Disclaimer: I do not own Pokemon or any Trademarks


1. Not Your Average Day in the Woods...

~ Johto~

The black-haired teenager raced ahead, his favorite ball cap attempting to conceal a mass of scruffy hair. "Hey guys! It can't be that far now. I'll race ya, Pikachu!" As he sprinted off with the yellow mouse-like creature hot on his heels another teen shook her messy orange ponytail and yelled to him.

"Ash! Don't be so reckless! Wait for us-"She stopped herself, and sighed with her head hung down, realizing that it was too late for him to hear her anymore for all of the distance he had put between her and their small group.

"Aw, cheer up Misty. He can't get that far at that rate. He'll wear himself out in no time, and then he'll have to stop eventually." The taller teen spoke from the left of the younger girl, not really needing say more. This was after all, typical behavior for the excitable boy and he did reckless things like this on a regular basis.

"Huh…" She sighed loudly. "I guess you're right, Brock. Still…" She didn't stop walking, but put her hands on her hips and shut her eyes in annoyance. "I just know that he's going to get himself into trouble." She didn't bother to say 'and us' because half of the time when he stirred up something or got involved with a problem, they did too. He had a lot to face on his own, and they couldn't keep up with his charisma and endurance constantly. Walking a reasonable pace, the two started chatting about their next destination, just as they realized that they had yet again forgotten to inform the other boy about the city.

"Jeez, he's gonna get himself lost again…" Misty complained. Brock uneasily smiled and shrugged, knowing that he couldn't do anything about it if Ash chose to wander off on his own.

(-o-)

The group of trainers walk in the middle of a sprawling forest, on the road to Goldenrod City and Ash's next gym challenge. After having battled in Kanto, the trio is now deep into their Johto journey, and they aim to get some serious training done on the rest of their trip. Their next destination unknown to the energetic boy up ahead, he races alongside his trusted partner Pikachu through the forest, unaware that they are being closely monitored.

Now, let us describe what has happened already today, so as to better understand the events that are to take place soon. Approximately 2 hours earlier, the infamous Team Rocket squad of Jessie, James, and Meowth, long-time foes of our travelers, attempted yet again to capture Pikachu. After having a very short battle, the trio of evil-doers was sent hurtling off into a speck in the sky, and the pokémon were reclaimed.

The force of the blast-off this time wasn't enough however, so the three Team Rocket members landed only a few miles away, and are now on their way back to locate the group of trainers and pursue them once more in their life's work of Pokémon snatching. As the Rockets trudge slowly through the thick woodland, sparse bits of conversation float up over the trees, their voices fading and growing with each complaint.

(-o-)

"Jess-ie! I'm hungry!" The feline complained to the red-haired female leading the trio of tired travelers.

"Oh, my feet feel like they just ran ten marathons all in a row!" The man next to the pokémon whined in a similar fashion. The whole group were slumped over and seemed to be struggling to put one foot out in front of the other. The woman stopped, and spun around angrily.

"Be quiet you!" She pointed her finger accusatorily at the pathetic looking guy. Glaring with a crazed look in her eyes she yelled at the man. "This is all your fault!" He had a dejected look on his face, which turned to sudden angry annoyance at this accusation.

"Hey! Well at least I tried to fight those twerps, not like Meowth who just stood there!" Now pointing his finger at the cat pokémon, Meowth in turn grew annoyed and joined their bickering fest. They all grew louder and angrier as the seconds past, each denying that they were the cause and blaming another. They were so busy arguing that they almost didn't notice when a strange aircraft skimmed just over their heads. The arrival of the airship stopped them instantaneously, and they stared in shock as it landed not ten yards away and dropped its bay doors.

On cowardly instinct, they were already crouching behind bushes as two very familiar looking figures strode out of the craft, wearing distinctive black outfits with large 'R's imprinted on the fabric. Without a word or glance at her partner, the blond hurried off to an unknown destination, the teal-haired man following without any communication or hesitance between the two.

"Hey, wasn't that…" Meowth started out. James finished for him.

"…Cassidy and Butch?" The trio looked at one another quizzically.

"What are those losers doing here?" Jessie exclaimed haughtily, annoyed to see her most hated rival here with them.

Meowth suddenly had a brilliant idea. Rubbing his paws together he hoarsely whispered, "Hey yous guys! Let's sneak onto theirs ship! I bets they gots some great pokémon we can steal from 'um!" He was grinning sneakily, and upon hearing his plan Jessie and James grew grins very similar to the feline's. Forgetting the events of the morning, the trio did what they do best and snuck aboard the ship, with no warning of what they were about to get themselves involved with.

