Author's Notes: Guess who's back?! I took my short break as an opportunity to catch up on my rounds a little bit, and I have some great stuff in store for you guys over the next few weeks. First off, I would like to announce that we are switching back to the weekly update schedule. (YAAAY! *Thunderous applause). Secondly, AshGray is about to enter into its final act, and things are really going to heat up story-wise.(More YAAAYs! *More Thunderous applause). Thirdly, my next Pokespe fic is coming along nicely, and I think the manga fans will really enjoy it. (Cheering from manga fans). However, I am hitting a bijilion different bumps with my next anime fic, and I am considering canceling it for a different concept (No cheers. :(). Also, for what it's worth, I released a special Father's Day fic last week, entitled "The Scar." It deals with the question of Ash's relationship with his father- a question I surprisingly get asked A LOT. And I have been looking over and editing the previous rounds of this fic to make them even better. So things are pretty productive right now. I won't ramble any longer. Enjoy today's round!

Ship Warning: Pokeshipping, Specialshipping, and Commonershipping.

I do not own or have any rights to any part of the Pokemon franchise whatsoever.



Round 24: This Means War!



The cave that Reshiram had led the dex holders into was both mysterious and telling. The desolate stonewalls carried a firm sense of terror, and the atmosphere was thick with superstition. Simply approaching the area typically gave travelers shivers up and down their spines, and the tales that accompanied the landmark were just as bad. Unbeknownst to the trainers, this was the very same spot that the three oldest dex holders had disappeared to earlier. The team entered the cave and unknowingly followed along the same path that their seniors had taken when searching for Giratina. The path was empty but noticeably used. The scruffs on the walls, blast marks on the floors, and chips on… everything paid testimony to the epic battle that the Kanto/Johto Team had put up against the endless Team Rocket troops roughly a day ago. And while the winding maze-like structure of the inner chambers would normally leave a party lost and confused, the team was plenty capable of finding their way around as Reshiram would let loose a sharp roar every now and then that kept them on the right path.

"He says we are getting closer." N translated, as the group continued walking. The team's speed had slowed from a mad dash to a near crawl in the twenty-five minutes that it took them to get from the edge of the Battle Frontier to the belly of Turnback Cave. Nobody liked where this was going, but any doubts about the authenticity of N's translations had faded out of existence. Reshiram was clearly leading them somewhere. In fact, N had implied more than a few times that Zekrom had the same inexplicable urge to run off in this direction, but it knew that N could understand it, and as a result, it had simply been speaking to N rather than flying off uncontrollably.

The question was why the Toa duo had such a strange fixation with Turnback Cave. Ruby had brought up the question to N already, but N readily admitted that he had no idea. Apparently, the legendaries did not want to talk about it. They simply uttered short phrases to the humans like "We must go! We must go now!" or "Danger! Danger! Follow me!" and, being as considerate as they were, the group followed them. However, that did not make the trip any less frightening.

Nobody was particularly excited about wandering through Turnback Cave… Well… Okay, Sapphire was excited about it, but that was it! Emerald, White, and N all agreed that the cave was terrifying. Ruby believed the cave was terrifying and disgusting. And Black was so concentrated on getting his Pokémon back that he did not really notice the cave, but he was still quite annoyed at the situation. Needless to say, the party continued down the winding tunnels in a very solemn manner, only making comments when necessary… Sapphire excluded.

"So, do ya think there's a real monster in here?" She prodded.

"Again, Sapphire, I've got no idea." Ruby calmly answered.

"What if there is a monster here?!" she continued, "Ya 'member that time that Platina told us about Giratina?!"

"Yes. I remember."

"I'll bet it's still mad at her and the boys!"


"Ya think it'll know that we know 'em?"

"I don't know."

"Can legendaries do that?!"

"I don't know."

"I wanna battle it!"

"Sapphire, I seriously doubt that is a good idea."

"Maybe Reshir'm is leadin' us in here 'cause it knows Giratina! Ever thought of that?"

"Not really."

"Do ya think that legendary dragons know each other?"

"Darn it, Sapphire!" White finally stepped in, "Can you keep it down? We're looking for a legendary Pokémon inside a haunted cave!"

Sapphire simply rolled her eyes at that. "Come on, you can't tell me you aren't at least a little excited!"

The group continued walking forward, but White turned around to face Sapphire before answering. "Look, I know it's hard to believe, but I'm really not all that excited right now. Okay?"

"Well, why not?"

"Because we are in a cave haunted by an extremely powerful interdimensional Pokémon that has a score to settle against someone we personally know!" she screamed, "Why would that ever seem exciting to you?!"

Sapphire scratched under her chin for a moment. That was a good question. Why was she so excited?

"On top of that," White continued, "There is no telling where we are, where we are going, or how long it will take us to find Reshiram!"

"I… think… we're here." N let out, as he and Black came to an abrupt halt in front of the group.

The irony stung a bit, but White and Sapphire turned from their conversation to see a stone chamber with a huge, swirling vortex of darkness in the middle of it. The strange hole in reality was not really a physical construct, but it spun violently in and out of existence to symbolize an area were two worlds collided with each other, and it had a discernibly ominous presence about it.

