-Viridian City-

The man strode calmly through the streets of Viridian City, drinking in the sights and sounds of the bustling metropolis. The city had grown in the past few years, but the man nevertheless navigated the busy streets with ease. For the most part, the denizens of Viridian avoided the stranger that walked placidly through their midst. Perhaps it was the way he seemed to flow through the crowds – as if he knew precisely where everyone was going to be before they were actually there – or the dark cloak that covered most of his features. Maybe it was the strange aura that seemed to radiate from the man that unnerved the city's residents. Suffice to say he was regarded with varying levels of suspicion, and many of his fellow passersby involuntarily sighed in relief when he was out of eyesight, releasing pent-up breaths they hadn't realized they'd been holding.

The man was not alone. Alongside him trod a blue, jackal-like creature that perhaps stood up to the man's shoulder. Her brilliant blue eyes took in everything; there was not a single detail that she failed to observe. Like the man she accompanied, there was an odd presence about the Lucario that intimidated the townspeople.

Perched on the man's shoulder was a Pikachu. Its yellow fur ruffling in the evening breeze, the Electric Mouse was easily the most relaxed of the three. The lightning bolt-shaped tail twitched now and again as he rested on his friend's shoulder.

Spotting the familiar red roof, the man approached the Pokémon Center, fingering the small metal spheres clipped to his belt. The automatic doors opened with a whoosh, admitting the trio inside.

The Center was fairly empty, save for a few patrons waiting on the dark purple couches. The man ignored them, nearing the desk. "Hello, and welcome to the Pokémon Center!" the Nurse bowed, glancing briefly at the Pokémon accompanying the man before returning her gaze to him. "How may I help you?"

The man unclipped three Pokéballs from his belt and placed them on the desk. "These three need healing," he said simply, "and I need a room for the night."

"Of course, sir," the Nurse said, taking the spheres and inserting them into a large machine behind her. "They'll be fighting fit in about an hour," she informed the man, opening a drawer and retrieving a small key. "Here you are," handing the key to the man, she pointed up the small staircase on their left. "Your room is the first on the right. I can have someone come up with your Pokémon as soon as they're ready."

The man inclined his head. "Thank you." His cape swept rather dramatically as he turned, making for his room.

Unlocking the door and pushing it open, the man yawned and ran a hand through his ebony hair, pushing back the hood as he did so. The Pikachu leapt off his shoulder, racing along the beds and curling up on a pillow. "Chuuu…" it said happily.

The man chuckled. "Comfy, Pikachu?"

Pikachu nodded. "Chu… pika kapi chu, Pikapi?" he asked, looking up at his friend.

"What do you mean, 'what's the plan'?" The man raised an eyebrow. "We wait for the Nurse to heal everyone up, and get some rest. There. That's our plan."

The Lucario rolled her eyes. What Pikachu means, Master, is what is your plan for after tonight. What do we do, now that we aren't in training?

The man's brow furrowed. "Ah. To be honest, Athena, I hadn't really thought that far ahead. I suppose we'll tour the Kanto battle circuit for a while, maybe try out the Indigo League. Who knows, maybe we'll challenge the Elite Four." He shrugged, turning to look out the window. "Get some rest. I want to be out of here by sunrise." Not bothering to shed his cloak, the man lay in the nearest bed, closing his chocolate eyes. Within minutes he was asleep.

-Ecruteak City-

Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, Max Maple, son of Petalburg City Gym Leader Norman Maple, stumbled into Ecruteak. He hadn't meant to be out so late – stealing a glance at his Pokégear, he cringed; it was close to one in the morning – but he had been distracted by a rather intense training session that had caused the evolution of not one, but two members of his party. Then his long-time rival, Aaron, had appeared out of absolutely nowhere and challenged him to an impromptu battle. Max had accepted, of course – it was a matter of pride. No self-respecting Trainer would ever refuse a chance to prove their worth in battle, or would ever run away from a fight. The battle had been long and hard-fought, but Grace and Shadow had come through for Max in the end. Even now, an hour or so after his victory, the crestfallen look on Aaron's face still made the young Trainer grin as he entered the Poké Center.

