"This is the life," said the young Pokémon trainer, Ash Ketchum, looking up at the beautiful blue sky. "Fresh air, the open road, exciting adventures, going where no man has gone before..."
"Are you saying we're lost again?" asked his companion, Misty.
"Of course not! I know exactly where we're going!" Ash maintained.
"Pi ka?" asked his Pikachu skeptically.
"Well, I'm almost sure I know where we're going," said Ash, glancing at his map. "But I think we're running a little behind. I thought we would be in Fuchsia City by now."
"Let me see that!" Brock demanded.
Meekly, Ash handed over the map to his older and more knowledgeable friend. Brock and Misty were both skilled trainers and former gym leaders who had decided, for one reason or another, to follow him on his quest to become a Pokémon master. Brock had left out of discontent with his old job, following his dream of becoming a great Pokémon breeder rather than a trainer. Like the rock-solid Pokémon he trained, he was (usually) calm, level-headed, and supportive. Misty, the fiery-tempered redhead, was ironically enthusiastic about water Pokémon. She claimed she was only following him so he could pay her back for the bike he had "borrowed" from her and subsequently wrecked. As for the Pikachu, he just happened to be Ash's first and favorite Pokémon.
"Hm," said Brock thoughtfully. "I think I know what your problem is, Ash."
"What? What?" Ash peered impatiently over his friend's shoulder, a difficult task since Brock was several inches taller than him.
"You were holding the map upside-down again."
"So, where are we now?" asked Misty.
"I have no idea," Brock admitted. "I can't find this road on the map anywhere."
"You mean we're lost out in the middle of nowhere?" Misty shrieked as her hot temper took control of her once again. "You are so stupid, Ash Ketchum!"
"Hey, knock it off, Misty," said Ash. "We'll figure out where we are, and then we'll get to Fuschia City, you'll see."
"Yeah, well, we'd better," said Misty grumpily.
Pikachu had lost interest in the argument, since something like it happened nearly every day, and had instead been staring off down the road behind them.
"Pi! Pikapi!" he shouted excitedly, jumping up and down and tugging at Ash's jacket.
"Huh? What is it, Pikachu?" asked Ash. He turned and look down the road. So did Brock and Misty.
"Someone's coming!" Brock exclaimed.
"Maybe it's a Pokémon!" said Ash eagerly, readying an empty Pokéball. An avid collector, he was always looking to capture a new addition to his team.
"It's not a Pokémon," said Misty. "It's a person."
Ash took out his Pokédex and ran a scan of the area. "Dexter says it is too a Pokémon. See?"
He pressed a button on the handheld computer, and its digital voice announced, "Drowzee, a psychic Pokémon."
"Huh?" said Brock. "That doesn't look like any Pokémon I ever saw."
However, everything soon became clear as the moving figure drew near. A young man was ambling down the road, and he had a peacefully snoring Drowzee slung over his shoulder.
"Hey! Hi! How are you? Who are you?" he called cheerfully.
"I'm Ash Ketchum," Ash replied. "I'm a Pokémon trainer! This is Brock and Misty and Pikachu."
"Pika," said Pikachu by way of greeting.
"My friends call me Amiable Joe," the man replied. "Hey! Everybody's my friend! You're a Pokémon trainer? That's just great! I'm a Pokémon trainer, too!"
"I see that," said Brock. "Why are you carrying your Drowzee like that? Wouldn't it be easier to put him in a Pokéball?"
"Hey! That's a great idea! I'll put Drowzee in a Pokéball!" enthused Amiable Joe. "Except I don't have one. That's a bummer."
"You can have one of mine," Ash offered. "I've got plenty."
"That's because he never catches anything," Misty muttered.
"Hey! Thanks!" said Joe, gratefully accepting a Pokéball from Ash. "Come on, Drowzee! In you go!" He pressed a button on the Pokéball, and the still sleeping Drowzee dissolved into a cloud of energy and disappeared into the ball.
"That was a good idea," said Joe. "Drowzee's much lighter this way. Is there anything I can do to repay you? Amiable Joe is always glad to lend a hand!"
"Can you tell us where we are?" asked Brock. "We're a little lost."
"We're really lost," Misty corrected.
"Well, we're not exactly lost," said Ash. "We're just taking a little detour and kinda got sidetracked."
"Absolutely right," said Joe, evidently in perfect agreement with everyone. "I can tell you where you are. You're just a mile or so away from Ebony City."
"Ebony City?" Ash repeated. "Never heard of it."
"You should go there," said Joe. "There's a big psychic Pokémon championship there today. That's where I'm taking my Drowzee. If you're a trainer, maybe you'll win a prize! Maybe I'll win a prize! Hey, yeah! That'd be great!"
"All right!" cheered Ash. He loved competitions, just like he loved everything else about raising and training Pokémon.
"But we'll still be lost," Misty pointed out.
"Hey, yeah, true," said Joe, "but maybe you can find somebody there who'll tell you how to get un-lost. Psychic Pokémon trainers from everywhere will be there!"
"Thanks, Joe. We owe you one," said Brock.
"Hey, yeah! Glad to help," said Joe. "I've got to get going now. I wouldn't want to be late to the tournament! Bye!"
Amiable Joe turned and started trotting down the road with his Drowzee now hung comfortably on his belt inside a Poké-ball.
"What a weird guy," said Misty. "Friendly, though."
"Hey, Misty," Ash said. "Why don't you enter your Psyduck in the championship?"
"Psyduck?" repeated Misty. Psyduck was the only true psychic Pokémon in their group, a most peculiar bird with a perpetual headache. There was nothing it liked less than confrontations, which did nothing for its aching head. Of all her Pokémon, Misty liked Psyduck least.
"Why not?" said Brock. "He can be a pretty decent fighter when he wants to be. Besides, maybe if you get him enough experience in the competition, he'll evolve into something better."
"Yeah, maybe," Misty admitted. "Golducks are a lot better than Psyducks. They're so pretty!"
"Then let's go!" Ash cheered. "Onward to Ebony City!"
Meanwhile, moving unobserved through the bushes, another group of people were listening in on the conversation. Two were humans, and the third was a small cat Pokémon known as a Meowth. The humans were dressed in pale blue uniforms decorated by a large, red, block-letter "R" that marked them as members of the infamous gang of Pokémon poachers, Team Rocket.
"What are they saying? I can't hear!" complained James. He was a green eyed young man with jaw-length pale blue hair with one odd little strand that always seemed to be hanging in his face.
"They're talking about a tournament in the next town," answered his companion, Jessie. Like James, she was young and attractive, though her deep green eyes had a certain fierceness to them that James's lacked. Her hair was very long and brilliant red.
"It's our duty as bad guys to crash that tournament and get our hands on some of those psychic Pokémon," said Meowth. "Even if we just get a couple, we can use them to hypnotize other Pokémon and make capturing them a snap!" He clicked his sharp claws together as an illustration.
"Good idea!" James agreed. "Why didn't I think of that?"
"Having a brain might have helped," Jessie muttered.
"Well, I know one other good reason why we should follow those guys," said James.
"We're just as lost as they are."
"Oh. Good point," the other two replied.
"All right," said Meowth. "Let's start making some plans. This time, we'd better get this right."
The sign at the doors to the city read, "Ebony City: A City of Shadow and Mystery."
"Sounds like a great place for a Psychic Pokémon tournament," Brock commented.
"Sounds kind of creepy to me," Misty said.
"Well, we can't turn back now," answered Ash. "Maybe there'll be a gym in there!"
"Oh, Ash, don't you ever think about anything but competition?" said Misty.
"Well, we should go in there anyway," said Brock. "We can pick up some supplies, and maybe a map."
Just as Joe had said, Pokémon trainers from miles around had come to show off their Psychic Pokémon. Everywhere he looked, Ash saw Abras, Kadabras, and Alakazams, Drowzees and Hypnos, Psyducks and Golducks. He listened enviously to a pair of trainers comparing their clutches of Exeggcutes and a distinguished-looking gentleman extolling the merits of his Jynx. A scientist in a white lab coat was delivering a lecture on Mew and Mewtwo to a crowd of fascinated listeners. Ash absorbed it all, wide-eyed in amazement. He didn't have any true Psychic Pokémon yet, but he promised himself that one day, he would get some. He was going to catch them all someday!
"Stay close, Pikachu," Ash cautioned his little friend. "I wouldn't want you to get lost here. There are so many people!"
"Pi-ka," Pikachu agreed.
"Hey, look!" said Brock. "I think the entrance to the stadium is up there."
They made their way up to the doors, and were greeted by a smiling young lady at a reception window.
"May I have your names and the names of your Pokémon, please?" she asked.
"We're not all entering," said Brock. "Just Misty. We're just here for moral support."
Misty took a form and filled in the blanks. When she was finished, the receptionist took it back and studied it with satisfaction.
"You have a Psyduck? How nice! We have a lot of Psyducks here this year. The Psyduck warm-up room is down that hall there, fifth door on the right."
"Thanks," she replied. "Come on, guys! If we're going to do this, we might as well get it over with."
They followed the receptionist's directions, dodging a trainer leading a Butterfree and a Venomoth and nearly tripping over a Slowpoke in the process. A short walk brought them to a large room full of trainers, and all of them seemed to be tending to fat yellow ducks like the one Misty had acquired in Celedon City. The Psyducks were all waddling around, splashing in small wading pools and quacking sociably. As she entered the room, several of the trainters turned to stare at Misty. One of them, a young man in thick, square glasses, ran up to greet her.
"Hey, everybody! We've got another one!" he shouted. "Wow, and she's cute, too!"
In an instant, Misty was mobbed by a crowd of chattering Psyduck enthusiasts, all of them asking rapid-fire questions about her Pokémon and asking what she was doing after the competition. Misty backed against the wall in faint alarm, and Ash couldn't help but giggle.
"Ash, I'm going to get you for this!" she shouted at him over the hubbub.
Just then, a voice came in over a loudspeaker: "Attention! All contestants, please report to the arena to collect your roster numbers."
"Whew, saved by the bell!" Misty muttered, fleeing for the safety of the hallway.
"Why are you leaving so soon, Misty?" Brock taunted. "It looked like you were pretty popular in there!"
"You want popularity? You keep Psyduck, then!" Misty shouted back.
"Hey, I train rock-type Pokémon, remember?" said Brock. "Water and rock types don't mix! Give him to Ash!"
"I don't want him!" Ash said. "He likes you best, so you have to keep him."
Misty sighed and rolled her eyes, but said nothing. The crowd jostled around her, making it impossible for her to back out of the situation even if she wanted to, so she had no choice but to be shoved up to the door of the coliseum, where a man stood handing out tickets.
"Can I see your registration, please?" he asked.
Misty fished her paperwork out of her pocket, and the guard looked it over. Then he handed it back to her, along with a slip of paper with a number on it.
"Number 208," he said. "That's your roster number. When they call for you, that means it's time for you to go into the arena and do your thing. If you win your battle, you'll go back to the sidelines and wait for the next round. Any questions? No? Good. NEXT!"
Misty and her friends made their way into the stadium. It was a huge, dark, forbidding place, just what one would expect to find in Ebony City. Its high, vaulted ceilings sported arches that leaped off into invisibility, and everything was made of shiny black marble. Some cunning person had hung lights high above - or were those tiny holes in the ceiling? - that simulated the night sky. A single spotlight beamed down to act as a full moon. Up and down the walls, bleachers were filled to the brim with avid fans, and the sides of the huge playing field were lined with trainers readying their Pokémon.
"Wow," said Ash, eyes shining. "This is some gym!"
"This isn't a gym, Ash," said Brock. "It's a stadium."
"Big deal. It's still awesome. I wish I could be in this competition."
"Pika pika," Pikachu agreed.
