Aspirations - ProbablySomethingSomewhere - Pocket Monsters | Pokemon (2024)

Chapter 1: Initiation

Chapter Text

.—.—.

Ash Ketchum sat in his bedroom, a pencil twirled around his hand as he bit the inside of his lip. He stretched his back out as he looked at his old notes as if they had greatly offended him. He’d thought to refresh his mind of the finer details of his notations from the Pallet Academy. When he wrote the notes, he’d thought they were alright, good even. Now he was tempted to burn them. His handwriting was atrocious, and his letters took up twice the space they should. He’d gotten used to taking all his notes shorthand, but his older notes lacked any such method. He shuddered as he closed his notebook titled ‘Basics’ and reached for a different one titled ‘Pillars’.

Ash flipped through the notebook without really paying any attention to the words on the page. He felt something smack the back of his head. He rubbed his scalp as he automatically picked up the fallen eraser that had been used as a projectile and sent it hurling back to its owner. “Heads up.”

“Ow! I didn’t throw it that hard!” Gary bit out as he rubbed his forehead where the pink eraser bounced off it. “Good throw though.”

Ash laughed. “Thanks. What’s up, Gary?”

The grandson of the notoriously famous professor plopped down in Ash’s snorlax beanbag. The Oak poked the pidgey alarm clock on the bedside table with a smirk. “Nothin’, I’m bored and you have to entertain me. Gramps made me take a break from studying. Too much sharpening dulling the blade or something.”

The Pallet teens shared a look before breaking into laughter. It was a well-known fact that Samuel Oak liked to drop bits of wisdom he ripped from the pages of famous literature.

“Was that Kraft or Gram?” Gary asked.

“Volten, actually.” Ash answered with a smirk as he closed his notes. A break would do him good too. “Getting rusty on your Alolan poets?”

“Volten was Hoennese.”

“He was born in Alola then moved to Hoenn.”

Gary scoffed and rolled his eyes. Ash gave a grin. “Whatever. On a less boring note, did your mom ever send you a postcard?”

“Yeah, standard pidgey mailing.” Ash handed Gary a letter from his desk. His mother had been on a sightseeing trip ever since she retired. Delia Ketchum was young but she’d had enough inheritance and shrewd investments to retire in her late thirties. So, she was seeing the places she’d always wanted to but never had the chance. The postcard she had sent recently showed herself in front of the Bell Tower of Ecruteak City.

“Seems like she’s enjoying herself. Good for her.” Gary inspected the card. “Ecruteak City is cool as hell. I can’t believe you skipped out to stay in this dead-end town."

“I wouldn’t have nearly enough time to study. Besides that, I wouldn’t have been back in time to take the TLEs,” Ash replied. “You really think I’d skip out on becoming a trainer for a vacation? Grow up.”

Requirements existed that had to be met before someone could be a licensed Pokemon Trainer. After all, the League couldn’t just let anyone go into a world full of creatures capable of mass destruction, let alone train them, without being prepared.

The title of Pokemon Trainer itself was fairly prestigious. A person could by all rights own a pokemon as a non-trainer, a one-week course and a small fee was all it took, but anything deemed excessive by the League was vetoed. To travel the routes meant the necessity of a pokemon, but only a trainer was allowed to participate in regulated battles and own pokemon the League filed as excessively dangerous. A non-trainer might have an oddish, but a trainer could have a dragonite.

To be licensed as a pokemon trainer, a person was required to pass a Trainer Licensing Exam, commonly referred to as a TLE. However, to many people’s chagrins, they must first have graduated from a League approved academy to be eligible to take the exam. After the batch of qualified students graduated from an approved academy, they could apply to take their TLEs. They would then be assigned a testing time and date at the nearest testing facility, which was usually a Ranger’s Station or Pokemon Gym but happened to be Oak’s lab for the graduates in Pallet Town. To be a pokemon trainer in the eyes of the League they then simply needed to pass the exam.

It sounded fairly easy, yet the exam was anything but. The licensing exam was broken down into two different sections, the written and the practical. The written portion of the exam tested the prospective trainer’s memory of various species of pokemon, applications of different native plants and other more region-specific knowledge. The practical consisted of a mock battle with a randomly assigned pokemon to measure their ability to adapt and command a pokemon they may find themselves possessing in the future. It also helped them make sure they memorized various attacks any pokemon could know, as an examinee wouldn’t know which beast they could get assigned. Besides the mock battle, practical applications of many different skills such as making a fire, identifying edible plants, setting up a camp and directional awareness were assessed as well.

It was a very thorough exam. Understandable given the constant danger that plagued the life of even the most average of trainers. The Indigo League needed to make sure that the trainers they licensed wouldn’t come back severely injured or in caskets.

“Grow up? I’m taller than you.” Gary handed back the letter. “Still trying for the top spot?”

“Did you expect anything else?” Ash asked in faux surprise. The Pallet Trainer Academy worked differently compared to the numerous other schooling facilities in Kanto. The class size at the school almost never went above fifteen and only a single class was held at a time, another being authorized once the previous group had all been finalized. Of the fifteen, only a few usually graduated. The requirements and expectations of the curriculum were high. Ash had worked hard to graduate from the course, but it had been well worth it.

Ash knew he had worked hard in the trainer course, but he would work even harder in the licensing exam, striving for first place amongst his peers. He needed to get first place in order to get a coveted Kanto starter.

The Kanto starters were three incredibly promising pokemon handed out to three select trainers every year. One such trainer earns that spot by placing first in the toughest and most in-depth trainer school in Kanto, The Pallet Trainer Academy. So, in order for Ash to receive one of the rare starters he’d need to place first in the TLE since it was essentially his final for the class.

“Nah, but I thought I’d ask,” Gary responded. “By the way, Ethan and Leaf are waiting for us at the diner for lunch.”

Ash Ketchum, despite what Gary Oak would say, did not throw a notebook at his friend’s head. It merely slipped. “You should have told me that earlier! How long have they been waiting?”

“How long have I been here?”

.—.—.—.

“Ketchum, about time you showed up!” Leaf waved him down and Ash slipped into the booth in the Pallet Diner. He gave Gary a glare for leaving him while he was getting ready. He sat directly across from her and got a full view of the half-chewed bread in her mouth.

“Gross, swallow your food. No one should have to see that, Lavern.” Ash teased. It was a running gag between them that he’d only call him by her given name, one she detested for a reason none of them really knew. It was, as Gary had put it, an old woman’s name so he thought that might be it.

Leaf grinned as she said, “I think you should follow your own advice, Ketchum. Didn’t Instructor Mathers get on you about chewing on your pens?”

Ethan, the Golden Boy from New Bark Town, shook his head. “You two are both children.”

“Children? Weren’t you just arguing with Gary about colors?” Leaf asked pointedly.

Ethan nodded seriously. “Of course, it's very important.” He held the professional persona for a few more seconds before grining. They all joined him in the laughter.

Ash swiped his gaze over to his friend. “Colors, really Gary? Are we in art class? Need a pack of crayons and a kid’s menu?”

“It's not as dumb as she makes it sound, you ass. Professor Sycamore–you remember that kalosian playboy that was in the lab a few months back? That guy–published a study finding that arbok from Kanto, Kalos and Hoenn all varied slightly in their hood patterns. Kanto arbok were more dominantly purple, Hoenn’s had more yellow, and Kalos’ had blacker marking.” Gary explained.

Ethan wiped his mouth. “Professor Sycamore thinks it has to do with their genetic predispositions and environmental factors. Gary disagrees.”

Ash gave Gary a quizzical look. The Oak sipped from his water glass before continuing. “I think it has to do with their training instead. In Kanto ekans are often consuming eggs, bug-types or small flying-types. In Hoenn and Kalos, the areas where ekans are found are often littered with larger pokemon that they can’t steal eggs from nearly as easily. Ekans adapted differently between the two. In Hoenn they grew to commonly hunt water-type from ponds and lakes. In Kalos they have a more debilitating venom to weaken their prey.”

“So how does this not count as genetic predispositions and environmental factors?” Ash asked after he gave a waitress his order.

“Their hoods are all about giving other pokemon a warning, so theoretically you should be able to train an ekans in a specific area and they’d evolve to look similar to a different region’s arbok. A Kanto ekans could evolve to look like a Kalos arbok if given the proper training.”

Leaf swallowed a piece of food just as Gary finished talking. “Oak, your theory needs some work.”

“So says you, Miss Background Character.”

“I told you not to call me that, Gare-Bear.”

Ash ignored them as they bickered. Ethan all but sprayed them with a spray bottle to separate them. Ash was preoccupied. His meal arrived and he dug into his miltank steak ravenously and put the approaching TLEs out of his mind.

This break had been completely worth it.

.—.— .

A week later Ash admired Pallet Town’s main contribution to the modern world. Professor Samuel Oak’s research lab was large and sparkling white. The attached corral was dozens of acres big and confined by a wall thicker and taller than a snorlax.The doors slammed behind him as he entered the awe inspiring building.

“Ah! Ash, my boy, good to see you!” Professor Oak greeted the fifteen year old in surprise as he walked into the office. The older man looked tired, understandable considering the size of his workload, but chipper nonetheless.

“Good morning, Professor Oak,” Ash greeted the man with a grin and a wave. His spiky hair looked disheveled as he swiped away a few strands that were stuck to his forehead by beads of sweat. He made a note to have his hair groomed soon, he certainly wouldn’t be able to cut it while on the Routes.

“You certainly are early,” Professor Oak noted with a smile. “Gary is going to take his time to sleep this morning, so don’t expect him to be arriving until the last second. Ethan, as I'm sure you have already heard, failed to meet the requirements of the TLE and will not be able to receive a starter until he retakes and passes it. I have him set up with another testing date in a month.”

Ash nodded. He had been disappointed when he learned his friend would be unable to start his trainer career at the same time. Ethan had seemed prepared, but maybe that was the point. No one could ever truly prepare you for the TLEs.

“What about Leaf?” Ash asked Oak after realizing he’d neglected to mention the girl.

“She should arrive at the designated time. I believe I said noon, yet you get here at eight.” The man said with a twinkle of humor in his eyes.

“Yeah, I figured I’d get here early and help out around the place. I’ll be gone and away from here for a while. I'll miss it.” Ash said with a lopsided smile. “Besides, a little extra work won’t kill me.”

“True enough. I would certainly appreciate the help, my boy. A large section of the staff have come down sick because of a muk’s stench. Thankfully Dragonite was able to clear it out. Nonetheless, they have taken off work so I’m a little short on employees at the moment. Gary has helped around a bit, but you know how he is.” Oak sighed as picked up and read a few sheets of paper. He didn’t seem to like what they said as he frowned and picked up a pen to sign them.

Ash rolled up his sleeves. “Put me to work.”

“Thank you, Ash. Feeding stations B3 and K9 need to be refilled with the usual mix, the ponyta and mudbray in the western stables need brushed, and the solar panels on the roof need cleared off. Dragonite managed to whip up every bit of sand and dirt not under the building itself.” Oak listed off the jobs that needed done quickly. “Before you do that, a couple of the maturing nidoran were battling and provoked Nico, who proceeded to break a hole in the fence of the corral.”

Ash winced. Nico was the Professor’s Nidoking from his younger years. Grumpy on the best of days and lethal at the worst. He was sure the nidoran were punished for that provocation.

“As a result, two growlithe have gotten out. They’re both just a week old and can't even manage an Ember, so you should be able to round them up fairly easily. I have a couple interns already gathering the proper materials to begin working on the fence, but they’re new enough I can't trust them to round up the pokemon. I know you can handle it. I would send Lady but I need her to keep the corral pokemon clear while the interns fix the fence.”

“It's fine, like you said, I can handle it. I only worked here for a couple years,” Ash said jokingly as he leaned down and laced his boots tighter than they had been. “What are their ID numbers?”

“Numbers seven and three of clutch nine, the ending code is the same as always. Thank you again, Ash.” The Professor said as he left to start on his own list of things that needed doing.

“Of course. Anytime you need some help, just ask.” Ash assured the man. “The growlithe got out in the what section?”

“Section F7. A male and a female.” Oak informed Ash. “Please try and be back here by noon.”

“I will.” Ash assured the man as he left. His first priority would be the growlithe. If they were as young as Oak had said then they wouldn’t go far before running out of steam. First, he’d need their pokeballs. The Digital Transfer Machine in the lobby of the building would retrieve them easily. After a few moments of quickly making his way to the machine and navigating it with practiced ease, Ash left the building with the fire-types’ pokeballs. He was ready to retrieve them.

.--.--.

“Damn it.” Ash muttered to himself at the sight in the clearing. Blood was splattered across the grass and the surrounding shrubs. Two spearow were picking at the form of one of the growlithe that he had set out to retrieve. “Get outta here!” He yelled at the birds and made a shoo-ing gesture with his hands. The pair squawked as they took flight and flew off. The larger of the two had a large bite taken from its left wing that gave it some trouble but flew off nonetheless. It would certainly heal just fine, but might leave a slight scar.

Had there been the whole flock of the flying-types, Ash would have most likely avoided the clearing. Lucky for him, the two spearow were seemingly flockless. Rogues that most likely challenged the head of their own flock and lost, their punishment being exile. The growlithe’s body was still in mostly one piece, fur matted and missing in places but still relatively unharmed. Had a flock been responsible for the fire-type’s death, the fearow in charge would have been first to eat and would most likely have been able eat it himself. He kneeled down and inspected the corpse with a frown. It was the female growlithe.

No pulse, no breathing and no light in its eyes. Definitely dead. Ash sighed in disappointment, he had known it wasn't alive the minute he saw it but still held on to some hope. The puppy pokemon was only a week old. It had no way to defend against its attackers.

He straightened up when a bush rustled from his right. Ash readied himself to flee at a moment's notice. He relaxed slightly when the other growlithe came into view. It was in far better shape then the other one, alive and breathing at least. Ash grabbed the appropriate pokeball and prepared to return the pokemon.

He barely sidestepped an Ember attack from the young pokemon. Ash wasn't as lucky with the second Ember as it managed to hit his arm as he moved out of the way. He dropped the pokeball as his other arm instinctively grabbed the spot of his injury. He clenched his teeth in both annoyance and pain.

The growlithe rushed him while he was distracted. Before he could comprehend what it was doing, it bit his ankle. Ash grunted and leaned down to it. He grabbed it by the scruff and jerked its muzzle from around his leg. He held its snout to the ground in case it tried to fire another Ember. He reached for the pokeball he dropped and returned the fire-type quickly. In an instant, the canine under his hands was gone.

“Not able to perform an Ember my ass.” Ash grunted, annoyed. He hissed in pain as he rubbed his left forearm. The burn from the growlithe was minor–not his first scar and it wouldn’t be his last–but the bite wound on his ankle was shooting lances of pain up his leg and trickling some beads of blood.

He pocketed the two pokeballs as he walked with a slight limp back to the lab. He retrieved the corpse of the female on his way. He’d need to return the pokeball with the now recaptured pokemon to the Digital Transfer Machine and let Oak know he had gotten the puppy under control and pass on the death of the female.

Ash knew he’d need to apply antiseptic to the bite, which he didn't look forward to, but he was fine all things considered. After unloading the retrieved pokemon and the fallen one, he grabbed a medical kit and patched himself up. It was a simple procedure, one he’d gotten used to performing, and soon enough he was back on his feet and working. Oak was disappointed in the death of the growlithe but understood. Ash left the situation in the man’s hands now, not much else he could do. The researcher apologized profusely for the burn he had sustained but Ash waved it off as an inevitability of life.

No pain no gain and all that.

He returned to his duties soon enough. The pokemon in sections B3 and K9 seemed pleased as he filled the feeding stations. A few of the less skittish herbivores–namely a rowdy deerling that kept getting under his feet–even followed him until he left for the stables. The stables were fairly empty, just a few rapidash and a select population of ponyta and mudbray that belonged to trainers. Professor Oak had a good side business of boarding trainers’ pokemon. Some pokemon were there to be researched, such was the case of a psyduck with a distinctly different coloring than the rest of its species, while others were pokemon that’s trainers paid the researcher to house. Many pokemon were from trainers who exceeded their carry limit and needed a place to keep their excess team members.

He groomed the pokemon quickly, the process going far faster than it would have had the pokemon not already been trained. By the time Ash finished his last task of clearing off the solar panels, it was past eleven and nearing noon.

Ash barely had enough time to use the employee shower to clear him of the sweat and dirt he had accumulated before he needed to return to the Professor’s office. He threw the towel he had used into a laundry basket before making his way to the office of the Old Oak.

“Hey, Professor.” Ash knocked on the open door as he entered. “Am I the first one?”

“It would seem so. Did you finish everything then?” The older man asked as he typed a few keys on his computer.

“Of course. I said I would, didn't I?” Ash smiled cheekily. “Shouldn’t the others be here by now? Leaf is-”

As if responding to a cue, a brunette girl with tan, unblemished skin and a white beanie entered the room and cut him off. She waved lazily at them both as she finished chewing whatever food item was in her mouth.

“What about me, Ketchum?” Leaf asked playfully after she swallowed her food.

Ash grinned at his friend as she walked in. “You actually passed then?”

“Of course. Did ya’ think I wouldn’t? You still owe me a battle.” She snarked at him with a grin.

“Of course,” Ash agreed. They had agreed before they had even entered the Oak’s Trainer Academy that they, along with Ethan and Gary, would all be each other’s first official battles. That would be a problem now that Ethan had failed to pass the exam but it would work itself out.

Professor Oak cleared his throat. They grinned bashfully at the man. “Now then, once Gary arrives we can begin. While we wait, how about I give you both something. A graduation present, if you will.”

Leaf and Ash both perked up in excitement at the thought of a gift from the one and only Professor Samuel Oak himself. The older man reached for a bag sitting on his desk made of oak wood–Ash was sure that design detail was intended–and pulled out two shiny red devices. He smiled broadly as he handed one to each of them.

Ash recognized it immediately and judging from the look on Leaf’s face, she did too. Ash explored every inch of the Pokedex with wonder. The Pokedex was an invention by Samuel Oak himself. The man had made the oldest versions years ago and the technology was still a rare sight. The use of the device was wide, it was an encyclopedia of pokemon knowledge, as well as a way to contact the professor in an emergency. It kept notes, contacts and gave news reports of pokemon activity. The biggest feature, and the one Ash looked forward to using the most, was that it could display the known moves of a trainer’s pokemon and learnable moves. That did however require you to link your pokeball to the device.

He knew the device had more functions but that was off the top of his head. Ash continued to marvel at it as he flipped it open to try it out. He knew it was a newer model when he read the words on the bottom of the device. “Mark Four?” Ash questioned the pokemon researcher.

“Yep! It’s the latest in pokedex technology and I thought that you two, as well as Gary, could put them to the best use! It will save my weary bones from having to collect data in the field.” Oak grinned widely. “It has a few new features, but I’ll let you two figure them out yourselves.”

Ash fiddled with the Dex as they waited for Gary to arrive. He skimmed the knowledge it gave, barely scratching the surface of information it could provide him.

Leaf and Ash grinned as the heavy door swung open and a spiky brown-haired boy walked in with swagger. “About time, Oak.” Leaf remarked as Gary gave a smirk and a wave.

“I’m on time. Five minutes early actually.” Gary told her. “You and Ash just like being awake at the crack of dawn.”

“Alright,” The Professor interrupted, knowing if Leaf and Gary started arguing they wouldn’t stop. “I say we should begin with the formalities.”

Ash didn’t let that stop his grin, even as both his friends groaned. The formalities, as the older Oak referred to them, was paperwork. Ash listened to Leaf and Gary quip at each other constantly as they all signed their names, checked boxes and stapled dozens of papers.

.—.—.

“Firstly, I want to congratulate all three of you. Graduating from any academy, let alone Pallet Academy, is a worthy accomplishment and you should all feel exceptionally proud. And now you three have all passed your Trainer Licensing Exams.” Professor Oak said happily. When he saw they were unimpressed and fidgeting he sighed. “Alright. The impatience of youth,” He mumbled, though a hint of a smile was on his face.

“Leaf,” Oak started. “I know you worked exceptionally hard. However, you came in last. You missed a few questions on the written test, most of which pertained to proper dietary needs of specific pokemon, and your practical was less than perfect. Nevertheless, you did splendidly on the questions involving pokemon habitats and behaviors as well as utilizing your assigned pokemon to great lengths in the mock battle.”

Leaf groaned and rubbed the nape of her neck. “I kinda figured. To be fair, who memorizes the dietary needs of a skarmory?”

“It is important that you are at least vaguely familiar with any native pokemon or common migrant you may encounter.” Oak pointed out with a disapproving tone.

Leaf accepted the response with a nod. She turned to Gary as he let out a slight snort. “Be quiet, Gary. Ash, you better not let this prick beat you.”

Ash laughed at the shocked look on Gary’s face and the Professor’s chastising of Leaf’s language. “Sure.”

Oak moved on before Gary could formulate a reply. “Ash, Gary. You both did exceptionally well. Ash, you excelled in the practicals but failed to recall certain information in the written portion. Gary, you excelled in the written portion but fumbled in the mock battle.”

Ash met Gary’s eyes. They stared at each other. Both of them wanted a Kanto starter. Their friendship and rivalry had all led up to this very moment. Professor Oak smiled. “It's impressively close, you both came within a single percent of each other.” Ash and Gary both froze. They had certainly not expected that.

Ash didn't care who came first, he simply wanted the starter and getting first would achieve that. The League gave out only three of the official Kanto starters every year. All three were mind-bogglingly rare and practically extinct outside of captivity. The odds of encountering one of them naturally was abysmal at best, so it was effectively here or nothing. Only small numbers of all three of the pokemon’s population remained and the League guarded them furiously. Squads of ACE Trainers, also known as Advanced Combat Experienced Trainers, and League Rangers guarded the threatened pokemon from poachers and other threats religiously. The point being that he couldn’t even go out and buy one.

Bulbasaur are dual grass/poison-type pokemon and the most endangered of each of the starters. The fire-type starter, charmander, was the most aggressive of the starters due to their diluted dragon-type genes. The water-type, squirtle, was formidable in its own right. Ash saw the appeal the pokemon held to Gary. Gary had declared his intent for the water-type the minute he could form words. Ash had heard many long-winded talks on why squirtle were superior and how Gary would get one as his starter.

Each of the starters had their strengths but a great trainer could train them regardless of their weaknesses. Ash hadn’t even bothered to consider which one he would want. Each time Oak handed out the starters, the League appointed trainers always chose first. The trainer from Pallet Academy would always complain about the order.

Ash didn’t care which of the three starters he got, but he was slightly partial to charmander. He’d seen the professor’s own charizard in action and he had been in love from the sight of the massively powerful pseudo-dragon. Samuel Oak was the person Ash wanted to emulate. His team were monsters and he was revered as one of the best trainers Indigo had produced in decades until Lance had come along.

“Gramps, who gets the starter?” Gary asked with impatience.

“That is the question, isn’t it?” The professor smiled happily. “Gary, congratulations. You achieved a score of ninety to Ash’s eighty-nine.”

“Yes!” Gary exclaimed as he fist pumped. Ash hadn’t seen his friend actually jump for joy since they were kids, yet here he was hopping like a lopunny. Leaf rolled her eyes as Gary gave her a condescending smirk.

Ash’s eyes met Gary’s own. The Oak’s excitement dulled as he realized that Ash might be slightly offended by the display. Ash smiled and clasped arms with his best friend before dragging him into a hug. “Hell of a job, Blue.”

“Thanks, Red.” Gary said with a smile that spread ear to ear.

Professor Oak smiled and cleared his throat to regain their attention. “I will notify the committee that you accept the honor of receiving a starter. On another note, you should all celebrate. You all passed and will be licensed as trainers!” The three of them all smiled at each other, even if Ash’s was tinged with disappointment.

“Your trainer licenses and identifications will arrive within a week and once you have a League approved starter, you’ll be all set. Leaf, Ash, do you both have a backup starter available?”

Leaf nodded. “My uncle knows a breeder in Goldenrod City. League representatives already approved one of the machop as my backup starter.” Leaf said with a small smile.

“Good, then I wish you well. I will speak with your parents and retrieve your machop for you, as I am obligated to inspect it before you obtain it.” Oak said as he sent the girl off. Ash smiled at the retreating figure before she left with the door swinging behind her.

Samuel Oak looked at Ash with a smile. “My boy, congratulations. Though you did not place first, you did very well nonetheless,” Oak paused for a moment. “Do you have a backup starter?”

“The Viridian City Gym has an open house in two days. They’ll have a few pokemon I can choose a starter from.” Ash said.

“For the price of an arm, a leg and your first born child.” Gary snarked.

Ash couldn’t disagree with him. For the average trainer it was up to themselves to acquire a suitable starter. Most turned to breeders or spawn of family pokemon that were approved by the League. For those who had no better option they could go to their closest Gym’s open house and, for a snorlax’s weight in gold, pick a starter from the selection they had there.

For Ash the closest Gym meant Viridian. It was the Gym Leader’s responsibility to capture the pokemon and curb them into starter quality pokemon. While the Gym Leader wasn’t forced to stick to any specific typing, many Gym Leaders ended up catching pokemon convenient for them and that usually meant their preferred typing. For Ash that meant his starter was more than likely a ground-type.

“I’ll take the hit to my savings. Hey, I might even be able to snatch an onix,” Ash said optimistically.

Gary snorted. His grandfather was much kinder in his reply, “I highly doubt it. Unless the person is an apprentice of some sort, an onix would never be approved as a starter. I believe I heard that there would be a couple cubone, a few sandshrew, a small variety of geodude and one or two rhyhorn this year. There were also a couple rumors going around that Giovanni had acquired a few specimens from his recent trip to Hoenn, not all of them ground-types.”

“If there are Hoenn pokemon, that would be a good pick depending on what they are. I suppose if nothing else, a rhyhorn could be a good starter. Rhydon are pretty powerful, rhyperior even more so. Though they aren’t the most intelligent.” Ash shrugged. “Cubone wouldn’t be too bad either. Any pokemon is better than none.”

“Oh come on!” The grandson of the pokemon professor groaned. “Gramps, just give him a starter from the corral.”

The professor smiled and hummed thoughtfully before addressing Ash. “I would not be opposed to that. I could procure you a starter, if you would like. It won’t be a Kanto starter like Gary’s but hopefully I can make up for that.”

“That’d be great! “ Ash tilted his head slightly. “What do you mean by make up for it, Professor?” He asked quizzically.

“May I see your Pokédex for one moment?” Oak asked with a smile. Ash handed him the device and the older man entered a room off of the lobby. His office, Ash knew. The man returned almost as quickly as he left. “Now, this is what I mean.” He handed Ash back the red device. Ash took the Pokedex with confusion.

“Change to the profile screen.” Oak said with a smile.

After fiddling for a few moments, Ash figured out how to get back to the screen he’d seen earlier when exploring the device. It had his information in it, same as it had earlier when Ash viewed it, but it now listed the man as his sponsor. Ash’s jaw nearly hit the ground.

Sponsors were a rare occurrence in the League’s average trainer population. It was more than simply putting your name forward to help validate a rookie trainer. Once a person was verified as a sponsor, they essentially became everything for their sponsee. Their pokemon that exceeded their carry limit were the sponsor’s responsibility, a sponsor was contacted before even the parents for emergencies. Any actions the trainer does reflects on the sponsor’s name. Being sponsored by higher ranked League officials generally gives you a few more perks, such as being able to have an increased carry limit and go into zones generally restricted.

Ash's thoughts raced as he thought of the benefits of being sponsored by the great man. The sponsored newbies of ACE Trainers and Ranger had advantages, and Ash was sponsored by the former Champion.

The Oak name was a title with great status behind it for a reason. Samuel Oak had been born in Pallet Town when it was nothing but a budding village in the south. Surrounded by forests to its east and west, sea to the south and rugged mountains practically in its backyard, it had been cut off from the rest of the world. Samuel had been raised by his father, Evan Oak, to be a simple farmer. While not rich, Evan provided for his son as well as he could. When the boy had set his mind to being a pokemon trainer, his father procured him a growlithe. The young Samuel Oak had been promised the small canine for a starter if he could pass a Trainer School and get his license.

A growlithe was an easy option for the lower class family. The fire-types were commonplace in both rural and suburban areas and could be trained easily. They also lacked the prideful aggression that most other fire-types were notorious for. While the canine species was easily trained and loyal to a fault, they were also fairly weak. While their final evolution, arcanine, are renowned as a force to be reckoned with, growlithe aren’t able to take hits very well and are vastly slower (though still speedy in their own right). And while their evolution was dangerous, they weren’t easily obtained. Fire Stones were rare, expensive, and only evolved the highest caliber of pokemon.

However, it didn’t deter the young Oak. If at all possible it seemed to push him to do better. To prove that a growlithe could be powerful and utilized effectively in the correct hands was now his mission. The boy passed his TLE with flying colors. Evan Oak kept his promise and gave the boy the growlithe. The pokemon went with the boy and, together, they started crafting the legacy of the legendary Oak family name.

While he started as a rookie, the boy quickly made his way up the rankings and caught many eyes. The boy managed to evolve the growlithe early on in his career and caught other notable pokemon. It was a legend and achievement that Samuel Oak had never caught more than six pokemon in his famed career as a trainer.

The Professor’s starter stayed at the corral most of the time. The gigantic fire-type kept the peace around all of Pallet Town. While the powerful pokemon was capable of incinerating him in a second, she was just as energetic as she was in her growlithe days. Lady never lost the puppy in her, Oak would always say.

His charizard and dragonite were pretty similar in that they both loved to battle. He had seen the two spar once and it was devastating. The battlefield they’d used had taken weeks to fix and was still half-sunk in the far reaches of the corral. While Dragonite was far more kind and willing to help like most of its kind, the fire-type was different. The charizard, named Maverick, was submissive enough that Oak could give the fire-type orders, but not much else. They both stayed in the nearby valley northwest of town with occasional flights to Mt. Hideaway.

Oak’s Nidoking, Nico, migrated between the valley and the corral on a whim. Only the Professor knew where he was at any given time. A good thing if everyone was honest as the purple behemoth was not nearly as playful as .

The man’s alakazam, Karma, was an enigma. She was an extremely powerful psychic that constantly held a barrier around the lab to protect it from stray attacks. She was generally helpful, so Ash assumed she liked him and the residents of Pallet Town well enough. Alakazam as a species usually mediated most of the day and Oak’s was no different.

His sixth and final pokemon was never revealed, even as a champion. The only proof of the man ever owning a sixth pokemon was his own admission and some loose reports of an unrecognized pokemon under the man’s command wiping out entire trainers’ teams near Lavender Town.

He went on to win the Indigo Conference after only three years of training, a feat previously unheard of for a fresh trainer.

After a riveting battle with the Elite Four and the Champion, he won. He was awarded the Champion’s throne with his team by his side and became the youngest trainer to best a champion at the age of seventeen. Of course, he wouldn’t be able to take up the throne until he turned twenty.

When he did take up the mantle, Samuel Oak reigned as the unbeatable Champion of Indigo for a single decade. He implemented changes in that time period, such as the Refined Starter System and position of Regional Professor, and brought a time of peace for the joint Kanto/Johto League. The man stepped down from the throne after ten years, intent to focus on his research and take up the Regional Professor position he himself created.

Even as a Professor, the Oak made significant changes. He’d pulled strings over the years, eventually getting a committee to oversee the handing out of the official Kanto starters to three prospective trainers. He funded the founding of the Pallet Trainer Academy and worked it up to be the most prestigious schooling in Kanto. It was the man’s influence that gave the graduates of the academy the chance to obtain the rare starters of the Kanto region.

Ash jumped slightly as Oak cleared his throat loudly. Ash realized he’d let his thoughts trail off and been in them for a minute or two.

“I assume you know the importance of this?” Oak asked seriously.

Ash nodded vigorously. “Thank you, Professor! I won’t let you down! Not that I’m not grateful, but you don’t need to get me a starter in the first place. Why sponsor me?”

The professor chuckled and put a hand on his shoulder. “In truth I had planned on sponsoring you anyway. You impress me, Ash, and I expect great things from you.” The older man smiled before sitting down. He gestured for Ash to do the same. “Of course, I’ll need to finalize it with the League. I also need to inform you of what I expect of you. First, however, we can get the formalities out of the way.”

Ash watched as the legendary man set down a pile of papers in front of him. He groaned as he grabbed a pen and started signing documents. Gary laughed at his plight as he left the lab.

.—.—.

Ash wheezed as the air left his lungs. His mother ignored him and hugged harder. He was happy to see her but his brain demanded he remove himself from her grasp lest she break a rib.

“What are you doing here, mom?” Ash asked after finally freeing himself. “I didn’t think your trip was over for another month?”

Delia Ketchum smiled brightly. “I postponed it for a week! I refuse to not be here before you start your journey! Oh, Ashy, I’m so proud of you!” She grabbed him back into a hug as he went limp in resignation.

The week that it took for his license and identifications to arrive had gone slow. Far too slow for Ash’s liking. While he was happy to see his mother again and taste her delicious cooking, he dreaded the wait. He and his mother had gone to the Viridian City Shopping Mall - with the ever helpful teleportation from Karma - to grab the last of the supplies that he’d need. He found that his old backpack, a beat up blue and green pack with the Indigo League logo on the back, would not cut it. He bought another one, a rather expensive black traveling pack that could hold what he needed.

Ash felt bad about costing his mother so much, but she waved him off with a smile saying she had more than enough in savings. He offered up his own savings, but again his mother waved him off. She said he’d need as much as possible in the future. The life of a trainer wasn’t cheap, and Ash truly realized that as he stocked his bag with supplies for his journey.

Journeys were considered a right of passage for trainers, a harsh reality check for the egotistical bunch looking for an easy way to money. A trainer’s life was rough and the first year was where it showed the most. Statistically, most only lasted the first year before they dropped from their aspiring career as a pokemon trainer. Some dropped because of the lifestyle and some because of the sheer expense. While trainers had a great many privileges that saved them a good amount of cash, even that came with caveats. Pokemon Centers offered free healing and housing, but that didn’t always mean there would be available rooms.

Ash shook the thoughts as he packed away his purchases. A large canteen, a few dozen ration bars, ten feet of inch-thick rope, a flashlight, multiple batteries, a map, two changes of traveling clothes, a small pop-up tent, a sleeping bag, a fire starting kit, a collapsible metal pot with utensils, a hatchet, a survival knife, a week’s worth of the most basic nutritional pokemon chow (he’d get a more comprehensive and species specific food in the future), a few revives and a dozen of the basic potions. Ash wasn’t sure how it all fit in the pack, but there was a surprising amount of room left to spare. Silph Co. had truly outdone themselves with the expansion pack.

Ash had been ready to leave when he noticed something that caught his eye. While his mother continued browsing a few dresses she liked, he wandered over to the sporting goods store. In the window, he saw what could answer one of his current dilemmas.

Ash couldn’t believe he’d overlooked it. When he was on the road, he’d need to find a way to feed his pokemon. A simple problem with a not so simple solution. If his team was one of herbivores, the problem was annulled as they could eat plants and foliage on the road while also having a side of pokefood to supplement it. However, if one of his pokemon was a carnivore the problem was a little more difficult. While pokefood was cheap, it wasn’t recommended for a pokemon to feast only on the nutritional pellets. Ash knew he’d need to eat as well and only eating non-perishable ration bars didn’t seem an attractive prospect.

The metallic fishing pole that was sitting on the display case could solve that problem. It wasn’t uncommon for people to fish up and eat pokemon, and even more common for pokemon to prey on each other. Hunting was a less common affair given that even a relatively weak pokemon could put up quite a fight and most projectiles, such as bullets or arrows, were useless against the thick hides of many land based pokemon. Taking into account all this, Ash decided that he’d buy the rod.

He did worry about fitting it in his pack, but was appeased as the rod could collapse into itself to the size of a pen while maintaining its structural integrity. Ash found he liked the light weight of the fishing pole. He bought the rod along with a small selection of lures and hooks.

In order to feed himself and his team from the inhabitants of the waters of Kanto without getting in massive legal trouble with the League, Ash would need a fishing license. Coincidentally, the same shop had a booth for such a thing. Ash used his Pokédex as identification and, just as easily as he had walked in, he walked out of the store with a new rod, a dozen or so lures, a few extra hooks and a fishing license.

They were the only items his mother had not bought for him - because he hadn’t told her - and they had cost him a pretty penny. His mother might be a little upset at him for spendy so much before his journey even began, but he thought it better to do it and ask forgiveness, then ask and get turned down.

.—.—.

The rest of the week came to a close and soon enough Ash was tying his shoes and walking to Professor Oak’s lab. It wasn’t too long a walk and in no time he was sitting with Leaf and Gary in a side room off of the Professor’s office.

“So, you got a machop?” Ash questioned Leaf as they waited for the Professor.

“Yeah, the Professor has him. I’m gonna call him something tough. Maybe Brute? No... Brawler. Or Stunner.” She brainstormed with a thoughtful expression.

Ash listened as Leaf rattled off names. “Champ?” He suggested. “I think Bruno has a hitmonchan named Spartan, that's a good name.”

Leaf shrugged. “I think I’ll see what my starter is like first.”

“A wise choice.” Professor Oak said, startling them, as he entered the room with an assistant following him.

Gary perked up as his grandfather entered. His hair was noticeably uncombed and spikey, a rare sight. “Gramps! Have they come in yet?”

The older Oak sighed at Gary’s question. One Ash was sure he’d heard plenty of that week. “Yes, both your licenses and identifications have arrived.”

“The starters, Gramps.” Gary corrected with a scowl.

“Ah, yes, those. They are here as well.” Oak told him with a look that said he’d known exactly what Gary had been asking.

The pokemon researcher held out his hand and gave them all a chain with two metal tags bordered by rubber on the end. Ash took the identification tags and slipped them around his neck, it was a snug fit but it certainly wouldn’t slip off accidentally. One of the metal tags gave his full name, birthday, blood type and birthplace. The other tag held a series of numbers and letters directly above a barcode. Should he lose his tags, he’d need to remember them to get a replacement. He’d also need to pay a fee of almost five hundred dollars. He’d certainly keep it safe. If not for the value it now had to him emotionally, then to keep from paying the steep price.

“As you know, those are your identification should something unfavorable happen. You are legally required to wear them at all times that you are in possession of pokemon. And here,” Oak handed each of them a small plastic card listing much of the same information as the tags and accompanying a picture Ash had all but forgotten taking, “are your official trainer licenses.”

Ash took his with a smile and took out his Dex. He pushed a small button on the side. A rectangular compartment opened and he slid his license in, accompanying his already stored fishing license. Apparently, trainers losing their licenses was a common enough occurrence for Professor Oak to install a storage feature in the new version of his invention.

Judging by the looks on Leaf and Gary’s faces, they hadn’t known it could do that. Ash saw that the Professor seemed pleased that he’d noticed the feature. Soon enough, both Leaf and Gary stored their cards away like he had.

“Now, can we get our starters?” Gary asked impatiently.

“Yes, yes. I think it is about time for that.” Oak smiled broadly. “Gary, the League has sent a kadabra that's going to teleport you to the meeting where you will receive your starter. It is waiting in the lobby.”

Gary groaned. “You couldn’t have had it take me earlier? I waited for these two for an hour.”

The Professor tilted a brow. “I did not choose the time of the meeting. Of course, Ash could always go in your stead.” Gary rolled his eyes as he left the room to go with the teleporting psychic-type. The older man returned his gaze to the other two trainers in the room. “Without further ado, ladies first.”

Leaf smirked smugly at Ash as she went first. Ash rolled his eyes. The Pokemon Professor handed Leaf one of the pokeballs the assistant had been carrying. “Finally!” Leaf exclaimed with a wide grin.

Oak smiled as his eyes twinkled with humor. “As you said last week, the League has already approved this machop. Of course, it is always a recommended idea to have another Pokémon around with new additions. So, please release your machop under Karma’s watchful eye.” Before he had even finished his sentence, the Professor’s alakazam appeared next to him. Ash blinked away the dots in his vision from the blinding light of the psychic-type’s sudden teleportation.

Ash heard a pokeball release as a pokemon emerged from the light. A machop stood a few feet away from Leaf and looked around curiously. The blue skin of the pokemon seemed brighter than normal, a sign of good health and toughness if Ash remembered correctly.

“Alright, I’m Leaf and I’m your trainer. I’ll make you stronger, you just need to do as I say.” She introduced herself in a strong voice. Ash saw the reasoning in appealing to the machop’s natural urge for power.

“Good.” She continued as the small reptilian bipedal pounded his chest. “How about a name?”

The machop pounded his chest again. “Alright, Brute? Stunner? Brawler?” She listed off the names. All turned down almost immediately.

It went on for a few minutes as Leaf rattled off names that the pokemon soundly refused. “Victor? Spartan? Bruiser? Throttler? Champ?” She asked exasperatedly after saying every name she could think of.

The last name caught the fighting-type’s interest and he nodded vigorously after considering it. Leaf glared at Ash as he stifled a laugh. “Alright then, Champ it is. I’m going to return you now. I’ll release you later.”

“Quite the specimen, that machop. Throughout his screening I could tell he was itching to fight. At one point he even challenged a trainer’s primeape. He’ll be a good starter, dedicated and ambitious for sure.” Professor Oak said before moving on as the machop disappeared inside the pokeball.

“Now, Ash, I told you I would acquire a starter for you, and I have. Here you are.” Ash took the sphere containing his starter gratefully. “I believe you shall find an adequate partner in it. The League has already approved it, with some nudging that is.”

Ash breathed deeply. In the pokeball was his first pokemon. The first partner he would face all the Gyms with, his companion for the rest of his trainer career. He extended his arm and released the inhabitant of the pokeball. The black and white creature that materialized was one Ash didn’t recognize at first. It stood above the other starter in the room at three feet tall but was hunched over, making its heavy body look smaller so he may have estimated its height wrong. It’s white furred face caught his attention along with the black rings around its eyes. It reminded him of a teddiursa slightly, though less cuddly and far bulkier. Ash finally connected the pokemon to a faraway name in his memory. A pancham.

Pancham were fighting-type pokemon native to the region of Kalos and as such, Ash knew almost nothing about them besides the most basic of information. Trainer schooling and the TLEs focused on native Pokémon and the frequent migration visitors. Ash had come across mentions of the panda and its evolution, pangoro, in the past but had never read into them too much. He was punching himself for that now.

“What is that?” Leaf asked in bewilderment. It was obvious she had never seen nor heard of the panda pokemon before seeing his pop out of its ball. Ash didn’t blame her, he knew nothing of the pokemon himself save for its name and origin.

“Pancham are native to the far off Kalos region, where my good friend Bill recently visited. He brought me many different specimens of pokemon that exclusively inhabit the region, such as this pancham. There is also a bunnelby that can’t seem to stop building burrows around my ranch and a helioptile that enjoys chewing on my electrical wires. This pancham is rather large compared to most of its species.”

Ash absorbed the extra information the aged man gave. Who was he to throw away any possibly helpful information? He eyed the pancham with a critical eye and it looked back at him with a look similar to his own. It appraised him the same as he appraised it. “Hello, I’m Ash and I’ll be your trainer. I’ll toughen you up and, together, we’ll evolve you into a powerful pangoro. Can you handle that?”

Its eyes narrowed slightly, but dipped its head nonetheless. Pancham, like most pokemon, had an inherent need to grow stronger. Whether out of an instinctual determination to claim more territory or to impress a mate and spread their genes. Though this one seemed different to Ash. Its eyes were laced with more than a simple yearning to grow stronger. Ash thought it looked as though the fighting-type was greedy for power, ready to snatch it any way possible. Ash grinned. Perfect.

Ash fought the urge to lean down to speak to the pokemon face to face. He was sure his starter would find that to be nothing less than an insult. “Good, I’m sure together you and I will be monsters to fight against. How about a name?” Ash offered his starter the choice of his own name. The pancham seemed neutral about it and Ash was never one for thinking of names anyway. “Alright, I’m going to return you now, but we’ll train soon.” The fighting-type disappeared in a red light as Oak cleared his throat.

“Now, I-” The man was cut off when Gary made his entrance into the room.

“Guess who’s back?” He exclaimed excitedly. “And with his brand new Kanto starter!” Without even waiting for a response from the people in the room he held up his pokeball and released its occupant.

Ash already knew what pokemon was gonna be released before the squirtle fully materialized. Gary would not be nearly as happy had he been forced to get anything else. The blue turtle seemed more standoffish compared to Leaf’s machop or Ash’s pancham, even if it was a bit shorter than either of the fighting-types. Gary sized it up for a few seconds, seeming to like whatever it was he saw, before he hunched down to the water-type and met its eyes with a smile. “So, you wanna get tougher? Good. I’m gonna need a strong starter to help lead my team. Are you up for that?” Gary asked his starter.

The squirtle sized Gary up quietly before it blinked and stepped back slightly. The tiny turtle pokemon made a growling noise that seemed too vicious to come from such a small creature. Gary took it as acceptance and smirked co*ckily. “Great, then how about I call you Delta?” The water-type nodded agreeably, seeming to not particularly care what his trainer would call him. Gary grinned and gave Ash a superior glance. “I’ll bring you out later, for now I’ll return you.” A red light and the water-type was gone.

“Well then,” Gary’s grandfather continued on after Gary’s intrusion. “I know all of you are smart enough and disciplined enough to work with and train pokemon. Before I send you off, I’ll leave you with this last bit of advice. People die everyday from underestimating the danger of wild pokemon and overestimating the loyalty of their own. You all already know that being a trainer offers its fair share of risk, but please refrain from escalating the chances of you being harmed.” The Professor finished pointedly, his gaze lingering on them for a second too long and making them shuffle slightly.

Ash knew that being a trainer was risky, they all did. Pokemon were responsible for so many deaths in a single year that it wasn't even possible to remember the statistics. While wild pokemon claimed many lives, so too did trained ones. Many pokemon turn against their trainers if they perceive them as weak. Different types behaved differently, so a list had been made of the most dangerous types and their likeness of turning on their trainer. Ghost-types were number one on that list. Followed by the Dragon-type and Dark-type.

The Elite Four were respected for a reason. Elite Four Agatha was a specialist in ghost-types. She was the second strongest trainer in all of the Kanto/Johto mainland, second only to the Champion. Champion Lance was also highly respected for the same reason, he wasn't called a Dragon Master for nothing. Both trainers had monsters on their teams, whether it was Lance’s hard hitting dragonite or Agatha's strategic gengar.

Ash blinked as the older man offered him something in an outstretched hand. The rookie took whatever was in the man’s hand without even looking. After a moment, Ash brought himself to examine the items he’d been given. Almost immediately he realized they were pokeballs, unoccupied he could tell as they were shrunken down to the size of marbles. Four standard capture devices with a single greatball and a single ultraball mixed in.

“Now, I believe that is all. Please contact me regularly to check in and call should you need any assistance. I am more than willing to help, but do not expect me to give you the answer to every problem you face. Ash, please stay and talk for one moment.” Oak waved them off before beckoning Ash to remain behind.

“Yes, Professor?” Ash asked nicely, but he was itching to return home so he could begin his career as a trainer. After seeing his mother, of course.

“I realize I’ve asked this once, but may I see your Pokedex?” Ash handed it over without a thought. “Thank you, my boy. Wait here.”

Ash shuffled as he waited for the aged researcher to return. While he waited, he took out Pancham’s pokeball and compared it to an empty one.

Pokeball technology was a mind boggling breakthrough that was in constant use in present times. It was often overlooked as it was so widely used, but the true genius of the invention escaped even him. In recent years, additions and alterations had been made to the standard pokeball for simpler use. Things such as the ability to have them reduce in size to help save some storage capacity. Unoccupied pokeballs were able to become the size of a marble, while the occupied spheres were only able to reduce to a little less than three fourths the original size. While pokeballs in use didn’t reduce nearly as much as empty ones, every trainer would tell you that every little bit of space helped. He’d keep his pokeballs with his team in his brand new bandolier and the empty ones in a small pouch attached to said bandelier.

When Ash had seen the bandelier on his bed when he’d gotten back from a walk, he initially refused it. His mother refused to take no for an answer and said that his ‘Uncle Spencer’ had sent it especially for him as a present for getting his trainer license. Spencer wasn’t truly his uncle, but rather a family friend that his mother had met through her work for Professor Oak. Immediately Ash called the man and told him it was too expensive and he would send it back as quickly as possible.

“Ash,” Spenser said with a smile. “I want you to keep that and use it. I bought it for you after all.” When Ash had made to protest, Spenser interrupted. “If you keep complaining, I’ll buy you a stack of ultraballs.” Ash kept quiet after that.

He hated the feeling of being a burden on people. Since he was little and had decided to become a trainer, he’d been saving his money. His mother still reminded him of the time that he as a five year old went around Pallet Town offering to help teach people the piano if they paid him, which was especially humorous given that he had never learned the piano himself.

When he was older, Ash truly began helping the people of Pallet Town in exchange for some extra cash. He’d tend to lawns, paint fences, clean gutters, and anything else to help him afford his dream.

Both his mother and Professor Oak encouraged him greatly. The experienced man could tell he was serious about being a trainer and liked his dedication. It was at the age of twelve that the man surprised him. He offered him a job. The older man had said that a position opened up when a member of his staff retired and had felt that Ash was the best suited for the position. Ash began working for the man soon after.

Samuel Oak was a considerate man, but he was very strict with his staff. He wanted the best work from them and anything less was frowned upon. Reports were mandatory and had to be submitted every other Friday by no later than ten in the evening. For all the work the man required, he paid well. Safe to say that Ash had sufficient funds for when he became a trainer.

He worked for the man for two years before he enrolled in Trainer School. The training school started at eight in the morning and lasted until four in the afternoon. It had cut into his schedule and he had had to take a lot of time off from his position in the man’s lab. Not only from the school hours, but also because of the sheer amount of studying he had to do. It had been a challenging curriculum.

“It was worth it.” Ash hadn’t even realized he voiced the thought aloud as he passed Pancham’s pokeball between his hands.

“What was worth it?” Ash jumped as Oak entered the room again, shiny red Pokédex still in hand and voice amused.

“Nothing, Professor. Just thinking aloud.” Ash said quickly, rubbing his neck sheepishly.

“Some people might call you crazy if you talk to yourself.” Oak joked with a twinkle of humour in his eyes as he handed Ash his Pokédex

“Some might.” Ash agreed in good nature as he took back the device. “What did you need with it anyway?”

“Since I’m sponsoring you–and I should tell you I’m sponsoring Gary as well–along with the fact you have an unorthodox starter, I’ve been given permission from the League to give you a little more access. Nothing too much, just more information about pokemon you already know and new information about some you don’t.”

Ash vibrated with excitement as he pocketed the machine. A National database of pokemon knowledge would certainly help him, as well as provide a good source of information on Pancham that he’d struggle with otherwise. “Thank you, Professor. I’ll use it wisely, I promise.”

“Yes, that is why I gave it to you. Remember, though, you and Gary are both sponsored by me and reflect on me personally. You both have excellent starters and more resources than most other rookie trainers. I expect great things from both of you.” Oak told him seriously.

“Of course, Professor.” Ash said sincerely, nodding as the man talked.

“One last thing, Ash.”

“Yes, Professor?”

“Get strong enough so that you can give my pokemon a work out.” The aged man said with a wide smile.

“I will, don't you worry.” Ash grinned. And he meant it. He would get strong enough that his team would be able to stomp any opponent. Even a man as powerful as the former Champion.

.—.—.

When Ash walked out of the lab, the first thing he noticed was the breeze. It was rather nice to have a draft hit his face after being in the rather hot building. The other thing he noticed was that Leaf and Gary were standing in the road facing each other, their pokemon fighting as they commanded them.

“Water Gun!” Gary ordered as Leaf ordered her starter to dodge. “Water Gun again! Aim for its eyes then headbutt it!”

Delta did as his trainer ordered and attempted to blind the machop, but the fighting-type dodged the attempt. The water gun barely whizzed by his head as the machop sidestepped. Ash noticed that the squirtle seemed tired. It was obvious it had not used multiple Water Guns in such quick succession before. Ash knew Gary would train some endurance into him.

“Champ, kick up dirt then Low Kick!” Leaf instructed with vigor, determined to win. “After it’s on the ground, Bullet Punch!”

Delta had already been charging forward, intent on completing the headbutt, but swiveled to stop as Champ kicked up dirt that impaired the water-type’s vision. He was helpless as the machop used Low Kick to knock him to the ground then followed up with Bullet Punch.

Ash was surprised that the reptilian fighter could use the steel-type attack, but knew it must have been an egg move. It was fairly common for offspring to inherit the base knowledge of moves from their parents. Given that starters were required to have at least one advanced move to be eligible candidates for a trainer's starter, the occurrence was even more common.

The small series of punches landed, though they were noticeably unrefined and not as effective as the Low Kick, but all hit the shell of its target rather than the body as the squirtle withdrew into itself. When the machop gazed down into the darkness of the shell, Delta poked his head out and hit him point blank with a Water Gun. The attack seemed far more powerful this time, which made sense when Ash saw the squirtle’s eyes flash viciously. Torrent. The ability seemed to push the water-type in an adrenaline enhanced fury, a last ditch effort to win.

When Champ stumbled slightly, stunned from the hit, his opponent wasted no time in tackling him to the ground.

“Jump onto his head, but withdraw into your shell as you do!” Gary gave the instruction. Ash realized the strategy of what he was doing just as Leaf returned her pokemon and a heavy impact of a shell hitting the ground sounded out. Had Leaf not recalled him, Champ would have surely felt the blow.

Ash clapped politely at the battle. It was nowhere near the Elite battles he’d watched, but it was the first time he’d seen a proper trainer-on-trainer battle in person. Gary bowed in an exaggerated manner at his applause.

“Alright, I concede. You win.” Leaf said with a bitter undertone. She clearly disapproved of the tactics he used.

“Of course, did you truly expect otherwise?” Gary asked co*ckily. “You put up a good fight, but Delta and I are just too good of a team.” The mentioned pokemon seemed just as smug as his trainer as it walked up to Gary. Truly a duo made for each other Ash thought.

“Nice battle.” Ash complimented as he approached further. He’d kept his distance in case of a stray attack. “Is Bullet Punch an egg move, Leaf?” Ash asked.

“Yeah, it is. It’s sloppy right now, but once we start training it will be powerful enough to knock the Gym Leaders to Sevii.” She boasted.

“You’ll need to be able to win a battle before that happens.” Gary jabbed. Ash didn’t say anything to him though, he deserved a bit of gloating after his win.

“If you hadn’t used such dirty tactics, Champ would’ve stomped that turtle!” Leaf retorted with anger.

“Gary, how was the meeting?” Ash asked in order to interrupt the fight before it could begin. He was sure he saw Gary’s eye twitch.

“It was fine,” Gary said as he apparently decided arguing his point wasn’t worth it. “It was me, some other guy and a girl. The head of it was Charles Goodshow.”

Ash wished he had been there even more now. While Charles Goodshow wasn’t a trainer figurehead like Lance or the Elite Four, he was certainly a figure worth meeting. “Wow, so what happened?”

“Not much. There was too much talking for my taste so it was kinda boring. Oh, and apparently there was an issue with the bulbasaur this year. The girl chose the chikorita they replaced the bulbasaur with. The guy picked the charmander and I obviously got Delta.”

Ash nodded as Leaf scoffed. “Figures you would get lucky and get the one you wanted. Gary always gets what Gary wants, right?”

Ash sighed as Leaf provoked Gary. They had a strange relationship. They were all friends–more rivals really–that wanted to be the best and surpass everyone. Including each other. Okay, mainly each other.

Leaf and Gary especially had a love-hate relationship. They constantly found disagreements, whether that be on something as mundane as which pokemon type was stronger or as complex as whether or not Silph. Co was a monopoly and if they should be supported. It depended on the day.

Ethan was generally the moderator, but with his failure in his TLE and the fact that he’d been intent on leaving Kanto for Johto to complete the circuit there, Ash was having to stop most of the bickering between the two. Admittedly he was far from neutral in most cases.

Leaf lived on the other side of Pallet Town and spent almost all her time with her family, so that helped cut down on the arguments. Most of the time, Gary was found at his grandfather’s lab trying to get the older man to teach him everything he knew (thankfully the pokemon professor was all about self studying being important) so that also helped keep the number of times they were at each other's throats down. However, if they ever all got together to hangout, it was assured that a disagreement would happen.

Ash’s mother had once gossiped with one of the neighbors that she thought it was their way of showing affection to each other. Ash wondered what his friends would think of that if he told them. It would certainly be entertaining.

“When were you both heading out?” Ash asked.

“I’m gonna leave tomorrow. My parents want to be sure that Champ can listen to me and fight well enough to protect me. I’m not too worried about starting a day later, I have three months to earn my first badge. I have to take on the Big Eight before the Indigo Conference but I have almost two years to do that.” Leaf told them as she released her starter and gave him a potion from her handbag. Champ glared daggers at Delta, which the squirtle returned.

Ash saw the sense in the idea. Once a trainer was legally licensed and had a League approved starter, they had three months to earn their first badge or they were put under review. Another three months with no progress and they lost their license. After they earned their first badge, they had half a year to earn their second. It was a system put in place to stop freeloaders from taking advantage of the benefits trainers received. Free lodging and pokemon medical care at Pokemon Centers, tax-free pokemon and trainer rations and the ability to legally purchase Technical Machines, also known as TMs.

With the benefits, also came the restrictions and requirements. For local attacks, trainers were required to be on the front lines. It was also expected for trainers to notify the Rangers should they note any pokemon activity they see on their travels, whether that be as simple a problem as a particularly confrontational fearow flock or as big as a stampeding herd of rhyhorn heading for a city.

Ash found them to be acceptable. He had heard trainers be referred to as ‘Hounds of the League’ before, which was true in a very basic sense, but he didn’t mind that either. What was life without risks?

The more catching part of Leaf’s statement had been about the Big Eight. The Big Eight referred to the eight biggest Gyms in Kanto. Pewter, Cerulean, Vermillion, Saffron, Celadon, Fuchsia, Cinnabar, and Viridian. Each of these cities had a Gym that’s Leader was one of the thirteen best trainers in Kanto. Any city or town can have a Gym (fill out some paperwork, get inspected by an Elite and get funding to pump out badges for challengers and you have a Gym) but the Big Eight were the best of the best. They not only protected the biggest cities in the region, but their main teams were leagues above the other Gym Leaders.

“Well, I’m heading out this afternoon. Cousin Samson is visiting and he’s gonna have his xatu drop me off close to Viridian, from there I’ll train and head to Pewter through the Viridian Forest, then challenge the Gym. Should be easy with Delta,” Gary said as he patted his starter on his scaly head. “You can hitch a ride if you want, Ash. After all, it’s only natural to want to be near someone as awesome as me.” The other teen offered.

“Thanks, but I think I’ll wanna go solo for at least the beginning of my journey. Can’t reveal all my training secrets,” Ash joked. “I’ll head out after lunch. Speaking of, I should start going.”

“Yeah, me too.” Leaf agreed.

“Same here.” Gary paused for a second. “You guys wanna meet at the diner for lunch? I’ll pay. We can even invite Ethan.” He tried sounding nonchalant, but Ash could see through it.

Leaf shook her head. “I can’t, my parents expect me to have lunch with them and stay home until I leave.”

Gary deflated ever so slightly when he saw Ash shake his head as well with an apologetic look. “Mom wants me to have lunch one last time before I head out. Sorry, Gary. We’ll do it in the future. When Ethan has passed his TLE and we’re all trainers.” Ash reassured him. “Speaking of, have either of you talked to him?”

Gary shook his head. Leaf did as well. “I stopped by his place two days ago. His mom said he hasn’t left his room for anything other than food and the bathroom. He took his failure in his TLE hard. Studying every second until he can retake it, I think.” She told them both with a frown. Ash remembered that Leaf had never liked Ethan’s mom much, but he’d never met the woman to judge for himself.

“Did his mom mention his starter?” Gary asked.

“She wouldn't say what it was gonna be, but she did tell me that it was an electric-type.” Leaf informed them, glaring at Gary slightly for his nonchalantness to their friend’s plight. “Better watch that water-type of yours”

“Yeah, sure. The guy that failed his test is gonna beat me, the number one trainer of Pallet Town!” Gary remarked.

“If you-”

Ash cut Leaf off before she could finish the sentence. “Good luck, you two. I need to go. Next time we see each other, we’re gonna battle!”

“Yeah, good luck. You're gonna need it if you think you can surpass me!” Gary boasted.

Ash waved as he began his walk home. He hoped he and his friends wouldn’t grow apart. They hadn’t all been extremely tight, except for him and Gary, but they were still friends. Maybe it was naive of him, but he wanted to keep it that way.

.—.—.

Ash took off his signature hat, a red one with a white front that showed the official joint Kanto/Johto Pokemon League logo on it, and ran his hand through his ruffled hair as he walked. He considered leaving the hat with his mother as opposed to taking it with him. It was one of a kind that he’d somehow won in a raffle despite the small odds.

The hat itself wasn’t one of a kind, but if he looked inside of it he could see the signatures of Champion Lance and the rest of the Elite Four. His mother had a video somewhere of him unboxing it and being understandably hyper. He also had the congratulations letter signed by Charles Goodshow that came with it hung in his room. It was simply precious to him, to risk it getting destroyed was something he didn’t want to do. He decided to take it anyway, if only to avoid buying a new hat which would attack his savings he’d need for his journey.

Ash slipped it back on his head as he wished he’d brought his bandolier. He knew he’d have looked ridiculous with it on as he was only wearing a simple pair of navy blue shorts with a black shirt, but it would save him the trouble of having to carry Pancham’s pokeball. His empty ones he had simply put in his pocket, but he couldn’t do that with his starter’s ball. He would have released the panda pokemon for it to walk with him, but he decided he should have it in a controlled environment for a more in-depth introduction. In the meantime, he would link his pokeball to his Pokedex.

Ash tapped a button on the left side of the device and, after going through a couple of selection screens, a tray with a dock big enough for one spherical ball to be slotted into emerged from the side of the device. The compartment was similar in size to the one on the right that housed his licenses. He put his only pokemon’s ball into the slot and watched as more screens popped up. By the time he had successfully connected the pokeball to his Pokédex, he was on his front porch and heading inside.

“Mom!” Ash called as he entered the house, not bothering to take his shoes off. “I’m back!”

“In the kitchen!” She called back.

Ash entered the kitchen with a wide grin on his face. “You’ll never guess what pokemon the Professor gave me.”

Delia Ketchum turned from the food she was preparing for lunch with a small smile. Ash knew his mother was in her thirties, but she looked no older than her late twenties. Her auburn hair and cheerful brown eyes only exemplified that fact. “Oh? Just what pokemon is it?”

“I’ll show you outside!” Ash said quickly before exiting into the backyard. A smiling Delia followed him.

When Ash released Pancham, he made sure he was the first thing he saw. “Pancham, good to see you. This is my mother.” He gestured to said woman. “I expect you to treat her as you would myself.”

Pancham nodded in understanding and looked at Delia with a tilted head. The woman cooed at the black and white pokemon. “Aren’t you just adorable? Pancham are extremely rare anywhere outside of Kalos, Ash, where did the Professor get one?”

“The Professor said a researcher buddy of his took a trip to Kalos recently. Brought back a few species only found there. I’m surprised you’ve heard of them. ” Ash explained as his mother patted Pancham on the head. The bipedal fighting-type rumbled happily as she scratched a spot just out of his reach.

Delia giggled as Pancham decided to munch on a couple leaves from an Oran berry bush. When the pokemon reached for one of the berries that had barely begun to ripen, Delia gently moved his paw away. He growled at her, to which Ash responded by flicking him on his left ear. He whined and stared at Ash with a pleading look. Ash was hard pressed to believe this was the same pokemon he had seen such a fiery determination in earlier.

Ash knew if Pancham had been a recent capture from the wild, a simple reprimand like he had been given would have gotten him to attack. Starters were required to go through conditioning to make them more comfortable around trainers and more easily commanded. “No eating the garden and no growling.” Ash said uncaringly as Delia muffled a laugh. “I can give you some pokefood for lunch. Speaking of...” He trailer off with a look to his mother.

“It’s about that time. Go set the table.” Ash grinned and returned Pancham as he raced to the table to set it. It would be the last home cooked meal he would have in a while, he would savor the cooking with relish.

.—.—.

Ash looked at himself and thought he looked prepared. He had his new black hiking boots laced tightly and they fit him snuggly. The soles of the boots were made for constant movement, perfect for a trainer’s lifestyle. The end of his faded jeans went under the top of the boots. It was certainly different from how he usually wore his shoes but he’d get used to it. Better than water entering his boot and getting his socks and feet wet. He wore a comfortable stretchy black shirt with his sleeveless vest slipped over it. His usually bare hands sported fingerless gloves and his pokeball bandolier was strapped and holding Pancham’s pokeball in the topmost slot.

Ash truly felt ready to enter the dangerous world of pokemon training.

“You’re sure you have everything, Ashy?” Delia asked one last time as Ash stepped onto the front porch.

“Yes, I’m sure. I’ve emptied and reorganized this bag more times than I can count. I think I’ve dulled my knife and hatchet just by looking at them.” Ash assured her.

Delia nodded while patting his shoulder. “Of course you have, I just can’t help but worry about you. I expect you to call me every chance you get. As well as message me at least once every two weeks using your Pokédex. Remember to-“

“To check the news for anything that might affect me, I know. And I’ll make sure to notify you when I’m challenging a gym so you can watch my battles on the League website. Mom, I’ll be fine.” Ash said firmly.

“I know, but trainers have such a dangerous life. You can’t stop me from worrying.” Delia said as she gave him one last hug before her gaze turned wicked. “And remember to pack your underwear!”

Ash sighed at the old joke. He supposed he’d never outlive it after he had mistakenly forgotten to pack his undergarments to one of the Professor’s summer camps. Of course, he wouldn’t put up a protest. He would be away for months or possibly longer, so he would let her have her fun. Soon enough, he’d been on Route 1 and on his way to taking the Champion’s mantle.

Ash smiled with a determined gleam in his eyes. He was ready and he wasn’t someone who settled for less than the top. Lance better watch out because Ash Ketchum was coming for his throne.

.—.—.

Chapter 2: Sinful

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

.—.—.

Route 1 was one of the routinely used paths that connected some of Kanto’s larger settlements. While Route 1 technically began in Viridian City and snaked south, it was more commonly used as a path connecting the Southern Kanto Sea and the northern territories. The only notable destinations along the path were Viridian City, Pallet Town and Hawthorne.

Hawthorne was right next to the sea and as such was a fairly good size settlement, though it was a bit smaller than Pallet Town which resided a day’s walk to the north. Hawthorne made the majority of its income by offering ferry services, along with other services one would see in a port town, for tourists and trainers alike. The ferries would most commonly haul people and cargo to and from Cinnabar Island, as well as the rare trip to the northern islands of Hoenn.

Ash had been to Hawthorn once. His instructor from the Trainer Academy, a veteran ACE Sergeant named Hugh Mathers, thought visiting a working town such as Hawthorne would be a good experience for the aspiring rookies. Ash had found the town to be pleasant overall. The residents were kind, the sea breeze was refreshing and the sailors were entertaining. Ash thought that the most interesting part of the town, however, was the abundance of working pokemon.

Working pokemon weren’t a particularly common sight in Pallet Town. A small, non-combative pokemon that was used for labor and work rather than battling. Hawthorne had trainers that had gone into different areas of work with their pokemon legally allowed to join. Construction took far less time and effort as the machoke and primeape of the workers did a good share of the heavy lifting. The port was far safer with the seadra and golduck of the sailors patrolling the waters. Ash thought of one particular sailor that his Instructor had introduced them to. Captain Seamus was a man that was intimidating enough on his own. Factor in his monstrous gyarados and temperamental luxray that guarded his vessel and you had a person Ash felt that even the strongest pokemon would shy away from taking on in battle.

Ash likened his trip to Hawthorne to his current situation. When he’d first entered Hawthorne, he felt a sense of wonder. It was a whole new place that he'd never seen or experienced, so it was exciting. As he walked down Route 1, it reminded him of that same feeling. The breeze that ruffled the leaves of the trees around him, while free from the taint of the salt from the sea, was fresh and just as enjoyable. The scenery was green and lush as opposed to rustic, but both beautiful nonetheless.

The entire trip from Pallet Town to Viridian City, with a normal pace, was around four days. Even so, Ash felt that he was traveling fairly slowly. Ash wasn't going slowly out of a sense of laziness and he wasn’t unfit, the opposite really, but he felt no real rush. Professor Oak had many stories of trainers rushing to challenge threats bigger than their capabilities and paying dearly for their arrogance. He had no such desire to join them, so Ash would take in the scenery and move at his own pace.

The sun was touching the edge of the far off hills when he finally stopped. He had left at noon and not stopped once, so he had gained a good amount of ground even if it was less than the average person. Ash removed Pancham’s pokeball, which sat neatly in its slot, and released his starter. He had wanted to release the pokemon sooner but he had heard that a flock of spearow had moved in closer to Pallet Town as of late and had not wanted ro risk drawing the wrath of said flock by introducing a foreign pokemon.

As the panda emerged, he looked around with a few quick glances. Ash gave his pokemon a grin. “You should walk with me starting tomorrow.” Ash remarked. “For now, we are gonna start on your training.” The panda pokemon seemed to accept the answer and gained a gleam in his eye when Ash mentioned training. Well, he at least figured out that this was the same power hungry pokemon he’d first met. He’d started wondering if Oak had switched the pokeballs when he wasn’t looking.

“Hold on a moment, before we begin.” Ash brought out his pokedex. “I’m going to scan you and it will give me information about you and your moves. You won’t even notice.”

The bipedal bear pokemon seemed indifferent as a small red laser shot out of the camera of the device and then disappeared. Ash knew in that quick second, the device had taken a DNA sample from his starter. It would then analyze it and send a copy of the data to Samuel to view it as well. Truly an amazing feat of science that Ash knew made his life easier. He would need to thank the professor for being the genius he was. The device beeped and Ash viewed the results as he searched for an appropriate clearing that would work for both a training routine and a camp for the night.

Pancham was male. Ash had hoped he’d gotten that correct. Standing at three feet tall and twenty-seven pounds, he was larger than the average pancham but not terribly so.

