Wow, it's been a year. I am extremely sorry for the wait, everyone. Thanks for all the great reviews and favorites/alerts! Since it took so long, have a very long chapter. I'm sorry if it's badly written, I've been writing it the entire day and got pretty tired of it. Enjoy, I hope this chapter was at least readable.

Also note: Everyone is probably OOC based off of the anime, because I don't watch it. Though the three ghost Pokemon are entirely based off of the ghosts in the early anime, because that was my childhood and that is how I'll always see them.

I WILL RAPIDLY UPDATE THIS STORY NOW THAT I'M PAST THE WRITER'S BLOCK CHAPTER (which by the way took at least four attempts to write from scratch because it kept getting lost for some reason. And I usually give up when something that I wrote is deleted ONCE). NO MORE YEAR LONG WAITS, I PROMISE.


5: Stand Up

The sun lowered itself into the trees, marking the near end of another day. All around the forest, the tall grass rustled with small Pokemon as they played around, though gradually the movement was starting to cease. The creatures were getting tired, and it was about time to return to their homes. Throughout this transition from day to night, there were only a select few things that didn't change. One was the dark mansion, sitting in the corner of Eterna Forest; a mansion that none of the Pokemon wished to approach. It seemed that every day, the Pokemon chose to avoid the creepy, rotting place, and when it came into view, it was always something that the wild creatures would walk warily by, eying it with worried expressions. The house seemed to loom over whoever saw it, even if the viewer was not even a few yards near it. It was the shadow of daily forest life; a dark side hanging in the corner of everyone's view that no one dared to notice for too long.

The other constant is that on this particular day, a figure stood stiffly in front of the decaying building, facing it like a statue. This figure belonged to that of a woman, donning a green outfit, the cape swaying in the slight breeze, though the woman herself stayed completely still. She stood separated from the shadow by a weak fence, her eyes were transfixed on the gloomy mansion, seemingly fearful and yet reluctant to pull away, as if she were waiting for something big to happen. Several wild Pokemon had stopped and stared curiously at the strange human woman throughout the day. She had been standing there for the most of day…it was unusual, but the Pokemon eventually ignored her and continued on with their activities. It wasn't until the sun started to set when the woman finally shifted her weight uncomfortably, showing at least some sign of life. She turned her head slowly to glance at the sun behind her, and was blinded by the golden rays of light.

It's getting pretty late, the woman thought. A chill ran down her spine as she thought of her staying near the creepy mansion at night. She had barely ever went near the place when it was dark outside…her head whipped back to stare alarmingly at the building, as if she was afraid if it had got anywhere closer to her. Of course, the house remained stationary, the old glass windows glaring down at her as if they were alive, gleaming from the sun's golden rays. The woman shivered, cringing slightly as she took a step back from the place she was standing.

"M-maybe I should just forget about it…I can handle the situation myself," she muttered to herself, as if trying to reason with her mind, finding her feet moving backward more. She nodded, taking this idea as a decision and swallowing nervously, about to turn around to sprint out of there.

Before she whipped around and bolted, loud rustling could be heard in the bushes where she was backing into. This didn't get her attention as she was too absorbed in her thoughts, and right when she turned, she found herself slamming into someone.

"Ah! I'm sorry!" Riley exclaimed, staring down at the woman in surprise. The woman stumbled back, looking very flustered. Lucario had treaded out of the dense underbrush behind Riley, and was now blinking at the strange woman, who stared back once she pieced her bearings back together.

A…Lucario? She thought, too puzzled to react for a moment.

"Are you all right?" The question asked by the man brought the woman's attention back to the situation at hand.

"Oh! Yeah, it's okay," she laughed, though her voice was nervous and spoke very quickly. "Er, excuse me, I have to go!" Not wanting to linger there any longer, she skirted passed the strange company, about to disappear into the green background.

