Hey Everybody! Can it be? Two updates on time in a row? Awesome-sauce! Glad that I could have this up for everyone's Sunday enjoyment! As usual, I'm not going to give away much up here, but I want to take a moment to thank everyone for his or her continued support of this story. Over the last two weeks I've been amazed by the response I got to my update. Many old fans and several new ones came out in support of this story, and it really gave me hope. I had put off updating so long because I felt like I had disappointed everyone beyond forgiveness, but y'all have all shown your true colors as fans of mine and, more importantly, fans of the Pokémon World! With so much support (along with Emily's threats if I didn't keep up the work), it was easy to find inspiration for this next chapter. She's been knocking out each chapter and styling a unique format for reviews (read: she doesn't know she doesn't have to write her name after each review), so this chapter's dedicated to her and her cute reviewing style.

Anyway, what are you doing up here still? Go down, read, and REVIEW PLEASE! One word reviews even mean the world to me!

Disclaimer:I do not own Pokemon, or any of its affiliated companies including, but not limited to, 4Kids, The Pokemon Company, Game Freaks, or Cartoon Network. The characters written within this fic are soley based upon the fictional characters created by these companies, and the story is not meant to, nor will it, receive any monetary funding.

Characters' Ages:

Ash: 17

Brock: 22

Misty: 18

Delia: 41

Oak: 56


With a roar, Charizard joined Pikachu in a dual attack upon the Golem. His Flamethrower intensified along the mouse's Thunderbolt, slowing an incoming Rollout.

"Golem! Gol!" With a grunt, the Golem was slowly pushed backward, and, despite her best attempts, began a retreat into the dark caverns of the inner-mountain.

Wiping his forehead, Pikachu breathed a sigh of relief. He'd been overwhelmed by their levels. For wild Pokémon, they were well trained and prepared to battle. They'd even struggled with a pair of Crobats earlier. One had used her superior speed to almost shove Pikachu off the ledge they found themselves. The other bit into Charizard several times, resulting in him being severely poisoned.

Suddenly, another roar emerged from the darkness, and both Pokémon jumped.

"Piiiii," the mouse moaned as a large Nidoking and Nidoqueen pair charged forth. It seemed as if these monstrous cave dwellers were determined to push the duo to their physical limits.

Grunting, Charizard flared out his wings from their tired, retreated state. Breathing fire hot, he shot like an arrow towards the male, leaving Nidoqueen for his friend.

Pikachu quickly leapt to his left, narrowly avoiding an incoming Ice Beam from the poison and ground type, and returned fire with a Thunderbolt. The electric attack proved weak as the queen shook off the damage and came full charge with a fistful of fire blazing. Her clenched paw was reared backward, and at the last possible moment – just as the Fire Punch sped towards him - Pikachu jumped atop her shoulder and flipped off her back. His tail lit up and he took a fast swing at her scaled back, causing her to tumble forward and perilously tiptoe along the edge of the cliff.

Meanwhile, Charizard and Nidoking were locked in a battle for physical supremacy. Charizard's pointed claws bore down upon Nidoking's massive grip as the two pushed one another back and forth – Charizard towards the cliff, and Nidoking towards the jagged rock walls of the mountains' depths.

Pikachu allowed Nidoqueen to regain her balance before attacking again. This time, he flipped in the air and aimed directly for her head with an Iron Tail. However, a quick Horn Drill stalled the steel attack. For a moment, he was suspended midair as the horn spun unaccountably fast against his metallic tail. Sparks flew, and a second later he reluctantly gave up the struggle. This many battles in, he could feel his power receding. He had no intention of wasting what little strength he had left in a full-on collision with this behemoth.


Looking behind him, he wished Ash was awake to tell him what to do. His best friend and master always possessed clever strategies to win impossible battles.

Charizard's task, though simpler, was no less difficult to achieve.

As the two stood there – locked eye-to-eye – the primal testosterone was almost palpable. It was clear the fighters were equally matched physically. Both now waited to see who possessed the greater willpower. As with any brutish, alpha competition, it all came down to nerve; which one would concede the other as their superior.

Nidoking showed no signs of slowing down. His under-bite accentuated his grizzled exterior marked by nicks and scars proudly gleaned over the years. He drooled a slight toxic puddle at his feet, and his eyes were wide – as if insane.

