Thanks to Zarrelion for the help on the chapter.

The cocoon around him was thick enough that all sensation was blocked out from Meowth as he was dragged through the forest. Even with his enhanced night vision, the speed at which he was traveling rendered the surroundings as little more than an indistinct smear. One thing he did notice was that webs began to coat the branches, then the trees and finally, the ground itself.

Meowth's heart rate increased its already frantic tempo as he saw that he was not the only one in the woods. Dozens of cocoons hung from the branches on silken lines. Some of the cocoons were smaller than his silken prison; others were about his size and then there were even a few that were about as large as Jessie and James.

The more he watched the more he noticed that all the cocoons had one thing in common. The bodies were completely wrapped, save for an open section where a nose or a snout poked out. Some of the cocoons were little more than full-body casts, swaying gently in the air as the captive within struggled feebly against the restraints.

"Dere keepin' us alive." He shivered at the thought, afraid to delve deeper into the answer to that question. It was then he became acutely aware that he was slowing down and soon, it was revealed why.

Several Ariados scuttled around him. All Meowth could do was listen.

"What happened to you?" one of the Ariados asked.

"Just when I was about to get this little morsel, a fucking rock comes and hits me!" his captor growled. All Meowth could see was a tapestry of webs.

"Were you seen?" another demanded.

"I don't think so." There was a clear note of uncertainty in his captor's voice.

"Kailob's gonna be pissed," another Ariados said.

"Kailob ain't gonna know cause none of you are gonna tell him!" his captor snarled.

"Oh yeah? What's in it for me?"

"My next two catches can be yours."

"And how do I know you won't just catch something small?"

"There's only so much you can drain in a day. Being greedy is pointless in the long run," a female Ariados interjected.

"It's not just for me, I got mouths to feed. So whaddya say Kharzouz? Wanna hand over that little morsel you have over there and knock one off your debt?"

Meowth felt Kharzouz move in front him as if to protect him; the irony of the situation was not lost on him. "This one's not for trade. I want to let my meal know how I feel about getting hurt just to get him."

Those words pushed Meowth's bladder past the breaking point. He whimpered as his bladder gave way. The shame of the warm wetness soaking into his fur was overshadowed by the hope that his action had rendered him too disgusting to eat.

If Kharzouz noticed Meowth's accident, he wasn't bothered or didn't care.

"And you're sure that no one saw you?" another Ariados asked.

"Yes, Ilzbe." Kharzouz groaned. "And let's say I was seen. What would it matter? Even if the humans told the others here, where could they go? The woods? We've already placed our webs there and I'd love to see how far they make it through the woods in the night. They can't tell the humans north of here because we've already taken all of them."

Meowth's eyes widened at the news. The idea that all of Sandgem Town was taken by these Pokémon seemed hard to believe at first…but then he saw the dozens of humanoid cocoons that adorned the canopy above him.

"While that might be true, remember that Kailob said it'll be harder to catch the humans if they know about us. They might scatter and we will waste our strength and time trying to get all of them or they'll join forces to make our life even more difficult. That's why we waited while they were asleep and separated! Our strength isn't in offense; it's in numbers and stealth!

"Even with all eighty of us working together, if we're out of the cover of trees and darkness, then all it takes is a few creatures that are stronger than us to beat us! There's no telling if any of the humans have their own creatures that are powerful enough to do that. Need I remind you of the tiny blue bird creature that beat you months ago?" Ilzbe said.

"I do not need a reminder! What I need is to feed!" Kharzouz turned to face his latest catch. Drool oozed off his jittering mandibles and onto the silk as he laid eyes on the morsel. While Meowth couldn't feel any of the saliva through the silk, the sight alone was enough to make his vision start to swim.

"Kailob said we would distribute our catches amon—"

"Kailob this! Kailob that! I grow tired of hearing about Kailob! If you're so in love with him why don't you go mate with him!" Kharzouz snapped. "Let me at least enjoy this one so that I might forget my pain. There's another two humans where I caught this one; they're fat and potentially juicy. If we don't move fast the rest of the swarm will be here and make it harder to get food for ourselves, so get a move on!"

The promise of more food dissolved whatever arguments were brewing among the Ariados. Meowth heard them scuttle away and much to his surprise, part of him wanted them to stay. Thoughts of Jessie and James flooded his mind. Memories of all the good times they had together and how all of would be gone soon became his only thoughts. Then, much as he and his team had had done for years after every failure to catch Pikachu; he pushed all thoughts of negativity to the back of his mind and focused his energies on a single goal: getting out of the cocoon.

One of his paws was pressed against his chest and held there by the silk, but his other paw had been bound to his side and faced away from his body. A simple flex of his wrist unsheathed his claws which managed to poke through the material.