"P-please wait, miss!" Riley exclaimed, wearing a confused look on his face due to her strange behavior. "Um, my name is Riley, and this is my partner, Lucario. We're searching for someone right now – have you seen Gardenia?"

The woman stopped at the mentioning of the name, frozen for a moment. She turned back to face the man, frowning. "Wh-what do you want with Gardenia?"

"We had met someone back in town who explained that the gym leader had disappeared for a day. She told us that Team Galactic has gotten extremely active since she vanished…"

With a calculating frown, the woman looked down at the grass, apparently deep in thought. "It's getting worse, huh. I thought that this would happen. Without me to oversee it…"

"You? Are you Gardenia, then?" Riley's question caught the woman off guard, as she didn't realize that her thoughts were being said aloud. She hesitated for a second, then sighed in defeat.

"Yes, I am," she admitted. "No use hiding it…" She looked to the man standing before her. "I guess the town needs me back, huh?" Riley frowned, nodding in agreement. With that, Gardenia turned hurriedly, about to walk away. "Okay! I'll go home right now-"

"I apologize for my curiosity, but why were you gone for so long?" This next question made the gym leader stop again, freezing her walk. Riley tilted his head, again puzzled by her strange behavior. "If you knew the situation…you would not have disappeared for a day, or at least that is just my thoughts. Did something come up, perhaps?"

"W-well…" Gardenia hesitated nervously again. This caused her to look back at the shadowed mansion. It was getting darker by the minute, and she wanted to be far away from this place. Unfortunately, Riley caught her gaze and looked back and forth at the house and the gym leader, with curious eyes. Gardenia scratched her head, feeling that she couldn't keep these secrets anymore. "Ugh," she sighed, hanging her head, but cleared her throat, starting again, this time pouring out her intentions. "Well you see the reason I left was to find a friend of mine that would help with this problem in Eterna City. I thought that maybe numbers would help intimidate Team Galactic better than just me. But…when I asked around for my friend, people told me that they last saw her entering the forest, so I came looking for her. I've been here lots of times, so I know this forest like the back of my hand!" She smiled happily at this statement, proud of that fact, but then her smile faded again when she turned to stare at the mansion again. "But…I couldn't find her anywhere, so…she must've went in there. Though I don't know why she would! I've been waiting out here for her to come out, but she hasn't yet."

"I…see," Riley muttered after a moment of silence that followed her explanation. He and Lucario glanced at each other. A question was bothering them both. "Did you go in and look for her?"

"E-er…" Gardenia hesitated, playing with her hands. "…No, but…I-It's definitely not because I'm s-scared!" Riley blinked at this outburst, and the gym leader looked away, completely flustered. "W-well, I don't really need her help anyway, now that I think about it," she continued with fast words, pretending that she didn't say what she just said. "I'll just go back and handle the situation myself! Yeah! They're waiting for me to do something…"

"Aren't you worried about your friend, then?" Riley interrupted, and the woman stopped talking, her excitement dropping back down.

"Yeah…a little, I guess," she admitted, biting her lip. Riley exchanged another glance with Lucario, and there was a moment of silence.

"I-if you would like, Lucario and I can look for her for you."

"You would! I mean-" Gardenia cleared her throat, pulling together whatever sense of authority she had left. "Thanks – Riley, was it? – but I can handle things well by myself. I'm a gym leader after all!" She blinked to find that Riley and Lucario had already walked towards the fence surrounding the mansion. "H-hey!" She jumped over to them with annoyance. "I really, really don't need help!"

"If you insist," Riley muttered, smiling calmly at the house. "Though…this place seems interesting to us as well. Do you mind if we go in and investigate?" This question caused confusion to run across Gardenia's face, staring at them oddly.

"No, I don't but…"

"Excellent! IF we find your friend, we will surely bring her back outside," Riley responded immediately. "Let's go, Lucario." The two of them started to climb over the fence.

