It was cold outside. Cold and wet. Under normal circumstances, only the most dedicated trainers would be out at a time like this. These were not normal circumstances.

Ted gripped the Great Ball as though it were the only thing keeping him anchored to the ground. The rain drenched his glasses, making it nearly impossible to see. He had at least had the sense to grab his rain jacket out before he left his secret base, but the thin fabric did little to protect him from the howling wind. He shivered in the cold, all the while trying to stay silent. He would arrive at any second, and Ted had no intention of letting him see any sign of weakness.

The twelve-year-old boy darted behind a thick tree, hoping that it would be enough to protect him from the whipping wind until he arrived. There had never been storms like this back in Verdanturf. Ted felt the blue and red ball slip around in his hands, threatening to fall to the ground below. That could be disastrous – if this monster were to be released without an opponent, there was no telling what disaster might occur. The boy crouched down, holding his hands in his knees. There. Now the capsule was secure.

For a few minutes, the young trainer pondered his battle strategy. Should he use his Grass-type in order to combat the Rock-type weakness his team had? But then what would he do about Ice-type moves? It was a most confusing conundrum.

His thoughts were cut short as the sound of footsteps crunching through the leaves reached his ears. Just on time. He stood up, gripped the ball tightly, and walked out from behind the tree.

The result was instantaneous. The newcomer – an older boy, perhaps fourteen – stopped in his tracks and gave a surprised "You!" His clothes suggested experience – an orange tracksuit, running shoes that looked as though they had just come off the shelf, and a tangerine headband. His eyes were green, his hair dark brown. In his right ear, a golden hoop earring dangled.

"Hello, Ryan." Ted grinned at the newcomer, even though his heart felt as though it would burst at any second. It was the first time he had seen his brother in quite a while, after all – almost five years.

The older trainer was not amused. "Ted. Shouldn't you be in Lilycove, working on those contests of yours?" The way he said 'contests' made it painfully clear how Ryan looked down on the competitions.

"Well, I heard that a master trainer was coming through this way, and I just had to stop and see if it really was you. Master trainer, huh? Got the medal and everything?"

"Why yes, I do," Ryan growled through his teeth. He carefully unzipped his jacket, revealing a golden badge pinned to the side for just a second. After he was sure his brother had seen it, he zipped his shirt back up and leered at his brother. "Can't let it stay in the rain. It'll rust."

"Gold doesn't rust," Ted informed him. "And any moron could tell you that that's the Great Badge. Nowhere near the Master Badge." Ignoring his brother's growls of frustration, the boy continued. "The Hyper Badge is platinum. The Master Badge is made out of an indestructible black material."

"How would you know?" Ryan questioned. "I bet you've never even seen a Badge before, other than one of those pathetic Gym Badges!"

"Good call," Ted answered, his confidence growing by the second. "You see though, you're not the only one who's been training. Contests require training too – so I have a proposition for you. We battle. If I win, I get the Great Badge."

"And if I win?" Ryan asked, leaning towards his younger brother.

"You get my PokéNav."

Ryan smiled. "Now we're talking!" he exclaimed. When he had left on his journey, the most advanced tool offered to trainers had been the PokéGear. It wasn't until his brother's journey that the PokéNav began to go into production. Ryan had always had a burning desire to stay on top of all the latest trends and technology, so the PokéNav was the only thing of his brother's that he had ever wanted.

"Three Pokémon KO'd and it's Game. Switches unlimited. No items," Ted began.

"Yeah, yeah, whatever. Standard rules. We'll fight right here." Ryan turned away from his brother, walked thirty paces, and spun around on his heels. Ted copied his brother, now completely focused on the task at hand. Beat Ryan. Nothing else mattered, as long as that happened…

The moment he turned around, the battle began.

"Skuntank! Go!" On Ryan's end, a purple monster appeared, leering in a way most like his master. Ted grimaced as he threw the Great Ball onto the field.

"Ninetales! It's on you!" A cream-furred fox leapt out of the ball, waving her nine tails like mad. An eerie mist seemed to gather around her body as she took the field.

"Indeed. A battle." The Ninetales fixed her gaze on her opponent. Skuntank met her eyes without flinching.

"Confuse Ray!" Ted instructed.

"Crunch!" Ryan countered.

Ninetales dashed towards the foe with amazing speed – Quick Attack. Ted called out to her, desperately trying to have her perform the ordered attack, but she ignored the boy. Meanwhile, Skuntank opened his gaping maw and crouched down. Arcane purple energy gathered in the skunk's mouth, sliding over his teeth like some sort of spell. No sooner had Ninetales reached the Poison-type than he sunk his teeth into her side. Not to be bested, the fox managed to fire a Confuse Ray through the pain. Skuntank released her, his eyes crossed and his mouth hanging open in a most comical manner.

"Ninetales!" Ted shouted. "What are you doing? Listen to me – use Hypnosis!"

"Combo attacking. Most useful, kit." Instead of firing off the attack as ordered, Ninetales went into another Quick Attack, spinning around Skuntank. The purple Pokémon attempted to follow her, only to trip over his own feet. At point-blank range, Ninetales fired off a Flamethrower attack – only to hit the bare ground.

"He's underneath your feet! In the ground! Dig! Dig! Dig!" Ted screamed, jumping up and down. Ninetales turned her red gaze on him, snarling. Ted stopped immediately. It was normally in his best interests to heed her advice.

"Umbreon! Go!" Ryan threw an Ultra Ball onto the field. Apparently, he had switched Pokémon seconds before the attack hit. Not deterred by this display of unsportsmanship, Ninetales attempted to strike the Dark-type with another Confuse Ray. This time, however, Umbreon sent off a Confuse Ray of her own. The attacks collided, sending shards of golden light in every direction. Both Pokémon were sent backwards from the explosion, but Ninetales seemed to have taken the most damage.

