-Indigo Plateau, Pokémon League Village-

"Nice job, Golduck," Misty said, grinning down at the Water Type. "You did great, as usual."

"Duck gol Golduck!" Golduck replied, beaming up at his Trainer.

"Yeah." Misty slid her backpack over her shoulder and stood. "C'mon, let's go meet the others. Maybe we can catch breakfast."

Trainer and Pokémon quickly exited the Stadium's locker room, navigating the large maze that was Cerulean Stadium and somehow finding their way out onto the plaza outside the huge arena. "Keep an eye out for the guys," Misty instructed, scanning the crowd for her friends.

"Misty!" Someone called from somewhere to the left of her. She turned, searching the horde of people for the source of the voice. Finally, her gaze landed on a teenaged girl with deep blue hair. Dawn waved erratically at the Gym Leader before pointing to a relatively empty section of the plaza. "Over here!"

Misty elbowed her way through the crowds over to Dawn, who gestured for her to follow before turning and all but running headfirst into two teenaged boys discussing the battle. "Sorry!" Misty heard Dawn shriek, continuing along her breakneck pace.

They reached the empty section of the plaza. Dawn waved May, Max, and Brock over. "Great battle, Misty~!" she said, glancing at her Pokégear. "Golduck's gotten so strong!"

"Tell me about it," Brock said, grinning at the redhead. "That was one of the best battles I've ever seen! Remind me not to get on your or Golduck's bad side."

"Duck Golduck duc olduck!" Golduck announced proudly, and the group erupted into laughter.

"Let's go get some food," Misty said. "We were up early this morning and I'm hungry." The group nodded their agreement and set off towards town. It was still early morning, but the streets were nevertheless packed with people and Pokémon.

"Max, do you have another battle today?" Dawn asked after a moment or two.

"Nope. My next match is… uh…" Max scrolled through the listings on his Pokégear, "tomorrow afternoon. "Hey, cool! Red has a match this afternoon!"

"I do?"

All present jumped at the sound of the voice behind them. Whirling around, they saw Red himself, grinning slyly at their surprised reactions. As before his Pikachu was perched on his shoulder, waving happily at the group. His Lucario stood at his side, but she seemed less aggressive than before, even daring to smile at Misty. This time, however, Red was joined by another Pokémon that walked opposite his Lucario. The Vaporeon's gaze flit over May, Max, and Brock before focusing upon Misty and Golduck "I have a battle today?" Red repeated, raising an invisible eyebrow.

"Uh… yeah…" Max said, hurriedly glancing at his Pokégear again, "at one thirty. Against… um… Kiyo Tajiri. Hey… isn't that..?"

"Kiyo Tajiri was the Leader of Saphron City's Fighting Dojo," Red finished, "at least, before Sabrina Natsumi challenged him for leadership of the City's Gym." He paused, glancing at Max. "She annihilated him, of course. The rank of 'Gym' was stripped from the Dojo and given to Natsumi and her Psychics. Tajiri went into seclusion, and very rarely leaves the vast network of caves he resides in.

Brock stared. Not many people knew about Kiyo and the history of Saffron's Gym. He had met Tajiri once, back when they were both Gym Leaders. "Well, that'll certainly be an interesting battle," he said, sticking out his hand. "I'm Brock, by the way."

Red accepted the hand. "Red." He smiled. "I've met Ms. Waterflower, but I'm afraid I don't know the rest of you…"

Dawn raised a hand. "I'm Dawn. Berlitz. Dawn Berlitz. I'm a Coordinator." She made to say more, but was cut off by a friendly nudge from May.

"I'm May Maple. Norman Maple's my father."

"Max Maple."

"Oh, right. I saw your battle the other day."

Max sucked in a breath. "Aaaand?"

Red smirked. "And, it was a good battle. Your Gardevoir is very strong and very spirited. The same with your Quilava. You made some mistakes, but all in all it was a good match."

Max felt lightheaded. He tried to say something – a 'thank you', perhaps – but nothing came out. Red laughed and ruffled his olive green hair.

May grabbed her brother by the neck of his shirt and dragged him backwards. "Ignore him," she said. "He gets like this sometimes."

"I'm sure." His Pikachu coughed, and Red's eyes widened ever so slightly. "Oh! I almost forgot. Everyone, meet Pikachu, Athena, and Eve."

"Pi Pikachu!"

Hello.

"Va poreon."

"Nice to meet you all," Brock said. "We were just going to grab a bite to eat. Care to join us?"

Red glanced at Pikachu, then nodded. "Sure."


