Author's Note: I don't own Pokemon, the Pokemon franchise is owned by Nintendo/Gamefreak.

Dear Delia and Ash,

If you're reading this you've likely received the news that I haven't made it back from my deployment to the Seafoam Islands.

I want you to know that I love you and always will, nothing will ever change that. You two have been on my mind constantly.

Our family means more to me than anything else in the world. No title, no rank, and no position will ever hold a candle to you.

You are the reason why I fought. Your futures are what motivated me to confront Cipher and prevent their plans of capturing the legendary birds. I didn't want my family to live in a region dominated by tyrants and live in fear. I can only hope I left behind a Kanto that is safe and that the sacrifices I have made will not be in vain.

No matter what nightmares I led my squads into, I held to the promise of embracing my beautiful wife again. Of cradling my infant son in my arms and watching him sleep.

I miss watching sunrises while huddled beneath blankets on the porch with you, Delia.

I prayed everyday that I would survive this nightmare and return to you.

I prayed I would stumble my way through being a father, teach our son what it meant to be a Ketchum. I prayed that one day I'd be hobbling on a cane while grandchildren played tag in our backyard.

Yet I still failed you.

I'm sorry and there's no words that can describe the regret I have for failing you.

I'm a lousy husband to have widowed my wife so young. I promised at the altar I would be with you in sickness and in health and for better or worse. I was supposed to support you and stand by your side.

My failures are even worse as a father – I should be there for you, Ash. You deserve a father to guide you as you navigate through life.

Take care. Delia, I wish we were married longer and had more sunrises to watch together. Raise our son right, raise him to be the man we both dreamed he would become. Show Ash the love that he deserves, not just as his mother but in my place as his father.

Love you always.

Ash Ketchum tucked the letter away in his pocket, unable to read anymore as he felt a lump form in his throat.

He tried to blink away the tears and glanced in all directions, staring at the rows of graves before him. His eyes settled on a particular headstone and he forced a smile as he knelt down in front of the tombstone. He felt his eyes starting to well up with tears again as he tried to think of something to say.

A stream of hot tears rolled down his cheeks and fell to the ground from a wave of nausea. He visited countless times and had stood in front of the headstone before, but it still made him queasy to visit. Time hadn't exactly healed his hurt regarding his father. It was still difficult to think about his father and knowing that he would never be able to meet the man who had inspired him to much.

His mother told him story after story. According to her, his father was a prodigy, having finished top sixteen in the Indigo League his first two years and winning the tournament by his third year as a trainer. While overshadowed by much stronger trainers, his team's strength and overall performances in the Indigo League were still enough to net him an offer from the Elite Four as a trainee. Not that he would ever accept the offer. According to his mother, he enjoyed traveling, meeting new people, and lending a helping hand too much to stay in one spot and dedicate himself to training.

A more selfish part of Ash wondered what might have been had his father hadn't declined the offer in favor of enlisting in the Pokemon Rangers. Perhaps instead of becoming a casualty, he would have been a seasoned Elite Four member and training him up to prepare him for his own upcoming journey.

Ash rubbed the tears from his eyes and stiffened his jaw. He was too old to be crying. He was ten-years old now, which meant that in three years he would be old enough to become a trainer.

Besides, Ash knew what-ifs were pointless and that his father wouldn't have had it any other way. His father's sacrifice – his ranger squadron's sacrifice – was not in vain. They kept the Legendary Birds out of Cipher's hands even when it cost them their lives.

For that, Ash and the rest of Kanto were grateful.

He supposed sacrifice was what it meant to be a league official, no matter what the capacity. Even the Pokemon Masters – the champion and Elite Four – were tasked with the responsibility of overseeing the safety of others.

League officials served as the region's leadership and as much as titles meant, when it really came down to it those leaders were tasked with protecting lives like his father had.

Ash smiled at the thought. He aspired to one day be like his father – not merely by attaining the same level of strength as him, but by serving and protecting others. His father may have died, but his legacy and ideals would not die with him. He didn't see himself as the type that would enlist in the Rangers, but would build a legacy of courage, sacrifice. and strength. He too would write his name in the history books – for the both of them.

Ash never felt such a strong mixture of emotions bubbling up inside of him.

He rushed over to the window, staring at the silhouette of Professor Oak's laboratory up on the hills in the distance.

He had been looking forward to this day ever since he could remember; he was finally going to receive his first Pokemon.

The thirteen-year old boy had grown up around Pokemon since his mother was one of Oak's research assistants. When he wasn't at school in Pallet Town studying Pokemon, Ash soaked up information at Professor Oak's lab. He supposed that his passion for learning about them and spending time with them was genetic.

It was, after all, both of his parents' hobbies even if their love for Pokemon had taken them on different paths.

Professor Oak often let Ash and Gary, his grandson, hold mock battles with some of the Pokemon at the lab. He also let Ash help nurse injured Pokemon back to health, and showed him some that were sent to the lab for analysis. In fact, Oak seemed to enjoy having him there as much as he enjoyed Gary's presence.

Considering that Ash's mother was one of his best assistants, and that she had practically grown up at the lab herself since her parents had been Pokemon researchers themselves, Delia was as much a family member to Oak as his actual family.

Ash figured that his exposure to Pokemon and Pokemon battles from an early age played a factor in his decision to want to become a Pokemon trainer.

He got a thrill from bonding with the Pokemon at the lab and engaging in battles with Professor Oak, even if he now realized that the Professor had been holding back and only used a minuscule amount of the force that had netted him the title of Kanto champion ages ago.

Ash also loved sparring with Gary. The adrenaline rush from the excitement of Pokemon battles was intoxicating to him. He knew it was probably the biggest reason why he had decided he wanted to become a Pokemon Master.

Though he was aware of the difficult work ahead of him, he desired to forge a team from the ground up like the other legendary figures before him – one that would be worthy of mentioning in the history books.

Looking over at his Voltorb alarm clock, he knew he didn't have to wait much longer before he could leave for Professor Oak's lab in hopes of receiving his first Pokemon; although he wasn't sure if that made him calmer, or more anxious.

Ash glanced over at the television screen on his dresser and grinned wildly at the sight of a giant dragon with orange scales twirling through the air like a fighter jet to avoid a barrage of stone shrapnel.

He loved Charizard.

Was there any better Pokemon than a dragon that spewed flames from its mouth, powerful enough to incinerate entire villages?

Each of the three Kanto starters that a trainer could choose from had definitive pros and cons.

Bulbasaur and its subsequent evolutions were masters of trap setting; capable of unleashing a multitude of various spores and toxins on their opponents. They were built for a war of attrition, and wore down their opponents with the many energy draining attacks, toxins, and spores that they could unleash.

Bulbasaur and its evolutions also happened to be the easiest of the starters to raise, since their species weren't usually known for having an aggressive streak. Usually, Bulbasaur were kind, caring, gentle creatures. The only downside to the Bulbasaur line was its lack of offensive firepower. Like most grass types, Bulbasaur and its evolutions lacked the vast movepool that the other starters had.

