There was something about preparing for the battle of her life that made the next thirty-six hours fly by for Fi. She still slept and ate normally, of course. It would have been foolish not to. That was the trouble with Diva and Dunce. They knew Ash was an idiot and thought it gave them a free pass to make things up as they went, never realizing that they themselves were also idiots.
This match was too important to leave anything to dumb luck or chance. She’d trained, leveled herself, leveled Raven, and turned herself into perfection. This was for Team Rocket. For Fi’s new family. For her new life.
She breathed smoothly and deeply in the center of the gym floor. Her keen ears picked up on the swing of the door’s hinges. She glanced at her watch. Ash was ninety seconds late. But she was feeling generous. She would let it slide.
The Rocket grunt guarding the door closed it slowly. With a final reassuring stroke of the three Pokéballs on her waist, Fi straightened and greeted her opponent.
“Are you ready?” she said.
Ash looked up. She hadn’t seen him since his transformation, and there was a stark difference. The whites of his eyes were now pink with black, slitted pupils. His movements were smoother, more elegant. His hands were gray, clawed, and ghostly. When Pierce had told her Ash had selected Banette as the Pokémon to merge with, she’d thought he was pranking her. Surely Ash would have picked some sort of starter Pokémon. Or better yet, insisted on merging with something that didn’t even have a mega stone. But here he was, Banette’s creepy eyes starting at her.
There was something else different about him, too, though Fi struggled to pinpoint it. His figure still looked human. Then again, with the Team Rocket executive uniform–all long sleeves and baggy pants–it could be difficult to tell. Maybe it was his stance or his expression. Yes… The childlike innocence and naiveté was gone. Which made sense, if she thought about it. Ghost Pokémon, even the pranksters, seemed to sense death and loss on the horizon, and it surrounded them with a somber aura. That same aura emanated off Ash now. He was determined but not hopeful. Just how she liked it.
Of course, a ghost type against a dark type was a terrible match up no matter what Ash’s attitude was. This wouldn’t even be a competition. But she had given him every opportunity to prepare himself to face her. Not her fault he choose poorly.
“Pika-pi!” Fi glanced at the door. Ash’s companion came in, calling out his name and its encouragement. Misguided, but sweet.
On her belt, Fi’s phone buzzed, rattling the Pokéball beside it. She tapped it off, then removed the phone from the belt, thinking to mute it. However, it immediately began to buzz again. Pierce’s number. She scowled and tapped it on.
“What?” she snapped. “I’m a little busy here.”
“I just got word,” Pierce said. He sounded out of breath. “They’ve given up the search for Sabrina. The boss is on his way back.”
Crap, Fi thought. If he walked in on this battle, he might try to stop it. She had to have Ash utterly defeated by the time the boss returned. Which meant she had to move quickly.
“Thanks for the heads-up,” she said and started to hang up before Pierce got out a quick,
“You’re welcome. And good luck.”
She smiled widely. “Thanks,” she said. “I don’t need it.” Then she hung up and turned the phone off. No more distractions.
“I appreciate you coming,” she announced, stretching her arms wide. The stadium was massive–solid stone flooring, a huge high ceiling, and no windows anywhere in sight. It was made for Pokémon to get rough.
Ash didn’t seem to appreciate it. “Sure,” he muttered. “Now let’s get started.”
With a graceful nod, Fi tapped her belt. “A three-on-three battle,” she announced.
Ash’s eyes went wide. “But… I thought this was one-on-one!”
Of course he did. She’d heavily implied it. But he’d never actually asked her to confirm. Ergo, she was free to make whatever rules she liked. “Three-on-three,” she repeated, then held out her hand, indicating Pika-Raichu. “Though you can certainly make it three-on-two, if you like.”
His ghostly gray hands tightened into fists. “You have all my Pokémon,” he said through gritted teeth.
“Technically, the boss’s Pokémon,” she said. “But as he’s still out of town, I don’t think it’s unfair for you to use one of them.” She reached for her belt, removing a purple Master Ball from among the normal-colored Pokéballs. With a quick flick of her wrist, she tossed it to Ash, and to her surprise, he actually caught it. His hands were corporeal, then. In other words, they could hurt her. Ash looked down at the ball in his hands, running a clawed finger over the M on the front. He’d seen the depressed state Brock was in, so he probably had a good idea which of his friends was resting inside. He said nothing, put the ball onto his on belt, and adjusted his hat. “One last question,” he said. “Can we use TMs?”
Fi raised an eyebrow. An interesting question. Which one did he plan to use? Curiosity ate at her, and she couldn’t resist. “One TM for each of us,” she said. “Now or mid-battle. Your choice.”
He nodded and Fi watched carefully as he pulled a small box with the number 17 clearly emblazoned on the lid.
Protect? She wanted to laugh but kept it together. She did have some TMs on hand but saw no reason to change her own move set at the last second. When the dust from the TM settled, Ash gave a small sneeze and waved to Fi to let her know he was ready. The grunt guarding the door raised his hand.
“This will be a three-on-three battle,” he announced. “Ash Ketchum versus Fiora–”
“Fi!” Fi snapped.
The grunt swallowed hard. “M-my apologies. Versus Fi Bloodstone Sycamore. Choose your first Pokémon!”
Fi’s hand was already on the Pokéball. She gave it a toss, and in a flash of white light, Pierce’s Absol appeared with a howl.
Ash, being his predictable self, pointed to Pika-Raichu and ordered it onto the field. Since neither of them were battling themselves just yet, Fi and Ash both retreated to the edges of the gym to allow their Pokémon the full use of the gym’s space.