The group searched for vacant seats and picked out a space between a woman tending two sleepy Abras and a man with a Zubat hanging from his arm. Brock immediately started comparing notes on the raising of such flying mammals, while Ash and Pikachu looked this way and that as the myriad of different Pokémon prepared themselves for battle. Misty fidgeted, wondering how her pudgy, uncoordinated Psyduck would ever stand up to something as dangerous-looking as, say, that Alakazam over there. As her eyes scanned the sidelines, she thought she saw something out of place.
"Hey, Ash, did you see that?" she asked.
"See what?" Ash replied. "I didn't see anything."
"That's because you're looking the wrong direction. Look down there, next to the two guys with the Slowpoke. See?"
Ash looked down, just in time to see a few shadows slipping back into the crowd. Coated, hatted, and wearing dark glasses, it was difficult to make out their features, but there were some telltale signs: one had long red hair escaping her hat; another was short and had a tail.
"That's Team Rocket!" Ash whispered excitedly. "What are they doing here?"
"Probably looking for us," said Brock. "Either that, or trying to capture some of these psychic Pokémon."
"Whatever they're doing, we've got to stop them!" said Ash. "Come on, guys, let's see what they're up to!"
He got up and began heading across the arena, but he didn't get more than a few paces before Brock caught his jacket and pulled him back.
"Wait just a minute, Ash," he said. "You can't run out there now! I think something is starting to happen. Look!"
Even as he spoke, the stadium lights were dimming, leaving only the twinkling stars and the moon throwing its light into a tight circle in the center of the arena. The audience became hushed as a man with a microphone stepped out into the light. He held up one hand in a welcoming gesture and smiled up at the crowds.
"Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, and especially Pokémon, welcome to the Ebony City Psychic Pokémon Tournament!" The crowd clapped and cheered until the host gestured for silence. "I am pleased that you all could come today. We've got some very talented trainers here, so I encourage you all to sit back and enjoy the show! Get ready, because our starting contenders will be stepping out in just a few minutes. In the meantime, please keep all small children and Pokémon in their seats, use no flash photography, and - yikes!"
The man suddenly disappeared as a net flew out of the shadows and pulled him out of sight. There was an electrical crackle, and all the lights went out. The crowd murmured, and the psychics on the sidelines fidgeted as they sensed approaching danger.
"Prepare for trouble!" laughed a voice in the darkness.
"And make it double!" added a second.
The lights flashed on again, revealing Jessie and James posing in the circle of white radience. There were gasps and whispers, and the pair smiled, obviously loving every minute of the attention.
"To protect the world from devastation!"
"To unite all people within our nation!"
"To denounce the evils of truth and love!"
"To extend our reach to the stars above!"
"There they go again," Ash muttered. "Brock, can we go now?"
"Yeah, I think this might be a good time to intervene. Come on!"
Meanwhile, the Pokémon poachers had finished their pontificating, completed by Meowth, who dropped from the light fixture to land in front of his friends. The other Pokémon were getting nervous, and their trainers did what they could to settle them. It wasn't easy; little flickers of light emanated from them as they began radiating psychic energy. Team Rocket didn't seem to notice.
"Pay attention, everyone," said Jessie, "and we'll make this easy for you. Hand over your Pokémon, or face the consequences."
"What do they think they're doing?" Misty whispered as she tried to shove her way through the crowd. "They don't really think people are just going to give up like that, do they?"
"This is Team Rocket we're talking about," Brock replied.
"Oh, yeah, right."
Others who didn't know the criminals so well were having similar thoughts.
"You're crazy!" shouted one of the trainers. "There's no way we're giving our Pokémon to you!"
"Is that so?" Jessie replied. "James, this man doesn't want to give us his Pokémon. What do you think we should do about that?"
"Oh, I don't know," James answered casually. "Maybe we should blow them all sky high!"
With a flourish, he produced something round, black, and shiny, with a fuse at the top. In the other hand, he took out a match. The crowd murmured to itself again.
"Give up your Pokémon," Jessie shouted over the noise, "or we turn this place into a crater!"
"And he's just crazy enough to do it, too!" Meowth added.
Trainers and audience members looked at each other in astonishment. They wouldn't really do it... would they? Team Rocket listened to the hubbub for a moment. Deciding that the people weren't thinking fast enough, they decided to speed things up a bit.
"I'm lighting the fuse!" James shouted. He struck the match and lit the bomb, and the flame began merrily sparking and fizzing as it ate its way down the cord.
"Don't do it!" shouted Ash, breaking through the crowd.
"Out of our way, kid," said James. "You aren't going to stop us this time!"
"Oh, yeah? Go get 'em, Pikachu!"
Several things began to happen at once. Pikachu launched himself at Team Rocket, zipping around in circles and throwing them off-balance. Ash tackled James and tried to wrest the bomb from his grip, while Brock and Misty tried to stop Jessie and Meowth from intervening. Meanwhile, seeing Pikachu's assault had finally goaded the other Pokémon into attacking, and there was a colossal spray of psychic energy as every Pokémon in the arena turned its attention to the struggle at the center. The beams struck each other with a burst of light that illuminated the coliseum for an instant, and then...
There was a quiet pop as the bomb burst in midair, sending out a rain of flowers and confetti. They fell quietly down to the floor where the action had been happening seconds before. Now the space was empty. Ash, Brock, Misty, Pikachu, and Team Rocket had vanished.
Somewhere in Tokyo, two cats were curled up together on a fuzzy pink blanket, black intertwining with white to make a furry yin and yang. Nearby, a window stood open to let in the fresh air and sunlight of a warm spring day. The sunbeams spilled onto the floor in a golden rectangle that crept slowly across the floor and onto the bed to tickle the nose of the black cat. She yawned and stretched, briefly baring her claws and sharp white teeth. Then her whiskers twitched. Her ears stood up. Eyes like copper pennies opened to sparkle in the sun. Then she spoke.
"I sense something," she said.
"Hmm? Whazzat?" The white cat was not fully awake.
The black cat nudged him with a paw. "Artemis, did you hear me? I said I sensed something - something strange."
Artemis opened his blue eyes and looked up at his companion, still blinking sleepily.
"Sorry, Luna. Guess I dozed off for a minute there. What were you saying?"
"I'm not going to repeat myself for a third time," said Luna. "You should have been paying attention, not sleeping all day like Serena."
"You were sleeping, too," said Artemis defensively. He stood up and shook himself. Then he, too, spread his whiskers and stared out the open window. "Wait a minute! Do you feel that?"
"Yes," said Luna tartly. "That's why I woke you up."
"Oh." Artemis blushed a bit beneath his fur. "I guess we'd better go and look for it, then."
Before Luna could scold him further, he bounded out the window, giving her no choice but to follow along behind him. The two of them scampered down the sidewalk and into the city.
Meanwhile, Ash and his friends landed with a bump on the pavement of an empty street. Rather, it was Ash who landed with a bump, while Misty and Brock landed on top of him.
"Hey, get off!" he cried, trying to pull himself free.
"Pika!" Pikachu added irritably. He tugged mightily and popped out from under Brock's arm, actually rolling a few feet before coming to a stop against the curb.
The group had a brief scramble before they finally managed to disentangle themselves. Then they stood up, dusted themselves off, and stared. All around them were the tallest buildings they had ever seen, even more glamorous than the towering structures in Celadon City, shining brighter than glittering Saffron. Everything about it was incredible, imposing, and undeniably alien.
"I don't think we're in Ebony City anymore," said Ash.
"Nice going, Ash!" said Misty. "You got us lost again!"
"Don't blame it all on him," said Brock. "It was Team Rocket who was causing all the trouble... Where are they, anyway?"
They looked around. Team Rocket was nowhere to be seen.
"Looks like they're not here," Ash opined.
"Who cares where they are?" asked Misty. "I want to know where we are! And how did we get here, anyway?"
"Maybe we teleported?" Brock suggested uncertainly. "I know psychic Pokémon can teleport themselves to other locations, so maybe they sent us here."
"Why would they do that?" asked Ash.
"Because they were scared, I guess," Brock replied. "With all of those psychic Pokémon in one place, they would have been able to channel a lot of power. Who knows how far they could have sent us?"
"I wonder if anyone knows the way back to Ebony City?" asked Misty, looking around. There didn't seem to be any other people around.
"I'd settle for knowing the way back to anywhere," Ash replied. "Hey, cut that out, Pikachu! ... Pikachu, what's wrong?"
"Pi! Pikapika!" chattered the little Pokémon frantically. He jumped up and down, tugging at Ash's trouser cuffs, and pointing into a shadowed alley. Ash turned to look, and saw two pairs of glittering eyes peering back at him.
"Looks like we've got company," Brock observed.
"All right!" Ash cheered. "Pokémon!"
"Ash! How can you think of catching Pokémon at a time like this?" asked Misty.
"Practice," Brock replied. "Lots and lots of practice."
"Yeah, the same way you always think about girls," Ash shot back. He turned his attention back to the glittering eyes. "All right, I see you! Come on out and show yourselves!"
Luna and Artemis glanced at each other.
"Do you think it's safe?" asked Luna.
"Well, they look harmless enough," Artemis replied. "Are you sure these are the ones we're looking for, though? They're just regular people."
"No, they're not. There's definitely something odd about them," Luna replied, "and that means we need to investigate."
"Hey, they talk!" said Ash, coming closer to the cats. They looked at each other in alarm, realizing too late that they'd been overheard. Fortunately, this strange human didn't seem all that surprised at the idea of talking cats. He looked at them with excitement, but not any fear or awe. "What kind of Pokémon are you?"
"Maybe they're some kind of Meowth," Misty suggested. "They sort of look like Meowth, and they talk like Meowth..."
"What's a Meowth?" asked Luna.
"What's a Pokémon?" asked Artemis.
"Oh, you know, Pokémon," Ash said. "You mean you never heard of them?"
Both cats shook their heads.
"You mean you don't have any Pokémon here?" asked Brock.
"Nope," said Artemis. "Never heard of them."
"What kind of place is this?" asked Misty, sounding almost afraid. "What kind of place would have no Pokémon?"
"If you're not Pokémon," asked Ash, "what are you?"
"We're cats," Luna replied. "What else?"
Ash, Brock, and Misty looked at each other in confusion.
"What's a cat?" asked Ash finally.
Artemis looked at Luna seriously. "You're right. These people really are strange. We're going to have to do something about them."
"Can you help us?" asked Misty hopefully. "We're lost."
"We might know some people who would be able to help," said Luna. "Can you all keep a secret?"
"Sure!" said Ash.
"No, he can't," Misty retorted.
"Ignore them," said Brock. "You can trust us."
"I guess that's the best we can do," Luna sighed. "I'm going to take these people to Raye's temple and tell her what's going on. You go round up the Scouts."
True to her word, Luna escorted her newfound friends to a lovely Japanese temple, where they were introduced to the aforementioned Raye. Raye proved to be a young lady, perhaps a few years older than Ash, with long black hair that fell past her waist and flashing violet eyes. She was clearly a temple priestess, not just because of the ceremonial-looking red and white robes she wore, but because of her grace, serenity, and clear sense of power. All of the trainers could feel it as she examined them all, making them feel suddenly bereft of secrets. She must have decided that they were trustworthy, or at least acceptable, because she went and had a few words with a similarly robed young man with shaggy brown hair, and then brought them into her parlor.
"I'm going to send for some tea," she said. "You all wait here for a minute."
The girl swept out of the room, nodding slightly to Luna as she left. On her way out, she bumped into a new girl. She was shy-looking, with short dark hair and wide blue eyes. Her arms were loaded with books and other scholarly paraphernalia.
"Amy!" Raye exclaimed. "Just who we needed to see. Luna brought these people in - she says there's something strange about them. Would you talk to them for a minute? I have things I have to do."
