"(Finally!)" Axel thought sarcastically as the door slowly opened with a loud metal screech and he entered the blue-walled arena.
It was clear the installations hadn't been given the proper maintenance: here and there, despite the numerous lights and floating advertisement projections he could still see the slight marks were blasts of fire, electricity, water, rock and many other things had collided against the walls and the floor.
And for some reason, that didn't surprise him: the fact that he hadn't set foot into this arena in days was a very clear example of how poorly organized this Battle Randomizer event was.
First there had been a system problem with the re-entry process and he, along with several other trainers, had been left out of the second round of matches. Two days of event later they were finally able to have their names back on the list, and by then there had already been a few battles cancelled due to technical and administrative difficulties if the rumors were true
And so, when the screen flashed with the error message right before his second battle started it wasn't that much of a shock. The huge "Poke-Cola," "Lava-Lava Pokemon Treats" and "X-P Training Bags" holographic advertisements in the middle of the arena apparently hadn't been affected though.
Three days had been after that. Once again the re-entry process had been a pain: apparently the double entry that was already in the system was causing problems not only to him.
But everything was fixed now and so far the last day of the event hadn't shown a single drawback. Also, during all his comings and goings Axel had met many trainers the past five days, most of them having ranked high in the League even if they scoffed whenever he mentioned it to them.
"The real challenge is not the League," one of them had chuckled before telling him about tourneys, unofficial long-distance battles, specialized training regimes and complex strategies and ranks that seemed beyond Axel's comprehension.
He had learned a thing or two from listening them though. Things that seemed simple turned out to be really useful and despite not changing anyone from his Pokemon team (Like so many trainers advised him to) he had revised their skills and taught them new moves and strategies.
Now that he was finally back on the arena, he couldn't wait to see how they played out.
The voice droned and not before long a young, dark-haired man dressed in blue and wearing a blue cammo hat stepped in. The clothing and the name "Chris" on the screen seemed oddly familiar to Axel.
"Wait a minute! Wasn't my last match against you?" Axel said at once.
The trainer in blue seemed a bit taken back but after a quick look something seemed to come back to him, "Oh! Of course! You're the guy from the day the whole thing crashed, right? I knew I had seen your face somewhere."
"Well, at least we get a chance to actually fight this time, huh?" Axel chuckled.
"As long as this thing doesn't fail again," Chris shrunk shoulders.
"Contestants, you may now select the terms of your match," the pre-recorded voice sounded over the speaker as small hatches opened on the floor in front of them and control panels rose from them.
"I don't know about you but I'd really like a three-on-three match. That OK with you?" the trainer in blue asked Axel.
"You mean singles three-on-three, right?" the trainer in red asked back.
"You OK with that?"
"Fine by me."
The selections were made and the panels were lowered back to the floor before a bunch of floating advertisements appeared on the ceiling, along with the lines of the arena being drawn on the floor, signaling the start of the match.
Both trainers reached for a Pokeball and not before long two flashes of light appeared.
"Go Norbit!" Axel yelled as a Noivern appeared.
"Hanbei, go!" Chris exclaimed as he released a Delphox.
The two creatures stared defiantly at each other for a moment, waiting for their master's commands.
"Quick! Supersonic!" Axel hurried ahead as the Noivern nodded excitedly.
"No! Hanbei! Night Daze!" Chris's face seemed unsure of what to say.
"(Night Daze?)" Axel was puzzled for a moment; the move was highly unusual on a Delphox.
Yet the Noivern's high-pitched supersonic screech assaulted the Fire type's ears before he could properly even try making the move as even the most simple thoughts became an overwhelming tangle of ideas.
And so, the Night Daze never came: her arms and legs didn't seem to react to her properly and only managed to trip himself face-full into the floor.
And yet... Norbit couldn't help but think something was off: whenever he confused someone they always grunted or complained in one way or another. This Delphox on the other hand had barely even twitched even after that fall, all without a sound.
He didn't have the chance to ponder too long on this, his next order came right after, "Great job Norbit! Now use Toxic while we still can!"
"No! Come on Hanbei! Snap out of it! Move out!!!" Chris pleaded to his Delphox, yet it only seemed to confuse the Psychic type even further.
