AN: So I should apologize. Life has been hectic since my last post. This chapter has been done for some time now. However, the opportunity to upload it hasn't presented itself until now. I haven't even had the chance to post the first chapter of my other pokemon fic like I had promised. Which IS going up at the same time as this.
Chapter Eight: Making Haste
"We're ready to begin, sensei."
From his place in the trees more than a dozen meters away, Naruto watched as the normal day to day routine for Jujitsu Academy played out. There was battling, lessons on tactics, and a course on health and nutrition. All of which were based around pokemon.
Relying on their pokemon's attacks and abilities, they imitated shinobi. They were no more ninja than a small child running around playing hide and seek in a onesie.
Crouched on the highest branch that would support his weight, clone Naruto glanced down into the lower branches and those in the trees surrounding his own where hundreds of Spinarak and Ariados had made their nests. The bug/poison types were the academy's sentries, all but invisible to the naked eye unless you knew what to look for.
As he had planned to from the moment he lost to Aya, Naruto had sent a clone after the 'kunoichi' to find the hidden location of her shinobi school. And now that they were well into their journey to Ecruteak, he had sent another to investigate these so-called shinobi.
Needless to say, he was underwhelmed by what they had to offer. There were only one or two promising individuals, an elder pupil and an instructor, though their skills were, at best, those of your average first year Konohagakure academy student.
With a shake of his head, the invisible clone leapt from the tree and sprinted toward the school, an old, traditional building, similar in look and feel to one of the Uchiha or Hyuga mansions. If either of the prideful clans were in the habit of allowing something as important to their status as their grandiose homes to fall into disarray.
There might not be any real shinobi about, but perhaps they would have something of interest within he could relieve them of. Though he truly doubted he was that fortunate…
"We've been over this, if you can't stop using your wings, you'll spend the next week and a half without battling." Scyther hissed angrily in response, stomping up to him as if he were about to strike.
Scyther eyed him critically, keenly aware that of the two of them, the blond was stronger. That made him the alpha of their little swarm. The insect had been born into and thrived within a hierarchy where the strongest ruled and any sign of weakness was immediately and severely punished, more times than not by death. If he were to flinch away now, Scyther would see him as unfit to 'lead.'
They had been on the road for more than a week now and Scyther's battling ban had been lifted. Unfortunately, he was still prohibited from flying and using his wings. In the few battles Naruto had attempted to use him in, such as the one that preceded their current standoff, he would forfeit the moment Scyther began to use his wings.
It might seem extreme, as the dual-type wasn't using them to fly, attack, or boost his already considerable speed, but as a form of intimidation. It was surprising how unnerving the hum of his wings could be as he bared down on you with his forearm scythes. But Nurse Joy had been clear about the dangers of aggravating his injuries. Though they appeared to be healing fine, he refused to take any chances where the bug's health was concerned.
Their staring match was ended for them. The heavy thud of Arbok's tail slapping the ground garnered their collective attention, but it was a gesture meant solely for Scyther. Arbok gave a hiss that Scyther returned with one of his own, turning on the serpent as if he were about to launch himself at his team mate.
And given who the two were, that was a very real possibility.
Scyther was aggressive. There was no other word for it. He was more concerned with furthering his own strength than bonding with his team mates. It was an attitude that hadn't earned him any favors with the large serpent.
Arbok, on the other hand, was on good terms with the rest of the team. He and Meowth had bonded early on, back when Naruto had been a less than stellar human being. After Cleffa had hatched, he no longer wanted to eat her… at least not as much as when she was an egg. And he and Staryu got along famously, bonding while at the bottom of lakes and rivers where none of the rest of the team could follow.
After evolving, Arbok had naturally grown more aggressive. Yet this hadn't been a problem. Any time he got carried away in battle or while training, a firm word from Naruto was enough to reel him in.
But as would happen whenever two such strong personalities shared a common space there would be friction. On more than one occasion, the two had butted heads. Only Naruto's presence stopped an all-out brawl from occurring anytime one caught the eye of the other.
Stepping between the two, Naruto placed a firm hand on Scyther's armor-like chest and Arbok's domed hood.
"Enough you two," he interjected. "Get back to training."
Arbok hissed one last time before slithering off to continue to work on Coil.
His poison sacks were finally potent enough to produce Acid, an attack which highly intrigued Naruto. As far as acids went, it was a mild one. On another pokemon it would burn them, gradually growing more potent, but not to the point of maiming unless left untreated for some time. But on inanimate surfaces, such as metals or wood, it was highly corrosive.
Yet instead of having him focus on another poison attack, he had put the reptile to learning Coil. Arbok had plenty of offensive weapons at his disposal and Coil would see them become even more effective. The status type move would increase the power of his attacks and improve his defense. Both of which was far more valuable to them than Acid.
"You too. Let's see if you can master Air Slash," he said, nodding toward the patch of woods where a number of trees had already been cut down and further dissected. "And no using your wings," he added as the mantis struck out at a still upright tree, cutting through it with a single masterful swing of his blades.
Shaking his head as the tree tumbled to the ground with earth rumbling force, he made his way to the stream where Staryu was training. The starfish had been splitting its focus threefold between mastering Minimize and learning Light Screen and Confuse Ray.
It was while browsing a water-type forum on his pokedex that the blond found a suggestion that stated said types were capable of learning new techniques quicker in and near bodies of water. So when he caught the barest traces of moisture on the air with his nose, they decided to make a minor detour and stop a little earlier. That they could also use this opportunity to wash up was appreciated by both May and himself.
The starfish was nowhere to be seen as he approached and figured it had disappeared to the bottom of the creek bed to work.
After their battle with Xatu, Naruto had gotten an idea that he wasn't yet certain would work. He wanted to explore to what extent Staryu could control Tri Attack. The attack was essentially the simultaneous use of Ice Beam, Flamethrower, and Thunderbolt. Was it possible to use them independently of each other? Or delay one or more of the elements or even control the order in which they were used? Was it even possible, with enough time and effort, to hit three different targets at once?
The possibilities were endless. Yet Staryu would need a mastery of the attack that would only come with time.
Naruto had stepped up everyone's training. His fragile pride had taken a hit when Falkner managed to knock Meowth out through no fault of her own. A moment of indecision all his own had blemished their victory. A mistake they couldn't afford to repeat in the future. A mistake that he wouldn't allow to happen a second time.
He cared for his team. They were his comrades. The closest thing he had to a family. That was a difficult fact for him to accept in the beginning. But now he recognized how much they meant to him. Scyther's injury and Meowth taking that final hit had shown him as much. For them, he couldn't show others mercy. Especially if he were to overcome the challenges Johto held in store.
Falkner was nothing compared to the monsters lying in wait for them. The five final gyms of Johto were infamously known as the gauntlet. Morty, Chuck, Jasmine, Pryce, and the revered dragon mistress, Clair. Together they formed a dauntless wall many trainers were never able to overcome.
Naruto had every intention of defeating them all.
Contemplating the road ahead, he almost missed the figure approaching from upstream. Having forgone the tights she normally sported under her shorts, May had kept her white shorts and thin, red tank top, exposing more skin than Naruto was used to seeing from her. He blamed it on the heat, which had been more intense that day than it had been for more than a month.
Hair still damp from the water, she crept through the woods. Naruto arched an apathetic eyebrow as she waved to him to follow her. Seeing he had no intention of moving, she huffed, stomping over and taking him by the hand.