“Pancham are known as the panda pokemon.” The pokedex’s monotone voice read out as Ash listened carefully and read along with it. “Pancham are fighting-type pokemon native to the Kalos region and are rare elsewhere. There are very few wild pancham remaining and a breeding effort was put together to stop the species extinction, but it has not been showing any great successes. It is expected that the species will become extinct in less than one hundred years if even greater efforts are not taken to prevent it.

“Pancham are natural omnivores, they will feast on a variety of leaves and foliage and consume meat in small amounts. Small bug-types and foliage are the prey of these bipedal pokemon, though they are supreme climbers and often will climb the highest of trees to fill their hunger. If a pancham evolves into its second and only known evolutionary stage, the dual fighting/dark-type pangoro, it will need to consume a vastly increased amount of food.

“Wild Pangoro are a rarity even in Kalos and are seen as beings of immense power. Pangoros that father children often have many broods with multiple mates. Young pancham are drawn to strong figures, so oftentimes they will follow their father with reverence. It is theorized that many pancham that have an egg move are offspring of such strong genetics.

“In regards to their evolution, the amount of natural dark-type energy these pokemon can naturally produce is not enough to induce evolution into a pangoro quickly. Pancham may wait years or even decades for the natural accumulation of energy so they may evolve. However, evolution saps them of all the energy they had gathered and leaves them weak and vulnerable. As such, the wild pangoro population is made up of only the toughest of their species.

“It has been documented that prolonged exposure to outside sources of dark-type, and at rare times ghost-type, energy is needed. The sparse few trainers with pangoro note that the panda pokemon evolve only after another dark-type pokemon has been training alongside it for extended periods of time.

For additional information on the species, please consider the books ‘The Dark Beasts: An Indepth Look on Dark-types’ by Samsan Newt or “The Black and White Knights’ by Heather Reed

“Warning: The evolution of this specimen is of the dark-type. Should it prove too difficult to train, contact your sponsor or the Rangers for further information.”

Ash was surprised by the warning the Dex gave, but not entirely. The top four most typically dangerous types (which consisted of the ghost-type, dragon-type, dark-type, and psychic-type) all had that warning. Besides, Pancham’s evolution wasn’t going to be any time soon. Ash knew he’d need to look more into his starter’s evolution, if it needed an outside source than he may need to capture a pokemon with dark-type leanings in the future. For now, he toggled through a screen to find Pancham’s available moves.

“This specimen can perform the moves Arm Thrust, Taunt, Slash and Circle Throw. It has an egg move; Seismic Toss. Its ability is Iron Fist.”

Ash expanded the list and looked at the given chart. He read the chart with interest.

As far as moves went, he was pretty pleased. It wasn’t too diverse, something he would work on in the future, but Pancham had some decent moves for being as young and inexperienced as he was. Not to mention his egg move, which could be immensely damaging if used correctly, and if the pokedex was right then it made him offspring of a pangoro. Given the panda’s lack of knowledge of his egg move and smaller stature now, the only way to practice that move would be to give him targets such as large rocks and pokemon smaller than he. Seismic Toss wouldn’t be a truly viable option in important battles until Pancham was a pangoro. He was larger than an average pancham, but not big enough to suddenly flip a rampaging tauros.

“You have some pretty good moves, Pancham. We’ll work on honing them before adding more into the mix.” Ash told his starter, who was munching on a few leaves he’d snagged. He already had an idea of what he wanted to teach Pancham in the future, TMs included, but for now they would work on the basics.

Ash looked at Pancham and hummed. What was the best way to start? “Alright, I'm going to just see a general overview of your abilities. Go grab a fallen tree then come back here.” Pancham understood and ran off to go find such a wooden object.

Ash watched as he scurried up a tree, just as proficient at climbing as the Dex had said, and ran off in a direction in which he spotted something. In the meantime, Ash grabbed his pack and removed a small notebook and a pen. He began writing any training plans he could think of. The more he wrote the more he realized they had lots of training ahead of them.

.—.—.

“Great work.” Ash praised Pancham as he broke the log in half. He was really surprised with his starter. He’d ordered the panda pokemon to attempt to use an Arm Thrust attack, and the tree his starter had come back with had splintered easily from the blows. He repeated the command and the already halved trunk had been halved again. While it was already a fallen tree, it was impressive nonetheless. Ash was reminded that though he looked small, the pokemon was easily many times stronger than him.

The attack wasn’t perfect and Pancham wasted a lot of energy on movements that were less than necessary to actually complete the move. Nonetheless, Ash grabbed one of the Oran berries from his container–he was thankful his mother had let him pick the ripe ones from her bushes–and handed it to his starter. Pancham eyed it greedily before popping it into his mouth.

“You’re impressive for an inexperienced pokemon. Have you practiced your moves before?” Ash asked. He got a nod in response, which Ash expected. He wouldn’t think that his starter would have had time to practice his moves in a facility made to breed his species and save them from extinction. Ash hummed.

“Pancham, were you in the wild when you were captured?” Another nod. That explained it. He’d have needed to use his moves if he was born in the wild. He was more surprised that Samuel’s scientist buddy had actually captured a pokemon from the wild—let alone one from an endangered species—instead of just grabbing one from a facility. Well, he wouldn’t complain.

“Alright then. Let’s set up camp for the night.” Ash decided. The sun was just on the verge of dipping below the horizon and he wanted a fire going before then. It would help warn away any pokemon that thought he may be a target as well as give him some warmth.

Soon enough, he had his small traveling tent set up with an equally as small fire blazing in a hole he had Pancham dig into the ground. It lit up the clearing with bright orange and yellow flames. Pancham had scurried up a tree after having his pokefood with some foraged leaves as a topping. Ash didn’t see the appeal of the greens and stuck with his ration bars, bland as they were. It helped that he ate one of the Oran berries with it, which assisted in the flavor but caused Pancham huff at him.

Ash felt strange sleeping in the forest, no walls to protect him save the thin fabric of his tent. Still, he felt safe enough to go to sleep. Pancham had sensitive ears and would make it known if something was happening. Luckily, Ash got a full night's rest. The distant chirps of pidgey and the far away chittering of rattata were surprisingly soothing.

.—.—.

Ash packed up his camp quickly after waking. He kicked dirt onto the cold ashes in the pit and started out on the road once again. Pancham walked with him. As they walked Ash talked to his starter about anything he could think of. His home, his youth, his likes, his dislikes and even about the League. Sometimes he’d return the pokemon for short stints because while he may not find the pokemon of Route 1 particularly menacing, he refused to have a tired starter and no other active pokemon while traveling. Anyone knew that such a foolish move could cost someone their life. It only takes one annoyed pokemon attacking a defenseless trainer to do some serious damage.

After hours of walking, they stopped for lunch and held another training session. After almost an hour Ash was pleased when a caterpie had wandered into the clearing. A perfect first opponent. “Alright. Pancham, bring that caterpie farther into the open then use Taunt on it.” The panda rumbled and made his way to the bug-type. It was clear he found it less than an appropriate opponent.

The green bug seemed to realize that it was no longer considered a noncombatant and tried to climb up the nearest tree. It had barely ascended a foot when Pancham grabbed it and tossed it away from the wood. It made a distinctive squeak when it landed.

Wasting no time, Pancham readied himself and used Taunt. The caterpie convulsed as the dark-type energy hit it before straightening and sending a String Shot at its attacker.

“Dodge. ” Ash commanded. It was unnecessary as his starter had already sidestepped the move. “Circle Throw.”

Pancham did so, easily avoiding another String Shot in the process. The caterpie was sent flying into the tree. Pancham had acted quick enough that it barely registered what had happened. The bug-type moved sluggishly as it sent one final attack at its opponent.

“Dodge, hit it with a Slash and try Seismic Toss!” Ash ordered. He had yet to try the egg move out on an actual combatant and a caterpie was a perfect ground zero for it.

The panda sped to the bug and hit its side with a Slash. The caterpie made a sound of pain. Pancham grabbed it and, with all the strength he could muster, lept into the air with it. Gravity pulled them down to the ground after they reached the peak of the leap. Pancham positioned himself in a way that he would land with his body on top of his green enemy.

When they finally did land a loud squelch was heard. Ash flinched and approached the pokemon. He noticed quickly that pancham was entirely fine, but his opponent less so. Ash waited for the bug-type to rustle, but sighed when it didn't. “It's dead.” He supposed he would need to add restraint training to the list. Had that been a trainer’s pokemon he would be in a difficult situation. Death was, unfortunately, an occurrence in battles. It was avoided as much as possible and rarely happened but it still could under unfortunate circ*mstances.

For a fighting-type, there was no worse sin than running away from combat. It was a reason many fighting-types were killed in battles, they refused to get recalled and paid for their pride. Ash would train that out of Pancham.

“Alright, let's eat lunch then get back on the Route.” Ash told his starter. He slung his bag off his shoulder and removed a ration bar for himself, and the pokefood for his starter. Pancham had already run off and gathered a bunch of fresh leaves for himself. “Here.” Ash handed him his lunch. Pancham snatched the bowl with a flash of his paws. “Sheesh, should call you Gluttony.”

Pancham paid him no mind and instead dug into his meal greedily. Ash bit into his own as he watched the glutton munch away. He had an idea. Gluttony was considered a deadly sin, one of seven, and another one was…

“Hey, do you know what greed means?” The panda pokemon spared him a moment of his time to give him a look. Ash felt he was being judged. “Greed is one of the seven deadly sins. It’s sort of an extreme yearning or desire for something. Wealth, influence, food or even power.” Ash saw his starter perk up. “Maybe that's what I’ll call you.”

Ash heard his partner make a rumbling noise of approval. “Good. Hello then, Greed.” Pancham, or rather Greed, turned back to his meal only to find that he had already devoured it all. He growled in annoyance.

Ash watched his starter stand and look back into the clearing where the pokemon had just fought the caterpie. The panda was looking at the corpse of the bug with hunger clear in his gaze.

“If you’re still hungry, no use in wasting.” Ash gestured to the dead caterpillar. The Dex had said the panda ate bug-types. Greed looked at him in slight surprise but needed no more encouragement as he tucked into his new meal.

Ash sighed at the mess his starter was making as he turned back to the ration bar.

.--.--.

They walked for the rest of the day, with two different breaks for training. For the first few sessions the focus was going to be on perfecting the known moves of the panda pokemon. When Ash was confident that Greed could reliably use them, he would start teaching him the move Crunch. It should be simple given he used Taunt easily enough. After he taught his starter Crunch then perhaps Karate Chop.

The moves a pancham was able to learn naturally were limited. Most of the moves Greed would use in the future, he would learn via TMs or after his evolution. The elemental punches were something Ash was looking forward to teaching him. With the Iron Fist ability, they should be even better weapons in their arsenal.

They stopped their final training session when the sun was going to dip below the horizon and set up their camp. They’d pack up and leave in the early hours of the morning, leaving no trace they were there in the first place. Ash had seen a few other trainers in passing, though none had really been wanting a battle. So it wasn’t until the fourth day in the midafternoon when he had his first proper battle.

“Hey, you up for a quick battle?” Asked the trainer, a girl with tanned skin. Her blond hair was tucked into her green beanie and a meowth walked beside her.

Ash grinned at the prospect of his first battle. “Sure, one on one?”

“Works for me.” She agreed as they walked towards the battlefields. Most routes had a large clearing every half mile or so on both sides to have friendly bouts and for trainers to camp. Ash hadn’t really used them at all, preferring to camp and train under the cover of trees. “Standard bet?”

“Naturally.” Ash agreed. A usual bet for a battle was 200 dollars per pokemon. Though the exact amount of money had to be agreed upon beforehand as per League regulations. “Ladies first.” He offered as they took their positions.

She snorted in a decidedly unladylike manner as she motioned for her meowth to be her battler. He released Greed in the field and was already thinking of strategies. His starter got the gist of why he’d been released and got in a battle ready stance.

“Alright buddy, this is our first battle. Let’s win.” Ash told his starter lamely. Certainly not the best pep talk in the world. He got a loud snicker in response.

Ash saw his opponent trying to identify what pokemon he’d just released. He’d take the first move if she wasn’t going to. “Alright, start with Arm Thrust!” Greed did as ordered and charged at the normal-type across from him.

“Dodge and use Scratch! Follow it up with Bite!” The girl ordered quickly and the cat executed it just as quickly.

“Avoid it then use Taunt, when you get the chance another Arm Thrust!” Ash commanded as Greed evaded the feline’s attack. The panda moved quicker than his bulk should seemingly allow and was hit just barely by the Scratch, but not enough to do any damage beyond cutting a couple hairs short. When the volley of attacks lulled, Greed wasted no time.

Taunt was a move that used dark-type energy to provoke an aggressive reaction from the opponent. While it made the target attack, their reasoning was twisted and their reactions slowed slightly. Greed had only used it on the caterpie previously but he used it well. The feline launched itself at him, despite her trainer's order otherwise, to attempt another Scratch.

When Greed easily sidestepped it, he used Arm Thrust which knocked the meowth off balance after hitting three times. “Circle Throw!” Ash hastily said.

The cat flew through the air as Greed did as ordered before impacting a tree. Ash watched as the other trainer almost recalled the seemingly defeated pokemon, before it stood back up and growled.

“Push a little more, Meowth! Constant stream of Fury Swipes!” The girl yelled at the feline.

Ash watched as Greed went on the defensive as the normal-type got closer with its swipes. Ash didn’t see a way to have Greed win without getting hit, his opponent was simply too fast. “Greed, ignore the claws. Get in close and aim for the legs, use Arm Thrust. Then Seismic Toss!”

The other trainer gave her pokemon its next order too late as Ash’s battler did as ordered. Greed moved as his opponent missed again and went for the meowth’s legs. He growled in anger and pain as she raked her claws on his left shoulder, but his Arm Thrust made contact. The cat’s leg gave out from the sudden attack.

As the cat-like pokemon fell down to her knee in shock and pain, Greed went to follow through with his next attack. Before the panda pokemon could commit to the move fully, aiming for the normal-type’s head, the other trainer returned the meowth to its ball.

“Good job, Greed! We’ll celebrate in a little bit!” Ash assured as he returned the panda pokemon. The intermission between his victory and his celebration didn’t seem to stop the prideful look on his face.

“Congrats.” The girl said. “What pokemon was that? It certainly isn’t from around here.”

“He’s not. He’s a fighting-type pokemon from Kalos. He’s my starter and that was our first battle.” Ash told her with pride.

“Damn, you must train him pretty well if that’s your first battle. I only just got licensed a few weeks ago, but Meowth is pretty tough. Not my starter, but tough. Here you go, by the way.” Ash took the money from the girl with a nod.

“Could you tell me how far Viridian City is?” Ash asked with a smile, still proud of his win.

“A day and a half or so, but the Ranger Lodge is only about an hour up. You could make it before sunset.” She told him as she pulled out a small notepad and marked down the date of the battle and the outcome.

Ranger Lodges were wooden lodges built by the League along the routes. Route 1 had one south of Pallet Town and one south of Viridian City. It helped trainers and lost tourists find their way to the proper trails, as well as give them a place to sleep.

“I’m Amanda Hawkings from Viridian. You?”

“Ash Ketchum from Pallet Town.” He answered while entering the same information she was writing down into his pokedex. trainers were required to log all their battles for cash with the League. Luckily he could do it easily with his Dex. Most had to write it down and submit it when they returned to civilization.

Ash thanked Amanda and went on his way. He didn’t increase his pace, preferring the slower walking speed, and when the sun set he had barely made it to the Lodge. He checked in with the Ranger at the front desk when he arrived, but opted to sleep in his tent instead of a bunk. He found a small opening in the trees and decided to camp there.

Ash released his starter, who was still as proud of his win as he was when he was returned to his pokeball, and sprayed one of the basic healing potions onto Greed’s shoulder.

“Great work today. That was our first win, but not our last. As a reward, here.” Ash handed the panda two of the three remaining Oran berries. Greed snatched and ate them with a happy rumble, living up to his name. Ash patted the pokemon’s head as he ate his own food, another ration bar. He had a few left along with four days worth of pokefood. Greed had feasted on plenty of plants and foliage as they traveled to make up for the smaller amount of pokefood he was eating.

Ash yawned as he swallowed the last bite of his ration bar. He gave Greed one last pat on the head before going to set his tent up. He did so quickly and happily went into it to fall asleep. He heard the panda scurry up into a nearby tree before he let a dreamless slumber overtake him.

.—.—.

Ash was still an hour or so away from Viridian two days later. The day previous he had focused primarily on training and not traveled as much as he could have. The Pallet Town teen was pretty proud of his pokemon’s progress, he figured that by the time they got to Viridian he could start working on Crunch. Ash had also decided that his pancham could use some weight training, so he had him carrying his pack for the last couple days. It certainly gave his shoulders a break. It didn’t bother his starter too much, fighting-types were unimaginably strong after all, so he had taken to packing rocks into the side pockets. Greed may have noticed the difference in weight but never seemed to pay it any mind.

Before Ash had left the camp that morning, he’d looked for a stream and filled his canteen. He made sure to only drink from it after the filter tablets he’d purchased from the Pallet General Store had time to work. He’d filled it a couple times already while traveling, but he'd rather not die of dehydration so he topped it off as much as possible.

Ash walked in silence for the rest of the trip to Viridian. Pidgey trilled in the distance as they walked. Greed was walking alongside him, keeping pace just as easily as normal. Ash itched his neck and looked around. He had a bad feeling, like he was being watched. He tried to ignore it, but it didn’t recede until he saw a large noctowl he had not noticed fly off into the denser part of the trees.

Ash had been to Viridian City before, but it seemed different than the times previous. The first thing he noted was the Ranger Outpost at the entrance to the city. Each time Ash has come to Viridian, Karma had teleported them there and back. His mother had never taken him to the outskirts of the city, and as such he hadn’t seen the towering outposts that were manned by the Pokemon Rangers up close. He had to notify the outpost of his arrival in the city, as the law required of all active trainers, so he did that before anything else.

“Give me your name, place of origin and Trainer ID.” The Ranger at the desk said before Ash could even speak.

“Trainer Ash Ketchum from Pallet Town, Trainer ID PTR15O674.” Ash supplied quickly. The grizzled man was not one to waste time with.

“Number of pokemon on hand and their types.”

“One, a fighting-type.” Ash wanted to sigh as he was questioned some more, but didn’t. After another three rounds of questions, each one more intrusive as the last, he was allowed to enter the city.

“Alright, make sure to notify the Rangers when you leave as well. Need to know where to look for you if you go missing.”

“Cheerful.” Ash remarked to himself as he walked off. He returned Greed to his ball and shouldered his backpack.

The second thing he noted was once he had actually entered the city. The chatter and other general noise of the people walking down the road and just how loud it was bothered him. In the forests with only a few trainers around for miles, it was very quiet. Ash had gotten used to the serene silence and it was a bit of a shock to hear all the noise again.

Viridian City was a decent size, not as large as a city like Celedon but not as small as Pallet Town. A happy in between. Ash wanted to release his starter and let him see the city as well. He might not enjoy the sight as much as him, but the pokemon was sure to revel in the awe of people's reactions from seeing such a foreign pokemon. He certainly enjoyed it enough on the Route.

It was saddening that he’d be unable to release any of his pokemon in city limits without at least a single badge to his name. Some pokemon such as onix and steelix couldn’t be released at all given that their size could cause severe damage even unintentionally.

Ash finally saw the large red and white building he was walking towards. The Pokemon Center was close to the center of the city, the Viridian City Gym less than half a mile down the road. He didn’t even consider challenging the Viridian Gym for a badge. Gym Leader Giovanni was one of, if not the, strongest Leaders in Indigo. Not to mention that he was the Gate of Kanto the same way Clair of Blackthorn City was the Gate of Johto. Both of them were terrifying in battle and trainers had to achieve seven badges at the minimum to challenge them.

“Hello, I need to have my pokemon checked over. He got hit by a meowth’s Fury Swipes which I applied a potion to. He didn’t get any other noticeable injuries, but we’ve been on the road for a week now.” Ash said as he finally reached the front desk.

Nurse Joy nodded in understanding from behind the desk. “Of course. Name?”

“Trainer Ash Ketchum, and I’ll need a room as well.” Ash handed her Greed’s pokeball and thanked her as she handed him a silver key. Pokemon Centers were impressive. Technology had come a long way since their founding. Nurse Joy could heal any injury short of decapitation, though it may leave some scars.

Pokemon Centers were large buildings with an interior that wasn’t quite fancy, but still nice nonetheless. The Centers included rooms for trainers, a fitness center, a humble library, a cafeteria, a small trainer store and spacious outdoor fields meant for battling and training.

When he asked where the phones were, she pointed him towards the western wall of the building and told him his pokemon would be ready in an hour or so. Ash entered one of the rooms with a phone and a League PC.

League PCs were a trainer’s friend. Whether it was to access your bank account or store a pokemon in long term storage. If you already had a full team of pokemon and caught another, you’d need to use a League PC to store one. It also allowed access to the Trainer Guild (which was more of a Thieves’ Guild given their price gouging) which allowed the trainer to sell a pokemon or training related item if they wished. They usually paid fairly low, though, and most trainers looking to sell had to sell independently to get a fair price.

However, Ash wasn’t here to use the PC. He most likely wouldn’t find much use in them as many of the needs for the machine were covered by his pokedex.

He typed and clacked a few keys before a ringing sound rang out in the small soundproof room. After a few minutes, his mother popped up on the screen of the videophone. “Hello, Delia Ketchum speaking.”

“Hey, mom. I made it to Viridian City,” Ash said with a smile. Delia’s eyes lit up when she realized who was on the opposite end of the line.

“Ashy, It’s so good to hear from you! You’re not hurt, are you? What took you so long getting there? It’s been nearly a week!” Ash winced at his mother’s worried tone. He should have let her know he’d be taking his time.

“Yeah, I decided to take my time on the way. Lots of training.” Ash told her. “Better to have my pokemon stronger than they need to be, then weaker than they should be.”

Delia nodded with a small smile, before continuing her barrage of questions. “That makes sense. Did you catch any pokemon? Is Pancham getting stronger?”

“No, not yet. Most of the pokemon between here and Pallet Town aren’t really all that strong, and none catch my eye. A pidgey maybe, but pidgeot are so common even if they are reliable. Bug-types, especially their early stages, are generally weak. Maybe a heracross or scyther, but those aren’t found around here....” Ash trailed off and flushed as he realized his mother was grinning at him as he derailed the conversation.

“So, Pancham?” She nudged, a tittering laugh following.

“He’s doing good, I call him Greed now. Nurse Joy is taking a look at him, but that’s just because I worked him hard the last few days. He’s already mastering his moves. He has an egg move as well, Seismic Toss!”

“Seismic Toss? That’ll be hard for him to use at his size.” His mother remarked with a stare that twinkled with laughter. Most likely thinking of Greed trying to use the move on an opponent much larger than he.

“Yeah, I have him practicing with it when we can. He’s tested it out in a couple smaller pokemon and it worked out well. Until he evolves, it won’t truly be a viable option on larger pokemon. His other moves are Taunt, Circle Throw, Arm Thrust and Slash.”

His mother hummed. “Not bad, but not a lot of variety. I think he could learn Crunch fairly easily since he already knows Taunt, that should be the first move you teach him.

“That was my plan. Crunch and then Karate Chop. From there I’ll teach him tougher moves, like Night Slash. ” Ash agreed with a frown, before suddenly perking up. “Oh! We won our first battle!”

Ash talked for another hour with his mother, telling her of anything he could think of. His battle, plans for future TMs and any pokemon he thought might fill out his team.

“The problem with the pokemon on most routes is that they’re not all that strong. The strongest are taken when they’re young, because of that they rarely have a chance to spread their genes around. If I really want a strong pokemon, I’ll need to go off Route.” Ash explained further about his lack of another pokemon.

“Ash, going off Route is dangerous. It isn’t recommended for anyone without real experience, let alone a rookie trainer.” His mother said with a frown. “I don’t doubt that there are strong pokemon off the Routes, but the best trainers can train initially weak pokemon into strong opponents.” Ash conceded to the knowledge of her words.

Routes were defined as central paths that connected the cities, towns and villages of a region and led travelers to the various settlements of the region. They averaged a quarter mile wide, even going as big as a mile in some areas, and were under constant surveillance by the Pokemon Rangers. Routes were tame and relatively safe. The wilderness outside of the routes was the opposite. Wild, feral and dangerous. The Rangers rarely ventured into the dangerous lands, electing to watch over the far more populated cities and routes. Trainers were made aware that should they set forth into ‘No Man’s Land’, they were alone. Most Ranger outposts were undermanned as it was, they simply couldn’t waste the personnel to look for every trainer that thought they were special enough to wander into the deep woods.

Before he could properly change the subject, the intercom came on. “Trainer Ketchum, your pokemon is ready. Please come to the front desk. I say again, Trainer Ketchum to the front desk.”

“Alright, I’ll talk to you later mom. I have to go get Greed then call Professor Oak.” He said as he rose from his seat. With a smile and a farewell from his mother, Ash left to grab his starter. Only after she rangled a promise from him to call her tomorrow though.

“Thank you, Nurse Joy.” Ash said as he took his starter’s pokeball from the woman.

“Of course. One thing, before you’re off. I noticed that your pancham has been consuming a foliage heavy diet.” Ash nodded in agreement. Greed had eaten a lot of greens on the route. “Nothing wrong with that, he should stay plenty hydrated from the leaves, but I would recommend adding a little more meat and a little less greens in his diet. It’s natural for omnivores such as him to feast on small bug-types like caterpie or combee, so don’t feel bad about letting him loose every once in a while. Giving him a little more pokefood should help as well.” Nurse Joy instructed.

“Thank you, I’ll definitely be doing that. I already have a fishing rod and a license, so I should be able to reel him up some meat on the route. And he did have a caterpie a few days ago.” Ash told her.

“That’s good, just don’t do all the hunting for him. He should be able to train and battle immediately.” Ash nodded as he bid her farewell and went to call the Professor.

“Ash!” Samuel Oak greeted him in surprise when his face showed up on the screen. “Good to hear from you. Has Pancham been doing well?”

Ash simply released his starter in response. Had it been anywhere other than a private room, he’d have caught a couple of eyes. “Oh! He seems stronger already. In only a week too!” Greed soaked the praise up with a huff, which Ash thought to be exaggerated.

“I knew you two would be good for each other! In other news, what took you so long to arrive in Viridian? Leaf is going to be arriving in Viridian pretty soon. She actually contacted her parents, as well as myself, with her pokedex and told them she expects to arrive early tomorrow.” Ash winced as the older man jabbed him for both his lack of communication and slow travel speed.

“Just wanted to take my time with training. Don’t wanna have an under trained pokemon, after all.” Ash explained like he had with his mother.

Like he had with his mother, he talked with Oak for a good hour about various topics. He’d learnt from the man that two rookie trainers traveling together had been attacked and injured along with their starters (an oddish and a poliwag) on Route 14 by an aggressive ursaring before the rangers could capture it. He also received the information that the yearly migration of flying-types from Johto was coming up.

“Professor, do you know if there are any paths from here in Viridian to Celadon City?” Ash asked a question he had had on his mind for a while.

“Celadon? Why would you want to travel there?” The older man asked in surprise. “I thought you would go to Pewter to challenge the gym and follow the standard cuircuit.”

“I don’t want to take the normal route for average trainers. I could go to Pewter City first, but that’s everyone’s first stop. No change. I wanna follow my own path, not that of my predecessors.” Ash told the former Champion. He had thought about it for the last week and liked the idea of changing up the normal circuit. It might let the higher skilled teams of the Pewter and Cerulean Gyms get a work out if nothing else.

Oak smiled widely. “A good thought.” He then fell into silence for a few seconds. “ I would recommend the diglett tunnel–it would put you out closer to Vermillion but I’m sure you could get to Celadon from there–but it collapsed just a couple months ago.” Ash sighed in disappointment but let the man continue. “You should talk to the Rangers stationed in Viridian, they would know the area better than I.” Ash nodded, but didn’t feel particularly optimistic.

“If I may ask, why did you decide on Celadon? I’m sure you could have rented a boat to Cinnabar with your savings, even if they would take a big hit.”

“I felt that with the Celadon Gym using grass-types that it would be a good challenge. Neither me or Erika would have any major advantage. She does use a lot of dual grass-types, but since she has to use her League mandated team I should be able to pull a win. She’s not really considered all that tough to begin with.”

“That is good reasoning, but you have to have a minimum of two pokemon before challenging your first Gym.” Oak critiqued his plan.

“I know. I was hoping that by venturing off the Route a bit, I’d find a sufficiently strong pokemon.” Ash said, waiting for the man to reprimand him.

“You might.” Ash was jolted at the pokemon expert’s agreement . As if reading the boy’s mind, Oak smiled. “I’m not against you venturing off the beaten path, Ash, I did quite a bit of that myself. I just ask that you turn back should it prove too difficult. There is no shame in acknowledging when you're out of your depth. Many trainers find themselves in preventable situations that cost them greatly, if they had simply let go of their pride they would be with us now. Don’t be like them. ” The Regional Professor finished darkly.

“I won’t. Can’t up and die when you sponsored me. Gary would throttle my ghost.” Ash joked to ease the awkwardness in the conversation.

“He just might.” Gary’s grandfather agreed. “He’s doing well, by the way. He stayed in Viridian for a day and then left for Viridian Forest. He is probably about a third of the way through by now.”

“Has he captured any other pokemon?” Ash questioned.

“He has captured three as of now. I will not tell you what they are, but he seems pleased with his team. He’s also had plenty of battles.” Oak informed him with a fond smile.

“That's good. I feel like I’m behind. I’ve only had one battle.” Ash rubbed his nape.

“You did start later than most trainers, so it’s understandable. Route 1 is only crawling with trainers during the early season.” Oak said breezily.

Ash nodded. Most trainers started their career in early summer, directly after the Indigo Conference in late spring. It gave time for the pokemon offspring born in spring to grow, both for blossoming trainers to capture and to give time for them to leave their parents–the League didn’t want a defensive mother on the prowl when rookie trainers were around. Ash was a little different. He, Leaf and Gary all started their journeys later than usual, the Indigo Conference had passed a month before they had set out for their journeys.

The Pallet Academy had a large curriculum. It only made sense for it to last longer than other schools. It was one of the turnoffs that caused other trainers to look elsewhere. With the time it takes to graduate, test for the TLE and wait for licenses to arrive, the trainers from Pallet Academy started their careers later than other trainers would have. And that wasn’t mentioning the high price of tuition that the Academy cost. Ash thanked the legendaries that he had gotten a scholarship from Professor Oak’s lab.

“How is Ethan doing?” Ash inquired after a moment of silence.

“I haven’t talked to him at length, but he seems determined. His mother has already precured a starter for him–which I have checked over–should he succeed. From what little he told me, I believe he planned on going to Hawthorne and finding a ferry to take him to the port in Cinnabar. His uncle planned on fronting the money for him.”

“Cinnabar?” Ash repeated. “I thought he planned on starting in Johto and doing the circuit there?”

“That was his original plan, but due to some…unforeseen circ*mstances he feels he wouldn’t be sufficiently prepared given his delayed departure.” Suddenly, a loud crash sounded in the background of the Professor’s video feed and Ash saw something get knocked down from a shelf by a yellow blur. “I need to go now. Be sure to keep in contact and pick up multiple potions and poison cures, for you and your pokemon both, before leaving. Bye now!”

“Talk to you later, Professor.” Ash bid the man goodbye as he ended the call. He turned to Greed, who had been listening to the conversation attentively. “So, wanna go see if anybody wants to battle?”

Ash heard his starter rumble with excitement.

“I’ll take that as a yes.” Ash smirked as he returned the pokemon to his ball. He wouldn’t be in the state of suspension for long though, cities were hotspots for trainers to battle.

Ash was right, and before he’d returned to the Pokemon Center he had battled six different trainers. Greed was able to best five of his opponents, but was brought down from his winning streak by a boy with a girafarig. Ash didn’t feel too bad about the defeat as the other trainer had two badges. Prior to his defeat, Greed faced off and won against two rattata, a wurmple, a bellsprout, and a zigzagoon. Not the most intimidating lineup, but a victory is a victory.

After Ash gave his starter a potion, Greed had sulked over his loss for an hour or so before shrugging it off and focusing on his five consecutive victories. Ash gave the panda the last Oran berry in his bag as a reward with the promise to pick up more.

When Ash finally returned to the massive care facility, he was ready to drop into his bed and sleep. He walked past Nurse Joy uttering both a greeting and a goodbye, and entered his room.

It was spacious and had a perch for flying-types and a large tank for water-types. Ash released an exhausted Greed as he stripped down to a pair of shorts for bed. He didn’t have the luxury of comfort on the Routes as he had to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice, so he took full advantage of the safety of a city.

Ash layed in bed as Greed took one of the extra pillows from a chair in the corner. He drug it to the top of a tall wooden wardrobe, before tucking in for sleep. Ash found the pokemon’s need to be up high while sleeping fascinating, but not enough to keep his eyes from dragging closed.

.—.—.

Ash exited the steaming shower with a smile on his face. The dirt and mud caked on his skin had felt amazing being washed off. He was certain he wouldn’t be taking soap for granted for a very long time. He had gone to sleep early yesterday due to his exhausted state. He got up later than he had wanted, but it was still only eight in the morning so he wasn’t worried about it.

Soon enough, Ash was exiting the Pokemon Center with Greed recalled into his pokeball. Ash clicked the red and white sphere into the appropriate slot on his bandelior as he walked towards his destination.

The Viridian PokeMart was big, larger than even the Pokémon Center. The store was two stories high with supplies for every occasion a trainer may find themselves in. Ash focused mainly on the essentials such as ration bars and the many basic and advanced potions, poison cures and revives they offered. A hundred dollars later and he had a stocked backpack.

He stocked up on pokefood as well. He still had some left from the trek from Pallet Town, but the journey ahead was even longer. Ash debated on how much to buy.

He ended up with two month's worth of specifically omnivore food. It would hopefully last longer with how much Greed enjoyed munching on the foliage of the route, but even strictly eating the food would be able to last him through the whole of Viridian Forest. He was optimistic that they wouldn’t need the whole supply, but he prepared just in case.

“Hey, kid.” A taller man with stubble on his chin grabbed Ash’s attention as he finished packing away the pokefood. “I assume you’re a trainer?”

Ash agreed with a nod, not commenting on the fact that had he not been a trainer he wouldn’t need to be in a PokeMart. “Yeah. Do you need help or something?”

The man smiled. “No, not really. Just seeing if you were interested in purchasing any Technical Machines!”

Ash raised a brow. TMs were generally found in larger and more populated cities. The Celadon Department Store was the largest store in Kanto and as such had the largest array of TMs available. It was one of the reasons Celadon City has such a high League presence.

“I didn’t think there were any TM vendors in Viridian.” Ash said curiously.

“My employers at Silph. Co thought it would be wise to begin operations in smaller cities. We don’t have near the collection as the more established vendors, but we have some.” The man said happily. “Any specific moves you might like? What types are your pokemon?”

“A fighting-type.” Ash answered the question as he looked at the disks I’m under the glass. Some of them he knew Greed could use in the future. “Though I’m not really worried about buying TMs right now. He’s pretty green and needs to still fill out his naturally learned move pool first.”

“Of course! Buying one now simply means you can teach it to him when you need to. They don’t expire, so you could wait until you feel he’s ready before applying it to him.” The salesman told him, his smile never faltering. “Most fighting-types are physical battlers and can’t do too well at a distance or even learn many ranged moves. I suggest investing in one or two of the elemental punches.”

Ash glanced at the mentioned TMs. He had planned on teaching the elemental punches–Fire Punch, Ice Punch and Thunder Punch–to his starter regardless. He supposed he could get one or two now and teach Greed when he felt the panda was ready. The question was which to choose.

“How much are they?” Ash asked as he rolled the pros and cons of each move.

“All three are three thousand each.” The older man answered.

Ash winced at the price. It wouldn’t make him go broke, but it was still a lot of cash. “Alright, I’ll take all three.”

The salesman was excited to complete the transaction. After finalizing everything, Ash walked away from the stand. His account drained sufficiently and three new TMs stored away safely.

“Wait! You’ll need a way to apply that to your pokemon, it only makes sense to buy the official Silph. Co Transferer!” The salesman grinned like he’d caught a mouse in a trap.

Ash figured that might happen, the man was obviously trying to get him to spend as much cash as possible. He simply took his pokedex and flashed it at the man. He walked off without looking at the face of the man, knowing it would look similar to that of a magikarp.

.—.—.

Ash popped the small spherical fruit into his mouth and chewed with relish. “What'd you call this again?”

The woman running the stall smiled politely. “It’s a Chesto berry. These here,” she gestured to a tray of larger pink fruit, “I just got shipped in from northern Hoenn. They call them Drash berries.”

Ash tasted the Drash berries and found them far tangier than the previous selection. He wouldn’t complain though. After days of only consuming bland ration bars, anything was delicious.

“I’ll take two dozen Oran berries, and a dozen Drash and Chesto berries each.” Ash requested. She was more than happy to provide him with the treats, accepting his payment with a smile and a wave.

Ash found the market lively. People were, for the most part, welcoming and friendly. The stalls displayed around the market were dedicated to various foods and treats. He recognized some of the consumables as native to Kanto, but a majority hailed from other regions. One man shouted about a pastry dish from Kalos, another about a tropical drink from Alola vfr`.

Ash popped an Oran berry in his mouth to overpower the tanginess of the Drash berry he had eaten. He wondered how Greed would like them. The fighting-type wasn’t too picky, so he’d probably consume them as he had anything Ash gave him.

.—.—.

James was having a rough week.

Normally, he was one of his group’s best assets. One of their top administrators if he were to be honest. His pokemon were monsters in their own right and his squad was nearing Petrel’s in terms of efficiency.

He’d admit that Petrel and his team were more suited to surprise attacks and covert operations, but they were still some of Team Rocket’s best members. To be reaching, and possibly surpassing, them was an achievement. James knew he should be happy. Proud, maybe. His last operation had been a success in the eyes of the higher ups.

That was it. ‘In the eyes of the higher-ups’. He didn’t see it as a victory, how could he? His goal had been achieved, sure, but the price? He didn’t know if it was worth it. His team was down two members and triple that in pokemon. His own pokemon were strong, they had to be if he was to retain his Admin position, but not enough to make up for the loss of two squad members.

James wasn’t weak. In terms of the other Admins he was in the middle, maybe slightly higher. Not as strong as Proton or Ariana. Not as weak as Oakley or Butch.

James sighed audibly. He shouldn't be sitting down and feeling sorry for himself. Especially not in the openness that is the Viridian Marketplace. He needed to give his report to Archer.

James shivered involuntarily at the thought of his superior. Archer was one of the first members of Team Rocket. He was, in no uncertain terms, the strongest among them. The man’s pokemon matched him, horrifying and monstrous. From his krookodile to his scolipede, each of his pokemon easily reached Gym Leader Level. Except his strongest. His ace pokemon easily reach Elite-level. James had only seen Archer’s Tyranitar in action three times. Each time more destructive than the last.

James stood up despite his internal objections. Almost immediately he was shoved by a passerby and he stumbled back into his seat. He glared at the person who’d touched him but the crowd had already concealed them.

“Excuse me, sir? Are you alright?” A voice disrupted James’ inner thoughts. He looked at the person who thought bothering some random, poor sap was worth their time.

The kid was younger than him by probably a decade and some change. Dark hair, brown eyes and a concerned look on his face. His boots looked new and his clothes relatively unmarked. Only a single pokeball sat in his bandelier. An obvious rookie.

“I’m fine. No need to check in on an old man like me.” James said dismissively, trying not to be overly rude.

“Old? You look young enough to me.” The kid said with a smile on his face. “You look...thirty?”

“Twenty-eight, twerp.” James corrected with a huff as he wondered why he was still talking to the brat. He supposed he just needed an excuse to keep him from having to go face Archer.

“See, not all that old. The person I used to work for wouldn’t tell me his actual age, but he has to be in his mid fifties. Maybe rounding sixty. His grandson called him an old man once. Man, he really thought he was gonna have to eat nothing but pokefood for dinner. But that was nothing compared to when he tried to ride a rhyhorn from the corral. Gary was always getting into some kind of trouble.” The kid said with humor evident in his tone as he sat down uninvited.

“I can imagine. Kid sounds like a little sh*t. Reminds me of a meowth I used to know.”

“Meowth is probably too accurate. Obsessed with flashy clothes and trinkets, tends to throw a hissy fit when woken up early.” The kid turned his gaze towards James and held out his hand. “I’m Ash.”

James chuckled. It surprised him. He hadn’t had an honest laugh in too long. He looked at the outstretched hand for a moment before shaking it. “Call me Jay.”

“Good to meet you. So, what do you do Jay?” Ash asked curiously.

“Well, today I was actually planning to sit in peaceful silence before some kid bothered me.” James jabbed in a voice that said he wasn’t really all that upset. Ash rubbed his neck in embarrassment. “However, I generally work as a freelancer. Run off some spearow here, capture a few pidgey there. Pays well enough.” James lied easily. He couldn’t recall the last time he’d been able to talk to anyone without doing so.

“Cool, I’m a trainer too. Do you have any badges? I mean, you have to have at least one to work as a freelancer, but what Gyms?” Ash asked.

“Got the Boulder badge, Cascade badge, and the Rainbow badge.”

“And what pokemon do you have? If you don’t mind me asking.” Ash again inquired.

“I do mind, actually.” James disliked all the intrusive questions the kid was throwing at him. The rookie was intending the questions to be intrusive, and for most others they wouldn’t be, but he had activities that were best left unquestioned.

“Oh. Sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude. I just started my trainer career about a week ago. I’m just excited.” Ash apologized with a smile.

“Sure, twerp. For future reference, you might wanna keep your team members and their training to yourself. Never know who’s out to get you on the Routes.”

“Thanks for the advice. I need to head off now, gotta finish preparing for my trek through the forest. It was good meeting you, Jay.” Ash waved as he blended into the crowded market. James hummed as he, too, stood up.

The kid was interesting. Polite, yet not uptight. Funny, yet not exaggerative. James never liked kids all that much, but he supposed this twerp wasn’t too bad. He did some quick calculations. If the kid did the standard circuit then he’d be at Mt. Moon when Operation Providence took place. He almost hoped he got caught up in Pewter. If not then James would have another trainer’s blood on his hands, though that was nothing new. The man grunted as he left his bench.

He had work to do.

.—.—.

Ash thought back to the man named Jay. A strange man to be sure, but he had seemed nice enough. If a little blunt. He cursed himself for not asking him about his Rainbow badge. Maybe he had some tips about the Celadon Gym. Too late now, Ash has left the market behind as he headed for the Ranger Outpost. He figured he would take Oak’s advice and see if the Rangers knew of a path to Celadon from Viridian.

He quickly decided within minutes that the Rangers weren’t a lot of help.

“Listen, kid, I understand wanting a little more adventure but the routes are meant to be stayed on. If you venture off the route, there is no guarantee we can spare the personnel to look for you if something happens. My advice? Stick to Viridian Forest and follow the standard circuit like everyone else.” The older Ranger said condescendingly.

“And I understand. All I’m looking for is an alternative path to Celadon City. Surely there is at least one person here who knows the area well enough to at least point me in the right direction.” Ash insisted. He understood the older man’s concern, but he was really getting annoyed. He was so close to just calling the Professor and having him talk to them.

“Arceus, you really don’t quit. Listen, unless you have four badges or more it is encouraged heavily to stick to the routes. I can’t, in good conscience, tell you to go off route.”

Ash sighed. “Surely there is something. A path or tunnel that puts me out close to Celadon. I know the Diglett Tunnel collapsed a few months ago, but that can’t be the only tunnel around. My sponsor thinks going off Route isn’t too far outside my range, so help me out here.” Ash pressed.

“Sponsor? And who might that be? Just because some other Ranger—“ The older man started but stopped when Ash slid his pokedex towards him. The screen clearly displaying the name Samuel Oak under the word sponsor. “Oh.”

The other Rangers stopped whatever they were doing and looked at the man oddly, clearly surprised by his reaction. “You alright, Sergeant?” A Ranger asked after a few seconds.

“Yeah.” The Sergeant said after a moment of examining the screen. “Alright, so your sponsor is clearly a smarter man than I. However I still can’t endorse your course of action, Ketchum.” If at all possible, the other Rangers seemed more shocked at the man’s change in tone.

“Sergeant, who’s his sponsor?” Another Ranger asked the question on all their minds.

The Sergeant looked to Ash as if to gain permission. Ash gave it with a nod. “It's Professor Samuel Oak. The Former Champion Samuel Oak.”

Ash was glad that there were only the Rangers in the office of the Outpost at the moment. He wasn’t sure how a bunch of random trainers would have reacted. The Rangers had a variety of reactions. A couple of them actually did a double take.

“The Oak, huh? That’s certainly a surprise.” A man voiced from behind Ash. The rookie whipped around in shock. The man was large, he looked twice Ash’s height and far broader. His dark hair accentuated his eyes, making them almost gleam in the light. When had this guy entered the Outpost? Ash couldn’t tell. “Ah, I didn't mean to startle you.”

“Sir!” The Rangers shouted in shock and they all stood. Each one of them, even the older Sergeant, gave a proper salute to the man.

“At ease.” The man waved them off. “Now, what is it I heard about your sponsor and going off Route?”

“Sir, Trainer Ketchum was-“ The Sergeant began before being cut off.

“I was not addressing you, Sergeant. In fact, you may all return to your duties.” The man glared at the Rangers before they began to do as instructed. It was clear the man had some sort of superiority over them. Perhaps he was the leader of the Rangers in this section of the city. “Ketchum, was it? Take a walk with me.”

.—.—.

The man introduced himself as Van. “So, Ash Ketchum. You said you wanted to find a direct route to Celedon?”

Ash had barely sat down when the question was thrown at him. Van had led him to a small diner in the center of the city. He could see the Pokemon Center just down the street. From the looks of the diner, it was a small family owned place. The booth they sat had a few menus on the table that Van flipped through for less than a second before closing.

“Yes, sir. I had hoped the Rangers would be of some help but I suppose not.” Ash sighed in disappointment.

“I understand. You may be in luck. I happen to know this area rather well.” Van said. “There are a few old trails that crisscross the deeper parts of the Viridian Forest. The Hiveminds used them pre-League to move undetected before the Unifier burned them out. But, to get to Celadon, the old mining tunnel would suit your purposes best.”

Ash perked up. “A mining tunnel? Where would it take me?”

Van smiled. “It’ll spit you out on the other side of the forest. There would be a couple hours' walk until you met up with Route 16, then a day's walk on the Route to Celedon.”

Ash thought it sounded like exactly what he had been looking for. “How do I get to the tunnel?”

“Go into Viridian Forest prepared for a week and a half long trek. There will be an orange sign after the first Ranger Lodge, it leads you to a watering hole. Go straight past the watering hole and take a right at the rock formation shaped like a face.”

Ash nodded intently. “Anything I should worry about?”

“Nothing major. But it is an older tunnel that doesn’t see upkeep, ground-types may have destabilized it. It also turns off at several points. Make sure you don’t mess with any supports and always take the passage on the right. The miners installed light when they worked the tunnel, but the League replaced them with the same lights as Mt. Moon. Follow the lights and don’t battle any pokemon needlessly.” Van warned.

“Excuse me, are you ready to order?” The waitress asked with a smile as she approached the table. “Our house specials include- Oh! I hadn’t realized it was you! I'm sorry, Giovanni.”

Ash blinked. Hadn’t his name been Van? Oh, Gio-van-ni. Funny.

Ash stopped and pondered. Giovanni. Viridian City. It clicked. “Wait. Giovanni? The Gym Leader of Viridian City and the Gate of Kanto? The Earthshaker? Thats you?”

The waitress looked at him with wide eyes. She seemed shocked he hadn’t realized just who he was talking to. Giovanni chuckled in a low tone. “Yes, I suppose that would be me.”

“Wow.” Ash slumped in his seat and turned to the waitress. “Sorry, I’ll just have water.”

“The usual, Dorthy.” Giovanni said with a wide smile that made the woman blush.

“Of course, I’ll have it right out.” Dorthy rushed away as she went to fetch what they ordered.

“When had you planned on leaving Viridian?” Giovanni asked suddenly.

Ash registered the question slower than he should have. He thought it was understandable given he was still shocked to be talking to the Giovanni. “Oh, uh, tomorrow or the day after. I wanted to get my starter as much battle experience as possible. I also planned on training him quite a lot.”

Giovanni hummed as he considered the answer. “Your starter, it was from Oak.” Giovanni stated in a tone that any outsider would mistake it for a question. Ash nodded anyway, wondering how the man knew that piece of information. “Oak has a habit of giving special trainers rather...interesting choices for starters.”

Ash wasn’t sure how to respond to that. Fortunately, Dorthy returned with their orders. The rookie was sure she had moved them up the priority list due to Giovanni’s presence. Ash sipped his water as Giovanni added cream to his coffee. The coffee accompanied a plate of fried wings with mild sauce. From the look of the meat, he guessed pidgey.

“Where was I? Ah, right. Ash, would you happen to have any relation to Delia Ketchum?” Giovanni asked with a sip from his coffee.

“Yes, she’s my mother. Why do you ask, sir?” Ash answered, a little surprised at the question.

“No real reason. Delilah is a good woman, she’s an old friend. We met nearly seventeen years ago, I believe.” Ash hadn’t known that but it wasn't too farfetched. His mother would have been a few years older than he was now.

“Tell me, Ash, why is it you want to go to Celadon?” Giovanni prodded with a raised brow. After Ash gave him the same reasoning he had given Oak, the Gym Leader hummed. “You have clearly thought about this. Alright, I approve.”

Ash smiled widely. Praise coming from the strongest Gym Leader in Kanto was well appreciated. “Thank you, sir. May I ask you a question?”

“I suppose that would be fair.”

“I heard some rumours about the pokemon handed out from your Gym this year. Mainly, that there were some Hoenn pokemon in the mix.” Ash prompted the older man. “If you don’t mind, could you tell me what they were?”

Giovanni was silent for a second as he ate one of his pidgey wings. “There were indeed a few Hoenn natives in the mix. A grass-type called a shroomish, a normal-type called slakoth and a ground-type called trapinch. I personally oversaw their distribution.” Giovanni recalled the pokemon names without trouble. “Though, I was rather disappointed with the crop of trainers this year.”

Ash tilted his head slightly. “In what way?”

“They lacked fire. There were only three that caught my eye. I gave the shroomish and slakoth to a couple of trainers that showed some promise.

Ash noticed he neglected to mention the last pokemon. “And the trapinch?”

“And the trapinch...well, let's say it is in proper hands.” Giovanni said. Giovanni considered him a moment. “Ash, indulge me. How many pokemon do you have on your roster at the moment?”

“Only my starter, he’s a pancham.” Ash answered honestly. Jay’s words from the market rang in his ears before he dismissed them. This was Giovanni! He was the Viridian City Gym Leader, he could trust him.

“Just the one? I know you originally started in Pallet Town, but surely there is pokemon between here and there. Why not capture a pidgey? Pidgeots are good flying-types. Or a rattata? An excellently trained raticate can be a force to be reckoned with in the early stages of a trainer’s career.”

Ash wasn’t sure how to answer that question. He contemplated for a few moments before finally answering. “Fearow, raticate, or even pidgeot. They’re all common and everyone can get them. In terms of power, none of those except pidgeot make it far. I could capture them, but once I got strong enough they would simply become obsolete. The real pinnacle of trainers, the Elites and Champions, don't have those pokemon on their main teams for a reason.”

Ash met Giovanni’s eyes with determination. Giovanni seemed surprised, pleasantly so. “Tomorrow, come to my Gym around midmorning. I may just have a proposition for you.” Without another word, the man stood up. He laid some bills on the table to pay for his meal, gave Dorthy a smile and left the diner. Ash finished the last gulp of his water as he, too, got up from the booth.

He left the diner just as quickly as Giovanni had, but the large man was nowhere in sight as Ash walked down the street. How a man as infamous as the Gym Leader had slipped away as quickly and unnoticed as he had was a mystery to Ash. Nevertheless, Ash headed towards his next destination with a pep in his step.

.—.—.

The pokemon opposite his starter squawked aggressively. The spearow was on the larger side and twice as quick as any wild ones Ash had seen. The trainer across the battlefield called out commands quickly and took the offensive as the lull in battle ended. “To the air, Bombing Run!”

Ash didn't need to give a command as Greed already made to evade the diving bird. The pancham was able to avoid it for the most part as Ash thought of a strategy. He had challenged the flying-type’s trainer specifically because he felt his starter needed experience of opponents that didn't fight on land. “Taunt, then Arm Thrust and Slash.”

The pancham flicked his ears to acknowledge his trainer’s words. When the Spearow came down in another dive, the panda finally did something other than evade. The dark-type energy of Taunt made the bird clearly off balance. Seizing his chance, Greed slammed the Arm Thrust attack into the bird, followed by Slash not long after. The bird took the blows and managed to get out of the fighting-type’s reach. The spearow flapped above in the air as its trainer seemed to examine Greed once again. Until the spearow came down, Ash knew his starter couldn’t do anything. Fighting-types were simply not ranged fighters and had few moves to help fix the problems. Luckily, spearow were far more physical fighters than pidgey. Ash waited for his opponent’s next move.

“Another pass, use Quick Wing. Agility so it can’t see your movements.” The spearow responded accordingly. It tapped into the psychic move and almost immediately seemed to become twice as fast as it was previously. Ash even had a hard time keeping his eye on it.

“It's gonna try and hit you from the back.” Ash said quietly, he knew his starter’s sensitive ears would hear him. “Let it think it has you by surprise then grab it and don’t let it take back off. Slash and Seismic Toss.” Ash ordered.

The spearow did a couple fake dives as it circled closer. Soon enough, it dove at Greed’s back with a nasty looking shine of steel-type energy coating its wings. Greed flipped around as the bird impacted him. The spearow seemed proud for a moment that the attack landed before it registered the arms that wrapped around it. Taking the flying-type in what seemed like a hug, the larger black and white pokemon let it have it. A multitude of Slash attacks rained upon the Kalos pokemon’s restrained enemy. After the bird seemed just about down for the count, Greed leaped into the air. Ash was surprised at how high he could leap carrying the additional weight.

After a few moments gravity pulled the pair of battlers down to the earth. The spearow squawked loudly as it impacted the ground with the pancham on top of its frame. Ash grinned as his only pokemon stood relatively unscathed from the impact, which left a small dent in the earth. The spearow, quite understandably, did not get up. It’s trainer recalled it with some whispered curses of annoyance.

“Great job! That was a good experience. Really showed a weakness against pokemon that can make some range.” Ash congratulated his pal with a smile. That battle had been their twentieth of the day. Currently, the pair stood at fifteen wins and two losses. The only notable pokemon had been a fighting-type called a makuhita that Greed had taken an interest in and a dual ice/flying-type called a delibird Ash had been interested in. Ice-types were rare in Kanto after all.

Ash saw Greed flex his, probably exhausted, muscles to anyone watching his victory as the defeated trainer approached. “Good match.” The trainer said with a not-at-all pleased expression. “That pokemon you got is a little monster in the making. Spearow is pretty close to evolving to a fearow and not many rookie pokemon can take his attack head on.”

“Yeah, it did seem pretty big for a spearow. I was expecting it to pull a Drill Peck when it dove.” Ash said politely. Ash didn’t quite like him. Maybe it was the attitude. Maybe it was the flashy clothing. Who knows.

“Not got that mastered yet, stupid bird can’t get it right. I'm Damian Dansk from Cerulean.” The trainer, Damian, provided as he begrudgingly handed over Ash’s winnings. The other trainer had insisted on a bet of a thousand dollars and it seemed to physically pain him to hand over that much money.

Ash nodded as he took the money and entered the data into his pokedex. “Ash Ketchum from Pallet Town.”

“Pallet, eh?” Damian said with an expression Ash didn’t like. “You happen to meet Samuel Oak out there in the boonies?”

“I’ve run into him.” Ash admitted as he looked for a way out of the conversation.

“Cool, would you-” Damian began before being cut off by a perfectly timed yell from a familiar face.

“Ketchum!” Leaf yelled with a grin as she marched over. “Just what are you still doing here in Viridian?”

“Leaf, what took you so long?” Ash teased. “I’ve been training here so long I thought I might look like a drampa when you got here.”

“Oh yeah? How about a battle then?” She instigated as her hand fetched her pokeball from her belt.

Ash shook his head. “Nah, sorry. Greed just got out of a battle and I need to get him healed up.” At Leaf’s slightly disappointed reaction he added, “Tomorrow though, you’d better be ready!”

“You are going down, Ashy-boy!” He groaned as she prodded him with the near decade old nickname that Gary had stuck him with. In all honesty, he preferred Red over ‘Ashy-boy’. He wouldn’t dare tell Gary that though.

Leaf’s intervention had apparently been enough for Damian to get the hint and scoot off. The taller boy grumbled as he stalked away, his blue hair flipping as he walked. Leaf glared at the retreating figure. “Seemed like you could use an out from that guy.”

“You weren’t wrong, thanks for that. Damian’s his name and he’s the guy I just battled.” Ash said as the pair left the battlefield. Ash needed to have Nurse Joy look over his starter.

“I saw it. Nice job.” Leaf complimented. “Kinda surprised you used that starter of yours for it. You called it Greed, right?”

“Yeah, and he’s my only pokemon right now.”

“Seriously? All those pokemon and you didn’t catch a single one? Your aim must suck.” Ash rolled his eyes at Leaf. “I caught a pidgeotto I call Glide. She's beautiful. You have got to see her crest feathers!”

Ash smiled as Leaf gushed about her bird. She had always loved flying-types. “See much on the route?”

“Besides Glide? A couple weedle and caterpie but not much else. You?”

Ash nodded. “Pretty much the same as me. I could have caught a pidgey or spearow but they all looked pretty young or weak. I did hear about a pond not too far outside Viridian but it doesn't seem to house anything special.”

“I think you're just picky.” Leaf jabbed.

“I guess I am.” Ash accepted. He had the right to be picky about the additions to his team. Call him elitist but he didn't want to throw out pokeballs randomly and hope something hits. The conversation came to a halt as they entered the Pokemon Center. Ash handed over Greed’s ball as Nurse Joy promised to call him when the panda was all healed up. Leaf also checked her pokemon in and got a room to stay in. “So,” he turned to Leaf with a grin. “I think it's about time for dinner. Cafeteria?”

“Sure.” Leaf agreed easily. “I’m pretty tired of ration bars.” Ash understood that. Ration bars were fine and all, but they’re bland. He liked a little more flavor with his food.

Dinner was a quick affair. Leaf told him of her time on the route, her team and any other information that came to mind. Ash paid it back in kind, telling her of his week-long trek to Viridian and future plans.

“Celadon?” Leaf repeated in surprise. “How do you plan on getting there?”

“I met someone who knows the area. He let me in on a secret path.” Ash said vaguely. Giovanni hadn’t said he was forbidden from revealing the tunnel or his identity, but it felt like something he should at least refrain from blurting out in public.

“Wow, vague much? Whatever.” Leaf shrugged off his ambiguity. “I’m gonna do the normal route for a bit. To Pewter then through Mt Moon to Cerulean.”

Ash nodded. “Then where, Vermillion?

“Arceus no!” Leaf exclaimed passionately. “Surge is a monster. Even Sabrina tones down the difficulty for newbies, but that guy wrecks with his electric-types. The only reason a rookie can win is because he has to use his League mandated team. If he used his main team jolteon or damn ace raichu? Instant bloodbath.”

“Alrighty, not Vermillion then.” Ash said after her proclamation. “So, Celedon, Saffron or Fuschia?” He asked.

“Most likely Celadon. After I get three badges I think I’ll take a break from Gyms and see Kanto. I wanted to visit Lavender Town at some point.” Leaf cleared her throat. “What about your plan?”

Ash considered his response for a second. “Well, Celadon first. Then probably Fuschia, once I win there I’ll go to Vermillion or Saffron. That could change though, not sure.”

“Good luck to you then. Erika isn’t too intimidating and Janine is still pretty inexperienced—rumor is those two might get replaced actually—but Sabrina and Surge are tough.” Leaf said as the intercom came on and called for the pair of Pallet Town trainers. She downed the last swig of her juice. “I’m tired so I'm going up to my room after I get my team.”

Ash yawned at the mention of sleep. “Me too, gonna call my mom though. Do you have any plans tomorrow?”

“Nothing concrete,” she admitted. “I need to stock up on supplies and whatnot. Other than that there isn’t much. Wanted to get some battles in with both Glide and Champ.”

“I recommend stopping at the Viridian Market. Some good stuff there.” Ash recommended as the two of them approached the desk where Nurse Joy was sitting.

“Here for a pickup?” Nurse Joy asked with a smile.

“Yeah, pokemon registered to Ash Ketchum and Lavern Vallan.”

“Right!” Nurse Joy said happily as she set the trays with their pokeballs in front of them. “They all look healthy and should be able to train immediately. However,” she shot Ash a small glare. “I have seen you here too many times today. You need to let your pancham rest a little.”

Ash flushed as Leaf didn’t bother to refrain from outright laughing at him. He took his pokeball back with a few muttered words of appreciation before leaving for his room. Leaf teased him slightly before they agreed to meet up for breakfast and split up.

“Hey, mom.” Ash greeted after she picked up his call. The background was unfamiliar to him. A grey wall with nothing hanging up. A sharp contrast to their home that held a picture frame or decoration of some kind on every available blank space.

“Hi, Ashy! Have a good day?” Delia asked.

“Yeah, I’m a little tired though.” Ash admitted. “Nothing compared to Greed though, we had almost two dozen battles this afternoon.”

“Don’t push yourself too hard, honey.” His mother said worriedly.

Ash smiled. “I’m not, I promise. Greed and I are just preparing for future Gyms.”

“That's great!” His mother beamed. “Oh, Ash! I almost forgot! I got a call from someone today!”

Ash blinked as he tried to think as to why that would be significant. “Someone like…”

“An old friend of mine. You ran into him today.” She hinted.

His eyes lit up. “Giovanni!”

“Yep! He said you reminded him of himself when he was young.” Delia laughed. “I think I’m more grateful you aren’t more like him, Gio always was a troublemaker.”

Ash found it surreal that his mother was familiar with Giovanni the Earthshaker. He found it even more surreal that she had neglected to mention that fact in the last fifteen years.

“It's perfect!” His mother said suddenly. “Do you remember when I told you about the family tradition when you were younger?”

“Uh…” Ash trailed off. “The thing about taking a slice from the middle of the pie?”

She laughed. “No, though I’m sure your grandfather would have said that too. The tradition is actually from your father’s side.” A dark look flashed across her face before she continued. “A family with a child that becomes a trainer gifts them a pokemon. Usually it’s their starter but…we can bend the rules a little.”

Ash blinked. If he ignored the mention of his father - because when was the last time she had ever mentioned him? - and thought about it, she might have mentioned such a thing when he was ten or so. “Oh, yeah. Didn’t you say…he got his starter from his father?”

“He did.” His mother told him. “And given where I am, it's only fitting to give you a pokemon from here.”

“And where is that?” Ash asked.

“It's a surprise!” She said, “I was going to have it sent to the Pokemon Center but I just sent it directly to Giovanni. It should arrive tomorrow morning and he said he’d pass it on to you after giving it a once over.”

“Alright, mom. And if it's inconvenient then don't worry about it, I can always catch a pokemon.” Ash said.

“No, Ashy. If sending you a pokemon will help keep you on the Routes then I’m doing it. Or at least another pokemon to help protect you.”

So that’s what this was about. Ash smiled at his mother as he bid her goodbye. He would have loved to talk to her longer, but he was exhausted and it seemed she was too.

Ash released Greed as he dressed (or rather undressed) and crashed into bed, sleep overtaking him immediately. The fighting-type seemed just as exhausted as his trainer. The pokemon climbed on top of the room’s wardrobe, content to sleep in the same spot as the previous night. No sooner had the panda layed down he joined his trainer in sleep.

.—.—.

Ash woke up feeling surprisingly rested. A quick check of the time on his pokedex read a little past eight. It wasn’t too late but the time still had him mournfully leaving the bed and quickly changing into his day clothes. Greed watched him step out of the bathroom with an expectant stare. “Morning, bud. Ready for the day?” Greed made a noise that conveyed his trainer was a fool for expecting otherwise. “I thought so. I’m going to go have breakfast with Leaf, do you want me to return you or do you wanna stay here?”

The fighting-type made a disgruntled noise as the two options before gesturing to the room. Ash picked up the meaning and slipped his hat on as left his starter in the room with his own breakfast and a warning not to ruin anything lest he have to pay for it. He may have more in savings than most trainers but he still needed every dollar he could get. Trainers could make good money but they spent just as much taking care of themselves and their pokemon.

Ash arrived at the cafeteria before Leaf and chose a table closer to the exit. His morning meal consisted of a glass of juice, cereal and a small bowl of fruit. It was a cheap meal that he thought tasted pretty good for the price. He had eaten nearly half of his cereal when Leaf finally made her appearance.

“Morning.” Ash greeted with a small wave. “Finally emerged from hibernation?”

“Hush, Ketchum. I haven’t slept in a proper bed for days.” She responded as she sat down. She pulled out a ration bar and began munching down.

“Suddenly acquire a taste for those things?” Ash gestured to her choice in food as she bit into her second ration bar.

“The cash I spent last night on dinner was all I could afford to let go. I have enough to afford supplies for my trip to Pewter but not much else. Glide has a broken talon so I’ll need to buy some calcium supplements for her. Champ should be fine with the normal pokefood and greens along the way.” Leaf explained as she stole a sip of his juice and not-so-subtly glanced at his own food. “It’s kinda why I wanted to battle as many trainers as possible, I only battled two trainers on Route 1.”

Ash rolled his eyes and pushed his barely touched fruit bowl to the girl. “Here, take my pity.”

“Thanks, I will.” She responded, brushing off his jab.

“How did you blow all your money anyway? You’ve been a proper trainer for less than a week?” Ash asked jokingly as he watched his friend inhale the offered fruit.

“My parents would only pay the breeder for Champ if I paid a third myself and we can't all work for the Professor like you.” She snapped with more venom than Ash had heard from her in a while.

Ash raised his hands up appeasingly at her tone. “Sorry, just curious.”

Leaf sighed. “Whatever, it's fine.”

Ash turned back to his cereal in hopes of ignoring the awkward silence in the air. He had known she hated talks about finances for years but had thought that would have faded. Leaf’s family was never wealthy and when they were younger Gary had poked at that fact constantly until his grandfather had told him off. It was a sore spot of hers. Which…fair enough. They all had something that the rest had all wordlessly agreed to never bring up. For Gary it was his sister. For Leaf it was money. For Ethan it was the scar on his cheek. And for Ash it was his father.

“So,” he started after a few bites. “did you wanna battle after lunch? I have a thing I have to do this morning.” Leaf nodded her agreement without a word. Ash left the cafeteria quickly after that and went to retrieve Greed. It was a little past ten and Giovanni was expecting him soon.

The street outside the Center was busier than Ash had expected. He saw a girl with a small pidgey resting on her shoulder talking to an older girl with a familiar looking face. Ash took a moment to try and remember just who it was. He knew he recognized her but couldn’t place her in his mind. The Viridian Gym came into sight just as the name came to him. It was the trainer with the meowth Greed had fought on Route 1.

He decided she was not important at the moment as he finally came upon the Gym. The building matched its owner perfectly, large and imposing. He couldn’t hope to name the material it was made of–some sort of a mix between metal and concrete–but it seemed sturdy enough to weather the massive attacks Giovanni’s caliber of pokemon would produce.

Ash felt excited as he went to enter the building. A sign on the door stated Giovanni’s official Gym hours that Ash read but felt no real need to be interested in. The room he entered was large though not overly so. It was a waiting room that held little else but chairs and a desk with a receptionist. To the left of the desk was a set of double doors Ash expected to lead to the battlefield of the Gym.

The receptionist looked up from her computer and sighed. Her brown hair was tied up into a ponytail and gave her a look that made her seem a year or two older than he thought her to be. He hadn’t even gotten a word out when she started talking. “The official Gym hours are posted on the door. Please come back at the proper time.” She semi-rebuked as she returned to her papers.

Ash was slightly stunned at her rudeness. “Actually, I’m here to speak to Giovanni.”

The receptionist, Jenna as told by a small plaque on her desk, almost seemed to scoff. “Listen, if you want to battle, though I doubt you could, or speak to Giovanni then come back at normal hours. Noon through six, Mondays through Thursdays. Now shoo, Giovanni has a meeting this morning and asked to not be bothered.”

Ash locked eyes with the brunette and frowned. He was about to tell her off when the massive double doors flung open. The large, imposing Gym Leader of Viridian City gave the two of them an appraising look without saying a word.

“I'm sorry, sir! I was just telling this kid that you didn’t want to be bothered. He was just about to-”

“Jenna, I think you should take the rest of the day off.”

“-leave. I’m sorry, what? Sir, I only just got here!” Jenna protested after Giovanni interrupted her.

The man ignored her protest and motioned for Ash to follow. “Please forgive her disrespect. Come along. I do believe we have a meeting to keep.” He turned to Jenna. “We will discuss the matter of your resignation letter later.”

Ash would be lying if he said he didn’t enjoy the gobsmacked look on the women’s face as he followed the Gym Leader through the doors. “It’s alright. She was a little rude but she doesn’t need to lose her job.”

Giovanni ignored his appeal for the receptionist’s further employment. “I assume you are wondering why I asked you here this morning?”

Ash nodded as he took the hint and dropped the topic of Jenna’s future within the Gym. Well, she was probably on thin ice for some other incident for Giovanni to simply get rid of her like that. “Yes, sir.”

“Good. Now, please release your starter.”

Ash did so with a little hesitation. The pancham materialized from the pokeball with a look around and tensed up seeing the battlefield he had been released on. “No, this isn’t a battle!” Greed fell out of his stance after confirming there was no opponent to fight.

“Interesting.” Giovanni said as he looked at the smaller creature. Ash watched his starter carefully as Giovanni inspected him, less the bipedal assumed the worst and attacked the man. “I have not run into any of his species personally, but he seems to be larger than the average pancham. Well fed, certainly, and he listened quickly. Good.”

Ash wasn’t sure his pokemon quite understood exactly what the Gym Leader was getting at but he clearly understood enough to recognize the praise as he puffed his chest up. Maybe he should’ve named him Pride.

