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New Beginnings [Rated T] - A Pokemon Fanfiction

Discussion in 'Literature Library' started by flyinghorizons, Nov 2, 2014.

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  1. flyinghorizons

    flyinghorizons Bug Catcher

    Nov 2, 2014
    Chapter One: Up In Flames

    Fortree City had never looked so beautiful. Ash could not fathom how a city could be so green. He could not understand a place that had wooden ladders and bridges running through it like a never ending basket of brown serpents. It was cold. It was quiet. The night sky had not a single star, and a light drizzle showered the wooden cottages. It was the first time anything had looked good since that day.
    Ash had never been one to remember the worst parts of his life. He remembered his first badge, his first victorious battle, his first Pokémon, he remembered those things. But off late, he had come to reminisce about the worst of things- things that hurt him on the inside, things that wrenched his heart open. The dark night often did that to you, he realized, as he laughed cynically into the rain. He climbed down the ladder, in his black tee shirt and jeans. It was just a bit of rain. He recalled grimly of the dangerous episode in his life when harsh rain and a hurricane ravaged the entirety of Hoenn. It had been utterly relieving when Kyogre went back into its watery abode, letting life go on.
    The slush slopped over the bottom of his jeans as he walked, his feet making sucking noises as he withdrew them from the wet mass each time. He walked straight out of Fortree, into the grassy fields ahead, no doubt sopping wet. There was no light, no method for him to see. There was nothing protecting him from the darkness around him; he could fall, get attacked, anything could happen. It was freeing to think that there were no Pokémon there to protect him as he walked this spontaneous journey. It pained him to think of Pikachu, the usual company he had wherever he went. It pained him to think of the past, not when he was trying to get over it. They say that time moves so quickly that the unhappy moments are drowned in the happy ones, but Ash had not yet witnessed that.
    His mind had become one that was carefree. He hardly cared for anything anymore. He did not wonder what anyone did to him. It was odd, but he did not care about not caring. He wanted to be in this stupor forever, to just lay back and allow misery to drench him as the rain did now. But he could not. He knew this. That was why he was here. He had always been one to believe that the environment could solve problems for you, and so his first stop had been Fortree. He remembered an intense battle he had a long time ago in these very fields, against an exceptionally powerful Milotic.
    Rekindling these memories allowed Ash to understand why he was still on this planet. It made him believe in his own existence. He had come here for a reason, and his memories lived on wherever he went. Losing Pikachu was heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, but it had to happen. He remembered that day like it happened an hour ago, but it had been over three months since the incident.
    He usually remembered his battles, and this one was no exception. He watched Pikachu swerve to avoid Umbreon's slashing paw, and felt the intensity and emotion the battle involved. He unconsciously mimicked the expression on his opponent. Gary's Umbreon trailed Pikachu's movements as it flitted left and right. This was one of those battles where Gary and Ash exchanged not a single word; their concentration was such. It happened then, in a scary rush. Pikachu, crackling and sparkling with electricity, sprinted towards the glowing Umbreon, who had enveloped herself in a mass of dark energy. Pokémon were a part of nature, and so it was that when that amount of electric energy was called upon, the heavens responded. Lightning flashed, only to be pushed into darkness by the welling up of blackening clouds. Ash suddenly had the urge to stop his Pokémon. Gary mirrored his movements, stretching out his hand as if to stop Umbreon. It was too late, as the two Pokémon clashed in mid-air. The explosion that followed blurred out all sense for Ash. He felt electricity arc through his body along with a stinging, piercing feeling. Darkness covered his eyes. Misty shaking him awake only made his headache like he had slapped very very hard. As he rubbed his eyes, he found Brock helping Gary rise. The brown haired trainer was cursing, swearing out loud.
    "What in hell's name was that..." he was saying, before he broke off. "Umbreon." He said. The word was simple, small, and expressionless, with a blank tone.
    The blankness snapped Ash into reality as he looked upon the battlefield. Two figures lay a few feet from each other, steaming and smoking into the air. Pikachu's yellow fur looked dull even in the sunlight as he lay there silently. Umbreon was small, unmoving, and there was no glimmering sheen in its black pelt. Both Ash and Gary rushed to their Pokémon. Ash never forgot the blank stare in Pikachu's eyes, nor the lack of breath in his Pokémon's still body. He mirrored Pikachu, his blank face staring into the skies as Misty held him tightly in her arms. He heard Gary wailing, screaming, pounding his fists into the ground.
    Ash had never fully understood what had happened there on the streets of Pallet Town. The battle had been a casual suggestion, to perhaps remember the first battle the two had taken part in many years ago, when they started their respective journeys. It was somewhat ironic that in that very same place, the Pokémon they had started that journey with perished together. He had left Pallet Town the next day. Gary had left sometime during the night. His mother had pestered him that day, trying to convince him that making choices in a state like this was unwise. He knew this, he knew that he should stay at home until he cleared his head and got over the loss. But he could not stay in that town anymore. He needed answers to the countless questions he had in his head, and he needed a place to think. He needed to get away from...everything. He left Kanto altogether.
    He arrived on Hoenn shores a new man, with no Pokémon. He didn't want any. He didn't believe he had the right anymore, to carry a Pokéball, to befriend a Pokémon. Which Pokémon would trust him more than Pikachu did? The truth hurt him beyond belief. He was changed, he was different. He was no longer Ash Ketchum of Pallet Town, the boy who wanted to conquer the Pokémon world. Now he was just a shadow, a failure, friendless and alone.
    It made him laugh to think of how he walked through wild grass bristling with untamed Pokémon without a single Pokémon to defend him. His laughter disappeared altogether when he was faced with a dark figure that simply blocked his way. He saw sharp blue eyes gleaming in the moonlight. He could just make out matted white fur. On its four legs, the beast rose higher than his waist. He could not see it in this dim light, and he didn't bother taking out his Pokédex.
    Fear gripped him. He realized that he was vulnerable. He had been foolish to walk out of Fortree in the dead of the night with no Pokémon. To his surprise, though, the Pokémon in front of him backed away, disappearing into the night. Ash was more shocked at that than its very appearance.
    "Not very ordinary, are you, young sir?"
    The sentence made him jump. He heard it through the rain, and moved towards it. The rain stopped above him as he passed under a large leaf. A light suddenly came on, a bright flaming lantern. Beside it sat the oddest man Ash had ever encountered. He was dressed in a half-robe of white. His naked chest was vulnerable to the harsh winds around them. The leaves above Ash formed a strange roof.
    "Who are you?" he asked.
    "A simple monk. Who are you, that is more interesting." The monk said.
    "My name is Ash Ketchum."
    "But you are more than that."
    Ash ignored the claim.
    "Why did that Pokémon leave me alone? What was it?" he asked. He felt like the monk knew things. Either that, or this was all just a terribly strange dream.
    "Because you are more than that. Pokémon know more than what they hear and see, that is perhaps why they are such magical beings. That Absol respects you. Do you raise Pokémon yourself?"
    "No." Ash said. He had a license, but he did not have Pokémon. He did not feel like a trainer.
    "Are you sure?"
    Ash turned around and walked back the way he had come. Fortree seemed inviting after the events of the past couple of hours. Safely back in his bed, he curled into a ball, warming himself as the blanket softly touched his skin. The Absol's shadowed face was etched into his mind, and the words of the monk repeated in his head, on and on. Ash sat up abruptly, breathing heavily.
    What had he been thinking? Was this the man he had become? Was this the boy his mother had raised? There was hope. Hope for him. The Absol walking away was stuck in his mind. He was a Pokémon trainer, whether he liked it or not. He could either shrug it off or deal with his conscience, or he could make peace with it and embrace it. Tomorrow was a new day. He was in a new place, with a new mindset. A new journey beckoned.
  2. flyinghorizons

    flyinghorizons Bug Catcher

    Nov 2, 2014

    A day had passed since Ash had conversed with the monk. He had stretched his stay at Fortree to another day simply because he felt he had an errand to run. He had felt, ever since the conversation, that he was back to who he was, and he should embrace it. He needed a companion, and only one would do at the moment. The entire next day was spent in search of that Absol.

    Clean, bristling white fur, deep blue eyes, black paws and a single curving black horn made Absol stick out among the tall green grass. The horn resembled a scimitar and from the looks of it was as sharp, even sharper. It had been the first time Ash had tried to catch a Pokémon without another Pokémon, but he reckoned that if the Absol truly respected him, it would respond to him. It was quite a stupid assumption, considering how his unarmed and defenseless body would as easily be cut to shreds by that scimitar-like horn.

    The thought process in Ash's head had been quite simple before he confronted the Absol for the second time. He had always been a firm believer in the emotional intellect a Pokémon had; they had been constant companions to humans because they understood them. Pikachu had understood him clear enough, and the rest of his old team had as well. He wondered how they were, living a luxurious life back in Kanto with Professor Oak. That memory made Ash feel better. It perhaps proved that he could think of the good things. These good things gave him confidence and belief in himself as he stood erect in front of Absol. He nodded at the great beast, and it simply stared at him, blue eyes unblinking. He breathed slowly, frightened to alarm Absol by making sudden movements. He heard a deep hum within the Pokémon's chest. He took a slow step back. Promptly, Absol pounced.

    The sheer velocity of the move had Ash on the grassy ground. Two black paws were on his chest, and a pair of blue eyes was centimeters away from his eyes. He tried his best to concentrate on the eyes and not the sharp fangs. The staring contest went on for several seconds, until the white Pokémon stood off, sitting back on its haunches, gazing intently at Ash. She seemed calm, content to just sit and stare. Ash felt no fear, but at the same time, any signs of aggression would perhaps have him pinned down again. Reaching slowly into his pocket, he pulled out a Pokéball, the red and white gadget he once revered. Flinging it at Absol, his hopes sank simply because it looked too easy. The Pokémon turned into a white blob of light, disappearing into the ball. After much blinking and trembling, the ball lay motionless.

    Stunned, Ash picked up the Pokéball. He was the strangest young man on Hoenn now, undoubtedly. He was a Pokémon trainer, starting his journey late in his life, and starting it with one of the most dangerous of Pokémon- a Pokémon commonly affiliated with the darkness. Absol was the darkness, some would say. But after all the rapid and scary changes that had happened in his life, he found this perhaps a necessary change. It was refreshing, to say the least.


    Ash wanted to obey tradition, and do this properly. He wanted to have company, he wanted friends alongside him. It would no doubt be odd for a sixteen year old boy to walk around asking strangers to accompany him, and so he concluded sadly. He looked towards the west, and realized with a start that May stayed a distance away, in Littleroot Town. A friend, perhaps? Friend or not, he owed her a visit. It was rare for him to be in Hoenn, and he was no longer the Ash of the past.

    Fortree was no longer meant to be his temporary home, he knew that as he ate his last lunch within the wooden cottage. The food went down well, which was a pleasant surprise; it had been a while since Ash had truly enjoyed the food he ate. Before, the food all tasted the same, the juice tasted like water, and the water tasted like nothing. He climbed down from the wooden ladder and stood at its foot. His body posture leaned towards his right, towards the route leading to Littleroot. Something pulled him in the other direction though, and he had always been one to trust his instincts, however ridiculous they were. There had been something he needed to do before he left Fortree, and that something involved getting a few questions answered.

    Daylight and clear skies let Ash find the monk, who was, as he had been previously, sitting and staring straight ahead of him. Ash could understand staring into the night; the night was beautiful, and it was always nice thinking when staring at something you could not see. The monk of today seemed to be concentrating very hard, taking in all the little details of trees and leaves and grass before him. Ash ducked under the leafy roof and seated himself, nodding at the monk, whose attention flickered away from the scenery and to the boy who had somehow found him again.
    "Found you. Again." said Ash childishly.
    "I found you last time." the monk said.
    "I have some questions."
    "I am just a monk." said the man who was just a monk.
    "I wasn't asking who you were."
    "You wish to know why your Pokémon passed away?"
    The monk had taken Ash completely off-guard there. The only people present at that battle between Gary and him were the competitors, Brock, and Misty. Was there, perhaps, a watcher or observer? A vague image of a monk meditating beside the battlefield came to him, but he shook his head to rid himself of the thought.
    "How do you know?" he asked.
    "All things must die. Even the things that deserve to live on." the monk began saying. Ash wanted to demand, question, and wring answers from him, but he could not. He could only listen and watch as the old monk went on talking. Whatever he said, Ash felt like he needed to listen. The sheer bluntness and straightforward nature of his words had his attention transfixed.

    "All things have a purpose on this planet. You do, your Pokémon did, your opponent and friend does, and his Pokémon did. The battle had to happen, you could not have prevented it. But that is not your worry, is it? Ask me." the monk challenged. While it disconcerted him slightly that his mind was being read, Ash voiced the question.

    "How did two ordinary Pokémon deliver attacks of that power? Attacks enough to...kill each other? I know and have always known my Pikachu and Gary's Umbreon were powerful, but this destruction? I have been in many battles, and I've witnessed the power my Pikachu can command, and what I saw that day was not normal."
    "Have you ever wondered about our souls, Ash?" the monk asked, once again, startling Ash with the direct question. The subject had been changed, so easily.
    "Our souls? Are you saying my Pikachu's death had something to do with my soul?"
    "Pokémon have souls too."
    "I believe they do, if humans have souls, Pokémon most certainly do. But I don't understand. A soul is subjective. To believe in its existence is like believing in the existence of a god above us, it is questionable because you can't see it."

    "What do you believe?"
    "I believe we have souls. Pokémon are magical: if they exist, then souls can too." Ash said simply. He was brutally honest about this opinion of his, in contrast to the vague lies he had given the monk during their last conversation. The monk nodded.

    "So do I. A Pokémon soul would be its being, its existence, it's everything. The Pokémon is simply a container: that is what I believe. It gives a Pokémon unimaginable power, power that is not always accessed or accessible at all. Pokémon often have mass reserves of mystical power that they might not ever use in their lives. An example of this is evolution. The process requires a huge amount of power, and no Pokémon trains to attain enough power to evolve, it just happens. The power comes from within."

    After a few moments of silence, Ash tried to piece together what the monk was saying.
    "Are you saying that what Pikachu and Umbreon did was a ...demonstration of this mystical power. The...power of their souls?"

    "I have always believed that passion and emotion bring a Pokémon's soul to the surface, lending it unimaginable power. What you witnessed was the true baring of a Pokémon soul. From what I can understand, this Gary and you have a rivalry that is both strong and passionate. It is very possible that your Pokémon shared that rivalry, and even understood the feelings their trainers had for each other."

    As the monk said that, a few things clicked in Ash's head. He had felt odd feelings in him before. During battles, it had confused him: how much he understood Pikachu. During the intensity of the battle he failed to observe and pay attention to the exact things he did, but only after it he would realize that he sometimes did not say a word to Pikachu. His commands and strategies would be thought out in his head, and that seemed enough for the Pokémon. It responded to his thoughts? If this was indeed true, then it was quite possible that the enmity Gary and Ash shared had intensified the already heightened emotions in their Pokémon. Pushed beyond a certain level, the Pokémon had both called upon the deep recesses of their powers to eliminate the other. Ash and Gary had done this, no one else.

    "I have always called it the mind connection." said the monk. When Ash narrowed his eyes, puzzled, the monk explained. "Extensive understanding between Pokémon and Trainer often brings about the mind connection, a complete understanding of each other's thoughts. Have you ever witnessed it? Taken part in it?"

    Ash nodded.
    "Then you must know what I talk about. The shared emotions can sometimes hamper a Pokémon's judgment, and this is what happened with your Pikachu and your friend's Umbreon. But there is one thing I am fairly curious about..." It seemed as if the monk was going beyond what he meant to say, he had revealed his own inner thoughts in his absent-mindedness.

    "What is it?" Ash had to ask, curiosity piqued.

    "Emotions are everywhere, passion, hate, love, enmity, rivalry, these are everywhere. Why are these things feeding the Pokémon soul now of all times? The soul is so precious, I feel, that if it were to exist, it would be locked away within the frame of our bodies to protect and never reveal. I find it strange that in all this time, the souls of these two Pokémon have been revealed but once. Perhaps the power of their souls were too much, and they destroyed each other. Without the soul, the body is simply an empty container."

    "Souls." whispered Ash to himself, minutes later as he walked down the road away from Fortree.

    Things seemed a little clear then. His brain could wrap around the surreal conversation now, he could understand. What he did not like was the lack of information the monk had during these dying embers of their conversation. There was either something he did not know or something he was challenging Ash to find out. Ash felt like the conversation was ominous, and he wished he did not feel so frightened about the whole thing. A soul coming alive all of a sudden? Had it lay dormant for all these years? The rivalry battle was no different from any of the previous battle. There was nothing special about this one, and yet, his Pokémon had destroyed logic in one sweeping explosion and two pain-inducing deaths.

    All this talk of souls and death made Ash wonder. His past, something he truly tried to avoid thinking of, came rushing back into his head. Death was a dangerous topic to use for a conversation, and souls were by no means safer. Ash thought of the Absol within the Pokéball with him, he thought of her soul. Of all things, he thought of his own soul.


    The stark contrast between what Ash was thinking of and what he was doing almost made him laugh. Once in a while there would be interesting people who spoke profusely about the mystical and magical qualities of Pokémon, things that science could not often explain. Science could most definitely not explain the existence of Pokémon souls, but there were a great number of things it could not explain: things like emotions. Human psychology was hard enough.

    Ash was standing within the air-conditioned recesses of a Pokemart in Lavaridge town, fishing for his wallet. The thick wad of cash within would often be a sign of a good trainer who constantly won money from opponents, but with no visible team of Pokémon at his belt, Ash probably came off as a spoilt teenager. He bought himself several things. A new backpack, a belt for his Pokeballs, and most important of all, a Pokenav now rested on the counter.
    The wonders of technology. All my life I stared at a mangy old map to get from Pallet to Cerulean, and then they create this thing.
    The map of Hoenn was gleaming in the palm of his hand, and he traced the many paths between the many cities and towns. He raised an eyebrow when his finger touched upon Littleroot Town and the screen suddenly zoomed in, giving him a bird's eye view of the miniscule town.

    The next thing Ash needed to do was difficult, but it was necessary. To move on truly, he had to do this. The prime reason for the weightless wallet in his back pocket was this. Lavaridge Town's gym leader used fire Pokémon, so flames were quite a common occurrence in this place, he decided, as he stripped. People probably thought him a beggar, a very strange beggar. It was the middle of the afternoon, so not many people were up and about, and it was easy to find himself a nice dustbin. Unraveling himself from his faded blue jacket, he tossed it in. He pulled off his black tee shirt, stuffing it in as well. Then he pulled off his jeans with much effort, and put it in as well. He stood there, naked save for his boxers, and pulled out the matchbox. Striking a match, he tossed the flaming stick in before he changed his mind. The heat rose like a wave, as the clothes caught and the flames began to roar slowly. There were memories burning in that dustbin, Ash knew. Memories he would cherish, but memories he needed to move on from. He realized he looked quite queer, a half-naked young man standing and watching things burn. He quickly pulled on his new clothes- a pair of black jeans, a white tee shirt, and a new jacket, green this time. The last thing he did before turning away was significant to him, he felt. The last memory. He dropped his old cap into the flaming dustbin and slowly walked away, shouldering his backpack.

    He felt lighter suddenly. He enjoyed thinking of how friends would no longer recognize him in his new clothes, and hair out in the open; the cap had always covered his head back then. He had not cut his hair in a while, and shaving goes without saying. He looked older, he realized, as he looked at himself in the simmering hot spring beside the Pokémon Center in Lavaridge. He had a short beard at his chin, and his hair was unkempt and long.

    Ash spent the greater part of the day with his Absol, outside Lavaridge. He thought of training, but he decided it would be better to understand his Pokémon; he didn't think training would help unless they were on the same page. He found himself doing ordinary exercises with Absol, watching her run, jump, slash at trees, dodge stones he threw, and practicing combat maneuvers. At first she lacked a sense of calm; her movements were hurried and unpredictable. While Ash did believe a mercurial Pokémon was a dangerous Pokémon, he also preferred his Pokémon to have total control over her actions, instead of the other way around. Sweat pouring down his forehead as he ran and moved with her, he finally observed a change, an improvement. He soon understood why Absol was with him, he realized that she began to understand him. Her movements went from apprehensive and jarring to smooth and graceful. The blade on her head gleamed as she sliced at the air, all the while maintaining a strong sense of balance.

    As they continued training, he found himself noticing odd things here and there. The words of the monk kept coming back to him, as he watched Absol move. There seemed to be a trembling aura around her, a level of shimmering air that was tinted a dark shade. The aura moved with her. Soon, she moved with him. It was automatic. Tears almost crept into his eyes as he realized that the last time a Pokémon responded to his thoughts this accurately was that last battle alongside Pikachu. He shook off his sadness and acknowledged his triumph.
    Is this the mind connection?

    It certainly was a connection, and it went beyond the basic ordinary training that normal trainers put their Pokémon through. This connection filled Ash with confidence, enough confidence to find himself standing outside Lavaridge's Gym Leader.

    With just a single Pokémon, Ash was quite the daredevil, as Leader Flannery pointed out. She was a tall girl, with long fiery hair, dressed in a black top and jeans. He had battled her once before, he recalled, and won, but this was a different situation, a different Flannery, a different him. She did not recognize him, and he didn't intend on being recognized. In fact, he doubted whether he looked like Ash even a bit without his Pikachu scampering by his side.

    Absol knocked Magcargo straight out of the battlefield, in five minutes flat. It was then that Flannery realized she was dealing with no ordinary inexperienced trainer. No doubt she thought he was an amateur, considering his single Pokémon and obvious lack of badges. The smoking Pokémon had fainted, and she recalled him, simultaneously calling out the hulking figure of Torkoal. Ash remembered this Torkoal and the last battle he fought with it. Nothing had penetrated its defenses, until the inferno of a battle against his Charizard. Torkoal was older now, more experienced, and undoubtedly more accurate with its flaming maw.

    Absol did not fare well when Torkoal began throwing torrents of flames towards her. She swiveled and spun in every possible direction, obeying Ash's thoughts as he helped her dodge, but there was never an opening. She could not come close to Torkoal without being burnt to cinders. Torkoal's snake-like neck moved with Absol. Any lapse in concentration would end this battle.
    This is impossible. There must be something I can use to my advantage. But what?
    Flannery looked smug, like all was going according to plan. Indeed, she had turned the tables on him, and the tempo of the battle was to her liking, slow and smooth. Absol needed to up the pace if she planned on coming out the victor. For once, Ash looked up from his own Pokémon, scrutinizing the turtle-like Torkoal. It never seemed to tire. The battlefield it stood on swirled with dust- it was made of soil.
    Manipulate the battlefield. Use your surroundings.
    Then he got it. It hit him like a bolt of electricity.
    "Absol!" he shouted. "The ground!"

    If not for the mind connection, Absol would have, distracted, been swept aside by flames, but she understood fully. Dropping to her knees suddenly, she slashed at the ground with her blade-like horn. The soil gave way like a knife cutting through melted butter. The big block of soil that rose as she stomped on it, and with a single kick of her paw she sent it flying towards the startled Torkoal. Flannery shouted a command, and Torkoal did the expected, shooting a blast of flame at the sheet of soil, blowing it to smithereens. The dust and smoke filled the room. Ash egged Absol on, watching her make the final move.

    "Watch for the Faint Attack!" he heard a shout. Flannery's battle instincts had improved hugely, he realized. She had predicted Absol's movements, but only to a certain extent. Absol was no ordinary Pokémon, and he was no ordinary trainer. A simple Faint Attack, straightforward and direct would have proved largely insignificant to a monster of defense like Torkoal. Through the smoke, he watched Absol disappear like a ghost.

    There was a small moment of silence, and Ash watched Flannery and Torkoal desperately watch the ground in front for a sign. A smirk spreading on his face, Ash pointed upward. Absol appeared like a beam of light from a lighthouse on foggy waters. She looked majestic, seemingly floating in the air with the velocity of her jump. Before Torkoal could so much as look up, she had landed on his shell.
    "NOW! Shadow Ball!" he yelled.

    Before the surprised Torkoal could withdraw into his shell, the swirling, spiked ball of darkness collided with his head as Absol bounded away. There was a blast of dark energy, and Absol suddenly reappeared next to Ash, panting ever so slightly.

    "Good job, girl." he said, smiling as the smoke parted to reveal a Torkoal sprawled on the soil, completely unconscious. He patted his jacket, deciding where this first badge would go. He raised his hand to pat Absol on the head, but before he could, a scream tore through the dust.

    Flannery was on her knees, pointing, hand over her mouth. Ash followed her gaze, to Torkoal. The Pokémon was as it had been, unconscious and smoking. But through the haze of the smoke Ash narrowed his eyes as he saw something. There was a shifting shape above Torkoal, a pair of clawed, smoky hands. The fingers tugged, and suddenly, Torkoal was being pulled into the air. But it was not Torkoal, but an image. A blurred image of the fire-turtle Pokémon was being pulled, right out of it. All of a sudden words he had thought of before rushed into Ash's head.
    Is that the soul?
    "Without the soul, the body is simply an empty container."

    As these frightening words came into his head, Ash and Absol both surged forward, like one united force. Absol reached the Torkoal first, unsurprisingly. Bursting with dark energy, she sliced at the hands with her horn, cutting straight through. Ash reached forward and tried to grab the smoky fingers and pull them away, but he did not feel anything substantial- it was simply smoke. The hands let go of Torkoal's soul, and outstretched its fingers towards Ash. Absol merely stood in the way, her dark energy radiating in waves. Without a command, she manipulated her power and a ball of shadow appeared, spinning like a top. She hurled the ball at these hands, and stepped back as the ball exploded into shards of black. The hands burst into nothingness.

    Ash, Absol, and Flannery watched as the blurry image of Torkoal slowly floated back into its body. The Pokémon began breathing all of a sudden- huge, gulping breaths. Ash's breathing was much the same. His heart beat like a drum. Flannery looked relieved, but her eyes betrayed the same feeling of confusion Ash had.
    What just happened?
  3. flyinghorizons

    flyinghorizons Bug Catcher

    Nov 2, 2014

    The badge pinned to the inside of his jacket meant nothing to him suddenly. Ash was beyond simple objects of achievement. The flaming outline of the badge was a mere decoration, like everything else in this world was. Was his body a decoration? Was the only substance in him his soul? And now that could be taken away, so easily. The picture of the smoky hands made him shudder.

    He looked over at the sleeping figure of Absol. She looked peaceful, far from the Pokémon of darkness she truly was. Her sharp blue eyes were closed for now. He wondered if Pokémon dreamt as humans did. He wondered many things, and now he wondered how he would feel if the very soul of his Pokémon had been pulled out of its body. He instinctively put his hand out and stroked Absol's soft fur. She hummed slightly in her sleep, subconsciously acknowledging the touch.

    He sipped at his drink, enjoying the brain-freeze. He stared out of the café window, gazing at the town of Lavaridge. He had not seen Flannery since. She had handed over the badge to him, stammered words of accomplishment, and had been unable to say anything else. Her lips quivered like she wanted to say something else, but she could not utter another word. She walked away from him then, descending into her living quarters underneath the Gym. Ash wanted to console her, but he did not have the words either. At that moment, there were many things creeping into his mind. Before he could let his confusion wash over his thoughts, he realized that when Flannery came around, she would have questions. He did not intend on feeding everyone his stories of his conversations with the Fortree monk, but there was something that told him he could trust Flannery. It seemed like an invisible bond had formed between them when Absol had prevented the smoky hand from taking Torkoal's soul. She certainly did not know of her Pokémon's soul, but she had understood that it's life had definitely been saved that day. It was not the fact that she owed him, but more of the fact that she seemed to understand that it was well beyond the norm. She seemed to know that there was something odd happening in Hoenn. For this reason alone he had left a note at the door of the gym, with a time and name of the café he would be sitting in the next day.

    He sat, waiting for her for what seemed hours, sipping on his cold drink. He was having second thoughts- should he tell her everything? He pushed those thoughts away: what could honestly happen? At most, she would tell him he was mad. But he didn't think she would. Firstly, he did not think she would come. She had just been called to a café by who she thought was a complete stranger, he remembered. He had not revealed himself to her, even when she handed him the badge. He hoped she would come, and he hoped she would listen. Gym Leaders had seen many things in their lives, and the incident with Torkoal would probably make her a little more understanding, if not gullible. Flannery was a gym leader. The happenings of Hoenn were her concern, if not just the happenings of her town. Ash had no idea who the Hoenn Champion was at the moment, but he knew there was a certain hierarchy where the Champion met the gym leaders once in a while to brief them on any concerns he had regarding the region. Ash's reminiscing reminded him of the time when he had wanted desperately to be Champion of Kanto. That desire had ended with loss and a realization of more important things. At this very moment, Ash cared more about the strange events than for a title.