Charizard, too, was worn, and the bites given from the Crobats were beginning to spread poison throughout his whole system.

In addition, he was unnerved at the site of his opponent. In all his years of competitive battling, he had never seen an opponent so enraged. Even the Charicific Valley's inhabitants seemed quaint and well adjusted compared to the purple beast.

Nidoking's animalism caught a glimpse of the doubt Charizard was trying so hard to ignore, and the feral beast gave a massive roar and pushed back with all his strength. Charizard found himself dangerously close to one particular spiked edge of the inner-wall; and for a moment he felt truly afraid. He looked into the eyes of his opponent and he could see nothing. There was no communicating with this savage. These Pokémon seemed full of hatred and ready to fight not only to exhaustion, but to death itself. In spite of himself, he glanced to his left, secretly wishing Ash would give him some kind of order or command.

"Pikachu!" Rolling on his back, the mouse prevented an incoming Horn Drill with the counter attack. Electricity sprayed everywhere, and Nidoqueen took a step back as her horn slowed to a halt once more.

Getting up, Pikachu waited for her next move. She launched an Ice Beam, and with that, the mouse dodged with a Quick Attack.

Nidoqueen looked around – confused as to the location of her opponent. However, before she had time to register his whereabouts, she found herself getting struck in the back again; this time falling away from the cliff.

Seeing Pikachu gave Charizard an idea; one that he believed Ash would have had in the same situation. Spreading his wings, he gave a great flap and a jump while still holding onto the king's grip. The fire type successfully flipped himself over the purple monster and, using his new leverage, managed to throw the Nidoking over his head and off the cliff.

"Pika!" The electric Pokémon scolded as Nidoqueen struggled to regain her balance.

Charizard gave a haughty snort and shook his head. Pikachu may have thought what he did was wrong, but if he hadn't done it, that rampaging Nidoking would still be attacking. They had so far avoided killing any opponents, but as far as Charizard was concerned that was a pleasantry - not a necessity.

Pikachu, on the other hand, gave his opponent another moment to collect herself before attacking again. Charizard rolled his eyes. His comrade had been immersed in professional Pokémon battling for too long. Couldn't he see these creatures weren't interested in playing fair? There was no referee here to wave a flag and end the battle.

Though, he realized, perhaps he was spoiled. He'd spent the last several years training among the best of his kind in what most would consider a harsh environment. Even before the Charicific Valley, his life had been full of pain and scavenging to get by…at least, before Ash. He knew the price of weakness better than most.

As she got up, Pikachu was surprised by a swift sucker punch the queen delivered below his gaze. Her fiery fist sent the little Pokémon flying off the cliff.


Suddenly, Ash awoke.

With speed that even amazed him, Charizard launched into the air and immediately into a spiral dive down into the mountains' lower regions. His tail lit the way as his eyes sorted through the darkness and shadowy figures which seemed to eye his descent hungrily. After a couple of heart-pounding seconds, his eyes locked onto Pikachu's figure. With a surge of adrenaline, the fire type grabbed Pikachu by the scruff and tossed him atop his back. Pikachu responded by holding on tightly as the fire type performed a one-eighty and shot back up.

He was angry, and the anger shone through his eyes. With another roar, fire blazed from his jaw and up the mountain like lava coursing through a volcano. As he came eye-to-eye with the Nidoqueen, he blasted his attack directly at the powerhouse. Pikachu joined in with another Thunderbolt, and within a few seconds the wild Pokémon was subdued and unconscious as her body lay pressed into the rocky wall.

"Good work, guys," Ash congratulated groggily, wiping his eyes as his friends came back into view. He was sitting up, but still felt too out of sorts to stand. "How long was I out?"


Charizard joined in with a roar of celebration as he wearily landed himself. That last stunt zapped what little remained of his strength.

As Pikachu jumped in for a hug, Ash opened his arms in welcome.

"It's good to see you guys! I'm so glad nothing happened while I was out!"


After another moment, Ash lifted his head. "Hey, how long was I out for, seriously?"

Pikachu shrugged and Charizard laid down in exhaustion. He reached around for his Pokédex. It had been more than three hours.

"Oh man," he moaned, flipping the encyclopedia closed and quickly jumping to his feet…only to spin after doing so. "Whoa, I guess my body's still a little shook up."