"…What is it?" Emerald finally let out.

"And why has it never been discovered before?" Black added.

The team split off from one another without further discussion, and each member tiptoed around the massive spacetime tear. They were slow and quiet, as if they expected the hole to speak to them. The presence that the anomaly carried was one of respect. It was almost as if it had sentience. It was staring at them.

"It must be a trick tunnel." Emerald tried to reason. "There must be some sort of trap or trigger that changes the walls and paths of these chambers. Reshiram led us through without tripping anything, and we discovered this secret room."

"Or an enchantm'nt!" Sapphire came again, "Maybe this cave is magical!"

"Hey, everyone, look at this!" Black called from directly behind the void. The others answered his shout and were at his side in seconds to see that he was standing in front of what appeared to be an ancient tablet on the wall. He read the inscription aloud. "This is... That where life sparkles... That where life has faded... A place where two worlds overlap..."

There was silence among the heroes as they stared at the strange words. Some understood what it meant. Others were too busy trying to decipher some of the more cryptic parts. But N got a pretty clear message out of it. "Does that mean that Reshiram disappeared into the void?" he asked.

Black turned back around to face the enormous portal, and he narrowed his eyes in determination. "I don't know… But I'm going to find out."

"Wait! Black!" White tried to stop him, but the boy was too persistent, and before she could get another word out, her best friend sprinted into the dark vortex.

Meanwhile, the colossal battle that was raging in Ilex Forest had become a simple matter of one large flood of Pokémon pushing toward Team Rocket's only base against another large flood of Pokémon. The rockets were quick to fight fire with fire by tossing their own pokéballs onto the field, but a little creative use of Blue's Porygon2 wiped out all of the immediate technological advantages that the evil troops had.

Unfortunately for the rockets, Giovanni had never been one to rely on low-tech equipment. Nearly every gun, hand grenade, and armor piece being used by the troops was somehow improved with at least a touch of digital machinery. That was all that Blue's virtual Pokémon needed to make the equipment entirely useless. It was just a Pokémon battle now. Plain and simple. The only problem was numbers.

"Come on! Push forward!" Red yelled from above the struggle. He still sat atop Aero as he commanded his drove from the sky, "We may not have enough power to stomp these guys completely, but we ARE GETTING IN THAT BASE! Do you hear me?!"

"Red!" Brock shouted from below in the heat of the battle, "What do we do after we get inside? I don't exactly remember this being part of the plan when we practiced with Gary's Haunter!"

"This isn't the plan, Brock!" he replied, "The plan kind of went out the window when Mewtwo shot into outer space with Darkrai! We didn't expect to have to rescue a guy from a legendary battle outside the front entrance!"

"Well, for the record…" Tobias added from below Aero's talons, "I am perfectly fine with the new plan that involves me not getting killed!" The trainer was busy unstrapping his belt from beneath his cloak as he said this, and as soon as he got the buckle undone entirely, he took the belt off and shook it a little to release the four pokéballs still attached. They hit the ground below to reveal a Heatran, a Rotom, a Gyarados, and a Conkeldurr. "Maybe this will help your odds a little in return!"

"Speaking of helping the odds…" Blue began from afar, "How about you and Tobias get down here like the rest of us and let Aero enter the fray without carrying passengers?!"

Red looked down at his prehistoric Pokémon's face, and he smiled. "How about it, Aero? Ready to give 'em heck?"

Aero screeched with delight as he circled back around to the battle's edge and settled on a low tree branch to allow Red and Tobias a chance to disembark. The two allies thanked the flying type and gave him a pat on the head before jumping to the ground.

"Aero, do you remember the Charizard?" Red questioned before leaving, "The Charizard that you battled with earlier? The Charizard that you helped defend from the rockets last night?"

A small grunt and a nod of the head confirmed that Aero understood his trainer.

"Well that Charizard's trainer is trapped inside the base we're fighting towards. I don't know if he's okay or not, but the only way for us to find out for sure is to break in there and see for ourselves."

Aero let loose small roar.

"When that trainer and his Charizard last saw you, you were bogged down by something called a level cap. You couldn't release your full potential. Now you can. The level cap is gone. Do you understand me?"

Another roar.

Red smiled. "I want you to jump into that fight and let everything loose. Show that boy and his Charizard just how powerful you really are."

A fourth roar emerged from Aero's jaws, this one more deafening than all of the previous ones combined as he spread his massive wings into the air and lifted from the tree with a mighty flap. He shot like a bullet above his allies and dove into the rocket flood, ready to fight to exhaustion. The kick from his take off knocked Red and Tobias on their backs.

"Wow…" the eldest trainer sighed, "That's pretty impressive, Red."

"Thanks." The boy remarked as he stood back to his feet, "It's really an honor to hear that from a such a well regarded… Wait!" Tobias was dusting dirt off of his pants when he paused to address Red's sudden change of expression. "How do you know my name?" the dex holder asked.

Tobias chuckled a little and got back to dusting. "I could not see you when I was riding below your Aerodactyl earlier, but you're a spitting image of Ash Ketchum. That's exactly what I was told to look for."