(-o-)

Pikachu sat on Ash's shoulder as he stared around in confusion at the edge of a sprawling meadow. Now a good ways away from the rest of his group, Ash was so tired of the woods that he wasn't paying the slightest attention to where he was going and once again got himself lost.

Scratching his head, he sighed and muttered, "I could of sworn there was a path there a second ago…" to nobody in particular, then turned on his heels to try to go the opposite direction, hoping to meet up with Misty and Brock again. He put his hands behind his head as he strolled slowly through the woods back the way he came, watching the sky through the ceiling of green leaves above.

Suddenly the little mouse-like pokémon twitched and sprang from his shoulders, ripples of intimidating electricity prickling along its yellow fur as the creature stared threateningly into the shrubbery.

"Huh? What is it Pikachu?" Ash had been with his pokémon long enough to know that his friend was clearly agitated about something in the forest, so he put up his guard and instinctively reached a hand nearer to his belt where he stored his pokéballs. The leaves of the tree to his right rustled slightly, and a tall, blonde woman strode out into the forest path, blocking Ash's way.

His eyes narrowed. "You're one of those Team Rocket creeps! What do you want?" The woman didn't even flinch when Ash yelled at her. Instead, she to grinned a little more. Ash didn't like this one bit; this was highly suspicious.

…Cassidy, yeah. Her partner is that guy…what's his name?...But…I don't like this…

He glanced around for the man he assumed to be near, but didn't see anyone. A feeling of unease grew in his stomach, and he became confused. He tried to ignore the nagging feeling in his head and focused on the problem at hand.

"You're after Pikachu, aren't you? You came to try and steal my pokémon!" Ash accused the woman, and she grinned some more.

Lowering her head a fraction while her gaze was still set on the boy and pokémon in front of her, she replied. "Yeah, sure…let's just get this over with. Just give up all of your pokémon quietly now, or I'll force you to!"

Tensing at the familiar mechanics of the Rocket's words, he frowned angrily and said, "No way am I gonna do that!" She scoffed, and pulled out a pokéball.

"Fine, hard way it is then!" Throwing the ball into the air she yelled out, "Come out, Houndour!" As the capsule arced, bursting open to allow the black dog-like pokémon to appear. "Take out that brat's Pikachu, Houndour!" She ordered, and with a growl it leapt at the mouse pokémon before it.

Ash cried, "Let's go Pikachu, Thunderbolt!" Pikachu glowed, then a large lightning bolt sped towards the approaching pokémon, Houndour dodging a fraction of a second before it hit. Leaping at Pikachu, it tried to bite it on the back, but it jumped up in the air to dodge. Snapping at the air, Houndour looked up menacingly and snarled.

(-o-)

A man watched the battle through high-focus binoculars from a hill a half-mile away, taking notes now and then on a pad of paper to his left. "I can't believe she's making me do this…" He grumbled to himself, eyes never leaving the fight. He watched as the dark pokémon got hit with an electrical shock, then it retaliated with a nasty bite to the mouse pokémon's tail.

"…so stupid…having to do recon while she gets to battle…" Writing some more notes on the paper, he continued his quiet complaining as the list got longer and longer: 'Target motions to left…looks to side for… estimates where attacks will land quickly with…need to calculate best strategy to…' The man continued this for the entire length of the battle, up until two familiar looking figures burst through the trees into the clearing and sent out a Geodude and Poliwhirl to aid the dark-haired boy.

"Darn it, they showed up…" he frowned in annoyance, and then sighed. "…I guess it doesn't matter, I'll tell her to fall back." He reached for a headpiece in his ear, and pressing the tiny button, said in an annoyed manner:

(-o-)

"We got what we need. Fall back." Cassidy covered her ear for a moment to hear the voice through the static crackle of the two-way.

Smirking at the trio of teens before her, she held up a pokéball and said, "Houndour, return!" The pokémon stopped, bruised and worn-out from the battle. It would have been too much to use it against all three pokémon anyway, and as it disappeared in red light into the capsule the woman gave an internal sigh of relief. Startled, the teens paused in their attacking long enough for her to speak.

"You've won this battle, twerps, but you haven't seen the last of Team Rocket!" At these words, she turned and ran off into the woods, and soon disappeared from sight among the low branches of the trees.

Starting after her, Ash was stopped in his tracks when Brock told him that they should just let her go. Besides, the older teen added, she really didn't manage to steal the pokémon anyway, and just chasing after her would take too much time. If they wanted to reach the next town by tomorrow, they would have to keep walking. Still eager to finish their battle, Ash reluctantly agreed when Misty added that there was no sense in chasing after her; she would just pop out eventually with some ridiculous giant machine or something.

