Chapter Four: Cascade Blue

"Here you are, Ash. Your Pokemon have been fully healed!"

"Thank you, Nurse," Ash reclaimed the Poke Balls he had given her. He was just about to leave for Mt. Moon, but his team needed to recover after their difficult battle against Paul. Ash had also wanted Pyro to undergo a checkup with Joy to ensure he didn't have any complications regarding his evolution. That was a rare occurrence, but it was better to be safe than sorry. The good Nurse had confirmed for him that Pyro was perfectly healthy after his evolution and ready to resume traveling on the road again.

Ash returned Pyro and Sobek's Poke Balls to his belt and let Pichu out. The electric mouse shook himself once released and immediately climbed his trainer to claim Ash's shoulder. He had to admit, he was already used to that. At this point, it started to feel wrong if Pichu wasn't perched by his head.

He thanked Joy again and then left the Pokemon Center. Ash had already double checked his supplies while he was waiting on his healing team. He had everything he needed to get through Mt. Moon; rope, flashlight, jacket, and so on. Pyro would probably be spending a good amount of time out of his Poke Ball just to light the way and deter wild Pokemon. Ash figured that nothing in the mountain would give him too much trouble if they saw the fire lizard with him.

Ash walked from the Pokemon Center to the tunnel entrance about a hundred yards away. He looked up, noting that Mt. Moon's highest peaks were hidden in clouds. The mountain was absolutely gigantic, but he knew it was relatively small compared to some of the other mountains in the world. Mt. Silver, for one. It was the highest peak in Kanto and Johto, though even it was dwarfed by the infamous Mt. Coronet in Sinnoh, which was said to touch the heavens.

Pichu gave him a light zap that was meant to get his attention and snickered when Ash flicked his large ears. The electric-type made him smirk with those little pranks. Ash scratched Pichu's fur and then walked into the tunnel, where he would find the bowels of Mt. Moon and whatever creatures lived there.

As it turned out, Ash didn't have to wait long before he met the wild Pokemon. He'd only been walking for about ten minutes when a flock of Zubat made their presence known. The small poison-types liked to nest in large groups, only attacking travelers if they were startled or had a Golbat with them. They hissed at Ash, but Pichu's sparks and a breath of flame from Pyro kept the little Pokemon away. He just smiled at the furry creatures, amused by their clicking sounds as they tried to determine what he was with echolocation.

Mt. Moon held more Zubat than Ash cared to count. Most caves were full of them, but large mountain tunnels like this were almost overpopulated. Ash found five good-sized colonies of Zubat in just the first hour they spent trekking through the caves, though only one of them had a Golbat.

He paused when he saw the evolved form of Zubat and seriously considered catching it. Golbat were a fair bit more vicious than Zubat and easier to train in the sunlight. However, Ash didn't think it would be a good idea to catch the poison-type because it was literally buried in the Zubat masses. If he missed throwing a Poke Ball at it, not only could he accidentally capture a Zubat, but he could anger Golbat. That might set the whole colony on him, and his team was neither strong nor fast enough to escape so many enemies. He decided to pass on the Golbat. If he saw another one alone, maybe he'd have a go at it.

As time went on, Ash saw a few more of the mountain Pokemon, though he didn't see anything he really wanted to capture. Aside from the numerous Zubat in Mt. Moon, there were Geodude and Paras sitting around on the borders of the path. They weren't even bold enough to challenge him most of the time. That was what made most of his decisions on catching something new. If the Pokemon he encountered weren't interested in fighting, Ash wouldn't go to the effort of capturing them. That wasn't fair to the Pokemon and it wouldn't help him grow as a trainer.

Despite the lack of catchable Pokemon, Ash did run into a good few trainers. They were mostly beginners like him, but Ash had yet to suffer a defeat. Thinking about it, the only times he'd come close to losing a battle was against Leaf (whom he'd tied with) and Paul. Ash was certain Paul was the strongest trainer he'd fought so far. The guy had defeated Brock just like him and obviously knew how to train his Pokemon. He was definitely stronger than Leaf had been when Ash battled her.

He knew that there were far more powerful trainers out in Kanto, but for now Ash could defeat everyone who challenged him. That helped with training his Pokemon and earned him a bit of extra money.

However, as Ash got deeper into the mountain, he began to notice things that made him uneasy. A lot of the Zubat colonies began to get really quiet or disappeared entirely. Ash hadn't seen another person for a while and the lack of life disturbed him. Pichu was another reason for his worry—the mouse had his oversized ears pricked and seemed edgy. Slightly ahead of him, Pyro had a growl bubbling in his throat almost constantly. They were not happy.

"What do you think, buddy?" Ash scratched Pichu under his jaw, but frowned when the little mouse didn't lighten up. "That bad, huh?"

Pichu squeaked nervously and pricked those sharp ears of his. A light hiss slipped from Pyro's jaws and the usual swishing of his tail paused momentarily, as if he were listening for something. Ash bit his lip. He knew better than to doubt their instincts.

They hadn't let Ash down before, after all.

Ash knew he was supposed to be getting close to the halfway point in Mt. Moon. The tunnel system narrowed the further in you went, but had a large chamber deep inside that served as a resting spot of sorts. The problem was, the closer he got to said waypoint, the more nervous Pichu and Pyro became. Ash decided to take a break before they reached rest stop—if there was a fight waiting for him, he wanted his Pokemon to be ready. They ended up sitting in a small, enclosed cave just off the tunnel. It was out of sight from prying eyes and secluded enough for Ash and his team to feel relatively safe.

Not that they actually got to relax at all—Pyro didn't take his sharp eyes off the path and Pichu's ears were on high alert. Ash was tempted to set Sobek loose to investigate with Dig, but didn't want to risk sending him into some kind of trap. The way Pyro and Pichu were so on edge made him certain something was very wrong. Even more disturbing was that the wild Pokemon were completely gone.

Pyro suddenly froze and Ash saw his lip curl, exposing the lizard's fangs. The boy's hand drifted towards Sobek's Poke Ball. He tensed when he heard footsteps and voices, but remained silent. Whoever it was didn't need to know they were there—as long as they didn't attack, Ash's Pokemon would bring them no harm.

Ash saw two figures walk down the tunnel, opposite the direction he'd been traveling. Their backs were to him, so there was no chance they'd spot him even with Pyro's tail lighting up the inside of their little cave. He didn't move, instead listening to whatever they were talking about.

"Ugh, I can't believe we got put on some grunt job like this. Blocking the tunnel entrance? Really? Do we have to walk all that way? Why not just bring the ceiling down right here?" The first man grumbled.

"Because that might make the whole tunnel collapse, you idiot. There's a reason you get the grunt jobs," huffed his companion, another man. "Besides, it's an easy job compared to guard duty. Remember that kid that totally wrecked three of our guys earlier? Oh right, you were included in that little group, weren't you?"

"He got lucky! Just because he used some weird Pokemon from Sinnoh—"

"You got your ass handed to you. Shut up. Besides, Proton took him down. Now he and the other trainers that were stumbling through Mt. Moon can either join us or have their Pokemon taken. We win either way. Team Rocket has the cream of the crop."

Ash was frozen as the pair walked off. Team Rocket. They were in the tunnel, in Mt. Moon. They were kidnapping trainers and stealing their Pokemon. He swallowed hard. The idea of losing any one of his three friends was horrible. Maybe he could sneak past the grunts and get away on the Pewter City side…

Then a thought clicked in his head and Ash realized the Rockets had been talking about Paul. A trainer with exotic Pokemon from Sinnoh—it had to be Paul. He had left just before Ash did. And who knew which other trainers they'd kidnapped? Leaf? Gary? They couldn't be that far ahead of him.

His eyes grew hard. He would not leave any of his rivals here to have their Pokemon stolen by thieves. Ash had no choice but to help Paul and whoever else the Rockets had attacked. He needed a plan. His rival and the other trainers had been caught unawares, but Ash knew the Rockets were here. Plus, Team Rocket didn't know he was here. There was no way he could win in a straight fight, he knew. If Paul had been taken out, then he would probably meet the same fate that way. Fortunately, Ash didn't have to fight fair—these were Rockets. Criminals. They played dirty, and it was a good thing he didn't have too many morals to prevent him from doing exactly the same thing.

Ash quietly released Sobek. The croc blinked at him and opened his jaws, but Ash quickly set a finger against his own lips. That silenced his Pokemon, and Ash quietly filled him in. "We're still in Mt. Moon. Team Rocket is here. They're kidnapping trainers and stealing their Pokemon."

Sobek's eyes narrowed and a steady rage built up in the onyx orbs. Ash quietly continued. "We can't just leave those people here to have their Pokemon stolen, so we're going to give Team Rocket a nasty surprise."

Ash looked at Sobek. "I need you to scout for us first. Go further down the tunnel to the rest area—it's not far away and that's probably where the Rockets have made their base. Find out how many there are and then come back here. After that, I want you to set the other trainers loose. Help get them to their Pokemon. There's just no way we can beat the Rockets on our own. Don't attack unless you're spotted, and trap every Rocket that finds you with Sand Tomb."

His team nodded to him. Ash glanced towards the tunnel to make sure no one else was listening. "Pyro, I'm going to recall you for a bit. Your tail flame will stick out like a sore thumb. I'll set you loose when we spring the trap. Pichu, you're with me. If we run into anyone, I want you to zap them senseless, but keep it quiet."

Pyro nodded again. Pichu grinned with fiendish delight and Sobek bared his fangs aggressively. Ash scratched the ground type under his jaw and muttered lowly. "Alright. Go, Sobek. Remember—quick and quiet. Don't let anyone see you."

The Sandile pushed his jaw further into Ash's hand, then turned away and quietly used Dig to slip away. Ash recalled Pyro a second later and waited in the now dark cave with Pichu, eyes focused exclusively on the tunnel in case anymore Rockets came snooping.

It was just a waiting game now.

Ash and Pichu didn't have to wait long for Sobek to return, but it was probably the most intense twenty minutes of his life. The last thing he wanted to happen was to hear some ruckus coming from down the tunnel and find out that his Pokemon had been caught by Team Rocket. Fortunately, Sobek did return to Ash without incident.

