ACT ONE - IMMOLATION
Chapter 1 - A Shocking Start
Pallet Town Hospital
"Get him to the operating room! We don't have much time."
His eyes were half-closed, his fingers lightly tapping the metal rails of the stretcher as he felt himself being rushed through a white door. Several white robbed people surrounded him, speaking in hushed tones. His eyes traced the tubes connecting the bottles with colorful liquids to the needles stabbing through his skin. He felt strangely disconnected from his own body, almost like a spectator, as he watched the doctors work around him. Despite the rough treatment and the constant injections, there was no pain, a fact for which he was beyond grateful.
How— how did it turn out like this? He idly wondered.
His fingers were slowly losing their sense of touch along with the rest of his body as he felt the tentative hold on his consciousness slowly fade away. He looked into the calming eyes of the doctor looking down upon him as yet another needle was gently slid into his body.
I must look like a sandslash.
Picturing himself with his back full of spiky needles, he let out something between a giggle and a cough. Contrary to his grim situation, this strangely amusing thought was the last thing that crossed his mind.
A week ago
"Congratulations, Red." Professor Oak beamed, handing over a printed document, "you passed your trainer certification exam with honors. You are now eligible to be a pokémon trainer."
This was Professor Samuel Oak, revered all over the world as 'The Pokémon Professor'. An undefeated Champion for over eighteen years, Samuel Oak had decided to leave the world of pokémon battling and change his career, much to the shock of the rest of the world. He had willingly stepped down from the throne, allowing the previous Champion Calem to take over the reins.
He had progressed into the world of research, leading the world through several important discoveries, his most well-known invention being the pokédex technology. Once a ruler of both the Kanto and Johto sub-continents and now a researcher who single-handedly built the world's largest Pokémon research network, Oak was a living legend, a model for trainers and researchers alike. He had come out of nowhere, sweeping through the pokémon world and ending up as champion for the next twenty years. Then, he had given it all up and taken pokémon research as his new passion and sunk into it wholeheartedly. And reached the top again.
Today, Samuel Oak was like a massive tree, with most of the Kanto mainland under his shade and his roots spread across the entire world. A man, who had found power, fame, and wealth and yet had chosen to spend his time in such a humble location.
A man who was currently—
"Old man, stop pinching my cheek!"
The old professor pinched said cheeks a little harder for good measure. "Come now Red, don't spoil my fun. In a few days, you'll be gone on your own journey, leaving this old man all alone."
"Yeah, yeah," The teen rolled his eyes at the overly dramatic gestures and crossed his arms. "Stop trying to manipulate me into staying back as a research apprentice. I'm not falling for that."
The old professor had the decency to look away in embarrassment. "Was I that obvious?"
Red rolled his eyes, "Duh!"
Oak chuckled. "Can you blame an old man for trying? You'd really be a good researcher, just like your mother." He puffed his chest up in mock-haughtiness. "Besides, most people would give their right arm to work under the great Samuel Oak."
Red pulled himself away, absently rubbing his cheeks. "I'd rather follow the path of Samuel Oak the champion and not the professor. How about this. Make me the offer once I'm the champion. Then I'll consider it."
Oak rolled his eyes at his grandiose response. "Arrogant brat," he muttered, good-naturedly. "You should be getting your pokédex and your Trainer ID by Monday."
"The Pidgeotto Mail service then?"
The cheapest form of long-ranged transportation was the Kanto Mail Service, an organization that bred and maintained several hundred pidgeotto under their care and trained them to transfer mail from one city to another. Easily affordable and widely available, this service was integrated into the cultural aspect of the Kanto mainland. For those who found pidgeotto too slow for their purposes, there existed a secondary, high-speed version, which involved pidgeot instead of their younger forms. A third transport system functioning through psychic teleportation did exist, but it was far too expensive for the average trainer.
"Does that mean I get to pick a charmander from the ranch?"
Oak chuckled. "No, it doesn't. You are going to have to wait until your pokédex arrives. You will then be given a choice between the three starters, out of which—"
"Charmander, " Red interrupted him, an obstinate gleam in his eyes, "Not one of the three starters. A charmander."
"Of course, that's what I meant," Oak rolled his eyes. "In that case, you should be happy to know that the newest batch of sanctioned starters will probably arrive next week as well."
"Mmmm, not quite, but you should have them before Thursday, I imagine."
Red bit his lip, an expression of annoyance filtering past his countenance. "Come on, old man. Why can't you just let me take one from the ranch? What about one from the new litter born from that charizard with a scarred left cheek?"
"Because the litter are babies, not starters. A charmander needs to be capable enough to use at least two basic-tier moves to be considered a starter. Nothing short of that will do."
"But why can't you just give me a baby?" Red demanded stubbornly. "I don't care about a starter. I'll be happy to accept anything from the ranch as long as I can get a charmander along with it. I swear."
"You know I cannot do that." The old man replied softly. Red often had tunnel vision when it came to his obsessions, and unfortunately, charmander was one of them. "As your sponsor, it is illegal for me to grant you multiple pokémon right off the bat. Catching your first pokémon with your starter is a unique experience, one that you should experience. Besides, you are not… experienced enough to take care of a baby."
Red arched an eyebrow. "What about the dozens of—?"
"While journeying as a trainer." Oak finished, shutting the boy up. "Taking care of them at the ranch is different from caring for an egg while on a journey. Maybe when you have accomplished a little on the gym circuit and have caught a good number of pokémon yourself, I'll think about it."
Red pouted at that. "You are just making it sound difficult."
Oak's lips curled. "Really? What happens if you encounter rogue pokémon?" His tone shifted from affection to complete seriousness. "Why back in my day, several trainers suffered from… unfortunate accidents on their journey, either because their starters were simply too weak, to begin with, or because they challenged a wild pokémon and their starters ran away. At least the League now has a minimum competency level for starters."
"Don't get all nostalgic, old man." Red rolled his eyes. "We both know that you were the one who set up the starter system."
"I proposed the starter system. It was agreed upon after Lance took over the reins."
"Semantics." Red let out a long-suffering sigh. "And even so, stop trying to do that to me, old man." He crossed his arms in an attempt to look more intimidating—or as intimidating a fourteen-year-old could be. "Shutting people up through logic is my gimmick. Your thing is to just float around, uncaring of the world, and then drop tenets of wisdom on unsuspecting trainers."
"It is, isn't it?" Oak chuckled, smiling through his eyes.
"Yeah, that and trying to misguide little youths into becoming boring research apprentices, instead of following their dreams and living the grand life."
The old professor laughed heartily. "I'm going to miss this. Why couldn't Gary be a bit more like you ..."
Red sighed. Gary was the 'honorable' grandson of the reverend Samuel Oak, and saying that his relationship with Gary was skewed, would be an understatement. Anyone would probably think that he and Gary would be best buddies, considering that Red's mom Delia worked as the professor's assistant at the lab, and as such, Red and Gary had practically been raised together.
That couldn't be farther from the truth.
While it was true that he and Gary had been friends back in Little Tuft Elementary for a few years, this friendship had gone downstream ever since. Delia was a single mother, but she made it no secret that her work was her greatest passion, keeping her away from home most of the year. This along with the fact that Professor Oak found little Red Ketchum fascinating, had resulted in him spending more and more time at the ranch.
Judging from how Gary's behavior had changed since then, he had obviously not taken it very well. In all possibility, Gary felt that he was being replaced by Red, and had never forgiven his grandfather for it. Over the next couple of years, Gary's demeanor had grown bitter (in relation to Red), and he had begun to demonstrate a sense of superiority over every other kid at school. Between his natural talent, his exuberant attitude, and his position as Grandson of the Oak, the entire town bent backward to fuel his sense of entitlement.
Samuel Oak was one of the richest men in the entire world. Pallet Town itself was sort of a project created by Oak—a small town amidst forests and hills, where the reverend professor could research in solitude. However, unlike the senior Oak who wore his wealth lightly, Gary had embraced his status as the richest kid in town with pride. He had soon found himself as the center of attention, almost perpetually surrounded by admirers, henchmen and cheerleaders alike. Red might have preferred the calm serenity of the ranch but Gary thrived in the attention and adulation of the masses.
"You realize that his boisterous behavior is just a facade, right?"
Oak chuckled mirthlessly.
Red shook his head. "It's practically written on his face. He's got this… formal thing with you. He only meets Daisy on weekends for lunch, and from what mom told me, his only conversation with his parents—" He stopped abruptly, realizing that he had stepped into an uncomfortable zone. After all, Gary's parents were Oak's own children.
Oak nudged him gently. "You are not going to upset me, Red. Always speak your mind."
Red frowned. "What I mean is, he only talks to his parents when he needs something."
"It cannot be helped." Oak sighed. "Evan is obsessed with his work. Showering him with presents is practically the only way he knows to show appreciation to a child."
"You're preaching to the choir, old man," Red muttered. Gary's parents were traveling researchers who worked for the Aether Foundation in Kalos, leaving Gary and Daisy to be parented by the old professor as long as he remembered. Then again, his own condition wasn't very different, with his mom spending most of her time at the lab or with Professor Ivy at Seafoam
"It doesn't really matter." He spoke, more to himself than to anyone else. "Me and Gary are acquaintances at best, and rivals at worst. But enough about that, I thought you were sending him to Technical School?"
