Still, he wanted Ash to see this. But he had to keep his cool and remain professional himself, lest he be even more of a hypocrite than he had been already.

    "Then it's settled," Brandon decided. "I'll see you inside." He turned away from the group, walking back inside his facility. There was some uncertainty among the others whether or not to follow right now, but seeing Paul step forward and proceed inside himself signaled the others to come along.

    Paul kept a steady pace, keeping himself well ahead enough of Ash and the others while maintaining a good distance behind Brandon. Ash and company had known Paul long enough to figure when it was useless attempting to converse with him… this situation being definitive of that. Regardless, Reggie quickened his pace to catch up with Paul. He wanted to make sure his little brother was still thinking straight, after all.

    "Paul, you're sure this is what you want?" Reggie whispered to him, making sure the others wouldn't be able to overhear.

    "All is going according to plan," Paul told him; his tone indicated that he was very certain about what he was doing. "I can handle things from here; stay with the others."

    Despite that, Reggie wasn't completely convinced. "You just seem… to be rushing into this, that's all. And you know better than to rush when it comes to battling him…"

    "Everything is under control," Paul emphasized; his hands balling into fists as he tried to control his anger. "Just… just trust me for once, alright? Now leave me alone; I don't have a lot of time left."

    Reggie just stopped after hearing that, letting Paul go on by himself. Ash and company caught up with Reggie, all very curious of what he seemed so worried about.

    "Something wrong, Reggie?" Ash asked him, concerned about what just went down. Even he could tell Paul was behaving quite differently from his usual self today, though he hadn't the faintest clue as to why this was the case.

    If this plan of Paul's had any hope of going off without a hitch, Reggie knew he had to make use of every chance to throw these guys off the trail. So he put on his best fake smile to reassure the group. "Nah… you know me; I worry about Paul no matter how old and how experienced he gets. He'll always be my little brother…"

    "Wish I knew what that was like," Ash mused. "This stuff just goes right over my head…" What an understatement that was.

    "Me too," Dawn agreed, also an only child. "Maybe we'd understand Paul better if we had a sibling like he does."

    Perhaps that was what set Brock apart from his friends: he knew exactly what it was like, having nine little brothers and sisters of his own that he looked after for a long time before his parents finally came back and acted like… well, parents. Brock actually understood situations like these perfectly well, especially from Reggie's point of view since Brock was the eldest child.

    "Speakin' of which, Brock's got a lot of brothers and sisters," Ash recalled in a stunning display of his rarely-used long-term memory skills. "So he probably gets Paul real well." He looked up to his companion. "Isn't that right?"

    "Don't overestimate my abilities, Ash," a flustered Brock replied. "It takes a lot more than having one thing in common with somebody to completely understand them." He looked up to Reggie. "If anything, I'd sooner understand Reggie's side of things than Paul's, I imagine."

    Reggie didn't like that look Brock was giving him… the look that pierced right through the eyes and straight into the mind. It was a gesture that was directly, if silently telling him that Brock knew there was a complicated mess going on behind the scenes right now. Brock had been suspicious of their connection to Brandon for a while now, but at this point he was certain there were important details Reggie was holding back from them.

    "Ahaha, probably," Reggie awkwardly laughed away, feigning innocence well enough to not arouse Ash and Dawn's suspicion, but it couldn't get by Brock's. Nothing could at this point. "Really, if I knew what was going on here, I'd tell you guys," he assured. "My best guess is that Paul is just being opportunistic… after all, just how often would we be seeing Pyramid King Brandon in Sinnoh of all places?"

    "Hey, even I abandoned my Gym just to check this out," Candice flippantly admitted, showing no shame in her actions whatsoever, much to Zoey's dismay. "If I were Paul I'd be doing the same thing, I bet. This is definitely something worth delaying our Gym Battle for."

    "Well, what're we waiting for?" Ash asked everyone, psyched to see how this battle would play out for the simplest of reasons: the joy of seeing the clash of two power players who have been major influences in Ash's life as a trainer. "I remember the way to the arena from last time. What about you, Reggie? It's been a while for ya…"

    Reggie just shook his head and smirked. "I couldn't forget a place like this even if I tried."

    "Then I'm officially challengin' ya to a race!" Ash proclaimed, suddenly dashing off down the hall. "Nobody keeps up with me…!"

    What a welcome way to excuse himself from this conversation with Brock, Reggie thought. Though it would only be temporary since they would be seated together in the end, he was glad to take any moment of reprieve he could get. Running around like he used to in his younger days was ideal for Reggie to let loose a bit.

    "Why not? You're on!" Just like that, Reggie was out of there. What was mildly surprising was that Reggie showed to greatly outclass Ash in speed, actually taking the challenge seriously. Ash was in awe of how quickly Reggie passed him up, but that only made him run harder.

    Dawn just smiled the way she did in most awkward moments. "Boys will be boys, I guess…"

    "Is it just me, or does something feel off about this whole thing?" Zoey wondered out loud. Apparently Brock wasn't the only one who sensed it, though Zoey was very much in the dark regardless.

    "What do you mean by "off", Zozo?" Candice asked, though she was keeping things under wraps herself. At least with Reggie and Brandon's presence, it looked like all potential heat would be off of her and she wouldn't have to worry about slipping any details about Paul she allegedly shouldn't know about.

    Brock just sighed quietly. "It's not just you," he assured Zoey. "But for now, let's just watch the battle. Maybe it will clear things up."

    Paul noticed Reggie and Ash zip by, though they were practically like bullets to him. He briefly shook his head at this, as it only further displayed the similarities between the two. However, more noteworthy was the fact that Paul seemed to be catching up to Brandon, as he was suddenly well within reach. Paul never altered the rate of his pace after breaking off from his brother, so evidently Brandon slowed to a stop on purpose so Paul would catch up to him.

    The Frontier Brain, while briefly distracted with his older son and former challenger zipping right by him without noticing, could tell when Paul was at an ideal, safe distance from him. He wasn't going to wait for Paul to ask what was going on: "Kid… how much time do you need before we go through with this?" he sternly asked. "I have important business to take care of here, so I won't wait all day for you to prepare."

    "No more than five minutes," Paul affirmed. They were both equally cold to each other at this point. "But you know you promised we'd battle over a month ago. So quick to ditch me for work again, aren't you?"

    "Work is what brought me to Sinnoh in the first place," Brandon reminded him. "And work is what inspired me to grant you and your brother the right to challenge me formally. If I were you, kid, I would learn my place and do so quickly."

    A statement like that made Paul's blood boil easily. "It's pointless for you to worry about how much of your precious time I'll eat up," he claimed. "I'll make short work of you… so look forward to that."

    "I've heard enough talk from you," Brandon informed him. "From now on, we will communicate through battle and only that. I assume you still want to keep this "professional", correct?"

    "Of course," Paul replied, looking relieved as they passed by a bathroom in the facility. "You've made your point," he admitted. "I'll be preparing now… see you soon."

    Paul stopped and opened the bathroom door. Brandon paused briefly to look behind him; he didn't expect Paul would choose a place like this to "prepare", but then again he wasn't going to question it, either. He simply nodded to his second son before going on his way to the battling arena.

    Wasting no time, Paul locked himself in the bathroom and slumped over the sink; talking to his father took more out of him than he thought. Though self-assured for the most part, Paul was still at unease with how this day was playing out. It only got worse when Paul experienced a familiar nasty cough with speckles of red appearing on the counter in its wake. His eyes widened in horror.

    "Not now…" he whispered. "No, this can't hold me back now. I'm not going to let it…"

    There was no other choice but to double up on his medication to keep his illness at bay; at least that was a legit way to use it in days where his symptoms were more prevalent than on others. He choked it down quickly, glaring at his own reflection in the mirror as he cleaned up. "If that fool can beat the old man, so can I… and if I can beat the old man, then I'll know I can't give up yet. Just because of… what I am…" Damaged goods; tainted with inherent weakness… that's what Paul felt in the wake of the discovery of his disease juxtaposed with the revelations about his own father, as well as Ash.

    He feared this illness would allow Ash to surpass him in battle one day… Paul was not going to let that happen, and he intended to prove it by defeating Brandon with ease in spite of his crippling ailments. Before leaving, Paul looked down at his set of miniature Pokéballs – the team he arranged specifically to deal with Brandon this time.

    "I chose you all for a reason," he reminded his team. "I know what I'm doing… if you fail to play your role in the old man's overdue defeat, that's your problem; not mine."

    Obviously his Pokémon could not reply back, but this didn't need to be said nor written out by their trainer; they knew him well enough to know what he expected and most of them were aware of just who Brandon was to Paul.

    Not a father, no… an adversary.

    As the time elapsed, it was finally time for the battle to begin. Brandon and Paul were in position on the battlefield while Ash, Dawn, Reggie, Candice, and Zoey were seated in the stands. Brock was making his way down to the platform Samuel usually stood upon as he oversaw Brandon's various matches. With Samuel absent now, Brock took it upon himself to take his place.

    "Brandon, I could referee…!" he called out. Brock wanted to see up close and personally what all of this meant, but before Brandon could approve, Paul cut in.

    "Why? There's no need!" Paul yelled out suddenly, surprising Brandon and not even giving him time to ask what he was up to. He had already predetermined it a while ago: "It's a full six-on-six battle; Pokémon exchanges allowed. The battle will be over when one side's Pokémon are unable to continue."

    Shocking as it was to be cut off, Brandon liked seeing this spark in Paul. These rules were rather interesting as Paul was only making it harder for himself by allowing Brandon to substitute as well. Not even Ash had to deal with that, nor did Reggie. Paul was determined to go above and beyond, which Brandon found to be quite admirable.

    However… Brandon could still see his son was way in over his head, and it was high time to break that haughtiness and bring Paul back down to earth to face reality. How Brandon inherently knew Paul wasn't ready to take him on seriously yet was a mystery, but this was why Brandon humored him in the first place by allowing them to fight before their scheduled official challenge once Paul accomplished all of his tasks. Brandon figured Paul would succeed where Reggie failed if he had a traumatizing defeat to fuel his fighting prowess. Though Paul was more inclined to violence than Reggie ever was to begin with, Brandon was not going to take any chances. His faith in his sons was rather limited at this point. But if Paul was truly anything like Brandon was in his youth, the Pyramid King knew Paul would be able to bounce back from anything, unlike his brother.

    "Very well," Brandon conceded. Brock, seeing that he wasn't needed after all, quietly made his way to the stands where his friends were. Ash stared at his very focused and determined rival, still in mild disbelief that just like this, Paul was making a bold move to do what his brother couldn't: defeat Brandon.

    There was no need for a signal to begin the battle: Paul did it the old-fashioned way by reacting immediately, sending out a Pokémon. "Magmar, stand by for battle…!"

    Brandon enjoyed seeing such initiative and quickly followed suit. "Regirock, I need your assistance!"

    "Regirock…!" gasped Candice, in awe of seeing a Pokémon deemed of legendary status right in front of her. Dawn had never even heard of Regirock before, so she was quick to take out her PokéDex and learn a bit about it.

    "Regirock, the Rock Peak Pokémon. Regirock's body is made up of rock and if something chips off in battle, it attaches rocks to repair itself."

    "Sounds pretty resourceful, huh," Candice remarked.

    Brock nodded in agreement. "I'd say Brandon's had Regirock for a long time now… even Ash couldn't defeat it."

    Down on the field, Paul stared hard at the opponent he was faced with; not just the Pokémon, but also his past. "So Brandon starts with Regirock," he muttered. "Just like he did with my brother."

    "I remember," Reggie said suddenly, getting everyone's attention. Seeing Regirock was a blast to his past as well, after all. "Paul was watching. Of course, that was back when my Pokémon and I were defeated by Brandon."

    "So he was there the day you lost and retired," Brock realized. Things were finally beginning to make sense… why Paul felt so strongly about his brother's defeat, at least. "Then you faced Regirock, too?"

    Reggie nodded somberly. He hated that he got himself into this topic just by being shocked by seeing Regirock again, but now he had no choice but to roll with it. "I did."

    "Whoa, so Brandon really has had Regirock for a long time," Ash remarked, having no idea Regirock had that many years of experience. "No wonder I couldn't beat it even with a type advantage…"

    Of course Reggie remembered that day four years ago… there was no way he could forget, given that it forever changed both his life and his brother's… for the latter case especially.

    "Even so, no excuse would work on my brother," Reggie mentioned, his expressions hardening. "Paul was a new trainer and he'd just gotten his Turtwig. He had gone to Kanto during his Sinnoh journey… because he wanted to watch my battle."

    Back then, Paul didn't look too different, but at least in those days he wasn't so hesitant to crack a smile. What was truly different about him was on the inside… his beliefs. He always had an attitude, but he wasn't quite as cold all those years ago, though shades of Brandon did shine through at times, especially when it came to how he handled Reggie's loss and eventual retirement.

    "He put his journey on hold just to see you battle Brandon?" Dawn asked, surprised by this. "That sure doesn't sound like something he'd do today…"

    Much as it hurt his feelings to think about it, Reggie figured Dawn was right. "Yeah. It's not so out-there as you might think… back when I was a trainer, Paul traveled with me for the majority of my journey, so when he finally parted from me in Kanto on his tenth birthday to receive his Turtwig and his PokéDex, he already knew where I was headed and promised to see me through to the end. I guess you might say he was true to his word."

    "He was travelin' with ya that whole time?" Ash inquired, completely thrown back by this. "Then again, I guess it's not unheard of…"

    "You're right," Brock concurred. "Max accompanied his sister May through two regions even though he was too young to be a trainer. In spite of that, the knowledge he gained was invaluable, so you can bet when Max becomes old enough to be a trainer, he'll be a major contender early on because of his past experiences that most younger siblings don't really get."

    Dawn's mouth was gaping wide open. "Ah…! Yeah, you guys told me about how her little brother traveled with you guys before you joined me. So if the same was true with Paul, then he must've had a huge headstart at the beginning if he traveled with you for so many years, Reggie."

    "Exactly," Reggie affirmed. "He's still my kid brother, but he's wise behind his years, no doubt. Since he traveled with me, Paul never really made the kind of mistakes I did when I was a beginner. Even when he was that young, he was hitting the books and studying my technique very carefully."

    "Man, I never had that advantage at all," Ash complained, scratching his head. "No wonder he keeps kickin' my butt…"

    Zoey couldn't help but raise her eyebrow at this. The brothers didn't seem very close at all from what she saw so far, though it wasn't for lack of effort on Reggie's part. She couldn't believe what she was hearing. "It sounds like you guys were close, but then why does he hold that one loss against you so much? He's really quick to criticize you from what I've seen… was it really that bad?"

    "Let's just… say Paul doesn't take well to changes in his life," Reggie explained, feeling awkward as he tried to word that in a way that wouldn't make them ask him more questions. "I had already gone from League to League and I felt ready to challenge Kanto's Battle Frontier, right around the time Paul turned ten. Due to my level of experience, I got through most of the Battle Frontier quite quickly. So to become a Frontier Brain, I had one more challenge I needed to face, and that was a battle against Brandon. But… we lost without defeating a single Pokémon."

    Reggie couldn't help but wince as he recalled precisely what his father told him that day right after the battle ended.

    "NO! You challenged me and I truly did enjoy our battle today, but the fact remains that your battling style is little more than standard ordinary fare! Now where is your true inner strength?"

    "Harsh," Zoey sympathized as Reggie recalled the events for the group in detail. "And that's where you gave up?"

    Reggie nodded. "Not only that, but Paul was asking himself that very question the second he heard it. As a beginning trainer, from the get-go Paul was determined to find his true inner strength."

    Brock looked back to the battlefield, taking note of the new details he learned. "So the reason Paul's so obsessed with power is because of what happened to Reggie…"

    Meanwhile, Brandon was sick of this stall for time, disgusted that his own son looked like he was about to choke at the last second. While the situation and the fact that this overdue battle was finally happening did shock Paul, he was also trying to figure out a way around Regirock. Already knowing it was powerful enough to take down six of Reggie's strongest Pokémon in their prime, Paul knew he had to play it safe with this one. He wasn't about to completely flop like his brother did. The type disadvantage was already a major misstep.

    "Alright, I can handle anything you bring!" Brandon called out to him, knowing that mere taunts were always a weakness of Paul's. "Because that's my battling style." Yes, he also knew of how his battle with Reggie affected Paul for the long term.

    However, Paul was not provoked enough to fall for this trick right now. He held out Magmar's Pokéball and recalled it immediately. "Magmar, return!"

    "Return…?" Brandon figured Paul would charge right at him for certain. The fact that he was obviously playing it safe now told the Frontier Brain that his son was taking this battle very seriously.

    Those who took this action for face value only, though, weren't able to comprehend this action. "What's with Paul?" Ash asked out loud.

    "They haven't even started," Dawn muttered, shaking her head.

    But it was easy to see why if one just paid attention to details well enough, such as Brock. "Paul must have decided that his Fire-type Magmar wouldn't be strong enough against Brandon's Rock-type Regirock."

    "Hariyama, stand by for battle!" Paul yelled, sending out a Pokémon he hadn't used in quite some time. Obviously an early capture from his Hoenn days, Hariyama was once a much-less threatening Makuhita when Paul captured it. The "true inner strength" question that plagued Paul's mind was part of the reason why he was quick to capture a Fighting-type. It may have been a bit of a superficial resort in the past, but the type itself was a perfect choice to choose against Brandon.

    Seeing another Pokémon she was unfamiliar with, Dawn drew out her PokéDex again.

    "Hariyama, the Arm Thrust Pokémon. Hariyama can send a truck flying with its powerful Arm Thrusts."

    "Sounds like the kind of Pokémon Paul would like," Dawn noted with a wince. She didn't like visualizing that entry in her head one bit.

    Zoey, however, could see right away why Paul chose Hariyama. "A Fighting-type," she pointed out. "That's a good choice."

    Brandon couldn't have cared less about his sudden disadvantage on the field. He was ready to get this over with already, hoping to get some satisfaction out of this. "Let's begin. Stone Edge, now!"

    A very respectable and effective move, Stone Edge is. Paul knew well enough to get around that because he had been teaching his Torterra Stone Edge as well. Hariyama was bulky enough to take this on, and with the type advantage, he wasn't too worried. "Quick, block it!"

    Hariyama's massive hands took the attack with ease; the rocks disintegrating upon impact. Paul was already suspicious… as far as he knew, Brandon wasn't the type to go easy on him. So why was Brandon practically giving Paul a perfect opening right off the bat? Paul decided it was high time to do a little taunting himself.

    "You know Rock-type moves won't have much effect on Hariyama," Paul coldly reminded his father, really attempting to sound as condescending as he could. "Is this a test?"

    This was the kind of reaction Brandon was looking for; he could already tell Paul was unsure of himself and the direction of this battle. "You'll have to see," he said back in quite the inviting tone.

    Paul was willing enough to oblige him. "Arm Thrust!"

    Now it was the full-frontal attack Paul was waiting for. Mirroring Paul's hatred for his father, Hariyama slammed its gargantuan palms against Regirock over and over, forcing it back as it took each hit directly. This was exactly the kind of thing Paul wished he could do to Brandon personally… thanks to his illness, however, the young trainer was beginning to think it would be nothing more than a distant fantasy. Paul aimed to overwhelm Regirock, figuring this onslaught would weaken it a bit.

    However, Brandon remained firm as Regirock took the multiple Arm Thrust attacks until the precise, right moment. "Hold it down!"

    Being in such close range, it was easy for Regirock to extend its arms and capture Hariyama within its grasp, even though it was being attacked nonstop. The grip was quick to be painful, causing the immobilized Hariyama to stop attacking.

    "Oh no…!" Paul gasped out, not expecting a twist like this. He really didn't know his father as well as he thought, apparently. His mind raced to find a solution to this, but Brandon again reacted first.

    "Now, Shock Wave!" Brandon commanded, smirking as Hariyama was ruthlessly electrocuted in addition to the crushing pain it was experiencing with Regirock's hold. After the attack, Hariyama managed to break away, but the visible twitching indicated that the damage had been done. The audience couldn't believe what they were seeing, either.

    "Even after that much damage from Arm Thrust, Regirock has that much power!" Brock exclaimed. He had seen Regirock in action before, but not quite like this.

    Reggie nodded somberly; he seemed to already know this round would soon be over. "I'd expect no less from Regirock…"

    At least Hariyama was free now, enabling Paul to shout out whatever came to mind. He had a similar punishment in mind that would hopefully paralyze his opponent. "Force Palm…!"

    "Use Focus Punch!" Brandon countered. In spite of inferior mobility and greater mass than Hariyama, Regirock was fluent enough in its movements to completely dodge the Force Palm assault, giving it the ample time needed to charge Focus Punch, which nailed Hariyama right on… unsurprisingly so, as Hariyama was essentially a huge target.

    The point-blank bash to the head sent Hariyama to the ground. It quickly became obvious that it was not getting back up.

    "It's unable to battle…" Candice remarked, purely in shock and surprise. This was giving her flashbacks to when she easily thrashed Paul's team, even though he wasn't in his right mind at that time. This time, there was no excuse to warrant this. Within a couple of attacks, Hariyama was knocked flat down even with a type advantage.

    "That Regirock's tough," Ash stated, obviously enough. "What power!"

    Paul silently recalled his Pokémon as usual, showing no sign of gratitude for its efforts whatsoever. While it was jarring to already be down one Pokémon, Paul was determined to not give into fear this early on. He quickly took out another Pokéball and tossed it. "Electabuzz, stand by for battle!"

    Though Paul seemed sure of himself, Brandon had his doubts. "Huh…?" This choice was mildly perplexing for him, as it was the others.

    "Why choose an Electric-type?" Candice wondered out loud. She knew Paul liked making challenges harder for himself, but this was ridiculous.

    However, Ash quickly understood why Paul made this choice thanks to the time he invested in watching Paul sharpen Electabuzz's skills last night. "Of course; it makes total sense Paul would do that!"

    The rest of the peanut gallery, Reggie included, just stared at Ash with widened eyes. How could he see something they couldn't when normally it was the other way around?

    "Brick Break!" Paul ordered, not about to give Brandon an opening to ruin his plans. This time, the result was as Paul expected; Electabuzz flawlessly executed the move and hit Regirock directly, surely causing some damage.

    This move was being used quite frequently during training last night, which is why Ash predicted Paul's motives with ease. "I knew he was gonna use Brick Break, too!" he exclaimed, sort of impressed that he could somewhat read Paul's mind for once.

    "Well, Brandon's Regirock is a high-level Pokémon and Paul knows it," Reggie explained. He was beginning to understand why Paul was going this direction now… it was everything Reggie himself didn't do in his own battle against Brandon. Paul kept true to his word in just about any situation… his determination to not become like Reggie. "So of course he's got to use an attack that'll be a powerful match."

    "This is getting complicated," Dawn commented with a wince. "Just what else is Electabuzz going to do now, then?"

    Zoey looked on at the battle scene. "We'll just have to wait and see…"

    Brandon didn't miss a beat. "Stone Edge; go!"

    Electabuzz didn't have a resistance to Rock-type attacks like Hariyama did, so Paul wasn't going to let this be what would screw him over. "Protect!"

    Surely… surely this would negate Regirock's attack without fail. After all, in every battle Paul had been in, nothing short of Feint could break the Protect move.

    Imagine the horror when Paul turned out to be wrong; Regirock was so strong… and so vastly outclassed Electabuzz… that even normally-surefire moves like Protect could fail against the massive power Brandon possessed as one of the top trainers in the entire world.

    Electabuzz was brutally thrown back and damaged by the unstoppable rocks after its Protect barrier was destroyed. Paul couldn't help but growl a bit at this point; things like this weren't normally supposed to happen… so why were they? Even Brandon was mildly surprised that a mere Stone Edge attack could break a move like Protect. He began to wonder just how weak his second son really was… and it was something he didn't like thinking about.

    "And Protect wasn't strong enough…" Candice muttered with a sigh. "What's going on here? That couldn't have been normal."

    "Only a sheer difference in levels could cause that," Reggie said, sounding distant. "Nothing else… he really is capable of doing the impossible, isn't he…"

    Paul was still too slow on the uptake as Brandon took up the next turn. "Now, Hyper Beam!"

    To do the impossible and follow it up with an attack like that? It was beginning to befuddle everybody. One mere hit on a massively-weakened Electabuzz was more than enough to knock it out. That was it for the Electric Pokémon.

    "I can't believe how easily he took out Paul's Electabuzz," Ash remarked, remembering how much trouble he had with that Pokémon even as an Elekid. Even he felt a bit inadequate seeing how easily Brandon took it out.

    While Paul recalled Electabuzz, Brandon saw it fit to make his first substitution. "Good; Regirock, return!" Back into the Pokéball Regirock went after easily taking down a third of Paul's team.

    Brock nodded, understanding why Brandon chose now to switch. "After using Hyper Beam, a Pokémon can't act right away, so it's good he's making an exchange now."

    Unlike Paul, Brandon wasn't bothering trying to make this harder for himself. That wasn't what Brandon had in mind; he merely decided to show Paul directly how foolishly stubborn he was and how that was leading his unfortunate son on a downward spiral. Indeed… it was Brandon's toughest example of tough love. At least he was privileging Paul by letting him see more than just Regirock this time as he threw his next Pokéball. "Registeel, I need your assistance…!"

    Since Regirock had left such an impact, the group was more than unsettled to see a fearsome relative come out to the field. Dawn was making a habit out of abusing her PokéDex now, it seemed.

    "Registeel, the Iron Pokémon. Because Registeel's body has been tempered by underground pressure for thousands of years, its body cannot be scratched."

    "That's just… wow," Zoey commented. "You can't even scratch it? These Regis are definitely living up to their hype…"

    "A Registeel…" Paul had seen Registeel through video phone conversations with Brandon, but that was it, and mostly it was when Brandon announced to his family that he captured it. Being a solid Steel-type, however… the choice seemed obvious. "Magmar, stand by for battle!"

    Zoey nodded as Magmar was sent out. "Well, Fire-types have the advantage over Steel-types…"

    "At this point, I'm beginning to doubt types even matter anymore in this battle," Brock wondered out loud.

    "Use Flamethrower!" Paul shouted, immediately on the offense again. Registeel merely stood there and took the full attack, being utterly engulfed in the flames.

    "A direct hit…!" Ash exclaimed. He was in awe watching Registeel buried under the bright, burning flames… Brandon was also finally looking a bit concerned, not expecting that much power out of Paul after his first two examples. However, the concern vanished as Registeel broke through the flames and survived the attack… still standing, even. Like the PokéDex entry said, nothing could land a scratch on Registeel.

    Paul was aghast at this; he saw Registeel burning and it was still alright? "But how…?"

    The elder brother watched closely, trying to make sense of this occurrence. "It must've had an effect, but… it's hanging in."

    "Like a Steel-type," Brock supplemented. Reggie nodded in agreement.

    "True to its type's stereotype…"

    It was to Brandon's advantage to leave everyone in shock, of course. He was able to cut ahead of Paul in reaction time this way. "Use Iron Head!"

    Once Paul heard his father's voice again, he immediately issued a command to counter the move. "Block it, and then Will-O-Wisp!"

    He noticed Registeel was at least affected by Fire-type attacks, so Paul knew to stick with what worked and try to leave a burn on Registeel to gradually weaken it enough for him to knock out. Though Magmar tried to fend off Iron Head with its forearms, it simply wasn't powerful enough to completely negate it… again, in spite of its type advantage. Brock was turning out to be right about opposing types being meaningless in this battle. Even direct super-effective attacks weren't enough to bring down the powerhouse named Brandon.

    Magmar was knocked back, but not knocked out. However, instead of executing Will-O-Wisp as ordered, Magmar was suddenly overcome with fear and cowered away instead.

    Paul couldn't believe this. "Magmar's scared?" The very thing that shouldn't be displayed in front of Brandon…

    "Where's the Will-O-Wisp…?" Dawn asked, almost panicked. She'd never seen such a fierce, one-sided battle before.

    Brock was there to supply the answers. "Iron Head may cause opponents to flinch, and then it prevents them from attacking."

    There was no way Paul could rely on Magmar like this. He hastily recalled Magmar back into its Pokéball and sent out its replacement. "Now, Nidoking! Stand by for battle…!"

    Reggie raised an eyebrow at this. He was wondering why Paul was suddenly using Pokémon he hadn't used in a long time for a battle like this, but he realized this must have been what Paul wanted his privacy for earlier on today. He plotted out this party at the last minute once he saw that Brandon was in the area… based on types, Reggie figured that perhaps Torterra would be his trump card as usual, but Nidoking was also one of Paul's considerably stronger Pokémon.