Norbit grinned as he flew all around the Delphox. Confused Pokemon were easy to taunt or frighten; this actually helped making them easier targets. As the Delphox lunged at him in the wrong direction he knew he couldn't have a clearer shot. The venom spit hit dead-center, the Fire type cringed as it seeped in.
The pain, however, seemed to bring Hanbei back to his senses for a moment. His previous order, now suddenly clear, came back to him and he turned over to the unsuspecting Noivern, sending a dark shockwave of dark energy flying straight into his face.
The Flying type squirmed and cursed as the Night Daze brought him to the floor for a moment before regaining himself. "Now you've done it!" he snarled furiously as he lunged and took flight at him, claws ready.
This was not the smartest move, Axel could tell by the Delphox' readied wand and eager expression. However, it was too late to make him fall back, "Norbit! Draco Meteor!"
The Dragon type screeched in confirmation before letting the energy flow all around him, surrounding himself in a fiery draconic aura and taking into the sky in the very last second.
"Hanbei! Take him out! Night Daze!" Chris' yelled in a voice more nervous than commanding. The Delphox brought a hand to his head in pain before nodding and readying his wand.
"(Not fast enough!)" Norbit mentally laughed as he dived down, his speed increasing every moment and the aura around him grew larger as everything around became but a blur. Draco Meteor would always come at a cost but it was this moment, this overwhelming sense of power, that made it all worth it even if just for a second. The roaring seemed to come by itself as his target grew closer and closer...
A moment later Hanbei stood on the floor, lying in a small crater where the Dragon type had met the ground.
For a moment, Norbit smiled victoriously. Yes, his muscles were aching and he probably wouldn't stand up much of a fight now but his seemingly mute foe was even worse. Didn't matter, knowing Axel he would only ask him to confuse or poison his next opponent before switching him out; he could do just that in his sleep.
Suddenly, the Delphox began to fade out. A moment later a Zoroark stood in his place, completely crushed by the attack but grinning widely. "Fell for it," he chuckled hoarsely as he passed out.
Chris seemed to share his Zoroark's amusement, "Well done Kazuya, you did amazing," he said as he retuned him.
Axel stared wide-eyed at the sudden transformation, "It was a Zoroark all along?"
"Uh, yeah, I thought you would have figured it out by now. You really thought a Delphox could learn Night Daze?" Chris asked, slightly puzzled.
"I have seen so many things these past few days I'm not even sure anymore," Axel replied, recalling all the trainers with unusual moves on their Pokemon he had seen in this event.
"Well, better brace yourself then, this time its not just an imitation," Chris warned before hurling a Pokeball into the air. The real Hanbei stood out, giving a calm but challenging look at the Noivern.
"Norbit, you know the drill," Axel commanded confidently for some reason. The Flying type nodded with similar enthusiasm before taking in some air.
"Hanbei! Psychic!" Chris almost roared in excitement as his Delphox's eyes began to glow bright purple.
The same shade of purple suddenly took over the Noivern's body and he felt his wings go stiff, the psychic strength dragging them into the floor. Realizing what was happening he had but a fraction of a second to emit his Supersonic screech before his head was violently shoved into the floor by the psychic force, making him black out on the spot.
Though victorious, Hanbei wasn't celebrating, it had come at a cost. His eyes were now playing tricks on him, alternating between oscillating double, triple and quintuple images, the colors swerving and flashing constantly while his mind became riddled with thoughts present, past and false to the point it was nearly impossible to tell them apart.
"(Calm down!)" he thought to himself as his paws went over to his head, "(It's all a trick! It's all a trick! Calm down!)" He repeated to himself, but his own thoughts seem drowned by a thousand voices.
"Hanbei! No!" Chris cried out in worry, he knew how confusion tended to affect Psychic types more than other kinds of Pokemon.
"Well done Norbit," Axel said in almost a whisper as he returned his Noivern and reached for another Pokeball, letting it fly. "Vianney! Here's your chance! Sleep Powder!"
The Delphox saw the silhouette of a Vivillon, but barely had a vague notion of what was happening. The voices grew louder and louder and the Bug type flashed in and out of sight. Many times instead of it he could have sworn he was seeing Kazuya instead, morphing back and forth into every single foe they had battled over the last few months and back to the Vivillon, whose taunting cry added to the ever-increasing voices.