"He turned it down."
Red mentally grumbled. Trust Gary to turn down an offer from Pokémon Tech Academy.
"Does that surprise you?"
"Not very much," Oak admitted. "Though I hoped a few years away would help him get out of his shell."
"Three years from Pallet Town?" Red whistled. "You should have done that earlier. Life would be so much easier without— ."
"Stop that." Oak snapped good-naturedly.
"What? Three years of Gary not being a pain in my ass is such a—"
Red stuck out his tongue in return.
Oak shook his head in amusement. The rivalry between Red— the overly helpful kid that lived on his ranch, and Gary, the prodigal son of his legendary family, was practically the talk of Pallet Town. Regardless of their personal awkwardness, Red and Gary had consistently been the top scorers in every exam so far, and if he were honest with himself, Gary had pretty much done all he could to ensure that Red had an insular life of the 'smelly-kid downtown'.
And that was because Gary had the bright idea of inviting people over when Red had been helping Oak with the rearing of a very temperamental group of Tauros.
"Anyway, you should probably get going soon. I'm sure Delia must have planned something special for you today, right?"
Red let out a world-weary groan. "Get up to speed, old man. You sent mom off to Ivy yesterday."
Samuel blinked. Then blinked again. "Ah, yes, sorry I forgot. It comes with old age, I suppose. Now, if only I had someone to help with—"
"Get Daisy to do it."
"Your other grandchild. You know, the not-so-conceited one that helps you in the lab?"
" I know who Daisy is, thank you very much." The old man answered. "Well, if you have nothing else to do, why not have lunch with me? At Pineco's perhaps?"
Pineco's was the name of a general restaurant that belonged to the Ketchum family and was one of the biggest in all of Pallet Town. Originally it belonged to Delia's uncle, who had passed the ownership deed to her after his untimely death. The restaurant had its own manager and working staff, and as far as Red was concerned, an endless source of free food.
"Right. I suppose you're gonna treat me there, huh. I didn't know you were such a miser."
Oak rolled his eyes. "They charge me twice the average customer."
"As they should." Red defended religiously.
Oak sighed."Whatever. Are you coming or not?"
The teen seemed to consider it for a moment, before waving it away. "Nah… I'll just grab some lunch from the restaurant on the way back. Mia is waiting for me back at home. I told her I'd be back by noon and she'll just sulk for hours if she thinks I forgot about her."
Mia was a cute little kirlia, who had joined their family some eight years ago. The overly inquisitive ralts had been one of the extras in a study that Delia was involved with over the Gardevoir line. As far as Red was concerned, she was his loving, albeit slightly obsessive, younger sister who played with him, kept him company and was the most prominent presence in his entire life. Even more than his own mother, who was her legal trainer. In fact, he was pretty sure that if it came to it, Mia would listen to him over anyone else.
Despite being a full-fledged psychic, Mia had never once demonstrated the slightest interest in advancing her skills. He'd know. After all, they were practically family. Unlike his mom's Alakazam, who went by the name Kaz and had modeled himself into a researcher like Delia, Mia was closer to Red in behavior and mindset.
"Ah… Mia. Still sulking over your decision to travel, huh?"
Red opened his mouth in surprise to say something, but decided better. Letting out a world-weary sigh, he looked at the professor. "I'd have asked her to join me on my journey, but you know how much she hates violence. She cries at the smallest amount of pain."
"You'd reject her because she's not a combatant?" Oak asked curiously.
"No," Red seemed a little depressed. "I'd reject her because she would agree to be a combatant. I know Mia. If she saw my team training hard for me and winning battles, she'd strive to do the same, regardless of how much she abhors it. I don't want Mia to get hurt."
Red sighed. "I've been conflicted about it." He looked up at the man in front of him, the man he looked up to. "What do you think I should do?"
"Sometimes, if you don't want to lose someone, you may need to keep your distance " The professor murmured, almost to himself. "I know it hurts, but it is the right approach."
"Is that… from experience?" Red could not help but picture the professor's oddly formal behavior when it came to Gary, and his own family.
"No," The man replied with a soft smile. "It's a way of life."
An hour later
Like any other sensible person facing an overwhelming force, Red buckled up in surrender, raising his hands, and pulled himself away. That, however, did not save him from being pummelled. Bringing his hands to his face to stop the accidental smack, he groaned, "Yes, yes, I know, I'm late, but that's only because the old man's tauros herd went all crazy and began racing all over town."
A neutral observer would have commented that such a lame excuse was useless. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on what angle you were looking for, it worked. Or rather, every excuse worked. As far as Red was concerned, everything that he spoke was taken with absolute seriousness by his adorable little sister.
Which would probably explain why the kirlia had dropped all traces of anger, and was channeling pure anxiety that she was feeling right now from imagining the aftermath of a tauros rampage.
It took a significant amount of will to keep himself from facepalming. Sighing, he went on. "and then those tauros triggered a huge earthquake in the shopping district, right when I was shopping for some pastries for my cute little Mia."
"Kirl!" She almost seized up at that, staring at him wide-eyed.
Red almost felt sorry for her, nay, for himself. How the hell had he managed to raise up something so adorably naive?
"—and the takeout fell out of my hands because of the tremors, and I had to wait for the shopkeeper to make something else for me."
Mia sighed. At least nothing too extravagant happened. Getting up, she slowly ruffled up Red's hair. It was her way of soothing him, telling him that everything was okay, since he was safe and sound.
"Oh no, that wasn't all," He continued with a fake grimace. Had Mia been a little more observant, she'd have noticed his left eye twitch madly as she swallowed his bullshit so seriously. Really, what would it take for the little thing to develop a teeny tiny bit of skepticism?
I'll get her to see through my act today.
"Li?" Mia asked, surprised at the fact that there was more. She quickly glanced at Red's form to reaffirm her theory about his sound physical state.
"You see, that earthquake had woken up a wild snorlax in the forest west of the district,"—come on, even she should know that there are no forests on that side—"and it went berserk, and started rampaging all over the place. The shopping district was completely devoid of people after that."
Mia, it must be noted, was hanging on every single word that came out of his mouth, and constantly cursing herself for choosing to take an afternoon nap when Red had been escaping what had obviously been a major catastrophe. She hadn't realized she was such a heavy sleeper, to have slept through something like that—but it had been so warm and cozy and she had danced earlier in the morning and—
"Mia, you are biting your nails again."
Mia had the decency to look sheepish. She had a habit of biting into her nails when tensed about something. Though knowing her, Mia could go from serenity to hysteria in a matter of seconds, as far as Red was concerned. Clearly, she had a primeape ancestor somewhere up in the line.
Red went on. "And then they apparently started throwing Hyper Beams everywhere, destroying the entire place. One of those beams hit an alakazam who was wandering down the road. Irritated, the alakazam teleported the snorlax all the way to Sevii."
He paused for a moment, his left eye madly twitching now. "I waited and looked around to see if there were any human habitation left, but the entire district was destroyed. I had no choice but to walk all the way to Pineco's to get a standard lunch," he paused again and let out a deep, apologetic sigh. "I'm sorry, I couldn't bring you your pastries, Mia."
Mia wouldn't have cared if a real snorlax had entered the room and began singing a nursery rhyme. Her face had been flooded with utter horror, her eyes blank, her hands shaking, and her mind unable to comprehend just how close she had been from losing Red. All of that because she had wanted him to get her pastries for lunch.
Mia started crying. Loudly.
Oh, come on. Red inwardly groaned. At this rate, she'll be fifty before she finally gets sarcasm. How's she gonna survive out there?
He sighed. "All right, come on now. I'm here, and unhurt, right? Just come—" The rest of his words died down in his throat as the little Mia dug into his chest, sobbing without restraint. Red chuckled, caressing her head with his right hand. "Cheer up, I was just kidding. Just kidding. None of that happened in the first place."
"Li?" The little fairy looked up in bewilderment.
"I give up!" He sighed, "here, I got you your pastries."
Mia crooked her head.
The possibility of Red lying about it didn't even register in her mind. After all, speaking the unvarnished truth was simply a matter of common sense. Why would anyone say anything but the truth?
How can someone be so naive and yet so damned cute? Red mused. No, bringing her along would be a very bad idea. Perhaps when she's older... and has matured a bit?
"I'm not lying. See?" He pulled out a food packet from the cloth bag lying on the floor. "See? I even got you the puffed rice dumplings you like so much and—"
Mia had already snatched the bag of pastries from his fingers and was biting into them, with the expression of someone tasting water after spending months lost in a desert. Even he had to chuckle at the sight. It wasn't unusual, since Mia loved pastries. Scratch that, the tiny little thing could turn into a monster with a bottomless stomach when it comes to pastries. It was moments like these that made him wonder if owning a fast-food restaurant was what had kept Red and his mom from being rendered outright broke.
Perhaps I should thank the working staff next time I see them.
"I'll take that as a yes."
