-Indigo Plateau-

Red smiled, walking over to his Pokémon. "Nice job, Spectre," he said, patting the downed dragon's neck. "You did great." He put a hand in the pocket of his cloak and frowned. "Huh. I could've sworn I'd brought some potions with me." He shrugged. "Sorry, bud, but I'm gonna put you back in your ball for now. We're running low on medicine."

Spectre groaned. Red sighed. "I know, I know. I'll make it up to you sometime. But for now, rest up, okay?" Unclipping a Pokéball from the magnetic clip on his belt, Red tapped the ball once to expand it and again to recall the dragon. A red beam of light shot out from the release button, enveloping and absorbing Spectre. Wincing, Red minimized the Pokéball and reattached it to his belt, reminding himself to make more medicine as soon as possible.

May stopped recording, sending the video to her Pokégear before placing it back in her backpack. "Maxy is going to be so mad he wasn't here," she said, eliciting a chuckle from Dawn and Brock.

Misty placed Gyarados's Pokéball back in the pouch on her thigh, approaching the group. "Hey, that was a great battle, Red," she said, holding out a hand.

Red nodded, accepting the proffered hand and shaking it. "Likewise. That was without a doubt the best battle we've had in months."

"Same here. We should battle again sometime."

"Definitely."

Dawn smirked. "Oh, will you two just kiss already?" she asked, giggling.

Misty and Red both froze, adopting impeccable Sawsbuck-in-the-headlights expressions. They both blushed a brilliant shade of red that would not be out of place alongside a Rapidash mane.

"That's-"

"We-"

"He's not-"

"I'm not-"

"We aren't-"

"BWAHAHAHA!" The forest erupted in a peal of laughter. Red and Misty flinched as Dawn and May both fell to the ground clutching their stomachs. Brock tried and failed to keep a straight face, putting a hand over his mouth to hide his grin.

Dawn wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. "C'mon, you two, we were just teasing."

Red raised an eyebrow. "Athena?"

Yes, Master?

"Could you go find Soul for me?"

Of course.

Misty glanced at Red. Seeing the small grin beginning to spread across his face, Misty nodded, reaching into her pouch and selecting a Pokéball.

May and Dawn slowly climbed to their feet, still giggling. Their laughter died off as they saw Red and Misty grinning evilly at the two Pokémon Coordinators.

"May?"

"Heh- yeah, Misty?"

"You may want to start running."

-Iron Island, Sinnoh Region-

"Good, you're awake." Lance offered a hand to the prone Lucario, who accepted it, his eyes narrowed in confusion.

Lance? What – what happened?

The Champion raised an eyebrow. "I might ask you the same question, Lucario. What happened here?" he asked, crossing his arms.

The Aura Pokémon flinched. We... we were attacked! Out of nowhere, dozens of them! They tried to take Master! Then... His eyes flashed red. The black appendages on his head splayed outwards, surrounding Lucario in blue aura. They tried to kill him! He roared, aura streaming off his shoulders like flames. The bastards shot Riley!

Lance took a step back. "Lucario..." he began, reaching for a Pokéball.

Lucario took a deep breath and closed his eyes. I... sorry, he said as the aura slowly faded away. I didn't mean to lose control like that.

"It's alright." Lance relaxed, breathing a sigh of relief. "So where is he?"

The Ruins. Deep. That's where we were when we were attacked. They left after they shot Riley. I came back here to find medicine or get help.

"Well, you found it." Lance looked up past the cabin to the entrance to the mine. He paused, pursing his lips. "Lucario. You keep saying 'they' tried to take Riley. 'They' tried to kill him. Who is 'they'?"

Lucario growled, storming past Lance and beginning the trek towards the ruins. Team Rocket.

-Indigo Plateau-

The sun was shining bright on the forests surrounding the Pokémon League Village. It was a beautiful day, without so much as a single cloud to be seen in the cerulean sky. A cool breeze blew down from the mountains to the east, laughing as it raced through the trees. Pokémon of all shapes and sizes lounged in the calming noontime air, enjoying the day. It was the epitome of contentedness and relaxation.

In a word? Peaceful.

"DAWN, RUN!" May shouted, vaulting over a decaying log with surprising litheness.

"GEE, YOU THINK!?" The blue-haired Coordinator replied between gasps for air, crashing through a knot of vines and branches. She spared a glance over her shoulder, her face paling. "SHIT, MAY, THEY'RE RIGHT BEHIND US!"

"Soul, Incinerate!"

"Golduck, Water Gun!"

The two Pokémon complied instantly, firing off their respective attacks. A spiral of fire centered around a stream of water came rushing towards the two Coordinators, who shrieked and dove to either side, narrowly avoiding the elemental assaults.