As best as he could recall, they had been ascending the mountain when he suddenly got very dizzy and tired. Though he was no doctor, he was sure the sudden climb had been the cause of the instantaneous sickness. "So I passed out, huh?"

Through their wheezing, Pikachu and Charizard both gave a grunt in the affirmative.

"And you two were able to manage without me this whole time?"


Ash gave a weak smile. "Well then I'm proud of ya! I'm sorry for what happened back there, though. I guess I got greedy with the climb. I don't think we've ever flown that high together, Charizard."

Flashing his own tired grin, still laying on his stomach, the fire type shook his head.

"I guess I just let my excitement get the better of me." He laughed. "I actually flew too close to the sun!"

Stretching a little, he worked the math in his head. "We have a few more hours before we have to set up camp. For right now, I think Charizard needs to get back in the pokéball, though, and Pikachu – you need to ride the shoulder for a while until you get your strength back. I brought a few berries for both of you so eat up, and then relax."

The trainer gave both his friends the assorted berries and allowed them a few moments to chow down.

"Looks like you got a little bite," he mentioned to Charizard. The bites from the Crobat had begun to turn a dark violet. Though his words were understatement, he knew better than to test Charizard's pride. If he acted too worried, or made too big of a deal, then the fire type would simply refuse assistance to prove his independence.

Mist is right…he takes after me.

"This berry should help with that if you want it," he added casually, holding out his hand.

For a moment, Charizard just stood there, staring at the open-palmed gesture. Ash could see the mental tug-of-war seesawing in his mind. After a reluctant pause, the orange dragon reached out his claw, grabbed the berry, and gratefully swallowed it down.

Ash shot him a smile and nod before returning the fire and flying type to his pokéball and bringing Pikachu back to his shoulder. Looking ahead, all he could see were shadowy figures dancing along the darkness. Without Charizard, light was scarce in the cavern, though that wasn't a problem. Reaching back, he pulled out a flashlight that quickly disparaged the void and caused the shadowy figures to regress.

"I guess you scared the Pokémon in the area for the time being," he explained to Pikachu as he began walking up the side of the mountain towards the summit. "It seems like they're staying away from us."

"Pika," Pikachu agreed quietly. Though tired, he was glad his efforts had provided a little relief from the onslaughts. Charizard was right – these Pokémon cared little for battle rules and much more about testing their strength to its ultimate conclusion. He wanted to spare his master that experience for as long as he could.

Making their way along the inside of the mountain, Ash marveled at the semi-natural structure.

"If I remember school right, then this mountain was hollowed out years ago," he remarked – not so much to Pikachu, but to himself as his nerves fried slightly at the haunting specters seemingly lurking just out of reach of the light. As they turned a corner, he continued. "This used to be a normal mountain – the highest peak in Kanto or Johto. Then, about two hundred years ago, it was decided that some Pokémon were too powerful to be left out in the wild. This was before pokéballs, and there was something about a Gyarados rampage near where Pallet is today. Anyway, the League was created just for that. To go out around the world and capture these powerful Pokémon, to return them to a centralized location where they could be kept locked away. In Johto and Kanto, the Pokémon were brought here to Mount Silver. For several years the League worked to hollow out the mountain, and once it was finished they moved all the Pokémon inside. A lot of the Pokémon today are actual descendants of those original Pokémon that were locked away."

It was certainly a proud point for Kanto. They were the region of the original Pokémon League, and it was their trainers who first brought the Pokémon to Mount Silver. Epic tales of Gyarados rodeos and Articuno aerial assaults spawned the playgrounds of Ash's childhood, and sparked the trainer's imagination: the first true Pokémon Masters.

Looking over the ledge, Ash gave a low whistle. "Like Misty says, 'Fall from here, and the ballgame's over.'" The ledge overlooked a large portion of the mountain – at least several hundred feet – and Ash couldn't even see where it bottomed out.

He knew the mountain was leveled off at certain points. With his outside-the-box thinking, they had avoided it thus far, but Mount Silver was actually floored off like a skyscraper. When you reached one floor and wished to go up to the next, there were supposedly rope ladders you could climb to help. Where they were, though, there was simply a rocky ten-foot ledge, which slowly wound upward like a spiral staircase. Pointing his flashlight above, Ash could only make out the slight silhouettes of Golbat and other flying types fluttering above. Throughout the moist internal structure, the echoes of distant battling could be heard. The noise most often resembled a low rumbling – almost inaudible to the layman, but just enough to heighten the senses.