"Wait…" the boy began again, "You've spoken to Ash? …Like, recently?"

The older trainer finished his dusting and walked closer to Red. "Of course! He and I came here to rescue his friend, Misty. Needless to say, the plan fell apart a little bit on my end. We failed to account for the fact that Giovanni is a sore loser, and my beating him too quickly lead to him ordering his men to shoot me. I would have been killed if you hadn't shown up."

"But…" Red looked back at the Pokémon war that was blocking the HQ's entrance, "Is Ash's part of the plan still going well?"

Tobias shrugged. "I don't know. We had planned a time limit. If Ash was not out in seventy minutes, I was to leave and notify Professor Oak."

"How long had he been gone now?"

Tobias pulled a pokégear out of his pocket to check the time. "Roughly fifty-five minutes."

Red was about to further comment on the situation, but he was interrupted by a shout from Green inside the battle. "RED! GET YOUR BUTT IN HERE NOW! I AM NOT GOING TO COMMAND TWELVE DIFFERENT POKEMON FOR HOWEVER LONG THIS FIGHT LASTS!"

"We'll have to cut this one short." The boy decided.

"Deal." Tobias agreed, "Let's see if we can't get in there and help Ash out a bit."

The two shook hands and gave a small nod to one another before sprinting into the fray side by side.

Giovanni was having a similar sprint as he dashed into the battle amongst the Fire Blasts and Hyper Beams in an attempt to escape from Lance. The dragon tamer had failed to account for how hard it would be to steal Giovanni's darkball with so many other rockets on the field. He had Giovanni by neck for one moment, and the next moment he and his Dragonite were knocked over by a Dragon Pulse from a nearby Garchomp.

"Nice try!" Domino had mocked with a sneer, "But Ilex Forest is no place for a G-Man!"

Lance did his best to ignore her, and he flew after Giovanni for a second shot at claiming Mewtwo, but the girl was persistent and followed him with her own dragon. This had all led to the small chain of villains diving through the battleground and running from/chasing one another. It might have even seemed humorous to a degree if it was not life threateningly dangerous.

Giovanni dove and slid underneath a Nidoqueen's foot for half a second as he came out the other side to face the Flamethrower of an Arcanine toward an Abomasnow. Ducking through that, he continued running only to nearly be decapitated by a Scizor that was shooting toward a Rhydon. A few seconds of this was all that the crime boss could take before jutting out of the edge of the battle. He dove back in for just a moment and came out another end. Giovanni was more than aware that what he was doing was perilous beyond belief, but he also knew it was the only way to slow Lance down. He did not know if the Lance he was facing was from his home dimension or not, but he did not care. The cold stare of hatred that the dragon tamer had shot into his eyes when he was holding him in the air was enough to make Giovanni decide that he would rather risk being blasted to bits by a Pokémon battle than be anywhere near the deranged psychopath.

Lance, of course, was protected by his Dragonite as he lunged into the war zone after Giovanni. The Pokémon he was using was stolen from his counterpart and thus, fully capable of enduring and dishing out just as much pain as any other Pokémon on the field. He would dive into the crowd from above, fire a Hyper Beam at anything that came near him, and fly through the battle near ground level at neck break speeds. It was a fairly inefficient method of finding Giovanni, but Dragonite cut through the Pokémon horde like a knife through butter, taking out anything in his way. Lance was bound to eventually either catch Giovanni on the outside of the battlegrounds or squash him against his Pokémon like a bug on a windshield… If Domino did not catch him first.

As mentioned earlier, the young female Rocket agent who called herself Domino was chasing after Lance on the back of her Garchomp. Lance did not know her motivation for following him- Perhaps it was strictly business for the rocket? Perhaps she had a personal vendetta against the other Lance and his G-Men?- but he ultimately saw her efforts as pointless due to the fact that he had twelve Pokémon on him (even if six of them were weak in this dimension). She was a mere nuisance, and he was certain to capture Giovanni eventually, with or without her interference. He simply had too much firepower.

However, none of the villains realized what continuously cutting into and out of the massive Pokémon battle would do to the fight. Roughly seventy-five conscious Pokémon were on the field at this point, all in close quarters with one another, and it was becoming hard for any of the trainers to keep track of their team. Not to mention the fact that the noise level had increased tremendously, and few Pokémon could even hear their trainers, let alone distinguish specific orders. So when Dragonite and Garchomp began periodically cutting through the battlefield, separating more parties and confusing more trainers, the fight began to completely lose control. Fewer and fewer Pokémon became clear on their strategy, and many began to simply unleash the most powerful attacks they knew. Pokémon who were supposed to be guarding the Rocket base began to spread out in confusion and let enemy Pokémon closer, and Pokémon who were supposed to be pushing toward the Rocket base began to spread out as well or even fight in the wrong direction. In short, Lance and Domino's meddling caused the battle to become even more deadly and even more widespread. It got to the point where none of the three villains were diving in and out of the battle at all. Instead, the battle just eventually spread so wide that it engulfed all of them, and they were forced to continue their game of cat and mouse without the ability to leave the scrimmage. Deadly attacks fired in every direction. Dust kicked up in clouds from the sheer force of the great beasts that were shooting and tackling one another. Chaos reigned supreme.