"Come on," she grunted, annoyed. "There's something you should see."
"And what's that?" he inquired, not attempting to lower his voice.
May turned on him with a glare, 'shushing' him. "Be quiet, you'll startle them."
Getting the message, Naruto fell silent, allowing her to lead him. With every step, he fought back a wince. To a shinobi it was as if she were going out of her way to trample every twig and leaf in their path.
Eventually, they came to a stop in the middle of nowhere. Crouching at the base of a particularly large tree, she pointed around it and off into the distance. Light on his toes, Naruto peaked around its base, finding exactly why she had brought him here. A Stantler herd.
There were dozens of the normal-types scattered about in the forest, grazing. Some with large, mighty antlers, and others with much smaller racks. Yet they all possessed the trademark 'eyes' the species were known for.
Naruto reached for a pokeball, but stopped just short of taking one. May, who was still crouched at his side, saw this, sending him a bewildered look he shrugged off before turning and beginning to make his way back to the stream.
May eventually caught up to him as he made it to the same stretch of woods where Meowth and Cleffa were training. The tiny fae wore a look of determination as she scanned the area in search of Meowth. The normal-type shimmered into existence behind the fairy just long enough to make her presence known with before disappearing again.
Cleffa needed to learn how to use her hearing to her advantage. Which made Meowth, who was working on extending the duration she could remain invisible when using Feint Attack, the perfect partner for this exercise. Though Cleffa believed they were simply playing.
Pulling her hair back in a bandana, May sided up next to him.
"Why didn't you capture one?"
"I didn't have any pokemon on me."
"And?" she inquired, not fooled by his answer.
Naruto snorted, unsurprised she had caught onto his reluctance to capture another pokemon.
"Five of my team's six slots are filled at the moment. I have to think carefully before catching my next pokemon."
May hummed thoughtfully. "I have fourteen pokemon, enough for two separate teams and then some. You're not limited to the pokemon you can carry."
"I'm aware of that. But this six member capacity our hands are bound by means I can only train as many at any given time. I plan to eventually catch more, but for the time being, my efforts belong with my current roster," he explained with a sigh. "Stantler's illusions, if used correctly, could be devastating in battle. If I had more space on my team, I'd jump at the opportunity to catch one. But now isn't the right time."
"You've given this a lot of thought," May surmised. The brunette descended into a fit of giggles as she watched an irritated Cleffa leap at Meowth, only for the cat to vanish before the fairy could grab her.
"She's about to snap," Naruto mused as he too watched the duo 'train.'
"Listen, Naruto," May began, tone hesitant. "There's something I need to tell you."
Shoulders hunched, fidgeting with her hands, and eyes cast downward, the blond spared her a raised eyebrow. He doubted she was going to confess to spying on him, then what could have her acting so bizarrely. "I'm listening."
"I learned something when I made that phone call the night before we left Violet City. But I've not known how to tell you what it is." Steven was, of course, correct. The blond was dangerous. A murderer… But so was she.
Killing was a terrible thing. And should only be carried out in the direst of situations when no other viable option was available. But she knew firsthand from her own experiences that sometimes with heartless fanatics like Team Rocket and Magma and Aqua that the only way to see justice done was to extinguish that flame.
She was under a strict gag order. Nothing she shared or spoke with Steven about was to be mentioned to anyone, especially her target. She knew this. To do so would let him down and could jeopardize everything she had worked for. Yet it had weighed heavily on her conscious, more so than the deaths of those who wore the red and blue of Teams Magma and Aqua, not telling him that Team Rocket might be out for his blood.
"Don't sugarcoat it. If it's as important as you think it is, then blunt honesty would be for the best," he said thoughtfully.
Nodding to herself, in full agreeance, she did what she had never thought she would. She betrayed Steven's trust.
"Lisia overheard her uncle speaking with someone from the League here in Johto," she lied.
"Team Rocket was able to get their hands on some of the League's files. They know it was you who saved Courtney."
May wasn't sure what kind of reaction she expected. Even at the threat of death she couldn't see the distant and at times cold blond breaking down. But she had at least expected some kind of reaction besides a knowing nod.
"You know that means they'll come hunting for you," she pointed out, annoyed by his lack of reaction. "They might be trying to kill you."
Naruto hummed absently. "I suspect they will." Before he could elaborate, Cleffa began to wave her arms in a way that was all too familiar. "And there she goes. Cleffa," he chided as Meowth reappeared with a grunt, prone and unable to move. "You know the rules. No Gravity."
Pausing as he made to go break up the fight between his pokemon, he sent her a nod. "I appreciate the warning. Thank you."
Without the bruising that had slowed her down the first few days into their journey to Violet City, May was capable of traveling both further and at a faster pace. It was for this reason that they made excellent time reaching Ecruteak.
The city itself was one of the oldest in all Johto, and even the neighboring region of Kanto. As such, it was a place steeped in tradition, ghost stories that had survived over the generations, and tales of the birth of many Legends. From what he had read and the pictures he had seen, Ecruteak and its dated, traditional architecture was reminiscent of villages back in his own world.
Naruto was unable to judge these similarities for himself as he was running. The city had been on the horizon for a while, and was little more than a half hour's journey at the leisurely pace they had set for themselves. But from out of nowhere, they were caught in a sudden and harsh downpour.
The blond recalled both Cleffa and Meowth, the only two outside their balls. As the world lit up red, casting the downpour in an eerie glow, May came jogging past, a wide smile on her face. Throwing her head back, she laughed freely, waving to him to keep up.
"Come on," she laughed joyously, invigorated by the downfall. "The center isn't far. We can make it!"
Snorting, Naruto gave chase, unbothered by the drenching he was receiving. Together, they sprinted through the gates, following the path their pokedex had indicated as the closest route to a Pokemon Center. The rain had left the city looking like a ghost town, its occupants having sought shelter someplace warm and dry. Meaning there was no one to take notice of two teens chasing through the streets.
May stumbled into the center on his heels, breathing heavily and shoulders vibrating with laughter. Naruto ran a hand through his hair, flinging water in all directions, unintentionally splashing her and reducing her to a fit of giggles.
"You like the rain."
The brunette sported an infectious grin as she bobbed her head. "It's the best feeling in the world," she enthused. "Getting caught in the rain. And it smells amazing!"
Naruto made his way to the counter, relieved to note that he wouldn't have to wait to be seen. He set Scyther's ball on the counter as Nurse Joy greeted them.
"My Scyther's wing was injured. A Nurse Joy in Violet City suggested I have him checked up when I had the chance," he explained before giving her a rundown of Scyther's aggressive behavior and the precautions she should take.
Nurse Joy nodded as she took the insect's ball. "Will that be all?" she inquired, looking both to him and May.
"We'd like a room," May offered politely.
Joy winced apologetically. "I'm sorry. We're all full."
"It's fine," May waved off her apology, nonplussed. "We'll see if we can't find a center with beds somewhere else in the city."
"I'm afraid that won't be possible. You'll find it difficult to locate empty beds for the next week and a half. You could perhaps try with an inn or hotel. But you should hurry."
It was Naruto who asked the obvious question. "Why will it be difficult to find lodgings?"
"The annual Ecruteak Brass Tower Tournament is being held next week. The amount of trainer traffic always increases this time of year," she explained, retrieving two copies of a pamphlet that she handed over to them. "It's open to trainers with a minimum of four badges. Would you like to enter?"