Behind their Pokémon, Red and Misty slowed, allowing their targets to climb to their feet and continue running. "Think they've had enough?" Red asked conversationally.

Misty's lips quirked into a predatory grin. "Not nearly," she replied, sprinting off after the Coordinators. Red sweatdropped, pausing to raise an eyebrow at Golduck, who shrugged and raced after his Trainer.

Remind me to never get on Waterflower's bad side, said Athena from somewhere behind him.

Ditto, Red replied, taking off after Misty.

May made a mental note to never, ever poke fun at Misty like this ever again if she valued her life. Red, too, for that matter.

Thank Arceus for that Pokéathlon training, she thought, ducking under a low-lying branch that would've otherwise smacked her right in the face. Racing past a confused-looking Nidorino, the Hoenn native's gaze locked onto a bushel of Oran berries. "Dawn!" she gasped. "Through there!"

The blunette needed no further instruction, diving headfirst into the bush. In any other instance, it would have been extremely comical, but May had other things on her mind as she all but tackled her friend, joining her in the impromptu hiding spot.

Survival, namely.

A silent minute passed as the two girls struggled to regain their breath. "I think..." Dawn began, sucking in air, "we lost 'em."

"Thank Manaphy," May replied, lying facedown in the soil. "By the way, if you ever feel the need to... piss off Red and Misty like that again... leave me the hell out of it."

Dawn smiled weakly. "Nah. I don't have a death wish."

"Heh. Could've fooled me."

The snap of a nearby twig forced the Coordinators out of their musings. They froze, withdrawing further into the bushes, whirling to face the source of the sound.

The black and white Pokémon regarded May and Dawn calmly, an air of quiet power emanating from it. Though it did not move outwardly, standing still as a statue, its crimson eyes bored into the Coordinators', as though trying to warn them. A stray breeze ruffled the Pokémon's pristine fur.

"C'mon, Mist! This way! They're right over –" Red stopped midsentence when he saw the Disaster Pokémon before him. "You."

The single word was uttered without malice or spite, without pleasure or satisfaction. And yet it spoke volumes. If anything, the solitary syllable held something that could have been perhaps akin to fear within it. And that scared May. In the short time she'd known Red, he had shown himself to be an incredibly powerful Trainer. So what was this that could render him all but speechless? A shiver ran down her spine as the implications arose.

The Absol moved, taking a step towards Red. The dark oval and sickle-shaped horn adorning the Pokémon's forehead flashed white.

Red stiffened, his eyes goingwide.

"Hey!" Dawn cried, leaping out from the bush she and May were hiding in. "Leave our friend alone!" she commanded, running towards the Disaster Pokémon.

The Absol shot Dawn a cold glance. The Coordinator froze in her tracks as the world shifted around her. Her vision swam. Images flashed before her, dark and confusing. She saw buildings burning, lightning cracking the sky overhead. She felt rather than saw the earth tremble. A man wreathed in shadow. A blood-stained Persian at his heels, yellowed fangs glinting. A body, broken, in the center of what was once a stadium.

"-wn! Dawn! Wake up!"

The Coordinator started, a cold shiver running up and down her body. "I'm alright..." she whispered, staring at the Disaster Pokémon, who had returned its attention to Red.

"Sol."

Red growled. "Don't give me that! I know you know more than what you're showing me. What is Team..." he glanced at May and Dawn and lowered his voice. "What are they planning?"

"Absol."

Red sighed, rubbing his temples. "Alright." He sucked in a deep breath and blew it out between his teeth. He paused for a second, considering his words. "I appreciate you doing this."

"Sol."

"Yeah, yeah. Have you reconsidered my offer? That still stands, you know. We'd be more than happy for you to join the team."

"Sol."

Red sighed again, drooping his shoulders. He suddenly seemed extremely tired. "I figured as much. Will you be sticking around the Plateau?"

The Absol nodded. "Absol sol," it said finally, turning to leave. Giving the Coordinators one last glance, the Disaster Pokémon padded off silently, disappearing into the forests.

"Is that Absol a friend of yours?" May asked after a moment or two.

Red shrugged. "Kind of. He comes and goes. He tries to warn me whenever something bad is going to happen, but..." the Trainer trailed off. "Nevermind. No need to worry," he finished, flashing Dawn a small smile. "C'mon, let's go find everyone else. I dunno about the two of you guys, but I'm getting hungry." With that, he spun on his heel and strode into the trees.

Dawn and May shared a look. "The Absol showed you something, didn't he?" The Hoenn native asked.

Dawn nodded solemnly. "Something big is going to happen. Something huge. It's going to happen soon. And May?"