Ultimately, the growing anarchy in the fight drove Lance to fly above the battlefield to get some perspective. A few Pokémon continued to tussle in the air, but, all in all, Lance was much safer in the sky than he was on the ground, and he was able to see… a little.

Earlier in the fight, when the Pokémon were closer together, the dragon tamer knew that flying would be pointless. He could not see anything from the sky because of how compressed everything was. Now that the fight had adjusted in size however, Lance could see bits and pieces of the struggle more clearly.

As his eyes scanned the battleground, Lance could see the children running around the perimeter of the fight and trying to give orders to their Pokémon from a safe distance. He could see a majority of the rockets backing off from their posts and either inching back inside the base or taking cover in the woods. But he could not see the one target he was looking for. Giovanni seemed to have completely disappeared from the brawl. There were just Pokémon, dex holders, rockets, and…

Lance paused in his thoughts as he noticed a dark blue streak dash across the floor from one side of the battle to another. Domino's Garchomp. Apparently she was still looking for Lance from the- Wait! The dragon tamer's eyes followed Garchomp carefully. It is hard to explain, but when you look at a fast moving object and follow its path with your eyes, you are often capable of mentally slowing the image down and getting a better look at it. Lance did just that, and he noticed that Domino had picked Giovanni up from the battlefield and was attempting to transport him to safety on the back of her dragon.

"Oh no you don't!" he screamed as he and Dragonite shot back into the battle.

Things inside the base were not much better. The rockets that were not outside were now storming every room in the HQ to find the trespassers that Proton had warned about minutes ago. The agents were not leaving any stone unturned, and though a majority of them had been near the main entrance and the east side of the base due to the alarms earlier, they were covering as much ground as possible. Some rockets were even on "air vent duty," checking the ceiling for any uninvited guests and siccing small Pokémon on any noises they heard.

Which is why it was completely understandable for Team Sinnoh to freak out when they heard knocking at the door of the Security Room before they were finished changing into their disguises.

"Um… Just- Just a minute!" Diamond called in a high-pitched, badly disguised female voice while still trying to fit his legs into the female rocket's boots without them looking lopsided.

Platinum was still working on getting the Rocket hat over her hair properly when her eyes darted to Diamond. "Okay, okay!" she whispered, "Just for clarification, I am doing the girl voice!"

The knock came again, louder this time.

"Whatever you two are going to do to get rid of them, do it quick!" Pearl prodded, as Charon continued tying the boy's hands behind his back to finish the prisoner look, "They aren't going to wait forever!"

"Alright…" Diamond continued, looking to Platinum as he strapped his last boot on, "How is this going to work? Are you going to sit on my shoulders or…?"

"No sitting." Platinum responded, "If I sit on your shoulders, my knees will bulge out and ruin the disguise. I'm going to have to stand up straight on you. We might look a little tall and awkward at first, but if you can just keep your hands around my hips, I think we can-"

"I can keep my hands around your hips!" Diamond assured with a smile.

The knock came a third time. This time it was the loudest. "…Diamond! …Pearl!" a voice hissed through the metal, "Someone open this thing up, or we're going to knock it down!"

"Diamond and Pearl?" Platinum asked, "How do they-"

"Wait… I think I know that voice…" Pearl whispered as he walked away from Charon and over to the door. His hands were still bound behind his back, but he was able to lean up against the cold metal with his right ear facing outward. "Gold, is that you?" he asked.

"No. It's Yugi Muto." The voice muttered back, "Of course it's me! Open the dang door!"

"What's the password?" Diamond called out, jokingly.

"Someone open this door, or I'm going to kick all of your butts!" Came Crystal's voice.

"Good enough." Diamond chuckled as he stumbled over to the door in his oversized boots and opened up the Security Room for his friends.

Gold and Crystal were leaning on the door and nearly fell into the room when Diamond opened it, but as soon as they regained their balance, the dex holders exchanged pleasantries, discussed where they had been, and tried to plan for the near future.

"So they're about to sweep the base again?" Crystal asked for clarification, "Can we expect them to come back through here?"

"Definitely." Platinum confirmed, "In fact, the rocket that Yellow and Red ran into-"

"He wasn't Red." Pearl reminded.

"Right." Platinum remembered, shaking her head, "The rocket that Yellow and Red-2 ran into-"

"I think he said his name was Ash." Diamond reminded.

"Right." Platinum said a second time, slightly more aggravated, "The rocket that Yellow and Ash ran into sent out an order to check the Security Room specifically. This becomes a more dangerous place to be by the second."

Crystal nodded her head. "Then we need to get out of here."

"Well, not necessarily." Charon interjected. Crystal's eyes immediately shifted to the mad scientist, and the man simply gave a small nod as he pointed over to the security panel to draw her attention to the massive fight that was going on outside the base. "We can see anything from this room," he continued, "The advantage that we have by being in here is priceless, and if we want to know exactly what's going on, then we can't afford to leave here until we gather everyone we are looking for."