Squirtle and its evolutions, on the other hand, were defensive powerhouses capable of dishing out barrages of water in retaliation. A mature Squirtle and its evolutions were like tanks, able to practically withstand an explosive blast inside their shells, and then pop back out to fire jets of water capable of cutting through steel.

However, there were some drawbacks to the Squirtle line; Squirtle and its evolutions weren't very agile, being rather slow creatures compared to the other starters. In addition to their lack of speed, Squirtle and its subsequent evolutions had a bit of an attitude.

While they weren't as difficult to deal with as Charmander and its evolutions, the Squirtle line could tend to be a bit unruly especially once they evolved into Wartortle and began to get a taste of their full power. Arrogance often sprung up in Wartortle when they began to realize their own strength, and that arrogance often made it difficult for trainers to command their respect.

Lastly, there was the Charmander species. There wasn't much to say about the Charmander line, because there were few words to describe the fire types. Charmander was the most popular of the Kanto starters, and the most dreaded.

Charmander and its evolutions were offensive powerhouses capable of changing an entire ecosystem with a single blast of flame. In addition to the Charmander line's brute strength and mastery of its element, Charmander and its evolutions were the fastest of the three Kanto starters. Their blend of speed and power made them coveted.

However, the adoration of the fire types often covered up their dangerous flaws. Charmander and its evolutions were among the most arrogant Pokemon on the face of the earth, and many of them tended to be somewhat hyperactive.

Unlike Squirtle or Bulbasaur, Charmander knew their strength from the beginning and their attitudes often reflected the knowledge of their own power. The creatures tended to cause a lot of "training accidents", often severely burning their trainers or worse. Some had even been known to turn on their partners or teammates.

It was imperative for anyone who had a Charmander on their team to set them straight on day one and command their respect. Without that respect, it was almost impossible to keep them under control – and an unruly Charmander was fully capable of killing.

It was difficult for most trainers to choose between the three Kanto starters because they couldn't decide which pros and cons they were willing to live with. Those beginning their journey tended to decide on the spur of the moment.

Fortunately, Ash didn't have to deal with the frustration of having to decide which starter to pick and make that spur of the moment decision. Charmander, Squirtle, and Bulbasaur were the Kanto starters for "most trainers".

He was not "most trainers". Knowing the right people made it easy to get your hands on something a little less common. Much like most of life, connections meant better prospects in the world of Pokemon training and Ash certainly had connections.

As enticing as training a Charizard was, he had something far superior to Charmander waiting for him.

Ash threw his crimson sports coat and crimson baseball cap. The trainer-to-be rushed out of his room and thundered down the steps.

His future starter was waiting for him.

Ash stepped forward, causing the automatic doors to part and allow him into Professor Oak's lab.

He raised an eyebrow upon entering. Books, papers, and lab equipment littered every counter and table in the room. Several unopened boxes were stacked on the floor while some were ripped open with their contents strewn about.

The place was an unpresentable mess. Considering that Professor Oak generally kept the place tidy, Ash wondered if he had tried to tackle too many projects at the same time and got overwhelmed.

"Professor Oak, could you use a hand?" Ash asked, glancing over at the professor as he dashed around the room tidying up.

"Ash, you've made it!" The professor beamed, smiling at Ash for a moment before returning to his work. He tucked papers into file cabinets, placed books on shelves, and set equipment inside drawers or boxes. "Could you do an old man a favor and take some of those boxes out to the shed out back? Gary's already taken a few back, but as you can see he has hardly made a dent."

Ash nodded. "Which ones do you want me to take?"

"Just the boxes that are sealed, I can take care of the rest of them,"

Ash bent over and scooped up a couple of the boxes. He winced at the weight. "What's in these?" He asked.

"I ordered some Poke Balls for the lab, although I didn't ever dream that they would send this many," Professor Oak said.

"At least you won't have to worry about running out any time soon," Ash remarked.

Professor Oak chuckled. "That's for sure."

"I'll be back in a minute!"

Ash shuffled past Oak's office, through the chemistry lab, and through Oak's personal library before stopping at a door. The trainer-to-be grumbled under his breath as he realized that the door was shut.

He tried to reach for the doorknob, but found it was impossible to turn with the amount of boxes in his hands. Suddenly, the heavy boxes shifted, causing Ash to lose his grip on them.

With a loud thump, they hit the floor and landed on Ash's foot. The raven-haired boy bit his tongue to prevent himself from screaming and clutched his foot.

"Well, look who it is!" The door – the one obstacle blocking his path to the shed outside in the corral – swung open to reveal a familiar face standing in the doorway. "Late as always, I see. Bet you were trying to skip out on all the work."

Ash scowled at the boy, clearly not appreciating his humor given the circumstances. In fact, the last person he wanted to see was Gary, even if Gary was technically his best friend.

The spiky-haired boy always had the worst sense of timing and his idea of humor was irritating during good situations. "Gary," he growled.

Gary paled upon realizing what happened.

"Here, let me help you with those!" Gary exclaimed as he tried to scoop up a couple of the boxes. The boy's eyes bulged as he lifted two of the boxes. "What in the name of Mew did Gramps order, rocks?!"

"Poke Balls," Ash replied, finally recovering enough to pick up the remaining ones.

"Arceus, there's no way in Distortion...these are freaking heavy," Gary complained. "What are we supposed to do with these stupid things anyway?"

Ash pointed to the shed. "We're supposed to take them out to the shed, at least the unopened ones."

Gary groaned. "Fine, let's get this over with."

A few minutes of toil passed as Ash and Gary carried the boxes to the storage shed. Ash wiped a bead of sweat from his brow and let out a sigh of relief, knowing the task was finally over.

"That all of them?" Gary asked.

Ash nodded. "Yeah, Professor Oak said that the rest can be put in his office or in the chem lab."

Gary flashed a manic grin. "Looks like we're almost done and you know what that means! You still going to choose the Pokemon you talked about? You had your heart set on Charmander for a while, you sure you still don't want one?"

Ash grinned. "I'm sure, I did my homework. My Pokemon can do everything a Charizard can once it's fully evolved and there is less risk of aggression."

"Fair enough, but I think the aggression is just part of the fun, right?"

"Until you wind up in a Pokemon Center with severe burns because your Charmander turned on you."

Gary tilted his head. "Touche."

"So you still haven't told me what you're going to choose."

"And ruin the surprise? No thanks! Tell you what, I'll give you a hint! My Pokemon is going to kick your starter's butt halfway across Kanto and is the best Pokemon Gramps has found in years."

Ash rolled his eyes. He swore Gary's arrogance was going to do him in one of these days and what better time than today when they were starting their journeys?

"You know, you still haven't told me if you're going to challenge the league either," Ash added, changing the subject.