"Not much up ahead."

Of course, Mount Silver wasn't the only place for packing such Pokémon. About three decades earlier, there had been a cave in Cerulean that provided much the same purpose as the mountain. This had lasted until the legendary beast within it was supposedly awoken and destroyed it. What the beast was, exactly, is unknown. Testimony of what happened at Cerulean's cave that day only agreed on a large explosion followed by a blue ray of light shooting from the debris.

Up ahead, his eye caught a glimpse of a ladder. Smiling, he dropped his thoughts and ran to it.

"This must be it!"

As he finished the climb, ahead he saw some lamps dimly lighting the path. If there were lamps burning, then this must be a place where the Master normally walked through. He was getting closer. His heartbeat quickened.

"Let's keep going."

As he walked his mind began to immediately wander again. He recalled all that he had seen and done in his short period since becoming Champion. In a year and a half he'd gone from one of the most promising up-and-comers, to a disgraced former Champion. He'd seen himself go from a distant friend to loving boyfriend of Misty Waterflower. And now here he was, ascending Mount Silver and preparing himself to meet the ultimate – the Pokémon Master.

Along the way, he'd experienced lows so terrifying he never thought he could endure. Falling into a coma. Battling Paul as a new member of Team Rocket. The deaths of Venusaur and Heracross. Lance's critical condition. The pain and responsibility Ash bore in that moment when he picked up that gun…

All of it remained fresh on his mind. It had all occurred over less than a year and a half, but, here and now, he couldn't help but feel much, much older.

What he had seen. What he'd done. It almost didn't feel real.

Even his descent from training felt like a lucid dream at this point. Only a week ago he was convinced he would never battle again! Two weeks ago Misty was preparing for her scholarship battles! Two months ago he'd been traveling with Drew and May! Two years ago he was still collecting badges in Sinnoh!

The shock shouldn't be there. Time shouldn't be something unexpected. It seemed as if wishing for the past were something that should be reserved for the elderly. Those with regrets. He was young, and supposed to be enjoying the best years of his life.

But as Ash walked down that dark corridor and continued past a few of the lit lamps, he shouldered responsibilities and regrets of his own, now. He'd gone from a carefree trainer to a veteran. A veteran of a war he never enlisted in.

And like any veteran, he found himself disillusioned.

He'd seen Goodshow's distrust force him to let go of some of the finest trainers and champions Ash was sure the world had ever seen. He'd seen the bureaucracy of suits vying to prevent gym leaders from obtaining the resources they needed to make a living. The Pokémon League, once a towering beacon in his glimmering eyes, had crumbled to a depraved lust for pride and money.

Not only had he seen firsthand the true essence of the League. He had witnessed personal corruption ensnare the heart of a once promising trainer such as himself. When Ash looked into Paul's eyes, he saw the same darkness that seemed to be following him ever since he obtained the championship.

It was a darkness he'd never known people possessed…or at least he tried to ignore its existence. He tried to live in a world that was perfect all the time. Where nothing really wrong ever happened and the good guys always won. And that was an easy world to live in – at least, until he became someone.

But now he was someone. Or, at least, he had been. Obtaining the Sinnoh Championship, though he hadn't realized it at the time, signified his departure from the innocent world of Pokémon training. Now, he realized that world wasn't feasible; the world he had once believed was the real one. It was the world of children.

He'd been foolish enough to believe that simply because he'd won some Pokémon battles and was sixteen he knew what being a man was about.

But he had been wrong. Being a man wasn't about winning Pokémon battles. Had overcoming minor obstacles like previous rivals helped him grow? Certainly. As Gary had pointed out, he wouldn't be the person he was without the challenges he faced as early as ten.

There was a difference, though, in the challenges then and now. Then, all he had to lose was a badge. Now, he'd lost a lot more.

What had permanently shattered his youthful paradigm?

It was the fact that he'd watched the dink and dunk teenage goons who'd followed him as a child turn into a monster. Jessie and James; they weren't Team Rocket. They were just kids who got caught up in the excitement of running away from home and being rebels.