-Later-

"- so then Dawn bursts in with her hair on fire, shrieking like a baby Whismur. We had to hold her down so Piplup could put her hair out. She didn't talk to either of us for the next two days. She'd just stare at us like this," May laughed, narrowing her eyes and setting her mouth into a thin line. She was able to hold the expression for less than a second before bursting out laughing again. "Celebi, she's doing it now! Look!" She pointed wildly at Dawn, who took a small sip of her drink, glaring at May with enough venom to poison a Muk. May, either oblivious to her friend's discomfort or merely reveling in it, wiped a tear from her eye, sighing. "Man, it was great."

"So Red," said Dawn suddenly, attempting to retain at least some of the dignity she'd had when she'd woken up that morning, "What's your story? Where are you from?"

The question seemed to take the hooded Trainer off-guard, for he hesitated a moment before shrugging. "Kanto, originally, but I haven't been home in several years."

"Why not?" asked Brock.

Again Red shrugged. "I've been traveling. I was in Orre for a while, and Johto, and even Unova for a time. It's easier to say where I haven't been. I've been pretty much everywhere, the last few years especially."

Max whistled. "Orre? Isn't that place like really dangerous?"

Red grinned. "Not anymore."

Misty pushed back her chair and stood. "I'mma go get another drink," she announced, shaking her empty cup. "Be right back."

Athena waited half a beat before standing as well. Excuse me, Master, she said, following the Gym Leader.

Brock raised a questioning eyebrow at Athena's retreating form. "What was that about?" he asked to no one in particular."

"Oh, her. She's just going to apologize to Misty for trying to kill her, that's all," Red said nonchalantly, scratching Pikachu on the head.

"Oh. Okay th – wait, WHAT?" May spluttered on her drink, spilling the dark brown liquid all over the table. Max applauded sarcastically as Dawn patted her fellow Coordinator on the back, while Brock cleaned up the mess. "What'd you mean, Athena tried to kill her?" May rasped, coughing.

Red shook his head, trying not to laugh. "I mean precisely that," he said after a moment or so.

"Seriously, though," May said, massaging her throat. "What happened?"

Red glanced at Pikachu. The Electric Mouse shrugged and reached for an open bottle of ketchup. "Well," he said, leaning in conspiratorially, "This morning, Misty was up early, training for her match today, when Eve appears." He gestured at the Eeveelution, who glanced up briefly at the mention of her name. "Like any Trainer would, Misty attempted to capture her. Then, Athena appeared, knocked out Golduck and was about to attack Misty when I showed up and stopped her." Red shrugged. "It's understandable – Athena was just trying to protect Eve – but nevertheless she wanted to apologize."

The group was silent as they digested that particular bit of information – no pun intended. Finally Dawn asked the question that was on all their minds. "Why'd she attack? I mean, if Eve is anything like Pikachu or Athena, she'd be able to hold her own, right?"

"That is more or less exactly what I said to her. She had her reasons, however. I won't tell you what they are though, not without her permission. Athena had a… well, traumatic childhood, to say the very least."

That is putting it lightly, Athena said, retaking her seat next to her Trainer. Her eyes flickered to meet Misty's, and she sighed. I'll say this once and once only. I don't like reliving the past; what's done is done. I assume you're all familiar with the Underground Trainer's League?

No one said a word, and Red finally spoke up. "The Underground is a large gang of Trainers who believe the Official Pokémon League is too, ah, strict in its rulings concerning battles and the winning of a match. They think any Pokémon that loses is not fit to live; they think the strong should survive and the weak should perish."

Underground fights are to the death, Athena agreed.

Dawn gasped. May put a hand to her mouth. Max just stared, eyes wide. Misty shook her head sadly. She knew of the Underground, as did Brock. As Leaders, it had been part of their job to enforce Pokémon League rules – especially those concerning welfare of Pokémon – and to take in anyone in violation of them.

Athena continued. I was born five years ago. I don't remember much of my home, only small things, like the smell of Mother's fur, or Father's smile whenever he watched Brother and I sparring. Brother always promised me that we would grow up and be the strongest Lucario to ever live, that we would travel the world with each other and have adventures and even meet the Legendaries. She smiled sadly.

Then he came.

"Who?" Max dared to ask.

The Big Man, I called him, for that's what he was. Large and muscular and always angry. He took me when I was two months old. I was out exploring, and he came. She shuddered. He didn't use Pokéballs. No, he was too cheap for those. Rather, he stuffed me in a cage and took me away.

There was something of an Underground Gym in Mahogany Town. Not a Gym, per se, but a place where all the Underground Trainers would go to fight each other. The Big Man took me there and shoved me into a room with dozens of other Pokémon, all in cages like me.