Giovanni straightened his back after he finished his appraisal. “For only having him a week, it seems he has been well taken care of. I am impressed. I have a few questions I must ask you.”

“Go ahead.” Ash said quickly.

“You said you planned on battling Erika in Celadon, yet you have only one pokemon. What is your plan on that matter?”

“My mother said she had sent a pokemon to you.” Ash said, puzzled.

“Yet you didn’t know this until last night. What was your plan before then?”

“Given the tunnel would take me to Route 16, with the migration of flying-types from Johto I think I should be able to capture a pokemon I deem sufficient. A murkrow or skarmory would be good additions.”

“Skarmory rarely migrate this far east let alone all the way to Route 16, they go to southern Johto or the farther, uninhabited islands off the mainland. Murkrow is a good choice, but they are evasive ones and rare enough at that,” Giovanni critiqued.

“Yes, but murkrow might be drawn into my pancham given his darker leanings. If nothing else, I would head past Celadon to Route 7. Last I heard there were a bunch of growlithe that got driven from the city out there.” Ash rebutted. Honestly he would rather not catch a growlithe over other pokemon (the stories of the rare houndour in the same area came to mind) but if pressed for options he may have to let his standards slip. Not that growlithe were especially weak, but it gave him the feeling of copying Oak’s Champion team. It was a ridiculous notion but he would still rather catch other pokemon.

“A good backup plan, but you make it sound as if it was a last resort. If you do not want a growlithe on your team long term then do not catch it just to beat a single opponent.”

Ash got the feeling Giovanni liked picking apart his plans, even if the man was making valid points. “Did you have other questions?”

“Yes, the tunnel loops quite often and is a good bit longer than you may have thought. It takes roughly two weeks to get through if you don’t face any major complications. You have prepared for a long trek, correct?”

“Yes, I have enough rations for about two months. Water may be an issue though.” Ash admitted his lack of ideas for the drinking problem.

“There are water stations every half day or so, the miners installed them.” Giovanni informed him. “They are self sufficient and are running off of an underground reservoir.”

“Oh, good. That was my only real issue.”

“Good, and I suppose you already know that emerging from the dark into the light too fast can damage your vision?”

“Yes and I had planned on easing myself into the sun or coming out during the night.”

Giovanni asked a couple more probing questions that Ash answered as best as possible before he was satisfied. The point of all the questions was lost on him. He understood wanting to guarantee his safety, but the questions on his future pokemon and Gym battle didn’t fit the bill.

“One last question, if I may.” At Ash’s consent the man continued. “I need a favor and you seemed suitable for it.”

That gave the Pallet Town teen pause. The Gym Leader of Viridian City needed help from him? “I can help as best I can. What is the favor?”

“I have an acquaintance in Celedon that is in need of an item in my possession. Would you be able to deliver such a thing?”

Ash nodded. “Sure. Is it anything important?”

“Yes, though it’s not time sensitive,” Giovanni told him.

“I’d be happy to help, what is it exactly?”

In response, the taller pokemon trainer pulled a device from his pocket. A small, black hard drive the size of his thumb with an orange stripe across it that he tossed to Ash. “When you reach Celadon, give it to Ana at the Game Corner.”

“You can count on me.” Ash promised.

“I wouldn’t trust you with it if I wasn’t sure of that.” Giovanni responded. Without any preamble, he removed a pokeball from behind his back. He pressed the release and a small pokemon appeared in a flash of red light. Ash’s first thought had been that it was a rather small pokemon, it stood barely a foot and a half if it was even that tall. It was brown and had a beige, mask-like pattern covering its large black eyes, and it had two beige feet and the top of its head had a stem-like protrusion. The only glaring difference he noticed that deviated from the pictures he had seen of the pokemon on his pokedex was the short, cream colored scar above its eyes.

Ash blinked at the small grass-type in surprise. The Gym Leader then tossed the pokeball at Ash who caught it on instinct. Ash was confused for a moment before his eyes widened. “This is from my mother?”

“It is. Seedot are not from Kanto but I suppose your starter has already prepared you for foreign pokemon. It’s a rowdy one but I think you will be able to get him to his peak soon enough.”

Greed ignored the two humans talking as he approached the much smaller pokemon. He was curious. The panda growled out a greeting which the acorn-like pokemon returned hesitantly. He asked who it was, to which it gave a half-hearted response of Seedot. Greed huffed. Perhaps he was rude because he was weak enough to be captured?

The grass-type looked at the fighter with surprise and asked him what he was. He growled out that he was Greed, of course, the best of his species. His trainer trained him to be the strongest there was.

He was lucky to be joining their trainer if he wanted to be as strong as him, Greed conveyed, his trainer would surely take the grass-type with them.

Seedot squeaked out that he was sure Greed was strong, but his trainer was only human. How could he be strong? They should split from the black and white pokemon’s trainer.

The fighting-type disagreed, his trainer was strong and honorable. Smart and crafty. He would never abandon him.

Seedot was not convinced and called the fighting-type’s power into question, maybe he had been brainwashed and could not fight it? Perhaps a weak human made weak pokemon?

Greed growled, was he challenging him? A battler such as himself could not let another creature get away with insulting his strength. The nut conveyed that they needed a battle, should Greed win then the seedot shall accompany him and acknowledge him and his trainer as a superior. Greed agreed. He went to convey the developments with his trainer.

Ash wasn’t sure quite how it had happened. One moment he was conversing with Giovanni and the next Greed was insisting on a battle with Seedot. A sentiment the Hoenn pokemon seemed to return. Rather quickly the pokemon took to the battlefield. Ash was going to join them in the trainer box but Greed motioned otherwise. The teen nodded in understanding. This was Greed’s battle. Whatever had happened between the two pokemon had made the fight about proving the fighting-type’s strength.

Greed glared across the field at his opponent. The little pokemon was able to back out, he offered. His opponent refused. The panda respected the determination of the grass-type, he offered the first move despite his still boiling anger over the pokemon’s gaul to call his abilities into question.

Ash was prepared for the grass-type to attack with an Absorb or maybe a Leech Seed. What he was not expecting was for the little acorn to use Harden combined with what he thought was Growth and started gathering energy for a f*cking Solar Beam.

Greed had not fought many grass-types, a few but not many. Of all of his grass-type opponents, none had gathered energy and attempted what Nut was doing. The fighter wasn’t sure of the move but he knew he should start moving. He ran at his enemy, zigzagging on his approach. When he was close to the small pokemon it let the energy release in the form of a beam. The move was definitely powerful, but it was easy to see it was under-practiced. It took nearly twenty seconds for the beam to be primed before it was finally released. The attack went in the fighting-type’s general direction but went wide and sailed way past him.

The Kalosian pokemon didn’t bother looking at where the attack ended up and focused on his enemy’s position. He arrived at his target with a Slash ready to strike. He struck the acorn pokemon hard and the grass-type was pushed back a small distance. Greed bombarded him with Arm Thrusts and Slashes.

Seedot squealed at the damage it was receiving. It didn’t seem able to power up for another beam with Greed constantly attacking him, breaking his focus. Greed glared at it as it refused to go unconscious, he halted his bombardment of attacks as he attacked with Circle Throw. The brown pokemon was sent flying into the nearest wall only to be stopped by a barrier. Regardless of it not being the wall, the seedot came to a halt violently and fell to the ground. Greed growled loudly in victory as he assumed the battle was won.

Ash grinned as his starter won the battle. Seedot was noticeably exhausted from the Solar Beam and hadn’t had much left in him afterward. The trainer hopped onto the field to congratulate his starter as well as make sure Seedot wasn’t too injured. He landed the small drop easily and jogged over to the battlers. “Nice job, Greed!”

Greed bared his teeth pridefully at his trainer's praise, but growled as Seedot suddenly got up from the ground. Ash paled as he realised the battle wasn’t over and he had trespassed onto an active field. “sh*t!” He gasped out.

Seedot either didn’t notice, or didn’t care, Ash was in the range of attack as it shot off a Leech Seed with the last of its energy. The pokemon’s aim was far better than with Solar Beam, but still not great. A majority of the seeds hit the pancham as he was unprepared for it. The rest however went past the battler and towards Ash.

The teen dove out of the way and got away from the seeds speeding at him like bullets. Mostly. Two seeds struck into him. One barely skidded his left leg with a graze and hit harmlessly in the dirt. The other embedded deeply into his left forearm. Ash yelped in pain as he did his best to examine the wound quickly. The effect of Leech Seed was to sap an opponent’s strength from them quickly, it needed to be embedded into the skin to take root and grow using the nutrient in the recipient's blood as fuel to grow rapidly, leaving the pokemon or person drained. Pokemon could recover from the move well enough, but a story of a trainer getting hit with a projectile from Leech Seed went through his mind. Within less than a day of it taking root, she was dead. After it had fully rooted he would have to amputate the arm. If it spread to his shoulder, then it would move through his body quickly and he would be screwed. Ash wouldn’t allow that to happen.

He quickly slipped his black traveling pack off his back and removed his multitool from its designated pocket. He folded it into a pair of pliers, a nifty feature that he hadn’t thought he’d use like this, and breathed. He quickly yet steadily jammed it in the hole in his arm, searching for the seed. His eyes watered from the pain and he clenched his teeth hard enough he thought they would break. He pinched his pliers onto something and, hoping it wasn’t something else like a bone, yanked the seed out. His pliers were gorey and his arm was leaking his blood onto the ground.

Ash let his multitool drop to the ground with the seed. He glanced at the pokemon that had hit him with the seed and saw Greed holding it down as it looked on with something akin to horrified respect. He stood and approached the grass-type as he held his arm. Greed tightened his hold on the smaller pokemon as his trainer approached.

Seedot closed its eyes when he got close. Ash felt a pain in his heart at the sight of the pokemon clearly awaiting some sort of punishment. Though he wasn’t a hundred percent sure a little bit of that pain wasn’t from the blood loss. “It's alright, Greed.” The fighting-type loosened his grip, if only slightly. Ash looked down on the Hoenn pokemon and rested his hand on the head of it and stroked it gently. “Are you alright? Greed can pack a punch.”

Seedot seemed surprised at the gentle contact rather than the punishment he had been awaiting. Ash clenched his fist, then immediately relaxed it as he winced in pain. Seedot squeaked at his expression. “Oh, I’ll be fine. Greed, let go.”

The pancham did reluctantly and immediately ran to his trainer’s side. He glared at the bleeding wound on Ash’s arm with anger. The teen rubbed his head with a smile. “Like I said, I'm fine. I just had to dig the seed out before it took root. It will leave a scar and I may need to get it stitched up but I’ll live.”

Greed nodded before turning to the grass-type watching the scene with wide eyes. He had won, the fighting-type insisted, so he must admit his human’s superiority as well as his. The nut bowed and conveyed that the panda pokemon was indeed stronger and his human just as strong and honorable as he had said. Perhaps he could still join Greed’s trainer and travel with them?

Ash wasn’t sure what the two pokemon were conversing about, but Seedot bowed and Greed rumbled before turning to his trainer. “Does it want to join us?” A rumble of reluctant agreement later and Ash was welcoming the grass-type to the team. He went to retrieve his bag and bloody pliers from the dirt as the two followed him.

A loud, deep laugh erupted in the Gym. Giovanni was watching the scene with interest as he walked over. “I was about to page my emergency medical team before you went digging. I figure you have the problem taken care of now but I insist you cover it here and then I will walk you to get it taken care of.”

Ash nodded as he kneeled down and duh into his pack. He retrieved the medkit quickly and took out the proper items. He wiped the area, cleaned it and applied anti-infection cream to the area. He covered the wound with a giant gauze patch meant for knees before wrapping it with medical tape.

“I believe that will be sufficient for the walk. I would recommend getting it stitched but I am no professional in the medical field. Now come along. I did say I would walk you.” Ash nodded and returned all his items, including the bloodied multitool, to their proper place. He went to pick up the bag and gasped as pain shot through his arm. His bag was heavy even with both arms, now he was down to one and couldn’t lift it. Without a word Giovanna walked over and picked it up and carried it for him. “Return your pokemon and follow after me.”

Ash nodded and returned his pokemon with a grin. He clicked Greed’s pokeball to its normal spot on his bandelier and below it he clicked Seedot’s pokeball as well.

.—.—.

Notes:

Thoughts? Review if you enjoyed or otherwise wanna complain to me about something.

Also, no. Ash’s entire team won’t be given to him. I promise he’ll actually catch his next ‘mon.

Chapter 3: Released

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

.—.—.

Ash’s wound had indeed needed stitches and would leave quite a scar. The doctor had given him a good talking to about nearly tripling the size of the gash but conceded that it may have been a necessity given the nature of Leech Seed. It would heal with no long term effects as long as he didn’t pull the stitches. They’d naturally dissolve after about a week.

When Ash asked if he had to stay in Viridian the answer was a firm yes with a threat to box him upside the head should he even think about wandering more than a short walk outside the city.

Giovanni had left him with the doctor and told him his pack would be in his room at the Center when he returned. The time that it took to stitch his wound, fill out paperwork and everything else he needed to do took enough time that he returned to the Center at nearly seven in the evening.

Nurse Joy was behind the desk as always when he entered the building. He quickly gave her his pokeballs, careful not to mess with the gauze patch over his stitches.

“A new pokemon?” She asked, a smile gracing her lips.

Ash wasn’t surprised she’d noticed he’d gone from a single pokemon to two. He had had Greed healed up plenty of times for her to memorize him by now. “Yeah, the new one might not be registered to me just yet.”

“Don’t worry, I was only teasing. Giovanni filled me in. I think I better keep them both overnight, given the circ*mstances.”

Ash simply nodded and bid Joy a good night. He made a quick stop into the cafeteria for food then went to his room. He knew it was rather early to turn in, but the day had worn him out and he was still a little woozy from the bloodloss. He decided anything he needed to do could wait for him to awake the next day. That night he dreamed of himself sitting in a throne on top of Indigo Plateau, a massive pangoro and powerful shiftry standing to his sides.

.—.—.

Ash woke up later than he had expected. He had slept for nearly thirteen and a half hours before his slumber finally receded. He found his bag—he’d been far too exhausted to bother doing anything else but sleep the night before—and his pokedex was set out next to it with a note attached. Ash quickly read the note.

I took the liberty of putting my contact information into your pokedex and yours into my own device. I must head out on business and will be gone from Viridian for the duration of your stay. Train the seedot well. I await your future Gym Battle for the Earth Badge.

Ash grinned. The note wasn’t signed but he knew who it was from. He too awaited his future challenge to the Viridian Gym. It may be a way into the future but he imagined Greed and Seedot, fully evolved, stomping the ground-type master in a battle. Ash flipped through his pokedex and browsed information over seedot and their evolutionary line as he readied to go retrieve his team.

Seedot were small pokemon averaging barely over a foot tall. They were like most grass-types in that they used photosynthesis to sustain themselves as well as sucking sap from trees through the stem-like appendage on their head. Seedot evolved to nuzleaf and gained the secondary dark-typing. Ash thought that perhaps the extra dark-type energy might accelerate Greed’s own evolution but was unsure as nuzleaf were more prominent grass-types.

The final evolution of the line, shiftry, were little monsters. They showed the reason they had a dark-typing like nuzleaf couldn’t. Their movepool was diverse and they could use grass-type moves just as good as a venasaur. They were rarely found in the wild and trainers that have a shiftry on their roster raised them from one of their previous evolutions and used a Leaf Stone (an exceedingly rare evolutionary stone) to evolve them. Ash knew that he could figure out how to evolve the Hoenn pokemon but he would worry about that later. Seedot was still in his first evolutionary stage and a long ways off from being ready for a Leaf Stone.

The teen put his pokedex away as he finally left his room to fetch his pokemon from Nurse Joy. His stitches were covered by a fresh gauze patch he had applied when he had awoken. It was obvious his arm had a wound of some kind but the exact injury couldn’t be made out. It would shoot pain up his arm every once and a while but he managed just fine. It was nothing compared to that time an ekans bit his ankle. Thankfully that had been a dry bite.

Ash smiled at the nurse behind the desk as he was handed his pokeballs. “Thank you, Nurse Joy.”

“Of course, just don’t push them too hard. They can train immediately but lay off the battles until this afternoon if you can. At least for the seedot, the pancham seems overall unscathed.” The older woman told him.

He waved goodbye as he left the care center. His destination was a more secluded part of the training fields. He needed to properly welcome Seedot to the team.

Greed appeared first with a surprised rumble as he took in his surroundings. Ash understood the sentiment. The sky was devoid of clouds, letting the pokemon see the sun position very early in the sky and clearly having started a new day.

Seedot appeared next to the panda with a blink. It seemed pleased with the weather as it soaked in the sun’s rays with a happy squeak.

“Alright,” Ash took in the sight of his partners with a grin. “I think it's time to properly welcome our newest member to the team.”

Seedot perked up as Greed huffed and glared at the grass-type. Ash shook his head at his starter with a furrowed brow. “Let it go, Greed. Grudges do no good amongst teammates.” He chastised.

The pancham conceded to his words, or perhaps knew better than to challenge his trainer so openly. Seedot squeaked out what Ash thought was something along the lines of an apology and Greed seemed a little more content to not actively ostracize his new teammate.

“Welcome to the team, Seedot. First, I’m going to scan you with my device here.” Ash gestured to the pokedex he had flipped open. “It will tell me a little more about you and what you can do.” The acorn pokemon seemed only slightly cautious as the small, red machine scanned him.

“Warning: The evolution of this specimen is of the dark-type. Should it prove too difficult to train, contact your sponsor or the Rangers for further information.

“For additional information on the species, please consider the book ‘Shiftry: An In Depth Analysis’ by Grayson Birch.”

Ash ignored the warning he once again received from the dex. He had passed over the more in depth information of the species as he knew he would study it later. He would have plenty of time to look over the information given he was stuck in Viridian for the time being.

“This specimen can perform the moves Bide, Harden, Growth, Absorb, Headbutt, Solar Beam and Self-Destruct. It has an egg move; Leech Seed. Itsability is Chlorophyll.”

Ash balked. Solar Beam and Self-Destruct were moves Seedot could only learn via TMs. Solar Beam was one thing, but Self-Destruct? Even Gym Leader caliber pokemon rarely use Self-Destruct given its tendency to kill anyone in its vicinity, oftentimes including its user. Ash decided he’d need to ask his mother just where she got the pokemon. He hadn’t even thought TMs like Self-Destruct were available to the public.

Greed tapped him from his thoughts with a paw. Ash let his thoughts go as he returned his attention to the Hoenn pokemon in front of him.

“Alright, It's about what I expected.” Ash said after a moment. “Though, for everyone’s sake, don’t use Self-Destruct unless you have no other choice.” Seedot bobbed his head (which was basically his entire body) at Ash’s warning.

Ash knelt onto his left knee to address Seedot. “Now, I’m sure you learned from your battle with Greed that he’s pretty strong. I plan on being the Champion and, naturally, as my starter he’s coming with me. I know you joined after he beat you, but if you aren’t committed then this is your out. However, if you want to train and get just as strong as him, I welcome you aboard.”

The grass-type looked at Greed as the Kalosian pokemon puffed up. The seedot seemed envious of his strength, Ash thought. Seedot came to his decision as he hopped onto Ash’s knee and then to his shoulder with a determined squeak.

Ash smiled as he stood. Seedot readjusted his stance so as to not topple off. His weight was negligible (ten pounds at best) so Ash barely noticed it. It was nothing compared to his pack. “Perfect. Now, Greed has a name. Do you want one as well?”

After an agreeable sound from the acorn pokemon Ash smiled again. “Corn? Evergreen? Leaf?” His face pinched at what he just said. “Ok, not Leaf. She would never let me live that down.”

Greed chuffed as he pointed to a tree on the side of the training field. “Tree? Bark? Branch? Acorn?” Ash rattled off before he paused in thought. “Nut?”

The smaller creature squeaked and, just like that, Nut had his name.

.—.—.

Seventeen seconds.

Ash frowned. That was how long it took for Nut to prepare and fire off a Solar Beam. In the battle against Greed it had taken him twenty, but that was because he had been indoors away from the sun. His Chlorophyll ability sped up the process, only a few seconds at his current stage but an increase nonetheless.

The seedot’s aim with the attack was, in no uncertain terms, an atrocity. The first time he had the pokemon fire it he had missed his target entirely and knocked down a tree in the background.

Besides Nut’s terrible aim, the drawbacks of the move were major. He would fire off a Solar Beam and then he would nearly collapse from the drain of it. If he tried a second Solar Beam too soon he would surely go unconscious.

Aside from Solar Beam, Nut’s moves looked good. Ash had his partner demonstrate every one of his moves (except for Self-Destruct) and he was impressed. His aim with Leech Seed was far better than he had expected, though the only other time he had seen it was when he was at the receiving end of it. The trainer rubbed his arm as he remembered the stitches that laid there.

He wasn’t entirely sure where to begin with Nut’s training. His natural moves were obviously well practiced, Self-Destruct may as well not have been in his movepool for as much as he’d use it, and Solar Beam, while powerful, exhausted him too much. Ash finally decided to have him perfect his aim with Leech Seed and when he deemed that sufficient, Nut would move on to learning Mega Drain. Perfecting Leech Seed and Mega Drain should help the seedot with the drawback of Solar Beam.

Greed’s training was far easier as he began work on Crunch with a good amount of success. Ash had deemed his proficiency in his existing movepool sufficient and he began working on the dark-type move. He pulled up a video of Crunch being demonstrated on his pokedex and showed it to the pancham to give him an idea of what to do. He couldn’t find a video of a pancham performing Crunch, so the next best thing was an umbreon video.

It was mid afternoon when Ash called the move training to a close. They had gone since morning without any large breaks other than lunch. He had the two pokemon begin condition training. Greed, while lifting the tree Nut had accidently blown down with his Solar Beam, began sprints. Normal sprints rarely weighed on the fighting-type much but the added weight of the tree definitely made a difference. Nut joined his teammate in sprints with Ash’s backpack strapped to him. The nearly fifty pound bag was significantly lighter than Greed’s tree but the grass-type wasn’t as physically strong as the panda was so it was proportionate.

Ash noticed strange looks from some other trainers but ignored them in favor of doing his own form of training and even some sprinting of his own. Though he made sure to keep it relatively light lest he pull his stitches.

He gained the appreciation of another trainer from across the field who was doing similar laps with a sandslash.

He fell into a routine. A few push-ups, sprints for ten minutes, some sit-ups, a break and then jumping jacks and repeat. His pokemon continued with their sprints, with a sporadic rest, before Ash called it good. It was nearing six and he thought his team had earned dinner. A quick stop for his own food in the cafeteria and he returned to his room and released his pokemon.

He and Greed ate quickly (Nut had plenty of sap from a particularly large tree next to the training fields) before returning to the fields. The sun would set in an hour or two and he wanted a couple battles in before that.

He wandered the fields and challenged any trainer he saw. Most accepted, though a couple declined and said their pokemon were too exhausted to battle again. At the end of the night Ash was on cloud nine, with a streak of eight wins without a single loss. The money he won felt great but he was more excited for the experience his team was getting. Greed fought the harder opponents, but Nut fought his fair share too.

Both the fighting-type and grass-type seemed exhausted, both from training and all the battles. He strolled back into the Pokemon Center with a pep in his step. He waved at Nurse Joy and checked his two partners in. Greed had taken some pretty hard Fury Swipes to his chest from a kecleon and Nut got hit with an Ember almost dead on from a growlithe.

While he waited for his team, he finally forced himself to call his mother and inform her of his delay. To say she was concerned was an understatement. It took multiple assurances and her actually seeing the stitches to calm her nerves. The Professor was of a similar mind when he called him. After the man made sure he was unharmed he lectured him about entering an active field. Ash figured he deserved that.

He informed them he needed to stay for five days, four after today. That starting tomorrow he would be staying in the Viridian area but would wander from the urban environment to train. The doctor had said it was all fine as long as he didn’t pull the stitches and that he could go only a short distance from the city.

Ash also probed his mother on just where she acquired Nut. She had apparently taken a direct flight to Rustboro City in Hoenn after he had left Pallet. Almost immediately when she landed she entered into a trivia game in which Nut was the prize.

It wasn’t the most helpful of hints as to his pokemon’s background, but it would have to do as it was the only information he had on the matter. Ash left the phone room with a stretch and retrieved his pokeballs. He muttered, “Thanks.” Nurse Joy smiled at his appreciation and waved him off.

Ash yawned as he unlocked his room and released his team in the room. “Alright, tomorrow we are heading a little outside of Viridian City to train. No cop outs so get a good rest tonight.”

Greed and Nut gave sounds of approval and found their own spots to bed down at. Greed chose his trusty spot on top of the wardrobe and Nut stuck his stem to the heavy, wooden coat rack beside the door and hung there as he drifted off almost immediately. Ash snorted lightly at the display.

“Night, guys.” He bid as he flicked off the light and settled into his own bed. Greed growled out a response while Nut was already unconscious. Ash followed the grass-type’s lead and was soon deep in sleep with dreams of grandeur and power drawing a smile to his face.

.—.—.

“Alright!” Dr. Hendricks said with an over-the-top smile as he released Ash’s arm. “Your arm looks great! I would have you still take it easy for a few days, but short of another accident your arm should be in top shape. It will certainly leave a scar. I can recommend some cream to lessen it somewhat, but don’t fret over it too much. Women love scars.”

Ash gave his healing arm a once over and pointedly ignored the doctor’s last statement. “Yeah, thanks. I’m all set to head back to the routes, right?”

Dr. Hendricks rolled his eyes humorously. “You are. I swear, you trainers never seem to stop and rest. Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses, Ash.”

“I’ve been resting for five days.” Ash pointed out. “Besides, roses are overrated.”

“Oh?” Hendricks rose a brow with a small smile. “So it wasn't you drilling your team the last few days just barely outside city limits?”

Ash chuckled, he had him there. “Fair enough.”

“Exactly, and I’ll have you know that roses are the superior flower.”

Ash left the doctor’s office with his bag slung over his shoulder and made a beeline to the Pokemon Center. He grabbed his pokeballs from Nurse Joy and immediately went towards the city gates and checked with the Ranger outpost.

Finally, finally, after far too long Ash was back onto the routes. He stretched his arms open widely as he walked on Route 2. He grinned as sunlight splashed over his form.

“You trying to see if you can use photosynthesis there, Ketchum?” Leaf grinned as she teased him.

“Hush. I’ve been cooped up in Viridian for almost a week now. It's good to stretch my legs.” Ash told her as he watched the sun. It was after three in the afternoon when they left so they wouldn’t get too far before sunset but some distance was better than none.

“You trained outside the city the last four days, you’ve been far from cooped up.” Leaf scoffed at his exaggeration.

Ash shrugged with a smile. “A gilded cage is still a cage.” That earned him a scoff.

He’d run back into Leaf before he left to train outside Viridian. She’d initially thought he was ignoring her based on their awkward semi-argument. Ash had laughed that off and showed her his arm in response. She called him an idiot and then chastised him like a child. And hadn’t that lecture from her been fun. She could tell him off almost as well as Professor Oak could, though neither of then could ever hope to top his mother in that regard.

She opted to join him when he finally left for Route 2 after getting his stitches out. She did not, however, train with him outside the city for the last few days. He’d offered but she declined. “Can't give you all my secrets,” Leaf had said, repeating his joke from Pallet Town.

Ash planned on picking up his pace slightly, at least until he made ground into the Viridian Forest. The Professor had said Gary was a couple days from leaving the forest when he called and informed him of his departure from Viridian. Gary, while not slow, was never the fastest individual and him trekking the whole forest before Ash even got passed Viridian rubbed him the wrong way.

Ash grinned as they finally got past the city limits. He released Greed as Leaf did the same with Glide. The pancham joined his pace as Leaf’s pidgeotto took to the skies. Ash liked the flying-type, it was lithe and speedy and tended to do air maneuvers to entertain itself. He laughed as the bird did a barrel roll.

Leaf released her starter as Greed eyed his fellow fighting-type. Champ pounded his chest with a single fist. A strange greeting but the bipedal panda returned the gesture as he asked the unspoken question with a look at Ash.

“No battles until we make some distance from the city. We have plenty of ground to cover for the next month or so.” Ash shook his head at his starter. Both Champ and Greed seemed disturbed at the notion. A fighting-type that didn’t fight was unheard of. Ash smiled at his partner.

“When we do battle, we’re gonna stomp you and that mystery pokemon of yours.” Leaf bragged.

“Mystery pokemon?” Ash grinned as he released Nut. “What mystery pokemon?”

Leaf gasped as she took in the small figure of the seedot. “Damn! A seedot ain’t bad, not bad at all!” She clapped him on the back.

“I call him Nut.” He told her, which made her snort.

“How original.”

By the time the sun lowered in the sky they had put good distance between themselves and the city. They set up camp and Ash held a training session before it was too dark to see.

Greed had already learned Crunch and was polishing it before moving on to Karate Chop. Nut had the bare basics of Mega Drain down and worked to perfect it. Ash himself did much of the same sprints and exercises as he usually did. He found he felt closer to his team when he trained himself as they trained. It also gave him time to think.

After Karate Chop, Greed might learn Low Kick or Comet Punch. He hadn’t decided yet but the elemental punch TMs weighed heavy in his backpack. He wasn't ready for them just yet, but Ash felt his starter needed the variety. His learnable movepool was wider than he had initially thought after doing more in-depth research but still, the panda wasn’t going to be throwing out Shadow Claws or Stone Edges left and right any time soon. Not without the help of TMs at least.

Nut was working on Mega Drain. After that, Ash thought Rollout or Air Cutter would be good additions to his pokemon’s move pool. Astonish was a move he kept in mind for the future but the ghost-type energy needed to perform the move was notoriously tricky to work with.

Leaf coached her own team across the clearing they were in. Champ was working on Headbutt and Glide on Wing Attack. Ash wiped sweat from his brow as he fell out of a jumping jack stance.

“Alright, let’s settle for the night.” He told his team as he exhaled heavily. His two pokemon seemed agreeable to that idea. They’d been training hard for a couple hours now. Leaf seemed to agree and joined them. They picked enough fallen wood off the earthen floor to get a decent fire going. They retired to bed not so long after.

It was much the same pattern for the next two days as they traveled and finally entered the Viridian Forest. The third night they finally camped after a long day of walking. After the nightly training session, which Leaf passed on, Ash stretched after finishing setting up his tent.

“I’ll go grab firewood if you wanna get the flames started.” Ash offered. Leaf agreed and he, followed by his starter, went in search of some fallen branches and dead wood. Nut was tasked to stay in the clearing and watch his stuff, lest a bold rattata decide his food was up for grabs.

Ash picked up a couple fallen branches as Greed carried a stump he had pulled from the ground. Greed flicked his ears and perked up suddenly, a growl leaving his throat and driving Ash to a halt. They prepared himself for a fight as a violent trembling came from the direction directly to his left.

Nothing moved as Ash’s eyes searched his surroundings. Nothing, nothing….there! Brown fur caught his attention as a stantler hobbled into sight. Ash relaxed. Stantler were rather mellow pokemon and rarely fought trainers unless provoked. It was more likely to run off than attack him. If it could run anywhere, he mused as he studied the normal-type. It had red, angry lines from claws on its nose and was limping from an apparent injury to its hind left leg.

The injuries gave Ash pause. The claws marks weren't too large, most likely a few stray meowth jumped it. Judging from the marks and gore on the pokemon’s antlers and hooves they got stomped and trampled for their trouble.

Suddenly, the buck whipped its head towards Ash as he stepped on a branch. Its eyes were raging with adrenaline left over from its previous fight

“sh*t.” Ash barely had time to throw himself to the side before the spot he had been standing at was trampled. “Greed, Arm Thrust! The injured leg! ” Ash shouted out the order loudly.

Greed growled his approval and did so quickly. The stantler had had to take its time to to turn and was an easy target. The hindleg of the normal-type gave out and it collapsed. Ash heaved slightly.

Ash shot his pokemon a grin. “Thanks, bud.” The trainer approached the fallen pokemon and let out a sigh after a moment of inspection. The many wounds, including a large wound on its belly he had not seen previously, had bested the deer. The corpse of the brown-furred pokemon layed still on the earth.

Greed poked his fallen opponent with a paw and huffed. Ash cracked a small smile at the disappointment on his starter’s face. Clearly he had wanted a better fight than he had got. “We’ll get into some battles soon, Greed. The trainers on Route 2 are already in Viridian Forest and once we enter you’ll have plenty of fights.” The pancham seemed appeased, for the moment at least.

“Now, what to do with this.” Ash thought aloud. Greed rumbled as Ash’s stomach took its chance to growl its hunger. He itched his neck as he considered the stantler. “Well, waste not want not.” He then got to work with the knife from his belt. He, with the help of his starter, skinned the deer and cut out some of its backstraps. It was far lighter, missing strips of its meat. He took the time to remove its antlers as they could fetch a good price if sold. It was still a younger pokemon, this year's brood he was sure, so the meat he cut off for himself (and Leaf if she wanted some) was only enough for tonight. When he was done he let Greed have at the carcass.

After the pancham took his turn and consumed a couple mouthfuls of meat, Ash had his pokemon drag the stantler corpse farther into the trees. Far enough so as to not attract scavengers to their campsite. He was all for the circle of life but he preferred observing it. He returned to camp with the meat in toe and Greed carrying all the wood. The fighting-type seemed to not mind, still in bliss from his meal.

“What’cha got, Ketchum?” Leaf asked as he held the stantler meat up triumphantly.

“Dinner!” He said with a grin. He handed Leaf the meat to hold while he dug out his cooking items and some spices he had brought.

“Dinner?” Leaf asked amused as he dug out one of his larger pots. “You suddenly become a predator?”

“Always have been,” he joked with a false serious tone. “Want some? It's fresh.”

“These ration bars are getting old. f*ck yeah.”

“Language, young lady.” Ash chastised, doing his best impression of Professor Oak.

“Be quiet,” she waved him off. “Let's cook this stuff already and you can tell me just where you got it.”

“Agreed.”

Ash remembered that night fondly. He was no master chef like his mother, but he thought the meat was delicious. Thankfully, Leaf handled the spices so the meal tasted better than anything he would have made. Glide nibbled on some of the meat Leaf offered her and seemed to agree on the taste. The bird usually ate bug-types it spotted while flying—taking care to avoid eating weedle less it drew a swarm to them—and the pidgeotto chow Leaf had picked up but seemed to appreciate the change in menu.

.—.—.

“What do you want to learn first?” Ash asked Greed two days later. “You seem to have Karate Chop down well enough, so do you think Comet Punch or Low Sweep next?” Greed seemed unsure, not particularly liking either option.

Ash hummed. “Or...you could learn Fire Punch?” He offered. The pancham perked up and Ash saw the decision in his eyes.

He nodded and retrieved the disk from his pack. He returned his pokemon to his ball and slotted it into the slide out tray of the pokedex. A minute later and his starter was released from his ball and flexing the muscles of his arm and paw.

The fighting-type punched the air, trying out the new move. Wisps of fire encumbered his fist as he struck the air. The small bear-like pokemon growled in annoyance and attempted it again.

Ash smiled as he left his starter to his devices and approached Nut. The seedot had finally perfected Mega Drain, no doubt being able to use Absorb helped as it was similar in nature, and had started on Air Cutter. The attack was tricky for the grass-type to get right but Ash instructed him as best he could and showed him a video of a nuzleaf performing the move. Nut seemed to appreciate his evolution’s form while attacking as he rewatched the video countless times before reattempting it.

Leaf gave him a look of mild surprise when he sat next to her that night at the fire. At his questioning look she shrugged. “Didn’t think you had gotten TMs already is all. Kinda expensive this early on in your trainer career.”

Ash nodded in understanding. TMs were expensive and most starting trainers couldn't afford them. He had a good bit extra stowed away so he was better off but he understood where she was coming from. Rookie trainers battled nearly nonstop for a reason, to increase their experience but also their savings. Their time on Route 2 has seen challenges from trainers that they answered happily. Leaf did most of the battling since she needed a little extra money for Pewter (the fee to challenge a Gym Leader was two thousand pokedollars, after all) but Ash had his share.

“Yeah, they were. I had enough to spare though.” Ash remarked as he rubbed his eyes as smoke from the fire entered them. “Hey, can’t Champ learn Fire Punch?”

Leaf nodded and he continued. “Why don’t you have him join Greed and he can teach it to him?”

“Sure, he could use the variety. Thanks,” Leaf said. “I don't think Champ has anything Greed can learn or else I’d offer to have him teach it to him. Unless pancham are able to learn Bullet Punch?”

Ash thought for a second before checking his pokedex. He smiled. Pangoro, Greed’s evolution, could indeed perform Bullet Punch and pancham could at times learn it before their evolution.

Leaf and her team always trained separately of his own except for some light sparring and move comparison. Starting the next day they would train together.

Ash changed his plans slightly for his pokemon as he checked his pokedex and spoke with Leaf. Nut would finish learning Air Cutter and then Defog. The flying-type move would be a boon in the Celadon Gym—not to mention later in the Fuchsia Gym—and Glide could help direct him. Greed would perfect Fire Punch and then get coached on Bullet Punch by Champ.

In return, Greed would coach Champ on Fire Punch and Glide would learn Bide from Nut. Ash and Leaf felt this arrangement worked well for both of them until they split up. They would have plenty of time given they still had a week or so until the Ranger Lodge near the mining tunnel.

.—.—.

“Fire Punch!” Ash ordered the panda pokemon. Greed followed it immediately and his opponent, an eyesore of a parasect, finally collapsed a few moments later. Its trainer recalled it and handed the Pallet boy his winnings as she stalked off with a furious expression.

Ash shrugged at the retreating figure of his opponent. She should have won if she didn’t want to lose her cash. She had to, as Gary might put it, get good.

The bug catchers of the forest were, in Ash’s humble opinion, canon fodder. They just caught any passing bug-types and hoped to train them to beat rookie trainers. And most of those bug-types, like the parasect, were taken down in only a couple solid blows from any semi-experienced pokemon. Given that most bug-types were weak in their early stages generally didn’t help their case, and Ash doubted any bug catcher was going to venture anywhere to try their hand at defeating and capturing a truly worthy bug-type.

The only truly powerful bug-types that held their own in the upper divisions of trainers and were also found in Kanto were scyther, heracross and pinsir. Those bugs were rare enough though and not found in Viridian Forest. The worst opponent he had fought against had actually been a pinsir, but it was young and obviously a recent capture.

It was actually thanks to that pinsir’s trainer that Ash wore a brand new katana around his belt. New to him anyway. It was in good condition but still weathered.

A bug catcher clad in clunky, samurai armor had barged into their camp one evening and leveled the blade at the Pallet trainers. Champ and Greed had been absent from the camp, one collecting firewood and the other foraging for greens, which Ash contributed to the other boy’s continued well-being. Nut had been overlooked by the bug catcher and the grass-type let him have a vicious Headbutt to the arm making him drop the sword and, based on the sound, fracture something. Glide swooped onto the samurai wannabe and knocked him into the ground. The phrase the bigger they are the harder they fall held true as the armor he wore weighed him down and the idjit slammed into the ground.

The kid, named Eric Stuart but went by Samurai, had wanted a battle and thought that threatening them with a sword was a great way to get it. According to him, a trainer from Pallet with a squirtle in tow beat his pokemon down enough that he took up a personal grudge against all the Pallet trainers. Leaf had grumbled something about Gary causing trouble for them even when he wasn't with them. Ash had to agree with her.

Ash did battle the bug trainer and, much like Gary, beat him down fairly easily. His first pokemon had been a metapod who only knew harden and his second the pinsir. Neither were intimidating and Nut won with almost no effort despite a type disadvantage. The trainer from Pallet Town was less than impressed with the kid and shooed him off and kept his sword. The samurai had protested and threatened to get the Rangers. Ash had laughed at him. They were in their own camp and he had entered uninvited while swinging a sword around. If anything they should call the Rangers on him.

At that point Greed and Champ returned, the panda’s ears twitching angrily and the machop nearly seething, and their presence finally convinced the bug catcher that his sword probably wasn’t worth the trouble the trainers from Pallet Town seemed to give him. Leaf did give him some slight guff about basically stealing the weapon but Ash waved it off. Samurai didn’t pay him the reward money he owed so the sword (and the sheath the samurai had thrown at him in anger) were collateral.

The katana was a little awkward attached to his person but trainers seemed less likely to try and stiff him with it in view. He would probably sell it when he got to Celadon, but he’d be lying if he said he didn’t like the look it gave him. Ash thought he looked just fine despite Leaf’s jokes.

.—.—.

Greed and Champ stood opposite each other with space between them. Ash grinned at Leaf as they matched their pokemon’s competitive stares. They were close enough to the Ranger Lodge that they decided to finally battle each other. They had put it off because they knew their pokemon would be banged up enough to require at least mild healing.

“A long time coming, right Leaf?” Ash asked as his starter readied himself for the fight, a fight Ash had been anticipating for years .

“It has!” Leaf agreed as her own starter prepared itself. The two pokemon had sparred and practiced their moves together but had never officially battled. Ash was giddy with excitement.

Glide gave a cry as she dropped a pebble from her position in the air. When said pebble hit the ground, battle would be joined. It fell fast and clattered against the earth quickly. The instant it touched the ground, the two fighting-types lunged.

“Bullet Punch then Karate Chop!” Ash ordered his pokemon.

“Low Sweep! Knock it down then use Focus Energy and Low Kick!” Leaf yelled in response.

Ash grinned as the pokemon met each other. Leaf’s strategy was obvious. Champ was a good bit smaller than his opponent so she wanted to get Greed on the ground and fight from there. Luckily, Ash had expected that approach.

Greed was bulkier than the machop. He could take more blows and throw some brutal haymakers, unfortunately he was also a bigger target that made landing hits easier for the machop. If he went to the floor and got put in a hold his chances of winning plummeted, not impossible but unlikely. The pancham needed to keep it to punches and avoid the kicks his enemy dished out. The machop needed to knock his opponent to the ground with kicks and avoid the punches thrown his way. Ash’s heart pounded.

The panda leapt away from the kicks and threw a flurry of Bullet Punches at his target. He pushed the advantage his size gave him and rained a combination of Bullet Punches, Karate Chops and Fire Punches at his opponent. The blows were even more damaging given the panda used the beginning of Arm Thrust to enhance its power and effectiveness. A little idea Ash had thought of and Greed had taken to incorporating into all his attacks when possible.

Champ seemed caught off guard at the surprising speed the kalosian pokemon could deliver blows and took a few steps back to avoid them. He avoided a majority of the attacks but some still landed and made the pokemon wince.

Ash frowned as Greed stepped forward, only for Champ to jet forward under his arms. His eyes widened. “He’s going for a Headbutt!”

Greed sidestepped away with a growl as the machop barely brushed his black and white fur. He rushed forward almost immediately as Champ was still in the middle of his leap forward. Greed had his arms in front of him as he Tackled the blue reptilian fighter, hitting him with a double fisted Fire Punch, and the machop slammed into the dirt. Greed latched his jaw onto his opponent’s shoulder using Crunch. With his opponent on the ground, the pancam positioned his legs on the enemy fighter’s arms with difficulty before raining blows upon him.

Ash cheered happily. “Great job, keep him pinned and finish it with a Fire Punch!”

“Twist and use Focus Energy, then Bullet Punch!” Leaf retaliated in desperation.

Ash was slightly confused at the command before realization set in. In an act of dexterity that Ash wasn’t aware the machop possessed, the pokemon bent his legs enough to get them into Greed’s back. It was a stretch and barely touched him, but it was enough for the panda to stumble and release his opponent’s arm from under his weight. Greed missed his retaliation of a Fire Punch and hit air rather than the head of the machop. The panda growled loudly as his leg buckled from a sudden Bullet Punch to the back of the knee.

Champ pushed his advantage and Tackled the bipedal bear, much like he himself had been tackled earlier, into the ground. He couldn’t position himself over his arms like Greed had but he could get a couple blows in.

A Fire Punch struck him in the chest. Just as the second strike, a Bullet Punch this time, went towards his noggin the pancham moved slightly left. The blow missed and went into the ground, creating a small crater the size of a pokeball. Greed shot forward and bit into the offending arm with Crunch.

“Use his weight against him! Circle Throw!” Ash screamed loud enough he was sure the citizens of Cinnabar Island heard him.

Ash’s starter acted fast enough that Leaf hadn’t had enough time to yell her own set of orders. The pancham flipped the machop over using his grip in his left arm and used Circle Throw mid motion. The momentum carried the native kanto pokemon a couple dozen feet before colliding with the earth.

After a few moments of no movement, the reptilian fighting-type stood up once more on shaky legs. His left arm and shoulder were bleeding from the Crunch attacks he had taken and he breathed heavily. The black and white furred fighting-type was similarly breathing heavily, but missed the bleeding wounds of his opponent.

The two fighters stared at each other for a few moments before Champ wobbled. Leaf’s starter stumbled forward before falling onto the ground, unconsciousness finally overtaking him.

Ash released a breath he hadn’t known he’d sucked in. He grinned madly. He had won!

“Yes!” Ash exclaimed wildly as his excitement overtook him. “Amazing job, Greed!” The pancham puffed up highly while still heaving from the battle. Ash saw Nut rush from the sidelines to congratulate his teammate.

Leaf approached Champ and applied a potion to him and a revive. Soon enough the blue-skinned pokemon was back on his feet with sore muscles and freshly healed wounds. Though violent purple bruises dotted his usually flawlessly blue skin. Ash was sure Greed sported similar bruises under all that fur.

“You did amazing, you just got unlucky.” Leaf assured her starter with a pat on the head. She turned to Ash. “Not too bad. I guess we’ll need to step up training a little.”

Ash smiled. “Thanks. You two did great as well. I think you should get him a couple more moves, he relied on Bullet Punch a lot.”

“Yeah.” Leaf agreed with a mumble as she glanced away in thought.

“Seriously, you had us on the ropes there for a little while. If Greed had fought Glide? It wouldn’t have even been close. I mean, Nut could put up a fight but he’d definitely get wiped from a couple solid hits. His defense isn’t too great so a few well placed blows could do the trick.” Ash reassured his friend with a smile. He meant it too. His team’s worst nightmare would be a decently trained flying-type. Nut could fire off Leech Seed, but Solar Beam was still practically unusable. Especially against smaller and speedier opponents like Glide.

Leaf laughed lightly. “Fair enough.” She handed him some bills as she straightened herself. “Here.”

“Keep them.” Ash said as he pushed the money back to her. “This was a recreational match.”

Leaf rolled her eyes but pocketed the bills. “Let’s get moving again. The Lodge should have a Revitalization Machine.”

Ash nodded in agreement. Ranger Lodges did have such machines for trainer usage. It would never be as good as anything Nurse Joy could do but it was better than a simple potion.

Leaf returned her starter to his pokeball after a few minutes of walking. The machop was still swaying and stumbling every so often. Ash let Greed remain out despite the panda being covered in bruises and scrapes. Returning him to his ball would only hurt his pride. He seemed content to continue walking beside his trainer, pleased with his victory. Nut squeaked to the bear-like pokemon constantly from his place on Ash’s shoulder.

The Ranger Lodge came into view a few hours before dusk. Both trainers decided to rent the Revitalization Machine for a few minutes in order to get their teams healed up. Renting the machine was a little steep (fifty dollars for ten minutes) but Ash and Leaf paid it anyway. Ash also rented a room for the night as opposed to sleeping outside like he would usually do.

He was going to be underground in an old mining tunnel for the next couple weeks. He could splurge on a little extra comfort for one night. Leaf declined renting a room and camped outside.

Ash retrieved his team and the key to his room before going outside. It was time for their evening training session. Greed and Nut were both quick learners which was definitely a boon in training, but they still had some kinks to work out.

Nut needed to perfect Defog. Glide had gotten him on the right path so he needed to continue working on the flying-type move. Greed needed to perfect both Fire Punch and Bullet Punch. His Fire Punch was good but the fire tended to wisp out after throwing a few of them. Bullet Punch was barely what Ash could consider a Bullet Punch. Pancham generally only learned Bullet Punch after their evolution so the progress he had made so far was impressive in and of itself.

That was his plan for now, though he would surely revisit said plan a few dozen times before the next training session. Perfecting their new moves was important to Ash. Sure, they could have dozens of attacks that covered many different types, but if they couldn’t use them properly there was no point.

Fear the man who practiced a single kick a thousand times and all that.

Leaf let her team rest once again, stating they needed to be full power the next day. Ash shrugged it off but he’d admit it did rub him the wrong way. Leaf was a good trainer, no doubt about that, but she just seemed to lack the will to truly push her pokemon in training. Ash had a training session in the mornings and the evenings. Leaf would join in their morning sessions usually and decided whether she’d be joining the evening session based on a whim.

Ash dropped the thought and focused on his team. He had them work on their moves before turning to endurance and strength training.

He returned to his room with sluggish feet and his team recalled. He put his bag next to his bed and slung his bandolier onto a nightstand. They had done nothing but train for the last three and a half hours straight. The last half hour of which was nearly in complete darkness.

The following morning was full of groaning muscles and cracking joints for both him and his team. It didn’t slow them down though, they went at the morning training session just as hard as any other. Ash did cut it slightly short to give time for his pokemon to rest before they ventured into the tunnel. He had no doubt there would be plenty of ground-types and rock-types they’d need to ward off. Nut would have plenty of opportunities to work on his grass-type moves. Not Solar Beam given its destructive effects but any other moves were fair game.

Ash shouldered his pack as Greed trotted beside him. Nut was soaking in the sunshine and sucking sap from a tree, the last he thought he’d be getting for a while. Ash had taken the liberty of storing some foliage and sap in a couple containers in his bag. They’d be a good surprise for his pokemon while in the old tunnel.

“Heading off?” Leaf asked as he passed her. She was giving Glide the last of her calcium supplements. The flying-type’s talon had come back just as strong as it was before.

“Yeah, better get a start.” Ash said as shifted his bag further up his shoulders. “It’ll be two weeks or so before I get out of there. You’re heading out too?”

Leaf nodded. “Here in a few minutes, yeah.” The girl gave Glide a tap on her beak and the flying-type took to the air. “Ash, be careful.”

“I will, Leaf. It’s probably safer down there then back home listening to you and Gary argue.” Ash said with a smile.

She rolled her eyes. “Sure it is. Seriously, Ash, stay safe.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” The trainers smiled and, with one last handshake, departed. Leaf went north while Ash went east. Greed followed as he gave Champ his own farewell. The two fighting-types had gained respect for each other during their travels and training.

Ash gave his starter a grin. “When we battle them again it might be when you’re both fully evolved.” And wouldn’t that be a site to behold. Greed rumbled in approval.

When Ash saw a bright orange sign pointing towards a watering hole, they went straight into the forest. It wasn’t too far off the main path, a few hundred feet.

Ash stopped at the watering hole and filled his canteen before continuing on. After the watering hole was dense forest and only a barren dirt path to lead him farther into the trees. The undergrowth of the forest encroached on the trail as he went deeper. Thorns began to pull at his clothes and he had to begin ducking from branches. Greed could no longer stand beside him and had to lead in front. After a particularly thick branch whacked Nut off Ash’s shoulder—which Ash had absolutely not laughed at despite any accusations from his team—the grass-type stuck to walking as well.

After a few more minutes of pushing his way through the thick growth, Giovanni’s instructions proved accurate as a rock the size of a snorlax came into sight. The rock was carved by weather to look reminiscent of a face. It was almost like a portrait if he squinted. He had to squint pretty hard though.

He veered a sharp right as he tapped the rock for good luck. The path was now nonexistent as he used the sword as his waist to cut his way through the green. After hacking away at the thicket for another few minutes, Ash almost tripped as the forest gave way to a clearing.

He blinked in surprise. The thick brush and overbearing collective of trees was contrasted as it stopped almost on a line. The thorny plants gave way to grass and the trees were gone. What was more surprising was the sheer cliff that stood in front of him.

It was a sheer outcropping that faced him imposingly. At the base of it was an opening the size of an onix. Signs of varying color were strewn about the entrance, some still clinging to where they hung but most having fallen to the ground.

Ash immediately identified that this was indeed the mining tunnel he was searching for. The canopy of the forest had been pushed back hundreds of feet to make airlifting the treasure from the mine doable. The gaping maw of the old tunnel was not what one would consider ‘secure’ by any standard. Where there might once have been a blockade to stop intruders was now a rubble of splintered wood and shattered stone.

Greed gave the area a cursory glance before finding nothing of note. Nut returned to his place on Ash’s shoulder with the lack of obstacles.

“Well, shall we?” Ash asked his team. Without waiting for a response, he stepped into the darkness of the mine and the domain of the earth.

.—.—.

Notes:

Thoughts? Insert obligatory “Review plz”

A tad bit shorter than the last two, but I essentially have the next one done minus some proofreading and editing. Guesses as to what the next pokemon will be? Cookie to whoever guesses correctly.

Anyway, until next time.

Chapter 4: Tribulations

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

.—.—.

The first thing Ash made note of in the tunnel was that it was humid, absurdly so. Perhaps it was because it was at the base of a cliff and all the rainwater ran into it or perhaps it was because of the underground reservoir Giovanni had mentioned. Either way, the tunnel was musty, damp and uncomfortably humid. At least there weren't standing pools of water in sight. It was the little things, Ash thought in amusem*nt.

The first hour of trekking into the tunnel was uneventful. The lights that the League had installed were still active and resembled moonlight—as best a human invention could imitate moonlight—and lit their path into the earthen passage. How the lights were still running after years of clear abandonment was a puzzle he couldn’t hope to figure out. And abandonment was clear given the inches of dust on everything.

The few old shovels, rails and carts that remained were falling apart. The wooden supports of the tunnel were not much better. They looked old and rotten. The only thing not entirely covered in dust was the tracks of pokemon that had come through.

The tunnel itself was spacious, strangely so. Wide enough he was sure an onix or steelix had helped carve it out, at least the opening. The passage shrank as they went deeper. Ash was in the tunnel for hours before he spotted the brown head of a diglett pop up. The small ground-type caught sight of them and immediately dipped back into the sediment. It was the only entertainment he would find for quite some time. Traveling by underground tunnel was profoundly dull.

He saw dirt and stone. An hour later he saw dirt and stone. After they stopped and rested for the night—which he only knew was night thanks to the clock on his pokedex—he woke up and looked at more dirt and stone. He almost wished a wild pokemon would attack so he could at least break the melancholy of the mine. To pass the time he talked to his team.

He ran out of stories about three days in and his team wasn’t much for amazing him with their own. Five days into their long, joyless trek they finally get a little entertainment. A zubat popped from a shadowy corner of the tunnel and flapped away with loud clicks. Seeing no alternative, they followed it. It didn’t take long before they came to a large opening in the tunnel. A cavern that stretched high above them was speckled with zubat and golbat.

Ash returned his pokemon and made his way cautiously through the cavern as the various bats either slept or eyed him warily. After he successfully maneuvered past the swarm without invoking their wrath, he journeyed farther away before releasing Greed and Nut again.

He came upon his first split paths a day later. He took the path to the right and groaned. The lights were out. Ash removed his flashlight from his bag and clipped it to his bandolier. “Greed, try using nonstop Fire Punches to light the way.”

The pancham tried a few practice hits before starting to air box. Both his fists were emitting fire as they walked forward. It was good training, Ash came to decide. Not only did it help conserve his flashlight battery, it also improved the fighting-type’s stamina. The increase in the effectiveness of the Fire Punch was also noticeable. Using the move as a make-shift lantern worked well.

Despite Greed’s newfound exercise, Nut was miserable. The grass-type had been from the sun for days now and even the sap Ash had stowed away wasn’t helping. In the end Ash put him into his pokeball and promised to release him first thing when they got out or when he was needed to help fight.

Ash coughed as he inhaled some dirt. Greed had since stopped his air boxing and Ash was using his flashlight. The light lit up the tunnel better than either the lights or Greed’s Fire Punch but it also had the downside of almost blinding them when he first clicked it on. The air tasted strange as he veered into the passage to the right. He stopped as he stared ahead. It was blocked by rubble. “Just our luck.” Greed rumbled in agreement as they turned back.

Seeing as he wasn’t about to go back the way he came, he took the path to the left instead. Seeing as it didn’t immediately collapse when he stepped into it, he figured it was as good a tunnel as any. The path was just as dull and lifeless as all the others he ventured in. Seeing another cavern coming up, Ash prepared to return Greed should there be another zubat swarm. A quick peak told him that none of the poison/flying-types were around so they continued on their way. Or tried to.

Since he had looked up to search for zubat and given the darkness of the cavern, he completely failed to spot the graveler leering at him. Greed caught his attention as the fighting-type growled. The rock/ground-type seemed less than pleased at intruders in its space. It stood to its full height and stretched its four arms outwards. A direct challenge. It didn’t wait as it dug its arms into the earth and flung chunks of stone at them.

Ash moved out of the way as Greed dodged the Rock Throw and began the battle properly. The pancham wasted no time and the graveler was quickly struck by a combination of Bullet Punches and Karate Chops. The rock pokemon seemed agitated as it swiped its rocky arms at the panda.

Greed slipped away thanks to his vastly better speed, something rock-types were not known to have. Ash thought the battle would continue on this way, a hit and run attack from Greed before he slipped away, but Graveler seemed to dislike that notion. Instead, it threw two of its four arms above its massive body before slamming them into the ground below. The Magnitude made the entire cavern shake as cracks opened in the ground and Greed was thrown away. Graveler tucked its arms close to its body as it charged forward. Greed barely dodged Rollout the first time, he wasn’t as lucky the second or third time.

Ash cursed as his starter was hit by Graveler’s massive body. He reached for Nut’s pokeball and released him. The seedot appeared with an interested squeak. “No time, Leech Seed and Mega Drain on the graveler!”

Nut responded with action by shooting out a dozen seed’s that struck the rock-type's body and caused it to bellow out in annoyance. The grass-type continued as green orbs were sucked from Graveler’s body, leaving him noticeably weaker. “Leech Seed and Mega Drain again! Knock it out!”

Ground-types and Rock-types were already weak to grass-types, but the ones that had lived under the earth for so long were particularly vulnerable. Not having exposure to a natural weakness such as the grass-type–ice-types as well, though water-types would vary depending on the location–only extrapolated that weakness to an extreme. That said, Graveler was as tough as they come. One valley of attacks would never make it fall.

While Nut was firing off the grass-type moves, Greed moved back and gathered his bearings. Ash winced at his starter’s condition. It was easily the worst shape he’d ever seen his partner in. His fur was matted and packed to him tightly, rock shards stuck into him as they leaked blood. “Greed, Bullet Punch! Don’t let up!”

Ash’s two pokemon were relentless in their attacks as Graveler tried and failed to back away to attempt its own attack. Instead it pounded the ground in anger and shook the earth. Ash had to try his best to remain on his feet, the shifting ground making it a particularly frustrating endeavor.

Geodude were a fairly common pokemon In mountainous areas yet many were not found in a trainer’s team for a simple reason. They weren’t that tough. A myriad of weaknesses and counters that only showed themselves upon evolving. While their evolutions were strong in their own right, it took years or decades for a geodude to evolve to a graveler. Once a graveler, it could take almost a century for the graveler to evolve to its final stage. While rare, golem were still found on trainer teams if trained hard and well enough. Masters of their specialty such as Giovanni were able to evolve and command a golem to devastating effect.

Wild golem, however, were almost never seen. For a geodude to make it to its final evolution, it would have to be extremely old, over a century at least, and a powerful specimen. An old pokemon that could destroy a city did not often kneel for trainers, especially rookies.

If you encountered a golem unprepared, the best course of action was to flee. The same advice went for their pissed off pre-evolution and pokemon in general. Given the situation, that wasn’t a real option for Ash.

Nut and Greed were disoriented from the shifting plates that had rattled the cavern. Graveler stood at its full height again, it was nearly tall enough to be eye level to Ash. The Pallet Town watched helplessly as the injured and enraged pokemon slammed itself into the earth. The world rattled again, but this time it truly shook. Earthquake was a dangerous move that could level towns. Ash cursed.

“Greed, distract it! Nut, charge up a Solar Beam!” Ash commanded desperately. The damage Solar Beam would cause to the cavern was negligible considering it had just taken the full brunt of an Earthquake.

Greed bobbed in and out of the graveler’s reach as he hit it with any move that would affect the pokemon. Nut shook as he built up the energy for the taxing grass-type move. It was the only move that Ash thought would be able to truly impact the living rock.

Greed was slower than he had ever been. Graveler threw multiple Rock Blasts at his opponent that, even injured, was able to dodge the moves. Even if only just. Ash withdrew an empty pokeball and, with a deep breath, threw it at the boulder-sized pokemon. It sucked the pokemon in with a red light. It wouldn’t last long, he knew. He’d bought them a few extra seconds at most. “Get ready for it!” Ash warned.

After a second and a twitch from the ball, Graveler broke out and appeared with a roar that promised its fury. Nut finally had enough energy, the absence of the sun making the process painfully slow for his partner, and sent the Solar Beam at the living boulder. The bright beam hit true and their opponent was sent back a dozen yards. Ash didn’t wait to see if it was unconscious and threw his ultraball at the beast. It sucked up the pokemon with another red light. He sucked in a breath. One wobble, two wobbles. After a third wobble and a click, Ash sighed in relief. He almost collapsed.

Greed and Nut approached him as he sucked in a breath. They looked terrible. He removed his bag from his shoulders and took out potions for his pokemon. “Thank Mew, if that didn’t work….” Ash trailed off. “Great job. You two were amazing.”

Greed and Nut soaked in the praise despite their injured bodies as Ash applied potions to their wounds. Greed especially was barely standing. Ash took the opportunity to glance over to the unmoving ultraball. Now what was he going to do with that?

.—.—.

It would have took hours before Ash was sure his team was up for moving farther into the tunnels, yet he didn’t have that time. He clipped the ultraball that contained Graveler to his bandolier as they began their trek once more. The only problem being they had nowhere to trek towards. Graveler’s Earthquake had made the entire cavern unstable. While he hadn’t had the awareness to notice it during the battle, a small portion of the cavern had fallen and blocked the tunnel going forwards. It was why Ash hadn’t just rested there, a complete collapse while he was sleeping would be bad to say the least.

Graveler had blocked his way forward. The only option was to turn back. Or it was until Greed found a separate route. The damage from Graveler’s attacks was massive but it had opened up another tunnel that had been completely blocked off before. Ash couldn’t say he completely trusted it but he trekked forward nonetheless. It lacked the lights of the previous tunnels, but his options were thin. Beggars can’t be choosers.

As they ventured forth, Ash contemplated on what he should do with Graveler. The rock/ground-type was powerful, scarily so. Had Graveler not been weak to both his team members, or legendaries forbid a full grown golem, then the results would have been far worse. Ash was at least certain that he wouldn’t be releasing it anytime soon.

If it would listen to him, which was unlikely, then he’d have an extremely powerful ally at his side. If it refused to listen and even harm him then he could always pass it off to someone more experienced. Giovanni came to mind as a person who’d been more than enough of a match for it. Professor Oak too, if the man had the time to work with it.

Ash shelved the topic for later. Right now, he needed to focus on what was in front of him. That being a chair. An office chair that swiveled on wheels. Why it was down here was beyond him. He left it as he continued walking.

He got his answer on the chair’s origins as he walked farther. A metal desk was pushed against the tunnel as lights were hung up to illuminate the passage, though they had clearly been broken some time ago. Old writing utensils littered the desk along with a few water damaged papers. Greed gave the scene a thoughtful look as he inspected it. Nut seemed to consider the scene as he hopped onto the desk from his position on Ash’s shoulder.

“Wonder what this is.” Ash said to his partners. “Think it’s some sort of breakroom for the miners?” Greed gave his opinion in an unimpressed snort. “Yeah, probably not.”

The teen opened the drawers and found them empty. Nothing popped out at him until he turned his gaze farther down the tunnel. He gestured for his pokemon to follow him as he went deeper.

Rows of desks lined the walls. Chairs were sat next to them with a variety of things left behind. Ash snagged an old, brown jacket from the ground. He coughed as dust shot into his face when he blew it off. He wiped the dirt and grime and inspected it. A man’s coat no doubt and a large one at that. A patch on the chest held a symbol he couldn’t make out from the worn fabric. The letters below it that had surely once spelled something were faded enough he had no hope of guessing what it was. Ash threw the jacket onto a chair. The dust covered clothing hit it with a thud as it knocked the chair over.

Greed and Nut had moved away from the desks and were now gazing at one of the walls strangely. Ash joined them. The stone walls were old and worn but they had been chiseled. Letters he didn’t recognize were scraped into the wall with something sharp. Pictures accompanied the foreign lexicon. A few human stick figures with some pokemon-esque shapes stood next to them. Above them was the sun, yet the sun was not the sun. Where the sun would have been instead had a large, flaming bird take its place. Both human and pokemon bowed before the bird’s form.

Ash blinked as he recognized the drawing for what it was. “Moltres.” He whispered out. Greed and Nut recognized the name and gave the, likely very old, sketch of the Legendary Bird another look. One of respectful awe. They may not be native to Kanto, but Ash had told them plenty of stories on the Legends of Indigo.

Ash took his pokedex and snapped pictures. He took shots of every detail of the hieroglyphs and the sketches. He was fascinated. Greed rumbled out as he took his last picture. “What’s wrong, bud?” Ash asked as he looked around. The pancham growled and gestured forward. “You think we should leave?” The pokemon nodded.

Ash agreed. If his starter felt they needed to leave then it was for good reason. He pocketed his pokedex and they continued on their way. Just as they went to leave, Ash’s hair stood on end. He felt something watching him. He turned around and, when he found nothing, turned back and led his team away from the site.

.—.—.

After traveling for another three days, Greed perked up excitedly. Ash felt why just a moment later. A gust of wind. He grinned and ran alongside his starter and the tunnel slowly looped up. After an hour of making steady work up the tunnel, they saw an opening. Moonlight shone brightly through the mouth of the tunnel and Ash grinned.

He released Nut inside the tunnel and showed him the opening. Both his pokemon braced for the influx of light and emerged from the mining tunnel. Ash was far more slow in his emerging but before long they were all standing under the moonlight.

Greed and Nut were clearly overjoyed to be out from below miles of earth. Ash couldn’t agree more. The breeze of the night felt amazing after the stale, humid air they’d been subjected to for the last two weeks. Nut immediately stuck to the nearest tree as Greed climbed up and inspected the area. He got a proper look at his team for the first time in days and cringed. They were caked with dirt, dust and grime.

Ash found himself inspecting the area as well. Trees and undergrowth underneath a thick canopy that let only the bare minimum of light in. “Greed, can you see the route from there?” The pancham chittered out affirmation as he climbed down. “Good. We should get going.”

The trees squished together as they traveled. Chirps, croaks and clicks of things he couldn’t see set his nerves on edge. Not to mention that he still felt as if he was being watched. They moved faster than they probably should have, but Ash wanted to get to the route as fast as possible.

After two hours of traveling the canopy finally broke and made way for a small clearing with a pond. Ash sighed at the small respite from the crowded forest. Greed drank greedily from the pond as Nut basked in the unimpeded natural light for the first time in weeks. Ash, for the quickest second, considered camping for the night but dismissed it quickly. If he was going to sleep it was going to be on the route where he was safer.

“Alright, let’s go.” Ash said. “We should be pretty close to Route 16.” As his pokemon made to follow him, a loud bellow stopped them. A dark shadow emerged from the pond as they made to leave.

A bipedal, blue crocodile with a muscular build. Ash recognized the pokemon as a feraligatr after a moment. A powerful pokemon whose jaws had enough force behind them to injure a blastoise’s shell. He froze.

The water-type gave them an appraising look, trying to decide if they were threats. Ash, with great care as to not startle the croc, took a step back. The croc bellowed once more. Ash took it as a sign to leave. A few more careful steps backward and the croc’s glare lessened slightly.

Greed and Nut joined him as they carefully backed away into the trees. Seeing they were leaving its area, the feraligatr stalked off with a growl, eyeing Ash the whole time. Only once he was sure the pokemon was gone did he finally relax. That had been intense.

Greed seemed unsure of the situation as he kept an eye on the sky as best he could through the thick canopy. Nut was much the same but kept his gaze on the forest floor.

“Let’s get going.” Ash said as he, too, felt wary of the forest. He still felt as if he was being watched and the small black figure that darted behind a far off tree did nothing to help settle his worries. “Let's get going now .” He emphasized.

They moved east quickly with constant glances around. From time to time he saw a black blur disappear behind a tree and he would pick up the pace. They were definitely being watched, potentially hunted, and he wanted to get to Route 16 as quickly as possible. As they got closer to the route leading to Celedon the trees thinned and the brush stopped encroaching into any available space and pulling on Ash’s clothes.

After what felt like years of traveling at a breakneck speed, the darkness of the forest slipped away into an open field. Ash wanted to kiss the ground but refrained and put even more distance between the trees and himself. Nut seemed just as pleased as he was for the openness of the plains. Greed, despite his love for the ample climbing material of the forest, was as relieved as they were to finally escape.

Ash shot a glance at the forest. The suddenness in which the sunny field was overcome by the dark of the forest was something Ash attributed to Kanto’s diverse geography. It was not, however, the only thing he noticed. Mixed in the branches of a tree was a floating black shape. He barely registered it as the shadows of the canopy obscured it. The only thing he could make out was one large, white eye that seemed to catch what little light seeped into the trees and drew his attention.

Ur-Hakon

Ash whipped his head around, looking for whoever had spoken. Finding no one but himself around he returned his searching gaze to the forest. Had someone said something? Was he meant to hear that? His head pounded for some reason.

The blur was gone and the forest sounds returned. Ash had not noticed until then that the normal sounds he would hear in the wilderness (pidgey chirps, hoothoot calls, and croaking of far off poliwag) had gone eerily silent.

He set up his tent quickly and retired to sleep. It felt nice to not have thousands of tons of earth above his head to damper his thoughts. Yet, he still slept roughly due to the prickle at the back of his mind that told him something was watching him. When the sun rose, so did he. He packed up quickly and headed east.

Ash shuddered and moved towards Celadon. He was determined to reach the city before noon. He moved at a pace that wasn’t sprinting, but not far from it. He pretended to be unaware of the single eye watching and following him from the trees. Whatever stalker he had seemed just as curious of him as he was of it.

