±: Out of Your LEAGUE :±
±: Part 4 :: Inside Mt. Silver :±
±: By PinkFalcon :±

Warning: This thing is MASSIVE! Fifteen pages in Microsoft Word, size 8 Verdana font! -wipes brows- Had a good time writing it though. And I did a pretty damn good job of it too, if I may say so myself. Ooh, that reminds me. There are a few curse words in here. Hey can you blame me? This IS a dark fic!

Disclaimer: Am completely unresponsible for the longness it took to create this chapter. Also, do not yet own Ash Ketchum. Give me some time, school let's out in a week . . .

Author's Note: Um, my really big ANs are at the bottom. I just wanted to apologize in advance for taking so long, and wish you all, um, enjoyment? Er, sure. I wanted to wish you all enjoyment in reading this chapter. So kick back! Have fun with it! It's pretty long, so go fetch me and you a soda or two (HA! It rhymes!) and enjoy! Katie (wordpainter), I wanted to give you a special tiny pink Igglyfluff for helping me along with this fic so much. -glomps- THANK YOU! Oh, and you two, Deanna, for sitting in the car with me that wild night on our way to Wal-Mart, when I felt the urge to reiterate OYL's entire plotline to you, complete with various slang and accents. Man, I was wacky. ("And Gary was like, 'Dude, no! Dude, don't do that, you whack! Dude, just, just calm down . . . ;) Oh, and Mr. Bagby says that when opossum is written it's "an opossum" and when you say it you say "a opossum [a possum]). He laughed when I asked him that. Oh, and Erin (Siriusly Amused), I wish you the best of luck in deciphering this fic. YOU CAN DO IT! I KNOW YOU CAN! -hands over a shiny pink Igglyfluff and a taco to fuel her brain- GO ERN! Okay, all, enjoy!

±: IV :±

Pale purple scales flashed in the florescent light illuminating the LEAGUE's main research laboratory as a fairly small Slowking cocked his large head at his partner's continual telepathic message. The lab around him was silent, pierced occasionally by a solitary harsh whisper. No one was even pretending to work anymore. Since Wisdom had reiterated every word of Brock's sad tale, as heard through none other than Professor Oak, all research and code breaking of the Scrolls' runes had ceased as technicians waited with bated breath for the outcome of the trial taking place just down the hall. Would a murderer be set free to walk among them? Would an innocent boy be sentenced to death? Though opinions differed, everyone's anticipation added to the overall anxiety of the room.

After what seemed an eternity of silence, Wisdom's mahogany brown eyes snapped back into focus as his face stretched into a wide grin. Two simple words put the lab into an uproar:

"He's free."

Shouts of approval and disgust mingled together indistinguishably in the large lab, and next door, and across the hall, as TeeKayed Pokémon easily and instantly spread the news. Imrah Teck, a young prodigy not yet eighteen, was relieved that his mentor's young friend from Pallet was acquitted, but he also understood the extent of the professor's wrath if their work here wasn't done soon.

He could try and get the lab under control . . . or he could give Oak a heads-up and let the revered professor take care of it instead. The choice wasn't a difficult one. Lifting his Smeargle partner, Italiks, to his shoulder, Imrah headed for the door.

What he saw in the hallway made him stop short. Grumbling and laughing people, most Masters, were pouring from the Board room. Most were headed for the food court, but a few turned his way. Among them was Dr. Nealyn, a good friend and colleague, Agents Slate and Waterflower, two of Imrah's favorite people working for the LEAGUE, and a young man dressed in plain black Master's robes, watching a Pikachu purr in content from the arms of Agent Waterflower.

Imrah watched them approach from the open doorway in revered silence, his eyes on the man in black. Asheron Ketchum, the professor's longtime friend, wanted murderer. Imrah had heard nothing but good things about him from the professor, and only mixed, fond feelings from Brock and Misty. Imrah wasn't easily swayed by the paper-reading populace who seemed to think of Ketchum as the worst thing to happen to them before Kassin—and since Giovanni. In fact, Ketchum's history fascinated young Imrah. A more than promising young Trainer, suddenly and unexpectedly gone berserk enough to slaughter a good friend and his Pokémon without warning, witnessed by none and yet believed unconditionally by all. A man who had Joined with a Pikachu more powerful than a Zapdos. A man foretold by scripture. Who on Earth could be more intriguing?

They were drawing closer. Ketchum glanced down as he passed, and Imrah found himself staring into two soft, guarded golden-brown eyes. Hadn't the professor always spoken of the way Ketchum's eyes seemed to give away more of the boy's feelings than he would have liked? But Ketchum was one of the most feared men on the planet! How could a killer's eyes be so warm?

Ketchum's gaze breezed once over the Smeargle hanging comfortably from Imrah's shoulders, and he looked back to give Imrah one tiny, barely perceptible nod and a smile before he was gone. Imrah and Italiks watched his retreating back until the quartet rounded a corner.

"Not what you were expecting?"

Imrah turned to see Professor Oak standing a few feet away, watching him with a small smile on his aged face. "Hardly ever is," the professor continued. "What people expect, I mean. If you think he looks too young and kind for a criminal now, just imagine him before six years on the run in the wild had a chance to leave its mark.

Imrah didn't know what to say to that. He remembered the yellow mouse curled comfortably in Agent Misteara's arms. "The Pikachu—" he began, but Oak's laugh cut him off. Italiks informed him of the smell of approaching food.

"Beautiful, isn't he? You can practically feel the electricity flowing just beneath that rippling golden fur. And the loyalty! They'd die for each other in a heartbeat, you know. And to think, that mouse couldn't bear the thought of answering to Ash when they first met."

Imrah smiled at the mention of his favorite story. Orphaned at the tender age of seven, Imrah had never been offered the chance to officially Train. Italiks, the baby Smeargle he had rescued from a dumpster deep in interior Goldenrod years before its destruction, had always been his only Pokémon. He'd never needed nor wanted another. It hadn't surprised him when they'd Joined only a few weeks before Professor Oak took them in. "It's not every day an old fart like me finds a prodigal street urchin wandering Goldenrod Joined with a grey Smeargle," he had said. Life in a lab, Imrah had decided long ago, was much better than life in the streets.

"Hungry?" Oak's eyes were on Tracey Sketchit, who was approaching from the direction of the food court. A few steaming bags and boxes were balanced precariously in his arms, and an aged Scyther, trotting almost comically at his Master's heels, even had a box of his own resting on his flattened blades.

"Sorry," Tracey panted when he arrived. "Court was packed—the food one, I mean. It was like a mall in the old days, on Christmas Eve." Professor Oak laughed at the comment, and Imrah smiled. He didn't remember the old days as well as he would have liked.

They entered the lab and Oak was immediately bombarded by angry lab technicians and scientists. Professor Westwood, having also attended the trial, was backed up to a wall by a mob of angry men and women in white lab coats, trying to convince him that Ketchum's release was a good thing. Oak's crowd was the opposite.

"What the hell were they thinking?"

"How could they do it? How?"

"He's on the loose! He could murder us all in our sleep!"

"Aren't you going to do something about this?"

"What if Imrah was his next victim? Would you still back him then?"

Oak's eyes flared at the last comment, and the scientist responsible shut her mouth. A few others quieted as well. Imrah was like family to Oak, that much was well known. But so was Ash.

"If Asheron Ketchum ever, ever, hurt more than a bloodsucking insect with his own hands, I would publicly eat my coat," he said sternly. "I think I'd know him a little better than some scientist from Houen who read a biased article or two about him. Now, all of you, discuss this case on your own time. You're not paid to gossip, so study those runes! Drake wants a complete analysis no later than nightfall tomorrow! Now go!"

When Imrah turned to join them, Oak stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. "Not you. You need to eat, worker ant. Wisdom tells me that, despite your overwhelming concern for Ash's well-being, you managed to crack one of the runes' hidden meanings during the trial. You, at least, deserve a bit of a rest."

Imrah gratefully joined the professor and Tracey at a cluttered lab table near the door. He listened silently to the two talk for a while, nibbling at his food as he tried to mull over a few things with his partner. Italiks was starving, and was too busy eating to contribute much, but Imrah didn't mind. When was the last time they had broken away from their work on the runes long enough to enjoy a full meal like this? It wasn't long, however, before talk turned to Ketchum.

"I'm just glad he's back," Tracey was saying, helping his fingerless Scyther eat. "And I didn't even know him as well as Brock and Misty. They must be ecstatic, and Ash too."

"Mmm," said Oak thoughtfully. "I don't know. He used to be the picturesque people-person, but after watching him stand up to those wolves in that Board room I'm not so sure anymore. He's changed a lot over the years. I just hope some of it's for the better."

"But he's on our side, right?" Tracey asked, looking up at Oak. Wisdom joined them then, and Oak handed him a box of steaming food. He didn't stay to eat, but returned to a paper-ridden work station with it instead.

"I hope so," the old man said. "If I were Ash, though, I'd have joined with the side least likely to shoot me in the back when my objectives were complete, given my options. That very well may be the Eidolon, in this case."

"No," said Tracey, "I spoke with Misty earlier. She told me what happened. She said she'd never seen Kassin direct so much anger and open hostility toward anyone before, and she's faced him enough to know. And from the way she said it, Ash didn't seem too jovial at their encounter either."

"Does Ash know about his father?" Imrah interjected. "Does he know Cypress fights at Kassin's right side? Might that explain a little of it?"

Oak sighed heavily. "I'd imagine so. It may explain his reluctance to join either side—or it may not. Cypress and Ash were never exactly what you would call close."

Imrah nodded. Oak had told him long ago that Cypress had left his family shortly after Ash was born, had had never returned to Pallet since. Oh, he had sent cards and letters and the like, but he never bothered to call or visit. Ash and Delia stopped hearing from him altogether when Ash was nine, and the future Trainer hadn't seemed to take the sudden split too personally.

"From what I hear, though, Cypress and Kassin are more loosely allianced enemies than good friends," Tracey said with a glance at Oak. "Think Ash knows the two don't get along?"

"I think Ash knows a lot more about both sides than anyone can give him credit for," Oak replied. "Pokémon are an excellent news line."

