Run of the Gauntlet
PikaJenn's Disclaimer: This is a story I am posting for my friend Banjodog. She holds exclusive rights to this story, it's plot, and any characters you don't recognize. Okay, on to her own disclaimer. Aren't they fun!!

Please review and leave this first time author some great reviews!!

Prologue through Chap. One

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Run of the Gauntlet
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: I own a pencil and a piece of paper. Nothing more of true value. Nintendo owns Pokémon.

Summary: One of my favorite Pokémon stories that I have written so far. Lance is forced to choose between a rock and hard place, Mewtwo makes a huge appearance, an interesting and a major revelation on who Ash's father is.

*Au contraire mon ami. French for "On the contrary, my friend (masculine form)." Appears a little further down.


Gauntlet: n. A severe test; ordeal

Prologue

"You'll never get away with this," a scratchy, tired, and angry voice said venemously, shaking with hatred. The owner of the voice was cut in more places than he could count, bleeding from all of them, and chained to the floor. And his pokémon were gone. He was virtually nothing without his pokémon. They were what he was famous for.

There was virtually no light, but that would not have mattered anyway, for his eyes were so bloodshot that all he could see was red. It was cold and so hard that even sleep could not block the pain and discomfort out. Every nerve cell in his body was throbbing, crying out in horrified protest anytime he moved even just a twitch. His jet black hair was matted and tangled, his red eyes glazed over in pain. It was too much. And yet he survived it.

The dark figure that stood outside his cramped prison laughed heartily, evily. A soft growling could be heard as well. A Persian, the cut, blistered, bruised prisoner thought. Cat pokémon. Height: 3' 3". Weight: 71 pounds. Tough to raise because of its fickle meanness.Evolution of Meowth. And this one was about level 27. Enough experience to have evolved from a Meowth, yet had not been in enough battles to be at a high level.

"I believe that I already have gotten away with it, Lance" the figure said in his deep voice that sounded digitally altered. Lance scowled, his brow furrowing in severe disapproval.

"I'm the leader of the Elite Four. You don't think that people won't notice my disappearance? They'll come looking for me. Every trainer and master around for miles will be searching high and low for me," Lance challenged. His captor laughed again.

"That, mister leader of the Elite Four, is exactly on what I am counting on."

"What do you mean?"

"Tell me, Lance. Do you recognize this boy?" his captor asked, tossing a photo to Lance. It landed and skidded to a few inches within Lance. It ended up upside down, but Lance could have recognized that face anywhere. Even in a room full of identical people, Lance would be able to pick him out.

"Ash Ketchum..." Lance responded, his dry throat cracking under the new emotional wave that threatened to drown him.

"That's right. If your theory is correct, then he will search for you too. And that's exactly what I want."

"Leave him alone. He has done nothing to you," Lance replied dangerously. If any harm came upon Ash, Heaven have mercy upon those who tormented him.

"Au contraire, mon ami.* He has done much. He has disgraced and beaten and humiliated my once two best agents. He has challenged Team Rocket and therefore challenged me. Plus, I hear he has a wonderfully strong Pikachu. One of the strongest in the world, if I'm not mistaken. Now, if you cooperate..."

"I'll never cooperate with you, you murderous scum!" Lance spat back. The captor laughed once again.

"Do you realize that if you don't cooperate with me, well then..." the captor said, picking up the photo. Lance lunged, but the chains held him back. "Well, just be glad that I've shown him to you one last time," he added almost nonchalantly. Horror spread across his face in the one great unspeakable terror to all like him.

"DON'T YOU DARE KILL HIM!!!"

"I think, that you are in no position to make demands," came the reply, sounding mockingly regretful. The Persian growled with a menacing smile, the lips curling above inch long, ivory colored fangs. Lance gulped. To have those teeth meet his throat...

"But, if you cooperate, no harm will come to the boy."

"What do you want me to do?" Lance asked after a long pause. He was stuck between a rock and hard place. To actually work for this shadow man...but to lose Ash....

"I want you to help me find him," the shadowman said, putting extra emphasis on 'him.' Once again Lance was tossed a picture and saw a pokémon never seen before. It looked like a Mew, only...not. Shadowman picked up the photo again and stuffed it in his pocket.

"That's it? Find that pokémon?"

"Don't underestimate him. That's pretty much it. Oh, and join Team Rocket."

"I'll NEVER join Team Rocket!"

"Either you join or Ash will die."

"You can't make me do this...."

"Choose. A or B. Life or death. Kill or be killed. No in betweens. No shades of gray. Choose."

"I can't....I........I'll do it," Lance choked out his acceptance. The shadowman smiled evily and started to leave.

"Wait!" Lance called out. The man turned. "If I'm going to be working for you, shouldn't I know who you are?"

