Pokémon!

No one knows the origins of these creatures. Some have theorized they can be traced back to a single common ancestor. Others say they came from the far reaches of space on a meteor that crashed into our world millennia ago. But wherever they came from, and wherever they are found, no one can argue that everyone loves pokémon.

People keep pokémon for pets. People keep pokémon for labor. And some even pit them against each other in fighting tournaments across the world, using their unique abilities and strengths to compete for glory and money. These people are called pokémon trainers. The best pokémon trainers are lifted to celebrity heights and showered with praise and sponsorships to help them strive to be the best of the best, to be given the title Champion of their home regions. To do so trainers must sign up to enter their local Pokémon League and travel across the regions to gain badges from eight gyms in that region. Only then will they be given the right to fight against the Elite Four, the best trainers next to the Champion, and then the Champion themselves to compete for the crown.

To be a pokémon trainer is an achievement shared by many. To be a Champion is an honor bestowed upon few. And so our story starts with one man, one woman, a battle for their careers, and the two aspiring trainers watching the show from the comfort of home.

They had torchic wings. They had chips, dip, and salsa. And they had a completely functional satellite dish with signal clear as fresh made glass. Mark and Rachel were set for a night of high quality entertainment brought to them by the Pokémon League and a loving mother's paycheck.

"Welcome, battle fans, to this year's Pokémon League Tournament!" The announcer took a deep breath and bellowed out in that motivating voice his fans so loved. "As always, this is your host, Pete Live, and we've got a show for you today!"

"And here we go."

Rachel Dyer, age fourteen, was an attractive teenage girl with shoulder-length brown hair and piercing green eyes. Eyes that could take in her surroundings in an instant and the good instincts to act on what she saw. Rachel always had a laugh for something and a word for something else. She was easy to like, hard to hate, and fun to be around. Or so Mark thought. Rachel was his closest friend.

Mark Richardson, age fifteen, had short black hair and blue eyes. He was tall and muscular, but not overly handsome, despite what he liked to think. What he was, however, was a pokémon battle fan and an excitable young boy who wanted to watch his favorite pokémon trainer and personal hero complete his Elite Four challenge and become the Pokémon League Champion of the Kanto region. Mark lived alone with his mother; Rachel lived with her father in the house two blocks down from him. They had been friends since diapers and inseparable since grade school.

The crowd cheered as the two combatants stepped into the arena. Despite the dramatic introduction, the battle ring was nothing special. It looked like a basketball court without the hoops or goal lines. Your normal, average pokémon battle arena set for a not-so-normal pokémon battle. "When we last left off, our intrepid challenger had scored a tight win against the powerful Bruno! And what a fight it was, ladies and gentlemen, but our upcoming Champion pulled it off." Pete paused for dramatic flair. "And here he comes! Introducing our competitor, the owner of the Viridian City Gym, Gym Leader Giovanni!"

The crowd roared as a broad-shouldered man stepped into the stage lights. He had a medium height and a receding hairline brought on from age, but everyone knew of Giovanni's mastery of pokémon battles. The Viridian City Gym was known throughout Kanto as being the top in the region.

Giovanni's two young fans from the neighboring Pallet Town had had a very exciting weekend. Giovanni had formally stated his challenge that previous Friday and, after an evening of ceremony, began his fight with a flying-type master named Falkner. Mark had been especially nervous of this match, for Giovanni was a ground-type master, which was at a distinct disadvantage against Falkner's pokémon. But Giovanni, with his nidorino and nidorina, opted to fight Falkner in a two-on-two double battle and won with an unexpected Stone Edge and Thunderbolt combination. His victory over Falkner secured him a spot on the Elite Four, but as Giovanni was going for the title of Champion, he chose to move on to challenge the ice-type master Lorelei. He chose again to go two-on-two against Lorelei, and won in a similar fashion. His next battle with Bruno, a fighting-type master, was won with ease in a one-on-one fight between Bruno's prized hitmonlee and Giovanni's dugtrio. Tonight, this Sunday, Giovanni was engaging the ghost-type master Agatha in a three-on-three single battle. If he won tonight, there would be a week of hype to keep the viewers pumped up and ready for the final battle against Champion Lance the following weekend.