Gary snorted. "Hmm, you're asking me if I'm going to wander around the countryside, screw around in the wilderness, and sleep out in the elements just because it's traditional?" The spiky-haired boy sneered.

"You're still going to do it, right?" Ash asked.

"Of course," he admitted, a deviant grin forming on his face. "How else am I going to save up to pay off my school loans and expenses?"

"So it's all about the money to you?" Ash laughed.

Gary waved him off and shook his head. "Of course it's not just about the money!" He exclaimed, taking a defensive tone. "The money is nice and will be a great bonus, but I figured studying Pokemon out in the field beats having to sit through some stuffy loser's lectures about something I could have seen for myself."

He paused for a moment.

"Besides, breaking all of Gramps' records and a couple conference wins will make my resume look amazing – sort of validate just how awesome I am, you know?"

Ash groaned. "You're insufferable."

"Just because you want to downplay your aptitude scores doesn't mean I'm going to do the same. Scoring higher in trainer aptitude and general studies than Gramps did at our age aren't small feats." Gary remarked as he closed up the shed.

Ash shook his head and gave an uncomfortable smile. How often he and Gary discussed their accomplishments was always a point of disagreement between them. They had always been the most talented kids in class, but their reactions to the praise placed on them was received differently.

Ash was allergic to the spotlight, preferring to downplay praises and hype. It wasn't because he lacked confidence, but rather because he simply hated the attention.

Gary was the direct opposite. He adored the spotlight and thrived in it. His ego drove him to improve and Gary used people's perception of him to further his prospects.

There wasn't anything intrinsically wrong with either philosophy, even though Gary's boasting could be aggravating at times. It was simply a topic which he and Gary would have to agree to disagree upon.

Ash reached for the handle of the door and opened it, stepping back into the laboratory. He winced at the sound of an all too familiar screech and hum – Professor Oak was using his vacuum cleaner and Arceus, did he need to get the motor on the thing fixed.

Ash returned to the front of the lab and glanced around. True to his word, Professor Oak apparently hadn't waited for them to return and moved the open boxes himself since they were nowhere to be found.

Noticing their arrival, Professor Oak turned off the vacuum cleaner and it wound down to a faint whine before turning off entirely.

"Ash, Gary, finished already?"

Ash nodded.

"So when do we get our Pokemon, Gramps?" Gary echoed the thoughts Ash hadn't spoken.

While Ash was glad to help Professor Oak in any way possible to tidy up the laboratory – it was the least Ash could do to repay Professor Oak for registering Ash for the Indigo League and using his connections to try to set Ash up with a good starter Pokemon – he still couldn't help but desire to at least see the Poke Ball his starter was contained in.

Professor Oak frowned. "Hold on, don't be so impatient. We need to get this place cleaned up a bit, Gary."

The spiky-haired boy wiped a bead of sweat from his forehead and groaned. "I know, I know, but can you at least tell us when we get our Pokemon?"

"We'll get to that in a minute, Ash's mother is contacting the breeders to have your Pokemon sent over. Until then, we need to get this place looking presentable."

Gary rolled his eyes. "You think we care if the floor has a few more specks of dust?"

Professor Oak took a deep breath, clearly getting frustrated with his grandson. "Just because you two are going to be headed out soon does not mean that there is not going to be other trainers here, Gary."

Ash placed a firm hand on Gary's shoulder. "It shouldn't take too long to help get this place cleaned up," he assured. "Besides, we can kill some time this way."

Gary grumbled a string of complaints under his breath and before letting out a defeated sigh. "Whatever."

"What can we do to help, Professor?" Ash asked, glancing to Professor Oak.

Professor Oak pointed to the vacuum and broom. "I'd appreciate it if you two would clean up the floor. One of you can use the vacuum and one of you can use the broom."

Ash gave a quick thumbs-up before claiming the broom and dustpan. He hated the ear-splitting hum of the vacuum and decided to leave Gary the noisy machine. He supposed Gary would prefer using the vacuum anyway since it technically could get the job done faster.

"I'll sweep one half of the room and you do the other half, sound fair?"

Gary gave a nonchalant shrug. "As long as I get this over with, I don't care how we handle this."

Ash ignored the irritation in Gary's voice and shuffled over to his side of the room to begin sweeping. He winced upon hearing the whine of the vacuum, but ignored the sound as he guided the push broom across the tile floor.

It didn't take much time for either of them to finish their side of the room with both of them finishing within about ten minutes.

"There, done – when do we get our Pokemon, Gramps?" Gary whined, a heavy dose of irritation audible in his voice. He was growing more and more impatient with each completed task.

Ash couldn't really blame him, he was chomping at the bit to see his starter too.

"Patience, Gary." The elder Oak chided, giving Gary an annoyed look.

Gary rolled his eyes and tapped his foot on the floor impatiently, grumbling an inaudible string of complaints under his breath. Most of which, Ash assumed to be profane. Fortunately, it didn't take long for Delia to emerge from the back of the laboratory. Ash smiled at the sight of his mother and gave her a quick nod.

Delia reciprocated the expression with a bright smile of her own.

"Sorry to keep you waiting!" she said while fidgeting with a small notebook in the pocket protector of her lab coat – something Ash could only suppose was a list of contacts or the latest notes from a scientific experiment. "I ended up talking a bit longer than I wanted to, but I have your starters."

Ash grinned wildly as Delia reached into the pocket of her lab coat and presented two black orbs in her outstretched hand. Gary followed suit with a grin of his own, eyeing the orbs with avarice. Ash couldn't really blame him after taking a second look at the Poke Balls.

They had not been gifted any mere Poke Ball. The sparkle of the gilded release button, golden ring circling the black exterior of the orb, and crimson halo near the top of the capsule made that point extremely clear.

They were Luxury Balls – which were far pricier than Poke Balls thanks to the regenerative properties given to a Pokemon during stasis. While the stasis of a Luxury Ball didn't feature anywhere near the regenerative properties of a Heal Ball, the stasis state featured in a Luxury Ball helped a Pokemon heal and regain stamina faster.

"It's about time, I thought I'd never get my starter!" Gary exclaimed, eliciting another glare from his grandfather that Gary ignored. "I can't wait to unleash a beatdown on the league! Just try and beat me, you pathetic losers! I can already imagine the headlines in the papers!"

Ash rolled his eyes and gave a snort of contest.

If only Gary was a little more upfront about what he really thought…

"Gary," Delia declared, placing one of the black spheres into his hand.

Gary snatched up the orb and twirled the capsule around on the tip of his finger before flicking it up into the air and snagging it with his right hand. The spiky-haired trainer-to-be rubbed the emblem of fire adorning the front of the Luxury Ball.

Ash shook his head. Always the showoff, no matter the situation.

Delia turned to Ash. "And Ash, I have not forgotten you." She laughed, taking off Ash's hat and ruffling her son's hair before placing the remaining orb in Ash's hand."