    Flannery walked in then. Ash realized that she looked much better. Her eyes did not look as exhausted, and the color had come back to her cheeks. She had changed; she no longer wore the ripped jeans and black top she wore earlier. The eyeliner was gone. She wore a white tank top and black pants that hugged her legs. The white made her look fresh, and her flaming red hair stood out. Instead of tying it up in a messy ponytail as she had before, her hair hung loose, curling slightly at her shoulders. Ash found it fairly refreshing to see her dressed plainly with a complete lack of makeup. She looked less intimidating, for one. She took the seat opposite him, a warm smile playing on her lips.
    "I never got to thank you, for what you did for me. For Torkoal-" she began. Ash stopped her.
    "Don't mention it, I'm sure you would have done the same."
    Flannery jumped in her seat. Her eyes narrowed as she scrutinized Ash. He realized that this was the first time he had spoken an entire sentence directly to her. He had barely spoken when he had challenged her to a Gym Battle; he didn't need to, it was obvious why he'd come.
    "That voice. Are you..." she said, her voice wandering.
    "Ash. Hi, Flannery."
    "Ash! My god you look different." she said, mouth open in wonder.
    "So do you!"
    "Good, different?"
    Her question caught him off-guard. Before he could stutter a reply, she laughed, a smooth, happy sound. He laughed with her, as he realized the awkward test he'd been put through and his thorough failure. When the laughter ended, they made eye contact, which seemed a signal to truly start the conversation.
    "How's Torkoal?" he asked.
    "Much better. But I don't think he'll be getting on the battlefield any time soon. Can you tell me what happened back then? I've lost many battles before, Torkoal's gone down many times, but that, that has never happened." Flannery looked at him, her eyes boring into his. He looked down and exhaled slowly.
    "You know something." she simply said. "Tell me. And tell me why you own a single Pokémon and that Pokémon is not Pikachu." she demanded. After an initial wince at the mention of his old friend, Ash told her everything, starting from the battle with Gary. He left out intricate details here and there, regarding the inner thoughts and phases he had passed through after Pikachu was gone. The monk at Fortree interested her greatly, and her enthusiasm died down slightly when Ash told her what he suspected occurred at the end of their battle.
    He nodded. The silence that followed was stifling, until Flannery breathed out louder than required, making Ash look up from the table.
    "You've told me everything, but I haven't told you everything." she said slowly.
    Ash frowned. While it irritated him slightly that she had kept something from him, his curiosity was piqued.
    "Tell me."
    "Ash, you say you haven't been around for three months? By around I mean aware of what's happening. Have you gone into the wild recently?"
    Her question was odd. Of course he hadn't.
    I stayed out of the scene for three months after Pikachu died. What could have happened in three months?
    "Gym Leaders are always under attack, you know that. Every other challenger is a powerful trainer these days. You took me out with an Absol you caught hardly a week ago. Other trainers test me again and again, I see powerful Pokémon all the time, so I'm always trying to get better. On top of that everyone looks at me like I'm a kid, so I need to be better than the average Leader. I started going out into the wild a lot, looking for new Pokémon, fighting different ones. It became a training exercise. This was about two months ago. There's nothing out there anymore, Ash. Hardly."
    "Nothing? I'm not sure I understand." And he didn't. Ash was flabbergasted.
    "In a month's time, I encountered about five Pokémon. One Muk. One Skarmory. One Duskull. One Xatu. And one Donphan. Five Pokémon."
    "Five, but five potentially powerful teammates. Skarmory? Donphan? Xatu? Anyone would kill to come across those, Flannery." Ash said, though something was gnawing at him. "Wait, where did you see these five?"
    "Mount Chimney."
    The furrow above Ash's brow deepened. He had spent hours searching for Pokémon in Chimney. He had never even heard of those five appearing. Pokémon usually stuck to their habitats. Why were these five wandering? And where were all the other Pokémon? Mount Chimney, if anything, was secluded enough to create a whole environment for Pokémon. The number of Zubats in those caves...The number was enough to airlift a Snorlax.
    "There's more." Flannery said.
    More bad news. Fantastic.
    "These five...Ash, they weren't the same. They had no...energy. No will to fight. They didn't care about the battle, they didn't care that their freedom was at stake. They didn't use a single move. No dodging my attacks. Nothing. They looked like they were dead, but were on their feet and breathing."
    "That's...scary. And strange. But how is it relevant to the Pokémon's soul?" Ash asked. He definitely wasn't catching on.
    "Ash...what if they were Pokémon whose souls were removed? Like Torkoal except they don't get their souls back. Something was definitely not in them. I thought it might be a disease running through Mount Chimney, but this wasn't like that. And now after what happened with Torkoal and what you just told me, it just seems even stranger."
    When Flannery finished, disconcerting images of Pokémon with droopy eyes and sloppy mouths came into Ash's mind. Had Pikachu gone through the same feeling? If what the monk said was indeed true, then the souls of Umbreon and Pikachu had eliminated each other. But what if their souls were taken from them? He didn't recall seeing ghostly hands tugging Pikachu's soul out of him, but then again, he didn't recall seeing anything that day. His attention had been so dissipated after the explosion, he hadn't really looked. Either way, that was miles away, in Kanto. Could this be happening across regions?
    But that's the thing. What exactly is happening? If we can't put an explanation to it, we can never solve it. But is this a problem that can be solved at all?
    There was too much information, too many theories to consider. Flannery and he could be there all day, debating on various things ranging from the superficial to the scientific. Their discussion would not end, considering the many little things to hypothesize on. Ash wondered suddenly if Brock and Misty had seen anything strange that day. He had bid them farewell three months ago, telling them he needed time alone. He had kept in touch occasionally, calling and listening to their daily activities and worried questions. He had never bothered asking them what they thought. Gary was another story altogether, but there was something connecting him and his rival now- the connected deaths of their Pokémon. Could there be some relation? Had Gary perhaps seen something odd?
    What are you thinking? You don't even know where Gary is and what he's doing. Finding him would be like finding a needle in a haystack.
    They needed questions answered, and their heads needed to be cleared out. The name that popped into his head was his old friend Professor Oak, but the distance was too much at the moment with Oak's lab far away in Kanto. Professor Birch lived in Littleroot Town, he recalled. May lived there too.
    Two Pidgey with one stone?

    It took Flannery fifteen minutes to pack her things into a bright red backpack. It was only when they stood outside the Gym, ready to leave, when it struck Ash. All through his travels, he had approached Gym after Gym, like any other budding Pokémon trainer. There were usually a large mass of boys and girls waiting outside Gyms to battle the Leaders, ready to claim the various badges up for grabs. Sometimes, there was even a queue. Ash remembered himself six years ago, standing eagerly outside his first Gym. If Flannery left with him, the Gym would be empty- there would be no Leader to protect it and battle trainers.
    Ash realized with a pang that Flannery leaving would do even more harm. A Gym leader was the supreme Pokémon authority in a city or town; the Leader protected the town from danger, helped the citizens, and much more. Flannery was a leader of Lavaridge in her own right- Ash felt like he was doing a terrible thing tempting her to leave with him. When he voiced his thoughts, she shrugged them off casually, shocking Ash. Did Flannery care nothing for the future Pokémon training generations and her hometown?
    "I'm not a kid anymore, Ash, I've already thought of all this. When you battled me last, I was an idiot, no direction, no thought." Flannery said, looking at the blue doors of her Gym. "It's been years since then, and things have changed. I guess I decided to be less of my grandfather's heir and more of myself. I know what I'm doing by leaving Lavaridge, Ash."
    "Sorry." Ash said. "Wrong assumption. But I still don't understand. What happens to the Gym and the town?"
    Flannery smiled in satisfaction.
    "Your question applies to any other Gym leader. Honestly, there's nothing ever to do over here. The people that live here are old and peaceful, all they want is to relax- that's why we have more hot springs than Pokémon here. There's never been anything for me to do here as Gym Leader other than battle trainers. And even that has changed."
    She looked down furtively, scraping the soil with her boot.
    "You're the first trainer to battle me in the last two months."
    This statistic threw Ash off completely. Hoenn, Kanto, Johto, Sinnoh, they operated on an endless fervor, a fervor of competition and fierce rivalries, a fervor of passion and teamwork. Pokémon trainers could form a line and cover the entire planet, Ash had been so sure of that. You could find a trainer at every corner. Lavaridge was part of the trainer's journey, a must-visit place to reach the Pokémon League. Besides that, the Heat Badge was a sign of overcoming huge adversary; it was the symbol that showed that you had what it took to overcome the destructive power of fire. Why was no one coming to claim it?
    "Things have died down a bit, Ash. That's why I'm so ready to leave with you and get this whole thing sorted out. It isn't just the Pokémon that are being affected. We're all linked together, you know that. When the Pokémon aren't happy, no one is. Training, breeding, it becomes entirely different when things like this are happening. What happened with Torkoal isn't exclusive. I'm sure it's happened to many people, only they weren't lucky enough to have you to save them. Lavaridge isn't the only place being affected. I am a Gym Leader. If I don't do something about it, no one will."
    Ash grinned and laughed.
    "I will."

    The unlikely pair took the long road to Mauville, though without any intention of stopping. Hoenn was connected through major cities by the air-travel system, and one of Hoenn's major cities included Mauville. The technology kingdom of Hoenn, Ash remembered how his first stop at Mauville had been the most exciting in his entire journey. The Gym Leader, Watson, used electric Pokémon, and was delighted when he saw Pikachu prancing behind Ash. The old man suddenly decided that it would be a one-on-one battle, his Magneton against Ash's Pikachu, a contest Pikachu had been extremely enthused about. The battle had been the closest possible, a battle of voltage and speed, of power and destruction. The Gym walls were riddled with cracks and burns where electric shocks had struck them. Ash wondered how the newly repaired Gym looked now. He wondered how the old man was, whether he was still his usual excitable self. There was no stopping by for pleasantries though. The Mauville Airport was bustling with activity, so it took a bit of time to purchase tickets. The airship would take them straight to Rustboro City, and from there it would be a walk to Littleroot.
    The lady at the ticket counter looked at them strangely, being very obvious about her curiosity. Ash realized that he was not just traveling with a famous person, he was one himself. His previous escapades had made his name known throughout the Pokémon world, and Hoenn was no different. He had never been one for fame, though. He cared less about television appearances and more about progressing as a trainer. Being recognized would draw unnecessary attention to them, he knew. It would hamper the swiftness of their journey, and definitely bring to attention the fact that Flannery was leaving her Gym. A Gym Leader leaving her Gym was a cause for questions, something neither of them had the time for.
    Ash's fears of being recognized disappeared the moment he looked in a mirror. He was stunned, and he undoubtedly looked a narcissistic idiot staring at himself, he was well aware of that, and so was Flannery; he noticed her smirking at him from the back. Ash was proud of himself, proud of the fact that he was able to mentally move on from losing Pikachu- a progression that allowed his mind to move into a more mature level of thought. He believed that he was far more mature, just by this decision of his to follow up on the problem at hand. He believed he was a different person. But he hadn't realized just how different. His physical appearance was changed. His hair had grown out slightly, touching the base of his neck. He certainly did not have a mane of hair that made him look an unkempt rock star, but he had allowed it to grow out more than he needed to. His face was older, more lined, he felt. There were dark circles under his eyes, giving him a permanently serious look. His face seemed more serious, if not grim.
    If anyone was recognizable, it was Flannery. She may have changed her clothes, and she certainly did not look like a delinquent kid anymore, but she still looked like Flannery. If anything, she looked prettier. In simple clothes instead of her tank top and ripped jeans, and hair that fell loosely over her shoulders instead of her explosively tied up hairdo, she looked older and more mature, but she still looked like her if you looked close. Ash noticed a confidence in her that he had not seen before. She moved and walked with a grace unlike her, and spoke with more authority in her voice. The old nervous Flannery had disappeared. Hopefully, the people at the airport had only seen the old Flannery. It took plenty of convincing to get her to not use her Gym Leader identification license to get a discount on the tickets, convincing that Ash later regretted when he realized how light his wallet was becoming.
    It was only during the security checks that Ash realized that Flannery had brought no Pokémon along with her. Incredulous, he questioned her on how exactly she planned to solve any problem without her Pokémon, to which she replied dryly:
    "You started again, why can't I? Besides, Torkoal can't battle for a while. I might as well start again."
    It had taken Ash considerable effort to let go of his old team. To this day, he still thought of the sheer power he had had in his grasp. He had the flaming surges of Charizard, the speed and judgment of Meganium, the rushing strength of Blastoise, and to top it all off, the thunderous rage that was Pikachu. To restart the assembling of his Pokémon team was a huge wall to climb, a massive thing to even think of. He was letting go of power and skill and talent, and above all, experience. But after he had done it, he felt refreshed. A new team let you do things again, but better. He was thoroughly impressed by Flannery just then, because he knew how difficult it would have been. He realized he had a good companion by his side. They were both starting over, and it would be arduous and tasking, but if they tried hard enough, good things would come their way. With this in mind, Ash sat upon the cushioned seat, optimistic of what was to come and the walls to scale.
    He thought of his old companions, all of them at once. He remembered Brock, Misty, Tracy, May, Dawn, and even little Max. At one point of time, he had never thought he'd be able to get along with anyone but Brock and Misty, let alone all of them. Old companions they may have been, but friends they would always be. He remembered distinctly his mother telling him of the importance of keeping in touch with friends and family. He decided that he would call each and every one of them the moment he touched down. He had no intention of briefing them on his activities just yet; he didn't have time for that.
    He couldn't help but feel fear deep in his heart. It seemed like the system the world had lived with for so long was slowly perishing, that Hoenn, Kanto, Johto, and Sinnoh were crumbling. There was something stirring, and someone was doing it.
    Someone or something. Pokémon are equally capable of creating havoc.
    He thought of people, villains he had dealt with before. Team Aqua, Team Magma, and Team Rocket popped into his mind. Team Rocket had disbanded, after which Aqua and Magma had disbanded as well. He knew this simply because he had contributed greatly to it. At one point of time in his Pokémon career, causing the dissolution of criminal organizations had been his primary mission. He couldn't help but feel that there was something more than an extraordinary phenomenon at work. Human beings found Pokémon fascinating- their powers and abilities were greatly studied. But some humans took it too far, using these powers for their own ends. A Pokémon soul is strange to even think about, but from what Ash knew, anything can be manipulated and used. A monk sitting underneath a tree outside Fortree City had known about it, it was quite possible that someone else, perhaps a criminal, knew of the existence of Pokémon souls as well.
    No. I'm thinking too much. That's rubbish, there's no possibility of it. No one could do this, it's too large scale for one man. And there's no big-shot organization existing now either. I think.
  4. flyinghorizons

    flyinghorizons Bug Catcher

    Nov 2, 2014

    Dim light crept in through the partially open curtains, illuminating a man in a chair for a few seconds. It was minutes after dawn, but he hadn't closed his eyes yet. The darkness was an inconvenience to him, it was too...dark. Empty things held no value to him, and darkness was empty. Sleep was empty. It was a waste of time, and it was an advantage. When people he slept, he was awake and aware of his surroundings. Sven lifted the glass to his lips and took a deep sip of rum. The freezing touch of the ice cubes curled a smile onto his face. Sven did not usually drink, but this was an occasion that befitted even the vague happiness that alcohol was. Triumph gave him the ease to allow himself to be vulnerable, and he was triumphant. He reached down and scratched Tyranitar's head. The massive Pokémon was fast asleep on the carpet, a deep rumble leaving its lips as it snored.
    Things had been going well in the recent months. In three months or so, Sven had managed to execute the carefully thought-out plan. It had taken hardly a month to create his team of advisors and accomplices. It had been remarkably easy to seduce defeated men and women when you had that much power in your grasp. He recalled watching their mouths practically drool at the small snatches of information he was giving them about his theories and objectives. It had taken a considerably longer time to decide where to start- Hoenn, Kanto, Johto, or Sinnoh. While the others had been enticing, Hoenn was the strongest choice for him. He had watched the watery madness of Kyogre cause havoc, and he had also watched the fiery hell Groudon put the region through. He wanted to make these people understand what true fear was. It wasn't a raging Pokémon rampaging through the world. True fear was him.
    A knock on the door reached Sven, and he smiled in satisfaction. The door opened, and in stepped his Administrator and closest Assistant. The man was much older than Sven, and lacked certain desirable qualities, but he had the ability and loyalty Sven needed. It would have been so much better to do everything on his own, but Sven left nothing to chance. He had assembled his team with impeccable scrutiny, and he intended on everything going perfectly. Archie straightened up and smiled at his leader. The curly mustache had been shaved off and the blue bandana of Team Aqua had been replaced by a plain white bandana.
    "It is done, Sir." Archie said. "Gary Oak is in custody."


    Ash sat up all of a sudden, breathing heavily. He found sweat dampening his forehead as he swept his hair back. He wasn't one for nightmares, but this had been a very frightening one. He had been at dinner, along with the strangest bunch of people. At the table sat Gary, Misty, Brock, Tracy, May, Max, Professor Oak, Ash's mother, Dawn, and strangest of all, Jesse, James, and the Pokémon Meowth. Subconscious thoughts were often revealed in dreams, but when in the world did the remnants of Team Rocket get in his head? He had not seen Jesse and James in years. After the disbanding of Team Rocket, they had disappeared, perhaps choosing to abandon their life of crime. When he pictured Jesse and James, he pictured greedy, scary faces biting at his Pikachu. Yet, in his dream, they had been happy, joyful, eating and laughing with the rest of the group.
    The happiness had been torn apart, though. Ash had woken up just when a pair of gigantic black hands had ripped the roof off the house. Fingers were reaching for his friends, fingers ending with claws. Ash had woken just then. His heart beat frantically, and he put his hand on his chest to steady his breathing. On the other side of the dying fire lay Flannery. Ash frowned as he noticed sweat dripping down her forehead as well. Her eyebrows were tightened, and her eyelids constricted. Her lips were parted, and her breathing was quick. Was she dreaming badly as well? Perhaps they were dreaming the same thing? She was pretty in her sleep, that was certain.
    What am I thinking? Go to sleep, Ash.
    And he did. He rolled over, curled up in his blanket, and next thing he knew, he was fast asleep.

    The pair had passed through Petalburg without incident. The city was as it had always been, lovely. The last time Ash had visited Petalburg, he had been a trainer with one goal- to best Norman the Gym Leader. He had never really looked at the city. True to its name, Petalburg was filled with a flowery fragrance and a permanent decoration of flowers. Berries covered the vast expanses of gardens and there was always a person tending these gardens. To Ash's content, nothing seemed to have changed in Petalburg. He had hoped to perhaps visit Norman, but the Gym doors were shut so early in the morning. As far as he knew, Norman usually took his Pokémon out for walks in the morning, but with this new ecology spreading around Hoenn, Ash doubted it. It was very likely Ash and Flannery would find Norman at Littleroot. A picture of the balding man came into Ash's mind, and he smiled to himself. It would truly be nice seeing old friends again.
    Ash was happy to see the flowers and smell the scents, primarily because of what he had seen before entering Petalburg. Ash had never truly believed in the saying that you only realized what you had when you lost it, but what he saw was a rude awakening. Ash remembered a seafarer, an old man, a friend, a bundle of kindness, living in a cottage on the side, beside a small dock. Mr. Briney had lived at the cottage for so many years, that Ash had thought it a permanent establishment. He thought that the old man would always be there. But there was no sign of him at all, nothing but the broken down ruins of his cottage. Construction workers were tearing it down. One of them, in the midst of wiping the sweat off his forehead, told Ash that Mr. Briney had left the cottage months ago, taking all his possessions. The cottage was a nuisance now that nobody lived in it. Flannery put a hand on his shoulder, telling him that Briney was probably safe, out on a journey, perhaps living in his boat. Ash knew that. But there was something about this sudden change that shocked him. It was a small change. Everyone moved residences, but Ash had felt a solid permanence in Mr. Briney's cottage, and now that permanence was being removed block by block.
    Oldale Town had always been a quaint establishment, a simple connection between Littleroot and Petalburg. Ash had never spent any time in Oldale, save for moments he needed recuperation after endless travel. The town practically ended where it began, so Flannery and he passed through it like they would a landmark. Oldale was filled with retirees, men and women who cared for one thing- rest and relaxation. There would be no questions asked here, because no one cared to put in an effort. Inconsequential things were of no avail to the tired.
    When they arrived right outside Littleroot, Ash found himself sucking in deep breaths of Littleroot air. There was something connecting a few towns across regions- particularly the towns he and his friends had started their journeys from. Pallet, Littleroot, New Bark, they were all connected by invisible strings. They were homes, and Ash loved homes. He was the type of person who moved around a lot; that goes without saying when you are a Pokémon trainer, but it made your attachment to home even stronger. At one point in his life Ash had tried to visualize himself taking home with him everywhere, so as to not miss it. But it was difficult. Things reminded him of home all the time. Any sign of motherly affection had him recalling how much time he spent with his mother back home, for example.
    Littleroot was the same as ever, and Ash liked it that way. Flannery humored Ash as he stood there, just enjoying the moment. She didn't say a word; she just had a slight smile playing on her lips as she watched Ash. Littleroot looked like a god had taken a plot of grass walled by trees and placed cottages all over. It was quiet, peaceful, and most of all, it was a community. People in Littleroot knew you, just as people in Pallet had. Ash was lucky enough to enjoy a large amount of affection from these townspeople because of his friendship with May and Max. The cottages were usually double or triple tiered, and were all of the same architecture, sloping roofs and red chimneys. Littleroot was one of those towns that made you appreciate the value of space, because there was so much of it. The cottages were surrounded by beautifully pruned and trimmed grass. Ash resisted the urge to pull off his boots and feel the grass on the soles of his feet. It was only when Flannery tugged him by his shirt that he realized they looked very odd simply standing in one place outside Littleroot.
    Ash walked with her to the biggest cottage, right at the end of the town. The lab was as it had always been, big and chunky and still lovely. From the outside, it looked like any average large home. On the inside, on the other hand, it looked like a proper lab, with high tech equipment that Professor Birch had no doubt refurbished while Ash had been gone.
    "You know Professor Birch?" Flannery asked him as he raised his hand to knock.
    "Yeah. You do?"
    Flannery raised an eyebrow, putting her hand on one hip.
    "I'm a Gym Leader of Hoenn. Of course I know the region's biggest Professor."
    "Oh. Right." Ash said sheepishly. He turned to knock again.
    "You don't plan on visiting your friends? You said you wanted to."
    "I was, but this is more important, I think." he said.
    "Well at least he's doubtful."
    Ash and Flannery turned on their heels to face the unexpected visitor, or visitors as they realized. A slow smile spread over Ash's face.
    "More important, is it? Another mission to save the world? Without telling your most successful team, Ash? Weren't planning on telling us?" said Brock.
    Standing before Ash were Brock, Misty, May, Professor Oak, Professor Birch, and most surprising of all, Ash's mother, who threw herself at her son. Absolutely engulfed in her affections, Ash had trouble breathing.
    Brock pulled Ash into a bear hug. Ash had to admire how his friend had changed. Brock now looked like a true Rock Pokémon specialist, solid and muscular. His eyes were still tiny as ever though, and his hair more a mess than Ash's own nest of black. Misty, looking glowing in blue, threw her arms around him, laughing with joy. It had been a long time since Ash had seen his childhood sweetheart, and it was a nice thing. Misty looked much the same, older, but the same. She punched him on the arm hard, immediately chastising him for not coming sooner. May was as Ash had left her, a bundle of excitement. Professor Oak and Birch were no more in their trademark white lab coats and instead in plain shirts and trousers. It seemed that Ash and Flannery had chanced to arrive during a lunch party. Remembering his companion suddenly, Ash introduced Flannery to everyone, noticing with a sigh that Brock was quite over-enthusiastic in his greeting. Before anyone could ask what Ash was doing visiting Littleroot with a Gym Leader from Lavaridge, May ushered them into her house.
    Lunch was being served, Ash realized. It depressed him slightly, to know how out of it he had been, that all his friends had still been a community, while he had been off on his own. The friendly banter continued as they ate and drank. Ash soon forgot why they had come to Littleroot in the first place. His happiness took form as he heard voices go back and forth. It seemed Flannery felt the same way. She had been alone, taking care of a Gym all by herself, and this was a pleasant surprise to her. She seemed to fit in as well as Ash did. He felt the family vibe around him, and realized that this was truly home, with friends. It wasn't a town or place in particular; it was where your friends and family were. Ash smiled in spite of himself. He had become quite the thinker over the past four months. He didn't have much to say, so he simply listened. He observed. He watched as his friends indulged in food and drink and spoke. In the past three months, Ash had been all alone with his thoughts. He had grown to appreciate the values of silence and thought. Silence was good when you needed it. But noise like this was a lack of silence he treasured truly.

    His stomach full, Ash sat outside on the front porch, bare feet relishing the prickly grass. He heard a pop behind him. Brock towered over him, and seated himself beside Ash, handing him the now-opened bottle of beer. The sun was now out truly, and Ash appreciated the cold feeling of beer running down his throat. Brock breathed out, and smoke filled the air around him. Ash had never thought of Brock as a smoker. Then again, Ash was sure no one thought he would go off on his own for three months.
    "You were on your own for three months. I can appreciate the fact that you needed to get over a loss, but want to tell us where you've been? No judgments, no unnecessary questions. Just want to know." Brock said. As if on cue, Flannery, May and Misty appeared, sitting on the grass in front of Ash and Brock. Ash sighed. He had not expected this, he wasn't ready to talk. His fears of reliving his recent past dominated his urge to tell his friends where he had been. But looking at the faces of Misty, May, and Brock, three people he knew cared for him, he knew he had to. Flannery knew some of it, but she looked curious enough.
    "After he...died. I left." Ash began.
    "Yes, that part we know." Misty said pointedly, and Ash managed a nervous laugh. After that, the words poured out of him easily.
    "I felt lost. I felt like I needed answers, and honestly, I just wanted to be alone. I guess some part of me felt it was my fault, and I hated myself for it. After I accepted that Pikachu was...truly gone, I stopped hating myself for his death. Instead, I started being angry at myself for not being able to get over it. I felt weak and powerless. I went to Professor Oak before I left and left all my Pokémon with him. I did that because I wanted to forget all the old things, everything. I hadn't planned on keeping in touch with you, but I did it because I couldn't not do it."
    "You called twice, Ash." said May gently.
    It then struck Ash that he had been lying to himself all along. He had called only twice, he remembered. All the other times, he had thought of contacting them but never gone through with it. He had called each of them collectively twice- that was all. He had listened to their daily activities twice, and had lied to himself since, justifying two calls as enough. He felt ashamed of himself all of a sudden. He had detached himself completely, and there was no justification for detaching yourself from family.
    "It's okay." Misty said. "Go on."
    Ash nodded. He did.
    "I needed a place to think, so I came to Hoenn. Took the ferry. It was annoying, everyone knew me. They kept asking me if I was planning on becoming Hoenn Champ. After a while I just avoided people. When I came to Hoenn last, I was trying to get badges, if you remember. When we went to Fortree to fight Winona, we found a hideout. I don't know if you remember-"
    "I do!" May interrupted. "It was raining like hell and we found it. Pretty big place too. You've been there all this while?!"
    "Well, yes, most of the time. I bought supplies and stayed there for the first two and a half months. It was lonely in the beginning, but I got used to it. After a while, it was nice. I was all by myself, with nothing to do but think. I started training. The fact that for once in my life I wasn't walking around made me feel strange, so I started doing anything physical. I started to train my body. I felt like I needed to be stronger, and it helped, since I needed to survive on my own. The hideout was well away from Fortree so no one ever saw me there. I met a few Pokémon on and off, but I could never make friends with any of them, it was too hard.
    "After two and a half months of staying alone, I was so used to it. I considered never coming back home, to be honest. That was when the hideout collapsed. It was rainy season again, and the monsoon came back strong. The weight of water was too much for the hideout, and the roof caved in. I had nowhere to go again, so I walked to Fortree. It was...very cold out there in the rain. An old lady took me in, she had an inn in Fortree. I paid for a few weeks and stayed there in a cottage. Didn't make me less miserable, the fact that it was raining all the time. But things changed after that. I went for a walk outside Fortree, and met an Absol. This Absol." Ash said, releasing Absol onto the grass, where she promptly sat, putting her head in May's lap.
    "I guess I realized that I had had enough of pitying myself and being weak. It was time for me to restart everything. Restart...my life. As a trainer. Again." Ash had left out the crucial details that Flannery knew. It wasn't yet time.
    "Why Lavaridge though? Why not get your first badge from Fortree? I'm sure it wouldn't have been difficult for you. You steamrolled me." Ash hadn't expected Flannery to ask a question, but he had an answer ready.
    "Honestly, I just really like Lavaridge. Always liked the hot springs. And I thought I needed an easy battle." He said, chuckling. He had to duck then, to avoid Flannery's swipe at him. The rest of the group laughed, easing the tension.
    "Never thought you were one for soul-searching." Brock said.
    "Never thought I was. It just happened. And I feel better about it."
    Brock smiled, and Ash had to return it. He felt content.
    "So what was the important thing you had to talk to me about, Ash? Soul searching assistance, perhaps?" Professor Birch and Oak and Ash's mother were standing behind them. It seemed they had been listening all along. The irony of the Professor's question almost made Ash laugh, but any humor was extinguished by the topic at hand that Ash knew was too grim to laugh at.
    "There are some things I haven't told you. The reason Flannery and I came here in the first place. Maybe it's better we go inside."
    The pleasant atmosphere died out immediately. Ash's mind was now concentrated no longer on family and happy thoughts, and more on the seriousness of the situation. On one hand he didn't really want such a large group to know what he and Flannery knew, but he knew that was just his detachment talking.
    These are friends. People you can trust.