"But what keeps Cypress on Kassin's side?" Tracey wanted to know. "Drake's been trying to get his brother to switch since this whole war began."

Oak sighed again, and ran a gnarled hand though his grey hair. "I don't know," he said wearily. "I knew Cypress Ketchum well. He grew up in Pallet too, you know, before he left to Train and met Delia. He's more like his son than either of them will ever know."

±: IV :±

Glayr Katsura raked his hands through his midnight black hair, his emerald eyes roving up and down the paper Kassin had handed him. To his right he heard his brother drumming his fingertips on the hard wooden table. Kassin was near the wall opposite them, which was actually one enormous tank for his TeeKay. Glayr looked up from his calculations to see Kassin tracing a pattern in the condensation collecting on the chilled class. Upon further inspection, he saw the pattern was actually an aerial layout of the far west end of Johto. He glanced over to see that Cindyr was falling asleep on his hand. Kassin finished adding minute houses to Cianwood City and adjusted his footing.

"Where is Cypress?" he asked, now concentrating on labeling the individual islands in a large bay.

"We haven't seen him since we got here," Cindyr yawned.

"He was Battling his Raichu against an idiosyncratic Wobbuffet," said Glayr, glancing up. "Infyrno says he is now challenging a black Gyarados."

"Ivy," mumbled Kassin. He stepped back to admire his handiwork. "The Whirl Islands," he said softly.

"What of them, sir?" asked Glayr.

"They're where our final confrontation is to take place."

"Concerning us and . . ."

"Ketchum." Kassin paused for a moment, then added, "And Waterflower, if necessary."

"What of Slate, Cytris, and the rest of their diminutive group?" Glayr wanted to know.

"They'll be there," Kassin said absently, still deep in thought. "Ah, here we are," he said suddenly. "This whirlpool is further west . . ."

Glayr and Cindyr watched their master smudge out a spot and redraw it a little to the left. The previous mark was immediately frozen over again by a slight nod from Kassin.

"Do you have a plan, then?" asked Cindyr.

"Of course." Kassin turned and smiled evilly, Icewing's enormous form floating eerily into view behind him. Together the pair looked . . . frightening.

"And what is our role in it?"

"You two," Kassin grinned, "are to blow up an island."

"You're kidding." Cindyr was staring at him with his mouth open, now fully awake. "An entire island?" A smile was tugging at his lips.

"Which one?"

"This one." Kassin pointed to the top right roughly drawn landmass, smudging it a little. "Silver Rock Isle."

"Surely you're not serious," protested Glayr, not nearly as excited by this opportunity as his brother. "An entire island? Exactly how many explosives do you have? This tiny list is hardly adequate."

"Quadruple everything on that list," said Kassin, taking a seat across from the twins, "and we'll still have a surplus. Icewing and I have been preparing for something like this for years now. Everything is in place but the explosives. My men are getting into position and Kir is making final preparations in the LEAGUE as we speak; he spoke with me directly after Ketchum's trail."

"Really." Glayr looked startled. "And he was acquitted?"

"Of course. Drake's still in charge. He won't kill his nephew, no matter how much he knows he should. Lock him up forever, fine, but he won't kill." Cindyr snorted.

"I remember Drake," he smiled. Glayr had returned to the paper in front of him. "Sympathetic, understanding Drake. He hung out with Grandpa for a while, back when he still had his little Orange League. Remember, Glayr?" He nudged his brother with an elbow. Glayr nodded negligently. He appeared deep in thought.

"Tell me, sir," he said suddenly, "why you would prefer this be done? An entire island, and the home of the fabled Lugia, no less."

"It's one of the smallest there," Kassin shrugged, leaning back in his chair. "Besides, you two have had your sights set on the LEAGUE for quite some time now. That's in a mountain."

"All we have to do there is eradicate a few walls and the entire structure will collapse, crushing them," said Glayr, looking over his glasses. "All they did was dig it out of the rock and pour in concrete for added support. This island project will require a lot of very precise planning."

Kassin grinned. "I trust that together, your two conniving minds can come up with something."


"Can it be done?"

"I believe so, but—"

"Then do it."

Glayr and Cindyr exchanged glances; Glayr was frowning and Cindyr was grinning widely.

"Yes, sir."

±: IV :±

Misty had forgotten how soft Pikachu's fur was. She was amazed at the silky feel of his saffron coat as she ran her hands through it, slowly tracing the velvety chocolate bands with a gentle fingertip. Pikachu purred in content, stretching out lazily in her arms and rolling over to expose the even finer fur of his almost white stomach. Misty smiled and unconsciously glanced at Ash, who was walking along silently beside her, staring straight ahead with his eyes unfocused. For a moment she dimly wondered if he could feel her grooming through their link, but this thought was quickly replaced by the innocent curiosity of what Ash's midnight black locks could feel like, should she give them the same treatment. Both ideas were quickly shoved from her head, however, as she cleared her throat and tried to concentrate on what Brock was saying.

"And then Drake summoned Kade, his Dragonite," Brock was saying, "but even she wasn't enough to win the battle, and Lance's Dragonite were out already. That's when Misty arrived." He smiled and winked at her, his gaze closely followed by Ash's curious one as the younger boy realized there was a break in Brock's speech. Then Brock turned back to him.

"Misty had been away on another mission with a few of our best agents," he explained. "She came back just in time to direct her agents to a victory. Without her, the Plateau might now be Kassin's."

Misty sighed in relief as Brock concluded his tale. She wasn't exactly embarrassed by her actions in that battle, but she didn't like to have to listen to people boasting about them later. Sure, the fight had been close, and yes, she had saved it, but she hated reliving it with every new person she met. Why did everyone always have to remember her solely as the woman who had saved the Plateau?

The trio was walking side by side down a wide, plain white hallway, following Nealyn, who was a few steps ahead. The doctor was taking Ash to see his old Pokémon, and Misty knew this might cheer her old friend up a bit. He had looked uncomfortable, and the people they passed on their way to the Pokémon enclosure didn't help much. If they didn't back away in fear they wanted to talk to him, and Misty could tell by the way he was acting that he simply didn't want to interact with anyone. Not now, anyway. Misty briefly wondered how all of this seemed to him, how after six years of seclusion Ash was taking all of the sights and smells and actions of the people he was forced into meeting and associating with. The problem was, he had closed up so much in his solitude that she couldn't really tell what he was thinking at all, only that he didn't like his surroundings.

"So . . . what's happened with you two since . . . that thing?" asked Ash tentatively. Misty felt a pang of guilt slash through her chest. He seemed so hesitant to speak around them, and they had been his closest friends. They still were. Why wouldn't he loosen up, around them at least?

"Well," Brock sighed, "that depends. What exactly do you want to know?"

"You know very well what he wants to know," said Nealyn suddenly, turning his head around for a moment. "Tell him about the lovely Mrs. Slate, Mr. Slate."

Brock laughed, and promptly turned a light shade of pink. Ash was watching him curiously. Brock turned to him and asked, "Is that really what you want to know?" Misty could have been imagining it, but she thought Ash's eyes flickered briefly over to her before he nodded.

"Well, all right then. Hm, how to begin this . . ."

"Who is it?" Ash asked.

"Who do you think?" smirked Misty, pinching the fur below Pikachu's neck and smiling at the soft purr he made.

"Oh," Ash trailed off. "Suzie?"

"How did you ever guess," said Misty dryly. Brock laughed again. Ash looked confused.

"But I thought . . . Zane . . ."

"Yeah, me too," said Brock. "They were dating up until he was killed in the battle for the Plateau."

"He was killed?" Ash looked shocked. Pikachu stopped purring suddenly and Misty could feel him tense. She immediately resumed her grooming and watched as Pikachu once again let his chocolate eyes slide shut in satisfaction. She thought she could see Ash relax a bit as well.

"He was caught in the blast that destroyed some of the rock supporting the Plateau," Brock explained. "The Smoke Sons got a little carried away on their abundant supply of ammunition, I presume."

"Yeah, I remember that," said Ash softly. "Three Gligar and an Aerodactyl were killed in that blast," he added at their inquiring looks, looking a bit embarrassed. "A lot of innocent Pokémon were killed there."

"Yes, that was mostly Kassin's doing," sighed Nealyn. "Though I can't say the LEAGUE didn't make a few miscalculations. Here, it's just down this hall and a set of stairs, Ash." He led them around a corner as Brock finished his story.

"Well, Zane was killed in the blast. Suzie turned to me for condolences, surprisingly, and we just . . . got together, I guess. We've been married a little over eight months now."

"Hm," was Ash's only reply as he resumed staring with his eyes unfocused. Nothing much was said on the thin stairway, until footsteps were heard quickly approaching, accompanied by a pair of voices. Pikachu stirred in Misty's arms and twisted around to look at Ash, who glanced once at him and shrugged. Misty sighed. She wanted desperately to know what the two said to each other all the time, and wondered why they never really talked aloud.

Do you talk aloud to me when we converse? asked Feraligatr suddenly. Misty started slightly.

Since when were you awake? She had been so busy observing Ash and Pikachu that she hadn't even noticed her partner's return to consciousness. Feraligatr chuckled and Misty could feel herself blush. Sometimes she hated having the ability to read someone's mind, and vice versa.

She had to stifle a groan when she realized who the approaching voices belonged to. Nealyn waved to the pair in a friendly greeting and continued on, until he became aware that everyone behind him had stopped. He paused to see what the commotion was about.

"Well," smiled Jessy Kojirou, crossing her arms and leaning into James. "If it isn't the Twerp and his friends, the Twerpette and—you know, we never really did come up with a good name for you." She pointed to Brock, who rolled his eyes.

"'The Older Twerp' seemed to suit you just fine," he commented dryly. Jessy grinned.

"That's right, I remember now." Misty couldn't help but glare as she and James turned to Ash. Pikachu was stiff in her arms, and had rolled over so that he could lay comfortably right-side-up. Damn it, Ash didn't need this now!

"So," drawled James, "I see you and that rat of yours finally decided to Join."