He saw the croc pop back out of the first hole he'd dug and sighed in relief. Ash waited for Sobek to crawl over to him before muttering quietly. "How many are there?"

Sobek scratched the ground and Ash watched with a frown as the marks quickly went upwards of twenty. He glanced at the Sandile in front of him. "How many trainers were caught?"

Sobek tapped the marks with his claws. So Team Rocket had captured about as many trainers as they had members here. That evened the odds a bit, but only if Ash could set them free and get their Pokemon to them. That took priority.

Ash rubbed the Sandile's head. "Good work. Pichu and I are going in now. You do your part—get to those trainers and set them free. Did you find out where the Rockets are keeping their Pokemon?"

The ground-type shrugged, so Ash took that as a no. "Help the trainers find them, but be quiet about it. Remember to take down any Rockets that spot you, quickly. If they sound the alarm, we'll be in trouble."

Sobek nodded and ducked back into his hole. Ash stood up quietly with Pichu on his shoulder and warily glanced out of the cave. Satisfied that the coast was clear, he slipped out into the tunnel and did his best to stay inconspicuous as they made their way for the rest area, where the Rockets would no doubt be basing their operations here.

It was a tense few minutes, but the rest spot was close by. Ash peered around the curve of the tunnel, which would take them to the midway point. The large area had been converted to a mine of some sort. He frowned at that. The Rockets were obviously looking for something besides trainers. Ash hugged the curve of the tunnel and carefully scanned the area, noting the single guard that stood between him and the temporary Rocket base. Very temporary, if he had his way.

The Rocket guarding the entrance to the rest area looked bored and kept yawning. Ash smirked. If he played his cards right, it wouldn't be difficult to take the guard out. But he had to be quiet about it. Glancing past the guy- who hadn't even noticed him with his eyes continually closing with sleep—Ash saw the group of captive trainers. They were tied up on the floor and looked a little roughed-up, but were otherwise alright. Two more Rockets were watching them.

Ash was thinking about how to take out the first guard when he noticed the two that were watching their captives suddenly dropped into deep holes in the ground. Not a sound was made, as they were quickly engulfed in Sand Tomb. He could get them out later.

Sobek quietly poked his head out and glanced around, finding there were no other Rockets nearby. With that, Ash saw him crawl out to the surprised trainers and began to bite through their rope bonds. He had to get to them quickly before any of them panicked.

He scratched Pichu on his shoulder and breathed almost silently. "Get him, Pichu. Knock him out as quick as you can."

Pichu grinned with delight and hopped down his shoulder. The mouse casually skittered over to the grunt and climbed onto his shoulder before the man could notice. When the grunt snorted himself awake, he saw the Pichu by his face and blinked dumbly. Pichu snickered and poked his neck, eliciting a small crack of electricity. The man's eyes immediately rolled into the back of his head and he collapsed. It would have made a good bit of noise if Ash hadn't quickly run forward and slowed his fall, wincing at the weight. He was just glad that the grunt wasn't an especially heavy individual.

He dragged the guy back around the corner and let Pichu crawl back onto his shoulder. Ash got to the entrance of the Rocket Base and glanced to make sure there were no more Rockets looking in their area at the moment. Most of them were busy mining for whatever it was they wanted, while one Rocket (presumably their leader) barked orders at them.

Ash quickly darted towards the group of captive trainers, who by now had almost all been freed and were doing their best to stay quiet. He was grateful for that. It would've sucked if his plan got ruined by someone freaking out. Even more helpful was that there happened to be a bunch of unused mining equipment between them and the Rockets that were currently digging. That gave them something to hide behind.

Scanning the group of trainers, Ash found to his relief that neither Leaf nor Gary were among them. They had probably gotten through just before the Rockets set up camp. He spotted Paul and winced when he noticed a cut on the boy's forehead. It obviously hurt, though Paul just seemed to be royally pissed off. The boy was muttering into a Pokegear, but his eyes widened in surprise when he saw Ash rush over. "You!"

"Shh!" Ash hissed, glancing towards the Rockets. Fortunately, none had noticed their escape yet. He nodded when the other trainers looked at him. "We've got to get out of here. Where are your Pokemon?"

One of the other trainers, a girl with orange hair, pointed at the Rocket shouting orders and then to a black tent not far away from him. "Their boss keeps them in his tent. It's always got like four guards on it. Can you get them back for us?"

Ash glanced at the tent, noting that said guards were out with their Pokemon at the ready. He thought a Koffing, two Zubat, and a Sandshrew were a pretty low-quality guard for so many captive Pokemon, but he figured the Rockets preferred numbers. They would not, however, last long if Ash caught them by surprise—especially if Pyro and Sobek got a hold of them.

"I'll handle them. How many of you have Pokemon that can fight right now?" Ash asked. "Ones that weren't hurt too badly?"

While snapping his Pokegear close, Paul immediately stepped forward. The girl with orange hair did as well. His rival grunted. "Grotle got injured a little, but Elekid and the others of my team can fight."

The girl smiled dangerously. "My team is all healthy. I got caught before I was able to send out a Pokemon. That boss of theirs is strong—he's got the most savage Raticate I've ever seen."

Ash frowned at the knowledge, but nodded. "You two come with me. The rest of you, stay here. Act like you're still trapped. When we start fighting, run for the tent and set your Pokemon loose as quick as you can. We'll overwhelm them with numbers and surprise."

The group of captives listened to him. Ash muttered for Sobek to go underground while he, Paul, and the girl slipped through the mining equipment and made their way towards the tent. They stopped about ten yards away, not confident enough in their ability to sneak any closer towards four alert enemy Pokemon.

Paul glanced at Ash and mumbled under his breath. "Now what?"

Ash smirked. "Just watch."

About ten seconds later, the ground beneath all four of the Rocket guards unexpectedly gave way into a pit of sand, where they were buried before any of them could react—well, almost all of them. One managed to get a shriek of surprise out of his mouth, and their Pokemon screeched alarms. All over the base, Rockets froze and spun towards the tent.

"Now!" Ash shouted, setting Pyro loose. The Charmeleon roared furiously and slashed both Zubat out of the air before the bats could comprehend what their echolocation was telling them. Sobek grabbed Sandshrew with his powerful jaws, making it squeal in pain. Pichu jumped right onto Koffing's floating body and discharged a mass of electricity, though the gases the poison-type emitted made him gag.

Shouts were filling the rest area, but Ash had given Paul and the girl the chance they needed. His Pokemon had made quick work of the guards—now the other trainers could get their Pokemon back. He smirked as there was a yell from the group of captives and they all made a run for the tent. The Rocket grunts looked utterly flabbergasted by their sudden loss of control.

Their boss—Proton, Ash remembered from eavesdropping on the grunts—however, was not so easily enraptured. He set loose the biggest, meanest looking Raticate Ash had ever seen and yelled angrily. "Don't just sit there, you useless idiots! Get them! Get them all! Raticate, Hyper Fang that brat!"

Raticate lunged at him, its fangs glowing a harsh white. Ash dove away as it hit the ground and bit right through solid rock. He gulped. If that attack hit him, he would lose something. It wasn't even a question.

Before the angry rat could have another go at him, Pyro lunged and sank burning fangs into its tail. Raticate spun around with a shriek of fury, but the lizard whipped his head back and hurled it towards its trainer. Proton didn't even get a chance to avoid it and was knocked down by Pyro's well-aimed throw.

Pyro snarled with rage. Any creature that had the nerve to attack his trainer was going to hurt, and hurt badly. His tail flame flared and his onyx blue eyes narrowed to slits. Ash saw the other Rockets being engaged by the now freed trainers. For now, the fight was in the trainers' favor—the Rockets had been caught by surprise, after all. But who knew if it would last. Paul and the girl with orange hair were leading the fight. His rival was commanding Elekid and a large grass type that was probably Turtwig's evolved form, while the girl had a Starmie and Golduck out. They were making mincemeat of the Rocket's Pokemon.

The Rocket boss kicked Raticate off of him and screamed in fury. "Kill him, you fool!"

Raticate bolted towards Pyro, who roared a challenge. Ash whipped towards Sobek and Pichu, who were helping the trainers get their Pokemon back. He shouted quickly. "Sobek, help fight the grunts! Pichu, help Pyro! That Raticate is strong!"

Sobek tunneled immediately, appearing on the Rocket's side a few seconds later and snapping at a rather large Golbat. Pichu made a rush for Pyro just as the Charmeleon and Raticate collided.

Pyro was ripping at it with Metal Claw and snapped with Fire Fang, but Raticate was quick. Its opponent no longer had the element of surprise, and quite frankly it wanted the fire-type dead. The monster of a Raticate was more aggressive than any Ash had seen before it—he figured it was probably because of the Rocket's treatment of it, but he couldn't feel pity for the creature. It was a threat that hadn't hesitated to try and kill him. He had to take it out.

Raticate tackled Pyro with a Quick Attack, getting a snarl out of the Charmeleon. Pyro went for a Dragon Rush, but the move was still difficult for him to use and didn't offer a chance for the useful flinch effect this time. Raticate just sidestepped and bit into Pyro's arm. Ash's starter roared in pain as the sharp fangs tore through his scales and flesh.

Pichu made it then, leaping onto Raticate and discharging the biggest Thunder Shock Ash had ever seen. Raticate hissed furiously and let Pyro go, spinning around and biting furiously at the Pichu. It was a slavering beast, eyes bulging and red while saliva flew from its jaws. Pichu clung on for dear life and Ash could only watch with his heart in his mouth. If Pichu got tossed off and Raticate got its jaws into him, he would probably die.

Pyro, however, was not too injured from the bite to get revenge for it.

Raticate screamed as Pyro timed a Fire Fang just right, snapping his jaws once again into its tail and cleaving through it. The Charmeleon hurled the end of Raticate's tail away and roared hatefully, blood flowing from his fangs.

Ash felt sick looking at the gruesome injury, but Raticate was beyond pain or reason. The rat spun around and smashed into Pyro with reckless force. He realized it was a Double Edge—one of the strongest moves Raticate could learn. It would cause recoil damage, but Raticate was just too angry to care. Ash also realized that he'd sorely underestimated this Pokemon. If Raticate knew Double Edge, then it was a lot more experienced than his team.