    It was fifteen minutes later that a suffocating silence had descended on the entire cottage. Littleroot itself seemed to be silent. Ash looked up at his friends and realized that most of them were looking downward, at the floor. They had no intention of making eye contact. Lost in their shocked thoughts, they had nothing to say. Two people didn't look surprised at all, though, and Ash was grateful for that. Professor Birch and Professor Oak exchanged glances that told Ash that they had talked about this before. Flannery and he had made a smart decision coming here.
    "It's all true." Professor Birch said. "But it's a little more than that. A little more and a little worse."
    "Worse?" Flannery asked. The word hung in the air.
    "You know Captain Stern? The undersea explorer from Slateport? I went with him on an expedition once. He called and asked me to tag along. He said it was something interesting, and something he couldn't understand too much of. I went, and it turned out that Stern's crew had chanced upon the Law Stone, a slab of rock with carvings that tell of the laws of an age-old civilization. I learnt a lot from it. Pokémon souls do exist. Our ancestors discovered them. Once upon a time, the old generation form of a Pokémon trainer was a monk. Monks who had partners, and only one partner. Not teams of Pokémon like we have now. A monk was born and raised alongside a single Pokémon. It was his partner until he died. The monks discovered the souls of Pokémon, but they didn't know what they were. They thought they were ancient powers unlocked once a true bond was formed with the Pokémon.
    "Havent you ever realized why you and Pikachu were so powerful together? Why Gary and Umbreon were so good? Pikachu and Umbreon are not especially rare Pokémon, nor are they supremely powerful. But your Pikachu still took out Lance's powerful Dragonite, and that was years ago. It isn't because your Pikachu is special, it's because when there is such a strong bond, the true image of the Pokémon comes out. The Thunderbolt becomes five times more powerful, speed increases, everything in general becomes better. You could say that a Pokémon whose soul has not been revealed is a Pokémon keeping its power in check, not allowing it to cross a certain limit. But when the soul is...unlocked, per say, the limit disappears. The Law Stone also has something on a connection that appears between Pokémon and human, a mental connection, the-"
    "Mind connection." Ash finished. Birch raised his eyebrows, peering at him in curiosity, and then nodded.
    "Yes. The Mind connection, a connection attained between Pokémon and human prior to the soul being revealed. The monks seem to have believed that there was a time period involved. You could say they thought that the longer two partners remain partners, the more of a connection and soul they had. But other studies show that it has to do with the mental capabilities of both Pokémon and human, and the general bond between them. And bonds don't often need time to become strong."
    Ash nodded. He understood that. Absol and he shared that connection, but they hadn't been together very long.
    "But there is something else that I found, something that you have just confirmed with your story, and what happened, almost happened with Torkoal." Birch went on, gesturing towards Flannery, who nodded at the correction. "The revelation of a soul makes the Pokémon powerful, yes, but there is a reason it is concealed. This is because the Pokémon is most vulnerable when in this state. When the soul is let out of its shell, the Pokémon is in danger. I've always wondered how Pokémon can take the damage that other Pokémon do to them. Electric shocks that can fry a human being can only slightly wound a Pokémon. Why is that? This is because the soul is perhaps the Pokémon's defense. If the soul is out of its shell, the Pokémon has an increased chance of dying. The monks also wrote about a level beyond the soul revelation, a...skill level between monk and Pokémon where the soul could be controlled, and therefore the use of the soul becomes...safe again.
    "Things become a little vague at this point, but I understand it better now. A soul is a thing once it is revealed. It is like an object. An object can be stolen and used. Understand?"
    "So you're saying that there's someone trying to steal Pokémon souls?" May asked. The question voiced exactly what Ash was thinking and fearing at the same time.
    "Let's not jump to conclusions, but yes. Something or someone definitely tried to steal Torkoal's soul, possibly hoping to catch it at its most vulnerable. And Flannery, the Pokémon you met at Mount Chimney? They were definitely Pokémon with no souls. As is quite evident, a Pokémon whose soul is taken away loses direction and all sense of life. It lives, but it does not live. It does not remember things like home and love, affection and partnership. The soul holds these things. When it is gone, the Pokémon is gone. Even worse, the soul if tapped, is hugely powerful. But I don't think it's possible. I don't see how you can use a Pokémon soul when it is not in its body, its container. At least, my research does not stretch that far."
    Ash understood things now, but he didn't feel very good about it. He was frightened, more frightened than before. This was danger, a stronger danger than any he had experienced before. There was always a solution before, but he could not see a solution in this scary quagmire. Flannery looked as worried as he did, and the rest of the group was just stunned. The information overload was difficult to process, Ash could tell.
    A loud knocking emanated from the door, and everyone jumped.
    "Professor Birch? Open up." The voice was rich but not loud, yet it seemed so. It was very familiar though. Before the Professor could move to the door, Ash leapt to the window, peering outside. There was no mistaking it. The clothes might have changed, but the hair was much the same, and the sharply featured face. With a gasp he turned to the group.
    "It's Maxie!"
    "Maxie? Who's that?" Professor Birch looked puzzled.
    "Leader of Team Magma. When it existed." May said grimly. "This can't be good."
    "Everyone calm down. Let me go out and see what this is about." Birch said. "Stay quiet."
    The group hid themselves as Professor Birch walked out, closing the door behind him.
    "Yes? What's this about?" Ash heard the Professor ask.
    "I am Maxie, Administrator of the Dark Apostles. Hello, Professor. I'd like you to come with us. My Leader would like to talk to you."
    "Sorry? About what?"
    "About your new job! Working for us." Maxie said, his voice full of mocking surprise at how Birch was ignorant of this.
    "I'm sorry, but I'm quite happy with my job at present. I don't really want to go anywhere with you." Birch said firmly.
    "Seize him." Ash heard Maxie say before he jumped to his feet and ran for the door. "I'm afraid you don't have a choice, Professor."
    Ash pulled the door open, almost ripping it off its hinges.
    "I'm afraid he does, Maxie."
  5. flyinghorizons

    flyinghorizons Bug Catcher

    Nov 2, 2014

    Maxie angled his face towards Ash, both eyebrows raised. Maxie clearly had no intention of hiding his emotions, because the surprise on his face was quite evident. He was completely taken aback by Ash's sudden entry. He just looked at Ash as May, Brock, Misty, and Flannery spread out. Litteroot had been paused suddenly, as Maxie simply stood in his calm, complacent manner, hands clasped at his back, gazing at Ash. Behind Maxie stood a large aircraft, vibrating with its engine.
    Maxie had along with him a team of four men, all dressed in clean white clothes with a curious curving symbol on the sleeves. Ash remembered, years ago, the team of grunts and administrators Maxie carried around with him, aggressive men and women who could not even hope to fend off Ash's powerful Pokémon. These men were different. They were clearly powerful, but not aggressive in any way. They looked prepared for anything, and battle was evident. Ash could see what was about to happen, if it indeed did unfold. May, Brock, Misty, and Flannery had formed a protective semi-circle around Maxie's gang, and each had a Pokéball in hand. Echoing this, Maxie's men began edging forward to get into some sort of organized formation, until Maxie raised his hand. Ash and his friends jerked forward, alert to every movement. He waited for the attack. He was sure these men were powerful, but he was also highly confident in the abilities of his friends and himself. Maxie smiled calmly.
    "There will be no need for that. As you already know after the many times you have bested me at this game, I am gracious enough to accept defeat. I will not battle you, Ash Ketchum, I know better than that. Four years ago, perhaps I didn't. You are a dangerous enemy, and I will not take this up again."
    One of Maxie's grunts looked up, wounded.
    "But, Sir, they're kids. We can take them." He stated limply.
    "No, Charlie. We can't, not these kids anyway. Ash Ketchum is... how to say it, somewhat difficult to deal with. This is not our fight."
    "Yes, Sir. Understood. What about Professor Birch?"
    "I'll just have to tell our Leader that Birch is untouchable at the moment. He will understand."
    "Maxie." Ash said, his word a threatening symbol of aggression. "Why are you here? What do you want with Professor Birch?"
    "Hmm? The Professor is unfortunately very skilled at the work he does, and that includes work on a certain...stone. Or at least, one piece of it. Isn't that so, Professor?" Maxie said. Professor Birch gave away his surprise.
    "I don't know what you're talking about." He said, much too quickly.
    "Indeed? Captain Stern told us everything, Professor. Torture can be very persuasive, apparently." Maxie laughed heartily. Professor Birch flinched, and Ash froze as horrifying images of Captain Stern being tortured filled his mind.
    "What is going on, Maxie? Tell me! Who do you work for?" demanded Ash, advancing on the ex-Team Magma leader.
    "You'll meet him soon enough. And I think you know some of what is going on, no doubt it was hard for you to keep your nose out of it. Ah, I see now." Maxie smiled in satisfaction. "You came to Professor Birch because the information you had was perhaps incomplete, yes?"
    Ash was dumbfounded, and he was seething in anger now.
    "Well, I hope you've found out your fill. In any case, Ash Ketchum, I think my Leader would love for you to come work with us."
    "Didn't you come here for Professor Birch?" Ash's anger turned into puzzlement.
    "I did. But as you can see, I am a simple Administrator of the Dark Apostles, nothing more. I'm sure you realize we are no ordinary Team. We are assembled for a reason. And we continue to hire. We need power, loyalty, and willpower on our side. And my Leader had you on his list for a very long time. He would have approached you, had he known where you went, while you hid for months like a scared rodent. As it were, you were not anywhere to be found, which is why I am most surprised to see you here. My Leader had to try a few others. It is quite amazing to see the change in a person when he is offered power, trust me."
    "You went after trainers? Asked them to join your...group?" Flannery asked, her face a mask of unbridled fury.
    "Oh, not just trainers. Men and women like me, Rangers, even Gym Leaders, like yourself. Some said no, some said yes. Surprising count, really."
    Ash could not believe in what Maxie was saying. Would Gym Leaders actually forsake their ideals and beliefs to join a criminal organization? It couldn't be possible. But then again, his mind wandered to Gym Leaders who had seemed on different tangents, Leaders like Sabrina the Psychic Pokémon Master.
    "I'll never join you." Ash said.
    "Oh, that's what you think. You'll come to us, I'm sure." Maxie said with utmost confidence, confidence that made Ash shake with anger.
    "My Leader Sven is gracious enough to understand a rejection, so most of your Leaders are alright. But sometimes we just can't take a 'no'. Some people need to be bent to our cause. People like your Champion." He directed this last line at Flannery.
    "No." was all she said at first. "You have...how did you-"
    "I didn't. My Leader did. Fury is a powerful emotion, and it had clearly driven him to be Champion in the first place. But that fury had long disappeared by the time we got to him. He rolled over, it was that simple."
    Ash was stunned. Who had rolled over? Who was the Hoenn Champion? He could understand a Gym Leader reacting; Flannery was beside herself in anguish. May, a Hoenn resident, was shocked. Misty, Brock, Professor Oak, and Ash's mother, on the other hand, had their mouths half open — it seemed like they weren't even breathing. Professor Oak was wide-eyed, clutching his chest where his heart lay beating below. Ash was clearly the only one in the dark, and Maxie realized.
    "I see. Three months leave you quite ignorant, doesn't it, Ash Ketchum?" The question hung in the air. Ash had no answer. Maxie smiled and turned around, signaling to his men. They moved ahead of him into the open doors of their craft, and disappeared within. Maxie began walking slowly up the sloping ramp, hands still casually behind his back, as if he were simply taking a walk in the garden.
    "He would have never agreed to join you." Misty said. Maxie turned. The aircraft hovered and rose into the air, and the doors began closing.
    "Oh, he hasn't. But he will, soon. Slightly difficult creature, not unlike Ash here. A tough nut to crack, your Gary Oak."
    The aircraft door shut and the craft zipped into the clouds. Ash simply stood there, in absolute stunned silence.

    Sitting inside the cottage, Ash had to shake off his shock. He needed to think. The old him, the immature him, would have packed up and followed Maxie immediately. But stupid, thoughtless actions would not help anyone, he knew. He remembered many times when Pikachu had been caught by Team Rocket, and there were times when he acted irrationally, when there was always a better option. He needed to think this out properly. He looked up for a second and realized that everyone was looking at him, as if waiting for him to say something.
    "What are we doing, Ash?" Misty asked.
    Ash sighed.
    "Nothing." He said.
    The group looked at him, surprised.
    "Nothing." He repeated. "Firstly, we can't do anything, because we don't know where they're holding Gary. Our first step is trying to find out. Secondly, we shouldn't do anything at the moment. Maxie baited us. He just wants us to charge in like idiots. It's a trap. But...we have to do something. So I say we wait. We find out where they're holding him, and we make a plan, but it's got to be a solid one. We can't go in there for Gary without knowing exactly what we're up against."
    The group nodded. Ash thought he saw Brock look impressed for a second.
    "As much as I hate to wait while Gary...is trapped there, Ash is right. We need a plan of action. But I think we need to figure things out first, find out what we're up against, as Ash said." Professor Oak said.
    "I think that's where we come in." Professor Birch said, tapping his fellow Professor on the shoulder.
    "Indeed. But Ash, you're the boss. What's the plan?"
    Ash was a bit surprised at the statement, but it was no lie that he had been formulating a plan in his head already. He stood up, wringing his hands together.
    "Alright. First thing's first. Professor Oak, Professor Birch, your research databases must have something about this. Maxie said his Leader's name is Sven. I know that's not much to go on, but we have to try."
    When Professor Birch and Professor Oak disappeared into the former's lab, Ash looked around at his friends. His mother was staring at him oddly, and it was then that he realized he owed her a long talk. His friends seemed to understand, and they made their way out in groups, mumbling that they needed fresh air.
    Ash's mother had been silent ever since he had entered the house, and he had been too caught up in the moment to notice. He felt guilty and ashamed of himself. For three months he had been incognito, even with her. He wanted to provide her with an explanation, but nothing came to his mind. How could he justify this? He couldn't, but another thought struck him. His mother was no fighter. She was no Pokémon trainer, and to make it worse, she was a visitor; this was not her home. As long as he was here, she would be in danger. Maxie said Sven wanted Ash in his little team, what happened when Maxie realized that threatening his mother's life would make Ash change sides? Ash could not take a chance like that. He was about to say this out loud when she interrupted. He braced himself for a lecture.
    "I understand." She said. Ash looked up in surprise. "I can't imagine what you went through, but it's okay. You're my son. I know you. But from now on, this doesn't happen again. Not with your mom, clear?"
    Ash grinned sheepishly.
    "Yes, Mom." He felt childish saying those words, but in a good way. He felt like things were as it had been before for just that second.
    "And I know I need to leave. Don't worry about that. Professor Birch is taking me to the airport in Rustboro, I'm taking the first flight back home."
    Ash's relief was inexpressible.
    "Okay, Mom."
    "Come back home after all this is done, son." She said, hugging him tightly.
    "Okay, Mom." He simply said. He had to focus on the task at hand to avoid the possible flow of tears.
    When his mother had left to pack and leave Hoenn, Ash called the others in. He needed to talk to them, and he needed to listen. If anyone could solve this, it would be all of them together, one group. As his friends walked into the room, Ash realized something. He had been all about new beginnings, restarted journeys, and new friends, so much so that he had forgotten the beauty in the old things. He had been talking and thinking, but now he was sitting with his old friends, his old companions. These were people who understood him. He realized that a new beginning did not mean starting everything from scratch; it could mean growing and developing, perhaps even evolving and moving forward. With a pang he realized that if he had his old friends back, he needed his old Pokémon back. It seemed harsh then, to think of how that ship had sailed. He decided to look on the positives- the fact that his friends were here with him still.
    When they sat around him in a circle, he withdrew the map of Hoenn he had asked Professor Oak to give him an hour or so ago. The expanse that was Hoenn was diverse with its grassy plains, explored routes, rivers, lakes, caves, cities, towns, and mountains. Ash gasped suddenly. Puzzled, his friends looked at him like he was crazy. Sudden memories of misty passages and raging battles filled his mind. Images of gravestones, carved epitaphs, and ghostly apparitions came to him.
    "If the Dark Apostles are in fact the ones doing all this...soul searching, then I think I know where we can find them."
    "What? Where?" Flannery asked, frowning. The others looked as dumbfounded.
    "Think. We're talking about Pokémon souls. This is just a guess, but when Pokémon die, what happens to their souls? They leave the dead body, right? That's what everyone says." Ash said, feeling suddenly embarrassed with his theory.
    "Unless the soul is taken from the body before death, yes, probably." Brock said.
    "And where do all the dead Pokémon go, guys? Where are they put?"
    There was a second of thoughtful silence until Flannery sighed, slapping her forehead. Misty gasped, May looked ecstatic, but Brock smiled grimly, nodding at Ash.
    "You're saying that the Dark Apostles' headquarters is in...or on..."
    "Mount Pyre. The graveyard of Pokémon, yes." Ash finished for him.
  6. flyinghorizons

    flyinghorizons Bug Catcher

    Nov 2, 2014

    Ash was fortunate to be sitting right there at that moment. He realized that if he had gone through this alone, it would have been utterly impossible for him to get anywhere. May, years ago, in her childish and perky attitude, had surprised Ash and the rest of the group by revealing how she charted every area she went through. The technology of today was brilliant at ensuing that on a macroscopic level, Hoenn was revealed to all. But small things, small places, intricate paths, all these were hidden to normal people. A Pokémon Trainer was perhaps expected to find his own way in such things. When Ash and his friends had wandered into Mount Pyre years ago for the first time, they had explored it fully. They had seen the murky pathways up the mountain along with the internally situated graves of Pokémon. By chance, they stumbled upon an open graveyard, where a trainer paid more money to get his Pokémon buried where fresh air could circulate freely. The upper part of the mountain was massive, Ash had been startled to see.
    Mount Pyre was the most significant example of how unexplored their world truly was. The upper mountain was huge, grassy, and filled with all sorts of strange odds and ends. It turned out that May had recorded most of these odds and ends on paper.
    "I love maps!" she explained excitedly. "Used to stare at them all day. Then I started drawing them as I went."
    To Ash and the rest's astonishment, she had drawn out a massive and intricate map of Mount Pyre. Some parts were incomplete; Ash supposed that considering how they certainly didn't explore the entirety of Pyre, there was no chance for May to do this. The map was the biggest advantage they had though, and it allowed them to plan their new journey out. As vague and ambiguous as their target was, Ash had to think of something. They knew several things- the point of the journey- their target, and well, nothing more than that. They knew one thing.
    Ash cursed internally. This mission was an unprecedented risk, to his and his friends' lives. While there was one part of him that personally wanted to see Gary safe, there was also another part of him that told him that leading an entire group into the headquarters of an organization they knew nothing about was not exactly smart. Something had to be done, before Gary was hurt seriously in order to bait Ash into more action. That was when it hit him. The Dark Apostles wanted him, no one else. They wanted Birch as well, but this was a calculated move to get Ash to go to Gary's rescue. It was a smart move- it showed that this Sven was interested in his power, but it also made sure that Ash realized how limited his choices were. He looked around at the group around him. May had seen too few dangers. Sure, their journeys together had revolved around scary and potentially dangerous situations, but she had not been with him too long. If anything, Misty and Brock seemed experienced enough for this. May would not understand the depth of the situation, and how fragile it was at the moment. Flannery was out of the question too. Ash knew it was wrong to assume, but a Gym Leader who sat sheltered within a Gym had seen nothing of the world. Flannery had not seen the damage Kyogre could have done to the world, and she definitely had not seen the raw danger that the Teams Rocket, Magma, and Aqua could do. She was older and different, sure, but this was on a different scale altogether. Ash thought of Professor Oak in the lab at present. He almost laughed at the thought. Oak could try to be objective about this, but there was only one thing on his mind- the danger his nephew was in.
    In a flash Ash understood what he had to do. He didn't like it, but he knew it was the right thing to do. He sat there along with the others, planning out their trip. He faked every single conversation. He acted well, making it seem like he was intensely planning this, but in his head, he had a completely other schedule in mind. Once or twice he thought he saw Flannery giving him an odd glance, but there was no way she knew what he was thinking. After about an hour's discussion, the group split into pairs to strategize. May and Brock, Misty and Flannery sat in different corners of the room, leaving Ash to think. This was just what he wanted — some solitude to think to himself. As he formulated a strategy, his strategy to get to Pyre alone and do the job, his thoughts hit a solid wall.
    He realized that with just Absol, there was no point in even trying. One Pokémon could not do everything. Pokémon had energy stores much more vast than a human being, but this was an impossible task. But perhaps Ash could catch a few more Pokémon on the way to Pyre. It was optimism stretching to unrealism, but it was worth a try. But, even with this solution, he knew that he was trying something harder than he had ever tried. This was no battle, no tournament, it concerned Gary's life, and his own as well.
    As luck would have it, this problem was solved for Ash over ten hours later. He had packed, and was ready to leave. The night sky was covered with stars; for this he was grateful, he had no intention of drenching himself in rain. His supplies were in the backpack and his mind was set on the destination. He didn't need a Pokenav to get to Mount Pyre- some places you just remember. Some places never leave your head, he thought as he walked out into the cold night. The sleeping figures he passed in the hall hardly noticed him as he stepped gingerly between them. He felt miserable betraying the trust of all his friends, especially his newest teammate, Flannery. He had felt a close connection to her, and they worked well as a team. But this was one thing he had to do on his own, without endangering anyone else's life.
    "Going somewhere?"
    Ash practically jumped out of his skin. Standing to the side of the house, closer to the lab than the house, was Professor Oak. Out of his white coat, he looked a silhouette in the moonlight. He swore under his breath. Had Oak seen through his entire plan?
    "Just for a walk." He lied. Futile.
    "I know where you're going, and I won't stop you." Oak said.
    "You won't?" Ash asked suspiciously.
    "No. But I do know that if you have any hope at all in rescuing my nephew, it's not with that one Absol. I had planned on giving this to you a while ago, but I was engrossed in the bloody research you made Birch and I do to get us old men out of your way."
    Ash looked at the ground ashamedly as Oak laughed good naturedly.
    "Here. They've missed you." Oak said, tossing Ash a duffel bag. Within were three Pokeballs. Three scratched up and old Pokeballs, clearly used many times before. They seemed familiar in some way.
    "No!" Ash gasped as he realized what he was holding.
    "Yes. I couldn't get all, but I remembered the ones you seemed to know the most. Feraligatr, Sceptile, and a certain fire breathing lizard that gave me a very hard time."
    "Charizard." Ash just said, holding the Pokeballs up to his eyes. The moment was highly emotional, but Ash knew that this was just the beginning. He pressed the white button. The gleam of light thankfully did not wake anyone up, and nor did the loud growl that emanated from Charizard's maw. Fortunately, Charizard did not roar like the loud show off he usually was. Ash hugged the Pokémon's neck, and it hit him hard with its wing. Ash accepted the punishment. He was stupid to think he could let go of this big guy. Feeling rejuvenated, warm, powerful, and determined, Ash climbed onto Charizard's back.
    "I'll bring Gary back." He told Professor Oak, who nodded with a satisfied smile that showed confidence in Ash, confidence that made Ash himself feel infinitely powerful. "Do me a favor though, Professor. I'm going to make sure I find out a little more about these Dark Apostles. Try to find out more so everyone's ready whenever needed. Make sure none of them come after me, I know what I'm doing now." He finished. There was no need to even gesture to the house to let Oak know who 'them' included. Ash understood that there would be anger and betrayal directed against him, but he pushed that aside for later as Charizard rose into the air with a single flap of his great wings. The wind made no noise as they climbed into the air.
    The wind was cold, freezing even. Like icy cords of rope, they lashed around Ash, no doubt causing no effect on Charizard, whose very heart beat with blood hotter than fire. The cold did not affect Ash either, tonight. The cold kept him alert, and so he welcomed it. He felt good, after a very long time. He felt like the old trainer he had been, yet even better. He was stronger, more experienced, and he knew what was at stake. He left Littleroot behind completely as Charizard glided through the clouds towards Mount Pyre.


    When Flannery awoke the next morning, she knew something was wrong. Years of anticipating Gym challengers had done things to her instincts. Brushing her orange-red hair out of her eyes, she looked around. Flannery, May, Misty, and Ash's mother had slept in the large spacious hall. Behind her, they stretched out on mattresses laid out on the cold wooden floor, blissfully unaware in their sleeping states. The fresh air outside was lovely; it's cold blast shook her awake. She had found herself truly changing. She had surprised herself. She usually hated the cold- anything but the warmth of fire startled her to disgust. But now, after leaving the Gym leader title behind her, she felt like a new person.
    She had surprised herself when she had journeyed out with Ash Ketchum. The eager kid she had met years ago, the trainer that defeated her years ago, had always annoyed her. But it seemed that over the years, he had mellowed out. Balance had perhaps found him. Loss had sculpted his personality into this new Ash. They had traveled together for hardly a week, bur Flannery felt like she knew this boy. His movements were predictable. In fact, she was highly surprised when he didn't announce to the group yesterday that he would go all by his lonesome to Mount Pyre to rescue Gary Oak. She could tell he didn't like involving everyone, putting everyone in danger, she could see it in his eyes.
    As she stood in the freshly mown grass, allowing her feet to be tickled, she felt something different on the ground- a ridge in the grass that was not there before. Bending to examine it, she found a deep gouge on the ground, exposing the brown soil beneath the green needles. There were two, and Flannery could see what they were. Claw prints.
    She turned and sprinted into the house, barreling past a just rising May. Climbing the steps to the room where the boys slept, she banged through the door. Brock was oblivious to the noise, fast asleep. The spot where Ash had turned in was empty. She looked around the room. His backpack was gone. Flannery punched the wall in fury. Her loud swearing woke Brock, who, still in a daze, started rubbing his eyes and looking for the source of the noise.
    "Where's Ash?" he asked, stifling a yawn.
    "Gone. Last night I think."
    That woke him up. Brock's jaw dropped as he tossed his blanket from over him and got to his feet. Downstairs, the commotion had woken everybody up. Five minutes later, they all sat in a huddle on the living room floor, still drowsy. They were in the process of formulating a plan on the spot to go and get Ash, just as Professor Oak walked in.
    "Ash knows what he's doing. Let him be. I saw him before he left. He'll be back safe, don't worry."
    Flannery still felt insecure about Ash going off alone, but she could see the effect Professor Oak had on the rest of the group. His words had a calming tone to it, and his reassurance resounded in everyone's expressions. Flannery realized how important Oak was to these people. His wisdom was truly appreciated. If everyone else could understand, she decided that she could to.
    But deep down, she felt a small sense of betrayal. She had thought that the both of them were a new team, and that they would stick together. She was reading too much into it, she knew Ash would not have done this just to be on his own. Perhaps this was just something he needed to do. She decided to drop the whole thing internally. As she did, a new thought process formed in her mind. If Ash was going off, alone, in danger, with all the responsibility on his shoulders, then the rest of them should prove that they can deal with the same pressures. At the moment, the team could not keep up with Ash. Flannery was confident that even with his Absol, the rest of them would not stand a chance. Ash had taken on this burden, and they needed to show him that they were good enough a team to come back to. When she voiced this to the rest of them, they nodded all at once. It seemed they were thinking along the same lines.
    "Ash has given us time. Time to train!" Brock said, motivated, fist in the air.
    In that small space of time, the fear and depression they had felt disappeared, only to be replaced by a fierce need to better themselves. Flannery realized, suddenly, that if she were to train, she would probably need a Pokémon.
    Ash's theories about Mount Pyre were confirmed soon after Charizard landed at the base of the murky mountain. The fog did not conceal the many white-dressed men and women walking around. The moment Charizard touched ground, Ash recalled him and hid quickly behind a tree. From afar, they looked simply like people dressed in pure white. Only when one walked close to Ash's tree did he realize that they were- every single one of them- armed to the teeth. A pistol hung at each belt, alongside gleaming red and white Pokeballs. Ash hung back for a while, slightly in shock. He had known what he was getting into- facing gunfire was a possibility he had considered- but now, when it was in his face, his mind felt slightly numb.
    As it were, thoughts of postponing his venture up the mountain crept into Ash's head. He realized that the fog filled night contributed too much to reducing visibility, and he was outnumbered hugely. Then he had to tell himself that he didn't have the time to wait for dawn. That let things click into place. Dawn meant that Ash would see the entirety of the Dark Apostle guard, and they would definitely see the entirety of him in the daylight. Ash could not risk being seen; he didn't have the power to content with an army. He contented himself by thinking about how the fog reduced the guards' visibility as much as his.
    He decided to walk along the side of the mountain, in a curve. He found that, thankfully, the number of guards did not stay consistent all around the mountain. In fifteen minutes or so, he could spot a single guard ahead of him, blocking way to a steel fence that had obviously been erected to prevent people getting to Mount Pyre through a more unconventional method. Ash assumed the worst- that the fence was electrified. He had suffered enough electric shocks from Pikachu, enough to make him understand how painful and dangerous the surge of current was. But on the other hand, years of training with Pikachu had resulted in Ash developing a slight resistance- he could withstand some small amount of current. But that did not mean he could survive a rush of ten thousand volts, which the fence was probably filled with.
    He waited and watched, and soon understood. The guard walked past Ash's hiding place once every ten minutes, which meant that he had a reasonable amount of time to function. His first thought was to, within those ten minutes, get through the fence. He had planned on using Charizard to Flamethrow his way through. A stupid idea- fog did not hide a torrent of fire, and there was no point in using those ten minutes, simply because the guard would realize there was a hole in the fence in no time at all. Ash knew what he had to do, but he didn't like it.
    Five minutes later, the white silhouette of a man was several feet ahead of him. The ground sloped upwards very slightly. Hoping the fog would hide the temporary flashes of light, Ash called out Absol and Sceptile. So much for stealth- Sceptile bounded into his arms the moment he saw him.
    "Yes, yes, it's been a while, but reunion later, okay?" he told his excited green Pokémon. Ash was grateful to Professor Oak much more now, because looking upon his Sceptile, he realized how much speed the green beast had in him. Sceptile was, simply put, the epitome of speed. Ash had trained him specifically for that cause. He had always known this Sceptile was special, and he had intended, even then, to unleash its true power. The Sceptile Ash remembered could move so quickly that water was only lightly disturbed as it trod over it. Razor Wind, a move which involved the shooting of several blades of wind, was virtually unused by Sceptile, because his Leaf Blade protruding from his arm was even faster than even the range-move. But Ash could not have Sceptile use Leaf Blade now- he was fast, but not faster than electric current. In several seconds, the plan was created.
    Ash hung back and watched as Absol crept forward slowly, unseen. Before the guard turned around, Absol slit his throat with her horn. Disgusted for a second, Ash wished there could have been another way, but he could not afford to feel sympathy and humanity for these men who were attempting to misuse the very essence of their world. He watched the guard fall to his knees, but when he ran past him, he felt no love for him.
    Seconds later, Sceptile's Razor Wind had sliced a door-like opening into the fence. It happened so fast, no one would realize any movement in the fence. Ash climbed through, careful to avoid the steel points humming with electricity. Absol and Sceptile walked behind him silently. He did not feel safe without them, though he knew the smart thing would be for them to return to their Pokeballs so that their little group was not spotted.
    He looked up, and could not move anymore. The towering mass above him left him in absolute shock. This was not Mount Pyre anymore. The mountain had been excavated in many parts, clearly. There was a massive structure, built right into the mountain. It was not a secret hideout, nothing like the places belonging Team Aqua and Magma Ash had stormed years ago. This was a bulky huge thing just sitting where everyone could see. The danger they were facing hit Ash then, as he distinguished between this criminal organization and the others. These guys weren't pretending, they weren't farces of criminals attempting to rule the world. The Dark Apostles weren't hiding. The headquarters above him gave Ash a single message. In his head, he saw a shadowy face, perhaps this Leader Sven, speaking in a dark and dangerous voice.
    "Come. We're not going anywhere. Try it." And just then, Ash's confidence turned to dust.
  7. flyinghorizons

    flyinghorizons Bug Catcher

    Nov 2, 2014

    Ash would have been caught within minutes, as he simply stood there, marveling at the structure before him. If not for Absol rubbing her damp fur on his leg, he would have been there in one position forever, hours even. Hours were not enough to look at this place in its entirety.
    When she did do this, Ash shook himself, literally, to let the feelings of fear and tension dissipate into the air around him. He remembered why he was there, why he had come. A blurry image of Gary duct-taped and wrapped in ropes made him remember all. He had not traveled two entire days on Charizard's back just to stand and gawk. He was hungry, he was exhausted, but that would have to wait.
    It took him a few seconds to realize that his plan was easier to execute with such a large structure. The Dark Apostles, he could assume, were relatively young as an organization. You needed time to create anything of value, especially when it came to Pokémon. Team Rocket was a force to be reckoned with only because their Leader, Giovanni, understood the values of discipline and experience. The one thing Giovanni had on his side was the fact that his organization had been running for countless years, which let them develop, evolve, and function with the utmost level of clarity and coordination. The Dark Apostles in truth seemed largely more dangerous than the Rockets or the Rubies or the Sapphires, but Ash could safely see by the number of men walking around Pyre that their numbers were huge. This was a typical move- quantity over quality. The spread of the headquarters above him was too large to be manned and secured by a small workforce. With enough experience on criminal organizations on his side, Ash could guess how unprepared these Grunts would be. Either way, he had no intention of flying into action and announcing his arrival- that would bring the big guns. It would perhaps even invite this Sven to reveal himself, and Ash could not stay for that. He would not admit it, but he had to grudgingly realize that he had a deep fear of this man and what he could do. It took guts to form an organization so big when it was well known that the previous three had suffered great losses at the hands of trainers like Ash Ketchum.
    Secret entrances were simple to find once you understood how a criminal thought. Ash had found a secret entrance to the Team Magma hideout once, many years ago, at the very bottom of a sloping path to Lavaridge City. This was cinch compared to that. Right in front of him, hidden in the moss that covered Pyre, was a little hole, dusty with lack of use. Ash guessed that it was an emergence escape route. Hopefully, he would crawl out of it with Gary Oak very soon. As the darkness swallowed him up inside it, his breathing rapidly became more difficult.
    He began thinking of the colossal amount of earth resting above him. Any moment now, the mud could crumble on top of him. He made a mental note to crawl like his life depended on it. He finally came to the end of the small tunnel, as he saw yellow light glinting in the distance. He didn't care at that moment if there was someone waiting for him at the end of this tunnel with an axe. He honestly cared only about leaving this darkness behind.
    Thankfully, there was not a soul in sight as he crawled out of the hole. He brushed the dirt off him, checked his bodice for all his Pokeballs, and found himself in a corridor. All around him were steel boxes. When opened, it turned out that he was standing in the Electricity Control Room of the Dark Apostles' headquarters. For a second, he thought of a lovely little tactic that would serve if he planned on infiltrating the place. All these buttons at his grasp- he could turn the power off for the entire headquarters. Things would go haywire. He would have surprise on his side, and not to mention the high level of panic sudden darkness induces. But he was not here for that reason at all. In fact, if he was as good as he had been before, if he still had it, he would be able to get Gary out without anyone noticing his presence. He had stealth and speed on his side, in the form of Absol and Sceptile. He didn't need the robust strength of Feraligatr and Charizard at this moment. His plan had been simple. Get into the headquarters, somehow get the uniform of one of those useless Grunts, and find Gary. At that point in his plan, he had hit a wall. A hard wall that told him that he would have to use force to get Gary out- enough force to invite trouble. He would have most likely needed Absol to cut through bars of a cell, or if that didn't work, Charizard's flames. All which would send alarms blaring.
    But here, in this tidy control room, his plan just received a huge boost. He made his way down the corridor light-footed, and found the men operating here. Lazy and talkative, the pair sat on arm chairs watching screens that focused on various parts of the building. Ash smiled to himself. If all the Grunts were like this, then it was likely that the guards outside the Pyre fence would not notice their dead colleague until much later- probably only when the mist cleared.
    Ash thought of taking them out as he had used Absol, but that could not be done without damaging the equipment around them. He could not kill them, either. He was a Pokémon Trainer, not a mass murderer- he couldn't leave behind a trail of bodies. He had an idea then, which he hoped would work. He thought of his Pokémon's skill sets, and he tentatively concluded that if a particular move could kill a human, for example something lethal like Leaf Blade, then a milder version of that move would simply wound or damage them. Hopefully, that theory was true.
    He crossed his fingers as Sceptile stalked into the control room, depending on the shadows to stay hidden. Just as the two men on guard turned to face the green lizard that was Sceptile, it began, and fear gripped Ash's heart as he thought he saw them dying. Giga Drain was horrific, he realized, as he watched the very life sucked out of them. But thankfully, Sceptile had understood Ash's wishes. He stopped, and the guards keeled over, unconscious but still quite alive. When he looked at the screens before him, Ash realized that he had truly hit the jackpot. Luck was on his side. Besides the security cameras, there was, laid out in front of him, a lit up map of the headquarters.
    The numerous pathways and numbers and names only made him confused, and so he stuck to finding the one thing he needed to find. He pumped his fist in the air when he found the section of the map labeled 'A1, A2, A3, A4, A5 — Seclusion Quarters'. He then went to the power section, which was covered from bottom to top with labels and switches. After a deep breath, he pulled the switches labeled under Seclusion. Lights flickered and went off. This was the best opportunity he would have. There could be no bars of a cell, he realized, hitting himself on the forehead. There were no prison facilities in Mount Pyre. At most, there were rooms where prisoners were confined to. Undoubtedly, fitted with solid steel doors opened with a switch. A switch that ran on electricity, electricity that no longer worked. Doors that were undoubtedly fitted with alarms, alarms which would not go off when powerless.