The forest began to move again as his captor continued dragging him to another part of the forest. He worked his claws frantically through the silk while the Ariados's focus was elsewhere. Meowth quickly learned that his efforts were being wasted when the pliable silk only stretched as he moved his paw back and forth. Kharzouz was already starting to slow down by the time Meowth switched to the new tactic of repeatedly retracting his claws in and out of his bindings. From where he lay he couldn't help but notice that the amount of webs hanging from the trees had diminished considerably.

"This is my little spot in the woods where I place the meals I don't want to share with the others. It's out of the way, but you'll keep my secret, won't you?" Kharzouz cackled before coming to a complete stop and sighed happily at the sight before him. A dozen cocoons of different shapes and sizes were lined up along the length of the web.

"Now where to place you?" Kharzouz mused aloud, looking back and forth along the length of his web. "You are for tomorrow," he said as he stroked one of the cocoons in the shape of a human female, her nose and ears the only parts of her not wrapped in silk. Muffled screams came through the silk as she writhed in place. Kharzouz paid her no mind as he was already moving to his next captive. It was tiny enough to be a small Pokémon or a human infant, but beyond that Meowth couldn't tell what it was beneath the layers and layers of silk.

"You will be for the day after." The Ariados punctuated each word with a jab to the creature's midsection, evoking small whimpers. Kharzouz hushed the poor creature with a sickening tenderness.

"But you." Kharzouz whirled around with surprising speed and leapt onto Meowth's cocoon. "No one has given me as much trouble as you have…so I think I'll have you…" The Ariados posed dramatically, scratched the space beneath his head just behind his mandibles in mock contemplation. "Now!" He gushed at the faux revelation and plunged his fangs through the silk without warning.

"Back in the quarry, what was Pach talking about?" Chimchar asked, breaking the silence that hung over the group as they ate from their bowls. Pikachu watched the others lift their heads from their meals and shift their gazes between the two of them. They were outside and behind Dawn's house as the open flame on Chimchar's rear was a significant fire hazard. Brock had laid out several bowls of pokémon food and had released his own team to join in the meal but Dawn's party was once again absent.

"I got that we couldn't talk about it then, but now seems like a decent time," Chimchar added.

Pikachu looked at each of his teammates and knew that Piplup and Buneary weren't here to bail him out this time.

"It's nothing, Chim." Pikachu attempted to sound dismissive about it all but couldn't hide the fact that his response felt rehearsed.

"It's not nothing," the fire chimp insisted, "Who d'you think you're fooling? I can tell something's been eating at you all day. This morning I thought it was how we thought one of us might've hurt Ash, but after what Pach said, I figure it's what you're not telling us, or both. So I'll ask you again. What was Pach talking about when he mentioned Ambi?"

The mention of her name made Pikachu wince and raised Buizel's already obvious interest in the conversation.

"If you can't tell your teammates, who can you tell?" Gliscor added.

Pikachu sighed and dropped the pellet he'd been holding back into the bowl. "When I went over to see Buneary and the others...I… the…the night we started attacking uncontrollably…I was…the lightning…I couldn't control where…and Ambipom…" Whatever walls Pikachu had painstakingly put up to hold in his emotions in now crumbled with every word. Words eventually failed the electric starter, but the gist of what happened had been conveyed. Chimchar immediately felt guilty for digging up what was obviously still a raw and bleeding subject.

"But it was an accident, right?" Buizel calmly asked.

Pikachu nodded, wiping his face with the fur on his arms.

"And my old team gets that, right?" Buizel replied, placing an arm on Pikachu's back.

"Kinda" Pikachu sniffled.

"I can go talk with them if you want, set some things straight."

Pikachu's response was to hold up his paw."I appreciate the offer, but I think they need time. Piplup looked like he was coming around, and Buneary understood."

Buizel nodded and moved back to where his bowl was, looking at the window where Dawn's room would be.

"Is this why you haven't been using your lightning attacks?" Staravia asked.

Pikachu flinched but eventually nodded as he stared at the ground. "Every time I try to use my element I see her and I…I can't. I don't want any of you to be hurt or worse because of me."

"Hopefully we won't need that kind of power," Croagunk said, drawing the entire group's attention since they'd forgotten he was even there. "Whatever happened to us and the Pokémon we've met might be something limited to just this region. But if it isn't…if we keep finding Pokémon like the ones you guys fought, we might just need that kind of power. Now, I'm not sure if it's my ability or my gut. Might even be a bit of both, but something tells me things will get harder from here on out. Between all of us I don't doubt that we could win a fight against any wild Pokémon we face. But we have no room for error and we must give it our all."

Croagunk then faced the electric mouse. "I get that you can't give it your all right now, Pikachu. You might need time to recover and until then, you'll have to do the best you can without your element. However, you need to know that there's gonna be the risk of some of us getting hurt. Maybe our best won't be good enough and we won't be able to stop someone else from being hurt or worse. It then comes down to which one you're willing to live with: doing your best and it not being enough or always wondering if you could've done more."

