There are certain things that you just don't do, given that you value your life.
For example: insult Arceus, in any way. Insulting the other legendaries was bad enough, but insulting Arceus would result in something much worse. Palkia and Dialga would make you explode into a billion pieces. Arceus, on the other hand, would devise something far more malicious. The last person to cross him was forced to watch reruns of Palkia's Holiday Adventure for all eternity.
There was quite possibly only one thing stupider than crossing Arceus, and that was to cross a witch. As you are well aware, witches are usually pleasant enough, until you start eating their house or telling them their dress makes them look fat. At that point, you are left with two options: first, you can run away in an attempt to escape. This does not end well, as wands work very well for ranged attacks. It is not a good idea, then, to take that route. The other is to try and apologize. This works very well, but only in certain cases. For example, explaining that you are lost in the woods and were very hungry when you came across their house made out of Pokéblocks is a good way to convince them that you are sincere when you promise to help rebuild. However, trying to take back your comment about their weight usually fails after they've already decided that you'd make a very good Snorlax.
Of course, one thing is assumed here is that you have some minimal amount of intelligence – you are neither dumb as a box of rocks, nor are you absurdly smart to the point that you come across as arrogant. Unfortunately, some people are both at once – not smart enough to think before blurting out comments about a lady's appearance, but still possessing enough intelligence to flaunt some of their knowledge.
"So, Pikachu, what do you think? First we'll go to Obsidian City, then we'll find the Gym, and then-"
"I've heard it all before," the yellow mouse retorted. "We go to the Gym, then we beat the Leader, then we can go on and get the next badge… we've been doing this for six years. It's not all that complicated, Ash."
The boy frowned. "You don't have to cop an attitude… You weren't like this the other times!"
Pikachu snorted. "That was before we set off to this weird place, huh?"
"This weird place" was known as the Lunes Region – and 'weird' was most definitely the right word to describe it. For starters – only trainers above fifteen were allowed into the region at all. Something about "maturity." Only trainers were allowed into the region, period. It didn't matter what country you came from or how long you had been traveling – if you were old enough and had a Pokémon, you were allowed in. Once you got in, there were certain rules that you were expected to follow. The first and foremost was thus: you were only allowed to use one Pokémon. All of the others had to be sent back. It could be any Pokémon – a weak one, a powerful once, even one that you were only borrowing for the trip. But once you had decided, you were stuck with that Pokémon – there were no wild Pokémon in the Lunes region, and no trades were allowed.
The weirdness didn't stop there. For some reason, all trainers were expected to communicate with their Pokémon to some degree or another. For that purpose, the ones without psychic powers or some other weird ability were given a small, silver box that clamped around their neck and allowed them to communicate with Pokémon. No one was entirely sure how they worked, but one thing was certain – they only worked within the confines of this region.
The final bit of weirdness was thus – the goal of the region was still to collect the gym badges, but only superficially. There were eighteen Gyms throughout the region – one for each type, plus another, mysterious Gym that had to be faced last. Each Gym Badge was unique in one regard – it had some sort of clue inscribed in it that could only be viewed by someone who had won it. When observed under moonlight, glowing text would appear to one who was supposed to see it, giving hints as to the ultimate nature of the region – to the fact that it was actually an enormous treasure hunt.
What was the treasure? No one was certain. The only certain things were that:
There was a treasure.
The Gyms were connected to it somehow.
The last Gym had the final clue.
Only one person had ever beaten the last Gym and found the treasure.
The entire region was ancient, as proven by the ancient ruins. The region was a place where technology was built on top of ancient magic. The translator cubes were not purely mechanical – there was a small, blue crystal in the center that appeared to be the source of the seemingly infinite power.
Then there was the strangeness of the human inhabitants. "This place is weird," Ash had claimed upon first arriving there – and for good reason. All of the trainers there were parading around in the weirdest clothes – bright pink frilly dresses contrasted sharply to steel-tipped boots and leather jackets. Ash himself was handed a strange outfit and told to change. His old clothes were taken away after the incident, and were stated to be given back after his journey.
The new clothes… a bright blue shirt, and a black jacket with a hood and tons of pockets. It had glowing blue lines of light streaking down the sides, and was made of a surprisingly soft material. Then there were black pants with even more pockets, made out of the same soft but strangely durable material. Finally, there was a hat (which Ash liked), enormous boots (which he didn't like very much), and a bag that hung across his chest diagonally (which he hated). Pikachu was given a strange blue collar as well, for unknown reasons.
The woods in this region seemed to talk – as they rustled, they appeared to whisper to each other in hushed tones, speaking about terrible things that they had seen or done. There was something alive about the entire region itself – it seemed to be alive. Geographically speaking, it was on a huge island in the middle of the ocean – a completely isolated place. Something deep within everyone who came here seemed to feel as though it wasn't too farfetched to think that on this isolated place, self-aware plants had grown. It was supposed to be close to the equator, but it seemed far too cold for that, even taking currents into account.
"This is creepy," Ash whined, whacking a bush away with his hand. Almost immediately, a huge, diagonally slash was cut into his skin, as though the bush was made of knifes. The teen gasped and rushed to cover his hand with his jacket, frantically trying to slow the bleeding with the thick fabric. "Also rather sharp," he grunted.