    The flames still burnt in her. The cooling embers that she thought were slowly fading into darkness were most definitely flaming coals. Flannery had never felt better in her life. She now understood what Ash had meant by all those mental phases he had gone through. Perhaps she was evolving, just as a Pokémon did, but mentally and not physically. Misty and she had sat together for an hour or so, developing a training program for everyone- a program designed to test abilities and hone skills. It turned out that two ex-Gym Leaders could really kick up a storm with a brilliant program. The group had injected some sort of optimism into it, and everyone was fully aware and alert about what was going on.
    The training regimen involved the trainers as much as the Pokémon- Flannery based this on Professor Birch's extensive talk on the link between trainers and their Pokémon. What she interpreted from it was that the Pokémon is only as strong as the trainer, and vice versa. All in all, they had to be fit and ready, as much as their Pokémon. Soon, May, Brock, Misty and she were running through the mornings and evenings around Littleroot, and the entire day was devoted to training. It had been a couple of days already, and Ash would have arrived at Mount Pyre. Originally, Flannery had wondered how Ash would get to Mount Pyre on foot in less than a week. Once Professor Oak had cleared all doubts by explaining that Ash had received his Charizard back, she had made her regimen plans around his supposed timeline.
    Flannery, in a somewhat grim and ironic way, had to thank the current situation for her luck. She had met the strangest Pokémon close to Oldale Town, a Pokémon that had no doubt wandered straight out of the Safari Zone all the way near Lilycove City. Tired and exhausted, it was no difficulty catching it. Quilava was much better now, well fed and exercising. In fact, Flannery had never felt such a bond. When Quilava's flames blazed, she felt at home in his intensity and rage. Who knows, perhaps her hair looked like Quilava's burning flames when they battled together.
    While things looked better, Flannery could sense the underlying tension in everybody- a simmer, like something was about to go up in flames any second. Misty Brock and May trained with a renewed passion, but Flannery suspected it was not out of a desire to be stronger and better prepared, but rather out of a method to take their mind off Ash and his daring escapade. What was most frightening about the Apostles was their very own ignorance, and Ash knew less than them, even. Professor Birch and Oak had spent the previous evening explaining what they believed the Dark Apostles functioned. Some things were extremely startling to even think of, but the fright fueled Flannery. These things put the situation into perspective- a perspective that told Flannery just how heated up it was getting. The real problem was that Ash had no idea. He was walking straight into a hurricane without knowing what the wind speed was. Hopefully, he would come out with only a few feathers ruffled.
    Professor Birch and Oak had bundled themselves up in the lab studying the Law Stone, or the piece of it, rather. The one time Flannery had stepped in to hand them refreshments, she had witnessed an intricate looking instrument shooting a pure green light over the stone. The Professors told her they were trying to 'penetrate' it, which she did not understand, nor did she try to. After handing their lemon juice, she went back to training with May and Brock.
    Misty had long since disappeared. She preferred to train her Pokémon alone- either that, or she just wanted to be on her own, away from the madness for a few hours at least. Just to keep them informed, she told them that she would be close to Oldale Town, the small town just above Littleroot, a place for peace and tranquility. Perhaps Misty wanted that.
    The residents of Littleroot said nothing about the noise from the training, and they seemed not to mind the scorched patches of grass that Quilava created time and time again. They seemed to understand the situation. After all, the town was so tiny that information spread like wildfire. But Flannery had begun to notice small changes in that very grass. Littleroot, named well, was a town of lovely greenery. Lately, the greens had started looking a tad brown and yellow, and it was not Quilava's fault this time. The grass became stiff, so much so that she no longer walked on it barefoot. Professor Birch had told her with a grim face that it seemed like nature was responding to the plight of the Pokémon, that it could sense the trouble the ecology was going through.
    "The natural cycle is being disrupted. Habitats are being thrown into disarray. The food cycle, the pollination process of plants, the food for herbivorous Pokémon, everything is coming to a standstill. I think, bit by bit, the situation's getting worse, and we get less time to stop it from erupting into chaos."
    With those impactful words, Birch left them again, disappearing once again into his lab. Flannery was left to ponder what he said, and from that conversation on, her optimism waned slightly. It was hard to suddenly realize how connected the world was. The sheer size of what they were trying to do hit her hard then. From what Ash had said, they were dealing with someone entirely different from any enemies faced so far. This was a man who was above the usual criminal masterminds. If he could persuade Maxie to work for him and not with him, that was something. Flannery distinctly remembered traveling down the Fiery Path on the way to Fallarbor City one day many years ago. She had intended on taking the cable car up, but two Team Magma men had blocked the way. Days later, she witnessed the blazing impact of Groudon's awakening, triggered by Maxie's endless ambition. If a man like him was so easily coerced and controlled, Flannery could not imagine the substance that this Sven had.
    That evening, they ate together to have a discussion on how things were going and how they suspected Ash was doing. But they steered clear of Ash's topic at all- no one wanted to say what they truly felt: that it had been too long and there had been no sign of him. They had tried to wait for Misty, but they had already begun when she walked in through the door, completely soaked. Her clothes sticking to her and her hair a downright mess, she looked positively enthused. There was no rain and had not been for the past few days, so Misty had clearly decided to take her meditation to another level by...going swimming?
    "Had fun at the pool?" Brock asked playfully.
    Misty laughed, shaking the water from her hair and taking a seat.
    "Water makes me feel good, it's refreshing." She admitted. Flannery was confused. Did Misty actually go to a swimming pool?
    "There's a lake between Oldale and Mauville, a pretty large one, you'd need a Pokémon to cross it." Brock explained, clearly sensing Flannery's geographical disabilities.
    "Ash and I stopped there once, had a great time diving in-" May began, but stopped suddenly, like she had realized she had something very wrong.
    The conversation died completely after that. The very mention of Ash Ketchum had left them in a slight disarray, and even Professor Birch's terrible jokes could not restart any semblance of a discussion. With food in their bellies, the girls went up to go to bed and Brock pulled out a book and leaned against the living room wall, intent on reading himself to sleep. The Professors simply went back to the lab to sleep.
    That night, Flannery could not sleep. Even shutting her eyes felt wrong. Every time she did, she saw flashes of images- of dying Pokémon without a sense of where they were, of the hot springs in Lavaridge bubbling out of control and burning people, of the very trees around her dying, and of Ash captured by the claws of the Dark Apostles. She wrapped herself in her bed sheet and went downstairs, crossing the sleeping body of Brock carefully before opening the door. She flopped down on the cool grass and just lay down to watch the sky. Devoid of clouds, the sky exposed its numerous stars and the gorgeous moon shining in brilliance. She breathed in the fresh cool air. She wondered how long this beauty would last. If the Pokémon world was being slowly gnawed at, what happened to civilization? What would happen to Lavaridge? To Littleroot? The cold made her shudder, but she liked it.
    She remembered, years ago in training with her grandfather, he had taught her a strange thing, completely different from the normal training he put her through. He had taught her to trust her nose- to take in the scents around her and feel the air expand her lungs. Ever since he had died, she remembered one thing he had said better than the rest.
    "Take in the air of the battlefield. Breathe the battlefield in, and you'll know how to use it." He had said. "And tie up your hair properly." She had laughed at that, as usual.
    So she took in Littleroot, feeling the taste of nature. Greenery had a refreshing smell, and it filled her nose in gentle cold stabs. The grass and the wooden houses smelt almost the same. Usually she would listen as well, but there was nothing to hear anymore. Littleroot's Pokémon habitation had disappeared. The wild grass was simply grass, nothing more, nothing less. For the past few days, they had heard nothing at night apart from their own breathing.
    So Flannery perked up the moment she heard a twig snap in the wall of trees around the town. She breathed in deeply, and her eyes widened. She could smell it in the air, and hear it from the trees- a soft sound of movement. There was something else too- something she had grown accustomed to listening for in the murky darkness of the Fiery Path- Pokémon breathing. She heard it and looked up at the wall, and quickly got to her feet as softly as possible, running for the house. She had seen two black bodies rapidly move between two trees- and she could have sworn she had seen a bright orange eye, an eye she had seen many times before. She had to warn the other before the Houndoom decided to attack.


    The ring of fire on the steel was somewhat enchanting to look at. It glowed like some godly wreath. Ash backed away to avoid the searing heat from the horizontal pillar of flame shooting out of Charizard's jaws. The white hot flame almost blinded him, but he couldn't take his eyes off it. Behind him, the knocked out figures of Dark Apostles guards stirred slightly. Ash smiled to himself- they couldn't understand how Ash had simply walked through the high-tech security, bold as brass. Within the next few minutes, Absol and Sceptile had knocked them unconscious. A problem transpired when one guard burst out of a bathroom door, and Sceptile and Absol were at the other end of the corridor. The man was still clutching a newspaper and his shoes trailed toilet paper. Ash had grabbed the baton of an unconscious guard from the floor and struck out reflexively, striking the guard on the forehead with enough force to knock him out. It turned out that the batons were made of a rock-hard metal- light but solid.
    The door gave away in cinders of metal. A figure inside the room screamed and backed away as flames licked the floor. Ash heard a familiar voice echo from inside.
    "Are you crazy? ARE YOU CRAZY?"
    He had to admit to himself how he enjoyed those lines, though he had to tell Gary to calm down and keep quiet as Sceptile sliced his shackles off him.
    Without explanation, and with Charizard safely in a Pokéball, Ash pulled Gary up by the hand and helped him get used to being mobile again.
    "My Pokémon. In the lab down the corridor." Was all Gary said.
    Realizing how fragile and exhausted Gary was, Ash instructed Sceptile to grab the brown haired prisoner and whisk him towards the Power Section and their escape route. Ash got onto Absol's back as the white Pokémon galloped toward the end of the corridor. The power was still out, so the door clicked open with a push. The room was small. On one end there was a wall filled with Pokeballs, and beside them a few burlap sacks that had been no doubt used for transport. He realized his assumption had been completely wrong. He saw rows and rows of Pokeballs that were sitting in indents in steel. Names had been inscribed beside each row, and before Ash found Gary Oak's name, he saw several other familiar names. He had to gawk when he read a long name which ended with a scrawled 'Joy 4' and another bright crimson name which read 'Jenny 1 — Sara'. He scanned the names in front of him and realized then how the Dark Apostles had risen so swiftly into ascendance. He recognized almost every name on the list- trainers he had either faced or beaten or accomplices who had assisted him on many counts. If Officer Jennys and Nurse Joys were being put in prison, the Dark Apostle leader most definitely had a solid plan. This man seemed to realize that even without exceptional Pokémon power, the age-old families could reveal the Dark Apostle plan with ease. What this Sven had successfully done was snuff out the problem before it arose. By taking out, one by one, every person strong enough to oppose him, he was left with practically no opponents. It struck Ash that he was extremely lucky he had been hiding in a hole next to Fortree for so long. He would perhaps be rotting in these dank rooms.
    In those few seconds, many thought crossed Ash's mind. The faces of Sara Jenny and Paige Joy, emancipated and exhausted, made him grip the wall tightly.
    Could I do it? I could rescue all of them, right here, right now. Absol, Charizard, Feraligatr. I could rip this place apart, even if I don't know what I'm facing. I should.
    Anguish tore through Ash as he realized that he could but he shouldn't. He would be alerting the Dark Apostles about what he was trying to do, and that didn't help anyone. Till now, no guard would remember Ash's face save for the idiot who stumbled out of the bathroom, and Ash doubted anyone would believe him when he came around. Coming here alone was essentially a stupid decision, and Maxie thought him above stupid decisions, especially when he and his friends had showed such solidarity in front of him. If any guard said they thought they had seen Ash, the claim would definitely be rubbished. They would assume Gary Oak broke out. If Ash did in fact leave only with Gary, then Maxie would wonder why Ash had not played the hero and broken everybody out. That worked for him more than against him. He could be in and out of this place, without making an appearance. He had to look at the bigger picture. If the Apostles realized that Ash truly wished to rescue all these people, and if they understood the affection he truly had for them, they would be used against him. He needed to leave. But he owed them one thing that he knew they would do for him.
    Grabbing a burlap sack from the side of the room, he filled it with Pokeballs, working as fast as he could. When it was full and the room was empty, he got on Absol's back and allowed her to move to the escape site as quick as possible. Absol's speed was overwhelming in full-gallop. The corridor was a blur around him as she ran. A guard peeped out just as Ash turned a corridor, and without thinking, he swung the burlap sack, smashing his face head on. The guard's face had been familiar. Ash chuckled as he realized that the guard from the bathroom just had no luck at all. All he had wanted to do was use the loo, and he ended up being concussed twice.
    The guards at the Power section were just coming to as Ash breezed past, just catching Gary crawling into the tunnel. He recalled Sceptile and Absol and climbed in behind. Egging Gary on, he scampered forward on all fours, disregarding the mud powdering his face. Only ten or so steps later, he realized that the tunnel was caving in. Mud was falling in chunks around them.
    "Faster." He told Gary as calmly as he could.
    "Trying. Little hard when you haven't eaten in days." Came the reply. Ash decided not to try that again, and just tried to be patient as the tunnel began collapsing behind them.
    Only when a whole section collapsed right behind him, narrowly avoiding his feet, did he begin moving much faster, practically pushing Gary forward, who was putting in as much effort as possible. Finally, they tumbled out of the hole and into the ground. Gary collapsed just as the tunnel behind them caved in. After a second to understand just how close a shave they had been through, Ash called out Charizard, not stopping to catch his breath. He had been inside the headquarters for hardly a couple of hours, and the mist had not yet cleared. He had to thank his lucky stars yet again as he realized that the unconscious guard had still not been found. If he had, alarms would be blaring.
    With Gary safe but unconscious on Charizard's back, Ash told Charizard to lift off. With a flap of his massive wings, Charizard propelled himself into the air, just as alarms began blaring from within Mount Pyre. Immediately, Ash could see activity below him. Charizard flapped his wings faster, and soon they left Mount Pyre behind them. None pursued them. Ash sat back and sighed.
    That was the most successful plan I've ever made.
    He laughed out into the air, his breath coming out as steam. From in front, Charizard eyed him warily, perhaps fearing his trainer had gone mad within the hour. Gary slept peacefully, unaware of the fact that they were thousands of feet into the air and on their way to safety. He only awoke about eight hours later, when they were much closer to Littleroot. Charizard had flown a huge distance in a short time, flying twice as fast as he had when journeying to Pyre. Perhaps the Pokémon could sense Ash's urgency.
    They stopped to pluck fruits- a basic meal on Charizard's back. They slumbered the next day, taking shifts, until night began to fall. Charizard's wings began flapping almost casually, and Ash could feel the difficulty his Pokémon had in breathing. He began to egg Charizard on, though he felt guilty for it.
    When they descended below the clouds on an exhausted Charizard, Ash perked up. Night had fallen a long time ago, and yet there were lights on in Littleroot. Significantly, there were lights on the house Ash knew was May's. As Charizard glided closer, Ash could make out the figures frantically moving inside the house to be Flannery May and Brock. All of a sudden, the night was filled with sound. Charizard touched down, and Gary slid off him, stopping in the grass to catch himself.
    In those moments, he seemed to understand what was going on. Mind already alert, Ash could see that the darkness of the forest ahead of him was no illusion. Even in dim moonlight, Littleroot was quite easy to move around in, and the trees were placed far enough from each other with small enough canopies for moonlight to penetrate in. But today, everything just seemed very dark. Ash looked around, and realized the darkness was a circle, spanning the small town of Littleroot. Suddenly, a spurt of flame caught his eye, and it didn't come from his Charizard. His hand was on Feraligatr's Pokéball when the Houndoom opened their jaws to let loose flames that sped on the grass, straight towards the center of Littleroot.
    The others had joined in by then, watching the flames rise in the forest. White gleams of light everywhere told Ash that everybody had released their Pokémon. He realized they needed a plan of action, right here right now.
    "Brock, you and May fight the fire, don't let it reach the houses. Flannery and I will take the Houndoom." He said quickly, and everyone nodded.
    Absol and a newly evolved Typhlosion raced into the forest, taking down Houndoom with a complete disregard for mercy. Absol's fur was crackling with dark, furious energy, and flames paled in her presence. Typhlosion had clearly been training, for it held its own without using flames. Ash could see Flannery trained this Pokémon- it had a great sense of balance but still some fantastic speed. Ash made Feraligatr do nothing but Hydro Pump the trees, to scare the Houndoom out into the enclosure and at the same time extinguish the flames.
    It was doing no good. A house in Littleroot took flame, but thankfully the occupants had been evacuated. Another began blazing as a Houndoom threw flame straight into the windows. Ash was on the verge of giving up. Feraligatr was exhausted and Brock and May could do no more. Ash was about to push for one last attack when the most frightening sound ripped through the air. It was a familiar sound, one he had been trained to run away from, fly away from, hide from. The roar tore through again, and his ears felt like exploding. At that moment Ash sank down to his knees. It was over. Were the Dark Apostles this powerful? This was impossible, this whole thing.
    Too ambitious...No chance we can take this monster.
    The moonlight gleamed brightly upon the massive, sprawling, towering body of a Gyarados before it roared again, throwing back its huge head and jaws that could swallow Littleroot in several bites. Exhaustion had Ash immobile as the sound of roaring flames filled his mind as Gyarados advanced, crashing through the trees. He didn't even react at first when he heard a familiar voice from afar, but he couldn't make out what it was saying. The Gyarados opened its huge jaw. Ash felt Flannery next to him, her fingers interlocked in his, her face in his neck to avoid witnessing their last moments. He thought that the last sensation he would feel before death was Flannery beside him and he didn't think that was bad at all. With an arm wrapped around her waist, he prepared himself for death as she hugged him tightly, just as Gyarados let loose a torrent of water into the trees around Littleroot.

  8. flyinghorizons

    flyinghorizons Bug Catcher

    Nov 2, 2014

    Ash could understand emotions, many of them at one time, it didn't matter. Fear had always been a routine feeling for him- a threat to his life or Pokémon, or perhaps his friends, not necessarily in that order. What followed this fear was usually a rescue, a change, a sudden spurt of bravery within him. When he felt the fear he felt just now, an attack would follow. Simply put, psychologically proved, two things are associated with each other, a stimulus and a reaction. When he heard the guttural roar of the Gyarados, he expected things like imminent death, being swallowed whole, losing his hold on this life completely.
    But when a heavy shower of water droplets trickled onto him from above, he had no idea what to think. As he looked up, the surge of steam of into the air blinded him. He tried to look beyond it, and found a silhouette, a massive erect pillar that seemed to be trembling. As he watched, this pillar raised its body into the air and shot water vertically upwards, only for it to collapse down to the earth of Littleroot in a gentle shower. The volume of water was enough to put out the flames though, and now smoke rose steadily into the sky.
    The steam cleared up and Ash could see his friends huddled together from afar. No one moved. A deep rumble filled the air, and he turned warily towards the Gyarados. It began lowering its massive head. Ash felt so disgustingly helpless at that moment, as the fangs came closer, and that all-enclosing mouth with it. Only when he noticed the figure standing atop it did he stand, quickly and suddenly. Misty climbed down Gyarados' neck and rejoined them on solid ground, exhaling as she stretched her legs. By this time, the rest of the group had joined him, along with Professor Oak and Birch. All with dumbfounded expressions, they watched Misty awkwardly as she walked towards them. The whole group jumped when a sound exploded into the air- Ash's laughter.
    He had seen too much by now to be surprised. He had just returned from the frightening colossal mess that was Mount Pyre, and he was tired and hungry, not to mention utterly tense at their situation. And he knew Misty, clearly better than anyone over here. He now understood everything. Her spaced out expressions while watching the rest of the group discuss things, her isolation at times, and now this. From the moment he had met Misty, it was clear she was a girl trying desperately to live up to expectations. Then, it was to match up to the level of her sisters in both beauty and power. After departing Cerulean city, her priority became outdoing Ash and his Pikachu in battle, and raising better Pokémon than Brock. Through the years, he had never thought of her as his rival, and he probably never would. She had become a different girl now, though. Ash could see it in her eyes. There was no sheepishness, no confusion in her eyes as she stepped off that Gyarados. The determined spark in her eyes betrayed no other emotion. Ash could tell that she had had enough of lagging behind. Training a Gyarados was no walk in the park; he knew that firsthand. But training one with this little time...That was incredulous to even think of.
    Another laugh filled the air as Misty joined him at poking fun at the entire situation. The rest of them watched aghast, wondering who had gone crazy here, before one by one, they followed suit. It was quite a sight to behold, no doubt. The citizens of Littleroot, blackened by soot and filthy, just watched as their rescuers laughed themselves breathless. Above them towered a massive Gyarados, and around them lay the broken mess that was Littleroot. Smoke rose into the sky slowly, and the Gyarados' big eyes trailed the black swirls.
    The laughter had been a simple excuse then, an excuse to not look at the wreckage. Ash could not imagine how May and Professor Birch felt at that moment, so terribly close to watching their home get reduced to cinders. They would have fallen apart just like the burning wood.
    Once Gyarados had taken care of the rest of the fires, Misty returned him to his Pokéball. A certain level of happiness filled Ash now that everyone was safe and sound, but he couldn't shake the smell of burning wood out of his nose. He wanted to begin a process of repair and restoration then and there, but the residents of Littleroot would not have it. They pressurized the group to go back into one of the few houses untouched by flame to sleep. It was then that Ash and the group realized that May and Professor Birch's house had been almost reduced to nothing as well- the fire had sparked on the roof, but thankfully, it had not caved in. The house that the Littleroot residents cleared for them was simple shed, which transformed into a large floor surface once cleaned. Repair could wait for the morning. That turned out to be a lovely suggestion, because Ash was sleeping on his feet, and Gary was incapable of movement, sitting on the grass. It seemed that Gary had watched the events unfold around him while sitting there the whole while, in a daze. Brock and Ash helped him inside the house, away from the destruction outside. Sleeping bags, pillows, and sheets were tossed onto the ground.
    Once the entire group lay curled in sleeping bags and sheets upon the floor, Ash found that his drowsiness had dissipated. Thoughts of recent activities filled his brain, and he had a sudden urge to let it out so he could feel better. He felt like a little boy with a terrible secret, one he must tell out loud unless it swallows him whole. He sat up, leaning against the wall, found that Gary, who could not move but was still propped up against the wall and staring at the ceiling. Ash observed his old counterpart carefully, noticing, even in the darkness, the major signs of fatigue. From the beginning of their Pokémon journeys, Gary had always been the good looking one, the handsome one, the suave and classy one. With his flowing brown hair and confident smirk, Ash had not matched up, not when he looked brooding and unkempt with his black ruffian hair. But now, Gary seemed to have lost that youth-like charm he had years ago. Imprisonment had made him look many years older. The dark circles under his eyes were in stark contrast to how pale he looked already. Every breath he took seemed to be difficulty. Ash realized that any sudden movements and departures from Littleroot would only hurt Gary. Either way, Ash contented himself by concluding that the Dark Apostles would not attack Littleroot again, not after this.
    Gary made eye contact just then, and Ash could only stare back. Neither of them smiled. Was Gary angry with Ash for taking so long to rescue him? His eyes betrayed no emotion. Suddenly the brown haired boy broke into a smile, chuckling, and then grabbing hold of his ribs as the laughs wracked his body, causing pain. Ash could not help but smile in return.
    "I guess I have to say it. You're never catching me do this again...but thanks, man. Thought I'd never get out of that place." Gary said, running his hands through his hair.
    Ash laughed to himself. Honestly, he felt an immense amount of satisfaction in those words. Gary Oak showing any sort of vulnerability was something you held onto forever. In all these years, Gary had never said thank you.
    "Do you want to talk about it? What happened in there?"
    Ash had dropped that question with the intention of getting it over with. He needed to know, and Gary needed to tell him. Ash was now the little boy who needed to know and understand. He wanted to hear this so he could ascertain the Dark Apostles' ambition and drive. He wanted to hear this to make sure of Gary being alright. Most importantly, he wanted to hear this so his doubts would be erased and he could begin plotting the takedown of this disgusting organization that dared put skilled trainers, nurses, and officers of the law in prison.
    "First tell me what you know. Of them, the Apostles, and Sven."
    "Honestly? I know they're dangerous. I know they're recent and we can stop them. And I have some idea about what they're trying to do..." Ash's sentence trailed off. He had much more to say, but for some reason he could not find the words. He didn't want to say what he knew- that would mean acknowledging it, and he couldn't do that. He restarted, finding the right sentences, explaining everything right from the beginning. He went from his self-made isolated imprisonment to his decision to rescue Gary, stopping to elaborate on intricate details like the Law Stone and the existence of the Pokémon soul. Gary did not react visibly to anything until the mention of the Law Stone. When he heard what Professor Birch had told the group, he exhaled and looked up, confused and surprised expressions flashing across his face, until they melted into a face that Ash recoiled from- one of defeat. Had Gary given up already?
    "Don't look at me like that. I'm fine, it's just a bit overwhelming to think of, but somehow it all makes perfect sense."
    "Perfect sense? In what way? Did you hear something from inside Mount Pyre?" The questions came hard and fast, and Gary had nothing to say. With a wave of his hand, he stopped Ash midway.
    "It makes perfect sense because I knew only bits and pieces of everything. The first few days, I couldn't understand what they wanted, until that...guy came to me. Sven." Gary shook his head rapidly from side to side as a shudder went through his body.
    "I had thought, from the beginning, that this was just like any other big shot organizations. Trying to recruit the most powerful trainers, all that jazz. Then I realized who he had already got, and I thought I'd be let go. Maxie, Archie, the list didn't stop there. All the big names, Ash, all of them, they work for him now. I wondered why he was so greedy for more power when he already had this much. But now I realize that if he's trying to do this...he probably does need all the power he can get. No interference. No distractions. That's the way he thinks. Ash, this guy...he's no ordinary power hungry moron like the rest of them. He has an agenda and it's the most frightening of all agendas. He's got all bases covered. Everything taken care of."
    "Not everything, he couldn't stop me rescuing you, did he?" Ash said.
    "I don't think he cared. All credit to you, and yeah, thanks, but after this much time, I made it pretty obvious I didn't intend on working for him. If I was still a big deal he would have kept me in the special cells underground."
    "If you were still a big deal he would've kept your Pokémon hidden better. You're right." Ash said, tossing the Pokeballs he had taken out from the sack just minutes ago in the dark. Gary cradled them in his arms, smelling them, feeling the surface with relish.
    "But tell me one thing. Who exactly is this Sven?" Ash asked.
    "A Ranger."
    "A Ranger." Gary said again.
    Ash could not see what had gone wrong. A Ranger was more in tune to nature than a trainer- a Ranger understood Pokémon better than anyone. Why would a Ranger turn on nature itself? Gary knew what Ash was thinking.
    "Too much of nature." He said. "He told me lived among the natural ecology so much that it got to him, and he wanted a ...change of scenery. I didn't realize he intended on doing something so crazy, but if he means to control Pokémon souls, then this is no Team Aqua or Magma rubbish, this is the biggest deal of all. And the thing is, I can believe you. I can believe that he'd think of doing this. He's scary, Ash, real scary. Scared the hell out of me the first time I met him. I was just lucky he didn't start torturing me because he thought I'd come around and kiss his feet. If you hadn't come, I'm sure I would be in a worse state right now."
    The thought of a tortured Gary in that room made Ash sigh at how smart the decision to leave was. Thinking now, if he hadn't gone on alone, the Houndoom would've kept the entire group stuck at Littleroot without a hope of rescuing Gary.
    "But I did hear snatches of a Law Stone and a few other things. Weird names I couldn't make sense of. There was a Moral Disk. I heard a guard say something like that to another- that they had found the 'Moral Disk' somewhere buried underneath Rustboro. I didn't listen after that, thought I was going mad, hearing things. But I know Sven made one mistake, if anything."
    "And what's that?"
    Gary's voice lowered into a whisper. Ash could've sworn he saw Brock and Flannery shift in their sleep, undoubtedly listening hard.
    "He told me a bit of his plan. He really thought he could convince me to join up, so he told me a bit. And Ash, it really doesn't sound good."
    "I think I've heard enough, Gary. From everyone. I've seen enough. I don't think anything can make it worse than it is."
    "No, to me, at first it sounded like gibberish, because he left so many gaps in what he told me. He never told me about the souls or the stones. He didn't tell me anything, but he made a few things pretty clear. He's making something, for one."
    "Making something? Making what."
    "How am I supposed to know? You're the one with the surreal knowledge! Something. He's doing all this for a reason, and that reason is to make something. From what you know and what I know, maybe we can...infer that he's using Pokémon souls to create something?"
    The thought had not crossed Ash, he was ashamed to internally admit. He had been so befuddled with all the various things happening around him that he had not thought of the possibility. He had assumed that the Apostles were simply finding ways to make Pokémon several times more powerful, and that suspicion of his was confirmed when he witnessed the abnormal destruction created by the Houndoom. After everything he had been through, this thought knocked everything else out of the park. He had seen crazy men turn meek and sweet Pokémon into vicious beasts. What frightened Ash was that someone could think past that. It was certainly the height of greed and evil when you tried to find something more dangerous than manipulating a Pokémon soul to make it abundantly more powerful.
    "We need to leave this place unless we want it destroyed. We can't endanger people's lives anymore. Tomorrow afternoon." Ash said, saying it to Gary but directing it more to himself. Gary looked at him.
    "Yeah. It's about time we made our move."
  9. flyinghorizons

    flyinghorizons Bug Catcher

    Nov 2, 2014

    "I don't see why we can't just do it now."
    "Because we can't!"
    "Why not?"
    "Because we CAN'T. It isn't possible."
    "Have you tried? If we don't try we'll never know."
    "If it doesn't work, you think we get another chance? We don't, in case you didn't realize. If we storm Pyre and lose, we die or get imprisoned. You don't seem to understand this situation. We're the only thing standing between Sven and everything he wants. I'd bet my life that he's captured or killed ninety nine percent of all the powerful trainers and rangers in the world, let alone Hoenn. We're alone here, and charging in like Tauros would be mindless and stupid."
    The silence that followed these words led Ash to believe that he was completely correct. He detested being right, though. He wanted to charge in like Tauros, he wanted to be a hero at this moment, to rescue Jenny and Joy and whoever else was in the clutches of the Apostles. In fact, he would have done exactly that, or tried to, years ago. He would have simply jumped into the eye of the storm with Pikachu, no one else. It seemed just yesterday that Pikachu and he turned every direction and found themselves in trouble, only to shock and electrocute everyone in their path. But now...Pikachu was gone, and Ash was sensible.
    Misty had proved to be the most difficult in the group to argue with. Ash found that somewhat funny, because he would point a finger at Gary when asked who the most argumentative was. The difference between Gary and Misty was that while Gary argued, he had a point. He knew what he was talking about, most of the time. Misty on the other hand, did not think. She voiced her thoughtless opinions loud enough for the entire region to hear, and she didn't back down even when she knew she was out of her depth. Her incident with Gyarados had given her a massive surge of confidence. While Ash appreciated her newfound self-belief, he thoroughly disliked this side of her. She seemed to think that their little party could take on the Dark Apostles. She had not seen Pyre like Ash had, she had not been imprisoned within it like Gary had, but she just 'knew' they could win this battle. Ash had to remind her that Pyre was no longer a mass grave- it was simply a fortress, and the Dark Apostles an army. The more that Ash thought about it, the more he thought that Sven had turned a blind eye on his escapade on purpose. Perhaps the man was so powerful and confident of himself that he was up for more of a challenge. It made Ash tense to just think about that. These thoughts brought him to a state of mind where he found it terribly difficult to have nonsensical arguments with people like Misty. So when she started again, he had been fully prepared to bellow at her as loud as her Gyarados had at him.
    "But if you had some self-" she began.
    "That's enough." Ash looked up, surprised, at Flannery who was sitting by the flames, stoking it with a long stick. Flannery continued.
    "There is no point talking about this. We are not strong enough. Even if there was a possibility, it isn't a risk we can take now. Ash knows what he's talking about, he's the one that went to Mount Pyre, not any of us, Misty. In the event of us waiting and allowing Sven to get even stronger, that is a risk we'll have to take, because that gives us time to get stronger too. We're not ready. We don't know enough. I understand how impatient you are, but trust me, this is the wrong time."
    "How are you so sure?" Misty asked, skeptical.
    "I've lived my life being on fire, Misty. I've done stupid things, charging in all the time, all my life. I know when it's going to end badly by now." Misty left the argument at that, and Ash had some solace again.
    Solace. It's been so long since I've had that.