Meowth's muffled screams evoked another chorus of cries from Kharzouz's captives. The Ariados reared his head back and screamed at his future meals to shut up and stop ruining his meal.

"I'm sorry about them. They're not usually so nosy. I'm so glad I didn't end up trading you to Tilza; you taste so sweet. Sweeter than any of the other meals I've had today. You might just be worth the damage I took to catch you," Kharzouz said before plunging his mandibles into the silk again. Meowth squirmed in his cocoon and moaned at the appropriate times.

It had taken Meowth a few seconds to realize that his captor wasn't actually feasting on him. At least not yet. The berries he had been carrying had been wrapped up with him when they had caught him and dragged him into the forest. Thanks to his own body weight and the rough handling by the Ariados, the berries had been reduced to a thick mash. Meowth could only hope that the Ariados would be sated by the fruit pulp alone.

With the Ariados distracted, Meowth started working on the cut he was making on the side of his cocoon, extending and retracting his claw through the silk. He was starting to make some progress until Kharzouz's mandibles grazed across his chest. His fake screams and halfhearted attempts at writhing in place became very real.

And he had just attracted Kharzouz's attention.

"What's this? Did I hit a nerve?" the Ariados said, his mandibles clicking in what vaguely resembled a smile. It was then that his head lifted off his neck and tumbled across the ground. Blood came out in little spurts as the rest of his body slumped over and landed lifelessly on Meowth's cocoon.

"Umbri, I think we're too late," Glameow whispered as she drew closer to the headless corpse. Meowth's howls were quickly joined by Kharzouz's previous victims as they fought for the attention of their apparent saviors.

"He looks pretty lively," Umbreon said. "It looks bad but let's at least see what the damage is and decide whether he's worth the effort to bring back."

"Can you free him, I'd rather not get my paws any dirtier than they need to," Glameow replied, looking at the aforementioned paw with disdain.

"We came here because you wanted to save him. So go ahead and save him," Umbreon snapped, kicking the headless bug's body off the cocoon.

Glameow glowered at the Eeveelution for a moment before moving over to Meowth and lifting her paw. Meowth watched her claws extend before she gently placed her paw atop his silken prison. Faster than his eyes could follow, her paw morphed into a blur and then reappeared back beneath her body.

The silk around his body fell apart into ribbons without so much as a scratch on his body. Meowth leapt out and was about to hug his savior until she raised a paw with her claws extended.

"As much as I appreciate the sentiment, if you stain as much as a single hair on my body I will carve you like the cocoon!" Glameow said. Meowth looked down at himself and immediately understood why. His fur was stained in all sorts of colors from the crushed fruit that had burst within his bindings. Some of the berries were still sticking to him. And of course, he reeked of urine.

"Right, sorry," he replied, plucking some of the berries off his body. "Not dat I'm complainin', but how did ya find me?"

"We followed your scent and the blood trail the Ariados left from his wound," Umbreon explained.

"Might I suggest we have this lovely conversation elsewhere? It won't be long before the others come back and notice something is off," Glameow said as she turned around and prepared to head out.

"Glam's right, we need to go."

Meowth nodded and started running with them, managing a few steps before he stopped and turned around.

"What are you waiting for?" Umbreon exclaimed. She eventually traced his gaze back to the web of writhing cocoons.

Umbreon nudged Meowth forward with her head. "I know it sucks but we don't have time to help them. It was hard enough as it is to find you and get through here without alerting the Ariados. Staying here any longer than we need to is gonna make it harder to get back to our coordinator and your pilot friends. Bringing more with us is just asking for trouble. So pick, do you want to get caught again or do you want to see your friends?"

Meowth's demeanor changed at the mention of Jessie and James, his paw clenching into a fist as he forced himself to look away and ignore their muffled pleas for help. As they made their way out of the woods, Meowth brooded over the choice he had made. The practical — and callous — side of him knew the ramifications of staying and trying to help the other captives with all its attendant risks and dangers.

He would justify his decision, but he would never be satisfied with the answer. His choice that night would haunt him until the end of his days.

The dining room was deathly silent as Johanna settled into her seat across the dining table from Brock. Ash had remained in his seat, absently fiddling with his hat while his eyes flitted between the other two. Brock resisted the urge to ask about Dawn's condition, knowing full well that it wouldn't have improved in such a short amount of time. Johanna's eyes carried no anger but they also held no warmth.

"Did she tell you what happened?" Brock asked, testing the waters to know where he stood.

Johanna closed her eyes, one hand cradling the other atop the table. "Not really. I was hoping you two could fill me in," she replied quietly.

"I believe the way it started was the same for everyone. Our Pokémon started acting up in the middle of the night," Brock said

"If that's what you want to call it," Ash muttered beneath his breath. Brock shot a brief glance to the boy but held his tongue.