His stalker did eventually stop following him. No more small flashes of something in the treetops or an alien presence prodding the edge of his mind. When he got too close to the city, whatever it was seemed to vanish.

.—.—.

He checked into the Ranger station quickly. They did, to his disappointment, confiscate his katana but otherwise he was welcomed with hassle.

The Pokemon Center of Celadon was far larger than Viridian’s. It was nearly thrice the height and wider on each side by a significant amount. Ash entered the Pokemon Center and smiled. He had finally made it despite everything.

Nurse Joy who gave him a concerned look as he approached her desk. “Hello, I’d like to get my pokemon healed and a room.” Nurse Joy nodded as he handed her his team with a grin. “Oh, and the Graveler is a new capture.”

“Alright, I’ll keep that in mind. Are you alright, young man?” She asked, concerned.

“Dandy.” Ash said. “Just need to take a shower and sleep for a day or so.”

Joy seemed unsure as she handed him the room key. “You’re lucky, that's the last available room.”

“Thanks.” Ash said as he let her scan his pokedex. “Any big news the past couple weeks?”

“Nothing you can't catch up on after you rest up.” Joy assured. Ash thanked her as he left for his room. The room was an identical match to the one in Viridian down to the same sheets. Ash slumped his bag to the floor as he quickly showered before falling into bed.

Despite having already slept, he drifted away almost instantly. The Pallet Town teen sighed in relief as sleep overtook him. When he finally left the room to gather his team, it was ten hours later with a distinct crick in his neck.

.—.—.

Ash let the ringing sound of the videophone go on for another minute before ending the call. His mother hadn’t picked up his call but that wasn’t surprising. It was almost eleven in the evening after all. Instead he dialed another number he knew would be awake this time of night.

Professor Samuel Oak answered within thirty seconds. His tired eyes lit up as he caught sight of Ash’s face. “Ah! Ash, my boy, how are you? You've arrived in Celadon I see.”

Ash nodded. “I got in earlier today but slept for basically the entire day. I never realized being that tired was possible.”

“Yes, such are the trials and tribulations of trainers.” Oak laughed. “Gary said something similar after he arrived in Pewter.”

Ash’s attention was hooked. “Has Gary challenged the Pewter Gym already?” He couldn’t imagine his friend hadn’t if he was already there. With Delta with him, the rock-types of Pewter shouldn’t have been too much of a hassle for the younger Oak.

“He has. He beat it fairly handily according to him.” The aged professor said, “Gary has already moved on from Pewter towards Cerulean. He didn't take my offer to get him a tour of the Fossil Museum, unfortunately.”

Ash snorted. Gary had always been more favorable towards the Champion Oak side of his grandfather’s legacy rather than the acclaimed Professor Oak side. “Sounds like him. I’ll take you up on that when I'm in Pewter if he won’t.”

“If you’d like. I cannot promise you’ll see any revived fossil pokemon given the way the League guards them, but a tour of the facility should be easy to arrange.” Oak told him. Ash nodded in understanding. The revival of pokemon from nothing but fossils was a new concept, one the Indigo League was adamant to keep to themselves. Apparently, Hoenn was already trying to replicate the technology with some success.

“I’d be thankful either way.” Ash decided he should get into the main reason he’d wanted to speak to the professor in the first place. “Professor, I had a couple of problems I was hoping to get your advice on.”

The pokemon professor blinked in surprise. “Of course, Ash, what's the problem? I'll offer my help the best I can.”

Ash smiled in appreciation. “I took the mining tunnel I told you about to reach Celadon. It was dull, honestly, until the end. I ran into a graveler.”

Oak’s eyebrows shot up. “That is a tough opponent, Ash. I assume you were able to evade it then?”

Ash shook his head as he lifted the ultraball containing the pokemon. “Not quite. It collapsed the way forward so we had to knock it down until it could be captured. Not an easy thing to do.”

“I would expect.” Oak said, shocked before schooling himself. “I had not checked your roster recently, I'm sorry. I can see your problem. Graveler are naturally one of Kanto’s sturdiest pokemon, even untrained ones are dangerous. Had it been a golem I expect you would not have fared nearly as well.”

Ash had already come to that conclusion. “I figured as much.” He fingered the ultraball as he looked at it in thought. “What should I do with it?”

Oak hummed. “Wild pokemon of such strength do not take to trainers very well, let alone rookies. While it would prove a strong ally, it may very well not cooperate. How close was your battle with it?”

Ash frowned. “Too close.”

“Ultimately I cannot make the decision for you. If you think it is too much for you, it is not a sign of weakness to relinquish it. I would be glad to take it to the corral until you think you’ve grown or rehome it to a trainer that can reign it in.” The professor told him.

Ash hummed in thought. “It’d fetch a good price at an auction house.” He barely thought about the words as he spoke them. While the graveler would fetch a good amount of money, he wouldn’t feel right selling it off. Not without at least knowing the buyer was an appropriate trainer for it.

Oak’s eyes flashed dangerously as his glare bored into Ash. “You will do no such thing.”

Ash blinked at the man’s tone. “Just thinking, sorry. I wasn’t really planning to.”

“I’d hope not. Selling it independently to a trainer of good standing is fine, but an auction house cares little for who they sell to. It may be sold to a trainer able to whip it into shape or an underground fighting ring.” Oak said disapprovingly.

Ash winced. “Yeah, okay. Sorry. Won’t even think of it again. Either way, Graveler is probably going to take some work.”

“It will but I do believe you should be able to pull it off. You intend to go to Fuchsia after Celadon, yes?” Oak asked. His eyes no longer seemed to make Ash wither in his chair. Ash nodded and the man continued. “Then keep it with you until you arrive in Fuchsia. If you can’t get it to work with you by the time you arrive, we can discuss it again.”

Ash nodded in agreement. “Thank you, I’ll do that.”

“Of course. I believe you said there was something else?” Oak prompted.

“Yeah. When I was in the tunnel I came across a place with desks, chairs and a bunch of stuff that definitely didn’t form naturally. We only found it because Graveler opened up an alternative path with his attacks.” Ash told the man as he connected his pokedex to the phone. “There were a bunch of glyphs on the wall with sketches. I’m sending pictures of them right now.”

Oak hummed as he opened the pictures he sent and examined them. The aged researcher seemed impressed. “I wasn’t aware of any research going on in the area. It looks like a standard setup for studying ruins, even if abandoned. And these hieroglyphs…they are remarkably preserved for where they are.”

Ash definitely saw what he meant. The ruins were still faded from time yet they were still decipherable. The sketches were especially well preserved. “I thought so too.”

The professor nodded absentmindedly. His eyes were lit up with fascination. “I’ll make sure to ask around and see if there were any registered digs recently. Given the fact I had not heard of this previously, I'm led to assume it was not entirely legal.”

Samuel Oak was known to have his hands in multiple branches and areas within the League and without. To say he hadn’t heard of any research in the area was all Ash needed to know to come to a similar conclusion.

The elder Oak cleared his throat. “As fascinating as this is, I don’t believe you have asked me your question?”

Ash exhaled slowly before turning his gaze to the man’s. “Something was down there and it followed me. I’m not sure what it is or what it wants, but it definitely followed me to Celadon. I could feel it.”

“Feel it? Could you explain what you mean?” Oak asked.

Ash thought back to the experiences on Route 16. The pressure he felt at the back of his head. The small prickles he’d feel behind his eyes if he caught sight of that lone eye gazing at him from the dark of the forest.

“It’s like it's pressing on the back of my brain. Nothing painful. Just something that always reminds me that it's watching me from a distance. Like the beginning of a migraine without the migraine ever coming.” Ash explained as best he could.

Professor Oak's face took on a surprised look. “Like something foreign is prickling at the edge of your awareness?”

Ash blinked. “That would be pretty accurate. How’d you know?”

“It was much the same feeling as when I first met Karma. She had loose control of her power when she evolved and would give me the same feelings when trying to communicate with me. A brute force tactic that is fairly common within pokemon unable to initially control their power. Powerful psychics like alakazam frequently have this problem.”

“Ur-Hakon.” Ash whispered to himself. Had it indeed been his stalker that had communicated the word? Thinking back to it, Ash thought the word sounded crackly and monotone. Not something one can achieve naturally.

“This stalker of yours, do you think it has malicious intent?” Oak asked after a moment.

Ash mulled the question over. The tone had been more curious and intrigued than hostile. “No, I don't think it does. It seemed more curious than anything.”

Professor Oak nodded. “Many places of importance have guardians in place from ancient peoples. Elite Four Agatha captured a unique pokemon called a golurk in such a place. If this stalker is anything like many ancient guards, then I expect you’d have already been outright attacked. Given that you have not been, I would expect that it poses no major threat to you.”

A fair point, Ash conceded. If the stalker did have any violent intent then it would have acted on it before he had arrived in Celadon. “Do you have any guesses on what it could be? The only glimpses I could get of it were quick because it made my head throb. It's got a single eye and is completely black.”

“Nothing comes to mind immediately. Based on your observations I would expect it to be a psychic-type, but ghost-type or dark-type isn’t out of the question.” Oak said as he rubbed his eyes and straightened his head from bobbing. “If for a second you think this stalker could turn violent then contact me immediately.”

He agreed before bidding the tired man a goodnight. It was nearing midnight when Ash finally left the pokecenter. One thing that was vastly different about Celadon than Pallet or Viridian was the number of businesses still open so late. Many didn’t close at all. One such location that was open through the night was Celadon’s Game Corner.

Ash waved to the bouncer as he passed him to enter the doors. The first thing he noticed was the space. The building was packed despite the sun having set hours ago. There were easily hundreds of people moving from machine to machine inside the Game Corner and there was still room to maneuver without rubbing shoulders with someone. The lights were a stark contrast to the night outside. They were blindingly bright. Ash squinted as he walked to the front counter. A girl older than him by a few years was busy reading a magazine and sitting on a stool.

He cleared his throat. The girl, Jane as her name tag implied, moved her magazine down below her eyesight and gave him an appraising look. She rolled her eyes and begrudgingly set the reading material down on the counter. “Yes?”

Ash’s eye twitched at her tone. Some customer service. “I’m looking for Ana. I have something to drop off.” He said curtly.

“I’ll take it.” She said as he reached out a hand expectantly.

“Your name tag says Jane, not Ana.” Ash said, annoyed. “I was told to drop it off to her personally.”

Jane scoffed. “Whatever.” She reached below the counter and pulled out a radio on a cord. “Ana, some brat is out here asking for you.”

Ash ignored the insult. Instead he turned his attention towards the various boards advertising prizes that a person could win. The lowest prize was a single pokeball at two hundred tokens. The most outrageous price, however, was the top prize of a dratini for a hundred thousand tokens. Other equally as rare pokemon species were up for grabs; eevee, porygon, scyther, abra, cleffa, vulpix, and even a larvitar. Vouchers for TMs and other items were a little cheaper than the pokemon but only just.

Ash snapped his attention forward as the incredibly unhelpful clerk waved over an approaching woman. The woman was a tall, attractive redhead that had golden earrings that dangle down to her clavicle. Ash gulped inaudibly as a blush worked its way up his neck.

“What seems to be the problem here?” The woman - Ana, Ash guessed - asked with a voice that reminded him of bells.

The teen did his best to look tall when their eyes met. “I have a hard drive from Giovanni. He trusted me to deliver it to you,” Ash said.

Ana’s eyes almost sparkled. “Ah, yes! He did say I should be expecting it soon. If I may?” Ash dropped the small disk into her outstretched palm. “Thank you.”

“Of course.” Ash said a little too quickly. Ana gave a small smile. “Is there anything else I can help with?”

“No, dear, that’ll be fine. Jane, preload one of the coin cards with…does five thousand coins sound fair?” She asked Ash.

Ash gawked. “Uhh, yes, more than fair.” He wasn’t about to refuse. Five thousand coins was already enough to buy some of the Game Corner’s better items. Not quite enough to buy a pokemon, but an eevee would only be a few thousand away.

“Perfect. Jane will get that sorted for you. Thank you again, Ash.” Ana smiled before turning around and strutted back to where she had come from.

Ash turned away from her retreating figure as Jane tossed a card at him with a glare. He rolled his eyes as he walked away from the counter to go play the machines. As he did so, a single thought entered his mind.

When had he given her his name?

Several hours later Ash deposited his winnings at the front counter. The attendant (not Jane, thankfully) took his card and coins before telling him to pick his prize. With eight thousand coins he didn’t have enough for the eevee he was shooting for. Instead he took a Voucher for a TM and a set of unique capture balls. A set of six that included an ultraball, lureball, luxuryball, premierball, healball, and heavyball. All things considered, he was happy enough with his rewards.

.—.—.

Nut squeaked as he took in the open sunlight as Greed did the same. Both members of his team were very grateful to be able to take in the sun and relax. Ash smiled at his pokemon as he got their attention. “Alright, we arrived in Celadon City as I’m sure you’ve noticed.” Greed snorted. “You guys put up a great fight with Golem, but today we’re challenging the Celadon Gym.” The two perked up with interest at his words. “Erika is a grass-type specialist so we won’t have a great advantage, but neither will she. I plan on going this afternoon after you guys can rest up a bit.”

Greed and Nut voiced their approval as Ash grinned. “Perfect.”

They spent the rest of the morning without training or battling. Ash wanted them at their full potential for the Gym battle. Subsequently, that also meant that Golem wouldn’t be released until after they had gotten the Rainbow badge. The megaton pokemon was simply too much of a fight for his team when he needed that at their best.

When noon came and went, Ash sent a quick message to his mother and Professor Oak before he went towards the heart of Celadon City. The Celadon Gym came into sight and he entered it with a smile. The smile fell from his face immediately as he coughed harshly. He plugged his nose at the overwhelming scent of perfume. The air felt heavy with the fumes and he did his best to breathe as little as possible or risk tasting the vapors again.

Ash’s eyes watered as he made his way to the desk and declared his intent to challenge for the badge. The attendant gave an understanding look at his plight. She took his challenging fee and pointed him towards a seat. She even offered him tissues to plug his nose which he gratefully accepted. He waited patiently before the set of double doors behind the receptionist opened and a trainer stepped out. The other trainer paid Ash no mind as he left the building with a shiny Rainbow Badge in his hands.

Ash was waved into the battle room by the attendant before the double doors slammed behind him. The main area of the Gym resembled a greenhouse with plants growing wildly and a large glass ceiling that gave way for direct sunlight. Nut would love the area, Ash thought.

He made his way to the challenger’s side of the field as another person took the other side. Erika was average height with a long kimono that reached well past her feet. Her dark hair covered her eyes before she swept it away and leveled her gaze at him. She was the spitting image of her picture on the League website.

Each Gym had its own section on the website, the Gym Leader was usually a big part of that page. Their training history along with their specialty type and qualifications and every other small morsel of information they could stack in.

Erika’s section was disappointing when compared to the other Leaders. Giovanni, for example, had a bare bones page that told almost nothing of the man himself. Yet, still the man’s page was more impressive than Erika’s.

She was only in her early twenties, having been a trainer for nearly a decade now. and the daughter of the previous Gym Leader. That seemed to be where her qualifications ended. Even Brock of Pewter had triple her accomplishments, and he was only a part-time substitute for his father!

“Oh. Are you really my challenger?” Erika asked him seriously. “They’re usually taller and cuter before I have to face them.”

Ash frowned. “Yes, I am. I don’t have any badges yet; you’ll be my first.”

“What was your name, little boy?” Erika asked, annoyed.

“Ash Ketchum.”

“Well, Ash Ketchup, arrogance isn’t attractive. Referee?” Erika snapped out. Ash glowered as a young man took his place on the referee’s stand.

“This battle will be between Gym Leader Erika and the challenger! The battle will be two-on-two with neither side allowed substitutions! The victor goes to whichever side knocks out the other side’s pokemon or if the other trainer forfeits! If both trainers consent?” Erika nodded her approval and Ash did the same. “Let the match begin! The Gym Leader will release first!”

Ash took in the paras that were released with an appraising eye. Paras as a species were fragile and weak but Erika deemed it strong enough for a Gym battle. He’d be a fool to underestimate it.

Nut appeared with a flash. The grass-type garnered a quick look of approval from Erika before it vanished and was replaced by the same annoyed glare.

“Paras, Fury Cutter.” Erika commanded.

“Air Cutter! Use the grass as cover!” Ash returned. Nut was able to evade the bug-type move as paras was knocked astray. The seedot shot a wind blade that struck the carapass of his foe.

Ash decided to push the advantage. “Air Cutter again!”

“Poison Powder.” Erika ordered. A purple powder immediately began to fan out from the mushrooms that sprouted from the back of the pokemon.

“Defog and Headbutt!”

Nut blew the powder away as the Air Cutter struck the paras’ mushroom, severing it. Ash winced but knew it would grow back in time

“Evade!” Erika yelled for the first time. It was already too late as Nut reached his enemy and headbutted it into the air. “Sludge Bomb!”

Before Ash could register what she meant, Paras had turned itself midair and spit out a small shot of poison that hit the seedot directly in his face. The seedot rolled to get the gunk from his vision as the bug-type landed on the field unconscious.

“Paras is unable to battle! Gym Leader, release your next pokemon!” The referee called as the paras was recalled.

Ash frowned as Erika tapped the balls on her belt with a smile. After ten seconds of no pokemon appearing, it was clear what she was up to. A battler had fifteen seconds to release their pokemon after their previous had been declared unfit to battle, if they went past the time limit they’d be considered as having forfeit the match. However, this also meant that some trainers would take the full time and let the poison they’d used work its way into their foe’s system. A scummy tactic that Ash hadn’t thought a Gym Leader would use.

Just as the referee was about to wave a red flag, Erika took a pokeball and released a gloom onto the field. Immediately Ash covered his nose. Gloom were known for their stench that could rival a muk’s and he’d already breathened enough foul scents in for the day.

“Powder Run.” Gloom took no time in sending out a Razor Leaf. The leaves smacked into Nut full force before he even saw them. When the sights cleared, Gloom had vanished into the tall foliage covering the field.

Ash caught onto what Powder Run might entail. A haze overtook the field as Poison Powder mixed with Sweet Scent, Stun Spore and Sleep Powder all hovered in the air. The mixture of moves caused the air to be dense enough he nearly couldn’t see through it.

“Defog!” The wind pushed the attacks back just as Gloom shot out from the grass and fired at the seedot with another Razor Leaf. The leaves were met with an Air Cutter that stopped them before they could do any damage, but by then the haze had rolled back in and Nut had to use Defog once again.

The pattern continued for another minute as Ash thought of a counter to it. The base of Erika’s strategy was simple yet hard to defend against for unequipped trainers. Ash figured he’d have too deprive them of the opportunity to hide.

“Take the powders head on! Cut down all the grass with Air Cutter!” Ash ordered confidently. Nut was overwhelmed instantly as he prioritized getting rid of the grass instead of defending himself.

“Don’t let it, Petal Dance!”

“Dodge it!” Ash yelled just as the move landed. Nut went backwards into the psychic barrier and slumped down.

“Seedot is unable to battle! Challenger, release your next pokemon.”

Ash returned Nut with a smile. “Good job, buddy. You did great.”

Ash hummed as he walked his finger across Greed’s ball and waited just as long as Erika had. The haze of powders lessened as it was no longer being fed. Just before being disqualified, Ash released Greed onto the field. The panda assessed the ruined field quickly before falling into a stance.

“Fire Punch!” Ash ordered immediately. The fighter charged at Gloom without a second to spare.

“Powders and evade!” Erika commanded in turn. Gloom fled as it released the same combination of powdered attacks as before. Greed gave the plant no time to do anything else as he hit her with his Fire Punch.

The pancham didn’t let up as each successive punch was only strengthened by the last. Greed gave the grass-type no escape as he pummeled it.

“Blind it! Toxic Bomb!” Erika shouted at her pokemon. Greed screeched as the move hit his open eye. As he pawed to remove it, his foe below him followed up with a Razor Leaf that knocked him off.

Gloom fled towards one of the few patches of grass remaining as Greed was recovering. It made it halfway before being hit from behind.

While Greed’s vision may have been restricted, his ears were as strong as ever. He latched onto the plant below him with Crunch as he made liberal use of Fire Punch to burn and scorch it.

Greed stood up after a minute of raining blows. Gloom did not.

“Gloom is unable to battle! As both of the Gym Leader’s pokemon are incapacitated, the challenger wins!”

Ash barely felt insulted at Erika’s sneer as she tossed the Rainbow Badge to him. He pumped his fist as Greed cheered their victory with a loud rumble.

“Yes! Great job, buddy!” Ash congratulated with a wide grin that starter returned with a mischievous one of his own. Ash winced at the sludge on his partner’s face and made to wipe it with a rag from his pack.

The Pallet Town rookie was on cloud nine as he made his way from the Celadon Gym after picking up his winnings at the Rewards Desk. The street was a welcome sight as he and his partner stepped on to it.

“What do you say we heal up Nut then get something fancy for dinner?”

Greed’s resounding approval told Ash all he needed to know.

.—.—.—.

Ash passed the common area of the Pokemon Center as he made to leave. His bag was packed and his team was all healed up and fed. Nut was standing on his favorite perch, Ash’s shoulder, as movement caught their eyes. Two teenagers, trainers presumably, started shoving each other. That shoving quickly escalated as the two came to blows. They were separated quickly as the surrounding trainers pulled them apart and Nurse Joy, escorted by a machoke, escorted them out of the center.

“I wonder what that was about.” Ash said to Nut, who gave a small squeak.

“They were fighting over a contract posted on the board.” Ash turned to see another teen address him. He recognized him as one of the trainers that had pulled the fighting pair apart. A blue cap that tucked his auburn hair away helped drawn attention to the other trainer’s blue eyes.

“Contract?” Ash asked.

“Yeah, the board in the common area is where people will put up contracts for freelance trainers. Capture some bug-types eating someone’s garden, get rid of some pesky grimer making a mess of the sewers. That sort of stuff. Usually they pay pretty mediocre, but the larger ones are good ways to get some cash. I’m Ritchie, by the way.” The trainer–Ritchie–said.

“Oh, I’m Ash. So, they were fighting over…capturing some bug-types?” Ash asked, confused. “Plenty to go around, I think.”

Ritchie laughed. “Nah, that one was pretty major. There's been a lot more major contracts getting posted lately. The one they fought over was the Celadon Hotel needing a trainer to help them with some pokemon infestations, Electric-types ruining their wires I think. It paid really well.“

Ash blinked. An important business like the Celadon Hotel having problems with electric-types was not something to overlook. Celadon City was one that relied heavily on tourism, a hotel of that caliber would easily pull in half of the yearly visitors. A Gym Trainer from Erika’s Gym should have been dispatched to deal with the problem. “Why didn’t Erika send someone?”

Ash was taken aback by Ritchie’s laugh. After a long moment, the other boy’s amusem*nt left and was replaced with an expression of seriousness. “Sorry, I forgot it might not be obvious to some people. I was raised here in Celadon so I guess I see it more clearly. Erika is a plague. I know it, the city knows it, and I hope that the League comes to its senses and acknowledges it too.”

That was…harsh, to say the least. “A plague? She can’t be that bad, right?”

Ritchie nearly blew a gasket. “Not that bad?! You…” He paused and took a deep breath. “Sorry, that was uncalled for.”

“It’s all right,” Ash assured him. “I challenged her already and won, but I can see why you might not like her. Her attitude is pretty bad.”

Ritchie shook his head. “It’s more than that, Ash. Her Gym stopped taking on Gym Trainers when she took over and the League has to keep sending more and more ACE trainers to make up for the lack of manpower. The lesser issues, just like the Celadon Hotel, get pushed to the wayside because they’re stretched too thin. Of course that isn’t even mentioning the crime rates skyrocketing and the Rockets growing bolder.”

Ash really wasn’t sure what to say. Ritchie clearly felt strongly on the subject and Ash, being from Pallet Town, knew nothing of Celadon's struggles.

“They used to call Saffron and Celadon the Twin Sisters. Cities that grew together to be Kanto’s largest.” Ritchy said after a moment. “I want that back.”

Ash gave his newly made acquaintance a pat on the shoulder. “I’m sure it will. If Erika is really that bad, I can’t see the League letting her run Celadon for much longer.”

“You have more faith in them than I do.” Ritchie said with a shrug. “Well, thanks. I think I needed that off my chest. I gotta get going, but maybe we’ll run into each other again.”

“Maybe.” Ash agreed.

“If you need any more convincing, look at the alleys on your way out. You’ll see what I mean.” Ritchy said finally. With that, he returned to the common area, snagged a contract from the board, and then left.

“Interesting guy, huh?” Ash said as Nut gave a noise of agreement. They finally made their way to the exit of the building and took in the summer breeze. There existed only one last stop before he left Kanto’s largest city.

As he made his way to his destination, Ash couldn’t help but look into the alleys that he passed at Ritchie’s behest. Graffiti sprayed on bricks was a near constant. Many had various artists’ tags and signatures, but the most worrying ones were left without them. Large paintings of Erika with red crosses on her eyes. Rattata ran wild in most alleys, garbage overflowing and providing the rats with carrion to feed generations of their spawn.

The most worrying, however, was one marking he couldn’t believe he was looking at. The phrase “A Better Future for Kanto, A Better Future for Celadon!” was spray painted under a rather crude sketch of Erika. The worrying part, however, was the giant red ‘R’ that accompanied it.

Perhaps, Ritchie wasn’t so far off the mark after all.

.—.—.—.

The Celadon Department Store was, without a shadow of a doubt, the largest building in the city. If the Celadon Gym was stacked twice on top of itself it might come close to the sheer height the building possessed. Originally it had been six stories when it was first constructed so many years ago, yet in the present day it towered at fourteen floors. It was the one-stop shop for any person in the city looking for…well, anything. Trainer gear, clothes, everyday groceries and, the most coveted items, TMs. The Department Store was Kanto’s largest collection of TMs available to the public, rivaled perhaps by the collection in Goldenrod City of Joto. Ash was sure the Indigo League had its own collection that was just as expansive, if not more so, but they were sure to keep that close to their chest.

The crowds of the store were vicious, he decided. One woman had even elbowed him out of the way of a replica of Champion Lance’s iconic cape that was on sale. The entire population of Pallet Town and Viridian City could probably move into the store and still have room to maneuver.

Ash’s destination led him to the higher floors, floor eight to be exact. He restocked all the items he would need in his travels, including another order of various berries that his team seemed intent on eating him out of, before making his way to the TMs. He had a voucher to redeem, after all.

A group of a dozen ACE trainers eyed him as he flashed his pokedex and ID. The League appointed guards allowed him inside with a grunt.

He browsed as he pondered on just what he wanted to get. The elemental TMs for Ice Punch and Thunder Punch were both still waiting for Greed, so the new TM would go towards Nut. The seedot had come far from the undisciplined pokemon he had been. Solar Beam was still a work in progress, so another move would be a good idea to prevent his friend from getting too frustrated. He thought maybe an evasive move would do the grass-type good, perhaps Dig. The fact that Greed could also learn the move was merely a bonus. The thought of purchasing the TM for Double Team crossed his mind as well. Finally, he settled on Energy Ball for his partner. The move was similar to Solar Beam in theory, a ranged grass-type move that required the user to stockpile energy and release it, though not as powerful.

He would, begrudgingly, also purchase the Dig TM for the future when both of his pokemon had the time to learn it. Dig was a great move and, had they had it in their arsenal, would have also been greatly helpful in the mining tunnel. With his choices made final, he paid and chased in his voucher before leaving the massive superstore behind. Route 16 was waiting for him, and Fuschia City along with it.

.—.—.—.

Notes:

Well, chapter 4 is here. Next chapter will move forwards past Celadon, which I hope you guys like my characterization of the city and Erika. Thoughts on the new addition to the team? Graveler should be fun. Next chapter will see the newbie a little more.

I felt this came a little rushed at some points, mainly because I typed most of this on my phone while waiting for my new computer. I had it down, for the most part, then decided I needed to rewrite a bunch of it to better fit the future as well as tack on the last part to the next chapter. Struggles of life, I suppose. Let me know your thoughts. Reviews make me write faster.

Chapter 5: Detour

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

.—.—.

Route 16 was just as he had remembered it. Occasional fields but more prominently dominated by trees that provided shade for any creature under their arching branches. Flying-type roosted higher in the canopy, staying well away from any thrown pokeballs. Pidgey flocks led by the occasional pidgeotto watched with their beady eyes as Ash passed into what they considered their territory. They stayed their hand at least, which is more than Ash could say if they had been spearows flocks headed by a fearow.

His rush to flee a mysterious stalker was gone this time around. Not to say that the stalker was not there, for something was certainly watching him from the darkest canopy of the trees. Something shifted through the shadows with its lone white eyes, disturbing the odd pidgey and causing them to squawk. It didn’t seem brave enough to try its luck by confronting him and his team, so he let it settle to the back of his mind. If his follower ever grew more malevolent or courageous, then he’d reconsider his stance on the matter.

It was evening when he finally made camp. The nightly training session was met with the usual vigor. Greed was fine tuning Fire Punch and Bullet Punch before moving on to Ice Punch. The panda had seemed to take to the training with new gusto at the mention of more TMs. Nut had taken to the Energy Ball TM well, though still struggled slightly.

As the training came to a conclusion, Ash gathered his partners with a serious expression. It was time to release Graveler. “Alright, great work. Now that we’ve won our first badge,” Ash paused as his pokemon let out pleased sounds. “Yes, great work to the both of you. Anyway, we need to bring Graveler into the fold.”

Greed frowned slightly. Understandable, the previous battle between the two hadn’t gone well for his starter. Nut seemed more pliable to the allowance of their new member, though Ash was sure it was because the acorn pokemon hadn't been put under the sheer beating that Greed had. “I know, buddy, but we can bring him under control. I’ll release him and, if he attacks, you two can smack him down.”

It wasn’t the most honorable of strategies, but it would do. Pokemon valued strength and if Graveler thought Ash could give him that, he was far more likely to agree.

Ash breathed deeply as he palmed Graveler’s ultraball. “Nut, Mega Drain or Leech Seed. Greed, Bullet Punch and Karate Chop. Don’t go overboard, we want it to join us.” Without letting his mind sike him out, he released the rock/ground-type pokemon in front of them.

The graveler was still unhappy it seemed. It gave its surroundings a once over, eyes narrowing from the influx of sunlight, before rearing back and throwing a Rock Blast with a roar. Ash made himself scarce as his team made quick work of the graveler. While their initial fight had been close, the rematch was anything but. The angry rock pokemon was still worn out from his last bout, not having been given potions or healing at his behest.

Greed and Nut both left the unconscious pokemon alone after it had fallen from their attacks. Ash sighed as he removed a revive from his pack. He administered it to the fallen pokemon as he waited for it to awaken. Within minutes it was rising to its feet again, glaring at him with fury.

“Graveler.” Ash greeted, trying his best to make his voice sound strong. “My name is Ash, and I'm your trainer now.”

That remark went over as well as he had thought it would. Another surge from the rock pokemon forced his team to knock it down once again. Ash sighed. Well, he wasn’t expecting immediate progress. Knocking the pokemon unconscious twice in a row was just the start of a long task.

He’d try again tomorrow. If the rock-type was still unwilling to work with him then he’d try again the day after that.And try he certainly did. The dawn saw Greed and Nut once again having to battle the exhausted rock-type. It was almost sad at that point as it was so terribly one-sided.

Three days of trying to appeal to the pokemon–appeals that always ended with the graveler tossing out some attack or another before Ash’s pokemon took it down–passed before they had any progress. Ash had administered another revive–he was glad he’d stocked up on plenty of those–and saw Graveler once again glaring at him but not as eager to attack.

“Let’s try that again. You will listen to what I have to say or I’ll leave you in that pokeball and bury it.” Ash threatened hotly. He would never do such a thing, but Graveler didn’t need to know that. Days of no progress were starting to get to him. “Understood?” Graveler’s glare intensified but it made no move to attack again.

“I am your trainer now.” Ash said. “Work with me and you’ll grow strong enough to evolve into a golem.” The pokemon seemed entirely unimpressed. “My team has been training for less than two months and they’re already good enough to beat you. Think about what you could be within that time.” That at least grabbed the pokemon’s attention.

“If you work with me, train with me, and fight with me, I'm prepared to offer you a deal.” Ash said. “Complete the Gym Circuit with my team. If you still want out at the end then I’ll personally bring you back to the tunnel I captured you in. However, if you harm or attempt to harm me or my team at any point, that offer leaves the table forever.”

Graveler remained motionless for a few moments more before, hesitantly, the creature gave the slightest incline of its head.

Ash nodded, relieved. “Welcome to the team, Graveler. First things first, I’ll scan you with my Dex and get some information on you.” Within a minute, Ash’s red Pokedex was spelling out information on his newest team member.

Graveler are dual rock/ground-types, the second stage of the geodude-line. They prefer to dwell deep into the earth, unlike their pre-evolved geodude stage who prefer fields and mountainous areas above ground. Geodude evolve into graveler only after they amass and assimilate enough rocky substances to do so, the substance of which they assimilate directly correlating to the toughness of their exterior shell. Geodude will move towards deep caves, tunnels and caverns starting in their second decade, and will only evolve some time into their fifth decade. Evolution into golem in the wilds is a rarely documented sight, as a wild golem would need access to large amounts of eligible substances, the necessary deep earth areas to foster their evolution, and the strength to protect themselves for another five or more decades that it would take to evolve.

Graveler and its line have an infamous reputation for rolling down hills and smashing everything in their path, earning them a moniker of being less intelligent and careless. This is only partially true. In the centuries before the formation of the Indigo League, the warring clans around Pewter City used the pokemon as a destructive siege weapon to trample their foes or open enemy encampments. Their hard shells being able to take harsh punishment made them ideal tramplers and trebuchet ammunition when not used in direct battle.

Graveler, like many rock-types and ground-types, subsist on rocky substances to meet their dietary requirements. Unlike others, however, they solely feast on minerals, rocks and other such substances. This fact has stumped researchers as the Alolan variant of the geodude-line has the capabilities to consume some water-types, an important feature as the islands they reside on has limited ground space with an abundance of water dwellers. Furthermore, the alolan variant’s loss of the ground-type and addition of the electric-type has also been a hot topic of debate.

For additional information on the species, please consider ‘Geodude and Beyond: An In Depth Trainer’s Guide’ by B. Pebbleman.

“This specimen can perform the moves Rollout, Rock Throw, Bulldoze, Rock Blast, Magnitude, and Earthquake. Its ability is Rock Head.”

Ash took in all the information with a nod. It also gave Graveler’s gender as male, height as just below five feet and weight as north of three hundred pounds. It couldn’t give an age since that was nearly impossible to predict, but Ash could guess the rock pokemon was closer to his sixth or seventh decade.

Then again, Ash was no expert. Maybe that book would be a good idea to look at. Well, only one question left to ask. “So, do you want a name?”

Graveler gave him a flat look.

.—.—.—.

Graveler’s inclusion to the team was…a work in progress. True to the agreement, Graveler did not attack or harm them. That was not to say he was mindlessly obedient, far from it. As a start he had the living rock showcase him movepool and, seeing as they were all well practiced and perfected, made him join in on the usual drills. He’d come up with something a little more comprehensive when he had a better understanding of Graveler’s fighting style and natural instincts.

Nut was progressing well with Energy Ball. The accumulation of energy was becoming a quicker endeavor for the grass-type, though the amount gathered was lacking a little. As Greed accompanied Graveler on some speed drills, Ash took the time to have a one-on-one with Nut.

“Good job, Nut.” Ash said as he examined the last Energy Ball the seedot sent down range at their makeshift practice targets. “You’re getting better at gathering the necessary energy. Have you tried putting more into each attack?”

The seedot gave a nod as he inspected the crater his attack left behind. A squeak showed his disappointment with the damage.

“Show me.” Ash insisted.

The pokemon nodded. Nut braced himself as a small, luminous green orb formed above his stem. After it reached the size of a pokeball he sent it flying. The ball impacted his target (a stray boulder that Ash had made particularly sure was not another rock-type) and let out a small explosion of dust and rubble. Ash whistled.

“Nice job.” Ash congratulated the acorn pokemon. He could see why he was disappointed though, the ball had only formed to about half the size it should have. “I see the problem.”

Grass-type energy was one of the easier types that a pokemon could harness, so Ash wasn’t entirely sure what the problem was. He debated internally for a moment before addressing his partner.

“Tell me, when you gather the energy for the attack, you use yourself as the medium?” Ash continued as Nut nodded. “The energy you harness is yours that you’ve absorbed from the sun or elsewhere, and you’re simply gathering it?”

Nut squeaked an agreement.

“Have you tried not doing that?” Ash asked. At Nut’s confused expression, he elaborated. “As a grass-type, you should be able to roughly sense the energy of the fauna around you. Can you feel the energy in the bushes, trees and grass? Can you pull from that?”

Nut focused for a moment before squeaking. Ash took that to mean ‘kinda’. “Let me try putting it like this. Water-types, some more than others, have a limited form of hydrokinesis. It’s the theory behind how they gather their own attacks, such as Water Pulse, from the water around them without having to run their reserves dry. With me so far?”

Nut nodded.

“So, act like you’re a water-type and the plants are your water.” Ash finished as he eyed a thorn bush. “Pull from that bush and try to put that into your Energy Ball.”

The seedot dawned in understanding. He took a second and tried again. It was slow at first, slower than his first attempt, but Nut seemed to work his way through it. After a moment, the orb grew suddenly. It quickly grew larger than Nut himself and the grass-type threw it before he lost his hold over it.

It impacted the same boulder and, when the dust cleared, had revealed that the attack had leveled it. Ash laughed at the reality of now having a problem with too much energy in the attack. The thorn bush that Nut had pulled the energy from was black and dead, as though every nutrient had been robbed of it. Ash winced. Sorry, nature.

Nut squeaked in frustration as he tried the attack again and had the same result. A dead bush and a far too unstable Energy Ball.

“Nut, when you pull from the bush, do you put it straight to the attack?” Ash waited for the confirmation before continuing. “Okay, try absorbing the energy yourself first. That way you can act like a switch that can stop feeding it when it gets too large.”

Nut nodded and repeated the move. This time, however, the Energy Ball was the correct size and the plant he’d pulled from had not withered completely. A few leaves had lost their pigment but that was all. Ash grinned. “Perfect.”

Nut seemed pleased with himself as he repeated it again, determined to perfect his new move. Ash wondered. If Nut had some limited form of ability to sense the energy of his surroundings, could he use that as a form of echolocation in forested areas? If he could then if he was ever blinded like he had been in the Celadon Gym, he wouldn’t be as helpless. Then again, most battlefields tended to be completely barren.

Something to think about.

.—.—.—.

Route 16 flew by quicker than Ash had thought it would. He hadn’t stopped at any of the towns along the way, though Hop Hop Hop Town had made a case with its ridiculous name. The path before them shrunk as they entered Route 17 faster than he had expected. Route 17 was one of the longest in Indigo. A two week trek that ended with the Cycling Bridge. The Cycling Bridge was a well kept bridge that connected the two halves of Kanto that were divided by Vermillion Bay. The bridge ran directly over the strait that led inland and was around half a day of journeying before meeting up with Route 18 on the other side.

Ash decided he would see about renting a bike to cross. According to his dex, there was a rainstorm inbound. The last thing he wanted was to be trapped in the cold rain without any cover. The rain was something he’d need to get used to, Ash knew. Kanto’s rainy season was nearly upon them. He’d be lucky to get three days of sun in a week for a straight month. The rivers and lakes would widen, flash floods would likely occur, and any travel near water was risky. The Rangers near coastal cities would have their work cut out for them. Then, after all the rain had finally gone, the first chills of autumn would creep in.

It wasn’t all bad though. The majority of pokemon would hunker down to wait out the weather rather than face nature’s wrath. The smart ones anyway. He wouldn’t have to worry about an attack from wild pokemon for a little while.

Ash wanted to get past Fuchsia’s territory before any real heavy rain set in. He had heard enough horror stories to keep him moving. Mud and sludge that trapped trainers all the way to their thighs, leaving them utterly helpless and stuck. The southern part of the Kanto mainland was infamous for becoming mires and marshland in bad weather. It was joked that even the strongest of tectonic plate movements couldn’t rip Indigo apart since Fuchsia’s mud would make them cling together.

It was this line of thinking that gave Ash a couple of ideas for Graveler. He couldn’t implement them yet, but the thought made him smile.

Graveler’s Earthquake was strong. Ash knew from personal experience. If the rock pokemon focused it a little more, he could surely rip his own canyons into the earth. Then he could simply collapse them into themselves with the enemy at the bottom, even using Smack Down to trap the opponent from escaping. It had counters, like most techniques, but it could also be heavily devastating if unprepared for.

Ash’s other idea also revolved around Earthquake, though Magnitude may prove to be a better fit. He thought of Nut’s work on Energy Ball, of his need to cast a wider net to power it, and took the reverse of that. A localized Earthquake, harnessed directly onto the enemy pokemon. The epicenter would be directly on them, ensuring an attack that would likely mean a one-hit KO for pokemon of lesser constitution.

Ash couldn’t wait to put those techniques to work and see if they held any water. Theoretically they sounded possible, but he wouldn’t know until he sicked Graveler on the subject. Something he wasn’t going to do until the pokemon actually started listening to him.

Oh, the rock pokemon was smarter than Ash had given him credit for. The pokemon was completely unreliable due to his complete disobedience. Yet, when the rock-type did listen he seemed to know how to follow Ash’s orders down to the letter, and still break the spirit of them. Frustrating, to say the least. Is that what raising a defiant toddler was like? Ash made a note to apologize to his mother for anything he may have done.

Another tidbit that drove him crazy was that the living boulder also held a remarkable disdain for the drills Ash put him through. For a decades old living boulder, he was so prissy about doing sprints. It wasn’t like he was demanding the pokemon plough through a Hydro Pump while doing them! Graveler should thank the Legends his ability was Rock Head rather than Sturdy, for Ash was positive he would be a bit more rough in his conditioning otherwise.

Oh, Mew. The fit Graveler threw when he found out what conditioning entailed…

Graveler had lived for decades under the earth, with no exposure to grass-types or ice-types in any form. As such, his weakness to them was something Ash had to condition him against. Nut used grass-type moves on the rock pokemon to help rid him of this, just as Greed used Ice Punch. The panda had taken to the TM rather well. His constant practice on a target as solid as a graveler’s shell seemingly helped him hone it by leaps and bounds.

Ash had found a little common ground with his newest partner at least.

Graveler’s biggest asset would always be his natural defense, something that Ash had hoped would stick in his rocky head during the constant hits from Mega Drain. Luckily for Ash, it did. While still defiant, Graveler at least found the wisdom to listen to Ash’s coaching on learning a plethora of defense bolstering moves, starting with Harden. It wasn’t a difficult move to learn, plus Nut already knew the normal-type move and could help guide the rock-type. When Graveler saw how much a small move like that bolstered his already tough defense he was more open to learning more. And perhaps giving Ash a smidge of credit.

There were plenty of moves on the agenda. Defense Curl was first since Graveler could learn it so easily, then Iron Defense and Rock Polish. Though that last one was less of a defense bolster and more of one for speed. Each one gave Ash ideas that sparked new ideas. When he was done, Graveler was going to be indomitable. The thought made Ash grin.

That same grin was wiped off his face as he felt a raindrop hit him. Then the downpour followed.

Just his luck.

.—.—.—.

The rainstorm had them hunkered down for an entire day. Ash didn’t mind it too much now, but he knew that the other side of the bridge would be a nightmare to traverse. The time spent sitting around waiting for the rain to pass at least gave Ash the chance to think.

Greed was frustrating him.

Well, not Greed. His partner was as reliable as always, rather it was his fighting style that was giving him troubles.

The pancham was falling into his own style of hit-and-run attacks. It was effective for his size and speed, but it couldn't last. When the panda evolved into a pangoro–just when that bud would be was far beyond Ash–his body would more than double in size. A seven foot tall, hundreds of pounds pangoro was not one that could maintain guerrilla warfare with much success.

Ash snickered. Gorilla warfare. About a panda.

…anyway.

Greed’s fighting style shifting from one extreme to the other would do no one any good. Except for their opponents, of course. Still, that left the problem of what Ash should do about it. He wanted to address the issue now so as to not let it fester. At his starter’s current size, the option of taking a hit in order to return a hit was off the table. The pokemon had a hardy constitution, sure, but not that hardy. The fact was that Greed simply lacked the bulk his final evolutionary stage had in spades.

Ash thought up an evasion centric style–hit hard, evade then do it again–before realizing he was just branding the same style under different names. The best option seemed to throw Greed into the style he would more closely adopt upon evolution. Hit hard enough and fast enough that the other pokemon simply couldn’t do anything else but evade. He tested it in the battles against trainers on the route and it worked surprisingly well.

Most lower level pokemon were unable to properly do anything against an opponent who simply did not back off. The better battlers he’d fought, such as a girl from Sunny Town with four badges and a kickass marowak, were better suited to minimizing the threat. Experienced trainers knew to use Greed’s lack of mass and size against him.

Still, Ash had hope for it. He didn’t want to shove his starter into a corner of a single approach to a battle, but both styles would work for him until his evolution.

Ice Punch was perfected fairly easily. Objectively, Greed was ready for the last elemental punch now. However, something about just mass loading his partners up with TMs made the hairs on his neck stand up. Instead of immediately administering him with Thunder Punch, Ash had him work on balancing Ice Punch and Fire Punch at the same time. It was a dead useful skill to have and helped to space out his starter’s TM influx rate. Greed struggled with it for a bit, either accidentally melting his ice or smoldering his fire, but was getting better at it.

Route 17 finally came to a head as the strait of Vermillion Bay came into view. The Cycling Bridge was just as big as he’d expected. The supports that held up the marvel of modern engineering were as large as Graveler.

They were built to withstand inclement weather and the occasional collision with a ship. Wild water-types weren’t usually too much of a problem given the dozens of pokemon the Rangers employed to patrol around the bridge. The bridge seemed immovable and untouchable. Though, one story Ash could recall contradicted that notion pretty heavily.

When Elite Four Koga had still been a Gym Leader in Fuchsia, a swarm of tentacool had attacked the bridge in a fury. The damage had been enough to close the crossing for a few months as the League repaired it. When it came to light the erection of an artificial island resort was the source of the water-types’ outrage, the business tycoon had been forced to halt construction at once. The tycoon had then thought to appeal to the court of public opinion in order to pressure the League to allow him to continue his work. The result was nothing short of a communal lambasting that made the man close his doors for good.

The Cycling Bridge looked to be in great shape to Ash, though he had no previous experience to compare it to. He made his way to the small shop that offered bike rentals and paid the fee for a bicycle of his own. The clerk simply gave him a pointed finger in the direction of the bike racks before turning to help the next customer. Ash chose a green bicycle with a cushioned basket on the front before setting out.

Nut blinked owlishly as he was released. With a grin, Ash picked him up and plopped the grass-type in the metal basket. The seedot seemed to shuffle for a moment to get comfortable before giving his consent to start petaling. Ash smirked and took a picture of the scene with his pokedex. Nut squeaked in indignation.

“Don’t worry, buddy. You look very fierce.” Ash assured mildly. The acorn pokemon seemed unconvinced. “I won’t show anyone, I promise.” Nut nodded as he settled back into the cushion of the basket. “Well, maybe my mom. And Professor Oak. Maybe Gary. Leaf and Ethan might like it too…”

Nut whirled on him as Ash laughed.

.—.—.—.

The other side of the Cycling Bridge came quickly. Route 18 was, thankfully, not a complete swamp like he’d expected. Though with another storm on the way that was likely to change. With Route 18 only being a few days to Fuchsia City, Ash thought if he picked up the pace then perhaps he could make it prior to that storm. Alas, that was not to be. The storm hit and it hit hard. Ash had not even made it close to Fuchsia’s suburbs when nature unleashed its fury.

It was not a simple rainstorm as the last had been, this was a storm of truly epic proportions. Thunder boomed and seemed insistent on deafening him, the lightning was so furious and bright Ash was sure Zapdos itself had sent it, and rain pelted the fabric of his tent hard enough to almost warp its shape permanently. Despite Greed’s usual insistence on being allowed to sleep in the trees, he rested in the tent that night. Graveler returned to his ball and Nut also resided in the tent. It was a little cramped, to say the least.

Ash looked out his tent as lightning flashed and counted the time between the thunder that sounded above. Seven seconds. Fairly close than. Lightning flashed again, but this time it crashed into a nearby mountain.

The strike made Ash blink. Had he imagined the bright glow that lingered after the lightning? No, he decided after another bolt struck the same location, there was definitely something there. A glow of light bright enough Ash could see it from such a great distance certainly warranted a search. A third strike was all he needed to convince himself to check it out in the morning.

.—.—.

The morning came and Ash took the chance to pack up his flooded camp and move out quickly. It meant they had not had a morning training session, but that could be fixed. They’d simply pull a double session the next morning. Oh, training in the dark of the predawn morning was bound to be fun. The rookie pokemon trainer made his way to his far off destination, Evolution Mountain.

Evolution Mountain lay south-west of Fuschia City, rising prominently above its surroundings. The mountain’s peak was humble in comparison to the other summits that Indigo offered. Mt. Moon and Mt. Silver both made it look like a pebble. Still, the summit was sizable from Ash’s perspective. He hadn’t experienced any other heights as big as this just yet. At the feet of the landmass the earth cracked and splintered. After a mile or so of a widening ravine, it became the heart of Grampa Canyon. A canyon forged from a river that once flowed and gauged its way into the geography of the land.

The summit’s original name was not Evolution Mountain, Ash knew, but it had been called such for so long that it might as well have been. The mountain was named for the Evolution Stones that used to be found in the area. There was also the mountain’s significant history with eevees.

It was here that the first trainers had learned to evolve eevees into not just a single branch evolution, but rather multiple different paths. Evolution Mountain gave birth to the evolution pokemon known in the modern era. Split evolutionary lines were not exclusive to eevees, some such as poliwhirl or gloom branch as well, but it is the only pokemon known to split into eight different evolutions with some researchers thinking there were more evolutions they had yet to discover.

Ash had thought of trying to find an eevee for his team. The Game Corner in Celadon had offered one as a prize, so there should be a breeder he could directly contact. Eevee were rare though and a breeder would surely charge an arm and a leg for even the runt of a litter. Unless an eevee was ready to run into his path, the furry fox was likely out of his reach.

Ash heaved a grunt as he continued his trek. The rugged terrain of the mountainous area proved far superior to the mud that clung to Ash’s boots, even if the effort to hike it was exhausting. He could have gone around the base of the mountain and traveled up the better kept trails on the other side, but that would just add more time to his travel. If a little extra effort was required then he was more than willing to rough it for a little while.

After an hour of traversing, Ash arrived at what he’d come for. The scene before him taking him by surprise. Scorch marks decorated the rock and stone of the mountain black. The distinctive smell of what was similar to burning coals left Ash’s nose in a scrunch. His arm hairs stood on end when he stepped closer, like he’d just rubbed his socked feet on carpet.

As he bent forward to look at the epicenter of the scorch, his entire head of hair went frizzy and rigid below his hat.

Do not grasp the solid lightning

Ash frowned as he looked around. There that voice was again. Considering there was hardly any cover around he thought he should be able to see his stalker. Apparently that wasn’t the case. The rookie hummed before letting out Graveler. The rock pokemon grunted as he took in his surroundings.

“Hey, Graveler.” Ash greeted his pokemon. “I need you to dig up that area there. Eat it if you want; it might taste weird, being scorched and all. If you find anything strange, please don’t eat it.” The boulder gave another grunt, as if to ask what he would get out of this. “Do this and I might let you skip conditioning tonight.” That got the pokemon moving. He’d gotten better at listening over the course of the journey from Celadon but was still being intentionally difficult.

Ash considered using Graveler in the Fuchsia Gym. The rock-type was tough, not doubting that, and his power was up to par. Ash had not battled anyone with the graveler yet, though not for lack of opportunity. No, Ash wanted to be certain Graveler wouldn’t go too far in a battle against a trainer who couldn’t properly stop him. The trainers he’d battled on routes since Celadon had all faced Nut or Greed. A Gym Leader, however, would have plenty of techniques and firepower to take down a rampaging graveler. Even if that Leader was as young and inexperienced as Janine.

All considered, she shouldn't be too much of a fight for the Soul Badge.

Ash felt bad considering one of Kanto’s eight strongest Gym Leaders as an easy target for a badge. The poison-type Leader was far ahead of him as a trainer and could likely dismantle his team if she truly wanted. Still, it was no secret to Indigo that she seemed ill suited to the position when compared to her father. A bike gang that terrorized the Cycling Road until the Rangers got involved, as well as a spike in poaching in the Safari Zone were just the most common things pointed out by her contractors.

If Ash had been asked three months ago his opinion on her appointment, he’d have said that the League knew what it was doing. There’d have been no doubt in his mind that the Indigo League would appoint someone worthy of the position, especially with the ever important Safari Zone in Fuchsia's jurisdiction. Now, after having experienced Erika and Celadon, he wasn’t so sure he could say the same. At least, not with the same vigor or candor as he once could have.

Graveler finally sounded out as he found something. Ash gazed at the mess the pokemon had made. A hole that dropped down about six feet and was a little longer across. It looked almost akin to a grave. The thought made him shudder as he approached. He hoped to Mew there wasn’t a dead body at the bottom.

Thankfully, there was not a corpse in the hole. Instead, Graveler held in his massive hand a gleaming stone. Looking directly at it made Ash blink. He nearly reached out to grab it before the words of his stalker rang in his head. He instead had Graveler hold it as he inspected it closer. It was fist sized (his fist, not Graveler’s) and gave off a distinct glow. The green-blue crust seemed almost transparent. Along its face a branching electric discharge design decorated it, only stopping as it ended in a lightning bolt shape. It seemed to give occasional shocks to Graveler’s rocky hand but the ground-type seemed unfazed, immune to the zaps.

“Solid lightning.” Ash said with realization. “A Thunder Stone. These are rare. Great find, Graveler.” Graveler gave a grunt that conveyed his utter lack of care. “I don’t think I can carry that though…you wanna walk with me until Fuchsia? I can probably buy an insulating case there.”

Graveler balked. Ash probably would have laughed at the expression if he didn’t seriously need the pokemon’s help. Having to walk the entire way to the next city was probably not an ideal solution since his newest addition hated endurance and speed drills as it was, forcing him to walk that far would earn him nothing but ire, even with plenty of stops for rest. Counterproductive when Graveler was only just starting to listen to him with any level of sincerity.

“Okay, maybe not. Fuchsia is still a good distance away. Stone Town is just on the other side of the mountain. If we go now he could get there before dusk. Considering the area used to be renowned for Evolution Stones, someone should have one we can buy.” Graveler seemed to like that option far better.

Without preamble, they set off towards the other side of the summit. Some points were slippery from the rain and others jagged from years of erosion. The only commonality being that it was difficult to traverse. At least Ash had Graveler to talk to, or rather talk at. The pokemon was a captive audience for his ramblings. He even ran his ideas for future techniques and moves by his hostage. Those mentions of future power interested the living boulder the most.

As they progressed, it was hard for Ash to ignore the darting figure of his stalker. The barren mountain was a poor place to try and find cover. Every once in a while, the black floating figure would pop up to watch him before vanishing and appearing later.

He got the best look at his pursuer during these attempts at subtly trailing him. It was completely black, a dark raven that looked impossible to achieve by anything less than the void. The only exception being the singular white eye that contrasted against its body. He never saw that eye blink.

His follower was growing bolder.

Ash gave a sigh as Stone Town finally came into view. The town was surrounded by the cliffs of the base of Evolution Mountain. So much so it was nearly hidden. Graveler similarly seemed glad to be done with their trek across an entire mountain. Stone Town’s entrance was humble. A large boulder introduced the town while a small road sign pointed out areas of interest.

There wasn’t a pokecenter in the town, though Ash couldn’t say that surprised him. Stone Town was roughly the same size as Pallet Town which also lacked a pokecenter. There were some small stores, dozens of houses, and a monument in the town’s center.

Ash’s interest was piqued. The monument was humble like everything else in the town. It was coated bronze making it stand out as the last of the day’s sunshine hit it at an angle that made it gleam. It was clearly well taken care of with not a sign of rust anywhere. It was a man standing tall with an eevee at his side. A vaporeon, Ash corrected after another moment of study.

“Taking in the sights?” Ash turned around at the question. The one who’d voiced it was another boy. Taller than him, but not overwhelmingly so, with blonde hair spiked up in a jolteon-esque fashion. Fitting considering the jolteon that trotted along at his side happily.

“Yeah, just looking at the statue. It looks really well kept.” Ash said. Graveler seemed annoyed at the chitchat, likely wanting to rid himself of having to carry the Thunder Stone.

The jolteon chittered. Its trainer grinned and held his hand out. “Thank you, I do my best to keep it looking clean. The people around here would have my hide if I let the town’s founder get all oxidized. I’m Larry, but most people call me Sparky.”

Ash blinked as he shook the offered appendage. “Good to meet you…Sparky. That's an interesting nickname.”

Sparky shrugged with a smile. “We get that a lot. Blame our parents.”

“We?” Ash asked out of sheer necessity.

“Oh, my brothers. Rainer, Pyro and I are triplets.”

“Sparky, Rainer and Pyro.” Ash repeated as his lips turned into a smile despite himself. He didn’t wanna laugh at the guy but, seriously?

“You try telling people that your parents named you Larry, Barry and Jerry.” Sparky said in goodnature. “They almost named our youngest brother Gary. We put a stopper on that one.”

Ash laughed. Probably more than he should have. “Yeah, Gary is a rough name to be stuck with.”

Sparky definitely caught the tone of the inside joke, but didn’t question it. “Well, welcome to Stone Town. Passing through? We don’t get too many trainers around here.”

Ash nodded. “Yeah. I was headed to Fuschia when the storm hit. Went a little off track.”

Sparky nodded. “Gotcha. Need a map then? Mrs. Alpin has a bunch you can buy at her shop. I’d offer some of my older ones but my younger brother is pretty much taking everything when he leaves for his journey. I’m sure I can wrangle you a bargain though.”

“Thanks, but no. I have one. I went off track voluntarily.” Ash gestured for Graveler to open his fist. The Thunder Stone gleamed as it was revealed. “The storm threw lightning at this a few times so I checked it out. I didn’t wanna risk touching it or walking all the way to Fuschia with it. I thought Stone Town might have an insulating case.”

“Smart thing, not touching it.” Sparky said as he examined the solid lightning with fascination. “That damn stone would knock you into a coma.”

Ash winced at the thought. “Do you have experience with Thunder Stones?” Sparky gave him a look before pointing to his jolteon. The electric-type chittered at him. Ash nearly face palmed. “That makes sense.”

“Happens.” Sparky shrugged. “Besides the Thunder Stone I used for Bolt here, I have interacted with enough. Evolution Mountain still has the odd Evolution Stone here and there if you know where to look.”

“Wouldn’t the League be mining them if that was the case?” Ash asked. Evolution Stones were rare. Even a single one could fetch a good price if sold.

Sparky snorted. “The League has better resources for sourcing them nowadays. A wide scale mining operation here would just do more harm than good. With the Safari Zone as close as it is, the League wouldn’t dare try anything. Besides, the only ones that you’ll have any luck finding here are Water Stones and Thunder Stones. Used to be more Leaf Stones that formed around here but not in a good while.”

“Why just those?” Ash asked curiously.

“Here,” Sparky motioned for him to follow. “It’s getting late. We can talk on the way.”

Ash frowned. “The way to where?” He might have liked the guy so far, but he’d only just met him. He wasn’t about to follow him to some shady area.

“You need an insulating case and a place to sleep.” Sparky said as though it was obvious. “There are some at the town’s Gym and you can stay there tonight if you want.”

Ash hadn’t even known a small town like this had a Gym. “Wouldn’t the Gym Leader have something to say about that?”

Sparky turned around and smirked as his jolteon sparked cheerfully. “Who do you think I am?” The Gym Leader turned around again and continued walking. Ash hurried to follow. Graveler groaned at the prospect of more walking.

.—.—.

“Now, the reason behind the Water Stones and Thunder Stones is all about the environment around here and the way the stones form in the first place. The theory is that Water Stones usually form in water sources that accumulate water-types. Thunder Stones are the same but with electric-types or lightning strikes. Make sense?”

“Yeah, the same theory as with Fire Stones. Condensed thermal energy in that case. Water Stones form in cascades the same way Fire Stones form in volcanoes?” Ash asked.

“Pretty much. Pyro got his Fire Stone for Flareon from what we had left in stock here, but he nabbed the last one. He’s been thinking about a venture to Cinnabar Island to look for one but he can’t find the time.” Sparky said as Bolt barked. The jolteon jumped up to its trainer to get his attention. “Yes, Bolt, Flareon. Sorry, my brothers’ eevees and mine came from the same clutch. She gets excited when they get brought up. Not much room for them to interact when we're all three busy being Gym Leaders.”

“You're all three Gym Leaders?” Ash asked bewildered. “Like the Waterflowers in Cerulean?”

Sparky laughed. “Nah, nothing like that. We aren’t anywhere near the Big Eight. I say that we three are all Gym Leaders but on paper I’m the only Leader. Pyro and Rainer are technically only trainers employed by the Gym.”

“Gym Trainers?” Ash asked.

“Not Gym Trainers, we’re not a big enough Gym for that. Didn’t really matter to us who was the actual Leader, just the same leave it as not. Just means I have to do more paperwork than them. I just got stuck with it cause I’m a few minutes older than those two.” Sparky supplied. “Anyway, where were we?”

“The stones.”

“Right. So, Evolution Mountain used to be more than the bare rock that it is now. Once upon a time there was a lot of life on it. A waterfall cascaded down it, splotches of trees and forest on its sides, and a river that roared down what is now Grampa Canyon. You can see why the Water Stones would form. Thunder Stones were usually found at the peak, with lightning hitting up there more often and all. Some elders used to say Zapdos himself would roost up there but that’s probably all rumor and myth.”

Ash tried to imagine the barren mountain with so much vibrance. “What happened to it?”

Sparky frowned. “People found out they might be able to find an Evolution Stone here so they gathered en masse. The largest influx of trainers this area has ever seen. This place could have been the next big tourist hotspot, like Tohjo Falls, but all they did was destroy the area. They either ran the pokemon out or caught them all. The waterfall dried up pretty fast and the canyon went dry soon after. After that, a fire ripped through what was left. Still can’t say if the fire was a wild one or caused by the people though. The fire left behind some Fire Gems and a Fire Stone–Pyro’s Fire Stone, actually–but not much else. After that, only little old Stone Town was left standing.”

“I'm sorry.” Ash said after a moment. “Did the League not help?”

Sparky gave him an amused glance. “They were the first ones that flocked here. This was some five hundred years ago, so I don’t blame the current League for it, but no. They didn’t help.”

Ash sighed. He had been hearing that a lot lately. He hadn’t heard of these kinds of stories in Pallet Town or at the Academy. Then again, Pallet Academy was sponsored by the Indigo League. Why would they want their trainers taught about the League’s shortcomings? Ash figured a subject change could do them some good before he went all tinfoil hat. “When did your Gym start?”

“We got approved about two years ago.” Sparky said. His expression was one of fondness and reminiscing. “Elite Four Koga inspected us and gave us the greenlight. They set us up with the usual pokemon, stipends and whatnot before telling us our territory and position. All that boring stuff.”

Ash didn’t find it boring. “They give you a stipend to make badges and pay for necessities, that makes sense. But they give you pokemon?”

“Oh, we don’t have a badge to give. Like I said, not the Big Eight. Between you and me, I think they only gave us the okay so that Janine could focus on the Safari Zone more. Too much poaching these days.” Sparky informed him. At Ash’s disappointment his face went up with a grin. “Hoping to challenge me, eh?”

Ash’s grin matched his. He had never needed the incentive of a badge to battle. “Always down for a fight. Tomorrow?” Sparky nodded but was unable to speak as they were interrupted.

“Sparky!” A short boy a few years younger than Ash came racing down the path in front of them, a small eevee hot on his heels. “You’re finally back!”

Sparky clapped the shorter boy on the back when he stopped to suck in some air. “Breath, Mikey. Rainer would kill me if you passed out. What’s up?”

“Rainer said to come get you!” Mikey panted out between breaths. “The Cycling Bridge Rangers requested help! Rainer is on his way and Fuchsia is sending a Gym Trainer!”

“Did they say why they requested help?” Sparky asked urgently, expression turning serious. “And where is Pyro?!”

“Pyro had to go out and deal with a herd of ponyta that escaped the Laramie Ranch! Rainer said something about the storm and water-types…I-I don’t know what else.”

“Good job, Mikey. Come on.” Sparky raced past them as Ash and Mikey followed.

Stone Town’s Gym was more of a mansion than a proper Gym. The grounds held battlegrounds to use but there was no proper building that Ash would label as suitable for a city’s Gym. Then again, this wasn’t a city. This was a small town with a population of only a thousand or less. A Gym that looked as though it belonged in Celadon would be asking for trouble from the League and the community both.

Ash had no proper time to take in the building as he followed Sparky inside. Graveler stopped outside at Ash’s signal and huffed. The rock pokemon seemed content enough to rest from all the running around.

Sparky navigated the halls with ease as he made his way to an office. With practiced speed, the Gym Leader of Stone Town withdrew a pokeball belt. Multiple pokeballs were attached but Ash had no way of knowing if they were empty since they all looked expanded. “Mikey, show Ash around if you would. Get him an insulating case and show him to a guest room. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

At that, a kadabra emerged from one of the pokeballs. Its eyes flashed an ethereal pink before it teleported away with Sparky. Ash was left blinking as Mikey rubbed his eyes. Well, that happened. “Uh..hi. I’m Ash.”

Mikey gave a small nod. “I’m Mikey, Sparky’s youngest brother. Did he say you needed an insulating case?”

“Yeah, I found a Thunder Stone. I’d like to not get knocked into a coma, y’know?” Ash joked. Mikey gave a polite laugh.

“That’s weird. Any Thunder Stones I’ve seen have been handleable.” Mikey thought aloud. “Maybe yours is recently formed?”

Ash shrugged. “Could be. I found it after that massive storm so it’s plausible.”

“Let’s go get that case then.” Mikey declared as he led the way. “Uh..where is the Thunder Stone by the way?”

“My graveler is holding it. He’s outside.”

Mikey nodded as he continued on. Soon enough, a black case was put in Ash’s hands and he was facing Graveler. It almost looked like a ring box but with a larger and far thicker inner lining. The Thunder Stone fit in the case, but not without Graveler’s rough hands almost bending it. “Thanks, Graveler, wanna rest?” Ash returned him when the pokemon nodded. Too much walking made him far more agreeable apparently. Good to know.

Ash examined the Evolutionary Stone through the top of the case. Mikey did so as well. “It doesn't look like it was newly formed, the outer shell is too tough for that to be the case. Lightning hitting it may have supercharged it then, haven’t heard of that except in my reading. Wonder what would happen if you used it on a pokemon?” Mikey’s eevee jumped up at that and pawed at the younger boy’s leg. “No, Eevee, you’re not ready to evolve yet. Maybe in the future when we start our journey.”

Ash watched the normal-type deflate. “You plan on being a trainer?”

“Yeah, when I’m old enough. Eevee and I are gonna try the Gym Circuit, I’m gonna attend the Pokemon Technical Institute in Vermillion starting this upcoming semester. Then I’ll only have three years there before I can take my TLE. I’m worried I'll let my brothers down if I fail.” Mikey lamented.

“I’m sure you’ll pass.” Ash assured him. An uncomfortable silence prevailed as he tried to think of something to talk about. “So…Sparky was telling me about the League giving the Gym pokemon? Do you know why they do that?”

Mikey lit up. “Oh, yeah, Rainer said I should know about the way the Gym works with the League.”

“Rainer sounds like a smart guy.”

“He is. Don’t tell Sparky or Pyro, but Rainer’s my favorite.” Mikey confided. “Here, let me show you to the room you can use.”

Ash followed as the boy talked. “So, the pokemon the League gives out really depends on the size of the gym, specialty, and need. So far they gave our Gym a kadabra, two pidgeot, and a porygon. Standard array, I think. Kadabra is used to teleport between short distance locations, like Sparky used it for. The pidgeots are for travel when you need to go far or Kadabra is unavailable. The porygon maintains the connection to the League and other Gyms year-round.”

“Neat.” Ash remarked. It made sense for that to be a standard array the League would give out. “If this is a standard Gym, then shouldn’t they give out badges? Sparky mentioned you don’t.”

Mikey hesitated for a moment. “Badges are really only for the larger Gyms. The Big Eight and the ones grandfathered in. They used to say that any Gym, no matter the size, could give out a badge back when my brothers were on their journeys. I guess too many greenies were rushing the Conference by only going after the weaker Gyms. That makes Indigo look bad in the eyes of the World League, so they pretty much did away with that. The Orange Islands have Gyms that still give out badges that the League recognizes as valid, so does one in the Seafoam Islands.”

“That makes some sense, but then what do the small Gyms do if they don’t have challengers?” Ash questioned.

“Patrol their designated areas mostly, plus whatever the League orders them to do. Pyro likes to take the areas closer to Fuchsia and Rainer takes the ones further away. Sparky meets them in the middle.”

Ash nodded. Three people patrolling such a large area was better than one. “Isn’t all of that considered Janine’s territory? Wouldn’t she or her Gym Trainers be patrolling there?”

“Sparky says Janine tends to overfocus on the Safari Zone and Fuchsia City, so they have to pick up the slack everywhere else, Cycling Bridge included. They're supposed to support her authority in the area, instead they get to do all her work.” Mikey said with a touch of anger before paling. “I wasn’t supposed to say that.”

Ash winced. Yeah, that could probably land Sparky in trouble. Bad mouthing a directly superior Gym Leader would be pretty frowned upon. “I didn’t hear a word.”

Mikey seemed relieved. “Thanks. Here's your room.”

Ash thanked him as he entered the room. It was late and his calves burnt from all the hiking he’d done. The bed was modest in comparison to the room’s size with black sheets. Ash couldn’t care less how anything other than that bed looked as he sunk down into it.

.—.—.—.

“You’re sure you don’t want anything? That case is expensive, I feel bad just taking it.” Ash asked.