    Ash stared at the fire and let his mind wander. They had traveled quite a bit in a single day. Leaving that morning had been more difficult than expected. May was visible shaken; the thought that they would possibly not see the cozy little town again had crossed her mind many times before. Ash sympathized- he had not seen Pallet in so long, and the thought of it being burnt to cinders left him very hollow inside. He walked well behind the group, with Flannery beside him. He felt comforted by her presence- she seemed to understand that he didn't really feel like he had a conversation in him. Gary perhaps felt the same way; he walked in front of all of them. But that might have been his insecure feelings of walking in broad daylight when the Dark Apostles could come out of nowhere. Some of Ash's own insecurities remained, but on his mind right now was the long conversation he and Gary had had with Professor Birch before they left.
    "It may seem like you have time, but you don't, simply put." Birch had said, while Professor Oak leant against the wall of the room with his head bowed. The two Professors looked to be scientists that had discovered something so horrifying that even mankind did not have the right to know about it. But yet, they were spilling the beans to Ash and Gary. Oak, who usually stayed quiet, spoke up then, startling Ash.
    "Gary, Birch and I used to be like you two. At one point of time, we could have roamed the world on our Pokémon making sure things weren't tumbling down, and no organization could do what Team Aqua or Magma or the Apostles is doing right now. The time and the energy have disappeared for us now, and we can't. The only thing we can do is to impart knowledge and give you two a certain amount of awareness regarding the situation. But I also know that at this time, I didn't want to listen to any old man rave about safeties and solutions, I wanted to do it myself. I can understand that. Birch and I can understand if you don't want to listen. Do you know what I am saying?"
    Gary remained silent, taking in what his grandfather said. The seriousness of the tone and words had made him bow down his head to look directly at the floor. He looked up at his grandfather and simply nodded, but it seemed like he could not find any words to say.
    "We want to listen. We won't get far without you two behind us, honestly. I wish I could do this on my own but I can't. Gary and I can't. We need our friends, we need our Professors, our advisors. You're the ones who told me about the Law Stone in the first place, and you're the ones who confirmed everything to me. I wouldn't have got here if not for you. Listening was the smartest thing I've done so far, and I'd like to keep it that way, respectfully." Ash said swiftly, finding the words easily simply because this had been in his mind for quite a while.
    "I feel the same way." Gary managed to say finally. "I made the biggest mistakes in my Pokémon journeys only when I forgot what you two had told me. I'm not making it again. And either way, I've got no choice in the matter. I'm not in charge. Ash is. If he wants to listen, I want to listen. But I do want to listen."
    The open recognition of Ash's leadership was something Gary had never done. As an endless rivalry they went through, the two seemed to be very clear about complimenting each other rarely. Ash had never seen it as a problem, but Gary had always made sure that he had an opportunity to point and laugh at Ash, or kick him when he was down. There was never any real friendship or recognition from either one of them. Gary had put himself on his own terribly high pedestal, refusing to believe Ash belonged on the same plane let alone height. Any probes at friendship Ash had made had merely resulted in more pointing and laughing. Yet here was Gary Oak accepting the fact that Ash was in charge, that Ash knew more, that Ash was the leader. It felt satisfying, gratifying, powerful, strengthening, and superior. But months of living on his own made Ash understand what those feeling lead up to, and it was never a good destination. If Gary could accept Ash's strength, Ash needed to realize his rival, no, friend's huge reserves of power as well. The truth of the matter was that a long time ago, Ash and Gary had been on the same wavelength of power, but somehow, Ash lost out because of his own way of doing things and Gary had prospered. It became a cycle- Ash's superiority, Gary's superiority, and the cycle went on and on. There was no backing down from either one. If the past five years of his life had taught him anything it was to accept that Gary Oak could turn the tide. At first, that had given him his own set of complexes because he had started to feel weak and unimportant in the face of Gary Oak. But Ash had realized in the past few months that he was no background dancer, he was no pawn on the chessboard. He was a leader and a power player, but now he realized he couldn't do it all on his own.
    "We're in charge." Ash simply said, patting Gary's shoulder. "Go on, Professor."
    Professor Oak smiled. Ash then wondered if this had been the plan all along- to make sure he and Gary were united before they set off.
    "Good. Good. Now there are several things we'd like to bring to your notice. Firstly, the Law Stone. You remember Maxie clearly making it obvious that there is another piece? Well, there are two. I suspect that Sven has one, and he believes the set is complete."
    Ash leaned forward eagerly, almost laughing. Honestly, he had not expected good news.
    "There is a third piece, then. And Sven won't be looking for it. This is brilliant."
    "Yes, indeed it is, indeed it is. But you need to find it before he realizes. He can try to begin whatever he is trying to do, but once it fails, he'll realize he doesn't have all the necessary pieces to play his move. Which will mean he comes straight for us because he knows we know more than all his scientists put together. This is the first thing." Professor Oak concluded and sat, taking a deep breath as Birch stood to continue.
    "I did some research into Mount Pyre while Oak studied the Law Stone and its properties. I was curious, to be honest, about why the Apostles had chosen the graveyard of dead Pokémon to be their headquarters. Forget the souls, forget the concept altogether- it is well known that Pyre is the most unstable of all mountains in Hoenn. Chimney is the only solid option considering its powerful structure and many caves. On the other hand, Pyre is so riddled with holes and is so dug up by the Pokémon that live in its foundations that it can cave in at any time. I even vaguely recall speaking to a friend of mine in infrastructure who told me that the Hoenn Government was attempting to construct a new facility for dead Pokémon because Pyre was becoming a dangerous option. And by dangerous, I don't just refer to the foundations. There's another thing that Sven had and has no chance of knowing unless we tell him directly. You can only know this if, like me, you lived in Hoenn all your life. Pyre is dangerous because it is infested with the worst sort of thing possible. People called it haunted, dismissing it off because everyone already knew that there'd obviously be ghosts in a graveyard. But the thing is, over the many decades of exploration and adventuring under Pyre, no one seems to find any conclusive results.
    "People disappear when they go under the mountain. The stories became legends and things close to myths, they became...long winded and exaggerated. People presupposed that some strange monster lived within Pyre, that it was the amalgamation of all the ghosts put together. Stories took the casual power of a Gengar, combined it with the rage of a Gyarados, the tactical genius of a Gardevoir, the speed and agility of a Scizor, and the raw evil of Mewtwo, and to top it all off, the sinister abilities of a Gorebyss. So by the time it began truly spreading through word of mouth, everyone just thought that there was a two hundred foot ghost slash dragon slash fire slash psychic slash darkness type monster biding time underneath Mount Pyre. Personally, I thought so too, and it scared the living hell out of me. At one point of time, I refused to research too deeply into Pyre. But now, I'm glad I did that small amount. Frankly put, I believe this monster exists, but not in that exaggerated form. So far so good, in the past few decades, the monster hasn't ventured out of its refuge- that or it's trapped. But...we think that with all the tampering with souls that the Apostles are engaging in, it might be getting restless. A report came in several months ago of a room of crumbling gravestones on Pyre- I doubt that's just simple decay. I have a feeling Sven is biting off a lot more than he can chew, and he has no idea. You see, Oak and I...Oak and I think that this monster is built out of...well it's a bit farfetched really, but out of Pokémon souls."
    Ash did not think it was farfetched. He thought it was extremely possible, what with all the things he had seen and heard in the past few weeks. If anything, he regarded this piece of information with awe and an overwhelming fear, because going through his head was another bit of information- and Gary seemed to be thinking the same thing.
    "Souls of dead Pokémon. All the dead Pokémon buried there." Was all he said.
  10. flyinghorizons

    flyinghorizons Bug Catcher

    Nov 2, 2014

    If he lived a lucky life so far, things had taken quite a turn now, Sven thought to himself as he stared at the map in his hands. But had he lived a single life? The way things had been going, he had lived two. The first life had been pretty, delicate, lovely, filled with the beauty of the world of Pokémon. Now, the call of the trees and fluttering wings did nothing for him, brought him no calm or inner peace. The call of power and death appealed to him, the thought of marking his name so deeply into the books of history, those things called to him.
    The vast expanse of Mount Pyre loomed over him, a mountain that he had in his grasp. After the things he had found out, he had pinpointed this musty mountain to be his headquarters, but there was more than just stone about it. He knew that when he moved in and excavated and constructed it into the base it was now. There was a deep dark mystery about it that he hoped to uncover. He had arrived clueless at its scary characteristics, and for the first four months, he thought he had made a major mistake in coming here. He had found Pyre's endless graveyards to be nothing- nothing at all. There was nothing mystical, there were no souls erupting out of the earth, no impressive Pokémon apart from the already inhabiting ghosts- it was just a very dead and desolate place to be. This emptiness told him only one thing- that the souls were going somewhere. He had to find them somehow, before it was too late. He had been but a hopeless child and budding ranger when Giovanni had unleashed Mewtwo on the Pokémon world, but even then, he had seen through the glaring mistakes the Rocket Leader had made.
    The world had come full circle now, and things had changed. Pokémon were different, battles were different, and most of all, trainers were different. Being a ranger had allowed him to observe many things from the background, things that gave him a better grasp of his surroundings and abilities. For one thing, his convincing powers had become an ability in itself- Maxie and Archie had just salivated at the thought of working for him once they heard his plan. And that was because his plan had no faults, no flaws, no holes. He just needed to start the process, and get the ball rolling.


    The plan outlined by Professor Oak and Birch had sounded easy and relatively short to perform in the given amount of time. Travelling through the wilderness, taking detours around small towns, and flying and surfing to make good time had now left them exhausted and hungry on the doorstep of Lilycove City. They needed to stop to resupply, before the sun set completely.
    The moment Ash and his friends had stepped into Lilycove City, they knew something was wrong. Heads turned at them, and while at first Ash assumed it was because of their unhygienic state and ragged clothing, he realized later that everyone looked at him like they knew him. In fact, they seemed to know everyone. Flannery, sticking close to him, literally shuddered at the looks people gave her. Finally, they rounded a corner and stepped into a dark alley between two houses, hoping to find refuge from the dark looks. They huddled over there, unseen finally.
    "They know us, how do they know us?" came a hissing whisper from Misty.
    "Everyone calm down, there must be an explanation for this. I'm sure-" Brock began, attempting to reduce anxiety.
    "They're looking at us like we're criminals." Flannery stated blankly.
    "Because you are, unfortunately."
    Everyone whipped around at the same time, hands going to Pokeballs, and Gary went straight to fists, grabbing the newcomer by the shoulders and tugging him into their little circle. Ash's eyes widened when he saw the ruffled green hair covering the newcomer's forehead, and his calm brown eyes.
    "Ash." Wally nodded, smiling playfully, extending a hand to shake. "It's been a long time since I've seen your face. Gardevoir still misses you, you know."
    "Guys, relax." Ash had to say before Gary backed off, still suspiciously glaring at Wally. "He's an old friend."
    In the dim light, Wally looked like a shadow with a green mop on his head, though less humorously than Ash imagined. He was shorter than Ash and Gary, and was younger by a year or two, if Ash recalled correctly. He wore a pair of skinny blue jeans and a spotless white shirt with the top left unbuttoned.
    "No talking here. Follow me." He said, turning around and walking out into the road now lit by streetlights. They formed a strange sight, a group of raggedy travelers following a clean and classy looking young man through the city.
    The massive sprawl of Lilycove was revealed to them very slightly as Wally led them to a small house beside the expanse of the sea. After consciously looking around here and there, he took out a key and let them in. Once within, he locked the door behind him and heaved a sigh of relief.
    "Are you crazy?" he demanded of them. "Just walking in here like bloody tourists?"
    The sudden rise in intensity shocked Ash. He just stood there, dumbfounded.
    "If this was the middle of the day the hoods would have shot you the moment you walked in!" Wally went on.
    "The what would shoot who?" asked Gary, frowning.
    "That's what we call them." Wally explained, using his hands to make his point. "The Apostle Police."
    "The what?!" Now Ash was the incredulous one.
    Wally tossed a newspaper across the room at Ash. Pictures of him and the rest of the group glared at him with an overhead text bearing the words: "If seen report to the Apostle Police." Below, another line read "Help your government and your government helps you." Ash collapsed onto the nearest sofa and looked at Wally.
    Wally motioned for everyone to find a seat, and they did, on sofas and chairs, the kitchen counter, and on the floor next to the door. Wally busied himself putting the kettle on the stove and pulling out tea leaves and sugar as he talked. Ash noticed many little differences in the Wally he had met years ago and the older and pleasantly surprising Wally he was looking at now. His green hair had grown out slightly, but its all-over-the-place appearance did not give off a messy impression, in fact, it looked quite sophisticated. Wally was lean but not very tall, and he seemed to be fit and healthy.
    "A lot of things have changed around here, Ash. You remember what Lilycove looked like when you first came here? I remember what it looked like for me. Fresh fruits everywhere, the smell of the salt in the sea, the friendly people, the huge mall with its many floors, it was paradise. In fact, I remember years ago when I flew into Hoenn that every city and town seemed like paradise. Living in Verdanturf carries one of the best memories for me. But things...things are a bit different now."
    "Different how?" asked Ash.
    "The government. You saw the newspaper. The authority that the Pokémon Champion and the Elite Four had is gone, as far as I can see. You see, the governments of our lovely regions has never been questioned or rebelled against simply because in a society like ours, we don't really go through much enforcement and things along those lines, right? There's never been someone to challenge for power. But now someone has, and not even the Champion could do much about it."
    "You're really telling me that the Dark Apostles beat the Elite Four and the Hoenn Champion?" Ash was in a mind of his own, a mind of fear now.
    "No, relax. That's what I was coming to. They didn't need to."
    "Then how are they calling themselves the government?" Flannery spoke up, sweeping her red hair out of her forehead.
    "Because they can. Money talks, and this Sven has a lot of it. He's taken every trade route, every seaport, and every tax that comes in. There isn't a thing in this region he doesn't own now. The Champion and the Elite Four can't touch him as long as he holds that much power. You know that a Pokémon battle doesn't solve everything. The power he has gives him protection. And...nobody really knows where he is. In fact, Derek and the Elite Four have disappeared too, which is why everybody's so scared of the Apostles. The moment I saw you guys in the papers I knew something was up, so I started talking to people.
    "Nobody knows how the Apostles crept in, they just did. Now the laws have been rewritten, everything's changed. You need a pass and a license for everything, the known trainers abducted, the rangers have apparently gone into hiding, and random people disappearing here and there...It's been terrible." Wally began serving the tea, one by one to everyone.
    Ash thought to himself, very curious. Wally was very well known, as much as he was. He distinctly remembered Gardevoir destroying opponents with a gesture, and Wally's face splashed across several papers for his flamboyant style of battling. How had Sven not coerced Wally into working with him? If Wally had in fact resisted, then wouldn't he be in the same position Ash and the others were in right now? But Ash also remembered Wally to be very quick on his feet and very resourceful. If anyone could hide from a hotshot criminal organization, it was Wally. But this wasn't hiding, not when you had a little cottage by the sea and you walked around unarmed and defenseless. Before he could ask, Wally went on.
    "Sven has his people looking for all of you. We call them hoods because they're always wearing these white cloaks with hoods, and they walk around everywhere watching everyone. The other day an old man named Derek who lived here called them brats when they threw pebbles at him. By the time we got to him, the Houndoom had ripped him to pieces. The people are going crazy here. I don't know how it is in the other cities. We're not allowed to leave."
    "Meaning?" Misty asked.
    "You guys walked in just when there was a shift in the guard. And the Police have been holing up in their office for the past day or two for some reason. Usually, there are five Apostles standing at all exits and entries of the city, not letting anyone in or out. This is outside the group that patrols the city. You can't do anything without permission now. Even walking on the street has to be done carefully. They do everything to make sure we realize who's in charge. I've seen them kill people, kill Pokémon, just to prove that they're in control, not us."
    Wally set his cup of tea aside, completely untouched in the heat of dialogue. He shook his head and shuddered like he was reliving a horrible memory. Ash could not imagine watching Houndoom rip an old man to pieces, nor could he think of Pokémon being killed just to prove a point. Things like that would scar him for life. He realized how deep into the situation Hoenn was. The people of the region were being controlled by a force they could not even think to oppose. Their primary defense, the Elite Four and the Hoenn Champion, had disappeared. It seemed that everyone could see clearly that the most powerful and well known trainers had disappeared as well. Ash did not like to think so boastfully, but he realized that it would be quite impactful to see two household Pokémon trainer names like Ash Ketchum and Gary Oak to be cast off as wanted criminals. He realized that the Hoenn people would have probably balked even more to see Flannery, a Gym Leader, be labeled a criminal as well. Ash bit his lip anxiously just thinking of how his mother would react when her son appeared in the newspaper for multiple counts of murder and trespass, and for being an 'enemy to the government of Hoenn'.
    "Sven's slowly finding his way into everything. Soon, there'll be nothing left to fight him. No one. And you guys are in danger. No trainer escapes him. He either gets you to work for him or he kills you." Wally said this with an air of finality, declaring matter-of-factly that their lives were forfeit.
    "And what about you?" Ash asked suddenly, looking Wally straight in the eye. "How are you safe and walking in the streets without the Apostles accosting you? How are you alive? Or have you agreed to work with Sven and is this a trap? Because how else would you know this much about the organization and its leader?" These thoughts had been spinning around in Ash's mind the moment Wally had begun describing Sven in such descriptive fashion. He hated being suspicious of a good friend, but a good friend could turn bad just as easy as it was to say 'Sven'. Ash's hand went to the first Pokéball at his belt- Absol.
    "The Dark Apostles won't touch me."
    Gary raised his eyebrows. "Really now. And why is that?" He said, rising to his feet. A flash of light spread momentarily and a huge Arcanine covered half of the room, its massive fangs bared at Wally, who did not flinch. Ash prepared himself for a Psychic assault from Gardevoir, but it seemed Wally had no intention of calling her out. All he did was raise his hands in surrender.
    "Because he's my uncle."


    His old bones seemed to creak as Oak walked down the stairs. Or were those the stairs creaking? Who knew these days. Half the time, he just wished the stairs would somehow transform into a slide so he could zoom down without having to use his aching limbs. It was somehow ironic- he had researched so much into the longevity and lives of Pokémon, and yet could do nothing for himself. Birch was a lucky one. He had not breached that terrible title of 'old man' yet. It was a time that was surely coming, but not anytime soon. Oak would probably be dead and gone by then. He did not shudder at the thought of death, not when he had watched the people so close to him escape from the very clutches of black death almost every year of his life. He had been thinking these things lately- of death and its possibilities, of life and its opportunities. With those thoughts he remembered these dark things. Gary's half-dead face had rekindled a long lost memory, from many many years ago, a memory that had come up while he brainstormed in front of the Law Stone. He had just decoded a piece of small writing at the side of the stone tablet that seemed to be sort of a warning to the men and women who chose to dabble in Pokémon souls. The warning went on to state how volatile the soul is when it is out of the creature, and how two souls are not meant to be close to each other. This was in truth almost the very same thing Oak had already read about- how dangerous the use of the Pokémon soul was. But this piece of information triggered two things. Firstly, it triggered the last conversation Birch and he had had with Gary and Ash regarding what perhaps lay under Mount Pyre. He understood now that there was a large possibility of the dead souls of Pyre somehow latching together to create what the Law Stone warned people against. It was a farfetched theory to think of, but he couldn't shake the image of a wild combination of the most dangerous Pokémon bursting out of Mount Pyre with a deep desire to kill everything. That image came to him along with a very disconcerting memory of an incident that had occurred about four years ago.
    Four years ago, things had been very different. Things had been empowering for Oak especially, to see his little ones go forth and conquer the world so greatly. Gary and Ash had conquered the Pokémon world both in their own rights. Gary cared more for the statistics, for the trophies, and he devoted his energy completely to winning battle after battle, tournament after tournament. His strategies were spot on, and his desire was a rage that took him from newspaper headline to newspaper headline. At the same time, Gary faced stiff competition on the newspaper front, with a certain black haired wonder-boy Ash Ketchum stealing the spotlight in very different ways. Ash had wanted Gary's life, no doubt- he had deeply wanted the trophies and the prize money. But sometimes, children didn't know what they truly wanted. Saving Pokémon, conserving the natural ecology of the planet, helping others, that became Ash Ketchum's forte. The first headline he got himself said "Pallet Town Boy Saves Town from Raging Nidoking"- crisp text sitting atop a terrible picture of the hero himself grinning widely under that lopsided cap he used to wear. Ash continued, moving from rescuing Pokémon to capturing criminals. Ash ended up becoming what many a Pokémon trainer refused to become- a sort of a bounty hunter. Though Oak doubted very much Ash planned it in such a way, the young man moved from criminal organization to organization, ripping each to pieces the way a hungry Scyther slashed at prey. The Rockets fell, Magma fell, Aqua fell, and it all happened with the blink of an eye. True, Ash always had a friend with him to help, but he ended up helping more than being on the receiving end of help most of the time.
    Oak had to admit, he wished Gary had been Ash and taken the high road and not the tunnel filled with treasure. But after some thought, he realized that both had been successful in different ways. At the same time, Misty Brock and May were flourishing. Misty became a true water Pokémon master, delving deep into the oceans to learn more and more. Brock turned from a nomadic trainer-breeder to a genius Pokémon breeder and caregiver. May surprised all by turning into a mature young adult with a strong sense of battle spirit. Oak's research on all things Pokémon had been going brilliantly simply because his morale was up, not to mention the discoveries Ash brought to him week after week- it seemed exploring and saving the Pokémon world involved finding plenty of pleasantly surprising artifacts and places. Such were things four years ago. That year began and ended beautifully, but Oak distinctly remembered a week in the calendar that remained with him forever.
    He had made plans to take a trip up north, into an area alien to Hoenn, Johto, or Kanto. New areas fascinated him, and a friend had informed him that there were odd rumors in the air in this one. Chance had it that Ash Ketchum had thought the same, and had flown back to Pallet for it, only to get caught up in Oak's vacation plans. Ash had sounded enthused at the idea, and Oak confessed that a companion would please him greatly. The journey took plenty of time, even with the masterful air services offered from within Kanto. After eighteen hours of flying, the private zeppelin Oak had chartered dropped them off and left.
    Aryon was a desolate place, cold and icy, freezing almost. Oak immediately questioned his informant internally, wondering how any life at all sustained itself in this dead and cold desert. The trees had leaves of cold steel, and the ground was either soft with snow or hard with ice. Ash and he, wrapped tightly, found the lonely farmhouse they had heard of and settled for a night in the warmth of a fire. The next morning, work began, and so did the expedition Oak had planned carefully.
    The journey took them deep into the mountains, through crevices and cracks in the rocks, down sloping ice, and up cliffs they could only climb with the help of Ash's powerful Grovyle. Beyond the mountain, Oak found the icy wonderland he had been told of. Sheets of ice in every direction, going upward and downward and in every side glowed bright white. After making camp temporarily to eat, the pair clambered around Aryon, and Oak took samples of the plants he found, albeit dead and frozen. It was then that Oak discovered that this land had once been thriving, flourishing, and beautiful. If he dug deep enough, he found traces of shockingly green grass. Ash's Charizard flamed away, melting the ice to reveal a big bunch of yellow flowers frozen solid. Once or twice, Pikachu stumbled upon a piece of wood frozen beneath the icy floor. When Oak looked up into the sky, he could not understand how the sun had ever shone over this godforsaken land. Dark black clouds seemed to cover almost every inch of the sky, leaving minutes spaces for light to penetrate.
    Then, suddenly, Oak understood why unfamiliar places could be dangerous. Night was blackest in Aryon, but Ash and Oak had no choice; a blizzard hit while they camped in the open icy field. Bracing themselves from the freezing wind, they pushed forward to the mountain they could faintly see ahead. An hour later, they found themselves in front of a massive cave, whose entrance seemed darker than the night around it. With Charizard melting a path through the snow and illuminating the air with his flames, they had got this far. Now at the entrance to this great cave, Charizard seemed to cower. His flames were weak and flickering in front of this blackness, and Oak's very insides seemed to freeze. Ash on the other hand summoned all his powerful Pokémon out, prepared for anything. Charizard, stronger with companions, stood strong. He blew a torrent of flames into the maw of the cave and the group advanced, six Pokémon, a very old man, and a very young man.
    Oak had felt strong for a moment, with a top class trainer's Pokémon standing beside him, and then the cave lit up, and it wasn't from Charizard's flames. An icy blue had burst forth like a neon light, filling the cave with a mystical light for a few seconds, and then fading back into darkness. In those short seconds, the blue light had flashed Oak's very life to him. The beast that was revealed in the harsh blue light made his heart stop. He grabbed hold of Ash's arm and gripped it tightly, his fingernails digging into the flesh of the younger man. Ash did not feel the pain; in his fear he was numb. There were smaller flashes of light as Ash's Pokémon disappeared inside their Pokeballs. Pikachu did something highly uncharacteristic then: hiding himself in a Pokéball. Oak could understand. The senses of a Pokémon, especially visually, were much better than a human being's. The Pokémon had probably seen the monster properly, and fear had taken them. There was complete silence in the air now, apart from the breathing of the two humans and a thud-thudding that Oak was sure was his rapidly beating heart. The pair stood still for what seemed like ten minutes, and when nothing attacked them out of the darkness, Ash, still shivering in Oak's grasp, began feeling his way around the cave, patting the wall to his sides. The boy squeezed his way through a strange pillar-like structure that Oak had to go around. As Oak circled the pillar, it came to life, erupting in blue flame.
    The navy blue fire gave off waves of cold, waves that seemed to radiate all over the massive cave and bounce back like an echoing sound wave. Another flame ignited, this time sending waves of light from the far end of the cave, which, the light revealed, was absolutely massive. Oak realized in an instant that Rustboro city would fit in this cave. Carved right into the mountain, it rose so high that they could not see the ceiling. But what took Oak's heart was not the size of the cave, not its height, not the cold, and not the spontaneously flaming lanterns. It was the colossal beast staring down at them from the end of the cave. The bright blue eyes were pools that would easily fit several Charizards. A long snout larger than Oak's bedroom was half open, revealing razor sharp teeth at least twelve feet tall. The head was only the beginning; the coiling body of the serpent seemed to coil for an eternity, making turn after turn after turn with a thickness unrivalled. At one glance Oak could see that this beast was at least seven or eight times larger than the largest Gyarados. He understood now why it took an entire mountain to hide it.
    Ash breathed a sigh of relief beside him, and Oak could see why. The serpentine frame in front of them seemed to be carved out of the wall. The snake coiled up horizontally, its skin stuck to the wall. The entire creature was crusted with a layer of ice, and whoever carved it must have been not just a talented man but a man with decade and decades of patience to carve a thing of such monstrous size. Ash and Oak ventured forward tentatively. They walked so slowly at first, but then realized that everything was on a much larger scale within this huge cave- if they intended on getting to the beast at the end of the cave by tonight, they needed to cover more ground in less time. The rest of the cave, empty, echoed the sound of their feet hitting the ground. Finally, they stood in front of this great coiling thing that seemed to be stuck on the wall. The tip of the snout was bent low, and one could look directly into the sapphire blue eye. Oak and Ash simply stood there, marveling at this structure, until it happened suddenly, with not a single warning.
    A deep hum seemed to fill the room, and the cold that emanated from the statue almost froze them solid. All of a sudden the massive blue eye seemed to glow brighter. A dark energy seemed to rise from the very floor of the cave, and the hairs on the back of Oak's neck stood up, and goose bumps prickled all over his skin. He backed away just as the growling began. From the half open huge cavity that the beast's mouth was, the sound leapt out louder than the loudest sound Oak had ever heard. The penetrating noise seemed to make his eardrums scream out in pain, and yet it was just a simple growl. But it was a growl made from the stomach and throat of something so large and so powerful, Oak could not do anything but back away as fast as he could, pulling a pale Ash with him. It did not budge, but the energy continued thrumming around the cave, and the low growl went on and on. As he looked upon the beast for the last time before exiting the cave, he took in the few scary details that had reminded him of this incident in the first place. In that horrific beast he seemed to see the fangs of a Rayquaza, hanging from a jaw that spoke of a Salamence. He seemed to see the eyes of a raging Gyarados frozen in time. In the coils he seemed to see a gigantic Seviper. To top it all off the beast was so big it needed a mountain to hide it. Oak had run out of that cave without a single glance, hoping to never see nor think about the beast again. But now its image could not leave his mind. He dreamt of glowing Pokémon souls, spinning in the air, and finally twisting together to form a massive snake frozen in time, with Rayquaza fangs and Gyarados eyes.
    Back in the confines of his little cottage in Littleroot, Oak twisted in his chair, shaking with fear at a memory of four years ago that seemed to come alive once again.
  11. flyinghorizons