"Sure, Raye," said Amy agreeably. "I knew it had to be important. Artemis had to come and get me out of my computer class."
Raye nodded absently and hurried away again. She had meant what she said about having things to do, but they had nothing to do with tea.
Meanwhile, the new arrival took a seat at the table and set down her stack of books. Pikachu approached them and began investigating them, ears and tail twitching. Amy watched with wonderment.
"Oh, it's cute!" she said. "What is it?"
"It's a Pikachu," Ash replied. "He was the first Pokémon I ever got."
"Pokémon?" Amy repeated. "What's that?"
"Doesn't anyone around here know anything?" Misty wondered. "Pokémon are Pokémon."
"They're animals," Brock explained. "Where we come from, people catch them and train them to be helpers or pets. Some people raise them to compete with each other."
"That's what I do," Ash cut in. "I'm going to be the greatest Pokémon trainer ever!"
"That's interesting," said Amy. It wasn't just a polite nothing; she meant it. "How do you train Pokémon?"
"Um... well, here, I'll show you." Ash fished in his pocket and withdrew his Pokédex, which he handed to Amy with the air of a generous benefactor. She was suitably impressed.
"A computer!" she exclaimed, happy to have found something she understood. "What does it do?"
"It's a Pokémon encyclopedia," said Ash. "It has a list of every kind of Pokémon ever discovered. Try it!"
Amy took the computer and began tapping buttons, staring intensely as the images flickered across the screen. Suddenly, the door opened, and someone burst into the room, carrying a stack of comic books in one hand and a lunch bag in the other.
"Hey, Amy!" shouted the newcomer. "Whatcha doing?"
Amy jumped a foot.
"Serena, don't sneak up on me like that," she scolded.
"What? What did I do?" asked Serena, looking oblivious.
Like Amy, the new girl was slender and small of stature - actually standing a few inches shorter than her petite friend. Her eyes were also blue, but that was as far as the resemblance went. Her hair was long, longer even than Raye's, reaching nearly to her feet, and it was bound into two pigtails that were wrapped into two buns on either side of her head to keep her golden tresses from dragging the ground. Where Amy radiated calm and intelligence, Serena bubbled over with childish vivacity.
"She's on time, for once," Luna muttered. "Will miracles never cease?"
"Oh, come on, Luna, I'm not that bad. I was only late a couple of times," said Serena.
"Right. In the last two days."
"Well, Artemis just about had a fit trying to get me here, so I came. I thought he was going to have a heart attack or something. I just wanted to finish one more page." Serena brandished a comic book in indignation. Then her eye fell on Pikachu. "Oh, it's so cute! Where did that come from?"
"It's a Pikachu," said Amy, displaying her newfound knowledge.
"It's adorable!" Serena gushed. She tossed her comic books and her bag to the floor and went to try to pick him up. Pikachu, squeaked as he was pulled unexpectedly into her embrace and began to struggle.
"You shouldn't do that, Serena," Amy cautioned. "Pikachu is an-"
"Piiii kaaa chuuuuu!" Pikachu shouted, lighting up in a brilliant flash of electricity. Serena let out a wail that rattled the windows.
"-electric Pokémon," Amy finished.
"Oy," said Serena. "Why didn't you tell me that before I picked him up?"
Pikachu slipped from her now slackened grip and shook himself.
"Pi ka chu," he said. It sounded very much as if he was saying, "Serves you right!" He went to perch on Ash's shoulder and glared at Serena distrustfully.
The door opened again, and Brock looked up expectantly. This was his kind of place - every time the door opened, a pretty girl walked in, and he was not disappointed. Actually, he was pleasantly surprised to see two young females appear, escorted by the white cat. The first girl could have been Serena's twin sister, save for the fact that her hair was a few inches shorter and held out of her face by a red ribbon instead of pulled into pigtails. As for the second girl... Brock sat up and stared. Tall and slender, with waves of chestnut hair, emerald eyes that sparkled with good humor, rosy lips that hinted of laughter and determination in the same instant... he could find no fault with her. Even the air around her seemed sweeter, perfumed faintly with the scent of roses.
*Wow,* he thought. *She's the most beautiful girl I've ever seen!*
Meanwhile, the green-eyed girl was sizing up the visitor's to her friend's home: a spunky- looking redhead, a kid in a red hat, and...
*Wow,* she thought, staring at Brock. *He looks just like my old boyfriend!*
Misty looked at the starstruck expression on Brock's face and shook her head. "Here we go again."
The object of his attention paid no notice. She hailed everyone with a cheery smile and a wave.
"Hey, Serena! What's going on?" she asked. "We thought Raye was trying to strangle you again."
"That thing tried to kill me!" Serena wailed, pointing at Pikachu.
"Which thing?" the other girl inquired. "That yellow animal, or the kid in the hat?"
"Pi ka?" said Pikachu innocently.
"He doesn't look so dangerous to me," said the green-eyed girl. She knelt and held out one hand. "Hey, little guy. Was Serena picking on you?"
Pikachu looked at her curiously for a moment. Then he jumped off of Ash's shoulders and went to inspect her fingers.
"Cha!" he said in approval. He scampered up her arm and nuzzled her ear, making her laugh.
"Hey, he really likes you!" said Ash. "I've never seen Pikachu act like that around a stranger before."
"He knows a kindred spirit when he sees one," Amy said. "Lita's good with electricity."
"Lita," Brock repeated. "What a beautiful name..."
"Thanks," she answered, blushing a bit. "Who are you?"
"Oh, uhm... I'm Brock," he managed. Then, prompted by a vicious jab in the ribs, courtesy of Misty's elbow, he added, "and this is Misty, Ash, and Pikachu."
"I'm Mina," added the blonde girl. "I guess you've met Amy and Serena. Where's Raye?"
"Getting tea," Misty replied. "She sure is taking a long time, though. Does it take that long to make tea?"
Before anyone could answer, the door opened. This time, it was the shaggy-haired boy who arrived, struggling with a tea tray. Cups and saucers danced crazily as he attempted to make them balance and open the door at the same time. Finally, he managed that difficult feat of coordination and quickly set the tray on the table before any calamities could occur. A little tea sloshed out of the pot and onto the napkins.
"Hi, Chad," greeted Amy. "Where's Raye? I thought she was brining the tea."
"Oh, she went somewhere," said Chad. "She told me to get the tea for her - said there was something important she had to do."
The other girls exchanged glances of worry. Where could she be?
Jessie, James, and Meowth picked themselves up off the pavement, rubbing their bruises.
"Oh, my head," James moaned. "What happened?"
"I don't know," answered Jessie, "but we're going to find out."
"I know what happened," said Meowth. "We teleported. It happens when psychic Pokémon get spooked - they send their enemies somewhere else."
"You knew this was going to happen?" Jessie demanded. "Why didn't you say something?"
Meowth shrugged. "I thought you two knew what you were doing."
"How could you be so stupid?" snapped Jessie.
"I dunno," said Meowth. "I guess I should know better than to trust you by now."
"Ooh, she got you, Jessie," James laughed.
"Shut up!" Jessie smacked her partner and Meowth in a single swipe, leaving them both with red splotches marking their faces. "We don't have time for your comedy routine. We've got to figure out where we are and how to get back where we came from."
"How are we going to do that?" asked James.
Jessie looked deflated. "I don't know. Any ideas?"
Nobody had any. Jessie leaned against a wall, tapping her foot in impatiently, while James sat on the curb. Meowth paced up and down, staring at the pavement in deep concentration. For a while, all was silent, save for the occasional rush of a car rolling by and the tap-tap-tapping of Jessie's boot. Suddenly, Meowth let out a yelp.
"Oh, wow!" he exclaimed.
"What?" asked two eager voices.
"I found a quarter!"
Jessie made a strangled sound of frustration, but James' eyes lit up.
"Can I have it?" he asked.
"No way! I found it fair and square, and it's mine."
"Can we share? I'll split it with you."
"What are you talking about? You can't split a quarter!"
James made a grab for the coin, but Meowth pulled back his paw and let fly with the other one, marking his friend with a row of claw marks. The two of them went into a scuffle. Jessie looked at the cloud of flying dust and fur in utter disbelief.
"Oh, you two are impossible," grumbled Jessie, and she snatched the coin out of their hands. "Here we are, miles from anywhere we know without any way to get back, and you two are fighting over a stupid quarter... and it's not even real!"
"Huh?" James and Meowth stared at the circle of metal. It was the right size and color for a quarter, but it was marked with the emblem of a crown on one side and the words, "One Token," on the other.
"It's a video game token!" James exclaimed.
"It must have come from over there," said Meowth, pointing up the street.
A short walk away stood a building plastered with posters that advertised the latest video games. Groups of young people walked in and out of the sliding glass doors, chatting, laughing, exclaiming over victories and bemoaning losses. The words, "Crown Arcade," were emblazoned prominently over the front entrance.
"All right!" James cheered. "We can play a game!"
"Not with my token!" objected Meowth.
He made a grab for the coin, but James was already up and running for the arcade. He turned long enough to stick out his tongue at Meowth. The cat Pokémon took to all fours, shooting down the sidewalk and shouting dire threats at his companion, while Jessie trailed along behind, muttering something about getting some new partners.
Day or night, there was one part of the Cherry Hill Temple that was never without light. It was the heart of the holy place, a place of eternal flickering, whispering lights. The room itself was plain, needing no furniture, no decoration, not even windows or carpet. It was only a small square room, nothing much to look at, but it was a place of warmth, shelter, and, to those who had the gift to find it, guidance. It was there that the Great Fire burned eternally, creating its own incense with the smoke of sweet wood and speaking in the tongue of crackling flames. Before it knelt its young priestess, head bowed and eyes closed in reverence, once again petitioning for answers.
"O Great Fire," she intoned, "tell me who these strangers are that have come here! If they are friends, tell me how to help them. If they are enemies, show me how to destroy them!"
She added a few words in an older language, moving her hands quickly to make signs in the air. Then, with a final exclamation, she let her eyes snap open, and the fire roared.
An outside observer would have seen nothing unusual - just a girl and a fire in a darkened room. Raye's eyes, however, were deep-seeing. They read images in the leaping flames as the fire sprit spoke to her. At last, having said all it had to say, the fire burned down to softly glowing embers. Raye bowed and whispered a thank you, then rose gracefully to return to the sunlit outside world.
She found her friends in the parlor, absently sipping tea. Even that odd yellow animal, she noted, had appropriated a cup and was lapping at it happily. Chad was still hanging around, telling the guests about the time he had spent on stage as a rock star, not really caring that he had no one's full attention. The redheaded girl was doing her best to maintain an attitude of politely listening, but no one else was even doing that much. Serena had curled up with a comic book and was giggling at it hysterically. Mina, Luna, Artemis, and Lita were apparently having a deep discussion of something-or-other, but Lita kept stealing glances at the dark-skinned young man on the other side of the room while he wasn't looking. Meanwhile, he was pretending to be listening in on the conversation his younger friend was having with Amy on the operation of a red handheld computer, but kept glancing back at Lita. However, as the doors of the parlor opened, everyone stopped what they were doing to look up at Raye.
"Oh, there you are!" said Mina. "We were wondering where you went. When you didn't show up, we started to get worried."
"It was nothing. Just running a little errand," said Raye. She turned to Chad with a smile and a flirtatious toss of her hair. "Hey, Chad, sweetie, didn't you say you'd do my chores for me this afternoon?"
"Hmm? Oh, yeah, sure thing, Raye," he agreed. "I was just having fun talking to your friends."
"Well, if you want to get your chores and mine done before nighttime..."
"Oh, yeah! Right! I'll get right on it!" he replied. "Later, dudes and dudettes!" He waved to everyone and ambled out of the room.