"Yeah, Dawn?"

"It's not going to be pretty."

-Iron Island-

It's not too far now, Lucario warned, starting to walk faster. I don't know what kind of condition he's in now, but he was in a lot of pain when I left.

Lance nodded, glancing around the caves. "There, uh, aren't any wild Pokémon down here, are they?"

Lucario managed a grin. Not this far down. Most of them fled when Team Rocket attacked, anyway.

"Right."

We're here.

Indeed they were. The cave system they'd been following opened up into a massive natural cavern. Large crystals were interspersed throughout the hollow, glowing with an inner light that illuminated the rocks around them. Smaller formations dotted the underground as well, shining a dull blue.

"Time flowers?" Lance asked, surprised.

Lucario nodded. It's the main reason Riley and I decided to train here. These were the first Time Flowers we'd seen outside the Tree of Beginning.

"You've been there?"

Of course. It's where Riley and I first became Aura Guardians.

"Speaking of which..." Lance replied, trailing off as he saw a body propped up against a large crystal. "Is that..?"

"Well... if it isn't the Dragon Mater himself..." said the body, craning its neck to look up at him. "Hello, Lance. Long time... no see."

Lance smiled. "Riley."

To say Riley looked bad would be a bit of an understatement. His trademarked blue coat was ripped in several places and stained red with blood. His hat was lying on the ground next to him, revealing his disheveled and unkempt hair. His face was pale. He clutched a hand against his stomach and smiled weakly up at the Champion. "So," he said. "How are things?"

Lance's lips quirked. "Oh, you know. Champion of Kanto and Johto. Same old, same old. What about you? How've you been doing?"

"I've been shot, you moron," the Aura Guardian deadpanned. "How do you think I'm doing?"

Lance cracked a grin. "I wouldn't know."

"That is utter Buoffalant shit, and we both know it," Riley shot back, laughing. He winced, pressing his hand tighter to his stomach. "Damn... In all seriousness, though... If you've got anything for bullet wounds in that stupid trenchcoat of yours, by all means use it now."

Lance nodded, kneeling down next to his friend and rifling through his pockets. "I brought some Energy Powder with me. That should help stop the bleeding."

Do you have anything for pain? Lucario asked, keeping watch at the entrance of the cave.

"Uh... No. I didn't bring much... Oh!" Lance snapped his fingers, snatching a Pokéball from his belt. "Altaria, come on out!"

The cloud-shaped Dragon appeared in a flash of red light. "Taria?" it cooed.

"Taria, I need you to use Heal Bell on Riley here," Lance commanded.

"Altaria~!" the Humming Pokémon sang, eager to please the Dragon Tamer. The Dragon opened its fluffy wings and enveloped the injured Aura Guardian in a warm embrace. Altaria's body glowed a soft blue, and she began to hum; a soft, lilting tune that resonated through the ruins. A bell chimed.

Slowly, Altaria unwrapped her wings, lying Riley on the cavern floor and taking a step back. "Taria," she said softly.

"Thanks, Taria." Lance smiled at his Pokémon before returning his attention to his friend. "That better?" he asked.

"Much," Riley answered, closing his eyes. "Your Pokémon is something special."

"All Pokémon are," Lance replied, uncapping the bottle of Energy Powder. "Here. Eat some of this."

"Can you eat a powder?" the Sinnoh native pondered, accepting the bottle and pouring a healthy amount of the herbal medicine into his mouth.

Lance rolled his eyes. "Ingest it then. Swallow. Consume."

Riley grimaced at the bitter taste, swallowing several times to get all the powder down. He coughed. "Ugh."

"I know it tastes like crap, but it'll get you on your feet until we can get you to a hospital," Lance slipped Riley's arm over his shoulder, helping him to his feet. "C'mon. Salamence can get us to Eterna City within the hour."

Riley nodded. "Right."

Slowly, the group made their way through the ruins, Lucario leading the way and Altaria bringing up the rear. The trek through the caves was slow-going and uneventful.

"Say, Lance," Riley said after a few minutes' silence, "what were you doing on Iron Island in the first place? Aren't you supposed to be at Indigo?"

Lance nodded. "Yeah. Cynthia's holding down the fort 'til I get back, though. The World Tournament can survive a day or two without me."

"Right, the Tournament. I'd forgotten about that."

"I was surprised you didn't register. You used to be all over championships like this."

Riley shrugged. "Eh. Lucario and I have been busy."

That is an understatement, Lucario commented, eliciting a chuckle from the Aura Guardian.

"You got that right, old friend."

Lance coughed. "Speaking of the Tournament, I have some questions for you. I'd forgotten in all the excitement, but it's why I came down here in the first place. I know right now's not the ideal time, but do you mind? It's important."