Sparky waved him off. “It’s fine. We have a dozen more and the League pays us enough as is.” The Gym Leader had returned at some point late in the night. He looked tired, eyes heavy with lack of sleep, but still chipper. “Thanks for looking out for Mikey, by the way.”

“I didn’t really do much aside from ask him some questions.” Ash deflected.

“You got his mind off us leaving, so I call that payment enough. Love the kid but he’s a worrywart. Pyro is too tough on him and Rainer is too soft.” Sparky stretched as he yawned. “You gonna join us for breakfast?” Ash wouldn’t have refused even if his stomach hadn't growled at the mention of food. Sparky laughed. “Come on. Rainer makes some killer pancakes. Your pokemon can eat too if they’re okay with some chow and berries outside.”

Ash nodded. “Thanks, they’d like that.”

“Oh. This must be him?” Another voice asked. The other boy stepped into view with red hair that almost lit up the hallway. A face that looked identical to Sparky. “Pyro, good to meet you.”

“Ash.”

Pyro gave a two finger salute as he kept on walking. “Good meeting you, little man. Sorry, the Laramies are having trouble again. I’ll probably be back for dinner.”

Sparky snorted as his brother disappeared. “Trouble my ass. He can’t spend more than a day without seeing that girlfriend of his. Lara is great for him, but he really slacks off nowadays.”

Ash was led to the dining room by Sparky after that. The dining table was long and could seat a dozen people easily. The table was stockpiled with various foods. Fruits, pancakes, and pitchers of juice made Ash’s stomach tightened with hunger. Had he even had lunch or dinner yesterday?

Mikey sat at one end of the table, a plate of pancakes in front of him. He was absently cutting up the pieces before he caught sight of them walking in. Ash noted with a smile the boy was slipping pieces of sausage to Eevee below the table. “Hey, Ash. Sparky, I thought you were helping Rainer with breakfast?”

“He kicked me out.” Sparky confessed as Ash waved. “Didn’t we tell you no pokemon allowed at the table?” Eevee jumped out from under the wooden table with an indignant bark. “No, outside with everyone else. We’ll bring out the chow after we’re done. I do not need fur in my food.” The normal-type stalked off with a huff, its fur puffed up with anger.

Mikey giggled at the scene. “He’s so dramatic.”

“Sparky or Eevee?” Ash joked. Mikey giggled again as Sparky rolled his eyes.

“Both of them, I think.” Another person said as they walked into the room. Again, he looked like a spitting image of Sparky–save for the blue hair–that he couldn’t be anyone other than his brother. In his hands he was carrying a container of syrup. “I’m Barry, but call me Rainer. Please, sit and eat.”

Ash thanked him as he did just that. Sparky was right, Rainer made delicious pancakes. Then he bit into his fourth flapjack. He immediately sputtered and coughed up the piece that was in his mouth. They sent him wide eyed looks as he chugged his glass of juice. After a second he sent an equally wide eyed look at them. “Was that pepper in a pancake?”

Rainer sighed as Sparky looked sheepish. “Sorry, I thought I got rid of all the ones Sparky ruined. He’s a hazard in the kitchen.”

“It’s fine, it just surprised me.” Ash assured him. “I think I’m done though.”

Rainer nodded as he gave Sparky a glare. “Well, so am I. Here, let’s go feed the pokemon. Your team can join if they want. Sparky, you’re on dish duty.”

.—.—.—.

“How many badges do you have?” Rainer asked, leading him to the fields outside the massive manor. “Sparky mentioned wanting a battle before you left.”

A battle with a Gym Leader, even if not for a badge, was a learning experience. One Ash was never going to pass up. “Just one right now, Celadon’s Rainbow Badge.”

Rainer nodded. “Erika’s then.” He said nothing more for a while as they settled into a comfortable silence. Instead he simply walked as Ash followed. Soon enough the fields came into view. The trees surrounded this little Eden, as though protecting it from the world. Well maintained grasses and shrubbery that seemed untouched by the recent storm, a pond that rippled as unseen creatures moved beneath its surface, and a large dirt patch that served as a battlefield all caught Ash’s sight. In a way, it reminded him of Oak’s corral in Pallet. On a smaller scale, of course.

“We keep this area particularly clean.” Rainer spoke up against the silence. “Our teams are usually here if they aren’t with us. Some wild pokemon like to gather here too. We don’t mind as long as they don’t wreck the place. You can’t see it but past those trees there's a sandy hollow. The fire-types like to use it for sunbathing and the flying-types like to use it for a dust bath.”

“It’s impressive.” Ash agreed. “I never asked Sparky, but are you all specialists?”

Rainer gave him an amused glance as he pointed to his hair. “I specialize in water-types, I think you can guess what Pyro and Sparky train.”

“Didn’t wanna assume. As an old man once told me, "to assume makes an ass out of you and me.”” Ash remembered Professor Oak saying that to Gary and him years ago. It had been so long Ash couldn’t remember just why the man had been upset with them. “So, I would guess you have a vaporeon then?”

Rainer nodded as he raised his hands to his mouth. A short, deft whistle sounded out. The pond rippled in response as something emerged instantly. The vaporeon blended into the water perfectly. It let out a quick bark as it raced over to its trainer. “This is Cass, he was my starter way back when. Cass, get the others for breakfast if you would.” The sleek water-type barked an affirmative as it raced away again to relay the message.

Rainer snapped his finger and a couple bags of pokemon chow appeared at his feet. At Ash’s curiosity he simply pointed to the slowbro gazing at them from a distance. Soon enough an assortment of pokemon were surrounding them. Water-types, electric-tyes and fire-types were not the only types in attendance. An exeggutor baked lazily in the sun as a dodrio roosted in a tree. Ash knew that specialists would catch pokemon outside their speciality, but there seemed to be a good amount of them. Maybe some of them were wild but he had no clue as to which ones.

Ash released his own team with Rainer’s consent. Greed and Nut appeared with varying looks of confusion. Graveler would likely not appreciate being released with as many pokemon around as there were so he stayed in his ball. “Sorry, guys, change of plans. I’ll tell you later but just grab something to eat while you have the time.”

Greed gave a gruff acknowledgment as he snapped up some chow for himself. Nut basked in the glory of the sunlight before prancing off to suck some sap from whatever poor tree he found first. Ash watched as a poliwrath sauntered up to the pancham and engaged him in…conversation? Ash wasn’t really sure what it was doing or what it wanted but the panda pokemon hadn’t forced it away immediately. Maybe it was fighting-type camaraderie, who knows.

“So, Rainer, what was the problem at the Cycling Bridge? Everything seemed fine when I passed through.” Ash asked as the pokemon around them ate. He reached down and scratched the ear of a ninetails that nosed his leg to get his attention. Its fur was warm and clearly well brushed.

Rainer sighed. “Waterspouts out to sea sent the nearby water-types into a frenzy. The Rangers are pretty good at holding the bridge, but there were waves of panicked water-types rushing them. We were able to redirect some of them down the coast. Surge and his Gym Trainers nabbed whatever slipped by us into Vermillion Bay. Blaine had a similar problem at Cinnabar and the Seafoam Islands got his leftovers. Rangers are working overtime scouring for ships the storm left behind.”

Ash hadn’t thought the storm had been that bad. The forecast had said it would be harsh but not that it would stretch all the way to Cinnabar or capsize boats. Then he thought of Ethan who would either be on a ship to Cinnabar or at Cinnabar at the moment. His stomach felt heavier all of the sudden. He’d need to ask Professor Oak about his friend. “Did any pokemon work their way to Route 1?”

Rainer shrugged. “I don’t think so, but who knows. That’s Giovanni’s territory, he’ll take care of it. Always has.”

Nut shot his head over at hearing the name of Kanto’s toughest Gym Leader. Ash nodded as he stopped his menstrations on the ninetales. It whined and nuzzled his hand to try to get him to continue causing Ash to chuckle. “Would you happen to have a phone I could use? I have some calls I’d better make if the storm was that bad. Check in with friends and family to let them know I’m still alright.”

Rainer’s eyes lit up with understanding. “Yeah, you can use the one in Sparky’s office. First floor down the hall from the entrance. If you can’t find it just shout until Mikey or Sparky find you first.”

Ash thanked him as he returned to the mansion. He found the office easily enough and was quickly navigating the screen of the videophone. He logged into his own ID and quickly called the priority contacts first. His mother’s face filled up the screen within a minute.

“Ashy!” She exclaimed. “How are you? I heard that the storm down there was terrible.”

Ash knew that, which is why she was his first call. His mother would have been ticked if he hadn’t called to check in after something that viscous when he had the chance. Above that though, she would worry herself sick. Ash hated when she worried. “I’m good, mom. The storm was rough but I got through it. I’m in Stone Town right now, south-west of Fuchsia.”

She nodded, although Ash had a feeling she had never heard of the place. “How are Pancham–sorry, Greed–and Seedot doing?”

Ash smiled as he told her everything. Not everything, he amended to himself, he would never tell her just how dangerous his encounter with Graveler had been. If she was worried about a storm, there was no telling how much she would fret over something like that. Topics changed quickly and Ash was quickly losing material to talk or gossip about; there was only so much he heard out in the wilderness. Thankfully his mother was more intune with recent events than him.

“Oh! Ash, are you going to stop in the Fuchsia Safari Zone when you’re there?”

Ash only had to think for a second. “Yeah, definitely. I know they have a lot of pokemon that are rare to find or aren’t from Kanto. I heard there was an increase in poaching though, so hopefully they haven’t run off all the pokemon.”

His mother nodded. “The Celadon Daily reported on that last month. A shame that Koga isn’t down there to drive them off anymore. That wasn’t what I wanted to talk to you about, it’s related though! Have you been watching the news?”

“I keep up with it on my Dex. It’s usually a few days behind but it hasn’t been a problem so far.” Ash told her. “Wish it was instantaneous but we can’t win ‘em all.”

“Samuel said much the same.” Delia Ketchum hummed before shaking her head. “Anyway, did you hear about the arrangement made between Indigo and the World League regarding the Safari Zone?”

Ash had not. “What’s the agreement?”

“Well, with so much poaching going on the Indigo League made an arrangement with some other regions. They would send some of their own ACE Trainers to patrol the Safari Zone to keep it secure, as well as send some select species to populate some areas. In return, Indigo is going to send their own selection of pokemon to the other regions and help them set up their own preserves. There were even some mentions of exchanging fossils if the Indigo League gave the other Leagues the know-how in order to revive their own.”

Ash hummed in thought. It was a lot to take in. The Safari Zone deal was intriguing. The chance to get pokemon from other regions–not that he didn’t already have that–was interesting. He doubted the other Leagues would be stockpiling Indigo with destructive weapons like salamence or garchomp, just as Ash doubted Indigo would be willing to hand over a single dragonite. The fossil revival technology was a strange idea. Fossils from other regions were bound to contain the remnants of ancient pokemon like tyrantrum, but the risk of handing over such technologies was great.

Ash was glad he didn’t have to worry about politics. Yet. One couldn’t be Champion without dabbling in politics.

“That’s pretty big news.” Ash agreed. “The less established Leagues will probably jump on that.”

“Galar’s League already accepted.” His mom informed him. “That Champion of theirs–Leon–accepted it pretty quickly. Galar is supposedly already sending its League affiliated trainers to Kanto.”

Interesting indeed. Galar was the newest region to enter the World League and the world stage. Ash wasn’t terribly familiar with it. He knew the current Champion was a man named Leon who was said to be strong and had taken the throne fairly recently. The region had its Gym Leaders, but lacked an Elite Four. That…was the extent of his knowledge.

Galar was essentially still on the frontier until half a century or so ago, still was in some areas. The Galar League was fledgling when compared to the historical might wielded by the Indigo, Ever Grande, and Lily of the Valley Leagues. All three had centuries of power backing them.

Now that his mind was on Hoenn…

“By the way, mom, are you still in Hoenn?”

“Yep! I plan to get a guided tour of Mt. Chimney tomorrow.” She informed him happily. “I should be wrapping up here within a week or two.”

“Sounds fun. Take pictures for me. Why did you decide on Hoenn anyway? I thought your vacation was just going to be sightseeing in Johto.” Ash asked curiously. He certainly wouldn’t complain about it though, he’d gotten Nut out of her trip to the tropical region.

She fidgeted slightly at Ash’s question. “I wanted to see an acquaintance again. They’ve been studying in Hoenn for a few years now.”

Ash frowned. His mother was acting strange, nervous even. Shouldn’t the rolls usually be reversed? He decided not to pry. “Okay…well, I still have to call the professor. I better let you go now.”

“Alright. Bye, Ashy! Love you!”

“Bye, mom. Love you too.”

Ash ended the call with a tap of a key. Strange was definitely the right word for that. His face cringed as his mind came up with a plausible explanation. Was his mother dating again? He cringed and elected to never have that thought again unless she brought it up herself.

The call with Professor Oak was far easier on Ash’s psyche. Ethan, he learned, had landed in Cinnabar before the storm had hit. Ash was thankful for that at least. He wondered if his friend had caught a water-type of his own in the chaos of the storm. His starter was supposedly an electric-type after all. There would be no better opportunity to catch a pokemon that would usually be far out to sea.

The thought highlighted Ash’s own lack of a water-type to him. He simply couldn’t think of any he wanted on his team. Indigo didn’t lack for water-types, but none caught Ash’s eye. None that he could reasonably get his hands on anyway. Ash figured he might take the chance to fish off the city’s harbor in hopes of reeling something up with the water-types getting diverted up the coast towards Fuchsia. Who knows, might be something that catches his eye.

“Ash, do you have some time at the moment?” Professor Oak asked. On the screen Ash watched as a smile came to the man’s face. When Ash nodded the man flicked a few buttons before his face vanished. Just as quickly another face filled the void left behind. Ash blinked. Gary blinked back at him.

“Ash?”

“Gary?”

They spoke at the same time, much to their amusem*nt. Professor Oak had seemingly connected their coincidently well timed calls.

“Damn, it’s been like three months already. Are you still a trainer? Is the road too hard for you yet?” Gary goaded immediately. “I know how hard you must have fought against those vicious caterpie on Route 1!”

Ash snorted. Same Gary as ever. Good to know the road wasn’t affecting him too hard. If the Oak started complimenting him out of nowhere Ash would probably have had to get his friend’s sanity tested. “You wish. My team could trample yours twice over, Blue. Has Delta got tired of you yet? I gave it a month before he ditched you for a moderately strong Bug Catcher.”

“Wow, that hurts. Really hits me deep. My heart bleeds from such a deep wound.” Gary said, hurt lacing his tone. The smirk on his face said otherwise.

“You have a heart?” Ash asked, surprised.

Gary broke and cackled.

.—.—.

Notes:

Another one done. I had a lot of fun with this one. Stone Town, Evolution Mountain and the Eevee Brothers, thoughts? I did say we’d get past Celadon last chapter, never said we’d get to Fuchsia. I can guarantee we’ll get to Fuchsia City by the next chapter though, so stick with me.

Gary makes an appearance. Love to write about him, he’s an ass and owns it. Also, any guesses on just what the stalker is? I’ve dropped enough hints that you guys can probably guess it but I'm curious what you all think.

Anyway, thanks for reading. Comments are appreciated.

Chapter 6: Feudal

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

.—.—.

"So, what's your roster lookin' like?" Gary asked after they'd barbed at each other for another few minutes on the call. "Gramps said you only had three pokemon, what's up with that? Were you throwing with your left?"

Gary and Leaf were too much alike, Ash decided even as he cracked a grin. It was good to talk to his friend again. This had been the longest period of their young lives that they'd gone without seeing each other, much less even talking to each other. "Yeah, three: a pancham, seedot, and graveler. Quality over quantity. Yours?"

"Not bad." Gary admitted. "At least it's not a team of sh*tty bugs. Enough of those in the Viridian Forest to populate the world over."

"You can complain about bug catchers later. What wimps have you got?" Ash stoked his friend, though he did agree with the notion about the bug catchers.

"I nearly have a full roster actually. Delta, obviously, and a raticate, natu, growlithe, and scyther."

Ash nodded. It was a good combination of pokemon. Versatile with great potential. Though he certainly had questions. "Where did you get a natu? And a scyther?!"

"Jealous?" Gary smirked. "North was migrating south–ironic, I know–and happened to run into me. Delta sniped her right outta the air. Scyther was in Viridian Forest. The things you find when you venture a little deeper into the forest."

And Giovanni told him a skarmory and murkrow were a longshot, yet here Gary was stumbling upon a natu and scyther of all things. Ash only pondered on what could have been for a moment more. "Luck then, shoulda known."

"Bite me, Red." Gary snarked. "I worked my ass off for days in a sh*tty forest tracking that damn bug down. Do you know how many beedrill tried to sting me?"

"Not enough, apparently. That charm of yours must have warded them off." Ash said. "And tell Delta to bite you on my behalf. Or that raticate of yours, which…really?"

Gary shrugged. "I wasn't planning on catching her–I wanted a persian–but you'd understand if you saw her. I found her trying to sneak off with my ration bars and she is massive. She's up to my chest already and she just evolved."

Ash nearly gaped. The average raticate topped out at about two and a half feet, the largest ones maybe reaching three feet. Gary was tall, for a raticate to reach his chest it had to be at least near five feet tall. This wasn't a case like Greed who was just bigger by nature. On no plane of existence should a raticate be that damn big. "That can't be natural."

"It probably isn't." Gary agreed. "Gramps wants to look her over at some point but she's too damn good to let her off my roster! She wrecked a starmie in the Cerulean Gym without breaking a sweat, not to mention these chumps that challenge me."

"You challenged the Cerulean Gym already?" Ash prompted.

Gary gave him a vain look. "I cleared the Cerulean Gym already. That starmie and seel were nothing to me. The Waterflowers are pushovers. Luckily I got through Mt. Moon before they closed it."

"They closed Mt. Moon?" Ash asked curiously. It wasn't a unique occurrence. Sometimes tunnels collapsed or flooded and the League had to perform maintenance. He did wonder if Leaf passed through it before they had.

"Apparently after that storm down south they put a moratorium on tours and travel through it. It didn't reach up here, so I'm not sure why. You're lucky you went the way of Celadon, otherwise you'd have been caught on the other side."

"Yeah, I guess so. I already got the Rainbow Badge, by the way. I'm near Fuchsia City now, I'll challenge Janine within a few days."

"You're not in Fuchsia yet?"

"Storms held me up." Ash said. "I'm in a smaller place called Stone Town. It's at the base of Evolution Mountain."

"Sheesh, pick it up. You can't be my rival if you're stuck in some dead-end town." Gary snarked at him. "Seriously, it's been about three months already. At least stop into the Safari Zone and fill out your team more. Three 'mons is nothing when you have an extended carry limit, Ashy-boy. You gotta take advantage of those two extra slots you get with Gramp's as your sponsor. You do remember he's sponsoring you, right?"

Mew, he hated that nickname. "Yeah, yeah. Are you one to talk with your five pokemon? That's not even a full roster."

"I have a plan for my future additions, thank you very much. An abra, for one. Can you say the same?" Gary responded triumphantly. He knew that Ash didn't plan his captures with anything more than loose ideas.

Ash hated many things in life, but nothing more than Gary being right. "You're making too much sense. It's unnatural, stop that. Besides, you're going for another psychic-type? Did Natu awaken your third eye?"

Gary shrugged and turned thoughtful. "I planned on getting an abra before I ever left Pallet Town. I'm planning on spending some time looking for one on Route 5 or Route 8. Alakazam are powerful. Catching a natu was a bonus."

Ash supposed he couldn't judge his friend. When Greed and Nut evolved he would have two dark-types on his roster. "Fair enough. Hey, catch a drowzee while you're at it and you'll be on your way to being a specialist."

"Not a bad idea. Not a drowzee though–something about their eyes unsettle me–maybe an exeggcute if I can wrangle it. A meditite too if I can figure out where to get one." Gary said after a moment.

That was not the response he'd expected. "You're actually planning to be a psychic specialist?" Ash asked. Gary had mentioned the thought once or twice when they were younger, but Ash had thought that nothing more than a loose whim. The young Oak had also thought that he'd be a flying-type specialist at one point, so anything was up in the air after that.

Gary nodded. "I was thinking about it, yeah. It's not like I can't catch any other pokemon without it being taboo, Bruno has an onix on his main team and half of Lance's team aren't even dragon-types. Generalists are only common in the lower ranks, Ash, there's a reason most Leagues are composed primarily of specialists."

Gary had a point. The only generalists Ash could think of that had surmounted the League were Cynthia of Sinnoh and Professor Oak. Nearly every other Gym Leader, Elite Four or Champion were type was appeal to it, of course. A trainer with a deep understanding of their team's very being was formidable indeed.

"There are plenty of Rangers and ACE Trainers that are generalists." Ash argued.

"That's why they're Rangers and ACE Trainers." Gary waved his hand in dismissal. "Mostly composed of secondary trainers with no hope to rise in rank. Definitely strong, but not powerful. Do you remember what Mathers used to say about them at the Academy?"

Ash winced. He remembered very well their former teacher's opinions. "Meat shields."

"Exactly." Gary finished. "I'm not knocking you, Ash. There are great generalists out there but they're the minority."

"Do you think I should be a specialist?" Ash asked out of curiosity more than anything. He wouldn't even know what type he would invest in. Dragons would be his first choice but that was out immediately. Champion Lance may have enough birthright and influence to acquire the powerful dragon-types, but Ash certainly did not. The only hope he'd have of getting a dragon would be to shell out mass amounts of cash to the few breeders that dared to handle the powerful pokemon, or traverse into the Great Northern Range. He might travel off the beaten path a bit, but he wasn't suicidal enough to march into the Great Northern Range as a rookie.

By happenstance his specialty would look to be dark-types with both Greed and Nut on his team. Ash found he wasn't opposed to that. Dark-types were not something he'd grown up fascinated by in his youth, but that wasn't necessary. Elite Four Agatha had said she'd expected to be a poison-type specialist in the early days of her career before shifting to her ghost-type specialty.

And, to top it off, his team had made an impression on him. Greed and Nut were irreplaceable. Not to mention there were various other dark-types he'd welcome on his team. He'd never thought about it, but he'd been thinking of capturing various dark-types for months now. Murkrow and houndour among them.

Gary gave an uncommitted grunt. "Up to you. Gramp's never did and he was Champion."

Ash nodded. "What type do you think fits me the best?"

"Honest answer? Bug-types." Gary grinned. "A caterpie fits you perfectly."

He should've known he wouldn't get a serious answer. "Comical." He deadpanned.

"What about you? Any actual ideas besides hoping to stumble upon Mew itself?" Gary asked as he leaned back in his chair. Ash hadn't noticed just how tired his friend looked. Nothing as drastic as huge eyebags, but the droop in his shoulders and the stifled yawn told him all he needed to.

"Kinda?" Ash said with so-so motion of his hand. "I definitely need a few different types. Electric, water, and fire are the most notable, a flier would be good too."

Gary agreed it seemed. "I think so too. With the three pokemon you have now you cover four types. Five if the pancham or seedot evolve."

"When." Ash interrupted quickly. There would be no ifs on that subject. His team would get stronger.

Gary rolled his eyes. "Right, when. Either way, it's not too bad. Could be worse. Bugs are useless for the most part when not looking at something strong like a scyther or fast like a ninjask. The types that are a bit rarer aren't necessary this early on for rookies. Dragons and ghosts and the like. Any pokemon that you have in mind specifically?"

Ash hummed in thought. "For electric-types I was thinking a magneton would be good. Magnezone are powerful and their steel-typing provides some good defense. Pikachu would be good for their speed but Magnezone are just better defensively than Raichu. If I could find an elekid or electrike they'd be great too."

"Boring. They all flock around that Power Station on Route 10 like every other electric-type in Kanto. What's next?"

"For a fire-type I was thinking of a vulpix, but they're only really found at the foot of Cinnabar's volcano. Same with a magby. I know at least one herd of wild ponyta roam on the plains between Fuchsia and Vermillion City. If I can find one, I really like the idea of a houndour."

Gary raised a brow. "Another dark-type?"

"You have no room to judge, psychic specialist." Ash said, unimpressed.

"Fair enough." Gary conceded. "Houndoom are tough pokemon, but the fire-type and dark-type both give 'em a good bit of aggression you'd need to curb. I'd say you'd want a water-type before trying your hand but your graveler would work just as well. That's if you can find a houndour at all. Next."

"I…kinda have no idea what water-types or flying-types to go for." Ash said finally. "Nothing catches my eye."

"Water-types are pretty prevalent everywhere so you shouldn't lack for options, especially with the sea near Fuchsia City. Try the warm waters south of there before you leave. Flying-types are entirely up to you for standards. Pidgeot are good in general, fearow more physical. Dodrio can be strong when trained correctly. Crobat are damn quick. Dealer's choice."

"Skarmory and murkrow are hard to find too." Ash said as he sighed.

Gary gave him a critical gaze. "Something you're trying to tell me, Ash? Houndour and a murkrow? If you wanna be a dark-type trainer just say so."

Ash hummed. "We'll see. I've not even interacted with a dark-type yet. Both of them are just fighting-type and grass-type right now. Their evolutions will give me a feel for it. My seedot has been growing recently. His evolution should be fairly soon."

"Just to let you know, dark-types won't save you from my team. My psychics will trounce your babies easily." Gary gloated.

As much as Gary would be the type to think someone would specialize just to try and beat him, Ash saw the joke for what it was. "Damn, you caught on too quickly. Go easy on me?"

"Only if you do the same."

"Never." They laughed together, as they'd done a thousand times before. "Anyway, where are you headed after Cerulean and your abra hunt?"

"After searching for an abra, I'm headed from Saffron to Celadon then Vermillion. Scyther would be my best bet against Sabrina, but I don't think my team is ready just yet." Gary winced. "She'd tear us down."

A fair assessment. Sabrina was terrifying for experienced trainers and rookies both. She was one of the strongest Leaders in Indigo, behind perhaps only Giovanni and Clair. Though that might say more about the freakish power held by the Gates of Kanto and Johto. It had been something of a shock that Koga had been entered into the Elite Four rather than either of those two. Most chalked it up to neither of the Gates having a proper successor.

Sabrina was at least kinder than the Earthshaker or Dragon Queen and would lower her power suitably to her opponents. Ash couldn't wait to challenge the acclaimed strongest psychic in the world for her badge. With his team at his back, he wouldn't lose. The dark-type's immunity to psychics might also help a bit. "Erika is…something. Scyther and Growlithe should be enough for the Rainbow Badge. You'll enjoy Celadon."

A city vibrant, loud and unendingly flooded with obnoxious lights? Gary would fit right in.

"Good to know. What'd she use on you?"

"A paras and gloom." Ash supplied. "Not anything intimidating. Oh, bring something to plug your nose." Gary seemed confused but agreed nonetheless. Ash had been so tempted to let his friend discover that surprise on his own, but couldn't. No one's nose deserved to suffer like that.

"In that case, bring swim trunks to Cerulean. You will get soaked."

Ash laughed at that. "I'll keep that in mind."

Gary yawned as he checked the time. "After Fuchsia, where are you headed?"

"Vermillion." Ash answered. "Graveler is my lifeline for that battle."

"Unimaginative, but if it ain't broke…" Gary yawned again.

Ash stifled a yawn of his own. Those damn things were contagious. It reminded him of the tiredness he had after trekking the Viridian Forest and mining tunnel. That reminded him of something. "Hey, Gary, did you piss off a kid with samurai armor in the Viridian Forest?"

His friend stopped mid-yawn. Gary grinned. "He challenge you too?"

"That damn metapod…" Ash trailed off.

"Can't forget that pinsir." Gary added. "Did he still have that tacky katana?"

Ash smiled widely. "Oh, he had it." At Gary's behest, Ash told him of just what fate befell that sword.

The Oak cackled.

.—.—.

"So, how do you wanna do this? One-on-one? Two-on-two?" Sparky asked as they took to opposite ends of the field. The unrestricted breeze doing its best to ruffle the spikey yellow hairdo the Gym Leader had. The sheer amount of gel that the blonde would need to maintain that look was frightening.

Ash thought for a second. "How about a two-on-two match? A pokemon of yours and one of Rainer's?"

Rainer looked over from where he stood as referee on the side of the field, Mikey beside him looking on in fascination. The Gym's kadabra stood next to the both of them, keeping up the barrier to protect the spectators and the surrounding area. "I'd be alright with that. Sparky?"

"Sounds fun. If Pyro was here we could do three. Eh, whatever. Ready?" The Gym Leader asked as he palmed a hand over his belt. "We won't use our main teams. We have to give you a fighting chance, y'know."

He wasn't offended by that in the slightest. Ash was no match for a Gym Leader caliber pokemon. "Ready as I'll ever be." In response, a crimson light emerged onto the field.

The electric-type that showed was a quadruped feline. Its blue and black fur was coarse and sparked as its tail whipped back and forth. It unsheathed its claws, which also sparked with electricity, as it turned its yellow eyes at him. A luxio.

Ash hummed as he released his own fighter. He had wanted to test out the newbie when a proper opponent was available and Sparky was the perfect opportunity. Graveler emerged in a flash and eyed down the electric-type across from him as it hissed at him.

Rainer gave them a moment to size up their opponents before swiping his arms downwards. "Graveler against Luxio. Begin!"

"Harden, then Smack Down and Rock Throw." Ash commanded. He didn't want to start off with a move like Earthquake or Bulldoze, it was better if luxio was closer for one of those. Luckily, luxio happened to be a more physical attacker than most other electric-types.

"Ice Bite, then Night Slash and Mud Slap." Sparky rebutted.

Graveler shone with a dull silver as Harden took hold, reinforcing his tough outer shell. He took his two upper arms and threw gobs of Smack Down at the approaching feline. Sparky's pokemon dodged the mud skillfully and maneuvered away from the Rock Throws as well. Ash heard Graveler grunt in annoyance as his enemy refused to be hit.

Graveler used his lower two arms to drop down and crush the ground in his grip. The two handfuls of what was once the battlefield hardened as two more Rock Throws barreled at the rapidly approaching electric-type.

Luxio pounced onto Graveler when it got within range. The Rock Throw finally hit it as it lunged. Its maw gleamed with energy as it bit into the rock pokemon's shell. The Ice Bite, Ash realized, was Bite and Ice Fang melded together. Its claws slashed downward with dark-types energy as Graveler thrashed to get it off of him.

The attacks didn't do much to the nigh-impenetrable shell. The strong shocks that coursed through the fur and claws of the lion-like pokemon doing nothing against Graveler's ground-typing. Ash hummed. It was close like he'd wanted.

"Bulldoze then Rollout." He called.

The attack worked better than he expected. Graveler stomped as he finally shook off the electric-type's hold. The move granulated the very ground around the two battlers causing the luxio's paws to sink as it landed. It hissed as it struggled.

"Double Team." Sparky called out.

Ash groaned as multiple versions of Luxio took the field, each one indistinguishable than the last. It didn't help that Luxio had escaped the ground's grasp and was crisscrossing all of its mirages to make identifying the real one impossible. Graveler tucked his arms into his shell and accelerated forward. A second later his shell, worsened by Harden, impacted the real luxio, then twice and thrice. The Pallet trainer blinked in surprise. How had the graveler known which one was the real one? The weight difference on the ground maybe? He'd have to ask his pokemon later.

Sparky seemed surprised as well. It didn't last long though. "Endure, then Rock Assault."

Damn those code words. Luxio blurred forward as Graveler swiped at it with a massive fist. The electric-type quickly swerved on its paws and shot its hind up into the face of its opponent. Its tail impacted Graveler hard with the might of Iron Tail. The two hind legs used Double Kick to strike the ground-type, the fighting-move proving enough to throw the hundreds of pounds of heavy shell backwards a foot.

It was still within grabbing range. "Grab it. Anchor yourself with Rock Tomb then Magnitude." Ash came up with the unorthodox use of Rock Tomb on the spot. He didn't need Luxio getting away because it had been able to unsteady the massive rock-type once again.

Sparky seemed to go rigid as Luxio was constrained by two arms. Graveler let out one, long bellow as he unleashed a furious tremor. Luxio was right at the center of it all, taking the full brunt of the attack without a way to escape. When Graveler finally released its furred body, it was very much down for the count. Sparky recalled his down pokemon with a frown. If he wanted to say something, he held his tongue.

"Luxio is unable to battle, Graveler is the victor. Round one to Ash." Rainer announced before switching with Sparky. "You sure you only have one badge?"

Ash was confused. "Yeah, just the one."

Rainer hummed and threw a pokeball onto the field. Poliwrath whirled its spiral as it appeared and took in the sight of Graveler. The poliwrath, Ash realized, was the same one that he had seen earlier with Greed.

This was a bad matchup for him. Graveler could only take a few hits from concentrated water-type attacks, so he'd need to return those hits tenfold.

"Poliwrath against Graveler. Begin!" Sparky announced.

"Harden and Defense Curl, use Rollout to get closer and then Magnitude."

"Rain Dance, then Water Pulse and Bubble Beam. Dynamic Punch if it gets close." Rainer ordered.

Ash was entirely unprepared for the speed in which his opponent would follow through. The cloud formed above them within seconds and started throwing down rain. The water attacks followed soon after, striking harsher with the reinforcement of the weather. Graveler's Rollout was met with a Water Pulse that slowed the move down considerably. Poliwrath had actually used his Bubble Beam to strike the Water Pulse. The effect had been the orb being ushered forward with enhanced speed and power. A fascinating work around to a move that moved fairly slowly when launched.

Ash noted that for later. Maybe he could use a version of that with Nut's Energy Ball.

Poliwrath hopped to the side as the rock type approached before leaping forward. Its fist impacted the outer shell hard enough to cause a shockwave in the rain around them. The roar of the graveler reminded Ash of a rockslide as Magnitude quaked the battlefield. Poliwrath leaped and hopped to evade it, but even so was still struck by a stray chunk of earth it kicked up. Graveler's Magnitude was an Earthquake all of its own.

"Hydro Pump then Ice Beam. Finish it with Rock Smash." Rainer's calm voice contrasted to the chaos of the field.

Ash paled as Graveler was struck head on by the powerful water attack. As he was covered in the water of both the falling rain and the attacks, Ice Beam struck him. The ice move froze the water that clung and pooled on his shell. Entire chunks of ice froze to his protective shell.

This was Graveler's last hurrah. Graveler was already swaying on his feet, held up by sheer willpower and spite. Ash was confident the poliwrath could take the next attack without permanent injury. "Trap it with Rock Tomb then Earthquake!"

The psychic barriers thickened immediately. The kadabra was joined by a slowbro and exeggutor to layer more barriers over the others. It grew thick enough that Ash could only make out shapes, the multitude of psychic barricades making it seem as if he was looking through stained glass. He felt the ground rumble and shake despite the dampeners that were surely installed. He heard the earth wrench and tear at the command of his pokemon.

A resounding crash was felt and heard from the other side of the barrier. After the world fell still, the barriers were lessened to a viewable level. Ash sighed as he saw Graveler's slumped form. Poliwrath stood near him.

The water-type looked rough. Its blue body was covered in scrapes, cuts and bruises. Some portions of the tadpole pokemon were oozing blood from the embedded shrapnel of the attacks it had been hit with. Rain Dance had peppered out by the time Graveler was recalled. The ground-type gave as good as he got, Ash would give him that.

"Graveler is unable to battle, Poliwrath is the victor. Round two to Rainer." Sparky announced.

"That's a tough pokemon." Rainer said calmly. "Poliwrath is a bit stronger than I was going to use, but that graveler needed a heavier hand. I would classify Poliwrath worthy of a trainer of four or five badges at the stage I had him battling at. Graveler kept up well despite his heavy weakness. You could use him alone in the Fuchsia Gym and roll out with a win."

Ash already knew Graveler was his toughest pokemon, and not just defensively. Greed and Nut were not weak, but alone they were not enough to take on the fury of the rock/ground-type. Together they had been able to knock him down constantly, but that would not hold true if they faced him one-on-one.

Nut appeared into the ruined battlefield with a determined squeak. The grass-type gave the damage on the field a curious look. "It took down Graveler, be careful." Ash said to his partner. The statement made Nut squint at the battered poliwrath. Nothing that had taken down Graveler was to be underestimated.

"Seedot against Poliwrath. Begin!"

"Buff yourself. Leech Seed and Air Cutter. Energy Ball if it gets too close." Ash commanded immediately. "Keep some distance."

"Ice Beam. Get in close then Dynamic Punch and Circle Throw." Rainer retorted.

Ash frowned as the tadpole pokemon took off. It was still quick despite its injuries, but nothing compared to what it had been. An Ice Beam interrupted Nut's attempts to reinforce himself. Buff was nothing more than Harden and Growth together, a technique that was as primitive as it was essential. It was the same technique Nut had come up with himself way back in Viridian City. Nut desperately needed any edge against an opponent of this caliber. Leech Seed was enough to keep the water/fighting-type at a small distance, but it wasn't intent on letting that remain.

"Mist. Close the gap." Rainer said as he examined the seedot closely. "Send it flying."

"Defog." Ash retorted quickly. That flying-type move was proving itself more and more helpful. He made a note to thank Leaf as well as grab a treat for Glide the next time he saw the bird. Rainer frowned as the Mist was negated in the same instant it appeared. Ash couldn't let Poliwrath make itself any more cover to dodge Nut. Already the blue blur was hopping around the ruins left behind by Graveler's Earthquake to throw off the grass-type's aim.

Finally it made its advance. Nut shot off a Leech Seed that managed to find the poliwrath at last. The Energy Ball that followed was met head on by its target. The poliwrath then did something he had not expected and caught it. A further exam saw that the tadpole pokemon wasn't actually touching it, but rather hoverning mere inches away from it as it rerouted the direction of the orb. Ash had to balk as the pokemon did a circle as if throwing a discus and the ball was sent hurtling back to its creator. Nut hit it with an Air Cutter before it could impact him, causing the attacks to implode in the middle of the field. The dust and shrapnel it kicked up blocked the seedot's view as Poliwrath pushed its advantage.

"Back off!" Ash ordered quickly. It was too late as the fighting-type was already on him. Nut was struck hard by the Dynamic Punch and was sent sprawling backwards. He was then picked up and, much like Poliwrath had done with the Energy Ball, began spinning in a circle. The Circle Throw sent the grass-type shooting off violently.

Nut didn't let it go unpunished though. The Energy Ball that struck Poliwrath in its spiral proved that well enough. Still, Ash watched as his partner slumped against the psychic barrier after he landed with a resounding smack. The rookie sighed and went to return his pokemon.

He stopped as the field was enveloped in a blinding white light. Rainer and Sparky watched in silent interest, contrasting to Mikey's excited hoots from the sidelines. Nut's form extended and grew under the glow of the evolutionary light. The pokemon emerged a seedot no longer.

The grass-type had actual limbs now. Two legs and two arms that he flexed excitedly. The hands were enormous compared to the thin arms they were attached to. Similarly, the bulky thighs made the flat feet seem small in comparison. The beige mask-like marking still adorned his face but a large, pointy nose now joined it. A large green leaf now took the spot of where the seedot's stem had been.

Ash felt his face twitch into a smile. "Let's finish this, buddy!"

Nut, now a nuzleaf, grinned (he had a mouth now!) and sent his arms shooting forward. Multitudes of razor sharp leaves shot towards Poliwrath, slicing and stabbing at whatever part they could reach. Razor Leaf, Ash realized, must have been learnt upon his evolution. Sloppy, but he could work with that.

"Ice Beam." Rainer ordered. The water-type specialist smiled at the scene despite the circ*mstances.

"Razor Leaf to get some cover, then Solar Beam!" Ash commanded, louder than was strictly necessary. No time like the present to see how well evolution would help manage the powerful grass-type move.

The swarm of green foliage appeared and assaulted Poliwrath as it sent the frozen beam of ice-type energy in return. Nut was able to dodge it, his longer and more muscular legs making evasion so much easier.

The Ice Beam only just missed the nuzleaf. Still, the evolution of Ash's pokemon proved itself as Solar Beam was gathered quicker than it had ever been before. As a seedot, the fastest Nut had ever been able to gather and send the powerful grass-type attack was fifteen seconds. Now, it only took five. It was an eternity for any pokemon in the Elite level of battling, but this was far from that. At this stage, a ten second cut made it seem as though it was instantaneous. The bright green streak struck Poliwrath in the center of his spiral.

The tadpole sent one last desperate Ice Beam at its opponent. It was a futile effort as the water-type met the immovable psychic barrier with a collision vicious enough Ash was worried it wouldn't walk straight again. Still, the fighter got to his feet. It took one step. Then another. It faltered on the third step and collapsed to the ground, unconscious.

Ash's face split itself with a grin. He would be lying if he said his cheers didn't drown out Mikey's own. Nut gave his own voice to the celebrations. The Pallet rookie waited as Poliwrath was recalled and the barriers dropped before approaching his newly evolved partner.

He refused to let any last second nervousness slow down his stride. Nut was freshly evolved and new to the dark-type energies that flowed through him, both of which were a notorious combination in the making of a rebellious pokemon. Better to make sure that notion didn't stick.

The nuzleaf looked at Ash as he came to stop in front of him. The trainer gave his pokemon a smile. "You're amazing, buddy."

Nut snickered as he held out his mitten-like fists. Ash laughed as he gave his pokemon a fist bump. "You're taller than Greed now." The teen noted. And taller he was, by about three inches. "He won't like that."

The pokemon gave a laugh that, while itself was not menacing, sent shivers down Ash's spine. A portion of Ash's mind seemed to snuggle itself with energy foreign to him as Nut laughed within his mind. Distortion washed over him as his partner's very being seemed to contrast against the liveliness of the world. Nut made a little sphere in the area that seemed to mute his own thoughts.

Well, that would take some getting used to. Now, to get his pokemon healed up and rations stockpiled. Afterwards, it was onwards once again to Fuchsia City, trekking through mud and gunk.

Suddenly that prospect sounded less than appealing.

.—.—.

Ash heard the bell above the door jingle as he entered the shop. It was a small establishment, humble and welcoming. Nothing compared to a Pokemart or, Mew forbid, the supercenter that is the Celadon Department Store.

An older woman stood behind the wooden counter. Graying hair framed the sides of her face, making her features more prominent. Her eyes met his and twinkled. "Hello, young man! Welcome to this little shop of mine."

"Good morning. Mrs. Alpin? Sparky sent me. He said it was a good place to stock up." Ash told her as he looked at the shelves. Antiques littered the displays, drawing contrast to the food items that couldn't have been more than freshly stocked. "I'm just heading to Fuchsia City. A couple days of rations will be enough."

She clicked her tongue. "Sparky trying to curry some favor? Either way, the trainer rations are near the door there." She pointed a long finger just past his shoulder. "The pokemon feed is on the shelf to your right. Look around if you'd like, I'll be here."

Ash did just that. The rations were picked up first, his and his team's both, before he took his time browsing the displays. The shelves seemed full of the randomest things. One shelf held books of varying authors and genres, and another held wooden figures that had been whittled with precision.

A wooden espeon caught his eye, as did the accompanying figure of an eevee. This town had some obsession with eevees and their evolutions. The brothers, the monument and now these figures. With the history of Evolution Mountain, he supposed he shouldn't be terribly surprised.

Nothing caught his eye as a necessary expense so he just took his rations to the counter. He laid his selections down in front of the older woman and she gave him a smile. Ash was ready to pay and bid her a goodbye but something caught his eye. It looked almost like a walkie-talkie toy that he'd have played with when he was a kid. The lady traced his gaze and grabbed it for him.

"It's a radio." She informed him. "With the radio towers in Goldenrod City and Lavender Town, there aren't many places in Indigo where it can't find a signal. A good idea if you plan on attempting to keep up with the outside world while you travel."

Ash made up his mind and added it to his pile. An up-to-date news broadcast would be a welcome change. Freshly stocked, he was ready for the road. He'd said his goodbyes to the eevee brothers already and was ready to head out. Mournfully, he'd rejected Sparky's offer for a teleport to Fuchsia.

The offer was tempting, tantalizingly so, but Nut needed the time to acclimate to his new form before the Fuchsia Gym. Even if he wouldn't be used in the battle–Ash wasn't sure just yet which members he would use yet–it wasn't just his form that was necessary to get used to either. The newly acquired dark-type was pumping foreign energies into Nut that his buddy had not gotten adjusted to just yet.

Nut's evolution was Ash's first proper experience with a true dark-type pokemon. It took a little getting used to at first. The chill that had rattled his bones the first time the nuzleaf got angry was a unique experience. The aura the pokemon gave off was also different. It was hard to put into words. More alien. With a jolt, Ash realized that his stalker reminded him of that feeling too.

It made sense to a degree. The dark-type, psychic-type, and ghost-type are all connected to the world in strange ways. Ash had read somewhere that trainers with the trio often said the pokemon took up residence in their subconscious to an extent. Psychics mentioned the phenomenon more than any others. The trio could communicate to some level with their trainers. Again, psychics did so more often and with more clarity than the others.

The stalker was likely a psychic-type if its clear communication was any indicator. It still didn't help Ash narrow down its species, but it was better than nothing. Said stalker had actually been quiet as of yet. Even when it hadn't talked to him he'd always been able to sense that it was there. That sense had vanished when Nut evolved. It would return periodically if the nuzleaf was in his pokeball or far enough away from Ash's person.

Greed had taken to his teammate's evolution with gusto. Maybe it was the competition between them, or maybe the panda was affected by the residual dark energy. Either way the pancham was throwing himself into his training. The spars between the two had become near brawls enough times that Ash had to now watch them to prevent that.

Graveler was neutral about Nut's new form. The rock pokemon seemed more annoyed at his own loss to Poliwrath than anything else. It was pushing the rock/ground-type to put more work into his training so Ash saw it was a win. Graveler was still

After two days of traveling through the mud of Route 18, Fuchsia City was finally insight.

Fuchsia was radically different from the rest of Kanto. Ash had seen the difference in a metropolis like Celadon to a small town like Pallet. Still, Fuschia was unique. The citizens of the city had never lost their traditional roots. The architecture spoke of all the history that the city shouldered.

Black and whites were prominently displayed as the primary colors on most structures. The occasional purples and teals were eye-catching when contrasted against the nearly gray scaled city.

Before the formation of the Indigo League, when Kanto was composed of city-states that vied for power, Fuchsia was looked down upon as unhonorable. Honor and chivalry were held in high esteem in those days. Fuschia was in open plains with only sparse forests and tall grasses around for concealment. It lacked the natural defenses of a city like Pewter or the might of the ancient Saffron mystics. Seclusion was the only factor benefiting the city. So, Fuchsia was the home that gave birth to the shinobi.

The shinobi–or assassins or ninjas, whichever titles one preferred–were the way in which Fuchsia's clans remained unbroken and unconquered from their warring neighbors. Trading in sheer might for stealth worked well. As the history books would say, they learned from nature. They weaved through grasses like an ekans waiting to strike.

They might not be the Wataru of Blackthorn, but the Sekichiku Clan of Fuchsia were still alive and going strong. Elite Four Koga was their shining example. The paragon that expressed their history in every step he took. Ash felt the weight of such a long kept culture the minute he entered the city.

Ash found not a single home above three stories. The Pokemon Center seemed the tallest structure in the area. Even the Fuchsia Gym, which he'd thought he'd spot immediately, was nowhere to be found. Whether it was because he hadn't come across it or because it blended in with the buildings around it he wasn't sure.

There were no bright lights or flashing neons to be found. This was not Celadon. This place was one of the larger cities in Kanto, but it still seemed untouched to the modern vices that prowled the other cities of the region. There appeared to be not even a single light post or electrical wire in sight, though Ash could see some houses with modern lightning. Were they underground? That didn't seem likely but any other options seemed even more farfetched.

Ash grabbed a room at the Center before giving his pokemon over to Nurse Joy to be looked after. He'd used the Revitalization Machine at Sparky's Gym before leaving Stone Town–something he'd thanked the eevee brothers for immensely–but that was days ago. Not to mention that Nurse Joy would be more than angry if he didn't even have Nut looked at after his evolution. The healthcare professional gave him a buzzer to let him know when his team was ready.

Given that his team needed some rest, Ash thought he'd check out the city of ninjas on his lonesome. Not that he wouldn't do that even if he had his team. History wasn't the favorite subject of discussion with his pokemon. Graveler was Graveler, enough said, but at least Greed and Nut would entertain his talks. The both of them couldn't care less about most of it, true, but they listened at least.

Fuchsia City was rather bland. Ash didn't mean to insult the place. Rather, it was just a simple truth. At a glance, nothing remarkable popped out in the city. Subtly was a practice well executed among the shinobi. There was a reason the only tourist destination near the city was the Safari Zone, a reserve that had been formed centuries after the need for the city's stealth was curtailed.

Ash's first stop was dinner. The sun was setting and his stomach was rumbling. The PC's recommendation had given him a more downbeat local restaurant to try his luck at rather than one of the few tourist flavored ones near the harbor. The food he ordered looked to match the city perfectly, bland yet nutritious. Yet, after a single bite Ash was ready for another. High in protein, minimal fat, and portions that were well regulated. Enough to make you full but not encumber you. Fitting for the city of ninjas.

The Pallet Town teen was so taken with his meal he nearly missed the buzzer that was shaking his pocket. When he reluctantly convinced himself to leave and go retrieve his pokemon he gave the chef a glowing review, left a hefty tip, and made his way out.

His team was retrieved without hassle. Nut's evolution had gone swimmingly and the only thing truly hurt on Graveler was his ego. Greed was as hale as ever.

Ash would be lying if he said he didn't want to immediately race to the Fuchsia Gym. He was ready to race across the city to locate and challenge Janine for the Soul Badge, but was stopped by a few factors. The most glaring of which being that the sun had set and wouldn't be coming back up on his demands. Another being he wanted his partners at their full potential for such an important occasion.

The Gym could wait one more night, it wouldn't go anywhere. Tomorrow would be the day he obtained his second badge.

.—.—.

Ash was right, the Gym hadn't gone anywhere. Janine on the other hand…

"She's away?! For how long?" Ash asked the clerk.

The front desk of the Fuchsia Gym–which he'd finally located in the morning with Nurse Joy's assistance–seemed to creak as he leaned on it. The lady behind the desk adjusted her glasses as she shrugged. "Depends on the League's assignment, kid. Could be later today or the end of the week. I just take names and answer the phone." He must have made a face because she scowled at him. "The Gym isn't busy so the League sent Janine on business. Take it up with the Elites."

Ash left the Gym in a foul mood. His team, as well as himself, had expected a battle that morning. Battling the few trainers passing through the city was better than nothing, but not a replacement for a Gym challenge. He let himself spit on the ground outside the Gym as he mentally imagined wringing the neck of the clerk.

The thought gave him some sick satisfaction before Ash shook his head in shock. Where had that come from? He'd never had a thought that violent for something completely out of someone's control. Maybe the road was getting to him more than he thought. A few days in Fuchsia would probably do him some good.

Either way, as annoying as it was to have his goals completely undercut there wasn't anything he could do about it. He figured that training was the best use of the time. Complacency was the death of progress, as Professor Oak would say.

Greed was finally rounding out the elemental punches with Thunder Punch. The panda was able to use both Fire Punch and Ice Punch in tandem consistently and had earned it. Ash administered the TM and let his partner have some space to figure out the new energy. The way the electricity sparked off the pokemon's fist was interesting. It reminded Ash of the Thunder Stone in his backpack.

Nut was starting from the basics of dark-type moves. Some basic dark-type moves would better help him orient himself to his new typing. Learning to control it rather than let it control him. Torment was up first as a fairly simple move. Then Sucker Punch or Payback, whichever the nuzleaf wanted first.

After the two had finished their new moves, they were going to switch into working with each other more often. There were a couple of reasons for it. He wanted the nuzleaf and pancham to work on dark-type moves together, which was a positive of its own, and to also see if the new energy from Nut would rub off on the panda pokemon. It might not be overnight but the supplemental dark-type aura should help his starter along in evolution.

Graveler, injured pride and all, was starting on Rock Polish. The move was simple and would be easily learned, but Ash was excited for the possibilities it afforded. After Rock Polish, Sandstorm was looking like a good addition to the pokemon's offensive heavy movepool. Weather and field altering moves were something he hadn't yet dabbled in and he was excited the possibilities they afforded.

After both of the new moves were perfected Ash wanted to try his hand at some techniques he had in mind for the rock-type.

The rock-type's disdain was clear. He wasn't a fan of a move that wasn't directly shoring up his defense or offense. Something like Rock Polish, which would improve his speed, was looked down upon. Ash figured the boulder wouldn't be a fan of the Dig TM either when they got around to learning it. Sandstorm could at least be spun to make the pokemon see it more favorably.

Ash called the training session to a close after lunch. If Janine did return he didn't want to need to rest his team. If he wasn't able to challenge the Gym then he'd put his mind to something he'd planned on doing that day anyway. He made sure his fishing pole, lures, and license were in good shape and on hand before heading south.

The harbor sat at the seafront of Fuchsia, just barely outside the limits of the city. A few ships sat anchored at the docks. None were large ships, a Seagallop ferry was the largest vessel within the dockyard. There were no massive cruise liners that graced the city when they could instead bypass the feudalistic city and go onwards to Vermillion.

Ash passed the harbor in favor of a location farther down the shore. He eventually passed a breakwater constructed a good distance away, the structure intended to protect against and break up any rogue waves or storm surges. There were some rocky outcroppings a good distance away from the boatyard and past the breakwater that Ash eyed as a good spot that would let his fishing rod reach further. He pulled his cap down to get the noon sun out of his eyes as he shouldered his bag higher and ventured forward.

The wet rocks were hazardous. Ash took his steps carefully so as to not slip on the water covered stones as he rounded the outcroppings. His boots were a life saver with their no-slip soles and water resistant nature. Luckily he didn't stumble on his way.

Ash took a second after reaching the end of the rocks. The view was great. Small waves lapped at the sandy shore and the rocky outcroppings. The foam gathered on the shore as each surf came and deposited it. The sound reminded him of a white noise machine his mother had bought years before.

The teen breathed in the salty breeze deeply before exhaling. Ash was planning on making his cast here, but he smiled as he spotted a far better location further down the shore. A cove that was sheltered by the surrounding crags. He made sure of his footing as he continued on to his new destination.

Finally, after almost losing his balance a hundred times, he jumped down from the rocks and found his feet on stable ground. The sand sunk his boots down with each step he took; no yellow grains found their way into the footwear thankfully. Ash smiled at the scenery. Perfect.

Ash was quick to release his team. There may not be any pokemon in sight but that didn't mean much this close to the sea. That wasn't to mention the dozens of hiding places along the crags and among the stones. He was surprised he didn't already have krabby snapping at his ankles in a cove like this.

Greed immediately made his dissatisfaction known. The sand was finding its way into every crevice of his fur it could get to and his legs were sinking even further than Ash's.

Nut was the opposite. The nuzleaf's feet were wide enough to spread his weight out more evenly. The dispersal gave him the ability to all but glide over the ground without sinking. The wily pokemon seemed to be just as fond of the open sunshine as always. Ash knew Graveler would sooner let his pokeball be thrown into the ocean with him in it than be released in an area he'd assuredly be assaulted by nonstop sandpits, so he elected to spare them both the trouble.

Ash hummed as Greed growled at Nut. A challenge if he'd ever heard one. "Hey, not now. After I cast for a couple hours I'll let you two get a good spar in. Maybe sooner if we catch something early. I want you both to watch my back. Last thing I need is a gyrados biting me in half because you knocked each other out."

Greed rumbled, miffed, but accepted it. The panda was nothing if not loyal. Nut similarly acquiesced to Ash's demand. The grass-type had a new battle hungry streak in him since his evolution but wasn't openly rebellious so far.

With that, Ash shrugged off his bag and dug through it. He pulled out his pen-sized fishing pole and extended it. The red–and of course it was red–pole was almost as long as Ash was tall. His little box of lures and hooks were set beside his bag as he carefully selected which one to use. Lucky that they each came with a little excerpt in the manual about their intended use and best waters to test them in. He picked his lure and attached it to the end of the metallic rod. The medium sized red lure was shaped like a newly hatched magikarp, a favorite meal for most any hungry water-type.

Ash gave a test cast onto the sand to understand the weight. The magikarp lure went flying with only a modicum amount of force behind the cast. Ash smiled. Soon enough he took a step back and let the lure sail through the air. It plopped into the water fifty feet off the shore. Ash sat on a laid out towel as he slowly reeled in and waited for a bite.

He didn't wait long. The line tugged almost immediately. The rod was pulled nearly from Ash's hands because he was unprepared for it. He recouped himself and gave a harsh tug to set the hook. After a minute of fighting the water-type on the other end, Ash reeled the last few inches of line in and examined his catch.

A goldeen. About average size. Not something he was psyched about adding to his team. He winced as it flopped on the line and nearly jabbed him with its horn. Greed huffed as Ash called him over. Without Ash needing to elaborate, the fighting-type knew what his job was. The pancham grabbed the fish as Ash unhooked it. Greed flung the fish twenty feet from the shore. The goldeen disappeared beneath the waves.

Ash gave himself a pat on the back for both a good cast and a catch immediately. "Thanks, bud." Greed huffed.

Ash cast once more and would once again bring in another water-type. It would remain that way for a good while. Each cast seemed to catch another pokemon. Perhaps the diversion of water-types of the coast was to attribute or maybe people didn't fish this particular cove. He'd like to think a little bit of credit was due for his own fishing skills.

What he reeled up was never anything Ash was ready to add to his team though. Plenty of magikarps, goldeen, and poliwag. The occasional remoraid and luvdisc made an appearance too. Ash had to marvel at the sad little wishiwashi he reeled up before letting it loose. Greed was handy in tossing back the more unhappy catches.

Ash was nearly ready to pack up his pole and let his pokemon spar when he reeled in his best catch yet. It was a magikarp. There was nothing special about the fish's species–magikarp being the most common water-type in the world left very little room for any awe –but the color of it was certainly eye-catching.

The golden magikarp reflected the sun as if it was a mirror. It was young; barely big enough to swallow the lure and only a third of the size of a grown magikarp. It was likely why it hadn't been hunted already, it was young enough it hadn't had the chance for any predators to spot its color. If Ash threw it back and gave it a week he expected it would be swallowed whole by any number of carnivorous pokemon.

The rookie hummed as he reached for an unoccupied pokeball from the pocket on his bandelier. He'd be lying if he said he was capturing the fish for its own good. No, that was pretty far from the truth. A golden magikarp–most definitely a carrier of the 'shiny' gene–would sell for a large sum of money. Professor Oak would also want a chance to study it and Ash would refuse the man scarce few things.

As he was about to tap the device to the golden scales of the water-type, it was quickly snatched from his sight. The teen was caught off guard as the thief submerged quickly and he didn't get a proper look at the offender. An instant later Ash was fighting that very something on the end of his pole that had grabbed the magikarp. He growled deep in his throat. That magikarp was his!

The hook was still set in the magikarp's mouth giving Ash the chance to reel it back in. He was fighting this thief with all his strength. And he was losing fairly handily. "Greed! Help me pull!" Ash commanded quickly. "Nut, get ready to hit this thing with an Energy Ball! Greed, Thunder Punch it when we get it out of the water!"

His team lept into action. Greed was quickly at the feet of his trainer and taking control of the fishing pull. It only took the powerful fighting-type one yank to see the magikarp flying from the water with the thief attached to it. Two large pincers were clamped tight onto the white pectoral and tail fins of the water-type, refusing to let go. Vice Grip, if Ash had to guess. The thief was finally forced to drop the fish in its pincers as Nut hit it with a Energy Ball. Its shell took the effective move surprisingly well as the crustacean gurgled angrily.

The red-shelled pokemon sent a Bubble Beam at the nuzleaf in retaliation. Ash gave the attacking pokemon a little bit of credit at that. Bubble Beam was not a move learned easily for most wild pokemon. Most stuck to the easier learnt Water Gun. Greed took that moment to strike it with a Thunder Punch that sent shocks across its shell. The water-type clicked its pincers angrily as it began to slowly back up back to the sea. Not to flee, Ash noted with surprise, but to have a better position to attack from.

Ash's decision was instant. He was capturing this ruffian. He wasn't sure what it was—it very vaguely reminded him of a krabby—but it didn't matter. It was his now. "Nut, cut it off from the water with Razor Leaf! Greed, Thunder Punch again!"

As the Razor Leaf blocked the sea from their newest opponent, Ash took the chance to throw a pokeball at the now flailing magikarp. The golden fish was sucked in without resistance. The unmoving red capture device fell to the sand.

Seeing its meal disappear sent the attacking water-type into a fit. It loosened another Bubble Beam at Nut before scuttling forward and shooting both pincers at Greed. Vengeance shone in its saucer-like eyes. The Double Hit struck Greed in the belly. The pancham growled as he returned the hit with a Thunder Punch on both fists. The crustacean seemed surprised it hadn't done more before it was fried by the electric-type move.

Ash removed another pokeball and tossed it at their downed opponent. It captured the ruffian with a flash of crimson and fell to the sandy beach. A slight tremble and a shake made Ash think it was going to break out. Finally, it fell still with a click.

The rookie grinned. Water-type acquired. Now, time to figure out just what it was.

.—.—.

Ash fell into his pillow with a deep sigh. It had to be him. His newest addition needed introductions, preferably that night. Still, he reached out and squeezed a second pillow tightly. Of all water-types that he could have caught, it was difficult to believe he'd caught one of the very few that Gary would get a laugh out of.

A corphish.

The water-type was a great addition to his roster by all accounts. A tough pokemon with potential that Ash could mold. A stalwart resolve and ambition a trainer could only hope for. Yes, Corphish was a great capture and Ash didn't regret throwing that pokeball.

It was simply bad luck that Corphish's evolution, a crawdaunt, happened to be a dark-type. The only other water/dark-types Ash could think of off the top of his head was sharpedo and its pre-evolution, carvanha. Fortunately it was not the sharp teeth of a sharpedo that had stolen the magikarp from Ash's line. He sincerely doubted Magikarp would be in one piece had it been. As it was, the fish was left in rough shape from Corphish's pincers. Nothing to worry about according to Nurse Joy, so that was good at least.

Ash only let himself rest his head for a moment more before forcing himself from his room. He'd only come up to change from his wet clothes. There was still light outside and he had plenty of things to do. Pick up his newest augments to his team from Joy, call Professor Oak, and then introduce himself to Corphish.

With a groan, he emerged from his room in a fresh set of clothing. Nurse Joy handed him his pokemon and he was off to make that call to the professor. Thankfully it was a quick call. The researcher, unsurprisingly, would very much like to study the golden magikarp. It wasn't hard to arrange a transfer from the Center to the man's lab. Ash let the more experienced man do whatever research he wanted with the fish as long as the Oak agreed to find a suitable buyer for it after he was done. A bargain that they could both appreciate.

Finally, it was time to make a first impression. Well, second first impression.

Greed and Nut stood to his sides as he palmed the ball holding Corphish. Graveler stood a few feet away, watching with poorly hidden interest. The rock pokemon had gotten a run down of the day. As Ash had expected, the rock-type held no love for the sandy beach he'd described but seemed at least passingly interested in the water-type they'd captured. Ash would take it over the pokemon's usual neutrality.

The corphish was released with a flash. The ruffian pokemon gave the area a few slow blinks before seeming to remember what had happened. It didn't do more than raise its pincers. Said pincers were bigger than Ash had thought from a distance, roughly the same size as the pokemon's head. A sign of good health.

The three large spikes adorned the top of its head, their purpose likely to show age or battle prowess for attracting mates. Three pairs of legs, each one for maneuvering in the sea and on rugged terrain, scuttled as the pokemon crept around. The lower halves of its pincers and underbelly were cream-colored rather than the vibrant red of the upper shell that seemed to catch the sun.

"Hello, Corphish." Ash greeted, "I'm sure you remember us." It gurgled. It didn't sound angry just yet, which Ash was glad for. "You're tough. Stronger than most other pokemon around here, right? It's why I didn't see any krabby or kingler on that beach, you took it for your own." The crustacean clicked its pincers together. Pride shone in its eyes at the recognition. A gurgle followed.

Ash hunched down. "Listen, you fought my team. You know they're pretty tough. Join us and I can promise you that I'll help you evolve to be the strongest crawdaunt you can find." The water-type gurgled and blew a small stream of bubbles at the teen. Ash took that as agreement.

Corphish wasn't a complicated pokemon. He was strong and wanted to be stronger. Not a rare attitude among pokemon.

"Introductions are in order then." Greed and Nut approached as Ash beckoned them. "This is Greed, my starter. He's been with me the longest. Nut is the grass-type. He's just evolved and gained the dark-typing like you will someday." Corphish seemed interested as it clicked its pincers in greeting. "Graveler is the rock-type staring you down. He's the newest addition before you. Don't worry about him, he's a grump." Graveler grumbled at the description but remained otherwise silent.

Corphish seemed to examine the team critically. It gurgled and scuttled back and forth glancing at his new teammates before staring back at Ash. "Okay, I'm going to scan you with my Dex quick." The red machine scanned the pokemon in an instant and let the rookie view the information.

Corphish, the pre-evolution to crawdaunt, are some of the hardiest water-types one can find. From saltwater to freshwater and even in polluted or stagnant waters, this pokemon's vitality is something to admire. The pincers of corphish serve many purposes. Weapons that settle most any dispute the pokemon might find itself in, as well as vices to catch any pokemon it deems fit for consumption. Water-types, such as magikarp, are the preferred diet of this crustacean. Large pincers and head spikes, as well as healthy coloring, equate to good power and health and are used to attract mates in the wild.

Corphish and their evolution molt their shell regularly. Immediately after molting, its body is soft and tender. Until the shell hardens again, this pokemon hides in its watery burrows to avoid combat. A healthy molt will immediately be consumed by the corphish for its nutrients. This recycling of lost nutrients, such as calcium, helps to quicken the hardening process of the new shell. It is strongly recommended that trainers with recently shed corphish do not engage in battle with them. Calcium supplements are recommended to further fasten the process, but damage to an unhardened shell can be permanent. All corphish, similar to the krabby-line, naturally have the ability Shell Armor.

Warning: The evolution of this specimen is of the dark-type. Should it prove too difficult to train, contact your sponsor or the Rangers for further information.

This specimen is male and can perform the moves Bubble Beam, Vice Grip, Double Hit, and Razor Shell. It has an egg move; Mud Sport. Its abilities are Hyper Cutter and Shell Armor.

That wasn't bad, not at all. Mud Sport was a welcome surprise. It would help mitigate one of his natural weaknesses in electric-types. Yes, he could work with that. Ash shook his head from his thoughts. He could plan training regiments later. "Do you want a name? Greed and Nut both have one." The water-type thought about it before giving an emphasized snap of its pincers. "I'll take that as a yes. How about Atlas?"

The corphish rejected it immediately. Ash was only slightly disappointed. He'd liked that name for years. He started rattling off any name that came to mind. "Tidal, Brine, Marine, Douse, Tide, Aqua, Tempest, Abyss, Torrent." Ash stopped to breathe after they were all rejected. Maybe Corphish wanted something more personal. "How about Crest? You'll have a pretty prominent one after you evolve. Or Cove after the one you took over?"

The crustacean gurgled loudly and snapped its claws open and closed in excitement. Ash had stumbled into a perfect name. "Cove?" Another excited gurgle. "Okay, Cove it is. Good to have you on board, buddy."

Ash checked over his shoulder. The sun was setting soon, within the hour.

Well, no time like the present to break in the newbie. Not to mention he still owned his team a training session in the dark and Ash wasn't one to break his word.

.—.—.

Cove was acclimating to the team well. The lobster-like pokemon seemed to share the drive and battle lust of his other members. Greed, Nut and Cove were going to wreak havoc when they all evolved. Just one dark-type was a toll he wasn't expecting to bear before obtaining Greed, now he had a future of three dark-types. Cove's evolution was a bit in the future, but Ash just couldn't be sure about Greed's. The pancham hadn't grown majorly since they'd set out from Pallet. Maybe an inch of fur—he needed to get his starter groomed at some point; the pancham would probably enjoy it—but no actual height.

Cove wasn't like Graveler, thank Mew. The rock-type's troublesome introduction was still fresh on Ash's mind weeks later. The thought made him pause in his tracks. Just how long had it been since he left Pallet Town?

A week on Route 1, another week stuck in Viridian, an entire month with just the Viridian Forest and mining tunnel. A few days in Celadon and another few on Route 16. Two weeks on Route 17, then a week on Route 18 and a couple days from the detour to Stone Town. Not to mention the storms that held him up. Now, he found himself in Fuschia City waiting for Janine. Wow, it really was just under three months since he started his journey. How time flies.

It didn't help that he was hitting the longest stretches in the region earlier than other trainers. The central cities of Kanto were often referred to as the Gauntlet. Saffron, the crossroads of the region, led trainers to Celadon, Cerulean, or Vermillion. Each one posed their own challenges to a trainer's career, but together they formed a wall that every trainer needed to surmount.

Most followed the standard Gym Circuit starting in Pewter then moving to Cerulean.

After Cerulean, the rookie trainers moved south. The third gym in the standard rotation had long been Saffron, but Sabrina had curtailed that on her first day as Gym Leader. Similarly, Surge had done the same when those trainers flocked to Vermillion.

Celadon was the agreed upon third Gym nowadays, with most making the trek to Fuchsia afterwards. Erika and Janine were just more appealing targets than the other Leaders. After circling back to central Kanto, those same rookies just might stand a chance against the teams of Surge and Sabrina.

The first badge was always the easiest. The second badge was also, for the general population, not unachievable. But the difficulty increased significantly starting at a trainer's third badge. As trainers, the only easy day was yesterday.

Ash thought about his progress and smiled. He'd come a long way and he wasn't stopping now.

Ash walked the path he'd been pointed toward by the ever helpful Nurse Joy. It was leading him north and away from the limits of Fuchsia City. After a moderate trek, his goal came into sight.

The Safari Zone in Fuchsia's territory was the largest pokemon preserve in the world. The refuge was roughly two hundred square miles of pure wilderness prowled by dozens of Rangers and Ace Trainers. The League protected the Zone as one of Indigo's premier attractions and conservation programs. There were dozens of rare and endangered species inhabiting the area that the League defended zealously. Kangaskhan, lapras, and even the rare dratini could be found in the various areas of the Zone.