"Is he your boyfriend or something?" asked Misty.
"What? No way!" Raye replied, blushing a little. "I just had to sweet-talk him into getting my work done for me. We've got a lot to do today, and Grandpa will have a fit if my chores aren't finished."
"Don't let her kid you," said Serena. "She really likes him - she just won't admit it."
"Keep your big mouth shut, Serena," Raye ground out. "Anyway, while you've been goofing off, I've been finding out some things."
"Things?" Luna repeated. "Would you please enlighten the rest of us?"
Raye nodded. "I've consulted the Great Fire, and it showed me who these people are and where they came from."
"You're a little late, Raye," said Mina. "We know who they are. They told us: Brock, Misty, Ash, and Pikachu. They say they train these little animals called Pokémon."
"That's not what I meant," said Raye. "These people aren't from our world. They came from some other place - not just another planet, but another plane altogether."
"You mean, like, the Negaverse?" asked Serena, eyes growing wide and fearful.
"Relax," said Artemis. "There are plenty of other dimensions besides that evil place."
"As far as I can tell, they're good people," said Raye, "but the Fire showed me others who were trying to hurt people. They're here, too, somewhere."
"Team Rocket!" Ash exclaimed. "Man, I thought we left them back in Ebony City!"
"Who's Team Rocket?" asked Amy. "Are they dangerous?"
"Sometimes," Brock replied. "Mostly, they're just annoying."
"Well, whatever they are," said Raye, "we can't let them run around loose in downtown Tokyo. We have to find them and bring them back. From what the Great Fire showed me, we can't send anyone back where they came from unless we send them all together."
"But you can send us back?" asked Misty hopefully.
Raye gave an offhand shrug. "Sure. That's the easy part."
"Easy?" asked Ash. "Teleporting someone to another dimension is easy?"
"With our powers, yes," Raye replied.
"Powers? What powers?" asked Ash.
"That's the secret," Luna said. "You all have got to promise you'll never breathe a word of this to anyone."
"I promise," said Ash, "on my honor as a Pokémon trainer!"
The other trainers, and even Pikachu, nodded in agreement.
"All right," said Luna. "These five girls are not ordinary schoolgirls. They are princesses from other worlds, and they protect this city with powers associated with their home planets. Raye is Sailor Mars, with the power of fire. Amy is Sailor Mercury, with the power of ice. Mina is Sailor Venus, with the power of love. Lita is Sailor Jupiter, with the power of lightning. Serena is their leader, Sailor Moon, with the power of the Silver Imperium Crystal. Together they are known as the Sailor Scouts, defending the universe against evil!"
"So, let me get this straight," said Ash. "In this world, the universe is protected by a bunch of girls?"
"Who says girls can't defend the world?" asked Misty. "I bet I could beat up an evil villain any day of the week!"
"Hey, I never said you couldn't!" said Ash hastily, holding up his hands to defend himself - Misty could get aggressive when she got mad.
"Well," said Mina, "we did have one guy hanging around for a while, but he kind of... left."
Serena sighed. "Yeah... Darien."
The way she said his name left no doubts as to how she felt, about him and the situation. There was an unspoken consensus to change the subject.
"So you're sure you can used these powers of yours to get us home?" Brock asked.
"We've done it before," said Mina, "or something like that. Teleporting to the Negaverse is about the same as teleporting to another dimension, right?"
"Well, not quite," said Raye. "It's a little more complicated than that. We only teleported to the North Pole. I don't think any of us could travel to their world, but they can. It's the Principle of Association."
"The whatsis?" Serena asked. "Quit it, Raye, you're talking like Amy."
"The Principle of Association," Artemis repeated. "It's a theory of magic. It means that once two objects come in contact with each other, they retain a link with each other. Sometimes that link can be followed. I think what Raye means is that the link our friends here have with their world will help draw them back home again."
"That's why everyone has to go at once," said Amy. "The participants' previous association with each other links them in such a way that sending only a fragment would be impossible because the remainder would produce a counterpull that would nullify the process."
"What language is she speaking?" asked Ash.
Raye clarified. "All of you have been around each other, so you all have a link. If we tried to send part of you home, the link you have with the ones that stayed would pull you back again."
"Oh," said Ash. "Why didn't she just say so?"
"I did," Amy replied.
"So the point is," said Lita, "we gotta find these Rocket people and get everyone together so they can all go home. Right?"
"Right," Raye agreed.
"Then why are we sitting around yakking about it?" Lita asked. "Let's get off our butts and find them!"
"Good idea," Luna agreed. "It think it would be best if we split into groups, preferably with one person in each group who will recognize the ones we're looking for."
"I saw their images in the Great Fire," Raye volunteered, "so I'll lead one group."
"I think we ought to be able to recognize them, don't you?" Artemis asked Luna. "If we could sense these people, we should be able to sense the Rockets."
"Fine," said Luna. "Five groups, then. The two of us will go together, and the rest of you pick partners."
Mina was the only one who felt inclined to search with Raye. Amy chose to travel with Ash, probably so she could continue quizzing him on his knowledge of Pokémon, and he seemed glad enough for an audience. Luna whispered something to Misty, who then offered to pair with Serena - the wise cat knew that, without someone keeping an eye on her, Serena would choose to do her searching at the malls and arcades. No one was surprised to see Lita pair up with Brock. One by one, the teams wandered off on their errands. Luna watched them go with vague apprehensions, but she squelched them. After all, it could be worse. Murmuring an unheard good luck wish, she turned and nodded to Artemis, and they leaped to the roof of the temple to vanish in a blur of light and shadow.
Andrew was having an exasperating conversation. That new girl at Serena's school - what was her name again? Anne? - had appeared in his arcade, and she would not go away. She was neither being politely sociable, completely ignoring the other customers, nor was she spending any money. Still, Andrew's nature was to be friendly, so he endured her ceaseless questions, shouted at high speed in her whining voice.
"You're sure he hasn't been here?" she asked plaintively.
"I'm positive," Andrew replied. "If Darien had come in, he would have stopped to talk to me, and I haven't seen him all day."
"Ah," said Anne thoughtfully. Then her eyes lit up - weird eyes, they were, thought Andrew suddenly. There were times when he was almost sure they glowed. "So if he hasn't come in today, then there's a chance he will, right?"
"Well, maybe, but-"
"Great!" Anne cheered. "Then I'll just hang around until he comes."
"What makes you think he's going to come?" asked Andrew. "He's probably at home studying or something."
"He's your friend, right?" Anne persisted. "When he gets tired of studying, what better way could there be for him to unwind than to come play some video games and hang out with his friend? And if he should happen to run into a beautiful girl while he's here..." She trailed off dreamily.
"I don't know," said Andrew. "Last I heard, I kinda thought Darien had a thing for Serena."
Anne fixed him with one of those piercing stares of hers. "Are you saying that airhead Serena would be better for Darien than me?"
"Um, no, I just meant..." Andrew foundered for a reply that wouldn't insult her, and was saved by the sight of his front doors opening. "Oops! Customers! Gotta go. See ya 'round, Anne."
He hurried off gratefully, leaving Anne with her mouth hanging open.
At that moment, Team Rocket wandered into the arcade. Jessie took one look around at the noisy teenagers, bleeping machines, and blinking lights, and decided she would be safer sticking close to the exit. The place reminded her uncomfortably of the Rocket Game Corner in Celedon City. James, on the other hand, thought the place looked like a lot of fun, and he looked around in great excitement as he wondered which machine would be the best place to spend his token. Meowth trotted in on all fours, investigating a scent that only his sharp nose could pick up. Animals had been here, something very close to his own breed, and he was eager to know more. With his nose to the floor, he didn't see the hands coming at him until it was too late.
"Sorry, no cats allowed!" said Andrew, tossing Meowth back into the street. "It's bad enough that Serena's cat hangs out here so much. We don't need any other critters in here."
"Hey, let me in! Let me in!" Meowth squawked, battering at the door, but the pinging of the video games drowned his voice.
"Sorry to have to do that to your pet," said Andrew to James. He looked over the pair's matching costumes, boots, and stenciled R logos. "Hey, do you two play sports or something?"
"Sports?" Jessie repeated, astonished. "Haven't you heard of Team Rocket?"
"Nope, sorry, can't say that I have," Andrew replied. "Team Rocket, huh? Sounds pretty cool. Hope you guys have some good luck. Here!" He reached in his pocket and handed them both a token. "I'll let you have the first game on the house. Then maybe you'll bring the rest of the team by next time, huh? Anyway, I gotta see to the rest of the customers. Enjoy your game!"
He tossed them a friendly wave and a grin before hurrying off. Jessie and James stared at each other in pleased surprise. For once, someone was actually on their side!
James took his tokens over to one of the nearby machines, the one displaying the image of a girl in an orange skirt and red mask, and decided it looked like fun. It certainly seemed to have its share of fans - several other patrons gathered around to watch him play, shouting tips and encouragement. James grinned as he played; he liked attention.
As he played, the doors to the arcade slid open again, admitting a tall young man in a school uniform, with long medium-brown hair and intense eyes. A few of the females in the room let their video-game proxies abruptly fizzle out of existence unnoticed as the players turned to watch him enter. Unlike his sister, Anne, Alan was popular with the girls of Crossroads Junior High. No girl could resist a strong, silent man of mystery, and the haunting melodies he played on his flute drew them as the Pied Piper had drawn children. However, his attention was only for one girl in the room.
"Anne!" he barked angrily. "There you are! I've been looking all over for you. I was starting to think you had run out of energy and collapsed in some..." He realized he was shouting, and that many pairs of ears and eyes were turned to him. He lowered his voice and continued in an outraged whisper. "Anne, you know it's dangerous to be out too long! What were you doing out here?"
"I feel fine, really," Anne prevaricated. "You know I can get a pick-me-upper from just about any of these humans."
"But you can't stay out here forever. Sooner or later, you have to go back to the Tree," Alan answered belligerently. "So you'd better have a good excuse for wasting precious energy on hanging around an arcade."
"I was, um... looking for likely targets," said Anne.
"Right. Don't lie to me, Anne. I know you too well," answered Alan. "You were here looking for him, weren't you? What's his name again? Darien?"
"You leave Darien out of this! It has nothing to do with him!" Anne hissed. "While I'm at it, I could ask what brought you here. Did you know this is one of Serena's favorite hangouts?"
"I told you, I was looking for you,"Alan said. "How can you make such accusations?"
"Hmm... Maybe because they're true?"
"No, they're not! You know you're the only one I could ever care about," said Alan, "and that's why I want you to forget all about Darien!"
"I told you, I - Who's that?" Anne interrupted her own dialogue and stared curiously over Alan's shoulder. Alan had no choice but to turn and look also. What he saw was the blue-haired man in the outlandish uniform, staring in dismay at the words on the screen: GAME OVER.
"I don't know," Alan admitted. "There's something strange about him, though, isn't there? A very strange energy..."
"Do you think we should talk to him?" asked Anne.
"I'll do it," Alan decided. "You don't need any more distractions in your life."
"Alan, I told you-"
"Quiet. We'll argue about this later," said Alan. "Right now, what we need most is information."
With that, he turned and walked over to James, who was now sulking in a corner because Jessie wouldn't let him have her game token. Alan wasn't the best in the world at making friends, but he turned on his best smile and gave it a try anyway.
"Greetings," he said. "I don't believe I've seen you in town before."
"No, we're kind of new around here," James admitted.
"Ah, I see. I thought as much. You are...?"
"James," James supplied. "And that's Jessie. We're with Team Rocket."
"Interesting," said Alan. "Forgive my ignorance; I've been out of the country. What does your Team Rocket do here?"
"Umm, well... we're looking for a Pikachu," said James.
"Ah," said Alan. "This... Pikachu. Is it very important? Very powerful?"