"I see you and your girlfriend finally decided to join something too, though I thought you'd be headed in a bit more in the direction of Saffron," replied Ash smoothly. Jessy and James grinned.

"We decided this side offered a bit more protection," said Jessy evenly, still smiling. "Kassin was a just a bit too obsessed with that whole 'world control' thing for our taste. We just want to be rich, and we can't do that under his rules."

"I see." Ash smiled suddenly, but it wasn't the same innocent, almost tentative smile Misty had seen when she had offered to hug him. This one was colder and a bit more cynical, almost as if the two were teasing each other. Misty's worst fears were confirmed when James reached over and slapped Ash on the arm, who instinctively flinched but made no other gesture of surprise. Jessy and James began to laugh suddenly.

"So, how's it been, Twerp?" jested Jessy. "I heard you got yourself into quite the fix on Cinnabar. Didn't take our advice, I follow? We told you never to get caught on an island."

"I had outside transport," defended Ash. "A Blastoise was waiting for me down on the beach. I just had to get there."

"So you decided to blow up half the island?" coaxed James, eyebrows raised. Ash cleared his throat, his eyes breezing over the top of James's head.

"Since when do you wear your hair in a ponytail?"

"Since we quit Team Rocket and got married," James replied, pulling Jessy closer.

"About time," said Ash dryly. Misty and Brock watched the exchange in confusion. The three acted like—almost like they were friends. Misty's eyes widened in astonishment as she saw Ash relax more fully—more so than he had with her and Brock—and clasped James's hand firmly in his own for a welcoming friendly handshake.

"Do you three know each other?" Nealyn inquired suddenly. Misty looked over to see him tugging on his greying goatee in thought. "I mean," he said with a wave of his hand, "do you three know each other, besides the Team Rocket status."

"Of course." Jessy looked surprised. "After you two kicked him out of all known existence, who better could he turn to for help in living like an outlaw?" She smiled evilly. "I mean, he couldn't ask you guys for help."

±: IV :±

"I mean, he couldn't ask you guys for help."

The words made Ash freeze. It was a fact that had been floating about in everyone's mind lately, but no one had had the courage to say anything about it, Ash knew. Misty and Brock looked around guiltily, fixing their eyes anywhere but on him. Why did Jessy always have to stir up so much trouble, he thought bitterly.

You would have had to bring it up sooner or later, said Pikachu calmly from Misty's arms. Ash saw a faint image of himself in the back of his mind. Pikachu was looking up at him curiously.

Yeah, well, why did it have to be now? he responded.

Misty's been looking at you strangely since the trial, Pikachu reminded him. She knows you're not comfortable with them.

Are you?

That's not the point.

Says who?

Stop changing the subject.

And what is the subject, exactly?

Pikachu sighed. Why won't you just forgive them already? They were confused. Brock said it himself back in the Board room; he doesn't like what he did to you back then. Get over it.

Ash glared at the mouse, who had curled back up in Misty's arms. He wished she would resume her petting him; it felt nice, even if he could only feel it through their link.

You're pitiful, chuckled Pikachu, closing his eyes and nudging his head under Misty's hand like a common cat. Misty immediately took the hint. Ash didn't have much time to dwell on the faint tingly sensation of her fingers roaming up and down his back, however, as he now noticed how everyone was watching him uneasily, even Jessy and James.

"Look, Ash—" Jessy began apologetically, but Ash silenced her.

"Where are you going?" he asked, ignoring Misty as she tickled Pikachu's chin. Pikachu was sending him perverse messages, and he promptly told the mouse to cut it out or he wouldn't be getting much ketchup in his meals, now that the condiment was once again available to them.

"We just came from the Research Lab," said James, stuffing his hands in his robes pockets. "Our shift is over. Meowth is waiting for us up in our dorm."

"You guys still have Meowth?" Ash asked.

"Well, not exactly, no," said James thoughtfully. "I suppose we don't, but we still call him that. Now that I think bout it, though, I can't imagine why we didn't change his name when he Evolved—"

"Jim, you're babbling again," snapped Jessy. She turned back to Ash. "Meowth is now a Persian, but, you know, old habits die hard. Now, if you'll excuse us, he's waiting upstairs for us with Billy, and we need to put the boy in bed soon or he'll tear the place apart."

"Yes, yes, you're right," said James as they moved passed Ash and Misty. "Meowth isn't a very good babysitter, is he? Remember that time he took Billy down to Teck's lab and taught him how to use a marker?"

"Yes, James, I remember," Ash heard Jessy reply as they rounded the bend in the stairway and disappeared from sight. Ash was a bit stunned. Billy? Was the former Team Rocket now raising a child? Oh that poor, poor kid . . .

"You coming, Ash?" Nealyn asked. Ash looked up to see him climbing down the stairs again and he quickly followed, flanked by Brock and Misty. "It's just through this door and passed another enclosure, on the other side of the Pokémon Center. We still have all of them here in the LEAGUE, but I don't know if they're all here presently. I understand your Pidgeot and his family have been working with Sketchit on his scouting, and Lapras likes to stay in an underground lake deep inside Mt. Silver. As I understand, she's raising a family of her own, and doesn't want her offspring to become LEAGUE vessels for their entire lives. And your Charizard stays on Lance's belt most of time. He's an excellent fighter and Lance likes to use him on the more advanced Trainers when they graduate from his class. I believe there was one other that I can't quite recall, but I'm not sure . . ."

"Feraligatr," said Misty softly from Ash's right. He looked over at her, frowning.


"Your Totodile is now my um, partner," she said, even softer than before. "And your Squirtle—Wartortle now—is in my room. They've both been with me since Brock told me you wanted me to have them."

Ash was a bit stunned. Totodile was—was Misty's partner? But that meant—

He spent the time it took them to enter the Pokémon enclosure racking his brain for any memory of him telling Totodile anything when he was a kid. Had he really talked to the tiny Pokémon at all? He remembered Totodile as bouncy and a little too happy, not one to have a heart-to-heart with. He saved Pikachu for those, and sometimes Bulbasaur or Noctowl. Oh no, had he told them anything—?

All thoughts of Pokémon talks were swept out of Ash's head when he entered the enclosure. He looked around and was thoroughly disappointed. It was one wide, plain hall with enormous cages for walls, like prison cells. Long, thick bars, some gouged with deep claw marks, stretched from floor to a ceiling high enough to comfortably roof a Lugia, and the floor was made of a dull grey cement, also scattered with claw marks and a few burns. Ash looked up into a cage and locked eyes with an innocent-looking Flareon. He looked so miserable, curled up into a tiny ball in the far corner, watching the humans pass though bloodshot amber eyes. Ash felt a deep concern for the underfed Pokémon. Upon further inspection, he noticed all of the Pokémon looked underfed. What kind of Pokémon enclosure was this? Were his Pokémon in this condition? He felt a bit of anger rise in his chest. This was ridiculous!

He carefully made his way over to the Flareon's cage, completely oblivious to the way Nealyn strode down the hall in front of him, or how Brock and Misty each exchanged glances as he left their tiny group to examine the poor creature. Ash frowned at the state of the Pokémon's cage. Water patches covered the floor, as it did all the cages, and the entire stone ceiling looked like it had survived a fire, but barely.

The Flareon whined pitifully, and Ash felt another stab of anger. Was this how they treated his Pokémon? That over there, that skeleton of a Tauros next to the Flareon's cage, was that his?

"Hey," he cooed soothingly, curling his fingers around the cold metal bars and resting his forehead on the gap between two. "Hey, little buddy, do you want to come over here?"

"Um, Ash," said Misty softly.

"What?" he asked coldly, not bothering to turn around and face her. "Don't want me to see how underfed this poor guy is?"

"Well he wouldn't be underfed if he would eat," Misty snapped back. Ash could feel her arms tighten around Pikachu, who was sitting up and also staring at the Flareon.

"Ash, don't go over there," Brock warned. "These Pokémon are—"


Ash jumped back from the cage just in time to avoid permanently losing his eyesight to the Flareon's outstretched paws, which were clawing madly at his head as the Pokémon struggled to get through the bars. He managed to stick his small head through a little, and gnashed his tiny sharp teeth angrily where Ash's head had been just seconds before. Ash felt Pikachu on his shoulder; the mouse had leapt over to him instinctively, and electricity now fringed his body. What the—?

"That, my boy, is why we have that sign posted over there." Ash looked up to see Nealyn pointing to a cardboard rectangle nailed to the door they had just come through.


"This is the mad Pokémon enclosure," Nealyn explained at the confused look on Ash's face. "All these Pokémon in here were either recovered from the Eidolon and didn't want to convert to the LEAGUE's rules, or are truly insane. Take that Flareon, for instance. He's a man-eater, and a smart one. Lures people closer to him by acting scared and lost, then uses Agility to Attack, much like he just did to you."

Ash stared at the Flareon in astonishment. The Pokémon's sudden movements had awakened a few other captives, and Ash could hear a Primate screaming angrily at a thin Stantler a few cages down. The Flareon had calmed down a bit though, and seemed to be content just hanging onto the bars at about Ash's eye-level, glaring at him as low growls pulsed through his rigid throat.

"That Flareon is unTrainable; it came from Blaine's belt," said Brock softly, laying a hand on Ash's free shoulder. Ash allowed himself to be steered away. "All the Pokémon in here are truly unbalanced, Ash. Forget them for now."

"Wait, what about that one?"

Ash's eyes had fallen on an enormous Fearow sleeping peacefully in one of the cages, and he dimly noted that the cage on either side of it was completely empty. The large bird slowly opened one beady black eye to stare at him as Ash walked over, oblivious to the puddles of water the hem of his cloak was brushing.

"Ah, that one," Nealyn sighed, following Ash over. "There's just something not right about that one. Oh sure, he's gentle enough now, but only to the right people. He's fine with me, a few Joys, and Dr. Knoquin, the leading Pokémon physician here, but he won't let Brock or Misty near him."

Ash glanced back to see that his friends were waiting patiently on the other side of the hall, talking tightly in voices intended for Ash not to hear. Pikachu silently offered Ash his ears, but the human refused. He honestly didn't want to know what they were saying, especially if it was about him.