No, they weren't Team Rocket.

Team Rocket was beyond any clichéd term the trainer held in his vernacular. The organization flooded Kanto with drugs. It consistently infiltrated not only the Pokémon League, but also the government and police departments at the highest levels. In his time working with the champions, Ash had come to realize how deeply entrenched the organization's tentacles had truly burrowed themselves.

This syndicate stole Pokémon, sure. But that was just a cover, he now realized. A cover for the true proliferation of pain they blanketed throughout Johto and Kanto. They took fathers from families. They recruited the young and indoctrinated them away from family and friends and morality and goodness.

They were corruption incarnate.

Yes, in this short fifteen months, Ash had seen himself change. He'd gone from a wide-eyed wunderkind holding a trophy, to a sullen despot. One who had seen things. One who had felt pain.


Without warning, reminiscence was interrupted with excruciating pain. A mighty blow from behind flung Ash forward almost a hundred feet. Another set of bruises and bloody scrapes, he was sure, as his cape flew wildly. Oddly, as he rolled, he couldn't help the smile that crept on his lips.

This is nothin'.

Taking a final somersault, he regained his footing and rested on one knee. Instinctively he shined his flashlight ahead and barely winced at the site: a Tyranitar – one twice as tall as the trainer. It must have been stalking him through the tunnels.

"You're quiet for such a big guy."

Without hesitation, he grabbed the pokéball to his right and flung it into the darkness. "Pikachu, I need you to give us more light," he commanded calmly.

Jumping from his shoulder, Pikachu's cheeks lit the area up as Donphan emerged from her pokéball and immediately sputtered into a Rollout without a word.

"Good. Go right at him!"

The Tyranitar was pushed back slightly before gaining solid footing against the rolling attack. Neither conceded an inch for a solid ten seconds before Ash changed strategy.

"Jump back and give it an Earthquake!"

Bouncing backwards off the green lizard's large belly, Donphan landed firmly on her feet and shook the ground around her with a mighty bellow. The Tyranitar's footing was loosened, and with that Ash hurriedly ordered a Hyper Beam.

The blast of light sent the Tyranitar flying backwards into the darkness. In the distance, he could hear the frightened Pokémon backing away after it recovered from the attack.

Smiling Ash congratulated his elephantine fighter before returning her to her pokéball.

Moving on, he reflected on how easily that had just gone. Given all he'd been through, he supposed surprise attacks didn't hold the same amount of fear over him they used to.

He absentmindedly grazed the small trickle of blood finding its way down his right arm, and he noted the tear in both his jean knees. Ma won't be happy with having to sow those back together. Somehow that thought frightened him more than the Tyranitar.

There were only two more lamps hanging on the walls in the distance. They were both electric, and one was flickering. "We might not be as close as we thought," he lamented to Pikachu. "Still, he must come down here sometimes to put lights up."

Walking past the lamps, he changed the setting of his flashlight from beam to floodlight. Ahead, the tunnel dispersed into a more general area composed of what appeared to be a series of turning walls and stony dead ends.

At the end I bet is another ladder.

The walls were at least ten feet high, and Ash regretted having brought only one flying type for the job. Otherwise they could simply fly over this and get to the next level.

The walls were dank – much like everything else in the cave – and Ash slowly moved and turned corners. Ever in the back of his mind lurked the probability that some massive Pokémon was waiting for him to make a wrong move right into its clutches, and the constant low rumble of growls echoing through the cavern seemed to verify just that.

Working his way through the labyrinthine floor, and trying to remain preoccupied with something other than his own quelled nerves, he continued thinking aloud.

"I bet they put this here to confuse the wild Pokémon. It's not much of a maze, but with all the sharp turns and solid walls, it probably keeps them away."


Another moment of silence as they wandered down the corridors.

"Do you think Venusaur and Heracross would be happy with what we're doing?"


"I mean, getting back into battling."


"Well, battling was their lives, but it still bothers me I didn't stay true to my word about never doing it again. It makes me look like I just don't car what happened to them, doesn't it?"

"Chu." The mouse shook his head in disagreement.

They walked a while in stony quiet once more. They took a couple of wrong turns to dead ends and retraced their steps.

"What that David guy said is still in my head, though. About being there fighting next to each other? I think I would have felt worse if I'd lost Venusaur in a Pokémon battle like he said, where I was standing on some safety guard a hundred feet away."