Needless to say, the devastating force which struck Pyro sent the Charmeleon flying into the stone wall. Pyro slid to the ground with a hiss, stunned to the point of immobility. Ash turned his back to the battle and called out to his starter worriedly. But that was a mistake.

Raticate had seen Ash commanding its hated enemy and lunged at him, ignoring Pichu still clinging to its fur. It wanted to take out the trainer of the one that had caused it such pain. It would accept nothing less.

Ash didn't even get a chance to shout when Raticate bowled him over with Quick Attack. He hit the ground and smacked his head against the hard stone. He cried out as his head spun from the impact. Raticate lunged at him again. This time, it was stopped not by Pichu, but by Sobek. The Sandile had seen Pyro go down and immediately rushed over to help his trainer.

Sobek had managed to Dig below Raticate and sank his fangs into the rat's back leg, pulling it away from Ash. Raticate spun around and tried to land a Hyper Fang, but Pichu's constant electrical discharges were finally starting to take effect. It was getting weaker. While they kept Raticate busy, Pyro managed to recover from the Double Edge and rushed in to help. Ash felt hope swelling in him. Maybe they could—


Ash screamed as something buried sharp fangs into his shoulder. He caught a glimpse of four wings and glowing red eyes, unconsciously recognizing the attacking creature as a Crobat. It let go almost as quickly as it had struck, then blurred away. Ash remembered reading that Crobat were amongst the fastest Pokemon in the world. Those four wings could power some ridiculous speed.

He looked up, trying to figure out where it had come from. His eyes locked onto Proton, who was sneering with a Poke Ball in his hand. Ash felt stupid for not even thinking that the leader might have more than just Raticate.

It was the last thought he had before his blood began to boil. Ash fell to the ground, choking on pain. There had been venom in the bite—it had to have been Poison Fang. He immediately felt nauseous and the taste of bile swelled in the back of his throat.

He was vaguely aware of screaming around him—apparently, Proton had set his Crobat on everyone fighting Team Rocket. It was an effective plan, going after all the trainers rather than their Pokemon. With their trainers down, the Rockets could overwhelm their panicked and injured opponents with ease.

Ash thought he heard Pichu cry out and felt himself slipping into unconsciousness. Before his vision faded to darkness, he felt the mountain shake, saw a flash of white light, and a titanic roar filled the air. Then he was gone.

Ash had no idea how long he was unconscious, but he didn't expect to wake up—not after being poisoned by a Crobat. He opened his eyes to find the rock ceiling of Mt. Moon still above him. There was a wonderful scent in the air, and it made him feel better the more he breathed it in.

"Ah, you're awake. That's good."

He blinked and glanced to the side. A young woman, probably nineteen or twenty years old, was sitting beside him. She had waist-length blonde hair and seemed to be a trainer, but Ash didn't recognize her from the group of captives Team Rocket had—

Team Rocket.

Ash almost bolted upright, but the girl set her hand on his shoulder and pushed him back down. She shook her head. "No, don't move. Roserade is using Aromatherapy to clear the poison out of your system. You can't disrupt the healing process or you'll just feel sick."

He frowned. Roserade? The girl smiled and pointed across from him, and he found a green Pokemon with red and blue roses for hands standing over him. The Roserade was gently emitting a green haze from its petals and he suddenly realized why. Aromatherapy was a move used to heal status conditions, like poison, but it was a difficult technique to learn because of the sheer number of healing factors that were incorporated into the special spores. It took a degree of delicacy and control that few Pokemon possessed.

"Don't worry. We got Team Rocket," she told him. "It was a close call for you, though. Proton set his Crobat on you first. The venom was in your system for almost two minutes when we got here—any longer and you might not have made it. You were lucky."

"Are the others okay?" He asked. Ash winced. His throat felt dry and he tasted vomit in his mouth.

She handed him a bottle of water and nodded. "They're fine. The trainers that got bitten by Crobat were already treated for it with modified Antidotes. Roserade had to treat you herself because you had the venom in you the longest. Aromatherapy is quicker and more efficient than modified medicine. Once we were sure you all were in the clear, it was just a matter of getting all the Rockets under arrest. All the grunts were accounted for and my Pokemon got Proton."

Ash took a long drink of water, spitting the first mouthful out to get the taste of bile from his mouth. Then he quenched his parched throat and sighed in relief, even if it was still a little bitter. "Are my Pokemon okay?"

"Yes. They were all huddled around you," she replied. "Your Charmeleon had some nasty bites from Raticate and Sandile got bitten by Crobat. They had the worst injuries from the entire battle. Your Pikachu is fine, though. It evolved literally the second we arrived and gave Raticate quite a shock."

He couldn't stop the wide smile on his face. Ash was upset he hadn't gotten to see Pichu evolve, but he was glad that his Pokemon were alright and had won their battle against Proton's vicious Raticate. Now Pikachu could take his rightful place as a powerful member of Ash's team. He was definitely going to be in the next gym battle.

"Thanks for saving us," Ash said gratefully, but then frowned. "Um, who are you? And how did you know we were fighting Team Rocket?"

"Paul called me a few minutes before the fight on his Pokegear," she held up her own Pokegear as she explained. "I was in Cerulean City by chance and we had an Alakazam teleport myself and several League trainers here. There wasn't much for us to do—you guys cleaned up Team Rocket pretty well, but we were able to arrest them and take out Proton before he could poison more of you."

"As for me, my name is Cynthia," she told him. "I work for the Sinnoh League, but I'm here in Kanto on some business."

Well, that explained how Paul knew her. Ash was grateful that the other boy had the means and sense to call for backup before they assaulted the Rockets. If he hadn't, Proton probably would have killed him and most of the other trainers as well.

"Hey, before I passed out, I thought I heard something roaring," Ash started hesitantly. "Was that my imagination, or…?"

Cynthia smiled. "That was one of my Pokemon. She likes making an entrance. You won't see her right now, though—I recalled her shortly after Proton was detained."

"What were they after, anyways?" He wondered. "They looked like they were mining, or something."

"They were looking for Moon Stones and fossils," Cynthia gestured to a few wooden crates nearby that were currently being sorted through by police. "Both can be sold for a high price. Team Rocket was probably looking to sell them on the black market."

Ash fell silent at that. Before he could think of something else to say, Paul walked over. He dipped his head to Cynthia and muttered. "Thank you again, Cynthia."

"I should be telling you that," she smiled at the boy. "If you hadn't called me, there would probably have been a few casualties."

Paul grunted and looked at Ash. "Well, seeing as you haven't died yet, I assume you're good?"

Ash nodded. "Yeah."

"Good. I'm off to Cerulean City now. We're even by my standing—you set me free and I saved your life by calling her," Paul gestured to Cynthia and then turned away. "Get yourself some more Pokemon. I want a longer battle next time."

With that, Paul left for the tunnel that would take him to Cerulean. Ash sat up and stared after him. "He's got the right idea. I should leave too—"

"Oh, no you don't," Cynthia stopped him with a sharp look. "Roserade treated the poison in your system, but I still need a doctor to clean up that bite you took. Otherwise, I can't allow you to be discharged from our care."

Ash groaned, but she was unwavering. Roserade smirked in amusement.

This was going to take a while.

"Well, I suppose you're free to go," the doctor told him, though he shook his head in exasperation. "Personally, I'd rather take you to a hospital to make sure your vitals are stable, but Aromatherapy generally covers everything I can think of as a result of Poison Fang. The only thing you'll need to watch out for is that shoulder—don't open up those wounds, young man. They're deep. Bites from the Crobat line are like stab wounds from hypodermic needles."

Ash nodded obediently. He had been waiting for an hour and really just wanted out now that his wound had a bandage on it. The doctor told him it would likely scar, but it was a relatively small bite. It wasn't as if he'd gotten a chunk torn out of him.

The doctor rolled his eyes. "You young trainers just can't be stopped. Very well, you may go. But if you start to feel dizzy or your injury begins to seep, I suggest going to the nearest town for medical treatment. Do I make myself clear?"

He nodded again and the doctor gestured to the exit tunnel. "That will lead you to Cerulean City. Take your time getting there. If you want, we can transport you with an Alakazam, but I think you'd rather walk, wouldn't you?"

Ash smiled. "Yes. I'd like to stretch my legs anyways. I've been sitting down for a while."

"Alright. Good luck, young man."

The doctor left and Ash made sure he had everything he needed before heading off. Just before he was about to leave the rest area though, Cynthia called him.

"Your doctor gave you the all-clear?" She asked. When he nodded, she smiled. "Good luck then, Ash. I have to stay to make sure these Rockets are transported to prison, but I wish you well."

"Thank you," Ash smiled back. "You really saved me and the others. I hope they don't give you too much trouble."

"Oh, they won't," Cynthia's eyes glittered with something akin to amusement at the idea of Rockets giving her trouble. The look disappeared quickly though, and she turned away from him. "Goodbye, Ash. Perhaps we'll meet again somewhere."

Ash nodded and then turned to leave the rest area. He really was ready to leave Mt. Moon.

It still took him a few hours before Ash finally got out of the mountain tunnel. He was taking it easy considering his injury, but not slowly. Besides that, he ran into a couple of trainers that had no idea about the Rocket incident further in. Ash saw no reason to warn them seeing as the Rockets were taken care of, but he took the chance to battle them with Pikachu.

Ash was still pumped that Pikachu had evolved. The mouse was no longer a "Baby Pokemon" but in a stage that was considerably more developed and mature. Now he could handle greater amounts of electricity, move much quicker, and learn an all-around larger move pool. Ash was even more thrilled when he found that Pikachu had retained Volt Tackle from his Pichu stage. Now they just had to master it and Pikachu would have the ultimate electric-type weapon a member of his species could possess.

He took it easy with Pyro and Sobek because they were still recovering from their fight with the Rockets, though Sobek was less injured and plenty willing to get in a good battle. Ash noticed that his team was a little subdued though. He had a feeling it was something to do with him almost getting killed.

Ash released his team once they were out of the cave system and in fresh air. It was late afternoon. He had just enough time to make it to Cerulean City before night came, which was visible from where he stood by the entrance to Mt. Moon. Before they headed that way, however, he had to talk with his team.