Red watched her with a thin smile. It would not last long. Soon, he'd be gone and would only see Mia from time to time when he called from a city or two. He could only hope that she'd make it through alright.
"There is… something I wanted to tell you about.
"Li?" The kirlia crooked her head, instantly tuning herself to Red, her burst of absolute happiness vanishing in an instant as she felt herself getting lashed by the myriad of emotions that Red was feeling that very moment. Happiness, sadness, tranquility, doubt, melancholy, acceptance… Fear?
Right. Knew she'd sense it.
Red sighed. Honestly, he didn't have the heart to tell her about it. He really didn't want to deal with another Mia-tantrum too, knowing just how emotionally-manipulative the little fairy could be. First would come that sullen gaze and teary eyes that would guilt him into giving her whatever she wanted. If that didn't work then she'd ignore him, while giving him little glances when she thought he wasn't looking, all the while pretending that Red kicked puppies for fun.
Maybe… Maybe I'll tell her tomorrow.
"Lia?" The kirlia asked out loud.
Oh well. He came to a decision. "Well, it's like this. The old man told me about my test results. I aced the theory, though Gary beat me by two points in the practicals."
Mia leaped off the floor and gave an excited little twirl. Seriously, it seemed like she was overcompensating for his own lack of reaction to things.
"The results will be due on Monday, and post that, I'll be heading for my trainer journey."
He took a deep breath.
"And I decided not to take you with me."
Mia stopped mid-waltz, almost as if she had been petrified by some unseen power. Slowly, she turned her gaze at her favorite human, staring into his eyes, as if trying to gaze into his soul for a reaffirmation.
Red met her gaze.
"Li." The kirlia muttered, drooping her shoulders, and caused a harsh, silvery wind to blow around her. Red instantly brought his hands before his face to keep the wind off, but by the time he looked up in front, Mia had vanished.
I suppose… that could have been dealt with better.
Red stood atop Mt. Hideaway, staring at the lush green hill station that was Pallet Town. The mountain wasn't even that tall— a little over an hour and one could get to the top and stare down at the entire town that delved on its slopes. The results had finally arrived, and the professor had claimed that they'd all be getting their starters the next day.
Just one more day between me and my journey.
Come to think of it, this entire time he had been thinking about how it'd be, leaving Pallet Town, leaving the ranch, leaving Mia and… leaving his mom to journey across the Kanto mainland by himself. Now, as the event was merely a day away, he found himself looking at the other side of the equation.
For Red Ketchum, the world was pretty much divided into two types of individuals— those who mattered, and those who didn't. The ones who really mattered were the old man himself (regardless of how crass he behaved with the professor) and Mia. Everyone else had been, just there. Kaz had been there, and he had often helped him out of a number of tough situations, but his aloof attitude had prevented Red from establishing a closer relationship with the psychic. Then again, children would often emulate their parents, and Delia had practically been a mother to Kaz, teaching him ever since he had been a little abra. Now a strong alakazam, Kaz was Delia's assistant, helping her with her personal research on psychic pokémon. On the days he'd be free, he'd be somewhere around the town, levitating and pondering over the mysteries of the universe. As for his mom…
I wonder… what mom would think about it. Knowing her, she'd probably be disappointed that I rejected Oak's proposal.
To say that his relations with his mother were complicated was something of an understatement. Delia loved him, no doubt about it. She'd do anything and everything to ensure that he was happy, and gave him a healthy bout of freedom along with enough pocket change to make an impulsive buy or two. The Ketchums weren't exactly wealthy, but they weren't poor either. The old man funded Delia enough to not really bother about money in the first place and the restaurant was a prime asset too. On top of that, her acting as a delegate between Oak, and Professor Felina Ivy of the Seafoam Islands helped put more in the bank
What she could never give Red, was time. He liked to think that his mom wholeheartedly dedicated every inch of her free time to him but considering that she was juggling what was technically three jobs at the same time, the allotted free time was mostly limited to a couple of days a month. At times, Delia would be away to the Seafoam Islands for weeks on stretch, and there was a time when she had to leave Kanto for the better part of two months, leaving Red and Mia alone.
And then Gary thinks that... He chuckled mirthlessly, staring down at the peaceful town beneath. The grass is always greener on the other side, I suppose.
"Feeling an impulse to jump?"
Almost out of instinct, Red pushed himself backward, away from the precipice. No matter how many times it happened, it was always startling to feel a voice enter your mind.
"Looking from above disrupts one's mental image of reality. It makes you want to get back into the sense of normalcy that existed back when you were on the ground. It is actually a studied phenomenon."
Red let out a sigh. "Is there any reason why you're here all of a sudden, Kaz?"
The alakazam did not bother to reply. Instead, it released the two spoons from either hand, allowing the silver instruments to levitate at shoulder level, while he himself floated in a cross-legged posture.
"I was here first."
"Of course you were." Red gave him a wry grin. "I'm surprised you are goofing around at this place, and not doing… whatever it is, that you do with mom."
"Mother only asks for my aid when she is in need of it. Perhaps that is why I find myself playing babysitter to organisms of questionable mental capacity from time to time."
Kaz referred to Delia as 'Mother'. She had told him endlessly to call her by her name, but it had fallen on deaf ears. As mentioned, psychics were funny like that.
"Also, considering that the little energy-ball's emotions are all over the place, I thought it might be better to speak with you, seeing that you are the only one with any semblance of control on that hyper-excited little thing."
Red rolled his eyes. "Mia's being a complete mess about it, isn't she?"
"She is like you. What do you expect?"
Unsure if it had been a backhanded compliment, or a straight insult, he decided to ignore it. "You know I cannot take her with me, and I don't really want to stay here and become an apprentice."
"I will inform Mother that you have made your decision, though I had, of course, seen it coming."
"What about it? Was mom interested in me becoming a trainer?"
"She was expecting that you'd agree to the professor's offer. She had a contract with Ivy, about sending you to a master-breeder in Johto for studies, followed by a Journeyman of three years under apprenticeship of Professor Ivy and Oak," Kaz paused, "she was hoping to spend some more time with you if you could accept the offer."
"Nah… It's a trainer's journey for me. I only hope that I could take Mia with me, but she'd be in danger. Perhaps when I'm a little experienced and she's a little older, I can…"
"I presume the energy-ball isn't listening."
"She never does."
"Well, you are not of her kind. They say blood is thicker than water, but you and Mother still agree to disagree. The energy-ball is, after all, just a—"
"My sister." Red interrupted the psychic, stressing over the last word. "If there is anyone I care about—"
The alakazam raised his hands upwards, and the spoons re-entered his palms. "And this is why I do not pretend to enjoy discoursing with you"
"Whatever…" The teen muttered, looking away. "Anyway, I still have a day, right? Tomorrow I'll get my starter, and I'll convince Mia to understand. It's going to work out. Somehow."
The alakazam darted a furtive glance at him but never said anything.
The next day
"Really Red, for someone who knows this place inside out, you're practically tip-toeing. You need to strut."
Red rolled his eyes at his companion's words. Walking beside him were Leaf and Ethan, and all three of them were supposed to get their starters from the old man together. Gary, true to his moniker, had flown all the way to Kalos the other day so that he could have a rare starter to show off. He was yet to return, so his starter's identity was somewhat of a mystery. Truth be told, Red was slightly envious about it.
"I work here, Ethan. I don't own this place." He replied quietly, watching the professor's staff perform their daily errands. Becky managed most of the menial tasks, though the more… unpleasant ones were taken care of by Tim, who normally stayed close to the tauros herd.
I should be helping out there. I wonder where Arcanine is. I haven't seen that big baby since last week.
Ethan wasn't wrong. Red knew this place inside out. Despite being the youngest person working in what was possibly the largest private ranch in the entire Kanto-Johto mainland, he knew almost everything there was to know about this place. He knew where the nesting mothers of the Nidoran herd usually stayed, where the water-types usually rested and how to get the attention of the large Tauros herd— one of the ranch's more interesting groups.
Apparently, several years ago, a trainer had been to the Fuchsia Safari and managed to capture a tauros every time he threw a pokéball. Said trainer had proved incapable of taking care of more than a single one of the herd, which resulted in the ranch being gifted some thirty prime specimens.
And people say that money can't solve your problems. Red mused wryly.
Red looked around. Further south towards the edge of the forest, was the nidoran herd. He thought back to Oak's gigantic specimen of an arcanine who could scatter the rampaging herd with a single Fire Blast. In fact, most of Oak's pokémon acted as leaders and protectors for the ranch creating their own micro-environment and hierarchy. The caves high up near Mt. Hideaway was home to the professor's colossal dragonite and smaller, but no less deadly charizard with the latter often coming down to spar with some of the more healthy rhydon that lived in the lower slopes.
They were monstrously powerful and utterly terrifying.
"Rethinking your decision, Red-eyes?"
Red was shaken out of his reminiscence, though this time, it was Leaf who had initiated the conversation. Leaf's father owned a greenhouse on the hill adjacent to Mt. Hideaway and was a business associate of Erika, the Celadon City gym leader. She had taken after her father, and wanted to become a grass-type breeder, but before all that, she wanted to score some experience, and become a trainer for a single year. It didn't really make a lot of sense, but quarreling with Leaf was a bothersome activity.