"When's the deadline to enter?" Naruto demanded, already going over strategies in his head to combat ghost pokemon.
"The end of the week.," Joy answered thoughtfully. "Three days. The tournament will begin a few days after and will conclude on the anniversary of the fire that destroyed the Brass Tower."
Humming, Naruto turned and left without another word.
"I'm sorry about him," May sighed, shaking her head as she watched him storm out into the rain. "He gets like this when battling is involved."
Joy giggled at the tidbit, nodding knowingly. "I understand. It's more common than you think."
With the sheets of falling rain acting as cover, Naruto sprinted in the direction of the Ecruteak Gym faster than he normally would have dared within a city. Having crossed a distance that was roughly a third of the city in less than ten minutes, he didn't hesitate to charge into the gym.
Or at least he attempted to, only to run face first into the locked doors. Mood having flipped from anticipation to livid in a heartbeat, he slammed his fist against the sliding door's blackout glass, one of the only features of the traditional building that seemed to be of modern design. Though his not so delicate knocking wasn't answered immediately, he could make out the sound of battling from within so he continued to pound undeterred.
"What is it?!" The one to finally answer his call was a girl a year or two older than May. Neither ugly nor pretty, the only thing of note about her was her anger.
"I've come to earn my Fog badge."
Snorting derisively, she made to shut the door in his face. "Yeah, you and every other trainer in Ecruteak."
Naruto grabbed the door, forcing it back open without strain or effort. Eyes widening, the girl reexamined the younger boy who had overpowered her with ease.
"I'm sorry," she snapped. "But we've accepted all the challengers we're taking today. If you're that gung-ho about getting your fourth badge before the tournament, come back tomorrow—early—and maybe you'll get lucky and earn the chance to challenge Leader Morty."
"First come, first serve, right?" he clarified. Behind her, the curtain of darkness within the gym was illuminated by random bursts of flame, lightning, and other elements that were capable of bringing harm to the specters the gym was infamous for.
She nodded, smirking. He was an intense one, his eyes and refusal to take no for an answer spoke of as much. But soaked to the bone and with that ridiculous haircut, it was difficult to take him seriously.
"This time of year, we open the gym pretty earlier to accommodate all the challengers looking to snag their fourth badge. Best to rise with the sun if you want your shot at the Leader."
Clearly done with the conversation, she glared at him until he released the door. Slamming in his face, Naruto turned and made for the wilds outside Ecruteak. It would be an hour at least before Nurse Joy would be done with Scyther. Until then, he and the rest of the team would train for tomorrow.
Konohagakure was home of some of the most beautiful and deadly woodlands in all of the Elemental Nations. And he had received extensive training in one of the most, if not the most dangerous, the 44th Training Grounds. Affectionately known as the Forest of Death. As such, he knew how to read trees. From nature's giants, he could identify and track every species who called said woods home, could locate sources of water and other essential resources, and find the best place to lay a trap for one's enemies. With this training, he had no difficulty finding an area where the canopy was dense enough for his team to train without exposure to the elements.
Releasing his main fighters—Cleffa would have no part of this—he called them to order. "We're going to be facing Morty tomorrow. He specializes in ghost-types. Meaning some of your attacks won't affect his team. So we're going to be focusing on honing those that can."
Back to Basics
"You're soaked through," May observed. The brunette was wrapped in colorful, plastic jacket and was carrying an umbrella to shield her from the cutting rain. It had been more than twelve hours and still the sky continued its relentless assault. "Have you been out here all night? You're going to get sick sitting out in the rain."
"I've only been here a few hours."
May scoffed. Shaking her head, exasperated, as she tucked her raincoat underneath her as she sat next to him, propping up against the gym doors and angling her umbrella to cover them both. "I looked for you a long time last night. I even came here. When it became clear you didn't want to be found, I began searching for a place we could stay while in town. Nurse Joy was right, I checked every inn and hotel in the area. There's nothing available. Fortunately, the same Joy was kind enough to allow me to use my bedroll in the center's commons area."
Not one for small talk and with nothing to add, Naruto stewed in his silence.
"You're really pushing yourself to be a part of this tournament," she added as she entertained herself, sticking one of her feet in and out of the rain.
Naruto grunted noncommittally.
"I think this will be good for you," May pressed when it became apparent he was in one of his nonresponsive moods. Digging in her pocket, she produced a nutrient bar that she handed over. "Practice for the Silver U18 tournament."
Pausing with the bar on his lips, Naruto's brow furrowed in confusion. "U18?"
"The junior conference. Every League has under-eighteen tournaments. They're held to give younger trainers a chance to gain experience and offers them a place to compete separately from older, more experienced trainers, some who have been competing for more than a decade," she explained, her own confusion showing. "Don't they have such tournaments where you're from?"
Naruto shook his head, lips thin and expression as dark and stormy as the weather. "There is no League where I'm from," he grunted unpleasantly. "What you're saying is even if I get the same badges as trainers older than myself, I still can't compete in the real Silver Conference?"
May was so shocked by the personal reveal that she nearly forgot to answer. There were very few lands the world over where the League lacked an official presence, such as Orre, Alola, Holon, and the Ranger regions were trainers were prohibited. Such a small, inconsequential slip narrowed the scope of where he was from by a drastic margin and could potentially explain his resourcefulness with the salves he created and even his extreme actions when dealing with Team Rocket.
"You can still compete in the official Silver Conference," she hastily clarified. "But you have to reach the finals of the Junior Conference to participate."
Naruto's anger lessened to a simmer at the news. Such a tournament would be just another step on the path to making a name for himself. Winning both tournaments in one season, both the junior and the Silver Conference, that was a goal worthy of striving for.
The blond grabbed his companion none too gently by the hand as he stood up, surprising her. May's question died on her lips as he pulled her to her feet as the doors opened.
"Hell of a date to bring your girlfriend on, blondie." It was the same girl as the previous evening. Hands on her hips, she smirked at the state he was in. "If I didn't know better, I'd say you were out here all night."
"Not all night," Naruto said dismissively. "I'm here. Early. I'm ready to challenge Morty."
"I don't think so," she snorted. "First you have to earn the right to challenge him. You didn't think you could just traipse in here and challenge him, did you? He'll be facing all those who won the right to battle him yesterday, today."
"But you said"-
"I said, come early enough and you could earn the right to face him," she supplied sharply. "If you can prove yourself worthy today, then you can face him tomorrow. Now are you coming or not?"
Naruto grimaced, but stepped inside without another word.
"And you, are you here to challenge the Ecruteak Gym as well?"
May shook her head with a shudder, taking a step away as if she feared her proximity might invite one of the spirits within to come close.
"Good luck," she called to Naruto as the girl made to close the door behind him. But before she could, the brunette's eyes widened and she yelled for the blond. "I almost forgot to tell you. I talked to my friend, Lisia, last night. She mentioned her uncle wanted to speak with you."
Naruto dismissed all thoughts of the Hoenn Champion wanting to speak with him as he took in the atmosphere of the place that would serve as host for his next gym battle. Visibility was so poor inside that it was almost as if a fog had settled over the floor.
It would have been easy to mistake the lack of light as the gym playing on the common, widespread fear of ghost-types. But Naruto recognized it for what it really was. Less aesthetic and more strategy. If you must fight, choose the setting that best suits your needs and abilities. That was what Morty had been aiming for.
"We've got our first one of the day," the girl bellowed into the gym. "He camped out front last night to make sure he was the first one up today. Let's show him a good time, fellas."