"Here, said Nealyn suddenly, "stick your hand through the bars. He might like you. But be careful; he liked Brock and Misty first too. Then one day he simply refused to let them near him."

Ash watched in astonishment as the Fearow uncurled his long neck from its resting place beneath a wing and blinked at him through cold, intelligent eyes. He studied the human for a moment before cautiously extending his neck in Ash's direction. The bird had to shuffle forward a few steps to come close enough, his long taloned feet skidding slightly on the slick cement floor. Ash beckoned him closer, and was finally rewarded as the Fearow studied his outstretched hand a moment before warily leaning into it, allowing Ash to stroke the small, soft brown feathers just beneath the Fearow's eye, which he closed in pleasure. Brock and Misty had stopped their conversation behind him to watch.

"Well, he seems to like you," Nealyn observed. Ash silently agreed.

"But why is he kept in here?" he asked aloud. "He seems harmless to me."

"To you," said Nealyn emphatically. "To you, and to me, and to the afore mentioned people. But if Misty, say, were to attempt what you're doing, the Pokémon would probably snap her head off. Mew knows he's tried."

Ash immediately shoved the mental image from his head and swallowed hard. This bird had tried to kill Misty? But he looked so harmless . . .

"But why?" Ash asked. "Why won't he allow certain people near him?"

"Who knows?" Nealyn shrugged. "He's a mute. The only sounds he makes are screams and war cries when he's angry."

A plan was beginning to form in Ash's mind. "Doctor," he said politely, "do you think maybe I could try and talk with him? Maybe I could get something you couldn't. Is there a key to get in there?"

Nealyn looked positively shocked. Behind him, Pikachu glanced back and Ash saw Misty's head snap up at him in surprise.

"Ash, you can't be serious," she said matter-of-factly. "That bird is dangerous!"

Ash didn't turn around as he continued to stroke the Fearow's cheek feathers. "He doesn't seem so dangerous to me."

"What about your other Pokémon?" Brock wanted to know. "I thought you wanted to see them."

"And I will," said Ash patiently. "I just want to know what's wrong with this Fearow. You guys go ahead without me; he might talk if you and Misty are out of the room, and he looks a bit uncomfortable around Nealyn." Indeed, Nealyn had just poked his hands through the bar and Ash had felt the Fearow stiffen beneath the older man's fingertips.

"But, Ash—" Misty pleaded.

"Go on, I'll be fine. You go too, Pikachu, just in case."

-Wouldn't it be safer if I stayed here with you?- Pikachu asked aloud.

"No; you can warn Misty and Brock if something happens."

"Ash." Nealyn had withdrawn his hand from the cage and was looking at Ash sternly. "Are you sure about this? I'd have to lock you in there; I can't take the chance of leaving the cage open for the Fearow to escape."

"Nealyn, I've interacted with nothing but Pokémon for the past six years," Ash reasoned. "Fearow included. Just trust me; I know what I'm doing. Besides, think how strong this Pokémon would be on your side. He could probably Fly two, even three people at a time."

Nealyn looked uncomfortable, but finally relented.

"All right, but on one condition; you give me your word you won't go into any of the other cages, no matter how innocent the Pokémon seem. I'll leave the keys with you in case you need to get out quickly." He pulled a large set from his pocket and concentrated on picking one out. "Here." He handed the keys to Ash. "This is the one for the Fearow. And Ash; be careful."

He walked over to an aghast Misty. "But, Nealyn, you can't be serious about this—"

"But I am, Misty," he said calmly, taking her gently by the arm. "Come along now; your arm is due for a checkup. Just trust him."

"Go on, Pikachu," Ash urged. Pikachu nuzzled Ash's neck briefly before scampering lightly down Ash's robes to the floor, only to hop up again onto Misty's shoulder. When Ash tried to feel her through their connection Pikachu promptly cut him off. Well fine then; two could play at that game.

He watched them exit the enclosure—Misty a little reluctantly—before turning back to the Fearow. The bird was watching him curiously with a slightly tilted head.

-Do you promise not to hurt me if I come in?- he asked in Fearow, hoping that would help. He wasn't sure any of the people working here could speak a particular Pokémon's language. Understand it, sure, but not actually form the words.

The Fearow's only response was to blink at him, but he withdrew his neck from the door and retreated back into the corner. Ash opened the door and entered, locking it behind him. He draped the wide metal key ring around his wrist for now, and slowly approached the Fearow. The Pokémon made no move to attack, only eyed him warily, his feathers fluttering slightly in agitation. Ash made soothing sounds and the Fearow grew calm again.

"Here you go, boy," he said softly, running his finger along the base of his long beak, which was about as long and thick as Ash's leg. "Do you like that?" he asked when the Fearow closed his eyes in pleasure. "Here, why don't you stand up so I can see how big you are—whoa! Not that fast boy, not that—" -Not that fast!-

The Fearow had unfurled his legs in a hurry, and was quickly pacing the room. Ash noticed with grim aggravation how the bird had to stoop in order to move, so great was he compared to the cage. Even with the Fearow's legs slightly bent, Ash only came up to his soft, rumpled breast feathers. The least these LEAGUE people could do was build him a larger cage.

"Hey, hey, calm down!" Ash laughed. He always felt more at ease with Pokémon, mad or not. The Fearow finally settled a bit, resting in the middle of the floor. Ash was almost pressed up against the back wall, as the Fearow had fully extended his neck and was busy nuzzling Ash's pockets, obviously looking for a treat of some kind.

"You're not mad," said Ash softly, rubbing the rubbery crimson frill on the top of the great bird's head. Then he felt the Pokémon suddenly stiffen beneath him. Glancing down and frowning, Ash's eyes grazed over a small patch of light pinkish skin slightly raised above the frill, between, two of the flaps. He froze too, his memories flooding his mind instantly. A scar. From a rock. But he had changed so much, and the Spearow had never really gotten a decent smell of him—he couldn't possibly recognize him now—

He had left his tattered old League cap in his side pocket.

The Fearow screamed in rage and swiped at him with a long, taloned foot at the same time that Ash shoved the bird away. He lost his footing on the slick wet floor and slipped, landing hard on his side and ducking even lower when he felt the breeze from the talons ruffle his hair. The Fearow screamed again, lifting up his long neck to Peck Ash, who had scuttled away on his elbows just in time, but he realized too late that he had backed himself into a corner.

The Fearow had pounded his beak into the ground with enough force to split the floor, and it was now stuck in the cement. Ash used this time to quickly roll around the bird, ignoring his cry of rage as he slipped the key ring off his wrist and realized that he now had no idea which one to use. There had to be at least fifty. There was a sudden loud cracking sound behind him, and he turned in time to see the Fearow slam into him, knocking the keys from his hands and pinning him up against he bars with his great weight. The tip of his beak was tinted red and looked soft from its blow to the floor. The Fearow tried to Peck him again, but Ash managed to use Agility to grab his beak and smack the sensitive tip hard with his palm, momentarily disorienting the Pokémon. He slammed the bird's head into the bar and scrambled back into the corner, groaning when he saw that the keys had skidded halfway across the hall, well out of his reach.

The bird was stumbling around, his eyes unfocused. Their racket had woken up most of the other Pokémon in the enclosure, and they were making so much noise that Ash could scarcely think. He was about to power up when he realized that not only was he surrounded by water, but that, in one way or another, it was connected on the floor to every other cage in the room. If he electrocuted the Fearow, he would electrocute everyone—and even if that did manage to get him out of this, he didn't think that would look to good in the Board's eyes.

"Pikachu!" he yelled aloud. The mouse was sleeping in Misty's arms again, completely oblivious to Ash's predicament, but he awoke with a start when Ash yelled his name. The Fearow was regaining his senses.

"Pikachu, what's wrong, boy?" Ash heard Misty ask, feeling her soft fingers stroke the fur at the base of his ears. "Did you have a nightmare?"

"Pikapi!" Pikachu yelled, scrambling from her arms. "Pikachupi, pika Pikapi! Chu pi!"

About time! said Ash angrily. You were supposed to be keeping watch for me!

You said you'd be fine!

Ash didn't have enough time to respond, as the Fearow had just swiped his thick, prickly tail at him, opening up a few scratches on the arms he threw out to protect himself. Spinning around, the Fearow immediately followed up with another Peck Attack, but Ash had predicted that. He ducked again, tossing up the Fearow's tail to throw the bird off balance. The Pokémon toppled over, but he landed squarely on Ash, who could scarcely breathe under his enormous weight.

Hold on, Ash! said Pikachu frantically. We're almost there! Ash could hear Misty, Brock, and Nealyn close behind his partner.

The bird rolled off and Ash performed a Dynamic Punch on his briefly exposed underbelly, sending the bird into a mad rage. The Fearow scrambled to his feet just as Ash did, and began lunging at Ash in a serious of Drill Pecks, which Ash had to concentrate very hard on to dodge. Without much room in the cage, he had very little space to work with, and if he got backed into another corner . . .

The door suddenly burst open, and in filed a panting Pikachu, Misty, Brock, and Nealyn. "Ash!" Misty and Brock yelled together, their eyes widening in shock at the scene before them. Nealyn dove for the keys, while Pikachu went for the Fearow's eyes, scratching madly.

It worked. The Pokémon was distracted by Pikachu long enough for Ash to duck away near the bars, Pikachu holding tight to the mad bird's shaking head with tiny paws. After a moment or two, though, the Fearow managed to shake off the mouse, and Pikachu went flying into the bars before collapsing in a heap near Ash's feet. Ash bent over to pick him up, but the bird wasted no time in scooping the human up with a wing and slamming him high up onto one of the side walls, pinning him effectively.

"Nealyn, hurry!" Ash heard Misty yell over the noise of the other Pokémon in the enclosure. The man seemed to be riffling through the key set, looking for the right one.

Pikachu leapt up from the floor and tried to pounce on the Fearow's head, but the bird only glanced down and pinned the small mouse to the floor beneath a huge foot, taking no care not to crush him.

Pikachu! Ash yelled, feeling the air being crushed from his own body by the wing, not to mention Pikachu's. No electricity! We'll shock everyone in the room!

