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At the Hoenn third devision of the Pokemon Science Lab, Crys excitedly enters the room of Prof. Oak, and informs him that Emerald has finally made contact with her. She states that the young trainer has just conquered the Battle Arena challenge, bringing the total amount of Frontier symbols he has earned to four, including Knowledge, Luck, Brave and Guts. She adds that Emerald will be challenging the Battle Dome for that day, and the boy seems confident as usual.

Getting up from his seat in front of the computer, Prof. Oak remarks that Emerald has only 3 more facilities to challenge, which means there are also only 3 days, counting in the present day, left for him to provide absolute protection to the phantom Pokemon Jirachi. The old man puts on a worried look as his Ledyba, Ledichy, hovers over him, and wonders if everything will be all right.

Crys starts flipping through a pile of files she is carrying, and agrees that the 3 days ahead of critical times, which is why the professor must get his expertise in evaluating new information right away. She explains that Emerald has documented details about the armoured man named Guile whom he encountered, and she hopes that they could work out something from it. With that, she unloads an armful of papers in front of Oak, who widens his eyes in awe and sweatdrops at the girl's overtly professional attitude in dealing with such matters.

Crys states that in order to provide an impeccable backup for Emerald, their input is essential. She takes out the Pokeball of Tupeon, who has now evolved into a Xatu, and shares a knowing nod with it, both understanding that they might join in the battle if the situation calls for it.

Crys then changes the topic, and grins that Emerald has actually cheered for one of his Pokemon during his Arena challenge, something that the boy has never done before. Oak is pleasantly surprised by the news, and is certain that Emerald must have astonished himself by doing so as well. Crys states that Emerald seems to have changed since she last talked to him, and muses that his current mission must have been the reason.

Just then, a voice comes from behind to agree with her thoughts, and states that big events make a person grow, especially people with extreme personalities, who would certainly have more extreme changes compared with others. Crys turns around to see a bearded middle-aged man wearing a white lab coat, and instantly recognizes him as Prof. Birch.

Birch humbly introduces himself to Prof. Oak, and feels honored to meet the top authority in the Pokemon world. Oak grins that Birch is surely no less famous than he is in Hoenn, and says he has heard a lot of great things about him from the people in the region. Oak then wants to know what is it that brought Birch to their science lab, and Birch begins explaining the reason behind his visit.

Meanwhile, at the Battle Frontier, Emerald arrives at the entrance of the Battle Dome with Sceptile, Sudowoodo and Dusclops, and feels completely rejuvenated after the long rest the night before. He puts on a wide grin, and is fully determined to conquer the Battle Dome that day.

Just then, fireworks begin shooting off from the rooftop of the building, showering pieces of coloured paper all over the place. When the smoke clears, Tucker emerges in a proud posture with his arms spread wide, and welcomes Emerald to his fifth facility challenge. The Dome Ace then leaps off the rooftop and begins flying around, pleased with his own stunt. But Emerald instantly sees that the man is simply being lifted around by his Salamence via some transparent ropes, and nonchalantly states that it is not that impressive.

Tucker lands next to Emerald, and starts reciting his prepared welcome speech, praising Emerald for his uniqueness as a trainer, and acknowledging their initial disagreement on various matters since the day of the Frontier's opening ceremony. But before he could carry on, Emerald pats him on the head with his magic hand extensor, and suggests that he cut out the unnecessary and simply tell him the rules.

Tucker grunts in annoyance at the interruption, and says there is something else Emerald has to know before the rules. Reaching out his hand to turn Emerald's head around, he motions the boy to look towards the seaport, where a giant ship is docked. Tucker explains that it is the S.S. Tidal, a luxurious liner linking the Battle Frontier to the rest of Hoenn. Emerald is surprised to know that such a craft exists, and remarks that it was Latios and Latias who brought him there.

Emerald then notices that huge crowds of people are getting off from the ship, and wonders what is happening. Tucker grins with pride that he is the Ace of the Battle Dome, and can only give his best performance in a full stadium of audience, which is why they must have spectators. But Tucker adds that there is more. He tells Emerald to take a closer look at the people who are alighting, and states that among the spectators, they are also trainers who have actually come to challenge the Battle Dome.

Emerald frowns with confusion when he hears that there will be other challengers, and couldn't understand how it could be. At that moment, Anabel appears together with her Raikou, and explains that they are just trainers scattered across the land who aim to conquer the Battle Frontier just like Emerald. As for the reason behind their involvement, she reveals that the Battle Dome challenge actually works in the form of a tournament.

So far, apart from the Frontier Brains, all the trainers Emerald has faced are virtual ones generated by computers. While virtual trainers worked well for the previous facilities since Emerald only had to defeat a series of opponents in a row, things will start to get boring in a tournament type of challenge, because the reporters will have to watch an endless amount of computer versus computer battles, which would surely tire them and steer them away. Therefore, the Frontier's owner Scott has decided to allow entry of other challengers, but only for the Battle Dome challenge.

