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Chapter 23 - The Semi Finals - Ash vs Max!
Attention semifinalists, your match will begin in 10 minutes. Please prepare yourself and advance to the main stage.
“All right guys… This is it.” Max stated solemnly, nodding at the group of Pokemon standing with him in his dressing room. Here stood his most precious and most powerful Pokemon (save Absol of course), ready for the fight of their lives. His Blastoise punched his scaly fists together in anticipation as his Ampharos crackled with lightning. Meanwhile, his Ditto was hopping up and down shrilling its name. Hovering close by, Max’s Lunatone calmly nodded, just as determined to win despite its calm demeanor. The only ones that didn’t seem quite certain were Max’s old starter Grovyle and the youngest addition to his team. With Absol unable to fight due to her strange and sudden illness, Max had made the tough call to replace her with his only other dark type, a young and eager Umbreon.
Umbreon – as an Eevee - had been a gift from May. She had just set up a small business breeding Eevees, with her own Glaceon and Gary Oak’s Umbreon. The combination of a contest-winning mother and a League-rate father produced some excellent offspring, and Max’s Umbreon was a prime example. Really, the only reason Max had picked Absol in favor of Umbreon was because Absol had been with him longer and was more experienced. Max was confident that Umbreon would eventually get enough experience to surpass Absol, but right now he was still young and wet behind the ears.
“As you can see, we’ve got a new member in the team today!” Max introduced the dark eon subtly. “I’m afraid Absol won’t be fighting with us today. That’s because, earlier last night, she got ill…” this immediately caught Grovyle’s attention, who was already nervous since he noticed the absence of his mate. Max easily noticed Grovyle’s nervousness and he was quick to cut it short. He needed his whole team at its best and that definitely included his trusted starter.
“Grovyle! I know you want to go see Absol, but trust me… She’s in good hands!” Grovyle looked at him with a single yellow eye, hissing lowly as he seemed to be stuck between staying with his trainer and busting out to find Absol, wherever she might be.
“GROVYLE! Absol is being treated by the best doctors they have around here! Trust me, if I had my way I’d be there with her now, too!” Max confessed, grabbing Grovyle by the shoulders and forcing him to look him in the eyes.
“But we have a semi-final match to win here! Absol wouldn’t want you to worry about her, would she?” Grovyle continued to hiss, but he switched to staring at the ground as Max’s words started to get through to him.
“Gro-…” he mumbled, which Max took to mean “no”.
“That’s right… She would want you to give it your all, and win this match, right?!”
“Gro!” his starter snarled, flexing his arms as his eyes seemed to shine in determination.
Suddenly, a soft knock was heard by the door, and one of the tournament officials came in, signaling Max that it was time to go. Determined, the young trainer nodded and returned his Pokemon to their Pokeballs before following the official to the battle arena.
When Max walked out into he was greeted by thunderous applause from the people in the stands as well as the sweltering heat of an August morning. It was an absolutely scorching summer day, with temperatures already at 30 degrees at 11 in the morning. That, coupled with the semifinal battle he was facing told Max that today would be a tough day indeed.
Arriving at the center of the stadium, he stood face to face with Ash Ketchum.
“Alright twerps, erhm-… I mean, gentlemen! Let’s put up a good show, shall we?” Meowth hastily corrected himself, standing beside them with his mic in hand and sunglasses on his head.
“Old habits die hard, huh?” Ash snickered as he shook hands with Max.
“They sure do, Ash…” the feline agreed. With a flick of his paw, his microphone activated and he shouted to skies. “Ladies and gentlemen! Welcome to the first semifinal battle of the tournament! Today, we find the brutally skilled and determined Ash Ketchum from Pallet Town on the left, let’s give him a hand!”
The stadium exploded in cheers and Ash smiled back at the crowds, shielding his eyes with one hand as he waved with the other. It took him a few seconds, but he finally located May, Dawn, Zoey and Iris, as well as his mother, Professor Oak and Tracey, cheering him on. He noticed for a brief second that May wasn’t cheering. Instead, she was sitting there with a worried expression on her face and her hands wrapped around her shoulders. He couldn’t afford to dwell on it for long though. He had a match to win and getting distracted could proof disastrous.
“And in the right corner, the ‘Pokemon Prodigy’ of the competition, with sixteen years of age the youngest competitor to enter the tournament: Max Maple!
Again, the crowd exploded into cheers and Max laughed as he waved back. Despite the heat, all the encouragement from the crowd did wonders for his mood. He spotted May sitting in the stands and waved extra hard, but she didn’t seem to notice. Slightly put-off by this, he wondered why she wasn’t cheering with everyone else and having a good time.