"Shut it, Cassie," grouched a man in his early twenties, appearing from the darkness like an apparition. With a shaved head and hard features twisted into a scowl, he came off as an unpleasant sort. "It's too early for your caterwauling."
Cassie, as his guide had been dubbed, flipped off the older man, stomping forward to fill in the position of referee. "I hope you lose," she snapped before turning to regard Naruto. "You know the rules, yeah?"
Naruto answered in the affirmative, unclipping Meowth's ball. It was another gym battle and once more Scyther was out as an option. Having gone to fetch him late the night before, the insect was cleared to battle, but flying was still restricted. It was for this reason, and that all of his attacks were useless against ghost-types, that the bug/flying-type wouldn't be making an appearance.
Naruto couldn't bring himself to feel pity for the battle loving bug. Come time for the tournament, he would be cut loose and allowed to shine.
As was now tradition, Naruto loosened the bow about Meowth's throat.
"No mercy. Our only goal in battle is to win. We don't stop pressing our attack until the enemy is down or I say otherwise. Understood?" It was more than just spooky old campfire tales that made ghost-types notorious amongst the populace. They were amongst some of the most deadly and vicious species of pokemon. May's own horror story with them wasn't an uncommon occurrence. He wasn't just being overcautious with his demand they put down whatever their opponent sent out. It was too dangerous to let a battle with one drag out.
Meowth brushed affectionately against his side, her version of a nod, before trotting out onto the field. She was met by a purple, imp-like creature with diamond-esque eyes and what appeared to be a ruby in the center of its chest. The ghost hissed, baring its maw of serrated fangs.
Both pokemon vanished from sight as soon as Cassie called a start to the match. There was a tense silence shared by Naruto and his opponent that wasn't broken until Meowth reappeared. Though she had been working on extending the length of time she could maintain Feint Attack, the technique was meant only to turn the user invisible for a few seconds, long enough for them to get the drop on an opponent. And while she had indeed increased the duration, this improvement was measured only in seconds.
Meowth flickered into sight, eliciting a command from the opposing trainer.
"Zen Headbutt!" barked Sableye's trainer, all traces of his earlier exhaustion gone.
A small dome of psychic energy formed behind Meowth a heartbeat before Sableye appeared, revealing the film of blue had suffused its diamond-hard skull. Meowth leapt aside, just avoiding the psychic powered headbutt. Without pause, she threw herself at the much slower pokemon, ready to use Bite, one of the few offensive moves she possessed that would be effective against the small ghost. Yet before she could latch on, Sableye faded from sight.
Unlike Meowth and Feint Attack, Sableye could not only become invisible but intangible as well. Leaving Naruto's starter standing in the middle of the field searching for an opponent that was nowhere to be found.
Just as it had been with Zen Headbutt, Sableye gave its position away before ever reappearing. The crimson gem centered in its chest glowed brightly as the specter reformed.
"Behind you," Naruto warned.
Meowth didn't look back, displaying her incredible leaping power and reaction time as she threw herself aside, narrowly dodging a beam of energy. By the time she had turned around, Sableye was once more gone.
"It can't attack without revealing itself," Naruto warned Meowth under his breath. The darkness inside made it easier track its movements. "Watch for the glow of its gems to strike." Just as Meowth was immune to ghost-type moves, Sableye and most ghost-types were immune to normal-type attacks. This immunity made her essential to his strategy, but also limited her just as much as it would the ghost-types.
Meowth didn't bother with using Feint Attack again, waiting for the glow her trainer had mentioned. Staying light on her feet as she scanned the darkness, she spotted the telltale
glow at the same time Naruto called out to her.
No more than a foot behind her, Sableye wasn't taking the chance of missing this time. Meowth's coin illuminated even as she turned on the ghost, the crack of thunder blinding as she fired Thunder Bolt a heartbeat before Power Gem finished charging. Though it was a bad matchup, an electric attack versus a rock-type move, Meowth's attack had the advantage in speed.
Sableye screamed as it was lit up with electricity, the current flooding its nervous system and robbing it of the ability to move. Keeping to Naruto's new adherence to hitting hard and fast, Meowth didn't pause to take stock of her work, unleashing Dark Pulse from up close. Sableye was thrown across the field like a skipping rock, yet Meowth didn't relent. Chasing after her target, she continued to hold Dark Pulse until Sableye was caught between the concentrated beam of dark-type energies and the psychic shields.
"Enough!" Cassie screeched, waving her arms frantically for them to stop. "Sableye is unable to battle! The challenger wins!""
Meowth haltered her attack the moment their victory was announced. The inner light of consciousness had faded from Sableye's diamond-like eyes as it laid prone on the arena floor.
Calling out to Meowth as Sableye was recalled by its understandably upset trainer, Naruto looped her ribbon back around her neck, tying it into a bow that belied the battle that had just transpired.
"Excellent," he praised her. "Just like we spoke about."
Recalling her, Naruto regarded Cassie, who was glaring at him alongside the trainer he had just defeated. "I'll be here for my match with Morty first thing in the morning."
Naruto wasn't sure what he had expected from a League Champion. Perhaps someone who embodied strength and wisdom such as the Sandaime or a cold, unflinching leader, whose gaze told of unspeakable horrors such as Danzo had.
Yet the person beaming widely at him from within the monitor lacked all these sought-after traits.
Hoenn champion Wallace could be summed up in a few words at first glance. Eccentric and flamboyant just to name a few.
Dressed in bright, odd clothing that exposed his midriff and bare hips, the man seemed to be the jovial type.
"Uzumaki!" the champion greeted enthusiastically. "I'm so glad to finally meet the young man who saved my beloved Lisia's dear friend."
Naruto nodded stoically, tossing May, who was just out of sight of the camera, a pointed look. For her part, May smiled sheepishly, mouthing an apology. She liked her friend's uncle; really, she did. He had taught her, Lisia, and Courtney a lot about Pokemon Contests. It was thanks to his invaluable advice early on that the three had seen such success in their own careers as Coordinators. But even she would admit he could be a bit much to take in at first.
"As Hoenn Champion, I'd like to offer you my sincere thanks," Wallace said, stepping back from the camera and giving a sweeping bow. "Not just for the safe return of one of my precious citizens, but for protecting a dear friend and a former student of mine. Thank you."
"No problem," Naruto muttered, completely out of his element with the effeminate man and his… abundance of gratitude.
"Nonsense," Wallace whimpered dramatically. "Though all the world's riches and fortunes pale in the face of the debt owed, you must allow me attempt to repay you for your selfless actions."
Before Naruto could reply, the transporter next to the phone illuminated, producing a steady hum not too dissimilar to a fan. When the light faded and the last of the spots in their retina had been blinked away, Naruto and May found themselves staring at an inconspicuous pokeball.
"Go ahead," Wallace urged. "Meet your new companion."
For the first time since learning the man wanted to speak with him, Naruto was happy he had agreed to contact Wallace. A gifted pokemon from a champion was worth more than the small fortune he had received from the League for his part in the fall of the Rocket base in Azalea. Unsure what to expect, he took the ball from the transporter.
"Is it safe to release inside the Pokemon Center?"
Wallace laughed, loud and brightly. "Of course, of course. It's as excited to meet you as I'm sure you are it."
Nodding, Naruto rapidly tapped the button in secession, expanding it and releasing the pokemon within. As the arc of blinding light faded, their eyes slow to adjust, Naruto and May found themselves before a strange, blocky being.