"You guys are upset because Crobat got me, right?" Ash asked. The sullen silence and avoiding looks his Pokemon gave him was answer enough for that. He shook his head at them. "It's alright. Guys, it wasn't your fault. None of us saw Crobat coming. It got a bunch of other people as well. Besides, I'm okay, aren't I?"

The three nodded and Ash smiled. "We'll just have to get stronger and find some more friends, won't we? That way, this won't ever happen again. Deal?"

That seemed to make them feel better, because he got a couple of happy growls and a chitter from Pikachu. Ash grinned. "Alright, let's head to Cerulean City."

His trio of faithful partners cheered and followed his lead.

The next morning, Ash woke up full of energy again. He still had to take it easy given that his shoulder was hurt, but there was nothing wrong with a little training before he challenged the gym. Ash decided that he'd like to head north of the city to Route Twenty-Four. There were plenty of trainers up there that would be good for training.

Before setting out, however, Ash wanted a plan. There were objectives he laid out prior to training that he sought to achieve—like certain moves to learn or combinations to practice. So while he sat down for breakfast in the Pokemon Center, pulled out his Pokedex, and got to work.

Pikachu was the one he needed to spend the most time with right now. Having just evolved, Ash needed to get a better feel for his abilities and teach him some new attacks. Pichu had been limited in his capabilities—Pikachu could learn a lot more. All he really knew right now was Volt Tackle, Thunder Shock, and Tackle.

Ash definitely wanted to teach Pikachu Quick Attack. A good speed move was always useful if he needed to get close to an opponent. In addition, he wanted to get Thunder Wave and Nuzzle into Pikachu's arsenal. His plan was to turn Pikachu into not only a good fighter, but an excellent capture Pokemon. If he could give his electric mouse the tools he needed to paralyze opponents, it would be beneficial both during a battle and when they were capturing a wild Pokemon.

That was something he needed to work on. Ash loved his team, but he wanted to expand it badly.

While Pikachu worked on speed and electric attacks, Ash thought about what to work on with Pyro. The Charmeleon definitely needed to practice his dragon-type moves. Dragon Rush was basically a glorified Tackle at this point and Dragon Dance took a solid fifteen seconds to even get one boost going. That was useless in a real battle. Dragon-type energy was notoriously difficult to master, so Ash decided that the dragon-type moves would take priority for now.

With Sobek, Ash wasn't really sure what to work on. He was still fairly unfamiliar with his evolutionary line. Going through the Pokedex, he couldn't decide on much more than Assurance. Ash eventually decided that his best bet was to ask Professor Oak. Besides, he hadn't called home since…

Ash froze. He hadn't called home at all in the three weeks he'd been gone. Once he got started, it had totally slipped his mind.

His mother was going to kill him.

"Three weeks," Delia Ketchum smiled at her son through the video phone. Ash gulped and Pikachu did the same on his shoulder—and Pikachu wasn't even the target of her ire. He could see behind that wonderful smile of hers a fury he was rightfully terrified of. Professor Oak had answered the phone, but she had been right there and politely asked for a moment with her son.

Professor Oak, being the wise man he was, did not even attempt to argue with her.

"It has been three weeks since you left and I haven't heard a word from you in all this time," Delia's eyes glared daggers into Ash's soul. "I specifically remember asking you to keep in touch with me every few days or so. You are calling from Cerulean City. That means you passed through Viridian and Pewter and the Pokemon Center at Mt. Moon. Unless there was some miraculous blackout at each of those places every time you passed through, I see no reason why you couldn't have called me."

Ash didn't answer her. His mother's smile faded into a scowl. "Ash Red Ketchum, do you have any idea how worried I was?"

"Sorry," he squeaked. "I…I got distracted."

Delia was never able to stay angry for long. Her scowl disappeared and she sighed. "Just don't worry me like that again, Ash. I thought something happened to you."

"I won't," Ash promised. He also did not dare mention that he had gotten injured in his fight against Team Rocket the day before.

"So, how has your journey been so far?" She asked. Now that Ash had escaped the danger zone, he could get excited again.

"Great! Pyro evolved a couple of days ago," Ash grinned. "And Pichu evolved into Pikachu yesterday!"

Pikachu smirked proudly and raised a paw at Delia. Ash's mother smiled at the mouse. "That's great! I'm glad they're doing well. Have you caught anything else?"

Ash scratched the back of his head. "Well…sort of. Actually, Giovanni gave me my third Pokemon."

"You met Giovanni," Delia was absolutely still. "And he gave you a Pokemon."

"Yeah," Ash frowned. His mom had an unreadable expression that he hadn't ever seen on her face before. "Mom, are you okay?"

"Oh," she nodded quietly. "Yes. I'm sorry. What kind of Pokemon is it?"

He thought that she was still acting odd, but shrugged. "A Sandile. I named him Sobek. He's actually pretty strong. He's the reason I won my gym battle against Brock."

That made her brighten up. "So you did win! I'm so proud of you, Ash! Have you challenged the Cerulean City Gym yet?"

"Not yet. That's actually why I called," Ash began. "I want to do some training before I challenge the gym. But the thing is, I don't really know what to work on with Sobek. I don't know much of anything about Sandile and its evolved forms. So I was wondering if Professor Oak could help me with that."

Delia frowned thoughtfully. "Hmm…Sandile, huh? I assume you're familiar with their tendencies to bite in battle?"

Ash grinned. "That's exactly how he likes to fight."

"I see," she smiled in amusement. "Well, I don't claim to be an expert like Professor Oak, but I think Stone Edge would be a good move. Only problem is…"

"It's a TM," Ash finished. Delia nodded and he sighed. TMs allowed Pokemon to learn so many different attacks, but they were very high-priced. Buying one right now would drain him of funds completely.

Delia smiled with optimism. "Well, better start saving up sweetie! Here, I'll go get Professor Oak. He should be able to help you out."

"Okay. I'll call you before I leave Cerulean City, mom."

"Thank you sweetheart. I wish you good luck on your gym battle!"

With that, his mother walked out of the camera view. A few moments later, Professor Oak came back. He looked at Ash and gave him a wry smile.

"I see you survived."

Ash shuddered. "I got off light. You remember when she caught Gary and I trying to jump on your Rhyhorn?"

Oak chuckled. "I hadn't seen her that angry in a long time. You and Gary didn't cause trouble for a week."

Pikachu snickered on his shoulder. Ash flicked his ear and then got down to business. "Professor, I need your help. There's a Pokemon I'm training…"

After explaining to the Professor his problem with training Sobek, Oak began to scratch his chin. "I see…Sandile, eh? That rather suits Giovanni, actually. In any case, I'm afraid I can't help you too much, Ash. Sandile itself is limited compared to its later stages. Your plan to teach him Assurance is good, but I'd at least recommend teaching him Foul Play as well for stronger adversaries. Most of the moves that make the Sandile line effective are learned through TMs."

Ash frowned. He'd hoped that the Professor would be able to help him more than that. But Professor Oak wasn't going to send him off with next to nothing. "Ash, even if there aren't many moves Sandile can learn right now, there are still things you can work on to prepare him for evolution. Sandile's second and third evolutionary stages are bipedal—his battle style is going to change drastically when he evolves. Right now, I'd suggest working on his biting attacks in addition to learning Assurance and Foul Play. Their biting habits are about the only thing that doesn't change when Sandile evolves. You could even work on Crunch if you desired. Sandile learn it easily if their jaw muscles are built up correctly."

Oak paused for a bit. "Actually, if you let me see him for a moment, I might be able to tell you if he's close to evolving or not."

Ash did just that. He pulled out Sobek's Poke Ball and set the croc loose. Sobek blinked at him confusedly, not seeing a battle around. Ash smiled at him. "There's someone I want you to meet, Sobek. He's going to tell us if you're getting close to evolving."

The notion of evolution apparently was enough for Sobek to decide he wanted to meet Professor Oak. Ash carefully picked him up and held him in front of the video phone for the Professor to see. Oak arched an eyebrow at the sight.

"Can't say I've ever actually seen that before."

"Seen what? A Sandile?"

"No. I've never seen a Sandile willingly let its trainer pick it up—much less one of the males," Oak said slowly. His eyes were glinting with interest. "Is he always this mellow?"

Ash shook his head. "No. You should see him in battle. He bit the crest off of Brock's Onix."

Sobek bared his fangs in a feral grin at that. It was obvious he took pride in his victories. Oak smiled at the sight. "I have no doubt of that. Well, from what I can see his teeth look excellent. He's also rather large, which is good—that means he's getting close to evolving."

Oak was quiet for about a minute as he looked Sobek over as best he could, then gave his deduction. "From what I can see, he's an impressive specimen. He'll be a powerful battler when he reaches his prime, Ash. Work with him as best you can and you'll have a valuable asset that few can bring down outright."

That must have pleased the Sandile because he growled agreement. Ash smiled at Sobek and scratched the croc's jaw. Oak shook his head at the sight and grunted. "You're lucky he's so willing to work with you, Ash. Most other Sandile would've taken your finger off."

"I know," he replied. Ash looked back at the Professor. "Thanks, Professor. I appreciate you helping me."

"My pleasure, Ash," Oak smiled. "Just remember to keep in touch from now on, alright? In fact…you're in Cerulean, yes?"

"That's right."

"In that case, would you mind doing me a favor?"

Ash blinked. "Sure. What is it?"

"There's a colleague of mine—Bill, who lives in the Sea Cottage by the cape on Route Twenty-five. It's a few hours away from Cerulean. He's in need of a trainer that can help him catch a problem Pokemon. Do you think you could help? He tells me he will reward you for assisting him."

"Yeah, I can help him," he grinned. "What's the reward?"

Oak's eyes twinkled with amusement at the boy's eagerness. "That is something you'll have to find out for yourself. I'll tell him you'll be there in a while. Good luck to you, Ash."

It was a four hour long walk up to Route Twenty-five, during which time Ash battled several trainers. They were all about his level as far as experience went, but he won every battle that came his way. Pikachu had gotten Quick Attack down in their second match—it wasn't like it was a difficult move to learn. Sobek and Pyro got a good workout in as well, though Sobek didn't get a chance to practice Assurance and Pyro was still struggling with Dragon Rush. Ash figured that the dragon-type moves would just require time for the Charmeleon to master.