Riley glanced at the Champion, confusion etched into his face. "Fire away."

"Right. So then, there's been a mysterious Trainer at the PWT. He registered the day before the Tournament started, and possesses incredibly powerful Pokémon. All of his matches thus far have utterly destroyed his opponents. He fights with a passion I haven't seen in, well, a long time."

Riley quirked an eyebrow. "This is fascinating, Lance, but if we could get to those 'important questions'..."

"Oh, shut up. Anyways. Like I said, his Pokémon are extraordinary. His Pikachu can move so fast even I can't make it out. His Ninetales used to be a Shadow Pokémon, and strangest of all, he's an Aura User."

Riley's other eyebrow rose to join the first. "Oh? Are you sure?"

"Positive, He made an Aura Sphere the size of a Pokéball right in front of me."

He attacked you?

"Huh? Oh, no. Pryce and I confronted him about an Underground Gym that he supposedly raided some five, six years ago. He claimed that he and his Pikachu took out over two dozen Trainers by themselves, without any assistance whatsoever. I asked him how, and he showed me the Sphere."

Riley and Lucario shared a glance. "This mystery Trainer, does he have a name?"

"Aye. He goes by Red. Bloody ridiculous name if you ask me. I'm almost positive it's an alias."

Riley snorted, shaking his head in wonder. "So unoriginal..." he muttered to himself.

"What? You know him?"

The Aura Guardian stared at Lance for a moment. "Of course I know him!" He shook his head. "You haven't figured it out yet, have you? And here I thought you were some hotshot detective G-man and whatnot."

"Well, who is he!?"

Riley shook his head. "Use those detective skills of yours, Champion. Where have you seen 'Red' before?"

Lance furrowed his brow. "Never..." he began, putting his free hand to his chin. So he knew Red? That couldn't be. He'd never seen anyone quite like the hooded Trainer before. Certainly no non-League member he knew fought the way Red did, commanding his Pokémon with the practiced ease that required years of training.

Then there was the matter of his companions. Misty, Brock, and the kid from Hoenn – Max? The way Misty had defended Red suggested a strong bond between the two – and perhaps something of a crush, Lance thought bemusedly – which was curious in and of itself. The Cerulean City Gym Leader was not exactly a social Beautifly, preferring a select group of friends she had become acquainted with in her travels. Lance couldn't condemn her choices; he was the same way, really, which is why her quick acceptance of Red into her life puzzled him so. Brock, being an outright friendly guy, was easily understandable, but Misty...

Perhaps the two already knew each other? No, that couldn't be it. Hadn't she been the one to ask Pryce about Red's actions in Mahogany? Besides, the way Misty had deferred to Red in Saffron Stadium implied that she hadn't known the Aura User for long; the Gym Leader was always quick in making her mind known whenever she objected to something – not that Lance would ever say that to her face, quirking a lip as he remembered the impromptu training session in Cerulean Cove a few months back. Misty could be downright scary when she wanted to be – and her actions in the Stadium led Lance to the belief that, while close, Misty was still cautious around Red.

Now that he thought about it, wasn't Red the same way? Certainly, he was relaxed around Misty and Brock, but Lance's instincts told him that this relaxed demeanor that he had seen was an act, albeit a damn good one. Still, he couldn't help but think that Red was putting on a mask, and that the mask was this close to being torn off every time he spoke to Misty and Brock.

But why? What would drive someone to go to such lengths to conceal their identity? It made no sense to Lance. Red must have known Misty personally, perhaps intimately, to want his anonymity. An old boyfriend, perhaps? A close friend of hers? A traveling companion?

Lance's breath caught in his throat as the pieces fell into place. Traveling companion. Of course! How had he not seen it earlier?

"Ash!?"

-Pokémon League Village-

Max sat cross-legged on the bed, focusing on a marble. "I don't think it's working," he said after a minute.

That's because you're doing it wrong, Grace sighed, not looking up.

"Really? Thanks, Grace, I would have never figured that out on my own." Max massaged his temples, his eyes flitting to the clock on the bedside stand. "Do we have to do this now? It's a beautiful day, I shouldn't be locked up in the Pokémon Center when we could be outside training or whatever it is normal people do."

"Qui quilava." Cole agreed, lounging on the carpet.

Normal people don't have psychic abilities they need to hone, Grace replied, shooting Cole a look. Wouldn't you agree, Shadow?

The Mightyena opened one eyelid, glancing at the Embrace Pokémon. "Yena."

Dark Type.

"Might yena."