Sighing, Ash told Pikachu to climb back up his shoulder, and the other two recalled their pokémon. Spying the emotion on his friend's face, Brock asked the younger boy, "Hey Ash, are you ok? You're acting kind of strange." His eyes were focused on the ground in concentration, but he looked to Brock as he replied.

"Nah, there was just something off about her today…" Ash's face showed unease and confusion, but it passed when Brock mentioned something.

"Well, her leaving like that certainly was strange too, but none of the pokémon got hurt, so it must not really matter that much." Looking up at Brock's relaxed demeanor, Ash had to agree with the older teen.

"Well, that one guy she is always with wasn't with her…what's his name?" Misty chimed into the conversation. Ash picked up the end.

"Yeah, um…was it Billy…or Bobby? I don't know." The friends laughed the unsettling mood away as they started to walk along the forest trail, but Ash only pretended to be content. Still confused as to what that feeling of unease was, he walked a little behind his companions. Misty and Brock weren't worried about it at all, so Ash didn't voice any other concern about the matter.

There's really not anything to say anyway. They'd just think that I'm getting jumpy and then tease me.

He shook his head to clear his thoughts away, but then a thought occurred to the teen.

Oh yeah! She didn't say that stupid motto. That must be it. I'm just so used to it that it seemed weird when she didn't yell it out obnoxiously. That's it.

His mild thoughts set his mind at ease for the moment, and he smiled at the revelation. Putting on a burst of speed to catch up to his friends, any thoughts of the Rocket's unusual encounter were put out of his mind.

(-o-)

A couple of hours later, the group was exhausted. The day was at its peak, and the sun beat down on the tired travelers incessantly. Even with the tree cover, they were inching along in the scorching heat of the day. Pikachu had long ago abandoned his perch on his trainer's shoulder to walk in the cool grass, and Ash had his hat in-hand and was using it as a fan. Brock was frowning with a tired expression, Misty looked like she was ready to collapse, and Ash was trying hard not to let his tongue hang out. They were even too hot to start a conversation as they trod along. Suddenly, the ash-haired boy looked up at the trees, and his face grew a confused expression as he said to the group, "Hey, do you guys smell something?"

Misty looked up at him with a quizzical look, and then sniffed the air cautiously. Frowning in confusion, she replied, "Yeah, I smell it too Ash."

To her right, Brock lifted his head up a bit and told the boy, "Yeah, it smells like…" He was interrupted as Ash realized what the acidic, burning odor was.

"…Smoke!" The trio looked at each other in alarm. If there was a fire in the woods, and on a hot day like this too…

"Ash, we gotta find out where that smell is coming from!" Misty said quickly, her face flushed with worry. Knowing that she was right, he nodded and the group dashed into the woods in the direction of the scent, praying that it was just some other traveler who had a campfire set up.

As they raced closer to the burning smell, they could now easily tell that the air around them was becoming thicker, and they to see large trails of black smoke spiraling from in front of them. They burst onto the path again, and were horrified at the scene before them. Pokemon of all sizes fled before them in frenzied patterns; Electabuzz and Ursaring lumbered past frantically; Rattata and Weedle hopped and ran on the ground in packs; Sentret and Pichu scurrying around their feet; Pidgeotto and Murkrow flew fast through the air.

So many other species all fled, terrified of the tongues of flame licking from the undergrowth. The trainers didn't see a small bushfire, what startled and filled them and the pokémon surrounding them with fear was the massive wave of fire threatened to topple onto the forest as it journeyed deeper into the heart of the leafy trees and shrubs of the forest.

Finding the strength to snap out of his stupor, Ash cried over the crackle of the flames to his friends, "Misty, Brock! Let's try and use our Pokemon to stop the flames!"

(-o-)

The blond ordered her pokémon to attack again. "A few times over to the left, Houndour! Now use flamethrower!" She and her turquoise-haired partner watched in an unperturbed state upon the hill as the forest before them went up in flames and smoke. He had on high-powered binoculars still, and was monitoring the small group of teens below.

"There, they've made it to the start of the fire. Looks like they're gonna try to put it out with their pokémon. Shouldn't we stop them?" He asked the woman mildly, in the annoying voice that she was used to.

She smirked and replied, "We don't need to. In this weather, no one, not even an Articuno could stop it now." Grinning as their plan fell into place before them, she waited for the group to continue their plans below, unknowing of what was still in store.