"H-hey, wait!" Gardenia exclaimed, waving at them to return, though they were already over the fence and walking on the pathway to the door. The gym leader stared at their backs, then groaned. "This guy…" Not allowing herself time to think twice, she hopped over the fence and ran after them. "I said wait!"

'She's coming,' Lucario commented, ears twitching. Riley smiled and gave his companion a subtle nod. The man then turned to face the woman who had caught up with them, standing there a little out of breath.

"Shall we go?" he asked softly.

Gardenia almost froze up again, but forced herself to nod. Giving her another encouraging smile, Riley put a hand onto the weathered door and gave it a gentle push. The wooden door, in response, creaked open with a creepy sound effect. Without further ado, Riley and Lucario walked inside, consumed by the shadows. Gardenia hesitated, turning her head back once to see the last of the sun disappear behind the trees. She wanted to go back very much…but there was no turning away this time. Forcing the lump in her throat down, she bit her lip and charged into the building.

~o~o~o~

"Are you doing all right?" Riley had to ask the gym leader behind them, who was cringing away from everything she saw.

"Yeah! Of course! Why wouldn't I be all right? I'm just peachy! Haha!" The shaky, high pitched voice of the woman made Riley flinch slightly. He nodded once, and continued to examine their surroundings.

The air inside the mansion was very musty, smelling of old, decaying wood. The wallpaper coating the interior of the house was peeled and worn, showing that this place was not kept by anyone for quite some time. There were two large staircases, leading up to the second level, where many dark corridors stood open. These stairs did not seem very trustworthy, being made out of wood. Riley studied the area for a moment with a small smile, then closed his eyes, feeing the aura emitted. Lucario twitched his ears and, seeing Riley, copied his way of examination. Gardenia stared at their silence for a moment, then frowned, shivering at the creepy mansion. This was her first time being in here, and she did not appreciate this feel that existed in the walls. It felt as if they were being watched…

"Ah, that's interesting."

The gym leader blinked at Riley's comment, looking at him with a confused expression as he opened his eyes again. "What is?"

"O-oh, nothing really," Riley laughed softly, giving her a reassuring smile. "I suppose we will investigate the top floors first."

"Top…?" Gardenia looked at the stairs with an expression of distaste. Those stairs really didn't seem safe…but her two companions were already walking towards them, so she decided to follow after them. Come on, Gardenia, be brave! You're a gym leader! a voice encouraged in her mind, though it was a bit weak. She sighed, shaking her head. She couldn't be so afraid now. It was time to be the confident gym leader she was. Besides, she thought she was getting used to this environment after standing here for a couple of minutes. Right? Right! Though she knew that she still couldn't stand ghost Pokemon…if any appeared, she was set on running.

The stairs miraculously held themselves as the adventurers made their way up, though there were some dangerous sounding creaks and groans throughout. Gardenia looked around uncertainly the whole time, her senses heightened from all of the silence. She was extremely aware of anything that could happen. She let out a shuddering sigh. I think…I'm getting used to this…

"This way," Riley said, peeking through a doorway into a narrow hall. He stepped through and studied the new location. This hallway was lined with many rooms from left to right. The paths disappeared into the gloomy darkness on either side. Lucario followed, tilting his head in curiosity, and Gardenia joined them, eying the dark hall with nervous glances.

"I have a feeling that your friend is here, Gardenia," Riley commented, earning a surprised look from the gym leader.

"Really?"

Riley nodded. "I think that splitting up and searching for her is the quickest way to find her," he added, continuing his look around. Gardenia blinked, a sinking feeling appearing in her stomach.

"S-split up?" she questioned, her paranoia returning to her.

"Yes. I will search on the left corridor. Lucario can search the middle rooms, and you may search the right side, if you wish."

Gardenia hesitated, but swallowed her fear and slowly nodded. She was a gym leader! She couldn't back down on something like this. Riley smiled kindly.

"If you encounter any trouble, you may call for us."

The woman nodded again, slightly reassured by this option. She returned his smile, also managing to call back some confidence in that expression. "Then, let's start!"