Why, you –

Max's Pokégear vibrated, the monitor lighting up as the words 'New Message' flashed onscreen. Ignoring Grace and Shadow's banter, Max snatched it up and unlocked the phone. "It's from May," he announced, reading the text quickly. "She says the group's been hanging out with Red and that they'll be swinging by the Center in a few minutes." He grinned. "Awesome! Come on, guys, let's go say hi to R–"

No. Grace crossed her arms, glaring at her Trainer.

"What?"

You're not done yet. Grace nodded at the marble still resting on the bed.

Max sighed. "Grace, c'mon. Can we not do this now?" He tried to step past the Embrace Pokémon, but Grace moved to block him, standing in front of the door.

No. We're finishing what you started. You're not leaving this room until you make that marble move.

"Grace. Move." Max crossed his arms, mirroring Grace's expression.

No.

The seconds dragged on until Max finally caved, heaving out a great sigh and pinching the bridge of his nose. "Lousy Gardevoir..." he mumbled under his breath, turning to pick up the marble. He cocked an eyebrow at his starter. "Now what, since I apparently have no idea how to do anything?"

Don't get smart, Max. I'm trying to help you.

"Yeah, yeah. So how do you suggest I do this?" he asked, holding the marble flat in his hand.

Concentrate. Focus on the marble. Imagine yourself lifting it up.

Max nodded, centering his attention on the tiny glass sphere. He tried to see it begin lifted into the air, hovering just above his palm. His eyes narrowed.

Nothing happened.

Keep trying, Grace urged. You're nearly there.

Max didn't respond, closing his eyes and creasing his brow. The image in his mind's eye was clearer now, more focused. He could clearly see the marble spinning above his hand, held up by nothing more than his own willpower. Something like a wave rolled low in his ears, and Max suddenly felt somehow connected to the tiny glass ball in his hand. Taking a deep breath, he imagined the sphere floating upwards. No, he forced it upwards, commanding the glass to rise up.

His eyes snapped open. The marble was hovering mere inches above his palm, quivering in midair. Max's eyes widened, and the marble fell back into the palm of his hand.

Grace beamed, her eyes shining. I told you you could do it.

Max stared at the marble, a smile spreading across his face as well. His fist closed around the sphere, and he laughed. Today is just an all-around awesome day, he decided.

"Hello, and welcome to the Pokémon Center~!" The Nurse began cheerily, turning to face the small group that had just arrived. "How can I help – oh!"

Red smiled back at the surprised Joy. "Afternoon, Nurse Joy. My friend here needs a rest," he began, setting a miniaturized Pokéball on the counter, "Would you mind?"

Nurse Joy quickly shook her head, blinking several times, "Huh? Oh! Of course!" Grabbing the Pokéball from the counter, Nurse Joy transferred it to a slotted machine and pressed a button. A gentle light pulsed over the Pokéball, and after a moment a short tune played, restoring the Pokémon inside the ball to pristine fighting condition. "Here you are, sir," said the Nurse, handing Red the sphere. She blushed slightly. "My apologies about that. You startled me, is all."

Red shrugged indifferently. "It's quite alright. I've actually been getting that a lot today." He grinned, tossing a few Poké into the glass jar labeled 'Tips'. "Have a nice day, Nurse Joy."

The Nurse bowed. "You too, Mr. Red! We hope to serve you again~!"

Red grinned, clipping the ball back onto his belt and making his way back to his friends. "Well, that's taken care of. I miss anything?" He asked Brock.

The ex-Gym Leader shook his head. "Nah. We're still waiting for Max to show up. May sent him a text saying we'd be here a few minutes ago."

Red nodded. "Alright. Say, does anyone mind if we hit the farmer's market really fast? I need to stock up on meds for everybody."

Brock raised an eyebrow. "Medicine?" he asked. "Why not just head to a PokéMart?"

Red shrugged. "We tend to blow through standard Potions pretty quick when we're training. I've figured out a way to make my own medicine that acts kind of like a Revive and a Full Restore."

At that, the Pokémon Doctor's other eyebrow went up? "Really?"

Misty nodded. "Yeah. He gave some of the stuff to Golduck before my match last week. It's pretty potent stuff, actually."

Brock leaned forward, resting his chin on one hand. "Oh? How do you make it?"

"Let's see. We start out by crushing up a Revival Herb and mixing that with water. Then we add juice from Oran berries to get rid of the bitter flavor, Sitrus if we can find them, then we mix in crushed Lum berries and – what else do we use?"

Leppa, I think.

"Right, right. Then we mix in Leppa berries. Thanks, Athena. After we add everything we just shake it all up until the whole thing is a nice shade of red. It's cheap, effective, and all-natural to boot."

And it tastes pretty good, too.

"Pi pika!"

Brock sat back in his chair. "That'll do it," he said, nodding. "That's pretty ingenious of you, Red."