Ash grabbed his hat and adjusted it to his liking before setting his gaze upon the Luxury Ball. The iridescent dragon scale emblem furnishing the front of the orb had him in a trance. It was far more beautiful than he could ever have imagined.

He slid his thumb across the sleek surface of the Luxury Ball and the emblem adorning the front of the orb. He could barely believe his eyes – he finally held his starter's Poke Ball in his hand.

"Thanks, Mom," Ash beamed, his eyes glowing with excitement.

"Of course." Delia giggled.

"I believe you'll need these as well," Professor Oak added as he held out a pair of orange tablets to Ash and Gary. "I don't really need to tell you what these are since you are already familiar with the Pokedex and its features."

Ash reached out for one of the devices and ran his thumb across the sleek glass screen of the Pokedex. A smile stretched across his face. The Pokedex was not merely a digital encyclopedia cataloging the world's Pokemon, but a status symbol.

It was the Pokedex that contained one's personal information and registration – quite literally validating that one was in fact a Pokemon trainer.

"Thanks!" Ash and Gary exclaimed in unison.

"Well, aren't you two going to test them out? Your starters are waiting to meet you!" Professor Oak exclaimed.

Ash glanced over at Gary who took Professor Oak's cue and pressed the release button on the front of the Luxury Ball. The capsule expanded before flipping open and releasing bright rays of light. In an instant, an indescribable Pokemon emerged from the Luxury Ball.

The Pokemon – somewhat akin to a Magmar – produced heat and was certainly not what Ash expected to see from Gary. Ash raised an eyebrow and pointed his Pokedex at Gary's starter, causing the scanning mechanism of the device to activate and display a picture of the Pokemon.

Magby, the live coal Pokemon – Magby are typically found in volcanic craters, its body is capable of exceeding 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit. Every time it inhales and exhales, embers dribble from its mouth and nostrils.

Ash squinted as he examined the picture of Magby closer. Was he imagining things? It was very very subtle, but Gary's Magby wasn't quite the same color as the one featured in the data entry.

It took a moment for Ash to process everything, but his eyes bulged once he figured things out. Gary had received a Magby with a different pigmentation – no doubt a request regarding his starter. Considering it was something a little more common, it wasn't an unreasonable request.

Gary quickly scanned Magby as well with his Pokedex, getting the same encyclopedia entry along with the techniques the fire type knew.

"Smog, Ember, Smokescreen, Mach Punch, and Thunder Punch? Not too shabby, you've got quite the arsenal! I'm Gary Oak, a legend in the making and soon-to-be Indigo Conference winner, would you like to join..."

Ash tuned out his friend during his narcissism-fest and his recruitment pitch to his starter, more curious in Magby's moveset. He might not know much about the Magby line, but even Ash knew that Thunder Punch and Mach Punch were not common techniques for fire types.

Generally, such a technique would have to be passed down genetically for a Pokemon to learn it at such a young age, especially Mach Punch. Mach Punch was virtually unheard except in a handful of species.

There was no doubt that Gary's Magby had been acquired from a breeder. It made Ash wonder what type of surprises his starter had.

"Thanks, Gramps, you're the best!" Gary beamed.

"Delia played a huge part in this too, she was the one who sent for your starters." Professor Oak replied, gesturing to his research assistant. "You should thank her as well."

Gary grinned at Delia and nodded. "Thanks, Mrs. Ketchum!"

"You're quite welcome, make our town proud by giving your best."

"You can count on it." Gary declared, turning to leave with his starter in tow. The spiky-haired boy hesitated for a moment and looked back at Ash. "You know what this means, now? We're going to have to see what our starters can do! Try and make your introductions snappy, Ash, I'll be waiting for you outside. My winning streak begins today."

Ash snorted in amusement. "We'll see," he retorted before turning his attention back to the Luxury Ball and Pokedex in his hands.

"So are you going to meet your new Pokemon?" Professor Oak prompted.

The trainer turned his hat backwards before sliding his thumb across the surface of the Luxury Ball.

His Dratini awaited him.

Ash pressed the release button on the Luxury Ball, causing it to open. A bright flash of crimson light lit up the entire lab and forced Ash to shield his eyes as a Pokemon – his Dratini – emerged from the orb.

Ash's eyes widened as he eyed the small creature standing in front of him. He honestly had no idea what he was staring at, but Ash was certain of one thing: it definitely wasn't a Dratini,

Instead of the serpent-like Pokemon he had been anticipating, a small fox with fur white as snow and multiple tails stood before him. The fox – a Vulpix in all but color – tilted its head and stared at him with its bright blue eyes.

It took the Pokemon a moment to process its surroundings, but once it did, it let out a playful bark to greet everyone in the room.

Ash wasn't sure whether to be disappointed or confused; although judging by the expression on the faces of his mother and Professor Oak, they were both confused and disappointed.

Professor Oak nodded in agreement. "That is not Dratini," he muttered, addressing the obvious Donphan in the room.

Delia raised an eyebrow. She pulled out a sheet of paper from her pocket and skimmed over its contents. "Would you please hand me the Luxury Ball?" Delia instructed, holding her hand out.

Ash obeyed and set the capsule in his mother's hand for examination. The research assistant examined the orb and shook her head.

Ash could practically see the gears turning in both his mother's and Professor Oak's heads as they pondered the situation at hand.

"That's definitely not right. The Luxury Ball is marked with the symbol for a dragon-type, likely Ash's Dratini. I'm going to have to call."

"Likely just a simple case of mislabeling." Professor Oak remarked. "My cousin must have made a mistake."

"I'm sorry, sweetie, you might have to wait until I can get this sorted out." Delia added, reaching into her pockets for her phone before turning to leave for one of the adjacent rooms.

Ash smiled. "It's okay, it's not your fault. I'm actually curious to know what we did get by mistake. We know this isn't Dratini, so what exactly it it?" Ash asked.

Delia glanced at Professor Oak, hesitating as she stood in the doorway of the chemistry lab. "You don't think this is one of the Alolan forms, do you?"

Professor Oak shrugged – something that Ash wasn't accustomed to since Oak seemed to know everything about Pokemon. "It's possible, but I'm not entirely sure. Given the appearance, however, that's the most logical conclusion."

Ash gave his mother and Professor Oak a perplexed look like they were speaking a foreign language. "Hold on, what's the most logical conclusion?"

"Alolan forms," Professor Oak explained, pointing to the fox-like Pokemon sitting on the floor while it was licking its paws. "The closest thing we have to this Pokemon in Kanto would be Vulpix, but it isn't the right color to be a Vulpix,"

Ash blinked. He was still struggling to comprehend what the professor was talking about.

"My only guess is that we're looking at one of the Alolan forms that my cousin Samson has been telling me about lately. Along with Mega Evolution, regional form changes is one of the subjects that the scientific community has been looking into."

"Alolan forms?" Ash echoed, curious about the new term. "That still doesn't explain anything or what we're looking at."