Ash finally came across the Sea Cottage where Bill lived. He'd heard of Bill before. The man had developed the Pokemon PC system that trainers used all over the world. He was heralded as a genius who had many times over earned his fame, working with big companies like Silph Co. to develop some of the most high tech devices in the world. Bill liked his privacy though, which was why he lived in the Sea Cottage.

The place was nice and quaint. Ash liked the peaceful air it held—until he noticed the police car parked out front. That got his eyebrows up. He knocked on the door hesitantly, though he was answered just a few seconds later.

He was confronted with a young man bearing a head of curly brown hair and casual clothes. This was definitely Bill—Oak had told him before the reason Bill never worked in a lab was because he couldn't stand formal attire.

"Can I help you?" Bill asked.

Ash nodded. "I think it's the other way around. Professor Oak sent me."

Bill's eyes cleared and he smiled. "Ah, so you're the trainer the good Professor was telling me about. Pleased to make your acquaintance Mr. Ketchum. I'm Bill. Please, come inside."

Ash politely stepped into the house, but paused just a few feet in. The place was a disaster of papers, books, and equipment that Ash probably couldn't even pronounce the names of. Bill scratched the back of his head. "I apologize for the mess. I've been working on twelve different projects for various companies and my own interests. As you can see things get a little…chaotic."

"It's fine," Ash offered a grin. "You should see my room when my mother isn't around."

Bill chuckled and eased up a little. "Fair enough. Now, as for why you're here, I need your help capturing a problem Pokemon. See, I conduct studies in the field on Pokemon behavior, but lately I've been harassed by a rather territorial Fearow. I suspect the bird recently evolved and all those nasty hormones running through it are giving it more of a reason to attack me than normal. However, I would like to study it. If you could capture Fearow and bring it back to me, I would greatly appreciate your hard work."

He grinned. Ash hadn't gotten to battle a Fearow before. This would be fun. "I'm in. Fearow won't know what hit it."

"Excellent!" Bill exclaimed cheerily. "I can show you Fearow's nest right after I deal with my business here."

"What's going on?" Ash asked, recalling the police car parked outside. "Did something happen?"

"Not exactly."

The pair were interrupted by a rather stern Officer Jenny, who had a large Growlithe with her. She had a Poke Ball in her hand and seemed pretty cautious with it. "I'm here to deliver a Pokemon to Bill, but it's not the friendliest creature I've ever seen."

Ash looked at the pokeball curiously. "What is it?"

"A rare and unique species I've long desired to study," Bill informed him. "An Eevee. They're hard to find in the wild and getting one isn't easy, even for a researcher like me. I told my contacts that I would take whatever I could get if they had one. Jenny here recently confiscated an Eevee and brought it to me."

Jenny scowled. "I warned you Bill, this Eevee is beyond reason. I can't release it because it actively attacks people, but I can't exactly put it up for adoption, either. You study it at your own risk. It'll take your finger off the second you try to poke it."

Bill frowned. "Surely it isn't that bad."

The Officer's scowl deepened. "You have no idea."

Ash stared at the capture device in Jenny's hand. "What happened to make Eevee like that?"

"Abuse. It was born in a Pokemon mill—a place that illegally breeds rare Pokemon and sells them on the black market. Eevee was half-starved when we got to it. Once it finished eating, it tried to take a bite out of us. One of my newest recruits had to get stitches after getting tagged by the little monster."

He frowned. Abuse could make a Pokemon vicious. Ash had never seen the actual results of it, but he had heard stories.

Bill held his hand out. "I'll take good care of it—we'll be best friends in no time!"

Jenny rolled her eyes. "Outside. I'm not setting it loose in here. It'll rip everything apart."

So outside it was.

Once they were clear of the house, Officer Jenny told Growlithe to heel and tapped the release on Eevee's Poke Ball. The little creature was released and Ash got his first good look at the notoriously rare Pokemon.

Eevee was a very small Pokemon—smaller than Pikachu, actually. It looked like a small canine with large ears similar to a fox and a bushy tail. Lush, soft brown fur covered its entire body and its eyes were like pools of liquid chocolate. It was really cute when Ash first saw it.

Then Eevee tried to blast Jenny with a Shadow Ball and all hell broke loose.

Growlithe barely intercepted the attack with Flamethrower, then Eevee lunged at it, biting furiously at the fire-type. Jenny leaped back and shouted a command for Growlithe to use Flame Wheel. Eevee dodged with surprising speed and lunged at the next person it saw—Bill.

It had jumped into the air and was aiming for Bill's face when Pyro materialized in front of the researcher and snagged the little Pokemon out of the air with his claws. The Charmeleon held Eevee up by its scruff and pointed it away from the others, growling a warning to it. Eevee spat furiously and wriggled to escape, but Pyro was not going to let go.

Jenny's scowl returned full force. "You see? I told you it was going to attack us! There's no reasoning with it, Bill. I'm sorry, but I can't give it to you."

"Please, just a little more time!" Bill begged. "I'm sure I can work with Eevee!"

"No. For one, you're not a trainer. You have no way to defend yourself if Eevee decides to get feral on you. I'm sorry Bill, but I'm going to take it back to the precinct. It has to be put down."

Ash intervened then. He could see that Eevee was a problem Pokemon, but he wasn't about to let it get killed because someone had treated it so horribly.

"I'll take Eevee."

Jenny looked at him sharply. "Out of the question—"

"—it's not. Ask Professor Oak. He can vouch for me," Ash persisted. "I'm training a Sandile right now. A male with Moxie. If I can handle him, I can handle Eevee. Let me try and train it."

Jenny hesitated, but glared at him with stern authority. "I will ask Professor Oak about this, kid. If I find out you're lying just to get your hands on a rare Pokemon, you'll answer to me. Think very carefully about what you're asking."

"I'm not that kind of person, Officer," Ash promised. "Please. Just call him. I'm sure I can work with Eevee, given enough time. Don't put it down."

She glared at him for a little while longer before sighing. "Fine. I'll be calling the Professor while you two are out on your little Fearow hunt. Don't let the bird kill you before you get back. I don't like putting a Pokemon down, but I will do so in this case if you aren't able to train it. This Eevee is dangerous."

"All Pokemon are dangerous if they need to be," he replied. Ash glanced at Eevee, who was still struggling in Pyro's grip. He certainly had his work cut out for him.

Jenny shook her head. "I still think you're crazy, but alright. I'll give you Eevee's Poke Ball once the Professor tells me you're alright to handle it. For now, it stays with me."

She recalled Eevee into its Poke Ball and went over to her vehicle. Bill looked crestfallen, but Ash offered him a smile and tried to make him feel better. "Hey, where's that Fearow nest?"

That managed to make him brighten up a bit. "Ah, yes. This way!"

"Now I should warn you, Ash. Fearow are big, scary Pokemon," Bill cautioned him. "Don't be afraid when you see it."

They were hiding behind some shrubs to stay out of the bird's sight, but Ash took one look at the Fearow roosting in its nest on the cliff face they had walked to and snorted. He had seen scary Pokemon before—this one was nothing. It didn't even hold a candle to Giovanni's Rhyperior.

Pikachu was snickering at the Fearow. Ash grinned and scratched the electric type under his chin. "So, you just want us to catch it?"

"Yes, please."

Ash looked at Pikachu and the mouse's expression of mischievous delight was obvious. He smirked. "Want to handle this one, buddy?"

Pikachu sniggered and nodded gleefully, then ran out into the open. Ash followed him out and looked up at Fearow, who had yet to notice them. He looked at Pikachu and pointed at the bird. "Stun it with Thunder Shocks and avoid whatever comes with Quick Attack. It might have only just evolved, but I'd rather you not get hit by that beak. Other than that, do your thing."

The mouse grinned wildly.

Five seconds later, Fearow let out a shriek of surprise as a Thunder Shock plowed into it. The bird whipped its head towards them as it stared, stunned that someone had attacked it instead of the other way around. Pikachu giggled hysterically at Fearow and stuck his tongue out at the bird for falling prey to his prank.

Fearow screamed furiously and lunged out of its nest, aiming its sharp beak for Pikachu's body. Pikachu waited, sniggering all the while until Fearow was just a few feet away. He then darted to the side with Quick Attack, giving the bird nothing but dirt to impact.

Ash winced at Fearow slammed into the ground full speed and tumbled across the grass. Fearow squawked in confusion and bewilderment, dazed from its crash. Pikachu hopped onto its back and the bird managed to turn and look at the mouse dumbly for a second. Then Pikachu began to zap the target of his mischief senseless and Fearow finally got its act together.

A gust of wind blew over Ash as Fearow tried to fly up off the ground. Pikachu continued to hammer it with Thunder Shocks, but the bird stubbornly refused to go down again. Ash watched the madness above him for a few seconds before shouting. "Pikachu, Nuzzle! Paralyze it and bring it back down here."

The large electric shocks disappeared and Fearow grew puzzled for a moment. Then it's muscles clenched and the bird dropped out of the sky with a startled screech.

Pikachu leapt off of Fearow's back before it hit the ground and landed in Ash's arms. The electric mouse was still giggling in delight and Ash grinned at him. Pikachu was having the time of his life pranking Fearow in the middle of battle.

The bird was well and truly immobilized, but its beak was still stabbing the ground around it. Ash figured it still had enough energy to resist capture and gave Pikachu a final order. "Jump into the air with Quick Attack, then come down on it with Volt Tackle. That should put it down."

Pikachu nodded and left his arms to return to the ground. He ran towards Fearow to build up speed with Quick Attack, then made an almost vertical leap. As he reached his peak, Pikachu shrouded himself in a cloak of electricity and began to dive towards his opponent. The bird didn't even see its tormentor coming.

Fearow took the Volt Tackle to the back of its head and promptly collapsed, paralyzed and unconscious.

Ash hefted a Poke Ball, threw it at the bird, and Fearow disappeared in a flash of red light. The device hit the ground and wriggled for a few moments, but clicked quickly, signaling that Fearow had been captured.

"Alright!" Ash exclaimed. "Nice going, Pikachu. Fearow didn't stand a chance."