"Tha… That's Red's Venasaur!" Crystal muttered, eyes wide in disbelief as she slowly walked toward the colossal Pokémon battle that was continuing on screen.

"No way..." Gold said, following behind.

"Oh yeah, did we forget to mention we found Red?" Pearl asked.

"I'll say." Crystal shot back as her eyes bent into a glare.

"But we can't all stay here." Gold resolved, turning away from the security panel, "If you four are going to try to give us a strategic advantage, that's fine, but the three guys we've been hopping dimensions for are just outside in a Pokémon battle that they can't hope to win." He turned back around to the screens and narrowed his eyes on the fight. "More rockets will be out there with reinforcements in no time, and our seniors are already out numbered. Once the rockets finish sweeping this base, who knows how many will be willing to battle? We need to help them now!"

The juniors and seniors stared at each other for several seemingly endless minutes. None of them were smirking, laughing, or even smiling for one of the first times ever. They simply searched each other's eyes for a mutual understanding of what they each had to do, and it ended with Pearl walking up to Gold and giving him a firm handshake. "Go get 'em."

"What's the quickest way to our seniors?" Crystal asked as she turned back toward the screens and began looking down multiple pathways.

"You can get to the front by going down the hallway for four halls, turning to the left, passing eight halls, and then going right until you reach the entrance." Diamond explained.

"But the entrance is likely blocked off by a ton of rockets that you'll have to fight your way through," Platinum reminded, "So instead, you should head for the docking bay eleven halls down. Remember? The one we entered through?"

Gold smiled at Crystal as soon as he heard that.

"No, Gold. We are not hijacking an airplane." She clarified. The boy had a disappointed look on his face for only a second before Charon interrupted the group again by pointing to the security screens.

"Um… Excuse me." He began, "But we should really be worried about this." The screen showed a large group of some ten or fifteen rockets headed down the hallway toward the Security Room. Gold and Crystal saw that as their cue to leave, and the younger dex holders began to hectically finish up their disguises.

"Pray to Arceus this works…" Muttered Platinum.

Misty, May, Drew, and Max were still continuing their trek through the ventilation system to find Misty's confiscated Pokémon. None of them were aware of the order given by Proton minutes ago to search the vents for trespassers, and they were not properly on guard for what might come ahead. In fact, the quartet was so used to no one bothering to check the air vents that they barely made any attempts to keep their crawl low-key.

"How much farther is the room, Misty?"

"Just follow the vents down for two more floors and take a quick right. That should do it."

"How the heck do you know this vent system so well?"

"I was paying attention to it when they transported me here from the ship. I know better than to just sit around and wait for Ash to rescue me."

"Is that some tent of disappointment I hear in your voice?"

"Shut up, Max. I don't have preferences on who is or isn't breaking me out of an evil organization's prison cell."

"…You sure? Because the way you're talking, it sounds like you do."

"OW! Dreeeeew! You're stepping on my hand!"

"Well, then move slower, May."

"How am I supposed to move any slower than I already am? We'll never reach Misty's Pokémon at this rate!"

"We're squirming through an air vent that we are probably all getting too big to crawl through. Consider yourself lucky that I'm going as fast as I am. Also, this claustrophobic area is starting to mess up my hair."

Misty stopped above a vent for only a split second to comment on Drew's complaint about his hair, but the shaft was violently pulled out from under her in a flash, and a strong, muscle bound hand jutted through the hole to grab her by the leg and pull her down. "WAAAAHHH!" She screamed in terror and surprise as she was yanked toward the ground. Her hands shuffled over every conceivable surface in the vent, but they were all too smooth to grab onto, and she was only saved by Max's reflexes as the young boy grabbed onto her right arm with both of his hands and began pulling away from the unknown assailant. May and Drew quickly got behind the young boy and pitched in as much strength as they could muster as well.

"Well, well, well, look what we got here!" Teased the Rocket operative that was pulling on the other end as soon as he saw the lower half of the body that Misty's legs were attached to. Misty's head was still in the upper portion of the vent, so she could not see the rocket, but he apparently recognized her already. That could not be good. "Boys, it looks like we found our prisoner again." He continued to chuckle, and murmurs of agreement came out amongst the others that were evidently down there.

Misty felt like she was being ripped in two. Her arm was being pulled forward on one end and her leg on the other. The vents cold, hard metallic structure was jamming into her stomach, and she could barely breathe.

"How did these guys find us?" Whispered May.

"They must have been listening in the vents." Misty choked back, "Just make sure they don't hear you up here. It sounds like for now, they think I'm alone."

"I… I can't keep this grip forever, Misty…" Max tried.

"It's no use." Drew grunted in pain, "If there are multiple rockets down there, then eventually they'll just help their friend pull you like we're doing for Max. They are going to overpower us eventually."

Misty's eyes were still wide with surprise and pain as she looked back at her three friends pulling against her attacker with all their might. "We won't let ya go, Misty…" May promised, "We're… We're in this together."