"Because then we wouldn't have been on equal ground. I would have just been watching it happen. But the way it actually happened, we were all in it together. Any of us could've been the one to go…I almost did."

"Chu-pi." The mouse stopped and hugged Ash's leg.

He smiled. "Aw, thanks Pikachu! I love you too, and I'm glad we made it out of there. I just feel guilty for not being able to stop battling, but I also felt bad not battling. It's like there's no right answer."


After another while, Ash's mind turned elsewhere.

"You know what else? I'm starting to wonder about Pokémon battling all together. You know?"

"Pi?" This was new.

"You grow up thinking you're special, and what you're doing is special, but it just takes some guys in suits a few minutes to realize you're nothing but a price tag to all of them." Ash shook his head. "I just worry that what we do isn't really making a difference. Maybe Pokémon battling and training isn't as important as we make it out to be. I mean, does it really change anything?"

Pikachu patted his master's head. Ash seemed distraught – though he wasn't sure why.

"Thanks." He gave a small smile.

Before he could continue, a swarm of Golbats and Crobats suddenly descended on the pair from above. Ducking his head, Ash gave a few swats before giving Pikachu a quick glance. Without a word, the yellow Pokémon nodded.

Jumping onto his trainer's shoulder, Pikachu deftly hopped upon the crown of his hat and used that as a launching pad as Ash simultaneously hit the deck and covered his head.

In a bright flash followed by the roar of a powerful explosion, electricity surged through the air, causing all the hair on Ash's arms and neck to stand straight up. The pop was quickly followed by the hollow thuds of at least a half dozen poison and flying types hitting the ground in a heap.

Smiling again, Ash stood up and dusted himself off. "Glad we practiced that move now," he noted, giving Pikachu a thumbs-up. "Came in handy."

"Pik," the mouse agreed, more than a little exhausted.

"Don't worry, buddy. We only have a little while more. After we reach the next ladder, we'll stop for the night," he assured. "You and Charizard really were impressive without me, by the way."


"No, really. You always hear how the great trainers don't even have to give orders to their Pokémon most of the time because they're so well-trained. You and him are at that level too! I'm proud of how far we've come."

Pikachu felt himself puff a little at his friend's boasts. He was, after all, an excellent fighter!

"Then again, if it hadn't been for Pokémon training, you and I never would have become friends, huh?"


"What we were talking about before, remember?"

"Professor Oak told me how Pokémon and humans used to bond as one during wartime. They'd fight and die together side-by-side. I guess they still do, sometimes. But now we have battles to give us the same feeling of teamwork and friendship. Maybe that's the point of all this. Maybe Pokémon battling exists to give people something that everyone needs – friendship."

He soaked in the idea for a moment. It was a little corny, but it brought a smile to his face.

"The world can seem complicated. It can seem like everything you're told growing up – the power of love and friendship – are just fairytales that you outgrow as you get older. But I guess…I guess, if you really look at it, those are the things that are still the center of our lives – even if we don't always realize it. We battle together to create a bond of friendship. So that could be why battling is important; because it brings a little more happiness into the world. People and Pokémon can work together to do amazing things, but only if they have a bond."

Pikachu seemed deep in thought, and the two kept moving forward…

And there it was. Up ahead rested another rope ladder, dangling meagerly from a black hole in the ceiling above. Looking up, he gulped.

The climb was several dozen feet upward, and with all the flying Pokémon batting around, it made him nervous to think he'd be up there without a way to defend himself.

"Wait a minute." He reached to his side for another pokéball. "We may need some help for this job." Enlarging the capsule, Ash dropped the ball to the floor and called out another old friend.

"Squirtle!" the blue Pokémon shouted, coming out of the pokéball with his fists raised and water gurgling.

Ash laughed. "Oh, sorry Squirtle. I know I told you guys to come out ready to fight, but we're actually okay for now."

The water type looked disappointed.

"Squirtle, I need you and Pikachu to help me out here. I'm going to climb this rope with the floodlight on. If some more flying types come by to give me trouble, then I need the two of you to shoot them down without hitting me. Can you do that?"



"Thanks guys! When I get to the top I'll return Squirtle to the pokéball and Pikachu, you can climb the rope with no problem."