"Hanbei!" Suddenly, out of the voices he recognized one. "Hanbei! Please!" it was distant and muffled, but familiar. "Hanbei! Move out! Mystical Fire!" Why did it sound so familiar? So reassuring? It finally came to him: Hanbei, that was his name; the name his master had given him. This was the voice of his master. Everything was still hazy but there was an opponent in front of him and his master had given him a direct order.
Nothing seemed to make sense yet so he was better off trusting his master's judgment. He shook his head and for a moment, despite the deafening voices, everything was slightly clearer. He aimed his wand at the swerving shape of the Bug type, letting loose rings of fire at his target, hoping one of them hit it.
The Vivillon stared in shock for a split second as she saw her own Sleep Powder burn in mid-air, picturing the flames doing the same to her. "(Snap out of it!)" she thought to herself as she remembered she had a Quick Claw with her now, she could still make it through this.
With a speed that didn't seem to be her own she found that she easily moved out of the way of the first ring of fire, summoned a small gust of wind to deflect a second one and, in a desperate measure, closed her wings and flew right through the middle of a third one. This was her mistake: she soon found herself caught between another five rings of Mystical Fire, fired in a pattern so random it didn't seem to be aimed at her but also one that she couldn't find a way through.
"Vianney!" Axel screamed as he reached for her Pokeball and returned her before the flames could take her completely. She was already out by the time he did, but he sighed in relief as he saw it had been nothing major.
"Everything OK?" Chris asked, seeing the worried look on Axel's face as he patted Hanbei's head between the ears, trying to ease him down a bit.
"Yeah, but I should probably not have taken her out, she always has a hard time when it comes to fire."
"Then why did you did? I mean, yes, Hanbei was confused but it wasn't a really bright choice."
"Because my third Pokemon is an even worse option for fighting a Delphox," Axel explained as he released a Chestnaught.
Chris examined Axel's Pokemon for a moment. Overall strong species, made sense to have chosen him out of six at the start of the battle, but its Grass and Fighting type was indeed a poor choice against a Fire and Psychic type.
"Still, don't go thinking Chad here won't put up a fight," Axel smirked as his Chestnaught stared at the Delphox almost confidently. Yes, the odd were against them, but this made them more eager about this fight.
Chris grinned confidently as well, "Let's see how it goes then."
The trainers remained silent, exchanging nothing but a challenging look for a moment, feeling the tension build between them.
The Cestnaught pressed his fists together and almost instantly the bark on them grew to form a spike-studded barrier, bracing himself for the impact.
The dazed Delphox on the other hand waved his wand, ready to fire. However, the attack blew up in his face, shocked by the sight: the Chestnaught had vanished in a puff of smoke and in its place stood...
"Ka-Kazuya?!" Hanbei breathed out weakly as he stood back up and his Zoroark friend disguised himself as a Chestnaught once more.
"What?" the Grass type stared in puzzlement as the Spike Shield vanished.
Yet for Hanbei this was the Zoroark playing tricks on him. "Hanbei! Mystical Fire!" his master's voice rang clear on his ears but he stood there, breathing heavily, overwhelmed by what was happening. This made no sense at all. Didn't master know that was Kazuya? Why was he ordering him to attack one of his teammates? Was he confused as well?
Yet he couldn't disobey a direct order. Hanbei raised his wand and summoned the flames once again, almost against his will, but his own arm hesitated, trembling nervously.
The Delphox cried in pain as he staggered backwards. The attack had flown in the wrong direction, burning his right hand instead.
Not a beautiful sight but both Axel and Chad recognized an opening when they saw it. "Poison Jab!"
The Chestnaught nodded as he rushed forward, venom slowly beginning to ooze out of the spikes on his hands. A massive spike-studded fist plummeted straight against the distracted Delphox' left cheek.
"Hanbei!!!" Chris's scream reached the Delphox's ears as he hit the ground. Suddenly, everything felt cold and his breathing became rapid and elaborated. Force, spikes and poison; connecting the dots that attack had probably managed to inject some through his skin. He would need some treatment soon or this battle wouldn't last very long.