Rachel reached across Mark to grab the chip bowl beside him. Mark munched on one of the few remaining torchic wings. "This is gonna be good."

"Absolutely."

The announcer continued his speech. "Today he must face the venomous Agatha and her party of ghostly and horrifying pokémon!" Across from Giovanni stood an elderly woman, hunched over and supported by a cane. But like her opponent, Agatha's age was nowhere near a hindrance. Pokemon and master made it a rule to maintain their fighting edge.

"Trainers, call out your pokémon!"

The two trainers tossed out their pokeballs, barely visible to the cameras, and called out their chosen fighters. Agatha had gone with her usual opener, a gengar, while Giovanni had opted for his rather fierce-looking nidorino again. The nidorino roared out a challenge at the gengar, who merely laughed and faded from sight.

"Let this battle begin!"

"Game time!" Rachel cheered.

Giovanni immediately went on the offensive. "Poison Sting!"

The nidorino shook its body and sent glowing purple stingers flying in every direction. Agatha nodded grimly as the stingers struck her gengar, flushing it out of hiding. It was a good opener on Giovanni's part. A ghost-type's favorite trick was to fade into the air and sneak up on opponents, something experienced trainers like Giovanni knew. But a gengar did far more than just sneak around. "Retaliate! Shadow Ball!"

Her gengar formed a glowing black ball of energy and tossed it at the nidorino. The pokémon dodged it neatly and charged forward as Giovanni shouted out, "Shadow Claw!"

The gengar was again too slow to dodge. The nidorino's front feet glowed with a black light as its attack struck home. The gengar winced, and Mark grinned. The ghost-type was hurt.

"Shadow Ball!"

But Giovanni and his nidorino had erred. Agatha and her gengar were playing them for suckers, drawing their opponents in for a crafty point-blank shot. The ball of energy struck the nidorino right in its horned face, and the nidorino roared with pain. He bounced back to the ground but recovered quickly, rolling on all four legs and glaring daggers at the gengar. The gengar just grinned at him and disappeared into the air once more.

"Come back!"

Giovanni drew a pokéball from his waist and pointed it at the nidorino. A red beam shot from the ball and struck his wounded partner, but Mark wasn't worried. Giovanni was simply recovering his nidorino and giving it time to rest and recover a little. As Giovanni placed the ball back on his belt, his other hand was already drawing another.

"And Giovanni's nidorino is sent on a hasty retreat from the enemy gengar's well-aimed Shadow Ball," Phil Live remarked. "What will Giovanni's next pokémon be?"

In a bright flash of light came Giovanni's second pokémon. This one looked like a furry tube sock with legs. It had dark and inquisitive eyes that quickly glanced around for its enemy. The pokémon seemed confused, for it could not find the gengar. But Giovanni didn't look worried.

Mark, however, was just as confused at Giovanni's partner. "What's that pokémon called?" Rachel just shrugged.

"An excellent choice, Giovanni!" Pete screamed. "Folks, our future Champion has just chosen a furret, a pokémon hailing all the way from our neighboring Johto. And it is a normal-type, which makes it completely immune to that nasty little Shadow Ball. Well played, indeed!"

Agatha didn't seem worried. She obviously had forseen something like this. "Focus Blast!"

"Sucker Punch!"

The furret closed its eyes and, almost like magic, dodged another incoming ball of energy. It raced straight for where it came from and slammed its front paws down on thin air. But it must have hit something, for their was a great scream that made even Mark and Rachel wince. The gengar reappeared, but its eyes were closed and it no longer had that spooky grin on its face. It had been hit hard.

"Return!" The gengar gloated back into its pokéball. Agatha, like Giovanni, thought it prudent to keep the weakened pokémon out of the fight for a while. She called forth her second fighter. "Mag!"

Her next pokémon, in Mark's eyes, looked like an evil purple hat. From underneath the "hat's" bill Mark could see glowing yellow eyes and a billowing, cloth-like body of the same purple shade. Phil helpfully informed the audience and viewers at home that Agatha's new pokémon was called a mismagius, originally discovered in the faraway Sinnoh region but believed to have originated from Johto like Giovanni's furret.

"Aaaaaaaaaand go!"

"Furret, use Sucker Punch!"

"Mag, Reflect!"