Misty's mind began racing. She was trying to think of a plan. Something that would get her out of this. Among the cheering of the rockets below and the quiet grunting of her friends above, she knew that whatever solution she came up with would not be easy, but she absolutely refused to go back to that cell they had her in. She was not going to spend another second in that dank, dark prison, and once Misty set her mind on something, there was no force on Earth that could say otherwise. "Max, let my arm loose a bit." She finally decided.

"WHAT?!" the boy hissed in silence, "Are you insane?!"

"No." she continued to speak softly, "You don't have to let go of my arm entirely. Just give it some slack. Let me slip through the shaft a little bit. I want to see who's pulling on me."

"Fair enough." Drew decided, releasing his help, and causing Max to fall forwards a little bit due to the change in force.

"Hey!" the boy nearly shouted in fear before Drew reached out to assist him again.

May shot Drew a glare, but he only shrugged in innocence. "The girl gets what she wants."

In a way, he was right. The minor trip forward that Drew caused was enough to allow Misty to adjust her head slightly and see who was pulling against her. As soon as her gaze escaped the comfort of the vents, she noticed at least seven rockets standing around her assailant, who was letting loose a toothy grin beneath his sunglasses and blond hair. "Hey there, girly!" He called out in a taunt, "I've gotta admit, you've got some pretty impressive upper arm strength. Who wants to start a bet on how long it takes me to rip this redhead from the ceiling?"

Cheers followed the creep's question, but Misty's worried expression quickly became a light smile as she looked back up at Max. "Okay, Max. I need you to drop me." She said calmly.

"YOU WHAT?!" he nearly yelled again, "Are you insane?!"

"SSSSSHHHHHHH!" Misty reminded him. May and Drew were looking at her with just as confused expressions, but she did not give it a second thought. "Just trust me. I know what I'm doing, okay?"

Max let out a small gulp in nervousness for his friend, but he slowly began to release his grip. "Just listen to me carefully." Misty continued as she slowly jutted downward with each minor release of force. "I need you to go down the shafts for two more floors. On the first place the vents part, take a right. My Pokémon will be in the top drawer of one of the desks in that room. Gather all six, and meet me in Ilex Forest. Do you understand me?" Each trainer nodded solemnly as she began to sink more and more over the side of the vent and her whisper grew softer and softer. "Not to be cliché," she assured, "but go on without me. I can handle myself." And with that, she finally disappeared over the edge. May, Max, and Drew worked on finding their way around the open vent and were much more cautious as they continued on to the room that Misty described.

"Well, look at that!" the big rocket continued to tease as he finally held the young water trainer in front of his peers, "Looks like Giovanni wasn't kidding when he said we had rat problems in the base!" The rockets around him began to laugh uncontrollably, and Misty had a look of complete terror in her eyes as she ran her gaze through the crowd that surrounded her.

"Please…" She began softly, "Please don't hurt me… I promise I won't escape again."

The thug that held her only gave off an even larger grin as he looked at her closer and playfully scratched under her chin. "Awww, now, sweetie…" he began, "I can't really promise ya anything. Misbehaving prisoners don't last long around here. Maybe if you were a little bit older, you could make it worth my time, but I-" He was interrupted when his chin came too close to the girl and she released a swift kick to his face while pulling her still-captive leg against the thumb of his grip to brake free from the hold. Of course, there were several other rockets on stand by, but the gym leader was quick on her feet, and she elbowed two of them in the jaw before making a path she could use to escape. Misty knew that the minions were under specific orders not to kill her due to the agreement that Giovanni had supposedly made with Ash, so she saw this as an opportunity to cut loose without having to worry about gunfire or deadly Pokémon attacks. Her upper arm and leg strength were actually quite formidable from years of swimming and fishing, and she also had solid reflexes, matching that of any rocket she had encountered thus far. By the time she shot down the hallway, Misty had already decided that she was not going down without a fight.

Lance lunged down onto his prey as Domino and Giovanni continued to dash forward on Garchomp. The dragon tamer knew that he could not hope to keep up with swift ground type, but his dive was angled in such a way that it landed him right in front of the course that the two rockets were taking, and both of their Pokémon collided on the ground, throwing all three trainers from their perches. The resulting crash caused a momentary pause in pleasantries as both parties shook off the damage done to them and tried to recuperate.

"YOU MANIAC!" Giovanni yelled, standing back up from his position, "YOU COULD HAVE JUST KILLED ALL OF US!"

"How is that any different from your plan?" Lance challenged as he also rose to his feet to find he had sprained his right ankle, "Your mad attempt to take over the multiverse is bound to end in nothing more than death!"

The two men walked toward each other menacingly as Domino tried to stand up as well, but she slumped back to her chest as soon as her leg began to bend. "OW!" She cried out in pain, "My leg! I think my left leg is broken!" Her eyes darted over to the Garchomp and the Dragonite that now lay unconscious on the ground. Their bellies rose up and down to indicate breathing, but they were not moving anytime soon. She was stuck in the middle of a battlefield with a broken leg. "Boss!" she cried to her nearby superior.

"What?!" he rudely called back as he continued to face down Lance, "I'm kind of busy at the moment!"

"My leg!" she said, "My leg is broken! You need to get me out of here now before a misfire kills me!"