    flyinghorizons Bug Catcher

    Nov 2, 2014

    "Uncle? What. How. Seriously?!" Ash asked, wide-eyed.
    Wally was taken aback at that reaction. He seemed even more taken aback when the rest of the group stayed silent. Flannery was passive, watching Ash. Misty, Brock and May were identical, looking thoughtful but not suspicious. Gary on the other hand surprised Ash. The slight smirk on his face, getting bigger and bigger, was very evident.
    "You're not...angry?" Wally asked, flabbergasted.
    "Shocked, but not...angry." Ash explained.
    "Brilliant." Gary said.
    "Just how is this brilliant, Gary Oak?" asked Misty, scrutinizing the brown haired young man, chortling now.
    "You don't get it, do you?" Gary said, spreading his hands. "We can hit this Sven bastard where it hurts. And we've got inside help now." He began laughing out loud, an absolutely evil expression on his face. When the others joined in the laughter, Wally was nothing short of stunned, but a smile spread on his face very slowly. The fact that the people around him did not suspect him or see him differently for his uncle dawned on him.
    After hearing this piece of news, Ash suddenly felt that the tea in his hands tasted better. While he did not appreciate striking low blows, the time for a moral high ground was over, and Gary was nothing if not on the spot. But Ash had gone through too many trials and met too many people to simply assume that a familial tie meant as much as it seemed. His own father was a story he tried to never remember. Perhaps Wally and Sven were nothing more than uncle and nephew? Perhaps, if Wally turned into a nuisance, Sven would do as he normally did and simply wipe his nephew from the slate? All these and more were possibilities. But then again, Sven was a comprehensive man. He tied up all loose ends, and Wally as a loose end. If Sven could not harm him, this seemed to be a weakness, if a small one. Ash took a sip of the warm tea and let the heat flood his insides.
    "Have you met him? In person?" he asked.
    "More than once." Wally said, leaning on the kitchen counter.
    "What type of person is he?"
    Wally paused, glancing at the faces looking at him.
    "A very good one."
    Ash leaned back and sighed as the room exploded with similar reactions.
    "This isn't a joke-"
    "A good person, sure. And Arcanine can use Hydro Pump."
    "Stop." Ash said. "This is worse than I thought."
    As people had cursed and shouted around him, Wally had kept his gaze transfixed on Ash, who had his eyes closed in thought.
    "I know what you're getting at, Wally." Ash turned to the people behind him. "We've heard things about this guy from everyone. He's a crook, he's a mastermind, he's a Ranger, he has enough contacts to go undersea in a submarine, and now, he's an uncle and a good person."
    "So what is he?" Brock asked, his gruff voice breaking slightly.
    "Dangerous." Gary said. He seemed to realize what Ash was getting at. "What Ash here is trying to point out, is that Sven, whoever he is, is everywhere. He gets what he wants because he's a different person to different people. To us, he is Sven the mastermind criminal, leader of the Dark Apostles. To Wally, he's a loving uncle. I'm guessing he has many identities. I know Captain Stern from Slateport. Six years ago, Stern was made Head of all Undersea Exploration in Hoenn. No one does anything underwater without him knowing, and it is a criminal offense to do anything anyway. Stern would have allowed an enthusiastic undersea explorer to go down, but not a Sven, if you get my drift."
    "And that explains his control over the government." Flannery continued. "I wondered how he just took hold of it so easily. No effort at all, if you think about it. He took on his old identity, of a politician or a man with the region's interests at heart, and once he had the power, he didn't need to hide any longer."
    "That's why he can't do anything to Wally. He has to keep up his appearance as an uncle. If he's come this far, he's come this far on his own financial contacts. For example, I doubt very much he could afford the excavation of Mount Pyre on his own. If he stopped being the uncle Wally loved, there would be others who stopped loving him too, I'm guessing."
    Ash turned to see the speaker, as everyone else did. May sat there frowning at the stunned faces around her.
    "Did she just say something intelligent?" Gary asked.
    Misty leaned over and pressed the back of her hand to May's forehead.
    "She seems alright."
    May let out an odd noise, somewhere between frustration and indignation, causing the entire group to collapse into uncontained laughter.
    Wally's house was cozy, but large enough for a bunch of people to split up into separate pairs and groups. The rest of the day was peaceful, if anything. Wally walked in and out, fetching groceries and so on, while the other occupants of his house simply sat in one place, just enjoying the feeling of being safe and secure. The irony was that a few steps outside the door meant they would be shot at and arrested.
    May was sound asleep on the soft sofa, and Misty sat on the floor beside her, reading a small book she had found in Wally's library. Brock was in a world of his own, making full use of Wally's extensive kitchen supplies, unable to hear anything through the music blaring through his earphones. At the far end of the house sat Ash, Wally, Gary, and Flannery, in deep conversation. Amid the tranquility and happiness pervading the room, this group of four conversed about nothing happy.
    "-Things are just more difficult now." Gary was saying.
    "You mean to go on with this?" Wally demanded, his voice a furious whisper.
    "We can't just roll over and die without trying." said Flannery, twirling a strand of her flaming hair.
    "We're not rolling over, and we're not dying, and we are going on with this, but just in a better and smarter way." Ash said.
    "We have a strong team with us, that makes things better." Gary said, shrugging.
    "No." Wally said, looking at Ash, making Flannery and Gary frown. "There's a difference between 'strong' team and 'big' team. You guys have a big team. Ash, be honest. What do you think of the people in this room?"
    Ash looked around. Misty had joined May in slumber, her book lying unused and open on the floor. Brock continued his kitchen work, ignorant to any sound but his music.
    "Misty is powerful, very powerful, as a trainer I'd put her just a few levels before where I'd put Gary. But she's not steady, she flares up easily, and she doesn't really think before doing something, however important it is. Her feet aren't on the ground, that's for sure."
    Wally and Gary nodded in unison.
    "What about Brock?"
    "Thinks too much about pointless things, can't rely on him in the heat of battle. But he's smart, and calm most of the time. He'll keep the ship steady."
    "Not powerful enough as a trainer. She's still a kid. She doesn't understand the situation, even if she's matured from what she was before. She's overexcited most of the time too. She's like a mixture of Brock and Misty actually, if you think about it. The bad parts, to be honest. But she can talk, if that counts for anything. The May I knew could convince anyone to do anything."
    "And what about these two? What would you think about Gary and Flannery as teammates."
    Ash did not feel uneasy about discussing it in their presence, and he hoped they didn't feel so.
    "I'm not sure if I can answer that, I don't think I have the right."
    Wally raised a hand to stop him.
    "If I'm wrong, stop me anyone. Ash is the most powerful trainer in this room."
    Flannery did not say a word, and most surprisingly, Gary nodded, smiling at Ash's reaction.
    "I would usually argue, but no, not this time. I put myself very close behind Ash, very, very, very close, mind you. But you're ahead at this moment Ash. Your Pokémon are different, and you are very different from the Ash you were before. Let's leave it at that. Let go of the modesty now, this is important."
    Ash sighed.
    "Alright. I'd say Gary and Flannery are the best trainers in this room after me. And as teammates and leaders they're solid. Gary is at times crazy and angry, but I need him by my side to do this. Flannery and I get along better than most, and we make a good combination, and she understands things better than anyone else in this room."
    Wally nodded, smiling in satisfaction.
    "Okay. I have a solution to all your problems." he said, leaning in.


    When Ash, Flannery, and Gary had finally finished talking to him about his plan, Wally had been absolutely rejuvenated. He felt energy pulsing through him in waves. Now, he had something to do, he could be somebody again. The other three turned in for the night, deciding to make the announcement tomorrow morning at breakfast. Wally just couldn't sleep. The last time he felt like this, it had been when he departed from Petalburg on his Pokémon journey, years ago, with just a small Ralts accompanying him.
    The truth was he had been planning this for a very long time. His access to information regarding the Apostles had allowed him an endless store of knowledge. He had found out something Sven had thought of as completely inconsequential- the names and number of all his captors down at Mount Pyre. Wally had not been to the Pyre facility yet, but he had made a sly copy of the names on the list. He had been shocked to see some of them, but then the frown on his face turned upside down when he realized how many people weren't on the list. When Wally had revealed to Ash how many trainers were in hiding all over Hoenn, Johto, and Kanto (yes, Kanto too), Ash and Gary had both fallen silent. Wally had spoken rapidly, naming various trainers, not realizing for a second that Gary and Ash had encountered all of them in their Pokémon League travels. Wally himself had a few friends he had met in the depths of Victory Road that he could call upon. Wally had other plans as well, one that would require serious convincing power on his part, something he was already anxious about.
    He looked across at the oversized bed his little house had become. He remembered with a smile how it had looked before all his friends decided to sprawl. He crossed over a few sleeping bodies in the darkness to open a small door on the side that led to his storage area. He had not shown the others this room, partly because there was no need and partly because it was his treasure trove. Wally had always had a knack for technology, and a need to keep in touch with his friends. Perhaps that came from his overwhelming fear of being alone all the time. He had turned his storage area into a little cottage of Pokenavigators and lists. He had names and numbers of a phenomenal amount of people, right up from trainers, breeders, and rangers to Gym Leaders in Johto and Kanto. Names that would be so useful in the coming months, or days even. The rising action would begin soon, and if they weren't prepared for it, this resistance would be pointless. Ash and Gary were hugely powerful, undoubtedly. There was no competing with them. Wally had fought both a numerous amount of times, only to find himself floundering in the dust against their skill. But even with the coupled might of Gary and Ash, it was impossible to resist Sven. Wally knew his uncle very well, and one thing Sven did not do was underestimate his opponents. He knew perfectly well that matching up his strongest man against either Ash or Gary would result in a loss- which was why Sven loved preparing in advance. When you battled him, it was a war you were fighting. When you fought him, you fought an army. So that's what they needed, Wally had decided. An army.
  12. flyinghorizons

    flyinghorizons Bug Catcher

    Nov 2, 2014
    [SIZE=18pt]Chapter Twelve: Decisions[/SIZE]​

    The walls were crumbling again and again, and Ash rebuilt them again and again. Every time the wind blew, the stone toppled onto Ash's fingers, bruising them once again. He had this experience before, with his failed attempts to make a sand fort on a beach near Mr. Briney's cabin close to Petalburg. But this was not on a beach with his friends, this was not a party where he had a glass of orange juice resting in the sand beside him. This was a stone fortress with falling walls. Behind him lay his friends, lying still as the stone surrounding them. In the far distance, Ash could see the advancing mob. He had always viewed Pokémon as friends, but these were not friends. These were not mystical magical beasts.
    He saw an Absol, moving like a ghost, with blood dripping down its black curved horn. He saw the dust kicked up by this massive army of beasts. Everywhere he turned, he could see it. Blood, just so much blood, and so much wreckage and death. His dead friends behind him were withering. If anything, he needed to prevent the raging army of death from taking their bodies.
    Then, there was movement, so close to him he flinched in fear. Flannery's hand rested on his shoulder painfully. Her eyes were faint lights, almost dying away like softening coals. Her hair was no longer the fiery red but a greying maroon. Her pale skin stood out in the misty dawn around her. She fell, all of a sudden, into his arms, her head on his lap, her face turned to the sky. At that moment, time stood still. The bodies behind him had done enough to his mind, but this was too much, just too much. He cradled her beautiful head in his arms and cried. He clutched her body to his chest tightly, calling her name, asking her to come back. He buried his face in her hair and wailed like a baby. Losing Pikachu was one thing, losing her was another. He couldn't have taken this journey without her. Every step had become difficult, but she was always there. Always. What would he do now? Talking to Wally had struck fear into his heart- even for the cause, he had to admit he did not want to be away from her. He was afraid. Afraid that she did not feel the same pang, and afraid that she would never know now how he wanted her to simply come alive and hold his hand before he was eaten by the army of monsters steadily making their way towards him.


    Ash opened his eyes and grabbed the air. He breathed out loudly. He looked around him, just to check if the walls were falling. It was real, he was here, he was alive, and she was too; the hand resting on his chest was real. Even in the dark, he could see that her hair was red, bright red, not the greying maroon he feared now. She raised her head. In the moonlight, he could see one half of her face.
    "Everything okay?" she asked, her voice a soft whisper loud enough to hear in the silence of the dark room.
    He nodded, smiling.
    "Perfect." Ash said, craning his neck to the right. Flannery leaned closer, and their lips touched, a feeling as fiery as her hair. She buried her face in his neck and fell asleep. In the darkness, he grinned like an idiot. Seconds later, he drifted off as well.


    "Inevitably, we've got to choose."
    "We did, a long time ago, doesn't that count for something?"
    "No, it doesn't. We were idiots, thinking one way, never looking at any other options. We did it then because it was the only way to live. What I went through, what you went through...we needed that life. Now..."
    "Not anymore. You're right."
    The silhouettes clasped hands briefly. The sun was rising over the hill very slowly. That was a sign, perhaps, of things to come. She didn't like any of the news she had heard. When Sven had come to her, she had been tempted, so tempted to take up his offer, but she stayed with her partner no matter what. Right or wrong decision, they took it together.
    "What did the rangers tell you again?" she asked.
    "That all the regions are under his control now. Johto was the last to fall." His voice was smooth, a voice that ironically reminded her of luxury.
    "Is there resistance?"
    "Apparently one group has been steadily avoiding him. They're strong. Very. If the rumors are true, one of them was rescued from Pyre itself."
    "Strong enough to get into Pyre and out?" She was startled.
    "Yes, and if we join them and intend on doing good things, we need to do it now."
    "Who are they?"
    The man sighed out loud; she knew he didn't want to tell her.
    "You may not like the answer."
    "Tell me."
    "Ash Ketchum. Gary Oak. And the rest of them, you know."
    To his surprise, she laughed. She laughed and laughed and held her sides. Truthfully, she had expected this. That boy had a way of getting everything his way and he never gave up. If anyone could beat the monster that was Sven Goldentongue, it was Ketchum. That Pikachu of his was a runt, small and annoying, but almost uncatchable. And Gary Oak was another story altogether. A level of ferocity she could never hope to match was in that boy. And now, they were men grown, she realized. Ash would be perhaps eighteen or twenty now? She was excited now, to see his face when he heard that they wanted to help.
    She chuckled.
    "Giovanni would turn in his grave." She said, chortling.


    Ash did not open his eyes; he simply lay there feeling comfortable. Who knew when he would feel this way again? He guessed that it was morning; he could hear movement and the clattering of dishes in the general direction of the kitchen. He heard movement around him then, and realized people were rising. When he opened his eyes and rubbed them, he saw Wally making tea. Steam rose around his face as he poured the dark liquid, milk, and sugar into mugs and began handing it out to the people in room, people who were now sitting up and attempting to wake up properly.
    There was minimal light entering the house from the fluttering curtain. As Ash widened his eyes, he saw a messy-haired Brock walk over him. Brock noted Flannery in his arms and gave Ash what looked like a knowing nod. Misty and May sat by the window hugging themselves for warmth; the morning was cold and the only source of heat seemed to be from the mugs of tea.
    About an hour later, the lights had been put on. The mess that this room had become over night was revealed. The blankets and pillows that were strewn all over the place were piled in one corner. Other than Gary, Ash, and Wally, everyone else sat around the small dining table, drinking their second teas. There was silence but for the sound of people sipping and setting mugs onto the table surface.
    "There are a few things that I think need to be brought up right now." Ash began after a deep breath. All eyes were fixed on him. He was very conscious of Flannery's.
    "Firstly, I think we're too large a group. With so many people, we can neither be stealthy nor quick. We can't be very strong either; I believe that too many cooks spoil the broth. We're not a team if we can't work together, and that's not happening without dividing the resources we have. Last night we decided a few things. We're splitting up, that's the basic idea."
    "What, are you sure that's-" Misty began, but stopped when Ash firmly raised a hand.
    "Brock. Misty. You two have known each other for years now, and you work well together. Brock, your abilities as a breeder and a survivalist are your strong point. Misty, you and your Gyarados can back him up when he needs it, I'm pretty confident that Gyarados is invulnerable. I have a job for you, and it's important. What Wally helped us conclude, about Sven's many personalities. If you think about it, as a Ranger, the things he's doing become pretty contradictory. I really doubt the Rangers of Hoenn, Johto, and Kanto would appreciate it. If they found out who he actually was, they wouldn't cope with this new government he's enforcing. I want you two to go into the wild. I'm talking about the unmapped areas, not the Viridian Forest we know, not the Petalburg Woods, but places we haven't even heard of. The islands, the woods, the seas, the caves, everything. Find the Rangers of the world and bring them together."
    Misty looked confused, but Brock nodded instantly. He may not have understood everything Ash just said, but he would do it all the same. Ash would deal with Misty later if he had to. Gary spoke up.
    "Wally here has more than just information about his uncle and the Apostles. It turns out he has contacts of almost every trainer we know. Last night Ash and I went through the records and addresses of at least fifty trainers we recognize from battles. It seems that these trainers have disappeared, probably in hiding, in fear of the Apostles taking them in and forcing them to work for Sven. Wally's going to be making a few calls here and there, and he might have to move up and down from town to town, even from region to region if need be. He needs to find these trainers and bring them together. But these guys are too scared to fight right now, and we need to convince them otherwise. And there's only one person who has the ability to do that. May, you're up. You'll be with Wally."
    May raised her eyebrows in acknowledgement and nodded. Wally smiled at her, and then motioned for Ash to continue. Ash exhaled slowly before speaking. This was something he and Gary had spoken about at length with Professor Oak. As he began explaining the contents of that conversation to the group, he vividly remembered it as if it were occurring right now.
    It had been the night before they left, after Professor Birch had decided to turn in. Professor Oak brought up that terrible trip Ash had taken with him years ago, an event that Ash wished he could forget forever. Gary seemed extremely interested in it, and was slightly annoyed that he hadn't been there. Oak could not put the fear that Ash and he had felt at that time into words, but Ash remembered it perfectly well. Oak pulled out a map, an old worn out one with markings everywhere, and handed it to Ash. Scrawled on the top of the map was a word: 'Aryon'. Ash had balked at the word.
    "You know it as well as I do, Ash. Everything that has happened so far, you've found it familiar. The souls, what Sven seems to be trying, everything is tied together, and I think it's tied together here. The expedition I took was unimportant then, so no one but you and I knows about it, so I am very sure Sven hasn't. I'm not fully sure this is the answer, but it will put a few doubts to rest at least." Oak had said with an air of finality.

    Now, almost a month later, Ash found himself speaking those same words to the people in front of him. They seemed to be a little dazed from the large amount of information he, Gary, and Wally had thrust at them. Brock raised his hand.
    "I'm not sure I understand what you Flannery and Gary are doing, but everything you've asked us to do so far sounds like you're getting people together for..."
    "A fight." Ash completed.
    "It's like, raising-" Misty muttered, a smile spreading on her face.
    "An army." said Gary. "Exactly. That's the plan. Against this guy, we're going to need everything. Everything we have, all the brawn and brains we can throw at him, otherwise this isn't getting done. Remember that we're not dealing with any normal criminal gang. He has an army at his disposal, so why not get our own?"
    The group just needed to hear that, and Ash could already see the changes in expression. They looked happier, and May even had a smirk on her face. They loved the fact that finally, they were fighting back.
    "And you three are going to this unknown place, Aryon, to get some clarity about what's really happening?" Misty asked.
    "Yes." Flannery said. "We can't go into this not knowing exactly what we're up against, and this seems to be the way. We're not completely positive we'll get answers, but we need to try."
    "I like the idea. The entire plan."
    Ash, with widened eyes, turned to see Misty speaking these words. Crushing sarcasm ran through his mind almost immediately.
    Did she just think before speaking? Wow, it's like she's a new person.
    "Don't be so surprised." She countered, giving him a disgusted face. "Honestly, the idea of splitting up makes sense, even though I don't like it. I think it's smart, and it's only clever if we divide our resources."
    "I agree." May said, nodding vigorously. "But of all three groups, Ash, yours seems the most likely to fail. You know it's true. We're facing no dangers, while you guys are. I don't mean to frighten or challenge you, but how do you plan on journeying into an uncharted place to find a monster that has never been fought or even faced? Ash, you've done a lot, but this really does seem impossible. You, Gary, Flannery. Only three of you."
    Ash smiled, for the first time feeling utterly confident about things going on track. The two people he thought of as the weak links on this team had spoken out maturely and correctly. It seemed that indirectly pointing out their weaknesses had brought out something new in them. He was now completely sure that they would succeed. Of Aryon and his goal...
    "We're not alone. I have a plan. And...a certain friend from Fortree who'll help us along the way." He finished with a smile.
  13. flyinghorizons

    flyinghorizons Bug Catcher

    Nov 2, 2014

    The hardest part of motherhood is putting your trust in the unknown.
    Mrs. Ketchum smiled to herself absentmindedly as she walked down the grassy slopes leading to Pallet Town. The unknown had been the hardest wall to scale for so many years. The mother of a young man like Ash Ketchum did not have it easy. She was perhaps the only person in the world to think of a Pokémon's power as monstrous. She viewed it as a frightening thing, especially for her son to wield such power. All these men and women that Ash fought were nothing but men and women, only filled to the brim with power. If power could turn their minds so easily, wouldn't Ash crumble the same way? Mrs. Ketchum had always wondered. Ash had many chances, many opportunities. If her son had taken the evil route, she was confident he wouldn't be stopped. But thank the powers above, he had a natural sense of compassion and love. She hoped Ash held onto that as he did whatever he intended on doing at this very moment.
    Mrs. Ketchum stopped and gazed over at her lovely Pallet, a home that had always been so connected to her emotionally. Meeting her son outside Pallet was well and good, but there was something enchanting about returning to the past. The grass, the trees, the smell, and the little cottages- Pallet was magical. She only wished Ash viewed it so.
    Suddenly, she heard a low rumble. It seemed like a muffled thud or boom. She peered at the sky. There were no clouds overhead, no symptoms of lightning and thunder. And storms were generally unheard of in this area. Then, the low rumble came again. It was almost a hum, but at a much lower pitch. The ground shook very slightly, and Mrs. Ketchum began running towards her cottage.
    The residents of Pallet, still in a sleepy state at six in the morning, undoubtedly felt and thought nothing. She opened her mouth to scream a warning when the ground erupted in flame and chunks of earth flew into the sky. She heard the rumble once again, but this time much closer. As she looked into the havoc of rock and fire, she heard the deep rumble emanate from the throat of some great beast she had never seen in her life. It seemed like a hundred throat muscles had constricted to create such a sound- her bones shook as the sound waves passed through her. She thought it had stopped, when it looked right at her, and she realized she was looking simply at a horrific head. And like a symphonic melody rising in pace, the massive body pulled itself out of the ground in fiery inferno and soil. A tail swept the ground, and the last remaining cottages were sliced in half. Pallet had crumbled within seconds.

    Brock sat up in his sleeping bag, sweating like he had run a marathon. He clambered out of the uncomfortable bag and pulled off his shirt to get some fresh air on his chest.
    "Bad dream?" a voice came through the night.
    Across the fire, Misty sat up, wide awake. It didn't look like she went to sleep at all, in fact. She had tied her hair up in a tight bun to keep the heat away from her face. Both of them sat as far away from the fire as they possibly could without being in complete shadow.
    "Not really." Brock said. "It's just way too difficult to sleep through this heatwave."
    Misty half nodded.
    "It's been like this for the past three hours. I did some research on the PokeNav. Heatwaves are next to impossible in this area, Brock. We're two miles from Wisteria Town. It's supposed to be cool around this place. In fact, the nights are supposed to get close to freezing."
    Brock was the one nodding away now. He had never seen this happen before. Kanto was generally known for excellent climate, much better than Hoenn or Johto. This was puzzling. Ash had been on the dot when he had pointed out how this issue has been transforming and molding the entire world. This only made things more difficult though- with changes in climate all over the place, Pokémon move. If Pokémon move, Rangers move. The mission was already tremendously tough, considering how Rangers somehow managed to get from place to place without being seen. Add a measure of desperation to follow Pokémon and you got yourself a challenging task.
    The journey to Kanto had been easier than he thought, and once again, Ash had been right. The Apostles' had not attained full control over regions other than Hoenn. This gave Brock and Misty at least a few days to hunt down the Rangers. Once in a while they met a man in an Apostle uniform, but his vision was eventually clouded by a swing of Brock's big fist.
    The fire was put out and the pair traipsed down the road towards Wisteria Town. After spending a few days in the town, Brock knew it quite well, but then again, he had been in so many different places, everything probably looked the same. As far as he could remember, Wisteria Town was located close to one of those uncharted areas in Kanto that Ash had them searching for. If Brock was lucky, he'd get some information on one of these places. Perhaps a citizen saw a Ranger or two wandering outside the town. It was unlikely, but Brock had to try.
    The town was as delicate as it was then, with flowers lining every street, small trees standing erect ever four or five meters. It was a pleasure to see people up and about; it was so rare to see energy and activity in a town these days. Hoenn was a ghost region compared to this. It made Brock realize how much of a plague the Dark Apostles were, and how they were creeping up on every nice and peaceful thing the world had going on.
    For the first time in a long time though, Misty and Brock were on the receiving end of some surprised looks by the locals. People eyed them with pleasant surprise and shock, often turning specially to smile at them. The first time Misty was greeted by an old man she recoiled in surprise; the man told them to have a good day. Neither of the two was dressed especially differently today. They were, as usual, clad in clothes that had been subjected to the wear and tear of constant movement. It all became clear when a beautiful young woman approached them as they walked down the streets of Wisteria Town.
    "Good morning!" she brightly said, smiling an enrapturing smile at the pair.
    Brock struggled to stammer out a reply. His eyes were locked onto hers, and it was very unlikely that he would be able to speak a word now. Misty laughed quietly to herself.
    "Hi, Ma'am, good morning." she said, extending a hand to shake. This inspired Brock to do the same, after finally shaking himself out of that old stupor of his.
    "Morning." Brock managed to say.
    "It's lovely to see budding trainers in Wisteria again, I must say." said the woman, beaming.
    Brock and Misty frowned in confusion.
    "Well, we're not exactly budding trainers..." Misty began to say, before Brock interrupted.
    "Ma'am, you haven't seen any trainers around here?"
    The lady eyed Brock and Misty thoughtfully.
    "No. We haven't seen any kids walking into town lately. We thought the...age of Pokémon adventures was over and done with. Well, that's what it seemed like. A year ago, the town was teeming with kids concerned with training, breeding, and fighting it out to be the best Pokémon Trainer. Now, it's all changed. That's why it's so nice to see the pair of you. But now, thinking about it, you're a bit old to be off on your adventure. And you look more starved and dying than fresh and ready for an adventure."
    The young woman's demeanor had changed in seconds. She had gone from a pleasant, smiling, beauty to a sharp, mature woman. The last two sentences she uttered had come out quick and straightforward, and a frown was on her face. She had seen through the pair of them quick enough. And she was completely right about how starved they looked. Brock had lost a fair amount of weight in the past few months, and it looked unhealthy. As for Misty, it was a good thing they did not have mirrors in the wilderness, considering how absolutely exhausted she looked all the time.
    "Come with me, let's get some food in your bellies." the woman said, turning on her heel.
    Misty hesitated. Brock had lost himself the moment he heard the word 'food'. Not for the first time, he followed a beautiful woman down the road.