Furret's Sucker Punch bounced harmlessly off of a reflective barrier Mag summoned from thin air. Furret landed softly and at Giovanni's command of "Amnesia!" curled into a ball of fur. Agatha, clearly anticipating another switch, could only watch as Mag's Shadow Ball was absorbed by Furret's fur.

"Baton Pass!"

Furret went running back to Giovanni's side. Where it lay was a simple white rod of an unknown material; neither Rachel nor Mark could tell through the TV screen. Giovanni placed Furret back in its pokéball and drew a third one.

Mark quickly looked to Rachel. She was a bigger pokémon fan than he was, and thus knew more about battle than he did. "What's he doing?"

"Amnesia is a move that raises a pokémon's defense against moves like Shadow Ball and Focus Blast, " Rachel replied. "Baton Pass takes a pokémon's stat changes and gives them to a different pokémon. Giovanni is swapping Furret out for something else to fight Agatha's mismagius with."

"Oh." Mark nodded in agreement with Rachel's comments. Though she was no trainer herself, her mother had been a skilled trainer in her day and passed some knowledge down to her daughter. Mark went back to watching the screen as Giovanni's third and final pokémon made it's appearance. The crowd started cheering, and Mark felt a grin spread across his face. Giovanni had called out his trump card.

"It's Maverick the rhydon!" Phil roared. "At long last! I personally was hoping to see Maverick in the battle with Bruno but I guess Giovanni was nervous about his rock-typing. Agatha better watch out!"

"That's game," Mark exclaimed.

"I wouldn't be so sure," Rachel muttered. "Mismagius are immuned to ground attacks, so unless Giovanni taught Maverick something new since that last gym challenge he had, he's got exactly one attack to hit her with."

"And all his attacks are physical too," Mark realized, "so Mag's Reflect can protect her."

"Thunder Wave!" The attack was Agatha's. Agatha had known full well Giovanni was a ground-master but she, unlike Phil, did not expect Giovanni's best-known fighter. Indeed, she was expecting Giovanni's nidorina, which she felt was much more equipped to handle her ghosts. But deep down, Agatha was flattered. Giovanni must have expected trouble to bring out Maverick.

The Thunder Wave, of course, did nothing to Maverick. Ground types were all immune to electric attacks like Thunder Wave. Agatha decided to make the first move. "Shadow Ball!"

"Curse!"

"Oh, Giovanni is still boosting his defenses!" Phil continued on with his commentary as Maverick ducked his head and deflected the Shadow Ball with his horn. "Smart, very smart. He must be waiting out Mag's Reflect, which if my count is right should only be up for...two more minutes? Yes, just two short minutes until - "

"Pain Split!"

Maverick shrugged off that attack as well. Giovanni retaliated. "Roar!"

Mag's eyes widened in fear as Maverick let out an ear-shattering roar of fury. The ghost-type practically flew back behind her master, who simply recalled the terrified pokémon and sent out her own third party member. "Kro!" she called.

This new pokémon was an obvious flying-type with two large wings and a mouth that took up most of its body. When Mark noticed the two smaller foot-like wings flapping underneath the main wings, he recognized the pokémon as a crobat. Giovanni was quick to respond. "Stone Edge!"

"Toxic!"

Maverick was a bit too slow to react, and received a face-full of toxic slime for his trouble. But Maverick wasn't daunted. Five blue rings of light formed around his massive body. Those rings began to glow white, and then transformed into large chunks of rock. Maverick's eyes glowed gold, and the rocks shot after Kro the crobat. Kro tried to fly away from them, but the rocks miraculouly followed him and pursued him around the arena. They finally made contact, and then Kro was knocked out. The audience cheered.

"Score!" Pete sounded just as ecstatic as the crowd. "What did I tell you, folks?! First KO goes to Giovanni of Viridian City!"

"But," Agatha commented calmly, "it's only the last one that counts."

"Of course, Lady Agatha." Giovanni gave her a short bow, ever the sportsman. Mark thought he looked pretty classy in that suit of his. Rachel thought he looked downright sexy. "The next move is yours."

"Hexx!"

Her next pokémon was the gengar, apparently named Hexx. Mark found it oddly appropriate. He and Rachel were glued to their seats, waiting on Giovanni to make his next KO.

"Hexx, Pain Split!"

"Maverick, Stone Edge!"