"Ash, Dawn, and I managed to get away from our Pokémon and we waited until they calmed down. When we went to make sure they were okay, we found that her Ambipom was hit with one of the attacks and it stopped her heart. By the time we had gotten there it was already too late to save her."

Johanna nodded but said nothing.

"The people that brought us here were nearby when that happened. Their Pokémon had gone through the same issues and in the chaos their Pokémon killed their pilot and they were forced to land. In such small space, a few of their Pokémon died and a lot of them were wounded. I have some medical knowledge, so in return for looking over the Pokémon that could be saved, they offered us transport to Hearthome. However, when we got there…"

Brock's brow furrowed, his hands clenching into fists against the table. "People were getting slaughtered by Muk and Grimer." His voice grew tense as he finished.

Johanna's eyes widened, the intensity of her stare making Ash feel uncomfortable without even being on the opposite end of it.

"We got out of there as soon as we could and at that point Dawn wanted to go home. The people who brought us here need to go to the Kanto region and it was on the way, they agreed to keep taking us. We could've gotten here sooner except our aircraft was attacked by a wild Pokémon over Oreburgh City. The Pokémon was taken out but we were forced to land to make repairs. And that that is how we met the gym leader, Roark." Brock motioned with his neck towards the door.

Johanna was quiet for some time, her gaze now on the white surface of her dining table. "Something told me there was more going on." She sighed and politely moved away from the table and over to the television.

Brock and Ash remained seated and watched her look around the living room. Eventually she came up with the remote control for the television and pressed the power button. What happened next sent a chill down their spine and cemented the true magnitude of their situation.

Brock and Ash expected voices, music or even the piercing tones of a test pattern. Instead, all they got was dead silence.

They watched Johanna go through the channels. The channel number in the top right of the screen soon began to climb into the triple digits. And all they got was silence and a black screen with two words: no signal.

"I've been losing channels throughout the day. I have several channels that showcase contests being held in Sinnoh, as well as Hoenn, Kanto, and even more recently Johto, but as you can see…" Johanna let her words trail off into silence. "Internet has also been out and when I've tried calling customer service or an IT, but I can't get through. My neighbors have been having the same issues. A few hours ago someone went into Sandgem to see if they could get someone to come here and fix it or at least shed some light but he hasn't been back in hours."

"Brock, I'm gonna go ask them how long before the ship can leave," Ash said as he pushed himself from the table.

The gym leader nodded; Johanna wordlessly moved to the side and watched the raven-haired youth exit her home.

"Where do you plan on going from here?" Johanna asked.

"Roark plans to make his way to Canalave to meet with his father. Ash and I have family in Kanto so we were thinking of hitching a ride there," Brock replied.

"Are you planning on leaving tonight? From what you've told me it seems like you've been flying all day. Don't you think you should rest for the night and gather your strength? Even in your ship it would be almost another day of travel."

"With no way to communicate with them to know if our family's okay, every minute we spend is another minute they could be in trouble or worse." Images of his house being shredded by rampaging Pokémon filled his mind. His Pokémon.

"I understand, let me at least get you all something to eat and something to sleep on."

"We'd be really grateful," Brock said, leaving the table and making his way towards the door. "I'm gonna step out for a bit if that's okay."

Johanna merely nodded and went to work.

Brock closed the door behind him and let go of the breath he'd been holding. The more he learned about what was going on, the worse things seemed to be. He knew he wasn't seeing anywhere close to the full picture, but he wondered if he really wanted to.

"How did it go?" Roark asked. His sudden appearance made Brock flinch.

"I didn't notice you were there. But to answer your question, it went all right. Better than expected actually. What about you? How go our defenses?" Brock asked.

"They're fine," Roark replied, unsure if Brock was just humoring him at this point. Oreburgh's gym leader looked out to the dirt road that led into the forest. "It's quiet," he said under his breath, just loud enough for Brock to hear and wonder if Roark considered that quality something good or bad.

"Geodude found something interesting beneath Dawn's house," he added.

"You didn't mess with Johanna's garden did you?"

"No, I made sure that Geodude did his digging some ways away from the house."

"Okay, so what did he find?" Brock's curiosity was now aroused.

"Are you familiar with the network of tunnels beneath Sinnoh?" Roark asked.

"I've read some things about it in a booklet, like how it goes throughout all of the region. Beyond that I don't know much. So you're telling me you found one beneath the house?"

"Yes. I've had Onix set up some entry hazards down there as well, just in case any Pokémon down there try and get near us from below."

"Well you've certainly been thorough. How long do those entry hazards last?"

"From drawn out gym battles I've had in the past they could last about half-an-hour. I've never bothered to see how much longer they would stay. Normally by then the battle is over or the Stealth Rocks have been dismissed or destroyed by the challenger's attack. I can always have Onix reapply the defenses if they go down."

"Sounds good. I'm gonna go check on Team Rocket and see where they are with the repairs." Brock then headed for Johanna's front lawn, where the tilt-rotor was currently parked.