    The mist that hovered in the air was completely natural, somehow. It was a thick mess that made Ash shiver with every step. He could not see more than five meters ahead of him, which was why his right hand rested on Absol's cold and moist fur. The Pokémon loved the cold; in fact, Ash predicted that Absol loved anything in the absence of the sun. In the distance, Ash could see a very faint light, and that gave him confidence to walk on; he wasn't lost just yet. He found it so interesting how just four hours from now, the entire city of Slateport would be completely visible.
    Ash now walked even slower, if possible. He made sure each step was as soft as the next. Absol padded on beside him. His eyes, now used to the low visibility, spotted the guard at the door. The man was not an Apostle, but a simple guard.
    One more mistake, Sven. First thing you need to do is seal the exits. And you forget one important thing. I have friends.
    Absol leapt, and in a moment was on the guard's chest. The guard lay under her murderous stare absolutely still and quiet. Ash kneeled next to his head. The guard stared in shock as Ash looked down at him.
    "How many ships are at the port?" he asked softly.
    The guard glared at Ash before spitting out a reply. "Four. Clara, Kyogre, Maria, and The Snorlax."
    "Well, we're not taking the fat one, that's for sure."
    Ash jumped, startled. He hadn't heard them approach. He looked up to see Gary sitting on the bright orange body of Arcanine. He saw Arcanine and Absol acknowledge each other with eye contact, and he nodded at Gary. Behind Gary sat the man of the hour, the man they needed: the one person who Ash knew would help them.
    "It's alright, Matt." the man told the guard on the ground. Absol stepped off him.
    "Captain?" the guard asked. Captain Stern got off Arcanine.
    "These are friends of mine, and we're borrowing the Maria." Stern said causally.
    "Aye aye Sir." Matt the guard saluted the Captain. The lack of hesitation in agreeing startled Ash as he walked into the dockyard.
    "The gift of authority, huh? I want to be a Captain." Gary muttered under his breath to Ash, who chuckled.
  14. flyinghorizons

    flyinghorizons Bug Catcher

    Nov 2, 2014
    Chapter Fourteen: Step By Step, Forward

    When Wally woke up in the morning, he found May sprawled across the table, face pressed into the wooden surface. He tried waking her, but to no avail. She had a phonebook still clutched in one hand. Wally sighed. She was taking this more seriously than he expected. The lofty and casual girl he thought she was had pretty much turned around and given him a run for his money. Working nonstop, making calls through the night, she put Wally to shame.
    He scrawled a note and left it on the table so she wouldn't wake up confused. It said: "Back in a couple of hours". He put on his grey worn out jacket and ventured out of the house. The streets were filling up at this time in the morning, and he nodded hello to a couple that he knew fairly well. He was well known in the city, something that gave him the ability to do what he was doing right now. Wally had been thinking off late, and he realized that with the main force of their team out doing things far away, they would need a base to support them, more like a headquarters. His house was far too small for that. If they meant to get the trainers of the world together, his house would capsize.
    And so when Wally climbed the silver steps into the upper segment of Lilycove, he found that he was expected. Ray stood waiting for him, clothed cleanly in his suit. Wally felt informal and uncouth in his grey jacket with strings dangling down. Behind Ray loomed the mass that was the Lilycove Mall, and right beside it stood several Dark Apostles. Ray reached out and wrung Wally's hand.
    "There's nothing to negotiate. It's yours." said Ray a tad too loud, enough to make Wally start and the Dark Apostles look up.
    "They're right here." Wally whispered forcefully, urging Ray to be careful.
    "And do you want them to be?" Ray asked.
    The question hung. Wally understood what Ray was getting at- something far deeper than the answer to that question. It was obvious- he didn't want the Apostles to be there. Not in this area, not in this city, not in this region, not even in this world.
    "No." Wally said, hand reaching down to his waist.
    "Then what do you propose to do?"
    "Start this revolution." Wally said, smiling. Ray laughed heartily. In a flash, the three Apostles lay on the ground completely unconscious with Gardevoir hovering close by. A soft beeping sound emanated from one of the bodies, and Ray spun around, tossing a Pokéball.
    A crimson blur took down the charging Apostles before they reached Wally and Ray. Scizor sat on its haunches, observing the undignified way the enemy was sprawled on the ground. Then they heard the sound- of many feet pounding on the earth, the sound of many Pokémon flying, slithering, leaping, running towards them. Citizens watched from the bottom of the steps in shock as light burst into existence as Wally and Ray released all their Pokémon.
    Wally had never given up on his trainer instincts, allowing himself to capture and train at least three Pokémon other than Gardevoir. The Apostles had to stop and observe what was before them. Wally felt sorry for their Pokémon. The Apostles wouldn't and couldn't give up the city without a fight, and it had now become a fight they would lose. Wally suddenly realized why this was the right time to attack- the Apostles main force was concentrated elsewhere for the first time in ages.
    The Apostles climbed up the steps and their Pokémon followed: snarling Zangooses, hissing Sevipers, and more. But the entire city shook when Salamence roared, shooting dragon flame into the air. Like a symphony in motion, Scizor and Salamence created artful images of war. While flaming bouts created miniature infernos, Scizor leapt and spun around almost artistically, cutting down enemies. The Zangoose, Pokémon heavily built for attack and speed, were caught unawares by the red duo. Wally watched the Zangoose turn as their fur caught flame, only to be cut down by the red blur that was Scizor.
    It took almost an hour to wipe out the Apostles. Ray and Wally were, as Wally had hoped, joined by some newly enthusiastic Lilycove citizens who were ready to take their city back. Soon, every Apostle was tied up and left within the basement of the Lilycove Mall. Wally stood and looked upon his work, dusting his hands.
    "How long was I asleep?" he heard a voice, blank and soft. He turned to see May standing at the open glass doors of the mall.
    There were small moments Ash treasured in life these days. To tell the truth, he enjoyed everything he did partly because he lived life for the thrill of battle and the rewards he reaped, but when a peaceful time or two arrived, he knew he'd never forget it. He still reminisced about the very beginning of their journey, when he sat on the wooden platform in front of the cottage at Littleroot and sipped on a cold beer, just enjoying the stillness of the night.
    This was one of those moments. Captain Stern was fast asleep, and Gary, Ash, and Flannery manned the Maria, a sleek narrow submarine that looked old but sturdy. The submarine was streamlined like a fish, which allowed them to maneuver through most underwater obstacles. It also gave Ash the impression that the submarine was just a corridor. Their bunks were located at the very end of the vehicle, and a wall separated this area from a miniature stand-in kitchen and the cockpit.
    It was this cockpit that Ash spent most of his time in. His sleeping patterns had changed drastically- in fact, one could say that he didn't have sleeping patterns anymore. He just didn't feel the need to close his eyes for more than two hours. He simply sat and watched the sea unfold before him. The glass wall between him and the vast recesses of water was all he needed to see. Gary had always been one to dislike silences because it made him uncomfortable- but even he appreciated the beauty of underwater silence.
    Once in a while, they did see something that shook them out of their peaceful states of mind. After a day of smooth sailing, Ash set his eyes for the first time on a Gorebyss, a slim and pale pink colored Pokémon. It slithered like an eel towards their submarine. From afar, it seemed average sized, perhaps the length of a Seviper- a Pokémon Ash hadn't seen for a very long time, he realized. But as the Pokémon made its way towards them, Ash's heart stopped. It was monstrous, like a coiling pink scaled rope that lashed underwater endlessly. What frightened Ash was the narrow beak-like structure the Gorebyss had in front, as a snout. Sharp and narrow, this was what the Pokémon used to suck the blood out of prey to leave it immobile and bloodless. It locked eyes with Ash, and he was suddenly convinced that the sharp snout was about to pierce through the glass of the Maria. It disappeared into the dark waters just then, assumedly deciding that there was tastier prey.
    A week into the trip and Ash started wondering about his friends. He didn't fear for them, nor was he worried about them, plainly because he knew that the tasks assigned to them played to their strengths. He just felt lonely without them. Gary felt the same way, but the two found it difficult to have a conversation that was less business and more casual. Captain Stern seemed completely used to being on his own; the experience that came from countless journeys made isolation easier. Things became emotionally and psychologically far more difficult when the temperatures began to drop. Of course, Ash had seen it coming; he had charted the journey more than even Stern had. In fact, he had considered the cold so much that he had Flannery pick up a bunch of winter clothing and food while Ash and Gary stole, or rather, borrowed the Maria along with Captain Stern. When they had picked Flannery up slightly away from Slateport, she had been burdened with baggage, and Ash had whined about it being all too much. Now, he regretted not asking her to get more.
    The cold penetrated through the metal submarine walls, and every ripple sent through the waters sent another wave of cold at them. The needles of frigidity pierced his every muscle and bone. While Stern slept, at this moment, Flannery, Gary, and Ash were huddled together, clutching each other for some small warmth. Their eyes were constantly locked on the water ahead of them; Stern had warned them that frozen planes of water and spikes of ice were common occurrences at such depth. He had also elaborated lengthily about how a single translucent plane of ice at this depth was harder than all the metal this submarine was made of.
    The control over the regions Sven had prevented them from taking air transport, as Professor Oak and Ash had many years ago. They were forced to go the whole way underwater- apparently Sven had people watching the ocean surface as well. After brushing through scores of maps, Ash had confirmed that Aryon was the northmost point of...almost anywhere. There was nothing beyond it, frankly. The frigid temperatures began to get worse as they got closer and closer to their destination. That made Ash feel better for a small amount of time- at least they were getting closer. But then another thought crossed his mind: what would they do once they arrived?
    He had been so supremely confident at Wally's dining table. He had been absolutely sure that the monk would be at Fortree, that the monk would give him the answers he needed, that he would depart from Fortree with a clear head and a complete understanding. But Fortree was empty of answers. There was no sign of the monk, and Ash had felt like a fool. He had to be convinced almost forcefully by Flannery and Gary to let it go and move on to the next step in the plan. And now...they moved closer and closer to Aryon without knowing what awaited them- death or an answer, or perhaps both.
    When Captain Stern awoke, he forced the three into bed, berating them on the long-term effects of rejecting sleep. Stern was almost a fatherly figure to Ash; the old man was simply a bundle of affection. Ash detested himself for getting the old man involved in this, but he also had to remind himself that if the people of the world didn't unite against the Apostles, there would be no world to unite. As Ash lay awake in his bed, Flannery on his left and the soft white fur of Absol on his right rubbing against his skin, he felt it.
    Like a vibration that seemed to emanate from within him, it shook his body. He sat up straight several times, but nobody in the room had felt it. Flannery was in a deep slumber, and Gary hadn't spoken in over an hour, so Ash guessed he was fast asleep as well. The feeling didn't go away. He couldn't shut his eyes; he felt so terribly strange. The blood within his veins was thrumming with activity, he might've exploded any second. Then it happened. Like a rush of a thousand images entering his mind through a pipe, his eyes went blank for a second and then vision reappeared. He collapsed back onto the bed, unable to move.
    He was in a raging inferno of a battlefield. There were bodies all around him- humans, Pokémon, trees. Flames patterned the dusty ground. The battle had not ended- humans battled alongside Pokémon, swinging weapons while the magical monsters struck with the elements and their bodies. He couldn't recognize the people; they were shadows in the dark, but he was able to notice that there was no Dark Apostle uniform in the fray. The people on the battlefield looked ordinary citizens, but bloodied and vicious. There were no two sides to this war- it just looked like one army fighting amongst itself. Ash could not understand. He stepped forward, finding the ground stable enough to walk. He did walk, past all the blood and fighting. He thought his eardrums would shatter with the noise. He felt disgusted with himself and his past life as a trainer chasing constant battles with other Pokémon. Was this the end he was creating? Constant battle and bloodshed? He kept going with his steady walk, looking all around him, left and right, trying his best to avoid the multiple skirmishes. He chanced a glance straight ahead of himself, and he stopped looking around. Sitting on an upraised platform, a cliff of sorts, was a figure. He could not tell if it was human or Pokémon, because the bright multicolored light around it almost blinded him.
    It almost looked like a hugely unsuccessful court, with the citizens and lawyers fighting it out below and the judge presiding over the proceedings calmly. The blinding light was in utter control, and seemed more serene than dangerous, something that Ash felt gave it a whole lot more power. There was something supernatural about it, something misunderstood and mysterious. Ash somehow felt he could never and would never fathom such a vast power. It seemed to be the very essence of power and control. Ash had seen the bending and breaking of things as solid as time and space, so much that he did not doubt the existence of a power that could twist the entire world around its little finger. There were many ambiguous powers he had encountered, be it from the terrorizing force of Mewtwo to the singular and systematic brutality of Deoxys, but none seemed as potent as this. Then, all of a sudden, the image disappeared. He heard a voice, as clear as crystal, say to him:
    Do not underestimate the power of Two.

    Great things come in small packages.
    Sven mused as he turned it around with his fingers, feeling the small ridges and etches on the golden stone. It was the size of his palm, and yet he would give his entire arm for it. Much blood had been spilled for this. He wondered how much Oak and Birch would surrender to have this in their grasp- the power of the final piece of the Law Stone. He had not touched it at first.
    He had simply watched his scientists attempt to decipher it, to puzzle out what it meant. But nothing happened. None of the glyphs were translatable- it seemed to be a completely useless piece of stone. When Sven finally held it in the palm of his hand, he thought it inconsequential as well. He had chanced upon its true power accidentally. He had slipped it into his pocket before a practice battle with Maxie. And as his Metagross pummeled Maxie's Crobat to the floor, it happened. The stone glowed white hot, almost singing his skin, and then all of a sudden, Crobat collapsed in a heap. A bright green orb seeped out of the purple Pokémon's skin, and sped towards Sven, disappearing into his chest before he could react. A second later, he felt a change. He could hear things, really hear them. He could hear Maxie's heart thudding in shock from twenty feet away, he could hear his guards talking outside the door in whispers. He looked up at the ceiling, a slow smile spreading on his face. All this time, he had been stealing Pokémon souls with that enchanting device, hoping to create a true beast, a combination of souls of everything powerful and dangerous, when it was pointless compared to this. With this, he was the beast. He truly was made for great things.
  15. flyinghorizons

    flyinghorizons Bug Catcher

    Nov 2, 2014
    [SIZE=14pt]Chapter Fifteen: Sacrifice[/SIZE]

    As Ash sifted through his scrambled eggs and tomatoes, he barely spoke a word. Once in a while, he took a bite to make sure the others didn't notice anything unusual about his behavior. Beside him, Gary sat facing away, looking out into the depths of the ocean. Each of them now wore clothes for the cold, which Captain Stern had luckily stored inside the submarine months ago. The ocean was now clear as crystal, and darker than ever before- the sheets of ice covering the surface did not allow sunlight to penetrate.
    Stern told them it was about eleven in the afternoon, thought it seemed much later. Ash glanced occasionally at his map and soon realized that they were going in the right direction but had no idea when they would get there. But after last night's strange vision, Ash was sure that they were close. Aryon seemed to glint majestically ahead of them, somewhere in the distance.
    Ash wished he understood more. He vividly recalled his trip to Fortree before embarking on this underwater journey. He had been so confident of getting his questions answered by the Sage; he had put on such an air of confidence in front of his friends in Wally's house. But he had been too late, far too late. He, Gary, and Flannery had climbed through Fortree's leafy entrance only to be shocked and in anguish.
    Fortree had burned to the ground. Nothing was left of the Green City. Splinters hung from trees, charred bark lay scattered all around, and cottages lay blackened with soot or in cinders. Ash clambered out of the wreckage to find the Sage, but then he understood. The leafy abode of the Sage looked worse than the entire city. It seemed like an inferno had determinedly exacted revenge on this spot, where even the grassy ground had been entirely ripped out to make way for a black and dry yellow surface. Sven had got to the Sage first.
    Ash could now tell how dire their situation was. Sven's mindset had shifted, he was now on the path to chaos. His plans were in motion, and nothing would stop him. Ash thanked his stars that he had told his mother to stay in Pallet. He pictured her safe at home doing her gardening or being entertained by Mr. Mime.

    "Everyone, come here now!"
    The urgency in Captain Stern's voice was evident as Gary, Flannery, and Ash rushed to the front of the submarine, where Stern was staring out into the ocean, a permanently startled look on his face. The submarine had stopped moving, Stern had engaged the engines in maintaining position instead of venturing forward.
    "Look," he told the group, pointing out into the waters.
    Ahead of the submarine, Ash could make out a huge line of Pokémon. The fanned out facing away from them, creating a huge arc spreading too far for Ash to see the end.
    "Guards?" asked Flannery.
    "They're not moving." Gary said softly, almost in a whisper.
    And he was right. None of the creatures ahead of them were moving. Stern pressed some buttons and instantly, images appeared on the screen. He closed in on one of the stationary Pokémon- a golden white Goldeen. There was nothing strange about this Goldeen, apart from the fact that the one eye in their vision was unblinking and lifeless.
    "Dead? They're all dead..?"
    Flannery's voice seemed to echo around the walls of the submarine. Silence filled the room. How would they move forward? Did they need to resurface? Ash doubted the metal submarine could move undamaged through the sheets of ice above them at this moment.
    "Wait, look!" Gary said, pointing. Stern turned the submarine camera towards where Gary gestured, and an image appeared on the screen. A huge Gorebyss glided towards the line of Pokémon, its sleek and razor sharp body moving at super speed. The snout was almost ten feet long. All of a sudden, the Gorebyss stopped in its tracks, recoiling as if something blocked the way. And then, Ash saw it.
    A ghostly figure appeared in the Pokémon's way. It had no shape, and the only thing Ash could ascertain was that it was several times bigger than Misty's Gyarados. It seemed to be translucent. After several seconds of silence, the Gorebyss coiled up. It began to glow with a mystical light that Ash recognized all too well by now. Four of them watched from the submarine as a single Gorebyss soul extracted itself from the creature and landed in the palm of the ghost's hand. The Gorebyss uncoiled itself, now limp and lifeless.
    "We should go help it!" Stern said, reaching for the controls, before Gary and Ash both stopped him.
    "We can't fight that thing. We can't even fight that Gorebyss. We can't." Gary said.
    "Then what are we supposed to do. We're stuck." Flannery said, pursing her lips.
    "I think it's safe to say that whatever that thing is, it takes a toll of a Pokémon soul before allowing them through. Through to where we need to go. This isn't the entrance that Oak and I took though, this seems different, much worse and much more dangerous." Ash said.
    "But what's the point of Pokémon getting through if they can't live without their souls?" Gary asked.
    "Sacrifice." Flannery and Ash said at the same time.
    "The concept is to make a sacrifice to get through. You sacrifice one Pokémon soul to get through the barrier."
    "What are we going to sacrifice?"
    Ash was suddenly filled with images- images of blood and death and destruction. He felt energy fill his body like a heatwave, and then he understood as memories flashed across his mind of the journey to Aryon with Professor Oak. He remembered the great serpent sculpture in front of him writhing like it were alive and vicious. And he remembered the swirling souls all around him, and how they seemed to move through him like ghosts, engulfing him and then twisting around his body like tentacles.
    "Ash," Flannery murmured. Ash looked up to see her, Gary, and Captain Stern looking at him up and down, confused expressions on their faces. He looked down to see his body glowing with unnatural light- like a thin film of golden light emanating from the pores in his skin. He felt alive and powerful.
    Is this what it feels like to have a Pokémon soul within you?
    Ash felt a deep and powerful strength within him at that moment. He looked out into the waters and they didn't feel as crushing and dark anymore. He hated doing what he was going to do- to sacrifice anything of someone else's was wrong, but he had no choice at this turning point. Beyond the toll gate was the answer to his questions, he was sure of it.
    "You have a suit, don't you, Captain?" he asked.
    "What? Oh..yes. Ash, you can't mean to go out there on your own? That's ridiculous, child."
    "I'm not a child anymore, Captain. And I know what I'm doing. Flannery, Gary. I think when I came here with Professor Oak, I absorbed a Pokémon soul. I know it sounds farfetched, but I know I'm the only one that can pass through this barrier alive. I have the toll- I'll sacrifice whatever it is inside me."
    "Are you sure, Ash?" Gary asked.
    Ash thought about the question. Honestly, he wasn't sure at all. He wasn't even half convinced, but something told him to go ahead with it. But he restrained himself. The old Ash was the instinctual one- the one that did things on the spur of the moment instead of thinking it through. The new Ash was smarter, cleverer, and more thoughtful. But this was different, he felt. He needed to embrace this part of him, to follow his instinct. He would do this.
  16. flyinghorizons

    flyinghorizons Bug Catcher

    Nov 2, 2014
    [SIZE=14pt]Chapter Sixteen: Swallowed Whole[/SIZE]

    "There's plenty more in the fridge, you can take it slow, you know."
    Brock and Misty tired as much as they could to go a little slower, it just wasn't happening. Ravenous and thirsty as they were, they downed glass after glass of lemonade, and consumed sandwich after sandwich; their stomachs never seemed to truly fill. The beautiful woman feeding them sat and watched them with an amused and sympathetic expression on her face.
    Now that Brock's stomach was relatively full, or in the process of being full, he used the time he had while eating to think. Instead of engaging in conversation first, he took bite after bite thinking deeply about why he had followed this woman back to her house- and why she had looked so familiar in the first place. Was it just because she was pretty? No, it couldn't have been that. Brock had seen hundreds of beauties, but none looked this familiar to him. There was something about her hair that was unnatural. He could tell that it was dyed a different color- there was a different gleam at the roots as opposed to the long beautiful brown strands of hair. He looked down before she noticed him looking at her.
    The woman rose to grab the lemonade jug, and instead of Brock reaching out with his glass, he let her make the extra movement. As she stretched over the table, he noted how fit and supple her arm was, apart from its slender beauty. It was covered in lean muscle, and Brock could have sworn he saw a couple of scars on her forearm.
    Misty was too engrossed in her food to notice anything odd, but Brock could tell that she was reserved as well, once she sat back in her chair and folded her arms after the meal was done. As he watched, the woman shut the windows and drew the curtains, switching on a few pretty yellow lights to illuminate the dim room. She sat down across from them then, and the kind and sympathetic expression had been cleanly wiped off. Here was a serious and firm face. Brock's suspicions had been correct- this was no delicate beauty.
    "How long have you two been traveling?" she asked.
    Before Misty could answer with a lie, Brock told her the truth.
    "And what are you searching for?"
    "The Rangers. All of them."
    Misty simply looked appalled at Brock for revealing their plans to a random stranger; she no doubt thought Brock was already half blinded by love.
    The woman's expression hardened like she was prepared for something to happen. She looked expectantly at Brock, as if waiting for him to make a move. He didn't- he sat still looking at her, and Misty was just a spectator in their staring game. And then Brock realized what was happening. This woman was wondering, pondering, as to which side he and Misty were on. But which side was she on? Weighing his options, Brock knew that, even if the beautiful woman were the enemy, he and Misty would make short work of her.
    "Ash sent us." he said.
    All of a sudden, the woman's tense attitude disappeared. She sighed with relief and put her hand on her chest to steady herself.
    "You could've said it sooner!" she said, her tone scolding and accusing. "So Brock and Misty, you two seem to have grown up."
    "Who are you?" Misty asked, visibly unsettled now.
    "You don't recognize me after all these years? I know my hair's a different color, but really now? This getup can't be that convincing."
    "It can't be." Brock said, pointing in wonder, his mouth wide open. "Officer Jenny?!"
    Jenny started laughing out loud, and Brock knew his guess was right- he knew that laugh- he had had a crush on it for years. Misty was stunned to silence. It seemed they had come full circle. Six or seven years ago, they had journeyed through the region and met many Officer Jenny's- the title each and every female officer used, but they had only truly interacted with one. She had been the one to come to their aid every time Team Rocket assaulted them, and the one who stood firm by their childish antics. And now, almost a decade on, they sat sipping lemonade at her dining table.
    "So now tell me. What are you here to do? What is Ash doing? And how can I help? After the Apostles took over, I was fired. I have nothing to do except remain this useless and delicate woman with too much food in her cupboard."
    While Brock spoke to Jenny and filled her in on almost all the happenings across the world, Misty decided she was better off taking a nap. Jenny's house was built and designed in a cozy and comfortable manner, and there had always been something exquisite about sleeping under a window whose light is hazy through a curtain of flowers. Wisteria was one of the few towns untouched by Nature's collapse, and Brock and Misty treasured that.
    Brock gathered after twenty minutes that Jenny would be a great asset to them. While, truth be told, at a time like this, police contacts did not matter anymore, Jenny was vastly knowledgeable about the very land they stood on. She knew everything there was to know about the region. She told them in one minute flat about where she had spotted remains of campfires in the mountains ahead- places where the Rangers probably lived. Initially, Brock had questioned the decision to find the Rangers- but he remembered the conversation Ash had with him right before they left.
    "You don't get it, Brock. Rangers are literally the most impacted people in this entire situation. One of their own just turned on the entire world, and one of their own is willing to sacrifice everything they try so hard to conserve. The Rangers may be hiding, but if we give them an opportunity to fight, they will. They want to. And there isn't a better fighting partner than a guy or girl who knows every possible terrain and type, and almost every Pokémon too. Maybe Sven's got all the trainers in the world, but we can get the Rangers. I hate to use these terms, but we need to build an army, just like him. If it doesn't come to fighting, that's great, but I don't see that happen. And we can't be caught unprepared because we thought a peaceful solution was possible. You and Misty need to find the Rangers, however scattered they are, and tell them everything that we've been doing over the last month. From the beginning. Tell them how it started, how Sven's captured hundreds of powerful trainers, and his current plans. We need them on our side."

    Brock had been keen on starting their journey up through the mountains immediately, contrary to Jenny's advice. He understood that 'immediately' was impossible the moment he stood and found that he needed her support- he was dead on his feet. He found himself being led to the bedroom and gently placed on the soft mattress, a mattress that he decided then he would live on forever. He drifted off before Jenny covered his body with the blanket.


    Professor Oak could not move. He could not say a word. He just stood in one place looking at the television without understanding anything coming out of it. Birch was a mute statue sitting on the couch.
    "Specialists say it was a Pokémon attack, and some say it was simply a massive fire breakout, a gas explosion that triggered other explosions, perhaps. But whatever it was, it reduced the beautiful town of Pallet to ashes and splinters. Ladies and gentlemen, so far, there are no survivors. I'm Gloria from Kanto News, signing off."
    The camera travels over the still smoking remains of Pallet before switching to a commercial break, and Oak gripped the dining table as his grief washed over him. Birch put a hand on his friend's shoulder in a hopeless attempt at consolation. Oak suddenly reached inside his deep coat pocket and drew out his cellular phone, and began dialing Ash's number. Birch's hand closed around the phone.
    "Oak, does he really need to know? At this point of time?"
    "Yes." Oak said, stumbling with words. "It would be cruel for him to find out later."
    The number did not work. And Oak collapsed onto the couch.
    "He's underwater, isn't he? His phone won't work." Oak announced out loud.
    "Hang on." Birch suddenly turned and disappeared into his bedroom. "I received this by mail a couple of days ago, from Captain Stern. It's a number we can use to contact him when he's in the submarine. It's a special connection that lets him communicate with people above the surface. Dial this."
    After several tries, Oak could tell it was working. He wasn't too relived about it. He was slightly wary of being the man who gave Ash Ketchum this piece of news. He knew Ash only too well to understand what the boy would feel at this time- he would think of the world and his friends, and how he needed to save them and not dwell on what happened. He would let it hit him later- the grief, that is. But Ash Ketchum was a very different young man these days- did this aspect about remain the same?
    He heard a loud beep- the phone call had been received.
    "Er, hello?" came the voice of Captain Stern, sounding shaky and weak.
    "Stern? Professor Oak here. Is Ash with you?" Oak's voice quivered unusually as he prepared to say the words he had to say. Ash's voice came through the receiver.
    "Professor, hi, Ash here, you have no idea what we've found. It's amazing. There's so much we never understood, there's so much hidden that we have no idea about, and I doubt Sven's heard about it either. It's not about stones anymore- we don't need any ruined piece of rock to tell us the truth, I'm right here, Professor. I can feel it. I'm going to find out all the answers right now, everything right from the beginning. I'm sure of it. Do you remember when-"
    "Ash, stop. There's something you need to know."
    Ash stopped abruptly.
    "I can't say this without-"
    "Just say it, Professor. I don't have time to listen to sugarcoating. It's alright. Say it."
    Oak took a deep breath.
    "Sven knew. He sent something to attack Pallet. The whole town was burned down."
    Oak heard a loud release of breath from two throats- Ash and Gary, undoubtedly. He realized that Gary might take the news badly as well- this was his home. But Gary was lucky, the rest of his family had long since moved to a close by town.
    "My mother?"
    "Either missing or.."
    "Dead." Ash completed.
    "Yes, Ash. I'm so sorry, my child. I know it's not the best time, but I want you to not take this too hard- you don't have the time. Not at this point. He's trying to get to you. That's all. He's just pushing it too far."
    "Yes, don't worry about me, Professor. Don't worry. Thank you for telling me, I probably wouldn't have taken it well if you had kept this from me." Ash's voice sounded stable now, almost a little too stable.
    "Yes, Gary?"
    "Is there any way we can send you information from here?"
    "Yes. I'll open up a network for you to send me files straight to my computer. It works on something similar to how we're talking right now."
    "Alright, thank you."
    And a loud beep told Professor Oak that he had been disconnected from his grandson.
    He dropped the phone and his knees gave away, and he felt his kneecaps thud to the ground, but he felt no pain. Hot tears streamed down his face, and he hugged himself as the sobs racked his entire frame. Birch was beside him in an instant, his arm on a shoulder.
  17. flyinghorizons

    flyinghorizons Bug Catcher

    Nov 2, 2014
    Chapter Seventeen: War​

    The suit seemed unnecessary to Ash as he swam slowly forward. The water seemed to part for him either way, like his body had suddenly become streamlined as a fish. He felt the eyes of Flannery, Gary, and Captain Stern on his body as he approached the vast line of dead Pokémon. As he passed through, narrowly skirting the massive corpse of a coiled up Gyarados with sightless eyes, the ghostly figure emerged before his eyes. He heard Gary's murmured "Fuck" through the radio. Promptly, all normal sound died, and a terrible voice echoed through Ash's head.
    Ash Ketchum of Pallet Town and many more places. Why do you come this way and what is it you seek to sacrifice? You must know that if you fail to present a sacrifice, your own soul will come to me, and you will pass through the First Gate empty. Speak.

    I come for answers. And I have a Pokémon soul within me, take it if you want.

    Ash heard an amused laugh, a humorless sound that rattled his entire frame.

    You're an interesting young man. Only a few humans have passed beyond me alive, and none of them had a soul this powerful. This will give you enough power to pass beyond the First, Second, and Third Gates. Where did you find such a soul?

    Ash had absolutely no idea what the ghost was referring to. He had no idea what soul he had bouncing around inside his ignorant body.

    Here, above us. In the icy cave. I came with a friend, and the stone dragon came alive and the light was blinding enough to make sure we saw nothing. I must have received the soul at this time.

    More laughter.

    You don't know what sits within you, that is even more interesting. Let us see your sacrifice then, Ash Ketchum.

    Like a rope was being tugged out of his body, Ash felt an unfamiliar sensation. And then, like a massive beam of light, his entire body lit up in rays of light streaming out in every direction. Like a beast out of a cage, it emerged- first the long streamlined head, followed by the colossal length of a neck, and then muscular wings, and a long tail ending like a double pronged spear. Lugia turned to look at Ash face to face, and he felt a crushing weight on his heart, and all the air was squeezed out of him. Memories flooded his brain, endless images of a boy Ash bending low on a Lugia's back, the wind whipping his clothes around him like a cape. His eyes stung with tears.
    Lugia's big eyes slowly closed and opened, and she nodded, like she understood. She turned to the ghost, and looked his fearful face right in the eye. He nodded in greeting, almost politely acknowledging the presence of a soul so strong. As Ash watched, Lugia's glowing figure slowly lost a bit of its blazing light. The Lugia before him was now slightly diminished in color and posture. The ghost turned to Ash.
    The next two Gates might be easy enough to pass through with this soul, Ash Ketchum- but beyond that, you will only have yourself. I wonder what you will sacrifice.
    With those ominous words, the ghost disappeared, and in his place was a spinning blue hole in the water, like an endless spiral of water. Ash found himself drifting towards it. Only then did he realize that his suit had disappeared- and his clothes were dry as he moved through the water.
    He appeared to be in an endless sky, moving forward at massive speed. He heard Lugia's voice in his head, then, a voice as smooth and strong as it was years ago.
    He was right. I can take you through the Second and Third Gates untouched, but from the Fourth, you're on your own, Ash. Ask me any questions you have right now, for I am about to leave this realm of human beings and Pokémon.
    How many gates are there? What sacrifice will I have to make?
    There are five gates in total. These are the gates of death that every Pokémon passes through on death, when the soul leaves the body. At the First Gate, you lose the first external sacrifice, because you need the life of two to pass through these Gates. At the Second, your sight leaves you. At the Third, your heart leaves you.
    The power of love leaves you. You will be spared both of these because the power of my soul will be ample sacrifices for both Gates. The Fourth Gate does not rob you of anything- the Fourth gives you power, the power of rage. The only way to bypass this is to fill your mind with joyful thoughts- if hate and anger overpower your emotions, you will give in to the rage. The Fifth Gate is a question and reward.
    A question and a reward?
    But it was too late. The Second Gate stood in front of him, a great sharp thing of curling metal, smoky and rusting. He seemed to be standing on clouds, and below him lay the blue sky, but it did not look beautiful from here. Out of the clouds twisted a frightening beast, a serpent with cold green eyes and a body of clouds forming a long scaly thing, longer than even the lengthy figures of two Gyarados.
    Your eyesight is now mine, child. Do you have a sacrifice? I will accept if you do.
    Lugia appeared in front of Ash again, and as he watched, the great beautiful pair of eyes on Lugia's head became shadow.


    Flannery clutched her own arms as she watched Ash's body disappear into thin air, or thin water, rather. He had all of a sudden ceased to be visible. Gary swore again, and Stern simply stared ahead of him, seemingly wondering if he should accept the various happenings of the previous hour or reject them in his mind.
    After what seemed like hours, Flannery looked up at her two companions, who looked lost and hopeless. Gary was now mumbling to himself and Stern was stroking his forehead with his fingers.
    "Snap out of it. Ash wouldn't want us to sit and ponder over things like this. Remember what he said." As she said this, Ash's words echoed through her mind.
    "Once I'm out, get back to dry land. Meet Brock and Misty, and all four of you get to Lilycove and see what May and Wally have managed. It's time to fight. If I'm not back in two days, you need to start this fight. Take the battle to Sven, march on Mount Pyre. There's no more time for thinking and planning, it's just a war now. It's a Pokémon battle, on a larger scale, and with greater consequences. Don't hold back, and don't flinch. Understand?"
    Captain Stern and Gary had perhaps heard the same words in their heads, and so they rose with renewed intensity and energy. Stern grabbed the controls and began turning the submarine around, at the same time pressing a configuration of buttons Flannery knew drew upon the conserved power of the underwater machine, causing it to move at increased speed. Gary meanwhile had a keen and excited glint in his eye, like the thought of a global Pokémon battle on a hollowed out mountain was the most interesting prospect possible.