Hexx phased into the surrounding air and neatly dodged Maverick's Stone Edge. He then made a gesture at Maverick, and the rhydon roared. This time, though, Maverick was in pain. He also had a purple stain across his face. Giovanni looked furious.

"For those who are unfamiliar with Pain Split," Phil said, "Hexx has just stolen a significant amount of stamina from Maverick and added it to his own. Their stamina is at an equal level at the moment, but Maverick is taking damage from Kro's previous Toxic attack. Maverick is in a bind right now."

Mark snorted. "Nah." But Rachel looked concerned.

Giovanni had Maverick use another Stone Edge. And another. But try as the rhydon might, he just couldn't hit the elusive genger. Hexx had recovered enough to nimbly dodge both attacks. And then…

"Focus Blast!"

The golden ball came out and nailed Maverick in the chest. Maverick rolled over and did not get up.

"And the next KO goes to Agatha. What a disappoinment!" Phil cried. "What will Giovanni do now!"

Giovanni, now red in the face, called back his rhydon and glared down at the ball. His expression shocked Mark, who had only seen the man as calm and collected, sure of every move he made. But this Giovanni was clearly flustered and off-guard.

Out came another pokéball. "Danny! Shadow Claw!"

"Shadow Ball!"

Giovanni's nidorino came charging out. Danny made a beeline for Hexx as the gengar brought his hands in front of him to charge up another Shadow Ball and -

The TV suddenly cut off.

Both kids stared at it.

"No…"

Mark went racing to the TV as Rachel stared at it. He pulled it back from the wall to examine the connections and everything else, begging for it to come back on. "Just when it was getting soooo intense," he moaned.

"Well, that's a shame." Both kids look up towards the bedroom door. In the door way stood Ms. Richardson, holding Mark's remote control.

"Mom, why - "

"Mark, I told you to go to bed early, you don't want to be late tomorrow." Mark's mom gave him a look, an effective counter to any argument he could come up with. "You need to make a good impression for Professor Oak if you want to get a good pokémon!"

"But - "

"No. You spent two whole months begging and begging me to let you quit school and be a pokémon trainer," she said, "You made a commitment, and now you need to take it seriously."

Tomorrow, Mark and Rachel would go by to see Professor Oak, a local pokémon researcher, to acquire his first pokémon. Personally, Mark felt that Oak was the local town coot, but the pokémon communities all swore by the guy. He had created an electronic encyclopedia on every known pokémon in the world, including some thought to be mythical. He also bred pokémon to give out to local aspiring trainers like Rachel and Mark. It was a great oppurtunity, as normally one would have to acquire a first pokémon through trapping it. And the one time Mark had tried that, a pidgey with a Gust attack had blown him ten feet out of a tree. He'd broken an arm.

But that was over a year ago. This was now. Mark would soon start on his journey to become a pokémon trainer, along with his best friend Rachel. Mark had never been more excited in his life. There was no way he was getting any sleep tonight. But, apparently, Mark's mother didn't see it that way. She frowned at him. "Now what would you do if you overslept, and Professor Oak gave all his pokémon away before you woke up?"

"Cry. For a week. Maybe."

Mom was not amused. "Bed. Now."

"Bye, Mark." Rachel hopped off the bed and moved for the door. "I'll be by bright and early, so be awake!"

She politely bid Ms. Richardson a good night and sidestepped around her through the door. Mark's mother followed her to show her out and closed the door behind her, leaving Mark to change and prep for the morning.


Darkness. Nothing but darkness.

Mark couldn't see. He could barely breathe. He tripped and cried out as he hit the floor. His hands reached out and fumbled for something, anything to help him run from the horror behind him.

Fear. The dark is fear.

He crawled, crawled on his hands and knees like a newborn. But there was nothing he could do.

I am darkness. I am fear.

Mark finally got to his feet and tried to run. But his legs wouldn't respond. He couldn't move!

He tried to fight it. But soon, he could not. He had to look. Mark turned around. And there, he saw it. The deep dark, blacker than black, except for one part. One single, glowing orange eye rapidly closing in on him.

Run.

Run.

Run to the dark.

And run he did. Far, as far away from the eye as he could. Mark ran until he woke on the floor in a tangle of sheets, covered in cold sweat and still struggling to escape the nightmare.