Ash struggled, kicking out at the air beneath his feet and trying to unpin his arms from his sides. The Fearow seemed to be enjoying himself, holding one of his rivals two feet off the ground and crushing the other so simply beneath his foot. Ash could have sworn he had twisted his hard beak back into a grin.

"Got it!" Nealyn yelled suddenly. Brock grabbed it from him and shoved it into the lock, pushing the heavy door open with a grinding creak. Ash was losing consciousness; he could scarcely feel his body and he only dimly saw Brock, Misty, and Nealyn run into the cage and attempt to yank the enraged bird off of him. The Fearow wouldn't budge.

"Everybody out!" yelled Brock suddenly, reaching beneath his mud-brown robes. He was obeyed immediately. "Graveler, go!"

Ash couldn't breathe at all anymore. He felt his eyelids drooping shut as he faintly attempted one last time to unpin his arms. He couldn't even power up anymore, and he didn't think Pikachu was awake. He couldn't concentrate on anything, and his body was going strangely numb . . .

±: IV :±

"Everybody out!" Brock roared, and Nealyn and Misty quickly scrambled from the cage to watch Brock move to the entrance, pulling out a Pokéball. "Graveler, go!"

There was a blinding flash of red light and Brock's Graveler was there, just in time to yank the bird off of Ash before it started its infamous Drill Peck. Misty watched in dismay as Ash slumped to the ground, unconscious. His Pikachu didn't move when the Fearow's foot was wrenched from him as the Graveler pulled the bird into a far corner, wrapping his powerful arms tightly around the Fearow's body and effectively pinning its large wings to its sides. The Fearow screeched madly, raking its feet at the cement as it struggled to escape, but when Brock called out Golem to help suppress it it knew it was beaten, and resorted to fuming silently, its beady black eyes fixed madly on Ash.

Misty immediately rushed over. Ash had fallen into almost a sitting position, but he definitely wasn't conscious. Misty felt her throat contract. Oh Mew, at least let him be alive, she thought frantically. She had lost him once already, she didn't think she could survive losing him again . . .

Behind her, Nealyn was examining Pikachu, but Brock was next to her at Ash's side. "He's alive!" exclaimed Nealyn suddenly, "but only because Ash is! Here, there's nothing I can do for him right now . . ." He gently laid Pikachu on the floor and joined Misty and Brock at Ash's side. "We have to revive Ash," he said quickly. "Help me lower him to the floor, gently, now . . ."

Misty didn't need to be told twice. Together the three lowered Ash gently to the damp ground, Misty watching for any sign of life. He had to be okay, he just absolutely had to! After six years of wondering, six years of not knowing where he was or what he was doing or even if he was still alive, only to rejoin him and have him die before her very eyes? This was not right, Mew, this was not fair, this could not happen to her, not like this, not now, not today, not here, not when she was so close . . .

±: IV :±

"How in the nine hells could you just release someone like that?"

"Please, Koga, enough."

"But, sir, you're not even looking at the whole picture here. Your relation to Ketchum is hindering your judicial sight—"

Drake whirled around, dark maroon robes billowing, and stopped a startled Koga short with a pointed finger. "Damn it, Koga, I have had enough!" he scolded, his face set. "I've said it more than once now; you are dismissed. Harass me the formal way; there's a complaint box hanging from my door."

Gary watched the small scene with a smile. He had followed the pair from the Board room, hoping for a chance to inform Drake of some startling new information his department had recently drudged up in regards to one of the LEAGUE's agents, but he couldn't bring himself to interrupt Koga's constant barrage. It was too much fun to watch.

Drake fixed Koga with another angry stare for a moment or two longer, then turned to push open the door to his agency's top research facility. The lab was bustling with activity as scientists and researchers poured over the runes recently discovered by one of the field teams. A few stood at his sudden entrance, but he motioned them to continue working. The sooner they found the Scrolls, the better. Fighting a Scroll-bearing Kassin in addition to the maniac's Shadows was the last thing he needed.

His eyes fell on a cluttered table near the door, covered in lab equipment, food, and some empty beakers. Professor Oak, Tracey Sketchit, and Imrah Teck stood immediately in the presence of their leader, hurriedly wiping their hands on their robes and lab coats. Drake stifled a grin. He admired their professionalism.

"Sit down, sit down," he said with a gesture, joining them at Imrah's left side. The boy's Smeargle was sitting in his lap like a monkey, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in his paws, as his deep brown eyes watched Drake's movements. Italiks had always been eerily intelligent, connected to the brilliant dark-skinned boy as he was, Drake supposed he should have expected nothing less. The two contributed more than their fair share to the LEAGUE's intelligence.

Koga took the last seat beside Drake without asking, and Drake proceeded to ignore the annoying man. He knew better than to hope the Poison Master was joining them to contribute to the conversation. No, the idiot would start harping him again about Ketchum the moment Drake paused for breath. Gary Oak, meanwhile, was patient enough to wait his turn. He wandered off for the time being out of respect for Drake's privacy. Drake was reminded grimly of Koga's impertinence.

You could send him away, came Kade's voice from the Pokéball around his neck.

No, I that wouldn't look good in the eyes of my subordinates, Drake replied silently. I can't simply send someone away just because they annoy the hell out of me, no matter how much I may wish to.

Kade's next message had a tinge of laughter to it. True, true, but who would mind Koga's absence enough to complain?

Drake smiled inwardly, then allowed his eyes to focus on the professor, who was watching him patiently. He had a partner of his own, and respected Drake and Kade enough to allow them at least a few small luxuries. Drake gave him a small nod of thanks.

"How are the runes coming along?" he asked pleasantly. Oak wasn't fooled. He knew how anxious Drake was to find the Scrolls before Kassin.

"They're coming," the professor said with raised eyebrows. "Imrah here broke another one today. It was based loosely around an ancient language of Houen and seems to be equivalent to our word 'water,' though it seems to refer to some ancient deity as well. It's been a huge help, and I believe we're progressing much more quickly now."

"Good, good," said Drake agreeably. He looked at Koga from the corner of his eye. The Master was watching him closely.

"Sir, just hear me out," he began. "Ketchum—"

"We suspect the Scrolls are somewhere in the Orange Islands, or were," Oak interrupted loudly. Koga's jaw snapped shut in annoyance and Drake turned his attention gratefully back to him. "It's very possible they were moved. But they mention a lot of water, and I believe they have something to do with Lugia, which also makes the Whirl Islands a possibility. It's too early to tell yet."

"Fair enough," Drake replied. "You've made more than enough progress already. Could I possibly ask you to do one more favor?"

Oak smiled. "Of course."

"I need you to try and get hold of Delia Ketchum." Koga opened his mouth, but Drake simply talked over him. "I know how busy you are, but now that Asheron's here I need to keep a close watch on him and I have a feeling that that menial task will keep my hands full for the time being."

Oak thought Drake's last comment amusing. "Of course I can get hold of her, Drake. I know where she is. I can have a messenger Pidgey to her in a few days. She may even have brought a communicator."

"Excellent. Thank you. Now really, I must be going. I need to speak with Ketchum about his behavior—"

He was cut short by the sudden absence of absolutely everything as the lights flared for a moment. A generator somewhere began humming, and the lights returned for a moment or two before dimming significantly, flashing out again, and then returning to normal. Drake looked around. Gary was looking up at the ceiling, a pile of papers in his arms half looked-though and a frown on his face. The rest of the lab, though, was in turmoil.

"My work! My work! Dammit, I was so close!"

"Arrgh! Get that goddam generator fixed, Drake! And execute the moron who used the one downstairs without ample warning!"

Drake exchanged a grim look with Oak and Tracey. "Ketchum," they chorused, and then all of them stood, Koga and Imrah as well. Italiks automatically leaped up to the boy's shoulder.

"Dammit," Drake growled, "can't that boy keep himself out of trouble for an hour?"

Oak smiled and rounded the table to open the door for the head of the LEAGUE, who stomped over followed by Koga, Tracey, Imrah, and Gary. Shrugging, the professor said simply, "You forget, sir, who you're talking about. Trouble is the blood flowing through Ash's veins."

±: IV :±

Ash awoke to the realization that his head was resting on a damp surface, and that someone was calling his name.

"Ash, wake up!" a girl was pleading. "Please, Ash, come on! Mew, don't do this to me . . ."

"Come on, Ash," begged a male voice.

"Wake up," the girl said again. Ash frowned.

. . . Misty?

No, it couldn't be. Misty had abandoned him in his time of greatest need. Misty was gone, and so were all his other 'friends'.

. . . But it sounded like Misty.

"His Pikachu's stirring," a new male voice added. "He's coming to."

"Come on, Ash, just a little more . . ."

. . . Brock?

Someone was running their fingers through his hair. It felt strangely familiar, though magnified now. It almost felt as if it were Misty, petting Pikachu, only this time it wasn't Pikachu . . .

Everything came back to him in a mad rush. Kassin, Misty, the Board meeting, the Fearow . . .

His eyes flickered open, much to the surprise of those around him, and he shot upright, rubbing his head as it was immediately filled with wave upon wave of dull ache. He screwed his eyes shut again in pain, drawing in his knees and leaning his arms on them as he rubbed his head with his hands, waiting for the pain to subside. He couldn't breathe correctly; every rush of air in his lungs was painful, but he felt as if he would never get enough. He dimly realized that someone was patting him on the back, and someone else was rubbing his arm in concern. He hated all the physical contact, but in a way it was . . . comforting.

"Excellent, Ash, excellent!" Nealyn said from a foot or so away. "You're awake! Try and breathe slowly now, in . . . and out. In . . . and out. That's it . . ."

"Pikachu isn't moving!" Brock exclaimed. Ash was focusing all his concentration on shoving the pain out of his chest, but he was also painfully aware that he couldn't feel Pikachu's presence in his mind.

"Pick him up, gently," ordered Nealyn. "Ash, can you stand?" He didn't wait for an answer before he began tugging on Ash's arm. "Come on, Ash, we need to get you and Pikachu to the hospital wing as quickly as possible."

"Nealyn, I don't think he's breathing," Brock moaned.