"Evening, Nurse Joy," he said cheerily, unclipping his Pokéballs and handing them to the Nurse. "Er, I suppose it's really early morning, now."

"Hello, Max. You're certainly out late tonight," she replied.

"Eh. Couldn't be helped. I ran into a rival of mine who challenged me."

The Nurse nodded knowingly. "Ah. I see. I take it you won?"

"You bet I did! He's no match for me!"

Nurse Joy smiled. "You must be tired. "Here's your room key, your team should be fully healed by morning." Max accepted the key and turned to leave, but was stopped by the Nurse. "Oh, I almost forgot: A letter arrived for you this afternoon. It looked important." The pinkette opened a drawer, producing an official-looking envelope. "It's from the Pokémon League."

"What?!" Max grabbed the letter and ripped it open. Quickly scanning the paper, he read aloud:

The Pokémon League cordially invites Max Maple of Petalburg City to compete in the first ever Pokémon World Tournament. The Tournament will be held at Indigo Plateau, Kanto region, from April 10th to May 1st. Please show this invitation to the Nurse Joy in Indigo Plateau's Pokémon Center.

We look forward to watching you compete!

-Charles Goodshow, president of Pokémon League.

Max fell silent as the letter concluded, his eyes wide as Pokéballs. "I… I can't believe it," he said finally. "I WAS INVITED TO THE POKÉMON WORLD TOURNAMENT!"

"Congratulations~!" the Nurse said, watching the Hoenn native celebrate. Max danced around the Center, arms flailing as a chorus of yeses poured from his lips. He threw his head back and laughed, causing his glasses to fly off his face and clatter to the ground. Max snatched them up and placed them back on his head, still celebrating the good news.

This went on for a full five more minutes before Max calmed down. "Night, Nurse Joy!" Beaming from ear to ear, he raced up the steps, babbling to himself. I have to call Brock and tell him the news! Dad'll be so excited! This is gonna be awesome!

Nurse Joy sighed in relief. She was as excited about the PWT as anybody, but the way that boy had danced around made it seem as though he had already won the Championship.

-Viridian City-

"Pikapi, chuka chu pikachu."

The man's eyes blinked open at the sound of Pikachu's voice. "I'm awake," he said, rubbing his eyes. He glanced out the window. The sun had not yet risen, and the streets of Viridian were empty. "Thanks for waking me," he said, standing and stretching. He cracked his back and turned to a nearby table, where three Pokéballs lay. "I suppose the Nurse woke you, Athena? You always were a light sleeper."

Athena nodded. Yeah.

The man clipped the metal spheres onto his belt. Readjusting his cloak and pulling up his hood, he quietly opened the door. "Shall we?" he asked.

The man squinted in the bright lights of the Center's main floor. He nodded politely to the Nurse manning the counter, wordlessly returning the key and leaving.

The brisk morning air was a welcome surprise for the three travelers. The cool breeze invigorated the trio, sending small shivers up their collective spines.

The sun was just promising to rise, the skies still painted blacker than a Darkrai's worst nightmares. The streetlights that had been illuminating the trio's journey thus far stopped abruptly, informing the man that they were nearing the City's outskirts. "Come on," he said, "a few more blocks and we'll be out of here. I guess we'll head for -"

"Well, if it ain't da twerp," the voice came from a darkened alley, interrupting the man. The trio spun towards the sound, assuming battle stances.

"Show yourself!" the man ordered.

"Now is dat any way ta treat a friend?" the voice wondered. A figure appeared out of the shadows, slinking towards the man. The large, tan cat walked into the light. Striding gracefully towards the man, the cream-colored feline grinned mischievously at the three. A flawless red jewel imbedded in the cat's forehead glinted in the low light. The Persian laughed, rubbing its whiskers with one paw. "Come on, now. Surely ya remember me, don't ya? How's about you, Pikachu? No? Well, I guess I have changed a bit."