    Dawn again brought out her PokéDex to analyze a Pokémon unfamiliar to her.

    "Nidoking, the Drill Pokémon. One swing of its mighty tail can snap a telephone pole as if it were nothing but a matchstick."

    Upon hearing that, Dawn gulped. "Paul… really likes the scary ones, doesn't he?"

    "If I had to guess, I'd say he seems more interested in function than looks and nature," Zoey hypothesized.

    "Paul's been through many regions at this point," Reggie reminded them all. "And he keeps his reserves with me, so believe me when I say he has… quite a variety in spite of what you're seeing here."

    Dawn looked back at her PokéDex entry and realized something. "Nidoking is a Poison-type, but I thought Poison-type moves don't work on Steel-types. Isn't that right?"

    "That's true, but Nidoking is also a Ground-type, whose moves are effective on Steel-types," Zoey informed her rival. "We'll have to wait and see which move he calls."

    But once again, Brandon was quick to take initiative. "Use Flash Cannon!"

    That nearly-blinding attack hit Nidoking head-on, but unlike Paul's other Pokémon, it was relatively unscathed afterwards, only being forced to bend back a bit. After getting itself straightened out, Paul knew it was time to strike hard and finally take Registeel down. "Earth Power, now!"

    Nidoking glowed with a bright light of power briefly before it slammed its fist into the ground, causing sudden tremors that directly approached Registeel. Another precise hit it was, as Registeel was visibly harmed by the attack and almost fell over once all was said and done… almost. Brandon's eyes widened at this, as he knew how difficult it was to actually push Registeel back this far. "Well, that's some impressive strength," he admitted. Perhaps he had too little faith in Paul after all.

    And Paul wasn't done yet. "Double Kick!"

    He was determined to not let his guard down this time and completely overwhelm his opponent for once. In spite of Nidoking's size and girth, it easily jumped high up enough to kick Registeel twice from overhead, sending it stumbling back even more… and yet it still remained on its feet after seeming like it would finally fall. The audience waited for Registeel to fall with bated breath and was horrified to see what actually happened.

    "Whoa," Ash remarked. "A hit like that and Registeel's still up!"

    Paul just tried to shake it off and continue. "Now use Thunderbolt!" he ordered. He wanted to afflict that Registeel with some kind of status… any status would do at this point.

    "Iron Head; go!" Brandon countered, winning this clash. As Nidoking zapped Registeel, it charged at an unbelievable speed at the Drill Pokémon with a full-force Iron Head attack.

    Even with a Pokémon that finally managed to really affect Brandon, Nidoking still wasn't enough. After a direct hit like that, it fainted.

    "Nidoking's unable to battle, too!" Zoey exclaimed, thinking over the previous few turns that transpired. "It was a good attack, though… I guess he's not that bad a trainer after all, but still…"

    That was three down for Paul now… half his team was unable to continue while Brandon hadn't even lost one on his side yet. Though Nidoking reflected the inherent abilities Brandon wanted to believe Paul had, his performance was still pitiful overall for a battle he was so serious about having. If he was this far behind, Brandon figured it would be a long time before Paul would be strong enough to even remotely become a threat. That… actually depressed him. Pushing that aside for now, however, Brandon decided he would have to invoke Paul's rage the best way he knew how: by exposing his weaknesses. Though Brandon barely spent any quality time with his kids, he could read them like a book… especially Paul, who was always more reflective of his youth than Reggie was. All Brandon needed to do was recall what lit his fighting spirit on fire as a child… truth be told, there were many similarities between Paul and Brandon that hadn't come to light yet for anyone but the Pyramid King himself.

    All Brandon had to do… was think about the people he despised the most. What he needed to do became clear.

    "All right, what's wrong?" Brandon taunted, making sure Paul wouldn't be able to ignore that demeaning tone of his… not to mention abusing his privileges as a "strictly professional acquaintance" rather than an estranged father. "And here I thought you wanted to beat the man who defeated your brother."

    Paul finally came to his senses and recalled Nidoking to its Pokéball before glaring daggers at Brandon. Just hearing him talk like that already made him become increasingly unstable. The remains of his self-control were evident in his reply. "The truth is, it's only because you defeated Reggie that my victory over you will have meaning." But that was not the truth at all… "The challenge you always present to trainers to find their own strength…"

    And just then, he snapped mid-sentence. "… Was something my brother wasn't able to do!"

    Brandon blinked at the sudden outburst. Reggie's expressions hardened as he was namedropped by his family. It was so hard to keep everything under wraps… he could tell the battle would get unnecessarily brutal from here and he wanted to play mediator like he often did between Paul and Brandon, but in this crowd, there was just no way. All he could do was watch as his little brother completely lost his cool after all this time, evident with his raised fists now shaking.

    "But I'm not like my brother!" Paul shouted. "My will gives me strength! And now, you'll see it firsthand!"

    That was all Brandon needed to know Paul had no chance whatsoever in winning this battle. A superficial answer like that wasn't going to sway him; just convince him that Paul had no idea what he was talking about and really was making this up as he went along. Though there was some truth in what Paul said, as his willpower was probably the only thing that finally got him in Snowpoint City, the fact was he was too reliant on his own stubborn nature, assuming that he would outlast any opponent by that virtue alone. But as evident with Candice a few days ago, obviously that wasn't enough to overcome a competent opponent. Paul still hadn't learned from his prior mistakes… because he was blinded by his rage; his hatred for his father.

    Brandon hoped he wouldn't have to go this low, because he was sure what kind of answer he would get from his son… but he found that he was left with no choice.

    "NO!" Brandon bellowed, startling everyone in the stands but Reggie, who was more than used to this reaction by now. "All wrapped up in the past…" he remarked with disgust. "But then why do you walk the Pokémon path in the first place?"

    Paul was losing it, as if the wrinkles under his eyes weren't telling enough. He couldn't believe he was being asked a question like this in the middle of their battle… with all these people watching…

    And then… Brandon dropped the bomb that would end his child for sure: "Tell me, why do you battle?"

    Of all things… this was something Paul never really thought about before. There were other ways to get his point across to his father… so why did he choose to do it with Pokémon, which he was rather unqualified for training and taking care of? It made perfect sense for a person like Reggie… he had an inherent love for Pokémon while Paul… did not. It made no real sense why Paul was a Pokémon trainer at all.

    Once Paul realized that… once he was forced to take everything but Pokémon out of the equation for his motives… only then was he finally enlightened, but it was one that he wished never dawned upon him.

    Paul had no idea why he worked with Pokémon. He had no answer for Brandon's inquiry.

    That… was what Brandon expected, sadly. With no clue as to what he was doing with Pokémon, this was precisely why he had doubts in Paul ever reaching his level of achievement, much less surpassing it. Even with Reggie, the quitter, it seemed less hopeless.

    But Paul… always bounced back. Brandon knew this to be true; if Paul could one day answer this question with validity, then the sky was the limit for him.

    Until then… he was stuck here, right where he was… on a massive losing streak.

    "Young man."

    Paul snapped out of it, giving his father a murderous glare.

    "I asked you a question," Brandon reminded him. "So tell me right now… what are you fighting for?"

    The audience looked to Paul, awaiting his answer. Though Reggie looked skeptical; he too knew that Paul's motives were… either questionable or nonexistent. Paul could feel it, too; he could feel himself being watched and judged by those in the stands.

    But he still didn't know what to say… other than growl as his emotional restraints finally gave way to his raw, uncontrolled rage.


    Brandon sighed. He didn't want to go so far as to break Paul, but he saw now that there was no choice. It wouldn't be much longer, he knew… and then this hurdle could finally be overcome.

    A very shaken Dawn lifted up her PokéDex once more. She never heard Paul sound like this before, but now that she had, her image of him completely changed for the worse.

    "Lairon, the Iron Armor Pokémon. It digs up iron ore for food and smashes its steely body up against others in battles over territory."

    While saddened that it came down to this, Reggie wondered why Paul bothered taking a chance on something like Lairon against a man who was viewed as the ultimate challenge. From what Reggie remembered, Paul never cared that much for Lairon and couldn't even be bothered to fully evolve it even though it was one of the first Pokémon he caught by himself. Paul actually saw this as a perfect opportunity to invoke an evolution in Lairon so he would finally get his Aggron… not to mention its typing was ideal for going against Brandon. Then again, Paul hadn't been thinking straight all day. There was just too much going on for him to handle.

    Brandon decided that while Paul had pretty much lost his mind at this point to further confuse him by choosing this moment to make his exchange. "Registeel, return!" All eyes were glued to Brandon as he sent out the final member of his famous legendary trio… "Regice, I need your assistance!"

    "He's… gonna use an Ice-type against a Rock and Steel-type…?" Zoey asked no one in particular.

    "They sure are alike," Candice quietly muttered, but her comment did not slip by Brock's ears.

    Brock looked back at Candice questioningly. "What was that…?"

    "Ack…!" Candice just grinned and laughed in a panicked way that practically screamed the fact that she was forcing it out. "Nothing, nothing!" She did not want to be the center of attention again.

    "Anyway, it's obvious now," Reggie confirmed, unable to force a smile at this point. "Types… really are irrelevant in this battle."

    Though Paul was consumed with rage by this point, he actually decided on a defensive beginning for once. "Iron Defense!"

    Lairon's steely body gleamed as the technique took effect. Dawn stared at this, thinking she could put her finger on this for once. "Is that…?"

    "Right, it increases defensive power," Brock confirmed, knowing Dawn was too shaken by this battle to finish her sentences now.

    "Yeah, Paul wants to hang in there and look for a chance to counter-strike," Reggie added, knowing this would be the only reason why his desperate brother wouldn't lash out at the beginning.

    However, Brandon paid no mind to this and proceeded to attack. "Ice Beam; go!"

    "What the…?" Lairon stood there and took the hit… but increased defenses were absolutely worthless in this case, as the odds went against Paul once again. He looked on in pure, abject horror as he watched his Lairon become frozen solid in a block of ice, which was a possible side-effect if a target was hit with this attack.

    Paul was sunk, and all he could do was growl about it, wishing that he would have challenged his father to a fist-fight or something less emotionally-draining instead. It was bad enough that for most of Paul's major battles since Byron was he constantly falling victim to the frozen status, which then rendered his Pokémon useless.

    There was nothing else Paul could do but watch Brandon take out his Lairon without breaking a sweat. "Zap Cannon!" Brandon was actually thankful this happened, as this was a nice way of ending the battle faster. He knew now that he'd seen enough, and absolutely the best Paul had to offer him… it was time to accept the truth: Paul wasn't ready yet; not even close.

    Lairon was down. Ash was particularly downtrodden by this. "Man, Lairon didn't even get to attack once…" It was something he was looking forward to every time he saw a new Pokémon of Paul's… even though Lairon wasn't "new", per se… it was still new to him.

    Four down and two to go; Paul recalled Lairon and sent out his only fresh Pokémon left on the team. He seemed to know it, too, as he was back to growling and shaking uncontrollably as he threw out his next Pokéball as hard as he could. "URSARING, STAND BY FOR BATTLE!"

    Even if he was fighting a losing battle, Paul didn't want to go down like a wimp… Brandon could commend him for that much at least, though it was depressing at the same time to see Paul go through all this trouble when he was going to lose, anyway.

    "Use Hammer Arm!" Paul shouted at the top of his lungs. Yes, it was a wise move for him to have taken his medication prior to the match. Otherwise, his body would have failed him a while ago.

    Brandon narrowed his eyes, determined to outdo his son in every way possible. "Focus Punch; go!"

    Ursaring still remained a powerhouse of Paul's team, and therefore fared a bit better against the Pyramid King's Pokémon, matching Regice hit for hit until their clashes brought about an explosion, sending both Pokémon back sliding, but both still able to continue. That was nice; Brandon had to take what he could get from his son's abysmal attempt to defeat him. The small moments of standstill gave way to the two trainers giving commands almost simultaneously.

    "Now, Focus Blast!" Paul cried out.

    "Zap Cannon!" was Brandon's next move. Though Brandon called his out later, the execution of Focus Blast would prove to be detrimental to Paul just as it was for Reggie against Maylene when they battled last. Zap Cannon smacked into Ursaring before it could even launch Focus Blast, effectively cancelling the attack altogether.

    Ursaring wasn't knocked down, but like Nidoking, it was going to likely need some sort of Pokémon chiropractor in the future as far back as its spine was bent from the force of the attack. The stunned look on Ursaring before it finally slumped over made it evident that something was wrong with it.

    Ash had no idea, of course. "Whoa, what happened?" He hoped Brandon wasn't going too hard on Paul… Ash would know, after all.

    "Zap Cannon always paralyzes the target if it hits," Brock pointed out. It was also evident that Zap Cannon hit Ursaring so hard that even its Guts ability wasn't going to save it this time. Against someone like Brandon, Ursaring may as well have been frozen in a block of ice like the previous times.

    Paul knew it. This was a lost cause… and his adrenaline was beginning to peter out. He was still viciously angry, but now with Ursaring rendered useless… Paul could only glare at his father who did this to his Pokémon.

    "Why isn't Paul switching?" Ash asked everybody after realizing that Paul was suddenly rather stationary.

    Brandon had no interest in one last stall for time, however. "Now, Regice, return!" he commanded, making what he hoped would be his final substitution. "Regirock, I need your assistance…!"

    Suddenly, Paul was riled up once more upon seeing the symbol of his past… the Pokémon that made Reggie give up and consequently made Paul lose his ability to trust people or even take in a bit of good faith. It was like a slap to his face, and Brandon was well aware of it, too. "Regirock again?!"

    "Use Stone Edge!" The Frontier Brain paid no mind to Paul's hissy fits, only interested in ending this battle. In Ursaring's already-poor condition, it was needless to say the following attack crushed it completely beyond usability in this fight. It too was unable to battle.

    Paul was sick of looking at it anyway; on the whole he'd been dissatisfied with Ursaring's performance lately and quickly recalled it. "Ursaring, return!"

    "Paul had already given up on Ursaring," Reggie said as a belated response to Ash; he wanted to wait and see just to be sure, but this was what he figured out when he first saw it. "He just stopped giving it commands…"

    "Hm…" Ash couldn't help but feel sorry for Paul at this point. This was very different from the time he watched Paul battle Cynthia to a full battle and lost miserably; at least then Paul knew when to quit. He had no idea why, but even though this battle was going no better than the one against Sinnoh's Champion, Paul just refused to concede defeat until he would be forced to; needlessly so, at that.

    He really wondered what it was about the battle with Brandon that kept Paul as stubborn as Ash himself. The boy from Pallet Town never really had issues with family pride and whatnot. For all the times Ash encountered Paul before, never once was he this fierce… nor desperate, or even vulnerable. It was obvious even to Ash that Paul was doing himself no favors by losing his cool, but then again, that wasn't something Paul was able to control after a while. Reggie was actually impressed that Paul held in his rage for as long as he did, but he had a feeling that things would get too volatile for his little brother to be able to keep it up. It was Reggie who was truly the master of keeping his true feelings locked away within himself, but for now, he wouldn't acknowledge the fact that he was just as upset as Paul was, just by watching this…

    Reggie realized his brother was right; now that nothing apparently ailed either of them, Brandon was back to his familiar cold and distant self. There was nothing to enjoy about this reunion whatsoever. He doubted even if Brandon finally caught Regigigas that it would make up for the nightmare he had just put Paul through. But… the nightmare wouldn't have to last for much longer, as Paul sent out his final Pokémon able to fight… who had already suffered a myriad of problems already…

    "Now Magmar, stand by for battle!" Paul cried out, as if he still thought he could do something… somehow make his mark and show Brandon how far he had come. But ever since that question was directed towards him… Paul knew that's all what Brandon would care about until he finally gave an answer. Chances were that Brandon would never battle him again until he could find that answer.

    The entire audience looked saddened as they watched Magmar come to the field a third time.

    "Paul's last Pokémon…" Dawn mumbled. She too was feeling very sorry for Paul right now, though was also clueless as to why he was behaving so differently from before.

    "Not only is it a bad matchup, but Regirock's just too powerful," Candice pointed out, hating to being faced with the harsh reality of this final battle. There was no doubt about it. "It's almost over…"

    It was indeed the homestretch. All it required was one more move.

    By now, it really didn't matter what Paul did. This was the end, and even though this was wrecking his body like crazy, Paul hated for it to end. Once this was over, it was time to face reality again as the walking dead… and accept the fact that he might not live long enough to become a real challenge for his father. Fear was hard to resist now; Paul really was afraid this would be the last time he'd ever get to challenge Brandon. In spite of that, the unfortunate trainer failed with flying colors.

    "Now, Flamethrower!" That was Paul's last command. He knew it was a bad move to use against Regirock, but even if it wasn't, it wouldn't have been enough to make a difference. This was simply Paul's way of going out with a bang.

    Said bang was easily nullified by Regirock's bulky, fire-resistant arms. It was finally time to end this.

    "Shock Wave, let's go now!" Brandon called out. He figured he'd done enough damage to Paul by now to not need to rub salt in the wound with Stone Edge.

    Despite that, it was a brutal and critical hit that smacked hard into an already-weary Magmar. It slumped over, its arms hanging like noodles as it tried its best to remain on its feet. Magmar knew it was Paul's last hope… and it remembered what Paul said to his entire team just before the match. Was it really Magmar's fault? This entire battle seemed utterly hopeless from start to finish… but was it a good idea to start doubting the trainer?

    That would be a matter to worry about for another time; Magmar had no strength left as it fell to the ground at last. That was that; Brandon utterly swept his son… just like he had done with Reggie four years ago.

    Once the action subsided, the drama was quick to take over. Paul looked on at his fallen Magmar, both looking and sounding effectively broken. He really thought this would finally be the day his old man would get his comeuppance. Paul was honestly sure of himself when he hastily put a plan together to deal with Brandon the second he laid his eyes on that flying pyramid in Snowpoint City. He wanted to believe he was ready… but he wasn't. He couldn't do what his brother couldn't, nor could he do what Ash did. As if that weren't bad enough, there was a large group of people that had witnessed this firsthand… this wasn't a dirty little secret Paul could sweep under the rug like his disease.

    The experience had been surreal for every person within the facility. Yet Candice of all people was the only one who knew about said dirty little secret, though in turn was fully unaware of Paul and Brandon's relation… but ever-so-slightly, she was picking up on it. Brock was more suspicious than ever before; like Ash, he watched Paul battle Cynthia and was surprised that Paul didn't have good sense to quit when it was made obvious that he had no chance of winning. That was precisely what Paul did against Cynthia – despite it being a full battle, Paul understood when he had already lost after four of his Pokémon fell to the opponent and didn't hesitate to forfeit. Here, though… Paul couldn't have been unaware of it, but around Brandon, he acted completely differently regardless. It was only then that Brock decided he should attempt to speak with Reggie in private the next time he got the chance. While it was true that it was none of his business when it came down to it, Brock couldn't simply turn away now after all the time he invested in studying Paul's actions since coming to Sinnoh.

    Zoey wasn't sure what to make of this. While she did think it was rather strange how Paul and Brandon interacted with each other, she had only met these two less than twenty-four hours ago. Already within that timeframe, Paul was showing many different sides of himself that made him quite difficult to read. The Top Coordinator-hopeful at least understood why Ash and the others even bothered with him in the first place, though; to say the least, he… was a very interesting case. After seeing this battle, Zoey gained even more respect for Ash when it hit her that the boy she formerly disliked actually defeated a fierce trainer like Brandon. Of course, the circumstances must have been different from now (especially when Ash admitted he never actually defeated Regirock), but that made him no less impressive in Zoey's eyes. She was looking forward to how both trainers would progress through the rest of their journey now.

    Never before had Dawn felt sorrier for Paul than she did now. She clutched her Piplup tightly, hearing it squeak in response before quietly issuing an apology. The battle was absolutely horrifying for her… she could see why the prize won from Brandon here was called the Brave Symbol. One would need nerves of steel to not break down in front of this intimidating, powerful man. That made her all the more curious as to how Ash managed to beat him, especially given that Paul until recently had been routinely making short work of Ash in battle. But after taking it all in, going this far made Dawn's head hurt. Understanding now that the Battle Frontier was a way of saying a trainer was in the big leagues, she wondered how a first-year Coordinator like her would be able to perform in the big league equivalent of her path. It didn't help realizing that Ash only got the opportunity after over three years of training and battling. This went a long way in giving Dawn even more humility as she had to face the facts… and Paul here was a prime example of this: you can want something as badly to the ends of time and do whatever you can to get it. But in the end, none of that guaranteed that you would be successful. She had understood now that winning the Grand Festival was not going to be a mere one-year feat for her in all likelihood. She would still try her best, but if she failed this time… Dawn knew not to take it too hard. It didn't seem fair, but then again… life was never fair.

    Ash had no idea why he felt this badly at seeing Paul lose. Really, as horrible as his rival had been to him and Pokémon alike, a loss like this would have served him right. It made him feel incredibly lucky and special remembering that he had actually beat Brandon already and earned his way through the Battle Frontier, but thinking back on that… it was only a 4-on-4 battle like he one he just had with Candice yesterday. Only Regice of the legendary trio was used in that particular battle and it was a fresh capture at the time. While Ash did face the other two Regis in previous attempts to defeat Brandon, he didn't beat either of them, and he only barely beat Regice to begin with.

    He wondered… if he were in Paul's shoes, would he have done any better? This was no time to judge Paul now; foolish as he was to make the battle this way, it was admirable that Paul really wanted to go through with that kind of thing. The idea of a full battle with Brandon with half his team being Regi legendaries made Ash feel a little sick to his stomach. Even with his ultra-powerful reserves, Ash won against Brandon by the skin of his teeth. He still wondered why Paul didn't just forfeit before it got this bad like he did against Cynthia, but for now he was too preoccupied, feeling sympathy for his rival. "Paul lost…" he muttered. "After all that."

    That was exactly what was on Reggie's mind right now. He knew Paul must have had this battle on the brain for the past month since the challenge was issued. After all the work Paul went through just to make it here and make this battle happen (and Reggie still didn't know the half of it), the result ended up like this regardless. No better than him… Reggie knew Paul was going to have a hard time living this down, especially since so many people were witnesses to it. As far as he recalled, Paul fought a lot harder than he did back then. Just as Reggie was beginning to feel good about his chances, this brought down his mood tremendously. He wasn't sure just how he and Paul stacked up these days, but Reggie figured his brother must be on par with him somehow. Knowing that… Reggie understood that there was still a lot of work to be done; this battle was proof of it.

    Perhaps Paul had more of an uphill battle than his brother after all… this was something Reggie wanted to find out soon. Right now, he knew he was going to need to spend some quality time with his brother and get him through the healing process, because it was fairly obvious that Paul was going to need some help to make it through this.

    Brandon stared down hard at Paul, who could no longer look him in the face. Once the terror phase had come and gone, Paul was slowly brought back down to earth, certainly looking worse for wear. He was dead silent as he finally recalled Magmar, who hadn't moved an inch since fainting. Once that was done, Paul felt so drained that his Pokéball nearly slipped through his hand's grasp as he let it down gently, though couldn't resist the urge to shiver. He slumped over, eyes closed and completely humbled by his experience. Paul couldn't even fathom what all went wrong with this battle, but the real question was… could he have performed any worse? Brandon met him at every corner and every moment; whenever Paul did land a hit, it might as well have missed. The damage he dealt did nothing but maybe extend the battle a couple of minutes. Whatever strategic move Paul had, Brandon negated it without fail. Every time there was a chance for a side effect when Brandon went on the offensive, it happened and crippled Paul's team in the process. The other way around, try as Paul did to afflict at least one of the Regis with a status effect, lady luck never shined upon him… almost as if he were meant to lose this battle.

    The Pyramid King himself chose his next words carefully. It was his duty to give trainers who failed against him the proper constructive criticism; the tricky part was being able to give it while not compromising the confidentiality agreement. A major part of Paul's poor performance, as Brandon saw, was due to his lack of focus. Much unlike his brother, Paul was terrible when it came to managing stress. So much of that stress had to do with family issues that Brandon couldn't vocalize at this time… but he couldn't just leave Paul beside himself like this.

    "Young man."

    That got Paul's attention, though he didn't move… not even to open his eyes.

    "This battle of yours… is that your true battle? The battle you'll present in the future?" Brandon asked, though not expecting an answer, of course. Reggie was a little surprised Brandon didn't holler a deafening "NO!" at first.

    While it was very hard to maintain the position of power that Brandon held, the hardest thing of all for him – always – was to be a father. Even before his wife died, he struggled, though at least then he had her support and guidance. After that, Brandon had absolutely no idea what to do with himself, much less his kids. In spite of the lack of true respect he should have had for his sons, Brandon knew he would be awful to leave Paul hanging like this and had to leave something positive for him as a father should. All this he had to do… without actually coming off as a father. He only hoped that Paul would truly understand his message rather than take it at face value.

    "You've done an excellent job raising and training your Pokémon," he said earnestly; that much was evident at least with Nidoking. "But you allow your emotions to betray you on the battlefield!"

    This part he said much more forcefully; Brandon was determined to get his point across. It seemed to work, as Paul finally managed to look up and lock eyes with him again. Abysmal as Paul may have been in controlling his anger, he held in his urge to cry very well. It seemed vague, but Paul kept in mind that this was what he wanted. Desperate as he was for his father's words, had had to take what he could get from pure inference. With Brandon… he expected no less. This was the best way to convey Paul's biggest flaws as a trainer without going beyond the professional way of speaking. In addition to the question that would haunt him every day until he found a good answer for it, Paul had to come to terms with his lack of restraint. He was usually good at reserving himself, but a choice few were exceptions to this rule; many of which were in the stands right now.

    But Brandon was the biggest exception of all… Paul, despite hating his father, was unable to consider that detail secondary to Brandon's status as a trainer. It largely had to do with Brandon's attitude; his professional and personal sides were similar in more ways than one. That alone invoked a powerful rage within the young trainer. He didn't have fond memories of his parents before his mother died, so he honestly didn't feel the connection that Reggie felt with Brandon, which enabled Reggie to forgive his father for his shortcomings.

    As he stared hard at Brandon, the Pyramid King was delighted to see the hatred subdued at this time. He was already making an effort to rectify his weakness… and this was quite indicative of Paul bouncing back from a fall. Even if Paul himself didn't know it at the time… Brandon made it clear now that Paul really had nothing to worry about.

    "We will battle again when you've learned to control them," Brandon assured with a smile. It wasn't his usual smug smile at all; that was the smile he once had when he was a full-time dad. Paul didn't recognize it, but he felt himself beginning to calm down at last. Brandon's changed tone and his swear to maintain the original challenge he set for Paul did much to save him from that endless pit of despair. Paul would still fear his illness holding him back later on, but for now this turned into a surprisingly nice moment. But all that was apparent on Paul's face was the calm; not the warm feeling inside him. Having lost this badly, though, Paul felt he had no right to even speak back. He merely bowed his head to show that he understood everything Brandon said.

    And that was that. Brandon nodded back to his son and started to turn away from the battlefield. "Until then… best of luck. I'll look forward to seeing you in battle again."

    He was walking off… and with him went those brief moments of the balancing calm that filled Paul's battle-ravaged body. Paul looked up to watch his father leave, his eyes widening and mouth gaping as that odd, almost fuzzy feeling faded away. He stumbled forward slightly and made a feeble reach towards where his father once was with the pitiful amount of energy he had left within him. Upon realizing that everyone was still watching him, however, Paul just froze after that before slowly easing down to a standing position as before.

    Brock made a mental note of this just now. He was almost certain what he believed was true… and he'd make a point to talk to Reggie for sure to confirm his suspicions.

    Reggie stood up first, letting out a small sigh as he continued to stare down at his brother, who apparently had no intention of leaving anytime soon. "Don't worry about it, guys," he assured. "Just leave him to me. Either way, we'd best be going."

    "But this time, there's actually a need to worry," Dawn muttered as she stood up. "I mean, that fight…"

    "Just have faith in Reggie," Zoey assured her. "If anyone can get Paul back to his usual jerk self, it's gonna be his older brother for sure…" But after saying something that rude, Zoey tensed up and grinned awkwardly at Reggie. "Er, no offense, of course…"

    Reggie just smiled and shrugged. "None taken. I know he can be hard to deal with most of the time, but I can tell you all want him to change for the better. Hopefully… after today, that can begin."