I waited there for a few hours, trying to talk to the others. None of them really said anything. They were all too afraid. I suppose I was too young to understand exactly what was happening. I was confused.

He came again. He took me to another part of the Gym. There were a whole bunch of people crowding around a small battlefield, maybe the size of a boxing ring. The Big Man took me out and threw me into the ring. Another man, smaller than him, brought out a Caterpie. Someone rang a bell.

We fought. I knew how to battle. Brother had taught me. But even then, I knew you were always supposed to stop when you won. When your opponent had ran away or was unconscious at your feet. I won, but it wasn't good enough. The Big Man yelled, and I… kept fighting. You can imagine what happened next.

Silence. The air itself seemed heavy, as though the weight of the story were pressing down on all present. In a way, it was. Red laid a comforting hand on Athena's shoulder, finishing the story. "Later that night, I raided the Gym. Pikachu and I knocked out the guards and released all the captive Pokémon. Athena stayed with us."

"…" The group stared at Red's conclusion to the tale. It was Misty that finally broke the silence. "That's… I'm sorry."

Sorry? Don't be sorry. Save your sorrow for those who need it. Save your sorrow for the dead.

More silence. Red coughed, looking away. "I apologize for bringing everybody down like this; I shouldn't have said anything." He glanced at Athena, then back to the group. "We should go. We have a match to prepare for." He stood, motioning for Eve and Athena. "I hope I'll see you all at my battle..?"

Brock nodded. "We'll be there."

Red nodded, a small smile forming on his lips. "Come on, guys. Let's go."


"Go! Go! Go!" Jessie yelled, purple hair flying behind her as she crashed through the trees.

James' feet had long since lost all feeling in them. He didn't reply to Jessie, merely quickened his pace, hand clutching Chimecho's Pokéball so hard his knuckles were white. Persian raced ahead of them, not speaking except to cry for them to run faster or to turn this way or that.

They'd been running for an hour now, maybe two. The Flying Types chasing them were relentless, not slowing even for a minute. They'd followed them all the way from Viridian, intent on stopping the ex-Rockets at all costs. The birds' shrieking rang in Persian's ears, a cacophonous mesh of noise that pressed down on them like a dozing Snorlax.

"Dis way!" Persian yelled. "I got Ash's scent! He's not too far from here!"

Thank Arceus, James thought, running just a little faster. If anyone could stop the swarm of Murkrow and Spearow that bore down upon them, it was the Twerp and his Pikachu.

Jessie glanced over her shoulder. Was it her imagination, or was the cloud of Flying Types lessening? Were they getting further away? Her brow furrowed, and she returned her attention to the forests before her – only to trip over an exposed tree root and fall to the earth with a shriek.

"Jessie!" James was at her side in a flash. She tried to stand, but a starburst of pain radiated from her ankle, and she collapsed again.

"I twisted my ankle," she said between rapid breaths. "I can't walk."

James snatched a Pokéball from his waist. "We'll have to fight our way out," he said, tapping the release button on the ball. In a flash of light, an orange canine Pokémon appeared. "Growlie, we need your help!"

"Grow lithe growlithe!" the Puppy Pokémon nodded, turning to face the oncoming horde of Flying Types.

"Aura Sphere!"

A Lucario burst through the trees, a ball of swirling blue energy charging in its hands. Roaring, the Aura Pokémon released the sphere into the crowd of Bird Pokémon.

"Water Pulse!"

A Vaporeon joined the Lucario, eyes glowing a bright blue. An orb of water swirled into existence before the water fox's forehead. "Eon!" the Eeveelution cried, firing the attack at the Murkrow and Spearow. The orb exploded into water when it struck, soaking the birds through and through. Many of the Flying Types fell to the ground; some flew around, confused after the liquid onslaught.

"Thunderbolt!"

A yellow blur sped through the trees, racing towards the other Pokémon. Leaping up the Lucario's body in a single bound, the Pikachu vaulted off the Aura Pokémon's shoulder, cheeks sparking with electric charge. "Pi ka CHUUU!" the Electric Mouse screeched, releasing a current of electricity from its body. The lightningbolt snaked towards the Murkrow and Spearow.

Normally, any Electric Type attack would be super-effective against Flying Types such as those that were chasing Jessie, James, and Persian. However, aforementioned Flying Types were still soaked by the Vaporeon's Water Pulse attack. So the Thunderbolt wasn't just super-effective.

It was devastating.

A cloaked Trainer appeared, frowning at the unconscious Flying Types that littered the ground. "Nice job, guys."

"Ash!"