Pikachu? Pikachu are you there? Pikachu?

"He's not answering me," Ash croaked. His throat felt raw.

"Come on, then, the Pokémon Center will do fine for now. It's right through this door . . ."

Nealyn helped Ash to stand and let him rest his weight on him as the pair made their way out of the Fearow's cage. Misty closed and locked the door behind them, and as soon as Brock had recalled his Pokémon the Fearow threw himself on the bars, crying madly. Ash ignored him. That damn Fearow. That damn Fearow. If he had seriously injured Pikachu . . .

Nealyn directed him out of the enclosure and into what had to be the Center, Brock and Misty close behind with Pikachu unconscious in Brock's arms. Nealyn pushed Ash gently over to a medical bed, indicating that he should sit, and Brock handed him Pikachu before joining Misty by the door, both looking extremely anxious. Nealyn was busy with a large machine, quickly hooking up wires and cords to what looked like a large amplifier, then bringing the wires over to Ash. "Hold these," was all he said.

Ash held Pikachu close, trying to reach him through their link. But no matter how hard he tried, Pikachu just wouldn't answer. Ash thought he could feel a very light buzzing in his mind that could be his partner's presence, but he really had no idea. Was Pikachu even alive? He couldn't feel him breathing. Ash could scarcely breathe himself, though not because he had almost suffocated earlier. He didn't know what he would do if Pikachu died, he just didn't know . . .

"Dr. Mynoss, what in Celebi's name do you think you're doing?"

Everyone looked up to see a Nurse Joy standing in the open doorway, looking over Misty's shoulder to see what was going on. "Is that—is he—" She looked aghast, staring at Ash with surprise in her eyes. Then she became angry. "Dr. Mynoss, I don't know what you're attempting to prove down here—"

"Please, Joy," interrupted Nealyn, "I am not doing this for my own benefit, I assure you."

"What are you . . . are you going to electrocute him?"

"I need to revive his Pikachu," Nealyn replied. He began fiddling with a lot of tiny knobs. Ash held Pikachu closer, touching the wires to his soft fur. Would this work? "Ash, make sure you're touching some of the wires as well," Nealyn instructed. "If I boost you as well, it should help Pikachu." Ash did as he was told, his mind buzzing. What if this didn't work? What if Pikachu never woke up? This was all his fault, he told himself angrily. If he hadn't insisted to talk to that stupid Fearow, Pikachu wouldn't be like this . . .

"Everyone stand back," said Nealyn sharply. Behind him the machine was whirring, gaining speed as the seconds rolled by. "All right, Ash, here goes." He pulled down an enormous lever.

The lights flared, unnoticed by anyone. Ash closed his eyes as the electricity flowed into him, racing up his arms and spreading throughout the rest of his sore body. He felt it attaching to him internally, rejuvenating him effectively and making him feel stronger, more powerful. They must have done this to him while he was unconscious, he realized, but he couldn't remember it, and over the past six years the only electricity he had had access to were a few batteries and a car or two. He didn't dare go near power plants for risk of accidentally knocking one out and causing a stir, and now there weren't many left, thanks to Kassin. He had never felt this much flowing into him before, and was pleasantly surprised at how good it felt.

Pikachu didn't stir in his arms, but Ash could feel him slowly waking up mentally. Ash felt waves of relief roll through him. Pikachu would be okay! He ran a finger over the fur running up Pikachu's nose and felt it twitch. Slowly, his eyes opened.

-Where am I?-

There was a sudden soft whooshing as everyone sighed in relief at once. "If a Pokémon partner is close to death," Nealyn explained, shutting off the power, "one can rejuvenate him with his Element." Ash nodded him a silent thanks, then turned to his partner.

Are you okay?

I think so. What happened? Did we kill the Fearow?

Ash smiled. No, of course not. Here, don't move around too much. You're lucky you didn't crack any ribs.

It feels like I did, Pikachu mumbled, curling up in Ash arms. Ash looked up to the quartet watching him expectantly. He wasn't used to explaining things to others anymore.

"Um, he says he's okay. His chest hurts. Will he be all right?"

Nealyn stepped forward and pressed two gentle fingers to what appeared to be random spots in the soft fur of Pikachu's chest. Ash held back a wince when he felt his own chest protest at the touch. "I believe so. No more strenuous activity for a while though, for either of you." He ruffled the mouse's head and smiled. "Well now, you two seem to be as accident prone as previously expected. Never thought I'd meet a pair like you."

Ash wasn't sure what he was supposed to say to that. His eyes traveled over to Misty, who was sharing a smug look with Brock, as if the two of them had just won some sort of bet. What exactly had those two told everyone about him?

"Well," Nealyn sighed, backing away a step and rearranging the stethoscope around his shoulders. "Still feeling up to seeing some of your Pokémon? The Pokémon Center is located between the Pokémon enclosure and the mad Pokémon. It's not far now at all."

Ash's eyes breezed over Misty again. "What about her? Didn't you say she needed some sort of checkup?"

Nealyn glanced back at her. Ash frowned as Misty pulled the sleeve of her left arm down further, the move almost subconscious. Brock was looking at her too. Joy was standing in the doorway, seemingly refusing to leave a criminal in her Center unsupervised. Misty flushed. "What? I'm okay for now, Nealyn, you can look at me later. Ash hasn't seen his Pokémon in years; I think that takes precedence over me."

Nealyn looked back to Ash, who was staring hard at Misty. Was she hiding something? "But we're already here. Or do you need to be in the actual hospital wing?"

"No," said Nealyn slowly, "this will do fine. I just need to change her bandage." He looked to Misty, who was now almost glaring at Ash.

"He can change it later," she said stubbornly. "You should see your Pokémon."

Now Ash was frowning too. "I can see them later. They've already waited six years, another half hour won't hurt."

"I'm fine for now. I just told you, I can wait."

"So can I. If you were injured because of me, you should be treated. My Attacks aren't to be taken lightly, especially for humans."

Misty's frown deepened, and Ash could almost feel her anger starting up. Nealyn, poor guy, backed up to stand beside Brock, who was watching the pair with a crooked smile on his face. "Is this normal?" the doctor asked in a loud whisper from behind his hand.

"More than you could possibly imagine," was Brock's smug reply. Ash and Misty ignored them completely.

"And who said the injury came from you?" Misty asked harshly. "I fought Kassin, remember?"

"Yes, but he didn't touch your arm."

"How do you know? You can't see everything, Mr. Pokémon Master."

"I can see what happens in a Battle, Miss Smug, and Kassin didn't touch you for more than a second. Why is it such a big deal?"

"Hey, you're the one blowing this way out of proportion. It's just my arm. There's barely anything wrong with it."

"Then why are you so adamant about keeping it a secret?"

"Who said I was keeping it a secret?"

Um, Ash—

Hush, Pikachu.

"Then why won't you let him change the bandage? Why is it such a big deal?"

"I never said it was a big deal! You did, you dolt! It's nothing!"

"Then let him change it and get it over with! There's no point in going there, then coming back for you!"

"No one asked you to come back, you lazy brute!"

"Oh, now we've digressed to name-calling, have we? Well two can play at that game, you stubborn witch!"

"I am not a witch, you inconsiderate ass!"

"Well hey, at least I have one!"

"Oh! Oh, you little bastard! Togetic, Smash him with a Rock! Go—"

"Ooooh, I think we've had enough now, you two," said a desperate Brock, rushing in to hold Togetic's 'ball closed. He reached a hand out to stay Ash, who had stood and was now facing Misty with an outstretched arm laced with electricity. Ash closed his hand with a huff and the electricity disappeared instantly. He then turned around and crossed his arms, glaring at the bed he had sat on. Pikachu scolded him aloud from his shoulder, and glanced back once to see Misty reluctantly clipping Togetic back to her 'Belt.

"Well," said Nealyn. "Well. That was interesting. Misty, why don't I just change it now and get it over with—"

"Keh. Fine, do what you want." She jerked her sleeve back, revealing a wound linen strip that stretched to her elbow. "See? No blood. I told you I was fine."

Nealyn stepped over to her, taking her arm gently in his hands and carefully beginning to unwind the bandage. "There was never any blood to begin with, remember? That's what worries me. Joy, could you fetch me some more linen, please? Thank you."

Ash glanced back at her despite himself, and Pikachu stopped his barrage from his shoulder with a shake of his head and a "pika, pika." What Ash saw made him spin around the rest of the way and freeze, his eyes widening and his stomach dropping to his knees. Pikachu's paws tightened on his shoulder.

Nealyn finished unwinding it and Misty grimaced despite herself when his fingers brushed her arm. The skin was whole, but definitely not fine. It was covered in what looked like a mottled bruise, but instead of black and blue it was an ugly black and yellow. A small scar seemed to brush it near her wrist, shining a deep, crimson red. It looked raw. Even Brock was staring.

"Misty," he said, "I don't think that's okay. What—"

"It's nothing," she said shortly, but she couldn't stop herself from holding it tenderly as Nealyn's fingers gently probed it.

"Does it hurt any worse?" he asked, glancing up at her. She gave him a barely perceptible nod, her eyes breezing quickly over in Ash's direction. "Hmm," the doctor continued. "It feels a bit rougher, as if the skin has lost even more moisture. I must admit, Misty, this wound stumps me. I don't know what to do about it, except wait and pray it gets better. Joy, the bandage. Thank you—"

"Wait." Ash stepped forward, his heart racing. "Misty, let me see it."

She glared at him. "No. I told you it was nothing and I meant it—"

"Misty, please." His serious tone made her pause. "This isn't nothing. This . . . this is what killed Blaine."

She froze. Joy gasped, and Nealyn and Brock stared at Ash in astonishment. He swallowed hard and took her arm.

"Gods, I tried so hard not to hit you. This Attack is meant for Shadows, Misty. It's a light that eats them from the inside out. In people it manifests and sort of spreads from the point of contact. I don't know why it's different, I really don't, but it was my last resort against that horde. I didn't know it did this until I learned Blaine died. I knew I hit him, but I didn't know it would kill him, so we experimented a bit on the corpses of LEAGUE and Eidolon battles. Gods, Misty, I'm so sorry . . ."