"In your dreams." Red retorted.
"I assure you, you aren't part of my dreams." Leaf quipped.
Red decided to reply back in the most dignified way possible. By sticking out his tongue at her.
"Well, I want something that grows into an epic beast, like a charmander or a squirtle. It doesn't really matter which." Ethan declared pompously.
"As long as you stay away from my charmander, you'll be fine. Or else, I'll send the tauros herd after you the next time I find you sneaking around here." Red warned though it was obvious that he was teasing. It wasn't like the league sent the professor just a single specimen of the starters or anything. After all, choosing a starter was one of the most magical experiences of a trainer's life, and forcing them to choose one on a first come first served basis was ridiculous.
Laughing at each other's antics, the three prospective trainers entered through the old professor's office.
He should have seen this coming.
Red had sensed something different in the professor's tone and movement. The man was being all wordy and spending too much time asking all the irrelevant questions when it was clear that the trainers would like nothing better than to meet their starters. If nothing else, the fact that the old man refused to meet his eye should have been a sure give-away.
And yet, he hadn't really seen it coming.
"...tell me again why I can't have a charmander?"
The old professor stared at him with crinkled eyes and a half-hearted smile. "Because of an international mass-research experiment going on in Kalos right now. The League has sent all the approved Kanto-starters— bulbasaur, squirtle, and charmander —off to Kalos a fortnight ago. It's on a… need-to-know basis, and I wasn't made aware of it beforehand."
"But you are Samuel Oak," Red answered hotly.
"And I am not part of the Kalos experiments or the Aether Foundation."
"Your son is, and that's probably why Gary's off there to get a real starter, while the rest of us will end up with a stupid nidoran or a zubat or something."
"I can assure you, that if going to Kalos would have gotten you a charmander for a starter, I'd have gotten you one. And while Gary is getting a rare starter, acquiring one of the Kanto-trio is out of the question, even for him."
"If you say so," Red muttered.
"I have a suggestion. Why don't you just accept one of the starters that arrived this morning? Be assured that the League only picks capable pokémon for starters. Meanwhile, I'll send you a charmander from the litter at the ranch, as soon as it grows strong enough. You may even catch a wild one on your own."
"They are charmander, not growlithe." Red growled, before stepping back. As enraged as he was, he wasn't about to blame the old man for it, no matter how much he wanted to yell and curse about the unfairness of it all.
"Either way, I think I'll take this moment to introduce the starters for this season. So, here they are." He proceeded to drag a table towards him and picked up a tray containing three pokéballs on them. "Now I have three starters that were sent here by the League for the current trainer candidates. They're… different from the usual, so I'll just introduce them on the go."
He picked up the first pokéball and released the pokémon within. It looked like a meshwork of vines coiled around each other, with a pair of padded feet protruding out from the bottom, and two white eyes blinking through the vine lattice. Some of the vines were even moving around on their own as if amused for some reason.
"This is Tangela, a grass-type. It evolves into tangrowth, and is regarded as one of the most efficient grass-types in the Kanto region. Surprisingly powerful when evolved, they can inflict tremendous damage in combat. Their vines are quick to regenerate so you can use a tangela to experiment when you are faced with an unknown opponent."
Leaf cooed at the little thing and crouched down to her knees, touching the tangela on the vines above its eyes. The little thing gurgled and lifted a single vine, before gently poking at the girl's forehead in return. She was obviously not paying attention to the professor.
Ethan rolled his eyes at the gesture.
"Hehe!" The girl laughed. "It's so cute. I'll take it, professor."
"You haven't even met the others," Oak replied with an amused exasperation.
"Doesn't matter. Tangela is the one for me. Please professor, can I keep her?" Leaf begged, giving out the impression of a child asking her parents to allow her to keep a stray growlithe.
"Sure." The old man drawled. "It is your right to choose your starter after all."
The tangela in question gurgled again, as the professor returned it back to the pokéball before handing it over to her. "Remember to collect your pokédex from me before you leave."
Leaf gratefully accepted the pokéball from the esteemed professor, before taking a step backward, allowing the older man stage to continue with his demonstration.
"The next one, is the water-type, staryu." Oak released the pokémon, who looked like a starfish, with a single gem in the center. "It's fairly uncommon unless you are used to deep sea-diving. Very mobile on land and it can leap up to five meters at a stretch. Its evolution, starmie, has a dual water/psychic typing and is an excellent strategic battler."
"But we've never seen one of those here on the ranch, professor." Ethan pointed out, staring at the water-type with acute interest."
"That's because I don't have one at my ranch. Staryu are almost exclusively reared in the private ranches in Cerulean— A city famous for its water pokémon reserves. "
"Then what exactly does this ranch produce?" Ethan asked curiously.
Red muttered something that sounded suspiciously like nidoran before coughing and looking away.
The old professor chuckled. "This ranch does not produce anything per se. We receive pokémon from all over Kanto and the neighboring regions to collect data and update it to the pokédex in general."
"Ah… I think I understand." Ethan tried.
"No, you don't. You really don't." Red muttered.
"Stop confusing him, Red," Oak tried half-heartedly, ignoring the heated glare the teen gave him. "Now the last one of the lot is this little tyke over here." He clicked on the last pokéball, releasing the creature within.
"Magby, a fire-type pokémon." He introduced the bipedal pokémon with two large lumps on the head. Its entire body was bright orange and it looked like it would start crying any second. "Anyone recognize this one?"
"Nope," Red said staring at the small red creature.
The old professor looked a little more excited here. "It's a magby. Magby are generally not found in the wild since they live inside volcanoes, or in the forests surrounding them. You might have heard about their evolved forms, magmar?"
That brought Red's thoughts to a halt. This little thing evolves into a magmar?
As if by instinct, he glanced back to the creature. Magmar were among the strongest fire-types, and that was even before their third evolution. Their evolutionary procedure was known to be incredibly expensive, and barely had a fifty percent success rate, but the higher form of magmar— Magmortar —were known to be terrifying.
But it's not a charizard.
"As I was saying, their higher forms can boast some of the most dangerous flames on the planet and are scarily powerful though they can easily go rogue if they do not feel comfortable around their trainer. They are nothing spectacular defensively, but few fire-types are, so that's a moot point. Offensively, very few are able to challenge a fully-trained magmortar.
Red inwardly agreed with the man. A fully-trained magmortar was scary. Very, very scary.
"I was actually hoping for a psychic-type, professor." Ethan grinned. "Like an abra or something. Having an alakazam would be super-cool, but between staryu and magby, I think I'll go with the latter. A magmar would be useful against almost everything."
But magmar cannot fly. Red mused. Not like a charizard. And having a magmar and a charizard would be overkill.
It reminded him of the type-masters out there— people who had been able to claim complete mastery in breeding, raising and creating extremely powerful battlers among a single type. Of course, the most prominent among them was Lance Wataru, the dragon-master and the current Champion, who ruled over the Kanto and Johto mainland with an iron fist. The Elite Four were type-masters as well.
He watched as Ethan accepted the magby's pokéball and stepped back, before feeling the old man's gaze. He knew that the old man wanted him to speak out first. Patience was the name of the game, and the one that spoke first, lost. After what seemed like eons, the old man finally broke the silent competition and spoke first.
"Is there anything that catches your fancy, Red?"
Red looked up, glancing at the single pokéball— the one that held the staryu. He cast a quick glance at Ethan and the pokéball that held a magby as well. Magmar were powerful, and he knew it, but part of him, or rather, his ego wouldn't allow him to let Charmander be substituted by another fire-type. He had always wanted a charmander, one that would evolve into a ferocious charizard, and having to choose an alternate fire-type just felt wrong.
"I... not at all," he answered. "If it's not a charmander, then I don't want a starter."
Red turned around, and walked off, leaving a baffled old man behind.
Samuel watched the teen leave with a rigid expression on his face, wondering if he was doing the right thing. As a former champion that ruled over the entirety of Kanto, he knew that he had more than enough pull to procure a single charmander for the boy walking away from him. The question was— would it be the correct thing to do?
He had not lied when he had stated his ignorance about Kalos experiments. Everything about it had been kept on a need-to-know basis, and as someone not invested in pokémon evolution with a research point-of-view. Like every other person on the planet, Samuel was very interested in evolution, but not enough to make it his life's passion. Instead, he had followed the path of the statistician, creating the world's first pokémon database, one that was considered the greatest invention in the world, on a par with the discovery of the pokéball itself.
Maybe if I had been a little less… reclusive, I would have known about it earlier. But that's neither here nor there.
From what he understood from the missive sent from the League, the Kalosian experiments had begun on a gargantuan basis. Initially, it had been classified as an international secret— he knew that much since the Aether Foundation was involved in it as well. Something about evening the scales —Evan had informed him, limiting to as much as he could without breaking his confidentiality contracts. The experiments must have come to fruition, to authorize large-scale tests like the ones that had been going on. Initially, they started out with the Kalos starters, followed by the Hoenn and Sinnoh, and finally, it was Kanto's turn. Obviously, the results must have been significant enough that entire nations were actively pledging their assistance in such a manner. It almost made him feel jealous not to be a part of it.