"Well, yeah," James said. He felt like this stranger's eyes were boring into his brain, dragging answers out of him. Such weird eyes... "That's why we're looking for it. It's the most powerful Pikachu we've ever seeen."
"I see," said Alan, his smile turning cold and calculating. "Would you, then, say that this Pikachu had a lot of... energy?"
"Yeah, I guess so," James replied.
"Well, then, I wish you good luck in finding it," said Alan brightly. "You will show it to me once you've found it, won't you?"
"Um, sure," said James. "I guess that would be okay... but you can't have it! It belongs to Team Rocket!"
"Oh, I wouldn't dream of taking your prize," Alan replied, oozing sincerity. "And now, if you'll excuse me, I have something to discuss with my sister. Goodbye, James."
"Goodbye..." James replied. The word hung oddly in the air, incomplete. He watched the stranger and his companion sweep out the doors, realizing he had never learned his name.
Just then, Jessie arrived, grinning from ear to ear.
"Look what I won! Isn't it cute?"she said. She held up a doll, a little man with a tuxedo, top had, and cape, wearing a tiny masquerade-ball mask and holding a red rose.
"Yeah, cute," James replied, without much enthusiasm. "Jessie, did you ever get the feeling you'd just done something stupid, but you didn't know what?"
"Of course not! I never do anything stupid," Jessie replied. "Come on! We've fooled around enough. Let's get back to looking for those kids with the Pikachu."
"Right," said James. "Find them - and get out of here."
Anne and Alan's home looked like a very ordinary apartment. Actually, by most measures, it was an ordinary apartment, with the usual allowance of chairs, tables, rugs, and other furniture. It even had a nice aerial view of Tokyo - not bad, for a couple of grade-schoolers. However, a visitor to the apartment would have trouble ever believing that was what they were, once they ventured into the closet.
Inside the closet was a Tree. Not an ordinary tree, either, for no such tree could grow without soil or water or sunlight. This was a monstrous, twisted thing with writhing limbs and strange, cocoon-like leaves. It thrived in the darkness, hovering in a black void, for its two caretakers fed it on the energy they stole from human beings. From that energy, it would distill the stuff that gave them life, but for the destruction that was wrought to feed it, they named it the Doom Tree.
As for Anne and Alan, they were no more human than their life source was a houseplant. It was only when the eyes of the public were on them that they showed themselves as ordinary students, brother and sister, transferring in from France. Near the Doom Tree, they showed their true forms as beautiful but truly alien beings. They were lean, well-formed creatures with pale green skin, gracefully pointed ears, and long straight hair that fell to their waists. For clothing, they wore suits that fitted like second skins - or perhaps they were. Alan's was midnight blue, worn beneath a vest in a brighter shade and decorated with ropes of yellow, like twisting vines, that continued even when the vest left off, wrapping partway down one leg. His hair, too, was blue, touched with two stripes of magenta across his temples. Anne wore burgundy red, with a vest of lilac, and her hair was true pink, striped at the temples with blue. They both wore blue stones at the collarbone as ornaments, and Anne wore simple gold hoops in her ears. Alike as they looked, it was easy to believe that they could be brother and sister, but their relationship had been anything but like that of siblings.
Alan watched as Anne required languorously on one of the Doom Tree's thick green roots. Much as she denied it, her journey through the outside world and the rigors of the day had drained her, and she needed the Doom Tree's energy to revive her. So did Alan, as a matter of fact, but Anne's constitution was not as great as his, and she needed the energy more, so he waited his turn. Watching her, he felt his conscience prick him. Anne was beautiful and graceful, and had been a loyal companion to him for a very long time, and he should have been glad to remain loyal to her in return, but his mind didn't want to listen to his heart - or was it the other way around? How did he really feel about Serena, she of the sapphire eyes and flowing golden hair? She was young and beautiful and so appreciative... unlike Anne. She could deny it all she wanted, but he knew how she felt about tall, dark, handsome Darien.
*So, do I want Serena because I fear losing Anne? Or is she chasing Darien because she thinks my feelings for Serena set her free? Are we going to get over this, or is it really time to separate? It's all so confusing... maybe a shot of energy will clear my thoughts.*
Anne was finished with her energy absorption, and she leaped down from the root to land at his side, overflowing with newfound strength.
"What are you thinking about?" she asked.
"About you," he answered, gazing into her eyes. "Thinking about how beautiful you are, and wondering what I'd ever do without you."
"Oh, Alan, that's so sweet," sighed Anne, resting her head against his shoulder. "It's been so long since you've said anything sweet like that. I was starting to wonder if you still cared about me."
"You know I'll always be here. We are bound together by love, and the power of our magnificent tree," Alan replied. "And now that you are revitalized, I need to regain my own strength."
He suited action to words, lying down full length on a nearby root, feeling it lifting him up toward the Doom Tree's lifegiving leaves. As he lay suspended in midair, a branch dropped closer, and one of the strange pod-leaves squeezed a single drop of something that was between liquid and light. He opened his mouth to catch it, feeling its power distribute itself throughout his frame. He sighed with satisfaction - he'd needed that power more than he had thought, but now he felt ready to take on anything. Some of his depression must have been due to fatigue, because his outlook was suddenly more positive. He was not on this world to chase females or muddle over his feelings for Anne, but to save the Doom Tree, and that was exactly what he was going to do.
"I don't think the tree liked that very much," said Anne, surveying the branch that had supplied the energy. "Look! It just lost a few more leaves."
"Have no fear, Anne," said Alan. "I think I may have picked up a lead on how to solve our problems. The man at the arcade told me there is an item of power somewhere in this city. He assured me that we would be able to draw great deals of energy from it - surely enough to revive the Doom Tree. He and his companion are out there looking for it now."
"He told you all that?" Anne asked. "Why would he tell you about it if he wants it for himself? And why would he let us have it?"
"He doesn't have to let us have it, remember?" said Alan. "We can take it from him easily. All we have to do is let him find it... and then one of our servants will find him."
He made a double flourish with his hands, producing an object to rest in each of them: a deck of cards in his left, a flute in his right. He fanned the cards and held them up for Anne to see.
"Pick a Cardian, Anne," he prompted.
Anne grinned, recognizing the familiar game. She touched one of the cards, and Alan smiled back at her.
"An excellent choice," he said. He made the other cards disappear, then tossed the remainder into the air. It hovered there as if it had been glued to an invisible wall, flat and motionless.
"Cardian Alicorn!" Alan called. "Come forth!"
Then the air was filled with sound - not thunder and explosions, but a soft, lilting melody. Alan was playing his flute. As the haunting notes went on, the card began to glow, gradually showing up a picture. Then there was a brilliant flash, and the image came to life.
Brock and Lita were getting to know each other. There had naturally been some nervousness at first, but it had quickly melted away. Both had naturally friendly natures, and they found they had too much to talk about to be trapped in awkward silence forever. As they searched the city, they also exchanged information about themselves, and they were swiftly developing a rapport.
"So you don't like fighting those Pokémon things?" Lita asked.
"No, not really," Brock replied. "I always wanted to be a breeder - to raise them and take care of them, not make them hurt each other. I don't really enjoy fighting."
"People are afraid of you if you think you're going to pick a fight with them," said Lita, nodding with understanding. "It's hard to make friends that way."
"You said it," answered Brock, nodding. "I used to be a Gym Leader, and I hated it. People would always be so angry and so sad if I beat them, and if they beat me, they'd shout and make fun of me, and I wouldn't make any prize money to take care of my brothers and sisters. I'm much happier now that I don't have to do that anymore."
"You must feel the same way about those Pokémon as I do about my plants," said Lita.
"Plants?" asked Brock. "I don't know. How is taking care of a plant like looking after something like an animal?"
"Well, they're both alive," said Lita. "You have to take care of them, and give them food and water, and even clean them. You can see them growing up, putting out new leaves and getting a little bigger each day, and then the flowers bloom and they smell so good!"
"I believe you!" said Brock. "I guess maybe it is kind of the same. It's good to have something to care for, if it's a plant or a Pokémon."
Suddenly, a jet buzzed overhead, and Lita yelped, clutching at Brock's arm. Her eyes went wide and her face suddenly paled. He could feel the tension in her hands and was puzzled by it.
"Hey, what's gotten into you?" he asked. "You act like you've seen a ghost! It was just a plane."
"I know," said Lita. She let go of his arm, but her voice still sounded a little weak. "I hate planes. My mom and dad died in a plane wreck, and every time I hear a plane, it all comes back to me."
"You grew up without parents, too?"
Lita gasped and turned to stare at him. He nodded.
"I never had parents, either. My mom died when I was still young, and my dad just disappeared one day. I was just a kid, and I was left to look after the rest of my family. That's why I had to become a Gym Leader - just so I would have money for food and clothes for everyone. It was the only thing I could do."
"I'm sorry," said Lita.
Brock smiled a little. "It's okay, really. It's not as bad as what happened to you. At least I had brothers and sisters to keep me company, and my dad came home eventually, otherwise I wouldn't be running around with Ash and Misty... I'm not being very comforting, am I? I mean, I know your parents aren't going to come back, and-"
"It's okay," said Lita, laughing. "I'm happy with my life. I'm always going to miss Mom and Dad, but I've got a nice home, and my friends are the best. Raye's always around to give good advice, and Amy helps me with my homework, and I go shopping and guy-hunting with Mina, and you wouldn't know it, but Serena's really the greatest. She was my first friend when I came to her school - the only one who tried to get to know me instead of being afraid of me." She scowled a little. "They were saying some pretty mean things about me, there."
"Well, I don't care what anyone says about you," said Brock. "I think you're great. I'd be glad to get to know you."
Mina smiled and blushed charmingly, and Brock smiled back. Then she cleared her throat and turned away.
"I guess we'd better get back to looking for those Rocket people before it gets dark," she said. "The sun's going to set pretty soon, and we'll have to call off the hunt until tomorrow."
"What are we going to do if we don't find them before dark?" asked Brock.
"Well, I guess we go home and have dinner."
"Doesn't sound bad," said Brock. "You need a chef? I'm a pretty good cook, if I do say so myself."
"You like to cook?" Lita asked in surprise. "I never knew a guy who cooked before."
"Well, you kinda have to be able to cook if you move around as much as I do. Besides, I took care of a houseful of brothers and sisters, remember?" Brock replied. "How about you? Do you like to cook?"
"It's my favorite hobby," said Lita. "Wanna exchange recipies?"
"I'd love to."
Lita looked off into the setting sun. Brock watched in fascination as the red-gold light caught her hair and lent its radiance to her face. Her green eyes sparkled like the ocean that glittered in the distance.
"You know," she said, "you're really something else."
"What do you mean?"
"I just mean, I never met anyone like you before. I've never met anyone who understood me so well. You're something else - something special."
"You're pretty special yourself," Brock replied.
For a moment, they stared into each other's eyes. He reached out and touched her face, and they slowly leaned toward each other...
The air was suddenly rent by the sounds of inhuman screaming, and something exploded. Brock and Lita turned reflexively to search for the danger.
"Did you hear that?" asked Lita.
Brock nodded. "I think it came from over there. Come on!"
"Could you try to be a little more inconspicuous?" Amy asked Ash.
"I don't know," Ash replied. "Could you tell me what it is, first?"
Amy sighed. "I mean, could you see if you could do something to keep people from noticing Pikachu so much?"
"I don't see why," said Ash. "We're trying to find Team Rocket, aren't we?"
"Yes. What has that got to do with it?"
"The reason they're always following us around is because they're trying to catch Pikachu," Ash explained. "If we want to find them, all we have to do is let them find Pikachu."
"Pi ka?" Pikachu inquired. "Pi, pikapi, pikachu!"
"Don't worry," Ash assured him. "I won't let them get you."