Pikachu shook off the recoil of Volt Tackle and gave Ash a wave with his tiny paw. He didn't look very tired at all. Ash remembered when he had been defeated by Leaf's Spearow and realized how much stronger he was after evolving from Pichu.

"That was marvelous!" Bill exclaimed. Ash handed him Fearow's Poke Ball and the researcher took it gratefully. "Such talent! Pikachu defeated its opponent with so little effort!"

"It wasn't too strong," Ash told him. "It's like you said—it probably evolved only recently. I doubt it knows how to fight well right now. Pikachu was just playing with it."

Pikachu sniggered gleefully and Bill chuckled. "Well, I'm grateful regardless. Come now, let's return to my cottage. Officer Jenny should have finished speaking with Professor Oak by now, I reckon, and I still have a reward to give you!"

Jenny was waiting for them when they returned. She eyed the Poke Ball in Bill's hand and nodded. "I see you got our troublemaker. That's good. You probably saved me some trouble, kid."

"You're welcome," Ash replied. "It wasn't too bad, actually."

"The only time I'll ever hear those words regarding a Fearow is from a Pokemon trainer," Jenny grumbled. "Anyways, I talked with Oak."

Ash tensed and waited for the verdict. Jenny pulled out Eevee's Poke Ball and held it out. "It's yours—for now. But if Eevee gets caught attacking someone unprovoked again…"

"I'll make it work," he promised. She nodded and handed him the Poke Ball. Ash set it on his belt and made a mental note to check on Eevee once he was far away from civilization. He dipped his head to Jenny. "Thank you. I'll take good care of Eevee."

"Any care is better than the care it got at the Pokemon mill," Jenny said bluntly. She shook her head at the thought and made her way back to her car. "Well, I have a job to get to. See you, Bill. Good luck, kid."

Ash and Bill waved her goodbye and then faced each other once the good Officer had driven off.

"Well, I wish you luck with Eevee, but I'm sure you're wondering what I've got for you, yes?"

"Just a bit," Ash admitted.

Bill smiled and walked into his house. He came back out a minute later with a small parcel. "Here you are—like Christmas in the Spring."

He opened the box and gaped at the contents—in his hands were five Ultra Balls and a PokeNav. Ash didn't know much about the latter, but he knew that both items were ridiculously expensive and not something the average trainer could purchase.

Ash stared at Bill. "Whoa, whoa—I only caught a freshly evolved Fearow for you! Isn't this over doing it?"

Bill chuckled. "You forget Ash, I've got more money than I know what to do with. This is nothing. The Ultra Balls I'm sure you know what to do with—I figure if you can take out Fearow so easily, you'll probably need these for when you meet something with more bite. Not every wild Pokemon will drop as easily as our troublesome little friend. And I want you to have this as well."

He handed him a black Poke Ball that Ash didn't recognize. Bill filled him in. "It's a Luxury Ball—designed for making a Pokemon more friendly. If you like, I can transfer Eevee into this from its current Poke Ball. The poor little guy probably needs some extra love."

Ash smiled. "I'd really appreciate that."

"Right, then I can get to that while I explain to you the features of the PokeNav," Bill said as he led Ash inside, chatting all the while.

After Eevee had been transferred to the Luxury Ball and he said farewell to Bill (both following a hefty discussion of the PokeNav's features), Ash headed back to Cerulean City. It was evening before he made it there, but rather than go into the Pokemon Center immediately, Ash went to the practice field and sent out his team.

Pyro, Pikachu, and Sobek waited for him to speak. Ash smiled at his three partners. "Okay guys, I've got a couple of things to say. First off, we're challenging the Cerulean City Gym tomorrow. The Gym Leader there uses water-types, so Pikachu is going to be our best bet."

The mouse puffed up proudly. Pyro rolled his eyes and Sobek growled lightly, but didn't complain. Apparently, the croc didn't mind not having to fight water Pokemon. Ash went on. "From what I've heard, it's probably going to be another two-on-two battle. Pyro, you'll be fighting as well. Sorry, but we don't have any other options right now. You three are the only trained Pokemon I have."

Pyro grinned, baring his fangs. The prospect of fighting water-types didn't deter the flame lizard at all. He swished his fiery tail back and forth a few times and hissed eagerly. Ash smirked at his starter and nodded. "Glad to see you raring to go. You'll need to be."

"The second thing I have to talk about is our newest team mate," Ash told them. "It's an Eevee—the one we had to restrain at the Sea Cottage. Remember?"

Pikachu and Pyro nodded, though Sobek didn't because he had yet to meet Eevee. Ash held out the Luxury Ball so they could all get a whiff of Eevee's scent. "Listen, Eevee was abused by its previous owners, so I need you guys to be on your best behavior. If it tries to attack us, restrain it, but don't hurt it. We have to convince Eevee that we're its friends. If we can't get through to it, Jenny will have to take it away and…well, let's not talk about what might happen if it comes to that."

His team made sounds in a chorus of agreement. Ash took a deep breath and held his finger over the release button. "Get ready. This probably isn't going to go so well right off the bat."

He set Eevee loose.

The little Pokemon's ears twitched the second it was released. It looked around warily before spotting Ash and growling with a ferocity that should not have belonged to such a small creature. Ash held his hands out to his side, showing Eevee that he was unarmed.

"Hey, it's okay. I—"

Eevee leaped at him, snapping like a rabid animal. Pyro quickly snagged Eevee out of the air like he had before and held it away from them. The normal-type wriggled furiously and hissed, biting on empty air. Ash sighed.

This would not be fun.

"Eevee, calm down," Ash tried calmly. Eevee snarled at him and snapped again, but it couldn't move well with Pyro holding it up by the scruff of its neck. The boy frowned at it. "Can you just give me a few seconds?"

A randomly launched Shadow Ball was his answer, though the attack fortunately didn't hit anything important. Pikachu looked ready to zap the little canine at the first sign it was escaping Pyro and Sobek had his fangs slightly bared. Pyro was just doing his best to keep a steady grip on the wriggling creature and avoid getting bitten himself.

Ash chewed his lip worriedly. Eevee wasn't responding at all. He decided that talking was out of the question. He'd have to win Eevee over with a different method.

He pulled an Oran Berry out of his bag and cautiously moved around to where Eevee could see him, but not hit him with one of those nasty Shadow Balls. "Are you hungry?"

Eevee took one look at the food and quieted for a moment. It glared at Ash furiously, as if he had stolen the berry. He carefully held the food closer to Eevee and almost jumped when it snatched the berry from his hands with surprising quickness. Ash checked his fingers, but hadn't been bitten.

"Pyro, put Eevee down."

Pyro shot him a wary look, but did as Ash asked. He didn't let Eevee go, though. His claws remained on the canine's scruff in case it made another attempt at hurting his trainer.

Eevee finished the berry in record time and glared at Ash again. It didn't immediately spit a Shadow Ball at him though, so he decided it was progress, however small. He was not, however, naive enough to think Eevee was going to let him speak again. So he offered another Oran Berry and the small Pokemon took it without a growl. Ash patiently fed Eevee until it turned its nose up at the food and gave him a cold stare.

"Feeling better?" Ash asked cautiously. When Eevee did not answer, he nodded. "I'll take that as a yes. Alright, Eevee, I've got some things to tell you. Will you listen?"

The cold stare didn't change, but Ash figured that was as good as he was going to get. At least he still had Eevee's attention. "Okay, here's the thing. You're a part of my team now. I'm your trainer—your friend. These guys are the rest of my team. The Charmeleon is Pyro, the Sandile is Sobek, and then Pikachu. All I want is for you to feel better, alright? You don't have to be friends with us right now. You don't even have to like us. I just want you to give us a chance, okay?"

Eevee's eyes narrowed. Ash smiled at it in what he hoped was friendliness and not hesitance. "We just need one percent of your trust. We'll earn the rest. Can you give us just that? Just a speck of trust. Because if you can, then I promise I'll treat you well. I'll take care of you and train you if you like so you can become strong. Please?"

Eevee did not react for a long time. After what was probably minutes, the small creature slowly, fractionally nodded. Its cold glare did not let up, but Eevee had given Ash the tiny amount of trust he had pleaded for. He sighed in relief. That was all he needed right now.

"Thank you. Okay, Pyro, let Eevee go."

Pyro made a light growling sound that wasn't quite aggressive, then let Eevee loose from his claws. Eevee spat at the Charmeleon, but didn't attack. Instead, it looked away pointedly, ignoring the larger Pokemon as best it could. That seemed to annoy Pyro, but he listened to Ash and didn't object.

Ash took his Pokedex out and let Eevee look at it. "This is going to tell me a little bit about you, okay? You don't have to do anything."

Eevee huffed and looked away from him. Ash shrugged at the reaction and tapped the scan feature, listening as the Pokedex pulled up Eevee's information.

Eevee, the Evolution Pokemon. A rare Pokemon that adapts to harsh conditions by taking on different evolutionary forms. Thanks to its unstable genetic makeup, this special Pokemon has more potential evolutions than any other species in the world. It reacts strongly to unique energy emitted from natural objects.

This Eevee is female and knows the moves: Quick Attack, Shadow Ball, Swift, Bite, Refresh, and Helping Hand. Its ability is Adaptability, which increases the power of STAB moves.

Ash whistled. "Wow, Eevee, you're pretty strong."

Eevee didn't react aside from a mild growl. The anger was actually cute rather than threatening at this point, but Ash wasn't willing to let Eevee know that. He'd only just earned a fraction of her trust. Insulting her would only lose him that precious fraction.

He looked at Eevee again. "Do you want a nickname?"

She didn't react in the slightest this time and Ash withheld a sigh. Of course not. She hardly trusted him at all—giving her a name wasn't even an option at this point. He put that aside and put another question to her. "Would you like to sleep outside of your Poke Ball, or inside of it?"

At that, Eevee looked at the Luxury Ball and jerked her head towards the capture device. Ash nodded. "Alright then. I'm going to recall you now. I'll let you out tomorrow for breakfast, okay?"

Eevee ignored him again, but he didn't take offense. Ash just smiled again and murmured gently. "Goodnight, Eevee. Sweet dreams."

With that, the small Pokemon was recalled to her Luxury Ball and Ash set it on his belt again. He let out a tense breath he wasn't aware he'd been holding. His team relaxed with him. Ash nodded to them. "Thanks for behaving, you guys. Eevee is going to take some working on. Do your best to get along with her, alright? I'm sure she'll come around eventually."