The room was silent. Ash ran a lightly shaking hand over Misty's charred skin, recognizing the feel of his own Element laced in her flesh. It was a horrible feeling, to recognize that within her. To know that he had put it there. Gods, why had she been hit?

A hand touched his shoulder, and Ash heard Brock's familiar voice break the silence. "Is it reversible?" Ash took a deep breath.

"I don't know for sure. I tried reversing it on the corpses, but it only sort of worked. I don't know if it was because they were already dead or what. I . . . I can try."

"Try." Nealyn's voice was the only one steady. "A lifeless corpse would have resisted. Misty won't. Try."

"But I don't know—"

"Neither do I. So try."

Nealyn took hold of Misty's uninjured arm and Ash's hand and dragged the pair over to the medical bed. He directed Misty to sit, then turned to Ash. "In theory, a Master should be able to draw his Element into himself. Just concentrate on drawing your electricity out of Misty. It's what you did on the corpses, correct?" Ash nodded numbly. "Do it again. Misty, you concentrate on . . . on Ash. Electricity. Both of them. I don't know, just concentrate. Pikachu, you come with me. Brock . . . pray."

He took Ash's partner and went to stand with Brock a few feet away. Ash looked back at him for a moment, then turned to lock eyes with Misty. To his surprise, she looked . . . well, she didn't look scared. Was hopeful the right word?

"Come on, Ash," she said softly, offering her arm. "You can do it, we both know you can. Quit stalling and just . . . just do it." He held her eyes a moment longer, trying to apologize. She may not look scared, and he may not have seen her in over six years, but he knew her well enough to pick up on the slight tremble in her voice when she spoke, and on the miniscule spark of fear rimming her aquamarine eyes. He took her arm and looked at it, then knelt in front of her, making himself comfortably stable on the balls of his feet. Taking a deep breath, he concentrated.

The energy stirred beneath his fingers. He could see it somehow, in his mind's eye. It was latched onto Misty's cells, eating them alive before spreading to the next in a desperate attempt to exist. Ash felt his brows furrow as he focused on calling that electricity back to him, back to join with its brethren and exist forever. The energy responded slightly, and everyone in the room saw Misty's arm and Ash's hands begin to glow a dull yellow.

Some of the energy beneath his fingertips rose to greet him, but Ash felt resistance. His frown deepened. The resistance . . . it was from inside of him, not Misty. He was filled already. He couldn't take anymore yet. First he . . . he had to give something back . . .

±: IV :±

Misty sighed deeply as her arm fell numb beneath Ash's warm hands. She could see it glowing softly through her closed eyelids, though she felt it happening more than anything. She could feel someone calling to her as well, and felt herself responding fervently, eager to join with the strong, powerful electric body so near to her. But something wasn't right. She saw an image of the body before her behind her closed eyes, a glowing yellow shape in the form of a crouching man. He was all bright, warm yellow light. He could take no more. She couldn't join him.

Then she felt him release something within him, and all sense of time and place faltered.

She was in a forest, a dark forest, and she was running. Gloved hands shoved aside sharp branches reaching out before her and snapping back into place behind. Beside her a Pikachu darted along at her feet, its fur torn and pale. She could feel the muscles in her legs and chest straining. Her lungs ached with every breath of air, and she stumbled more than once, ripping long gashes in her tattered jeans and shoes every time her knees hit the ground.

A glance backward revealed the light of searching flashlights, some pointed in her direction. In his direction. She was Ash, younger, only a few days or so after he fled Goldenrod. The police were after him, Growlithe and all, and he had even heard a few gunshots. It was the first time they had ever freely opened fire on him.

She was him, stumbling through IlexForest on the verge of blind panic, desperately trying to keep an eye on the weakened Pikachu at her feet.

The trees began to thin, making way for a clearing, but somehow Misty knew better than to dart out. Ash knew better. He crouched low behind a thick tree, lifting Pikachu to his shoulder. Trying desperately to calm his breathing, Ash peeked around the trunk.

Two flashlights shone brightly in the clearing before him. Through Ash's eyes, Misty could see a highway running through it. There was an aged two-storey house on the other side, guarded by a small white picket fence. Misty didn't need Ash's thoughts to recognize it as the Breeding Center located on the northern outskirts of Ilex Forest, just a few miles south of Goldenrod.

The flashlights belonged to a Jenny and her subordinate, and neither had them directed at Ash. The Growlithe had their noses to the ground, sniffing around the fence eagerly. Ash held his breath. They were picking up his scent from that morning. Did the police know he had taken refuge in the Center? Misty felt guilty worry grip her as Ash asked himself if the old couple that ran the place would be arrested.

A cool wind picked up, almost lifting Ash's old League cap from his head. Pikachu automatically held it for him, but Ash froze. The Growlithe were looking almost directly at him now. There was a police whistle from the Jenny and a shout from the man beside her, and then the Growlithe barked and rushed for the trees. A jerky flashlight suddenly illuminated the sapling two feet to Ash's right.

"Come on," Ash whispered huskily to Pikachu, forcing himself to his feet. Fear gripped him, but it was limned in weariness. How long would he have to run like this?

Misty heard a crunch of gravel as the police crossed the street. Suddenly Ash's profile spilled out clumsily before him as a flashlight breezed over. There was an earsplitting gunshot and Misty felt a searing pain erupt in Ash's right arm. He cried out, stumbling to his knees, but quickly regained his footing, clutching his arm tightly to his chest. He could hear the Growlithe easily gaining on him.

"Pikachu," he whispered through gritted teeth, "just one Thundershock, please? Just one more and then no more, okay?" Ash hated himself for demanding this of his tired companion, but he knew if Pikachu didn't do something soon, well . . .

"Pika, Pikapi," the mouse consented. Ash nodded him a guilty thanks, wincing as his arm began to throb with his racing heartbeat. Pikachu began glowing a dull yellow. There was a brilliant flash of bright light, and then everything changed.

It was still dark. Misty felt Ash's eyes settle on the form of a crouching man leaning over a steaming pot in the light of a campfire, busily picking something out of it. She was still Ash. She could feel him breathing heavily, fatigue begging his body to lie down and rest, but he continued to stand wearily on his feet. A hurried glance down revealed the weight in his arms to be Pikachu, wrapped up in Ash's bloody jacket, unconscious. His arm was still bleeding freely. Ash didn't know how to stop it. It still hurt, though it had receded to a dull ache that resonated with each quickened heartbeat instead of the blistering pain it had been before. A breeze blew by, and Misty felt Ash shiver in the cool air.

She felt hesitant. Ash was hesitant to approach Brock. Misty felt his eyes dart around the camp, and she knew he was searching for her. She felt his desperate anxiety to speak with her again before he abandoned Johto altogether. Would he ever see her again after that? Would he even live long enough to return?

Ash's nose could pick out the faint scent of the stew Brock was making, and Misty felt his raw hunger. When was the last time he had eaten? Where would he find his next meal?

Brock's form faded suddenly. Now Misty found herself looking down at a few people in camouflage, each of them searching their surroundings carefully. Searching for Ash. None of them had any idea that he was resting comfortably in a tree high above them, watching their hunt carefully from his point of safety. Misty felt nothing but calm, cool collection. Ash had been on the run for almost a year now; he was used to the random search parties. They didn't send him into a blind panic anymore. He knew he was safe here.

A brush of warm fur against his rough cheek made him turn and lock eyes with Pikachu, perched on his shoulder. They wouldn't be found.

The scene vanished. Now Misty was overcome by livid rage and a deep, seething sorrow. Ash's eyes were unfocused, but Misty knew he was kneeling, looking down on a blood-coated, frosty maple leaf thick with winter snow. It was years later, and he was now Joined with Pikachu. The mouse's own horrified anger only fueled Ash's own.

"Is that incentive enough for you, Ketchum?" Kassin's voice was familiar now in Ash's ears. He had been demanding to Battle Ash for over a year now, since Giovanni's homicide, and Ash had always refused. He hated needless violence, and Kassin's unhinged way of thinking only roused his caution. Now he could scarcely constrain himself.

Kassin laughed icily, thoroughly amused by Ash's reaction. "I told you I could make you hate me," he said loftily, eyeing his nails. He reached out a boot to roughly nudge the cool body beside Ash. "They weren't much of a challenge, you know. I was hoping you'd prove to be a little more interesting. I was hoping, being the offspring of a Gym Leader and the siblings of a LEAGUE agent, that they would be a little more entertaining, but . . ." His voice trailed off and Ash saw him shrug. "Kids will be kids, I suppose. It took me a while to drag this one over to you. Pewter's a long way off from here. But I knew you wouldn't believe they were all dead unless I provided you with undeniable proof. What do you think? Is one body proof enough? I think his name was Billy. It's what his father screamed when Icewing rushed him, anyway—OOF!"

With a cry of rage, Ash sprang to his feet and Tackled Kassin around the middle. They hit the hard snow with a dull thud, and Misty felt Ash calling forth the electricity within him. Beneath him Kassin's body grew icy cold with his own Element.

"You bastard!" Ash screamed. "You fucking bastard! How could you!"

Beneath him, Kassin was laughing. "Easily!" he sneered, his grinning face only a few inches from Ash's own, cold grey eyes flashing in genuine delight. He didn't even bother to resist as Ash slammed him into the earth by the collar in miserable fury.

"They were Brock's brothers and sisters!" he cried, slamming him down again. Kassin seemed amused. "They were children! You bastard!"

Kassin's bemused smile only seemed to deepen. "Will you fight me know, Ketchum?"

Again, the vision faded. When it returned Misty was startled to see herself, dressed in crystal blue Master's robes and bathed in silver moonlight. She was concentrating hard on a Battle between a large Feraligatr and a Typhlosion just a few yards away.

Ash's eyes flickered to Kassin. Misty felt a wave of protective anxiety overcome him at the expression on the Eidolon leader's face. The Misty he could see out of the corner of his eye was so focused on her partner's fight that she never even thought to keep an eye on Kassin. He was watching her watch the Battle with a small smile on his lips, his fingers in his goatee as his eyes roved up and down her body freely, filled with eager anticipation. Ash allowed a deep anger to stir within him.