“C’mon Max!” Ash suddenly caught his attention. “Let’s give these people what they came for! Are you ready for this?” the spiky-haired adolescent taunted.
“Ash, I waited more than 7 years for this. Ever since we parted ways after in Hoenn I’ve been living forward to facing you in a Pokemon battle. Ready? I was born ready!” Max cried out excitedly.
“Alright! You’ve come a long way, Max… Now show me what you’ve got!” Ash shouted and with a swing of his arm he unleashed Infernape on the battlefield.
“Oh, I will!” the younger competitor replied, summoning his Blastoise to the field.
“Ladies and gentlemen! HERE! WE! GO!” Meowth cried out as both Pokemon crashed into each other in the middle of the arena and the battle started under the thunderous cheers of the audience…
The match down in the arena had been going on for a good 15 minutes when Zoey started to feel uncomfortable. She nudged Delia, who was sitting beside her and tried to leave her seat.
“Zoey? Is everything okay?” Dawn asked as she saw her girlfriend trying to leave.
“I’m fine Dawn!” Zoey groaned as she made her way away from the seats and on to the walkway. “I just need to use the bathroom. Preferably between now and the coming 10 seconds!”
“Again? But you went just before the match started?!” Dawn said incredulously before Delia quickly intervened with an understanding smile.
“It’s the baby, isn’t it? It’s pushing against your bladder, right?” Delia guessed with a warm smile.
“Pushing would be merciful…” Zoey grumbled. “It feels as though he’s playing basketball with my bladder now… Excuse me!” and with that, she wobbled her way to the nearest toilet as fast as she could, leaving a bewildered Dawn with an all too understanding Delia.
“As she gets closer to giving birth, you’ll notice a lot more little annoyances like this Dawn” the experienced mother advised. “You’ll be there to support her when that happens, right?”
Dawn nodded her head firmly and let her eyes follow Zoey until the pregnant redhead was out of sight. “Absolutely! I’ll be there for her every step of the way. Thanks for the advice!”
“Any time you need me!” Delia chuckled and gave Dawn a comforting squeeze on the knee.
Meanwhile, down in the arena things were heating up. Miraculously, Max had managed to beat not just Infernape, but Charizard as well! Sure, the two fire-types had worn down Blastoise completely, which caused him to faint after delivering the final blow to Charizard, but Max was now in the lead by one Pokemon!
“Not bad…” Ash growled as he flicked a small Pokeball between his fingers. “It looks like I underestimated you, Max! Your Blastoise was exceptionally well trained.” With a flick of his wrist he threw the red and white ball into the field, revealing his own Blastoise. The large water-type stomped the ground to impressive effect. He retreated one of his arms into his shell and produced a stylish pair of sunglasses, which he put on his face with a challenging grin.
“I had a feeling you would use a water-type…” Max felt elated. His strategy was starting to work! “Which is why I chose THIS as my second Pokemon!” In a blaze of swiftly moving light, Max’s Grovyle made his appearance, hissing loudly at the Blastoise before him.
“And it looks like Max once again takes the upper hand when it comes to type-advantage!” Meowth cried out from the sideline. “Ash is going to have to come up with something fast, because if he keeps this up there’s no way he will beat the Pokemon Prodigy today!”
Up in the stands, Ash’s gang of friends started to realize Ash’s predicament too. Delia looked on with increasing worry in her eyes while Professor Oak remained as stoic as ever, giving a short analysis of the fight whenever a particularly good move was made. Meanwhile, May hadn’t spoken a word since the match started. She felt elated for the fact that Max had made such a good start, but she also knew having those feelings meant betraying Ash. In the end, she couldn’t do anything besides watching the match and praying for a solution to her predicament.
“Meowth is right, you know…” Iris acknowledged. “Starting with two fire Pokemon wasn’t a good choice if you ask me… And Max definitely chose his types well!”
At that, Dawn inched herself closer to Iris, a smug grin on her face.
“Say Iris… Speaking of choosing types, how are you and Ritchie doing?” Iris’ eyes widened when Dawn mentioned Ritchie and she spluttered in response.
“W-what are you talking about?!”
“Oh come on girl! You’ve been in the same bed with him every night for the past 2 weeks!” Dawn giggled hysterically; pleased with the reaction she got from the young Unova girl.
“What?! Come on, that’s r-ridiculous!” Iris shoved it off, “Just b-because he graciously allows me to use his room at the hotel a-a-and we sleep in the same bed… That d- doesn’t mean we’re suddenly in a relationship or something!”