"Pika pika," Pikachu agreed.
"Hey," said a passerby, "is that animal talking?"
"What is it, anyway?" someone else asked.
"It's just barking," said Amy quickly. "It doesn't like all these people around... maybe you should leave it alone."
"It's kind of cute," said a woman. "I wouldn't mind having one like it."
She bent down to try to pet him. Pikachu jumped away, startled, shooting off sparks in agitation. The woman shrieked.
"What in the world?" someone muttered. "Did you see that? Was it static electricity, or what?"
"Umm..." said Ash, thinking hard. "Actually, it's... a robot!"
"A robot?" a man repeated dubiously.
"Yeah," Ash answered. "I think it might be broken. Come on, Amy, let's go get it fixed."
He scooped up his Pikachu, who squeaked indignantly at the rough treatment. Amy grabbed Ash's wrist and tugged him down a side street and around a corner, away from the gaze of the gawking crowd.
"That was close," said Ash. "Guess maybe we'd better try to keep Pikachu a secret, after all."
"Don't worry about a thing," Amy replied. "I think I know another way of finding what we're looking for. Here - let me show you my computer."
Out of a pocket, she took a small blue machine, something like a large-screened calculator, and began pushing buttons.
"What are you doing?" Ash asked.
"I'm taking energy readings," she replied. "There should be some residual energy left over from when you all teleported. If I can lock down the frequency, I can use it to track down anyone else in the city who came with you. It will just take a moment to compile everything."
"If you say so," Ash replied, and he leaned against a wall to wait.
Meanwhile, on a nearby street, Jessie and James had heard the sound of the woman screaming as Pikachu shocked her, and they both looked up in surprise.
"What was that?" James wondered.
"It sounded like trouble," Jessie replied.
"Trouble is our job," said Meowth indignantly. "We'd better go have a look."
Before anyone could object, he scampered up the road, following the sound. His companions exchanged glances.
"I guess we'd better follow him," said Jessie reluctantly, "before he gets us into any more trouble."
They chased off after their feline friend, and rounded a corner just in time to see a lightning bolt tail vanish around a corner. Meowth had already sighted it, and was tearing along after it at full throttle.
"That was the Pikachu!" he shouted.
"All right!" James cheered. "We're going to get that little rat this time!"
The Rockets ran straight through the mob of confused people who were now marveling at the sight of a talking cat. A few of them were bowled over as Jessie and James raced by.
"Hey, watch it!" a man shouted. "You can't get away with that!"
The crowd muttered angrily. A few of them got up and began chasing after them, and the streets resounded with the sounds of shouting... sounds that were caught by two pairs of pointed ears. Secure in the shadows of evening, Alan smiled at Anne.
"I hear chaos," he said.
"That's our cue," she replied.
Hearing the noise, Ash and Amy looked up in alarm. What they saw was Meowth dashing toward them on all fours, followed closely by Jessie and James. As the cat Pokémon neared them, he skidded to a halt, using his claws for traction. Team Rocket, wearing only their slick- soled standard-issue boots, were unable to stop in time. They tripped over the cat and fell on their faces. James looked up, put on the best intimidating face he could manage, and spat out a mouthful of gravel.
"All right, kid, we've got you now," he said. "Hand over that Pikachu, before we decide to get rough."
"If you want something, you should ask nicely," said Amy.
"Well, at least they got down on their knees this time," Ash replied.
"Very funny!" Jessie snapped. "We're giving you one more chance. Now, hand over that Pikachu, or-"
"I really think it would be better if you gave it to us," a voice interjected.
"Huh?" James looked up to see two figures hovering in midair - Anne and Alan, back to back, staring coldly down at the group below them. Then he recognized the young man's strange eyes. "It's you again!"
"That's right," he said. "You did make me a promise. Where's that Pikachu?"
"You can't have it! You agreed Team Rocket would keep it!" James protested.
"I changed my mind. Hand it over!" Alan's eyes flickered with strange pinkish light in a warning.
James decided this was a case when discretion was the better part of valor. He turned and pointed. "That's it! Right there!"
"A little furry animal?" asked Alan. "Don't lie to me! I didn't come out here looking for mice! I'm looking for power! Now, tell the truth!"
"I am telling the truth!"
While the two men argued, Anne and Jessie were studying each other.
"Nice hair," said Jessie. "Who's your stylist?"
"I do it myself," Anne replied, preening. "Do you really like it?"
"Anne!" Alan snapped. "Do you mind? This is important!"
"Oops! Sorry, Alan."
"Who are they?" asked Ash, confused. "What's going on?"
"Those are our enemies," said Amy. "We're going to need the others."
"Is there something I can do to help?" Ash asked.
"Is there something you can do to distract them?"
"Oh, sure! I'm good at distractions," said Ash.
"Good," Amy replied. "Wait right here, then. I'll be back."
With that, she ducked into a nearby alley and disappeared. Ash stared a moment, puzzled at her abrupt vanishing, but quickly collected his wits - not to mention his Pokéballs. He ran his fingers across him, making a selection.
Meanwhile, Team Rocket had taken advantage of Alan's distraction to try to sneak away. They had made it halfway down a side street before their way was cut off, as Alan shimmered into view in front of them.
"Nice try," he said, "but you won't escape that easily! Either tell me where that Pikachu is, or I'll take your energy instead!"
"We already told you!" Jessie protested. "That kid over there has it!"
"I don't believe it for a minute," Alan replied. "Prepare to be punished!"
The Rockets cringed, expecting the worst, as Alan raised one hand to deliver a devastating blow. It never came. Instead, something fell shrieking from the sky to dive bomb him, nearly knocking him to the pavement. He leaped backwards, shaking his stinging hand. There were a row of scratches left by a bird's striking talons.
"What in the world was that?" he muttered, turning his eyes skyward.
A dark shape winged its way across the indigo sky, stars winking between its feathers. With another shriek, it dove again, and the city's lights revealed a large, sparrow-like bird with a small crest. It swooped over the aliens, bombarding them with a rush of gale-force winds that sent them staggering against a wall.
"That," said Ash, "was my Pidgeotto, and there's more where that came from."
"Is there?" Alan muttered. "Well, perhaps I misjudged you. You have some power after all - and it's mine, now!"
"I don't think so! Pidgeotto, use your Sand-Attack!"
Pidgeotto swooped again, once again stirring up gusts of air. The wind picked up particles of sand and gravel, mixing them well with paper, dead leaves, and other garbage, and stirring them all up into a stinging, opaque wind.
"Aagh, my eyes!" Anne wailed. "Alan, make it stop! It hurts!"
"I can't see to fight it!" Alan ground out, trying futilely to hold off the onslaught.
Ash waved at Team Rocket, who was characteristically standing and staring dumbly.
"Now's your chance! Get out of here!" he shouted.
"And leave in the middle of a battle?" asked Jessie, clearly amazed.
"Don't be crazy!" said Ash. "This isn't a Pokémon battle! These are aliens from another dimension!"
"Oh," James replied. "I guess maybe we could sit this one out, then. Koffing!"
He tossed a Pokéball, which opened up to produce a purple, cloudlike Pokémon marked with a skull and crossbones.
"Koffing, make us a smokescreen," he commanded.
"Koffing!" the creature agreed. It burped up a cloud of foul-smelling smoke, and Team Rocked drifted off amid coughs.
"That takes care of them," Ash said. "Now I just hope the Scouts get here before-"
There was an earsplitting shriek as Alan finally managed to aim a shot at Pidgeotto, sending a ray of reddish energy slamming into the bird's chest. Pidgeotto shrieked and plummeted from the sky, and it looked like he had only seconds to spare before he would crunch into the pavement. Ash reacted instantly, reaching for his now-empty Pokéball.
"Pidgeotto, return!" he called.
A ray of red light shot from the Pokéball and connected with its occupant, turning Pidgeotto to a gleaming streak of energy. He flashed safely back into his sphere. Unfortunately, his safety was costing Ash some protection.
"Well, that was amusing," said Alan. "You have the makings of a warrior, whoever you are. Your powers are interesting. I think they would make perfect fertilizer for our Doom Tree!"
"Wha... What's a Doom Tree?" Ash stammered.
Alan's eyes glittered. "Why don't you come with me and find out?"
"Can we stop now?" Serena begged. "Just for a minute? Please?"
"No!" Misty answered, for what felt like the thousandth time. "We're supposed to be looking for Team Rocket so I can go home. You can shop all you want when we're done."
"But that was my favorite store!"
Misty turned and glared at Serena. "Luna told me to keep you from wasting time, and that's what I'm going to do! Now, quit complaining!"
"Ohh... Luna's an old stick in the mud!" Serena griped. "Besides, my feet hurt!"
"All right," said Misty reluctantly. "We can relax for a little while, I guess... but not too long!"
"You mean I can go in?" asked Serena hopefully.
"No way! If you're too tired to walk, you're too tired to shop," Misty replied. "We can rest a while, and then we're going right back to looking."
"You're meaner than Raye," Serena grumbled.
"And you're even more of an airhead than Ash," Misty replied.
"Oh, well," said Serena. "At least you don't call me Meatball-head."
"Meatball-head? Is that what she calls you?" asked Misty. "That's such a perfect name! I'm going to have to remember that."
Serena made a strangled sound of annoyance. She plopped down on the nearest park bench, rubbing at her feet and trying to keep as far as she could from Misty. Suddenly, they heard the sound of someone running. They both looked up to see Amy running towards them.
"Serena! There you are!" she shouted. "I was getting worried! Why weren't you answering your communicator?"
"Communicator?" Serena repeated. She glanced at her wrist. "Um, well, I think I left it at home."
"Oh, Serena, how could you?" exclaimed Amy. "The Enemy has appeared downtown, and I left Ash alone to look for you! We've got to go help them!"
"If you say so," said Serena. "I guess this means a fight, huh?"
"I'd say so. It's time to transform!" Amy replied.
"Oh, all right," Serena grumbled. She touched the brooch she wore and then raised one hand skyward, shouting, "Moon Prism Power!"
"Mercury Power!" Amy added.
Misty shielded her eyes from a sudden burst of light. When she looked up again, her friends had become the two Champions of Justice, Sailor Moon and Sailor Mercury.
"All right," said Serena. "Let's get this over with."
Ash stared, half-paralyzed, up at his attackers, who smiled coldly down at him. He was aware, in some dim part of his mind, that something bad was about to happen and that what he ought to be doing was finding some way of leaving and getting as far away from this as was humanly possible, but somehow, he found himself unable to move. Pikachu was getting nervous, pulling at his clothing and chattering, but it was as if he was miles away. Ash could barely even feel his companion's touch. What was occupying his mind was the pinkish glow in Alan's eyes, that constant strobe light that was so hard to look away from. They made him feel so tired, as if all his energy was draining out of him...
Bonk! Bonk! Two shapes dropped from the roof of a nearby building, each landing squarely on the heads of the aliens. Ann and Alan reacted just as any human would, should a well- fed animal with sixteen sharp claws suddenly drop out of the sky and land on them: they winced, breaking their gaze on Ash. The young trainer shook himself as he came out of his daze.
"Luna! Artemis!" he exclaimed. "How did you get here?"
"No time for that," Artemis replied. "The Scouts are on their way! You need to get out of sight before you get hurt."
Ash nodded. Bravery in battle was one thing, but dealing with extraterrestrials was something different.
"Come on, Pikachu!" he said, ducking into an alley.
"Pika!" said Pikachu. He sounded a bit frustrated, as if he were asking Ash why he hadn't done so in the first place.
Meanwhile, Team Rocket had paused to catch their breath and assess their situation.
"Can somebody tell me what just happened?" asked James.
"We were attacked by green men from outer space," Meowth replied. "Wasn't it obvious?"