Focus on the storm, came Pikachu's voice from inside his thoughts. Ash's gaze traveled reluctantly up to the overcast sky. He nodded stiffly.

Without warning, the scene switched again. Now Misty's vision was filled with the sight of her own arm, Ash's warm hands still holding it lightly. But the angle was all wrong; she was viewing it from Ash's eyes instead of her own. Through his eyes she could see his Element clinging to her cells. Ash called to it, and she watched it detach itself and rise to greet him. In return, Ash felt something from the back of his mind flow back into her.

He lifted his eyes suddenly, and Misty saw herself, sitting peacefully with her eyes closed on the bed. She felt concern for her coursing through him, as well as anger at himself for doing this to her. She felt his brows furrow. Would this even work? he wondered. He could feel the electricity now flowing freely into him, but . . . what was he getting rid of to make room?

An instant later Misty's vision went dark. She opened her eyes—of her own volition—and locked gazes with Ash, still watching her in worried, guilty apprehension. She glanced down at her arm, still cradled gently in his hands. The scratch where the original bolt has struck her was still an angry crimson, and the rest of her skin glowed with a raw reddish tint as well, but the yellow and black bruising was completely gone. She stared at it for a moment, then looked back to Ash. What had she just seen?

±: IV :±

The entire procedure had only taken a moment or two, but for some reason Ash was left with the feeling that for Misty it had been much, much longer. Her aquamarine eyes had a faraway look to them, as well as a deep sadness. Ash felt relief flood through him at her return to consciousness. Had it worked, then? He arm looked better. But . . . what was that odd feeling he had noticed flowing from him?

He knew he had to have sifted something around to make room for the access, foreign electricity. But what? Visions? Pikachu had received a few lingering memories from the corpses they're practiced on. It that what Misty'd seen? His memories? Which ones?

Ash cursed to himself. This was the last thing he needed! If the visions were from his time on the run, she would either feel horrified at what he had resorted to in order to stay alive or sympathy for what he had gone through. He didn't want either! And dammit, what if she had seen some of the really bad ones? The thoughts and wishes he himself was ashamed of, from long, long ago? What if she had seen how much he'd thought about her?

What if she had seen that he was innocent?

There was a loud bang. Ash turned to see the partially open door slam against the wall, admitting Drake Cytris. Behind him poured in a whole slew of people, including Gary Oak, Tracey Sketchit, Professor Oak, Koga Kyou, and a young, dark-haired boy with tanned skin in a lab coat draped over long steel Master's robes. Ash recognized him and his grey Smeargle as the ones from the hall earlier.

Drake's eyes traveled over the startled group. Joy, Brock, and Nealyn were standing off to the side and Misty was sitting on the bed, her bare, irritated red arm resting in a kneeling Ash's hands. He looked peeved.

"Sir?" Nealyn began questioningly. Drake turned to him.

"What in the nine hells is going on here?" he demanded. The young Indian-looking boy stepped out curiously from behind him to stare inquisitively at Ash, his Smeargle hanging on him like a monkey.

"Well," said Nealyn, "Ash had a small run-in with that mad Fearow we have in the mad Pokémon enclosure—"

"Ah-hah!" exclaimed Koga suddenly. He pushed his way out of the dense clump of people filling the doorway to point accusingly at Ash, whose chocolate eyes had hardened. "You see?" Koga continued, glancing at a sighing Drake. "You leave him alone for just one hour, and already he's attempting to sabotage our headquarters!"

"One more word, Koga," Drake warned, "and I will place you under house-arrest in your own dorm. Am I understood? I'd better be. And you." He was looking at Ash. "Stand. Explain to me what just happened."

The entire room watched Ash stand expectantly. He released Misty's arm and stood to face Drake evenly.

"I thought I could help one of your mad Pokémon," he said. "I was wrong. Pikachu got hurt helping me get the bird under control, so we took him here to heal. Am I in trouble for trying to help?"

Drake hesitated slightly, but it was only for the briefest of moments. His eyes flashed over Misty. "What was that business with her arm?"

Now Ash hesitated. Misty, who had stood a moment ago, answered instead. "He was getting rid of some electrical discharge in my arm, Drake, that's all. Why, what's this about?"

Imrah watched the exchange take place in silence. His dark-eyed gaze shifted to the ruffled-looking Pikachu on Nealyn's shoulder. Imrah had watched the two sort of shift gears at Koga's outburst. At first, Ash had seemed a little confused. Now Imrah couldn't tell how he was feeling at all. His face had set and his eyes were colder. It made him look older than he was.

"Why was this particular generator needed?" Drake asked with a touch of annoyance, ignoring Misty's last comment.

"Pikachu needed immediate medical attention," responded Nealyn.

"Couldn't you have used some other generator?"

"This happened to be the closest." Nealyn frowned. "Why?"

"Because it has been well known for years now that this particular generator causes brief power shortages," said Drake. "It remains in this facility as emergency backup only. Due to your recent excursion, some important information regarding the location of the Scrolls has been lost. Thankfully, we haven't been set back more than an hour or so, because you three, of all people, know how precious little time there is in this particular race!"

Imrah stared hard at Ash. At the mention of the Scrolls, Ketchum had shared a quick glance with his TeeKay, too brief for most people to notice. But Imrah and his partner, former pickpockets, caught the movement easily.

"We are so close," continued Drake, "and the last thing we need, Ketchum, is someone tampering with LEAGUE research, indirectly or no. Do you understand the importance of this research, at least?"

Italiks noticed another barely perceptible shared glance between Ketchum and his Pikachu. Ketchum hesitated.

"Er—you're researching the location of the Ancient Scrolls?" he asked. Drake's eyes narrowed slightly, and Gary shifted to stand beside Koga to watch Ash more directly. "Why?"

"They're supposed to tell of a way to summon the opposite of the Shadow Pokémon, and therefore defeat them," said Drake slowly. It was obvious both of them were choosing their words carefully. Imrah's head was buzzing at the underlying messages in both of their comments.

"And what's telling you where the Scrolls are?" Ash asked.

"Runes discovered in the Orange Islands," replied Drake loftily. Imrah wondered why Drake was so reluctant to reveal anything. It was obvious Ketchum knew more than he was letting on.

"But haven't they been moved once from their original locale?"

Drake's eyes flared and now even Oak was watching Ash closely. Gary shifted his weight on his feet. Drake's next question filled a silent room.

"How do you know that?"

"He has them," said Imrah suddenly at a prompt from Italiks, smiling as the last pieces clicked into place. He loved solving puzzles like this; it was like playing Tetris. Ever block fit perfectly. Everyone in the room now turned to stare at him in surprise, Koga in annoyance.

"It makes sense," he shrugged. "We know Cypress Ketchum used to have them, but intelligence tells us they disappeared years ago. What Kassin knows from them he recites from Cypress's memory. Am I right?" Imrah turned to look at Ketchum. Ash was watching him curiously, surprise completely washing out his guarded expression. Drake turned to stare at Ash sharply.

"You have them?"

Ash focused his attention on Drake again, but his eyes kept traveling over Imrah and Italiks in impressed surprise. "Well, we used to. Cypress must have left them in our attic, because that's where we found them."

Drake looked liked he had just seen a Snorlax flutter in through the window. "You found the Ancient Scrolls lying around in your attic?"

"Yes. We took them with us and deciphered them, then buried them where they told us they were supposed to be. I don't know if your runes would have told you the same location or not."

"So you don't have them." It was more a disappointed statement than a question.

Ash looked surprised. "Of course not. We buried them on Silver Rock Isle."

±: IV :±

Author's Note I: AHA! -imitating Cronk from Emperor's New Groove- It's all comin' together now. WHEW! That took a while! And good gods, fifteen pages! It's almost as frippin' long as 2GGP1! Oi, my back hurts . . .

Author's Note II: YEAH TOAST! -loves that song- Hmm, now what was I going to say here . . . OH! I'd like to give oodles and oodles of armful upon armful of massive tiny pink Igglyfluffs to ALL my Reviewers as I bow down and beg for their forgiveness! I'm so sorry this chapter took so long! -bows until back really does give out- Ow . . .

Author's Note III: What else? -pets cat- Oh yes! What to expect in the next chapter! Um, a Battle between Cypress and Kassin! Mock or real? YOU DON'T KNOW, DO YOU? WELL I DO! Mbwaha. Um, someone in the LEAGUE is exposed as a spy! gasp But who? And BY who? o.O Something really, really big gets BLOWN TO SMITHEREENS! Er, that may be a few chapters from now. A cookie to everyone who can give an accurate definition of the word 'smithereen.' Still brewin' up a title. Gotta be something cool, you know? Something suave. I like the raspberry Suave shampoo. Makes my hair smell like sun-ripened raspberries every. Single. Goddam. Time. Amazing, né?

Author's Note IV: AHA! The correct Roman Numeral for four! YEAH! Um, I was going to inform everyone that I may be going back and revising my earlier chapters because, looking back on them now, well . . . I just think they need to be revised. OOH! MAKEOVER! -sings- 'Makeover Makeover' song from Clone High- OOH! And send in any and all questions you have for this fic in e-mails or Reviews, because they will be answered in a page entitled Funny Funny Questions . . . ANSWERED! Really, I'm working on it right now. It'll be posted as soon as the fic's over. It ranges from questions like "What does LEAGUE stand for" to "Does Ash like blueberry pancakes." I'm also planning on posting my original attempt at this story, entitled Accusations as a bonus, because I really really like it, despite its horrible-badly-writtenness. It's nothing like OYL though, and it's only one chapter. I couldn't think of anything to write next, so I started over. ;

Author's Note V: WHOA! An unprecedented FIVE ANs! Though I suppose this chapter deserves them. ; That's really all I have to say though. I suppose I should go to bed now. I have Exams all this week and I haven't even begun to study. Screw it. Screw it all. Well, wish me the best of, um, stuff! Luck? Well, with any luck, I'll churn out chapter five soon. Bai!

±: PinkFalcon :±