    "Wonder if he'll be a little nicer to me from now on," Ash thought out loud as he stood up and stretched. Continually looking down at Paul, however, Ash had an apprehensive look on his face as he thought about what he just said. "Eh… probably not."

    It was rather funny of Ash to say that, Reggie thought. He chuckled a bit as he watched everyone slowly make their way out of the stands and towards the exit. "We'll just have to see. Brandon's probably waiting to escort you guys out of here by now," or so Reggie assumed. "Paul and I know our way around this place, so we'll escort ourselves out."

    Brock wondered how those two could know the Battle Pyramid that well if they had only allegedly been in there all of two times. But, that was a question for another day… right now, there were many loaded questions stacked on top of one another as a result of today's events.

    "Seeya soon, then," Ash said in a temporary farewell. The crowd gradually emptied out of the arena until only the two lowly brothers were left. Reggie was very careful in his movements, not wanting to do anything sudden that might possibly upset his little brother. He had a very lost and confused look on his face… which wasn't really something Reggie expected, admittedly.

    Paul had to know Reggie was right beside him, but paid no mind to his older sibling regardless. There was just too much on his mind at the moment.

    Reggie was not fond of the following periods of awkward silence, especially in a spacious area like this where a vicious battle just transpired. He had to break the ice somehow… however hard it was trying to find the right thing to say at a time like this. "You've lost battles before, Paul. It's no big deal."

    But Paul didn't respond.

    Reggie's genuine smile ever-quickly turned into a forced one. "You're… okay, right? If you're not…"

    "I felt something," he said suddenly, cutting Reggie off. He still wouldn't look at his brother. "Weird…"

    "Felt what?" Reggie was intrigued; what could Paul be feeling other than the sting of defeat? "Good weird? Bad weird?"

    Paul held a hand to his chest for a moment before shaking his head. "I… don't know. I only felt it for a couple of minutes." He had been feeling even worse than before once that feeling left him… the one invoked by Brandon of all people. It was incomprehensible to Paul why he suddenly felt like this. "… Anyway, let's go now."

    He wanted to cry; oh, how he wanted to cry… but not here. Not in this place. Paul rather would not cry in the first place, but if he would be forced to eventually, then by the gods he would be deciding where and when. But inside Reggie's van sounded like a good place to start… provided the kids didn't follow.

    "Don't rush; take all the time you need," Reggie urged, resting his hands on Paul's shoulders. "I know what you're going through right now…"

    Just being reminded that he was no better than his brother set Paul off immediately. He kept his calm for the most part, save for his facial expressions. They were back to being dark and menacing as per usual as he glared straight at Reggie just then. "I don't want to be here anymore," he clarified in a low growl.

    After hearing that, Reggie quickly let go of Paul and backed off a step or two. He got the point. "Right, right. So how about we go outside now?"

    That seemed to be an affirmative for Paul as he silently walked towards the exit. Though he felt a little dizzy after what he had been through today, his desire to leave this desolate place overpowered it. Of course Reggie was still worried about how Paul would react to his devastating loss throughout the day, so it went without saying that the elder brother was going to keep an eye on him for a while until he finally mellowed out. At the same time, Reggie hated to just leave it like that. Just winning against Candice eventually wasn't going to make that pain go away, and Reggie knew it. On his way out of the Battle Pyramid, he started brainstorming ideas to help get Paul back on his feet. There was an uncomfortable silence again for all parties involved as they made their way out of the Battle Pyramid. For once, they knew better than to try talking to Paul at a time like this.

    Once they made it outside again, Paul quickened his pace to catch up with Candice and Zoey. He stopped right ahead of the Gym Leader to get her attention. Still, he wouldn't bring himself to look at her, though he seemed a bit more evened out after walking off some of the stress. "You can expect to see me at the Snowpoint Gym," he said suddenly, prompting everyone else to stop and stare. Paul felt the need to clarify. "… But not today," he made specific. "I'll give you a call to reschedule."

    Candice smiled and nodded, figuring after all this that Paul wouldn't be up for another battle today, anyway. "Right, Paul. I'll be looking forward to it!" She prayed he would be well again once that time came. But she felt she had worn out her welcome by now and watching a battle like that made her antsy to get a battle herself. She already had one with Ash, and Paul was not an option…

    She looked to Zoey. "So, Zozo! I guess it's our turn next, right?"

    "Huh…?" Zoey looked at her mentor, not sure what she was getting at. She didn't make any plans for today…

    "A kiai battle with you and me," Candice challenged, smirking at her childhood friend. "Let's get going."

    Zoey knew that look… Candice was definitely fired up, most likely after seeing that horrifying battle. It seemed the aftershock of the battle that just took place wore off on her rather quickly, changing into her own desire to have a good battle. Zoey smiled knowingly at Candice upon understanding her motives. "You bet, Miss Senior."

    Candice's Dodrio was sent out again; the owner quickly seated herself upon it and pulled Zoey up with her. The spunky Gym Leader looked to the others, bidding them farewell.

    "And much good luck with your next Contest, Dawn!" Candice expressed with sincerity.

    Dawn smiled and nodded; it was relieving to think about her own goals again after what she just saw. "Thank you."

    "Okay, everyone! See you around…!" Candice waved as she rode her Dodrio back towards the actual city limits, still saying her goodbyes and waving as she distanced herself from the group.

    Zoey added in her own farewell, though she knew soon enough she'd be seeing Dawn again. "See you, Dawn…!"

    "Bye-bye, Zoey! Good luck!" Dawn shouted back.

    "Take care!" Ash added. At least he was enjoying the variety of company that had been around his core group since they arrived in Snowpoint City.

    Paul… couldn't have cared less. Seeing almost everyone distracted with saying goodbye to Candice and Zoey left him with an opening to slip away as well. Paul wasn't sure where he actually intended to go at this moment, but he felt increasingly uncomfortable the longer he remained with the group in spite of it dwindling down.

    Almost everyone was distracted by bidding the girls farewell, but Paul couldn't escape Reggie's eyes no matter how hard he tried. While Reggie remained quiet the entire time, he had decided on what he would do for Paul to help him recover from the loss to Brandon.

    Just as Paul thought he was in the clear, he heard Reggie call out to him, exposing his little scheme. "Hey, Paul!"

    He didn't care, he didn't care…

    "Do you think there's any chance you and Ash can treat us to a full battle at some point?"

    He didn't-…

    Paul froze in place, thankful that no one could see his eyes widening at such an idea. A full battle with Ash? Really…?

    Ash too was surprised by Reggie's suggestion. "Me and Paul…?"

    Brandon saw it fit to step in with his opinion, putting on a proud smile. "You two! Interesting idea."

    Hearing his father's voice in an almost-friendly tone, Paul looked back to the others… but specifically at Brandon.

    "Let's set the time and place and agree to meet again," Brandon decided. "That's bound to be a battle guaranteed to raise the level of both of you. Of that, there can be no doubt."

    Way back when Brandon was still in Kanto, he fancied the idea of seeing such a battle. He wasn't sure if he would be able to see this particular one, but he was more than happy to support Reggie's idea. Reggie looked to Brandon with a smile, absolutely ecstatic inside that his father was actually supporting something he came up with for once. That… was a very rare occurrence.

    It didn't take much to convince Ash, as usual. "Yeah! Great, I'm in!"

    Was this really a good idea? Paul wondered about that. He couldn't defeat a man Ash defeated already… Ash had been improving as a trainer over time and already technically scored a victory against Paul, though informally. If he could accomplish that much, it was already a very real possibility that Ash might possibly defeat Paul the next time they battled.

    Still, his instincts and what shreds remained of his pride provided the answer for Paul regardless. "I'm in, too."

    This was a perfect opportunity for Paul to put his concerns to the test. Of course he couldn't pass it up.

    Brock found this interesting, but was curious about one important detail. "Reggie, what about the time and place?"

    Reggie had already decided on that before saying a word in the first place. "Exactly ten days from now," he said. "At the Pokémon Center at Lake Acuity."

    No doubt Reggie was psyched for this. He looked pumped up and ready to do it now, even, but obviously this was not the right time at all. In the meantime, during those ten days, he had his own plans for Paul.

    "Then it's decided," Brandon approved. He looked to both Ash and Paul, nodding to both of them. "I can't make any promises as to whether or not I'll be there… but regardless, I expect the utmost effort from both of you."

    "It's nothing but that when it comes to me!" Ash assured him, grinning. "Even if ya don't make it, we'll be sure to tell ya all about it when we're done."

    Paul merely nodded to Brandon, still feeling as if he lacked the right to speak with him directly after what happened. Still, just by seeing Brandon acknowledge him again in a way that didn't insult him brought back those wonderful feelings he briefly felt when Brandon spoke to him directly.

    But like last time, Paul wouldn't get to enjoy them for long. Reggie snagged Paul by the arm and made his way to the van, waving goodbye to everyone. "Guess we'd best get going to prepare, then," Reggie said to excuse himself. Partially that was true, but he felt that Paul really needed to be out of there as soon as possible. He didn't notice Paul calming down again, nor did he realize that Paul was beginning to look discontented as he was pulled away from those unfamiliar warm vibes… "First thing's first: the Pokémon Center."

    Brandon nodded in agreement. "Make sure that young man's Pokémon are well taken care of. Hopefully I wasn't too hard on them."

    Reggie forced out a smile as he ushered Paul into his van. "Ahah, Paul's a tough guy and so are his Pokémon. They'll definitely be ready in time for the battle. It's, uh… been good seeing you again, Brandon!"

    Man, how awkward did that feel? Reggie was forcing out more than a smile by now; that's why he was glad to just about be out of there.

    "The feeling is mutual, Reggie," Brandon assured with a nod. "Stay safe… both of you."

    Something had been bugging Reggie in the back of his mind all this time, but he couldn't put a finger on it. He waved with haste as he seated himself within his van, giving one final wave before driving off.

    "Will do!" Reggie called back. "Bye, everybody! See you in ten days…!"

    And just like that, the brothers were gone. A huge weight was lifted from the shoulders of the entire family.

    The Battle Pyramid quickly became a distant sight to Paul and Reggie as they swiftly made their way back to Snowpoint City. Both were quiet; Paul's reasons were obvious, though now finally having some amount of privacy allowed him to soften a bit as he huddled over; both arms wrapped around himself. Reggie, however… it finally came to him; that mysterious intangible thing bothering him mentally.


    Paul looked up at Reggie upon the mention of that man, though he looked absolutely miserable in doing so.

    "I can't believe it…" Reggie muttered to himself. "Dad's been… he's been calling me by my name all day!" Reggie couldn't even remember the last time Brandon did that. Paul blinked a couple of times, finding it weird that Brandon actually did that in spite of Reggie not yet defeating him…

    "It couldn't… it couldn't have been part of the plan, right?" Reggie wondered out loud again. He had temporarily forgotten that Paul was right next to him. "Because… that makes no sense. If I didn't surpass him, I didn't earn that right…"

    Reggie's mind raced around the possible explanations for this, but he felt excited regardless. Thinking back on it, how nice it felt to actually be addressed as something other than a noncommittal "boy"…

    "Maybe there's hope after all!" Reggie cried out with joy, but Paul honestly had no idea what Reggie was talking about. Still, for being a good sport and going out of his way to comply with Paul's somewhat-unreasonable wishes, Paul decided to remain quiet and let his brother bask in the warm and comforting feelings that may or may not have been similar to the ones Paul briefly experienced.

    He deserved to be happy once in a while, Paul believed. The younger brother chose to bury himself under his misery in silence until they would reach their destination. Even with doubled-up medication, Paul still felt like a train ran over him. The only way to put his frustration in words would be…

    What a day.

    "It was really great seeing ya again, Brandon."

    Brandon nodded to Ash. "Time certainly flies. Show no mercy in the Sinnoh League; I at least expect that much out of the few who are Frontier Brain material."

    "They won't know what hit 'em," Ash assured with a grin. "Maybe next time we see each other and you're not busy, we can battle again?"

    "Sounds splendid," Brandon conceded. "I was just wondering how well you'd fare in a full battle against me like the little troublemaker just had to."

    "Funny you should say that; I was wonderin' the same thing," Ash admitted with a laugh. "Gotta admit that was a pretty intense battle. But I think I can definitely do better!"

    Brandon looked to the sky; this had been fun, to say the least, but now it was time for the Pyramid King to face his own harsh reality of obtaining Regigigas at least. "It's a deal. I may even have something new in store for you the next time we cross paths. Surely we'll meet again somewhere in Kanto."

    "In the meantime, we'd best hurry back to Snowpoint City and find out the best way to get to Lake Acuity," Brock advised. "Even without a blizzard, northern Sinnoh is no place to be wandering around aimlessly."

    The group was about to go about their way, but Dawn gazed out into the distance and pointed in the direction of a sudden noise that gradually got louder over time. "Hey, did you guys hear that?"

    Brock was perplexed as he quickly identified that sound. "A motor…"

    "Perhaps Maria's come back to pick me up," Brandon assumed, but looked uncertain. "Though I made it clear that I would catch up with them… I never said anything about asking them to return..."

    The louder the noise got, the more nervous the traveling trio became. "So, uh… are temple maidens supposed to be crazy drivers?" Ash asked, his voice shaking a little as the group eyed that familiar jeep plowing through the snow at what was surely a beyond legal speed.

    Brock shook his head. "This can't be good…"

    And it wasn't; Brandon didn't need to hear that much from Brock. He remained firm as the jeep finally screeched to a halt closer to the group; the others weren't quite as fearless. Almost immediately, Maria and Samuel stepped out of the jeep, both in quite a state of panic.

    "Brandon!" Samuel shouted, clearly in despair.

    "Something terrible has happened at the temple!" Maria finished for him, sounding worried sick about this horrible turn of events.

    Terrible was a broad term… but what was certain, based on what he had heard from Maria already was that this almost definitely had something to do with Regigigas. Something was about to stop Brandon in his tracks and prevent him from reaching his goal before the moral controversy got the chance.

    "Oh no…!"

    Even Brandon couldn't act calm at a time like this.

    What a day, indeed.

    ( TBC )

    Chapter 19: Black Ice Battle!
    plurk | SPPF | dA | ff.net

  5. #65
    Shooty Refutey Crysta Blade's Avatar
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    Default Re: Travels of the Trifecta! (Anime, PG-13)

    Uh-oh, I didn't check this topic for ages and now you've got two more chapters up. Boy, is my face red! Then again, that means more time to talk about Pokémon: one of my favourite things to do! ...Should a make a separate post for my Chapter 15 comments or should I just add it onto here? 'Cause I go on for a fair bit. Maybe I should use spoiler tags to save space; my Chapter 14 comments are over two pages worth in MSWord (lord knows how long my future comments will be). Anyway, let's-a-go, Chapter 14!

    A well-heated tunnel? Inside of Mt. Coronet, right? It's line with the games to boot. And "normal" Trainers taking that path, heh heh. Makes me wonder why Ash of all people took it. =P I kid, I kid. But he sure stretches the definition of the word.

    Ah, Brandon. Haven't seen you for some time.

    Sliding down yet another mountain? It makes it sound like that's a perfectly normal thing to do. Then again, I guess it's nothing new if you're an experienced explorer.

    Flying pyramid get! And it's hi-tech now, too! At least Sam saved him the trouble of modernising the thing. Oh, that's a weird thought. I said it like a flying pyramid is so yesterday...

    Come on, Frontier Brains! He'll be fine; he's the freaking Pyramid King! There needs to be a meme for that.

    I figured only you would be crazy enough to scale these mountains all by yourself..."
    Yeah, I wouldn't say that if I were you, Sam.

    It would be troublesome to have someone like Brandon away from his post for that amount of time. Causes problems and all that. Utilise your time well, Pyramid King. Strange I should say that, since the result's a foregone conclusion.

    The stakes are too high, and unlike some people, I know when to set aside my pride, as the risks involved simply aren't worth taking.
    Pfft. I don't think anyone could resist taking a shot at that certain someone. I know I couldn't!

    Ah, how I love hearing about the Pokémon universe's legends. Oh, and also nice to hear a bit about the morality of capturing such a special creature. Catching and using legendaries in the animéverse just feels a bit wrong to me. *cough*blastedDarkraiTrainerintheLeague*cough*

    the detailed information he received from Maria was intriguing... particularly the part of the legend that insinuated that there was more than one set of Regi subordinates out there in the world.
    I always wondered what the deal was with some legendaries having multiples and some not.

    Meanwhile, courtesy of the magic that is off-screen happenings, Conway's got his second Badge! Yay! Certainly wouldn't have been easy, and it's only gonna get harder from here.

    There was still at least one more spot he needed to fill and more likely than not he would need to use Maylene and Reggie's services with the daycare in order to store future Pokémon he would capture.
    That answers another question: where would Conway store his reserves?

    But he was convinced he was damaged goods now anyway, all thanks to Mars. Conway refused to inadvertently drag Dawn into the dirt right with him; he knew she deserved better than that.
    I was kinda wondering if this would be mentioned. Oh god...it's almost enough to make me tear up. Please don't think of yourself like that, Conway! =(

    Remember when the only Ghost-types were part Poison? Feels like yesterday. Good call for planning to use Aggron.

    Crashing into a rock. Business as usual, then. Though the bike sounds like its in bad shape. Same one that got eaten by Ash's Gible or not. Hmm...

    On top of Conway was an energetic blond who was perhaps just a tad taller (and possibly a tad older) than him.
    Now that you mention it, I did think it was odd that the show portrays Barry like that. Would've though he'd be about Ash or Dawn's age. Doesn't bother me, just a thought.

    Oh, Barry is oh-so-adorable. You can't help but love him! Though his fining schtick makes me wonder if he's missing his true calling in life as a parking inspector. =P

    which would compromise his entire mission if Barry were to spread this news around.
    Oh, lord have mercy on us all.

    There's a joke to be made from a nerdy type going "I don't get out much," but I'll stay quiet on that. Pot calling the kettle black and all.

    "Believe me; I know a loser when I see one."
    Now that's just plain rude, Barry. And of course he'd miss the whole disguise.

    Mistaking Conway for Dawn much, Barry? I did recall him refering to Dawn as a hopeless geek or something. Hang on, he did! He totally ships them.

    "I don't have time for your gender issues, man,"
    I'm surprise Barry's heard of that. Doubt he understands what he's saying there, mind you.

    If someone like Barry can see right through you, you know it's time for a change of plan.

    Go on, Conway. Humiliate him. Although Barry ought to be used to that with all those losses we've seen. And yes, Barry, he is trying to insult you.

    "Wow, your taste in Pokémon is kind of... terrible, you know?"
    Oh, please. Real men use pink Pokémon!

    unafraid to spill his own strategy out at a time like this because Conway had a feeling Barry would just forget it three seconds later and go off on a completely unrelated tangent.
    Pretty good guess, there. Continue to baffle him with science!

    Sort of Tim Taylor logic used by Barry: More power, or in this case, more Poison Jabs!

    A bit of exposition break here. Why, if Barry were a bit smarter, he'd use that to his advantage.

    "Everyone knows me and loves me!"
    Oh, but we do love you, Barry. We do, we do!

    Hey, I don't know if I'm just slow on the uptake, but I can see parallels with Ash's first battle with Barry.

    Man, I love how these guys are playing off each other. Their Pokémon don't seem to appreciate it, on the other hand.

    ...Oh dear. And I though Ash's Heracross was crazy about sap.

    "But if it were the other way around, I totally would've ditched you..."
    Real nice thing to say to the guy who bails your backside out, Barry.

    Hah, and he thought Paul was taxing on his sanity. You ain't seen nothing yet, Conway!

    Speaking of Paul, here he is. And uh-oh, he's run into the twerps!

    (though it seemed Dawn still had something against wearing pants as her legs remained just as bare as they were in her normal outfit)
    That's something I never got. I mean, it's nice of Johanna to make a coat for her daughter, but was it really that hard to make some pants, too?

    Alright, I need to stop now and read the next chapter. I'll be back!

    Dangan Ronpa avatar and sig pic by me. Bases from here.
    3DS Friend Code: 1177-7801-6992. Friend Safari is Psychic with Abra, Espurr and Xatu. If you add me, let me know!
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  6. #66
    Blazaking was here. Anime Aficionada's Avatar
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    Default Re: Travels of the Trifecta! (Anime, PG-13)

    I don't think I can be coherent after this.
    Like... alfikdsflsdsdfjgl.

    "..." That ellipsis there, is perhaps how articulate I am right now once being subjected to your awesomeness.

    First of all, I love the characterisation throughout your fic; I've perhaps mentioned that already, but it only just reinforces the fact of how marvellous you are at it. Even secondary or minor characters have certain level of depth to them, which I really enjoy. What I truly tip my hat off to is the way to write Paul.

    I... am not a fan of Paul, purely because the anime makes him all "baw baw evil" without shredding even at least a slither of insight as to why. Then again, practically all the characters are fairly one dimensional now, so I probably shouldn't be complaining...

    That said, I love how you make his character interesting. The way he tries to better himself, knowing the limitations he has through his illness, in testing his boundaries to feel "alive" is wonderful. It's also intriguing as it is reasonable for someone so critical of others to take the same approach when it comes to his own judge of character. You actually allowed me to feel sorry for him, for which I commend you. I literally did have the urge to run up and hug him following his battle, although he probably would have pushed me off or something...

    Speaking of which, the battle was epic. It truly was. I love your adaptation of this episode even if I've already seen it already, especially the intense fighting that was so refreshing to read. This would have to be my favourite chapter, thus far.

    Overall, I thank you again for yet another three-quarter-hour of enjoyment!

    I'll definitely be reading.
    Last edited by Anime Aficionada; 14th August 2010 at 12:01 AM.

  7. #67
    Shooty Refutey Crysta Blade's Avatar
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    Default Re: Travels of the Trifecta! (Anime, PG-13)

    ...Aaand I'm back! Chapter 15 comments start!

    Extension to events in the relevant episode, I see. With a bit of insight into Zoey's thoughts (I like her, but I think the writers could've done a whole lot better with her).

    Of course Ash isn't gonna let Paul walk away without showing off his brand-spanking-new Badge. So much for being ahead, eh, Paul?

    Though it had yet to reach that point, Dawn worried one day that a confrontation between the two would get physical.
    You know, I can't help but think that if Ash and Paul met each other way sooner, like Kanto, Ash might've thrown a punch or two. Real fun to think about.

    Yeah, no, Paul. You're outta luck on seeing your wannabe rival leave. Sorry.

    Oh, he'll change his mind about Lairon. And about not taking his meds on time.

    Well, guys seem to take forever in the bathroom for some reason. I don't think I wanna know why.

    And now for Ash to contemplate this rivalry. Nice of him to acknowledge that Paul sometimes is right.

    Happy wonderland, haha. That's a good way to put it.

    Paul's Torterra was just as bad as Ash's Grotle as a Turtwig when it came to exploring things with its massive jaws... most of all Paul's head and various parts of his body.
    That is a wonderful mental image. =P Not as different as we thought.

    Very good to stop and go over the various details of dealing with the Sinnoh starters. Now I'm starting to think about the benefits/drawbacks of other region's starters, too.

    When Paul's Turtwig evolved to Grotle and was no longer able to trap Paul within its jaws with ease, the at-the-time more immature Paul made sure to rub it in for a long time, "getting revenge", so to speak, for the countless times he had been bitten by his starter.
    ...Honestly, I would not be surprised if he did do that.

    Ash of his Kanto days would have tackled Paul by this point.
    Again, fun to imagine. Though I'm surprised Ash didn't even try to hurt Gary way back when.

    Whoo, Zoey! You go, girl! I quite liked this bit when I first saw the episode, by the way. Interactions with all sorts of characters is always a plus in my book. And since the writers didn't seem to do much with Zoey, it makes it all the more poignant for me...Now I'm just sorta commenting more on the episode than the story. Eh, I'll keep going. I love talking about this kind of thing.

    Time for Paul to hit a low point. With inner conflict about wanting someone by his side but also wanting to be alone. I get where he's coming from.

    Aww, Reggie. Always the saint. So very sweet.

    Fate...or because the writers said so. =P

    To make matters worse, Reggie was the type who had a sixth sense when it came to his little brother.
    Family always tend to do that. Doesn't make it less of a pest, though.

    Hate to break it to ya, Reggie, but you're sort of making things worse.

    Yeah, Brock would've noted a few things here. As an older brother himself, he'd get the whole dealing with siblings thing, I'd wager.

    Now for Paul to be shocked. Seriously, his expression was priceless.

    Zoey makes a an observation that any sane person would do: flying pyramid?

    "I guess you're right; there's not much use in telling everybody that he's our dad. Brandon will just flat-out deny it because we haven't beaten him."
    If this were canon, this would be very plausible.

    You'd be hard pressed to find someone who wouldn't be in high spirits after talking to Ash. Well, our dear purple jerk is one exception...

    And phase one of Paul's keep-the-idiot-out-of-my-business plan is put into action.

    Heh heh, friends. Brandon: well-versed in exploration, battling and trolling.

    Are you actually ashamed of your family roots?"

    "It has nothing to do with that,
    I'll take that as a yes.

    Hmm...interesting that Paul hesitates a bit before swapping Torterra out. As much as he'd hate to say it, Torterra (being his first Pokémon) isn't quite like his other Pokémon.

    I was tired of Brock way back when I first watched Kanto over a decade ago (got sick of the flirting), but he is good at noticing the little details in situations. Second to Ash, I think he had the most interesting interactions with Paul.

    Desperate and love-starved, indeed! Sometimes I wonder what is up with Brock's obsession with women. Though it's funny that Brandon was amused by this.

    The eyes that took after Brandon's own, no less.
    Oh so much. And similar eyebrows.

    Now leave me alone; I don't have a lot of time left.
    This line could be taken to mean two things. Ominous...

    It's probably just me, but I think it's funny that the most observant of Ash's friends is the one that hardly has visible eyes.

    "Then I'm officially challengin' ya to a race!" Ash proclaimed, suddenly dashing off down the hall. "Nobody keeps up with me...!"
    Oh, Ash. Why are you so endearing? And he'd totally do that, too.

    ...Y'know, I never thought about if there was a bathroom in the Battle Pyramid. Eh, the more you know...

    Whoa, I kinda seized up at the last scene in the bathroom.

    Finally, the battle! And inevitable loss!

    Interesting that you noted Candice being surprised by Regirock. I'm utterly baffled why, when it was first used by Brandon (the other two as well) in the previous arc, that no-one seemed to think it was a big deal. Come on, they're golems only heard of in legends!

    "Man, I never had that advantage at all," Ash complained, scratching his head. "No wonder he keeps kickin' my butt..."
    Pfft. This is why we love you, Ash.

    "Oh no...!" Paul gasped out, not expecting a twist like this.
    To be fair, he kind of walked right into that one. You gotta stay cautious!

    You got that right, Candice. If Protect breaks, something is very abnormal indeed.

    Well, we've seen Registeel get hurt by Fire--courtesy of Ash's Torkoal--so it's not totally immune. Man, if Paul knew that...

    Moving on...and here's the sting! Although I do hope Paul one day finds his reason to be a Trainer; his raison d'être.

    Paul's definately irrational by this point. If he took the time to think, he might've anticipated something like Ice Beam flying through Iron Defence.

    Now I'm laughing at the image of a Pokémon chiropractor. I pity whoever has to deal with an Ursaring with a bent spine. >_<

    Oh, and I'm hearing that music in my head when Magmar falls. Combined with the 'walking dead' comment, and oh my...just thinking about the implications of that is crushing. It was the first time I felt bad for Paul then, and I still do. Poor guy... =(

    Thoughts from the audience. Liking the idea of this battle getting everyone thinking and affects not just those directly involved.

    Oho, an unfamiliar feeling! I'm sure this will come up later in the story.

    Well, Reggie, I guess you could call it progress.

    And things start to wind down. Or not, considering the disaster unfolding at Snowpoint Temple.

    Speaking of winding down, so should I! Another top-notch installment! Thank you for this enjoyable way to spend the weekend!

    Dangan Ronpa avatar and sig pic by me. Bases from here.
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  8. #68
    Registered User Andre27's Avatar
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    Default Re: Travels of the Trifecta! (Anime, PG-13)

    Now I'm laughing at the image of a Pokémon chiropractor. I pity whoever has to deal with an Ursaring with a bent spine. >_<
    Imagine the Ursaring being the chiropractor and you're the one with the bent spine :P

  9. #69
    Gonna be a tl;dr Master! Shinneth's Avatar
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    Default Re: Travels of the Trifecta! (Anime, PG-13)

    Alrighty, after a couple of weeks to chill and... watch Paul's departure from the series and be in pain from work, I'll go ahead and give some replies! And for future reference, I'm totally A-OK with really long reviews. I mean, just pause for a moment and consider who you're reviewing to. And how many pages of crap you were just bombarded with. :') I say, bring it!