Roark nodded and made his way back to his rock Pokémon, waiting and watching for something to happen.

Brock saw that Pikachu was with Ash but not riding on his shoulder as usual. The boy was conversing with Jessie and James outside of the ship but he couldn't make out their words.

Once he entered speaking range, they all turned to face him.

"Have you seen Meowth?" the Rocket duo asked at the same time.

"No, I haven't." Brock replied calmly. Despite his calm, he had a feeling that this simple question heralded unpleasant things.

"We sent him out to the house a while ago to see if you could spare any food. Did you not see him?" Jessie asked, fear already creeping into her voice.

"We haven't seen him since we got off the ship and neither have the rest of my Pokémon," Ash explained.

The electric mouse's ears suddenly twitched and he moved ahead of the group.

"What's wrong, Pikachu?"

"I think he hears something coming," Brock said, a cold sense of dread washing over him for the umpteenth time that day. They looked to the forested outskirts of the town and watched three figures burst through the bushes.

"Guys!" one of the figures cried out, a cry that brought the light back into James and Jessie's eyes.

"Meowth?!" they cried back and ran to him.

Ash, Pikachu, and Brock felt the tension leave them and smiled.

The other two figures, a Glameow and Umbreon, darted past them and kept moving towards the house. Seeing as Pikachu didn't respond to their presence, they knew that those two were probably Johanna's pokémon. The scene that unfolded could've been touching moment for Team Rocket, whose arms were outstretched to accept the leaping embrace of their mascot/fellow operative.

Except Meowth never jumped into their open arms. Instead he opted to run past them, making his way towards their ship. The light from Johanna's house unveiled more of his features. Dark and colorful splotches had been splattered across his fur, but from the way he moved he didn't look too badly injured.

"We need ta get outta here!" Meowth yelled, rushing past Brock and Ash and hopping onto the aircraft. "Can we get dis bucket a bolts inta da air?"

"Yes, Meowth, but slow down for a second. What happened?" Brock asked.

"We don't have time ta waste!" Meowth yelled. When the twerps and his teammates remained rooted, he looked around, spotting the rotating halo of stones over Dawn's house and sighed. "An Ariados caught me an' took me inta da woods. I woulda been a goner if Glameow an' Umbreon hadn' seen it happen an' come afta me. De Ariados have taken all da humans in Sandgem an' dere catchen' any wild pokémon dey find. Now dere comin' here, so we need ta go!"

Meowth watched the blood drain from their faces as his new information dawned on them.

"Meowth, how many humans did you see them capture?" Ash asked.

"I ain't exaggeratin' when I say I saw hundreds. Dey got da woods around dis town covered in traps ta catch anyting dat tries ta leave. More'll be comin'."

"I need to tell Johanna and Dawn." Brock spun around and bolted up the porch's steps and into the house.

"I'll tell Roark and get my Pokémon ready." Ash sprinted around the side of the house with Pikachu not far behind.

"James, how soon can we get dis ting off da ground?" Mewoth asked as he wrung his paws.

"About five minutes at best," James replied as he and Jessie entered the cockpit.

"I hope we got five minutes," Meowth whispered. He looked at the night sky as if seeking divine help.

"That little silkspitter! I knew he was holding out on us. Remember! I told you earlier! I knew he would do something like this. I mean, look at this! And he was gonna hoard this all to himself! Oh Kailob's gonna hear about this!"

"Would you please shut up, you're giving me a headache! And what good does telling Kailob do, Ilzbe? Kharzouz's already dead. S'not like we can do much to him now without looking stupid for playing with a dead body," Tilza replied, kicking Kharzouz's disembodied head towards her for emphasis.

"Serves him right," Ilzbe crowed, stabbing her leg into Kharzouz's eye. She seemed to relish in the sensation of his scrambled brains around her leg as she drove the spike-ended appendage deeper. "Would've loved to have killed him myself, but that begs the question. Who stole my kill!?"

"Seems like his newest catch had a few friends." Tilza motioned at the tracks in the dirt and broken strands of nearly-invisible web woven into the grass. Kharzouz had probably placed them to know if anyone had found his feeding cache and knew what routes to take without disturbing them.

"Looks like our cover's blown. We need to warn Kailob then. He can mobilize the others and we can finish off anyone left in town."

Johanna was almost done packing their meals when Brock practically tore the door off its hinges. Glameow and Umbreon looked like they were about to attack him until they realized he was human and shifted their focus to the world behind him.

"Brock, what's wrong?" she asked.

"We just found out that a large group of Ariados are coming. They've got Twinleaf surrounded and are working their way in. We have room for you and Dawn, but we need to go. Now," Brock replied.