Reminiscent of a crudely rendered paper crane, or perhaps a duck that had seen too much, it was a peculiar mix of pink and turquoise. Its head and body were both polyhedral and its feet were triangular prisms and its rigid, straight tail rectangular. There was something… artificial about the odd little pokemon Naruto couldn't put his finger on. Though one thing was for certain. Be it the Elemental Nations or his time here in Johto, never before had the blond encountered a more bizarre creature.
Naruto nearly leapt out of his skin when the levitating duck barked, a metallic, grating sound. Drifting up to him, it floated about him, inspecting the blond from every angle with intelligent, beady eyes.
May stepped forward, both surprised and curious.
"A Porygon," she mused. The avian grunted, perking up at hearing its name. Zipping to her side, it repeated the same process, examining the lass as if it had never encountered a human being before.
"Porygon?" Naruto parroted, unsure what to make of the creature.
May nodded as she attempted to reach out and pet the creature, only for it to zip away, outside her reach, but still very much curious about her. "It's a manmade pokemon, created in a lab. They're rare. I don't think I've ever seen one outside of the League's custody."
"Manmade?" Naruto muttered, confused.
"Indeed," Wallace confirmed, sending the bird a fond look. "Born from one of the most advance and complex strings of programming code the world has ever seen, it was created by the eccentric genius Dr. Akihabara, the same man responsible for the creation of the Pokemon Transfer System. It can traverse between the physical and digital realm seamlessly, can escape into anything from your pokedex to a computer and further onto the web."
"The model before you was given to me by the president of the Devon Corporation as a congratulatory gift when I became champion," he continued, a sad smile playing on his lips. "And while it has been exceedingly helpful in my day to day and keeping me organized, I've been unable to provide it with the attention it deserves."
"I thought the Porygon coding was patented?" May split her attention between the pokemon eyeballing her and her one-time mentor. "How did Devon get their hands on one?"
"How do they always go about getting their way?" Wallace scoffed, amused by her naivety.
"Threw enough money around until they got what they wanted. From what Steven told me, they were able broker a deal for three in total. They were even able to negotiate permission to examine and improve upon Porygon's code."
"Improve how?" Naruto asked. His initial dubiousness took a back seat to his curiosity. He was by no means an expert where technology was concerned, but even he could see the usefulness of such a pokemon.
Wallace made a strange, cooing sound deep in his throat that saw Porygon's head snap in his direction. It zoomed over to the monitor, hesitating only a second before its form tensed and suddenly distorted. A moment later, it appeared on the screen, next to Wallace, all the way in Hoenn.
"It's possible for Porygon to evolve twice," he explained as said program zoomed around his head, making the same hollow screech as before. "But much like a pokemon who needs an evolution stone, it first must receive an upgrade and then additional software. Or so they normally would. The minds over at Devon were able to improve upon the original coding, intergrading both pieces of software."
Tickling it beneath the chin, Wallace bid the program farewell before waving it back toward the screen.
"Translation: it will evolve like a normal pokemon," he concluded as Porygon reappeared on their side of the screen. Not sitting still for long, it drifted off to inspect the nooks and crannies of the center's communication center.
"As the beauty at your said stated, you don't encounter them in the possession of trainers. And while I worked with it very little in our time together, its potential is great. What will become of Porygon, whether it meets this potential or not, is up to you."
"Good job today." Naruto patted Meowth on the head, unfurling her bow as he stepped back. Nodding to her, she gave him the same nod as she crouched on all fours.
Naruto stood by as a copy of himself released the Meisaigakure no Jutsu, appearing just out of Meowth's sight and lashing out with a kick. The blow wasn't strong enough to cause any real harm, but would leave enough of a mark to assure she would try harder not to be hit.
Though the kick carried her across the clearing, she landed on all fours, ready to pounce. But the clone had already vanished.
Scattered throughout the woods, the same scene was playing out with the rest of the team. Staryu, Arbok, and Scyther were doing the same training, honing their reaction time to an opponent that could literally appear out of thin air. If they could hit Morty's team, then Naruto knew they could win.
Beyond the capture of Staryu and Scyther and earning the latter's respect, he hadn't raised a hand against his team since the Team Rocket incident in Azalea. He had thought long and hard about this method of training, weighing the many pros and cons, and eventually came to the conclusion that there could be a balance. He wasn't a ROOT handler, nor was he Danzo. He could spar and battle with his team without it escalating to the point of senseless violence.
This hands-on approach would be no different than when Arbok and Meowth or any of the others sparred. Danzo, the sadistic bastard, had perfected the process of creating soldiers. The best form of training wasn't practicing jutsu or kata, though doing so certainly helped, it came from seeing live action.
Battling a superior opponent was the best form of training. This meant he would have to be rough with them for there to be any improvement. The most difficult part would be making sure he didn't take things too far.
Naruto stepped away from the rest of his team as he unleashed Porygon. The artificial bird chirped, scanning the woods with the same earnest curiosity it looked at much of the world with.
"Porygon, the Virtual Pokemon. Consisting entirely of programming code, it can survive without food and water and is capable of moving freely in cyberspace."
"This pokemon knows the following moves: Tackle, Conversation, Conversation 2, Sharpen, Magnate Rise, Psybeam, and Signal Beam. Its ability is Trace, which allows it to copy other pokemon's special ability."
Impressed with her move pool and ability, he began researching the attacks that he didn't recognize. Of which, there had been more than one.
On initial appearances alone, Porygon seemed as if it would become a valuable member of the team given time. Unfortunately, no matter how effective it might be against Morty and his ghosts, Naruto wouldn't be using the normal-type in his gym match the next day. Until he had a firm grasp of exactly what it was capable of, Porygon would be sidelined.
The rain had finally stopped the previous evening, leaving the world damp and the air humid. None of this mattered as Naruto approached the Ecruteak Gym at exactly six AM. Just as he reached the doors, they opened revealing Cassie. The dark-haired lass wore a guarded expression as she nodded him in. There was none of her previous sass, only a wariness that Naruto found preferable.
"Leader Morty is inside," she informed him, having led him to the rear of the gym, pointing to an open doorway that led into pitch darkness. "He's waiting for you."
With a silence that even Naruto knew was unlike the girl, she stepped away, leaving him alone. Naruto wasted no time, entering the doorway immediately.
"Ty was very upset by his loss to you."
Naruto found himself standing opposite a fellow blond. Forgoing the gloomy atmosphere of the rest of the gym, the room was brightly lit and spartan. With only one entrance and no windows, the only thing of note was the plain battlefield the man was standing at the head of.
"He's a promising trainer," the blond continued. "But has a tendency of taking himself too seriously. I tell him all the time he needs to loosen up a bit. Find himself a girlfriend. Maybe then he wouldn't stress out over every loss."
"I'm here to challenge you for the Fog Badge," Naruto announced.
Morty smiled widely. The curve of the lips lacked any hardness or unpleasantness. It was open, carefree, and welcoming. The total opposite of what one would expect of Johto's premier ghost-type specialist.
"Old Gengy was right," he mused cryptically.
Naruto's eyes narrowed, his thoughts going back to the Gengar that invaded their campsite on the way to Ecruteak. "The Gengar from that night. It was yours," he accused with an edge.
Morty took the accusation in stride, the same disarming quality as before shining through as he shook his head. "No. Gengy is as old as Ecruteak and has been haunting the forests around here since before its foundation."