"I try," the hooded Trainer replied. Athena rolled her eyes.

"Ugh, what's taking Maxy so long?" Dawn asked to no one in particular, eyeing the stairs that led to the rooms the Center rented out to Trainers. "What's he doing up there?"

Talking to his Pokémon, Athena answered, closing her eyes. Grace in particular. Hold on, they're leaving now. They should be coming down the stairs right about... now.

Everyone turned to look at the stairs in question, where a certain olive-haired Trainer had just come into view.

"Hey, guys!"

Red rolled his eyes. "Showoff."

Like you have any room to talk.

Red made a face, waving to Max. "Hey, Max."

"Red! Hey!" The Hoenn Trainer grinned as Red stood up from his chair. "I took your advice and went to Tate and Liza!"

"Oh? And?"

"And they said I had a lot of potential and that they'd teach me how to be Psychic!"

Red smiled. "Really? That's awesome, Max."

"Yeah it is!"

"So are we going?" Brock asked, standing and looking questioningly at Red, who nodded.

"Yeah. This won't take that long. Maybe we can catch a battle afterwards."

"Ooh! I heard Maylene has a battle in about a half hour!" Dawn exclaimed, scrolling through the listings on her Pokégear. "We should go watch her!"

"Sounds like a plan."

The League Village, being the site of the Indigo Conference for as far back as memory serves, contained a bustling open market, including people from all over Kanto coming to sell supplies to needy Trainers every year. With the advent of the World Tournament, business had exploded, with merchants from nearly every province and region arriving to peddle their wares.

As it was, the group had no trouble finding an herbalist from Sinnoh who sold everything Red required. Along with a handful of Revival Herbs, he purchased a bag of assorted berries and a small length of cord, which he stuffed into a pocket without comment.

"Hey, Max, did May show you the video of Red and Misty battling?" Brock asked as the group left the shopkeeper's stall.

"What?! Misty and Red battled? When was this?!"

"Earlier today. His Salamence up against Gyarados."

Max looked like he about to wet himself. "No way." The Trainer blurred, reappearing with his hands on May's shoulders, staring his sister dead in the eyes. "Show me this video!"

"Let go of me and I'll think about it!" she replied, clutching her bag to her chest. Immediately Max released her, taking a hasty step backwards. "Some people have normal siblings," she grumbled, digging around in her seemingly bottomless pack for the Vs. Recorder. "Not me, I get stuck with the 'Psychic' who fanboys over Red like a girl at a NidoQueen concert."

"And I'm stuck with the Coordinator who can't shut up about a certain green-haired pretty boy I could mention."

May blushed. "That is totally different! Drew is my Rival! You had literally no idea Red existed before this Tournament!"

Max raised an eyebrow. "I have a rival of my own, sis. I have a couple, actually. You don't see me obsessing over them."

"I do not obsess over Drew!" May's voice grew to a shriek. "We are just friends and that is it!"

Max's other eyebrow joined the first. "Two words, May: Altomare. Festival."

May fell silent. Her skin reddened further, the blush spreading all across her face and down her neck. "That..." she tossed the Vs. Recorder at Max, looking away. "Shut up."

Athena coughed. Are they always like this? She asked Grace, who shrugged and nodded.

Pretty much.

How do you stay sane?

Lots of patience. Lots. And yoga.

I tried yoga. Doesn't really work for me.

Yeah, well, it's not for everyone. Max doesn't care much for it either.

"Anyways," Misty cut the two off before they could continue any further. "We still have a good twenty minutes before Maylene's match starts. What now?"

Eventually, the group elected to just walk around the streets of the Village until the battle began. Red took the opportunity to release Spectre from his Pokéball. The Dragon Pokémon roared angrily at its Trainer, stretching his crimson wings.

"Yeah, yeah. I'm sorry I didn't heal you sooner, etcetera, etcetera," Red answered, scrunching up his nose. "You have Dragonbreath."

Spectre huffed and took to the skies, circling around Red and the group once before flying off.

"You're welcome!" Red called to the retreating form of the Dragon, despite some strange glances from the other pedestrians. "Jerk."

"Pi pi kachu."

Red nodded. "Dragons," he agreed.

There was a moment of so of silence as the group continued towards the Stadiums. Suddenly, Athena tensed, her head snapping to the right. Master! she warned.

"What is it?"

Rockets. Heading this way. I count –

Six. Two Pokémon each, Grace finished, earning her concerned glances from the group. I feel them too.

Athena nodded. Red swore. "They must have seen Spectre taking off. That was stupid of me."

"What are you talking about?" Dawn asked abruptly.