Johanna stared at him for a few seconds, the subtle shift of her eyebrows conveying the spectrum of emotions she went through in short succession. Surprise, fear, confusion, despair and acceptance worked their way across her features in a surprisingly short time. She stuffed the last of the contents into Brock's backpack and held it out to him. Despite her determined stare, Brock wasn't sure if the tremble in her arm was from the weight of his backpack or from the fear of his announcement.

Probably a bit of both.

"Take this and get it onto the plane. I'll get Dawn up and grab a few things." Johanna began to make her way upstairs.

"Just the essentials," Brock reminded her as he started making his way to the door. He was about to close it behind him when he looked and saw the woman absently staring around her house. He recognized the look in her eyes; eyes that saw memories in all the objects in the room. Brock understood her reluctance to move immediately. The idea that this could possibly be the last time she ever saw her home. He could see her try to carve every inch of her home into memory but he also knew that they couldn't afford to spend too much time here.

"Johanna," he said softly. His voice carried no urgency, no anger or disappointment. There was sadness there; not from her inaction but that she was forced to make this choice in the first place. While the pain of leaving everything behind had never been something that he had struggled with, he knew it was something difficult for others and could sympathize.

Johanna flinched when he spoke her name, his voice breaking her out of her ruminations and bringing her to the present. She looked at him with a weak smile and gave him a curt nod before disappearing upstairs. Brock closed the door and turned to see Roark leaning against the house beyond the steps of the porch. His Geodude lay at his feet with arms crossed.

"I heard from Ash," Roark said, pushing himself off the wall and facing Brock.

"You can say it," Brock replied as he walked past him and turned around the corner.

"Say what?"

"Something along the lines of 'I told you so'."

"Honestly, there was a part of me that really wanted you to be right," Roark said.

"We'll I guess it pays to be paranoid." Brock sighed.

"It's not really paranoia if it turns out to be right." Roark then saw the reason Brock had made his way to Johanna's backyard. Ash was among his Pokémon with Brock's party off to a side. Without a word, Brock returned his Happiny to her pokéball and pocketed the sphere. Croagunk and Sudowoodo moved before their trainer, standing at the ready and awaiting their orders.

"How much breathing room will your Stealth Rocks give us?" Brock asked.

"Never bothered to measure it. I guess its range is the radius of a gym battle stadium considering that flying-types still have to deal with that hazard."

"That's still a substantial amount of breathing room."

"Keep in mind that the stones won't put them out of commission," Roark said.

"It's damage that'll eventually stack and become a problem for them," Brock replied. He then turned to Ash."Ash, you ready to go?" He watched most of Ash's party turn red and disappear into their capture devices. Ash nodded and started making his way around the house with Pikachu running alongside him.

The breeder then turned to Roark. "You're going to come with us now, right?" To Brock's horror Roark shook his head.

"I'll make sure that you guys can get off the ground safely. Then I'll take the tunnel beneath the house to get out of here and make my way to Canalave. If the bugs try to follow me, then I'll collapse the tunnel," Roark said.

"Roark, I'm sure Team Rocket would be able to drop you off in Canalave before we—"

"—I already asked them that. They said no, but that's okay. Trust me. It's better this way. I want this and you need to go see your family. The longer it takes you to get to your hometown the higher the risk of something happening. I don't want what happened to me to happen to you," Roark said, shooting down any other potential arguments he might've brought up. Seeing his fellow rock gym leader wasn't convinced he continued. "It's okay, Brock. Honestly, I'm a lot more comfortable when I'm underground than being hundreds of feet above the ground and over an ocean. I don't know how you can stand it."

Brock gave him a weak smile. "I manage."

The Oreburgh gym leader would've gone on to say something else except Sudowoodo moved to his side and the sound of something pinging off his stony hide filled the air. Something whizzed past Brock's nose and would've stabbed into Roark's face had his Croagunk not come in the nick of time and shoved Roark's head down. The glowing violet needle pinged off Roark's mining helmet and clattered to the ground. While slow on the uptake, Roark's Geodude slammed his palms into the ground and summoned a massive slab of stone that eclipsed the rock gym leaders from view. Roark's sense of security lasted until he started noticing the cracks starting form along the stone slab that Geodude had placed before them.

Brock's adrenaline spiked as he watched the purple needles bounce off the lithic rampart. Roark turned his gaze up to the ring of rocks, still slowly orbiting the house but the band was still complete.

"They're attacking us from outside Stealth Rock's range!" Roark unleashed a high-pitched whistle from his lips into the cool night air. Brock felt the ground rumble; the sensation was so familiar that he forgot it was Roark's Onix and not his own. The stone snake burst out from the soil and encircled them, dozens of poison spikes futilely bouncing off his rocky bulk.

"Onix, we need to get behind the house!" Roark roared. The rock snake shifted and uncoiled, creating another wall of stone between their failing defense and the broad side of Johanna's house. Sudowoodo, Croagunk and Geodude busied themselves repelling any projectiles that fell too close to their trainers as they ran.