But that brought him to the crux of the issue—a charmander fit to be a starter. He had already called up the Charicific Valley in west Johto to inquire about any remaining charmander fit to be an adequate starter, and checked in— through private channels and associates —if someone was willing to sell a baby charmander that fitted the bill.
He had found none.
He knew about the boy's obsession with dragons, and knew that his decision to start out with a charmander was influenced by the fact that it evolved into a charizard, which were as draconic as they came, at least as far as appearance and body physiology were concerned. However, because of their unusually small capacity to generate draconic energy and their large affinity for the fire element, charizard were classified as fire/flying types, while other pokémon like flygon and altaria were considered dragons because of their large reservoirs of draconic energy. Whether charizard should be classified into the dragon category was still an active subject for debate, but that did not stop young Red from classifying them as one. In his own words— If it looks like a dragon and flies like a dragon, chances are, it's not a fairy.
The alternative was to get the boy a real dragon, but aside from the fact that dragons were notoriously difficult to raise, their earlier forms tended to be too weak and demanded too much attention— something that even someone like Red would be hard-pressed to provide. There also remained the fact that the baby dragons lacked the necessary power and strength that Red needed to grow from a rookie to an intermediate level, so giving him a baby dragon was not an option. If there was one thing a dragon needed to grow, it was time.
Perhaps when he's grown as a trainer for a while...
Oak shook his head. This was no time to let his mind fly along tangents. He had presumed that the boy would probably pick the magby as an alternative—however temporarily. but it had not worked out in his favor. Instead, the kid had walked out on him, furious at being asked to choose like that. As for other alternatives, there was no way that Red would accept a pidgey, and Red could probably catch one in Pallet forest anyway. Something like a nidoran or a rattata wouldn't fit either, and Red didn't look like someone who'd want to take in a fighting-type like a machop. That left…
Oak widened his eyes. Of course!
There was a single specimen that did fit the bill. An annoyance of a Pichu had recently evolved into a Pikachu a week or so earlier, and contrary to the species's usual behaviour, evolution seemed to have made it wild, instead of bringing a sense of composure. Ever since its evolution, the little rodent had caused several power outages in his lab, and he had to keep the little brat isolated in a compartment to keep it from causing any further property damage. And while it was a second-stage pokémon, it had only just evolved, so its power levels were close enough to be classified as starter-level.
And electric-types are quick, and efficient against most types. it would be a considerable asset, if Red's able to tame it down properly.
For a brief moment, he pictured Red standing with his cap on, and the pikachu lounging on his shoulders. He rather liked the picture, and mentally added a fearsome charizard beside the boy's image as well. There were a dozen other shadows around the boy— pokémon that he had yet to catch.
That doesn't look so bad. Now all I have to do is convince him to take it.
"This is just a waste of time." Red muttered, as he was pulled along by the elderly professor. He might have been slightly infuriated about not getting his expected starter, but he wasn't stupid enough to start yelling about it to the man. Thus, he had been content to get out into the ranch and sulk.
"Oh stop being a baby," Oak admonished. "Besides, I did promise you a charmander as soon as the babies from the ranch are old enough, so just take this starter I have in mind and start your journey. Trust me, you won't regret it."
"Whatever you say, old man."
"And besides, you can always catch a wild charmander out there during your travels. Are you simply going to miss out on that possibility because you decided to be grumpy?"
The teen scowled. "Stop trying to force words out of my mouth. Besides, this is a charmander we're talking about, not rattata. What do you expect will happen? A lone, half-dead charmander will fall upon my path, and I'll save it and become best buddies?"
Oak arched an eyebrow.
The teen shrugged. "I was hypothesizing. I can do that."
The professor sighed at his silly antics. "You'll find that the world is much crazier than you think it is. Though I must consider," he paused with a smirk, "if you really dislike having an alternative starter so much, you can always wait for a couple months, sitting here in Pallet Town, while someone else… like Gary perhaps, may end up winning several badges."
Red scowled at the implication."That's underhanded and manipulative."
"Thank you. Your compliment is noted." Oak chortled. "Now come along, and meet your new starter."
Red sighed. He knew better than to quarrel with the professor, The man was wily enough to get what he wanted. Besides, there was no alternative so far.
Maybe the professor has something cool. It's not like taking a look can hurt.
"Fine old man," He said, gritting his teeth in frustration, "let's go and meet this undeniably awesome starter of yours."
Red stared blankly at the electric rodent doing its best in its attempts to demolish the little room it was trapped in. The switchboard on the left wall had been torn apart, barely hanging by a single screw. The remaining switches had been gnawed out, and the wiring was completely ruined. The longer copper strands had been pulled out and were currently being chewed upon by the electric type on the ground. Looking at the way its pink cheeks were flaring with tiny electrical discharges, it was probably having a really good meal.
Not quite what I was expecting.
"This is… your grand suggestion? A pikachu?" He asked with a deadpan.
"Yes." The professor replied, his tone almost ethereal. "What do you think?"
"What do you mean what do I…?" He paused, not allowing his anger to get the best of him. He gave the pokémon a second look. This was no magmar, but it was quick, and electric-types were extremely beneficial in the wild. Also, being a different type, it would not be a replacement for his eventual charmander. Pikachu were surprisingly agile, and could use both physical and long-ranged attacks. Further, as an electric type, they were extremely useful against both flying and water types, negating the benefits of most terrains.
Come to think of it, having a pikachu might not be… that bad. But…
"This is a stage-two pokémon."
"What of it?" The professor asked.
Red stared at the elderly man, wondering if the man was taking him to be a fool. "Starters are stage-one pokémon."
"That's incorrect, or rather imprecise. Starters are pokémon that are chosen when they fit a certain requirement standard, usually based on their general age, physical development and number of basic-tier moves known. Usually, it is stage-one pokémon that fit the bill. Since this pikachu evolved a week ago, it's abilities are not significantly higher than the pichu stage, so it qualifies as one."
"On a technicality."
"On a technicality." The professor agreed. "Also, that nuisance has been causing me a constant headache, so I'd really love for you to help me out with this one."
"Real subtle there, old man." The teen grumbled, "fine, I'll take it. Let's go meet it."
"I knew you'd see it my way." Oak replied with fake superiority, pressing his palm on the biometric scanner on the wall. With a hiss, the doors flew open.
Red walked into the insulated room, right past the broken switchboard and crouched in front of the electric rodent, who didn't seem to register his presence. Yet. He turned around to find the old professor still standing at the doorway.
"Aren't you going to come in?" He asked. "I didn't know that you were afraid of electric types."
"Heh!" The old professor chuckled. "I like them fine." Then as if to make a point, he put a foot inside the room, and Pikachu's cheeks began to flicker with electricity. "Though clearly, the attraction isn't mutual."
"He seems fine to me," Red muttered, extending a finger towards the pikachu. "Hey little guy, I know that the old man put you here, but it was only to keep you from damaging his equipment."
The pikachu's ears perked up, but he continued to chew obliviously.
"I'm Red, and I'm going to start my journey today. I'm planning on becoming a pokémon trainer, perhaps even as good as the old man over there." He casually pointed at said individual with a thumb. "—and I need a starter, someone I can believe in, and someone with whom I can accomplish my goals. Would you like to help me?"
The rodent continued nipping at the torn wires. Red could see its electric pouches glowing slightly as the electric-type sucked in electricity, possibly to fuel its own reserves.
This doesn't seem to work. Perhaps the tried and tested conversation technique will do?
"I can help you grow stronger." He offered his palm towards the rodent. Said technique had worked in Tales of the Gutsy Trainer, but he hadn't been sure if it would work in real life. Then again, the little thing seemed more inclined towards solving its hunger issues than any real desire to gain strength.
The pikachu blurped again and continued to chew happily.
He glanced back at the professor, who shrugged back.
Thanks for the help.
"Tell you what?" Red tried a different approach. "How about you travel with me, free from this shackled cage? I will be traveling to different places, and there are power stations and electric supply stations specially for electric-types. Think about it, it's almost like an eat-all-you-want buffet for you there."
I can only hope it's a confirmation.
"Yes, exactly. I'm totally okay with it."
The rodent looked at him with a strange gaze, as if surprised or stupefied with his answer. "Chu?" It asked again, as if in reaffirmation.
Red bobbed his head. "We have a deal."
His initial wariness slowly leaving him, Red extended out his left arm towards the electric rodent, caressing its head gently. The pikachu even let out a moan out of pleasure. He was already liking the idea of having this pokémon for a starter. They were probably going to get along just fine.
A powerful bond between trainer and pokémon was integral for their survival in the wild, as well as to reach the pinnacle of strength. It would start with an initially weak bond between the human and his starter, growing through mutual admiration developing through both peace and conflict, before finally blooming into true trust and friendship. At least, that was what the book said.
The rodent let out another moan, as the human's fingers reached out to gently rub the pouches on his cheeks. Instinct flooded through it, as the little rodent let out a mischievous grin. Not for a single moment did Red even believe that this mischief could turn into malevolence.