“Oh come off it Iris!” Zoey joined in as she returned from the toilet. “We’ve all seen how you hover around him like a lovesick Butterfree every time he’s around!” The girls around her burst out in fits of giggles when they saw how Iris squirmed in her seat, blushing brightly. Even May was temporarily turned from her brooding, giggling softly at the scene playing out beside her.
As uncomfortable as it was to have her friends snooping around in her relationships, Iris had to admit they were right about her. Over the past two weeks she and Ritchie had gotten somewhat closer and she had come to realize she liked him very much. He was kind, thoughtful, a real gentleman and, like her, passionate about his goals. If only he wasn’t so shy around girls… So far, any attempt she had made to flirt with him (and there had been many) had ended with Ritchie stuttering like crazy and the mood completely ruined. So far, she doubted he even fully realized she wouldn’t mind to be a little bit more than just friends…
She conceded defeat, holding her hands in the air with a sigh. “Okay, you got me! I, you know… kind of like him…”
Zoey cheered loudly, pumping her fist into the air. “Ha! I knew it! I totally called it! Looks like you owe me ten bucks Dawn!”
The blue-haired coordinator was quick to correct her girlfriend though. “Don’t get your hopes up, Zo! Your bet was that Iris and Ritchie would get together during the tournament. The way I see it, Iris ‘likes’ him, while he can’t even put 2 and 2 together!”
Iris groaned and placed her hands on her sides, an annoyed look on her face. “Seriously? You’ve placed bets on whether Ritchie and I would get together?! Oh you are the worst!” She gave Zoey a playful smack on the arm, giggling slightly as the other girls snickered too.
Turning her attention back to the semifinal match before them, she could help but feel giddy.
“But Dawn…” she continued, “I wouldn’t get too attached to those ten bucks if I were you… This morning, Ritchie asked me out to dinner tonight!” she revealed with glee, causing Dawn and Zoey to stare at her with open mouths, while Delia smiled brightly.
“Oh, how lovely! Who knows, maybe he does feel the same way about you, Iris! From what I’ve seen, he certainly looks nice enough!” the older woman commented.
“Yeah… Who knows…” Iris agreed. She returned her eyes back to the fight before them, but in her mind, she was focused more on a certain brown-haired boy…
As the morning turned over into the afternoon, the semifinal match between Ash and Max had reached a lull. Even though Max started out amazingly, his Grovyle didn’t last long against Ash’s Blastoise. Battered and bruised, it had only narrowly dodged an Icebeam that had left half of the arena frozen, forcing Max to withdraw him, replacing him with his trusted Ampharos.
The Light Pokemon had little problems dealing with the disadvantaged water-type. Max was just about to gain the upper hand again when Ash decided to return his Blastoise, replacing him with Pikachu.
Max swallowed audibly when he saw the determined look in Pikachu’s eyes. The electric moue showed the same burning determination as his trainer and Max knew their battle had only just gotten started. Pikachu was Ash’s oldest and most faithful friend and quite possibly the strongest Pokemon on his team. Taking him down was going to be the hardest thing he had ever done in his life.
“Well... Standing here staring at each other isn’t going to resolve anything,” Max mumbled as a line of sweat dripped from his forehead.
“You’re right Max!” Ash agreed with a confident smile. “I’d say it’s time for some action… Pikachu, THUNDER!”
“Thunder?! Damn it, he’s not joking!” Max gasped as Pikachu let out a loud cry and shot the most powerful electric attack towards his Ampharos. The bolt of lightning was so big as to be almost all encompassing as it sped forward, leaving no room for Max’s Pokemon to escape its wrath.
“Ampharos, defend! You know what to do!” Max cried a split second before Pikachu’s devastating attack hit.
Ampharos grunted loudly as he jabbed the red ball on the end of his tail in front of him, catching the full force of Pikachu’s Thunder. His ball began to shine a bright white as Pikachu’s electricity coursed through his body, seemingly without any damaging effect.
“WHAT?! Th-that’s impossible!” Ash cried out in shock as he noticed how Ampharos didn’t seem hurt by the attack at all.
“Interesting, isn’t it?” Max pushed his glasses backward with a sly grin. “As you may have figured out by now, Ampharos and I discovered how to neutralize electric attacks!”
“Wonderful…” Ash swallowed as Ampharos seemed to crackle with energy after it absorbed Pikachu’s attack completely.
“And that’s not all… Once he has the energy stored with him, he can send it RIGHT BACK!”