    Also~! For those interested, do check out the first post on this thread as I've made some small additions, including a new fanart (I'm still on my knees and bowing as we speak) and finally a link to Trifecta's timeline in accordance to the anime. Now that Paul has "left the building", is canonly going after Brandon now and there's been pretty much nothing that compromises the story structure (or at least nothing I can't get around, such as Ninjask - easy to say Brandon decided to be a dick and give Paul back his gift, hurhur)... I can safely say that Trifecta is locked and ready for planning to the end of the D/P series. I've planned to the end of the Galactic Battles season right now, so I still have a little over 30 episodes left to cover planning-wise. Writing-wise I've got like 60 episodes to cover before getting to 25, ahaha. But now that I officially no longer have to rely on the anime for story directions in the distant future, the Battle Frontier half of the story should be plotted out rather quickly. Mind you we've covered approximately 28 episodes across 15 chapters right now, so by that logic the Sinnoh League could be friggin chapter 50 for all I know, but if you look at the timeline you'll see I skip over a lot more episodes in future chapters (such as the entire Lyra & Khoury arc for one chapter, and the entire Galactic finale arc for another). Granted, as far as my plans go right now, the next two chapters will still only represent one episode each and the gaps sllllooowwwly increase over time. Still, once we're done with the Pedal to the Mettle!/Evolving Strategies! adaptations, there won't be another one of those until Fighting Fire with Ire!, which I'll estimate to be possibly chapter 26, more likely chapter 27 right now. And, of course, once we reach the Sinnoh League arc, chapters adapting those episodes will also only be spread to 1-2 episodes apiece. So it's hard to say right now how many chapters it'll be before Trifecta reaches the end of the D/P series.

    But still, the end of the D/P series does not mean the end of the fic, obviously. If anything, that's the unofficial "halfway point" of the story. But like I said, with no anime canon to follow for Trifecta's mains (depends on where Barry will be going after this ends... I somehow doubt we'll get anything on Conway, which is just fine for this story's purposes). I would like for a traveling trio of Paul, Barry, and Conway for the BF part of the story, but we'll see if it's feasible once we're done with the Sinnoh League. Depending on where Brock ends up going, he may or may not end up stuck with Reggie and Maylene's half of the story since he's already been made out to be more relevant in the story than he is on the show.

    Anyway, sad as it is to see Paul (and the rest of the D/P cast) go, it's a huge weight off my shoulders knowing the sky's the limit for him in Trifecta, where he's flourished and apparently became quite endearing to those who initially didn't care for him. And that's still a wonderful feeling to have, just as a reminder. I'm still chilling for a bit before getting all worked up for Chapter 16 - like last chapter, I'll need a full transcript of Pillars of Friendship! written out before even starting on the chapter, but unlike last chapter, I'm not going through the trouble of getting the subbed Japanese version's script this time (reeeeeally don't think there are any differences at all this time) and the episode's much less heavy on the dialog than A Pyramiding Rage!, so that shouldn't be as much of an ordeal. Sometime relatively soon (possibly once I get to chapter 17) I'll be polling around here, Fanfiction.net, and possibly Serebii as to how to go about with my plans of expanding Brandon's character, as well as all of his old buddies and his dead wife. But until then, it's time to chill and... see what Gen V brings us next month.

    Alright, now for some remarks to the reviews~!

    Quote Originally Posted by Crysta Blade View Post
    Ah, how I love hearing about the Pokémon universe's legends. Oh, and also nice to hear a bit about the morality of capturing such a special creature. Catching and using legendaries in the animéverse just feels a bit wrong to me. *cough*blastedDarkraiTrainerintheLeague*cough*
    Urghhh, yes. As much as I've loved the Sinnoh League arc, Takuto is the only real misstep of it all. I mean, it's perfectly realistic seeing Ash being defeated by more experienced trainers with Pokemon no more special than his own (or at least Pokemon that are powerful, yet still legal in our RL policies), but a trainer who comes out of nowhere who allegedly won every single Gym Badge with Darkrai alone and may possibly win the Sinnoh League with just Darkrai? They really could not have come up with a shittier excuse for Ash to lose this time around, because when it comes down to it, it doesn't mean anything, as this clearly isn't fair to anybody. I can forgive Brandon for it since he's an explorer and probably worked hard enough to earn his Regis - not to mention the Frontier Brains can be pretty hax in the games so Brandon's following his job description well. But Takuto? Fuck this guy. Everything about this guy just sucks.

    I always wondered what the deal was with some legendaries having multiples and some not.
    Blackjack and I had a discussion about it a long time ago. The Regis have been seen in movie intros and of course there's the fact that there is more than one Mew out there as far as said movies are concerned, not to mention the Regigigas that appeared in Movie 11. And the movies are most definitely legitimate anime canon. I personally like to think that there is a set of Regis per region, but there could be endless possible explanations. These are theories that will become very useful when it comes time for Brandon to figure out what to do after his failure in chapter 16. I've had a rather morally terrible idea in the back of my head as an alternative, but for now I'm keeping an open mind.

    Meanwhile, courtesy of the magic that is off-screen happenings, Conway's got his second Badge! Yay! Certainly wouldn't have been easy, and it's only gonna get harder from here.
    Yup, which will necessitate all of those new captures for Conway! I'm definitely way too lazy to write out in full all of Conway's Gym Battles, but I'll at least do some (since all Paul has left is Candice's rematch, given Volkner's nice way of awarding badges)... Fantina's being the first one, possibly. That leaves a good opportunity for Conway to capture Lickilicky off-screen since it'd make sense to snatch a Normal-type against a Ghost-type user (especially since Lickilicky's Lick attack will work well against Fantina... and if it has Rollout, that'd do nicely against Drifblim, not to mention Thunderbolt). Shuckle will likely be a capture before Conway faces Gardenia and Dusknoir will be the most fun, slated to be captured in chapter 23 before he faces his last two Gym Leaders, Candice and Byron. Since Mean Look will be a useless move before the League, I'll likely be replacing that with Focus Punch. Guess he'd better not use Trick Room with Byron, though...

    That answers another question: where would Conway store his reserves?
    Yup, that one had me stumped for a while before I went "Oh, duh, right. Reggie's." XD

    I was kinda wondering if this would be mentioned. Oh god...it's almost enough to make me tear up. Please don't think of yourself like that, Conway! =(
    It'll be even worse when Conway learns of Kenny's existence through Barry (and yeah, that's totally gonna happen). At the same time, though, that may set off a spark in Conway that will make him stop thinking so lowly of himself, especially by the time the League rolls around and Conway's back to creeper-ing on Dawn as per usual.

    Now that you mention it, I did think it was odd that the show portrays Barry like that. Would've though he'd be about Ash or Dawn's age. Doesn't bother me, just a thought.
    Yeah, Barry's definitely got a few inches over Ash and yet he acts like a total newbie through and through, so I guess one could say he just started his journey later or just never got good enough to actually beat Gyms until this point. I've actually given most of the primary Trifecta characters birthdays and ripped them totally off from Sailor Moon. Not sure if they'll ever be an element in the story beyond Reggie's... but perhaps. I established that they actually are all around Ash's age, but most are at least half a year older. And contrary to what I said in chapter 14, Conway's actually older than Barry... but just by a month or so.

    Oh, Barry is oh-so-adorable. You can't help but love him! Though his fining schtick makes me wonder if he's missing his true calling in life as a parking inspector. =P
    Well, now I know what to make Barry in the 25-years-later Epilogue if not a future Tower Tycoon. XD

    Mistaking Conway for Dawn much, Barry? I did recall him refering to Dawn as a hopeless geek or something. Hang on, he did! He totally ships them.
    Yeah, that was an in-joke to my initial reaction to when I first watched Barry's Busting Out All Over!; there are many words one could use to describe Dawn, but "geeky" is not one of them, so the second Barry said that, I seriously thought he mistook Dawn for Conway right there. So of course I had to implement this somehow. XD

    Hey, I don't know if I'm just slow on the uptake, but I can see parallels with Ash's first battle with Barry.
    Good catch. I actually had this battle plotted out since last summer and while I was detailing the match-ups, I realized I was subconsciously making it almost exactly like Ash and Barry's first battle. So I thought it was a fitting homage. ♥

    With a bit of insight into Zoey's thoughts (I like her, but I think the writers could've done a whole lot better with her).
    Ohhhh yeah. I'm alright with Zoey as a character, but she had a lot of potential that the writers of the show honestly didn't take advantage of enough. But what I always really liked about Zoey was that her range of interaction was not limited to just Dawn. Made her seem more real in that respect. I also sorta like FireRedshipping, ahaha. Hence why I plan on using her again (as well as Candice) come chapter 24. I'm not sure if that would be enough to elevate her to "secondary character" status or not (Candice as well); I've got Oak listed as one but I really don't have much in store for him other than bitching out Brandon on the phone. Samuel's just sorta on there since he'll be where Brandon is from now on for the most part rather than having real significance to the storyline... Byron will have a bigger role in the future, Roark might potentially (and he's labeled minor here), Palmer will be listed as a secondary whenever he appears... I'm still not sure, but I'm open to opinions here.

    And now for Ash to contemplate this rivalry. Nice of him to acknowledge that Paul sometimes is right.
    Yeah. I figured after the travesty that was Grotle vs Honchkrow that Ash wouldn't have been able to really argue with what Paul said during that battle. Blind faith certainly didn't help Ash there; that's for sure. I like to think this'll play a part in the future evolutions on Ash's teams, too. Off-screen or so, he's actively learning about how Pokemon change upon evolving so he'll know what to do when that time comes, since he did a much better job of adapting to the situations when Chimchar became Monferno and Infernape and when Grotle became Torterra.

    Very good to stop and go over the various details of dealing with the Sinnoh starters. Now I'm starting to think about the benefits/drawbacks of other region's starters, too.
    A lot of people seemed to enjoy that bit, so I'm glad. I almost worried people thought it would have been out of place to discuss it while the characters were conversing, and I also have to give props to my buddy KP who inspired this through certain RPing.

    Hmm...interesting that Paul hesitates a bit before swapping Torterra out. As much as he'd hate to say it, Torterra (being his first Pokémon) isn't quite like his other Pokémon.
    Again, good catch. ♥ According to my vision of Paul, he would claim until the day he dies that he is completely impartial to his Pokemon and all are subject to the same privileges and punishments (including release), but Torterra always manages to be an exception to the rule. This is also my way of interpreting why the hell Paul didn't use Torterra against Brandon to begin with, since its typing is perfect for two of the three Regis... y'know, because I just don't believe the team he used against Brandon was what he meant to use for Candice.

    I was tired of Brock way back when I first watched Kanto over a decade ago (got sick of the flirting), but he is good at noticing the little details in situations. Second to Ash, I think he had the most interesting interactions with Paul.
    Yeah, much as I love Brock, I can admit he would get pretty stale, though at least he served a purpose (however small it was), and his flirting shtick got a lot better once Croagunk started Poison Jabbing him up the ass or his junk every time. Guess I'm just that sadistic. But for a story like this and knowing Brock's family background, I thought this story would be perfect for making him truly relevant. And it's true; he's had some very poignant moments with Paul, however few there were. Brock was always the one who would force important exposition out of Paul, so in future chapters I hope to keep Brock up to speed on this little family scandal. Reggie could use a buddy who understands him, anyway. Other than Roark... who just had his family issues resolved now, so hah.

    Moving on...and here's the sting! Although I do hope Paul one day finds his reason to be a Trainer; his raison d'être.
    Ohhh yup, this is going to be a rather large plot point, but that goes without saying. The whole "dying" stuff is already daunting enough, but to be going four years as a Pokemon Trainer and suddenly realizing that you've been purely motivated by revenge and nothing more, then I imagine Paul's going to be completely confused and have no idea what to do with himself since, as it was said, Paul doesn't have that inherent love for Pokemon like his brother does. Finding a reason why he works with them at all is going to be a nightmare for him; even I'm struggling to get a solid reason for him established, whenever the hell he figures it out.

    Oh, and I'm hearing that music in my head when Magmar falls. Combined with the 'walking dead' comment, and oh my...just thinking about the implications of that is crushing. It was the first time I felt bad for Paul then, and I still do. Poor guy... =(
    Holy god, I didn't even realize this as I was writing it. That does make that scene even more depressing now. Am I ever glad that the dub at least allowed that piece of the Japanese music to stay in; anything else would have ruined that scene.

    Oho, an unfamiliar feeling! I'm sure this will come up later in the story.
    Indeed. This "unfamiliar feeling" was the plot point I came up with very recently - like as I was writing it recently. No matter how much I plan this fic ahead of time, new revelations and plot points still spontaneously come about when I least expect them!

    Thanks for all that insight! ♥ Totally made my week.

    Quote Originally Posted by Anime Aficionada
    The way he tries to better himself, knowing the limitations he has through his illness, in testing his boundaries to feel "alive" is wonderful. It's also intriguing as it is reasonable for someone so critical of others to take the same approach when it comes to his own judge of character. You actually allowed me to feel sorry for him, for which I commend you. I literally did have the urge to run up and hug him following his battle, although he probably would have pushed me off or something...
    I'm really glad Paul's crazy actions are making sense to you guys. Not that it makes him sane by any means, but I'm glad that my attempts to justify some/most of his actions are believable and realistic. Again, it never ceases to amaze me how this fic will make people see Paul in a truly different light in a good way. I'm sorta glad that they were pretty conservative and vague with his development in the anime, because that leaves all the room for me to provide exposition that can properly explain it... in theory, of course, but it's making the best of what's given to us, I like to think. Hence, canon expansion!

    It really makes me wish we still had Pokemon Chronicles or some equivalent still running; back when it originally ran, they didn't have enough side characters to make a lot of great episodes, but with the D/P characters and even May/Drew/Harley post-AG would make tons of fantastic, memorable episodes... which is why I guess I like to think of Trifecta as a bastardized version of Pokemon Chronicles, only it just mainly stars Paul and Conway. Which is good enough, IMO. XD

    Thanks for all your patience, guys! I promise to keep up the good work no matter how long it takes for this story to finish~!
    Last edited by Shinneth; 22nd August 2010 at 08:02 PM.

    Chapter 19: Black Ice Battle!
    plurk | SPPF | dA | ff.net

  10. #70
    Reader and Writer Legacy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Travels of the Trifecta! (Anime, PG-13)

    Okay so I'm finally caught up here, and all I've got to say is... PAUL IS CRAZY! Haha, well j/k of course, but yeah. In a way, I think it's kind of nice that the DP anime saga is over, that way you have a little more freedom to do what you want with his character without clashing with the anime. I find that to be helpful in my own fic.

    Overall, I think you are obviously one of the top writer's both technically and creatively on this forum. Aside from your fic, which I think it very good, I always value your opinions and thoughts in other discussions.

    When will the story continue?

  11. #71
    Gonna be a tl;dr Master! Shinneth's Avatar
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    Default Re: Travels of the Trifecta! (Anime, PG-13)

    Paul pretty much IS crazy (as far as this story's concerned). Crazy in a cool kind of way, but yeah. And it is relieving to have the Diamond & Pearl anime over indeed solely because of that reason. Due to that, everything that happens in the story post-Sinnoh League should be plotted out much more quickly than it has so far, and hopefully that will lead to some more frequent updating. Granted, it's going to be a long time before I can capitalize on said freedom, but there's a bright little future ahead for the story. For the past year-plus I've been paranoid about the anime doing something to completely wreck the structure of the fic, it's gotten by relatively unscathed. Chapter 15 took care of what was the biggest hurdle in terms of canon conflict, so it'll be relatively smooth sailing here on out. I've already figured out how to handle the manner of which Conway will obtain his League Pokemon plus the ones Paul uses against Ash.

    As for when to expect chapter 16... let's definitely say some time before it hits the two-month mark since the last update (i.e. within a couple of weeks). I only just started the next chapter yesterday and it's 2k words in right now, but I'm a pretty swift writer (even more so on slow work days), so two weeks is more than enough to churn out a full-fledged chapter, even in my crazy-long standards. The irritating thing about these episode adaptations is that I need to write a transcript for the actual episode before even starting the chapter. I still don't actually have the transcript written out completely (just enough so that I can at least start the chapter), but unlike last chapter I'm not bothering with getting a transcript of the subbed Japanese version plus the dub script like I did for chapter 15 (the sole purpose of which was to include details, what few there were, that were omitted or mistranslated in the dub). But I'm aiming to get that transcript done at home first within the next day or two. Pillars of Friendship! has a lot less dialog than A Pyramiding Rage! did; on the downside, the former is much more action-y and doesn't have much room for exercising the creative license, which makes adapting it a little awkward, but at least there's more expansion material there than there was back when I had to adapt Pursuing a Lofty Goal!.

    Either way, I'll be keeping at this now that I finally forced myself to start. DP ending, Black/White + Best Wishes coming out, getting a new kitten... it's been a pretty eventful month-and-a-half. On the upside, with all the downtime the fic has had, I've arranged the fic's timeline in accordance to the anime all the way up to chapter 32, which is set to be the Paul vs Barry adaptation. So yup, there's a lot of nonsense to look forward to! Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts - I consider all my readers to be troopers to sit through glorified tl;dr and make it out alive~. So here's hoping there will soon be a chapter 16 to add on to the ridiculous length! At least I've long since decided on that chapter's name...

    Chapter 19: Black Ice Battle!
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  12. #72
    Gonna be a tl;dr Master! Shinneth's Avatar
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    Default Re: Travels of the Trifecta! (Anime, PG-13)

    (I took my sweet time getting this one done for various reasons. Surely Generation V had nothing to do with it at all. Oh no no. But it's another episode adaptation! Next chapter will be taking a break from that before I have to adapt the full battle and should overall be more enjoyable. But until then, you get a chapter that pretty much stars Brandon. Have fun with that.)

    Fresh off an easy victory after a scheduled grudge match with his son, Brandon (along with Ash and his two friends) was met up with a familiar jeep that sped across the plains in a panic. Stopping right in front of them was temple maiden Maria and Brandon's assistant, Samuel.

    They alerted Brandon that a crisis was occurring at the Snowpoint Temple: the place where Brandon was finally to gain Regigigas after countless months of searching.

    "What happened?" Ash asked, not one to be left out in incidents that had nothing to do with him, of course.

    "Seems a mysterious group of people have sealed off the temple," Samuel reported. "There was no way to break through without being assaulted."

    That piqued Dawn's curiosity, of course. "Mysterious people?" Of all the nasty characters she had witnessed since her journey began… she figured it could be anyone.

    "Why would they do something like that?" Brock asked, unable to imagine why anyone would commandeer a very modest temple site.

    The answer was obvious to Brandon… the why, that is; not the who. Still, he was hesitant to really go into detail with the children, especially since this was an issue that needed to be addressed immediately. This was no time for small talk. "Regardless, let's board the Battle Pyramid and head there right away," he decided. Naturally, he was addressing the adults in this group, which Ash and the others quickly took notice to.

    Samuel agreed with a very formal "Sir!"; even though Brandon disliked most formalities, this was no time to nitpick.

    "Please, Brandon, you gotta let the rest of us go with you!" Ash practically begged.

    "Yes, please let us go!" Dawn and Brock followed up in unison. Brandon was rightfully apprehensive of letting these kids come along for what would be a very dangerous ride, but Brandon's dreams were about to end very soon if something wasn't done about this situation. He at least knew Ash and Brock were capable of putting up a fight, so they wouldn't necessarily be dead weight.

    "Hm…" It was quite unfortunate timing for Reggie, Paul, Candice, and Zoey to leave the scene when they did. Their help combined would have been invaluable. For now, though, Brandon had to make do with what he had. "Alright, kids," Brandon conceded. "Let's get going!"

    Everyone boarded the Battle Pyramid and it soon took flight, headed straight for the Snowpoint Temple. What they didn't know was that they had a certain trio of stragglers hanging on to the exterior plating of the pyramid, but the wind currents once the vessel was in flight were far too strong and eventually swept them all away to fall back to the earth below.

    Brandon was making his prized facility go as fast as it possibly could; there was no doubt he was panicked, though he was excellent in masking it. The others couldn't believe how calm and collected he appeared to be. The Pyramid King was clearly focused, dead set on rectifying this situation. His goal was on the line… and quite possibly his job, too. He was sure to punish whoever threatened to take Regigigas away from him.

    Ash gazed at the forest they passed through. This was all going way too fast for him, so he was curious as to what the panic was really all about. "I wonder what they're after…" Even to Ash, it seemed unusual that a suspicious group would pillage an old temple of all places.

    Though Brandon was sure he knew the answer to the question he was about to ask, the Frontier Brain knew it was best to clarify things while the calm before the storm lasted. "Young man, you don't happen to know the legend of the Snowpoint Temple, do you?"

    He still didn't really want to give these kids (or Maria) an idea of what his true intentions were, but Brandon was certain that they would be more useful as allies if they at least knew what was going on.

    "No, I've never heard of it," Ash admitted, turning away from the window to face his former foe. "But I'd sure like to."

    In spite of Brandon's hesitations, the unsuspecting Maria decided to tell the story for him. "Alright, then. It happened a long time ago," she recalled. Of course the maiden knew the legend by heart. "Once, after a volcano violently erupted, the Snowpoint Forest – rich in natural resources and beauty – was transformed into a sea of flowing lava."

    This at least explained why there were so many clearings in the forest areas north of Snowpoint City.

    "Then, out of a bright blue light, Regigigas appeared," Maria continued. While Brandon felt himself cringe, the children interrupted the temple maiden out of sheer surprise.


    "Correct," Maria affirmed, not at all minding the break in her story. "Along with Regice, Regirock, and Registeel. Together, the four of them halted the volcano's eruption, thus saving Snowpoint City from destruction."

    The time of this alleged legendary miracle was never specified, but Maria guessed this to be right around the time Snowpoint City was founded a couple of centuries ago. Her generations and those past hers never knew Snowpoint Forest to be that magnificent, and none of them ever witnessed an active volcano during the course of their lives. But those generations past the shrine maiden knew well of this tale and passed it down all the way to the present generation.

    "Later, Regigigas transformed itself into a stone of light and fell into a deep sleep, while in order to protect Regigigas, the legend says Regirock, Regice, and Registeel were transformed into the three guardian pillars made of the basic elements of the land: rock, ice, and steel," Maria continued.

    "And their location is the Snowpoint Temple," Brandon finished with a heavy heart. It was difficult sharing this much information to a bunch of kids, but at least the Pyramid King knew they were on the up-and-up and wouldn't spill all of this across the world. He already heard this story from Maria yesterday afternoon, though the way she worded it made Brandon aware of a detail he had, up until now, been overlooking.

    Let alone Regigigas being in the temple, according to Maria's legend, it was confirmed that there was a completely different set of the Regi trio in the exact same place, only now taking the form of pillars. This was quite a breakthrough and gave much credence to the theory that separate regions contain their own sets of legendary Pokémon that were usually regarded as one-of-a-kind.

    "So what does that group of people have to do with it?" Ash finally asked.

    Brandon's expressions hardened as he spoke the dreaded truth, and one of his greatest fears. "They're most likely after Regigigas."

    The way Brandon expressed his belief hushed those who were in his company. These indeed were dark times suddenly coming upon the Pyramid King; he wasn't sure how he would feel if his petty grudge match with Paul actually prevented him from getting what he came to Sinnoh for in the first place. All those months… all the patience Brandon needed but honestly didn't have… all for nothing? That was completely unacceptable.

    Samuel finally broke the silence the best way he knew how: focus on the technology he himself implemented into the airborne facility. "We're getting very close," he noted. "I'll put a view of the temple entrance onto the main monitor."

    The Snowpoint Temple was now viewable to the entire entourage. An array of soldiers had the place surrounded, but something that caught the eye of everyone was the silver-haired woman approaching the temple directly all by herself. She clearly carried herself as a business woman. From various past experiences in the Sinnoh region, Ash and the others were very quick to recognize her.

    "Look!" Dawn cried out with a gasp.

    Ash glared at the screen. "Hey, it's Pokémon Hunter J!"

    As a woman sheltered from the world, Maria was the only one who couldn't recognize her. "Who's Pokémon Hunter J…?" she asked, clueless as can be.

    "Part of a group that steals Pokémon and sells them on the black market," Brandon answered; his tone stiff and stern. He couldn't recall directly dealing with any Pokémon hunters in his lifetime, but a worldly person like Brandon was very well aware of their existence. J herself had quite a reputation due to her past successes, so she was easy to identify.

    Dawn was getting confused; the story she just heard from Maria was said to be a legend, yet Brandon seemed to think that legend was undeniably true without saying why. She felt the need to address this before preparing herself to deal with J again. "But Brandon, I thought you just told us that the sleeping Regigigas is just a legend, right?"

    "Not so," Brandon shot back. He had studied into this particular "legend" long enough to tell whether or not it was legit. There was that and the fact that there was literally nothing else noteworthy in the Snowpoint Temple that would warrant a full-scale invasion such as this. "There has been sufficient evidence uncovered that shows it's not just a legend. That's why I came here."

    That was the truth. Just from the trouble of finding the only factual book on Regigigas in the world… and the fact that there was only one book left on Regigigas told Brandon that this was a legend trying to be covered up as much as possible because of the shoddy defenses that housed the four Regis. It was interesting, actually, as Brandon found his set of Regis in Kanto under completely difference circumstances. There was obviously no Regigigas to be seen and no evidence of its existence at any of the three locations where the other Regis were found. Brandon's Regirock, Registeel, and Regice had their own separate shrines located in the most remote locations of the Kanto region. The shrines were small and rather unnoticeable outdoors, but inside, it was the polar opposite. Small but pristine, the temples clearly reflected the element that made up their legendary host… as well as some mysterious wall markings that resembled the Braille language. Brandon had spent many days studying them and their relation to the golems.

    It was difficult to say why, exactly, the Regis were presented so differently in Sinnoh and why there was no sign of Regigigas in Kanto. But these were questions that would have to find answers another day… regardless of origin, Brandon was determined to make Regigigas his.

    "That's right," Ash suddenly realized. "That means they'll do whatever it takes to catch Regigigas, so we've gotta do something first!"

    Brandon resisted rolling his eyes at Captain Obvious's revelations. Sometimes it was hard to believe this boy actually defeated him in battle… but Brandon had a feeling Ash would never stand a chance against him in a full battle with all of his Regis. Even more so whenever Brandon got Regigigas… he would no doubt be an even greater challenge than before. To Ash, Brandon simply nodded in agreement without saying anything.

    No doubt this was going to be a long shot… but Brandon believed this was his time to shine in the face of adversity. If the stakes weren't so high, Brandon would have appreciated the challenge of facing a Pokémon hunter and her troops.

    "Whoa…! It's the Battle Pyramid!"

    Various soldiers took notice to the rumble and the sound of the Battle Pyramid well before it actually arrived on the scene. They stared up in the sky in awe, never expecting his magnificent vessel to be their adversary in a place like this.

    "Someone report to J immediately!" another soldier cried out. Even with power in numbers, several soldiers dreaded to face the wrath of the Pyramid King. It was imperative that their boss be aware of the threat she would soon face, as she was traveling within the temple at that time.

    Once J was notified, she fought hard to resist a scowl. "Brandon the Pyramid King…? This could be a problem," she admitted. Just as Brandon made himself familiar with famous villainous figures, Brandon's reputation was something a Pokémon hunter could not ignore. Given his secondary profession as an archaeologist, paranoia of running into him spread deeply across many of her henchmen whenever their mission involved a place he may be researching on his own. "Make sure you keep them at bay," J ordered her men through her communicator. She was too close to reaching her goal to turn around and fight now.

    Even if this was a place that Brandon would be interested in, J assumed they were in the clear from at least that threat simply because they were in a different region. This was a most unpleasant surprise, indeed.

    In accordance to J's orders, her henchmen sent out their arsenal of Pokémon meant to take down a strong opposing force. Swarms of Skarmory and Metang took to the skies, swiftly approaching the Battle Pyramid.

    Within the targeted facility, Brandon and the others came face to face with an overwhelming amount of Pokémon ready to tear them down. In spite of this, there was really only one option in this scenario: endure the onslaught and keep going. There was no point in trying to get a large and cumbersome facility to dodge the Pokémon or their attacks. The Battle Pyramid was Brandon's pride and joy; Samuel's upgrades made it even more worthy of the Pyramid King's pride. He was confident his vessel would complete the journey… but that didn't prevent Brandon from being cautious. "Here they come. Hang on!"