I'm sorry. He is currently comatose. His mind is barely functioning and his vitals are unstable. You cannot see him."
Delia was hysterical. She had been part of a delegation to a research convention, as Oak's representative, and had been accompanied by Ivy. The news about Red's electrocution had sent her reeling, and she had teleported home as soon as possible. Red had already been transferred to the ICU, by then.
"But I just want to see him once and—"
"I'm sorry." The patient voice continued. "You will have to wait. This therapy is still in its experimental stage, and without proper consent, we would never have proceeded with that. So, we really cannot allow you to get there, and I suggest you wait and—"
"Experimental therapy?" Delia widened her eyes. "What's that about? I signed no papers allowing my son as subject to—"
"Professor Samuel Oak had been acting as de facto guardian and signed the papers.
"Now if you will allow me, I need to check on my patient." He quickly excused himself from the anxious woman and—
"But I had no knowledge of this. I just flew back here to see my son and certainly—"
"Mrs. Ketchum!" The man snapped. "Your son has just bore the brunt of a Level-3 electrocution. Half of the nerves on his arms have been shredded and he has suffered massive damage to his spinal cord. I suggest you speak with your benefactor over this since he is the one who's taken charge of the situation."
Delia palmed her mouth in horror. "He's… he's going to survive, right?"
The doctor sighed. "He's covered in third-degree electrical burns. and his heart rate is plummeting. If the heavy discharge hadn't fried his pain receptors he may have died from the pain alone."
Delia suppressed a sob. It didn't help. "Please… please save my son."
"We are trying our best." The man replied empathically. "Under Oak's approval, we have proceeded with this experimental, albeit… successful therapy, involving ditto-cell surgery and psychic grafting. Professor Oak has had surgeons traveling from Johto for your son's case. However, we need to act quickly. If all goes well, you should be able to see your son tomorrow at the earliest."
Three weeks later
Red sat ramrod straight, resting his back against the wall before he pushed the sheets off the lower part of his body. The zapping, as he had begun to call it, had torn through his muscles, and damaged his spine. They had been forced to reconstruct most of the nerves in his right hand as well as a significant number on his left. Apparently, he had been driven into a violent spasm and lost voluntary control over all body functions. In short, the fact that he was still sitting on his bed, capable of rational thought and movement instead of being stuck in a persistent vegetative state was a miracle of modern medicine.
From what he had been told, it was only because the professor had managed to stop Pikachu, that he was still alive and breathing. The man instantly summoned his alakazam who immediately took charge of the situation, creating an insulation barrier between Red and the pikachu, before sending the electric rodent to sleep. After that, Alakazam had directly teleported Red to the nearest hospital, and Oak had thrown his entire influence to ensure that he had gotten the best possible treatment.
He had been comatose for the next six days.
Apparently, the doctors had employed an experimental therapy to heal the severe nerve-damage and used 'constructive ditto-cell implantation' to grow the destroyed nerves back into place. He still had mixed feelings— the doctors had used his nearly-dead self as a lab rat for an experimental protocol —but he was alive and he supposed that was what really mattered. It had taken a little over a week after he regained consciousness for the hospital to discharge him, placing him under Mia's tender mercies.
An entire week.
More than enough time for the reality of the situation to dawn upon him. He had missed out on getting his chosen starter. He had failed in convincing another starter to join him—his very first act as a pokémon trainer. He had been nearly killed by said starter, which spoke volumes about his skill, or lack thereof, at survival. Ultimately it made him feel pathetic. And he hadn't even started.
Leaf and Ethan had apparently left for their journeys the very day they had gotten their starters. With news of Red's hospitalization hushed, Leaf hadn't come to know anything about it and had left for Pallet Forest to start her journey. Ethan had instead taken the sea route towards the West Coast, from where he would travel to his family home in Mahogany Town, wanting to start out with the gyms in Johto.
That left Red alone, sitting on his bed, and evaluating his current position—Fourteen, with a trainer's license, and an absolute failure.
Needless to say, his mind tormented him, painting vivid images of both himself as a failure and of the electrocution in the form of recurring nightmares. From what he had heard, Gary had returned to Pallet, and driven off to Viridian City to start his journey. Knowing him, he'd probably be catching tons of pokémon.
And here I am, tied to my bed for no good reason. Helpless. He's probably already cleared Viridian and Pewter, and moving towards Cerulean, if he hasn't beaten that already.
He completely ignored the fact that he had been electrocuted and had been on the verge of death. As far as he was concerned, he was alive and his limbs were in working order. Thus, Delia and Mia's concerns were insubstantial.
Apparently, a post-electrocuted mind didn't need things like common sense and logic.
And all that because of the rodent.
Thoughts of the rodent gave way to thoughts about his favorite professor. He momentarily wondered what the old man thought about the entire chain of events. First, he had failed to get a charmander as promised, and then he had been coerced into trying to make do with that malicious little devil. Red had been nearly killed because of it, though from what he had heard, Oak had left no stone unturned to ensure that he received the best quality treatment at the hospital.
It isn't supposed to be this complicated. Is it?
He wanted to blame someone. Anyone. He wanted to shout out at the unfairness of it all. The tangela had happily accepted Leaf as her trainer, and so had the magby. The pikachu, on the other hand, had tried to kill him. How was this fair?
Perhaps mom had the right idea. Maybe I'm not cut out to be a trainer.
A very familiar voice shook him out of his reverie. Ironically, the person associated with the voice was also the source of said reveries. Standing at the doorway, was Professor Oak.
"Professor?" Red wished in a rather uncertain voice. He didn't really know how to feel about the incident.
"May I… Can I come in?"
Red pushed himself up against a bed a little more to sit up straighter. "Sure."
"I… wasn't sure if you'd want to talk to me after everything that happened, and Mia wouldn't talk to me about anything. Delia has been mostly silent for weeks, and Kaz is… Kaz."
"Mom is… home?"
Oak arched an eyebrow. "You didn't meet— ah, I see. Delia blames herself for not being there for you. She was supposed to leave for the convention in Goldenrod, but I have arranged someone to replace her. I thought she'd be here, with you."
"Old man, I know that I was an unwanted child. She was not prepared for it, and my father was an ass who didn't take responsibility. My mom thinks of herself as a researcher and I understand that. She still did her best to be there whenever she could."
Oak opened his mouth but shut it. There was nothing he could say about that anyway.
"Was there anything you wanted to talk to me about, old man? I'm pretty sure Mia will be back, and she's not exactly very accepting of you."
"Don't I know it?" The professor sighed.
"I don't blame you, professor." Red spoke up again, his voice filled with self-deprecation. "I'm told that you spent an awful lot to save me. I'm grateful for that."
"Red Ketchum, being polite. It seems like the end of the world."
"You were saying, old codger?"
Oak chuckled at that. "How are things turning out for you here?"
"Oh not bad at all. Mia's become constantly monitoring my emotional state. She flips out whenever I get depressed, Even Kaz keeps an eye on me from time to time. Mom… has shown up, at times, though the last time I saw her was yesterday afternoon, before going off to sleep. Whatever this treatment was, it's making me sleep a hell of a lot more than I'm used to."
"Your nerves have practically been regrown. It will take a while before you are in peak form. I suggest you don't fight it."
"It's not like I have an option. Personally, I think Mia's secretly happy that I'm bound to the bed. Under her direct surveillance."
"There might be some truth to that. I'm told she hasn't left your side since you've been discharged."
"You realize that this doesn't change things? I'm still gonna be a trainer. "
"Red, you've seen for yourself just how dangerous—"
"It's not like being a researcher will be less dangerous. Look at what happened in the lab."
Oak blinked. "..."
The teen sighed. "Sorry, staying tied up like this does scary things to my mind. The point is, trying to convince me like that makes me wonder if this is some conspiracy hatched to deviate me from my dream of being Champion."
The old man arched an eyebrow. "And… why would I do that?"
"To stop a future Champion from stealing your glory of course!" Red replied exuberantly. "Who knows? Maybe I'll become a kickass Champion, and then turn to research and leave your inventions in the dust, and maybe you realize that and want to keep me under your thumb."
"I… cannot believe you put all of that in a regular-sized sentence."
Red gave him a winning smile. "I'm awesome, right?"
"It wasn't a compliment."
"Either way," Red countered, channeling a little bit of hope in his voice, "do you think you can get me a charmander by the time I'm… well, back in form?"
Oak bit his lip. "The doctors told me that you should be fit to start your journey in roughly two weeks. You have already regained basic mobility, correct?"
"Yeah, though I do need help. My legs aren't… strong enough, yet."
"They will be. Don't worry. It might take a while to get used to, but ditto-cell therapy is the most cutting edge procedure to date. I don't think you'll be meeting anyone who's gone through the procedure."
"Just how costly was it?"
"Why do you ask?"
Oak chuckled. "Let's not go into that. It was my mistake to let you handle that pikachu by yourself. Doubly so, because I knew that it wasn't exactly docile," He paused, "and don't worry, the pikachu has been… dealt with."
Red widened his eyes, but kept silent.