Rampardos emerged from a flash of light by Roark. The prehistoric pokémon wasted no time in charging headlong at the source of the raining needles. The number of projectiles flying at them decreased significantly when the house that the Ariados were using for cover exploded.

Hunks of rubble fell off from his ace's body. The remnants of what was once a home were littered all around him.

"The people that lived there are probably already dead," Roark muttered. Despite his rationalization, he still felt the sting about the reality of that fact. The fate of their attackers was answered when bands of silk started forming around the Head Butt pokémon's joints from different angles. Rampardos tried to retaliate with Flamethrower until one of the smarter and faster Ariados sealed his mouth with a generous amount of web.

Several Ariados started to crawl across their new captive's body, clicking their mandibles in anticipation until his body started glowing red. They fell to the ground once their prey became insubstantial and disappeared from their midst, leaving behind empty webs and wreckage in his wake. Roark pocketed his ace's pokéball and fled before the Ariados remembered who they were originally gunning for.

"So that's not gonna work," Roark muttered from behind the cover of Johanna's house. A chorus of dull thuds reached his ears; each one a toxic needle.

"I hope Dawn and Johanna made it to the ship," Brock thought, imagining what being inside of a room being shredded by needles would be like and shivered at the thought. Sudowoodo ambled over to them and aside from a few scratches from deflecting poisonous needles with his body, he seemed fine. Croagunk — on the other hand — was the opposite, several glowing quills protruded from different parts of his body.

"Croagunk, are you…"

Brock was going to ask if he was okay but stopped himself when the fighting frog plucked out each spike with a bored expression. If anything, Croagunk seemed more uncomfortable with his trainer gawking at him while he yanked out a needle that had skewered straight through his hand.

"Roe?" he croaked inquisitively.

"N...never mind," Brock said, finding some comfort that either the Ariados poison was too weak to affect Croagunk or he was now immune to any and all poisons.

"We gotta keep moving!" Roark's voice reminded him that time was not on their side. His statement was followed by one of the needles stabbing into the ground near him. Roark's Onix took the hint and lifted himself off the ground as he curled around the gym leaders to make a roof of stone over their heads. Spikes began to rain from the sky as the Ariados adjusted the trajectory of their shots.

"You sure you don't wanna just stay with me and come to Canalave?" Roark asked.

"Are you seriously asking me that now!?" Brock shouted with a bit more anger than he intended.

"I'm only asking because getting you back onto your ship is gonna be hard!" Roark pointed around the corner to where the ship was parked. Brock inched over and peeked around the house.

From what Brock could see, the ship was fine. The Ariados were attacking it from different angles with about as much success as they had attacking Roark's Onix. Hunks of ice protruded from each window, preventing any needles from entering the gaps in their defenses. A dark figure blocked most of the view into the cockpit and it wasn't long before Brock recognized it as Ash's Gliscor acting as shield to keep the Poison Sting attacks from entering the hole in the glass.

Even if Brock could make his way over to the ship, he would have to step through grass that was slowly being replaced with needles that had failed to reach their target.

"Brock, what's the inside of Johanna's house look like?" Roark asked.

Brook peeked through the window and was surprised to find it relatively unscathed. "Probably because the attic and the second floor are taking the brunt of the attack," Brock mused as he turned to give Roark a thumbs-up.

Roark nodded to Geodude, who threw himself into the window. The spray of shattered glass flew across the room and jittered along the floor. Using Sudowoodo as a ladder, Brock, Roark and Croagunk climbed into the living room.

"Onix, weaken the Ariados with Screech and follow up with Dig!" Roark ordered through the window, receiving a slight nod and a rumble as over four hundred pounds of stone slithered away. Brock watched his fellow gym leader look about the room and run over to the couch to toss him two decorative pillows.

"Even though it's not being aimed at us, seeing as how all the attacks have gotten stronger, we might wanna use these," Roark said, pressing the pillows over his ears.

"Just us? What about—" Brock's question died on his lips as he turned and found that Croagunk had already braced himself. Years of training his own Onix helped him recognize the low rumble that marked the start of an Onix's roar. Before it could build any louder Brock pressed the pillows over his ears as hard as he could and felt the floor beneath his feet begin to tremble. Onix's Screech attack was less a noise and more a solid wave of force. His entire body shuddered and vibrated as the shockwave buffeted the house.

Roark cautiously moved the pillows away from his head a few seconds after the room stopped shaking; the only sound that now reached his ears was a high pitched whine. "Did you feel that?"

It took a few moments for Brock to register Roark's speech through the ringing in his ears. "I tasted that." Brock looked towards the hole they'd made and saw that the rain of poison spikes had stopped. The ground shook again, signaling the stone snake's second attack had commenced.

"Let's see about getting you onto that ship," Roark said, making his way to the door leading to the porch. Geodude waited behind him but was ready to strike at a moment's notice. The silence no longer held any comfort for them; it was just another way to get them to let their guard down. He turned the doorknob slowly and opened the door just enough to see outside.