Red flinched. "Huh? Nothing. I..." he looked around, waving blankly with his hands. "I have to go. I'll meet you all in the Stadium. Don't follow me." Not waiting for a reply, he spun on his heel and took off, Athena at his side and Pikachu on his shoulder.

There was another moment of stunned silence. Brock narrowed his eyes – well, narrowed them more so than usual – and turned to Grace. "Who's after him?" he asked.

Team Rocket.

Brock's jaw set. "I thought as much." He made to go after Red, but stopped when Misty grabbed his arm.

"Did you hear him? He said not to follow him!"

Brock quirked an eyebrow. "So? There's something weird going on here. I'm going to get to the bottom of it. Besides, Red's our friend, isn't he? He might be in trouble."

"Then let me go with you."

Brock shook his head. "He won't know I'm there. Probably. He'll definitely notice you, though."

The Gym Leader hesitated, but nodded, letting go of Brock's arm. "Just be careful."

The Pokémon Doctor nodded, his hand reaching for a Pokéball as he walked away and was soon enveloped by the crowd.

-Elsewhere-

The radio crackled to life. "Sir?"

Rocket Admin Sahara tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear before replying. "Go ahead, Tauros-One."

"We've found him, sir."

Sahara quirked an eyebrow. "Say again, Tauros-One?"

"We've found Ketchum, sir. My team and I are in pursuit as we speak. Permission to engage?"

"Permission granted, Tauros-One. You are cleared to engage the target. Be advised, target is to be incapacitated and detained alive and relatively unharmed. I repeat, this is a nonlethal operation."

"Copy that, Sahara. Over and out."

In her office, Admin Sahara shook her head, scratching the Purrloin in her lap. She removed her headset before tapping a button on her desk. "This is Administrator Sahara. Be advised, a retrieval team is currently in pursuit of codename Diamond. Say again, we have a team in pursuit of Diamond. You may want to call in an ambulance," she added as an afterthought, taking a sip of coffee.

"Request acknowledged. You really think our guys will mess Diamond up that badly?" a voice answered.

Sahara laughed. "Please. This is Ketchum we're talking about. Our men don't stand a chance."

-League Village-

Brock ran the corner, narrowly avoiding crashing into an elderly Trainer. "Sorry!" He yelled over his shoulder, scanning the crowd for the black outfits the Rockets had been wearing. Seeing nothing, the Doctor swore. Had he lost them?

No! There! Brock managed to catch a glimpse of the Rockets ducking into a deserted alleyway, Pokéballs at the ready. Brock sprinted to catch up, stopping himself just before he rounded the corner. Catching his breath, he expanded Croagunk's Pokéball and slowly peeked around the corner.

Red, Athena, and Pikachu stood with their backs to Brock, facing a brick wall.

"Freeze!" A Rocket shouted, rather unnecessarily. "Don't make any sudden moves! Put your hands in the air!"

Red remained motionless.

"You thought you could get away, didn't you?" the Rocket sneered, releasing a Voltorb. "Thunder Wave!" he ordered, pointing at the trio. The angry-looking Ball Pokémon glared at his Trainer before releasing a charge of electricity towards the group.

Before Brock could react, Pikachu blurred into action, spinning around at the last second and deflecting the attack with an Iron Tail. His cheeks arcing with electricity, the Electric Mouse retaliated with a Thunderbolt, racing towards the Voltorb. The attack exploded, sending the Pokémon flying into its Trainer. Both collided into the side of a nearby building and slumped to the floor, unconscious.

"Shit..." one of the Rockets murmured, taking a step backwards.

"If you're going to try to take me in, you could at least put some effort into it." The Rockets flinched at the sound of Red's bored voice. The Aura User tossed his hood back, turning to face the five remaining Grunts. "Go on. Do your worst."

Another Grunt, presumably the second-in-command of this little squad, pulled two Pokéballs from his waist. "Just you watch, Ketchum! We're taking you down!"

Wait. Ketchum?

For a split second, Red's eyes widened, before resuming their aloof expression. "Is that so? I suggest you get started, then. I haven't got all day." He crossed his arms, raising an eyebrow at the Rockets.

"Golbat! Raticate! Waste this guy!" Two flashes of light followed, revealing the two evolved Pokémon. "Bite!"

The two raced forwards, baring their fangs. Athena leapt into battle, compacting Aura into a heavy staff that she twirled, slamming it down hard on Raticate's head. There was a dull crack, and the Rat Pokémon fell. Athena turned her attention to the Golbat, who was still blindly charging forwards. One swipe of the staff, and the Bat Pokémon fell; another swipe, and it lay unconscious alongside its partner.