"It has been noted recently that there are Pokemon native to the Kanto region that have adapted to new climates and habitats. Take Sandshrew for instance – Sandshrew in Alola were forced to adapt to the environment of Alola and as a result of living in the mountains they gained cold tolerance and traits associated with ice types, eventually they actually became ice types," Delia chimed before leaving to make her phone call.

"Interesting, so you're telling me that this could be an Alolan form?"

Professor Oak gave a quick nod. "I'm assuming this is an Alolan Vulpix, but you should be able to scan it with the Pokedex to find out,"

Ash knelt down to the fox's level before pulling out his Pokedex, causing the Pokemon to move closer to the trainer out of curiosity.

Ash chuckled as the fox touched his hand with its icy nose and stared at his Pokedex intently, as if it was trying to figure out what the device did.

The trainer rubbed his hand across the fox's chilly back, eliciting a muffled whine from the fox.

"Hello, my name is Ash Ketchum, and I want to become a Pokemon Master. I'm going to scan you with this device so we can identify your species."

The fox yipped in acknowledgment, gave a quick nod, and posed for the Pokedex – a surprising gesture that not only displayed the fox's intelligence but humanized it.

Ash knew Pokemon were sentient creatures capable of rational thought; but seeing the Vulpix's depth of understanding and use of human-like gestures astounded him.

Ash lifted the Pokedex and pointed the device at the fox, causing the tablet to activate and "speak" in its robotic monotone.

Vulpix, the fox Pokemon; Alolan form. Alolan Vulpix can exhale air colder than -58 degrees Fahrenheit. While they are more suited for cold climates, in hot weather Alolan Vulpix can make ice shards with its six tails and spray the ice shards around to cool itself.

This Vulpix is female, and knows the attacks Powder Snow, Moonblast, Agility, Freeze-Dry, Disable, and Tail Whip.

This Vulpix also has the ability Snow Warning which allows a user to manipulate the weather by creating a blizzard.

Ash whistled at the impressive movepool that Vulpix had, and her powerful ability. She had a very good arsenal that would put some fully evolved ice types to shame.

While he doubted that the young Vulpix had mastery over Snow Warning or her more powerful moves, he was still impressed regardless.

"So Alolan Vulpix became an ice type?" Ash remarked.

"It would appear so," Oak muttered.

"You know some pretty powerful attacks, I wouldn't want to have to battle something like you." Ash laughed, stroking her cold fur some more with his right hand.

Vulpix purred at Ash and lapped his left hand with her tongue.

Believing he gave Vulpix enough attention, he pulled his now soaked hand away only for the ice type to brush up against him and stare at him with pleading eyes.

He smiled at the ice type and broke down, once again stroking the its fur. She purred and rested her head on Ash's leg.

The fox was starting to grow on him due to her intelligence and her friendly disposition. Vulpix had a charming personality that most trainers dreamed about their starters having. Vulpix was not Dratini, but she was everything that he hoped for his Dratini to be.

Vulpix could be the loyal friend one needed when spending so much time alone in the wilderness. It made him wonder. Maybe the starter he desired was standing before him in the form of an Alolan Vulpix.

"How would you like to travel with me and challenge the Indigo League?" Ash offered.

Vulpix purred at the suggestion and licked Ash's hand again, visibly excited about the idea of traveling with him.

"Looks like Samson mislabeled his Pokemon and accidentally sent us an Alolan Vulpix by mistake, he'll send Dratini over when we send Vulpix back."

A sense of melancholy graced the Vulpix's features as she looked up at Ash, dreading the possibility of leaving her new friend. The expression practically killed him.

"No, don't!" Ash blurted out in a panic, prompting confused stares from both Professor Oak and his mother.

"You did want Dratini, didn't you?" Professor Oak asked.

Ash nodded, eliciting a disappointed look from the Alolan Vulpix. "Yes, I did want a Dratini." He began. "I wanted a starter with a calm, friendly demeanor that would be a close friend and companion on my journey. I wanted a starter that was intelligent and would be able to lead our team one day."

He paused momentarily, looking down at the Alolan Vulpix who had somehow wormed his way into his heart. "That's why I could never send Vulpix back."

The ice type's expression shifted instantaneously from one of gloom to glee.

"If it could be arranged, could Vulpix be my first Pokemon?" Ash all but pleaded.

Both Delia and Professor Oak smiled, suddenly understanding Ash's reasoning behind his decision. "I'll call Samson and get everything smoothed out. I'll see to it that you can keep that Vulpix, and see if I can get a proper Poke Ball for her. It would be weird to have an ice type in a Poke Ball labeled for a dragon-type," Delia said.

Ash nodded and tucked his hands into his pockets as he watched his mother return to the chemistry lab to conduct her phone call in quiet.

"Looks like you'll have to wait a while longer, but this gives you a good opportunity to choose a name for your Vulpix should you so choose," Professor Oak said.

Ash nodded and sorted through a list of names in his head.

He found that he couldn't think of very many good names for the Vulpix species, let alone names that fit a Vulpix with a genetic structure that had transformed it into an ice type.

To be entirely honest, he couldn't really think of any good names for a Pokemon at all. Even though he had heard of people naming their Pokemon before, naming one of his Pokemon never occurred to him.

Ash rubbed his chin in thought and frowned. What would he name an ice type? Perhaps, the ice type didn't even want a name. Ash figured the best place to start for finding a nickname for Vulpix was by asking if she even wanted one.

"Vulpix, Professor Oak reminded me that some people name their Pokemon. Would you like a name?" Ash asked, looking down at Vulpix.

The fox looked up at Ash with her bright blue eyes, tilting her head as she took a moment to think.

After a moment's consideration, she purred excitedly and held her head up proudly at the thought of a name. The trainer from Pallet Town lowered his head in resignation and took a deep breath.

"Way to put me on the spot." Ash teased.

The trainer rubbed his chin in thought. He was completely and totally stumped.

He immediately threw out the first few ice related names in his mind that reeked of cliches. Names like Snowy, Snowball, and Frost were the kind of names that a kindergartner would name a family Pokemon.

"How about Glacia?" Ash was pretty sure that there was an Elite Four member somewhere with the name, and he felt that it would also fit a female Alolan Vulpix.

Vulpix tilted her head while she thought about it before responding with a brisk shake of the head.

"Okay, I'll try to think of another one." Ash huffed.

Glancing at the light that sparkled off the ice crystals in Vulpix's fur, a sudden burst of inspiration struck the trainer.

"What do you think of Aurora?"

Vulpix's bright blue eyes sparkled with excitement and she held her head high in a regal manner almost as if to pose. She clearly approved of the name.

"Alright then, Aurora it is!" Ash exclaimed.

As he started to pet the chilly fox's head once more, his mother returned with another Luxury Ball in hand. Ash's heartbeat increased and he felt his palms getting sweaty. His mother's unusually listless expression gave him absolutely no indication on the verdict of whether he would be allowed to keep the Alolan Vulpix.