Ash had done his research about the Safari Zone. He knew what to expect. A large fee of three thousand dollars to enter with a six hour limit and thirty unique Safari Zone pokeballs. Another thing unique about the refuge was that trainers weren't allowed to attack any pokemon within the borders of the preserve. In essence they threw their allotted pokeballs and hoped they stuck. It was why they were given so many of them. Ash spotted the building that was the welcoming center for the Zone. He entered without a second thought. Immediately he was welcomed in.

"Hello!" A girl behind the front desk greeted him. "Welcome to the Fuchsia City Safari Zone. Are you a trainer?" As Ash nodded, she smiled. "Perfect! If you have your identification and payment, I can get you set up with your allotted Safari Balls in a few minutes!"

Ash gave her his license and payment, both he had at the ready, as he looked around the lobby. Large electric screens showed the various areas in the Safari Zone. A prairie area, jungle sector, mountainous territory and much more. The swamps made him laugh considering that was probably the natural state of the area before the League set up the preserve. More screens flash near each sector detailing the potential pokemon typically found in each area. Scyther in the jungle, kangaskhan in the plains, the lakes inhabited by the ever rare dratini or lapras. All were incredibly tempting for Ash to hunt down. However, he only had six hours.

"Alright!" The girl said as she handed back his ID and slid over a sheet of paper. "Quick rules and a waiver to sign then you're good to go. The waiver gives it to you in detail, but I'll give you a rundown. No attacking the pokemon within the preserve, the only reason a pokemon of yours should be out is for self-defense. You're only permitted to use the allotted Safari Balls to capture any pokemon within the preserve. The Safari Zone also reserves the right to confiscate any pokemon part of a limited population or part of a specific breeding program. Currently, that means any kangaskhan, lapras, tangela, lickitung, scyther, dratini or chansey are bound to be confiscated. Everything else is fair game so long as you catch them in accordance with the rules!"

Ash frowned. He wasn't necessarily planning on hunting any of those in particular. Still, they were pokemon he wouldn't mind having. Scyther and dratini were seriously tempting pokemon. Scyther would solve his flying-type conundrum at the very least. He signed his name down quickly as he accepted a pouch full of miniaturized Safari Balls. "Any chance you could point me in the direction of a good place to look?"

The girl reached behind her and withdrew a pamphlet with a map on it. "Here, this can lead you around. Any pokemon in particular?"

"Nothing specifically."

"My suggestion would be to look for a flier in the canopy of the forests or the heights of the mountains. Fire-types like a dozen different areas but try the rocky crags. Water-types are in the lakes and ponds. Grass-types like the tall grasses or the forest. Our newest shipment of pokemon were rehomed to the Safari Zone just a few days ago straight from Galar, so they might be good choices if you find them! Good luck!"

Ash thanked her. He gathered his supplies and quickly made his way to the exit. Without preamble Ash made his journey into the wilds of the Zone.

.—.—.

Notes:

New chapter is done! Pretty quick, if I do say so myself. Some important story beats this chapter, and a new addition to the team. We'll get to see Cove more later.

The next chapter is going to be an interlude to catch up with someone else other than Ash. Who sounds more interesting, Gary or Ethan? We'll get both of them eventually, but one has got to come first. Let me know what you all think, it might just influence me.

Thanks for reading. Comments are appreciated!

Chapter 7: Interlude I: Pyrite

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

.—.—.

Ethan's journey had officially started. Later than nearly every other rookie this season, but that just drove him harder. The southern trek to Hawthorn left Ethan with a strange feeling of nostalgia. Ethan loved Pallet Town. The ruggedness of the town was his paradise for years now. Pallet Town was where he had made his friends and placed his roots.

Yet, New Bark Town weighed in his thoughts. Pallet had its own grand appeal, but it wasn't the same. Pallet wasn't the place he'd been born and raised. It wasn't truly hishome.

He was glad he'd been born into the small New Bark Town rather than one of Johto's mega centers. The thought of having to live in the cramped neighborhoods of a city like Goldenrod was wholeheartedly unappealing. New Bark Town had its share of problems—the strict traditionalist elders came to mind—but nothing he deemed worthy of disdain. For every annoyance the town held, there laid a dozen or more benefits.

His father, Mason Hirose, had been a trainer in his youth before he'd settled down in the calm seclusion New Bark Town provided. It was his father's decision to leave behind Goldenrod that Ethan had to thank for the peace New Bark Town gave. Ethan's father went towards an electrician's career after his retirement from being an active trainer. Being certified to carry his former team of primarily electric-types with him gave him a leg up on most other tradesmen. His mother was never one to be fascinated by pokemon and went towards law.

Both careers made good money themselves, but his father also had stock in one of the largest pokemon ranches in Johto. Mason Hirose was the son of the founder of one of Johto's most prominent operations responsible for the breeding and farming of pokemon. Pokemon food made from free-range tauros and fresh magikarp across Johto had a good chance to be sourced from the Hirose family business. Miltank and mareep herds were also bred and raised for their products. A necessary job in the modern market.

Mason's brother took over the company as the elder of the two with their father's death. This left Mason to explore wherever he liked and do nearly everything he wanted to do with the monetary backing of his family's wealth.

What he wanted to do was apparently travel across Indigo as a pokemon trainer. A not uncommon venture, though his entrance onto the battling scene was years later than the normal trainer's. In his travels he met one Victoria Rand and had to rush a wedding before their child was born outside of the sanctity of marriage.

A truly romantic story, Ethan thought, one worthy of poems. It was a marriage for the sake of publicity. One simply to save face for both his grandfather's company and his mother's reputation. His father was nothing if not a good son, willing to go to great lengths to protect his father's legacy and company.

Ethan had had great expectations heaped onto him from an early age. It was top marks or nothing in the Hirose household. Sports, academics, and casual extracurriculars all became competitions for Ethan to triumph over his peers in. Friendly rivalry was a foreign concept, all or nothing with no holds barred. Do or die, so to speak.

Ethan came out on top in everything he applied himself towards. He was academically unchallenged, an athlete with a great pitch, and a quizbowl champion. It was one of the many facts of life for the next generation raised in New Bark Town. The sky was blue, the grass was green, and Ethan Hirose was taking home the gold.

He never cared for the wins themselves, he'd done it simply for the fact that his mother demanded it of him. Every time he placed first, every time he would receive his next shiny gold metal, he would show it to his mother. He'd ask, beg and plead for her praise in every way besides outright saying it. "Are you proud of me, mom?" He had always wanted to scream at her. "Do you love me?"

She never heard those questions. Ethan knew more than most when to hold his tongue. Still, her eyes gave him all the answers he needed. She'd never laid a hand on him, but it felt like a slap. "Do you deserve it?"

So, he reached further. He tried harder and flew higher. He'd have jumped to the moon if she'd asked it of him. He was the little golden boy always trying to please her, please everyone.

He sneered.

TheGolden Boy of New Bark Town.

Ethan hated that nickname. It was an insult more than anything. It reminded him of far too much. It reminded him of the jealous, hateful stares the other children would look at him with. It reminded him of his mother's icy gaze, always watching. It reminded him of Lyra, of the primal fear ofthe well.

Ethan felt a pain in his chest as the scar on his cheek seemed to burn with old pain. He straightened himself and walked forward. Hawthorne was finally in sight.

He'd been ten when he left Johto for Kanto, New Bark Town for Pallet Town. His uncle and father had deemed it necessary after the incident. After they'd finally found him, after hours of searching, at the bottom of the town's old well. The children of New Bark Town that glared at him more than the others, the peers that despised him more than he'd given them credit for, had shoved him down the maw of the excavation. He'd been nearly frozen solid when they had discovered him. The jagged scar on his cheek from the fall reminded him of the event every day when the memory of the freezing cold and dislocated shoulder didn't. His shoulder's socket still felt wrong sometimes.

Ethan shivered as a chilled breeze swept by him. He hated the cold now, even as irrational as it was. It reminded him of a short girl, one with pigtails that always stuck out of her oversized white hat and brown eyes that gleamed with kindness.

He inhaled deeply. Lyra's eyes hadn't seemed all that kind when she was watching the other boys push him down a thirty foot drop. He had been lucky the well was located at a low point and hadn't ever been finished, any higher and he'd likely bare more permanent scars. It had been–against all odds–Kris who had told someone about his location. The one person in New Bark Town that Ethan would have expected to join in on the assault had been the reason he had been saved. Funny how life worked.

So, he left New Bark Town with his mother. His uncle pulled some strings and got him a promising future admission to the Pallet Academy of Pallet Town, home of the Great Samuel Oak himself. His mother switched to a law firm based out of the nearby Viridian City and rented an apartment there. As such, she was only home some days out of the month.

Pallet Town, Ethan reflected, was his first real taste of freedom. Away from the hateful stares of his peers, the domineering presence of his mother, and the coward that was his father. Perhaps that was why he loved the town as he did.

When he finally attended the academy ranked first in the region, he'd been worried. Would the other students look down on him? Would they, just like his New Bark Town peers, despise him? Instead, he felt the one thing he had never truly felt. Inferior.

Gary had been better than him. He'd taken that on the chin at first. As the grandson of the Great Oak it would have been shocking if Gary wasn't the first place student. Then he faltered. Ash was better than him. Leaf was better than him. Ethan took those far worse. He hated it at first, he'd hatedthem. A hot pit of fury blooming and taking root every time he looked at any of the three.

The worst part was that they were hisfriends.Ash had been reliable since they'd met. Gary and him hadn't gotten along at first–how Ash stood by the younger Oak when he was such a prick was something of a mystery in Pallet–but they'd worked past it. They'd learned to respect each other and worked from there. Leaf was…Leaf.

How could Ethan hate them for the very thing he'd been hated for? He would be a shameless hypocrite to do so. No, he was not like the others from New Bark Town. He was no Lyra, no turncloak. His Pallet Town peers (even Gary and his ego) were not simply obstacles to conquer, rather friends and rivals. Friendly rivals. A new concept to his mind. And so, finally, Ethan was content. Happy, even.

That wouldn't last, of course.

It was two days before their TLEs when the news reached him from Johto. His father had been arrested and incarcerated. Fifteen years in prison. Supposedly guilty of fraud, money laundering and a dozen similar charges.

It was all false, Ethan knew. His father was too cowardly to commit such blatant crimes. Yet, not so cowardly as to not take the repercussions for someone else's. Especially if it meant saving his brother's company, his father's legacy. He was the fall guy for the sins of his own brother, nothing more. Cain and Abel come again.

The TLE came and went, his failure coming as a final blow. He shut himself in his room, refusing to see anyone or anything. Even Leaf's visit didn't rouse him from his seclusion. He knew he should've talked to her, talked to any of his friends, but he couldn't. He couldn't because, despite himself, that pit of resentment returned. The pit of indignant fury at being inferior.

He was being a hypocrite, Ethan knew.

He hated it.

His mother gave him the same icy glare as always. Her talking to him would mean to acknowledge him, and that was something she avoided. "I knew you were a failure." Her eyes told him what she did not voice. "Fool's gold and nothing more."

Ethan's eyes hardened even now. He refused that notion. He'd thrown himself into the second round of his TLE and passed. With his license and identification, he'd only needed a starter and he was prepared for the road. He had a starter, one that had already been arranged for months ago.

His mother said not a word to him as he left her and Pallet behind him. No goodbye, no wish of good luck, nothing. He said nothing to her, for nothing needed saying.

"I'll be here to see you fail." Her glare told him. "Crash and burn, Icarus."

Ethan nodded at the captain of the ferry as he boarded. It would take him to Cinnabar Island from Hawthorne. He planned on catching a ferry to New Bark Town–to the origin where it all began for him–and completing the Johto Gym Circuit. He'd changed those plans. His departure was already delayed and the Silver Cup would be completely out of his reach.

That was not to mention that he didn't want to face Johto yet. He'd thought he could, but he simply was not yet mentally ready. He couldn't face New Bark Town. He couldn't face his uncle. Or Lyra.

His uncle fronted the money for the ferry, just as he fronted the collateral for his starter. A silent apology for the downfall of his father. A gesture for something Ethan knew but the public, much less the authorities, could not.

Ethan wouldn't—couldn't—fail. Not now, not ever. Whatever awaited him, he would deal with it. Do or die.

His starter gave a bleat from beside him. Ethan gave her a look. "Ready for this, girl?" The mareep gave another call that he took for agreement. "Good, 'cause I'll need you. We're gonna ascend to the upper ranks together."

The ferry lurched forwards. Mareep let out a bleat out in shock as she lost her balance. Ethan watched the electric-type pokemon get back to her feet with humor. A starmie using Surf coasted them out from the pier before the engine was turned on. As the vessel scuttled forward at a slow pace, the mainland was left behind. As the fresh and salty sea breeze blew around him, Ethan Hirose smiled for the first time in weeks.

He was a great many things, but he wasno one'sfool. Not anymore.

.—.—.—.

Waves lapped at the hull of the ship. Ethan watched the sun drown at the ocean's horizon. Mareep was recalled into her ball at the captain's request, and had been for days now. The Southern Kanto Sea was tranquil as they moved through it. The occasional wingull had followed them in the first couple days, but had long since dropped off.

Captain Seamus was a large man. His skin was toned and his hair discolored from long hours in the sun year after year. The ship he manned, one of the Seagallop ferries that toured the Southern Kanto Sea, held a dozen people awaiting Cinnabar Island. Ethan tagged most of them as tourists easily. Flashy clothes, cameras, and the wide eyed looks as they crowed over every water-type that surfaced around the ship.

The only two other trainers that were also aboard were rookies like him. A girl with a bellsprout and a boy with a sandshrew. Not great company either, too starstruck. After the third instance of a tourist elbowing him out of the way to get a good view over the edge of the ship, Ethan had had enough and retired to his cabin. The rocking of the ship at least helped lull him to sleep.

He woke up when the captain made an announcement. Land was in sight. They'd be docked in Cinnabar within the next few hours. Perfect timing to avoid the storm that was apparently brewing. Ethan gathered any of his items he'd left out in preparation for departure. As soon as the ship was docked and the captain gave them the go ahead, Ethan shot off onto the island.

A room at the Pokemon Center was first, which Nurse Joy helpfully supplied, before he took Mareep to the fields for training. They'd gotten some drills in before leaving Route 1 but nothing intense. This was their first real session. Ethan had a notebook where he jotted down everything about his starter. A pokedex would've made his job easier, he knew, but he didn't have one.

He was not one of Professor Oak's chosen. Not good enough for the device like the other three, he supposed, and certainly not good enough for a sponsorship. Ethan gripped his notebook until his knuckles went pale white. He took a breath before he continued.

Mareep knew Thunder Wave, Cotton Spore, and Thunder Shock. Not a bad starting point. Then again, not amazing either. However, it was a start above all else. Ethan gave the sheep a run down on the normal drills as well as the areas he expected to focus on.

The most important one, he emphasized, was her control. Power was good, great even, but control of that power was a vital asset. Mareep took to it all with gusto. She may not be the smartest creature around, but she was dedicated.

He also worked on her capacity for electrical charges. Her wool worked as a great excess storage when her electrical sacks grew overfull. The charges bounced around her coat as she worked to absorb as much as she could bare plus some.

The bulb on her tail sparked bright during those sessions. It was the focal point of all her electrical power. Unlike other electric-types, the mareep-line didn't have large internal organs dedicated to generating electricity. The raichu-line, for example, had two charging organs. The extra organ gave the species the capacity to use the move Volt Tackle, whereas a mareep would never be able to.

Instead, mareep had their tail bulb and their wool. Their wool as a mareep and flaaffy would generate static that would transfer to their tail bulb. By the time they evolved into an ampharos, their need for their fleece was gone. Instead they solely had their tail bulb and the second one on their head.

Ethan called their training to an end when the sky rumbled above. Tiny sprinkles of raindrops were ready to fall. He recalled the electric-type as he made his way to his room for the night. Before the sun was up the next day he was back out in the fields with Mareep at his side. The storm gave him little sleep. Lightning and thunder seemed to crack open the sky. The storm had finally moved on from Cinnabar early in the morning. It had moved east over water, bringing about a problem Ethan hadn't considered.

The rookie had noted the tall poles scattered across the island without much thought. They had large speakers around them and lines that spread electricity to the residents of the island. Ethan thought that, if one ignored the odd pidgey that rested on the lines and caused them to sag, they were unremarkable.

Until they kicked to life with a loud siren. A wail echoed around the island that no person could ignore. Ethan shot his head to look at the nearest pole in shock as a voice replaced the siren.

"ATTENTION!" The sudden voice of a man sent any pidgey that had braved the siren flying away in fright. "This is not a drill! Within the hour a large number of water-types will attack this island. All civilians are to evacuate away from the shore immediately and return to their homes. Any structures within a mile of the shore are to be evacuated. The Cinnabar Gym, the Pokemon Center, and the Ranger Headquarters will take in anyone needing shelter. All trainers are being called to action. Experienced trainers are to report to the Cinnabar Gym for assignment. Any rookie trainer or trainers with less than three badges are to report to the docks."

Ethan hesitated. This was real. Mareep tilted her head at him in confusion as he returned her. Without a second to take in the situation, he was running to the docks.

.—.—.

Water-types were about to attack the island en masse. Ethan was thankful for his starter. The wool pokemon would be a blessing to fry any sea creatures that got a little too close for comfort. The docks were crowded with people when he got there. Captains and sailors were bracing their ships for the assault while rookie trainers were nervously pacing around.

A Ranger was dishing out commands to any trainers nearby. Voices joined together in a jumbled mess that Ethan could scarcely make out. A pyre of smoldering fire shot into the sky, drawing all eyes. A typhlosion stood on two legs, fire lapping from its curled lips from the powerful Flamethrower.

"Shut your traps!" A woman in a Gym Trainer uniform called out from near the fire-type. "We have less than an hour before the legion of water-types is on us! Take positions along the shore, leave room between each trainer so as to not interfere with each other's efforts. Remember, if we make enough of a show of force the water-types will bypass the island entirely."

She snapped her hand at the assembled trainers closest to her. "You lot! Stay with the sailors and protect the ships and docks!" She turned towards the remaining trainers, including Ethan. "The rest of you, gather up! Electric-types are your best option, grass-types if you have them!"

Ethan was quick to take his own position down the shoreline. Mareep was bouncing back and forth on the sand. She didn't quite grasp the situation, but she was ready to shock whatever Ethan pointed at. Really that was all her job entailed at the moment.

Ethan palmed a couple extra pokeballs at his waist. If anything proved too strong for Mareep's electricity then he'd buy them a few seconds to retreat to the nearest Ranger or experienced trainer. He held no illusion of his skill; he was a rookie just starting out. No one expected him and Mareep to take on a rampaging gyarados.

Someone near the docks spotted it first and called it out. A massive wave was ripping through the once calm waters. Ethan gasped. "f*ck." He heard similar curses from the trainers nearby. The wave was approaching fast and it carried mayhem with it. He identified almost every water-type he could name. Staryu, poliwhirl, tentacool, goldeen, horsea, remoraid, qwilfish, and on the list went. Surely a waterspout couldn't have caused the pokemon this much distress?

Ethan decided that was a thought for later. He watched the flood of pokemon approach the beach as he sucked in a breath. Now or never. "Mareep, Thunder Wave. Then Thunder Shock." Remaining calm was key, he reminded himself. Panicking helped him not.

The instant the water-types touched the sand, they were hit with volleys of attacks. Mareep gave a bleat as she shocked any pokemon close to her. Ethan spotted various other electric-types shooting attacks at the water. Grass-types were just as plentiful.

Mareep made liberal use of Thunder Wave to paralyze any pokemon that got within range. Thunder Wave was usually enough to drive the assaulting pokemon back towards the water, but Thunder Shock cleared up the braver ones. These water-types were not malicious, Ethan knew, simply panicked.

The rookie watched as the trainer to his left fared. The small sunkern near her was holding up relatively well. The seed pokemon faced an approaching marill and gave it a Mega Drain. The sunkern seemed to be tough for one of its kind and won all of its encounters with the water-types. That was until it wascrushedby the marill with a single Bounce. Ethan blinked in shock as the sunkern was recalled by its trainer in horror. The marill that had knocked it out took the time to beat its hand on its stomach challengingly.

Ethan gave a critical eye to the now bare beach that Mareep was supposed to be guarding. "Mareep, Thunder Shock on the marill!" The electric-type was quick to follow. Her tail bulb sparking electricity up her wool as the attack was loosened at the aqua mouse. "Cotton Spore!"

The marill shook itself from the sudden shock. The Cotton Spore was ignored as if it had no effect. Ethan realized that ithadno effect. Sap Sipper must be its ability, he reasoned. The reason it was able to shrug off the sunkern's Mega Drain and other attacks so easily. "Thunder Wave and Thunder Shock!"

The aqua mouse bounced away from the sheep. It would have been completely out of the range of the attacks, but it made a critical mistake. It shot a Water Gun at the sheep in response. A terrible idea. It proved so a moment later as the electric attacks traveled up the water. The marill sizzled as it was paralyzed. Ethan took the chance to throw a pokeball at the weakened water-type.

The pokemon disappeared in a crimson light. The capture device shook twice before falling still Ethan gave a smile. He nodded at the other trainer who was healing her sunkern with a potion. He retrieved his new pokemon as he turned his eyes back to the sea. No pokemon were in sight anymore, but that meant little to his untrained eyes. At the very least, his section of the beach was clear. He hummed as he scanned farther down and up the shore. Nothing.

Ethan made his way to the docks to see if he was needed there. He was met with the sight of a surprisingly well maintained marina. Only subtle surface damage was the worst of the attack. The sailors had obviously defended their ships with valor. Cinnabar had seemed to weather the assault with better odds than he'd have thought. The Gym Trainer had been right, a sizable show of force put the water-types on their way.

That did raise some questions about how the Seafoam Islands would fare with the leftover water-types. Ethan was exhausted, so that worry was not for him at the moment.

A good night of rest was on the agenda. Then introductions with the marill he captured and, when his pokemon were ready, a challenge at the Cinnabar Gym. Ethan gave a hum as Mareep pranced next to him and fell in step. When he had gotten the Volcano badge, he'd try his hand at capturing a fire-type at the base of the volcano. Then a ferry to Fuchsia City to challenge Janine.

Yes, a plan was forming. Ethan hummed in satisfaction. His start may have been late, but his progress was great. He'd always had a spark. Now it was time to fan that into a full blaze.

.—.—.

Blaine was, in a word, unpleasant. Another description might be senile. The man was crazy, Ethan would never disagree with that notion. Strong enough to be an Elite in his prime, but the fire-type Master's mind had clearly degraded over the years.

The man was a loon.

Ethan shook it off. Instead he focused on the gleaming Volcano Badge in his hand. Blaine could despise challengers and his Gym Leader position as much as he liked, Ethan had what he needed from him.

The old man had even rambled about putting the Gym in Cinnabar's volcano. Too bored with rich tourists and inexperienced greenies challenging him as the locals say. Senile, indeed. To see a man that could have rivaled Oak's genius having fallen so far was eye opening.

Marill was bouncing around Ethan's feet with watery giggles. The aqua mouse had been a vital part of the Gym challenge and was rightfully celebrating. Ethan let her do as she liked. She was tough and loved to battle, he saw no reason not to encourage that.

The water-type had taken out Blaine's ponyta quickly and only barely lost to the following torkoal. Mareep was able to finish off the torkoal eventually, though not without some effort. He marched along with Marill as they approached the base of his destination. The geographical pinnacle before him seemed to rumble with primordial might. A person could not step foot on Cinnabar without recognizing the eminence of the fissure.

Ethan considered the Cinnabar Volcano as one of the few things the island had going for it. Long before the island had been defaced with tourists and vacation spots, the volcano had sat unaltered for centuries. It was worshiped as the roost and birthplace of Moltres for centuries. The more zealous worshippers still remained, convinced that the massive transformation Cinnabar had gone under by outsiders was to blame for their absent monarch.

The caverns of the fissure harbored fire-types of all kinds. Rumor would say that some of them were as old as the volcano itself. That was likely a local myth, but Ethan would rather not verify that personally. A pokemon didn't live so long without wielding incredible power.

Still, Ethan wanted a fire-type pokemon. The typing was a great addition to any rookie's roster and there was nowhere in Indigo like Cinnabar to acquire one. He wouldn't venture into the caverns, but the volcano's base was a haven for plenty of fire-types.

Ethan hummed as he ventured forward. He already had his newest addition in mind. A vulpix was tempting if he came across it. Ninetales were powerful in both fire attacks and mental prowess. A magby that could one day become a living inferno as a magmortar was also promising. But they were not the addition his mind had set itself on. No, his newest capture was sure to be found in the rocky areas around the island.

Ethan spotted a flash of brown.

"Too easy." Ethan said as he fetched a pokeball.

The numel gave him an oblivious stare as Marill snickered on her approach.

.—.—.

Ethan sneered as the trainer he'd defeated handed him a stack of cash. What a disappointment. He was starting to give Blaine a bit more credit. These tourists were cannon fodder. Even Numel's four days of proper training was too much for them.

He'd been on Cinnabar for a while now and was no closer to leaving than he'd been the day before. Cinnabar was chalk full of tourists, but far fewer trainers he could challenge.

Between the cost of the Gym challenge fee and the price of pokeballs, Ethan was flat broke. He needed a lot more cash to get a ferry to Fuchsia than he'd thought. He'd swim to the mainland before he went crawling to his uncle for cash. Or worse, his mother.

Ethan nearly took the hand off of the person who tapped his shoulder. "What?!"

A tall man in a black jumpsuit removed his hand quickly. "Woah, kid, at ease."

Ethan gave him a glare. "You need something?"

The man chuckled. His purple mohawk jumping along with his laughs. "I heard there was a kid needing some quick cash. Heard he challenges every trainer he can."

"What about it?"

"Heard you were pretty tough for a brat so green he pisses grass."

"You lookin' for a battle?" Ethan said heatedly.

"Nah, I was gonna offer you some work if you want it. Pay is surprisingly good." The man said with a faint bit of humor. "We don't have dental, but the management is great. Plenty of room for advancement too. Interested?"

"Maybe." He relented. The guy was shady, but he was in dire need of some funds. "I'm Ethan."

The man grinned. "Apleasure." He offered his hand for Ethan to shake. "Call me Petrel."

.—.—.

Notes:

Ethan's interlude done. Good to catch up with him after all this time. Gotta say, Ethan is underutilized in fics. Hope his background didn't come off as forced or too angsty. Also, Pyrite = Fool's Gold in case you were wondering. I'm a chapter-titling genius, I know. Next time we return to our regularly scheduled protagonist.

Thanks for reading.

Chapter 8: Shinobi

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

.—.—.

The instant Ash entered the preserve, he made an effort to take in the environment.

The immediate feel of the area was wild, of that there was very little doubt, but there was something else. A certain mystique seemed to settle around him as he marched forward.

Despite the Safari Zone being undoubtedly created by the hands of humans, the area felt more isolating than anything Ash had ever experienced. Everything except the mining tunnel, that is. Some strange conviction made him sure of that.

The welcoming center was located in a central point of the preserve. A strategic location that allowed for a trainer to travel to a specific sector of the reserve without using up too much of their time limit. Ash was thankful the jaunt to the jungle was a rather short one. His legs had become accustomed to weeks of nonstop travel; a short jog was nothing to him now. Still, he had never enjoyed walking on end for the sake of walking.

The thick canopy of the trees reminded Ash of the Viridian Forest in some ways. Spotting pokemon wasn't a particularly difficult task. Immediately he spotted multiple species. Pidgeys roosted in the branches, some wurmple inched their way along, and a couple zigzagoon ran through the brush. Nothing particularly interesting or anything Ash couldn't find elsewhere with minimal effort. He'd passed the plains sector on his way and found that area prowled by pokemon he found more interest in. A Nidoran herd led by a few nidorino and nidorina tempted him. A nidoqueen would be a formidable fighter to add to his roster. As would a nidoking, though it shared the problem of being on Oak's team in his glory days with arcanine. Nico's poisonous horn formed in Ash's mind, intimidating and dripping.

Tauros roamed in herds that grazed and a mob of the ever endangered kangaskhan could be seen in the distance. The skies were surprisingly empty. A small tauros calf or kangaskhan joey would be a fine meal for the bigger flying-types that Ash knew swooped around the wilds. A far off dot of what Ash thought might have been an approaching flying-type made him move his march along.

The last thing he needed was getting in between a protective mother pokemon and her offspring if something attacked.

Ash prowled the jungle area for an hour. Nothing flapped above that he thought to catch and nothing scurried below he wanted. If he wanted a pidgey or rattata, he'd have caught one his first week. He eventually moved from the sector and began a trek to the mountainous area. The mountains would give him a chance to look for a fire-type or flier both.

However, separating the jungle and mountains was the swamp section, because that was Ash's luck. More mud and gunk to bog him down.

Ash could definitely tell when he reached the swamp. He could tell when he was approaching it from one factor. The place reeked. He couldn't tell if it was the gasses or potential submerged corpses that caused the stench. Both, probably. He'd have to keep an eye out for muk and grimer. Koffing too if any gasses were around.

A buzzing of wings caught his attention. Ash immediately ducked by instinct. A beedrill swarm would be the opposite of what he wanted right now. After a moment of the buzzing not escalating in intensity, the Pallet rookie slowly crept his way to the origin of the noise. After a minute he identified the progenitor of the sound. A yanma. Ash gave the dragonfly pokemon an appraising look as he examined it from behind a fallen tree trunk. Yanma as a species were fast, incredibly so. Their wings and compound vision let them travel at speeds that could match a crobat.

The problem that presented was that there was no conceivable way Ash was hitting a yanma with a pokeball. Not unless it was injured or paralyzed. It would speed off well before it was captured, or before he even threw the ball. If he had his pokemon to slow it down or weaken it he could, but that wasn't an option unless he wanted the Rangers on his back.

Still, no reason not to try.

Ash grabbed two Safari Balls and, with as much speed and force as he could put behind it, threw the capture devices at the bug. He then threw the second one above it in case it went up. As he expected, it was futile. The clear winged pokemon sped forward at a speed that Ash had no hope of catching up to.

The teen sighed as the dragonfly pokemon zoomed from his sight. Yanma would have been a great catch, but no reason to cry over a single missed capture. Ash was about to retrieve his missed Safari Balls when they were beamed away. The teen grumbled slightly. Apparently even missed throws were counted against him.

Nevertheless, he kept moving forward.

.—.—.

The mountains were nothing compared to Evolution Mountain. Rocky cliffs and high peaks held outcroppings which jutted out and likely held nests of dozens of flying-types. Shallow caves and rough trails showed beaten paths that other pokemon had used to ascend the cliffs. Ash hummed as he contemplated his next step. He wasn't stupid enough to think he could scale the cliffs and, even if he could, he'd be knocked off halfway up by whatever flying-type's nest he disturbed. The trails weren't a terrible idea, but the idea of being surrounded by high rock faces that could stop him short abruptly and offer shadowed caves with occupant he knew not…suffice to say that ambush predators would have a field day with half as preferable conditions.

He might be young and a little reckless, but Ash wasn't an idiot. Or suicidal.

Ash decided to walk around the base of the mountains. The girl at the desk had said that eggs might fall to the base. However, after an hour's trek he found himself in the same position, empty-handed. He sighed and tried a different strategy. He found a berry tree not terribly far away and camped near it. A wurmple and caterpie gave him a halted stare from the branches before continuing their munching of the leaves when they saw he had no intention of disturbing them. If something was going to swoop down and make a snack of the berries, or bug-types, he'd see it. It also offered an open view to the start of the ascending trails. If a pokemon was passing through the mountains through that path, he'd see them.

Ash leaned his back against the tree as he waited and watched for something to come his way. He saw shifting wings in the far off sky, but nothing flew its way down. Ash sat patiently as the bug-types above him continued their leafy feast, entirely unperturbed by his presence. His eyes drooped slightly as he muffled a yawn. A wave of exhaustion washed over him suddenly.

A nap might do him some good. He yawned again and his head bobbed. Yes, a good rest in the wilds was a great idea. His eyes slowly made their way closed as he felt himself drift off.

He was jostled awake roughly. Ash went rigid. Taking a nap in the middle of the Safari Zone? He knew better than that.

Ash whipped his head around as yellow fur grabbed his attention. A drowzee was staring at him, dumbfounded. The trainer locked eyes with the psychic-type for a moment before the tapir scurried off. He briefly considered chasing after it. He didn't care to add it to his roster, but if he was just teaching it a lesson…

Ash rubbed his eyes as he looked around once again.

Drowzee were harmless for the most part. They feasted on the dreams of people they came across, though they rarely resulted in more than a dreamless night. Hypno had been known to hypnotize trainers to hand over their belongings or lead them astray, but that was a rare occurrence.

Ash was far more curious on what had done him the favor of jostling him awake. No person was nearby, and no pokemon seemed to brush against him. In fact, there seemed to be no pokemon around at all. Not even the bug-types from earlier.

His hat chirped.

Or maybe not.

Ash quickly shook his head from the sudden weight that landed on it. His hat came loose and fell from his head to the grass as another chirp sounded off. If Ash had to describe it, he'd say it sounded indignant. Ash was now free of the weight and, as yet another chirp came from his hat, he inspected his seemingly sentient headwear with a cautious eye. It stood up by itself and Ash almost laughed as he lifted it.

Sure enough, a small bird was standing there under his hat. Its eyes focused on him at the affront. It was almost similar to a natu with its round body and small wings. Its feathers were blue in contrast to a natu's green and Ash doubted it was a psychic-type by appearance alone.

"Uh..sorry?" He said hesitantly. Ash palmed a Safari Ball as the bird flapped its small wings in a challenge. It wasn't a pokemon he recognized off the bat, though that was becoming an everyday occurrence at this point.

He wondered if that was bad.

The teen sized up the flying-type. The bird chirped again and looked at the pokeball intently. Did…it want to be caught? It squawked as it was sucked in with a flash of crimson as the contraption tapped its wing. A second later the ball fell to the ground as Ash caught it. It rumbled slightly before falling still in his hands. It hadn't put up much of a fight, but it certainly had a personality to it.

Ash watched as the device was teleported away in an instant. The staff would return it when his time was complete. Then he'd be able to identify whatever pokemon he had captured. He at least considered his flying-type marked off his capture list.

Ash was still left with a question. What had shoved him earlier? The flying-type hadn't been nearly big enough to be the culprit. He scanned the area as a black figure ducked behind a tree. A form he had gotten used to over the weeks since the mining tunnel.

Ah. Ash understood. A psychic brush on his mind to make him think he'd been physically shoved. That'd definitely wake him up just as well.

"Thank you!" Ash called out to the stalker. Drowzee feasting on a trainer's dream was usually nothing to be concerned about, but it could still have a little backlash. Migraines and night terrors if the dream eaters were immature or rough on their target's psyche. He wasn't sure it had heard him until he heard a response echo.

You're welcome

Ash felt the alien presence in his mind clearly. Surprise was conveyed through the connection. Compared to their first contact outside of the mining tunnel, this was far easier for his brain to comprehend. "Would you like to join me?" Ash tried to communicate his feelings over the bond. Friendship, peace, appreciation.

For a moment, nothing happened.

Slowly, the black figure emerged into his field of view. It was as he'd expected, all solid black with a single white eye. This was his first unobscured view of the creature. He squinted slightly as it approached hesitantly. Something tingled in his mind.

"Hello." Ash greeted it properly. "You've been following me for a while now."

It gave a buzz that was more of a hum. Ash took that for a confirmation.

"Can I ask why?"

Disruption. Guide

Ash was having trouble putting together what it meant. The battle with Graveler had disrupted it and it had followed Ash out? That was the best he could piece together from the mental images he was getting flashes of. It had sounded almost clearer when at a distance. He remembered it sounding far clearer when it spoke to him on Evolution Mountain. "Are you able to communicate better when we're apart?"

Distortion.

Ash nodded in understanding. Nut's evolution was to blame. Dark-types were intrinsically linked to strange Distortional energies. Some scientists say they draw from a mirrored dimension that leaked the diluted energies into what was known as dark-type energy. Others say they leached from the Legendary Giratina. Either way, Distortion disrupts psychics without fail and dark-types had plenty of it.

"Are you uncomfortable?"

Manageable. Bond?

He thought that was a question, but quickly realized it was an offer. "You want to deepen our connection?" A portion of his mind lit up with confirmation. "Okay, but don't force out the remnants of my nuzleaf. He'd take it poorly."

Ash could only imagine the ruckus Nut would cause in that scenario. His pokemon had gotten a bit…possessive after his evolution.

The stalker hummed as it floated closer to him. Its eye glowed a dull azure as Ash felt a minor headache setting in. Pins prickled behind his eyes. Thoughts jumbled themselves, random memories of long forgotten grammar and speech lessons coming to the forefront of his recollection. A tension seemed to lift itself from his shoulders. The negative thoughts and emotions he had been bogged down with seemed to lessen considerably.

He hadn't even noticed how much his head had been filled with dark images and concepts. He felt far calmer now, less like he was liable to blow his top at a minor inconvenience. Since when had he started acting like that? After Stone Town and Nut's evolution?

Was…Nut affecting him? That would explain his short temper lately. The sheer wrath at the Gym's clerk. The possessiveness he'd experienced when Cove had tried to take the magikarp. The awful thought he'd had about chasing after the drowzee.

He needed to talk to Professor Oak. Dark-types were known to have that effect with long exposure to unprepared individuals. Ash had thought he'd spent enough time with Nut and Greed that he'd have picked up a natural resistance to them. Apparently not. The stalker seemed to add a counter balance to him. It made him feel lighter, more like himself.

Better grasp. Lexicon.

Mew, that was a strange sensation. Gratitude was conveyed over the bond, giving Ash a better feeling of just how deep it ran now that it had been strengthened. It felt more…intrinsic to himself. For a small moment, Ash forgot what it felt like before the bond had deepened. "No problem." He massaged his temples. "So, what are you if you don't mind?"

An Arm of the One.

Ash thought hard as he tried to think of why that sounded so familiar. He squinted as he looked at the creature again. It almost looked like an 'h'. It clicked.

"An unown." Ash nearly gaped as the stalker buzzed a tone that was neither agreement or disagreement, simply acknowledgement. "Is that why you were down in that…tomb?"

Time passed. Memories fade.

"I'm sorry." Ash said sympathetically. For a psychic-type to be stuck so long that its memory faded…it would've had to have been stuck down there for centuries. Assurance and comfort were sent along their bond. The unown hummed in appreciation as they sat in silence for a few moments.

Ash checked the time and found he still had an hour or two until he had to leave the Safari Zone. He considered going after more pokemon, but decided against it. He already had Cove and the newest addition to train. Anymore was asking to get overwhelmed.

"I think I'll head back in a bit. Would you like to come with me?" Ash asked with a small smile. "You won't need to stalk me anymore."

The unown buzzed. Ash felt as though it was considering something. After a long moment of acute tension the psychic bumped Ash's hat with a happy hum. After a moment, the unown levitated away into the forest. Ash nearly followed before a feeling of patience was conveyed to him.

Ash grinned as he leaned back against the tree again. Unown would be back, he was sure of it. With another member of his team solidified with the flying-type, he was content to relax for the rest of his time in the Safari Zone. If Unown wanted to follow him a little more then he couldn't find any harm in that.

.—.—.

Nurse Joy laughed lightly. Ash was reminded of the way his mom would laugh when he used to jump around and babble about whatever he and Gary had done that day. A motherly laugh. Ash wondered if Joy had any children, she was probably around that age. Though, he wasn't sure whether Nurse Joy or his mother was older.

Ash shivered slightly. He knew better than to ask that particular question.

"Regardless of how you captured it, your newest capture is healthy." Joy said with a smile. "Your flying-type is interesting, she isn't the first galarian pokemon captured from the Safari Zone but she might be the proudest. Some advice? Don't ruffle her feathers, and I mean that literally."

Ash nodded. Glide had been a little like that, preening her feathers whenever possible. "Thanks, I'll keep that in mind. Do you know what species she is?"

"A mono flying-type from galar, rookidee." She supplied. "I hear they are pretty popular pokemon in Galar, both for battling and domestic outlooks."

Ash hummed. He hadn't heard of that pokemon. Though, he would be more surprised if he had. At the rate he was going he might as well start studying the national dex in case he ran into any more pokemon.

Prior to the Safari Zone, Ash had four pokeballs resting in slots on his bandolier. He looked down at the five now attached. He had his hands full, that was for sure. Cove was still new to the team, let alone the newest capture in Rookidee. Introductions, for perhaps the last time for a good while, were in order before the end of the day.

Ash really hoped he wasn't overwhelming himself.

The fields of the center were barren of other trainers. Ash was grateful for that. He released Greed and Nut into the field followed by Graveler and Cove. "Hey, guys, we have a new member." Ash had already told his team his plans for the day and made sure they were expecting to welcome another pokemon.

Ash palmed the pokeball for the flying-type. He didn't think Rookidee was liable to try to peck his eyes out. Like most of his other pokemon, with the very notable exception of Graveler, she hadn't seemed to mind getting captured over much. Though, when he thought about it, Graveler and Cove were the only pokemon he captured in the proper sense.

Ash released her with a small flick of the wrist. The red light faded away to reveal the same small bird that had worn his hat earlier. Ash smiled at the mental image. "Hey there Rookidee, good to see you again."

The bird chirped before flapping its small wings. After a moment of a funny looking takeoff, the pokemon took flight and found a perch on Ash's shoulder. She tweeted a small note before taking a nip of his ear. He winced lightly before the pokemon lifted a wing and began poking at her chest feathers.

Proud indeed.

"Welcome to the team, Rookidee." Ash said fondly. "Think of us as your flock from now on."

The flying-type took a small pause in her grooming to evaluate the team. She chirped after a moment and shook herself. A flap of the wings saw her effortlessly glide towards the team. She slowed her descent and lightly landed on Graveler's back. The grump gave a grunt of annoyance but seemed otherwise unperturbed.

Ash watched as each member of his team gave their own welcomes. Greed gave a rumble, Nut flicked his leaf, Cove bubbled up a watery gurgle, and Graveler gave another grunt that sounded like two stones colliding. Rookidee gave each of them their time before she returned to her perch–Ash's shoulder–and turned her gaze to her trainer.

"So, Rookidee, everyone else has a proper name except Graveler. Would you like one?" She chirped and puffed out her feathers. Ash took that to mean she did. He figured she was the last pokemon to turn down something that made her unique. Individualism was not a curtesy afforded to most wild pokemon. "That's good. How about Sky?"

Rookidee glared. He chuckled. She clearly wanted something less common. "Okay, sorry, how about…Fawkes? I think that's an important name somewhere in Johto." Another firm rejection. "Picky." She nipped his ear.

He rattled off a few more suggestions before he paused. He considered Rookidee's idea of a worthy name. It absolutely couldn't be common, for that was surely below her, and it had to have a certain regalness to it. A certain regalness…he smiled. "Regal."

Rookidee–Regal, he corrected himself–chirped in agreement. She measured him carefully before coming to a decision he wasn't privy to. The bird began to lightly preen the hair sticking out from his hat. Ash smiled.

He mentally prepared himself for Janine. With the Safari Zone behind him, his Gym battle was the only thing keeping him in Fuchsia.

Poison was something Ash knew he needed more experience with. He had his venomous battle with Erika under his belt, as well as some battles with other trainers that had used poison-types, but that experience paled in comparison to the lethality that Koga or Janine could wield. Poison was one of the types that had a low skill floor but a ridiculously high ceiling. It was still very possible to use and be successful with a poison-type in battle without being a specialist. Ash remembered Erika's consistent use of poison in their battle. It was the biggest factor in their battle that Ash felt made her a real threat.

Ash reminded himself that Erika and Janine were considered the two easiest Gym Leaders in Kanto. Often they were called the weakest of the Big Eight. If he couldn't beat them for his first two badges then what kind of trainer was he? Ash reminded himself that they were the weakest, yes, but that did not make them weak. Even a weak tyranitar was still a force to be reckoned with.

Ash considered capturing a poison-type in the future. There were some that one could find in Indigo that could be formidable. He quickly turned from the idea. Cove and Regal were going to stretch him thin as it was. Not to mention Unown. He'd not seen the psychic-type since the Safari Zone, but he had no doubt that he would see it again.

A distant hum in his mind agreed with him. Nut looked at him skeptically and flicked his leaf around the area like it would point him in the direction of the intrusion. The nuzleaf had felt it too. Ash looked at the sun in the sky. Sunlight meant time to train. Good, he had quite a lot of work to do with his team.

First, though…

The Dex beeped as it scanned Regal.

Rookidee, the flying-type pokemon native to the Galar skies. They are some of the only mono flying-types in the world. As the first stage in a line of three, rookidee are similar to other flying-types in that they often evolve young. Their second stage, corvisquire, is the stage where they spend most of their lives. Their final stage, corviknight, is dual flying/steel-type. Corviknight are often considered the Galarian Monarchs for their domination of the skies in Galar. The Galarian Air Taxi is a popular method of transportation where a person may pay for a corviknight to fly them to their destination. For the average Galarian, it is far more affordable than Teleports.

Scientists often speculate that corviknight and skarmory share a distant ancestor that migrated between regions, but evidence has yet to show as such.

The rookidee-line are associated heavily with their size and ferocity when fully evolved. Even untrained corviknight can be mighty foes. Just as valuable is a corviknight's defense, as they resist or are immune to ten typings. Rookidee and its evolutions are praised for their intelligence, though it is widely recognized that they hold a penchant for shiny objects which they will gather and return to their nests. It is a admirable sight for a pokemon of the rookidee-line to gift a trainer one of their trinkets as it signals a great trust and respect between the two.

This specimen can perform the moves Peck and Hone Claws. It has an egg move; Tailwind. Its ability is Keen Eye.

Ash looked at Regal. She was young, a freshly hatched chick in comparison to his other teammates. Still, her potential was something not even Gary would scoff at. "You are way cooler than a pidgey, girl."

The rookidee puffed her feathers up and Ash lightly tapped her beak with a smile.

Leaf was gonna be very envious.

.—.—.

The Fuchsia Gym was accepting challengers again. Janine had returned from wherever the League had sent her. The news heralded by Nurse Joy meant Ash was getting a battle today. He did his usual morning training regiment with his team before finally calling them all together.

"Today is the day, guys. And girl." Ash amended the last part when Regal nipped his ear. "Janine will be tough. Poison isn't something we have a lot of experience with. But that means we'll have proved ourselves even more when we get the badge."

Regal chirped curiously at the last bit. Cove similarly looked lost. Ash blinked. "The Soul Badge from Janine." He elaborated and was met with the same looks. The trainer was equally confused.

He'd taken the time to explain what a Gym battle was to his newest members, hadn't he? Ash frowned when he realized he hadn't. They knew this battle with Janine was important but Ash had failed to convey just why. That was a failure on his part he needed to rectify.

"Sorry, Cove, Regal, I guess I never told you what a Gym battle or Gym Badge was." Ash apologized. "Today we're going to challenge one of the thirteen strongest trainers in Kanto. The thirteen are the Champion, Elite Four, and Gym Leaders in descending order. Now, Janine won't be at her using her strongest pokemon, but she also won't take it easy on us. If–when–we beat her, she'll give us the Soul Badge. You with me?"

Regal tilted her head but chirped an affirmative. Cove seemed to need a little more explanation.

"When we challenge one of the Gym Leaders and win, they give us proof that we've beaten them." Ash said slowly. He took a moment to retrieve his Rainbow Badge and show it to them. "This badge, the Rainbow Badge, is evidence that we demonstrated our strength in battle. Greed and Nut earned this badge in Celadon against the grass-type leader, Erika. Do you know why we need these?"

Regal's eye seemed to measure up the badge as it caught the sun and gleamed. She hopped forward and gave it an experimental peck. Ash carried on. "When we get all eight badges from the best Gym Leaders in Kanto, called the Big Eight, we can join the Indigo Conference. It's at the Indigo Conference where we show the entire League what we're capable of. The winner of the tournament is granted the honor of challenging the Elite Four and, if they beat all of the Elites, the Champion too. That usually doesn't happen though. Elites tend to serve for life unless they retire."

The rookie looked at his pokemon when he was finished to judge their reactions. Thankfully, they seemed to understand now. If possible, the two seemed more excited for the Gym battle. Ash winced. He should have led with telling them they wouldn't be fighting in this battle. He wanted them to get more experience before he threw them against someone on the caliber of Gym Leader.

Ash was confident he could use any combination of Greed, Nut and Graveler to win the Soul Badge. He could see himself allowing Cove to participate if Janine opted for a three-on-three format, but a second badge challenge was nearly always two-on-two. In any other battle, Ash would love for Cove to fight. Experience was a teacher beyond compare. Gym challenges, though, always carried some small risk with them. More than just losing the challenging fee and the badge, but the risk of a pokemon becoming injured was greater when it battled on a lower level than its opponents.

Ash shivered when he compared Regal at her current level to any Gym Leaders' pokemon. Surge would fry her in Vermillion, Blaine would melt her in Cinnabar, and Giovani…it would be an understatement to say that Regal would be smothered in Viridian. The Earthshaker had plenty of weapons against flying-types. He imagined being at that pinnacle of power Giovanni was only below the Elites in power. Even that, depending on the person, was debatable. Many trainers argued that Giovanni would overwhelm the lower two Elites, Koga and Lorelei, with at least. Ash had always somewhat wondered why it was that Giovanni remained stagnant in Viridian. Did something lure him there? Maybe a proximity to something?

Ash decided quickly that it didn't matter too much. Giovanni was the strongest Gym Leader in Kanto. If he truly wanted to advance to the Elites, Ash knew he would do so.

Still, he wondered. What would it be like to be so overwhelmingly powerful that people around the world expected him to ascend to the Elites? Maybe even further. Power, power, power…

He wanted it.

Ash flinched slightly as a faraway musical tone resounded in his head. A dark veil lifted from him. He sighed. The Distortion was affecting him again. Luckily, it was rarer that it would overwhelm him. It hadn't happened since his encounter with Unown and the psychic's semi-frequent reminder. He likened it to a rubber band that would snap at his wrist when his mind wandered a little too far into it. Nut had been initially peeved at the prospect of boundaries in his mind, but Ash had worked him through it. He was still new to the dark-type energies, almost as new as Ash was.

Unown hummed another crescendo as Ash saw a blur of black.

.—.—.

The Fuchsia Gym stood as tall as Ash remembered. That was to say not very tall. A single floor unless there was some architectural trickery he couldn't see. All was possible when dealing with ninjas. It was subtle. He'd overlooked it the first time he'd found it. Even Sparky's Gym, which Ash was still unconvinced was not a mansion of a Silph Co. rich heir, was many times the size of Fuchsia's.

Nonetheless, it was a Gym that held his next badge. Ash walked through the doors.

The lobby was empty of people with the exception of the receptionist. Ash put his name in for a battle and paid the hefty fee it required. Fortunately it wouldn't be long. He was the first name on the docket. After a few minutes of foot-tapping and mumbled thoughts Ash heard his name. The receptionist simply opened the double doors Ash had been eyeing since he walked in.

Ash smiled as he saw the courtyard. An outdoor battle was much preferable when working with poison-types. One whiff of a muk and the Celadon Gym would take second place to its stench. Ash came prepared though. Two nose plugs sat neatly in his pocket.

"Trainer Ketchum." Ash jumped. A tall woman clad in dark navy bid him forward. He hadn't seen or heard her at all. Ash didn't know the proper term for what she wore. It looked like robes, but he didn't think that was correct.

"Yes, that's me. Ash Ketchum." He introduced.

She nodded silently as she took the opposing trainer box from him. "Challenging for your second badge, I hear. Two-on-two would usually suffice but let us try three-on-three. Have you prepared yourself?"

He thought that was a strange thing to say, but nodded anyway. "I'm ready."

Ash was surprised by the rule change-up, but he never backed down from a challenge. Janine didn't move but a red beam appeared on the field. Ash watched as it came together to form a levitating koffing. Purple with white markings on its front that resembled crossbones. Ash smiled in time with Nut appearing on the field.

Janine, according to any forum he could find, usually used an ekans or koffing as her opener for trainers with lesser badges. It made sense, when Ash thought of the poison-type it was muk, koffing, and ekans that came to the forefront of his mind as staples of the typing. If ekans had appeared, Ash would have Greed out instead of Nut. The annoying habit of a koffing to use Explosion when pressed made Ash wary of putting his starter against it. Nut had more ranged options than the pancham did, not to mention Defog as a hidden weapon against a pokemon that emitted noxious gasses as easily as Ash breathed. Easier, even.

Janine gestured to a man on the sideline that Ash had similarly not noticed. He took the spot of the referee and put his arm straight into the air. "Nuzleaf vs. Koffing." He slashed his hand down. "Begin!"

"Leech Seed." Ash ordered.

Nut reared back as a dozen life-sucking seeds gathered. A moment later they exploded forward towards the levitating koffing, searching for purchase in its hard shell. Koffing wordlessly dodged to the side without input from Janine.

"Smokescreen."

It was barely a whisper from where Ash stood across the field, but Koffing didn't hesitate. Dark smoke billowed from the purple pokemon immediately. It retreated into the smoke as Nut shot another Leech Seed without any effect. The smoke slowly encroached into Nut's side of the field.

"Careful, watch for surprise attacks. Use Leech Seed to find it, Air Cutter when you do." Ash said calmly despite the frown on his face. This tactic reminded him a bit too much of Erika. He couldn't see Janine through the smokescreen, let alone hear if the shinobi said anything.

Nut was careful to shoot a few seeds into the smoke systematically. A Leech Seed was shot to Nut's left. Ash barely caught the slight ripple of the smoke to the nuzleaf's right in time to warn his pokemon. "To your right! Air Cutter!"

Koffing surged from the smoke and was met head-on by Nut's Air Cutter. The poison-type continued forward despite the hit it took. Nut tried to dodge it, but was just too slow. The grass-type was sent sprawling from the Body Slam but sent another Air Cutter that sent Koffing retreating into the smoke again.

Ash furrowed his brow as Nut coughed when he inhaled. Koffing had not been billowing out smoke when it attacked, but it had been leaking something. Poison Gas, he guessed. It was a good strategy. It forced the opponent's pokemon to choose between going into the smoke, where Janine was sure to have a field day with a blind opponent, or stay put and inhale more poison.

Luckily, Ash could choose option three. "Prepare a Solar Beam."

Defog was his best trick in this battle. He'd only get the one chance to surprise Janine. Nut formed a circle with his fists near his chest. Slowly, a luminescent bundle of light gathered. Ash watched carefully as it was prepared. "Defog! Hit it when you see it!"

Nut flicked his leaf. In an instant, the Poison Gas and Smokescreen was cleared from the field. Ash could finally see Janine across the field and he took pleasure in the surprise she showed, though she schooled it quickly. Koffing was similarly surprised as his concealment was blown away. Nut locked his eyes on the gaseous pokemon.

"Assurance." Janine gave the order at the same moment Solar Beam was released and hurled forward. The powerful grass-type move struck true and Koffing was sent reeling back. Before the dust had settled, Koffing had already returned fire with Assurance. Ash winced as Nut was struck with the move.

Assurance was a move that scaled its effects to the damage its user had taken. When a pokemon returned fire after taking a particularly hard-hitting move it would help to even the odds. The caveat being that, since the move scaled to the damage received, it was fairly weak when not used in response to an attack of a high caliber, attacks such as Solar Beam. That was not to mention that the user still had to take the damage themselves and not be defeated.

Assurance was similar to the move Destiny Bond in its bare basics–damage that affected the user would also affect their attacker–which made it a steppingstone for any trainer looking to delve into the insanely difficult to master ghost-type move. Ash was fairly certain that the koffing-line could learn Destiny Bond with dedicated and exhaustive training. It made him shudder to think what Janine could do with that move.

Hopefully the moves would get tournament banned before he ever had to worry about them. The winner of the Conference three years ago had used Destiny Bond, Perish Song, Curse, and Confuse Ray so many times that Ash's head spun just thinking of it. He thought she was a dark-type specialist, though he couldn't remember her name.

When Nut got to his legs he was unsteady and glared as Koffing reoriented itself. Assurance had done more damage than Ash had expected. "Razor Leaf, then Energy Ball. Defog if you see any smoke."

The wind whipped violently as sharp foliage was thrown around the field. Koffing tried to produce more smoke and gas but it was Defogged quicker than it could be produced. Janine was suspiciously silent as Koffing was batted around. Nut flicked his head leaf as he launched his Energy Ball.

"Maneuver F," Janine commanded sternly.

Koffing launched into action. The poison-type levitated forward and met the Energy Ball head on. Ash blinked in disbelief as the attack struck the pokemon directly. He watched Koffing shrug the attack off as best it could as it continued its one-track path toward Nut. The rookie would have commended his opponent's constitution if it wasn't currently launching Sludge Bomb at his nuzleaf.

"Dodge, Mega Drain." Nut ducked the shot easily as the sludge went wide and struck the field harmlessly. More Sludge Bombs followed that Nut also easily avoided as he sucked the vitality from his opponent. Koffing, though, was closing the distance faster than Ash liked.

The teen watched as another Sludge Bomb was shot carelessly past Nut to join the rest. It landed unceremoniously and joined the rest of the sludge on the field. Ash nearly dismissed it as yet another failed attack, but caught sight of a sharp protrusion. In fact, it was several sharp protrusions that lingered even as the sludge was spreading out. He watched as Nut sent an Air Cutter at his target.

It wasn't until Koffing started to glow a dull silver that Ash recognized the trap he'd walked into. The remnants of Sludge Bomb on each side of Nut would not have hindered his escape normally. However, Ash realized far too late that they were no normal Sludge Bombs. Toxic Spikes littered the spots that Koffing had struck, forming a wall between Nut and any avenue to flee. Koffing did what its species was best known for.

Explosion rocked the psychic barriers. The referee winced from the sideline, a sentiment that Ash agreed with thoroughly. The barrier lessened and Ash immediately saw the unconscious body of Nut. He returned his pokemon to his pokeball as Janine did the same with Koffing.

Ash cursed. Explosion was a staple of the koffing-line. The poison-types were one of the only species, along with the electrode-line, that could use the potentially lethal move without any long-term damage. He knew that and he still let it get close enough that Nut's leaf looked scorched. He shook his head as he palmed Nut's pokeball. "Good work, buddy. You did great. I'll be better." He replaced the grass-type's pokeball for another from his bandolier.

Ash released Graveler from his ultraball. The rock-type landed with a thud that shook the field. His pokemon's eyes caught sight of his opponent and gave a rare grin. Janine was silent as she watched him. She withdrew a pokeball from her robes and released her pokemon. Ash frowned at the Venomoth that flapped its wings as it emerged.

She gestured to the referee who fumbled to announce the commencement of the next round. "Graveler vs. Venomoth. Begin!"

Ash was not a fan of the matchup. Venomoth were quick and didn't tend to land when in battle. If he wasn't careful, it could become a skeet shoot on his end. He couldn't forget the dusty wings of the moth either. Graveler's physical defense was something to be admired but that didn't correlate to his special defense.

"Smack Down, then Rock Blast." He ordered.

Janine watched Graveler with an expression Ash couldn't read. "Poison Powder."

Graveler grunted as he followed Ash's commands. The boulders flung at Venomoth were slipped by with speed that made Ash frown. The powder being flung every time it flapped its wings was also concerning. If he didn't disable it soon, the battle would be over. Graveler's defenses were wasted on poison. This fight was shaping up to be his antithesis.

"Use Rock Tomb to trap it, then Smack Down."

The rock-type stomped forward as Venomoth sent a flurry of Gusts around the field. The flying-type move kicked the Poison Powder around viciously. Graveler pounded harshly on the ground as a myriad of earthen walls jutted upwards in the moth's flight path. Luckily for them, venomoth could not fly to heights of any significance. The height of a tree was about the limit to their aerial endeavors.

"Graveler, use–"

"Bug Buzz."

Ash was cut off harshly as Venomoth let out an ear splitting buzzing sound. Even Graveler seemed to wince at the sound as it struck him. The rookie grimaced. The buzzing completely drowned out anything he said. The poison moth pokemon shifted its path as it barely avoided a Smack Down from Graveler.

Gradually, the buzzing lost its intensity and Ash thought he might be able to get a word in.

"Bug Buzz. Confusion." Janine ordered casually. Ash barely caught the words over the buzz. He swore lightly, not that anyone would have heard him anyway as the overwhelming shriek returned.

Venomoth did an about-face suddenly. Its eyes gave a teal glow as Graveler stopped throwing attacks momentarily. Ash watched as his pokemon gave a twitch before whipping his head around. A random spot on the field exploded from a Rock Blast.

The rookie tried to shout, tried to get his pokemon to return to his actual fight, but Graveler couldn't hear him over the buzz. Confusion was a move that could be shrugged off fairly easily if a trainer could prompt their pokemon. However, Ash was unable to do so given the circ*mstances. Compounded with the fact it was likely Graveler's first experience with the attack, he was more vulnerable than the average pokemon.

Ash watched as Venomoth flew forward to attack. Zen Headbutt, if he guessed correctly, with Poison Powder still trailing behind.

Closing the distance was the moth's mistake, one Ash realized immediately but was unable to properly capitalize on. The rookie realized it didn't matter. Graveler was still not in complete control of himself when he lept upwards and, with all the immense weight and power Ash knew he possessed, crashed to the earth with a violent surge. Earthquake shook the ground and tore the field apart. Ash had a front seat to the damage it caused.

The previous walls constructed by Rock Tomb crumpled from the quake. The terrain ruptured upwards with jagged edges and flat bases meshed together. Venomoth was struck by a plate of earth that sent it reeling to the ground with a tumble of dust and powder. When it crashed, the buzzing finally ceased.

"Graveler, buddy, snap out of it!" Ash yelled.

The living boulder shook himself when he heard him. Finally, the confusion wore off of his pokemon enough for him to reorient himself. Graveler seemed particularly angry.

"Smack Down, then Rollout!"

Graveler was already in motion. Ash heard Janine say something but was too enthralled to process what it was. Venomoth struggled to take off but was grounded completely thanks to Smack Down. When it flailed its wings and released a cloud of powder, Ash frowned. The rock-type wasn't getting out of this without getting poisoned one way or another. Graveler struck the moth with a violent crashing noise. He shifted his path to strike the downed opponent thrice more.

Venomoth gave one last sputter of powder and buzzed as it finally fell unconscious under Graveler's heavy shell. Graveler gave a heavy groan as he stopped rolling and uncurled his four arms. Ash frowned when he saw the dust and powder covering his pokemon's face. Not even his pokemon's sturdy defense could stop him from breathing in the poisonous powders it seemed.

A time limit then. Ash could deal with that. Graveler would just end their last foe quickly.

Janine watched Graveler sputter before releasing her last pokemon. Graveler gave their last opponent a sneering grunt despite his injuries. The rock-type was unimpressed with the pile of purple and black grime that appeared with a wet slap.

Ash pinched his nose as he retrieved his nose plugs. Muk were known for their stench after all. Janine's muk was wider than Ash was tall and let out a terrible bubbling that made Ash uneasy. The referee was able to swallow her own obvious disgust as she slashed her arm down. "Graveler vs. Muk. Begin!"

"You're on a time limit. Rock Throw, test it." Ash said as he eyed the violet goo. Special moves wouldn't do much to Muk, so physical attacks would be the focus. Speed wasn't a trait that muk excelled in, but he'd be a fool to underestimate a Gym Leader.

Graveler wrenched a section of the already ruined field upwards and hurled it. The poison-type let out a gurgle as it slid away from the attacks. It left a black and violet slime trail as it slithered away from the attack.

"Acid Armor, Harden."

Ash almost thought he had misheard what Janine had said. Acid Armor and Harden were both defense bolstering techniques but ones that had the exact opposite effect. Harden did as it said and hardened the body of the pokemon, while Acid Armor did the opposite as it liquified the slimy body of its user to allow blows to have less of an impact. He would have thought the two moves would clash, but he knew there was a reason behind it. He just needed to find it.

Ash decided he couldn't let the battle be on her terms. Graveler was already poisoned and was only gonna get worse if he dragged it out. "Graveler, Harden and Defense Curl. Then, Bulldoze and Rollout."

Graveler tucked in his four arms to his shell as he produced a dull glow from Harden. The rock-type stomped the ground and rumbled forward. The ground below the rock-type granulated as he charged forward. Muk's gelatinous body slicked to the side as Graveler thundered ahead. Or it tried to, but Bulldoze made the ground hard to navigate for the slimy pokemon as the ground itself began to hinder its movement.

"Venoshock. Mud Shot."

Muk scooped up the granulated ground. The sand-like substance coalesced as it mixed in with the liquid-like grime that made up a muk's body. It launched the mixture forward as it simultaneously spewed a vile black spout of potent poisonous liquid.

Graveler was already too close to dodge. The attacks hit his shell as he rolled forward and Ash watched in horror as it leaked into his pokemon's face. Most of the poison attack was rolled away as Graveler built up speed, but Ash knew Venoshock would only exacerbate the poison in his pokemon's system.

Finally, Graveler struck Muk with Rollout. Instead of the splatter of violet gunk that Ash expected, a loud crack was heard as Muk was thrown backward. The place that the muk had been stationed at was suspiciously dark and held sharp protrusions in the slime that Ash spotted immediately.

"Toxic Spikes, don't go through its slime trail!" Ash warned. The same trick Koffing had employed with its Sludge Bombs. He wouldn't make that mistake twice. "Use Rock Tomb to make a ramp!"

Janine's eyes rose slightly as Graveler rumbled forward. A slab of dusty earth jetted forward in his path and rose above the poisonous trap she had laid. Ash smirked as Graveler got closer. "Hit it hard!"

The rock-type needed no further instructions as Rollout rumbled closer to its intended target. The boulder rampaged forward and left deep grooves in the field as he did so. Muk gurgled in pain as it was hit with the hard body of the living boulder. Ash frowned as again the attack sent the muk reeling backward instead of into splintering piles of goo trying to piece itself back together.

Rollout combined with Defense Curl and Harden should have been more than enough to finish off the poison-type. So, what was the answer? Ash watched Muk land with another sickening splat and the ooze that spread out across the spot it landed.

Ash leaned forward as Muk spread out when it landed. Was it wider than before? He watched as it came together more and it rose to its full height. Did the landing do that much damage? It had good force behind it but it shouldn't have been so…

Ash grinned. He understood now. "Graveler, get in close!" The boulder huffed and groaned as he lurched forward again. Ash saw how much the poison was working on his pokemon. He looked close to falling over on the spot. "When you're close, gently force your arms into its body and use Magnitude!"

"Harden, Sludge Wave." Janine ordered quickly.

Graveler was faster. Muk was still trying to get itself together as the rock pokemon jetted all four of its arms forwards. With a surprisingly light touch that Ash wasn't aware the pokemon possessed, Graveler sank into the muk. The poison-type shot a Sludge Bomb into the face of its attack, but Graveler was stalwart in his resolve.

Graveler's roar sounded as if two tectonic plates had clashed. Magnitude shook the ground and Muk let out a bellow of pain as it was shaken to its core. The sludge pokemon lost its form and liquefied before it was violently split apart and torn.

Ash would have been horrified if it had been any other pokemon. Muk would simply find its form again when it recovered. He would admit that the trick with Acid Armor and Harden was crafty and hard to spot at first. When Muk was struck hard, its body would act like a solid and be more resistant. However, when it was struck more gently it acted more as a liquid.

It reminded him of an experiment he and Gary had done together as children by mixing starch and water. This time he had the privilege of not receiving a scolding from his mother for making a mess of the kitchen. It was a great defensive technique against something like Graveler. If Ash hadn't seen through it, Graveler would have simply been wasting time until he finally went unconscious from the poison.

The referee called the match in Ash's favor and he smiled widely. Janine returned the incapacitated poison-type with a flick of her wrist. Muk vanished in a flash of crimson light. He returned Graveler even as the ground-type basked in the glow of his victory. The Gym Leader dismissed the referee as she walked across the battle-torn field. Ash was impressed as she maneuvered the craters and poison left over without effort. She stopped a few feet from him and measured him with her gaze.

"You fought well." She stated as she brushed past him. Ash stood still before she motioned for him to follow.

"Thank you, my team has worked hard." He said. "Muk was a hard fight. That's the first time I've ever seen Acid Body used like that."

The shinobi nodded. "Muk is often the barrier between those who receive my badge and those who do not. You did well to spot the flaw in the technique, many others do not and it costs them. Can you tell me what the other option would have been?"

"If I had a water-type, they could have used a move like Water Gun with lower output to water down the technique." At least, whenever he and Gary had added too much water to their little project it had always failed. It was probably the same principle.

"A good deduction."

Ash accepted the praise with a smile before frowning. "Muk will be okay, right? I know Graveler's Magnitude first hand and it can be pretty rough."

Janine quirked a brow upwards but nodded nonetheless. "She shall recover unimpeded. Even if she had split permanently, which I can assure you she did not, then the grimer left would have combined and evolved rather quickly."

That made him feel a little better. They reached the lobby of the Gym and Janine approached the desk. A few words with the secretary and Ash was holding a Soul Badge. Ash knew he looked like a child with a new toy. He didn't care. The Soul Badge was carefully tucked away and joined his Rainbow Badge in his pack.

"Thank you."

"Do not thank me. Thank yourself and your team, you have earned it." Janine said softly. "Sparky's words seemed to be true."

Ash's eyebrows shot up. "Sparky talked to you about me?"

"He did. He mentioned you showed promise as an upcoming trainer. He also mentioned that your graveler was vigorous." Janine told him with a certain fondness for something Ash knew not. "He requested that I be a little harder on you than I would normally be on a trainer challenging for their second badge."

That was why the battle had been three-on-three as opposed to the basic two-on-two. He had also thought Muk was tougher than it should have been which meant it probably was more oriented to a trainer with more badges under their belt. Still, he loved a good challenge. He'd have to thank Sparky in the future. "Thank you."

Janine gave him a look that Ash thought made her seem older than she was. "I would not thank me so soon. Sparky mentioned some things to look for when you battle. You still have much to improve on."

Ash agreed. He was not as arrogant as Gary. He was a rookie that had, for all intents and purposes, just started his journey. Though he was now three months in and had earned his first two badges. That at least gave him some credit, he thought.

"Do you have any advice for me?" Advice from a Gym Leader was never something to disregard lightly.

Janine smiled as she led him to the doors of the Gym. "Let us talk on your way to the Center. Your teammates will need some treatment. Nurse Joy keeps plenty of anti-poison treatments on hand."