Ash turned, facing the ex-Rockets. His face broke into a grin, and his hood fell back. "What are you guys doing here?"

Persian spoke up. "It's about da Boss."

Ash narrowed his eyes, then nodded. "I see. Follow me; we can talk at camp."


"So, what's this about Giovanni?" Ash asked.

Jessie and James were sitting around a fire. Persian was pacing. He glanced up at Ash's question.

"Da Boss's comin' here," he said flatly. Finally sitting down, he took a deep breath and continued. "I went back to da HQ early dis mornin'. I heard da Boss talkin' bout their plans for da PWT. He said dat da 'troops would mobilize at dusk'.

"Troops? You mean Grunts? Operatives?"

"No. He specifically said 'troops'. And he knows you're here, too. Also, I heard some labcoats talkin' 'bout some kinda machine they needed for wheneva dey got here. Somethin' bout Indigo Stadium and da Trainers' Pokémon."

Ash stroked his chin. "Do you have any idea what the machine does?"

"No. Only dat one of da labcoats wanted ta run more tests 'fore dey came here. He wanted to be sure it worked on a larger scale, or somethin' like dat."

Ash turned to face Jessie. "Jessie, you're the criminal mastermind here: What do you think Giovanni's planning?"

Tucking a strand of purple hair behind her ear, Jessie's eyebrows furrowed. "From what Persian has told us, we know the machine affects Pokéballs in some way. It might disable them from being opened; it might be a way of stealing the Pokéballs themselves. We don't have enough information at this point to know for sure. If it were one of our schemes, though," she continued, pointing to James and herself, "I'd try to find a way to steal the Pokéballs. Disabling them doesn't make sense, because then none of our own people would be able to use their own Pokémon…" she trailed off, lost in thought.

James gazed at her. "Have I ever told you I love it when you talk diabolical?"

Ash stood. "I have a battle coming up soon. You guys are welcome to stay here as long as you want." Pulling up his hood, he turned to his Pokémon. "We're going to do it this way, guys. Who actually wants to fight today?"

"Nine!"

"Eon!"

"Pika!"

Ash nodded, retuning to of his Pokémon to their balls. Pikachu jumped up and landed on his shoulder. "By the way, Jessie, James, Persian: I haven't exactly told anyone who I am yet. I intend to, but for the time being, call me Red whenever we're not here at camp, okay?" Not waiting for a reply, Ash set off for the League Village, leaving Jessie and James to wonder about Giovanni's plot.


-Terra Stadium-

"Where's Misty?" Max asked, sitting down next to Brock.

"She's in the Gym Leader's box," the former Gym Leader replied, pointing to an enclosed section of the stands.

"Awwww, no fair," May complained. "Misty gets air conditioning and great seats, and we get this? What's up with that?"

"Hey, these seats aren't so bad!" Brock argued, glancing down at the arena. "Besides, she told me the only reason she's there is to ask the other Leaders if they know anything about Red and the Underground Trainer's League."

"Oh."

"Look! The match is about to start!"

"WELCOME, ONE AND ALL, TO THE NEXT BATTLE IN THE POKÉMON WORLD TOURNAMENT! ON ONE SIDE, WE HAVE THE KARATE MASTER, THE LEADER OF SAFFRON CITY'S FIGHTING DOJO, KKKKIIIIYYYYOOOO TTTTAAAAJJJJIIIRRRRIIII!"

The audience cheered as a man dressed in a full karate gi walked out onto the battlefield. He raised a single fist to the crowd, nodding once to the referee.

"So, that's Kiyo," May said. "You think he'll give Red any trouble? He was a Gym Leader, after all."

"I think Red has his work cut out for him," Brock replied. "Master Tajiri was a good friend of mine before he left, and an excellent battler."

"AND FACING HIM, THE HOODED TRAINER HIMSELF, THE MYSTERIOUS NEWCOMER, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, GIVE IT UP FOR RRRRREEEEEEEDDDDDDDD!"

The roar of the crowd was deafening as Red marched deliberately onto the field, seemingly ignoring the crowds as before. Unlike his previous match, however, this time, he was not joined by Athena, but only by Pikachu, who stood perched on his shoulder.

Tajiri and Red walked to the middle of the field. Instead of the usual handshake, however, Tajiri greeted his opponent with a bow, which Red returned after a moment.

"Ganbatte kudasai, Red-san," the Karate Master said, grasping the hooded Trainers forearm. "Good luck."

"To you as well," Red replied with a grin. "I hope you can offer me a challenge."

"THIS MATCH WILL BE A SINGLE BATTLE, THREE-ON-THREE!" The referee yelled as the Trainers returned to their respective platforms. "TRAINERS, CHOOSE YOUR POKÉMON!"