"Did my cousin say if Ash could keep Vulpix?" Professor Oak asked, beating Ash to the question swirling in his mind.

Delia handed Ash the Luxury Ball in her hand. He examined the orb briefly before settling upon the white snowflake emblem on the front of it.

A smirk formed upon Ash's face.

"Vulpix is yours for the taking and this is a proper ball for an ice type," Delia declared in a cheerful tone.

Ash exchanged what was supposed to be Dratini's ball for Vulpix's – no, Aurora's ball – and clipped the orb onto his belt with the Poke Ball holder attached to his belt. "Thank you, Professor, thanks Mom!"

Ash flung himself at his mother and pulled her closer into a hug.

"Of course, sweetie, this is your big day! We wanted to make sure that you start your journey off right!" Delia replied, reciprocating the gesture for a moment before reaching into the pocket of her lab coat.

Ash pulled away to see what his mother was up to.

Delia placed a watch-like device in the palm of his right hand. His mouth went agape at the sight of the watch.

He could barely believe what he was staring at.

The Pokenav Plus was a watch-like device with a four inch touchscreen, manufactured by the Devon Corporation to compete with Silph Co's Sitrus Pokegear. The small device allowed trainers to send and receive emails, call, search the web, display maps, and access a multitude of other apps.

Ash had always wanted one, since he figured that the device would prove useful on his journey. However, the Devon Corporation had the Pokenav priced far beyond what he and his mother could afford.

Now that he thought about it, he was also fairly certain that the Devon Corporation didn't have any red Pokenav Plus watches on the market. He remembered looking for one in his favorite color, only to come up empty.

"I can't believe it." Ash gaped, still hardly able to comprehend how his mother could afford the device.

"If you don't like it, I can always take it back." Delia giggled.

Ash snatched the red device out of the bag and strapped it to his left wrist. "No, I love it! Thank you!"

Delia nodded. "I figured if I got you a Pokenav, I could stay in touch with you while you're on your journey and I won't have to wait until you reach a Pokemon Center. It'll help me to worry about you less if I know that you're safe and sound."

Ash felt a lump form in his throat. While he always looked forward to leaving on his journey, he hated the idea of leaving his mother home alone.

"Mom, if you don't want me to go, I can always stay here and study to become..." Ash began, causing Delia to glare at him with fury in her eyes.

Ash flinched and sunk down in his seat, wary of his mother's wrath.

"Don't you even start with that again, young man! I'm not going to let you miss your opportunity to become a Pokemon trainer. You've wanted to become a Pokemon Master your entire life!" Delia scolded.

"Yeah, but being a researcher wouldn't be that bad plus that's sort of what Gary plans..." Ash continued, causing Delia to get even more aggravated.

"Do you know how selfish and how terrible I'd feel if I knew that I kept you from your dream to keep you here?!" Delia scowled, shaking her head. "Children leaving on their journeys is something that all parents must prepare themselves for, and I'm no different. Professor Oak and the other researchers at the lab will help keep me occupied."

Delia smiled. "If your father was here he'd agree with me."

Ash flashed a nervous smile and quickly dropped the argument, knowing that it was one he couldn't win.

He had offered to drop his dream of becoming a Pokemon trainer before in favor of becoming a researcher like his mother, so he wouldn't have to leave her in Pallet Town alone; but she had shot down the offer every time he proposed it.

And it was hard to argue against her point.

Not only did she desire that he follow his goal, but he knew that his father would have encouraged him to pursue his dream as well.

Ash got up from his seat and wrapped his arms around his mother one last time, causing his mother to return the gesture with her own crushing embrace. Ash winced a bit at how tight his mother was squeezing him, but couldn't bring himself to pull away. He knew that it would be a while until he could see his mother in person again.

"Thanks, Mom; for everything."

Delia sniffled slightly as she finally released Ash from her grip and wiped away the moisture in her eyes. "Before I forget, I packed your backpack so you'd have everything you need. It should be enough to get you to Viridian City."

His mother pointed over to the corner of the room.

Ash nodded, unable to find any words because of the emotions swirling inside of him, as he took the backpack. The thirteen-year old reluctantly peered into the bag to find extra sets of clothes, medical supplies, a sleeping bag, his toothbrush and toothpaste, a collapsible fishing rod, Poke Balls, sandwiches, and snacks amongst other things like Pokemon food.

He couldn't help but wonder how his mother even managed to fit as much as she had into his backpack even with the advancements made in distortion-space technology.

"Be safe out there, Ashy, I don't want you to do anything reckless. Make sure that you take good care of your Pokemon, make sure you feed yourself, be respectful, and drink plenty of water so you don't get dehydrated!" Delia rambled on completing her mental checklist.

"I promise to do my best to stay out of trouble, I will be on my best behavior, and I promise to take care of myself." Ash chuckled.

"Okay, I'll have to hold you to that," Delia said as she rubbed the moisture from her eyes again and averted her gaze from Ash.

"Is there anything you'd like to add, Professor?" she added, hoping to take attention off herself so she could regain her composure.

Professor Oak placed a firm hand on Ash's shoulder. "Stay safe out there," he advised in a for more sober tone than usual. "Don't do anything I would do, and definitely don't do anything that I wouldn't do."

Professor Oak flashed a grin at his attempt at humor. "And above all, enjoy yourself and have fun. Traveling and exploration means far more than the accolades."

"We will," Ash said, glancing to Aurora.

Delia knelt down and rubbed Aurora's neck, causing the ice type to tilt her head and let out a faint whimper. "Take care of my Ashy for me, okay," she teased, eliciting a cheery yip from Aurora.

"We better not keep you much longer, Gary's waiting for you, is he not?" Professor Oak said.

Ash nodded as he turned for the exit and motioned for Aurora to follow him. He stopped in the doorway and gave one last look to his mother and Professor Oak. "Thank you," he mouthed before walking out the door and focusing on the path ahead.

Gary was waiting for him.

Ash groaned and pinched his forehead. His patience had just about run out.

Couldn't Gary have told him where to meet him?

He had searched all of Pallet Town, circling the same streets for hours on end, and Gary was still nowhere to be found. He checked their houses, he checked all of their popular hangouts, and the central square.

He expected Gary to be waiting outside the lab or at least at the end of the sidewalk. Unfortunately, that hadn't been the case which forced him to wander about Pallet Town in search of his rival.

He supposed he hadn't checked the outskirts of the city yet. Since he had already checked the rest of Pallet Town, that was the only place his rival could be.

Ash grumbled under his breath, cursing his best friend for making him walk so much.

"Ash!" A familiar nasally voice called out. "About time you showed up! I was starting to think you were ducking me."

Ash gritted his teeth. "Wouldn't dream of it," he said tersely.

"Wouldn't blame you for trying to avoid me, it's pretty daunting to face someone of my caliber."

Ash didn't bother with a reply. He was hardly in the mood for Gary's narcissism at the moment, especially after having jogged almost all of Pallet Town and covered a mile of ground to reach the edge of town.