Ash followed like an excited lillipup. The last time he'd gotten to talk to a Gym Leader one-on-one had been Giovanni back in Viridian. He would admit that Erika had soured his impression of Leaders since he had left Celadon. Thankfully, the grass-type Gym Leader seemed to be the exception and not the rule. Janine and Giovanni were both leagues ahead of her.

Ash mentally apologized for any negative thing he may have called her in the past.

"Firstly," Janine began. "I believe Sparky battled you in Stone Town, correct?"

Ash nodded and she continued. "Sparky may not be in the Big Eight, but he's a Gym Leader. I commend your victory over him. Rainer is also a particularly challenging opponent, yet his expertise differs from his brothers. Do you know what their preferred styles are?"

Ash frowned. "Rainer is calculating and methodical. He used complicated techniques and weather-altering moves that gave him a huge advantage. I didn't have a good answer to most of what he threw at me. His poliwrath was able to redirect an Energy Ball back at my nuzleaf, seedot back then."

Janine smiled. "Yes, that sounds like him. Do you know how he did it?"

Ash almost shrugged but thought that might be rude. "I'm not sure. I tried replicating it on my own. Nut, my nuzleaf, would use Energy Ball and my pancham would attempt to redirect it with Circle Throw and a light Fire Punch to reign it in. It never worked though."

"An interesting strategy," Janine noted. "Circle Throw is a factor of it. Psychic is the other factor you were missing. It's a precise technique that Rainer used against my father."

Ash nearly slapped himself. Of course, it was Psychic, it made so much more sense. He then sighed in disappointment. "Then my pancham can't use it."

A shame. That would have been an incredibly beneficial technique.

"Not the same way Rainer does it, no, but you might be able to substitute it. Instead of Psychic, lean into what your pancham can do that a poliwrath cannot."

Ash thought hard for a moment before his eyes widened. "Distortion. If he could manipulate Distortion on a small scale, he could pull off the same effect."

Janine nodded. "It would also have an advantage over using Psychic. Do you know how?"

"Poliwrath wouldn't be able to redirect a move like Dark Pulse." Ash reasoned. "It would disrupt the Psychic."

"True, very good." Janine gave him an approving nod. "Enough about Rainer. What about Pyro and Sparky?"

Ash hummed. "I never fought Pyro and only met him briefly. Sparky though, his luxio was really strong. It fought Graveler so I didn't get to see its electric attacks, but it was a physical powerhouse. It even threw back Graveler."

"A shame you did not see Sparky wield electric-type attacks. Sparky's control is his greatest asset. He mentored under Lt. Surge for a time. Rather than Surge's aggressive style that relies primarily on power and speed, Sparky focuses on control. It is something to be admired."

"And what about Pyro?"

"Pyro is the one that focuses on power. His magmar and flareon have incredible firepower. He likes to set the field alight and let his pokemon do as they please."

Ash smiled lightly. "Three brothers. Smarts, Precision, and Power. The trifecta of pokemon training."

"Indeed." Janine agreed, amused. "Now, I do believe I agreed to give you some actual advice before we depart." Ash hadn't realized that they'd already gotten so close to the Pokemon Center.

"Firstly, Sparky brought to my attention the way in which you issue commands to your pokemon. I was not sure what he was referring to at first, but I believe I understand." Janine said not unkindly. "You command your team too much."

Ash frowned slightly. "Too much?"

"Sparky said he and Rainer matched your style of commands when they battled you. They both agreed it was inefficient. You walk your pokemon through the motions, as they said."

"I give them too much at once?" Ash tried to clarify. Wasn't the way he commanded during battle fairly normal?

"Yes." She agreed. "Your devotion as a trainer is to train your pokemon before they battle, not during. A trainer's role during the battle is to coach and advise. It is important that you understand that you are not the one battling."

He frowned. "So, I should order them less?"

"Not necessarily less, but you must trust them to know what to do. For example, your nuzleaf knew Koffing was setting up a trap before you did. If you had given it a little more reign, it likely could have avoided the worst of it."

Ash's gaze fell. He needed to apologize to Nut. The nuzleaf deserved a better showing. "I understand."

Janine laid a hand on his shoulder. "It is a difficult habit to break once you find yourself in it. It is often very late in a trainer's career that they understand the significance of what I am saying. If you are able to capitalize on making the change early, then you will be a better trainer for it. It may be beneficial to watch the recent recreational match between Elite Four Bruno and Gym Leader Pryce to understand what I mean. Conciseness is a virtue."

Ash nodded as they reached the entrance of the Center. He hadn't even known that such a battle had taken place. "Thank you. I wouldn't have made that connection otherwise."

The shinobi was silent as a beep came from her robes. She withdrew a small device that sounded off again before she clicked it. "I must go now; another challenger has come for their badge. I wish you the best of luck in your future battles, Ash Ketchum, and I invite you to battle me again when you complete the Gym Circuit."

Ash turned to open the doors and, when he turned back around to say goodbye, Janine was gone.

"Ninjas." He muttered as he went to heal his pokemon.

.—.—.

Ash laughed at the screen in front of him. The camera flickered back to Gary's face with almost purposeful comedic timing. Delta's face mimicked his trainer's in shock. The two were in the shadow of their massive opponent.

The League allowed trainers to view footage of other challengers to the Gym. Ash always circled the box that allowed for his own battle footage to be viewed publicly and he knew Gary did the same. His mother was adamant on watching all of his Gym battles and he was happy to oblige her. Professor Oak similarly watched his and Gary's battles when he had a free moment.

Ash sighed as he shoved a handful of chips into his mouth before he washed it down with a sip of his drink. He wasn't usually one for eating in bed but he thought he deserved a reward. He had earned his Soul Badge, his second major triumph in the Gym Circuit. Greed rumbled as he watched from his position in front of Ash's bed. His starter was munching down on the assortment of berries Ash had given him as they both enjoyed the moment of respite.

He sighed in contentment as Gary snapped out a series of orders on the screen. The footage was of his friend's battle in Pewter City. Gym Leader Flint had sent out a rhyhorn as his first pokemon. Gary, naturally, sent out Delta. The round was over quickly with Delta only taking one Horn Attack to the shell. Flint's second pokemon was what Ash was gleefully watching his friend flail against.

Onix was a towering rock serpent that Gary had not expected. That was fair, at least. Onix as a general rule of thumb were not pokemon a newly minted rookie was prepared to take on. Their sheer size and strength were immense. One good Slam could end the battle. This onix seemed at least half the size of a mature adult. A youngling, if Ash had to guess. It was the only way he could see Flint allowing it to battle a rookie without a single badge.

Gary, to his credit, recouped quickly. Delta was already on the move and spitting out Water Guns one after the other. For the rest of the night, Ash had a great time picking apart his best friend's battle from the warm comfort of his bed.

.—.—.

Notes:

And there it is, chapter seven. I struggled with this chapter a bit which is part of the reason why it took so damn long to get out. The other reasons are work and college. A good deal happened in this chapter. A new addition with Regal, let me know what you think of her. Next chapter we're going to get a lot more interaction with the newer members. I can confidently say that Ash won't be getting any more pokemon for a bit. And the stalkers finally revealed! Unown indeed, we shall see where it goes from here.

As always, comments are much appreciated and make me write faster.

Chapter 9: Range

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

.—.—.

Ash hadn’t ever hated any particular weather but he decided he hated the rain.

He had good memories about rainy weather. He remembered when he was young that whenever it would rain, his mom would put a raincoat on him and let him splash out in the puddles that formed. There was always a large puddle that formed near the mailbox that he’d splash through like a tauros.

On some days his mother would fill up water balloons and squirt guns and Gary would join him in the rain for a classic water war. He remembered he’d be exhausted within half an hour and would go sit on the porch as his mom would hum a song and Professor Oak would dry them off with that huge golduck towel–the same one Gary always bragged about–before taking the younger Oak home. Most of the time Ash would fall asleep with his head resting in his mom’s lap only to find himself in bed the next morning, tucked in tight.

He was hit with a strong wave of nostalgia and a stifling sensation in his throat.

Ash quickly amended his decision; he didn’t hate the rain. However, that didn’t mean he liked having to sit under his tent for the second day in a row as the rain pounded down. Cove was enjoying himself, the corphish was the only one of Ash’s pokemon that was suited to the weather.

The yearly wet season was upon them; It had officially started the day after he had left Fuchsia City. Ash was just thankful it was projected to be short this year. Two weeks of constant rain was unenjoyable but it beat the normal month-long downpours Kanto could get. The only joy he could find was in the occasional scene of Cove happily scuttling around their camp and snapping his claws at the falling raindrops. He was the only pokemon Ash had seen so happy in the downpour.

Nut had been fine enough in the weather until the rain clouds had blocked out the sun for multiple days on end. Regal found the rain unpleasant as it messed up her feathers and anything that had the audacity to soil her plumage threatened to whip her into a fury. Greed was soaked the first time he’d gone foraging and had been testy ever since. Graveler was grumpy but Ash didn’t see much of a difference from the usual.

Ash was sitting in his tent as he waited for a lull in the rain. The rain was impeding his travel exponentially. He was constantly forced to sit in his tent and wait for the rain to let up before he could continue. That would at times mean he would pack up in the middle of the night and get a few hours of sleep deprived travel before he was forced to make camp again.

Regal chirped from her position on Ash’s shoulder. He smiled fondly and fed her yet another piece of his ration bar. The rookidee gracefully took it in her beak before starting her feast. The teen was rather amused by her antics. She seemed to like the bland bars more than he did.

The Dex beeped as it gave him the information he was looking for. Ash tapped through a few screens as he searched for the video he was looking for. Finally, he tapped into a video of a nidorino in front of a training dummy. The trainer watched as the poison-type launched a Sludge Bomb, followed by a Thunderbolt and Ice Beam in quick succession. He continued to watch as the video displayed the pokemon running through its vast movepool.

Ash leaned back as he sighed. Greed gave him a questioning look from his spot reclining near the foot of the sleeping bag. “Sorry, bud, just thinking.” He kept thinking back to his talk with Janine.

If he had messed up something as simple as giving commands during battle, what else had he overlooked? He knew that he was overthinking. Knowing it didn’t make him stop doing it. After a bit too much reflection he was vindicated at last. He found another flaw he had fallen into as well.

His team’s movepools weren’t diverse. Greed had the most diversity out of his pokemon with a total of eight types. Meanwhile, Graveler only had access to three types and Nut had four. Regal and Cove, being the newbies of the team and as young as they were, only had access to a couple each. Cove had three if Ash included Mud Sport. However, the corphish was not proficient enough in his egg move for Ash to confidently count it.

It was important to introduce variety to a pokemon early on in their training. It expanded their horizons and gave them a solid base to work with before they matured and narrowed down their battling-style and staple attacks. Most trainers overlooked it in the beginning and Ash was no different. He took his hat off and ran his hand through his hair in frustration.

Regal chirped at the affront and began preening his hair for him immediately. Ash smiled fondly. The flying-type had been pretty attached to him. He chalked it up to her being so young, pretty much freshly hatched. He lightly smoothed down her yellow chest feathers with his index finger. Regal chirped happily.

Greed rumbled lighty to grab Ash’s attention. The rookie watched as the pancham pointed to the fabric of the tent. Ash nodded in understanding. The rain had let up and he needed to get going. “Thanks, Greed. Let’s get moving.”

They were on the road quickly after that. Route 15 was mostly open plains with patches of trees scattered around. It made it easy to spot anyone or anything from a distance. Regal was flying above them and would tell them if any pokemon approached that he couldn’t see. He didn’t expect any pokemon to leave their holes and dens to harass them in the middle of the wet season, but he also didn’t want to be blindsided. Besides, Regal enjoyed the brief moments of open skies that allowed her to stretch her wings.

Greed and Nut were both at his side and similarly enjoying the reprieve from the rain. Cove and Graveler were sitting in their pokeballs on his bandolier; neither of them were itching to travel at a fast pace along the route. Ash didn’t mind traveling as much since it gave him more time to think.

He decided to switch gears in regards to the training of his team. Ash knew the training was going to be harsh. It was what was demanded of them now. Surge was a monster and wouldn’t hesitate to fry them for any mistake.

Greed was the only of his pokemon that Ash thought was equipped with a diverse moveset. Mostly because the panda had received the most TMs out of the team. With his starter’s learnset being more open than his teammates’ Ash thought it would be a better avenue for his starter to build up his dark-typing. Greed had had a fire lit under him since Nut’s evolution. Whether that was from the competition or from the effect of the nuzleaf’s Distortion Ash didn’t know, but he could appreciate it nonetheless.

Dark Pulse was a move he desperately wanted his team to learn, but that move required a TM since none of his pokemon could learn it naturally. It would be a worthy purchase. Ash had come to realize that TMs were expensive, no one disputed that, but they were also essential to the upper echelons of trainers.

Ash found himself lucky that so many of his pokemon could use many of the same moves. Dark Pulse could be learnt by Greed, Nut, and Cove. Purchasing the TM would pay off in dividends in the future. The same could be said for Night Slash. Dig was another that all of his pokemon, except for Regal, could learn.

A plan slowly came together. Greed would be focusing on Night Slash and Work Up. Night Slash was an obvious addition as the dark-type move would further along the pancham in harnessing his Distortion for his future evolution. He could also help teach the move to Ash’s other pokemon when they were ready. Work Up was a move that worked similar to the move Bulk Up in that it would increase the attack potency of the user by surging them with adrenaline and hormones. The thought did make Ash wonder what would happen if both moves were used together. An idea for the future. He wanted to venture into new areas of training and self-improving moves were among them.

Nut had just about perfected Sucker Punch, the move wasn’t that difficult to begin with. Extrasensory was tempting as the nuzleaf’s next option. It gave him another type to work with while also giving him serious power. Ash decided the move would come in time. What Nut needed was something that would help his evasion. Janine’s battle had shown him that readily. Double Team would be a great move in that regard, but he didn’t have that TM on hand. He had purchased something else in Celadon. The Dig TM purchased in Celadon City was administered at last. It would give him a way to evade when needed and also introduced a new type that Ash felt he needed. Dig wouldn’t take long–he hoped–so Nut would also begin working on Feint Attack and Sunny Day. The weather-altering move was going to take longer, but Ash wanted desperately to dive into that area of training and the potential it afforded.

Regal was also going to be working with Nut from time to time. The nuzleaf could help guide her with Defog and Air Cutter. Both flying-type moves should come naturally to her with a bit of help. The rookidee was young enough that Ash felt she could hold off on the influx of diverse moves for now. After she had grown a bit Ash thought Agility would be a great addition. Tailwind was a good base that he could work off of. Rookidee possessed decent speed that would compound as they evolved. However, Regal’s evolution to corviknight would give her heavy steel plating that would hinder her speed quite a bit. If he focused on it now it wouldn’t be as detrimental to her in the future.

Cove was going to have a tough time before they reached Vermilion City. Ash was going to work him hard. Mud Sport was a great move that the corphish could use to help negate his weakness to electric-types. The move was still iffy but Ash would put the crustacean on Mud-Slap in the meantime. It would help Cove get a better grasp on ground-type energy that should translate to Mud Sport as well as give him another weapon against electric-types. In addition, Ash wanted the lobster to add Crunch and Metal Claw to his arsenal. Crunch would be easy and Greed could assist if he needed it, but Metal Claw would likely take more effort. Cove would also be the first to learn both Dig and Night Slash once Nut and Greed perfected them.

Ash let a smile come to his lips when he thought of Graveler’s regiment. The rock pokemon was going to be the most overworked of his team. Ash had an ambitious plan for his grumpiest pokemon. He was going to call it Indomitable; a technique that would effectively make Graveler able to shrug off anything short of a Hyper Beam. Harden, Iron Defense, Defense Curl, Endure, and Protect. It would be hard. It required Graveler to learn Iron Defense and Endure before they could even begin. Which meant finishing Rock Polish when the rock-type would stop whining over the speed bolstering move, a move which would have been a great asset against Janine. Despite that, Ash knew Graveler would be up for it. The rock pokemon would also learn Fire Punch and Thunder Punch from Greed. The moves would give his pokemon a response to his biggest weaknesses in water-types and grass-types.

Ash was also incredibly interested in the way Graveler had used Magnitude in the Fuchsia Gym. The point blank attack had been incredibly effective against Muk and he wanted to explore it a little more. He’d thought of the application when he had first began working with Graveler and seeing it used practically had restoked that ember of interest within him. Greed had volunteered to be their test subject and Graveler had been uncharacteristically eager to try it out. Ash had readied a couple potions and a revive before they even squared off. He had purchased a couple Hyper Potions specifically for that demonstration.

Graveler had taken Greed in his hands and grinned. The rock-type had lifted the panda above his head before he leapt upwards. Ash watched as his starter was plunged downwards and cratered into the earth. All the power that Graveler’s Magnitude would have transferred into the ground was instead brought directly onto Greed. The pancham let out a yelping grunt that horrified Ash as it was cut short.

He had never heard his first pokemon in such pain before. Greed had been knocked out immediately. Even Graveler was shocked by the sheer power his attack had displayed. Ash used both Hyper Potions on the panda pokemon and a revive before he had regained consciousness. Greed had taken another day to recoup and return to his full strength.

Ash was both horrified and fascinated at the technique. It was disgustingly effective and Graveler hadn’t even used his full power. The trainer couldn’t stop thinking about what it would look like if Graveler truly put his everything into the attack using Earthquake as opposed to Magnitude. Ash shuddered as he subconsciously patted Greed’s head. It could have bore permanent scars.

Ash tempered his ambitions with rationality. The technique–Epicenter, he dubbed it–was unusable in its current state. A Gym challenge was the only place Ash would allow its use for now. At least a Gym Leader’s pokemon could survive the move without being permanently disabled. If he pulled that during an average trainer battle…Ash shuddered again as he remembered the caterpie on Route 1 so long ago.

They had two weeks before Vermilion at the very least. He added some days to account for the weather and decided the journey was probably closer to three weeks. He had three weeks to whip his team into shape. Janine had been a wake-up call. They’d won the battle fairly handily, but it still served to Ash as the reminder of where he stood on the so-called societal ladder in the grand scheme of things.

Flat out under it.

As a rookie trainer going for his third badge, there were no more rest days. No one was going to baby him or hold his hand. So, Ash gave himself until Vermilion City. Then, not even Lieutenant Surge would be enough to stop his team.

.—.—.

Ash released Cove with a small hum. It would be the corphish’s first proper trainer battle since he’d joined the team. Since they had left Fuchsia there had been a couple battles, but most trainers weren’t itching to use the small increments of clear weather to slow their travel by battling.

The opposing trainer gave the crustacean a measuring glance, unsure of what to use if the shifting fingers over his pokeball belt was any indication. The trainer–a tall boy about his age who had introduced himself as Harrison–tapped one ball after the next in clear indecision.

“He’s one of my newer pokemon, if that helps.” Ash supplied. Harrison blinked but smiled in appreciation. A pokeball was finally selected. A gray feline speckled with the occasional tuft of white appeared with a flash of light. Its tail was spring-like in its shape and longer than the rest of the cat’s body twice over. Ash knew he recognized this cat from somewhere, but he couldn’t put a name to its species.

“Glameow is pretty new as well, I got her in the Safari Zone.” Harrison told Ash. The Pallet Town native appreciated the selection. More than a handful of trainers would have used a pokemon that could secure them easy cash. “You ready?”

“As ever.” Ash confirmed. “You want the first move?”

“All yours.”

“Thanks. Cove, Bubble Beam.” Ash ordered. The corphish blasted the jet of water forward instantly. Glameow hissed as it sprang sideways to avoid it. This battle was refreshingly low stakes in Ash’s mind. “Get close, Double Hit.”

Glameow was lithe compared to purugly, their stocky evolutions. Harrison used that to his advantage as the battle raged on. “Avoid its claws with Quick Attack. Charm and then use Iron Tail.”

The cat hissed in displeasure as Cove struck at it with his meaty claws. Glameow leapt diagonally as it gave a pink-red pulse. The ruffian pokemon gurgled in confusion as Charm worked its way into his mind. Ash rolled his eyes at the fairy-type move. It was essentially a lesser Attract, though it lacked the usual drawback of needing to be used on the opposite gender.

The momentary lapse gave their opponent enough time to coil its lengthy tail. The tail compressed before Glameow twirled and sent the appendage coated with a metallic silver shine at the crustacean. Ash smirked as Cove reacted with a watery grunt–or the corphish’s equivalent of a grunt–and shot his pincers towards the so gratefully offered appendage.

“Vice Grip, Crunch.” Harrison squirmed as Ash commanded the orders. Glameow hissed viciously as the Iron Tail struck Cove with a thwack but didn’t throw the water-type away. Instead, the Vice Grip kept the two pokemon connected. The feline screeched as the pressure doubled as Distortion creeped its way up Cove's body to power the Crunch.

“Hone Claws then target its underbelly with Slash!” Harrison hastily yelled out.

“Bubble Beam.” Glameow’s hiss was drowned out as the point-blank water-type jerked its head sideways. Despite the cat’s precarious position it still used its hindlegs to Slash downwards at Cove’s softer underbelly. However, Ash was already anticipating it. “Intercept with Razor Shell.”

Shells began to cover the area around the water-type’s cream underbelly. Ash looked on as the Slash raked against the sharp shells instead of their intended target. Harrison recalled his pokemon before the sharp shells could shoot forward and gouge deep cuts into Glameow’s paws. Ash saw the wisdom in the decision. Harrison had been in a bad position and there was no reason to risk unnecessary injury this far from a pokemon center.

Cove snapped his claws in victory as the glameow disappeared. Ash chuckled as the lobster-like pokemon approached him and awaited praise. “Great work, buddy. Your Razor Shell was perfectly timed.” The happy gurgle in response made Ash smile.

Harrison returned his pokeball to his belt as he approached. Despite losing it seemed he was still in good spirits. “Good battle. If he’s new then I would hate to battle your strongest. When did you capture him?”

Ash chuckled as Cove basked in the glory of his victory. “I caught him in Fuchsia about a week ago.”

Harrison coughed. “That's impressive. Glameow has been with me for about the same time. Clearly I have more work to do.”

Ash returned Cove as he gave his attention to his former opponent. “Cove was already strong enough to claim an entire beach for himself when I captured him. He’s new but he’s tough, don’t take it to heart. Glameow was good, is it young?”

The words seem to reassure Harrison. “Thanks. He’s pretty young, a couple months I think.” The trainer glanced at the darkening sky as a single raindrop struck the dirt. Harrison lost his good nature. “This damn rain…”

Ash nodded in agreement. “I better make camp.”

“Me too.” The taller boy paused before continuing, “Would you mind if I joined you?”

Ash considered it. He could probably use some human interaction outside of battling and Harrison seemed like a nice enough guy. “Not at all. Do you wanna camp over there?” He pointed to a raised section of plains to their north too small to call a hill. “The rain should run off better.”

Harrison nodded as he adjusted his backpack. “Sounds like a plan.”

.—.—.

Ash laughed. “You can’t be serious.”

Harrison grinned as he took a bite of his trainer ration. “As the grave. I told Ponyta that the rain was coming—Mew, I could see it coming at that point—but the brat decided she wanted to get her laps in.”

Ash felt Greed rumble in amusem*nt from his side as Harrison’s ponyta whinied in protest. The fire-type didn’t seem as amused with the story as her trainer. “So, did she come crawling back?”

Harrison rubbed the neck of the fire horse. “Oh, she came back alright! She was soaked to the bone and her mane was barely simmering. Nearly trampled my tent trying to get my attention.” Ponyta’s tail fire flashed a bright red that made Harrison laugh louder. The fire-type huffed smoke from her nose as she trotted ahead.

Ash was liking Harrison the more they talked. They had been cordial the night before as the rain hammered down and forced them into their tents, but they had been going the same way the next day and had continued forward together. Harrison was gunning toward Route 12 toward Lavender Town and had proposed they travel together until their paths departed. “So, besides Glameow and Ponyta, what’s your team?”

“I have four.” Harrison gestured to his belt which held the mentioned number of capture devices. “Glameow, ponyta, corsola, and my starter–a granbull. Yourself?”

“Rookidee, corphish, graveler, nuzleaf, and my starter–a pancham.” Ash told him after a moment. Whenever he was asked that question Ash couldn’t help but think back to Jay’s advice in Viridian. He had mostly dismissed it as the advice of a man a little too paranoid from his time on the routes.

“That’s an interesting combination. I’ve never heard of a pancham before.” Harrison said. “Badges? I have two–Volcano and Soul.”

“Rainbow and Soul. You fought Blaine?”

“Blaine was my first Gym battle.” He confirmed. “I got passage on a ferry from Johto to Cinnabar Island to challenge him. My corsola and granbull beat his torkoal and growlithe.”

Ash recalled that Harrison had said he was originally from Littleroot Town but had been in New Bark Town to receive his starter. It reminded him of Ethan, the only person he knew from New Bark Town. He wondered just where his friend was. He had no doubt that the Johtonian would have beat Blaine if he put his mind to it. “That’s impressive. Blaine is pretty tough.”

“It was a hard battle.” Harrison admitted freely. “He’s renowned for a good reason. Though, I think my battle with Janine was more formative for me. Blaine was tough but also impersonal and brisk. He didn’t even seem to like having to battle me.”

Ash could relate to that. The difference between fighting Erika and Janine was stark. The trainer from Pallet Town grimaced. The grass-type Gym Leader sounded similar to the Torch of Cinnabar in personality. It disappointed him to no end that his childhood idols were turning out to be so…unlike his ideal of them.

He knew it sounded ridiculous but it still disappointed him.

Route 15 was considerably less dreary when he had company. They were still bombarded with unfortunate weather most days but it gave them a chance to swap some training strategies. Harrison had proposed a few spars between their team and Ash had agreed. It gave both of their teams a chance to familiarize themselves with pokemon they’d yet to interact with.

He’d been surprised to learn that Locke, Harrison’s granbull, was an absolute powerhouse. The fairy-type had a jaw that gave even a feraligatr’s a run for its money. Fairy-types were not the most abundant pokemon in the world so the Pallet native was interested in the granbull. Fairy-types also held a serious type advantage over Ash’s team at the moment. Locke had demolished Cove in a practice match that had made Harrison apologize for the brutality. Ash hadn’t taken it personally but Greed had insisted on a spar.

The match between starters had been intense. Neither trainer intervened until it became impossible not to as the duo threatened to ruin the camp. It spawned a strange friendship between the two pokemon after the fact. Exchanging blows was a staple of friendship between plenty of fighting-types, so Ash wasn’t too surprised with Greed.

Similarly, Cove and Corsola were getting along swimmingly. The water-types would stand opposite each other and throw water back and forth for hours until their reserves ran dry. Ash made a note to take the corphish to the various ponds and lakes around Vermilion. The crustacean would love it, he was sure.

By far the worst duo they had inadvertently created had been Glameow and Regal. One would think that the two wouldn’t get along–cat and the canary rivalry and what not–yet the two proud pokemon reminded Ash of a headache he'd dealt with years prior.

A young and pompous Gary Oak.

Ash stumbled as a weight hit his shoulder with substantial speed. Regal chirped as she adjusted her position on his shoulder. She was only a few pounds but she could make an impact when she wanted to. He winced as her claws tightened their grip on his shoulder. He felt the white lines appear on his skin under his clothes. “Girl, you have got to make your landings lighter.” She elected to ignore him as she lifted a wing and began cleaning her flight feathers. “Or ignore me, that works too. Great talk.”

Regal had definitely spent far too much time with Glameow. Was she already in her rebellious phase? He would have to curb that soon enough.

“I feel like a parent.” Ash only half-joked.

“They grow up so fast.” Harrison said with amusem*nt.

.—.—.

The one flaw Ash despised the Pokedex for having was the time delay for most anything. Professor Oak had a large relay at the lab in Pallet Town. It allowed for messages, news, reports, and most anything to be sent and received without much trouble. The downside was that the League rejected the former Champion’s request to piggyback off their psychic-type network. Instead, any news or messages Ash wanted to send or receive had to be relayed from the Pallet relay itself.

It wasn’t an issue when he was closer to Pallet Town. Route 1 and closer would be relayed without much of a delay. It was when he got farther when it showed its flaw. It could take up to three days for a message he sent to be read by its intended audience. Ash shook his head as he finished typing the note to Sparky. He thanked him for a few things. The insulating case, the clash with Janine, the advice, the great battle.

Ash hummed as typed on the day he expected to challenge the Vermilion Gym. He added a small blurb that suggested Surge could use someone to curb his ego. With that pleasant image in mind, Ash flipped his Dex closed and closed his eyes.

.—.—.

“I’ve been meaning to ask you about that radio.” Harrison gestured to the mention device strapped to Ash’s backpack.

“I bought it before getting to Fuchsia. I thought keeping up with the news would make the routes seem less disconnected from civilization.” Ash shrugged to bite back his annoyance at the machine. “I haven’t been able to get any signal with it. I think the lady that sold it to me lied.”

Harrison examined the device closer. “You should be able to catch most frequencies around Indigo thanks to the Goldenrod and Lavender Radio Towers. You put batteries in it, right?”

Ash held back the ‘duh’ that threatened to tear itself from his lips. “Yeah,” He said instead.

“Oh, here.” Harrison spoke up with surprise. He pulled back with a small slip of a white papery substance in his fingers. A moment later the radio kicked to life with a series of mindless static before settling into a droning tone of classical music. Ash gaped. “A bunch of electronics have these stopgaps from the manufacturer put in to block the circuit until someone buys it and pulls it out.”

The Pallet trainer ignored the way Regal chirped in amusem*nt at his expense. He prayed to Mew that Gary would never hear of this. “Thanks.”

.—.—.

“Graveler hates being wet. He’s a defensive fortress but try and get him to train in the rain and he gets as prissy as a skitty. I can’t imagine what he would be like if he had Sturdy instead of Rock Head. It would go to waste.” Ash laughed as Graveler grumbled.

“Ponyta is like that but I think that’s inherent in most fire-types.” Harrison responded to the fire-type’s chagrin. “The only training I never had to coax her into was speed drills. She loves doing laps and races.”

“Oh, don’t even mention speed drills around this lump.” Ash knocked on Graveler’s shell a couple times with a smirk. The rock-type pointedly ignored his trainer; any reaction would just encourage him. “He would rather take a Hydro Pump from a rampaging gyarados head first than just do a few laps. I had to practically twist his arm to learn Rock Polish, a move he should have learned naturally. He was so against it that it took until after we already earned the Soul Badge for him to learn it. Honestly, Graveler will break before he bends.”

.—.—.

It struck Ash at how many people he’d met on his journey so far. In Pallet Town he interacted with the same people on a daily basis. Even when he had joined the Pallet Academy his circle only encompassed Gary, Leaf, and Ethan. Ash would be lying if he said he could recall more than a couple names of the other members of his class. Trainers met so many people on their journeys that it made the sleepy Pallet Town seem all the smaller.

Route 14 came and went as the two trainers ventured onto Route 13. After two weeks of traveling together, Ash had come to think of Harrison as a friend. They had exchanged contact information for the future so they were sure to see each other again at some point. When the road split into two directions–north on Route 12 and west on Route 11–Ash shook Harrison’s hand. “It was good traveling with you.”

Harrison returned it. “You too, Ash. I hope we can battle each other again before the Indigo Conference.”

Ash smirked. “Count on it.”

Harrison returned the smirk with one of his own. The two trainers split as they went down different routes. Ash watched Greed rumble a farewell to Locke. The granbull barked out a goodbye of his own as he scurried after his trainer. The Pallet rookie shifted his backpack as a vigor was lit in him.

Vermilion City was at the end of Route 11. All things considered, it would be a shorter trek than his previous ones. The road to Vermilion was as open as Route 14 and 15 but with more tall grasses. The grasses, Ash knew, concealed colonies of aggressive rattata and raticate. Nests of ekans propagated the fields and unlucky trainers would barely hear their yellow rattles before they struck. The skies would be dotted with spearow flocks headed by the short-fused fearows that whipped them into a fury. The flocks were liable to harass them at the hint of any given slight. Said slight often only consisted of existing in their line of sight.

The rainy season had finally come to an end after so many endless days of dreary rain and flooded campsites. The wild pokemon would be prickly at best. The chill of autumn made Ash’s bones freeze on some nights. The cold would only put the pokemon into a frenzy, stockpiling on food before the first real cold came in. If Ash had been on Route 11 his first day, he’d have been chewed up by grizzled pokemon–wild and trained both.

Now, he welcomed the obstacle.

“Five more days until we reach civilization.” Ash told Greed. “Think we can make it in four?”

Greed’s growl told him he welcomed the challenge.

.—.—.

Ash brushed some of the loose pebbles away with his foot before he sat down. Nut took a seat next to him and took a similar position. The trainer took a deep breath and crossed his legs. He silently walked himself through the steps he’d grown used to. He took a deep breath, slowly exhaled, closed his eyes and then focused on continuing the pattern of breathing.

Before Ash had left Fuchsia City he’d searched up his Distortion issue with any database he could. There were more accounts on the phenomenon than he’d thought. He downloaded a few guides and articles he thought would help. Ash vowed to call Professor Oak when in Vermilion so that they could discuss the topic at length with the proper attention it deserved.

For now, though, he simply meditated in the evenings with Nut next to him. It was meant to give him a better grasp of the dark-type’s influence on his mind, letting him sense the abyssal stain that his nuzleaf left on him. A wind made Ash shiver as it caught Nut’s leaf in a slow, mournful whistle. The black spot at the edge of his mind bubbled with what Ash had come to know as Nut’s excitement. He heard the grass-type rustling next to him but redoubled his focus on his breathing.

A deep breath in, a slow exhale out.

Over and over again.

The calm of the wilderness swallowed him until he felt his hat lift from his head. It was accompanied by an inhuman hum. A bright blue washed over him as Ash felt a smile come to his face. The tide shifted predominantly teal as it encroached on the void. Nut chittered a warning and the colors receded partially. They were followed with a light melodious tune that contrasted starkly to the dreary whistle of its sinister counterpart.

Ash exhaled one last time before he opened his eyes. His hat floated in front of him, seemingly held up by nothing. He took it gently by the brim and lifted, revealing under it a black shape with a shining white eye dotted by a black pupil. The eye flashed a vibrant purple.

“Hello, Unown. Been a while, hasn’t it?” Ash greeted it. He’d been wondering where it had been recently.

The psychic sent its own greeting and agreement that flooded the trainer with a bright violet. A series of images, colors, and sensation bombarded the teen. Nut gave another warning as his stain grew larger, leaf flicking to show his irritation. Unown buzzed a cautious rhythm that the nuzleaf all but ignored.

Psychic-types, ghost-types, and dark-types. The Mystic Trio each had a natural opposition to the others. Whether it be weavile hunting jynx in the snowy peaks or haunter snatching young abra under the new moon, the trio tended to clash when in close proximity. Ash watched the two pokemon interact as he adjusted his hat. They wouldn’t be breaking any ground on that feud any time soon if Nut’s growing stain in the back of his mind was any indicator.

Most rookie trainers did not have the trio on their roster for a variety of reasons. Ghosts were rare and often malicious when found. Psychics were uncommon too–with a few exceptions such as slowpoke–and were difficult to bond with. Dark-types were the worst of both, commonly violent and hard to connect with. Still, it was not exceptionally rare to find rookies with a member of the trio on their team. However, having a combination of the three was a delicate balance that needed to be maintained.

Ash felt a headache coming on as he finally understood why. A magenta cascade recoiled at the Distortional void that snapped at its edges. “Nut, knock it off. Unown, please don’t push him.”

The two pokemon looked at him. Unown simply buzzed as it levitated over to Ash. Nut huffed before returning his attention to the creation in his hands. The elongated leaf with various holes and markings that the nuzleaf had been working on for a couple days now was yet to sound like the flute it was meant to be. It was frustrating the dark-type greatly. Ash left his buddy to it for the moment.

“It’s good to see you, Unown.” Ash said genuinely. A delicate periwinkle shrouded him. It seemed the feeling was mutual. “Have you been watching us this whole time?”

Unown bobbed. Harrison flashed into Ash’s mind from an awkward, distant side angle with a yellow-green burst. Another image, this time of the labyrinth that was Celadon City followed by Fuchsia. The two cities were highlighted in one aspect.

“Not a fan of groups of people?” Ash asked. Unown confirmed the guess with a buzz. “An introvert, that's okay. A lot of psychics are like that. Do you want to go with us into the city? We plan on challenging the Gym and then seeing some of the attractions. The Vermilion Harbor is supposed to be the largest in Kanto. Vermilion City is pretty populated though.”

The symbol pokemon gave a buzz of appreciation at the offer but a firm rejection.

“You’re always welcome to join.” Ash offered. “We still have a few days until Vermilion. Would you like to accompany us until then?”

Yes

.—.—.

The Vermilion Harbor was impossible to ignore unless one ignored the city itself. The ocean supplied Vermilion Bay from the Southern Kanto Sea and fed into the settlement like lifeblood. It was the fuel of what became the largest tourist city in Kanto.

Above Celadon, Cerulean, and Cinnabar Island. Vermilion City had historically held the longest unbroken chain of tourism in the region. It had lost that title decades ago–between the rising prominence of Celadon’s consumer-oriented markets and Cerulean’s vast entertainment district, it had inevitably slipped–but the city was still a tourist city at its core. But, before it was one of Kanto’s premier cities and host to one of its pillars of power, Vermilion City was a simple port town. A humble port town in its origins and a flashy tourist city in its evolution.

The skyline was more reminiscent of Celadon than any other city he had experienced. Towering buildings constructed with thousands of tons of steel held hundreds, if not thousands, of windows that caught the sun. How flying-types avoided crashing into them was a mystery to Ash.

Vermilion Harbor was the real gem of the city. It reeked of salt and fish and the breeze tore harshly at his clothing. Ash mentally compared it to Fuchsia City’s docks and found himself snickering. It was an unfair comparison, a weedle to a dragonite. Vermilion was not the first city in Indigo to brave the ocean–that honor was held by Olivine City in Johto–but it was the first to make headway in truly conquering it.

Olivine City was Johto’s equivalent of Vermilion City, an ocean facing city that tempted the watery domain and was rewarded for it. Trade moved the world, even more so in the centuries before the formation of the Indigo League. However, not even Cerulean City with all its inlets or Olivine with its lighthouses had surpassed Vermilion in its prime.

Route 11 was full of trainers working their way up to challenge Surge. Ash accepted dozens of battles as he made his way into the city proper. He counted more ground-types than he cared to think about. Electric-types were just as common. He made plenty of cash at least–his savings had dipped significantly since he’d begun his journey–and it gave his team a chance to try the anti-electric strategies they’d been working on.

The strategy he’d come to was simple. He knew the team he wanted in the Vermilion Gym. Greed, Graveler, and Cove. Greed hadn’t gotten to fight in Fuchsia so the panda was determined, and Ash knew he was more than strong enough. He also wanted to give Cove a chance. A water-type against Surge sounded unusual but with Mud Sport it wasn’t as one-sided. Besides, Graveler could pick up any slack the crustacean left. Nut was miffed at not getting picked, but Ash promised he’d be invaluable in their next Gym battle.

Ash gave Regal a warning look as she took to the sky above them. The rookidee wouldn’t be fighting in the Vermilion Gym. She was still too young and would just serve to give Surge a flying-type for target practice. He agreed to allow the bird to explore the Vermilion skyline if she stayed out of trouble. Already he could see her shooting off after a wingull with a luvdisc in its beak.

His team was checked over when he stopped at the Pokemon Center. When they were given a clean bill of health from Nurse Joy, he jetted to the heart of the city. Only a block away from the Center sat a giant building dawned with a lightning bolt over its entrance. The thick concrete spoke to the level of attacks the building could weather. It reminded Ash of Giovanni’s Gym in Viridian, though this building was far louder. It stood out and it knew it.

Ash breathed in a deep breath and resolved himself. He marched like a soldier to war. With a hard shove to the towering entrance door, he waltzed into the belly of the beast.

.—.—.

Notes:

New chapter done. I was able to write this chapter without much hassle. I actually had all this done by the middle of February but I was going to include the Surge battle and finish off Vermilion. But I was very uninspired for the Gym battle and finishing Vermilion would make the chapter too long. Part of me also wanted to just get something out. Let me know what you think. Anyway, Ash is still more reactive than proactive, something that I am looking to change soon. Take that as you will.

Next Chapter: Thunderclap

As always, thanks for reading and comments are much appreciated.

Chapter 10: Thunderclap

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

.—.—.

It was always midnight in the belly of the beast.

Ash had heard that saying once from Professor Oak—borrowed from an obscure novelist from Unova, he was sure—and it stuck with him. He realized instantly that the Vermilion Gym was no such beast and midnight would never describe it. Loud, was his first thought, bright and fluorescent came soon right after. Ash had to squint from the influx of overhead lighting. Yellows and greens scorched his vision from wall to wall.

He stumbled as he came close to being knocked to the floor when a trainer stormed out of the Gym. The girl was crying, face red and puffy, as she clutched her unconscious sandslash close to her chest. An amused orange washed over him as even as he flushed a little. Unown had separated from them before they had entered Vermilion City. Even when not present, Unown was watching. That both comforted and unsettled Ash.

The Pallet teen steered clear of the other challengers in the lobby as he approached the receptionist, paid his fee and took a number. Four trainers were in front of him. That number dwindled as another trainer was sent packing from the Gym towards the Pokemon Center with a heavy scowl.

The wait wasn’t as long as he had thought it would be. After the trainer in front of Ash was also sent packing with a dejected expression and no badge, the next number was called and Ash entered the battle room. The doors swung open before he touched them and caught sight of the field. It was similar to most were, barren and devoid of all distractions. Ash took the nearest trainer box at the same time as a behemoth of a man bellowed from across the room.

“Another brat? Shouldn't you be at daycare right about now? Looking for your binky?” Lt. Surge was a man closer to seven feet tall than not and as broad as one would expect. The most highly decorated ACE Trainer in the past hundred years made for one intimidating Gym Leader. Ash couldn’t help but wince at the volume the man projected.

Noise drew his attention to the upper stands. A group of spectators crowded around the edge of the Gym’s balcony, fighting for a better view of the battlefield. With the uniforms they were wearing–slacks and skirts and preppy blazers–Ash made the inference that they were students. A woman in the back seemed exasperated as the two dozen or so students vied for the best seat. Surge sent a nasty glare to the stands and the students quit immediately.

“I’m here for the Thunder Badge.” Ash announced with resolve before Surge could say anything.

“Another baby wants some Vermilion wrath?” Lt. Surge barked out a laugh. “Fine, I got some time before I go eat lunch again. How many badges have you managed to scrounge up, little baby?”

“Two.” Ash bit out. The number seemed lacking as an answer to the man.

“Two!” Surge repeated with a roar of laughter. The referee on a stand on the sidelines, a dark-skinned woman that seemed as muscular as Surge himself, watched on in silence. “Flint must be getting rustier than I thought, Visquez, sending me all these babies.”

“Rainbow and Soul Badges.” Ash corrected. “What? Think losing to a rookie with two badges will damage your reputation?”

The students in the stands clamored and made ooh’ing sounds. Surge just scoffed. “You’re teething, I’ll give you that. What’s your name, runt?”

“Ash Ketchum.”

Surge lifted a brow at the name. “Three-on-three, standard League rules. Visquez, start it.”

The referee, Visquez, held up her right arm. “This battle will be between Gym Leader Surge and the challenger! The battle will be three-on-three with neither side allowed substitutions! The Gym Leader will release first!”

The electric-type Leader snatched a pokeball from his pocket. It expanded in his hand, which did little to make it look any more than a berry to the man, before it opened to release its inhabitant. A pikachu chittered as it appeared on the field, heart-shaped tail bouncing. Ash was unsurprised at the mouse’s appearance. Electric-types, but especially the pikachu-line, were something of a specialty to the man. The raichu that dominated his roster only added to the fact.

“So boring.” Ash said it just to see Surge’s eye twitch. Maybe the audience had something to do with it as well. He retrieved Cove’s pokeball and clicked it open. The corphish appeared with an emphasized snap of his claws.

Surge rolled his eyes, unimpressed. “A water-type? You sure you know where you are, brat?”

Ash ignored him. If Gary hadn’t gotten under his skin after all these years then neither could Surge. Nor would the jeers of the students in the stands. At this point, he didn’t know who they were cheering for. Cove could do this. Visquez announced the start of the match as he adjusted his hat.

“Cook me some lobster.” Surge ordered, bored.

“Mud Sport.” Ash retorted. Cove gurgled as he plunged his pincers into the field. Immediately the ground liquified into a mud-like substance. The substrate covered the shell of the pokemon like armor as the ground-type move affected the field around it. The rookie didn’t understand much about how the move weakened electric attacks in the air but he knew it did. It had something to do with weakening the conduction of the moves. The intricacies were a subject for someone much smarter than him.

Surge seemed interested even as he scratched his stubble lazily. The pikachu sparked its cheeks as a wave of yellow electricity washed over Cove. The corphish twitched but snapped his claws defiantly. Ash gave Surge a grin. “Mud-Slap and Double Hit.”

The muddy terrain at Cove’s feet made Mud-Slap near instant. The gobs of wet silt were hurled at the electric mouse as the crustacean advanced. Pikachu skittered away as the heavy claws swung at it with enough force to ruffle its fur from the near misses. Earthy grime splattered on its flank even as it bounced away.

“Quick Attack. Thunderbolt.” The Lightning Bruiser ordered.

Ash watched as Cove was outpaced entirely. He hated that Cove was limited by his speed but it was just a fact. Corphish were not speedsters while the electric-types Surge trained were. Quick Attack gave the mouse too much of an advantage for the water-type to catch up. Sparks of electricity worked through Pikachu’s fur as its charge sacs gathered it near its ears. It chittered as it unleashed a bolt of lightning as its mud-covered opponent. The minute the bolt was sent it thinned and lost some of its impact thanks to Mud Sport.

Cove gurgled as it struck him. Mud Sport or not, Ash knew that definitely wasn’t pleasant. Shell Armor helped with his defense too but an attack was an attack. The ruffian pokemon scuttled forward despite the pain and struck his opponent while it was momentarily stationary. Mud-Slap left dark streaks of gunk on the pokemon’s face as Double Hit sent the electric-type backwards. The squeak as the mouse went tumbling was accompanied by Surge scoffing.

“Quick Stun.” Pikachu darted forward again at the order, charge sacs crackling.

The rookie frowned as he considered what Quick Stun might be. Some combination of moves, he was sure. “Smother its charge sacs.”

Pikachu struck Cove with Quick Attack, as Ash had expected, but followed it up with a Nuzzle that sent arcs of voltage down the shell of the corphish. Cove had acted as soon as it struck him. Vice Grip latched onto the mouse’s lithe neck as the crustacean sent it face-first into the muddy terrain. Mud Sport submerged the electric mouse with the insulating silt.

Cove attempted to strike with Double Hit. Instead, he shook and spasmed violently as pikachu zipped away once more. Another Nuzzle that had momentarily paralyzed him. That should have been expected, he knew, but it made him frown all the same. Still, the pikachu looked about done. If it tried to remove the gunk blocking its charge sacs it would slow down enough for Cove to finish it. Ash sent Surge a condescending smirk. He was enjoying this a bit too much but seeing Surge’s eye twitch gave him a rush.

“You’re too co*cky, runt.” Surge spoke up. The monster of a man stood to his full height as he crossed his tree trunk arms. “Pikachu, Volt Tackle.”

Bright yellow arcs of electricity shrouded the pokemon as it thundered forward. Ash didn’t have a chance to advise Cove as the pikachu shot off. The charge sacs were still covered but it didn’t seem to slow the move down any. Cove raised his pincers in front of him to block the move as best he could. Metal Claw coated itself over the claws with a silver shine. The corphish was still learning the move but the steel-type move was his best hope at diverting the power of Volt Tackle.

Ash blinked dots from his vision as Pikachu rammed into Cove. The resulting crash from the two pokemon colliding sent mud and dust flying as a bright electrical discharge lit up the field. Ash winced as Cove was forced back and, before he was completely counted out, sent one last attack at his opponent. Pikachu squeaked as the Metal Claw that was barely a Metal Claw struck it in its midsection.

Ash winced as Cove slumped and slammed into the field harshly. Pikachu recoiled as Volt Tackle struck with the blowback the move was known for inflicting on its user. The electric mouse was only able to make it a few paces before it too collapsed.

Cove vanished in a flash of red. Ash whispered a few words to the corphish’s pokeball as he returned it to his bandolier. The corphish had done his best and had matched a pokemon that wielded his natural weakness, he couldn’t ask for any more from any of his team. Surge recalled Pikachu with a grin. “Not bad, brat. Putting a water-type in against me is usually psychotic, but that thing wasn’t nothing. Mud Sport was a surprise. You get it bred for that?”

Ash’s expression pinched. There was an insinuation there that he didn’t appreciate. “No. I caught him naturally.”

Surge barked, though whether it was meant to be a laugh or a scoff was unclear. “Luck then.”

“You can say you lost to dumb luck if it makes you feel better.” Ash bit out as he palmed the pokeball of his starter.

The Vermilion Gym Leader released his next pokemon in lieu of a verbal response. The form of three steel spheres conjoined together coalesced. Ash watched all three segments turn their eyes to him and stared blankly. The magneton levitated above the field; by manipulating the magnetic fields around them the steel-types were able to float without possessing the ability Levitate.

Greed appeared with a growl. The fighting-type flicked his ear as he stared at the magnet pokemon that floated opposite him. The electric/steel-type was emotionless as it observed its new opponent. “Greed, soften it up.”

The panda made it clear he intended to leave nothing to need softened.

Ash felt the hair on his arms rise. Whether that was from the static in the air or something else he didn’t bother to consider. “Work Up.”

Greed growled as he surged with adrenaline. The move was still not perfect but the essentials were cemented in the pancham. Now it just needed more practice. Greed’s black and white fur stood on end and the twitching of his ears became more pronounced as Work Up took hold.

Surge grunted. “Thunderbolt.”

Ash didn’t need to tell his starter to avoid the arch of electricity shot at him. Greed dodged vertically as he growled at the unblinking magnet pokemon. “Play it close, be mindful of paralysis.”

Ash saw the twitch of his partner’s ears that confirmed he’d been heard. Or it might have been twitching due to the strain from Work Up, it was hard to tell from the trainer box. He shook his head. Greed was his first pokemon, his most versatile fighter, and his most trusted companion. Ash knew the pancham was more than able to battle without him needing Ash to choreograph every step. He was trying to take Janine’s advice to heart and this was a step in that direction. They had trained hard and worked on strategies and techniques before the Gym challenge, the rest was up to Greed.

Ash couldn’t think of any pokemon he trusted more.

Magneton droned a dull tone and sparked. Ash compared the drone of Magneton and Unown and found the difference stark. One was a droll single note, the other was a symphony of colors and music. “Thunder Shock.” Surge commanded. Magneton crackled and sent a jolt forward. Greed paid his little head as he advanced, zigging and hopping to avoid the electrical attack that would paralyze him. “Fine, Gyro Ball the damn bear.”

The steel-type began another emotionless buzz as it began to spin at a rapid pace. Greed was close now and fire encircled his fist. The magnet pokemon spun itself forward the last yards to its opponent and met him head on. Ash couldn’t distinguish one segment from another as it blurred into a single ball of metallic silver.

Greed grunted as the ball neared him. Instead of jumping away–a futile effort when the approaching pokemon would just redirect itself–the pancham stood his ground. Fire greeted steel as Fire Punch struck at the spinning steel-type. Greed was only able to savor the solid strike for a mere second before he was also hit.

Ash saw the Spark as the two pokemon collided. Electricity worked its way over his starter as the fighting-type twitched. Magneton didn’t escape unscathed as it levitated backwards, drooping lower than it had previously. Surge took the time to snort at the outcome.

“After it!” Ash ordered. Greed growled as he followed the steel-type on the field. The panda was more sluggish than he had been. His muscles were stiff and not listening after the direct hit from Spark.

Surge was not one to let his opponent dominate the field. “Metal Sound!”

The Pallet trainer slapped his hands over his ears without hesitation. Greed had no such opportunity and flattened his ears to try and help muffle the sound. A horrific metal screech filled the Gym as Magneton’s top two magnets glowed as it grinded them together. It reminded Ash of Bug Buzz in Janine’s Gym.

This time, at least, Ash knew his pokemon wasn’t going to be left out to dry now that he couldn’t hear his directions. Greed was on a warpath as he bounded forward until he was directly under his target. The fighting-type was able to ignore it in favor of making a direct vertical leap. Magneton glowed a dull white over its entire body and let out a Flash that went off just as the bear leaped.

Greed forced his eyes shut as the influx of bright light temporarily blinded him. His leap missed as Magneton lurched diagonally and sent a Thunder Shock to the panda. Greed landed on the ground hard as Thunder Shock made him growl. He twitched involuntarily and Ash frowned as his starter had trouble regaining control of his motor functions. A momentary paralysis was never a good thing in a battle. Greed was able to dodge a second Thunder Shock, the jagged electrical move scorching the earth black, before attempting another jump.

This one was better than the last as the pancham grabbed on to the Magneton. The steel-type dropped low, levitating low enough that it was barely off the floor of the field. It was clearly not prepared for the weight of an entire fighting-type hanging from its magnets. Surge barked out an order Ash couldn't hear but it didn’t make Greed hesitate. The panda Crunched into Magneton’s topmost segment as he climbed his way up.

Surge seemed almost impressed as Greed only yelped as Magneton covered itself in electricity with Spark. Still, the resilient fighter refused to let go. Instead, Ash watched as his starter lodged his two stocky legs into the space between the electric-type’s segments and straddled the topmost segment like one would ride a rapidash.

Fire Punches rained down onto the topmost segment. Fire heated up steel and buzzes and growls made a twisted orchestra. Ash slowly let his hands fall from his ears as he realized Metal Sound had stopped, the two magnets now digging themselves into the legs of the bear. Karate Chop struck Magneton’s lower two segments as Fire Punch was repeated onto the highest. Greed was relentless and only continued.

The electric drone was far from taking the assault without response. Spark and Shock Wave cracked as it lashed out. Surge’s battler spun in slow circles as it tried what might have been a Gyro Ball but the added weight of Greed made the move too slow to be effective. Surge barked out another command Ash couldn’t hear. Immediately, the two pokemon were nose diving into the battlefield.

Greed yelped again as the two slammed into the barren battleground. Iron Head from his opponent dug into his chest as he was crushed between the ground and the steel-type move.

The dust settled as Greed sluggishly rose from the dent in the earth. Magneton gave one last weary buzz as it stopped moving. Surge made no noise as he returned the magnet pokemon with a flash of crimson. Ash met the man’s gaze with a straight back.

“Was that luck too?” Ash questioned. Visquez coughed but he thought he might have seen a smile before she covered it up. Surge took his right hand and used to jerk his chin to the side. A crack from the man’s neck made Ash cringe and the Gym Leader did the same in the other direction. When he was done, Surge tossed a pokeball into the air and caught it when it rebounded from the force of the release. It struck him that the monster of a man was smiling.

“Not bad, brat, not bad. You’re lucky you’re only a baby with two badges; one more and I’d have Raichu sizzle your little runts. Well, about time to wrap this up.” Surge tossed his pokeball to the field lazily and a bright beam saw their final challenge materialize.

It was a pokemon Ash had never seen before. It was rodent-like with a pair of yellow cheek sacs on its face similar to a pikachu. This was certainly no pikachu though, as it was released into the air and glided down onto the field. Under its stubby arms was a Thin, yellow membrane that resembled a cape. The wings reminded him of a golbat a bit, which made Ash realize far too late that this electric-type was almost certainly a flying-type as well. Electric-types were, as a general rule, not flyers. But exceptions existed within all things. The flying squirrel’s hair stood on end as small static was exchanged between its two large, round ears as it was produced from its cheeks. The electric squirrel snickered as Greed eyed it down.

“Still good to go, buddy?” Ash asked his starter. Greed nodded with an exhausted huff. Of course he didn’t need to ask. Fighting-types had a thing against retreating, Ash had almost forgotten that. When had he started considering his first partner more of a dark-type? The pancham wasn’t even a proper dark-type yet.

Ash stowed the thought for later as their opponent moved. The electric squirrel, Emolga, was as quick as a pokemon its size should be. Greed was caught off guard when it immediately came for him. Thunder Wave immediately sent a shroud of electricity at the panda pokemon. Greed used Bullet Punch to swipe the move away, the steel-type helping divert it in part past him and lamely into the barrier, but not completely as it shrouded him and he was still forced to avert his eyes from his opponent .

A mistake that Ash cursed as he saw what the squirrel was trying to conceal.

Angry, black clouds swirled above the head of the electric-type as it bounced on its feet. When it reached its arms up, the clouds sprawled upwards. The glass skylights that had allowed the sun to trickle in were blocked like a veil descending. The Gym lights prevailed and allowed the field some modicum of visibility, but the dark was winning. When the clouds were finally stationary, the rain started like a switch had been flipped.

“She’s something, aint she?” Surge barked a laugh that sounded like a crack of thunder heralding a particularly malevolent storm. Ash felt a stone drop into his stomach as the Rain Dance pounded the field with droplets. “Emolga, sizzle it.”

Emolga chittered a cackle and then the rodent was off like a shot. A neon glow emitted from her mouth as a gob of electric webs were fired. Greed went wide, letting the squirrel’s webs hit the dirt. The fighting-type growled.

Ash didn’t like the situation they were in. Flying-types were not opponents Greed could handle unless he could get his hands on them. Emolga would never willingly let that happen and would fly circles around the panda pokemon. He disliked the matchup but once the squirrel took to the sky it was game, set, match. Ash was a little unsure as to why it hadn’t already taken off. It was after the squirrel had cloaked itself in electricity that Ash understood what it was planning. It wasn’t aiming for the pancham. The trainer paled. “Don’t let it take off!”

Emolga couldn’t flap its wings and fly like other flying-types. No, its membranes were for gliding exclusively. If it couldn’t find, or rather make, a way for it to get into the air then it was not nearly the threat it seemed. Unfortunately, it had already set up its makeshift trampoline. The Electroweb sat on the ground where it had missed Greed, coiled and layered. That miss had been intended.

Greed went after the rodent but it was simply faster. The only reason he caught it was by the benefit of reflex and the short distance between them. The panda seized as he touched the emolga covered in Spark but this was the only way. Ash knew it and so did Greed. Ice Punch formed as Greed grabbed at the thin membrane of the electric-type.

“Iron Tail!” Surge ordered. Emolga didn’t think, it acted. The black tail gleaned a metallic silver as it cloaked itself with steel-type energy. The appendage whipped backwards into Greed and sent him sprawling. The action caused a two part reaction.

Emolga continued on its way towards its electric trampoline without breaking stride but screeched in pain. Greed was on his last legs as he stood but a look of satisfaction was stamped on his face. In his paw was a small section of yellow membrane. Ash gave the torn membrane an uneasy look.

Ash didn’t know if he should blame the Ice Punch that Greed used to effectively freeze the area he grabbed or if it was the Iron Tail that threw him back. It was likely both. The pancham had been seizing from the electricity and muscles didn't like releasing things when they were shocked. Greed discarded the membrane to the field. Emolga, to its credit, continued on its way and found its target. An electrical collision between the Spark-coated Emolga and the Electroweb made Ash blink away dots. When he looked back, the squirrel was gliding in the air.

The missing membrane’s impact on the was noticeable. If a flying-type’s membrane or wing is damaged, it could significantly impair their flying ability. They might still be able to glide or fly to some extent, but their control and distance would be reduced. Ash, for his part, would say that Emolga being in the air at all was impressive.

Surge was neutral as he gave his final command. “Thunder.”

Greed’s fur was soaked from the rain. Thunder, combined with the Rain Dance, would shock the pancham so thoroughly that Ash would worry for long-term nerve damage. Greed disappeared in a beam of red as the Pallet trainer returned him to his pokeball. His starter had gotten his licks in defeating Magneton and impairing Emolga, he deserved a rest and as many berries as Ash could afford.

But only after they had won.

“He’s withdrawn.” Ash told them simply, even as the knowledge that Greed would not be happy with that decision came to mind. The panda tended to go until he dropped. Vasquez nodded and announced it. The students in the gallery cheered–Ash wondered if his support had been so easily won over at their age. Considering he had always cheered for Lance because the Champion’s dragon-types looked cool and hit hard, it probably was. Surge was still silent as he waited for Ash to release his next pokemon.

Ash reached for Graveler’s ultraball. The ground-type would finish the weakened electric pokemon. It would have been a hassle with it flying everywhere, but Greed had done his part to mitigate that. The boulder pokemon would finish the battle. He hesitated for a moment. Ash stopped before revealing his next pokemon as he eyed Surge

The Vermilion City Gym Leader was, by every account he’d heard and read, a hardass with a penchant for demeaning his opponents. Still, Ash hadn’t heard any accounts of the Gym Leader being outright cruel. Yet the man kept the squirrel in the battle even after a piece of its membrane was torn off. He must have confidence in it. If Emolga could stay in the air despite the membrane injury then Graveler could still find himself in a skeet shoot. The Rain Dance would also interfere with the rock-type. There was more to his decision if he was candid. Ash couldn’t deny that defeating Surge without using a ground-type would bring him immense satisfaction.

He redirected his hand further up his bandolier and grasped Nut’s pokeball. The nuzleaf appeared with a flash. The grass-type blinked as he took in his surroundings. A gentle bite of the abyss came to his mind. A question.

“Think you can finish this battle up, buddy?” Ash asked in lieu of an answer. He felt the stain on his subconscious spread as excitement boiled up. That was as good an answer as any.

Emolga was gliding through the air as rain continued to fall. The electric squirrel crackled energy from its cheeks as Surge howled a command. “Boost. Keep in the air.”

Ash blinked as Emolga performed what looked like a Discharge. The electricity flashed as it was loosened into the damp atmosphere. It crackled around the field as the water conducted it. Emolga coasted forward, hit a spark in the rain, then bounced off and propelled into the air again. Ash was right to think Surge had something up his sleeve.

Electric platforms.

It was a fascinating application of combining moves to solve the limitation the squirrel had. The fatal flaw with the technique being that it relied on Rain Dance to allow the Discharge to build up the platforms. Once the Rain Dance was outlasted or dismissed, the platforms were too. Rain Dance was like other weather-altering moves; it took time for a pokemon to perform initially. It required concentration and the caster couldn’t be disturbed or they would fail to properly set it up. That was why Emolga had distracted Greed while it conjured the move. The only pokemon Ash had seen use Rain Dance and be able to cast it within seconds had been Rainer’s Poliwrath in Stone Town. However, Poliwrath was a different case entirely. Poliwrath was a water-type and Rain Dance was far easier for water-types to use, just the same as Hail was for ice-types. This was true for most weather-altering moves with a couple exceptions; Sandstorm and Sunny Day.

Sandstorm, being a normal-type move, could be grasped by any pokemon that could learn it. Sunny Day was natural for most fire-types but it also came to many grass-types with a little practice.

And Nut, for all his dark-type proclivities, was a grass-type at heart.

Ash grabbed hold of the endless void in his mind as Nut boiled the tar colored ocean. “Make cover, then Sunny Day.” It was little more than a whisper from his vocal cords but in his mind the intent was clear. He saw Nut flick his leaf in understanding.

A furious wind whipped forward from Nut at the flick of his leaf. Razor Leaf shrouded the nuzleaf in the sharp foliage as he began putting his hands together. Surge barked out a few orders and Emolga banked a sharp right. A static built along its fur as a Thunderbolt arched outwards. The bolt would have struck true if the Razor Leaf wasn’t obscuring the nuzleaf in the center. Instead it arched too far and came close but did not directly strike its target.

Sunny Day crept upwards, a bright sphere of energy, as the clouds that spat down rain began to dissipate. Black clouds made way for the natural light to shine upon the field. The bright sphere centered over the battlefield and joined the sun in beating down any shadow on the field. Ash swiped a hand at his brow as the move amplified the sunlight. Beads of sweat clung to his hairline under his hat. He pulled the brim down to block the light and squinted.

Nut was amped now, his Chlorophyll ability making him an even bigger threat. He slashed his leaf forward, cackling like he’d been given ten too many cups of coffee, and whipped an Air Slash at the electric-type. The squirrel chittered as it did another sharp maneuver to avoid the slash. Emolga lit up with lightning as it did another mid-air turn. It was losing altitude now. Greed would have been able to use his powerful legs to grab it from that height.

“Final push,” Surge barked. The electric squirrel did a tight u-turn that made Ash frown. It was headed directly towards the nuzleaf now, fur buzzing with electricity.

“It's gonna try a direct attack,” Ash told his partner.

The squirrel flew forward as if to confirm his words. Thunder Shock sizzled out with a flick of its ears. The yellow glow of Electroweb was spat in conjunction. Nut enraged the void in Ash’s mind as the Thunder Shock washed over him. The wood-like skin of the grass-type would splinter before Nut allowed himself to take that hit unanswered. The Electroweb was ducked under as Nut rolled to the side and inhaled. A couple dozen seeds were spat in rapid succession at the incoming foe.

Leech Seed was fast but Emolga was too. It did what amounted to a barrel roll as the seeds shot past it. One clipped its ear as another struck its back. The squirrel winced but did not otherwise acknowledge the attack. It was gaining momentum as it righted itself and flew straight at Nut’s position on the field.

Its wings gave a blue-grey shine as it approached. Acrobatic helped speed it forward as its cape-like membrane glimmered with a move Ash knew not. The emolga chittered what was probably profanity as it was mere feet away from its target. Spark once again overtook its body as it closed the difference.

In Fuchsia, Nut would have had no choice but to endure the attack. An attack that would have left him unconscious. But now he had another move up his sleeve. The nuzleaf moved quickly as the earth below him moved out of his way. Dig gave another route of escape as Emolga impacted the field. The ground cratered as it scorched the ground and crushed where its target once was.

Ash didn’t have to give an order as Nut tunneled an exit. He arose from the ground, dirty but unharmed. His thick hand clenched into a fist as it darkened with Distortion. The nuzleaf swung the Sucker Punch at the dazed squirrel. The hit connected to the body of the electric-type and sent it a foot into the air. Nut must have not have appreciated the earlier Thunder Shock as he immediately followed it up with a Headbutt. The hit made the squirrel squeak, the move sending it tumbling away.

A moment of no motion and the emolga was declared out of action. Visquez called the match as the Lightning Lieutenant returned his battler to its pokeball. Surge blinked from across the field, stunned for a moment, before breaking into a roaring laugh.

Ash didn’t stop the satisfaction that dawned on his face. Nut lifted his fist in victory and splashed the abyss in his trainer’s mind. Unown must have sensed the good spirit as it didn’t fight against the black void. The nuzleaf rushed back to Ash and grinned.

“Nut, buddy, you’re amazing.” Ash lifted a fist and got a fist bump in return. This was a proper showing for his partner.

Surge lumbered over to them, boots doing their own damage to the Gym floor as the man all but stomped over. Instead of upset or dismissive, the giant of a man was grinning. “Ketchum, that wasn’t a bad showing. Not at all.”

Ash smiled and fixed his hat. “Thanks, Lieutenant. Emolga will heal up, right?”

The man snorted. “What, we in the force now? It’s Surge, brat, and she’ll be fine.”

“Right. Thanks for the win, Surge.” Ash snorted as Nut cackled.

The Gym Leader clicked his tongue. “Nothing wrong with gloating over a win. Your team ain’t nothing, Ketchum. Your corphish has potential, not everyday I see a water-type that can handle one of mine with some degree of fairness. Mud Sport is a boon so use it.”

Ash knew that much. “Planned on it. It’s an egg move.”

“Figured. That panda of yours was a tough bastard, relentless, and not afraid of some pain. That nuzleaf is a vicious little sh*t. I don’t know much about any of them but you have potential.” That was almost nice. It would have been a great feeling if Surge wasn’t looking at him like an ursaring would a steak. “Challenge yourself. Come back after a few more badges and we can make it a battle worth watching.”

He wanted an actual challenge. Ash could respect that. “We’ll see. I’ll be pretty busy winning the Indigo Conference and all.”

Surge roared another laugh. “Next time you walk in here, expect to get fried extra crispy. Now get your badge and get outta here, pint-size. I need to get lunch and you're slowing me down. ”

Ash figured that was as clear a dismissal as he’d get. The teen rubbed Nut on the head as they walked away from the battle area. The desk was crowded with other trainers trying to put in their name to challenge the Gym. Ash had to shoulder his way to the front. The attendant gave him one look before reaching below her and into a keyed drawer. She removed and handed him a golden badge in the shape of an octagon. “Here’s your proof, kid. Good work.”

The trainers around him immediately turned on him. He grimaced as they stared, mostly at his Thunder Badge. He pivoted towards the doors but was met with the sight of a gaggle of students lined up near it. The same students that had watched his battle and were now pointing at him and whispering. He grimaced and darted towards the door and away from the suddenly very cramped building.

“Ash!” The trainer flipped around at the call and spotted an approaching figure. One of the students had split off from the pack and was inbound. The other students behind him watched as he sped away and the woman in heels, the teacher most likely, followed him at a subdued pace. Ash finally recognized the kid as he stopped and tittered on the balls of his feet. Mikey exploded into a jumble of words. “That was awesome! My class watched every other trainer get beaten so quickly, then you came in and defeated Surge! He's brutal!”

“Mikey.” Ash was taken off guard by the near reverence in the kid’s eyes. “Good to see you. Yeah, Surge was tough. His emolga was a surprise. I wasn't expecting a flying-type.”

Mikey nodded his head vigorously. “Yeah, there aren’t many electric-types that fly. Sparky talked about wanting to find an emolga of his own but there aren’t any breeders for them in Indigo. Rainer told me Surge got his from a friend in Unova.”

Emolga were from Unova then. That was good to know. The teacher caught up with the boy and put a hand on his shoulder as she gave Ash a tired smile. “Michael, please refrain from running off again. Say your goodbyes so we can get back to the school.”

Mikey deflated before he got a gleam in his eye. “Sorry, Ms. Lawson. This is Ash. He’s a trainer and a friend of my brothers.” Ash thought that might be pushing their relationship a bit but didn’t interrupt. “Would it be alright if I went back to the school after we caught up?”