His team grunted acknowledgement and Ash sighed. "I think we're good for training today. Let's get inside the Pokemon Center and get some sleep. We've got a gym battle tomorrow."

The next day, Ash stood in front of the Cerulean City Gym. Pikachu was perched on his shoulder and stared at the building with him. It was definitely a lot different from Pewter's gym—this one looked more like an entertainment facility than one meant for Pokemon battles. Ash actually double checked to make sure he was in the right place, but sure enough, this was it.

His morning had been good—for the most part. Breakfast was…interesting. When Ash released Eevee, she almost attacked him again before remembering that she had given him a fraction of her trust. Once he was certain she wasn't going to try and bite his fingers off, Ash gave her a bowl of Pokemon food to eat with the others. However, Eevee took the bowl in her jaws and carried it away to eat alone. After eating, she just stared at him stonily until they went outside to warm up for the gym.

The entire time Pyro, Pikachu, and Sobek trained with Ash, Eevee just watched. He thought for a bit that the little Pokemon had confused herself with a Noctowl—all that staring was not typical of any member of her species. He offered Eevee a chance to join them, but she just continued to stare and did not react otherwise.

When Ash was certain they were ready, he recalled his team (minus Pikachu, of course) and set off for the gym.

He walked inside and immediately saw a pretty teenage girl with dark blue hair sleeping on the front desk. Ash went over and carefully rapped the wood, startling her awake.

"I'm up! I wasn't sleeping! Not at all!" she stammered. The girl blinked at him in surprise. "Oh, hello. Who are you?"

"I'm Ash," he told her. "I'm here for a gym battle?"

Her eyes cleared and she smirked. "I'm Violet. You actually came at the perfect time! Now Daisy and Lily can't sleep in either. I'll show them they can't just make me watch the desk whenever they don't want to."

She hit a button and spoke into a speaker system. "We've got a challenger! Daisy, Lily, get to the referee box! Runt, get your team ready!"

Ash heard an indignant yell from the room behind the entrance area and smirked. Violet giggled and gestured to a door on the right. "Go in through there. The battlefield should be ready. We don't have any shows until noon."

He nodded and went that way, but paused when Violet followed after him. She winked casually. "We don't get many challengers in the morning, anyways. Besides, the battles here don't last too long. If anyone walks in looking for a fight, there's a nice couch for them to wait on."

Ash didn't question it. He didn't work at the gym—all he wanted was to challenge it.

The battle room was an impressive construct. Bleachers surrounded a huge swimming pool, with several circular floats for land dwelling Pokemon to fight from. It wouldn't be fair for only water Pokemon to be capable of battling here, after all. Ash would've really been screwed if that was the case—he didn't own any water-types.

As he watched, two girls with orange and pink hair about Violet's age walked out of a room to the side of the field, groaning tiredly. Violet smiled at them mischievously. "Good morning, dear sisters!"

"Shut up," the girl with orange hair groaned. She was rubbing the sleep out of her eyes and pouted when she looked at Ash. "And you, what kind of trainer is up at the crack of dawn for a gym battle?!"

"It's like ten o'clock," Ash pointed out with a smirk. "What trainer isn't up?"

Violet sniggered as the girl puffed her cheek up. "He's got a point, Daisy. Besides, you were on referee duty anyways."

"Then what on earth did you wake me up for?!" Demanded the third girl.

"If us two can't sleep, neither can you, Lily," Daisy retorted. "It's only fair. Go sit on the bleachers or something."

Lily did just that. Ash looked between the three of them and frowned. "So who am I battling?"

"That would be me."

He glanced across the field as a girl who was barely older than him pulled herself out of the pool—he hadn't even noticed her swimming—and turned to face him. "I'm Misty. I'm the Gym Leader here. My sisters are…hey!"

Ash recognized her immediately. "You were the girl at Mt. Moon. The one with the Golduck and Starmie."

Misty's jaw dropped. "What the heck are you doing here? Weren't you hospitalized?"

"No. I got discharged like two hours after the fight ended," Ash replied. "Where did you go? I didn't even see you leave Mt. Moon."

"My Golduck took one of that Crobat's bites and had to get to a Pokemon Center," Misty scowled as she remembered. "I waited until I was sure you were going to be okay, though. It wouldn't have felt right if you got killed—you saved all of us back there."

Ash nodded. That was reasonable to him. Meanwhile, Violet, Daisy, and Lily were staring between the two of them in bewilderment, all sleepiness forgotten.

"Um, you two know each other?" Asked Lily.

Misty glanced at her sisters. "Yeah. Remember what I told you guys yesterday? This is that kid that set me and the other trainers free from Team Rocket in Mt. Moon. He's the only reason Golduck and Starmie didn't get stolen from me."

"Whoa, really?" Violet stared at Ash in surprise. "Thanks, kid! If something happened to Misty, like, we would've had to actually start acting like Gym Leaders!"

"The gym is in your names! You should be the ones battling, anyways!" Misty barked indignantly.

At that, Pikachu sniggered. He found some humor in people arguing. Ash smirked at his partner's antics and scratched him under his chin while the sisters went at it.

Daisy rolled her eyes. "Uh-huh. You know you like the gym battles more than us."

"Oh, shut up," Misty scowled. She rubbed her forehead and dried her face of pool water with a towel, then looked at Ash. "Look, I'm grateful for saving me and the other trainers back there, but don't expect me to hold back against you."

Ash grinned. "I wouldn't have it any other way."

Misty's scowl turned into a fierce smile. "I like that attitude. This'll be fun. What's your name? How many badges do you have?"

"Ash Ketchum, one badge," he answered. "Are you ready to battle?"

"Duh. I practically run this gym. I'm never not ready," Misty pulled a couple of Poke Balls out of the Leader's box on the other side of the field, then faced Ash. "I hope you're prepared to deal with my water-types, Ash. They might be beautiful, but if you aren't careful, they'll tear you apart."

"Bring it on," Ash challenged.

Daisy made her way to the referee's stand and began announcing. "This gym battle will now begin. Both sides will use only two Pokemon and the battle will be over when either side is unable to continue the fight. Furthermore, there will be no substitutions allowed. The challenger will have the first attack."

Misty threw her Poke Ball up in the air and it released a fish with white and red scales. Ash recognized it as a Goldeen and immediately sent out Pyro. His starter landed on one of the circular floating platforms and spat fire into the air to announce his presence.

His opponent arched her eyebrow. "A Charmeleon? Ash, you do know that fire-types are weak to water-types, right?"

"I know," Ash admitted. "But I've got a plan. Besides, Pyro can win this."

The Charmeleon growled agreement and Misty smirked. "Suit yourself. Just try not to fall into my pool, or Goldeen will have a field day with your lizard."

Daisy swiped her hand down. "Begin!"

"Dragon Dance," Ash said immediately. Pyro immediately clenched his muscles and began to charge up dragon type energy, though it was slow as always. Ash wasn't betting on the boost immediately, though—he was aiming for something else.

Misty scoffed. "It doesn't even look like you can use Dragon Dance properly. This'll be quick. Goldeen, Water Pulse!"

Ash watched as Goldeen leapt out of the pool and fired a sphere of liquid water at Pyro. He shouted immediately. "Destroy it with Metal Claw!"

Pyro's claws flashed metallic silver and he slashed at the sphere, tearing it apart. His attack blocked most of the Water Pulse, though he still suffered a bit of damage before continuing to boost himself with the slow Dragon Dance.

"You're still trying that? Goldeen, fire Water Pulse repeatedly!"

"Metal Claw, back to back! Rip them apart!"

Goldeen began to launch multiple Water Pulses, bombarding its opponent with the spheres. Pyro's claws remained silver as he slashed at the attacks and tore them to pieces, though it was obvious from the bits that still hit him that he was taking damage. Ash wasn't sure how many Water Pulses he could take before they started to wear at him, but he didn't think it would be too high a number.

He was relieved when Dragon Dance finally pulled through and Pyro's reflexes became quicker, his attacks stronger. Ash grinned and put his next string of commands into play. "Start moving to the other platforms! Try to hit it with Ember!"

Pyro rushed away from the next Water Pulse and leapt to the nearest floating circle of land. He spat embers at Goldeen wherever it popped up, though the attacks did little more than harass the fish. Ash doubted Goldeen could actually feel the effects of Ember at all. He was just biding his time."

Misty seemed to be getting annoyed by how long Pyro had stayed in the fight and shouted. "Goldeen, give it a Horn Attack! Knock it into the pool."

Ash smirked. Misty was fiery, but getting impatient would be her downfall in this fight.

Goldeen lunged out of the water and aimed its horn at Pyro. Ash saw his opening. "Pyro, duck and use Metal Claw!"

Using the quickness granted to him by Dragon Dance, Pyro dove underneath Goldeen's horn, leaving him directly below the fish. His claws flashed silver, then Goldeen made a gurgling cry as Metal Claw ripped at its scales. The steel-type move wasn't very effective typing-wise, but the attack boost Pyro had gotten from Dragon Dance meant it dealt a little damage. As Ash watched, Pyro's tail flame suddenly flared and he grinned. Metal Claw had just given them an unexpected bonus as well. The extra attack power wasn't necessary for his plan, but he would take it.

Goldeen hit the water hard and seemed to be momentarily stunned. Misty quickly shouted to her Pokemon. "Get it together! Drill Run!"

The fish suddenly leapt out of the water and rotated the horn on its head like a drill before rushing Pyro. Ash had no idea what the technique was, but he continued his stream of commands—Goldeen was still a little stunned and moving a bit slower. "Pyro, quick! Jump to the next platform on the right!"

Pyro did as he instructed and immediately turned to face Goldeen, who was still in midair and appeared startled that its opponent was now no longer in attacking range. Ash had a chance and he was going for it. "Dragon Rush!"

The Charmeleon's irises narrowed to slits as he lunged at Goldeen and smashed into it ruthlessly. The Dragon Rush had landed a direct hit and there was no question—Goldeen had definitely felt that.

But Misty still had some tricks up here sleeve and Goldeen wasn't unconscious yet. "Water Pulse!"