"You should have known I would be waiting for you here, Ashy-boy!" Gary exclaimed, gesturing to the meadows surrounding them and to the bubbling stream on the side of the road. "You haven't forgotten already, have you?"

Ash took one glimpse at the stream and a wave of nostalgia swept over him.

"How could I forget?" Ash muttered under his breath.

He would never forget Route 1 or the small stream where he used to go fishing. It was at Route 1 that his friendship with Gary became a rivalry.

In hindsight, his quarrel with Gary was completely stupid – the Poke Ball they fished up from the river was rusted and useless. Both trainers would admit they overreacted and let their competitive spirits get the best of them.

At the time, however, the Poke Ball was a prize that rightfully belonged to them and neither would relinquish their right to it. In the end, their quarrel had no true winner since the Poke Ball had snapped in half resulting in them keeping their half of it.

Though their conflict was settled long ago, a lone truth remained from the confrontation: They were on a collision course from their birth.

They were not just peers because they were the same age, but rather because they were equals and two sides of the same coin – their broken half of the Poke Ball served as a reminder of that fact. He and Gary were prodigies with similar aspirations that were fighting for the same prize – winning the Indigo League.

Their end goals, reasoning, and mindsets differed, but their base motivations were the same and their paths to reach their end goals were intertwined.

And to think that realization came to them at this very spot...

Ash smirked – Gary had made the right decision. There was no better place for them to hold their first battle as trainers.

Gary reached for the Luxury Ball clipped to his belt. "Get ready, Ashy-boy! You're gonna be feeling the heat!" he exclaimed before sending out his Magby.

The fire type danced around, jabbing at the air a few times with its stubby arms like a showboating prizefighter. However, it wasn't Magby's swagger that caught Ash's attention; but rather the intuitive look in Magby's eyes as it scanned its surroundings while it loosened up, subtly examining every square inch of terrain.

Magby was every bit as much analytical thinker as fighter, and that was to be feared more than any physicality. Fortunately, he had a thinker of his own.

Ash followed Gary's lead and reached for the Luxury Ball clipped to his belt – he made sure to keep Aurora in her ball to make his starter a surprise.

His mind was racing, his heart was pounding in his chest, and it was taking every ounce of discipline to remain calm with the spike of adrenaline pumping through his veins. Ash couldn't wait for the battle to begin.

"I'm going to give you one last chance to back out now while you still can, Ashy-boy!" Gary declared in a scornful sing-song voice. "There's no way that Dratini of yours can beat my Magby!"

Ash ignored Gary's verbal jabs and reached for the brim of his red baseball cap to turn it backwards before pressing the release button on Aurora's Luxury Ball.

Gary chuckled. "As silent as ever, Ashy-boy," he remarked. "Let's see if that stoic persona can hold up when my Magby overwhelms you."

Ash didn't bother with a reply and tossed Aurora's Luxury Ball into the air with a flick of his wrist. In an instant the capsule opened, and a Vulpix with fur as white as snow emerged onto the battlefield.

The ice type's examined her surroundings, taking a moment process every sight, smell, and sound around her. Her bright blue eyes fixated on Magby and she trembled with excitement.

She turned for a moment and greeted her trainer with a bark exuding the utmost confidence.

Gary frowned. "Hey, what gives, that's definitely not Dratini!"

Ash nodded. "No, she's definitely not – she's better," he stated with a smug grin, eliciting a yip from Aurora in agreement.

It took a second or so for Gary to compose himself again, but once he did, his trademark arrogance rose up again.

"We'll just see about that!" Gary exclaimed, pointing his Pokedex at Aurora to perform a quick scan of her for additional information about her species. A smug grin formed on Gary's face. "You really don't understand much about type advantages, an ice type like yours is at a direct disadvantage against a fire type like Magby!"

Ash snorted. "We'll see," he said, gesturing towards Magby. "Aurora, Powder Snow!"

"Magby, Ember!" Gary countered.

Bitter cold air and wisps of snow poured from Aurora's mouth and collided with a glowing cloud of hot ash. A loud hiss echoed through the air as a thick blanket of steam filled the air.

"Ember!" Gary repeated.

The haze swirled about for a few moments before splitting apart as another plume of scorching flames shot out of the cloud of steam, forcing Aurora on the defensive.

The Alolan Vulpix zigged and zagged in a desperate attempt to avoid the oncoming barrage of burning ash and wisps of fire.

"Agility," Ash stated, remaining calm despite his heart skipping a beat from the excitement of battle. They needed to take some of the heat off – quite literally – and force Magby on the defensive.

Aurora rushed forward channeling a short surge of adrenaline through her body as she ran through the incoming flames.

"Keep up the pressure!" Gary exclaimed.

Magby obeyed and promptly inhaled to draw as much air into its lungs as possible before spewing out several more plumes of fire aimed for Aurora.

There was just one issue with Gary's counter – all of Magby's fiery breaths were missing. Aurora's speed made her a second faster than Magby's barrage.

"Tail Whip," Ash mouthed, speaking at a mere whisper to avoid letting Gary catch on.

Closing in on her foe, Aurora twirled through the air to slap Magby in the face with her tails. The Alolan Vulpix winced from the immense body heat radiating from her opponent's body.

Though her strike had staggered her opponent, Aurora had not escaped contact with Magby unscathed, paying for her brave strike with singed tails. Shrugging off the burning sensation, Aurora fired off a weak Powder Snow aimed for Magby's face.

"Flare up!" Gary shouted.

Ash winced and felt his forehead sweat from the growing heat. Glowing flames cloaked Magby in an ominous shade of orange and red for a moment. The heat and light were extinguished as the chilly gusts clashed with the intense flames, but they served their purpose.

A thick cloud of steam obscured the entire battlefield.

Ash cursed under his breath. Gary was thinking several steps ahead the entire time, planning everything out like a chess match. Two could play at that game.

"Stay observant, Aurora!" he warned, pausing for a moment and lowering his voice to a near whisper. "And use your nose to locate Magby."

The ice type growled and tensed up, lifting her nose to the air in an attempt to locate the fire type with her keen sense of smell. Unfortunately, the saying about best laid plans came to fruition once more.


An inky, black smog filled the air and mingled with the steam not only making the air hazier but adding an acrimonious quality to the air.

Ash and Aurora wheezed violently from taking in a single breath of the smog. The trainer gritted his teeth, knowing his plan was foiled. There was no way the fire type could be located by scent when the air was inundated with smoke.

A nasally voice echoed from afar. "Mach Punch!"

The blanket of smog parted as Magby sprung forward from the haze, catching Aurora off guard. A quick jab to the face sent the Alolan Vulpix skidding backwards, tumbling across the ground.

"Mach Punch, again!" Gary shouted. Momentum was shifting rapidly in his favor.

Magby lunged at Aurora, throwing a series of wild punches at the ice type.

Aurora channeled another surge of adrenaline through her body, increasing her speed to sidestep Magby's blows.