"Everyone!" the Rockets shouted, each releasing their own Pokémon. After the light had dimmed no less than two Arboks, a Weezing, two Houndoom, a Raticate, and two Cacturne stood before the trio, glaring at their targets.

"You know, for all Team Rocket's flaws, I think the most grievous of all is their total lack of originality," Red said conversationally, totally unfazed by the mob of angry Pokémon before him.

Points for consistency, if nothing else, Athena pointed out. They've been using their current roster for years.

"Pika pikachu," Pikachu agreed.

"Mm." Red heaved a great sigh, motioning with his hand as though to say get on with it already.

The Rocket leader – well, the one that wasn't passed out in an alleyway – gulped. "Attack!" He yelled, gathering his courage.

It was, in hindsight, probably the worst decision he'd ever made.

Athena, Red, and Pikachu swing into action, their bodies blurring into nondescript flashes of color. Pikachu became surrounded by an electric aura, charging towards the Cobra Pokémon. Athena placed a hand to her side, drawing a violet blade and rushing a Cacturne.

Red summoned an Aura Sphere, firing into the crowd of hostile Pokémon. He clenched a fist, and fire sprung to life within it, wreathing his hand in flame. He ducked under a Pin Missile and sidestepped a Flamethrower, closing in on the Rocket leader. Pulling his fist back, he lashed out with a foot, surprising the Rocket with a kick to the gut before slamming his fist into the criminal's face. The Rocket spun an entire three hundred and sixty degrees under the force of the blow, passing out before he hit the ground.

Athena slashed at the Scarecrow Pokémon, the ethereal blade passing cleanly through its chest. The Cacturne fell to its knees, unable to move with his Aura severed so. Athena continued by cracking her sword's hilt over the Cacturne's head, knocking it unconscious before its Aura could realign. She spun to avoid a Flamethrower, firing a small Aura Sphere at the offending Houndoom, wincing as the flames licked her fur.

Pikachu loosed another Thunderbolt, electrocuting a nearby Arbok. His tail shone silver, and he raced towards Raticate, who barely managed to counter with a Hyper Fang. The two Pokémon deadlocked for a moment before Pikachu broke away, leaping over the Normal Type and shooting it full of electricity.

Red blocked a wild haymaker from one of the Rockets, ducking down and kicking the Peon's feet out from under him. Another Rocket jumped him, and Red shifted, grabbing the oncoming Grunt and using his momentum to throw him into a wall. The Aura User extended his fore and middle fingers, bringing his hands close to his chest. Electricity danced along his fingertips, and he made a thrusting gesture towards Weezing. Lighting arced from his hand, striking the Poison Gas Pokémon in its oversized head.

By now, most of the Rocket's Pokémon had fainted on the alley floor. The still-conscious Rockets halted their attack, backing away from the Aura User and his Pokémon. "Let's get out of here!" one of them yelled.

"Not so fast!" Red opened his palm, forming a small, Pokéball-sized ball of electricity. He took a single step, hurling the attack towards the group. The sphere latched itself to one of the Rockets before exploding in a burst of blue light. Those that hadn't escaped – that is, most of them – slumped to the ground as sparks flew off their bodies.

There was a pause. Red frowned. "They know who we are now. That's... not good."

We didn't exactly do a stellar job of hiding ourselves. I'm actually kind of surprised it took them this long.

"Yeah..."

C'mon, Ash. Rocket's known who we were for years now. If Athena said anything else, Brock didn't hear it. Ash.

No. Hell no. It couldn't be... could it?

Brock stepped into the alleyway. The trio whirled around at the sound of his footsteps, dropping into battle stances. Red's eyes widened, and he took several steps back.

"Ash?"

Red winced, closing his eyes. He took a deep breath, and let it out in a great heaving sigh. No point in lying. He'd been doing far too much of that the past few weeks. "Hey, Brock."

Heyo, everyone. How's it going? So it's been, what, two months? Sorry. School kind of got a little crazy during the end there. No worries, though, we just let out yesterday, so I expect I'll be updating (somewhat) more frequently the next few months.

I have a few announcements to make. 1: This story has now passed 50,000 words! Holy crap, that is a lot. I'll be honest, I was not expecting to make it this far. That's all on you, which leads me to my next announcement: We've passed 100 reviews! Holy arse that is incredible. Let's keep it up! On to two hundred! Also, this is our tenth chapter! No I don't know how many there are going to be. Don't ask.

That said, this chapter was fun to write. I really enjoyed writing Lance and Riley's dialogue (you may get more on their relationship later) as well as the scene with Team Rocket. It should be noted I based Ash's attacks off of Infamous and A:TLA.

That's about it for now. See you all (hopefully) soon!

'Til next time,

-Wolverinejoe