As the two monsters prepared another round of attacks, Ted fiddled with the Great Ball he still held in his hand. "Ninetales!" he shouted. "Return!" The fox effortlessly jumped out of the way of the return beam and sent off a Flamethrower.

"Are you forgetting the terms of our agreement? Or do I have to remind you?" Ted fell to his knees as a wave of pain washed over him. He felt his hands convulse and twist and hurried to shove them in his pockets. The rain began to hiss as it fell on his body.

"Go ahead, then," he thought weakly. It was no use fighting. Ninetales was the one in control.

Dark orbs of energy began to gather around Umbreon's body. Ninetales stopped her barrage of Flamethrowers and started to gather a ball of green light in her mouth. The attacks finished charging at the same time. An ominous wave of blackness washed over towards Ninetales, and a glowing orb of energy shot towards Umbreon. Dark Pulse and Energy Ball, respectively. Both attacks met their mark – while Ninetales seemed battle-weary and exhausted, Umbreon still looked as though it could take a few more hits.

"Defensive Pokémon," Ryan said coldly. "Every team needs one." Ted thought about telling his brother that he had a few of his own, and if only Ninetales would let him use them…. Too late, he remembered that she could read his thoughts. A feeling like flames toasting his skin roasted the base of his spine, followed by the sensation of something tickling his back. Ted hurried to cover it up with his jacket, but he noticed his brother's suspicious gaze. The rain was beginning to hurt….

Ninetales dodged a few more Dark Pulses, retaliating with Energy Ball at every turn. At long last, Umbreon fell to the ground, eyes shut tight in pain. "Offensive Pokémon," Ted taunted. Ninetales fired another Flamethrower at the Dark-type, dealing out the last bit of damage needed to finish it off. "Everyone needs one."

Ryan growled, reaching for another ball on his belt. This time, it was a dusk ball.

"It'll be a Rock-type," Ted thought. "Are you sure you want…." The feeling of his ears beginning to heat up was answer enough. Ted covered them up with his woolen hat, clenching his teeth. He felt them drew blood – his incisors were sharp again. "Stop," he thought, even while knowing his attempts were futile.

"Wait, kit. This battle will be ours soon." So saying, Ninetales wrapped her creamy tails around her body and relaxed. She closed her eyes and slowed her breathing. For just a second, a pulse of light spread through her body with her heart at the epicenter. Then, she opened her eyes, renewed energy coursing in their red depths.

"Golem!" Ryan commanded, "Defense Roll!"

"Quick Attack into Confuse Ray!" Ted countered, mimicking the strategy he had seen Ninetales use earlier. The fox streaked towards the curled-up Rock-type, a ball of golden energy forming in her mouth. Golem began to spin rapidly, rooted in place but ready to spring forwards at a second's notice. Just before it could fire off a Rollout, Ninetales released the ball of energy. It sank into the Golem's rocky hide, causing the pattern of its movements to become erratic. "Ninetales! Get out of there!" She didn't need to be told again.

Golem streaked over her head, still rolling at an incredible pace. BAM! It smashed a tree to matchsticks. CRASH! A huge boulder was reduced to rubble. SNAP! A nearby sign informing trainers that Fortree City was two miles away was pounded into a hundred pieces. Ninetales waited patiently at the other end of the field, knowing that either Golem would return, or it would fall into the river (or some other equally disastrous place).

In a last ditch attempt, Ryan pulled something out of his pocket and threw it at the Rock-type. It was a ball made out of some sort of metal – not a particularly heavy metal, but still enough for the Rock-type to notice it as it hit the side of its body. Golem gradually slowed down, pulling its arms and legs out of the ball. Its head followed, and then the monster came to a complete halt – right in front of Ted.

"Focus Punch!" Ryan shrieked across the field.

Three things happened next.

First, Golem pulled back a fist and began to attack the nearest moving thing in his confusion – in this case, a young trainer with a green raincoat and a thick woolen hat.

Second, Ninetales streaked forward with an Energy Ball in her mouth. Golem ran straight into the attack, flying back a good five feet even with its impressive weight.

Finally, Ninetales landed straight on the Rock-type's intended target, knocking him to the ground – and causing his hat to fall to the ground.

For a moment, there was silence.

Then Ryan screamed.

Ted hurriedly grabbed at the ground around him, trying to find his hat. On top of his head, a pair of fuzzy red ears twitched in terror. Ninetales put a tail around his body comfortingly, nuzzling the hat towards him. Ted jammed it over his ears – only for the sudden movement to cause six curled tails to fall out from under his coat.

"Monster!" Ryan screamed, dashing away from his little brother. "Monster!"

Ninetales growled. "What an annoying human," she thought. "It is amazing to think he is related to you, kit." She gently nuzzled Ted, causing him to glow brightly for a second before shrinking down to a much smaller size. The light dissipated to reveal a tiny, shivering Vulpix next to the Ninetales.

"He'll tell someone!" Ted gasped. "Then people will come after us!"

Ninetales growled. "Kit, wait here." Ted burrowed under the pile of clothes left behind from his transformation, watching his mentor dart into the distance like a rocket. About fifteen minutes later, she came back with another red-furred Pokémon in her mouth. Ted smiled the best a fox can as she set the immobile form in front of him.

"Is he going to travel with us too?" he asked.

"No. We will leave him in the city and continue. We must keep going if we want to reach Mt. Pyre by Sunday." So saying, Ninetales' eyes glowed for a moment, and she lifted the rest of Ted's gear using telekinesis. The young Vulpix bounded beside her as the two walked forward towards the town ahead.