    This would be a rough ride no matter the end result.

    The henchmen called for Flash Cannon from the Skarmory and Sludge Bomb from the Metang. These were hard-hitting attacks in their own right; from a massive number of Pokémon, unarmed targets would be killed on sight within seconds. Even with its impressive defenses, the Battle Pyramid was soon overwhelmed with the barrage of attacks. The army of Pokémon, experienced in taking various aircrafts down, knew where to clip the wings of anything airborne. For flying objects without wings, such as the Battle Pyramid, there was an obvious alternative and/or equivalent target: the propulsion system.

    After a few rounds of direct hits from hundreds of Pokémon, one of the four main engines that ran the Battle Pyramid's propellers was completely trashed, as evident with the thick trails of smoke coming from the source. This left a very uneven distribution and everyone was thrown around as a result. This made steering nigh impossible, especially in light of the nonstop attacks that continued to batter the airborne facility.

    "Sir, one of the motors is no longer functioning!" Samuel confirmed as he struggled to read what the display screen reported. "At this rate, we'll lose the rest within minutes…!"

    Brandon didn't like to resort to this, but he was not about to lose his Battle Pyramid. They weren't far from the temple at all; of course the Frontier Brain knew to carry emergency vehicles within his facility just in case something like this happened. Losing control of the Battle Pyramid while being so close to the temple was another reason to abandon it: if the Battle Pyramid were to crash into the Snowpoint Temple, all really would be lost. Brandon would not have that weighing down his conscience; enough weight existed there stemming from his family issues alone. To the best of the Pyramid King's abilities, the Battle Pyramid was steered away from the Temple and towards the neighboring forest.

    "HANG ON, EVERYONE!" Brandon shouted as the others were tossed and tumbled about. "EMERGENCY LANDING!"

    It was a rough landing as the Battle Pyramid skid along the frigid forest floor for a few miles before finally grinding to a halt. Those inside were extremely fortunate to not be injured, as the turbulence and impact combined left most of them falling and stumbling along the floor while Brandon held onto the steering wheel for dear life. He could already smell the smoke emitting from the busted motor… this was by far the most damage the Battle Pyramid had ever taken.

    This was where it was very useful for Brandon to have an assistant who was a mechanical whiz. The Pyramid King would have been utterly lost in this scenario. Even though it looked bad now, Brandon was certain that Samuel would be able to fix his facility and restore it to its former glory.

    But all of that was still secondary compared to the matter at hand. The Battle Pyramid was useless at present, as Brandon begrudgingly accepted. He looked to the others after recovering from the impact. "Is everyone alright?"

    Ash and the others affirmed that they were. Dangerous missions and crash-landings were nothing new to them. Like Brandon, though, Ash remained focused on the matter at hand. "The temple can't wait," he muttered. "So what now? It'll be too late by the time we run over there…"

    "Hm…" Brandon had an idea, recalling his emergency supplies. He rarely ever needed them, but it was always best to come prepared. It was a pity a certain son of his never considered this philosophy to be vital to his life. "We'll use a mini-craft to the temple; there's one securely sealed within the cargo hold, so it should be usable," he decided. "While we do that, Sam will stay behind and repair the motor."

    This was to be expected… not that Samuel was offended in the least. He knew he was most useful this way rather than being out on the battlefield. "Sir! I'll get on it right away."

    "One surprise after another," Dawn mumbled. "This place really is something else…"

    "Indeed," Brandon concurred. "But we must leave immediately. Regigigas must not fall into J's hands."

    Ash nodded, glaring at the idea of it. "I'm hearin' that. Let's go!"

    Within a couple of minutes, the mini-craft took flight as it left its base. Ash, Brock, Dawn, and Maria looked on with concern as Brandon approached their destination at full speed. Just in case another attack occurred before reaching the temple, Ash and Dawn set Pikachu and Piplup to the sides of the aircraft to negate any attack coming their way. Getting hit in the mini-craft was much more dangerous than getting hit in the Battle Pyramid, thus there was no room for error to be had.

    "There they are!" one of J's henchmen shouted, pointing into the sky. The mini-craft didn't stick out like a sore thumb in the bright sky like its mother vessel did, so the group was well within reach of the temple before the blockade noticed their presence.

    As always, they were quick to act. "Prepare for another attack!"

    The ominous swarm of Skarmory and Metang started to surround the mini-craft, but now it was Ash and company's turn to take initiative and go on the offensive.

    "Pikachu, Thunderbolt now…!" Ash commanded.

    "Piplup, use Bubble Beam!" Dawn followed up. The combination of electricity and water proved to be a very useful combination when it came to getting rid of most threats… usually said threats were Team Rocket, but the combined attacks worked just as well against Pokémon owned by hardened henchmen. Skarmory was already weak to Electric-type attacks and the water from Bubble Beam amplified it. The years of experience Ash gained with Pikachu made the Mouse Pokémon able to handle almost any threat without too much trouble. Even Brandon could admit Ash's first Pokémon was quite a wondrous creature… it did manage to take down his Regice, after all.

    After the group successfully blasted through the barrage, the mini-craft landed and everyone was quick to jump out. The henchmen were stunned to see their Pokémon fall one by one, but they still had their own manpower to make use of. Brandon knew there was no use in wasting time with them and led the group towards the temple.

    "Let's go!" he commanded. Everyone agreed and followed his lead. Brandon couldn't believe he was so close… and yet so far.

    It was at this time that Pokémon Hunter J reached the hidden chamber of the Snowpoint Temple; the dreary, stone-walled hovel that housed the legendary Pokémon she was hired to capture. J gazed at the sight before her as she approached it. She recognized the details of this landmark, given to her by her contractor.

    "So these are the pillars that guard the sleeping Regigigas," she acknowledged out loud. Everything was matching up with what she was told. "Ice. Rock. Steel."

    And presumably, if the legend was completely accurate, those pillars were once a Regi trio themselves. Their pillars were purely made of their respective element. Upon a pedestal nestled in the middle of the triad of pillars laid an orb of a fairly large size. Its color was blue as Maria said, but no glow emitted from it.

    J also recognized this as the source of Regigigas, though even she wondered how such a gargantuan golem could come from a relatively small jewel. Nonetheless, she didn't have much room for skepticism; after all, everything else was matching up so far. "The only thing to do is destroy those pillars and awaken Regigigas," she decided. She took out a Pokéball and tossed it high into the air. "Salamence, let's go…!"

    The wicked hunter knew destroying the pillars, thereby killing off this set of Regis, would have to invoke Regigigas' rage and force it out of its sleep. For such a cruel resort, J was completely professional about it. She was immune to the moral weight of her actions.

    "We need to capture Regigigas," J told her Pokémon. "So use Hyper Beam, now!"

    Salamence remained loyal without hesitation as it fired off a Hyper Beam attack directly at the ice pillar. From such a powerful Pokémon, the attack easily decimated the ice pillar and reduced it to rubble. One blast later, the rock pillar was met with the same fate.

    Pleased with how smoothly this operation was going in spite of her concerns with potentially dealing with Brandon, J looked to the final pillar. "That's excellent," she complimented. "Now the steel pillar!"

    "Stop this!"

    Before the final line of defense could be obliterated, Brandon and the others finally reached the chamber after running a frantic marathon. They were all horrified to see what had already transpired prior to their arrival. It seemed as if it was too late already, but Brandon wouldn't give up that easily. This was where having a loud, booming voice came in handy; everyone, including J and Salamence, was startled by Brandon's command and it effectively halted Salamence's attack.

    "Stop this at once!" Brandon reiterated. He glared daggers at J, not unlike the manner of which Paul glared at him during their battle earlier that day. Again, Brandon did well to withhold his emotions aside from the indignation; seeing the two destroyed pillars horrified him deep inside, as he quickly understood the severity of J's actions.

    "So you got past all my men," J noted dryly. "I'd expect nothing less from the Pyramid King. Nonetheless, you're too late to stop me now."

    Maria stepped forth, looking at the Pokémon hunter with pleading eyes. "You've got to understand, you mustn't awaken Regigigas!" she cried out. "The result would be disastrous!"

    Brandon glanced at Maria (though she was too busy trying to beg J to stop to notice him – pointless as her attempt was), raising an eyebrow after hearing what she said. After all, when it came right down to it, Brandon's goal was not that different from J's. What would be done with Regigigas afterward was where their intentions differed, but the bottom line was that Maria's tone suggested that it was taboo to even awaken Regigigas at all. This was not something that crossed Brandon's mind before. Unfortunately, this was not the time to ask the temple maiden why exactly awakening the Colossal Pokémon would be a terrible thing to do.

    "Hmph," J grumbled, ignoring Maria's warnings and turned back to face her Pokémon. "Salamence!" There was no need for her to say any more than that; her Pokémon knew what the hunter had in mind. Once more, it charged up energy to unleash Hyper Beam…

    "Don't-…!" Ash cried out in desperation, but it was too little, too late. Hyper Beam went through the steel pillar like a hot knife through butter. It too was reduced to rubble, though being made of steel made it a little harder to crush into pieces like its rock and ice counterparts. Thus, a large chunk of the steel pillar came very close to collapsing on top of Ash, who evaded it at the last second. The others backed away as the dust and smoke kicked up by the debris faded away, revealing the large jewel said to contain Regigigas completely unguarded.

    Ash couldn't believe this was happening. Then again, based on his previous experiences with the Pokémon hunter, it wasn't all that surprising. Every time Ash saw J, he realized the Team Rocket trio that stalked him on a near-daily basis were practically saints by comparison. Pokémon hunters were among the lowest of the low; the bottom of the barrel. What he was seeing here perfectly represented that. "J!" he called out to her, upset with the wanton destruction (and probably still startled by the fact that he was nearly crushed by debris of solid steel). "Do you know what you did?!"

    He honestly thought J had no idea what she was doing. Underestimating this woman was a grave mistake to make, however. Brandon knew better than to do such a thing; it was clear to him that J knew exactly what she was doing.

    Just then, in reaction to the three pillars being destroyed, the orb on the pedestal began to glow in a light blue hue, just as Maria described in the legend. The group (as well as J) braced themselves for some sort of devastating phenomenon.

    "Uh-oh," Ash gulped, gaping at the glowing object. "This can't be good."

    "Could Salamence's attack be waking up Regigigas…?" Maria wondered out loud.

    Brock stared at the scene. His observational skills were kicking it into overdrive today considering what had happened before J showed up. "It's been rendered vulnerable," he pointed out. "Maybe it can sense that its guardians have been destroyed…"

    That statement infuriated Brandon all the more as it became apparent that he was not the only one thinking about the consequences of destroying the pillars. It was needless to say that Brandon never would have resorted this, but now it was almost impossible to deny; the original Regirock, Registeel, and Regice of Sinnoh… were destroyed. A great deal of self-restraint was necessary for Brandon to prevent himself from outright attacking J then and there, but he did step forward as he witnessed J approaching the orb.

    "I will not allow you to go through with this!" he vowed. Especially now that J had destroyed Pokémon that hit close to home for him… Brandon was going to make sure she would live to regret her actions for the rest of her life.

    J was no more than a couple of feet from the orb while the others were still a good distance away from her, mostly due to the debris that came between them. She just smirked at the famous Frontier Brain, filled with glee to have one-upped him. "All you can do now is stand and watch," she shot back. And she had a point… based on Maria's warnings, there was no telling what might happen if the stone orb was to be approached… and even then, J's Salamence was on standby to blast anyone who would dare to come near the Pokémon hunter or the orb.

    However, as the moments passed, J realized that nothing was really happening. The orb continued to glow, but nothing more came of it. It must have been awakened to some degree… but not enough to bring it out of its resting place. J wasn't given any other pointers as to how to awaken Regigigas from her contractor, so she quickly became frustrated.

    "What? Why won't it wake up?!" J grumbled. It was just a matter of time before Brandon and the others would band together and attack her, so she had no desire to prolong this revival of the legendary golem. She looked to Salamence. "Quick, use Flamethrower!"

    To attack the orb directly… that was far too risky. Brandon's hold on his emotions finally broke as he shouted at the top of his lungs to somehow prevent this. "DON'T DO IT!"

    It was nothing more than a waste of the Frontier Brain's breath. Salamence spat a stream of fire directly at the glowing orb. Much to the relief of the others, this attack seemed to not do any external damage. Nerves were again unsettled as the earth began to tremble and quake… within a temple like this, earthquakes and the like would be the death knell for anyone inside, as the temple was unstable and could easily cause a cave-in. It was minor for now, but all eyes were on the pedestal as a triangle of red light emitted from the ground, rising up from the points where the pillars once stood. As the light intensified and rose higher, J wisely decided to jump onto Salamence and back off from the scene, though she was pleased to see that her actions were finally bringing out the beast within.

    The red light was almost blinding by this point, but eventually receded back into the ground. However, once the light faded, a massive titan stood before all those present in the Snowpoint Temple.

    "No…! It's Regigigas!" Brandon exclaimed with horror. Never did he think he would not be pleased to finally see the Pokémon he had sought for months, but something was very unsettling about the way it came into the world… and it was easy to see why. Finally facing the leader of the legendary golems was both amazing and horrifying, if only because of the circumstances Brandon was faced with.

    Just as she did while watching Paul battle Brandon, Dawn once again brought out her Pokédex to identify a species she had never seen before.

    "Regigigas, the Colossal Pokémon. According to legend, Regigigas has towed continents using ropes."

    This was roughly what Brandon had gotten out of Professor Oak over a month ago. That only barely scratched the surface of what Regigigas was really all about. He would have felt privileged to be one of the few who knew the whole story now, but the fact remained that there was a crisis at hand and Brandon's mission was at stake as well.

    To make matters worse, it appeared that Regigigas itself was consumed with rage… understandably so, given what had just happened, but this was one of the worst possible places for the legendary golem to vent its frustrations. However, rational thought was beyond Regigigas and it started blasting at the temple's ceilings regardless, causing more tremors that started to bring rocks falling down towards the unfortunate victims within the chamber.

    "Regigigas, ya gotta stop!" Ash yelled at it, as if that was going to make a bit of difference. He always remained so naïve even after all these years. Regigigas ignored the young trainer and started to aim its blasts in random directions; the walls, the floor, and still the ceiling. This chamber was quickly becoming a danger zone. "STOP! STOP IT!" Ash cried out, but it was no use.

    "Ash, it's not listening!" Dawn told him. "I don't think anything's going to snap Regigigas out of it now."

    "Intense rage is making Regigigas go berserk!" Maria pointed out, terrified by what she was seeing. "I… I don't know how it could possibly be tamed; the legends have never portrayed Regigigas like this…"

    This was when J finally saw it fit to make her move. With Regigigas out and distracted, to her it was practically begging to be snatched away. She aimed the cannon attached to her aim; this was the dreaded weapon designed to render living Pokémon as solid statues. It was a device Ash and the others were all too familiar with. Of course, as a typical villain's fallacy, J couldn't help but brag to those who opposed her.

    "Well, you should thank me," J suggested in a tone of pure mockery. She readied her laser cannon and focused on Regigigas. "I'll preserve the rage that dwells deep inside of you forever!"

    Even though it was consumed by anger, Regigigas heard that. It had the sense to turn straight towards J, which shocked her, and fired a blast right in her direction. To survive these dangerous scenarios, one would need light-speed reaction time to respond to these threats. J was fortunate enough to possess those skills, as she ordered her Salamence to counter the attack.

    "Salamence, Dragon Pulse!"

    Strong as J and her Pokémon were, they were no match for a legendary Pokémon. Regigigas' blast knocked the Pokémon hunter and her Salamence back, though they remained airborne. Begrudgingly, J had to admit to herself that this was a much more daunting task than it seemed. She would be sure her contractor would pay his end of the deal in full, if not more so for what she had to go through.

    Once again, Regigigas blasted at the chamber's ceiling, and this time a full-blown cave-in was invoked. Several large rocks rained down upon the floor and everyone inside; they were very difficult to dodge. "If these attacks keep up, there's no doubt the temple will collapse!" Brandon shouted. This was a true living nightmare for the Pyramid King, indeed.

    J understood that it was very unwise to remain in the temple for much longer, as the Colossal Pokémon's tantrums had officially compromised the structure of its home. It would be in shambles very soon… and J knew it would be much easier to capture Regigigas after it had fallen victim to the consequences of its own violent outbursts. "Retreat, now!" she ordered her Salamence, who quickly obeyed. J had the luxury of briskly escaping the chamber and the entire temple via her Dragon Pokémon. Everyone else, however… they were stuck having to foot it.

    "We need to get out, too!" Brandon called out to the others as he watched J leave, scowling at the hunter for the travesty she caused. Just as the group attempted to leave, however, Regigigas blasted at the ceiling right over them, causing a massive avalanche of rocks that no doubt would crush and kill them all.

    Again, this was where a fast reaction time was an essential. Brandon immediately threw out the Pokéballs containing his Regis for protection. "Let's go…!" he called out, not even having the time to shout his usual catchphrase, though ironically he needed their assistance now more than ever.

    Regirock, Registeel, and Regice all protected the group and saved them from certain death. Once that wave of rocks ceased to fall, Brandon knew it was definitely time to get out of there. "That's it; out of here, quick!" he ordered his juniors. In a fast-paced disaster where one wrong move could lead to certain death, even Ash had no desire to protest and heeded the Frontier Brain's words, as did his friends and Maria.

    Once Brandon was sure they were all at least out of the chamber, he turned around to face his trio of Regis. "Regirock, Regice, and Registeel: I need your protection until we get out," he requested. The hallways were a tad less treacherous than Regigigas' chamber, but it was evident the entire temple's structure was about to crumble completely. Brandon wanted to be sure that they all got out of there alive. The Regis perfectly understood their trainer's command and backed him and the others up as they frantically dashed for the temple's entrance. As the seconds passed, the road towards safety became increasingly deadly as Regigigas itself began to walk, making its way out of its chamber and slowly following the others while maintaining its consistent streams of destructive blasts.

    J, of course, was the first one out of the Snowpoint Temple, relatively unscathed by the avalanche of rocks she and her Salamence had to dodge on the way out. She reconvened with her henchmen, all of which were quick to approach their boss as none of them had a clue of what was going on.

    "Hunter J…!" one of them called out; most likely one of the higher-ups. "What is our next course of action?"

    "Move to Point C and stand by," she ordered. J had gone a while without contacting her troops, so it was understandable why they were clueless right now. She looked back towards the temple she had just escaped from. "I'm going to check on our target once again."

    "Yes, sir!" all of J's henchmen shouted in unison, saluting before relocating. J, meanwhile, took to the skies with her Salamence, but didn't go very far… in fact, she was still quite close to the temple (despite being well above it, therefore being in no danger for now). She situated herself in the perfect blind spot where no one would think to look… especially not during a crisis like this. She watched… and she waited.

    J wouldn't be waiting long. Ash, Brandon, and the others could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. They were so close to safety, but a blast from Regigigas straight in their direction was about to make their efforts all for naught. It tore through the hallway the group had just run through and was headed straight for them. Even with the three Regis bringing up the rear and therefore blocking most of what could be seen behind them, the impending blast was very hard to not notice, even for Ash. He screamed "LOOK OUT!" at the top of his lungs just as he and the others finally made it outside.

    Had the Regi trio not been there to cover them from behind, they all would have been disintegrated by the blast. Instead, it was buffered by the three guardian golems and the shockwaves roughly knocked the group off their feet upon their exit, throwing them all onto the cold, hard ground below. The blast shot right out of the Snowpoint Temple's entrance, extending quite a few feet out before dissipating. The cause of the dissipation was none other than the temple itself, unable to withstand any more of Regigigas' abuse. Before the very eyes of Brandon and the others, the majority of the Snowpoint Temple collapsed within itself, barely leaving any semblance of a structure left…

    … Only a very unattractive pile of rubble, which could have been considered a makeshift grave mark for Regigigas; the only one who remained in the temple upon its destruction.

    A chill silence filled the area after all was said and done. It was quite the literal train wreck, so the group could do little more than look on at the tragedy that unfolded before them. Brandon didn't want to believe that this was the end.

    "Where's Regigigas…?" Ash finally asked; evidently not wanting to believe the worst-case scenario just happened either.

    "Buried under the rubble," Brandon bitterly replied. It hurt so much to admit that, and it was getting increasingly difficult for the Pyramid King to hide just how torn up he was over this entire situation. "Chances are… it didn't make it."

    Brock nodded in agreement; being more of a realist than Ash and Dawn were, he could accept what was most likely Regigigas' tragic fate more easily than his friends. "Even a legendary Pokémon like Regigigas can't break free from something like that, even if it did survive."

    "So then… you're saying…?" Dawn asked Brock; her voice shaking as she considered the implications. When Brock nodded back to her, the Coordinator held a mouth to her hand, trying to hold back on crying.

    "What… will I do about this…?" a helpless Maria wondered out loud, prompting Brandon to look over to her. He couldn't help but feel guilty; even though his intentions were pure, there was no guarantee that Regigigas would have reacted any better if he were the one to have awakened it. "The temple… it's been reduced to nothing after all these years, and poor Regigigas… poor Regirock, Regice, and Registeel who looked over it…"

    Brandon let out a sigh as he looked back to where the temple once stood. From what few details he could gather by looking at it now (obviously having no time to analyze it when he arrived), it was obvious that the temple had been standing for at least a thousand years; most likely more. It truly was a tragedy in more ways than one. Not only were innocent Pokémon's lives taken in the name of greed, but a piece of Sinnoh's history was demolished along with them. "There was no reason for any of this to happen," he said. "We will find a way to make it past this, Maria, but it's too early to resign ourselves to that. Pokémon Hunter J is still out there and probably nearby."

    "There's got to be some way to get her apprehended," Brock murmured. "We can't let her continue to roam throughout Sinnoh committing these crimes… or else another place will end up like the Snowpoint Temple."

    "I wish we could have gotten her arrested sooner," Dawn lamented. "It's not like we haven't had the opportunity before. I feel like this is our fault in a way…"

    Maria vehemently shook her head. "No. Children, don't blame yourselves. You shouldn't be expected to apprehend such dangerous criminals; that's Officer Jenny's job, and I know they all must have been doing their best if this woman's reputation precedes her."

    Oddly enough, Brandon could sympathize with Dawn… because he too was blaming himself for this partially. At least this mess was all J's doing, but the possibility of something like this happening if he got ahold of Regigigas… Brandon wasn't sure if he could live with the guilt. Either way, this was looking worse for his future by the second. If nothing else, Brandon wanted that silver-haired, cold-hearted woman behind bars for what she had done. That would be the closest Brandon would ever get to atonement, he believed.

    All of this was getting far too depressing for Ash to bear, however. He frowned and defiantly started walking over towards the site of the temple's remains. "You guys are really fine with thinkin' this is the end already?" he asked them angrily. "We're gonna get J – no doubt about it – but I'm not gonna give up on Regigigas just like that!"

    Everyone was shocked at Ash's words… then again, he was always the stubborn one, often to a fault. "Boy, don't take another step further," Brandon warned. "We don't have time to waste on a lost cause."

    "I can't believe you're just giving it up too, Brandon!" Ash shouted back. "Regigigas is the whole reason you came to Sinnoh, and you don't even wanna make sure it's alright?"

    Brandon glared at Ash for what he insinuated. "That's not even remotely true; just get back over here and-…"

    He was cut off by the ground suddenly starting to rumble… only faintly at first, but soon the tremors became quite violent, which was beginning to break off pieces of what little remained intact of the Snowpoint Temple. Ash froze in his place as he gazed at the giant pile of rubble – the source of the rumbling. And sure enough, quite abruptly, Regigigas erupted from the temple's remains… very much alive, and still full of rage as ever.

    "No way…!" Dawn gasped. "It's alright after all!"

    "Amazing," Maria commented, almost having fainted at the sight. "I thought nothing could have survived that…"

    Brock's expressions remained grim, however. "Even so, it's still out of control," he reminded the women. "It's far too early to celebrate."

    "Regigigas, stop it!" Ash screamed, once again in vain, as it went unheard by the Colossal Pokémon.

    "Save your breath," Brandon sharply ordered. "You didn't get through to it the first time; don't expect it to work the fifth."

    Harsh as Brandon was, Maria had to agree. "I am afraid no one is able to stop Regigigas now…" She feared for the temple, her home, and her own life… as well as the lives of others… were about to be lost to pure, unadulterated rage.

    "Oh no," Dawn worried, shaking her head while keeping her distance. "We've got no choice but to stand here and watch Regigigas destroy everything, then?"

    While Maria and the children worried about the imminent fates, Brandon approached his three Regis, all of which were at least still able to put up a fight and delay the inevitable long enough for him to think of some sort of solution. A solution was already in mind… a very convenient one, at that.

    "Regice, Regirock, and Registeel," he addressed his Pokémon, staring intently at them which told the trio all they needed to know without their trainer saying a word. They went off to approach their superior. Meanwhile, Ash went over to Brandon, wondering what the Frontier Brain had in mind.

    "Whoa, Brandon, what are you doin'?" a very confused Ash inquired, though it was a fair question considering Brandon issued no verbal commands.

    In a tight crisis like this, Brandon decided he might as well share his plan… the all too convenient solution to this problem. "I'm going to calm down that rage by catching it," he told Ash, which the others overheard. Maria especially was taken aback by this, but at the same time, she felt she had no room to protest. She had no alternative in mind, after all.

    "Of course," Brock realized. "Many out-of-control Pokémon become tame once captured by a trainer," he recalled. This wasn't always true and Brock knew that, if Ash's Charizard was anything to go by. But Brock also remembered when Ash told him about the way he and Paul first encountered a wild and deadly Ursaring… which eventually came to be Paul's own. Brock often wondered how Paul managed to control Ursaring's violent nature all by himself, but he imagined being officially being marked as owned by a trainer domesticated it to a degree. Intelligent as Brock was, he wasn't quite certain of how the Pokéballs functioned in every way.

    Nonetheless, he trusted Brandon knew what he was doing. He was the expert, after all. Brandon didn't really care what the others thought at this point because he was the only one with a good idea at this time. He gave his Regis the signal. "Unleash Hyper Beam, together!"

    A triple-effort Hyper Beam was nothing to sneeze at… unless one was legendary. As it turned out, Regigigas had the power of three in of itself, easily countering the boosted Hyper Beam with its own. The equal levels of energy left neither side affected, but caused a large explosion nonetheless. Brandon aside, everyone else shrieked and backed away to avoid getting hit by any potential debris. But the Pyramid King remained firm in his stance. He was eager to finally achieve his goal, though he regretted having to do it this way.

    He would worry about repaying the temple and Maria later; for now, he focused on his true mission. "Now, get up close and unleash your Focus Punch!"

    In triangle formation, the golems approached Regigigas while charging Focus Punch. Before they could land their hit, however, Regigigas' fists glowed with its own energy as the hands came together, rose up, and brutally clubbed all three subordinates to the ground.

    "It zapped the three of them in one hit!" Dawn exclaimed. "What power…!"

    "This leaves no choice," Brandon decided. "Regirock, Registeel; hurry and hold down Regigigas!"

    To already strive for the last resort concerned Brandon; he thought the journey would be the hardest part of obtaining Regigigas. After catching three legendary Pokémon already, the Pyramid King thought he had this down by now. Evidently, he was sorely mistaken and that caused yet another inconvenience.

    Regirock and Registeel emerged from the rubble they were buried under after that last hit and latched themselves to one arm each of Regigigas, effectively keeping it in one piece while Regice took its position.

    "Regice, use Ice Beam!" Brandon commanded, valiant with his efforts as he strove to gain the one thing he wanted more than anything else. Ice Beam hit Regigigas directly as it could not dodge due to being apprehended by Regice's cohorts. However, this was considered a "last resort" for a reason. With Regirock and Registeel being stuck to hold Regigigas down, they too were frozen in a giant block of ice along with Regigigas.

    But it was a small price to pay; Brandon knew Regirock and Registeel would be alright. The important thing to do was back Regigigas into a corner so it could finally join the family.

    "You did it…!" Ash cheered, glad that something was working out here after all.

    Brock nodded approvingly at Brandon's cunning work. "Amazing how you froze Regigigas along with Registeel and Regirock, too."

    Dawn had to admit this was pretty impressive. Her first impression of a Frontier Brain's power was quite overwhelming, to be honest. "It was a last-ditch strategy," she realized. "But it worked… and that's what matters."