The three companions separated paths, each heading to the specified sides of the hall. Gardenia walked for a little bit, then stole a peek behind her. Both of her company had vanished already. She shivered slightly, but urged herself to keep walking to the end of the hall. There was no turning back, she reminded herself. But she just couldn't shake off that awful feeling of being watched…

Riley walked quietly down the left hall, unfazed by any of the creepy atmosphere around him. He closed his eyes again, feeling the strange, faint pulsating auras of ghosts. This place was most definitely the home of many ghost-type Pokemon, though another aura that Riley was sensing was what drew him forward. He walked until he was at the front of the room second to the last down that hallway and opened the door. A girl combing her long, braided green hair with her fingers stood in the middle of the small room. Her soft eyes rose to make contact with the man at the doorway, and they both shared gentle smiles.

~o~o~o~

This is the first room… Gardenia thought to herself as she faced the last door of the hall. It felt like opening this door was a bad idea…Clenching her fist, the woman walked toward it, her other hand reaching slowly for the handle. She had to start looking. It was the only way to find her friend…after taking a quick deep breath, she looked at the door with determined eyes. Her hand grasped the doorknob and quickly twisted it, flinging the door open.

"Cheryl!"

The door swung open freely and Gardenia blinked, seeing no one there at the position she was standing. About to go to the next room, she thought she heard something in front of her and peered back into the open room. "Cheryl?" Curiously, she walked further in. There was an odd silence when she entered, and the feeling of someone watching her intensified. She shivered, clutching her arms. "This doesn't seem right…!"

She turned, about to exit the room, when the door suddenly slammed shut in front of her. Stunned, she stared at the closed door for a minute, then took a step toward it, reaching out tentatively with her hand to grab the doorknob. She twisted it again to open the door.

It was locked.

"Wha…" The fact sank in, along with her heart. She pulled at the stubborn knob several times, then rushed herself at the door, slamming her fists onto the pale wood. "Riley! Lucario!" She kept knocking and shouting as loudly as possible, but there was no response. Then, a noise behind her caused her to freeze.

"Gengar-gengar…"

Blinking wildly, she slowly turned her head, fearing what she would see next. From the strange painting hanging at the corner of the room, two glaring red eyes could be seen. Slowly, the eyes grew bigger, as the creature started to become visible. After the eyes, the mouth appeared, sporting a wide grin full of pearly white teeth. Then, the outline of the figure formed, slowly becoming opaque with a dark purple hue. The somewhat large Pokemon hovered in front of the woman, studying her with its huge eyes, its ears twitching slightly. Gardenia's face grew pale white.

"G-g-g-g-g…"

"Gar?"

"GENGAR!" Gardenia screamed, flailing frantically at the ghost as she backed into the door in terror. The Gengar snickered at her reaction, floating around her as it made funny faces. "Aaah! Get away!" Gardenia yelled, trying to shoo it away with her hands, but they just went straight through the ghost's body.

"Gengar-gar!" The Pokemon laughed, relatively loudly. Suddenly, Gardenia felt something touching the top of her head.

"Haun-haun-haun!" A Haunter chuckled back, resting its levitating claws on top of the terrified woman.

"Gastly~" another ghost Pokemon snickered, floating above them all.

"AAAAAAHHH!" the woman shrieked, batting Haunter's claws away. This was her worst nightmare, meeting all of these ghost Pokemon at once! She ducked down, covering her head, as the ghosts jeered around her, floating above her head and tormenting her in her fright. Her breath was heavy as she shut her eyes. She was surrounded by ghosts, and no one was coming to help her. What do I do! She thought furiously to herself. Opening her eyes, she saw something catch her attention. The Pokeballs on her belt gleamed dully at her side. Her eyes now widening, she immediately felt calmed.