"That reminds me," the old man went on, "I have a starter for you."
Red's countenance glowed. "Is it a charmander?"
"No." The professor deadpanned.
He looked up. "What do you have in mind for me then? Is it something interesting? I bet Gary's starter is unique."
"Funny you mentioned Gary," Oak gave a half-grin, "and yes, he has a… rather interesting choice for a starter. A Riolu, to be exact."
"A… riolu?" Red wasn't sure he had heard about that one before this.
"Oh right, you wouldn't have possibly heard about it. Perhaps I should mention its evolved form—Lucario."
"...a lucario? Like a lucario? Gary has a fuc—I mean, a lucario?"
"Ahem!"Oak cleared his voice. "As much as I understand your appreciation for Gary's choices, please limit your profanity to your personal thoughts."
"But a lucario—"
"Is interesting, and Gary has a riolu. Get over it." He paused, "unless you want him to know about how jealous you were."
That shut Red up.
"As I was saying, it was interesting that you happened to mention Gary, who got his lucario from Kalos. I also happened to receive a rather interesting phone call from an old… friend of mine, requesting my aid for something, or rather someone."
"Correct. My friend Mabel lives on Pomace mountain, in Kalos. She has a pokémon who's… for lack of a better word, bored of living there, and wants to see the world. Mabel has finally agreed to her requests, and asked me to provide for a suitable trainer who would not mistreat her."
"And you thought of me?" Red choked. "Old man, I need a starter, something strong and capable of growth. I don't want to become a chaperone for some spoiled pokémon. I want someone who can battle not someone I'd have to treat like a porcelain doll."
Oak chuckled at that description. "Mawile would eat you if you tried to treat her like she was made of porcelain."
"Mawile?" Red squinted his eyes. "Never heard of such a pokémon."
"I didn't expect you to. Mawile are rather… rare, and are mostly found in the mountains of Hoenn. This particular mawile was born to Mabel's own mawile, and thus, is somewhat different from the natives of Hoenn. Also, she's… uniquely suited to fighting dragons, so I thought it might help you in your journey."
"Uniquely suited…" Red paused his reply, sending his mind in overdrive. "She's from Pomace mountain so… an ice-type?"
"Heh!" The old man laughed. "Mawile's pretty good at handling ice, but no, she's a fairy, or rather, part-fairy and part-steel."
"A steel/fairy hybrid?" Red wondered. "I have never heard of such a combination before."
Oak laughed. "Probably not. Mawile is the only fairy/steel type in the world."
"You mean the only species—"
"So like there's no other—"
Red opened his mouth, then decided better, and closed it. Finally, he let out a sigh. "A fairy/steel, that is… interesting."
"Though now that I think about it, there is one other. I believe Klefki is the name, though it's not exactly a battler or anything, and its status as a fairy-type is still under consideration. So, there you have it."
Red arched an eyebrow. "That's good to know, though, it is your choice, so forgive me if I am cynical enough to fear her trying to kill me at first sight."
"Come now Red, I'm Samuel Oak. Show me some respect."
When Red had first heard that the mawile was part-fairy, his thoughts had naturally flown towards Mia, expecting something dainty and cute and full of innate fairy-goodness inside it. Something that would dance all day, and make puppy-faces when you didn't agree to its wishes and if not, would vanish in a mini gale of grassy petals.
He hadn't expected, well… this.
"Wile?" The creature in front of him tilted her tiny head in confusion, as Red stared at her tiny figure. It was at best, two feet tall, and was coated with yellow and ivory fur, though it looked as smooth as skin. Bipedal, with two black limbs for hands on either side, it had an outgrowth near its waist that gave the impression of a skirt. It's most notable feature though, was the large, black protrusion extending off the back of its head. It looked somewhat like an overgrown leaf.
And it looked so damned cute.
"Maww… wile?" It cooed again.
Yep, it was official. This little thing was so damned cute. Wait, was it really that cute, or was he being induced to consider it cute because of some supernatural phenomenon? Any normal individual would not have thought of such a dire possibility, but for someone who had grown up with a fairy for a sister, Red was anything but normal. He returned back to his senses soon enough, but in the meantime, one of his hands had darted dangerously close to the creature's delightful cheeks and that black flap that was opening up to reveal a massive jaw with lethal teeth within and—
Luckily, it wasn't actually trying to maim him or he would have lost his entire hand to this not-so-innocent fairy. Seriously, what was it with cute, yellowish, little things trying to murder him? His eyes narrowed, his countenance filled with accusal, he gazed at Samuel Oak.
"You were saying?"
"Mawile!" Oak snapped, causing the little fairy to flinch momentarily and step back, before meeting the man's eyes. "I thought I made it extremely clear."
The mawile simply rolled her eyes.
I'm doomed. Red admitted with a pronounced sigh.
"I apologize for that, Red. It seems that once again, I made a bad choice for a starter. Clearly she is unfit to be a starter and I'll send her back to Mabel first thing tomorrow and—"
"Mawwwww!" Mawile had magically teleported to Red's left side and was rubbing her face on his shirt in affection, making the teen to roll his eyes at her obvious ploy. Chuckling, he rubbed the top of her head softly, causing the creature to actually mewl in pleasure, push herself into his hand.
"I guess we can agree that she really doesn't want to go back, does she?" Red asked, smiling softly at her shenanigans.
The mawile in question rubbed against his hand a little harder, before purring again.
Oak chuckled at her antics. "Well, now that both of you are getting along, I suppose I should introduce you to each other. Mawile, meet Red— one of my best and brightest. Red, meet Mawile— a real handful."
Mawile threw the older man a doleful glare before returning to purr.
Oak winked at Red, who laughed in return. "As I was saying, Red's my student, and he went through a rather… terrifying episode with a pikachu, which turned out to be quite… well, lethal, which is why he is currently bedridden."
Mawile had stopped purring and was gazing at Red, her eyes filled with a strange emotion in them.
"Uhm, old man, I don't think she—" Red began, but Mawile beat him to it. The creature turned towards the elderly man and barked out something.
"Yes, just like Mabel." Upon Red's questioning stare, he explained. "My friend Mabel cannot walk. She suffers from paralysis, brought upon her by a wild raichu back there. Mawile has an almost instinctive hatred for that line."
The mawile glanced at his bandaged hands momentarily, but did nothing.
"Mawile… used to help Mabel treat the other baby pokémon. Mabel owns a private clinic out there, and she helps her."
Red glanced back at the lithe little thing that had almost chewed his arm off. He tried to conjure the same image and connect it to someone that liked to heal babies.
The fact that said creature was looking at him like he was a stuffed toy inside a glass box made it all the more difficult.
Finally, he managed to gather some courage and opened his mouth, praying to whatever deity that was listening to not make this a reboot of his previous experience. "Well, there is no sugar-coating it. I want to be a trainer, and I wanted a charmander, but the old man here, he didn't have one, so he suggested a pikachu." He paused for a moment, "Turns out that the little rodent didn't really like my offer very much."
"I know I'm not in the best position yet, but we can start off on a journey together, if you want to join me… well, maybe we could even become friends on the way."
The mawile said nothing.
Red glanced at the Oak one last time, feeling a certain fear rise deep within his heart. This was eerily similar to his previous experience. "So… what do you think?"
The mawile gazed at him for a moment, before she finally let out a little smile. "Wile!" She nodded.
Mawile, the deceiver pokémon. Mawile's huge jaws are actually steel horns that have been transformed. Its docile-looking face serves to lull its foe into letting down its guard. When the foe least expects it, Mawile chomps it with its gaping jaws.
The device in his hands was Professor Oak's ingenious invention—the pokédex, a device that used information generated across several regions and landmasses to create a universal database for pokémon, listing their names, features, abilities, common locations, food habits and the like. Furthermore, it also had the ability to scan a pokémon in front of it comparing it to its ever-updating database before providing the relevant information, thus providing efficient means to identify a pokémon on sight. Trainers were given out the pokédex as proof of their coming of age and becoming a licensed pokémon trainer. Since he was from Kanto, the pokédex in question would allow him access to the pokémon found in Kanto and probably the adjoining Johto regions, though only because of the common biodiversity between the two regions.
"The pokédex give more detailed information about owned pokémon, by scanning them through their pokéballs. Scanning Mawile now,"—Oak demonstrated, "you can check out her existing move sets. Once you scan a pokémon with the pokédex, its entire subject data is downloaded from the League database and saved locally on the pokédex, enabling you to view it even if you aren't connected to the network."
"Uhuh," Red murmured, mimicking the professor's motions and checking on Mawile's present data. Once again, the electronic device spoke up.
This Mawile is female. Typing: Steel/ Fairy. Known move set: Astonish, Fairy Wind, Iron Head, and Icy Wind. Ability: Hyper Cutter and Snow Cloak.
"That's… a rather diverse move pool." Red admitted, impressed.
"Well, that's Mawile for you," Oak answered, gently rubbing the mawile's head. "Mawile has a rather high affinity to ice because of her parentage, which also shows in her rather… unusual second ability."
"Snow Cloak," Red muttered. "Never heard of something like that."