It was only until then that he realized something: his thoughts were clear once again. His head still felt a bit light, his wand hand felt numb and the poison was really starting to kick n (Not to mention his swollen cheek felt like burning), but being able to think straight once again was a strange kind of relief.
No time to ponder about this: the Chestnaught was already rushing in to finish him up. He stood up, nodded at Chris, switched his wand to his left arm, pointed it to his opponent tauntingly and prepared his next move.
Axel hadn't even finished saying this before the Grass type put his fists together.
"(Close call)," Chad thought as the fires blazed close to his face but the shield had formed right on time: he was safely behind it.
The heat grew stronger by the second, judging by it he could tell just one blast of that fire would be enough to finish him off. Little did that matter, he didn't mean on using this barrier just as a shield.
His feet planted firmly against the floor as he stood his ground before bending his knees. Slowly at first,he began to push forward, against the barrage of fire.
Step by step it became harder keep going, but he did. This was no mere shield: the sharp spikes on the other side drew closer and to his foe with every step; one quick shove and they could really cause some damage. He couldn't keep pushing forward forever but the Delphox was weakened and nervous, he could tell in the way the stream of flames became unsteady. This was just a matter of whose limit was nearest.
That limit suddenly came: the flames stopped at once. Now was his chance, the Chestnaught released the shield, which vanished in a tangle of vines as the venom flew through his clenched right fist.
It was then that he saw it: the Delphox had fallen back and stood a feet and half out of his range. He looked at him, a smile on his face, wand raised, pointed at him, already glowing.
"(Clever bastard)," Chad thought as he saw the size of the Flamethrower coming at him, realizing he had been outsmarted.
"Contestant #2 is out. Contestant #5 wins the match," the electronic pre-recorded voice droned as a downed Chestnaught was returned and the "Winner" message along with Chris' name and image flickered in and out on the screens all around them.
Chris' Delphox was returned before both trainers stepped towards the center of the arena and shook hands, common sportsmanship.
"You took me out with just two Pokemon, talk about a beating. That Delphox of yours sure is a powerhouse," Axel chuckled as he released the handshake.
"Nah, I was just lucky to have type advantage," Chris shrunk shoulders, "you should see my Ampharos."
It was then that Axel noticed a black bracelet on his left arm, very similar to the one he had, "Wait! Your third Pokemon was an Ampharos? That means it could-"
"Session is now complete. Thank you for participating in our Battle Randomizer event. You may now exit through the designated gate. An assistant will tend to your Pokemon as you exit," the electronic voice interrupted them as the screens went blank save for one over a door which only displayed a pointing arrow. Music soon began to blast loudly from the speakers as "Poke-Cola" and "Lava-Lava Pokemon Treats" advertisements riddled the screens.
The trainers took that as their cue and headed to the exit.
"Are you watching the next battles?" Chris asked as they checked in their Pokemon with the assistants.
Axel sighed deeply, "I dunno. I mean, yeah, it is the final rounds but I've been watching battles for the last few days, I think I need a break."
"Oh. Well, this group of trainers and I have been gathering on balcony C-5 lately. Come hang around if you feel like."
"I'll keep that in mind, thank you."
"Don't mention it. I'll be going now, the next match is about to start, see ya. Great battle by the way!" Chris waved as he took his Pokemon back and took off.
"Thanks!" Axel hollered back as he was handed back his Pokemon. He then sighed deeply headed over to the exit.
Two fights, two straight defeats even after having overhauled his team. What was he doing wrong? Was he even fit to do this? Why did he even try? Right now he needed a quiet place to sort his thoughts.
As he opened the door he heard an impact coming from arena and the sound of the crowd going wild. He cursed under his breath, wondering what had he just missed.
Only until then his thoughts drifted back to his previous battles: the connection with his team, the way his Pokemon trusted him to make the best decision, the chills that ran down his spine and the way he felt his blood boil as they endured their opponents to follow his lead; the thrill and uncertainty of the competition…
There were a lot of trainers back there, he couldn't be the only one defeated. Not the first, not the last, just another one. Losing was part of this, he either learned to deal with it or give up on this.
He shook his head as a grin came back to his face; no way he was giving up on this.
Axel closed the door, stepped back inside, and headed over to that balcony.