Emerald nods in agreement to the rationale behind the arrangement, and Anabel adds that while the tournament takes place, they are also at the same time preparing for their next encounter with Guile and Jirachi. Initially, there have been worries on whether it is a good decision to bring such a big crowd of people to the Frontier in the midst of their current situation, but the final decision lies in the hands of Anabel herself, and she believes that as Frontier Brains, they are well equipped and competent in entertaining and dealing with the safety of their visitors, which is why she carried on with the plan.

Emerald starts to get bored in the conversation, and wonders if he could start his challenge now. He places his arms behind his head in a nonchalant manner, and says he doesn't care whether his opponents are virtual or real, because he will beat them all the same anyway. Anabel grins at Emerald's confidence, and turns around to tell Tucker to focus on his battle and nothing else, because Lucy and Greta will tend to the visitors, and she will handle the rest. Tucker thanks Anabel, and Emerald impatiently drags the man into the Dome building.

As the two make their way through the entrance, Tucker explains that each tournament set will have 16 trainers, and there are a total of 4 trainers that one must beat in order to claim champion in each set. Tucker himself will take part in the fifth set of the tournament, and Emerald calculates that he might start meeting Tucker in battles after his sixteenth victory. Tucker nods, and makes Emerald promise not to lose before they meet. The boy grins that he won't, and the two soon arrive at the stadium inside.

What Emerald sees astonishes him. All the audience stands are completely crammed with spectators, and there must be well over a thousand people in the stadium. Emerald has to cover his ears for the first few minutes due to the thundering cries and cheering from the crowd upon seeing Tucker, and can't believe their enthusiasm.

Tucker beams with pride, and wonders where Emerald's reporter friend is. Emerald replies that he is staying in his room at the inn to arrange the photos he has taken so far, and Tucker bolts with horror that the young man has not come to do coverage on him. The Dome Ace snivels that he will regret about it soon, and lifts himself off the ground on Salamence's transparent ropes to perform his flying stunt while Emerald sweatdrops from below.

While the crowd continues to cheer for Tucker, Emerald decides to head to the challengers' seating area, but soon finds himself face to face with a bunch of not too friendly trainers shooting cold looks at him. Emerald returns the favour with a glare of disdain, and rudely plops himself down on the bench between two trainers, knocking some of the people on the edge onto the ground.

At the Frontier's accommodation inn, Todd sits on the floor in front of piles and piles of photos he has just printed out from his computer, and carefully arranges them according to their quality. He picks up a photo of Emerald and Sceptile during the Factory challenge, and notices that the grass Pokemon seems to be staring at the boy with an uncanny interest. He flips through several more photos in sequence, and spots the same thing. He grins that Sceptile appears to have liked Emerald right from the start, and understands why it has showed such a strong loyalty to him in the recent events.

Just as Todd is aligning the photos for easier storage, the sharp edge of one photo cuts his finger, and the young reporter hollers that he is bleeding. He quickly calls the front desk of the inn to request some antiseptic ointment and bandages, and sticks his finger into his mouth to stop the bleeding for now. But as soon as he hangs up the phone, he hears a knock on the door, and is surprised and impressed by the service efficiency.

He opens the door to find a nurse with bright pink hair, and is once again astonished that the inn has its own medical staff. The nurse grins as she starts flipping through the first aid kit, and tells Todd to hold up his finger. Todd quickly recognizes it as telepathy, and realizes that it is Latias in disguise again.

Latias explains that Emerald has requested her to investigate on the Guile Hideout, and she is just wandering around trying to find the armoured man's whereabouts. She then helps Todd bandage his wound, and spots the photos of Emerald scattered on the floor. Todd shows her the uncanny looks Sceptile give Emerald, and Latias giggles that the grass Pokemon is certainly interested in Rald's Pokedex.

Todd is surprised to know that Sceptile's attention is drawn by the Pokedex but not Emerald, and Latias explains that it is what she observed. Although Sceptile has now developed a strong loyalty and liking to Emerald, its initial interest was only in the Pokedex. Todd takes another look at the photo and agrees to Latias's point of view, but also starts to wonder why the Pokemon has such a strong affinity to the high-tech device.

Back inside the Battle Dome's stadium, the arrangements of the tournament's first set has been decided and is displayed on the monitor screen. In the first battle, Hex Maniac Valerie faces off Ruins Maniac Dusty. Valerie's Sableye delivers a powerful Shadow Ball, but is quickly clashed with a Rock Blast from Dusty's Corsola. In the second battle, Battle Girl Cyndy orders an Arm Thrust from her Makuhita to faint Bug Catcher James's Weezing, but not before the poison Pokemon pulls off a Memento, drastically lowering Makuhita's status. In the third battle, Ninja Boy Lao has his Spinda deliver a Dizzy Punch, and Gentleman Walter counters with his Oddish's Razor Leaf.

While the tournament battles carry on, Scott hovers above the audience stand in his flying saucer, and sees from the screen that Emerald is trainer number 10 for this set. Soon, the fifth battle commences, and Emerald speeds onto the stage with Sceptile, Sudowoodo and Dusclops, ready to face their first opponent, the Aroma Lady Rose, whose signature Pokemon is a Vileplume...

Thanks To Coronis For Writing this for us

319: VS Vileplume I

Volume 28