    While Brandon and the others thought they were finally making progress, J was watching these actions transpire the entire time. With glee, she waited for the perfect moment. It was close, but not quite there yet. "Keep it up," she murmured quietly to herself. "And as soon as Regigigas is exhausted from battling all of you, that's when Salamence and I will step right in and make our capture."

    The Pokémon hunter was about to take away all of that precious hard work, and they had no idea it was coming. Regigigas was simply too big of an issue to ignore in favor of the renegade J.

    However effective this move was, Regigigas was beginning to break free of its frozen prison as the ice began to crack. All but Brandon gasped in horror, but the Pyramid King knew better than to underestimate his future prize. Now that he knew he could land a dent on Regigigas, at least, Brandon found that there was a point in holding out hope to the very end this time; it really was paying off.

    After Regigigas broke free, Brandon was quick to counteract. "Regice, Zap Cannon!"

    As with what happened to Paul's Ursaring earlier that day, Regigigas took the full hit and was overcome with paralysis as a result.

    "It felt that," Brock remarked, seeing the Colossal Pokémon was quickly wearing down now.

    Even so, Brandon knew better to even give Regigigas a moment to rest. The odds were becoming heavily stacked in his favor all of a sudden as his other two Regis became available to attack again. "Registeel, use Iron Head!" he ordered. "And Regirock, Stone Edge!"

    Registeel's powerful headbutt had enough force to knock Regigigas back, causing it to momentarily lose control of its balance. Regirock seized that small window of opportunity by pelting it with its powerful boulders, bringing the Colossal Pokémon to its knees.

    This was it; Regigigas was vulnerable. This was what Brandon was waiting for; so many months, an arduous journey, the stakes stacked so high up due to the nature of his actions… it all came down to this.

    He was finally ready to capture Regigigas, right here and now.

    "And now to get you in this Pokéball…!" Brandon hollered, charging forth with an empty Pokéball in his hand. Just as he was about to make the perfect toss, the nightmare known as Pokémon Hunter J stormed in to crush his hopes and dreams into dust.

    No Pokéball was thrown; Brandon suddenly couldn't throw. In the blink of an eye, Brandon 's arms were bound up behind him within a sticky yet sturdy substance. He was still standing, but it was awkward at best when Brandon was unable to move his arms. If he were to fall down, he wouldn't be getting back up.

    It wasn't just him; Maria, Ash, and his friends were all suddenly captured within the same substance. With it coming out of nowhere, everyone was distracted and confused. This was a window of opportunity for J, who slowly descended towards the group on her Salamence while recalling the Pokémon that just halted the group in their tracks: Ariados. They had all become victims of its String Shot attack.

    "It's J!" Ash exclaimed with a scowl. "Should've known you were gonna stick around…"

    J simply smirked and approached her target. "Nice work," she congratulated mockingly, eager to usurp control of the situation from the hard-working Brandon. "I'll be taking Regigigas."

    "No way!" Ash barked back; he had seen what Brandon went through just to get this situation under control. At least with Brandon, he knew Regigigas would be safe under his control. The case would be the opposite with J getting her hands on the legendary golem. "That's not fair…!"

    J casually aimed her laser cannon at Regigigas while closing in. "Such is life," she said quietly. "And now, for you…"

    Even wasting a mere few seconds could ruin everything in this operation; apparently Brandon understood that better than J. All of a sudden, the dots on Regigigas' Braille-esque symbol flashed with a fierce, red light. The tables were turned once again.

    "Oh no!" Brandon shouted, horrified as he recognized this technique. "That's Confuse Ray!"

    That was exactly what didn't need to happen; as a result of Regigigas using Confuse Ray, the dots on the symbols of Regirock, Regice, and Registeel also glowed red, signifying that they were now as uncontrollable as Regigigas itself. Feeling the pure rage mutually with Regigigas now, all four raised their arms up before J, who couldn't hazard a guess of what was going on.

    "So now what're they all doin'?!" Ash cried out, who was also in the dark as usual. He knew this couldn't mean anything good, at least.

    "What the…?" J was soon to find out first what was going to happen: the three enraged subordinate Regis took aim and fired directly at J: Registeel using Flash Cannon while Regirock and Regice used Zap Cannon.

    Unarmed, taking all of those hits at once would likely kill a person. Thankfully for J, she had Salamence to buffer most of it, but both were knocked back considerably regardless. Even a mighty Salamence couldn't face an onslaught of this magnitude.

    While J made some distance away to rethink her strategy, the Regis were quick to go on the move. In a straight line at first, the four angered Regis eventually formed a pattern as they walked down a dusty road beyond the temple: Regirock, Regice, and Registeel eventually settled into triangle formation while Regigigas brought up the rear.

    "Oh, whoa! Look at that!" Dawn shouted, being the first to notice the odd pattern in their formation. Maria especially focused on the details of what was happening now… and then she realized this correlated perfectly with their recorded history.

    "It's just like the legend," Maria muttered quietly. It just so happened that she and Brock were tied together; however quietly Maria spoke, Brock could hear every word and wondered what she was getting at.

    "Huh? What are you talking about?" Brock asked her, purely innocent with his curiosity.

    Maria looked on… she was sure of what she was saying. "Regirock, Regice, and Registeel have become the three pillars that will protect Regigigas. Just look at their formation; their movements…"

    "Surrounding all sides of Regigigas," Dawn noted. "Because the original pillars are gone now…"

    Pokémon Hunter J had no interest in the legend itself; only the bounty. After recollecting herself, she looked to her Salamence expectantly. "Now go to Point C so we can reconfigure our plan," she calmly requested, to which the Dragon Pokémon obliged. She returned to where she ordered her men to stand by, conveniently they were positioned so that they would eventually be blocking the Regis' progress along the road going across a mountain pass.

    The Regis weren't just walking around like mindless zombies, either; they proved to be just as chaotic and destructive as their master as they all fired off random Hyper Beam blasts from their hands, decimating the landscape around them. It was obvious they couldn't be left like this.

    Brandon was the most determined out of all those who remained. Even though his arms were still bound behind his back from the String Shot attack, that didn't stop him from making use of his legs, which remained to be free. It took great skill and balance to actually run without falling with your arms tied behind your back, but thankfully Brandon had skill in spades. He caught up to the raging quartet; even more impressively, Brandon was able to adjust his arms and free them slightly from the web restraining him as he ran. Frequent struggling in motion loosened the bindings enough so that Brandon could regain some control of his arms and take advantage of the positioning of his hands, which were close to his pockets. From there, he was able to grasp the three Pokéballs belonging to his Regis.

    "This has gone on long enough!" Brandon called out, actually making it ahead of the destructive Pokémon and standing right on the path they were taking, making himself a one-man roadblock. He aimed his three Pokéballs (which were very tricky to hold with only two hands with limited control) at the group. The Pyramid King knew this situation would be much more manageable if his own Regis were taken out of the equation. "Return, all of you!"

    Three beams of light shot straight at Regirock, Regice, and Registeel with the intent of forcing them back within their Pokéballs… under normal circumstances, this would have worked. But just like Regigigas, neither Brandon's voice nor anyone else's could reach the other three Regis. His commands were useless now; they may as well be as feral as Regigigas itself.

    Just to rub salt in the wound, Regice specifically aimed a Zap Cannon attack on its own trainer whilst the others continued about their wanton destruction. Even with limited mobility, Brandon still managed to dodge the attack… but only barely. The shockwaves of the explosion knocked him off his feet, causing concern from the others.

    "No, Brandon…!" Ash shouted as he and the others ran over to their fallen senior as best they could, given their own conditions.

    Thankfully, Brandon was fine and even managed to balance himself back on his feet, but he couldn't take his eyes off the foursome of Pokémon continuing their rampage while walking past him. Even when the others came to Brandon's aid, his attention was only focused on what he was losing to the massive golem he pursued for so long…

    "Regirock! Regice! Registeel! Come back…!" Brandon called out in desperation. But he knew it wouldn't get through to them; Brandon was on the verge of losing it and had to let out that stress somehow without worrying his companions. Brandon knew he was the one the others looked up to; he was undeniably the de facto leader of this operation. Luckily, Brandon had the leadership skills to spare… it had just been a long time since Brandon had last felt so distraught and helpless. The thought of not only failing to capture Regigigas, but losing the rest of his Regis in the process… that was unbearable, and on that virtue alone Brandon refused to give up.

    As Dawn looked on at the scene, she realized something that made this travesty more severe and consequential over a hundredfold. "There's a town in that direction…"

    Brock's expressions hardened as he realized Dawn spoke the truth. "If we don't stop them, it'll be a disaster," he understood. "So we can't just let this go."

    Brandon was stuck in a sudden mental whirlpool, worried about what would happen if he were to fail. It wasn't just about him and his job now; several lives could be at stake, and Brandon stood a good chance to lose all of his Regis… and they were like family to him. This was a rare instance where Brandon showed similar mannerisms to his firstborn son; both took it the hardest when it came to enduring devastating losses… such as family members. For once, the fear of losing more of his "family" had visibly stunned the Frontier Brain. He lost his wife far too soon and he might as well have considered his sons lost as well, given that he hardly ever spoke to them, much less visited. That was one reason of many why Brandon made a point to change that after seeing Reggie in the hospital one month ago… it made him realize he was well underway in losing what remained of his family. Brandon realized it was hard not to cling to his sons earlier today when they made a surprise appearance in this remote location of Sinnoh. He thought he had become desensitized to any kind of tragedy, but Brandon realized it now… running away from his problems was not the same as overcoming the fear of them. It was easy to appear aloof when Brandon didn't have to deal with his family on a daily basis… when he could do whatever he pleased and live his life to the fullest, utilizing his potential as best he could every single day.

    The Pyramid King had nearly drowned himself in denial for years. Given Reggie and Paul's individual personal struggles… it was evident that denial ran deeply in the family.


    "Huh?" Brandon looked to who called out to him; Ash, of course. Ash wasn't used to seeing Brandon like this… he wanted to see the Brandon he was more familiar with.

    "You sure ya didn't get hit?" Ash asked more quietly than he usually did; he was clearly concerned. A de facto leader's weakness was reflected in the worries of his comrades. "Or are you still thinkin' of a plan…? Y'know we don't have time ta' sit around…" His Pikachu agreed.

    That was all Brandon needed to get himself back into reality; he would have time to mope over this later for certain. His firm, determined expression returned as he nodded to Ash. "It's obvious now that it would be too dangerous to pursue them on foot," he told the young trainer. "We'll have to return to the mini-craft and continue the chase there and keep them at bay somehow. Your Pokémon should be useful for what I have in mind," Brandon noted, but then glared down at the String Shot binding that still plagued him and the others. "But before we do anything, we must find a way to break free from this."

    "Believe me; I've been tryin'," Ash grumbled, trying to force himself out again like he'd attempted at least twice before, but the result was the same. "Anyone got any ideas…?"

    Ash looked to the others. Brandon was already trying on his own as he quickly found a large, sharp rock to rub himself rub against in an attempt to snap his bindings apart with the friction (or at least have the rock tear into the web eventually). Brock and Maria were completely helpless to do much of anything as they were tied together.

    That left Dawn, who looked down at her Piplup. "So… Piplup, do you think you can break through this String Shot and free us all?" she asked politely, knowing that buffing up her starter Pokémon's confidence would at least pump it up and strengthen the chances of this idea working.

    Piplup was naturally more than happy to take on the challenge and quickly started to snap at Dawn's bindings with its beak… it proved to be very difficult to just snap in two like a string.

    Dawn resisted the urge to sigh… somehow, she couldn't be that surprised that Piplup couldn't do the impossible… again.

    Elsewhere in the tundra of the Sinnoh region, Reggie and Paul were still on the road on their way back to Snowpoint City. After Reggie's sheer delight in being addressed to by name by Brandon died down to a steady, mild contentedness, there was a long period of awkward silence between the brothers. Reggie was glad he had thought to arrange this battle between Paul and Ash, but his plans in getting his little brother fully recovered from what happened earlier were still going by one step at a time. This was a delicate situation, no doubt; Reggie couldn't remember the last time he'd seen Paul this depressed. It was only a pity that Reggie had no idea there was much more turmoil in Paul's life than he could have possibly imagined.

    This was the perfect time to let Reggie know the truth, but for various reasons, Paul could not bear to even bring the matter up. Even in his greatest moments of weakness, there was still a part of Paul that would stubbornly hold back. If Reggie even remotely had an idea of what was going on, he might have gotten Paul to crack. As it stood, however, Paul's miserable appearance really did seem it was brought on completely by Brandon's presence and victory.

    But there was one thing that suddenly struck Reggie's mind out of nowhere; another topic Paul wanted to avoid.

    "Oh my gosh, we completely forgot about Conway!" Reggie exclaimed, looking panicked as he struggled to not allow his emotions to affect his ability to drive. "He must be worried sick looking all over for you by now, Paul!"

    While this was a topic Paul was dreading would come up one day… given the present alternatives, it suddenly felt a lot less daunting to admit to Reggie about the break-up rather than his terminal illness.

    "No… he's not, Reggie," Paul quietly denied. Even if this was the lesser evil, he was in no mood to talk at that moment.

    "What are you talking about? He must be!" Reggie countered, looking even more worried. "He's had to watch over you for a month and with you suddenly disappearing, why wouldn't he be looking around for you?"

    Paul couldn't help but sigh; it seemed as if this was as long he would be able to put it off. "He's not looking for me because he isn't here, Reggie," he finally revealed. "Conway was never with me in Snowpoint City. We went our separate ways well before I made it up here."

    "Huh…?" Reggie's voice was very hushed now; it was quite a shock to be told this. If Brandon hadn't shown up, Reggie would have found out that Paul was lying all along about Conway's whereabouts; his little brother turned out to be very poor at being convincing when telling anything but the truth. It was just Paul's good luck that Brandon's presence had Reggie completely thrown off track until now. Still, even if Reggie had suspected things weren't well between the two former friends, he thought that Conway would have at least held up his end of the bargain between them. "You made it up here by yourself, then," Reggie understood; that in of itself terrified him. "But why? What happened?"

    "Don't blame Conway," Paul requested first and foremost. Even if Paul was still sour at Conway, he knew it was only fair to admit that in spite of what happened, the break-up was entirely his own doing. "I'm the one who left him; not the other way around."

    It was then that Reggie saw it fit to pull over from the road and stop the van. The elder brother knew this was going to be a lot to take; Paul's nerves weren't the only ones rattled by today's events. Now that Reggie finally got Paul to talk, it was time to stop for a moment and take it all in… because he knew the circumstances must have been brutal if something like this happened. Once Paul realized they had stopped for this reason, he couldn't help feeling nervous all of a sudden. Of course Reggie wasn't going to take this well.

    After another period of awkward silence, Reggie finally faced Paul, looking completely serious. "Why?"

    The tone of Reggie's voice was indicative of one thing: he wasn't going to put up with Paul's usual nonsense. After so many controversial stunts Paul pulled over the years, he knew by now when not to mess around and blow Reggie off as he often did. The whole story would be required in order to properly explain his actions, and that's what Paul eventually decided to give: his recollection of the events preceding their breaking apart.

    Unsurprisingly, there was a frown on Reggie's face once Paul had spoken his side of the story. It was by no means a happy story, nor something to even remotely approve of Paul's actions for, especially once Paul referred to Conway's breakdown as "bawling like a spoiled crybaby".

    "You ought to be ashamed of yourself," Reggie darkly scolded. Paul was left a bit shaken and confused; he still thought his actions were justified. "Even after all this time, you're still so blind to the consequences of your actions…"

    "What do you mean?" Paul asked, almost feeling hurt to his brother's reaction. "He's… he's an unreliable traitor. He was-…"

    "He disappointed you," Reggie corrected; his tone sharp. "That isn't the same as turning against you."

    Paul glared back at him. "He promised me! I made him promise to not give that book up so easily… he swore to it, and he not only nearly give it away like an idiot, but he still ended up handing it over even after he realized what was going on! It's just like how you lost against the old man years ago…"

    "I didn't turn my back on you, Paul," Reggie argued. "Just because I lost to him doesn't mean…"

    "You broke your promise, too," Paul cut him off. His expressions showed that he was in no sort of forgiving mood. "When you told me you wouldn't give up until you defeated him… put him in his place. We both wanted that after seeing how much he changed over the years, didn't we?"

    It was difficult for Reggie to not flinch at those memories. "I… I know. I remember. And I'm sorry I couldn't follow through with that, but…"

    "But nothing," Paul interrupted again. "I trusted you and you let me down. You gave your word and then took it away just like that. You turned your back on me just like Conway did!"

    That was it; Reggie was sick and tired of holding back on Paul. Even if he was clearly overly-sensitive from the fight, he still had enough bitterness in him to act this crude. Due to this, Reggie wanted to set things straight… he could deal with the irrational actions of his brother as long as he was the only target. When others came into the picture… Reggie was determined to not let them share his pain.

    "Paul, that's enough!!" Reggie shouted, efficiently shutting his brother up. "I was hoping you'd figure it out on your own, but I can't let you treat people so unfairly! Conway's your friend…"

    "Was my friend," Paul bitterly corrected. He seemed to no longer have a problem admitting that he did eventually see Conway as a friend… however briefly he understood that at last.

    Reggie couldn't help suddenly grunting in frustration, but deep down he knew it wouldn't be easy to convince Paul of anything. "You've got to understand that we don't always fully understand our limitations," he urged, at least knowing Paul had a better chance of "getting it" if he got angry over this rather than downplaying everything as he usually did and plead with a smile on his face. "Back when I originally promised you, I didn't expect to be beaten so thoroughly by dad," he admitted. "And I didn't expect dad would show me why exactly I had no business being a trainer. I couldn't argue with him… if I had known of my own problems as a trainer before taking Brandon on… I wouldn't have made that promise, Paul."

    Paul, of course, wasn't going to instantly take Reggie's words for granted. "You can't do that," he muttered. "You can't just… flippantly make promises like that and not follow up on them…"

    "That's the point," Reggie emphasized. "I didn't make that promise without thinking it through… it was just something that never occurred to me, because I never focused that much on myself or my own needs… my whole world was you back then, Paul. In many ways, it still is."

    "What kind of excuse is this…?" Paul growled back.

    "The truth," Reggie retorted. He was completely sure of himself. "The point is… we never know what will become of ourselves in the future. Even if you feel completely sure, something along the way is going to surprise you. Some… more than others," he begrudgingly admitted. "We never intended to break our promises… but tell me, how was Conway supposed to expect that he would be assaulted by this mysterious group of people? How was he to prepare for the event that his cousin wasn't as great as he thought when there was nothing until then that showed signs of it?"

    While Paul was prepared for the scolding, he didn't expect to have to argue his case. The extent of which Reggie went to defend Conway was very unsettling for him. "That woman," he said with a hint of a growl in his voice. "Even after Conway saw that she wasn't up to any good, he still blew it. He admitted to letting that book go…"

    "Given the circumstances, you shouldn't have been so harsh on him," Reggie told his brother; his expressions hardened after considering what really happened to Paul's companion. The evidence was more than enough to tell Reggie that Paul wasn't exaggerating that, at least. "He just had a near-death experience right after being kidnapped and… what I mean is… it's way too much for anyone to take in at once… even you."

    Paul glared at Reggie after hearing that. "Don't excuse him for being weak!"

    "We all have our moments of weakness, Paul!" Reggie shouted back. "You had no right to judge Conway like that… much less abandon him when he clearly needed your help."

    "You really are taking his side…" Paul whispered, trying to hold in his anguish.

    It was hard doing this, especially after what Paul had been through, but Reggie simply couldn't let Paul think he was in the right to dump Conway in such a cold-hearted manner. "So you don't know where he is, I imagine," the breeder realized, now worrying of Conway's whereabouts. "You left him all by himself on a dangerous route…"

    "We weren't that far away from civilization," Paul clarified. "And Conway isn't like me; anything exciting or dangerous scares him to death, so he wouldn't have tried to pull any stunts like I have. He's probably back in Veilstone City by now; there's no way he'd want to stick around in a place like this."

    "I'd feel better if we got some confirmation," Reggie admitted. "His mental state must be so clouded by now… we shouldn't make assumptions."

    "That happened over a week ago," Paul reminded him. "If you're thinking of looking for him, forget it."

    Reggie shook his head. "You're right; he could be anywhere if it's been that long ago. Still, if he really is back home, I'd like to think he's tried to visit me or Maylene… I'm going to give her a call when we reach the Pokémon Center. I've been meaning to anyway, since she's stuck running the daycare all by herself…"

    The mere mention of Maylene made Paul roll his eyes. Even though he loathed talking about these subjects, it was an excellent way to get that devastating loss off his mind for a moment. "Keep it quick," he gruffly requested. "We have a lot of work ahead of us, don't we?"

    "We do," Reggie affirmed, finally smiling a little. "That's another reason why I need to call Maylene… to let her know what's up. It's been days since we last had contact, so she's probably worrying about me. Once we're done with that, you'd best prepare yourself for some intense training, bro."

    "For the full ten days, I assume," Paul figured. "But you're still rusty… are you really the ideal training partner for me, Reggie?"

    To that, Reggie smirked. "You'll just have to see. Until then, we-..."

    Words ceased to come out of Reggie, yet his mouth continued to hang open as his eyes widened. Paul was quick to notice the change in his brother's demeanor, but couldn't see anything ahead of them that would frighten his brother like this. "What's wrong?" he asked; unease being present in his tone.

    "Behind us…" Reggie uttered breathlessly as he pointed at the rearview mirror. When Paul followed his brother's gaze, his own mouth hung open as he caught sight of what horrified Reggie.

    It was none other than a dark, thick trail of smoke billowing high up with the below-freezing breezes into the sky. There was quite a bit of distance between the van and the presumed site of the source of the smoke. Despite that, it was huge and very noticeable, especially in the clear and bright daylight sky where the black smoke contrasted. As the smoke towered higher and higher over the northern Sinnoh region, theories of this oddity blazed past Reggie's mind.

    However, it was apparent that it couldn't have been anything normal and likely wasn't anything to just brush off. The Valhalla Plains past Snowpoint City were rather barren and devoid of any form of civilization aside from the Snowpoint Temple… and even then, the only permanent residents there were Maria and the Regis she spent her life watching over.

    "Reggie," Paul suddenly whispered, looking intently at the trail of smoke. "It's hard to tell, but… isn't that coming from around the area we just left?"

    Just like that, Reggie was terrified and overwhelmed with worries upon hearing that he and Paul were on the same wavelength, which only made his reasons to be concerned more credible. "I think you're right," Reggie said with a small gulp following. "And aside from the Snowpoint Temple and the Battle Pyramid, there's really nothing up that way that would warrant all of that-…"

    "The Battle Pyramid!" Paul suddenly realized. "Maybe… something happened to it…?"

    That's all the reason Reggie needed to turn his van right around and immediately speed off in the direction towards the massive pillar of smoke. Paul was shocked momentarily as the movements from the van swinging back into the direction they came from and Reggie flooring it afterward.

    "If something did happen, we're going to find out," Reggie grunted, looking very determined now; partially to hide away his overwhelming feelings of paranoia if only for his brother's sake. "Dad… might need our help. If he does, we're not going to let him down the way he did to us."

    Paul was not about to argue with him. He didn't want to vocalize it, but even though Brandon had just publicly humiliated him in battle, Paul was immensely concerned for his father's wellbeing. He hadn't forgotten those strange, yet-to-be-explained feelings of warmth and comfort that came with Brandon genuinely paying attention to him after their battle. The massive amount of effort Brandon put forth in conveying his constructive criticism was felt by his son. Paul didn't know what to make of it, but now his feelings for Brandon were more mixed than ever.

    Right now, though… this wasn't the time to reflect; this was the time to act. Paul was determined to do whatever it took to ensure Brandon's safety, even if he would never admit that.

    "We gotta… stop Regigigas and do it now!"

    Back at what was once the Snowpoint Temple, Brandon and the others continued to struggle to break free from the String Shot bindings that imprisoned their arms. Brandon steadily worked on trying to break the web substance by rubbing it against a rock, but he was finding that whatever String Shot was made of was much tougher than any ordinary web. His progress was steady, but slow… and "slow" just wasn't acceptable during a crisis like this.

    Ash continued trying to use his own brute strength to break himself and Pikachu out of their bindings, screaming things that firmly labeled him as Captain Obvious while doing so as if that would make a difference. Unsurprisingly, it didn't. Try as Piplup did, it was unable to snap apart the sticky, gooey strings that held its poor trainer in place. Dawn remained patient, but she was doubtful that she would be freed anytime soon.

    Brock and Maria watched on; both unable to do much given that they were both tied together, limiting their desperation options for breaking out. As Brock watched everyone's efforts and focused on Piplup especially, however, an ingenious idea struck him. But he would have to be crafty in order for it to work… the Top Breeder-hopeful knew exactly what to do.

    "Though still, if I must be tied up, it's great to be tied up with you!" Brock sung out, sounding dumb love struck as he often did whenever he was near a young woman. For this eccentricity to come out of nowhere during a very serious crisis, everyone's eyes were glued to Brock as the clueless Maria stared at him as best she could, a bit thankful that they were tied back-to-back right now rather than the alternative.

    Dawn was especially exasperated at this inappropriate break in the drama. "Brock may be a genius, but his timing can be the pits," she muttered.

    "Just hear me out, sweet Maria!" Brock begged, sounding especially desperate with his sing-song voice.

    Maria… had no idea how to address this at all. "Huh…?" She wondered if perhaps she was even more sheltered from the world than she initially thought.

    "The web of love that intertwines our romantic fate will stay tight and taut and never come undone…" Brock stated, as if he were reciting a poem from the generic book for helping desperate single losers. It was cheesy and easily grated Brandon's nerves, but before he even had the opportunity to shut the teenager up, a beam of light emitted through the web tangling up Brock's end. The sound accompanying it was very familiar: a Pokéball unleashing a Pokémon. In this case, it was none other than Brock's trusty Croagunk; one of the few Pokémon who regularly let itself in and out of its Pokéball without its trainer having to do a thing.

    Croagunk was out to do its daily duty… for the second time today; give Brock a good, swift Poison Jab to restrain him and his desperation for love.

    What surprised the others was that Croagunk's Poison Jab was the key to breaking a String Shot prison. Brock and Maria's bindings were shredded apart, effectively freeing the two and allowing Brock to fall flat on his face.

    "Not without a little coaxing," Brock continued, sounding strained from the pain and paralysis that came with taking a direct Poison Jab attack. Landing on his face on the ground probably didn't help, either. "Which Croagunk's so good at…"

    Goofy and absurd at Brock could be at times, Brandon had to commend the young man for finally finding a way to break free; by thinking out of the box, no less. "Brilliant ploy!"

    "Yeah, good thinkin', Brocko!" Ash congratulated. He was elated to see that all hope was not lost yet. It was times like this that made Ash quite thankful to have Brock available at his side for all these years.

    Dawn could only smile and chuckle awkwardly at the sight. It wasn't every day that Brock's skirt-chasing ways would actually benefit the group, after all.

    With the matter of the String Shot trap finally behind them, the group could re-board the mini-craft and continue their pursuit of the Regis by air. Though they'd still have to worry about dodging any wayward Hyper Beams or other attacks from the legendary golems, they were still far safer in their position above the Regis instead of below them.

    Brandon decided to check up on how things were going in his home vessel and used the communication system in the mini-craft to contact his assistant. "What's the Battle Pyramid's status?" Brandon asked Samuel, hoping his facility wasn't beyond repair. Not only would it damage his pride, but it would indefinitely damage his job.

    "I'll need a little more time to get it fully repaired," Samuel replied; the feedback was very low-quality, indicating that he indeed wasn't quite near fixing the Battle Pyramid's damages yet. Brandon accepted this; he was simply thankful that the Battle Pyramid would make a comeback after all.

    However, he intended to make every bit of use out of the help he had, including Samuel himself. "We're going to catch up to Regigigas by air," Brandon informed him. "Meanwhile, you get in touch with Officer Jenny and advise her to be on the alert."

    These were precautionary measures for the town the Regis were headed for. In the event that Brandon and the others couldn't stop them from reaching civilization, it was direly important that the citizens become aware of any impending threat to their home.

    "Sir!" Samuel understood his task very well. He too worried of what would come from this situation, as he never imagined it coming out quite like this. It was quite an extraordinary event… Samuel couldn't help but wonder if Scott and the rest of Kanto's Battle Frontier would believe this story whether or not Regigigas would be successfully captured.