Crying out its name loudly, Ampharos shot out a massive amount of electricity towards Pikachu, crackling the ground beneath them and forcing the audience in the stands to shield their eyes.
“Pikachu! Use Agility and finish it up with Iron Tail!” Ash suddenly cried out. In a flash, Pikachu sped off towards Ampharos, dodging his lightning attack with a quick move to the right. Max’s eyes widened as he realized his mistake. Pikachu’s Thunder had been so large, escape had been impossible, but Ampharos’s electric discharge was focused in a single, relatively thin beam! Pikachu had no problem escaping it and the little mouse quickly jumped up and delivered an earth-shaking Iron Tail straight to Ampharos’s head, knocking the taller Pokemon over and causing it to faint almost instantly. The crowds drew a sharp collective breath as the battle between the two electric types was over in an instant. Max couldn’t quite comprehend it himself as he returned his fallen friend to its Pokeball. Staring at the ground, he was at a loss for words…
So much speed in power… How am I ever going to beat that?! He took down Ampharos in a single blow in the same time it took me to blink twice!
“Ladies and gentlemen, it seems Max is unsure what to do next! Ash Ketchum’s Pikachu did not just take out his Ampharos, it also seems to have taken out Max’s fighting spirit!” Meowth cried out. Up in the stands, May covered held her hand to her mouth as tears filled her eyes.
Arceus… Max is losing! He-… He needs me now. I should be cheering him on… Yet, I still can’t make up my mind! I don’t want to hurt Ash’s feelings, but I don’t want to let Max down either!
Down in the arena, Max was on his knees gritting his teeth, trying his hardest not to cry. After years of training in preparation of this fight, Ash was going to use Pikachu to wipe the floor with him. It was frustrating him to no end, but he couldn’t see how any of his remaining Pokemon could keep up with Pikachu’s speed and power.
Is this the end, then…?
Just then, he could make out a white shape, standing high up on the edge of the stadium. Something that seemed like a white cloak, waving in the air. The tinkling of crystal bells entered his mind…
Don’t give up… I believe in you!
“G-… Gardevoir?” Max mumbled as the last of the crystal bells faded away in his mind. He adjusted his gaze in an attempt to get a sharper view on the white shape, but in a blink of an eye it was gone.
Max felt a smile form on his lips as he lowered his gaze to lock eyes with Ash again. The Pallet Town trainer was still standing there, determined and powerful.
“I won’t give up… Not now!” he stated, more to himself than to anyone else. “I’ve still got four Pokemon left, so this battle is far from over!” With a swing of his arm, he sent his next Pokemon into the field, the characteristic white light revealing the crescent moon shape of his Lunatone. Both Pokemon and trainer braced themselves as the semifinal battle was about to recommence.
Gardevoir… This one is for you!
“Oh my god girls… I think this is it!” Dawn cried out in shock a good half an hour later. With the help of his Lunatone, Max had managed to do the impossible: he had taken down Pikachu. Not only that, with the remainder of his Pokemon he had defeated every one of Ash’s companions, safe for one.
“I didn’t know Max was this strong already…” Delia acknowledged in awe.
“It’s amazing… Nobody has beaten more than 3 of Ash’s Pokemon during this tournament, and now Max pushed him down to his last one!” Zoey added in an equally awestruck voice. Suddenly, a few seats away from her May let out something between a sob and a gasp before jumping out of her seat and making a beeline for the toilets, leaving the rest of the girls quite stunned.
“Wow, it must be really hard on her…” Dawn mused sadly as she her eyes followed May until she was out of sight. When both Delia and Zoey gave her a look of confusion, the blue haired coordinator explained further: “Think about it… Ash is her boyfriend and Max is her brother. If I know May I doubt she wants to let either of them down…”
At this, Delia quickly caught on. “She’s unsure who she should cheer for? Is that it?” Dawn nodded solemnly. “I may not know much about pregnancy and bladder issues, but I definitely know a thing or two about emotions when there’s a boyfriend involved! I felt the same way when you and Kenny faced each other in a contest a few years ago.”
“You did? If I recall, you seemed to have no problem cheering Kenny on at my expense, you backstabbing minx!” Zoey snickered when Dawn blushed awkwardly.
“Okay… So I made up my mind at one point… I ended up cheering for both of you in the end though!” she rectified herself.
“Speaking of which, why can’t May just do the same?”
“I’ve got a feeling that if she could’ve done that, she would’ve already… I don’t know what’s going through her mind, really…” Dawn nodded. Just then, she noticed the empty seat beside Zoey.