The man exchanged confused glances with the Electric Mouse on his shoulder. "Meowth?"

The cat nodded. "It's Persian, now, but yea. Da one an' only. 'Volved a mont' or so." Glancing over his shoulder, Persian began pacing around the man and his Pokémon.

"What are you doing here?"

"I could ask you's da same question. Don't ya know it's dangerous, walkin' 'round a big city like dis when it's dark out? You's could get hurt."

The man laughed. "Yeah. I'd hate to get mugged or something. Who knows? Someone might try to steal my Pokémon."

"Hey, ya never know. As a matter of fact, I -"


A black bird appeared, cawing menacingly. Screeching its name, the Murkrow swopped down at Persian, pecking at his side.

"Ah, great. Dis guy again. Hold on a sec," Persian complained, dropping to a crouch. He hissed at the Murkrow, who cried its name again and came around for a second pass. This time, Persian leapt at the bird, slashing at it with his claws, managing to land two direct hits to the Dark/Flying Type.

With a pained cry, the Darkness Pokémon flew away, screeching noisily.

Persian turned back to the man. "Sorry 'bout dat. Dat guy's been chasin' me for days now."

The man's expression became stern. "Are you on the run again?"

"Well, yea, but -"

"I thought you'd given up crime!"

"You really tink I did somethin'?" Persian looked hurt. "Jessie, James an' I all went straight tree years ago! You know dat!"

"So why are you on the run?"

Persian glanced over his shoulder again. "I didn't do nothin'! It's Team Rocket! Dey're da ones after me!" Persian started pacing again. "Listen. I was hangin' around dis place – I won't say where. I was eavesdroppin' on some Rocket Grunts talkin' 'bout a big job dat's supposed to go down durin' da PWT."

"The what?"

"Oh. Yeah. I forgot. You've been in exile."

The man sighed. "We've been over this. It's not exile; it's training. In seclusion. There's a difference."

Persian shrugged noncommittally. "Whateva. So anyways, da World Tournament is dis big championship happenin' up on Indigo Plateau. Da Dragon guy, wit da cape – Lance? – set it up an' got da Pokémon League in on it, too.

"So, basically, it's did huge competition. All da world's best Trainers, and da Gym Leaders an' the Elite Four. Even da Champions are supposed ta be getting' in on dis ting. Whoever wins is gonna be crowned da 'Pokémon Master' or somethin'."

"Sounds like fun."

"Yea. So, dese Grunts weren't exactly da most discreet bunch. I overheard one of 'em sayin' somethin' 'bout da Boss. I tink he's headin' da whole operation."

The man's eyes widened. The leader of Team Rocket was a secretive man. He was rarely – if ever – overly active in the Team's exploits, preferring to stay out of sight, hidden by the shadows. "So the head of Team Rocket is going to be there at the Tournament?"

Persian nodded. "Sounds like it. Hey, you're not really tinkin' about goin', are ya? I mean, did you hear anyting I just said?"

The man grinned. "I certainly did. A world-wide Tournament with the best Trainers from around the globe, along with the fact that the leader of Team Rocket will be there? Sounds like my kind of party."

"Pika chu pikachu pi!"

"Exactly. It's the perfect place for a comeback, don't you think, Persian?"

Persian groaned, slinking back to the shadows. "Don't say I didn't warn ya when da Boss knocks you into next mont'. I'll say 'hi' ta Jessie n' James for ya. Stay safe, Ash."

"You too, Persian," Ash called to the darkness. But the cat was already gone.

So, Athena said, staring at Persian's retreating form, we're going to Indigo Plateau?

"Pikachu chu chuka Pikapi!"

Ash grinned. "Come on!" he shouted, sprinting into the forests surrounding the City. Athena and Pikachu looked at each other, shrugged, and raced off after Ash.

Hello, everyone. Thought I'd try my hand at a Pokémon story. Hope you enjoy it! I've got some great ideas for this fic, so let's see where this thing goes, shall we? Please review and let me know what you guys think.

See you next chapter!