    "While he does that, let's do what we can to stop Regigigas in the others before they start really causing problems," Brandon told the others, to which there was no objection. He looked to Ash and Dawn. "Kids, get your Pokémon ready… it's a sure bet we'll need to defend ourselves regardless of who our opponent is." That was just another way of saying that they needed to prepare to defend against the Regis as well as J, who was still lurking around out there and likely awaiting them already.

    Pokémon Hunter J herself, meanwhile, watched and waited with her troops at their assigned rendezvous point. Hearing the uncontrollable destruction on the horizon, J's men were alert. J's airship deactivated its cloaking device, only using it so as not to attract attention while waiting. Now it was time to use all power reserves for offense only; J knew there would be no other way to capture Regigigas otherwise.

    "Master J, we're ready to attack on command," one of J's henchmen informed her. "The target will arrive shortly; is there anything specific we should do in regards to capturing that Pokémon and dealing with its cohorts?"

    "Yes, as a matter of fact," J coldly replied; her real attention was only on her bounty. "Fire at the ground right beneath them when they appear." Her eyes narrowed. "Do not damage the merchandise no matter what."

    "Sir!" J's henchmen were good about following their orders precisely as they could. However, managing to pull this off without directly damaging Regigigas would be very tricky and extremely risky… but everyone had faith that J knew exactly what she was doing. This time, she really did.

    Two giant explosions on each side of the rocky cliffs creating a natural wall along the road J's troops were on (as well as debris from the rocks and dirt collapsing afterwards) signified the arrival of Regigigas and company. J looked up sharply and saw her prey approaching straight towards her.

    Within J's airship, the henchmen operating it could zoom in on their opponents from afar to see important details early. "Target confirmed," one said. "Regigigas and its subordinates are headed straight our way with no further interference in sight."

    "Excellent," J said to herself quietly. "So those pests may have been dealt with… then I can wrap this up quickly and collect the bounty." She looked to her men. "On my signal! Aim…"

    It was all a matter of timing now. Once the destructive group of four legends came just within the ideal distance of J and her troops, she thrust her arm forward towards her target. "And fire…!"

    All designated teams opened fire at the Regis, not caring to hit any of the three protecting Regigigas. As they were considerably smaller than their superior, the matter of taking them out of the equation along with aiming for the ground worked out conveniently. As expected, the three moving pillars retaliated and opened fire on their attackers all at once, aiming upwards towards J's airship. The ship's blast collided with the Regis' combined efforts and resulted in a massive explosion. As a side-effect, the type of blast that was fired at the Regis spread into multiple smaller laser beams that showered over the Regis and blasted through the ground, loosening it.

    With Regigigas being so much heavier than its subordinates, its weight made the ground collapse around its feet, effectively implanting the Colossal Pokémon and rendering it immobile.

    Seeing things going according to plan now, J moved on to the next phase of her plan. "Alright, liquid adhesive! Fire…!"

    From J's airship, a bright pink ball was fired straight at Regigigas. The blob promptly splattered all over Regigigas, who was still struggling to break free from the ground. One of its arms was close to the ground at that time, where a large amount of the liquid adhesive sprayed. As a result, Regigigas could no longer move it, making the left arm the only usable limb… and even then, Regigigas was held down so tightly that it was difficult to make much use of its limited movement. The liquid adhesive's color quickly bleached out to white, signifying that it had dried.

    At that time, the Braille-like signs on Regirock, Regice, and Registeel blinked red briefly before fading back to normal, signifying that Confuse Ray had worn off. All three were now back to their usual selves. However, this meant nothing to J other than the fact that it would be even easier to capture her prey if the three golems were no longer destructive and unpredictable.

    "Regigigas can no longer move," J acknowledged as she watched on, seeing the Colossal Pokémon's struggles growing gradually weaker. The liquid adhesive would not let up no matter what. However, it managed to make use of its one free arm as Regigigas struggled to raise it, using the last of its energy to fire a Hyper Beam directly at J's airship. It was a critical hit that severely damaging the aircraft, much to J's annoyance.

    "Hyper Beam hit us!" shouted one of J's men from inside the ship; J overheard this through her communicator. "Hard to stay airborne…!"

    "Get out of Regigigas' firing range," J ordered over the communicator. She no longer needed her airship for this operation anyway now that Regigigas was stuck in one place. The vessel managed to ascend safely out of range, as Regigigas barely had any strength left to resist its restraints, much less try to fire off another attack.

    This was the moment J had been waiting for. She was sure she had seen all there was to see from this Pokémon. "Now prepare to capture Regigigas!" she ordered, raising her voice to indicate that this was the critical moment; there was little to no room for error to be had here.

    "Yes sir!" all of her henchmen shouted. They took their positions while J and her Salamence flew straight towards the golems.

    Though Regigigas was spent, the others weren't entirely helpless. Even though Regigigas had forced them all to go berserk and destroy everything in their sight, they still felt the inherent need to protect their superior. J paid no mind to them, as Regigigas was such a huge target that it would be an easy shot to hit even with three guardians.

    J aimed her petrifying laser cannon straight at her target. "Try this!" she said with glee, finally able to fire at her bounty.

    Even if Regigigas had run out of surprises to bombard everyone with, there was still something that unexpectedly got in J's way: the other three Regis. Regirock went out of its way to take the blast for Regigigas, becoming the lifeless statue instead.

    It was at this point that Brandon, Ash and the others finally arrived on the scene in the mini-craft. They arrived far too late to interfere, and so Brandon had no choice but to watch the first legendary Pokémon he ever captured become captive to J's wicked methods. "Regirock, no!"

    Now that the aforementioned "pests" had not been dealt with as J had hoped, the Pokémon Hunter quickly grew frustrated as she took aim at Regigigas again, cursing its subordinates. "Get out of my way!" she muttered with a growl, firing another shot with her laser canon. This time, it was Registeel who took the dive – quite literally – by jumping straight into the beam's direction and following Regirock's example before crashing into the ground with a loud thud. Thankfully, it fell from a relatively short distance from the ground, hence did not suffer any irreparable damage upon impact.

    However, that made Brandon no less upset as he drove the mini-craft very close to the scene, watching his Registeel fall to the ground. Though Brandon knew of Pokémon Hunter J, he was not that familiar with her methods, much less the technology behind it. He wasn't even aware that this effect could be reversed, but only in a very specific way. From Brandon's point of view, he was certain he had lost Regirock and Registeel forever.

    "Look what's happened to Registeel…!" Dawn cried in horror. This truly was unpleasant for anyone to witness, even if they didn't own the victimized Pokémon.

    Ash was furious. "That's enough, Hunter J!" he shouted to her, though as usual this did nothing to help their situation. "Stop it!"

    "I don't think so," J smugly shot back, taking aim once more. She admittedly did enjoy seeing the ones who slowed her down this much being helpless and distraught while she had full control of what was going on. She fired another petrifying beam from her laser cannon, but unsurprisingly, Regice jumped up to take the hit itself like its brethren. Just like that, all three of Brandon's Regis had become lifeless, helpless statues in a cluster on the hard ground.

    "And now Regice!" Dawn exclaimed in pure horror. She hated how helpless they were to stop this from happening…

    Ash looked on at the scene, understanding at least what went down just then. "Whoa… they did what they did so they could save Regigigas…"

    Brandon very well knew that already. It was a noble sacrifice, but he was still overcome with despair. He couldn't even bear to look at the scene… had he known that it could end up like this, the Pyramid King would have had second thoughts about coming to Sinnoh to begin with. It had taken a lot of courage and persistence to last this long and keep himself professional without his emotions getting in the way, but now it was just too much. Brandon felt himself so close to having a nervous breakdown, which he hadn't had since the day his wife died, and because of that he was thankful for Dawn speaking up and getting his attention.

    "Look at Regigigas now!" she shouted, pointing down towards the scene.

    Brandon snapped out of it and followed Dawn's gaze. "Huh…?"

    Even though Regigigas was completely helpless, out of energy, and out of protectors, the Colossal Pokémon had paid attention to the sacrifices Regirock, Registeel, and Regice made to ensure its safety. Such noble and selfless acts struck Regigigas deep inside, effectively snapping its mind free of the rage that controlled it and caused all of the destruction. This was reflected in the dotted mark on Regigigas, which flashed red briefly and then faded away. Just like its subordinates, Regigigas was no longer consumed with rage.

    "Regigigas is getting less angry," Maria noted, sounding relieved even though they were still in dire straits. "It's regaining its self-control…"

    Brandon stared hard at Regigigas now; it was hard to believe, but it seemed both were on the same wavelength now. He could see why Regigigas was finally calming down; however upset it was, the legendary golem could not simply ignore the numerous sacrifices made for the sake of its safety.

    He understood why his Regis forfeited their lives now. It was all so very clear… it wasn't just because they wanted to protect Regigigas; it was also because they knew how badly Brandon, their trainer, wanted this Pokémon. The long and arduous months Brandon spent trying to find any sign of Regigigas, the sacrifices Brandon had made and the numerous risks he took that could have potential long-term effects … Regirock, Registeel, and Regice were aware of all of this. They wanted Regigigas in the family just as much as Brandon did. They showed their devotion to both Brandon and Regigigas by doing whatever it took to make sure Brandon still had a shot at his goal.

    "So… your true intentions are clear to me now…"

    It was touching, yet painful at the same time because Brandon was unable to properly repay them or reward their efforts. There wasn't even a guarantee that he would be able to capture Regigigas even if J could be defeated. And now all of this came at the cost of the precious Regis he had… it seemed this story was destined to have no happy ending. With no Regigigas, Brandon wouldn't be able to follow up on his promise to his sons, either. He felt that would be the point where they would finally cut ties with him for good.

    He'd have no Regigigas to show the Battle Frontier committee… so Brandon stood a good chance of losing his job. It seemed at this point that Brandon really had no more to lose. He hated just standing here and watching this; he couldn't bear to see Regigigas to fall to the same tragic fate as the others.

    But he did have faith in Ash and the others… if they had prior experience with J, Brandon knew they would find some way to take her down without needing his help. After failing this much, Brandon felt there was only one way he could make himself useful. Though normally a rational and down-to-earth man, Brandon had undergone too much emotional turmoil that he mostly withheld while keeping company with the others. But now, all of that restraint backfired. To prevent a breakdown, Brandon's flighty instincts kicked in at that very moment.

    "Regice… Regirock… Registeel…"

    Brock overheard Brandon's murmurs as he wondered to himself how Brandon was handling this situation. "Huh…? What is it, Brandon?"

    With the opposition stunned, J swooped in within a mere ten feet or so from Regigigas to take her bounty here and now. "I'm afraid it's all over," she gloated, aiming her laser cannon for what she hoped would be the last time…

    That was the moment Brandon's reckless instincts kicked in. He abandoned his pilot's seat abruptly, startling the others while climbing onto one side of the mini-craft. He at least had the foresight to give one final instruction to his allies before taking action on his own. "Alright, young man! Take the controls!"

    Ash and the others were stunned at this sudden turn of events. Brock quickly realized Brandon was referring to him and rushed over to Brandon's seat to pilot the mini-craft before it lost control.

    This was unreal; it was easy to see what Brandon had in mind, and even Ash thought this was going way too far. "But Brandon…!" he urged, flabbergasted at seeing such a serious and straightforward man about to do something completely insane.

    However, it was too late to talk Brandon out of it. Just as J fired the laser beam towards Regigigas, Brandon leaped off of the mini-craft and fell right into the line of fire, hollering out as loudly as he could.

    That would be the last sound to be heard from Brandon. He fell straight into the laser beam just before it hit Regigigas and inadvertently made history…

    … Brandon would be the first human to ever fall victim to J's petrifying laser cannon. It worked on a human just like it did a Pokémon; the Pyramid Kind was transformed into a lifeless bronze-colored statue. Afterwards, the petrified Frontier Brain proceeded to plummet towards the ground from a much greater height than which his Regis merely jumped. It really was a suicide dive, as Brandon would not have survived the fall regardless of whether or not he was a lifeless statue. However, it was Regigigas who made the save, reaching over to let Brandon land safely in the palm of its hand.

    Still, even if Brandon was saved from falling to his death, his life was still in jeopardy. Even Ash and his friends had never seen humans blasted by Jay's laser cannon, therefore they had no idea if a human would be able to handle the effects.

    "Oh no! BRANDON!" Ash cried out at the top of his lungs. He hated how even he was aware that he was utterly helpless to do anything about this. His hatred for J grew even stronger as he glared at her. "How could you…"

    As Regigigas stared at the statue – the human who saved its life – its marks emitted a calm and soft blue light; a stark contrast to the bold and bright red. It had never been protected by a human quite like this… so far, Regigigas' impression of humans was a rather bad one thanks to J. But what the Colossal Pokémon held was solid proof that humans were capable of being just as noble as Pokémon. Brandon essentially threw his life away for this creature's sake… and now that Regigigas was no longer consumed with fury, it could clearly understand this.

    Still, the revelation couldn't have come at a worse time. J was still right there in front of Regigigas, aiming her laser cannon once more. The onslaught of interruptions deeply annoyed her, but her persistence outlasted the determination to be free of most her bounties.

    "Regigigas…!" Maria cried out. "There's nothing left to protect it!"

    J tried so hard to not growl in frustration. "Meddlesome fools," she cursed. "But it's over now!"

    "It's up to us now," Brock told the others, steering the mini-craft towards the danger zone. "Brandon had you guys prep Pikachu and Piplup for a reason…" He looked towards Ash and Dawn specifically. "We're the last line of defense, so let's do this for Brandon and the others!"

    Ash nodded, looking to Pikachu, who understood the gesture and took its position on one side of the mini-craft. Piplup followed suit, taking the opposite side.

    "We gotta stop her," Ash understood. "No matter what! We've gotta be brave!"

    "Brandon's sacrifice can't be in vain," Dawn added, looking determined. "So let's do it!"

    Just before J could fire yet another petrifying beam, the mini-craft promptly zoomed right over to where she aimed. They reacted quickly before J would fire off a shot regardless.

    Simultaneously, Ash and Dawn issued their commands.

    "Pikachu, use Thunderbolt!"

    "Piplup, use Bubble Beam!"

    Before retaliating, J distanced herself from the group with Salamence. Afterwards, Salamence fired off a Dragon Pulse attack to combat Pikachu and Piplup's combined efforts. The attacks collided, naturally resulting in an explosion. However, Salamence's Dragon Pulse proved to be a vastly superior attack due to the seasoned Dragon Pokémon's strength and broke through the barrage – coming right at the unarmed group in the mini-craft. There was no way to evade taking damage and the others were terrified as they braced theirselves for what may likely be their demise.

    However, it was time for another surprise: Regigigas finally broke free from what impeded its movement; both the adhesive (which shattered from being so cold and dry now) and the ground which its feet were implanted under. It moved over in front of the mini-craft; Regigigas' massive size being more than enough to cover the air vehicle completely.

    While the others assumed Regigigas would simply take the attack for them, the downtime allowed Regigigas to significantly regain its strength so that it could be put to good use and actually deflect the remnants of Dragon Pulse and send it right back towards J and Salamence.

    It was a direct hit; J did not expect this turn of events at all. Salamence was brutally battered, as it was a super-effective attack. Even more, one of the wayward blasts specifically hit J's laser cannon and shattered it to pieces. She no longer had the power to capture Regigigas, much to her irritation.

    "Regigigas must be back to normal!" Dawn said with delight, also relieved that she wasn't blown into bits by that attack.

    "Yeah!" Ash agreed, glad to see things finally turning in their favor. "Brandon's feelings must have gotten through to it somehow!"

    That was indeed the case: Brandon's sacrifice brought forth the benevolent Regigigas known of in legends. His sacrifice wasn't in vain after all.

    In spite of this, J was not deterred. She had been interrupted enough by Ash and friends to make back-up plans for such an occasion. "On to the next phase!" she shouted to her henchmen. "Prepare to attack!"

    "Master J…!" a man's voice yelled; one of J's higher-ranked men. He ran over to her within hearing range as best he could.

    J looked down at him, hoping this was important to warrant interrupting her mission. "Hm?"

    "The clients have been scared off by all the commotion and retracted their request," he informed his boss. He had gotten the phone call no more than a couple of minutes ago. It was believable enough, given how much destruction had taken place since Regigigas' awakening and how loud it was; the sounds echoing all across the northern region.

    "What?" J couldn't believe she had gone this far, put all of this effort into her capture, and came so close… all for her clients to flake out on her? "Why those spineless fools…"

    It pained her to just turn around and leave the business unfinished, but as of now, there was no business to be had. Regigigas would be far too cumbersome to carry around until such a time that someone else might express an interest in it, so there really was no choice for J but to end it all abruptly. She wished she could take out her frustrations on her contractors, but knew due to their reputation that it would be a very bad idea.

    She knew it was only a matter of time before the authorities arrived to become an even bigger problem if they truly caused so much commotion. With that in mind, she turned around to face her troops. "Retreat!" was all she said, but that simple order did well enough to get J's point across. Pokémon Hunter J and Salamence, her airship, and her troops vacated the premises in under a minute; back into obscurity until their next assigned task.

    Ash was furious and wanted to chase her down and take J out once and for all, but even he knew there were far more serious issues to address at this point. He hoped today would be the day he'd see J behind bars, but her actions at the Snowpoint Temple made Ash all the more determined to see that the next time they cross paths would be the final time.

    For now, though… there was a serious matter at hand. Regigigas had been awakened and tamed, but it seemed to be at the cost of the lives of Regirock, Registeel, Regice, and Brandon. All four statues were gathered together in a cluster as Regigigas gently laid Brandon down on the ground. His furious expressions and gaping mouth as he had hollered just before being hit by the beam were still present on the statue. J's weapons truly were horrifying.

    Brock landed the mini-craft and everyone rushed out towards the group of statues. It was a depressing sight as everyone looked on, taking in the harsh reality.

    "Oh no, Brandon…" Ash muttered, full of sorrow. Brandon had been one of the toughest opponents he ever faced; his defeat made Ash Frontier Brain material; something not many other trainers can boast. It was a true milestone in Ash's life, and it hurt the young Kanto native deeply to realize he couldn't do anything to help the Pyramid King and his Pokémon this time.

    Dawn looked to Brock; the brain of their group. Whenever there was a problem, the Pokémon Breeder was there with some sort of home remedy to fix it. But it was obvious no home remedy would cure something like this. "Brock, isn't there any way for us to turn them all back to normal…?" Dawn asked anyway, ever hopeful that maybe the solution was right under their noses.

    "I don't know…" Brock was hesitant to admit this, but he couldn't pretend nor make light of the situation. He resisted a wince as he heard a hushed but terrified sound from the Coordinator. But he understood how she felt; everyone was sorrowful for Brandon and his Pokémon's fate.

    Even Maria had no idea how to make this right again. Still, she remembered that Regigigas was indeed right behind them and it was stable. If anyone could restore those brave souls back to normal… it would have to be the massive legendary golem itself.

    To everyone's surprise, Maria rushed over to face Regigigas and faced it. She looked up with pleading eyes… inherently the temple maiden knew Regigigas was their last hope. "Regigigas, forgive us, please!" she begged, knowing they weren't exactly in a position to ask anything of Regigigas after failing to protect it. "I'm so sorry we weren't able to protect your slumber. But please, they all did their best to save you, so save them!"

    She looked to the fallen heroes for a moment before continuing. "They honestly couldn't have tried any harder to save you; I swear it! Please help, Regigigas…" She took a deep breath, resisting the urge to cry. "Please help."

    Ash and the others watched on as Regigigas seemed to be communicating with Maria through blinking blue lights on its symbol in various patterns. It remained peaceful, though not even Brock could hazard a guess as to what it was saying.

    After a while, Regigigas finished and Maria smiled, apparently having understood it perfectly. Being one of the few in the world with in-depth knowledge of Regigigas came in handy here. "Thank you, Regigigas," she said graciously before turning to face the others. "Quick, everyone! Please stand back."

    There was no argument from anyone; they listened and followed through with her request. However, they were all quite stunned that Maria could actually understand Regigigas' communication.

    With the path to the statues cleared, Regigigas approached them slowly before getting into position. By concentrating its power, Regigigas invoked a soothing blue aura that consumed all of the statues. The details of this technique were quickly picked up on by Brock, who recognized the move Regigigas was using.

    "Regigigas is using Hidden Power…" he muttered, prompting Dawn to look up towards him.

    "Hidden Power?" she echoed, looking curious. "Isn't that an offensive attack, though?" Dawn had seen the move executed by various Pokémon several times during her journey, within Pokémon Contests, and even the Hearthome Collection Contest.

    Brock had to agree that it was a strange choice. "That's true, but with a vague name like Hidden Power, there's obviously more to it than just offense. It's not hurting Brandon or his Pokémon right now…"

    Dawn looked closely at Hidden Power's progress on the statues. "You're right about that, at least… I hope it'll work."

    Sure enough, within a couple of minutes, the statues were converted back into living beings. All four of them looked disoriented, as things were quite chaotic just before they were petrified. Suddenly, it was rather peaceful with no commotion, much less Pokémon Hunter J, in sight.

    "Hey, Brandon!" Ash greeted, elated that Regigigas was able to bring them all back to life. "Great to have ya back!"

    "Huh…?" Brandon was still mildly confused about where he was, but looked to Ash and expected him to have the answers… for once. He just then remembered what he was doing seconds before what was originally his untimely demise. "Where's Regigigas?" he asked, sounding panicked.

    Before anyone could answer, Brandon stood up immediately and rushed past his comrades to see for himself that Regigigas was not only alive and well, but peaceful at last. Brandon faced the gargantuan golem a mere few feet away and finally was delighted to see his goal right in front of his face. "Regigigas! Yes! You're alright!" he exclaimed, well beyond relieved that things seemed to work out after all, though Brandon still didn't know how.

    "Thanks to you, Brandon, and the kind insistence of all your Pokémon, Regigigas has returned to its gentle and normal self," Maria noted, so gracious to finally see the silver lining on the cloud that was today's events.

    "Great!" Brandon remarked, happy that his efforts really did make a difference after all. "And thank you, Regigigas." Even without having to be told, the Pyramid King knew somehow that this magnificent creature had something to do with his revival. A bond had been created between them; a bond that could not have formed under normal circumstances.

    Regigigas accepted Brandon's gratitude in its own unique way of communicating before glowing in the same blue light described by Maria in the legend. As the light intensified, the massive Regigigas reverted back into the orb it slept in and slowly descended towards the ground, landing gently as Regigigas' spirit once again took to its shelter to recuperate.

    Brandon approached the orb, kneeling down as it landed. He smiled gently towards the orb carrying the essence of what he so desired all this time. "Regigigas, I'm asking one thing…" he humbly requested. "That you'll entrust your future to me."

    The orb stopped glowing, signifying that Regigigas had officially resumed its slumber. Brandon picked up the orb, still smiling all the while. Everyone else was speechless, but this time in a good way.

    "Wow, Regigigas…" Ash muttered. "Even after all that, it still forgave us for not bein' able ta' protect it."

    "It's magnificent how you bonded with a legendary Pokémon," Maria complimented. "That is not at all an easy task… and I believe that's why Regigigas decided to hear me out when I begged it to revive the lot of you."

    Brandon nodded, looking down at the orb. "That was no small task… but I do feel the bond between myself and Regigigas. Evidently, my Pokémon already felt that bond well beforehand."

    Regirock, Regice, and Registeel all gave their confirmations to what Brandon believed. Upon seeing the remains of an ancient generation of their kind, all three of them felt the inherent need to take place of those fallen pillars and pick up where they left off. The Pyramid King was still so immensely relieved not only to be alive again, but having Regigigas out of J's grasp that he had not yet fully understood the long-term consequences of what transpired today. On that subject, Brandon felt he had best get up to speed on what exactly happened while he was a statue, because the hatred he felt for J quickly went beyond for the people he hated the most before these events took place. Out of everyone, he would be the least satisfied of the results.

    "It's too bad we had to let J get away again," Ash grumbled. "And man, they went out in a hurry."

    Brock agreed. "Even if we weren't faced with people and Pokémon to save, I doubt we would have caught up with them. Besides that, there's no sense on taking J out with a full armada when we're such a small group by comparison."

    "Well, for what we had going against us going in, I think this was the best we could've done," Dawn figured. "Especially when all of this was so short-notice. I wonder why J just took off, though. For all the trouble she went through in getting Regigigas awakened and making sure we stayed out of her way, she just seemed to stop all of a sudden and leave."

    However displeased Brandon was, he could figure why a Pokémon hunter would do this. "Perhaps some connections fell through," he supposed. "I did tell Sam to give word to Officer Jenny about the situation, so the whole town ahead of us is likely on high alert right now thanks to his efforts. Chances are her clients were nearby and realized they were a little in over their heads when they made their request."

    "One thing that troubles me is how some mysterious outsiders knew this much about Regigigas," Maria wondered out loud. "What happened today is exactly why I've done my best to suppress public knowledge of Regigigas. The Snowpoint Temple just isn't meant for handling vandals. And now it's gone…"

    Brandon scowled as he looked back down at the orb. "If I weren't tied down to so many obligations at this time, I would chase that woman to the ends of the Sinnoh region and the rest of the world if I had to."

    "Leave it to us," Ash assured. "We've had a habit of running into J a lot since I came to Sinnoh. Whenever the next time will be, we're finally gonna put an end to her group and we'll make sure to think of you when we face her head-on."

    Just like that, Brandon smiled wryly and resisted a laugh. Handy as Ash could be, it was laughable still to think of him putting J in her place on his own, especially when he outright admitted that he's yet to be successful despite running into her more than once before. "Just stay out of trouble, kid," he replied. "But do let me know if she's ever caught. It would be a great weight off my shoulders knowing she won't be able to cause these tragedies in the future."

    Ash simply smiled and nodded. "Definitely, Brandon."

    "I believe it will all turn out right in the end," Maria said. "Just as this situation seemed so hopeless not that long ago, and now we're all here alive and well." Her smiled faded just then. "With… the exception of the pillars."

    Even with this victory, everyone else began to realize what they had left now, however valiantly they fought to defend it. "That's right," Brock recalled. "The Snowpoint Temple is almost completely rubble now. And even if it weren't, J still destroyed the pillars first. So Regigigas will have to sleep without protection…?"

    The three Regis seemed to want to speak up in regards to this topic. What they insinuated made Brandon's eyes widen, yet he remained silent. The innocent Dawn smiled knowingly at the smaller golems. "Maybe it won't after all."

    "We'd best head back to the temple and make plans," Brandon suddenly suggested. He was going to need some time to let everything sink in, because from the sounds of things, in spite of his efforts… he was about to lose his Regis and fail to have Regigigas for himself anyway.

    No one much felt like sticking around the area they were presently in, so they all boarded the mini-craft and voyaged back to where all the trouble began.

    "… So just for the sake of professionalism itself, I would appreciate a reimbursement for all of the time, effort, and ammunition wasted in this assignment before it was withdrawn just as I was about to ensure the capture," a very irate J finished after a lengthy, but controlled tirade to the people… or rather, just one person now, it seemed, who made the Regigigas request to her in the first place.

    "How rude you of the newer generation can be these days to your elders," the person chided; his tone completely at odds with the heavy and serious manner of which J spoke. Still, it was a rather distinctive older man's, yet he didn't sound the least be intimidating or influential. "These days, the very idea of patience is thrown out and self-centeredness is so glorified. I suppose I can blame the media for your sake, though. You aren't that young."

    "Did you even hear a single word I said, old man?!" J shouted, having to deal with this man's mocking attitude both in the past and for the entirety of this conversation that she arranged once she was in a stable area, able to maintain her stealth. "Rest assured that I will inform your higher-up about your shenanigans, and he'll see to it you are punished and dismissed from your duties. Otherwise, if I'm commissioned by your organization in the future, I will not hesitate to raise my price and demand the money up front from now on. Is that clear, head scientist?"

    The man with quite literal rose-colored glasses rolled his eyes, continuing to smile and snicker. "Of course. Now just run along; take a long, hot bath… whatever soothes those aches and pains before I start making cracks about Prince Albert in the can that will soar so far over your head that my nostalgia will cry itself to sleep tonight."

    J wouldn't even dignify that with a response other than a disgusted and frustrated grunt before ending the call, prompting the older man to burst out into a barrel of laughter, smacking his knees with his hands as he tried to contain himself. Such a disturbing noise prompted a door to open, revealing none other than a perplexed and annoyed Saturn. He had been living a very comfortable life since returning back to the base after his cousin's funeral, making off with everything Conway ever had to his name that Conway himself couldn't take with him. He was in higher graces with Cyrus than ever and all finally felt right with the world… until he found earlier today that his cousin's computer was missing. Saturn hadn't finished pulling out every byte of data Conway held inside the console, so he had been making the rounds to find out who took it. Naturally, his first suspect was Mars, but much to his surprise she was clean, as was Jupiter.