Fi smiled. “Let’s start off with a Swords Dance,” she said.
“Pikachu, Thunderbolt!” Ash commanded. Pikachu rushed forward. Fi gritted her teeth. It was fast, even for a bulky-looking thing. She’d been hoping to get this first move, but if she and Ash had both trained their Pokémon in speed, it was obvious who would win.
Then, Ash added on a command that made no sense whatsoever. “Aim for its horn!”
“What?” Fi exclaimed. But Pokémon electric Pokémon dutifully leapt into the air and let out a mighty blast of electricity, focusing its attack directly on Absol’s horn. The dark Pokémon let out a yowl of pain but stood its ground. It then braced itself, winds whipping up around it as it performed the Swords Dance move, bringing its attack power to fantastic heights. But the Thunderbolt had clearly taken a lot out of it. And if Ash’s Pokémon went first again…
Fi gritted her teeth. “Quick attack,” she ordered.
Absol gave a bark of approval and quickly jumped in, doing some serious damage to Ash’s Pokémon. But when Ash let out the command of “Thunderbolt!” a second time, Absol lost the energy for a third attack and fell to the ground.
“Absol is unable to–” the grunt began.
“I know that, you idiot!” Fi barked at the grunt. He lowered his head, hopefully finally realizing just how useless he was. She called Absol back and thanked it for a job well done. Then she glared at Ash.
“What the heck was that?” she demanded. “‘Aim for the horn’?”
Ash smiled. Not his wide goofy grin, but the closest he’d come to it since entering the gym. “I used it on a Rhydon once, and it worked really well,” he explained. “I figured it was worth trying again.”
Fi’s jaw slackened. He was so stupid, she could barely get a sentence out. “You used it on a–Rhydon’s a ground type!”
The fact seemed completely lost on him, so Fi gave up explaining and reached for her next Pokéball. Next he’s going to tell me about the time he attacked the darkness with a Mega Punch.
Again, there was a flash of light, and this time, it was Raven who appeared on the field. The little Noibat was happy and excited, and to Fi’s great relief, very much healthy. She grinned and pointed forward. “Let’s see… I could use Wing Attack…”
Ash looked hopeful, which made Fi laugh.
“Oh, wow. You actually thought I would do it? Too bad I know how type match-ups work!” She pointed forward. “Raven, crunch attack. Aim for its tail!”
Ash startled, apparently forgetting they were still in mid-battle and stumbled over giving his Pokémon its next order. “Um… Pikachu, Skull Bash!”
Pika-Raichu lowered its head, readying its attack and raising its defense. But Raven flew around it, snatching up the lightning-bolt shaped tail and chomping down hard. Pika-Raichu yelped in pain and fell to the side, where Raven finished the attack by yanking hard before releasing its grip. Pika-Raichu flew backwards, smacking into one of the gym walls. It tried to stand but its uneasy legs gave out, and it fainted.
Fi put her hands on her hips, gleaming with satisfaction. “Hey, what do you know? It does work!”
Ash ran to his Pokémon and scowled at her. (Really, he did remember he’d been ordering his own Pokémon to electrocute hers, didn’t he? Battles were hardly a safe ground.) Thankfully, Pika-Raichu came to quickly with a revive and stood off to the side, cheering its master on.
Ash gritted his teeth. His hand was on the Master Ball now. “I won’t battle unless she wants to,” he said.
“Suit yourself,” Fi said, shrugging.
And with that, Ash threw the Master Ball. It broke open to a brighter light than the other two. Misty’s figure emerged from the light, uncrossing her arms as if she’d been sleeping in a fetal position. She straightened, looking around the gym in confusion. She balanced herself well, despite the lower half of her body being clearly suited to the water. When she seemed to recognize she was in a battle area, she looked behind her and locked eyes with Ash. Her initial smile at seeing her friend faded.
“You… went through with the merger,” she said. Not judgmental. But not happy with him, either.
“Yeah,” he said, sounding equally unhappy with himself. “But it’s going to be okay. I promise. We just need to win this battle against Fi, and–”
“We?” Misty asked, a playful tease in her voice. That probably went over his head, too.
“I-I mean… if you want to… if you’ll help me…” he managed to stutter out.
Misty smiled. “I’m on your side,” she said, then turned on Raven. The little dragon Pokémon was eagerly bouncing up and down, ready for its next opponent.
“All right,” Ash said, turning his hat. The motion seemed to be a thing with him. “Let’s open with… Water Gun!”
Misty looked deflated. “Or… how about something a little stronger?” she suggested.
Ash lowered his head. “Right. Your call.”
Fi felt her confidence returning. It was true that a Gyrados-merged human would be a tough opponent for herself and Raven. But she never backed down before and had no intention of starting now.
Raven was still jumping around wildly, almost as if there was so much energy in its body that it couldn’t contain itself. Then its wings began to glow. The white light spread across its back, face, and chest as Raven’s body grew. Its wings stretched out to twice… three times their previous length. Its aggressive yaps became deep-throated roars. Its ears stretched out to catch even the faintest sound. Then the light faded, and Raven was no longer a Noibat. It was a Noivern. Lavender fur had gone black, and its purple wings flashed a blu-ish green. Misty looked over her new opponent, now a bit green-looking herself.
Fi couldn’t resist. She belted out a wild laugh that echoed all around the gym. “You want to fight?” she said. “Okay, then. Time to fight!”