Jumping on, he slowly made his ascent. One foot, then the other, he reminded himself as he swayed from side to side. His body ached, and he realized how happy he would be to set up camp once they reached the next floor. He had walked through these caves for the last few hours, passed out for several more, and had flown for even more before that! His body was in need of bed rest.

Or at least a nap on the dirt.

The floodlight hooked to his belt loop gave him enough light to see the next rung of the ladder.

About halfway up, though, a sudden screech caught his attention. Looking to his left just in time, he barely moved far out enough to avoid a collision from an incoming Crobat. To his right, a Skarmory came soaring towards him as well, it's yellow eyes gleaming in the dim electric light.

"Take them down!" he ordered below, using the floodlight to shine down on the opponents for Pikachu and Squirtle. "Pikachu, Thunderbolt Skarmory. Squirtle take care of the other!"

Using a brief but powerful Water Gun perfected with the Squirtle Fire Brigade, the water type effectively grounded the Crobat – whose wings were momentarily too drenched to continue flying. The purple Pokémon slowly spun towards the ground, now aiming for the water type.


"Chu!" With a zap, Pikachu shot for the steel and flying type. However, to Ash's dismay, the Thunderbolt was apparently too slow as it coursed by the Skarmory without making contact.

Angered, the steel Pokémon gave a horrid metallic shriek and turned its attention to the electric mouse, discontinuing its aerial assault on Ash.

"Pikachu, watch out!" he called from above. "Counter Shield!"

Skarmory sharply turned to avoid the outgoing sparks, as Squirtle made a sideways somersault to avoid Crobat's fangs. Soaring back upward, the poison and flying type hungrily eyed her next descent as she flew up past Ash, and Skarmory circled around Pikachu as he waited for the defensive attack to end.

Continuing his climb, Ash felt a little selfishly grateful. All eyes in the cave seemed to be on the battle below, granting him a few moments to climb up before recalling the pair.

When I get to the top I'll call out someone else to bail them out.



Looking down, Ash was shocked to see a pair of ditto come upon the battle. In a flash, the two transformed into the pair. From another direction a Magmar and a Magmortar suddenly blasted through the walled labyrinth via searing Flamethrowers, along with a Gengar that floated down from the upper levels.

"Oh no…"

We were on the battlefield together, taking on the enemy. I wasn't just perched safely away givin' orders – I was in the trench with them, just as susceptible to the danger as they were, and when they were taken, they died knowing the risks and knowin' we were taking them together. They wanted to be out there regardless of the danger, and I wanted it just as much as they did.

Ash quickly changed direction, sliding down the rope ladder as fast as he could. He jumped off with a few feet left and almost tripped over himself – still tired from the exertion of the day in spite of the adrenaline pumping.

On instinct, he reached to both sides of his hip, enlarging a pokéball in each hand beneath the gifted cape. Dried blood rubbed against the cool metal of the pokéball, and he grinned at the excitement.

Life had been hard, he decided. But at least it made this look easy.

Author's Notes: Well, I admit that I struggled a bit with the whole focus being on Ash and having no real dialogue. There are several monologues, and that's mostly to fill the void, but I hope everyone can appreciate where I'm going with the character. Over a period of less than two weeks everything has happened with Team Rocket. As much as we all want Ash to be fine, it obviously takes a lot more time than that to process it all mentally and emotionally, and this chapter's really the start of that. Before, when Ash was grieving, he was doing just that. He was grieving the loss of Venusaur and Heracross and the near-apparent loss of Misty…but he hadn't really considered himself. That's what this chapter's about, and the next one featuring Ash to an extent. This time alone in Mount Silver is a chance for him to be alone with his thoughts. Even as much as we ALL love Misty, I think anyone who went through what Ash has needs a little time on their own to reflect on the growth and failures they'd experienced after such a tumultuous tenure as Champion. So that's what I did.

However, there were some rough patches, in my opinion. In exchange for all the personal growth, we got a much quieter chapter. The good news for those of you more concerned with action and less with inner-reflection, the next Ash chapter is going to be VERY ACTION PACKED and much less reflective, so you have that to look forward to!

Anyway, as always, love it or hate it, REVIEW PLEASE! One word or a twenty page essay is fine by me because it all helps me become a better writer and a better storyteller for all of you!