    Saturn honestly couldn't see why he'd even bother, but head scientist Charon of Team Galactic was near to the last of his list, and lo and behold, there was the entire console right in front of the old man as he laughed in glee.

    "So this is where the personal computer has been all along," Saturn noted, much like J in trying to keep himself restrained and professional as best he could. Like many of his co-workers, Saturn definitely never went out of his way to interact with Charon, quick to find the old man insane. He did give Charon credit to being "more useful" than Mars to Team Galactic's cause, but stunts like this made Saturn regret ever giving that man a compliment. "Charon, I expect there's an explanation for this."

    Charon smirked and turned his head slightly, just barely locking eyes with Saturn as he suppressed his laughter. "Word through the grapevine is that you've extracted a valuable source of information not long ago," he said slyly. "How unsurprising that the rumors were true; you like to overachieve, do you not, Saturn?"

    "It pays off," Saturn dryly replied. "Now who were you just speaking with?"

    "That Pokémon hunter," Charon said, merely waving off the mention. "I believe her name is K."

    Saturn was taken aback. "Y-you… you used my cousin's computer to make an independent commission from Pokémon Hunter J?!"

    "You're right about overachieving," Charon noted. "But the brightest among mankind know the best time to overachieve is when the opportunity to take it from someone else arrives." He was completely unafraid to admit what he did. "However, I suppose I was a little overzealous once I saw just how enormous Regigigas was in real life. A thing like that could never fit anywhere in the Galactic base and it doesn't fit this place's image at all, would it? The irony of it all… an organization made to change the world adopting the legends of the old world? Then again… I wonder just how different it is from Dialga and Palkia. What with also being fabrications of this old world…"

    "This is why I wonder why Cyrus bothered to hire you," Saturn grumbled. "You can't so hastily compare something as simplistic as Regigigas to the gods of time and space. But… unlike them, I was under the impression that Regigigas was only a legend."

    "Hah!" Charon mocked. "You really ought to do more reading in your spare time, Saturn. It does the mind wonders."

    Saturn still didn't understand something, however. "I mainly targeted my cousin's belongings based on his knowledge of Uxie," he recalled. "He never said a single world to me about Regigigas. How did you discern that-…"

    "The legend may be historically factual?" Charon finished for him. "You haven't done a very good job of combing through everything digital in your cousin's name, Saturn."

    "I did look!" Saturn claimed. "I did not find one iota of Regigigas in a single file of his! I had weeks to do a thorough search!"

    Charon smirked. "You can store data in so many different ways these days, Saturn."

    "I checked his CDs as well," Saturn told him. "His flash drives, and even the obsolete floppy disks! Where are you fabricating this from? Did Mars put you up to this?"

    "So so paranoid," Charon patronized. "Oh, Saturn, who would go through so much trouble? Everyone knows it's the most fun to aggravate you directly." Saturn frowned flatly at that. "But you still are leaving out one critical source… the internet, boy."

    Saturn immediately looked defensive. "From what accounts of his that I am aware of… I saw nothing there, either," he said, certain that he had caught Charon in a lie now, but was sorely mistaken when Charon let out a brief laugh.

    "That's where your new-age laziness has betrayed you, boy!" Charon exclaimed. "I see, of course, the most obvious place to check first would be those web logs of his… or what your generations know as blogs, Saturn."

    "Of course I checked there first," Saturn said, not about to believe he missed something there. "I still saw nothing."

    "All that looking… all without ever actually signing on to his account," Charon teased. Again, Saturn was on the defense.

    There was something strange about the day he cleaned out Conway's room of its belongings. "Well… much to my surprise, I found no trace of a password book anywhere when I took everything of my cousin's from his home. As many accounts as he has, I assumed the logical conclusion was that the password book was with him while he was out," Saturn explained. Since he never could find Conway's body, it seemed Conway's accounts would remain safe. Normally, Conway did keep his password book at home, but it was one of the first things he thought to take with him while on his stealth mission during the funeral. He knew he'd have an upper-hand in his accounts' security unless Saturn resorted to hacking, of which Saturn was only an amateur at best. Of all things, this was where Conway's skills exceeded Saturn's own. It was just another reason to hate him, in Saturn's mind.

    "Then you should be glad to have someone like me to pick up where you failed," Charon said with a chuckle. "In his protected, private entries, Regigigas was mentioned quite frequently around a month ago. It seems it wasn't so much his business as it was a friend of his, but regardless he took notes for that friend by reading what appeared to be the only known factual book on Regigigas in the entire world. After seeing the sorry, shoddy run-down excuse for a safe haven called the Snowpoint Temple, it became clear why Regigigas information was so hard to find."

    Saturn just briskly nodded, unable to excuse himself for this. "Hence your motive to pursue Regigigas in the first place."

    "I thought it would be harmless fun," was Charon's excuse. "For the big mission we'll have to task that Pokémon hunter with in the near future, I found it ideal to keep her on her feet so that it's a certainty that she will get the job done. I've monitored her performance today… and she certainly has a right to brag."

    "Regardless, this ended up being a waste of valuable time and resources," Saturn spat. "Not to mention you pilfered my property without permission. You do realize you're getting written up for this."

    Charon simply smiled and shook his head. "You can go ahead and try, but that would be an unwise move on your part."

    "Your scare tactics won't work on me, Charon," Saturn countered, looking very agitated now. "By the time I finish reporting to Cyrus, I expect that computer back in my quarters or else."

    "Such a mature threat," Charon teased. "But of course, what choice do I have? Do what you must, Saturn. Soon enough, you'll see…"

    Saturn's eyes narrowed; he was sick of listening to this old man and endured it far too long, in his opinion. Like J, Saturn wouldn't dignify his co-worker with a response and slammed the door shut, immediately heading to Cyrus' office to file a complaint. Charon was in no hurry to return the computer, still. He simply looked to his computer, monitoring various areas of the Sinnoh region.

    "Indeed, it's only a matter of time before the fun begins," Charon said to himself. "Northern Sinnoh as a whole is quite interesting, indeed. Lake Acuity… Regigigas… and of course, Mt. Coronet." The head scientist smirked. "The findings I'll make here will cancel out every little whine that child makes to Cyrus." He started to laugh again. "It will only get more fascinating from here on out scientifically… and in the end, that's all that matters."

    Indeed, in due time Team Galactic would be scouting the northern parts of the region for various reasons. But little did any of them know… they would be met with company along the way.

    It was nearing sunset once Brandon and the others reached the crumbled remains of the Snowpoint Temple. The pedestal that held the orb of the sleeping Regigigas had to be moved to one of the few chambers of the temple that wasn't completely totaled. All the while, Brandon had been thinking long and hard about what was about to happen… or rather, what was practically expected of him by this point. Even if this wasn't his fault, Brandon was going to be the one who paid the price for today's travesty. Though Brandon tried to think of every possible way to get out of the responsibility, maintain his Regis and keep Regigigas for himself, the Pyramid King was consumed with guilt at the thought of making off with all of that, leaving Maria to deal with the shambles of the temple she spent all her life protecting.

    Brandon often thought back to the moment where he was mere seconds away from claiming Regigigas as his own in a manner that wouldn't bring about the guilt. All that went back to the anger he felt for J, the one who ruined that one and only opportunity to achieve the original goal.

    But now things were different. Brandon couldn't bring himself to just leave after this. Maria wouldn't be able to rebuild the temple on her own and start over just the same as before. She was going to need help… a lot of it… and the temple by no stretch of the imagination would be able to be restored overnight. He couldn't make off with Regigigas, disturbing its slumber for his own personal reasons; especially after it went out of its way to save Brandon's life. In a way, Brandon was glad his sons weren't there to witness that. Samuel couldn't have been more right about the moral boundaries surrounding the entire matter of Regigigas. It was one of the most difficult decisions Brandon ever had to make; most of the time, he wasn't one for letting outside influence affect his decisions, much like Paul. Brandon's "my way or the highway" attitude defeated the determination of almost everyone who tried to fight against it.

    This, however… this was entirely different altogether. The bond formed between Brandon and Regigigas had a drawback, as it was their connection that made Brandon realize that it wouldn't really be right to just take Regigigas away. Even if he was probably the best candidate to care for it and especially now would be a better option to ensure its rest would never again be disturbed, Brandon thought back to the legend and couldn't forget that the original set of Regis protecting their leader had been destroyed with no hope of being restored.

    Regirock, Regice, and Registeel were way ahead of their trainer in that respect. They had all agreed to follow the legend and become the new pillars… meaning they too would be staying at the Snowpoint Temple indefinitely. Brandon was stuck in a position where he'd be gaining nothing and losing everything. But he wouldn't allow himself to show his conflicted nature in public; especially not to Maria.

    As Brandon, Ash, Brock, Dawn, and Maria stood before the pedestal, the eldest of the group laid the orb back on the cushion, officially bringing it back to a full resting state. His Regis were already in position precisely the way his predecessors were placed. This was hard, and it went against everything Brandon worked so hard for… but like Paul, today Brandon had been taught a great lesson of humility… something that hadn't truly come to him in many years.

    "Well, I guess this is the best we can do for Regigigas for now, right?" Dawn assumed. "At least the temple wasn't totally destroyed…"

    Brock nodded in agreement. "It's a shame… I can't imagine how long it would take to restore this temple."

    Ash looked to Brandon curiously. Something about the Frontier Brain did seem off to Ash, but like most oddities, he shrugged it off. After all, the man had been turned into a statue earlier today. Ash figured that might mess anyone up at least a little bit. "So what now, Brandon?" he asked. "You goin' back to Kanto now that you know the legend's true?"

    The mere mention of Kanto was like a nightmare for Brandon now. Letting go everything he worked so hard for was bad enough… thinking of how to answer to Scott and the other Frontier Brains was just too much now, even for him. He vehemently shook his head on reflex before realizing he needed to finally make a decision here. Even with the battle over with, Brandon remained the de facto leader of this particular situation.

    "One day, I will have to return," Brandon understood. "But right now, there's something more important to do. I've made my decision… I'm going to rebuild this temple so Regigigas' slumber will never be disturbed again," he said with a heavy heart. It was so difficult trying not to sound bitter about the way things turned out.

    He looked to his Regis, and though he smiled, deep down both Brandon and his Pokémon knew how forced that smile really was. "And just like the legend states, I will have Regirock, Regice, and Registeel become the three guardian pillars that will protect Regigigas forever."

    Forever… was such a long time. Brandon didn't even want to think about how his life would be like several years from now, just letting his Regis spend the rest of their days in a cold, distant temple. It seemed so wrong… but Brandon knew it was the right thing to do, given what happened. He wanted to honor the fallen pillars of generations long past the current. There was no other way to do it…

    "Brandon, thanks!" Maria was immensely grateful for Brandon's contributions and loyalty. She was worried sick of how she would handle the loss of her temple by herself, but Brandon's mere presence made her feel secure and certain that it would all work out in the end. And still, Brandon was ashamed that Maria thought so highly of him, not knowing that the Pyramid King was much more self-centered than he made himself out to be.

    However, Brandon was enough of an adult to know even he couldn't restore the Snowpoint Temple all on his own. Regardless of the tension with Maria, Brandon was going to need her help; at least they had the same goal in mind now. He looked to the temple maiden, pretty sure of what he answer would be, but just for the sake of making it solidly understood, he asked anyway. "Maria, will you work together with me to protect Regigigas' slumber?"

    He extended his hand towards an awed Maria, who shook his hand without hesitation. No doubt she was filled with delight in knowing she wouldn't be alone on this. "Yes, I'd be honored to!"

    "What about us?" Ash offered. "I mean, we've been in this together this far. I wouldn't mind helpin' out, 'cause it'll still be a big job with just you two, huh?"

    To that, Brandon laughed before playfully knocking Ash on the head. "Young man, I believe you have something else to prepare for! Keeping you here would cut into the training you'll need to be doing for the next ten days."

    "Oh, shoot! I forgot!" Ash cried out. "I have to battle Paul at Lake Acuity…!"

    "Guess we shouldn't put that off," Dawn figured. "Still, I feel bad just leaving you guys here to do all this hard work…"

    Brandon merely shook his head. "Enjoy your youth – all of you – I can assure you that you've done more than your fair share of saving the day."

    "In that case, we'd best settle in for the night," Brock suggested. "It was great seeing you again, Brandon. I know you'll do a great job restoring this place."

    "Same here," Ash added, looking to the orb. "Guess we have to say bye to the Pokémon, too. I'm glad for you, Regigigas."

    Dawn nodded, smiling sweetly at the orb. "You sleep soundly from now on."

    "Right…" Brock calmly agreed.

    Brandon nodded to all of the brave, valiant children who helped him today. "That town that was in danger… I believe that's Silver Hills Town. That should be an ideal place for preparing for the upcoming battle and it has a train station that will take you straight to Lake Acuity."

    "Well, I know where I'm spendin' the next ten days!" Ash said adamantly. "Thanks, Brandon. It really was great seeing ya again; thanks for lettin' us watch the battle and help ya out."

    Dawn bowed respectfully. "It was a great honor to meet you."

    Brandon and Maria saw them out, waving goodbye to the trio until they were out of sight, bidding their thanks and farewells all along the way. Brandon knew he was fond of those kids for a reason. All the same, it relieved him that they were finally gone. It was nearly twilight by that time, and things were suddenly (and rather uncomfortably) quiet.

    Just when Brandon thought he could finally have a little privacy to mull over today's events, a glaring set of headlights illuminated the dreary area. A motor was running furiously and tires were heard smashing through the snow. Brandon and Maria turned around, soon faced with a certain van that had been going at full speed for quite a while now. As soon as the van was close enough, it stopped abruptly. The engine and lights remained turned on while certain familiar figures poured out of the vehicle and ran straight for Brandon, whose reaction was only shock.


    That strangled, desperate cry came from Reggie, of course, who quickly embraced Brandon while catching his breath. Paul had initially come running out, but stopped short as his much faster brother reached Brandon first. Samuel also came out of the van, but he was considerably calmer given that he had a better idea of what went on.

    "Y-you…" Brandon was almost speechless. "How did you…?"

    "We saw the smoke trail from the Battle Pyramid!" Reggie sputtered. "You had to have been in danger, and-… and-… are you alright?!"

    To that, Brandon smiled calmly. Maria was a bit in shock, as she remained unaware that those kids she saw earlier that day were actually related to the Pyramid King right until that moment. Brandon noticed Paul standing a few feet away, obviously at a loss for words himself. But for once, Brandon could see genuine concern from his second son's gestures… and he felt warm inside acknowledging that even Paul couldn't hide his true feelings in these kinds of situations.

    "Never better," he finally said to Reggie. Brandon wanted to believe that, but just as it warmed his heart to see his sons running back to him out of love and concern, the future consequences of reality's harshness came crashing back down… as the Frontier Brain realized what today's events could mean for the future of his own kids. "But…"

    Brandon rested his hands on Reggie's shoulders, straightening him out and giving him a hard look before briefly turning to give Paul the same gesture. All this time, he had withheld the entire truth of what his return to Sinnoh meant… namely the fact that his job was possibly on the line. While Reggie had already found out through Samuel, Paul remained none the wiser. Those consequences were the last thing on Reggie's mind as well; all he cared about was that his father was alive and well. But he calmed down once Brandon gave him that look.

    Reggie was familiar with that look. He'd seen it a few times before from Brandon… and he could already predict what his father was about to say.

    What Brandon actually said was right in line with Reggie's thoughts: "My sons… we need to talk."

    ( TBC )

    Chapter 19: Black Ice Battle!
    plurk | SPPF | dA | ff.net

  13. #73
    Rocking the Lucario Thundagere's Avatar
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    Default Re: Travels of the Trifecta! (Anime, PG-13)

    Oh gee. You left it at that. That is so annoying.
    Great chapter as usual. I'm a little overwhelmed, but it's very well written and enjoyable. I just hope you'll add in Paul's training.
    Captain Obvious...lol.

    Made by Blue Dragon!

  14. #74
    Registered User Andre27's Avatar
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    Default Re: Travels of the Trifecta! (Anime, PG-13)

    Nice read. I bookmarked this topic since i keep forgetting the link to this forum.

  15. #75
    Shooty Refutey Crysta Blade's Avatar
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    Default Re: Travels of the Trifecta! (Anime, PG-13)

    Well, would you look at that! I get distracted again and suddenly another chapter! But first...

    And for future reference, I'm totally A-OK with really long reviews.
    Well, that's just given me a licence to go nuts. =P

    For those interested, do check out the first post on this thread as I've made some small additions, including a new fanart (I'm still on my knees and bowing as we speak) and finally a link to Trifecta's timeline in accordance to the anime.
    Ooh, I'll be looking at those when I get a chance.

    They really could not have come up with a shittier excuse for Ash to lose this time around, because when it comes down to it, it doesn't mean anything, as this clearly isn't fair to anybody. I can forgive Brandon for it since he's an explorer and probably worked hard enough to earn his Regis - not to mention the Frontier Brains can be pretty hax in the games so Brandon's following his job description well.
    Oh, I am so over the 'and suddenly, a better Trainer comes out of nowhere and is now BFFs with Ash!' storyline. Once, fine. Twice, also fine. A third time, starting to get old. A fourth, with Pokémon the stuff of mythology to boot? Oh, come on! Why, writers!? Especially for me since I was like 'you've gotta be kidding me, right?' when Brandon first pulled out Regirock. I'm just that uncomfortable with legendaries in the animéverse, I guess.

    These are theories that will become very useful when it comes time for Brandon to figure out what to do after his failure in chapter 16. I've had a rather morally terrible idea in the back of my head as an alternative, but for now I'm keeping an open mind.
    It'd just be nice if they were concrete on which legends have multiples or not (some being unique are a given, like Mewtwo and Deoxys). Although, I'm sure Brandon would appreciate it if there were another set of golems. And a terrible idea, you say? I'm listening...

    It'll be even worse when Conway learns of Kenny's existence through Barry (and yeah, that's totally gonna happen).
    A decent use for Kenny? Never thought I'd see the day!

    Yeah, Barry's definitely got a few inches over Ash and yet he acts like a total newbie through and through, so I guess one could say he just started his journey later or just never got good enough to actually beat Gyms until this point. I've actually given most of the primary Trifecta characters birthdays and ripped them totally off from Sailor Moon. Not sure if they'll ever be an element in the story beyond Reggie's... but perhaps.
    I suppose either theory is valid. It only caught my attention because my mind went 'what? B-But Dawn's ten, isn't she...? How is not being matchy-matchy possible!?'

    You've given some characters birthdays? Ahaha, I do that too! And surnames. Normal hobbies? What're those? Fair enough if they have no real relevance; Sailor Moon had the girls' birthdays all over the place, yet they were somehow in the same year level. *shrug*

    Well, now I know what to make Barry in the 25-years-later Epilogue if not a future Tower Tycoon. XD
    It just fits so well, don't it? =P

    Yeah, that was an in-joke to my initial reaction to when I first watched Barry's Busting Out All Over!; there are many words one could use to describe Dawn, but "geeky" is not one of them,
    Bit of trivia: I remember hearing when that episode was still in Japanese that she was described as 'that uncool Trainer'. Again, you'd be hard-pressed to make a case for that.

    Ohhhh yeah. I'm alright with Zoey as a character, but she had a lot of potential that the writers of the show honestly didn't take advantage of enough. But what I always really liked about Zoey was that her range of interaction was not limited to just Dawn. Made her seem more real in that respect. I also sorta like FireRedshipping, ahaha. Hence why I plan on using her again (as well as Candice) come chapter 24.
    Yeah, it felt like the writers didn't really know what to do with her and that's why her character seemed so...two-dimensional? Is that the right term for it? But her interacting with others outside of those she normally dealt with did help. We could always do with more of that in this series. And we'll being seeing more of her and Candice? Sweet!

    A lot of people seemed to enjoy that bit, so I'm glad. I almost worried people thought it would have been out of place to discuss it while the characters were conversing,
    No, no. I think it fit well. It's still something I'm pondering now. Also, noting that 'even a standard-issue starter species doesn't always make things a breeze' has showed up in BW already, so that's a nice bonus.

    But for a story like this and knowing Brock's family background, I thought this story would be perfect for making him truly relevant. And it's true; he's had some very poignant moments with Paul, however few there were. Brock was always the one who would force important exposition out of Paul, so in future chapters I hope to keep Brock up to speed on this little family scandal.
    It's good that you're trying to do Brock justice; I felt he was a dull relic that had very little justification to still be on the main cast.

    Ohhh yup, this is going to be a rather large plot point, but that goes without saying. The whole "dying" stuff is already daunting enough, but to be going four years as a Pokemon Trainer and suddenly realizing that you've been purely motivated by revenge and nothing more, then I imagine Paul's going to be completely confused and have no idea what to do with himself since, as it was said, Paul doesn't have that inherent love for Pokemon like his brother does. Finding a reason why he works with them at all is going to be a nightmare for him; even I'm struggling to get a solid reason for him established, whenever the hell he figures it out.
    Especially since he had already just started as a Trainer before his main motivation came into play. All I've got for him becoming a Trainer in the first place was 'my brother's one, why not me, too?'

    Thanks for all that insight! ♥ Totally made my week.
    Aww, thanks! I do what I can!

    Now for more ramblings! And to continue that cliffhanger!

    "What happened?" Ash asked, not one to be left out in incidents that had nothing to do with him, of course.
    Pfft. Nice little dig at him, there.

    See, kids, when you're an ancient temple, you're bound to have the odd investigation or invasion here and there.

    Yeah, it really was unfortunate that the news of Snowpoint Temple's invasion arrived after four Trainers left the scene. It's always the 'what-ifs' that make you wonder, eh?

    Ahh, mythology. 'Scuse me while I get distracted.

    These indeed were dark times suddenly coming upon the Pyramid King; he wasn't sure how he would feel if his petty grudge match with Paul actually prevented him from getting what he came to Sinnoh for in the first place.
    There's not gonna be an easy way out of this one for Brandon, is there?

    Dawn was getting confused; the story she just heard from Maria was said to be a legend, yet Brandon seemed to think that legend was undeniably true without saying why.
    Dawn clearly hasn't heard of the 'all legends/mythology are 100% true' thing.

    One would imagine there'd be a set of the golem trio in Hoenn, though I'd wager they only showed up in animéverse Kanto just because they moved the Battle Frontier there.

    Now I'm wondering where shrines for the golem trio could be in Kanto. Hmm...

    Sometimes it was hard to believe this boy actually defeated him in battle...
    I doubt you're the only one, Brandon.

    Good to see both J and Brandon's reputations noted.

    Even if this was a place that Brandon would be interested in, J assumed they were in the clear from at least that threat simply because they were in a different region. This was a most unpleasant surprise, indeed.
    A dangerous assumption to make when said threat has a flying pyramid.

    These were hard-hitting attacks in their own right; from a massive number of Pokémon, unarmed targets would be killed on sight within seconds.
    Thank you for acknowledging that some Pokémon attacks aren't something you just walk away from.

    And down the pyramid goes. Ouch.

    Ash and the others affirmed that they were. Dangerous missions and crash-landings were nothing new to them.
    I just love this line. It's easy to forget how often Ash and his friends get into the riskiest of situations.

    It was a pity a certain son of his never considered this philosophy to be vital to his life.
    Heh heh, having a dig at that certain son never gets old.

    Mini-craft is a go. As is water and electricity.

    J also recognized this as the source of Regigigas, though even she wondered how such a gargantuan golem could come from a relatively small jewel.
    Maybe it runs on the same principle as a Poké Ball.

    This was where having a loud, booming voice came in handy;
    This made me laugh. I wouldn't be surprised if people over in Snowpoint City itself heard his shouting.

    Ah, here we go. The moral quandary. I like seeing this touched upon. How often have we seen the 'disturbing legendary Pokémon = unpleasantness for all in the form of everything going to pot' scenario come up, anyway? All I can think of is the second movie.

    Y'know, I never equated destroying the pillars with killing that golem trio. Oh my gosh...it's too much of a cost to awaken their leader...

    Of course, a rampaging Pokémon wouldn't be complete without Ash begging for it to stop.

    Rocks fall, but everyone survives.

    Bam, there goes the temple. What a mess...

    Ash's optimism is refreshing in a way, isn't it?

    Despite my uneasiness on legendaries in a Poké Ball, attemping to catch Regigigas is totally justified in this case.

    Ah, yes. I don't think anyone completely knows how Poké Balls function.

    That was a clever plan, though, Regice freezing Regigigas as Regirock and Registeel held it down. Sometimes the best course of action isn't always the one that's the most painless.

    Goddammit, J. Crash the party, why don'tcha.

    Confuse Ray? Oh, bugger. At least J will retreat for now.

    And Maria just happens to get tied to Mr. Lonely. Marvellous, innit?

    Everything's hitting Brandon at once, isn't it? You can't help but feel sympathy for the man.

    Meanwhile, Paul isn't getting through the rest of the day without facing question after question from his brother.

    And Reggie pulls over. Uh-oh.

    Quit while you're ahead, Paul. You're only making it worse. Though it does say something about him if he equates failure with betrayal.

    Reggie snaps, and who could blame him? If I had a little brother like Paul, I would be a lot less patient.

    "You've got to understand that we don't always fully understand our limitations,"
    I think we could all relate to that.

    "We weren't that far away from civilization," Paul clarified. "And Conway isn't like me; anything exciting or dangerous scares him to death, so he wouldn't have tried to pull any stunts like I have. He's probably back in Veilstone City by now; there's no way he'd want to stick around in a place like this."
    Oh Paul, why so blasé?

    Aw, just as things get happier, the temple collapses. How inconsiderate. Off they go, then!

    Aha! That unfamiliar feeling's back again!

    Back to the temple now.

    Ash continued trying to use his own brute strength to break himself and Pikachu out of their bindings, screaming things that firmly labeled him as Captain Obvious while doing so as if that would make a difference.
    Bahaha! It's what he does best! Speaking of which...

    a bit thankful that they were tied back-to-back right now rather than the alternative.
    ...oh my.

    Maria... had no idea how to address this at all. "Huh...?" She wondered if perhaps she was even more sheltered from the world than she initially thought.
    No, no, Maria. Not having to deal with weirdos is a good thing. Especially if one of those weirdos is a guy who has a unhealthy obsession with love for his age.

    'The generic book for helping desperate single losers'? Pfft. Ain't that the truth!

    My god, Brock. Whatever happened to you that made you so desperate for a girlfriend? Could've been interesting if it was covered in canon... That aside, this was a Crowning Moment of Awesome for him.

    Time to continue the chase!

    That must be one hell of a liquid adhesive.

    I wonder what the technology behind J's petrifying laser is like. It sure is strange.

    Emotions are running high, and this'll be bittersweet for a short while. For now, time to let J have it!

    Hm, I wonder who J's contractors are. Would've been nice to know.

    He hoped today would be the day he'd see J behind bars, but her actions at the Snowpoint Temple made Ash all the more determined to see that the next time they cross paths would be the final time.
    Don't you worry. Soon J won't be causing anymore trouble. Heh.

    Good, things are looking up.

    Brandon was still mildly confused about where he was, but looked to Ash and expected him to have the answers... for once.
    Ahaha, you know things are strange if that's who you look to for answers.

    "Just stay out of trouble, kid," he replied.
    Oh, please. You do realise who you're talking to, right?

    Ooh, hello. You're showing us J's contractors! Hang on, I think I recognise that manner of speaking. Could it be...?

    You aren't that young.
    Oh, snap!

    Rose-coloured glasses? Pluto! Or Charon, I suppose, but I like to call him Pluto.

    Running out things to say here, I'm just going with flow. God, you write Pluto well.

    Okay, so Saturn hasn't heard the 'all legends are 100% true' thing either.

    I can't imagine what else Conway's blog would have. On second thought, maybe it'd better if I didn't know...

    Oh yeah, the temple's still ruined. And Brandon's long-term future is still uncertain.

    All's well that ends we-- Just a minute, enter Reggie and Paul. And Sam, too.

    It's been a long day for all concerned, and it's gonna be a long night for Brandon.

    Now then! I oughta finish up for now. Thank you very much for this installment! 'Til next time!
    Last edited by Crysta Blade; 2nd December 2010 at 08:13 PM.

    Dangan Ronpa avatar and sig pic by me. Bases from here.
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