Seeing nothing at first he waited and widened the gap until it was enough for Geodude to move through. The rock pokémon rolled through and onto the porch. He looked around, fists at the ready. Finding nothing amiss, he motioned for his trainer to come out and join him but stayed on high alert. Roark moved through but suddenly froze as soon as he left the threshold.

Being so low to the ground, Geodude had missed it but Roark watched the scarlet scuttling form of a single Ariados disappear into the darkness of the woods in the distance.

"Brock, we need to get you onto that ship now!" Roark said as he made his way down the steps and inspected the ground. A familiar rumble — courtesy of Roark's Onix — shook the house as Brock joined his fellow gym leader on the porch. The stone snake slid into view, waiting patiently for his next order as Brock returned Croagunk and Sudowoodo to their pokéballs.

"I'm assuming you know how to ride an Onix," Roark said.

"Knew how to ride one since I was ten," Brock replied.

"Good." Roark nodded before turning to the hulking stone serpent. "Mind helping him get to the door?" Roark's Onix shook his head and lowered to Brock's level.

The breeder hopped on and grabbed the horn for leverage, feeling — ever so briefly — like he was back with his own Onix at home. The moment of reminiscence was soured with the notion that he might not have a home to go back to.

Roark's Onix turned, faced the aircraft and positioned himself so Brock was close enough to touch the door.

"Guys, let me in!" he yelled, knocking on the metal door.

The door slid open, revealing Ash, Pikachu, Dawn and Johanna. He pushed off Onix, letting himself be caught by everyone's arms. He wanted nothing more than to slam the door behind him shut and get the ship into the air. But he had to try to convince Roark to come with them.

"Roark, you're sure about this?" Brock turned and yelled out the aircraft's open door. Roark's Onix shifted to a side, giving Brock a view of his fellow gym leader.

"Positive. Now get out of here!" Roark yelled back, doing his best to smile even with hints of fear creeping into his voice.

"He's not coming with us?" Dawn asked.

Brock shook his head and reached for the door until Ash grabbed his wrist and stopped him.

"Why?" Anger was growing in Ash's voice.

"He's staying because he's gonna go find his father in Canalave," Brock replied.

"We could at least give him a lift."

Brock shook his head again but didn't try to force his way out of his hold.

"It's not about the fuel," Jessie added as she opened the door to the cockpit, drawing everyone's focus back to her.

"It's not?" Ash glared.

"Are we leavin' or not?!" Meowth growled.

"Give us a minute!" Jessie snapped. She exhaled and shook her head. "A lot of our vehicles contain something called a Zarrel ion battery. They pack a punch and help offset the power drain from the vehicle and its equipment. Sadly, a few direct hits, switching to really hot or old, or another electrical source can destabilize them."

Jessie eyed Ash and Pikachu briefly before continuing. "While James, Meowth and I were checking over the aircraft, we found that the ZIB was damaged but stable. The fuel we have at the moment is taking the brunt of this ship's energy needs, but once it runs out, we will be running only on battery power.

"Normally that's not a problem, but the strain of powering the aircraft might destabilize the ZIB. And we don't know when the battery will fail. It could last just long enough for us to get to Kanto or it could blow the moment we run out of fuel. If that happens, we'd all be blasting off again. And I'd rather not do that a mile above the ocean."

Johanna spoke up. "Can it be repaired?" she asked.

Jessie shook her head. "It was never designed to be repaired. They have a failsafe that automatically destroys the battery once it destabilizes so there's no evidence left. Finding another piece of equipment with an intact battery like ours is going to be next to impossible since we're the only agents tasked with establishing a foothold in this region. Every piece of equipment we've ever needed was requested over the communicator. With communications down, I don't think we'll be getting a replacement any time soon."

Jessie watched their downcast expressions and sighed. "Look, I know it sucks, but he told us he was okay with it. He said he found a tunnel by the house where he could get out of this town."

Brock nodded in affirmation and looked to Ash, whose eyes were hard but softened the more he aimed his gaze to the floor. He let go of Brock's hand and stepped away to be by Pikachu. He averted his eyes, not wanting to see Brock seal Roark's fate. Brock reached over to shut the hatch when Roark landed in their midst.

"What's the hold up? Why are you guys still here!?" Roark yelled, frantically searching the room for an answer.

"What's wrong?" Ash asked.

"You need to get out of here now! I'll do my best to hold them off!"

That was all they had gotten out of Roark before he leapt out of the aircraft and ran.

In the coming years Ash, Dawn and Brock would wonder about the events that transpired that night. Questions about whether they could have done things differently would stay in their thoughts and in their dreams. It would not be the first time they asked themselves those questions. But nonetheless, it was one of the most formative moments in their lives. They would dwell on Roark's words because it would the last time they ever heard from him again.