"So it just happened upon our campsite?" Naruto challenged disbelievingly. Only fools and the soon to be dead believed in coincidences and happenstance.
"Oh, no. I don't believe that at all. He came hunting for you," Morty revealed, sounding as if he had informed him he had won a raffle. "You see, when I was young, I found myself lost in those woods. I was there for hours, and before I knew it, night had fallen. No older than eight-years-old. Understandably, I was quite terrified. Though my fear was nothing compared to when I found myself face to face with that ancient old spook."
Morty shook his head fondly. "It was that encounter that set me on my destined path. What would see me one day surround myself with creatures that others speak of in hushed whispers. You know, Gengy saw something in you it liked. Said you had the same eyes as himself."
Recalling those cruel, crimson pits of malice, Naruto fought off a shudder. Noticing his reaction, Morty chuckled.
"Will four on four be acceptable?" Naruto bobbed his head in reply. "Then let us begin."
Arbok appeared at the same time as one of the most beautiful pokemon Naruto had ever seen. Levitating a foot above the ground and with twin horns crafted of ice upon its teardrop head, the pokemon looked remarkably like it was wearing a kimono. The creature was graceful and inspired awe more than fear. It was anything but the stuff of nightmares.
Given its horns and the way the breath it expelled birthed traces of frost on the air, Naruto felt it safe to assume it was a dual ice/ghost-type.
"Just because Gengy likes you doesn't mean I'll take it easy on you," Morty barked good-naturedly. "Froslass, Ice Shard into Ominous Wind!"
Froslass took a deep breath before exhaling. Her frosty breath made the transition to shards of ice suffused with a wind that was a concerning shade of purple. Even from the safety outside the psychic shields, the stench and sense of foreboding produced from Ominous Wind was overpowering.
Arbok dodged the attack the only way he could, escaping into the ground. As a reptile, he was susceptible to the cold; this, added to the fact that Froslass could levitate, meaning he couldn't track her movements and the subsequent vibrations underground, made this match up a bad one for the snake.
"Surface and use Haze."
Arbok's hooded head broke the ground behind Froslass, a fountain of murky, oily smoke billowing from his mouth. By the time Froslass noticed, her portion of the field was covered in a dense fog.
"Clear it away!" Morty ordered. "Icy Wind!"
Froslass blew away the smoke with a chilling wind, never seeing the serpent coiled just beneath her. Tail encased in a silver glow, Arbok struck, the appendage catching the spirit in the face with devastating force.
The dual-type gave a haunting wail, rocked by the steel-type move, one of her weaknesses. Yet before Arbok could seize the opportunity to continue, Froslass vanished.
"Haze," Naruto ordered.
Arbok vanished in a cloud of smoke that rapidly spilled over, enveloping a large portion of the arena. As was expected of him, the serpent knew to keep moving.
"From up top, let's make it windy."
Froslass appeared high over the field, producing a sinister wind so cold it shimmered with a wintery mix. The combination of Icy Wind and Ominous Wind cleared away Haze, leaving a dusting of ice in its wake.
Arbok erupted from the ground with all the grace of a wrecking ball, a wave of poison fountaining from his massive jaws. Froslass was doused in the tar like poison and even inhaled the noxious fumes.
Ghost-types, for the most part, were resistant to poison. Understandably, after all, poison was meant to taint and wreak havoc upon flesh and blood, something that was made difficult when your opponent possessed a tangible form only in the loosest of definitions.
But it distracted Froslass long enough for Arbok to do what he did best, get in close and tear his prey apart. Using his body like a spring, Arbok defied his bulk, launching himself into the air.
With the raw increase in strength that came with evolution, Arbok's Bite had evolved as well. It could no longer be labeled as such, but was now Crunch. Fangs aglow with white light, Arbok latched onto Froslass with enough force to sever a human arm.
With the added weight of Arbok's bulk and unable to turn intangible thanks to her weakness to Crunch, a dark-type attack, Froslass tumbled ungracefully to the ground. Before they ever crashed, Arbok was raining down Iron Tail with a reckless abandon.
"Froslass, Destiny Bond!"
Naruto was livid as he watched a purple light overcome the nearly unconscious Froslass, her head lolling as she struggled to stay awake long enough for one last attempt to even the score. The menacing light transferred to Arbok just as the serpent brought down the finishing blow.
Naruto unclipped his friend's ball even as the ghost went limp within his teeth. It was as the serpent released the snow spirit that he stiffened, narrowed eyes widening before he too collapsed, unconscious.
Naruto recalled Arbok as Morty did Froslass. The ghost trainer smiled when catching his eye.
"That was a fun match."
Naruto grunted as he unhooked Meowth's ball. It had been a cheap move that Morty had pulled. Had it been against anyone besides himself, Naruto would have applauded him. As it was, it felt as if he had been robbed of a victory.
Morty eyed the normal-type as it trotted up to Naruto, waiting patiently for him to take her bow. As the blond pocketed the ribbon, Morty released what looked like an old, dark cloth thrown over a ball. The creature's large, hypnotic eyes danced over Meowth, whose hackles bristled in response, before coming to rest upon Naruto. Curiosity turned to hunger as it floated forward, its objective clear: Naruto himself.
"Shuppet," Morty interjected, stopping the large eyed ghost. Yet its sights never wavered from the blond. "Sorry about that. Shuppet are attracted to negative emotion. I guess you took Froslass' final move personally."
Naruto responded to the quip by starting the match. "Get in close and unseen."
Meowth leapt forward, disappearing as Shuppet finally tore its eyes away from Naruto. The ghost glared into nothingness, attempting to locate its opponent, but to no success.
When finally Meowth reappeared, she was in midleap, aiming for the spirit's back. Shuppet tensed, spinning about and firing off a kneejerk Shadow Ball. Yet the attack dispersed harmlessly against the normal-type as she used Bite on the only portion of Shuppet that she could find purchase on, its horn.
Shuppet grunted as it attempted to shake off the cat. Unable to free itself, it tried to turn intangible, but was unable to thanks to Bite.
Naruto was initially surprised that Bite wasn't just another normal-type move, but he wasn't complaining. From the research he had done on ghost-types, he knew that most were weak to dark-types and their savage attacks.
"Shuppet," Morty called for its attention. "Shake it free and use Knockoff!"
The ghost attempted once more to yank itself free. Realizing Meowth had no intention of releasing it, Shuppet screeched, releasing a gout of bluish flames from its mouth and directly into Meowth's chest. Said feline hissed as she released the ghost, only for Shuppet's skirt to take on the vague form of a hand and lash out, knocking her back.
The fur along her chest slightly singed, Meowth landed upright, only to charge forward once more. Shuppet spit more of its colorful flames, yet she vanished before they could reach her. Almost instantly, Meowth released Feint Attack, surprising Shuppet and both humans as she appeared directly in front of the ghost.
"Dark Pulse!" Shuppet was obviously more of an in close fighter than the elusive Froslass had been. This coupled with a majority of its attacks being rendered ineffective thanks to Meowth's typing, and Naruto knew this match wouldn't end the same way as the previous battle.
Shuppet's ghostly wail was smothered as Meowth directed the beam into its face as it attempted to flee. Severing Dark Pulse almost instantly, her coin flashed as she fired off a rapid Thunder Bolt. Electricity illuminating its ghostly form, Meowth once more used Dark Pulse. The powerful beam caught Shuppet before it could recover, ending the match.