"No one knows who I am. But I'll let you see anyway," the man said with too much amusement for Lance's taste. The man stepped into the faded, dim and dying light and Lance reared back in horror.

"Giovanni!?!?!?! How could you?! You!?!"

"Well, Lance Ketchum of Pallet Town. Welcome to the Team."

Chapter One

Ash walked leisurely through the streets of Russet City, Pikachu riding happily on his shoulder. For once, they were on their own. The two were on a special training mission, where Ash could get no help from Brock or Misty. The two gym leaders were in Pallet Town, staying with Ash's mom, where they were enjoying a nice, relaxing vacation. Secretly, Ash was glad to be out on his own. It was how he had first envisioned it. Just him and Pikachu. Facing the world alone. Making discoveries on their own. Together.

Russet City was beautiful this time of year. It was famous for its autumn colors and weather. The wind was crisp and fresh, sharpening senses long since dulled during the summer months. The trees were ablaze with nearly all colors of the spectrum, each dying leaf a tiny little rainbow. And for a city, it was quite peaceful.

"Hey, Pikachu! Look!" Ash exclaimed.

"Pi?" Pikachu replied in curiosity and turned to face his head towards the direction of Ash's gaze. Almost instantly, his brown eyes filled with delight.

"It's the Autumn Fest!" Ash said to no one. He took off running towards the celebration, determined to have a good time.

"Hey, you! Are you Ash Ketchum of Pallet Town?" a female voice called out. Ash skidded to a stop and turned. A girl, about eighteen, dressed in a summer dress the color of russet and brown sandles stood there, a smile on her face. She had long red hair and green eyes.

"Yeah," Ash answered.

"My name is Wendy, and I challenge you to a pokémon match!" Wendy announced loudly. Ash's mouth broke into a a grin.

"You're on!" he said excitedly.

"Three pokémon each, standard League rules," she said, pulling a miniature pokéball out.

"Sounds good to me!" Ash replied and also pulled out a pokéball. Being the challenger, Wendy had to call out her pokémon first.

"Wendy says, Pidgeot! Come out!"

Ash pulled back his hat and prepared for the battle.

"Pikachu! I choose you!" Ash replied, knowing the electric was good against bird/flying.

"Pidgeot! Sandstorm!" Wendy said and Pidgeot flew a little lower to the ground, so it could kick up the sand either. Pikachu shut his eyes against the stinging grains.

"Pikachu! Retaliate! Thunder Bolt!" Ash countered. Eyes still shut, Pikachu leaped off the ground, out of the sandstorm's range and powered up. Electricity crackled and shot from the mouse's red cheeks, giving Pidgeot a nice shock.

"Pidgeot! Peck!"

Pidgeot divebombed Pikachu, its ivory beak attacking Pikachu's soft body.

"Pikachu! Double team!"

Pikachu obeyed, and within an instant, Pikachu had more than quadrupled its image, confusing Pidgeot. Pidgeot began to improvise, attacking each and every image that it saw. Once its back was turned to the original, Pikachu leaped and powered up for Thunder. It did so, the air crackling and hissing with the electricity. Pidgeot fell to the ground, unconcious.

"Pidgeot! Return. Good job, Pidgeot. Wendy says, come out Rattata!"

A tiny purple rat came out in a flash of red light, looking very energetic and with some nice looking incisors. Pikachu did not even flinch. The young mouse had not even broken a sweat yet and was no where near tiring. Ash decided to not waste time. By now, there were people watching, but neither competitor noticed.

"Pikachu! Mega Punch!"

Rattata tumbled away painfully, and hesitated before it tried to get up. Ash figured that Wendy had just gotten this Rattata, and because it was so low in level, she decided to get it more experience. Still, he could show no mercy.

"Agility!" Ash shouted before Wendy could call out an attack for her Rattata. Whenever he was in battle, Ash's mind cleared, letting no other thought interrupt. It was all instinct and spur of the moment. Improvisation. And it always seemed to work.

Rattata was out like a light. And it never got a chance to strike back. Ash felt a slight pang of guilt, but quickly shoved it away.

"It's okay, Rattata. Wendy says, come out Geodude!"

"Geo," the rock pokémon said deeply, prepared for a battle. Ash knew that Pikachu wasn't tired, but he saw his friend's mouth drop open slightly. Rock was extremely good against electric. Ash needed to strike first. It would be their only advantage. That and Pikachu's speed and intelligence.

"Pikachu! Quick attack!" Ash shouted and Pikachu complied. Geodude flinched, but it did not look that hurt.

"Geodude! Rock throw!"

Pikachu dodged each and every rock that was thrown at him.

