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?" "Yes." 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.