Meowth made her way back into her section of the field as Morty recalled the unconscious ghost. Even knocked out, it continued to defy gravity, levitating.
"Your team has been trained well," Morty smiled, enjoying himself. "I'll need to step things up. My beloved Mismagius won't be so easy an opponent."
The ghost to appear could have passed for a levitating head with a ridiculous hat and flowing skirt. Across its chest were a trio of gems that glowed in tandem with its sharp, orange eyes.
Naruto and Meowth both tensed as the creature began to hum a haunting hymn. The blonde swallowed thickly as a wave of misery washed over him, stirring memories of his time in ROOT. The beatings, constant sense of helplessness, and the horror that clutched at his heart as he was forced to fight his best friend, Sai, to the death. His first kill and induction into ROOT.
Only the field, Meowth didn't seem to be taking Mismagius' incantation any better. Every plane of her body was tensed, her teeth bared as she listened to the sadistic melancholy inducing song.
"That's as good as a start as any," Naruto growled. "Shut it up. Screech!"
Meowth's anger amplified the auditory attack as she charged at the ghost.
"That doesn't work on Mismagius," Morty chided as if he were a foolish child.
"It wasn't meant for Mismagius," Naruto smirked.
The sound of her own screeching reverberated within her own skull, canceling out Mismagius' song. She was at the midway point when she leapt at the ghost, her coin giving a telling glow as she used Thunderbolt. Displaying speed as impressive as Meowth's own, Mismagius dodged the bolt, her song dying on her lips as Meowth used Feint Attack.
"Don't let it close," Morty ordered. "Magical Leaf!"
Mismagius spun about in air, releasing a cloud of leaves from the folds of her hat and skirt, all of which glowed and sparked. Hanging on the air for a moment just as a normal leaf might, they abruptly stiffened, turning razor sharp, as an invisible force launched them outward in a halo of flora. It was behind her and to the left that Meowth appeared, a pained grunt escaping her as she was caught in the tsunami of leaves.
"She might be able to imitate a ghost's ability to hide, but intangibility is beyond her," Morty informed him. "Turn up the heat, my darling."
Mismagius barked, spitting a stream of red hot fire at Meowth. Claws digging into the field, she recklessly threw herself aside, sprinting in a wide circle around the ghost. When Mismagius redirected the flame to follow after her, Meowth used Feint Attack to escape.
"No more hiding," Morty barked. "Magical Leaf again. Then follow it up!"
Spinning like a top, Mismagius unleashed another on slot of leaves and once more caught Meowth, this time standing just in front of Morty. But unlike last time, Mismagius was prepared. Gems and eyes illuminating crimson, she fired what looked to be a psychedelic, multi colored beam that Naruto recognized as Psybeam.
Meowth wasn't the only one to hold an opponent under an attack. Mismagius didn't release Psybeam, pushing the normal-type back. With a hiss, Meowth buckled under the attack, falling. Yet as she fell, she used Dark Pulse. The beam of dark-type energy sliced through the air, missing the ghost by inches. Yet it accomplished what it was meant to, distract Mismagius.
The ghost severed her attack, dodging Dark Pulse even though it would have missed her anyway. This gave a weak and panting Meowth the time she needed to get up and take off.
"I guess it's time to use it," Naruto called out cryptically. The blond had considered this at length. With a trainer like Morty standing in their way, it had been the right time to give it to her.
Once more running circles around the spirit, Meowth caught onto his words, disappearing from sight as she launched herself in Mismagius' direction. The ghost didn't need to be prompted a third time, she spun the moment Meowth was out of sight, producing a blizzard of flora.
When Meowth released Feint Attack it was with Dark Pulse on her lips. The beam of dark energy cut a swath through the wall of Magical Leaf, clipping the ghost's hat-like head. Clearing her makeshift path with a few speedy strides, Meowth threw herself at Mismagius, her right front paw cloaked in a gauntlet of shadow.
He had gotten Shadow Claw from the rocket base back in Azalea, and had been holding off on it for a while. The last technique Meowth had learned, be it via TM or naturally, was almost a month earlier, back before their battle with Whitney. The decision to break this streak came the night before as Meowth spared with his clone. He had intended to wait longer, preferably after she evolved, but now seemed as good a time as any to equip her with the ghost-type attack since said type was generally weak to its own kind.
Meowth raked her shadow enhanced claw the length of the ghost's chest. A hurt Mismagius fled, levitating out of her reach as it reeled from the blow, but Meowth wasn't done. Leaping as high as she could, her coin flashed with lightning that was followed closely by Shadow Claw.
As the feline landed, nearly collapsing from all the nicks and cuts adorning her form from Magical Leaf, Mismagius lost consciousness.
With the grace period until the next pokemon was sent out, Meowth limped across the field as the specter's ghostly form turned transparent, appearing as if it might disappear on the air.
"I can see why Gengy likes you so much. You're a worthy opponent," Morty admitted, calm and cool about the loss of his third pokemon. "Of all the trainers to challenge me in the past few weeks for their fourth badge, few have earned the opportunity to face my next pokemon."
It came as no surprise when Haunter appeared hovering over the field, its cruel eyes and wolfish smile enough to make anyone hesitant about meeting it in battle. Morty's love of the species and its evolutionary line was well known. Naruto had fully expected to face it or its base evolution, Gastly.
Luckily, Gengar wasn't an option for Morty in this battle. Naruto knew that facing Morty's devil of a Gengar would be more than his entire team could face at once.
"Come back and rest," Naruto ordered. Meowth warily eyed the spirit as she trotted to his side. "I might need you back out there depending on how things go with Staryu."
This was very much a test. Perhaps it was foolish of him to have used Meowth before Staryu, when the feline was arguably the best equipped to battle Morty's spook filled team. But the starfish would never reach its full potential if it didn't challenge itself against opponents stronger than itself. He needed to know if his work with the water-type was working, or if he needed to approach its training from a new angle.
Staryu appeared and immediately began rolling from one point to the next, giving its eardrum shattering screech. Its gem flicked rapidly, betraying its excitement.
"How will you measure up?" Morty inquired, jaunty.
The start of the match came as the crookedly grinning Haunter waved one of its disembodied hands buoyantly at Staryu before fading into a gas that dispersed on the air.
Haunter and its line were gaseous, amorphic beings. Living, or unliving as it were, shrouds of poison. The species was infamous for its sadistic tendencies. It wasn't uncommon in areas where the breed resided to find other pokemon, and even the occasional human, tortured to death, smothered with gases that had seemingly clawed its way down their throat and pooling in their lungs.
Staryu screeched upon losing sight of the spirit, moving its top point about as if it were scanning the field. Its search came to an end as Haunter took form behind it, both of its clawed hands fisted, one engulfed in shadow the other in a sinister glow of dark-type energy. Before the starfish knew what was happening, Haunter rained down blows, alternating between Shadow and Sucker Punch.
Rapidly becoming overwhelmed, Staryu spun, using Harden and Water Gun in tandem. Harden and Rapid Spin were useless against Haunter, but the jet of pressurized water caught it in its wide maw, giving Staryu the time needed to put distance between itself and the spook.
Staryu's gem pulsed blue, producing rings of psionic energy that made a hissing Haunter turn invisible.
"Keep moving," Naruto barked. "Don't give it the chance to catch you!"