"Thunder," Ash commanded softly, somehow feeling the power that Pikachu was gathering inside its own body. Thunder was one of Pikachu's strongest attacks.

The Geodude was more surprised than hurt, but Ash could see some damage had been done, even if only by a little. Better than nothing.

"Rockslide," Wendy said. Pikachu dodged the first rock, but recieved the second one in the jaw. Ash winced. That had to have hurt. Pikachu rubbed his jaw and and jumped high up into the air. Ash understood.

"Electric Storm," Ash voiced.He had discovered this incredible attack that only a few Raichu's had ever been able to master, much less Pikachus.

Pikachu curled up, focusing as much energy as possible. The sky suddenly grew dark, the clouds taking over, thunder rumbling. The lights around them flickered before dying. The thunder was much louder now and Wendy looked scared. As did Geodude.

"Pikaaa......CHHHUUUU!" Pikachu yelled and released Electric Storm. Lightning came down from the clouds and traveled through Pikachu, who was acting as a sort of lightning rod. The Geodude was pumped full of thousands and thousands volts of electricity, nearing a million. Enough to make Geodude glow a dull orange. Pikachu stopped and fell to the ground, landing on his paws and panting. Geodude hovered a few minutes before falling on its back, eyes closed. It had fainted. Wendy ran over and tried to comfort her pokémon.

"Ow! Geez, that's HOT!" she exclaimed, pulling her hand away. So, instead, she pulled out a pokéball and recalled Geodude. She held the ball lightly, the heat seeping through the wall.

She stood up and examined the sight before her. Pikachu was snuggling in Ash's arms, Ash praising him.

"Good job, Pikachu. That was incredible!" Ash said happily. The clouds had cleared and the lights had come back on.

"That was a good match, Ash. You're a good trainer," Wendy commented. Ash smiled.

"Thanks. You gave me a scare with that Geodude," Ash replied. Wendy forced a smile, which actually looked more like a grimace of pain.

"I'll see you around," she said, slapping his shoulder. Ash's grin grew as Wendy turned and walked away, her dress billowing in the wind.

Wendy darted into a dark alley and when she made sure she was alone, she grabbed her cell phone. She dialed the number that she had been given and slowed her breathing. She could not be discovered.

"Yes?" a harsh voice asked.

"Sir, I have him tagged," Wendy reported mechanically. She could basically hear Giovanni smiling.

"Good. Keep a close watch on him. I have his father. Now we need him. Have you battled the Pikachu?"

"Yes sir, just like you asked me to. Incredible power. Defeated Geodude, the most powerful of my pokémon with an attack he called Electric Storm."

"Electric Storm? I knew his Pikachu was strong but....so you have his signal?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good. Keep a close watch on him."

"Yes sir. Wendy out."

****

Ash walked through the fair grounds, taking in the sights, sounds and smells. He was as elated as Pikachu that they had won against Wendy, and he felt that they deserved a rest.

"Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Lance, leader of the Elite Four has been KIDNAPPED!" a young paper boy called out frantically. It seemed that all of the noise in the fair died.

"Officer Jenny commands all knowledge to be reported! Extra!" the boy continued and a mass of people ran towards him. Even Ash. The boy was trampled as anxious hands made grabs for the papers. Ash managed to dart in and out of people, got a copy and ran back out again. Pikachu looked over Ash's shoulder.

Leader of Elite Four is Kidnapped!

by Wilma Renport

Indigo Plateau. Yesterday, at approximately one thirty p.m., Lance (last name unknown), famous for being the leader of the Elite Four and the Pokémon League, was discovered missing by Bruno, one of the Elite Four. Officer Jenny of Indigo Plateau questioned Lorelei, who stated that "we wondered why Lance hadn't shown up for the past two days. We started to get worried and we went to go talk to him..." Officer Jenny did reveal that there had indeed been a struggle and there was signs of a pokémon battle. However, the enemy must have had superior numbers. There was no ransom note nor terrorist demands. Officer Jenny believes that the notorious Team Rocket is responsible. "Team Rocket is the most evil group of criminals around. Only they would resort to something like this. We've had some severe trouble with them in the past, and all members arrested so far have not yielded to questioning. I think they would rather die than betray who is in charge. While usually an admirable trait, it has kept us from getting Lance back. We will continue questioning and search for the missing leader. While doing so, we ask for cooperation in all citizens, from people not interested in pokémon to the gym leaders. Please, if you have any information, no matter how insignificant it may seem, please report it to me, or one of my relatives that work in the nearest city to you."

There was more, but Ash could not read on. He felt anger grow in him. Something tugged at a bond he had not even knew existed, or still didn't, really. A bond he could not name, recognize, or acknowledge. He only felt that he should do something. Team Rocket. He should have known.

"Pikachu, we have to help."