“Hey… Where did Delia go?”
Meanwhile, in the stadium’s toilets, May was hunched over one of the sinks, hushed sobs wracking her body.
“Oh, Arceus what a mess! I must be the world’s worst girlfriend by now!” she lamented as she looked at herself in the mirror on the wall. Washed out make-up and blood-red eyes stared back at her. Ash was down there in the arena, down to his last Pokemon, and she couldn’t get herself to cheer him on. Then again, fighting him was her brother, her family! The boy she had grew up with, the boy she loved maybe more than most people would consider strictly legal. Cheering for one would crush the spirit of the other; she just knew it and she couldn’t bring herself to do it.
“You know May, I tend to disagree!” May jerked around, coming face to face with Delia Ketchum. The older woman was standing there, leaning against the wall with her arms crossed loosely and a warm, motherly smile on her face.
“You can’t make up your mind, can you?” she said, prompting May to break down completely. As she cried, breathing in irregular coughing and heaves, she suddenly found herself in Delia’s warm embrace.
“I-… I don’t want to d-disappoint Ash…” she sobbed. “I… I love him! I really do! But, Max is my brother! I can’t let him down either, can I?!”
“There there… It’ll be all right…” Delia soothed calmly.
“B-… But how?!”
“If Ash loses, he’ll pick himself up to try again another day… It’s not the end of the world…”
“I-… I just don’t want to lose him again! L-last time-...”
“Last time, he wasn’t in love when he went into exile.” Delia stopped her. “Trust me, Ash isn’t going anywhere without you. I’ve seen the way he looks at you, and I’ve never seen him in a happier state in his life!”
“A-… And Max?” May continued in a tiny voice.
“Max will pick himself up just as well. He’s more like Ash than you might realize. They’ve got the same spirit, they won’t break.”
Under Delia’s comforting words, May calmed down enough to stop her tears from flowing. She still didn’t know who she could cheer for, but at least Ash’s mother had put things in perspective. Delia handed her some paper towels, which she accepted gratefully, wiping away her tears.
“God… I’m such a mess... I haven’t cried this much since kindergarten! And with you too! This is so embarrassing.”
“Think nothing of it May… That’s what mothers are for, remember? They’re there for you when you’re in trouble!”
“Delia… thank you…”
“It’s all right… Now, come on. The match will be over soon. We wouldn’t want to miss the conclusion, right?”
Down in the arena, Ash was in a bad mood. Max had managed to knock out 5 of his Pokemon, putting him closer to defeat than anyone had managed in the tournament yet. It was frustrating to see how much the young trainer from Petalburg had improved since they parted ways in Hoenn. Only a few years into his Pokemon journey and here he was, closer to the title of Pokemon Master than Ash had ever been before himself.
Another thing that didn’t help his concentration was the fact that all throughout the duel, May hadn’t cheered him on a single bit. He didn’t know exactly why, but he had his suspicions. After all, he was fighting her brother. He couldn’t allow his feelings to cloud his mind though. This was his last chance to win this fight and he had to make it count!
His fingers hovering over the Pokeballs on his belt, his eyes suddenly widened when he heard a distinctive voice coming from the stands.
“COME ON ASH! YOU CAN DO IT, I BELIEVE IN YOU!”
He turned and saw May, jumping up and down in the stands and waving her arms. On the opposite side of the field, Max looked up as well. He smiled sadly as he nodded his head.
“She chose him, after all…” he murmured.
Fine. It didn’t matter who his sister rooted for anymore. He was going to win this, and he was going to win this now.
“So what’s it going to be, Ash?! Are you going to use that last Pokemon, or are you forfeiting this?!”
“What… And let you down like that?” Ash replied with confidence. “No, Max! You wanted to fight me in full and that’s what you’re going to get!” In a brilliant flash of white light, a huge shark-like shape appeared on the field, revealing Ash’s ace in the hole.
“Gabite bite!” Ash’s Gabite, the evolved form of the Gible he had once caught in the Sinnoh region, cried out in a roar.
“Oh… shit…” Max gasped. Off all the Pokemon he thought Ash would use, a dragon-type powerhouse had been the last thing he expected. Still, his Umbreon was still in good shape and Grovyle was also standing by, despite having suffered a few cuts.
“It’ll take more than a mean-looking shark to scare me, Ash!”
“We’ll see about that…” Ash chuckled as he raised his hand and waved back to May, grateful for her support. “All right Gabite, Draco Meteor!”
And with that, the battle was on in full again.