"You are a means to an end." He answered back, "That's what being a rocket means, my dear. You are supposed to serve me, and you have done well. I do not want to leave the battlefield yet, and we will not leave until I do."

Domino scanned the surrounding destruction and the massive Pokémon that were dangerously close to her. She could not escape, but she understood her place and begrudgingly bowed her head in submission. "Yes, sir." She answered politely, "Just… try to hurry this up."

Her wish was granted in seconds as Lance and Giovanni stood not two feet from each other and glared with malicious intent. "Give me one good reason not to strangle you right now." The crime boss began.

"Because I have eleven more Pokémon around my waist." Lance answered, pushing his cloak aside from his belt and revealing his full arsenal. Giovanni sweat dropped. That was a good reason.

"Well, he's got five more over here!" Domino challenged, reaching for the pokéballs at her own waist, "And six of yours are weak here."

Lance's eyes narrowed. "To the death then?"

"Don't be so hasty." The crime boss interjected, "Tell me what you want, and I'll hear you out."

"Mewtwo." Lance replied simply, "You seek to use him for petty crimes throughout the multiverse, but I see what he can truly do. I see an existence without abusive trainers and humans. I can create a world that's right for Pokémon. Play your cards well, and I might decide to spare you." Giovanni's eyes had dwindled onto Lance's waist during his speech, and he managed to catch a glimpse of Giratina in one of the pokéballs, prompting a smirk on his face.

"Well… I'm not sure if I can manage that…" he began simply. He was about to take a gamble. "As it stands, we don't even know if Mewtwo has survived his bout with Darkrai."

"You know he has." Lance replied, "You're too smart to let him fly off into space without some kind of instructions."

"Perhaps so." He came again, "But who's to say that my instructions worked? Mewtwo might be out of commission right now, and you are wasting a much more powerful legendary as a belt ornament at the moment."

Lance's eyes shot down to Giratina's pokéball. "You know about the level cap." He explained, "As long as it is trapped in a pokéball, it stays bound to the laws of the dimension it was captured in."

"Then why are your new pokédex friends still able to go toe-to-toe with my own troops?" Lance's eyes widened as he surveyed the surrounding battles. Giovanni was right. It never occurred to him that the dex holders had somehow found a way to shrug off the level cap rule. Whatever they had done could be used to restore Giratina to its true power!

Giovanni smiled. In truth, he did not know how the dex holders had managed to accomplish this miracle, but he did not need to know. He was simply trying to sway the fight in his favor. If he could turn Lance against the dex holders, then that would be one less problem he had to deal with. He had confidence that the children would successfully prevent Lance from unlocking Giratina's true power, but he needed to give the man hope that it was possible first if he wanted to escalate a fight. "Why don't you go ask the little twerps what their secret is?" he suggested in a cheery tone as he began to walk off.

"Wait!" Lance interrupted again, aiming a pokéball at the Rocket boss. He stopped in his steps, but he did not turn around. "The darkball." Lance demanded.

Giovanni let out another smile as he unclipped the capture device from his belt and held it in his hands. "Let this represent exactly how much you're worth to me, Lance." He tossed the ball at his feet and then continued walking to go help Domino. His right hand rested on the remote still in his pocket.

Ash, Yellow, and Pikachu were now running down the hall on an empty side of the base as they continued to exchange information with each other. "Alright…" Ash reasoned, "So if Giovanni is outside battling Tobias, and your friend, Silver is looking for him, then that basically means we need to find the entrance."

"Not like we wouldn't be looking for it anyway." Yellow chuckled, "But now we have to go around this base the long way so that we will encounter minimal rockets on our way out."

"Right." Ash confirmed with a nod, "Who knows? Getting out of here may be easier than we thought."

"Pi-Pikachu!" Pikachu agreed.

The small party had already traded stories, and Ash was relieved to hear that Misty was safe, but now the issue was the amount of ground they had to cover in the next few minutes. Ash had specifically instructed Tobias (Giovanni's only distraction) to leave and contact Professor Oak if he took longer than seventy minutes to escape the base. At that time, Ash had not expected his journey to take quite the turn it did. Not only did he waste a lot of time chasing down Proton earlier, but Yellow had let him in on her knowledge of exactly how the rocket troops were spread out at the moment, forcing them to take the long way around rather than the short route that would be filled with bloodthirsty criminals. Now the duo had to wind around the base, pick up their friends, and get out of Ilex forest before Mewtwo found out they were there. This was obviously further complicated by the fact that Silver was specifically trying to get Giovanni's attention. Ash and Yellow were headed to the entrance as fast as they could go.

"So…" Ash huffed in mid-run, "If you and Red are so close, why didn't you realize I was just his counterpart at first? I mean, don't get me wrong, we look a lot alike, but if he really means as much to you as I think he does, why couldn't you tell the difference?" Yellow's attitude kicked in a little bit and she glared at Ash, prompting the trainer to scratch the back of his head in embarrassment. "Sorry…" he apologized, "I'm just trying to make small talk. Serious situation, you know?"

Yellow's glare dissolved into a light smile. She understood his worry. "I guess it was how weird this world looks…" she explained.