Rolling from one point to the next, Staryu didn't stop, randomly hurling itself bodily through the air. It was during one such leap that Haunter striked. Appearing alongside the starfish, keeping pace without difficulty, it caught the water-type in the gem, striiking it midleap with a Shadow Punch. Staryu crashed to the ground with Haunter tracking its fall with a smile, eyes taking on a sinister red that rapidly enveloped its entire body. Making a purring, crooning sound deep in its chest that left goosebumps trailing down Naruto's spine, a wave of crimson energy, the same as that which Haunter was bathed in, consumed Staryu.
The starfish was still for all of a heartbeat before its terrible screech pierced the air. The star writhed uncontrollably, floundering in pain, unable to escape its assailant.
Convulsing and in agony, Staryu blindly obeyed, kinetic rings rippling from its gem and slamming into the ghoul. Haunter shrieked, its terrible hold over Staryu, Night Shade, shattering as it vanished on the air.
Naruto finally understood how frustrating it must be to battle the Feint Attack loving Meowth. The way Morty's team could up and disappear when the whim took them made it nearly impossible to hit and attack them.
It wasn't that Staryu was weak or that its training was lacking, though he would certainly be investing more stake in seeing that she was reaching her full potential. Haunter was just that strong.
"Recover!" Naruto ordered, hoping it could heal before the match could continue.
Yet before Staryu had regained its bearings, Haunter returned, waving its hands in a hypnotic pattern. Rings similar to Psywave washed over the starfish. The water-type's movements instantly became sluggish, its top three points sagging with exhaustion and the rapid-fire pulsing of its gem slowed, becoming a rhythmic, listless flicker.
The previous attack had done a number on Staryu, leaving it all but helpless to resist the fatigue forced upon it.
Naruto recalled the starfish as it slumped forward, asleep. Technically, a battle could continue even after a participant was asleep. Yet Staryu had no way of defending itself while unconscious. Allowing the match to continue would see Haunter having its way with it, which would prove unfortunate for them in the extreme.
The only attack Scyther knew that would be of use in this battle was Air Slash, a move he had yet to perfect. It was for this reason that he had no other choice than to send Meowth back out. Coming to this realization on her own, she brushed against his leg as she ambled back out onto the field.
The decision to begin the match was taken from both Morty's and Naruto's hands. The moment the psychic shields were erected once more, Meowth and Haunter vanished. The latter was sprinting as fast as she could, slipping in and out of sight as she went.
"Enough games," Morty ordered, speaking for the first time since calling on Haunter. His tone, which had been light throughout, now carried a steely edge. "Venoshock!"
Haunter turned visible before Morty had finished speaking, retching, throwing up globs of poisonous fluid. Lobbing them at Meowth every time she would appear, she would vanish before they reached her, exploding and staining the field with puddles of toxins.
Meowth had been using and releasing Feint Attack in quick session, popping in and out of sight, but abruptly changed tactics, vanishing and staying that way longer than Naruto had ever seen. Haunter displayed its impatience, attacking wildly when unable to locate her, dousing the field in enough poison that traversing it was rapidly becoming a hazard.
"Focus," Morty firmly demanded.
The moment Haunter finished regurgitating its foul poison, Meowth was there, raking her shadow enhanced claws through the spirit's side. Haunter screeched as it lashed out blindly with Sucker Punch, catching Meowth in the face and throwing her back with the force of the blow. Yet before gravity could take its course, Haunter appeared over her, slamming both fists into her narrow form.
Naruto pushed against the psychic shields, the raw energy needed to fend off attacks searing his palms. Hand raw and blistering, he snatched the feline's ball from his hip.
It was over.
Meowth, though still conscious, if just barely, had had enough. Scyther could take over, though he didn't like the insect's chances against the beast of a ghost-type. He now understood May's disdain with the species, and respected them all the more for it.
"She fought valiantly," Morty commended respectfully.
Naruto ignored him, pointing the sphere at his starter, guilt, the one emotion he had become most familiar with in his time in this world, gnawing at his gut. Tapping the button, his index paused just before completing the second tap that would recall her as Meowth's abused form was suffused with light. Soft at first, he had just enough time to avert his gaze before it tripled in intensity. The world around them lit up, tattooing onto his eyes even though they were shut.
When finally the lightshow subsided, Morty, Haunter, and Naruto were left staring at the majestic form of a big cat. Hard, sinfully proud eyes seared into Haunter's as a sound too mighty to be labeled a growl rippled in her chest. Even rising to her feet, her form still covered in light traces of blood, was a display of power and grace.
From less than ten pounds to close to two hundred, Persian's form was a testament to how power and beauty could go hand in hand. Lean, rock hard muscles rippled and flexed beneath her tawny coat with every minute movement. Gone was the disproportion between her head and body, and her beloved coin was now replaced with a red jewel.
A now haggard looking Haunter hissed at the massive cat, glaring balefully. Persian returned the look with one that was equal parts disdainful and taunting. An impressive feat for a creature without human features. The hiss tearing from her throat was now as intimidating as the rest of her.
Without prompting, she dashed forward without the use of Feint Attack, displaying a speed that left Naruto smirking like a loon. Scyther was going to be pissed. He was no longer the fastest member of their team.
Haunter's eyes widened, taken aback by the drastic increase in speed, before it hastily disappeared. Persian, both of her front paws illuminated with Shadow Claw, skidded to a halt where the ghost had been half a second before.
Tensed and poised to pounce, she scanned the field with sharp eyes, her thick, sensitive whiskers twitching, reading the air flow for any disturbances.
"Now," Morty barked abruptly.
In the same breath, the whiskers upon the left side of Persian's muzzle stiffened. Falling flat to her stomach, she avoided Haunter's wild haymaker, her jewel responding with a glow. The field lit up once more as a bolt of lightning caught Haunter as it attempted to use Sucker Punch again. An airy, pained hiss escaped the ghost as it found itself unable to move.
A look of twisted glee warmed the dark depths of Persian's gaze as she descended upon the spook with claws aglow. It was as she dragged them along its unguarded face a third time, each blow carrying enough force to kill a human, that Morty recalled his final pokemon.
If it were possible at all for a ghost to bleed, Naruto was sure Haunter's cruel features would have been ribbons of gore.
"This is your victory," Morty sighed, his earlier smile returning. The psychic shields having faded, he cut across the field with a small piece of metal in hand. "I haven't had a battle that enjoyable in some time. I have no regrets presenting you with the Fog Badge."
Whispering how proud he was of her into the shell of Persian's sensitive ear, he traced the lithe muscle just beneath her fur as he ran a hand the length of her spine. With a final word of thanks and an encouragement to rest, he recalled her and accepted the badge from Morty.
"I'm looking forward to your performance in the Brass tournament. Your team has what it takes to make it far."
Naruto nodded. "Maybe we can battle again someday," he suggested before turning on his heel and leaving. Just as it had been after his match with Falkner, this hadn't felt like a win.
He had miscalculated. Had Persian not evolved they would have likely lost. It wasn't only Staryu that needed training. He did as well.
But all that could wait till later. For now, his team needed to see a Nurse Joy. And he wouldn't say no to a bowl of warm ramen.
AN: Not all victories are uplifting, such as the battle with Morty showed. This will be a huge stepping stone for the blond.
I'm a huge fan of Porygon. It's versatile and I can't wait to explore the full range of its capabilities. As for those of you who are worried about Naruto's team being full, I have thing plotted out for that. No worries.
As always, if you enjoyed this, please review.