"What did they want with us?" Jessie muttered. "You'd think anyone would know we don't have anything valuable."
"I know what they were after," said James. "The same thing we're after. That was the guy I met at the arcade! I wondered why he was so interested in Pikachu."
Jessie's expression darkened. "You mean he was trying to cut into our business?" Professional pride instantly overcame any apprehensions she might have had about dueling with space men. "We can't let them get away with that!"
"I'd be glad to let them get away with that," James replied. "Did you see the way they tore into that Pidgeotto? That kid's a better trainer than us. If he can't stand up to them, how can we?"
"What - did - you - say?" asked Jessie in her most dangerous tones.
"Um..." James quickly weighed the dangers of warring with unknown enemies from another world with the dangers of fighting with a known opponent who happened to be one of the few people he could call a friend of any sort. He decided he'd be safer with the aliens, by a long shot. "I said it was absolutely disgraceful that we let a punk Pokémon trainer do our job, and we need to get back there and fight."
"That's what I thought you said," Jessie replied. "Cue our background music! This time, Team Rocket won't back down!"
They turned and hurried away in the direction they had come. No sooner had they gone when four new people arrived to take their place. From one road came Raye, her hair streaming back like the wings of a raven as she seemed to fly down the street. Mina trailed behind, panting from the effort to keep up. From the other direction came Brock and Lita. They all skidded to a halt at the intersection, barely avoiding a collision.
"Good, you're safe," said Raye, looking relieved. "I just had a strong feeling of evil somewhere near here. I was afraid someone might have been hurt."
"We're fine, but someone isn't," Brock replied. "We heard someone - or something - screaming."
"Well, everything looks quiet over here," said Mina. "Are you sure it's something serious?"
"Yes," said Raye firmly. "I feel the aura of Evil somewhere nearby. I think it's coming from... over there!" She pointed up the street.
"Then let's get going," Brock replied.
"Hey, you can't get into this fight!" protested Lita. "You'll get hurt!"
"I know how to deal with battles," said Brock. "I won't let you run into danger while I hang around and do nothing."
Raye rolled her eyes expressively. "Why do guys always think they have to be the knights in shining armor? Sit back, hotshot, and let us do our job. If you won't do that, at least shut up and get moving!"
With that, she turned and started to run again, beckoning for the others to follow.
"That's Raye for you," said Mina with a half-shrug and an apologetic smile. Then she, too, began to run, and the others had no choice but to tag along after them.
If they had known that such forces were converging around them, Ann and Alan might not have felt as confident as they did at that moment. As it was, they saw that the boy with the strange animals was gone, the weird people in the uniforms had long since vanished, their Sailor Scout enemies were nowhere in sight, and there was nothing to stand against them but a couple of cats. Ordinarily such animals would have been considered beneath their station, but... energy was energy, and they owed these creatures something in return for the scratches they had just dished out.
"Well, hello, little kitties," said Anne in sugar-poison tones. "Aren't you the cutest little things? Would you like to come and play with us?"
"We don't like the way you play, negacreep," Artemis replied.
"What a pity," said Alan. "It's a good thing we don't need your cooperation for the game we have in mind. Moving targets are so much more interesting."
He raised a hand, letting power build, and the cats crouched in anticipation. Lights crackled around Alan's fist like a miniature lightning storm. Then the power was released, and the cats flew like leaves before a gale, leaving the bolt to strike the unfeeling pavement with a small explosion and a wave of heat. Artemis woefully regarded the singed tip of his tail.
"Luna?" he said.
"Next time, remind me that jumping into things is usually a bad idea."
"That would be a good thing to remember, yes."
"Oh, Alan, your aim is slipping," said Anne. "Let me take a crack at them."
"They're all yours," said Alan. "I'm not going to waste my energy taking potshots at furballs." He was a bit annoyed at missing; it was embarrassing for someone who believed himself to be powerful to be thwarted by a pair of animals.
"Oh, fun," said Anne. "Look out, kitties! Let's see you dodge this!"
She raised her hand, just as Alan had done, but she never got any further than that. At that moment, a small rock hissed through the air and struck her, and she yelped in pain, staring at a small spot of green blood that had suddenly sprung up on the back of her hand. She turned to see a small group of people standing in the road who had not been there before: Misty, Ash, Lita, and Brock, casually tossing another stone.
"Someone should have told you that I really hate seeing people abuse animals," he said.
"I couldn't care less what you hate," said Alan. "I hate having people get in my way, and when that happens, there's only one thing for me to do... destroy them!"
Lita smiled knowingly. "Before you go destroying anyone, maybe you should look up on that building over there."
She pointed, and all eyes turned to the rooftops, where someone stood silhouetted against the blueness of the falling night. However, when they finally realized who they were looking at, everyone was a bit surprised.
Team Rocket carefully posed themselves in the light of the full moon, preparing to make their dramatic entrance. Jessie took the lead, as she always did, beginning the opening lines of the Team Rocket motto.
"Prepare for trouble!" she shouted.
"And make it double!" James added.
"To protect the world from - oof!" Jessie's next line was interrupted as someone suddenly came up behind her and shoved them all rudely off of their perch.
"You are standing in my spot!" Serena accused. She dusted off her gloves and struck her usual pose. "Ahem! As I was about to say, I am Sailor Moon, champion of justice! In the name of the Moon, I will right wrongs and triumph over evil, and that means you!"
"Hey, that's not fair!" Meowth complained. "How come she gets to say her speech and we don't?"
"I don't know, but she's going to pay for it!" Jessie replied.
"So, it's you again, is it?" said Anne. "I might have known you'd show up and spoil our fun."
"You mess with my friends and you'd better be ready to mess with me," Serena replied.
"And us!" another voice chimed in. Perched on the top of another building was Sailor Venus, backed up by Sailor Mars and Sailor Mercury.
"Are we supposed to be impressed?" asked Alan. "It looks to me like you're short a member."
"Not for long," Lita said under her breath. "Wait here, Brock. I'll be right back."
Lita ducked quickly into an alleyway while Anne and Alan were still looking the other way. There was a flash of green light, and then Sailor Jupiter emerged, ready for action.
"Okay, buddy, I hope you're ready to rumble!" she called to Alan. "Come on! Give us your best shot!"
"Wow! Isn't she brave?" Brock asked. Ash and Misty just sighed and shook their heads, but Brock didn't really notice.
"So, you want a fight, Sailor Scouts? I don't think you can handle our best," scoffed Alan. "Enough fooling around! Cardian Alicorn, come forth!"
As he spoke, there was an incredible roar, and the Cardian barged out of a dark alley, galloping along on four clattering hooves, bowling over Scouts and trainers alike. While everyone was still picking themselves up from the ground, the monster screamed again and reared up on its back legs. It was a creature like a strange mingling of human and horse - not a centaur, but a human with hooves instead of hands and feet, oddly warped limbs, a long flowing tail, and a human head from which sprung a single golden horn. Long, silver-white hair flowed from its head and down its back like a mane, and more white fur covered its body. Its eyes, however, blazed an eerie red.
"What is that?" asked Ash.
"It's a monster, stupid. What did you expect?" asked Raye in irritation.
"Yeah, get a clue, Ash," Misty added.
"Oh, no, not another one," Serena quavered.
The creature charged again, and everyone scattered. The beast wheeled and made a dive for Sailor Jupiter, striking her with its sharp hooves, and she cried out in pain.
"Lita!" shouted Brock. "You're going to pay for that, whatever-you-are!"
"Ha! No one defeats Alicorn," the creature screeched, "least of all puny humans like you!"
"Oh, yeah?" Brock replied. "Well, maybe a human can't beat you, but a Pokémon can!" He reached for one of the Pokéballs at his belt and called out, "Geodude, I choose you!"
He pitched the ball at the ground, and it immediately opened to release Geodude, the boulder-like Pokémon.
"Geodude! Geodude!" it exclaimed. It was ready for battle.
"Geodude, tackle that thing!" Brock ordered.
"Geodude, Geodude," it agreed. It curled itself into a stone-hard ball and launched itself at Cardian Alicorn. Undaunted, the Cardian swatted the Pokémon with its horn and sent it spinning away, crashing into the side of the building. Geodude wasn't much harmed, but the attack hadn't done anything to the Cardian, either, and it was getting ready to charge again. Brock called the Pokemon back and prepared to run for cover... but what was Lita going to do?
"Come on! We've got to help him!" shouted Mina.
"Do we have to?" Serena complained. "Maybe we could let these Poké-critters do the work for a change, huh?"
"Oh, Serena!" muttered Raye in disgust. "When are you ever going to-"
"Look out! Here it comes again!" shouted Ash.
"I'll slow it down," said Raye. She produced a scrap of paper marked with ancient magic words. It burned with its own fiery light as she charged it with the power of Mars. "Aku ryo tai san!" she cried, and pitched the burning paper at the oncoming monster. The paper flew across the distance and impaled itself on the horn of the monster. The creature froze a moment and shuddered, momentarily paralyzed.
"That's not going to hold it for long," Raye cautioned. "That thing is strong!"
"It'll hold long enough," said Lita. "Get it with your Scepter, Sailor Moon!"
"Right," said Serena. Seemingly from out of nowhere, she produced a royal scepter bearing her sign of the Moon, glimmering with soft pink light. "Moon Scepter Elimination!"
Pink light washed over the Cardian in a glowing wave. The monster screamed in pain as the lights momentarily blotted it out, and then they dissipated... leaving Cardian Alicorn completely unharmed.
"Huh? No way!" Serena cried. "The Scepter didn't work!"
"The monster's too strong!" Luna called to her. "Weaken it first, and try it again!"
"Just like catching a Pokémon," Ash remarked. "I can help with this!"
Suddenly, the monster gave itself a mighty shake and barged forward on its hind legs, striking out with it's fore-hooves like a crazed boxer. Scouts scattered in all directions, or were pitched to the ground when they were struck. Serena froze in fear as she saw her defenders being batted aside and the monster coming closer and closer until...
A white rose suddenly sailed through the air, slashing across the monster's arm with its sharp thorns before it sunk into the ground by its feet. All eyes turned upward to see a man dressed like an Arabian prince, all in white, standing on the railing of someone's balcony.
"Wow, who's that?" Misty exclaimed in admiration.
"It's the Moonlight Knight!" Serena sighed. "Isn't he dreamy?"
"Sailor Scouts, listen to me!" the Moonlight Knight called. "It's going to take all of you working together to defeat this monster! With the help of the Pokémon, you can double your powers!"
"Double our powers?" Mina repeated, confused. "How can we do that?"
"No time for that now! Get out of the way!" Amy cried.
In the next instant, the Scouts were being charged once again by the relentless Cardian. They scattered in all directions, while Anne and Alan looked on smugly.
"They'll never win this battle!" Alan boasted. "Cardian Alicorn will run them all down, and then run them through!"
"Aaaaagh! Somebody help me!" Serena cried frantically, running as fast as she could, hearing the monster roaring along behind her. The Scouts watched, weighing whether it would be better to attack the Cardian and risk hurting Serena, or let it go by and risk letting it hurt her instead. Raye, naturally, was the first to make her decision.
"I've had enough of this!" she said. "Mars Fire Ignite!"
A blast of fire shot from her fingertips, and the monster wailed in pain as its hide was scorched.
"I'll slow it down!" added Amy. "Mercury Bubbles Blast!"
"Give me a piece of the action!" Lita shouted. "Jupiter Thunder Crash!"
"Don't forget me!" Mina chimed in. "Venus Crescent Beam Smash!"
"I picked a good Cardian this time!" Anne replied. "Those Sailor brats haven't even fazed her."