"Whaddaya mean?"

Yellow scratched her ponytail as she tried to think. "Well… It's hard to explain, but your world looks a lot different from mine, and everything that comes into this world changes a little bit too."

"I don't think I understand…" Ash tried.

Yellow could not find the right words for what she was trying to say. "…In our universe things don't… move... the same way things in yours do… And colors aren't as… colorful…"

Ash's head was starting to hurt. "Now I'm really confused. You live in a black and white, motionless world?"

"No, no, no!" She corrected him, "Motion just isn't… the same, and colors are less… round?" Ash did not respond to that one. He was racking his brain to understand, but it just was not in him. The two ran in silence for a few seconds as Ash pondered how many things must really be beyond certain comprehension. "You'd really have to be there to understand it." Yellow explained again, "Talking doesn't do it justice, and when dealing with concepts so far beyond imagination, it's probably best just to have faith that it's there and it's different."

"Well, maybe I can visit sometime!" Ash suggested, "If we ever get you guys out of here, Pikachu and I would love to see what your world is like."

Yellow giggled at her new friend's childish attitude and beamed as soon as Pikachu chirped to agree with his master. "Maybe someday." She agreed, "Right now I'm just hoping we can get back."

Silence encompassed their run again, and Yellow searched for a new topic to get their minds off of the time limit. She liked these distractions. "Sooooo…" She began, "I have a Pikachu too, ya know?"

"What's that?" Ash asked, completely ignoring Yellow's comments and pointing to a lone figure that was sprinting around an upcoming corner and toward their group.

Yellow's eyes widened. It was moving fast and chaotically, but it was clearly a human, and it was clearly coming right at them. She grabbed Omny's pokéball and prepared for a mid-run fight. "Ash! Tell Pikachu to get ready now!"

"Wait!" Ash announced as he squinted at the figure, "…I think I know that person."

"Ash! Yellow!" the sprinter called out, "Turn around!"

This time Ash's eyes widened and a huge grin came over his face. "Misty!" he called out, "Misty! It's me! Ash!"

"I know it's you, you idiot!" she continued to shout, "RUN!"

Ash and Yellow began to slow down in confusion, but they did not quite turn the other way. They only exchanged curious glances at each other. "What is she doing?" Ash asked, "Doesn't she realize we're going the other way?"

"…Maybe she's still searching for her Pokémon?" Yellow guessed.

Their answer came in the form of twenty-something rocket troops rounding the corner that Misty had originally emerged from, chasing the girl down the hallway with jeers, threats, and the occasional Pokémon. Their eyes nearly jumped out of their heads at the sight.

"RUN!" Misty continued to command, as she got closer to the two, "ASH KETCHUM! I SWEAR IF YOU DO NOT START RUNNING RIGHT NOW, WHATEVER IS LEFT OF ME IS GOING TO KILL YOU!"

They turned around and sprinted even faster than they were before. Ash was definitely going to be late.

Silver stood right outside the door that he was directed to. He was in the lowest portion of the base, and there was an eerie silence that encompassed the area. This floor exchanged the metallic look of every other hallway for a business demeanor. The floors were tiled. The walls had wallpaper. The doors were made of wood instead of iron. It was somehow more threatening than the other floors. Only seven rooms existed in this entire chamber, and he stood in front of the one that read "BOSS." The time had come.

Silver had encountered several agents on his way to this area. None of them were brave enough to question him, but he would often ask them for directions or even belongings if he felt he needed them. And it all led him here. He shoved the elevator key card into his pocket as he prepared for the toughest confrontation of his life, but as he slowly opened the door, all he found was a dark room with a cluttered office space. Unable to see much else, Silver flipped a light switch and caused something to stir.

"Wuzut?! …Who's there?!" Came a groggy, tired voice.

Silver only raised an eyebrow at what he saw. "Dad?"

The crime lord, Giovanni sat at his all-powerful desk amongst cluttered papers and discarded snack wrappers as he slowly straightened his back, wiped drool from his mouth, and turned to face Silver with a wrinkled suit and bloodshot eyes.

"…You're not Giovanni." Silver deadpanned as his eyes surveyed over the tired man in front of him.

Emotion suddenly returned to Giovanni's face as he saw the boy, and he was fully awake in an instant. "Son?!"

Silver smirked a little as he reached in his right pocket to pull out something he had confiscated from a grunt earlier. "No. I'm not your son." He assured, "Because I know my dad is up to no good right now."

"What are you talking about?" Giovanni demanded, "I am the head of Team Rocket! I am up to no good."

"No. You're up to sleeping with your radio turned off." Silver pointed out, and his hand came forward as he pointed a loaded gun at his father's doppelganger, "But you're going to turn it on and get me in contact with my real father."

More AN: Hope you enjoyed it! Just to reiterate everything from before: We're back to weekly updates. I'll see you next Saturday. I wrote a one-shot called "The Scar" about Ash's father if you are into that kind of thing. I am looking at canceling "I'd Like to Thank the Academy," but I have a back-up fic that is also anime oriented. And, of course, I'm always racing to get more favorites, follows, and reviews! Until next time! Keep it classy!