Lawson lifted her glasses and rubbed her tired eyes. Afterwards she looked at Ash. “Would you be willing to take him back to Pokemon Tech?”

Ash considered declining. He saw Mikey’s puppy dog eyes and resigned himself. “I’ll bring him back.”

She nodded and turned to Mikey. “Be back before curfew or I’ll call your brother.”

Mikey nodded with a wide smile and turned back to Ash. The boy flushed in embarrassment when their eyes met. “Sorry. I should have asked you first.”

Ash knew what it was like to want to see more than a formal education would allow. He led the younger boy outside of the Vermilion Gym. “Don’t worry about it. So, how has Pokemon Tech been? You just started, right?”

“Started two weeks ago!” Mikey said happily. The patch with the school’s logo sat stitched into his breast pocket, unblemished. “The instructors are all really cool. Mrs. Lawson–Dora Lawson–is super smart. She worked for the Sayda Lab before coming to Pokemon Tech. My classmates are kinda snobby, but my friend Joe is nice! He has a bellsprout that likes to dance.”

Ash’s mind unwillingly conjured an image of a bellsprout dancing the tango. Weirder things had happened, he supposed. He felt Unown perceive the image unwillingly and send him a question over their bond. That made him smirk. “That’s nice. How's Eevee? I thought he’d be at your heels.”

Mikey patted the pokeball on his belt. “Good. The school lets us have our pokemon on us and we can release them on school grounds but we can’t release them off it. This girl in my class–Giselle–released her cubone to carry her bag on the trip to the Vermilion Gym. She got in trouble but kept saying how it was beneath her to carry her own bag.”

Ash snorted. Pokemon Tech had a reputation for hosting the students that were used to a higher station in life. Daughters of diplomats and sons of esteemed professors. The average graduate of Pokemon Tech had good formal education without any of the practical applications. When they became trainers, they almost always ended up in another school–the school of hard knocks. And that had become the school’s unofficial nickname.

“I imagine. I can’t say there was anyone like that at Pallet Academy.” Ash saw Regal above them, following from the air. Her Keen Eye made tracking him from a distance a breeze.

“Woah! You went to Pallet Academy? I was thinking of going there myself but Pokemon Tech is closer to Stone Town. My brothers wanted me closer to home and Sparky is already pretty familiar with Vermilion from when he worked for Surge. Plus, I already have Eevee for a starter so I don’t need a Kanto starter.” Mikey sucked in air. “Getting a Kanto starter would have been really cool though.”

Ash nodded. He wondered if he had sounded this excitable before starting his journey. Scratch that, he definitely had. “Being close to home is good. I can’t imagine what it’d be like if I'd even gone as far as Viridian City for school. Where are you staying in Vermilion?”

“The school dorms. They aren’t as nice as home but they’re okay,” Mikey answered. “Cafeteria kinda sucks though.”

Pallet hadn’t had any dorms for its students. It worked fine for some of them–Ash, Gary, and Leaf already lived in Pallet–but others, like Ethan, had to find someplace in town to stay. There was a program that the academy took up with the residents of Pallet Town. A few families would host the students that didn’t have other accommodations in their homes.

“Nowhere compares to home, Mikey.” Ash imparted the wisdom he had learned on his journey. Despite having seen a few of Kanto’s largest cities and having experiences he wouldn’t exchange for anything, nowhere compared to home. There was simply too much of him in Pallet to ever say otherwise. Mikey nodded, a quick motion that told Ash he didn't give the words much weight. That was fine, he would eventually.

“I heard you say you have the Soul Badge. How was Fuchsia City? Did you stop in the Safari Zone? What’s your team like now? Why didn't you use your graveler against Surge?” Mikey bombarded him.

Ash figured he’d be entertaining him for a while longer and shifted their path to the Pokemon Center. He could at least get his team looked over while his ear was being talked off.

.—.—.

Nurse Joy kept his pokemon overnight to make sure Lt. Surge hadn’t fried their nerves.
Apparently the man had done that one too many times. Greed especially had taken quite a few shocks so he was getting some mild muscle relaxers. The pink nurse, to his embarrassment, praised him for withdrawing the panda from the battle rather than let him get shocked into oblivion. Cove was similar but his shell was about to molt anyway and his muscles would naturally soothe themselves. He’d be out of battles and on light training until he was in top shape.

Ash dropped Mikey back off at the school, retired to bed, then retrieved his team in the early morning with a skip in his step. Joy warned him to take it easy on them for the day but they’d be otherwise fine. Regal perched on his shoulder as he collected the last of his things and shoved them unceremoniously into his bag.

“We’re heading north to Saffron City. We can get there in a couple days; it's not that far,” Ash told the flying-type. “Sabrina is the Gym Leader there. She specializes in psychic-types and her reputation is on par with Surge’s in terms of being a nightmare to fight against. She’s supposed to be a bit nicer though.”

Route 6 would lead them directly to Saffron City. Ash was hesitant to say they were prepared for a battle with the psychic-type specialist. They had a serious advantage with Nut’s dark-typing but if type advantage was enough to secure a victory then Lorelei would have dethroned Lance years ago. Still, he was going to challenge her. They wouldn’t grow stronger without challenging themselves by taking on opponents of a higher caliber.

If Surge couldn’t make him balk, neither would Sabrina.

A tap at the window made the trainer crane his neck to look out the glass. Unown gave a rhythmic buzz from the other side and dropped the pebble it’d used to tap the glass. It was accompanied by a splash of burgundy. Ash hummed as he opened the window; burgundy was a new one. He focused on the feeling as it flickered within him. He smiled as he understood. “Thanks, Unown, your vote of confidence is good to have. I’m surprised you came this far into the city. You want to accompany us on the trip there? You're always welcome.”

Unown levitated its way into the room as it flashed a brief violet.

Yes

Ash grinned as he zipped up his bag and slipped the straps over his shoulders. Regal squawked as she flapped her wings to allow his strap to pass under her talons. She landed once more and nipped at his ear. He poked her yellow chest feathers in response.

“Welcome aboard then,” he said. “Just one more stop in Vermilion and then Saffron here we come. I know you aren’t a fan of people, Unown, but you can join us. Otherwise we can meet you at the beginning of Route 6.”

The symbol pokemon hummed before sending a clear message to Ash.

“Alright, we’ll meet you there.” Ash adjusted his hat before he grabbed the door handle and swung it open.

.—.—.

The city seemed brighter now that Ash carried his Thunder Badge. Regal kept trying to peck at the badge when it caught the sun–it kind of looked like a sun–and he had to keep his eye on her. She had already come back from her previous flight with enough shiny trinkets. He didn’t know where she had picked them up and he was sure he would prefer it that way.

Vermilion was bustling with trainers that enjoyed a good battle, and the trainers would be just as willing on Route 6. His entire team was gonna be getting their reps in. Even Graveler would see a couple battles against trainers that he thought could take the boulder pokemon on.

Despite the promise of battles, Graveler wasn’t happy with him. The rock-type had wanted to battle Surge and face the electric-types Ash had been waxing on about. The Pallet teen couldn’t do much to speak for his defense. He had gone away from the plan. He guaranteed Graveler would be instrumental in the future battles they would find. Blaine, in particular, was going to need more than just Cove’s water-typing to fear.

That, unsurprisingly, did little to appease the grump. It was for this reason he had found himself searching the city. Regal chirped again and dove for the Thunder Badge he was admiring. He closed his fist around it. The rookidee squawked, annoyed, and she dug her beak into the soft skin of his cheek in retaliation as her grip on his shoulder tightened and sprouted white lines. He winced as he pushed her from his shoulder.

“That’s enough, Regal.” His eyes bore into her.

She flapped her wings to keep from falling below his eye-level and watched him. She was surprised at his actions. Ash felt a void snap at his subconscious and his annoyance grew until he almost shouted. He caught himself and breathed deep. Regal was more than a chick now. Pokemon grew fast and most bird pokemon tended to not spend overlylong in their first-stage. He needed to expect her to act out as she grew into her own. Acts that would surely increase in the coming weeks; pre-evolution energy made pokemon antsy.

Ash made a mental note to up her training and get her more battle experience.

Nut chittered an apology from somewhere he was barely aware of and the all consuming Distortion was recalled. Unown flashed a calming lilac to help him settle down and Ash appreciated it. The only time he felt the effects of the Distortion was when his negative emotions flared up. He was getting better at controlling it, at least, and Nut was getting better at reeling it back. Never all the way and never too much as the nuzleaf was never willing to let Unown have more than his share of a claim on Ash’s mind.

It was endearing in a migraine inducing way.

Ash returned his attention to the pokemon in front of him. Regal needed to hear this. “You can look all you want and you can inspect it as you like, but this is not yours. We earned this as a team and we share it as a team. We win and lose as a team. What we earn and what we forfeit are all as a team. This badge, as well as the others and the future ones, all belong to you just as much as it belongs to Greed or Nut or Graveler or Cove or me. Do you understand?”

The flying-type flapped her wings once more and returned to his shoulder. She was silent for a minute more before tweeting a soft note. An apology. Her beak tapped the brim of his hat, a request. Ash sighed a bit before he smiled and took off his hat. Regal slowly preened his messy hair. It seemed the raven was content to remain that way for the time being.

“I’m sorry for snapping, girl.” Ash said after a moment. Regal tweeted another note. “I know you haven’t had much of a chance to prove yourself to the others and your training has been slower than theirs. Was that upsetting you?”

The look in the flying-type’s eyes told him he was correct. Ash gently tapped her on the beak. That was a failure on his part, another misstep to add to his growing stack. “I’m sorry, Regal. I was too focused on preparing for Surge that I put your training on the back burner. How about we take some time, just me and you, to rectify that? A couple days on the route just to focus on you.”

The rookidee stopped her preening for a few seconds before she bumped his ear with her beak. Ash grinned. “Thanks, Regal. I promise that by the time you evolve you’ll be on par with the others.” The bird chirped appreciatively. “You know, I never asked why you joined me back in the Safari Zone. You came voluntarily, why is that?”

Regal hopped on his shoulder at the question and puffed out her clean chest feathers. Ash would give her credit that she was always very well groomed. She chirped a few times in explanation. He looked at her, completely lost, before Unown helpfully stepped in. Images of clean feathers, cozy nests, and plentiful pokefood he provided flooded his mind.

Ash blinked. Maybe he shouldn’t be so surprised her reasons for joining him were for guaranteed strength, food, and protection. It wasn’t a rare sentiment amongst willingly caught pokemon. There was one thing that stood out though. “You didn’t like the Safari Zone? Too dirty for your pretty feathers?” Regal nipped his ear lightly at his teasing tone. “Hey, just kidding, girl. I promise I will be sure to help you keep your feathers as clean as possible.”

Regal seemed pleased as she once again turned to his hair and began moving and preening the strands. Ash had written off taming his hair as lost cause years ago but he didn’t tell the rookidee that. She would probably take it as a challenge.

“Before we leave Vermilion, I’ll pick you up something nice.” Ash told his pokemon as they finally neared their destination. Regal acknowledged the offer with a low vocalization. “I know there is a market near the Vermilion Harbor where you could try all sorts of fish treats.”

The offer appealed to her if the immediate chirp was any indication.

Vermilion’s business district was bustling. Shops dotted every corner with signs adorning every window. Ash spotted a PokeMart that stood alone and made sure to remember its location when he needed to stock up before leaving. Gaudy jewelry was displayed in one store window with a sign that promised their ground-types sourced only the finest of gems from caves in Sinnoh. Another store had a large, leather saddle with ornate studs and etched designs displayed on a plastic tauros. Ash wondered if that shop saw much business. Riding pokemon for travel wasn’t common in Indigo, though there was interest in the practice of racing. He remembered watching competitions of rapidash racing at a track in southern Kanto on TV when he was younger.

However, he was here for none of those stores. Off to the side of the district lay a quant shop with only a chalkboard to promote it. Ash pivoted on his heels as he aimed for the shop. The wooden floor creaked as he stepped inside. A light ding! sounded his arrival in the store as the door struck a bell strung up by some twine.

The shop was not grand but had a large interior. Rows of displays with thick glass held geodes split in half to show colorful crystal innards. On the table right in front of the door was a wooden bucket with rocks and stones filling it up. A sign near it offered to break open the ones he picked and let him keep them no matter what was inside. Ash found it unlikely anything worthwhile was inside. If they were as cheap as they were advertised, the likelihood of any of them housing a valuable crystal or an ever rare fossil was near zero.

The shopkeep looked up from the old desk at the back of the shop. He was a younger man with a short stubble beard. The hairs were split by a pale scar that ran the length of the man’s left cheek to his ear. Despite the scar, the man seemed welcoming. “Ah, welcome in. A trainer, non? Your bird is welcome to stay out but don’t let her fly in here.”

“She’ll stick to my shoulder.” He said, more for Regal than the shopkeeper. He took notice of the man’s accent. It was definitely foreign but he couldn’t place it.

The man dipped his head and gestured towards the rest of the shop. “If there's anything you’re in search of, ask now, otherwise browse as you like.”

Ash cleared his throat. “I was looking for some minerals for my graveler. His shell is growing just fine but he could use some supplemental material to keep it that way. Some mica would be good, maybe some granite and basalt. Of course the normal iron and magnesium too. I was also wanting to get some more exotic minerals if you have any, they’re more of a treat for him more than anything. If you had suggestions that would be great. I heard that–”

The man stopped him short with a wave of his hand and an absolutely confused expression. “Slow down, mon ami, I am catching bits of what you are saying! I only just started here!”

Ash heard a laugh from the other side of the store. The only other occupant, the dark-skinned boy with the vest, walked over with a smile. “I’ll help him, Luca. It seems more up my alley.” The clerk slumped with relief as he retreated. “Sorry about that. He’s a cousin of a friend of mine from Kalos. He said his cousin needed a job in Kanto and I owed him one.”

Kalos, that was the accent. It had been bugging him. “No problem, I’m Ash. This is your store?”

“My father’s, one of them anyway.” He corrected with a flicker of anger as he said it. “I’m Brock. You said you had a graveler?” Ash nodded and tapped Graveler’s ultraball on his bandolier. “I’m something of an authority on rock-types in Indigo. If you release him I think I can help you figure out what he needs.”

Ash looked around and found the widest unoccupied area of the store and withdrew his pokemon’s pokeball. Graveler appeared with a flash and a grunt. The boulder eyed the area with suspicion and leveled a questioning glare at Ash. Regal hopped from his shoulder and landed on Graveler’s shell with a chirp. The grump grunted but didn’t make a motion to remove her.

Ash felt a bloom of pride in his chest at the image. Graveler had come far from their first interaction in the mining tunnel so long ago. “Hey, Graveler, this is Brock. He’s just gonna be checking you over for a second.”

Brock stared at the rock-type and hummed. His hand went to his chin and leaned down to get a closer look. The older boy made a move to run his hand down the rock-type’s shell. Graveler took a step back and made a noise not unlike crunching gravel at the offense. Brock simply nodded and didn’t move to try again. “Sorry, habit. All things considered, he looks in perfect health.”

Ash smiled at that. It was always good to hear one of his team members was doing well and even better to hear praise. “Hear that Graveler? You’re the perfect specimen. All the female graveler are gonna be rolling your way.” Graveler was unimpressed at the joke but Regal gave him an amused call and Brock chuckled, so he didn’t totally strike out.

Brock considered the boulder pokemon for a moment more. “He’s old. You can tell by the growths on his facial crest and the dark grey color of his shell, that's without mentioning his size. I’d wager somewhere in his later sixties. His sixth crest is just about finished growing and they get one each decade or so. His shell is smoother than I would have thought. Does he know Rock Polish?”

“Recently got that down.” Ash answered.

Brock gave a pleased nod. “Good. Most trainers don’t realize how useful that move is or, if they do, the pokemon refuses to learn it because it doesn’t see it as useful either.”
Ash grinned as Graveler turned his head away at the comment. “It also helps shed some of those rugged outcroppings that won’t smooth out. As for minerals, you had the right start. The basics are basic for a reason. Magnesium, iron, and the lot. Granite is good too, but only give him basalt in small batches. You can skip mica. It doesn’t provide anything beneficial that he won’t get elsewhere. Unless you want him to look prettier. Coordinators give it to their pokemon for that reason.”

Ash felt like he should be writing this down. Brock wasn’t kidding when he said he knew rock-types. “That’s all good to know. I’ll get a list started.”

Brock looked over his shoulder before reaching behind a glass case. He pulled back and clenched a grey stone in his palm. He offered it to Graveler who eyed it suspiciously. “It's diabase, some places call it dolerite. Try it and see how you like it.”

Graveler gave Ash a look and the teen nodded. The rock-type grabbed the mineral in his rocky hands and simply popped it into his chasm of a mouth. A grinding sound came from the pokemon and, after a moment, Ash saw the ground-type nod in appreciation.

“I think he approves.” Ash told Brock.

“I thought he might. Dolerite is pretty common and it's good for their shell growth. Tough minerals make tough shells. It's cheap too.”

Ash reached out and knocked a knuckle against his pokemon’s shell to get his attention. “What do you think, Graveler? This is your stop. Call it my apology for not using you against Surge. Whatever you want, let me know and it's yours.” The rock-type met his eyes. Unspoken communication passed between them. Graveler finally motioned to Brock and back to the glass cabinets. “Want to try a few more samples?”

Brock was happy to show them more. More minerals and stones and geodes than Ash could ever hope to name were presented before Graveler. The boulder tried a dozen different substances and gave varying responses. He liked some, like limestone, and disliked others, like the small piece of obsidian. Then came the hunk of concrete that would change Graveler’s appetite forever.

Brock produced a hunk of white concrete from a wheelbarrow in the back of the store. It gleamed under the store lights and Ash couldn’t imagine what it would look like under direct sunlight. Graveler accepted the large chunk and started his sampling. After a few loud crunches that made Ash’s teeth ache at the sound, Graveler’s eyes went wide. The Pallet teen almost fell over when the boulder pokemon made an attempt to swallow the concrete slab whole and then, when it was crushed and gone, made a sound that Ash thought had come from a begging growlithe. Even Regal seemed taken aback.

Brock laughed and turned to Ash’s gobsmacked face. “Yeah, rock-types and ground-types love this stuff. This concrete is the kind they use in Olivine to protect against the sea. They add an absurd amount of chemicals and blend it with a thousand different minerals to make it able to stand up to the sea salt, water-types, inclement weather, and what have you. Surprisingly not that bad for them, but they can go overboard pretty quick so you gotta control it. It's kind of like a kid and a sugar rush.”

Ash believed it as he watched Brock move to block Graveler off from grabbing at the wheelbarrow containing the concrete. The older boy did what was best and wheeled the barrow into the back even as Graveler grumbled in annoyance at being cut off. He was acting like Greed when Ash stopped him from eating an entire dish of berries in one sitting.

Ash shook his head. He’d made a monster and added another glutton to his roster.

Well, he had said he’d get the pokemon whatever he wanted. “We can get some to go, Graveler, but we’ll temper it with minerals that are more beneficial for you. That sound fair?”

Graveler met his eyes and nodded as he watched Brock return from the back. Ash was sure he would have agreed to anything to get another taste of the, apparently addictive, concrete. Ash added the last item onto his list and showed it to Brock when he returned. The rock-type expert smiled and clapped his hands. “Well, I hope you have a truck to haul that around.”

Ash tapped Graveler with his knuckle again. “Sure do.”

After half an hour, the last of his order was put together and Ash was regretting giving Graveler a blank check. His backpack weighed an additional twenty pounds with the additional minerals in it and the rock/ground-type was hefting a green rucksack full of pieces of his favored concrete with a satisfied expression. At least Greed would be happy to carry his backpack for him. The fighting-type never noticed any extra weight in his pack considering his immense strength. Regal–who was resting in her pokeball, too impatient to wait for their order to get packed up–could carry the bag in her talons after she evolved. It would be a great way to trainer her strength.

Brock hopped down from the loading dock behind the store and patted the rucksack when he was sure it was secure and not going to come apart at the seams. “Everything is all packed up. Thanks for making the biggest order in the past month.”

Watching the numbers dwindle from his account has been a gut punch. Ash knew he still had plenty left but he’d need to challenge a fair amount of trainers if he wanted to make up for the lost cash.

“Yeah, happy to give away my life’s work.” Ash quipped. “Hey, Brock, I never asked. How do you know so much about rock-types?”

“I’m from Pewter City. Half of our history is rock-types.” Brock shot him a grin. “Plus I’m a specialist. My starter was an onix, a geodude was my first capture, you get the idea. I’m no professor but I know my stuff when it comes to rock-types.”

“Wait.” Ash frowned before he snapped his fingers. “You’re Brock Pebbleman! I knew you looked familiar.”

“Guilty.”

“Your dad is Gym Leader Flint. He owns this place then?”

“He owns a few stores across Kanto.” Brock snorted. “I wouldn’t use that as a selling point for this place. He has a habit of walking out on things.”

Ash didn’t think he was supposed to hear that last bit and didn’t comment on it. If Brock had issues with his father, well, he wouldn’t get any judgment from him. They were alike in that regard it seemed. “Thanks for the help with Graveler. You have a golem, right?”

The subject change was not subtle, Ash knew, but Brock didn’t mention it. Instead, the older boy reached a hand into his pocket and withdrew a scratched and dented pokeball. A click and the device opened and a round pokemon took shape.

Golem rumbled as it appeared. The megaton pokemon was dusty brown with two stocky arms and legs. Its elongated reptilian-like face was pronounced by its two red eyes that met Ash’s. Its shell was a mix of green-grey hues that reminded him of a mossy stone. Brock stepped forward and rubbed a hand on the pokemon’s flat head. The sound was like sandpaper and Ash wondered how it didn’t scrape open the older boy’s hand. “This is Golem, one of my oldest partners.”

Graveler perked up at the name and carefully set down the rucksack. Golem rumbled a greeting to Ash and then caught sight of Graveler. The two rock-types locked eyes, red on black, and both pokemon made a sound not unlike a tunnel collapse. In a flash, both evolutions of geodude tucked their arms inwards. Brock immediately backed up and Ash followed.

The two rolled forward at the other in the open area behind the store, leaving divots in the ground. They met in the middle, near the loading dock, and the shells clashed. For a moment, Ash watched as the two curled up pokemon collided and came to a standstill. Neither one let the other forward. He thought it might continue like this, two unstoppable forces meeting the other, but that was shattered when Graveler was thrown backwards. His weight was dislodged from the rut he had carved into the earth as he sprawled in a puff of dirt.

Golem rolled its near half a ton weight to a stop and withdrew from his shell as Graveler picked himself up. Ash’s inched his hand to the ultraball on his bandolier in case his pokemon decided to do something he’d need to return him for. Instead, the boulder pokemon grunted a greeting and swatted a rocky fist at Golem’s shell. Golem responded with a similar greeting as Graveler’s fist thunked the hard shell, then it did a similar motion as it raked its three claws down the outcroppings of its pre-evolution.

Ash heard Brock chuckle and then thump a hand on his shoulder. “First time seeing rock-types get acquainted?”

Ash nodded dumbly. “That’s normal?”

“Like how fighting-types spar to get acquainted, rock-types test each other’s defenses. Some of them anyway.”

“He’s pretty comfortable with Golem off the bat,” Ash remarked as he watched the two pokemon interact. If only the grump had been this agreeable when he’d first captured him. “He’s usually more solitary.”

“Golem and Graveler are of the same evolutionary line, there's a mutual understanding and respect there.” Brock adjusted his vest and wiped away the dust that had settled on it. “You’ll find that many species are like that, or at least very comfortable with pokemon of the same line. Young pokemon especially.”

Ash watched as the pokemon grunted and clashed and conversed. Graveler seemed more comfortable than he had ever seen him. He wondered if the others would act the same if they met any of their evolutions.

“So, you said you beat Surge? And without using a ground-type? Well done.” Brock congratulated him. “Headed to Celadon for Erika’s badge then?”

Ash shook his head. “Saffron for Sabrina’s. I have Erika’s badge already.”

Brock turned pensive. “Lightning and Rainbow, any others?”

“Soul.”

Brock grinned. “You haven’t gone to Pewter yet?”

“I wanted to switch it up a bit. Thought I could give you and the Waterflowers’ a challenge at least.” Ash was clapped on the shoulder again.

“When you get to Pewter, find me. My team would love the exercise.” Brock’s grin was ear to ear. The older boy pulled out a business card. “Here's my info.”

Ash smiled back. “You got it.”

Brock tapped a rhythm on the earth with his foot. Golem picked up on it and nodded at his trainer. “You’ve got ambition, keep that. If you’re going after Surge and Sabrina then you’re definitely pushing yourself. It’ll be interesting to see what you can do in the Conference.”

Golem pulled away from his interaction with Graveler. The rock-types clashed their fists one last time before separating. Brock measured up Graveler one last time before venturing back to the store. He waved one last time–a gesture Ash reciprocated–before ducking into the back entrance of the shop.

Ash hefted his pack onto his shoulders as Graveler picked his rucksack back up. “I say we should get moving towards Route 6. Sooner we leave, the sooner we can battle Sabrina. Plus, Unown is waiting for us.”

Graveler blinked at the rucksack in his hands, then at Ash. Finally it seemed to click in the pokemon’s mind that he would have to carry the rucksack himself without anyone to pass it off to. That meant he had to walk Route 6 at Ash’s side without being recalled.

Ash grinned as his pokemon groaned. “Don’t complain. You wanted the stuff, not me. If you want it then you can carry it.” Graveler grunted in acknowledgment. “You know, this stuff is way better than whatever you would have eaten in the mining tunnel. How many chunks of that concrete would you have found down there?”

The pokemon was silent as Ash felt himself go serious. He turned to the boulder. “Graveler, buddy, our deal still stands. I gave you my word and I intend to keep it. When we clear the last Gym, you have an out. We’ll go back to that tunnel and you can go, no hard feelings. Just know that you always have a place on this team. We’ve come a long way and we aren’t even halfway through the circuit yet. Imagine what we can do by the time the Indigo Conference rolls around.”

Graveler didn’t respond. Ash didn’t need him to, the silent consideration was enough. The teen simply knocked a knuckle on the pokemon’s shell with a smile as they made their way to the edge of the city.

The road waited for no one.

.—.—.

Notes:

What? A chapter within four months? Insane, I know. Surge, the battle, Vermilion, and some team bonding. All good stuff. I think I like the Gym battle in the end, minus a couple nitpicks I couldn’t get around. Battles aren’t my strongest point but I get by. I can’t help but notice the trend of Surge being a mentor-like character for Ash in other journey stories and I want to try and avoid that here but I don’t think I have it in me to make Surge irrelevant lol.

I went back and edited the first couple chapters, just tweaked a couple things, fixed some grammar and structure issues, and expanded worldbuilding in some places. I will probably do the same for the third and fourth as well when I get time. I should have a good amount of time for the next month so here's hoping I can write at a better pace, knock on wood, and maybe get another chapter out soon-ish, better than 4 months at least. I already have decent progress on the next one but I can tell that Saffron is gonna give me fits.

Next Chapter: Arcane

As always, thanks for reading and feedback is always appreciated.

Chapter 11: Arcane

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

.—.—.

The wind drove a brisk chill down Ash’s spine.

Red and gold scales meshed together under the water as the mob of magikarp fought for the food, crowns breaking the surface of the water unbothered by the temperature above the surface. Ash tossed another handful of pokefood into the pond with a smile, brown pellets growing soggy in the water before they were swallowed. He had plenty of the stuff and this was as good a use as any. Regal watched keenly from a branch as the horde of fish taunted her, as if they knew she wanted to swoop down and take one for herself but couldn’t. She was a bit too small for that in her current stage but the water-types would have to watch themselves when she evolved.

Route 6 was close to the length of Route 1, if not shorter. Two or three days between Vermilion and Saffron for the average trainer. Ash figured it would take him a week to traverse just like Route 1 had. He wanted to train his team intently before reaching the heart of Kanto, the heart of the Gauntlet. There was so much to do, moves to work on and techniques to perfect. He also promised Regal his attention and intended to keep to his word.

Cove was counted out for battles and restricted to light training for the time being. The newly molted corphish needed at least a few days to harden up his shell. It was his first molt since Ash had captured him in Fuchsia and wouldn’t be the last. Corphish molted every two or three months until they got closer to evolving where they would molt more often as their shells grew to preemptively accommodate their new size. The ponds they had stopped at so far were helping, the water easing the process at first and then the growth of the new shell after. The supplements Ash got at the PokeMart before leaving Vermilion also played a part. Ash could vaguely see the orange crustacean under the water, resting on the sandy bank nearest to where he sat at the edge of the pond. The water-type would be back to fighting shape before Saffron City.

Greed rumbled next to him as the water-types continued to splash in competition for the free food. The panda gave them a somewhat haughty stare as he popped a berry into his mouth. Ash thought his starter enjoyed the relative peace Route 6 was affording them. Relative being the operative word there. The road was bustling with trainers of varying strength. This far into the competitive season and in the heart of Kanto, no trainer worth their salt had less than two badges. Many came down from Cerulean City after following the standard circuit and were intended for Celadon, simply using Route 6 as a place to train beforehand. The braver ones, the ones Ash preferred to battle, were making a run at Surge.

Those battles were his favorite. No one thought to head to Surge unless they were confident in their skills. Some were overconfident of themselves but plenty had serious backing for their confidence. Unown was backed off the trail during most the day. The hustle of trainers, whether alone or in groups, wasn’t favorable for an introvert like his once-stalker.

The psychic-type picked up his thoughts and buzzed at the title. The psychic pushed him slightly with a dull azure. Ash laughed even as he stopped himself from careening into the pond in front of him. He turned to the panda next to him.

“Greed, I’m going to have you and Graveler working together until Saffron,” Ash said. “We didn’t have time to get the elemental punches down before Vermilion but he’ll need them before Saffron. I’ll introduce the first of the TMs to him during training tonight. I want you to help him along with them, but I want you to perfect Night Slash too. The new types will be good for him and Night Slash will be good for you. Thunder Punch should be first. It’ll give him a response to water-types and the energy will be easier to grasp. Fire Punch wouldn’t be bad, a good response to grass-types, but water is more common. Thunder then fire.”

The pancham nodded as he flexed his paw and tried to wipe off the berry juice that was staining the pads. Ash reached over and gently took the black furred appendage into his hand. Greed looked at him strangely as he ran his hand over it. The trainer squeezed and felt the bones of the paw, he felt along the ridges where the pokemon’s knuckles would be. The bear didn’t have knuckles as he did. Instead of calcium bones, there were hard, metal-like bones that replaced them. Iron Fist gave altered the biology of the panda’s paws to make it stronger and more durable. A punch from that paw could put a hole through him.

Ash pulled away and patted his partner on the head. “Sorry, bud. I read up on your Iron Fist ability and got curious.” The pancham rumbled but didn’t complain. “You know, we’ve been together a while now. About four months. Crazy to think about isn’t it?”

The panda nodded in agreement. Ash hummed. “Do you feel any different than you did back then?” Greed looked at him, unimpressed. Red worked its way up the teen’s neck. “Ok, fair, dumb question. None of us are the same as we were even last week. I meant along the lines of your evolution, bud.”

His starter thought for a moment. A flick of his ear was followed by a paw doing a so-so motion. “Not sure?” Greed dipped his head. “Let me know if that changes. Your grasp of your dark-type moves has progressed since Pallet Town. Training and traveling with Nut will definitely have given you a boost. Maybe Cove too but he’s less of a dark-type than you are at this point. If you ever feel like there's something you aren’t sure about or, Mew forbid, something wrong, come talk to me.”

Greed agreed easily with a soft chuff. The fighting-type popped another berry into his mouth, a small pop signaling it was perfectly ripe. Ash offered a few pokefood pellets that the pokemon took gratefully. Forager or not, the pancham loved his food.

Ash continued. “Usually this is the time of year that trainers are gonna start slowing down. They’re hitting the longer sections of the region and the further cities. We hit those early. It's both a positive and a negative for us. By the time we get to Pewter, and probably Cerulean, there won’t be many trainers to battle. They’re only really busy during the early season. It's why I’m having you all battle so much here, experience but also money. Gym fees and TM costs don’t shrink just cause we earn more badges.”

Greed flicked an ear in understanding. The wind tickled the fighting-type’s fur as Ash shivered. It wasn’t the cold that affected him this time. A stable, mournful note plated on the breeze and reminded Ash of a funeral march. The Distortion in his mind rolled and nipped at him like a pack of hounds on the trail of a stantler. He felt his eyes focus more intently on the source that the loose canopy of trees both embraced and obscured.

Nut sat cradled in the trees, legs dangling limply from his position in the branches of a stout oak tree, with his creation in his hands. The grass flute was intricate for something made from the leaf upon the nuzleaf’s head, precise punctures and light markings scoring the length of the proto-instrument. He’d been working on it, gradually, since his evolution. It was complete at last and it made a whistling tune that echoed in the air of Route 6. Wild pokemon gave them a wide berth when the flute was played. Pidgey fled like they’d been struck and wurmple inched their slow escape across the trees. Other trainers similarly did not disturb them when the flute was played; it made them uneasy.

Ash knew he would have been the same way if it were not his own pokemon that was the culprit.

The tune didn’t unease Ash. It might have, before Nut’s evolution, but he had plenty of exposure at this point. The notes that the flute produced filtered in the abyss of his connection with his nuzleaf. It shivered his bones and sprouted gooseflesh on his skin, but it did not truly unnerve him. Violet bloomed bright in his mind when the note finally died down. Distortion receded against the tide of color. Unown didn’t like the flute either. The psychic was close now as it hummed a musical greeting. Its notes rang far more lively than its dark counterpart.

“Hey, Unown.” Ash threw another handful of food into the pond. The water-types clambered one more at the gift. “Handling the Route well?”

Acclimating. Very crowded.

“It is. I knew there would be trainers but not this many. Good for battles but I can’t imagine you like it too much. Good that you're acclimating at least.”

The symbol pokemon buzzed as it fell into silence. Ash considered breaking the silence, bombarding the psychic with the hundreds of questions that itched in his throat, but decided against it. Unown had a natural arcane presence. It had followed him this far and seemed intent to do so for the foreseeable future, there would be other chances.

Ash gave the pond the last handful of pokefood he would spare with an overhand fling. The fish crowded the offered food just as eagerly as every other time.

The peace was nice.

.—.—.

Red eyes pierced him as Regal watched him intently. They were about a day away from Saffron if the other trainers on the Route were to be believed. He allotted them the rest of the week for training before they entered the city to confront Sabrina for the Marsh Badge. His team had their assignments and areas he wanted them to focus on.

Graveler and Greed were off in the secluded backdrop of their camp working together. Or facing each other might be a better description. Rocky fists swung at black and white fur as the pancham dodged. Thunder Punch was coming nicely for the rock-type. Graveler had an issue with getting the energy for electric move at first but had mostly managed to get it down. The boulder pokemon gleamed metallic silver as his shell coated itself in Iron Defense. The steel-type move was coming along too, just slower. Greed was sure to remind his teammate when he failed by hitting him with a Bullet Punch where the Iron Defense dropped.

Nut was with Cove on the opposite side of the camp. The two pokemon covered in dirt as they moved the earth below them. Dig was not a complicated move and Cove had experience working with ground-type moves. The ground-type move gave the water-type some much needed evasion while also being something the corphish could work on while his shell was still soft. Nut was there to assist while also working on his own dark-type move, Feint Attack. The move was another good addition to the grass-type’s repertoire. Ash also wanted the grass-type to work on a psychic counter they had discussed. The work on that particular technique was slow coming, though.

His team was coming along well.

Ash shook his head and refocused his attention. Regal was his priority right now.

The flying-type only knew a few moves but they were promising ones. Tailwind was an asset and Nut’s work with her on Air Cutter was beneficial. Rookidee couldn’t learn as many moves as their evolutions but he could work around that.

He considered approaches for a moment before locking eyes with his pokemon. “You have a good grasp on what you know, Regal, which is good. Right now you’re constricted by only knowing flying-type moves–and Hone Claws–as well as your small physique. You can’t learn a lot of the moves I want to teach you without TMs, or evolving, but we can start on Fury Attack and work from there.”

Drill Peck and Brave Bird were the two best moves that Regal could learn naturally at the moment, but they weren’t options at this stage. Brave Bird was difficult to master for even highly disciplined pokemon–Ash was not confident he would classify Regal as such–and Drill Peck needed some real power behind it to be effective. Both moves would be advantageous in the future but Regal was still too young.

Young was relative, of course. Pokemon grew fast and matured even faster. For all that Regal was but a chick when he captured her, she was now a proper rookidee ready for equally proper training. Her evolution would be soon enough, he thought. Her chest feathers had started sprouting a blue-yellow mix as of late. The bird tended to prematurely pluck the ones that stood out too much, not appreciating the disruption to her usually neat appearance.

Regal tweeted a note as she stretched her wings out to their full span. The white markings around her eyes crinkling and doing their best to cow him. Ash sighed at the displeased look on the bird’s feathery face. “I’m sorry, girl, but there is a limit to what you can learn right now. If you can get down Fury Attack then we can go to Dual Wingbeat–it's another physical flying-type move that should be easy enough once you get the basics. I think Emolga used it in the Vermilion Gym. I can see about getting you another type to play with in Saffron. I should have enough cash to get a new move for everyone on the team.”

The rookidee produced her equivalent of a sigh as she accepted that. Her vibrant red eyes were rubies against her white facial feathers as they locked onto him once more. Her eyes were very expressive, he had come to know. “Besides that, I want you to continue on your speed drills. Tailwind is good in a pinch and I want you to learn Agility later on but your base speed shouldn’t be neglected. Another thing I want you to focus on is your strength, so I’ll have you fly your drills while also carrying my backpack.”

Ash coughed to cover his laugh. Regal looked downright horrified at the notion. “I’ll take out Graveler’s minerals and anything I don’t want you to risk losing or breaking if you drop it, but the rest is on you to lift. It’s not that bad. Greed carries it all the time.”

Regal stared at him for a beat, stunned, then shrieked in protest. Ash didn’t bother to hide his laugh this time. She waited for his laughter to die down before glaring at him intently. “Alright, sorry. I do want more strength drills for you, though. If you’re not strong enough for my bag…”

Regal turned her beak up at his words and chirped in the direction of his backpack. He grinned as he poked her chest feathers. “Oh? So Her Highness will try carrying the bag of a lowly peasant like me?”

The rookidee considered his tone for a moment, likely deciding whether she should peck him or not, but dipped her head nonetheless. Now that he’d flipped it into a challenge, she couldn’t back down.

Ash watched the flying-type huff as he started unloading the valuable and fragile items in his bag.

When she tried to lift off with the bag in her talons the first time, it anchored her to the ground for a moment. She squawked in annoyance and adjusted her grip before trying again with strong flaps of her wings. Finally, the bag lifted from the earth and she announced her triumph with a screech as she took to the sky. It was only a few inches at first but eventually she was flying around the clearing slowly, wings reminding him of a yanma’s with the speed they flapped at.

If she saw Ash capture a picture with his pokedex, she steadfastly ignored it.

.—.—.

Unown was still a mystery to Ash.

He was more than happy to have the levitating pokemon around and the bond they shared was cementing itself as integral to him. That didn’t stop him from being perplexed by the pokemon. It was an observer more than anything. When they trainer, battled, or just relaxed, the psychic was alway watching. Even when not physically there, the lone eye was always aware.

The symbol pokemon did hold one interest that none of Ash’s other pokemon did. His team were great, really, but they weren’t particularly interested in intellectual discussions that he sometimes wanted. History wasn’t his strongest subject but he had always enjoyed it well enough and liked to learn about Indigo’s most famous figures and locations. He figured he’d have to get more familiar with it now that Unown was around. The psychic was innately curious and implored him to talk about Indigo and its history.

“Saffron is one of the oldests cities in Indigo,” Ash informed the floating pokemon. “Pewter is the oldest, or at least the oldest that's still standing. There is some debate that Ecruteak City might have technically been founded a few years earlier but the clans that settled under Mt. Mortar aren’t what we consider the modern Ecruteak. The Dragonkin kept them under their heel and effectively halted any attempts at building anything permanent.”

That was a common occurrence in Johto. Unlike Kanto, most of the major cities in the other half of Indigo formed their foundations only when the Dragonkin entered into their civil war and wiped themselves out. The Drakes’ War, as it was called, resulted in the destruction of the majority of the stronghold held by the dragons when two different leaders vied for the title of Drake. After the two Drakes scorched each other to ash atop the peak of Mt. Silver, the Dragonkin fractured permanently. Only the northernmost territories stayed under the control of the strongest surviving Dragonkin clan–the Wataru–giving the rest of Johto its chance to begin construction in the wake of the fall of their overlords.

“In comparison,” Ash continued. “Pewter hasn’t changed much since it was founded by the Mountain Men. Other than its natural expansion, it has been stable and content. But even as recently as the Winter Revolts, Ecruteak was shifting entirely.”

Unwon buzzed a question in response.

Ecruteak? Winter Revolts?

Ash frowned. He had told Unown a good bit about Kanto’s many cities, towns, and sights but he’d not addressed Johto much. “Right, you don’t have a good frame of reference for this stuff. Ecruteak City is in Johto, the other half of Indigo, and it’s sort of like a combination of Saffron City and Lavender Town. It carved its foundation with the mystic and supernatural after the Dragonkin lost their hold on them. Ghost-types and ghost trainers aren’t common anywhere, but Lavender and Ecruteak produce the most ghost specialists when you take into account population and trainer output.

“Ecruteak is the most traditional city in Indigo. Johto itself is far more traditional than Kanto–I’ll let Ethan rant about that when you meet him–and Ecruteak is especially traditional. For example, the equinox is a huge deal all around Johto. They have festivals and offer gifts to the Legends, but Ecruteak is almost religious with it. The Bell Tower is washed in colorful lights and the different factions that worship any of the three Legendary Beasts give blessings to the Burnt Tower. Some of the more adamant ones even dress up certain pokemon like weird effigies–Vaporeon as Suicune, Flareon as Entei, and Jolteon as Raikou.”

“As for the Winter Revolts, that's when the Sevii Islands refused to fall under the authority of Indigo during the founding of the League.” Ash took a swig of water from his canteen and cleared his throat. “The Sevii Islands gave the Indigo League enough trouble that they were able to keep their autonomy, so they named it the Winter Revolts. They were trying to curb the last of the rogue Dragonkin and burn out the rest of the Hiveminds from the Viridian Forest, so an armada from Sevii assaulting southern Kanto wasn’t something they could add to the list. The early League agreed to let them keep their autonomy in exchange for help in sieging the Orange Islands. It's weirdly under-documented but the early League was notoriously terrible at record keeping. Nowadays, the League and Sevii are friendly enough that they’re practically a part of Indigo anyway.”

Unown hummed as it considered the info. A warm feeling shrouded him as the psychic’s eye glowed an azure. His hat lifted from his head, knocking his messy hair loose, and floated in the air for a moment. Slowly, it raised until Unown levitated under the headwear. Ash smiled as he tapped the brim of the hat that covered the black body of the pokemon.

“I’m probably not giving you a good rundown of everything. You’re more of a historian than I am,” Ash admitted. “When we get to Pewter we should check out its historical sector. The Fossil Museum is there and Professor Oak offered to arrange a tour for me. The Museum of Science is popular too. There’s also Mount Moon, which isn’t really a part of Pewter so much as separating it from the eastern parts of Kanto, but it still has some interesting folklore surrounding it that we could look into. It's at the foot of the Great Northern Range so we could also find some wild pokemon strong enough to test ourselves against if we go a little off the beaten path.”

Unown sent a probe along their bond, a question. Ash focused for a second as he made sense of it. He laughed when he grasped the excitement the psychic bled off.

“Wondering when we’ll get to Pewter?” Ash smiled at the confirmation he received. “Not sure, honestly. Hold on, let me grab my map.”

He slung his pack from his shoulders and nearly sighed as the weight lifted from them. Greed was unable to carry the heavy bag given he was resting from a battle with a nidorino that had all but gored him with a poisonous Horn Attack. Ash dug around for a moment, moving his bedroll and tent out of the way, before removing his waterproof map. “Here, let’s make a plan. I’ll run it by the others when we stop for the night.”

Unown bobbed under Ash’s hat as it made the brim move to give it a view of the map. Ash unfolded the map as oriented himself with the landmarks. After a moment, he pointed to the road below Saffron City. “We’re here on Route 6. After we beat Sabrina, we can go north on Route 5 and challenge the Waterflower Sisters for the Cascade Badge in Cerulean City.”

A passing trainer gave them a strange look, mostly at the floating hat Ash was talking to. Unown did its best to ignore the attention.

“I don’t think we’ll do that though.” Ash looked over the map one more time. He tapped his finger over the town at the end of Route 7 then dragged it upwards. “I want to see Lavender Town at some point and this is a good chance to do that. Then we can stop at the Power Plant on Route 10. We should be able to use the Rock Tunnel system which will put us on Route 9 and we can go to Cerulean City from there and Pewter after that through Mt. Moon.”

Unown buzzed a tune.

A plan.

That it was, a tentative one. Ash mulled over his next question, hesitant to ask it. He decided he would need to discuss it eventually and waiting did no one any good. “I guess that means you plan on staying with us?”

The wind whistled in Ash’s ears. It helped distract from the deafening silence. He felt a probing along their bond. After a moment, a hesitant buzz rang in his ears. The black of the symbol pokemon’s body darkened and contrasted to its striking white eye. The psychic stared at Ash as it probed. Images and thoughts came to the teen’s recollection. Pokemon battles and traveling and training.

Not a fighter.

That was not what he was expecting. He knew it was true that there were some pokemon simply not made to be fighters. Unown were not used by trainers in a combat capacity for many reasons. They were rare and got snatched up–by researchers and traditionalists both–when they were found, but the main one tended to be that Unown only learned a single move.

No, Unown were not fighters and no one could make them such.

Ash didn’t care.

“Unown, you don’t have to worry about that. If I want a pokemon to fight, I have the others. Trust me, they are all more than willing to accept a battle or ten. They look forward to it.” Ash flipped the brim of his hat playfully once more. “I like having you around. I want to see the rest of Indigo, train harder, win the Conference, be Champion. I want to do all of that with everyone on the team beside me, that includes you now.”

Ash smiled at the warm pink that poured over him. After all, what other pokemon would put up with his rambling about Indigo’s history? His other pokemon entertained his talks, but Unown listened, understood, and wanted to hear more. It was a good feeling.

The teen hesitated for a moment before resolving himself on his next action. He withdrew a pokeball from his pouch and expanded it. Unown watched silently as Ash held the capture device. This conversation was inevitable, really, so he might as well ask now. “Unown, I want you to join us officially. I won't force you to make a decision now. We’ll be here a couple days more to train, so take some time to really think about it. I love having you around and I would love to see the rest of Kanto with you.”

Ash laid the pokeball down on the ground. This was a decision Unown had to make on its own. He walked away from the silent pokemon as it considered its choice.

.—.—.

Nut stomped angrily, marking the grass with square footprints. A dark shroud encompassed the area in the recesses of Ash’s subconscious. Shadows wobbled at their edges as the closest branches above them swayed in a breeze that wasn’t truly there. The nuzleaf was growing frustrated, Ash could tell by the headache he was starting to get. Rapidly fired seeds embedded themselves into a rock that Graveler had made for their training, leaving four holes bored into its face in a manner one might call hateful. The trainer whistled appreciatively at the impact.

“Power clearly isn’t the issue.” Ash remarked. Nut gave him a very unimpressed glare. “Oh, don’t give me that look. You know that your Leech Seed is strong enough to hold, you just need to harness the Distortion into them. I know you can do it.”

The grass-type turned his nose away from the rock in frustration, three days of no progress needling his temper. The leaf atop his head–which had only partially grown back–flicked silently. Nut breathed for another moment before focusing on his target once again. The nuzleaf expanded his cheeks with air before he fired another attempt at the Distorted Leech Seed.

Six seeds fired in quick succession and barreled forward. Ash watched closely as the seeds wrapped in a dark power sagged in their travel before hitting the rock formation. They stuck into the boulder and cracked the stone with a satisfying sound. They did not bore into the heart of the rock like the previous shot, but that wasn’t what caught Ash’s eye. Nut widened his eyes at the attack as it bled of Distortion in black waves.

“That was it!” Ash exclaimed as he rushed toward the rock. The seeds were cracked and in small pieces at the base of the stone. There was no armor or hardened skin to bypass or a body to grow its roots in, so the seeds died as a pale root withered, unblooded. There was a dark glow on them as they laid there, dark power dispersing by the heartbeat. Nut picked a shattered seed up in his hand and inspected it over. The Distortion bled off it, releasing one last burst of power, before it too died.

Nut grinned and Ash patted his head, hand carefully avoiding the base of the leaf that grew there. The grass-type had plucked his last leaf off to make his flute and the attached greenery was gradually growing back but was sensitive when it wasn’t mature. “This is good work, Nut. A Barrier or Light Screen would pretty much nullify something like Leech Seed if performed properly, but if you infuse some Distortion into the attack it will punch right through!”

Ash was a little surprised the idea had worked. He’d looked up techniques or strategies of infusing Distortion into a move but hadn’t been able to find any confirmed examples of it. Nut had been growing agitated with it, not to the point of giving up but enough that the idea of it being feasible was wavering. But now…

The teen smiled. Sabrina’s psychics wouldn’t be able to just sit behind a Barrier now. Nut’s grin was wide and Ash considered how else they could use this. Would Energy Ball be another move able to handle an infusion of Distortion? It wouldn’t be as effective as a Dark Pulse, but it had its own advantages. A psychic would never ignore a Dark Pulse or try to intercept it, while they might risk it if it was just an Energy Ball. He could imagine it now, an alakazam letting an Energy Ball crash against its Barrier only for it to be struck dumb as the Distortion broke through and knocked its spoons out of its grip. What a sight that would be.

Nut tapped him on the leg and made a motion with his mitt-like hand. Ash took a few steps back. “Alright, you want some room to work on perfecting that?”

Nut nodded intently.

Ash nodded in return. “I’ll go check in with Greed and Graveler then. Let me know if you need anything, buddy.” The grass-type hustled back to his firing position. The Distorted Leech Seed needed to be stronger and coated with more Distortion if it was to be viable.

Greed noticed Ash’s approach first, ears flicking a greeting even as the panda backpedaled away from a swipe of Graveler’s fist. Fire Punch lapped flames up the rocky arm but the ground-type ignored the heat as he advanced. Another fiery swipe missed the fur of the pancham as Greed ducked under the arm and struck with a Bullet Punch. The steel-type moved sizzled a spot where it struck as electricity crackled along the metal.

Bullet Punch was a great conductor, they had learned, and combining it with Thunder Punch was a natural step. The sheer striking power of Bullet Punch with the electrical sizzle of Thunder Punch. They had dubbed the technique Thunder-Bullet, unoriginal as that was. Graveler grunted as he stopped his attacks and fell back. Greed rumbled for a few moments, giving feedback, before the two pokemon turned to the trainer that was watching them.

“Point to Greed,” Ash joked. Graveler rolled his eyes even as the panda jabbed him again. “Is Iron Defense coming along, Graveler?”

The rock-type gave a slow nod. The defensive move was slow coming, that was true, but his work on it was already impressive for the short time they had been working on it. The training between the two teammates was pretty simple. Graveler was forced to keep up Iron Defense while trying to strike Greed with either of the elemental punches. If the Iron Defense faltered, Greed struck with Conductor. It was not easy training, but it was effective.

Iron Defense was one of the moves that would be essential for the idea Ash had in mind. He had already told Graveler about Indomitable and the boulder pokemon was just as interested in the technique as he was. Harden and Defense Curl were ready, but Iron Defense was still coming along. Not to mention Endure, which Ash might scrap from the technique altogether. Protect was necessary, however, and that required a TM. Ash had planned on getting that TM anyway. It sounded dead useful and any pokemon would benefit from it.

“That’s good.” Ash checked his pokedex for the time. “We’ll break in a couple hours for dinner. You guys keep up the good work.”

Ash left his team to their training as he slumped down against a tree. The sturdy dark cherry tree he had popped his tent next to provided ample shade from the sun and minimized the bright glare on his device’s screen enough he could make out every third word or so. He scrolled through his pokedex for a few minutes before a prodding at his leg drew his attention. A red claw poked his calf as its owner gurgled.

“Hey, Cove, doing alright?” Ash questioned the water-type. The crustacean gurgled glumly and scuttled closer to the trainer’s upper body. No battles had taken its toll on the usually battle-hungry pokemon. “Here, let me check your shell.”

The ruffian pokemon gurgled again and presented his red shell to Ash’s eyes. The shell was a vibrant red-orange and gave the impression of being new. Previously notable claw marks (courtesy of Harrison’s glameow and its temper) were missing, replaced by unblemished chitin. He poke the shell lightly with a finger. It didn’t show any stress inwards like it had previously, instead resisting the pressure and holding strong.

Ash smiled. “I think your shell is back, Cove. You think you’re ready to get back to fighting tomorrow?” The water-type snapped his claws enthusiastically and gurgled an excited agreement. “Great. I know you didn’t like sitting on the sidelines but I won’t risk you getting permanently injured. Training was light but you still made some good progress with Dig, pretty impressive if you ask me.”

Cove beamed and let out a small splash of watery bubbles. Ash smiled and rubbed his thumb on the back of the pokemon’s shell. He stopped himself and made a frown. Cove stopped as well and asked a question with a gurgle.

“Sorry, Cove. It's just…do you have barnacles on your tail?” Ash pointed at the accused appendage.

The corphish shot his head backwards to get a gander at the tail. He struggled to get a proper glimpse until he bent nearly in half. When he finally got a good look at his tail, the lobster found it completely barnacle free.

Ash laughed even as Cove snapped and drenched the cuffs of his pants.

It was the last night they were going to spend on Route 6. Saffron was so close to them now. There were already grey towers of the city’s tallest buildings dotting the horizon on days with good visibility.

Cove nudged him in his side. Ash raised a brow. The water-type gestured to the middle of the clearing. It took Ash a moment to see what the pokemon was gesturing at. He adjusted his eyes and then spotted the pokeball on the ground, the one he left for Unown. For a moment, it was motionless and sat under the shade of the tree branches and stationed exactly where he left it.

A mystical violet encompassed the pokeball in a light grasp. It wobbled for a small moment, but when Ash blinked the capture device was floating upwards. Unown was levitating there, its lone eye focused on the metal sphere and unnaturally silent. The psychic stayed that way for a minute, watching the floating pokeball as though considering some great conflict.

He supposed it was.

Slowly, Ash watched the psychic turn to look at him. Its eye flashed an azure, vibrant enough to make him blink. It probed along their bond and communicated one word.

Ur-Hakon

With that definitive yet monotone word, the pokeball touched the black body of the pokemon. Unown vanished in a red haze that was captured inside the sphere as it fell to the ground.

Ash felt warmth bloom inside his chest as he went to pick up the pokeball. His hand touched it and another shot of heat wormed its way up his arm. The trainer smiled as he thumbed the white release button on the device. Unown materialized with a brief flash.

The Pallet teen looked at the psychic as it looked at him.

“Thank you,” Ash said.

For trusting him, for joining them.

Unown understood even if he didn’t verbalize it.

Thank you.

Ash smiled and slipped the pokeball–Unown’s pokeball, that thought made his chest bloom–into the sixth slot of his bandolier. “Do I need to ask the usual questions? Do you want a name and to be stronger?” The words were a joke but Unown buzzed thoughtfully. Ash kept a smile but turned sincere. “Do you want a name, Unown?”

Psychic-types, with notable exceptions such as slowpoke, were intelligent. They thought, they communicated. A name was proper, it made them individuals. Some pokemon didn’t care much, especially pokemon that come from a colony or hive where individuality was not prized. Ash thought Unown was different in its own way.

The symbol pokemon buzzed.

Yes.

Ash smiled. Unown was a thinker, it could communicate its desires. He wouldn’t name it when it could do so itself. “Think of one. Don’t rush it, give it some thought. When you think of one, let me know.”

Unown hesitantly agreed.

.—.—.

Ash found that Saffron and Celadon were strikingly similar. The Twin Sisters, cities that grew to be the heart of the region, were accurately named. Saffron stood taller than the Celadon he remembered. Skyscrapers brushing clouds in the sky as the lower city crowded their shadows with multiple stories of businesses and apartments. Celadon had Saffron beat in sheer area, Ash knew, but Saffron won out when it came to population size. The mystical metropolis was not as wide as its sister city in area but held more residents. Still, the two biggest cities in Kanto were alike in the important aspects. Loud, mostly bright, and crowded.

Route 6 shifted from rural to urban quicker than he could fathom. Concrete buildings and sparse parks on corners replaced the sprawling tree clusters and natural clearings. So many people clambered against each other as Ash winced at the noise of the crowds. His first destination was the Pokemon Center. A room and checking in his team were always his first priorities. They would all get a once over from Nurse Joy while he went into the city to acquire something to surprise them with.

In the middle of the city’s clutter of towers and complexes stood the tallest skyscraper Ash had seen in Kanto. Dozens of stories tall, the Silph Co. Headquarters stood as the tallest man-made structure in central Kanto. Regal would usually be stationed on his shoulder, eyeing the city with a sparkle that boded ill for any trinket that caught the sun. He was strongly considering buying a shoulder pad with a cuff to keep her grounded.

Ash had one destination before he went back to the Center and made a couple much needed calls.

TMs.

He had the savings and he had a small list of moves his team needed.

The first floor of the Silph. Co Headquarters was split between the business proper, accompanied with a greeting desk and a few too many secretaries, and a store for their products. He passed the security guard at the entrance, spotting the four pokeballs on his belt with interest, before eagerly shuffling towards the shelves of discs that would bestow much needed moves onto his team.

He had a fair amount of savings but nothing astronomical. It would never feel good to watch all the numbers dwindle from his account when he made large purchases but TMs were a necessity in the modern world of pokemon training. Ash flicked his eyes over the protective glass that protected the Technical Machines from any theft or damage.

Ash thought over the moves he wanted for his team. He flip-flopped between dozens of moves before settling on what his choices were. There was, however, one move that he had no hesitation in purchasing. Dark Pulse was so beneficial to his team that it would be detrimental to not acquire it. It would give Greed some much needed range, a lack of which was something most fighting-types struggled with endlessly. It also benefited his starter by accentuating his dark-type leanings. Cove and Nut would both learn the move as well, another weapon in their arsenals.

Greed could take on another move, and Ash was tempted by many of the selections along the shelves. Drain Punch would help keep the panda in the fight for longer, stealing vitality from his opponent to take for himself. Another option was Superpower or Bulk Up, both of which would be like Work Up on X-drugs. Either of the bolstering moves would be a drain for Greed at his current level though. Work Up already sapped enough of his starter’s stamina. Ash would revisit the moves in the future, likely after the pancham evolved. Until then, Drain Punch would be a good addition.

For Nut, Ash considered two different directions to go. Rock Tomb or Rock Slide were tempting. Both would give the nuzleaf another type to play with while granting a solid answer to fire-types and any bug-types that could contend at their level. Certainly not a bad choice, but his choice was neither in the end. One of Nut’s most important battling aspects was his evasion and Double Team was too good to pass up in that regard. The normal-type move would let Nut run wild on a battlefield.

Graveler was preoccupied with his current training. The elemental punches were great assets but still a little finicky after multiple uses. With the additional training of Iron Defense alongside it, Ash knew the rock-type was better left unbothered with another move in the mix. Protect taunted him from behind the glass as he passed it by. The defensive move would be important in the future, but Ash already had reservations about overwhelming his team. He didn't want to exacerbate that by mass loading any of them with TMs.

Cove would be getting Dark Pulse alongside Nut and Greed, but Ash also picked up Ice Beam. It was a proper ranged answer to one of his natural weaknesses in grass-types while also giving the crustacean another type to experiment with. The only ice-type move any of his pokemon knew was Greed’s Ice Punch, so there was a bit of a lack of coverage there that Cove would help improve on.

He had promised Regal a move too. Agility was the perfect choice for the rookidee but Ash hesitated. Tailwind was already a speed boost and he wanted to halt any reliance on the moves before it cropped up. She still had some offensive moves she needed to naturally learn before Ash would get her some of the hard hitting TMs he knew she was compatible with. A psychic-type move would still be a good idea, and he nabbed Light Screen for the flying-type. Some defense would do the bird good.

He tallied up the TMs in his head and winced.

Dark Pulse, Drain Punch, Double Team, Ice Beam, Light Screen. Five moves that would cost him thousands. Ash cringed. Some quick mental math told him that the total cost would be more than he could afford to lose if he still wanted to have enough money to not starve on the Routes. Mew, TMs were truly what broke trainers.

He debated within himself for another moment before reluctantly returning the Ice Beam TM. It was just too expensive for the moment. Cove would be disappointed but the water-type would still be learning Dark Pulse. Ash would go through the lobster’s moveset and get him something else to work on, Crabhammer maybe.

With his selection finalized, Ash took his choice TMs to the checkout. He looked the other way when the numbers drained from his account–so many zeros–and left the spiraling skyscraper as the buzzer from the Pokemon Center beckoned him to collect his team.

.—.—.

Ash ended the call with Professor Oak with a smile. Advice from the man was always appreciated. The experience he was having with Nut and the dark-type energy was a common one but the older man still wanted check-ins. He should build up an immunity with time. With Unown around, any incidents regarding his temper were almost nonexistent.

He dialed the second and last number of the night and watched the phone connect. His mother’s face popped into the screen.

“Ashy!”

“Hi, mom. Is this a bad time?”

Delia shook her head quickly. “It’s never a bad time, sweety. You can call me whenever, the more the better. I love seeing your face.”

The feeling was very mutual.

“When are you gonna come visit me?” Delia asked.

“Are you back in Kanto?” Ash nervously tapped his foot. Truthfully, visiting Pallet Town hadn’t crossed his mind until after he had beat the Big Eight. “I guess I can visit after I loop around to Pewter City and go through the Viridian Forest?”

Delia laughed lightly. “I’m only teasing. I am back in Kanto, but I know how you trainers can be once you’re on the road.”

“How was Hoenn? Hot?”

“Hoenn is always hot,” Delia retorted. “But it was fun! There are so many interesting places there and so many people. I’ll have to show you the pictures when you come home.”

Home. Ash smiled at that.

They talked for another hour before he regretfully ended the call. His team needed to round off their preparations for their Gym challenge and they couldn’t do so without him. His mother teased him one last time–“Change your underwear!”–before Ash seeked out the back training fields of the Pokemon Center.

He had to wait another day until his battle with Sabrina. Saffron was one of the few Gyms in Indigo that required a twenty-four hour notice for any Gym challenges. It was only one more night before they would put their weight up against the Arcane Beauty of Saffron, Sabrina Tanaka. Ash could feel his head pounding as his blood rushed in excitement at the thought of holding his own Marsh Badge. Not just any trainer could defeat Lt. Surge, and even less beat Sabrina.

He would defeat both. He was already halfway there.

His team was spread out in one of the many training fields behind the Saffron Pokemon Center. The ones with new moves–all but Graveler, that was–were experiencing them. The trio of Greed, Nut, and Cove were trying to harness the energy necessary for Dark Pulse. Nut was having the best job of it, a natural result of his inherent dark-typing, but the other two were not to be out done. Spheres of Distortion varied in sizes as the three continued their practice.

Above the field, Regal was flying loops around them so fast that his head spun, Tailwind making her a near blur. A small shimmer appeared in front of her as she tried and failed to create a Light Screen. If she was stationary the psychic barrier was almost manageable. However, if Regal was ever completely stationary in a battle then something else was terribly wrong. If she could master the move while at her peak speed, she would be able to use it as easily as she breathed when slow or stationary.

“Sorry I didn’t get you a new move,” Ash said to the pokemon next to him. “I thought you had enough on your agenda. Between Iron Defense, the punches, and the work on controlling Epicenter, you have a lot on your plate.”

Graveler turned his black eyes on his trainer. The aged rock looked at him for a moment more before grunting. Ash smiled and knocked a knuckle on the rock-type’s shell. “I want to get you a couple of ranged moves that would help with some of your weaknesses. It won’t be soon but can you see yourself using Flamethrower? That would be a fun card to play against any grass-types that get co*cky.”

The boulder pokemon’s eyes gleamed in interest at the prospect.

.—.—.

“I’ve been thinking...” Ash started before rolling his eyes at the look his partner was giving him. “Wow, try not to look so surprised.”

Greed gave a grin and an amused rumble from his spot on the carpet. That rumble morphed into a groan when Ash stole the container of berries he’d be eating out of and set it in his lap. The panda watched in horror as his trainer tossed one of his beloved berries into his own mouth. “Pretty good. I see why you like them.”

Greed frowned and crossed his arms. Ash rolled his eyes as he handed back the container. The pokemon took it greedily. “You started it, you glutton. Anyway, I was thinking about a talk I had with Gary back in Stone Town. I’ve been thinking about it, honestly.”

The panda pokemon flicked an ear to encourage him to continue. None of his team had actually met the Oak before. Still, Gary was the subject of many of his stories from Pallet Town. All of his pokemon had at least heard the name of his best friend. For Greed and Nut, they were probably as familiar with Gary as they could be without meeting him. The dullness of the mining tunnel had practically squeezed out every story he had.

“Gary brought up a couple things about team composition,” Ash began. “When I left Pallet Town, I never had a real idea of what team I wanted to make. I had some notions, sure, but not anything substantial. What rookie doesn’t want to miraculously find a dratini, right? More or less, everyone here was unplanned.”

Greed wrinkled his nose at his choice of words.

Ash sucked in air through his teeth. This was his team he was talking about, not some dumpster baby. “Mew, that sounded bad. You know I didn’t mean it like that. What I mean to say is that I never went out searching for a specific team makeup. I knew that I needed a flying-type or a water-type or so on. I never specifically thought of getting a rookidee or a corphish. Compared to Gary who was always dead set on a squirtle or an abra from day one…”

“Gary is gonna be a psychic specialist,” Ash said slowly. “He and I talked about the merits of specialization versus generalization. There are benefits to it but there are some cons too. Specializing is a different beast. I was thinking that it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to try to pivot into a similar direction. Not psychic-types, but dark-types. You, Nut, and Cove are all three primed to be formidable dark-types when you evolve and there are plenty of dark-types I want to add to the team in the future. Any thoughts?”

Greed stared at him, silently absorbing the information he had been given. A barry popped in the panda’s mouth as he rumbled pensively before shrugging. One digit on his black paw pointed decisively at Ash.

The trainer quirked a brow. “My call?”

The pancham nodded.

“Yeah, figured.” Ash ran a tired hand through his hair and flopped onto the Pokemon Center standard bed. “I’ll get the others together tomorrow and discuss it. It's a serious shift in our path and I want to make sure everyone is on board.”

He also wanted to make sure that the team members that weren’t dark-types understood that they were always welcome on the team regardless. If Lance can have an aerodactyl and a gyarados as a Dragon Master, then Ash would have Graveler and Regal on his team. Unown too, he amended. It still felt strange to consider the psychic as a proper teammate.

Strange but good.

“Whether we specialize or not, we still have some holes in the team that need to be filled.” Ash kicked his feet up onto the ottoman and slouched into the armchair. Pokemon Centers were too comfy, he thought. It made it hard to get out of bed in the mornings. “A fire-type and an electric-type are the most glaring members we’re missing. I had a few in mind but not anything concrete. For electric, magneton are defensive given their steel-typing and damn good at slinging electric moves. You know that firsthand.”

Greed agreed with a growl. Clearly the damage Magneton had done to him in Vermilion was still fresh in his mind.

“We have Regal though. She’ll evolve into corviknight someday and also be a steel-type. It doesn’t necessarily count a magneton out but there are some other pokemon I think fit better. Specifically, electabuzz or electrike. Electabuzz are powerful, physical fighters that can throw a mean Thunderbolt. Electrike are the opposite, fast and hard to hit. Manectric aren’t as outright powerful as an electivire but electivire are mostly stationary in battle. Manectric are far better at evasion and agility. Either one would fit the team.”

“For fire-types…” Ash was ready to list off a few of the options he remembered talking to Gary about. Vulpix, magby, ponyta. Still, none of those choices were as appealing to him as the dual dark/fire-type he’d been coveting for months now. “Houndour. Houdoom are great combatants with enough aggression to put most other pokemon on their way. Both their dark and fire sides pack serious power.”

Greed closed the container on his berries and leveled a look at the teen.

Ash blinked. “What?”

The pancham sighed and pointed at himself then towards two pokeballs on Ash’s bandolier. Finally, he leveled the pointed paw at Ash himself with an amused huff. Seeing that Ash wasn’t getting it, Unown provided the translation.

Ash deciphered the message and groaned. “I do not have a type.”

Any further protest from Ash was stopped short as a ringing brought his attention to the landline on the desk. He hadn’t paid it much attention other than to notice that the clearly once white landline had been stained yellow over the years. He picked up the receiver and put it to his ear cautiously.

“Hello?”

“Good evening. There is a visitor for Ash Ketchum in Room 249, is this he?” Nurse Joy’s bell-like voice asked over the phone.

Ash blinked. He had a visitor? “Yes, this is Ash Ketchum. Who–”

A shuffling made him pull the phone from his ear and wince at the noise. Nurse Joy shouted some stern warning before returning to the phone. “Sorry, he’s on his way up. Please call the front desk if there are any issues.”

Ash thanked her as he clicked the receiver back onto its holder. Who could possibly be looking for him? In Saffron City of all places? A hard series of knocks at the door a minute later promised him an answer whether he wanted it or not. Greed watched the door as the teen approached it.

He bent down slightly to look out the peephole. A blurry shape came into focus and, seeing a familiar figure, Ash pulled the door open wide.

Gary Oak’s grin was matched only by Ash’s own.

.—.—.

Notes:

All done and a guest star. This one is a bit longer than the last chapter so that's good. Unown officially joined the team, which we’ll get more of next chapter, plenty of training, and some other moments. Next chapter is in progress, I’m hoping to get it out in August, but September is a very real possibility. Might throw that Gary Interlude out if it takes me too long on the next chapter. We’ll see. Also Essense is back? What a time…

I uploaded the first chapter of another story, Uproar. It follows Kris in Johto. It will be a fun side project while I still focus on Aspirations.

As always, comments are appreciated!

Aspirations - ProbablySomethingSomewhere - Pocket Monsters | Pokemon (2024)
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