(-o-)

"Let's try it, come out Poliwhirl, Staryu!" As the girl threw out her pokémon and told them to start dowsing the flames, Ash called out his own pokémon to assist.

"I choose you, Totodile!" The little blue pokémon jumped out gleefully, sending a large stream of water out to join the other two pokémon's water attacks.

Brock brought out a pokéball of his own, and called out, "You too Onix, Geodude; try to put out that fire with Mud-Slap!" The giant pokémon sprang out of the pokéball with a roar, the smaller rock pokémon following, and both began to throw dirt and sand onto the steadily approaching flames. As minutes passed, the flames refused to surrender to the onslaught of attacks being thrown at them, and they soon overwhelmed the pokémon. With a cry each pokémon fell back to its own trainer, burnt and exhausted.

Frantic, Misty cried out, "Ash, it's too much for them! We've got to get out of here before it's too late!"

Panicked, Ash numbly nodded his head. He felt dizzy; partially with fatigue, partially with nausea. They recalled their beaten pokémon and ran for it, not caring if they strayed off of the path or not, feeling the flames licking at their backs as they ran. They watched in terror as it raced on either side of them; everywhere they looked now was aflame. Ash led the party as they fled; they seemed to be the last living creatures daring to stay that close to the fire, and they saw no other pokémon to prove them wrong. Pikachu raced behind the group, occasionally sending a spare thunderbolt into fire to keep it at bay, but causing only more flames to spread with each try.

A huge crack split through the air as a flaming tower toppled onto the road, barely missing the lead boy by inches. He jumped forward in the nick of time, just avoiding being crushed by the gargantuan tree trunk or smothered by the flames enclosing it. He lifted himself off of the ground shakily, and turned to look for his comrades. The width of the trunk was taller than himself, and the heat made getting any closer to the tree impossible, so he couldn't see his friends anywhere.

He started to grow frantic, and cried out "Brock! Misty! Pikachu!" multiple times, each without any success. He had to tell himself that the tree had missed them, that they were okay for now.

He realized with growing fear that even if they were alright for now, they were blocked into that area; flames surrounding all sides made escape impossibly difficult. He shook his head; his sweaty black hair plastered to his face in a very unappealing way made any effort to keep his face cooled off pointless. He had to try and move the log somehow he thought, and so he reached for a pokéball, only to grasp air. Alarmed, he looked down at this belt. He felt along the entire length of his belt until he was sure.

What the-? Where are my-

His thoughts were interrupted by a snobby voice cutting through the dense smoke.

"Heh. You should have listened and been a good boy like you were supposed to, then we wouldn't have had to torch this place."

He turned around, trying desperately to locate where the woman was. Somehow remembering the voice amidst the chaos, he yelled out, "Cassidy! Where are you? What do you mean, you torched this place? Come out and face me!" He was confused, frightened, and out of his environment.

She knew all of this, she planned this, she did this…she has a Houndour, it can use flamethrower…it did today in our battle…our battle which her partner didn't show for…the battle which I felt weird about…the battle which she abandoned…

His realizations came in too fast out of nowhere, trying to comprehend the intense weight of what was coming in. His stressed brain failed to come up with a working answer in its condition, and he sank to his knees with the effort to remain upright.

All this mess...just to steal my pokémon? That's...that's...

Panting, he remembered the flames again, and letting his fear overtake him, he bolted, hearing laughter. Away from the fire, away from the voice that haunted him, away from the confusion.

Everywhere he looked was red, orange, yellow flickering flames. The boy fled from the approaching fires licking at his skin, adrenaline coursing through his veins. The intense heat drove him onward, and would have been unbearable if not for the slight protection this clothes and backpack provided. Terrified and desperate, he stumbled half-blind though the thick, smoky air. The trees above, who just thirty minutes before had offered some cool shade from the searing heat of the sun, now were his enemies; their thick, leafy canopies trapped the smoke and heated air of the fire beneath their outstretched branches to create a hellish nightmare through which he ran.

A few small pokémon still scurried about him in disoriented patterns, those still lingering no doubt in a last effort to halt the advancing wall of flames. Ash called out for his friends, but was silenced by a coughing fit as the black arid smoke invaded his lungs and choked him. He was tiring, he knew. Leaping through a particularly large briar bush, he gasped in pain as the thorns gripped his clothing in a vice-lock.