"It's not very common either " Oak explained. "Check this out." He clicked on the pokédex, and the mechanical voice went on.
Snow Cloak— an ability commonly found in pokémon living in Tundra regions. Snow Cloak allows the user to surround itself with tiny particulates of snow and ice, providing a form of camouflage in the middle of a snowstorm or any terrain-based ice attacks, thus increasing evasion.
"That's interesting," Red commented, "and Icy Wind too. Fairly unusual for a non-ice-type"
Mawile gave him a prideful smile.
"But why would a fairy/steel— ah, an ice-type parent, I get it." Red murmured to himself, before clicking on the other ability on the screen.
Hyper Cutter— an ability commonly found in pokémon with physical body parts tuned to cutting or slashing, such as scythes or claws. It utilizes every component involved in the attack in perfect unity allowing every move to bear the weight of the entirety of the pokémons strength. The damage output of a pokémon with this ability can reach nearly twice that of those without it.
"This is mind-blowing. You are a terrific little thing, aren't you?"
Mawile blushed at that.
"Also professor, this thing is rather cool." He looked up at the elderly man. "Are all pokédex like this?"
"Not… exactly." The professor explained. "You see this one isn't limited to Kanto and Johto pokemon. It's called the National Dex," He allowed himself a moment to bask in his achievement. "It is connected to the Oceanos Data Center, a centralized database that keeps information of pokémon species in almost all the regions of the world. Most pokédexes are usually connected to their regional databases. It will update whenever in range of a pokémon center."
"Well, Mawile isn't exactly a Kanto native, and considering the influx of foreign trainers into Kanto over the years, I decided to give you a National Dex instead of a standard one. Consider it my way of apologizing for whatever happened."
Red opened his mouth, then closed it. Finally, after a moment, he replied. "Thanks a lot, old man."
"Well then, introductions are over. I suppose I should just complete the formalities. Red, are you happy to have Mawile as your starter?"
"I am," Red answered without hesitation, before something flashed in his mind, "Old man, you said that I am ready to travel. Mom… is manageable, but what about Mia? Did you get her consent as well?"
Samuel Oak, Champion extraordinaire and Pokémon Professor, looked distinctly shifty.
Two weeks later
Mawile arched an eyebrow towards the esteemed professor as if to ask-Do you think he's gonna make it?
To be honest, Oak was wondering the same thing. Mawile's current trainer, Red Ketchum—self-proclaimed future Champion, had attempted to stealthily escape his house through the bathroom window, a determined expression on his face. Unfortunately for him, Mia was equally determined that he would never leave. She had somehow, instantly found out about his escape plan and was currently using all her strength to drag him back inside.
"I'm… pretty sure he'll survive. I wish I could say so for that poor window though."
Mawile looked at him inquisitively.
"Oh yes." Oak had a misty, almost nostalgic look in his eyes "That window, it's the same one that Kaz broke while practicing his Psycho Cut. And Poliwag broke with Water Gun. And Red broke when he was playing catch with some pokémon. I'm pretty sure Mia broke it a few times as well. Oak frowned. "Come to think of it, that window has been broken way too many times. In fact, I think they got a stronger frame last time. One more resistant to breaking. So Red may be fine this time—"
A large creaking sound interrupted Oak's monologue. "Or not," He finished sheepishly.
"Wile?" Mawile blinked, her eyes instantly zooming in on the now cracked hinges, the frame tilting forward slightly. With a shrill snapping noise, the window gave way, causing Red, Mia and part of the shelf she was trying to tie him too literally fall outside. Mia's psychic abilities were enough for her to break momentum midway and float away, but her favorite human wasn't so lucky.
Mawile winced. That must have hurt. Her trainer was lucky that the window wasn't too high. Or maybe he had plenty of practice falling through it?
"I… I hadn't realized fairy types could be so brutal," Oak muttered to no one in particular, before glancing down at Red's newest companion. "Nothing personal."
Mawile was hardly in any position to refute back. In fact, a certain pair of steel jaws glinted malevolently in contrast to her tiny figure. Over the past two weeks, she had only seen the other fairy refrain from any and all offensive gestures. Mawile had initially thought that perhaps this was how most fairies behaved and had suppressed her excitation. Now though, she was beginning to feel more at home.
Perhaps traveling with Red might not be that bad of an idea after all.
Meanwhile Red had managed to pull himself off the floor, only to find an inconsolable Mia land upon him. He had certainly not expected things to go this way.
Back when Oak had introduced him to Mawile and admitted that he hadn't, in fact, shared the news with Mia, Red had come up with an ingenious master plan. It had been pretty simple. Keep things slow and silent. He had introduced Mawile as Professor Oak's pokémon, whom Red was supposed to take care of. Mia, being the sweet little thing, had instantly fallen for it, and accepted his words at face value. The big idea was to keep everything quiet, and then vanish. He'd call back the instant he reached Viridian City, and explain everything.
It being easier to ask for forgiveness than permission and all that. Unfortunately, no plan is perfect and his had a not so small flaw
Mia was a kirlia, and kirlia were empathetic. She had easily sensed his heightened emotions, and understood that something… big was about to happen.
"Come on Mia, just let it go already."
"You know why I cannot take you with me, Mia. Traveling with me will involve staying in the wild, which means no more comfy beds to sleep on, no more waking up like always. No more breakfast from Mom every morning, or meeting your friends at the ranch. It will be endless traveling all day followed by battling, and this can go on for weeks on end."
Mia looked slightly troubled by that, before hugging Red again, sobbing into his shirt.
"Come now Mia," He consoled. "You know I cannot subject you to harsh training, and that is what being a trained pokémon is. Mawile knows it, and so will the rest of my future team. We'd have to survive dangerous environments and face other people with teams stronger than us. You wouldn't be able to do that."
"Mia, I know you want to go with me, but out there, there are violent pokémon in the wild. As you are now, you won't be able to stand against it. They'd harm you, Mia. You'd… You'd be injured or worse. Not all pokémon make it through their journey. I just want you to be safe."
Mia shook her head. She didn't care.
"Mia," Red went on, his face devoid of emotion. "Why don't you understand? Pokémon die when they are killed."
Mia did not move an inch.
Red sighed and went in for the kill. "You won't be able to dance either, Mia."
That produced a reaction in her. Pushing herself away by an inch, Mia stared into Red's eyes. He was telling the truth, or at least, what Red thought was the truth. Dancing was to her like breathing was to humans. Being forced away from it was kind of…. blasphemous to an empathic species like herself.
At least that is something. He mused. Time for the carrot.
"How about this? Let me go out there for a month or two, okay? I'll get an idea about how it is, and will know how to handle things better than I do now. I'll also have a team to keep away wild pokémon."
Mia nodded slowly. The idea did seem slightly better than the previous one.
"Meanwhile, you can stay here, dance to your heart's content, and practice your psychic techniques. Grow stronger. Strong enough to survive out there. That way, the next time we meet, I'll have no problem taking you with me. Fair enough?"
Mia had a sneaking suspicion that Red was forcing words in her mouth, but somehow, she couldn't help but go along with the flow.
"Fair deal, right?" Red repeated.
"Great." He hugged the kirlia tightly for a moment. Mia's mind tuned into the sudden happiness Red was feeling, smiled and hugged him back.
"So… everything at hand?" Oak asked.
"Yep. Got my backpack ready, extra food, supplements, meds, a knife, and ropes. A spare tent and an extra bag. I'm all set."
Red patted his pokébelt softly, pointing towards the contraption attached to the belt in which the pokédex was currently stored. Besides the contraption, there were eight empty pokéballs, shrunk and fit into their respective slots.
"I have registered it to your name and Trainer ID. It will also reveal me as your Ranch Sponsor. In case you run into some trouble, feel free to use my name. I'd like to think it still means something out there. I'd request you to not overdo it though."
"Come on, old man. Who do you think I am?"
Oak didn't reply to that taunt. "Anyway, when you get to Viridian City, the first thing you need to do is register for the Indigo Circuit. You can get most of the Indigo Conference data from there. And please, do not go crazy and catch everything that comes in front of you. Catching them is important, but building and maintaining a team even more so."
"Don't worry, professor. I will."
"Then goodbye." Oak smiled. "And take care of each other. You too Mawile."
"Thanks, professor. And you tell mom to take care as well." Red waved, as he and Mawile began walking down the grassy path that led to the outskirts of the little valley that was Pallet Town. It would be a start to a new and exciting journey, one where he would capture the strongest pokémon and fell the strongest champions, one where he would stand at the top and Gary would look up to him in admiration, where he was as famous as Oak and as respected, he would—
"Look out for that—"
"...tree." The old professor winced, staring at his pupil with sad eyes.
"Ehhh, sorry Mawile, didn't see that coming. Anyway, let's get going." Red apologized, with a bright smile before continuing to walk off.
Oak watched them go. Seeing his student and his newest starter vanish past the end of the road, he glanced back towards Mia who was forlornly gazing at the road Red had just crossed.
"Don't worry," he told the kirlia, "He is going to do great."
Mia didn't respond. She just continued to stare at the empty road in front of her.
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