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Gabby trembles with horror as the reality sinks in on her. Learning that their chief at the TV station is actually the leader of the blue-attired organization Team Aqua, she thinks back on the Petalburg Woods incident in which Mr. Stone got attacked, as well as the Mt. Chimney incident in which the volcano's activity was ceased, and finally understands why those two events weren't broadcasted to the public. Their chief has manipulated the media coverage of Hoenn's happenings all this time, and has concealed every single report that pertains to his own evil acts. The reporter lady goes frantic as she gets caught up deciding between chasing after Archie or alerting other staff at the station, but Ty grabs her arm hard to calm her, and hollers that neither option is favourable to them.

He points out that it is clear how powerful their chief is from the battle they just witnessed, and it is beyond doubt they wouldn't stand a chance against him in a direct confrontation. However, it is equally dangerous to head back to the headquarters, because it is more than likely that other Team Aqua members are disguising themselves as the station staff, and the two of them would subject themselves to peril if they happen to turn to the wrong ones. Bereft of a place to return to and aware of their limited battle strength, Gabby feels hopeless about their situation, and wonders what they should do. Ty states that they are only left with one choice, and says they have to go back to the people they can trust, people that have the fighting will and capabilities, the Hoenn gymleaders and Ruby!

Back in Fortree, an aggravated Sapphire swings herself between the trees as three wild pokemons gang up to attack her. Attempting to calm herself by training, the tarzan-like girl quickly calls out her Chaka, and instantly takes care of the Linoone with an ember. The Blaziken faints the Grumpig with a double kick, then send the Shiftry flying with a blazekick. However, fighting wild pokemons alone doesn't seem to quench her anger towards Ruby's words earlier, and she decides to lose herself in some more serious battles. She runs over to the Tree Tower to find Winona, and barges in with a desperate look on her face. The Fortree gymleader gets momentarily taken aback by the girl's wild attire and hasty attitude, and wonders what is going on. Sapphire states that she wishes to resume their unfinished training earlier that day, and before Winona could say anything, she grabs her teacher by the wrist and leads her out of the tower to the open tree platforms outside.

Though unsure of what has taken over Sapphire, Winona decides to grant the girl's desire anyway, and proceeds to release her Masquerain, Beautifly and Swablu. Sapphire calls out Tororo, Ronono and Phadodo to fight, and the six pokemons instantly engage in a fierce combat. As the battle ensues, Winona notices the unusual aggresiveness Sapphire shows, and is slightly astounded by her determination. She then commands a stunspore from Maquerain and a whirlwind from Beautifly, and has Swablu charge forward with a furry attack. But Sapphire is well prepared. Tororo and Ronono quickly deliver a combined aerial ace to knock out the two flying bugs, and Phadodo blasts Swablu high up in the sky with a rocktomb.

With all her pokemons down, Winona is shocked and at the same time impressed by Sapphire's quickness. She remarks that Sapphire has definitely proved herself to be one powerful trainer, and says she knew she made a right decision in recruiting her help in the battle to safeguard Hoenn. She then hands over the Feather Badge to the girl as a recognition of her strength, and Sapphire promises to do her best to assist the gymleaders. Afterwards, Winona directs Sapphire to stay the night in one of the residential tree houses, and says she will be standing by in the Tree Tower if Sapphire needs anything. Little does she know that Roxanne and Brawly have been spying on their fight all this time from behind a nearby tree. Watching Winona and Sapphire walk away, the Rustboro and Dewford gymleaders remain discontent that Winona has acted on matters that the gymleader board hasn't come to a consensus, but start to wonder if they have been too prudent towards recruiting outside help afterall.

Meanwhile, in another part of Fortree, Ruby bangs his fist hard on a tree trunk as the rage of accidentally showing off his real strength in front of Sapphire continues to unfold in him. He recalls how the Grumpigs rampaged on them, and accuses himself for letting the moment of urgency take over his senses. He turns around to Nana and Coco, and sighs that their effort to conceal their power has finally been busted. Just then, Zuzu starts to tremble, and in a flash of light, evolves into Swampert without control. Ruby takes out his Pokedex to check on it, and knows that it must have been the result of the recent intense battles. He feels that he himself has also inadvertantly grown over sensitive and accustomed to combats from the chains of events in the past few weeks, and sighs that no matter how detached he tries to be, fate doesn't seem to let him have his way.

As dawn slowly approaches, Wallace's air-car appears in the sky and lands near the Tree Tower. Ruby watches as his teacher enters the building, and decides to peek at the happenings from the window. Inside, Wallace hands over a report on Hoenn's latest humidity status to Winona, and says the cessation of Mt. Chimney's volcanic activity has resulted in an overall water content increase in the atmospheric air. Winona takes a look at the data, and gets lost in thought for a moment. She then notices Wallace's stare on her, and wonders if he wishes to say something. Wallace points out that he is aware of the disagreement on matters between the gymleaders, and voices his concern about the situation. Winona thinks that his comment is directed at her leadership, and starts to get defensive.

Wallace assures her that she is doing a fine job, but says it is important that they settle their disputes before the big battle begins, or it will compromise the efficacy of their teamwork. He then places a hand on Winona's shoulder, and remarks that he understands the hardship in being the supervisor of all Hoenn gymleaders. He offers to share her burden and hear out her worries, but Winona angrily brushes him off, and says she is strong enough to deal with the pressure of the work the Pokemon Association bestowed upon her. She reminds Wallace to remember his own place, and to keep conversation between them professional simply because the relationship they used to share no longer exists. A look of bitterness crosses her face, and she turns around from Wallace, requesting that he leave her alone.

Peeping from the window, Ruby cannot hear Wallace and Winona's words, but from their expressions, he sees that a lot of emotions are involved. He recalls Sapphire's words about the gymleaders' attempt to recruit external help from other skillful trainers, and knows that everyone in Fortree right now, including his teacher Wallace, are there to safeguard Hoenn from the impending catastrophe. However, it is not where he wishes to belong. Taking another look at Wallace from the window, he secretly apologizes to the man for leaving without a goodbye. The image of Sapphire screaming about not wanting to see him again flashes across his mind, and he reasons to himself that it is time to leave Fortree.

Wallace lets out a sigh as he exits the Tree Tower, and is just in time to see a depressed Ruby hop on Zuzu and begin surfing away along the stream. The Sootopolis gymleader quickly jumps into his air-car to give chase, but the stream leads into a deep jungle, and he soon loses sight of Ruby amid the dense trees and bushes. Baffled by the upset look on the boy's face, he wonders what could have happened to him. He recalls that Ruby has already conquered the normal and super ranks of contests, and rationalizes that he would most likely visit Slateport next for the hyper rank. Speeding up the motor on his air-car, Wallace quickly heads south.

As the sun rises above the horizon, Wallace arrives in Slateport and couldn't believe the sight before his eyes. Gone were the prosperous streets and markets, and instead, the whole place is flooded with sea water, and horrified screams are heard from every corner of the drowned city…

Countdown to our heroes' rival showdown: 29 days!

Thanks To Coronis For Writing this for us




231: VS. Masquerain!


Volume 19