The ghost Pokemon distanced themselves slightly, drifting off confusedly as the gym leader slowly stood up. They exchanged curious looks with each other, all of their mouths hanging open. Gardenia glanced up at them, her eyes full of new found courage.

"You ghost Pokemon had better knock it off," she commanded with a voice of authority.

"Haa?" Haunter tilted its head, then looked to his companions, using his claws to stretch out his mouth humorously, sticking his tongue out. "Haun-haun-haun!" he laughed, swaying around in a silly fashion as he tried to mock Gardenia (though looked nothing like her at all). The other two ghosts burst out into laughter, apparently finding this imitation hilarious.

"I warned you," Gardenia muttered, grabbing a Pokeball from her belt. She flung it at them in a dramatic way. "Roserade, I choose you! Use Shadow Ball!" The Pokemon sprung out of the Pokeball thrown with a brave call, the dark glob already growing in its hands. The three ghost Pokemon blinked in surprise, flailing around at the sudden threat. Before they could react, the Shadow Ball exploded in their faces, throwing them to the walls. Gardenia took a few heavy breaths, glaring at them. Her Roserade, who had landed with its small feet on the floor, stared at them in an intimidating manner as well. The ghosts groaned, struggling back upright. As this happened, the door suddenly flung open behind the gym leader.

"Gardenia, you did it!" A familiar female voice caused Gardenia to blink, and she quickly turned to face the doorway. Cheryl stood there with a calm posture, smiling brightly at her friend. "You overcame your fears."

"Cheryl!" Gardenia exclaimed, sighing with relief. She ran up to her friend, giving her a big hug. "You would not believe how glad I am to see you!" Cheryl giggled happily at this, patting the gym leader on the back in return.

"Cheryl was attempting to let you get over your fears, Gardenia," the woman heard Riley's voice explain. Gardenia blinked, seeing him standing behind Cheryl, accompanied by Lucario. The man wore a soft smile, his arms crossed in a relaxed pose. "It is a good thing that you did well."

"Huh? A test, then?" Gardenia stared at Cheryl, then puffed up her cheeks in annoyance. "That's mean, Cheryl! You know how much I hate ghosts!"

"Gen?" Gengar hovered sadly over, a great frown on his face.

"Ah-…er, no offense?" the gym leader added, scratching her head as she realized what she just said, then made a face. "But you were bullying me! That's not nice."

"Gen…gengar!" the ghost nodded his head in apology, then tackled the gym leader in a hug.

"Haunter!"

"Gastly!"

The other two joined in happily, following their ring leader.

"Aaaargh, d-don't do that!" Gardenia complained, starting to shiver again. She could hear Cheryl giggling from behind them.

"See, they're not too bad!" the girl said with a smile. "They just get carried away with their pranks, is all."

"Ughhhh…I guess…" Gardenia groaned, crossing her arms as the ghost chuckled, dancing around her. One look said that she still didn't like them very much. She cleared her throat, staring with a strict frown at the Pokemon. "But don't prank me at all, got that? Or you know what'll happen again." Roserade huffed in agreement, copying its trainer's expression. The ghosts whimpered and quickly backed away.

"Now now, don't be so strict to them," Cheryl laughed, patting her friend on the shoulder. "Anyway, shall we be going? Mister Riley filled me in on the situation."

"Ah- right!" Gardenia had completely forgotten about the trouble at Eterna City after this crazy adventure. "We'd better hurry, then!" She smiled, understanding the point of this day. "I feel unstoppable after getting through this. Let's go and give Team Galactic a piece of our mind!"

"That's the Gardenia that I know," her friend replied happily. The gym leader grinned and nodded.

"Come on!" She looked at the ghost Pokemon lingering hesitantly around them and let herself smile, waving at them. "Thanks for the lesson, you three." Her newfound semi-acquaintances, seeing the kind complement, grinned proudly in response. Gardenia frowned at them again. "But don't get too friendly! I still don't like ghost-types very much, y'know!"