    In two days, they went to war.
  18. flyinghorizons

    flyinghorizons Bug Catcher

    Nov 2, 2014
    Chapter Eighteen: Breaking Bridges

    The smoldering image of Ash Ketchum and Gary Oak was now burned into the minds of every single man and woman within the room. The posters, one by one, peeled off and fell to the floor, smoking ruins starting miniature bonfires in the middle of the carpet.
    "Dead or alive. Both of them. Anyone who gets in the way, kill them." Sven said, standing beside the smoking posters.
    Blaine looked down at the floor as Sven spoke; the smooth shiny surface reflected his haggard and exhausted face. His lank hair hung to his shoulders and his collarbones stuck out prominently. Thankfully, agreeing to work for the Apostles meant food. Lots of food. Meat and fried things and cold drinks and tea in the morning- after such an absence of all of it, he seemed to want food and drink and peace every second of every day. If Ash and Gary were captured, he would have everything he wanted.
    Blaine shuddered to himself quietly. His hair felt like quills out of a porcupine- sharp, dangerous, and fearful. His skin glowed with goosebumps. He did not fear Ash Ketchum, not at all. He had faced Ketchum once before, and pummeled him to the ground mercilessly. Now, with the power of Pokémon souls, Blaine would be undefeatable, invincible, and Sven had given him control and leadership of the Ash Ketchum Gary Oak Squad. They were assassins, nothing more. Blaine had to go in, commit a murder for a cause he was forced to believe in, and get out to live his life normally. He wished he had been given a choice- he would have loved to fight by Ketchum's side. The thought of Ash's intentions clouded his mind- the Ketchum idiot had never been wrong yet- he knew which cause to champion.
    With the power at his command, not even a flawless strategy could best him. Ash could have the power of all his friends behind him, but he had nothing to counter the danger that Blaine was when he had his future to fight for. He remembered the disgusting defeat he was punished for at Littleroot Town. Salamence was hardly used to his touch by then, and could not destroy the town and was bested by an untrained Gyarados. It infuriated Blaine.
    He realized that Salamence would be of little help in a mission of this type. Ash Ketchum was to be erased stealthily- no evidence, no scene. Ash was to be erased, out of the world entirely. None would remember him because none would be alive who knew him. And Gary would fall without his rival's power, Blaine understood that much. Gary Oak had always been one to take the shortcut, while Ash took his time, bided his power, until the moment came. And Blaine realized time and time again that Ash Ketchum was unknown to the world.
    Ash Ketchum was not the same Ash Ketchum of years ago, he was a different man, from a different generation entirely. Blaine knew nothing of his team, nothing of his style, nothing of his skill level- and this drove him mad. He had always noticed a dark side in Ash, and had truly wondered as to how strong Ash could be commanding darkness. A truly good person was the only soul able to control the darkness- using light to bend the blackness to your way. If Ash realized that the golden light of Pikachu did not channel his true power, and that the deeper, darker, more raw powers had a better hold on his soul, Ash would be invincible. Perhaps Blaine was lucky that Sven had explained to him the power of his own soul as opposed to the Pokémon soul. What if Ash realized that to really bond with your Pokémon's soul, you didn't need to approach its soul directly, you needed to reach out to it with your own soul. Ash's connection would be untouchable. But then, Blaine realized- Ash had not got the hang of 'connecting' with any Pokémon other than his Pikachu, and word on the street said that Pikachu had left the mortal world years ago. Blaine realized he was overthinking things. Ketchum would be a breeze- and Gary Oak a mild buffet.
    The squad stood anxiously on the edge of the cliff, hesitating before climbing onto the backs of winged Pokémon. A super-sized Skarmory crowed above the noise of Blaine's giant Salamence's wrathful roar. The Pokémon took off like paper airplanes out of a child's hand- floating first before gliding gracefully out of sight. Blaine wondered what would be more difficult for Ash- defeating the trainers he faced in the Orange League or just seeing their traitor faces now, some almost a decade later.


    "Wait! You spoke to Gary and Flannery? Where's Ash?"
    May could not hear what the voice at the other end said. The rain pummeling the pavement outside the house left only noise in her ears, and Wally was shouting to be heard above the watery crashes. May suddenly saw Wally's face turn very grave- what had happened to Ash? She gripped the sides of the sofa tightly. Noticing her slow rise to hyperventilation, Wally turned and nodded reassuringly, gesturing that it was all okay. Either that, or he didn't know. But the conversation was important, and had to continue, over and above the lives of each individual in the team.
    "We meet at a rendezvous point, then. Where? Are you sure? Fine, fine, we'll be there. One thing though, how will Ash figure out where we are? If he comes back." Wally said.
    Comes back from where?!
    May racked her brain for different and steadily worse possibilities. Where had Ash disappeared to now?
    "Okay. Good luck with yours, then. I'll speak to this lot and figure out how we plan on doing this. We might have rest houses nearby- we can use them as first aid centers for anyone who needs it. What?"
    Wally chuckled darkly, and May seemed to see a more powerful side in him all of a sudden- there was a certain amount of power radiating from Wally at that moment.
    "Yes. It's going to be a proper war, Misty" He half-whispered. "I just hope the blood we shed is shed for the right reasons."
    He put the phone down, and turned to face May, his face a hard mixture of determination of anticipation to the next chapter that was coming.
    "Good news or bad news first?"
    "Bad" said May. She had always chosen to hear negativity before positivity so she could cloud the bad with the good.
    "Ash went alone into Aryon. He entered through what seemed to be an underwater gate. I don't really know how that works, but I do know that there's a lot riding on him, and the bad part is no one knows where he is, who he's with, what he's doing, and how he's going to get out."
    "Okay" said May bracingly. "The good news?"
    "Brock and Misty found the Rangers hiding in a mountain range outside Wisteria Town. Apparently a huge lot of them. As far as Misty told me, they seem prepared for battle- they have all their Pokémon with them from the wild. It seems like while we assumed the worst and expected nature to surrender to the Apostles, half of the Pokémon found a hiding place."
    "Would it be possible that all the Rangers across all the regions are hiding in Wisteria?" May asked hopefully.
    "It is. To my limited knowledge of Rangers, they have their own smart methods of communication, even across regions. That's how nature keeps in balance, because the Rangers talk to one another, about seasons, oncoming storms, and things like that. Technology and Pokémon make a good team for communication, you know."
    "Now what? What is the rendezvous point?" May inquired. This was the part she had been most confused about.
    "We're hitting Mount Pyre. So we're rendezvousing at Lavaridge Town. It's Flannery's town, so I'm sure we can find shelter there before the battle starts." Wally's voice had turned almost emotionless, but it seemed he was keeping it so with a fierce control over his feelings.
    "Battle?" May said blankly. She had heard the term hundreds and thousands of times before, but this time, it seemed more real. Another part of her told her to stop being a coward- this was bound to come. She had always known that this path usually ended with death and destruction. That was why it had begun in the first place.
    Wally went to make a few calls to organize food and medical supplies, and May simply sat and hugged herself, wondering where Ash was. She had been in such a situation with Ash Ketchum many times before, where he disappeared, leaving her to worry and fear. But nothing had left her with such a sinking feeling in her heart. The beats of her organ were soft and muffled beneath the negativity roiling in her mind. Something told her that Ash would not come out of this alive. Either that, or he would not come out of it at all. But then again, what if none of them came out of it alive? No criminal had ever been as powerful and influential- not the Giovanni of Team Rocket Ash had told her about, not Archie and Maxie. Sven was in a league of his own.

    An hour later, May found herself walking up a flight of stairs towards the Lilycove mall, stairs that, not too long ago, had seen large scale battle resulting in the Apostles fleeing the town. The mall stood before her, a colossal structure of metal and concrete built to house every different thing in the world. Wally and May had realized after much thought that housing an army of trainers and friends was not that difficult when you had a facility this big.
    In times like these, business dropped to an all-time low, and nothing Wally or May did would change. It seemed that because of the travel restrictions imposed all around the region, the mall received neither revenue nor fresh stock- which made the owner, Brenner Holly, give them access to every single nook and cranny, simply because he realized that the defeat of the Apostles would mean business would boom again. It struck May that if this battle was won, and the army that did it had taken shelter inside this very mall, and word spread of this, Brenner Holly would be bathing in money for quite a while.
    The elevator beeped before opening up its doors. May stepped out into what had become the lounge for her new friends- and unsurprisingly, she saw over a hundred different people sprawled across the massive expanse of the tenth floor of Lilycove's biggest structure. The floor was littered with wrappers and empty bottles, and May almost laughed when she caught the scent of alcohol. Her generation was....her generation in the end.
    May would never forget the events that followed. She remembered every vivid detail of the tenth floor, and every single thing she said. She recalled first shouting out loud, pulling all her friends towards her. It took about ten minutes for every other person from below to join them. Promptly, Wally was at her side, a stalwart pillar, smiling. May stood on the raised platform erected with steel shelves and tables, and smiled at the trainers in front of her.

    Wally almost laughed out loud despite the seriousness of the situation. He had not expected this, no one had. He doubted any of these trainers standing before him had expected the pretty girl to smile in greeting all of a sudden, with a smile so simple, innocent, and happy. The room filled with smiles, one by one, two by two. Wally chuckled to himself. This was what Ash meant, he realized. May certainly did have a way with people. Wally rarely listened to anyone, but when it came to this girl, he couldn't stop himself. He found himself rapt with attention every time she started on her speeches. He watched her, this averagely- tall girl, making fierce eye contact with the crowd, as she began.
    "I'm not going to rewind to explain to you why we are all assembled here again- I think all of you know the situation we're in. But we just received a bit of an update, from Flannery and Gary-" said May, pausing as loud whispers filled the room at the mention of Gary Oak- "that Ash will be joining us later-" more loud whispering- "but we now have a goal in mind, and a mission." May stopped there for emphasis. And it worked. Here, Wally realized May was now about to reveal the one bit of information Ash had told them to keep hidden and secret.
    "We couldn't tell you this at first, because it was top secret and too dangerous for too many to know. A while back, Ash flew to the headquarters of the Apostles of the Stars and snuck in to rescue Gary. We know where the headquarters are."
    The trainers suddenly stopped, and Wally understood. All this time, they would have expected themselves to be raring for a fight, ready to take Sven down, angry and prepared. They must have expected themselves to jump with vigor the moment they found the headquarters of the Apostles. But the moment was such that it was obvious to all listening that May had only revealed this last and crucial piece of information either because it was absolutely necessary or simply because everyone would find out anyway. When it came down to it, fear gripped their hearts. And Wally didn't blame them. The façade he put on to look calm and composed was more for May than the people around him and himself. He knew that if he lost his composure, May would have no one by her side.
    The crushing truth was that Wally was scared. And May did not know this. She did not know that Wally stayed up at night trembling because it reduced him to tears to think of his Gardevoir lying lifeless on a battlefield, or even of May or Ash even.
    He took a deep breath, and devoted his mind to May, again.
    "The fear in your faces right now tells me that you don't feel ready." May simply said. Wally looked up so fast he hurt his neck. May's voice was no longer washing over him pleasantly like it usually did- it was now a powerful and living thing. It was no longer soft and good natured, but confident and strong.
    And I thought she was a plastic doll with no mind when I met her first.
    "That. Is. Wrong. Everyone in this room is ready" continued May, gazing fiercely at the people around her. "There was a time when almost every one of you strolled through the endless Victory Roads and Orange Islands, there was a time when each of you destroyed a Gym Leader with the back of your hand. And some of you are Gym Leaders here who have the experience and wisdom of a thousand battles, and can still stand up.
    "We have all done it once, and once more, and once again. We are not an army, we are a team. Of fire, water, light, darkness, earth, wind, of everything. Yes, this is bigger than before. Bigger, with scarier consequences. But no one is going to stand up to the Apostles but us. We're all that's left between the Apostles and total control over our world."
    May stared around at the people in the room, all who had seemed to have caught their breath. May had made them emphasize mentally on an entire future, an entire dark, frightening future.
    "Let's destroy the Apostles, let's get them off the graveyard of our Pokémon, and make them pay for what they've done to our world."
    Suddenly, one single roar went up from somewhere amidst the crowd, and within seconds, it was followed by a resounding cheer, and louder shouts related to the downfall of the Apostles and the restoration of all things good. Once the noise died down, May smiled at everyone again.
    "Here's the plan. We meet Gary and Flannery at the rendezvous point- the rangers are arranging for a secret place that no one can find us in. We start our journey there by nightfall today- the darkness will hopefully hide everyone. So start packing. Only what is necessary and required. Thank you"
    May ended and stepped off the stage, and took a seat beside Wally. She was exhaling and inhaling with a little more force than needed, Wally noticed. But she simply glowed, the energy just exuding from her skin.
    "How did I do?" she asked.
    "Brilliant." Wally said, at once. He looked down at his feet, and then swept his green hair out of his face. "Feel like going for a walk with me?"
    May smiled at him, and he smiled back.


    There had to be an error in Professor Oak's calculations, Ash thought to himself bitterly as he floated across the green-blue water, breathing in liquid but exhaling air. He simply stared as a school of Magikarp, translucent and glowing, as they passed him. No amount of calculating and inferring could lead anybody to believe what was happening was indeed happening.
    There was a chill in the water now, like Ash had passed into an ocean current. The Second Gate was behind him now, but as he watched, Lugia's body began peeling away. Gigantic strips of skin began crumbling and twisting away into the dark waters behind Ash. As they moved further into the ocean, the crumbling accelerated. Ash gasped as he saw the left wing of Lugia dissipate into nothing but liquid vapor. A thought suddenly struck him.
    What if Lugia doesn't survive the trip to the Third Gate? Will I lose my heart? What does losing a heart feel like?
    Blank negativity coursed through Ash, as a red glow emanated, originating far in the distance. He recalled what Lugia said about passing through the Fourth Gate- the Gate of Rage. He had to think joyful thoughts, happy thoughts, and he'll get through it. Perhaps happy thoughts will help him keep his heart. But at the rate he was going, he would lose his heart, take the power of rage, and he wouldn't be himself anymore. He imagined what it would be like to be a shadow like Lugia was now.
    The Third Gate approached slowly, ominously, still glowing bright blood red. When he finally floated almost ten feet from it, the guardian appeared, just like his counterparts had at the previous gates. This one formed out of the water itself, creating a creature Ash recognized for once. Now with shape, it straightened up before him, towering above intimidatingly. Gazing at him with wide open opal eyes was a Lapras.
    Ash's mouth dropped open as he slowly realized. The look of recognition in Lapras' eyes made understanding wash through him.
    Hello, Ash.
    Lapras? What are you doing here? Why are you guarding the third gate?
    Ash remembered his old times now, sitting perched on Lapras' shell, cruising through the surface of the ocean like a blade running through butter, the wind ruffling his hair and jacket. How many old friends would he meet before the end?
    I chose to do this. Guarding one of the gates is considered one of the greatest privileges to us Pokémon, Ash.
    Ash said nothing, for fear his emotions would overpower him at the moment. Lapras spoke again, into his thoughts.
    Ash, I must do my duty as gatekeeper. Do you have a sacrifice?
    Lugia appeared again, this time practically falling to dust as the waters swirled around them. Lugia was about to leave. Ash winced. He did not feel sadness for the loss of life- he felt sadness for the sacrifice he had to make to get this far.
    Lugia's remaining wing crumbled.
    Ash, I will tell you this, because you are my friend. Lugia is not a powerful enough sacrifice to make at this point. At the Third Gate you need something exceptionally powerful and...whole. As much as my gatekeeper duties are important, I feel it is my duty to you to tell you- I can restrict the toll by a small amount. But you will lose some amount of your feelings, even with my help. Be prepared. The next few gates are more challenging, Ash.
    An orange glow spread around Ash, and Lugia turned to him, silent at first.
    Goodbye, Ash Ketchum. I'll never forget you. And remember,
    Like snowflakes melting, Lugia fell to pieces, finally disappearing completely.

    All of a sudden, Ash felt his body quiver madly, and a pull ran up his chest. As he watched, black and white glowing strings began unravelling from inside him, pulling away and twisting. The threads emanated waves of light as they pulled further and further away.
    These are the threads of your heart, Ash. The white represents the power of your love, because love is clean and pure. The black is the hate in your heart. Every creature on this planet upon birth has an equal balance of both. But some lose their way, and the balance changes.
    Ash's heart hammered wildly as the strings moved away. Ash noticed with shock that the length of the white strings leaving him was several feet longer than the black strings of hate that seemed reluctant to leave him. He felt the change in balance that Lapras spoke about. He felt a sudden odd drop in pressure around him, and he felt his heart calm down slightly. The beating was less prominent and hammer-on-anvil and more muffled now. All the tension of the moment had ebbed away to be replaced by a calm feeling, but Ash disliked it. It felt cold more than cool, frozen in fact.
    It is done. I am sorry I could not do any more for you, Ash Ketchum. You may pass through this gate. I hope this journey has been your choice and no one else's, because the line between life and death is not something easily crossed. You will not come back.

    And with those words of comfort, Ash drifted through the third gate. The water simply parted for him now; he didn't move a muscle. It suddenly struck him that he needed joyful thoughts to fill his mind- he needed to get through the fourth gate. He brought up the first image in his mind- Flannery. He pictured her red hair and her full lips, and her solid, warm body, but he felt nothing. He felt nothing. The red hair seemed more maroon than flaming, passionate red, not the red that made Ash's eyes sparkle every time he gazed upon it. The glowing fiery eyes did not capture his attention as they usually did. And even when he tried to feel her lips upon his, and when he tried to recall the warmth that transferred to his body every time they touched, the warmth disappeared, only to be replaced by a freezing cold feeling of nothing. Ash had never loved a girl like he did Flannery, but perhaps the situations they were put in led him to feel this way? And now, the feelings had dissipated just as Lugia's body had. Flannery seemed an empty vessel now, a mannequin. He was now...heartless, it seemed.
    No. This can't happen. Try, Ash, try.
    What Ash did next, he did not believe himself. In an image of utter bitter and dark sarcasm- a talent Ash thought he had no hope with, Ash chuckled. He chuckled to himself grimly, because he had just told himself to try to have a heart. He imagined what his mother would say if she saw him right now, floating among Pokémon souls, almost heartless, almost dead.
    Like pictures appearing in a slideshow, images of his friends rippled through his mind. He kept the slideshow going in his head as he floated towards the fourth gate. He concentrated on the features that had brought him most happiness- Brock's bushy eyebrows, Misty's ginger hair, May's odd hairstyle, Wally's permanent spotlessly white shirt, Gary's cocky stare, Flannery's fiery eyes, and finally, the lab coats of Professor Oak and Birch. But he could not remember anything for long enough- his focus constantly wavered away, into the sharp and clear cut features of a man he had never seen in his life. Sven had never been photographed, so even Oak and Birch had not had access to his face. But what Ash saw in his mind was the truth; he knew this was Sven. He could picture cruelty flowing in each sharp cheekbone, and he could feel the power of wisdom and death emanating from this man. And he wanted to cut him down. He wanted to do it. He would not let his Pokémon strike the final blow- he would, with his bare hands and teeth, tear Sven apart limb from limb, until the man screamed for his mother. Ash would rip him apart mentally, showing him exactly what pain was- the pain that he went through, and the pain that he didn't let himself feel when he found out his mother had been murdered.
    My mother has been murdered.
    It hit him then, as if a cannonball had struck him in the place where his heart was. He saw his mother's greying but beautiful brown hair, her little apron in front, and her slender hands, hands that loved fussing with Ash's hair and his beard and his clothes. The miniscule amount of affection he felt now, Ash realized, was the only bit of positive emotion he had felt within the last hour.
    They do not have all of my heart.
    As he floated away towards the fourth gate, ignorant of what was coming, he smiled a twisted smile to himself. His mother would have quite happy with herself if she realized that she was the only thing that prevented him from losing all love in his heart. All of a sudden, memories flooded his mind, along with a voice. The voice was calming, soothing, but deep and powerful.
    You do not have a sacrificial soul, nor do you carry true happiness within your heart. But I commend you, boy, because not many pass through the third gate still clutching part of their heart.
    Things had become so bleak for Ash that he had lost the feeling of being intimidated. He decided to respond to this female gate guardian.
    I had a powerful soul with me. He disappeared after the third gate, though.
    Incorrect. Lugia already had almost nothing to begin with. The only thing pulling that Pokémon along was willpower and memories of what you did for him years ago. Lugia did not pull you through the gates, you pulled yourself through the gates. Only one human has done this before, so I congratulate you. But this is where your resistance stops. Your heart is partly lost, and I can read you like a book. You are open to rage. Rage to destroy your enemies. Am I right?
    Yes, you are right.
    Then accept this gift from me, before you receive the rage you are assigned. Your wrath will be such that memories and moments will be almost too fragile in your mind, so fragile you will readily dismiss it. And so, for one last time, boy, take a dip into your life, the life you leave behind as you pass this gate. Or do you wish to exit now, take your half-heart, and live life?
    Give me my memories.
  19. flyinghorizons

    flyinghorizons Bug Catcher

    Nov 2, 2014
    Chapter Nineteen: Utopia

    As Brock, Misty, and Jenny looked down, the sun began setting, casting an orange sheen over the entire valley. The Rangers had set up their camp spreading out from an almost invisible-from-above gorge, a gorge that housed all their supplies. Beyond the gorge was the massive arrangement of tents with leafy roofs, orange and green. Pokémon, true Pokémon with souls, Pokémon that could walk with full control of their bodies and minds. Brock smiled to himself as he saw a huge curled up Steelix lying right at the end of the camp, surrounded by smaller Pokémon taking shade from Steelix's overlarge head. A small lake lay at the other side, where Brock could see water Pokémon diving in and leaping out, streams of beautiful crystal clear water following them.
    "Welcome to Utopia" said Jenny, now dressed in a pair of well-fitting jeans and a black collared tee shirt.
    "Good name" Misty said, smiling as widely as Brock. Brock was sure he shared Misty's thoughts at this moment- both of them would have loved to disregard their mission and perhaps relive some of their old times. Vivid images of a younger him, Misty, and Ash, with Pikachu perched on his shoulder, playing in the water along with their Pokémon filled Brock. He recalled Snorlax's mass causing a mini tsunami as he emerged from his Pokéball, still as fast asleep as he was inside it.
    The trio began walking down a set of steps cut into the rocky mountain, steps that had been existent for a while- moss and shrubs covered each step, making it seem like Brock was walking into a fairytale. The lower and closer they descended towards the camp, Brock could see that he would have no need to motivate these Rangers to fight. No one in this camp was inactive- everyone moved, whether they did important work or small things like cleaning up and cooking. Each Ranger dressed in simple clothes- plain shirts and jeans for the boys, and the girls dressed in shorts and tee shirts. Jenny led them towards the lake at the very end of the camp, striding past tents. People stopped and stared as Brock and Misty walked past. Children clambered and scurried to get looks at them. Brock even thought he saw a few young girls pointing in his direction. He almost laughed to himself.
    The day a girl sees me beyond my tiny eyes, I'll be damned.
    But Brock was not the only one receiving wide-eyes attention at this camp. Misty, as she walked beside him, was doing a far better job at attracting the gaze of the rangers. It struck Brock then just how different Misty was from many years ago. He remembered the old Misty- walking forward like a little girl in blue shorts and suspenders over her yellow top, her hands converging over Togepi's fragile body. On first sight, she looked weak, and a child. But the Misty Brock was sure people were seeing was a confident, pretty, and powerful young woman. Her orange hair swept down to her lower back now, combed to one side, and her constant training underwater with her Pokémon had given her an athlete's body; in fact, Brock noted that Misty had the fitness level and body of a true Ranger. Like an older brother being shocked at his own sister's beauty, Brock, sighed. He was lucky. He had enough siblings to care about. He was fortunate enough to have anticipated Sven's strategies in advance, along with Misty. Both of them had made absolutely sure of the safety of their families before entering into this venture. A refuge had been set up within Mount Chimney- it had been Ash's idea. Right before they had left Littleroot, Ash had brought out a map so they could pinpoint safety houses all over the region. Mount Chimney, Ash recalled, housed the old hideout of Team Magma, a hideout that Ash and his friends had almost burnt down. Brock's and Misty's families were safe and sound in the hidden shelter of the Magma hideout. It struck Brock that Misty's sisters, older than all his little siblings, would be taking care of the latter. He imagined Misty's sisters taking his little brothers out for walks and making sure they ate well. He decided instantly that he needed to return the favor, and take care of Misty for her sisters. She may have turned into a confident and powerful young woman, but she certainly did get carried away sometimes.
    "I'm taking you to see one of the leaders of the Rangers here, one of the main Heads of Utopia, responsible for defense and security. Robin Molly. He's a bit young, but don't underestimate his influence over the Rangers or his talent and skill." Jenny said, as they approached the lake, now swarming with activity; shirtless men swam, splashing water at each other. Brock saw Misty blush from the corner of his eye as she noted that each and every young Ranger had a sculpted body. Brock could not help but notice the girls as they gracefully waded around.
    "Wow! Brock and Misty?! Here?!" a loud and energetic voice said. They turned to see a young man wading towards them, dripping wet- he had just emerged from the depths of the lake. Wearing nothing but a pair of Bermuda shorts, he stretched out a hand and shook both of their hands.
    "Robin Molly. It's a pleasure to finally meet you two. I've heard so much about you guys."
    While Misty's mouth fell open and her eyes lowered to Robin's perfectly shaped abdomen muscles, Brock widened his eyes. This was Robin Molly? He chuckled mentally. The Rangers had always done things their way- they understood that age did not instantly mean power, skill, talent, or wisdom. Youth often had all those qualities- look at Ash and Gary. With years between the two rivals and Brock, they had still always been undoubtedly more skilled than he ever was. Confusion made Brock frown though, because he could not fathom how Robin had heard anything of Misty and him. He put this question to the young man in front of him; Misty couldn't manage a single word in between the irregular eye contact she kept sharing with him.
    "We're Rangers, Brock, we hear things. We know you've been searching for us- we have sources of information. We were waiting for you. And we've been getting ready."
    "Ready for what?" Brock asked.
    "Battle," said Robin simply.
    Robin, still shirtless, began walking around the perimeter of the lake, still dripping. A rail of drops hit the ground with every step he took. After an initial pause at their arrival, the other rangers went back to their antics.
    "It's a great thing you guys got here at this time. After sunset is when this place really looks like Utopia." He said, leading them into the heart of the camp. As he said this, a warm glow began spreading from the gorge up ahead. Brock and Misty gasped out loud as hundreds of Chinchou rose up into the air, shining their lights brilliantly. They surrounded the camp in dim light that, concentrated, was bright and powerful.
    "How do they stay up?" Brock asked, gesturing toward the fact that all the Chinchou floated in mid-air.
    "These are a special rare species of Chinchou; we discovered them in an underwater cave, would you believe it. Right under Sootopolis City. Oh, stick around with us for a while and you'll see some strange Pokémon, Brock. There are special ones everywhere, ones with the weirdest features. I once met a Charmander that loved swimming."
    "Aren't you afraid the camp will be found?" Misty piped up. It was the first time she had spoken. Perhaps this had something to do with the fact that at night, shirtless men were not as visible.
    "We've thought a lot about that" began Robin. "But we're Rangers. Living in hiding like this, always on edge, protecting our Pokémon and families, we rarely have an opportunity to witness the beauty that we're so addicted to in the Pokémon world. We can afford small moments like this. The Chinchou will go back to sleep in about fifteen minutes. And either way, this camp has been hidden for centuries, Misty."
    Misty blushed at being addressed directly.
    "Centuries?" Brock asked.
    "There are countless Ranger camps across the world, all hidden, Brock. Not a single one is found unless, like Jenny here, confidantes and friends of the Rangers in particular exist. We run a fairly tight ship over here, even though it seems like we're having fun. This Utopia has been here at least a decade before Wisteria Town was even built, would you believe it."

    On entering the camp, Brock remembered sighting the hidden gorge right at the entrance- a gorge that he was sure would be used for food and shelter. Bright yellow lights flared at its entrance, illuminating the darkness of the night. Resembling the entrance to some sort of cave, the gorge opened up almost exactly like Brock had imagined a secret lair would. Robin suddenly reached out into what seemed to be utter blackness and emerged with a white tee shirt that he ducked into. Brock and Misty followed him away from the dimness behind and into the lit up tunnel. Rangers were everywhere here- but not the normal children and families Brock had seen outside. Here, it seemed, was where preparations were underway.
    Three women sat cross legged on the leaf strewn floor, using heavy tools- chisels and sharp objects that funnily resembled icepicks. An unending shine was scattered across the walls of the tunnel, but Brock could still not put a description to what they were making until one of the women lifted her piece up to the light, presumably to examine her work. She was holding up a small piece of what seemed like armor. Brock looked at Robin questioningly.
    "Our Pokémon need protection on the battlefield. All of our Pokémon. Yours, mine, everyones."
    Brock nodded gratefully. The effect of what Robin said dawned on him in two ways. Robin had just, in one stroke, made the Rangers look like utterly unselfish teammates- they were unselfish teammates. Along with that, Robin had made the word battle resound in Brock's mind again and again. It really hit him just then- that war was coming, and so was death and bloodshed.
    "The plates are made of a natural fiber we make out of special hardened roots we find in the forests. So the number of armor pieces is almost unlimited, and our Pokémon have something that the Apostles don't."
    They walked on and on, through a large number of people, accounting for the many empty tents Brock and Misty had passed as they walked through the forest. They passed under a leafy curtain and emerged into a bustling canteen, complete with long wooden tables and picnic chairs. The canteen was filled with Rangers who ate their food and accompanied bites with animated conversation. One table lay empty. The four sat together at one table- Jenny and Brock sitting across from Misty and Robin, who had his eyes on Brock and Misty the entire time. As they sat, Brock noted the same look he received from the people outside- one of awe and anticipation. The Rangers were subtle with the way they listen, clearly, because the talk did not visibly die down. The same buzz of animated conversation lingered in the air as Robin looked at them almost expectantly, waiting for them to say something. Was the look in his eyes one of challenge? But no, Robin's personality had unfolded and unraveled to Brock like a loosely tied scroll, and he could see that this young man was not only intelligent but good natured and enthusiastic too. He wasn't looking for a challenge- he was looking for approval. He wanted to know if Ash Ketchum's representative believed that the Rangers could fight for them. Brock almost laughed to himself. He never realized how Ash's name was so well known to the world- and that after his six month disappearance, news of his comeback might have been spread far and wide, resulting in the beautiful phenomenon of hope and faith.
    "I think the setup you've got here is absolutely great. I see organization, manpower, energy, and most of all, power. I trust the Rangers with my life- your knowledge of the world and Pokémon is held in no higher regard than it is with me and Ash. I speak for Ash and Gary when I say that it would be a privilege to join the Rangers in this battle." Brock said in one breath.
    Robin smiled gleefully and held out his hand. Brock took it and felt his hand wrung by a lean muscled arm. Robin then clapped his hands loudly, and disappeared for hardly a second, to have a word with a man in an apron at the end of the room, who smiled and bent out of sight. By the time Robin came back to the table, the air in the room was different, Brock could not explain it in any other way. Some things are often unexplainable- some feelings, some intangible things, and Brock could not explain the alleviation of tension in the room. He realized then that the canteen had just loosened up. The smiles on the faces of the Rangers were more pronounced now, and soon, people were getting up and joining Brock and Misty at their table. A young woman appeared beside Brock and playfully shoved him inwards so she had a miniscule amount of space, a space she took gratefully.
    "So you're Brock Flint." She said. Her sauntering walk up to the table came off as almost aggressive at first, but when Brock looked up at her, he could say, quite frankly, something clicked inside him. Her expression was curious, not cocky, she had a pleasant smile playing on her lips, not a smirk.
    Forget that, look at those eyes.
    Brock found himself looking deep into cerulean eyes, and only realized he was staring until they blinked. He disguised his sudden reverie by taking a sip from his glass of water, and then nodded.
    "Hi, and you are?" he asked her, politely.
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