He was caught by the shrubbery as the fire advanced. Making a split-second decision, he slipped his arms out of the backpack's shoulder straps to surrender it to the bush, letting the thorns rip some nasty gashes in both himself and his clothing in order to be free. He reached reflexively for his treasured hat to ensure it's safety, only to feel his own messy hair beneath his sweaty palms. A brief spur of panic seized him, causing his feet to falter for a few precious seconds until he sped ahead once more with an urgent burst of speed. He recalled that his hat had flown off of his head back towards the burning log as it fell. It, along with his friends, were still back in the flames.

At least they have their pokémon with them! I think Brock had some healing items still on-hand. They could have broken out of that with the pokémon's help...

Fighting back the tears of physical pain, he struggled to evade the flicking flames, running zig-zag across the path and deeper into the forest.

But I'm stuck without any of my pokémon, in this...!

He broke through the foliage suddenly, and found himself in a clearing. A gasp of surprise and disbelief escaped his lips before he could hold it back as he saw the scene before him. The fire had at some point shifted its path and had engulfed the edges of the cleared area, blocking off all chance of escape through this route. He turned quickly to run the way he had come, but was stopped in his tracks by an all too familiar voice which cut through the smoke like a knife.

"Heh, heh. Well look what we have here. A trapped rat." Ash was trembling slightly in the unknown situation, but anger replaced some of his fear as he saw the duo step into view through the dense smoke. It was Cassidy who had spoken, an evil looking smirk played on her too-bright lips as she and the man stepped closer. Ash tensed again, and a wild, terrified look grew in his soft, black eyes as he yelled at them.

"What the heck have you guys done to the forest? I can't believe you'd go this far just to steal my pokémon! And give me back my pokémon you stole!" When they continued to advance, making no sign as though they had heard the boy except grinning wider, a new, colder sweat began to form on the back of the boy's neck.

"Hey- hey! You guys...what are you-" Backing up a few paces he halted as the wall of flames seared his back, he yelped in pain at the burn. Crying out he flinched, closing his eyes to hold back the tears of pain which threatened to spill over at any moment.

The pair began to advance more quickly now, in large strides. Their faces no longer held cocky looks now as grim expressions fixed on their faces. Cassidy spoke again, her tone much more serious this time.

"Come on kid, you're coming with us now. We can't just leave you here to get barbequed." Her partner smirked slightly.

"Yeah, we can't go back to the boss with a piece of burnt charcoal, can we?" Ash's eyes widened in confusion as they reached him and tried to grab his arms. Weak with fatigue, pain, confusion, and now fear, he wasn't able to put up much struggle as they forced his arms into weird handcuffs behind his back and held him upright.

The man with the weird hair took hold of him as he futilely attempted to use the last bit of his remaining strength to struggle in his grasp, but he was absolutely no match for the man in his poor condition. He was forced to watch as Cassidy pulled out a small radio from somewhere and quickly spoke into it. His voice was too hoarse to try yelling anymore, so he had to stand and watch, helpless. A low whirring sound was caught by his ears.

His head swimming with exhaustion, he barely could make out the shape of a helicopter-like machine as it approached the humans below. It stopped and seemed to hover above the trees for a moment as Cassidy pushed a button on the radio, then said something else into the box as a metal hatch lowered itself to the ground. A hatch large enough for a small group of people to stand on. The blond practically ran to the lowered platform, motioning for the man holding him to follow. He forced Ash to walk to the metal stand, and the moment that his shoe came in contact with the grey metal it began to lift up again into the copter, carrying the Rockets and the kid with it.

Scarcely had the platform raised ten feet from the ground as a wall of flames swept across the clearing and a collapsed mass of burning branches and trees filled the clearing up, destroying everything. Only twenty feet away from the opening of the helicopter and steadily rising, Ash looked over the still burning treetops desperately, trying to locate at least one section of the forest clear from destruction. As the metal plate rose the final feet into the belly of the ship, his last glimpse of the once green forest was red: everything was on fire. Everything was burning. There was nothing left in the forest, alive.

A sweet smelling substance reached his nostrils, and his consciousness dimmed. The last thing that he thought of before his mind faded was of Pikachu, and the smiling, happy face of his friends. Then of how the last thing he ever done for his friends was abandon them. Abandon them in irrational fear, and the last thing he would remember seeing Misty as was frightened, and the glimpse of her face as the log fell. The look of pure terror at their separation portrayed on her soft features in true concern for him, and how he wished so hard, so strongly that it ached in his bones, that his friends had survived somehow. A lone tear found its way down his cheek, leaving a streak of white against his ash-covered face before it dissolved from the heat of the fires below, and his consciousness with it.

(-o-)(-o-)(-o-)

Far from the burning forest, it's protector slept silently, but during sleep felt the pain of the forest regardless.

And the protector of the forest wept.