"Gen, gen!" Gengar chuckled, taking her comment in a friendly manner, and the woman grinned slightly. The three Pokemon floated in that room, waving off their visitors as they went on their way.

~o~o~o~

"Thanks for your help, Riley," Gardenia commented once they were back outside in the fresh forest air. The night breeze carried off the remains of the musty scent around the company. Riley blinked cluelessly, tilting his head.

"Mm? I did not do much."

The gym leader shook her head and smiled, crossing her arms. "If you didn't show up, I would never have gone into that mansion to begin with! I never liked that place…"

"Will you visit it more now?" Cheryl asked curiously.

Gardenia hesitated, then shook her head. "Nah! I still don't like ghosts!" she complained, causing her friend to laugh quietly, "though…I guess I'm not as scared anymore, huh."

"You don't seem like you are," Cheryl pointed out cheerfully.

"Yeah…you're right!" With a prideful grin, the woman walked on confidently. "Well anyway, time to go face those Team Galactic grunts!"

Riley slowed his pace to a stop, standing there silently in the midst of vegetation. Lucario stopped as well after seeing this, tilting his head at the man questioningly. The man sighed gently, a hand reaching to brush the gold necklace resting on his chest. He stared at the starry sky, as if mesmerized by its vastness. Lucario blinked, a faded memory reawakening in his mind.

'…Aaron…?' Lucario thought in wonder, betraying the new alias for a moment. It took a little longer for the two women to notice that Riley had stopped.

"Riley? Are you alright?" Gardenia asked, walking back a few steps.

"Ah? Yes, I'm fine…" the man replied distantly, giving the gym leader a small smile. Cheryl joined in with Gardenia's puzzled expression, her calm eyes studying the man wisely. Riley sighed, lowering his hand to his side. "…We will be on our way now."

"Huh? You're not coming back to Eterna City?"

The man shook his head. "We have other things to look after. I wish the two of you good luck with Team Galactic."

Gardenia studied him carefully for a while longer, hands on her hips. Then finally, she shrugged, flashing him a brave smile. "If you say so! Thanks again for your help!" Riley smiled and nodded, and the gym leader turned the other way, leaving for Eterna City. Cheryl watched her go for a moment, then turned back to Riley, bowing politely.

"It was a pleasure to meet you, Mister Riley."

Riley smiled at the girl, nodding in return. "It was a pleasure to meet you as well, Cheryl."

With one last smile, Cheryl turned and jogged quickly away to join her friend, holding her long dress up so as to not ruin it with snagging branches. Lucario gazed at the retreating figures, then turned to stare at his friend.

'We are not following? Lord Arceus told us to find Team Galactic…' he commented, puzzled on the man's decisions.

"Yes, however I have a good feeling that they have the situation here under control," Riley replied softly, smiling toward the two friends walking together down the path. "I have their trust that they will take care of the building in that town. If I were to follow, then that would imply that I would not let them handle their obligation alone. It is a bit rude, I think."

'I see…' Lucario frowned, studying the path that the two women took with a serious look. Riley chuckled, patting the jackal on the head.

"You should not worry about them too much either, Lucario," he said cheerfully. "The two of them seem like an unstoppable force right now. Nothing will be able to stand in their way."

The Pokemon stared at the man, then smiled slightly, nodding. 'I understand.'

A roar burst forth from the sky, and with that warning, Salamence descended, shaking the trees with the heavy winds formed by his powerful wings.

"Ah, there you are, friend," Riley greeted, and the dragon nodded in courtesy. "Are you prepared to depart now? We must find a place to stay for the night." Salamence growled warmly, eager to continue flying. Riley chuckled. This Pokemon could never be restricted to being owned by anyone – he was a majestic creature, forever containing a wild heart. Any other lifestyle would disappoint it.

The two riders climbed onto the dragon's back while it waited patiently. Once they were securely seated, the Pokemon flapped its mighty wings, and the team departed once more, for an unknown destination.