While waiting for his eighth gym battle against Volkner, Ash watched as Dawn competed in the Sinnoh Grand Festival. Despite a good early start, she suffered a defeat and only made it to the top thirty-two. Unfortunately, Dawn decided to immediately head to Hoenn to compete there. She decided to leave Ash early.

Brock was similarly forced to leave. After his mom left to go travel for six months, his dad was injured during a pokemon match. Flint became unable to take care of the kids and manage the gym. Brock was left with no option, but to return to his hometown.

Ash naturally felt betrayed that he was abandoned partway through his journey. Now he must deal with this as he prepares for the strongest gym leader of them all. The undefeated Volkner.

Ash plowed through the light rain as he tried to find some place to camp for the night. Pikachu was taking shelter in his jacket, and Ash felt loneliness creeping on him as he tried to find a place. Finally his eyes alighted on a cluster of trees nearby. He quickly jogged over and sank onto the drier ground in relief.

Ash watched Pikachu jumped out of the jacket, before commenting, "Now we just need to set up camp." Pikachu slumped its shoulders in disappointment.

Ash frowned, and an idea struck him. He touched the poke balls on his belt, and thought for a second before pulling two out. He quietly said, "Infernape, Gible, come out."

The first one turned into a chimp-like creature with a flame on his head. A white torso and shins, orange fur on its thighs and arms, and golden plate like armor covering its shoulders, hands, and knees. The fire type looked at the rain bleakly before turning to Ash for instructions.

The second pokemon was slightly smaller. His only dragon type appeared. Most of its blue body consisted of a finned head. Its large mouth was open showing sharp teeth. Under its mouth was a patch of red. Its short arms and legs made it look like it would have difficulty moving. The mark on its fin indicated it was male.

Ash immediately ordered, "You two can help set up camp. Infernape, gather any dry wood you can find, and start a fire. Gible, use dig to create a trench around the campsite. That should keep us a little drier hopefully. Pikachu and I will set up the tent." His pokemon nodded and set off to work.

It only took moments before Gible had successfully dug the trench around the camp. Gible moved through the wet soil as if it wasn't even there. Infernape disappeared into the trees as he tried to find wood to burn. Only the flame on its head kept it visible to Ash. Ash and Pikachu got the tent up quickly too. It was a task that they had been doing for years.

When the tent was up properly, Ash tuned to see Infernape returning with wood. The pokemon quickly created a ring of stones before using Ember to start the fire. They all gathered around the fire's heat.

After several minutes where Ash got the warmth back into his body, he grabbed his backpack and pulled out all their pokemon food. The tent and pokemon food together weighted over fifty pounds, and Ash grimaced to know that he only had enough for two days here. Usually they had three people, but now he would have to stay close to towns more often.

He pulled out several bowls and grabbed the rest of his poke balls before saying, "Come on out. It's dinner time."

Out came his twin tailed water weasel, Buizel, his gray predator bird, Staraptor, and his giant turtle-like pokemon, Torterra. The pokemon gathered around as Ash poured out the size for each. Ash silently prayed about Torterra's rather meager appetite compared to his size, and cursed Gible's large appetite.

When all the servings were distributed, Ash informed them softly, "This is the last of the stuff Brock made. So after tomorrow we'll need to survive on the store bought kind." His pokemon sighed, but didn't blame him for the unfortunate turn of events. Ash grimaced as he pulled out a dry ham and cheese sandwich before stating in an irritated voice, "Wish I could just eat something from a bag."

Ash quickly stuffed down the less than appetizing sandwich and watched as his pokemon ate. The rematch with Volkner was on his mind. Before he had said a three on three, but before they left, Volkner said that he may change that for their next match. Now Ash had to plan for anything.

Torterra and Gible were the obvious choices. They were both ground type, but clearly that wouldn't decide everything. Obviously, other challengers had done the same thing, and Volkner never gave out a badge after losing to an opponent. Volkner must have strategies to beating ground types, and Volkner had seen both his ground types. Ash quickly cursed himself for using Gible instead of Infernape to break himself and Volkner out of the cage.

Infernape and Pikachu wouldn't be bad choices. With those two it would come down to guts and determination, which neither lacked. Infernape's fighting type characteristics would certainly help, and Pikachu always stood a chance. No matter what opponent stood there, those two would put up a fight.