The first jab didn't even come close to Aurora and the punch missed wide to the left. The second haymaker, an overcorrection on Magby's part, missed wide to the right. The third punch was a bit closer compared to the first two punches, but still ended up missing Aurora completely.

"Ember, right," Gary said, almost matter-of-factly.

His starter spewed a weak gout of fire from its maw, forcing Aurora to dart to her left. Gary smirked as he shouted his command from before. "Mach Punch!"

Magby lunged at its foe, forcing Aurora to make an abrupt turn. The Alolan Vulpix darted back to her right, tripping in the process.

Ash gritted his teeth. The stumble was the opening Magby needed – its right hook connected with Aurora's front shoulder and flung her backwards.

The fox winced and favored her injured left shoulder, clearly shaken up from the blow.

"Hang in there, Aurora!" Ash exclaimed. He whispered his next instruction. "Just a little bit longer, we need to draw Magby in."

He subtly gestured to the bank of the river, causing Aurora to give him a nod of acknowledgment of the plan.

Ash gritted his teeth as Magby prepped another right hook and rushed towards Aurora. He could see signs of fatigue on Aurora's features, but she refused to go down without a fight.

"Finish this with Mach Punch!" Gary repeated, sensing victory was in his grasp.

Ash clenched his teeth. He had one last ace in the hole. "Disable, slow down Magby, then use Moonblast!" Ash countered.

Magby barreled ahead and threw one last haymaker aimed for Aurora's head.

Aurora forced herself onto her feet and growled, giving Magby a defiant glare as the fire type threw a left hook. Channeling her inner telekinetic abilities, as weak as they were, the Alolan Vulpix trapped Magby in a telekinetic prison for a split second to throw off the fire type's timing.

Aurora leaned to the side, narrowly avoiding her foe's potential finishing blow.

Using Magby's forward momentum against it, Aurora positioned herself behind the fire type as she channeled all her remaining strength into her mouth to form a small, shimmering sphere of light.

Aurora fired the sphere of energy into Magby's back, but not before collapsing to the ground from total exhaustion. Despite the small size of the pink sphere, the resulting burst of energy hurled Magby through the air and landed the fire type in the river behind it.

The water hissed, bubbled, and turned to vapors as Magby landed with a loud splash. If the fire type had still been conscious after taking a Moonblast to the back, the shock from the cold water had certainly knocked it out.

Gary frantically reached for his Luxury Ball to return the fire type before the current could carry Magby away.

Ash grimaced as the adrenaline started to wear off. He took a quick glance at the Aurora lying on the ground and clenched his fists. There were fewer things that he hated more than losing and this loss stung quite a bit.

While it could technically be said that the match was a draw since neither combatant was left standing, Aurora fainted first.

It was a difficult loss to accept since they came so close to winning. The time between Aurora collapsing from exhaustion and Magby being thrown into the river was short – it couldn't have been any longer than four or five seconds.

Perhaps the worst part of all was not the loss itself, but who he lost to. The last thing that his rival needed was more fuel for his ego and the last thing Ash wanted to see was Gary's arrogant smirk after a win.

He was waiting for his rival to crack a joke or make some sort of wise crack, except it wasn't coming. There was no grin, no smirk, and no wise cracks at all from Gary. Instead he wore a sour expression like he had swallowed something bitter.

Ash put on a fake smile and reached into his pocket for his wallet. "To the victor goes the spoils." he remarked, pulling out a hundred dollar bill from his wallet.

Gary scowled and placed his hand on Ash's shoulder. "Put that away, Ashy-boy, what are you thinking?" he scolded.

Ash flinched and gave his rival a perplexed look.

"Don't act like you have no idea what I'm talking about," Gary grumbled. "What was the difference between a win and a loss here – like three seconds? And that's the difference even after I freaking speedblitzed you to force you on the defensive."

Gary's lips quirked up into a smirk.

"You take all the joy out of winning sometimes, Ashy-boy," he said, shaking his head. "I may have technically won, but my Magby wasn't standing at the end of the battle...hardly what you can call an outright win."

Gary paused.

"I put forth an overwhelming offense and tried to give you no time to think and you still nearly handed me my rear end. It ticks me off."

Ash's lips quirked upwards into a smirk. He hadn't really thought of it like that. "What can I say, I do my best to tick you off," he retorted.

His rival glared at Ash and muttered some sort of profane remark under his breath.

"Leaving so soon?" Ash snickered.

"Figured I'd head out, I want to get to Viridian as soon as possible." Gary said. "Besides, I wouldn't want to catch your losing streak by hanging around you too long."

Ash snorted. There was the Gary he was used to seeing. "Is that so?"

Gary nodded and held up his hand to wave goodbye. "Yep," he replied. "A real case of loser-itis, I've seen this countless times before."

"You know, Gary, I should report you right now for being a quack."

Gary ignored the barb and turned to leave, hesitating briefly to get one last parting shot in. "Hey, Ashy-boy, save that money for me when I beat you outright the next time we battle." he instructed. "Smell ya later!"

"Don't hold your breath, you won't be prying money away from me anytime soon!" Ash shouted.

The trainer from Pallet Town smirked. He was still ticked about losing to Gary and there were days he hated the guy, but he'd be cast into Distortion for lying if he claimed the rivalry wasn't fun. There was just something delightful about preparing for the one person you needed to beat.

And it was only a matter of time until he would beat Gary instead of reaching a draw.

Ash attention shifted from his rival to his unconscious starter. He reached into his backpack for a revive crystal and placed it into Aurora's mouth. The crystal dissolved in the fox's mouth, allowing the medicine to take effect before she jolted awake.

Aurora whined and glanced up at her trainer with a disheartened look on her face – even she was aware of what happened. Ash flashed a reassuring smile to the Vulpix.

"I know," he whispered. "It stings knowing that we were so close to a win, but there's always next time."

Aurora whimpered, stumbling onto her feet and shaking to get the dust and dirt out of her fur. She wobbled back and forth, still trying to regain her bearings and recover from her bumps and bruises.

"We'll just have to train to become stronger." Ash said, glancing at the road ahead.

She glanced up at him and tilted her head, taking a moment to let Ash's words sink in. Aurora's bright blue eyes widened with excitement, losing the cloud haze of doubt and discouragement they had just a few moments earlier.

"We'll work harder than Gary so next time he won't stand a chance."

Aurora yipped in agreement as her face curled up into something loosely resembling a smile.

Once more, trainer and Pokemon were in sync. They both were ready to work hard to prepare themselves not only for a rematch against a rival, but for the challenges ahead of them.

After all, Viridian City and ultimately the first gym in Pewter awaited them.

Author's Note: I want to thank Cordylion for his edits and advice throughout this rewrite, without their help I probably wouldn't have gotten this done!

Anyways, hope you enjoy the revision! Don't forget to leave a review, I always appreciate the feedback! God bless, StandingMan signing off!