Before hitting the surface of the pool, Goldeen managed to turn and shot another sphere of water at Pyro, who was unable to block or avoid it this time. The move hit just as cleanly as Pyro's and caused the Charmeleon to roar in pain. Ash watched his starter land harshly on the platform and winced himself. That could not have felt good.

Pyro hauled himself to his feet, panting. He was tired, but Goldeen looked exhausted as well. Taking Dragon Rush—however incomplete it was—never felt good for anything that couldn't resist dragon-type moves. It was just that blatantly powerful an attack.

Misty bit her lip and commanded her Pokemon. "Get in close and finish it with Horn Attack. You're almost there, Goldeen!"

Goldeen swam as fast as it could and leapt out of the water to hit Pyro. Its horn made a clean hit to the Charmeleon's chest, but it wasn't enough—Pyro was more furious than ever. He grabbed Goldeen by the horn with his claws and then threw it into the solid platform beneath them.

He was relieved Pyro had survived that, but frankly Ash didn't think he could take another hit. "Pyro, finish it! Metal Claw!"

Misty was shouting frantic commands for Goldeen to get back in the pool, but her orders cut off with a wince the second Pyro's claws slammed into Goldeen's head and knocked it unconscious. The fish's desperate flailing ceased and it went still.

Ash sighed in relief. That was the hardest part of the battle done. Pyro sat down hard on the platform as Goldeen was recalled and groaned. He looked at Ash, who nodded back with a smile. "Good job, buddy. Come back and take a break."

He recalled Pyro. There was just no way that the Charmeleon could last in a fight against another of Misty's water-types. They were strong in their own right and Ash doubted she would fall for the same trick again.

Misty put Goldeen's Poke Ball aside and gave him an impressed look. "I gotta say, I didn't see you beating Goldeen with a Charmeleon, even if it was close. None of the fresh trainers I get here have done that before. You're pretty good."

"Thanks," Ash replied. "Ready for round two?"

"As if you have to ask!" She exclaimed. Misty hurled her second Poke Ball into the air. "Starmie, you're up!"

The water-type which appeared on the platform nearest to Misty was the same one he'd seen in Mt. Moon during the battle against Team Rocket. Ash knew Starmie was pretty strong, but he hadn't gotten a chance to really see what it could do. Regardless, there was only one choice for this fight.

"Go get him, buddy," Ash looked at Pikachu on his shoulder and grinned. Pikachu smirked back and jumped straight onto the nearest platform.

Misty smiled. "That's more like it. So you do have some brains."

"Well, I couldn't let Pikachu do all the work, now could I?" He smiled back. "Get in close with Quick Attack!"

Pikachu darted across the floating platforms, a yellow blur of speed. Misty knew better than to put Starmie in the water against an electric-type and shouted. "Rapid Spin. Smack it around!"

Starmie's jewel flashed and it began to spin almost like a helicopter. The star shaped Pokemon flew at Pikachu, who dodged its initial charge with Quick Attack and whipped around to watch Starmie continue flying.

Ash frowned. He didn't think Starmie could fly. That affected his plans a little, but not too badly. "Thunder Shock! Knock it out of the air."

Pikachu began to fire bolts of electricity at the flying water type, which dodged by effortlessly shifting position in the air. It was infuriating how easily Starmie avoided the attacks, but Pikachu was persistent. He eventually tagged it with a shock and momentarily stunned his opponent.

Misty wasn't having any of that. "Hydro Pump!"

A torrent of water suddenly blasted from the end of Starmie's first set of arms and whipped all over the field while it continued Rapid Spin. Ash realized there was no chance of Pikachu dodging it and shouted. "Thunder Shock into the Hydro Pump!"

Pikachu discharged another blast of electricity just as a jet of Hydro Pump slammed into him. The shock immediately traveled up the water and got another hit into Starmie, but Pikachu was sent flying into the pool.

Misty went into action immediately. "Starmie, now! Recover!"

Ash's eyes widened. That wasn't good at all. He had no idea Starmie knew Recover—the move was entirely uncommon and incredibly useful. In no time flat, Starmie would be fully healed of the damage it had taken. Pikachu was only just clambering onto the nearest platform when the gem glowed and healing energy began to flow over Starmie.

He immediately set about trying to stop the healing process. "Pikachu, Thunder Shock! Don't let it heal!"

Pikachu fired a surge of thunder at Starmie, but it continued to spin and avoided the move. Ash mentally swore when the healing energy ceased a few moments later and Starmie was good as new.

Misty smirked. "Swift."

There was no dodging that move, Ash knew. Swift was a unique normal-type move that was able to hone in on opponents, chasing their energy signature until they impacted it or hit something else. It couldn't be avoided, but it could be countered.

"Thunder Shock!" He snapped. "Blow them away."

Pikachu did just that—his electric shocks destroyed Swift, only for him to get blindsided by Starmie and receive a nasty Rapid Spin to the back for his trouble.

Ash gritted his teeth. Misty was tearing him to pieces. She knew how to take out electric-types and had it down to an art. Starmie was systematically destroying Pikachu and hadn't even gotten a scratch now that it had healed itself.

He watched as Misty repeated her Swift/Rapid Spin strategy and knew he had only one chance. Pikachu would not last against the relentless assault. If he messed up here, he was going to lose.

Pikachu destroyed Swift again and Starmie lunged at him with Rapid Spin. There was no chance to dodge, but there was an opportunity to counter.

"Nuzzle!" Ash shouted desperately.

The second Starmie smashed into Pikachu again, the mouse released a small, focused shock of electricity from his cheek pouches. The shock hit its target and while it didn't do much damage, it gave Ash what he needed—paralysis.

Starmie's limbs froze up and it skidded across the platform, almost to the water. Misty saw the sparks dancing on her Pokemon's jewel and scowled. "Refresh!"

"Not happening!" Ash roared. "Thunder Shock!"

Pikachu glared at Starmie and blasted it with righteous fury, stopping the water-type's status healing process in its tracks. Starmie's gem flashed wildly with pain and electrical surges, but it was trying to get Refresh to work regardless of the damage it took. If it could get back into Rapid Spin and Swift, that was it.

Ash had no intention of letting Starmie have that chance.

"Volt Tackle!"

Pikachu cloaked himself in lighting before charging Starmie like an electrified missile. He slammed dead-center into the jewel in the center of its body and sent the water-type flying. Starmie crashed into the wall of the gym and its jewel flickered a few more times before going dim. Pikachu wilted as the recoil of Volt Tackle took effect, weakening him further, but he did not faint.

Daisy called the fight. "Starmie is unable to battle! Pikachu wins! Victory goes to the challenger!"

Ash exhaled in relief. That had been way closer than his fight against Brock. Even with his type advantage, Pikachu had very nearly lost. The mouse was exhausted from his fight against Starmie, so Ash recalled him quickly to put him into suspended animation. He held the Poke Ball up and smiled at it. "You did great, buddy. I'm so proud of you."

Misty recalled Starmie and walked around the pool to meet up with him. She sighed and shook her head. "I guess I have to work on our strategy against electric-types. Paralysis still gets Starmie."

"I can't believe how powerful it was," Ash complimented her. He was actually amazed that Starmie had fought so well. "It was like I wasn't even fighting a water-type. Pikachu didn't take it out nearly as easily as I thought he would."

"Well, Starmie is one of my main team," Misty admitted with a smile. "It's not every day someone manages to work around our electric-type strategy. I didn't expect Volt Tackle either. That's not a common move, even for Pikachu. The only other person I've seen use that is Surge, and I only see him a few times throughout the year."

Ash grinned at the praise. He really was proud of Pikachu for his hard work in learning Volt Tackle.

Violet, Daisy, and Lily were suddenly crowding around them.

"That was like, totally awesome!" Lily squealed. "Your Pokemon are so well trained! It's hard to believe you've only got one—oops, two badges!"

"You should definitely come back for a rematch sometime," Daisy suggested. "We battle too, you know! Besides, the runt has stronger Pokemon that she uses for more powerful opponents."

Misty scowled. "Don't call me runt!"

"Sure thing, runt," Violet said playfully. Misty rolled her eyes and muttered something under her breath. Violet pulled out a small case containing a badge in the shape of a blue teardrop and offered it to Ash. "Here you go—the Cascade Badge. This shows that you won here, blah blah blah. You know how it is."

Ash took the badge gratefully and pocketed it. "Thank you. That was a great battle, Misty."

"I could say the same," she agreed as her smile returned. Misty paused for a second. "Actually, come with me to the front desk for a moment. I have something for you."

He blinked, but Daisy sniggered. "Ooh, you gonna give your hero a kiss?"

Misty went scarlet and glared at her sister furiously. "No! Now shut up and go back to bed!"

"Ugh, you're no fun. Fine, whatever," Daisy huffed before leaving. Lily and Violet snickered, but didn't antagonize their youngest sister any further.

Misty led Ash to the front desk and pulled out a drawer with disks lined up inside. He recognized them as TMs and blinked when she offered him one. "Here. I owe you for saving me from Team Rocket. This is the least I can do."

Not one to question a potentially priceless gift, Ash took the disc and looked back at her. "What move is it?"

"It's Scald. It's a water-type move that hits the target with boiling hot water. A lot of the time it'll burn whatever you hit," she smirked. "Neither Goldeen or Starmie can use it right now, but I've got a few other Pokemon that have it down. Besides, we've got a couple of Scald TMs. You might not be able to use it now, but keep it for when you catch a water-type, alright?"

Ash nodded and grinned. "Thanks. I'm sure I'll use it at some point."

She chuckled and offered a hand. "I hope so. Goodbye, Ash. Good luck on your journey—and like my annoying sisters said, come back for a rematch when you get stronger. I'd like to fight you again."

Ash shook her hand and left the Cerulean Gym, setting his eyes south for Vermillion City and its notorious electric-type Gym Leader—Lieutenant Surge.

A/N: Version 2.0, updated on 2/11/2021

As a general feature now, I'll be posting Ash's team at the end of each chapter to make it easier for y'all to keep up. Others teams may be included when they hold relevance to a chapter.

Ash Ketchum


Pyro (Male Charmeleon)

Pikachu (Male)

Sobek (Male Sandile)

Eevee (Female)