"This whole place is booby trapped," Pikachu hissed. "The first day we came here, we were attacked by a swarm of Butterfree, despite the fact that there aren't supposed to be any wild Pokémon. They had to have been owned by someone, and not one of the trainers – there were far too many to smuggle in. It was a trap. Then, there was the time that we came across that one building that looked like one of the Gyms, but was really an art museum – where all of the paintings there were of-"
"Don't mention that!" Ash suddenly broke in. "Just… don't. I still can't look at Misty in the same way after seeing some of those pictures of that one Water-type trainer…"
Pikachu gave his trainer a look somewhere between amusement and alarm. It was the first time that he had mentioned Misty even since… the incident. The one where all of the girls that he had ever known simultaneously tried to convince him of their love. The one where he had run out of the room, crying, too confused to even consider what the girls would think. After that, most of them refused to talk to him, thinking that he was purposely trying to hurt their feelings.
"Over there," the boy gasped out, "there's a house. A cottage of some kind. I'm going there to see if someone can bandage this up. I don't think I could battle properly with the pain. Too distracting." Just like that, the subject was dropped. Without giving any other indication that he even remembered his first human traveling companion, Ash dashed over to the small cottage as though his life depended on it.
It was a small, unimportant looking place – grey stone, grey roof, old wooden door. There was a garden out in front – if it could be called a garden. Many of the plants spiraled out of control, like hands reaching up from the ground. It was something out of a horror story, almost. Small nametags marked the plants, but it was impossible to read them in the gloom. A gentle, orange light glowed inside the building, but most of it was blocked by huge, wooden blinds. The old door, however, allowed a generous amount of light to spill out of the bottom – enough to entice lost travelers into the building. Ash knocked on this door, too late for Pikachu to comment that the entire thing could be a trap.
It took a few moments for the owner of the house to reach the door. She had been knitting – a favorite hobby – and her chair was only a few feet from the door. As she opened the door, warmth and light spilled into the forest. When she caught site of her visitors, the old woman smiled, but there was a stern look in her eyes.
"What are you doing out so late?" she asked in a strangely young sounding voice. She was not a youthful woman by any means – she was tiny, shriveled, and had more wrinkles than a raisin. But there was a kind of fire in her eyes that made both trainer and Pokémon uncomfortable. Her eyes shone out of her face, a vivid yellow that was normally seen in feral Pokémon. They matched her robes – a deep, royal purple inlaid with yellow accents.
When she caught site of Ash's bleeding hand, her entire demeanor changed. "Ah, I see you've had a run-in with the Blade Bush… nasty thing, but quite handy when all of your knives are filthy and you can't afford the time to wash them. Well, come in, come in, sit by the fire. I'll whip up something to patch you up."
The old woman retreated into her home, signaling for the two to enter the house. There was a fire going in the hearth, which Ash happily sat in front of, but Pikachu was still wary. "Something's wrong with that lady. She doesn't smell like a human. More like… I dunno. More like a Pokémon, but not any kind that I've ever smelled before."
Ash had a somewhat decent view into the kitchen of the house, and this is what he saw – the woman was pouring over a small wooden cabinet set into the wall and pulling down bottles of spices and herbs. These she would carefully mix into a bowl, all with a mysterious expression on her face. Upon hearing Pikachu's comment, she had stiffened. She was insulted, and Ash hurried to cover Pikachu's mouth.
"Don't be so rude!" he hissed. "She's going to help us!"
He removed his hand only when the woman walked into the room, carrying the wooden bowl with her. It was full of a sort of bluish cream which smelled more like pine needles than anything else. The young man removed his hand from the safety of his jacket and presented it to the woman. It was in bad shape – very bloody, and looking as though it would need a ton of stitches. The old woman gave a disapproving noise and started to rub some of the cream on it.
"Keep it on for a few hours, and it should heal right up. That's a mixture of Chansey Mint and Meganium Rose. Together, the two can patch up just about anything, but it takes a bit of time to work. You'll have to rest up here – I have a spare bedroom."
Ash smiled happily. "Thank you so very much!" he chirped. The old woman smiled.
"Just don't wander around so late at night. Bad things tend to happen at midnight here. Only go out if you have a Dark or Psychic-type – they can see everything coming. Ghost-types used to be a help too – but then the patrols started." The woman shuddered. "Gastly started to roam the forest at night, looking for weak travelers to pick off… and if they found another Ghost-type, they were all drawn to it as though it were some sort of beacon…"
Ash shuddered. "This whole region is strange… no one knows what's going on here, but the way things are going, it almost seems like a set-up…"
She said nothing else after that for a while, retreating back into the kitchen in order to prepare some sort of tea. She handed it to her human guest before showing him to his bedroom. Pikachu was forced to stay in the living room, under the rule that "Pokémon shouldn't be allowed to go to certain parts of the house." Both of the guests protested, but eventually gave in when a small bed was wheeled in for Pikachu.
Right before the Electric-type went to bed, he snuck into the kitchen to see what kind of things the old woman had been making. A tin of Chansey Mint and a bottle of Meganium Rose were set out on the counter, but there were two other things next to them that hadn't been put away. One was a positively toxic looking vial of blue fluid. The other was a small bundle of yellowish grasses. A small tag attached to the bundle read, simply enough – "Pikachu Shrub."