If the battle was more than a four on four, then he would have difficulties. Buizel and Staraptor both had a disadvantage. Both had enough will to shrug off some electric attacks, but neither had a good strategy for beating electric types. After all, Buizel lost in the Wallace Cup to a Lantern, and that had been from a coordinator. Volkner would be on a whole different level.

Finally his pokemon saw Ash examining them, and Pikachu quickly gave him a questioning look. Ash kept a serious face before commenting, "I think we may need to have Buizel and Staraptor battle some electric types before the rematch. If we have a six on six, they need to be ready."

For some reason his pokemon then gave him a sympathetic look. Pikachu jumped on his shoulder and started gesturing and speaking. Ash may not fully understand his pokemon, but he was able to get the message by looking at their body language and tones.

Ash frowned at what Pikachu was saying and quickly asked, "I am not thinking of a gym battle as a distraction. I'm fine with being on my own. Dawn and Brock did what they had to."

Pikachu shook his head and jumped onto Torterra. Ash could almost feel the looks his pokemon were giving him. Each of them wanted to help him, and Ash felt his lie crumbling. They knew as well as he did that he wasn't being truthful.

Ash felt his shoulders drop as he laid down. He then started to state, "I don't blame Brock, at all. His family needs him, and it is what he should do. I would probably forfeit the Sinnoh League finals if I heard my mom was ill or something. It is a person's duty. But I definitely don't like Dawn's choice. I helped her out from the beginning with every problem that came along. Then as soon as she gets disappointed about the Grand Festival, she locks herself up for three days and won't talk. Then she says that she's going to Hoenn out of nowhere. Doesn't even think that I might possibly enjoy traveling with her. She decides to skip out as soon as it doesn't favor her, and when I get slightly angry that she isn't even going to wait till the Sinnoh League, she explodes. She starts screaming that my gym battles always held her back. Then she implies that she would have done better without me in the first place. Honestly after that, I'm glad not to travel with her anymore, but I still feel bad that I'm on my own. Ever since the beginning I've had someone backing me up. I guess that I just, am nervous." Ash felt some weight fall off his chest as he released the feelings in him.

He sat up to see his pokemon giving him sympathetic and supporting looks. Ash smiled even though Buizel seemed slightly embarrassed. Ash knew that they would support him no matter what. They were his rock, just as he was theirs.

Ash shook himself before saying happily, "Okay, let's stop talking about things like that. We do need to focus on the gym rematch. Without Brock and Dawn, we can now train much harder. We need to do this smart for us to beat Volkner." His pokemon seemed happy with the change of subject and waited for him to continue. "Now, Buizel and Staraptor need to get used to battling electric types. Whenever we can, we'll battle. Now the rest of you, should probably learn a new move. I realized over all the past events, that we are pretty limited. Torterra, Earthquake would be really useful, and Infernape, Close Combat would help also. Both those moves would have really helped against Flint and Bertha. Now Gible, you know Dragon Claw, Dig, Dragon Pulse, and you almost have Draco Meteor. I've noticed that you have a dormant Dragonbreath, and have trouble after Dragon Pulse. We'll try to perfect those two, when we finish Draco Meteor. Pikachu, you have several that would be useful. Light Screen and Feint mostly. Light Screen would really help your defense, and Feint would work wonders against Paul's Electabuzz and his Protect. Buizel and Staraptor, let's check the pokedex for any possible moves." He then pulled out his trusty pokedex and started scrolling through it. His eyes widened and he exclaimed, "Wow, Buizel. You have a lot of useful possibilities. Iron Tail, Dig, and Brick Break are all quick possibilities. We'll check more tomorrow. Staraptor, a distance attack would really work for you. Right now, all your attacks are physical. Some possibilities are Heat Wave, Ominous Wind, Air Cutter, Hyper Beam, and Twister. Those will all be difficult to learn, so we'll check later."

He looked up to see all his pokemon were interested, but getting tired. Their eyes were drooping and they were started to waver. Ash laughed and said, "Why not go to sleep now? You all can stay out tonight. The fire will keep us warm till sunrise."

His pokemon happily complied and stared to lay down for rest. Ash looked at the raining sky for a second before climbing into the tent. He crawled into his sleeping bag and thought for a second about his earlier fears about being alone. All seemed ridiculous now. As long as he had his pokemon, he would get through it.