Sure enough, the monster hardly looked frazzled. It continued prancing and snorting, pawing the ground and glaring at them all menacingly. Everyone got the distinct feeling it was trying to decide which of them to skewer first. Its gaze went from one to the other before finally settling on Serena again. She looked so fragile, so frightened, so... cornered! She had her back against a wall with nowhere to run. The Cardian smiled as it lowered its horn.
"Get ready to defend her," said Raye. The other Scouts nodded, bracing themselves for the attack.
The monster charged, and the air was suddenly filled with shouts as the Sailor Scouts were bowled over before they could even finish chanting their attack phrases. Serena stayed frozen, watching the approaching juggernaut with her blue eyes wide and filled with tears.
"I don't want to die!" she whimpered.
Suddenly, something whizzed through the air, a red blur that struck the ground and resolved itself into a red rose. It had a sucker attached to its stem to make it stick. Everyone looked at it in confusion... except Serena, who turned a hopeful face to the sky. Standing atop a nearby building was a man holding a second rose, looking coldly calm. Jessie stood next to him, and Meowth perched at their feet.
"Ahem!" said James. "As we were saying, before we were so rudely interrupted... Take it, Jessie!"
"Prepare for trouble!"
"And make it double!"
"To protect the world from..."
As the pair happily went on rhyming and posing, the people on the battleground below exchanged looks of puzzlement.
"Are we supposed to be taking them seriously?" asked Mina.
"Nope," said Brock. "Just ignore them, and maybe they'll go away."
"Fat chance of that," Misty muttered.
"I could get annoyed with those two," said Alan. "Cardian, ignore those fools and get back to destroying the Sailor Scouts! We can deal with them later if we have to."
"Right!" the Cardian replied. "Come here, little Moon-child! I thought maidens liked unicorns. I'll let you put your head in my lap... and the rest of you will be scattered across the city!"
"Yipes!" said Serena.
She took to her feet again, and just in time. The monster dove at her, ramming its horn into the wall where she had been a split-second before. While the Cardian struggled to free itself, Serena sought refuge behind her friends.
Meanwhile, Ash was poking through his Pokéballs, while Misty and Pikachu watched with curiosity.
"Ash, what are you doing?" Misty demanded. "You can't catch that thing like it was a Pokémon!"
"No, but I can help fight it!" Ash replied. He pulled out three Pokéballs and threw them, calling, "Bulbasaur, Charmander, Squirtle, I choose you!"
"What in the world...?" Raye began.
"More Pokémon," Amy explained. "That's Bulbasaur, a plant-type; Charmander, a fire-type; and Squirtle, a water-type."
"Oh, I get it!" said Mina. "There's a fire one for you, Raye, and water for Amy, and lightning for Lita! That's what the Moonlight Knight meant when he said we'd have to double our powers!"
"I guess it's worth a shot!" said Lita. "Scouts, get ready to attack!"
"I'm ready!" Raye replied. "Look out, Alicorn! Mars Fire Ignite!"
"Charmander, Flame Thrower!" Ash shouted.
The Cardian screamed as two blasts of fire hit it from either side. It emerged from the blast looking singed, its fur still sizzling.
"My turn!" Amy replied. "Mercury Bubbles Blast!"
Squirtle spat a steady stream of water at the monster, soaking it to the skin. Then Amy's freezing fog rolled over it, and the Cardian froze into a glittering ice sculpture with two burning eyes staring through it.
"They can't do this!" Anne wailed.
"Oh, yes we can!" Lita replied. "Jupiter Thunder Power!"
Arcs of yellow and white lightning ripped through the air and struck the monster. It screamed in pain, struggling to escape its icy prison, but to no avail.
"Hey, Ash, let's see if your Bulbasaur can match this!" Mina called. "Venus Crescent Beam Smash!"
"You got it, Mina! Bulbasaur, use your Razor Leaf!"
Mina's sharp golden blade slashed at the monster's hide, making it scream at new levels of intensity. Pure panic gave it the strength to break free, and it jumped aside to doge a second shot - only to be met head-on with a rain of knifelike leaves. It wailed, staggered, and went down.
"That's your cue, Serena!" said Raye.
"You got it!" said Sailor Moon. "Moon Scepter Elimination!"
The monster knew it didn't have a chance, but it tried anyway. With the last of its strength, it hauled itself to its feet and charged her, determined to meet its doom head-on. The pink sparks hit it, burning it to ash bit by bit in a wave of light, until finally all that was left was a playing card. It hit the ground, skidding across the pavement to stop at Serena's feet. For a brief instant, it showed the picture of the creature it had once been, and then, power depleted, it faded to black, never to be used again.
"No!" bellowed Alan. "You Sailor Scouts were lucky this time, but be warned! You won't always have your little friends helping you. It's just a matter of time before you are no more than a memory!" With that, Anne and Alan vanished in a brief shimmer.
"All right! We did it!" Ash cheered. He dropped to one knee with his arms wide, and his Pokémon ran joyfully to be hugged. Lita and Brock acted out something similar.
"Nice work with the Scepter, Sailor Moon!" called Mina.
"Thanks, V-Babe!" Serena replied. "That was some sharp shooting with those Crescent Beams, too."
"Don't forget our Pokémon friends," Amy added. "We owe them a lot of gratitude."
"Yeah, thanks a lot, you guys!" said Raye.
"Aw, it was nothing," Ash replied.
Team Rocket looked down at the celebratory scene, looking confused.
"It's over?" asked James.
"Already?" asked Meowth.
"But we didn't get to do anything!" Jessie protested.
"Well, you threw the rose," said Misty. "Sailor Moon would be a shish kebab if you hadn't."
"Oh. I guess that's right," said James. "Wow! We're heroes!"
"Team Rocket's not such a bad bunch," said Brock. "They try hard, but they aren't."
"Hey!" Jessie shouted. "I won't hear you talk about us that way!"
"Okay, let's talk about going home, then," Misty replied. "Or have you forgotten that we can do that now?"
"Oh. Yeah. That's right," said Brock, sounding suddenly dismayed.
"You're going home already?" asked Lita. "But I - but we were just getting to know you!"
Raye rested a hand on her friend's shoulder. "Lita, they belong in their own world. You can't make them stay here."
"And if one of us goes, we all have to go," Brock sighed. "It was great meeting you, Lita. I'll never forget you. I hope you find a great guy here in your dimension."
"I hope you find a great girl in yours," she replied. Then she leaned forward and kissed his cheek, and he remained in a daze for the rest of the operation.
Team Rocket was brought down off the top of the building, and Amy was convinced that she did indeed have to relinquish Ash's Pokédex. Ash returned his Pokémon friends to their Pokéballs. Finally, everyone was herded into a circle with the trainers and Team Rocket in the center and the Scouts on the outside.
"This will work better if you're all touching each other," Raye instructed. There were mutters and grumbles as Team Rocket reluctantly joined hands with their rivals. "Good. Now brace yourselves. This is usually a bit of a jolt."
Moving as one, the Scouts bowed their heads and closed their eyes. Gradually, a misty light began to surround them, and their hair stirred as if they were sinking slowly through water. The light moved into the center of the circle, touching the group and lifting them. It grew in intensity, until suddenly, it seemed to explode. There was a final sound, that of someone calling out as they vanished.
"Looks like Team Rocket's blasting off again!"
The lights faded. Then, all that was left was a circular indentation in the pavement. Lita looked at it and raised a hand in quiet farewell.
"Goodbye, Brock," she said.
"Hey! Don't look so bummed!" said Serena. "He's back home now, where he belongs."
"Yeah, cheer up," added Mina. "If you had a boyfriend, we couldn't chase guys together anymore, could we?"
"Oh, yeah," said Lita, brightening a bit. "That would be kind of a bummer, wouldn't it?"
"Serena's got a boyfriend, and that doesn't stop her," Raye grumbled.
"Hey, I can't help it if he wants some time off," said Serena. "Besides, you've got a guy, too, you know."
Raye turned almost as red as her dress. "Chad is not my boyfriend!"
"Chad? Who mentioned Chad?" asked Serena innocently. "I never said anything about Chad!"
Lita laughed. "All right, guys, I get the message! Come on, let's power down and go get some ice cream - my treat!"
The suggestion was met with unanimous approval. Moments later, a group of ordinary schoolgirls could be seen strolling the moonlit streets of Tokyo, laughing together, especially when they heard one of their number utter a familiar and welcome phrase:
"Oh, wow! Did you see that guy! He looked just like my old boyfriend!"
The people of Ebony City were surprised to see a group of people fall out of the air and land in the middle of the arena. One of the people, a young policewoman, pushed through the crowd to see what was going on.
"Ash! Brock! Misty! What are you all doing here?" she asked.
Ash looked up, faintly dazed. "Which of the Jennys are you?"
"Officer Jenny, at your service. I think we met after your voyage on the St. Anne."
"Oh, yeah! That's right," said Ash. "What are you doing here?"
"Investigating Rocket activity," she replied. "I heard two of them tried to blow up the stadium... Say! Aren't you two from Team Rocket?"
James and Jessie looked at each other in faint fear.
"What, us?" asked Jessie innocently. "We're not from Team Rocket! Are we, James?"
"No, no way, definitely not from Team Rocket," James agreed.
Officer Jenny was skeptical. "If you're not from Team Rocket, why are you wearing those uniforms?"
"Umm... to play sports!" James said. "We're the, uh, Tokyo Royals!"
"Tokyo?" Officer Jenny repeated. "Where's that?"
"A long, long way from here," Jessie replied, "and we'd better get moving if we want to get back in time. Bye!"
The three Rockets fell over each other in their hurry to get away from the long arm of the law. Jenny didn't really try to stop them.
"Well, that takes care of that," she said. "How about you three? Is everything all right with you? Anything I can do?"
"We could use a lift to Fuchsia City," said Ash.
"Fine. I can put you on the route to Fuchsia City; its on the way back to where I'm going," said Officer Jenny. "Just give me a minute to bring the car around. Meet me at the front gate."
She hurried off to get her police car. It was only then that Ash and Misty had time to think of Brock. What was he going through at this moment? He was standing very still, staring off into space.
"Brock?" asked Misty. "What's on your mind?"
"I was just thinking," Brock replied. "I think that Officer Jenny is a lot cuter than the other Officer Jennys, don't you?"
"I don't know. She looks like all the others to me," said Ash.
"Pika," Pikachu agreed.
"She's here and they're not," Misty explained. "That makes her the prettiest."
"Oh," said Ash. "But what about Lita? I thought you liked her."
"Well, yeah," said Brock, suddenly sober. "I'll never forget meeting her, but..."
"She's there, and you're here," Misty finished, "and so is Officer Jenny."
"Exactly!" Brock replied. "She'll be happy where she is. She has her friends to take care of her."
Ash nodded. He and his friend filed out of the arena and climbed into Jenny's police car. It was night in Ebony City, and the nighttime sky lights were out in full force, bathing everything with silvery light. It looked very beautiful, but a little eerie, and everyone felt a bit relieved as they passed beyond Ebony City and into the rolling hills beyond. Ash stared out the window, watching the scenery go past, and he thought.
Beyond the gates of the mystical city, everything was starting to feel like a dream. Tomorrow, he might wake up and forget it ever happened, and he rehearsed the details of his adventure, trying to burn them into his mind. He thought of Serena, the Sailor Scouts' ditzy, lovable leader; Amy, ever hungry for knowledge; Raye, proud and mysterious; Mina, beautiful and fun-loving; and Lita, who would doubtless remain in Brock's mind forever. Remembering the adventure in his mind, he began to wonder about things. Why had those strange aliens wanted his Pikachu? Why was Serena the leader when she seemed so afraid of fighting? Who was that Darien person she had talked about so wistfully? Why had the Sailor Scouts teleported to the North Pole? So many puzzles, so little that made sense. It was all very much like a dream... Ash finally nodded off and fell asleep, with a crescent moon peering down upon him.