Tajiri reacted first, hurling a Pokéball onto the battlefield. "Watashi ni shōri o motarasu (bring me victory), Hitmonlee!" In a flash of red light, the Kick Pokémon appeared on the field, jumping back and forth on its toes.

Red reached for his own Pokéball. "Bring the rain, Eve!" The Bubble Jet Pokémon appeared in a flash, and both Trainers looked to the referee.

"THERE WILL BE NO TIME LIMIT AND NO SUBSTITUTIONS! THE FIELD TYPE WILL BE ROCK!" At the judge's words, the battlefield shifted, rocks and boulders rising from the ground.

"Oh, right, we're in Terra Stadium," Max facepalmed. "I was really confused for a second there."

May laughed at her brother. "C'mon, Maxy. Pay some attention, at least."

"Hey, I pay attention! I knew we were going to Red's battle, didn't I?"

"BOTH TRAINERS AT THE READY! BEGIN!"

Red flung out an arm. "Eve, start this off with Aurora Beam!"

"Dodge, then use Barukuappu (Bulk Up)!"

Eve opened her mouth. A multicolored beam of light shot through the air, speeding towards Hitmonlee. The Fighting Type leapt and twisted in midair, avoiding the attack by mere inches. Hitmonlee straightened up and closed it eyes. A crimson aura surrounded the Kick Pokémon, and it flexed.

Hitmonlee's muscles became larger, more defined. The Fighting Type opened its eyes and dropped into a low stance. "Hit monlee."

"Eve, Rock Smash!"

The Eeveelution's eyes flashed white. Eve blurred, racing towards a huge boulder. Her entire body became outlined in white as she jumped and flipped in midair, striking the boulder with the flat of her tail.

The boulder shattered, sending large chunks of the stone flying in all directions. Eve disappeared, blurring into existence near one of the masses of rock. She struck the stone headfirst, sending it flying towards Hitmonlee. She did this several more times, blurring and reappearing near huge chunks of earth and head-butting it towards the Fighting Type.

"Lee, use Mawashigeri (Rolling Kick) to deflect the stones!"

Hitmonlee swung into action, spinning into a kick that turned the first rock to dust. From there, it leapt to the side, twisting into an inhuman flurry of kicks, legs extending to nearly a quarter of the battlefield. Nonetheless, several rocks managed to slip past its defense, colliding with the Kick Pokémon's abdomen and sending it sprawling to the ground.

"Lee! Megakikku (Mega Kick)!"

A tick mark appeared on the Fighting Type's forehead. Leaping to its feet, Hitmonlee raced towards Eve and leapt into the air, leg uncoiling and glowing a metallic blue.

"Hold!"

Eve waited, allowing Hitmonlee's attack to get closer… closer…

"Ice Fang!"

Eve dove under the kick, rolled once, and leapt to her feet again. Her mouth opened wide as she raced towards Hitmonlee, the inside of her mouth glowing a pale blue. With a shout, she bit down hard on Hitmonlee's abdomen.

The Kick Pokémon screamed in pain as Eve's cold-infused fangs bore into it. Chomping down even harder, Eve let go, backflipping off Hitmonlee and landing gracefully on all fours.

"Scald!"

"Vaporeon!" A stream of boiling hot water shot out of Eve's mouth. Steam hissed as it struck the Fighting Type, who was forced back under the intense pressure of the water flow.

The steam cleared, revealing Hitmonlee, lying passed out on the rocky stadium floor.

"HITMONLEE IS UNABLE TO BATTLE! BOTH TRAINERS RECALL YOUR POKÉMON!"

Tajiri raised a Pokéball. "Yoku yatta (Well done), Hitmonlee, my friend. Recover your strength."

"BOTH TRAINERS WILL SELECT THEIR NEXT POKÉMON!"

"You may have beaten Hitmonlee, but not my next Pokémon! Sorera o anata no tsuyo-sa o shimesu (Show them your strength), Poliwrath!" Tajiri cried, releasing his second Pokémon. The Water/Fighting Type appeared on the arena, eyeing Red with what seemed like hunger.

Red laughed. "That was a mistake on your part," he said, pointing dramatically onto the battlefield. "Pikachu! I choose you!" The Electric Mouse raced down his arm, leaping onto the stadium floor. His cheeks sparked with electricity, a determined look on his face.

Misty tensed in the Gym Leader's box. Ash.

Flannery, noticing her discomfort, turned to the Water Type Gym Leader. "Something wrong, Misty?"

"Oh, it's nothing. Red just… reminded me of Ash just then."

"Oh." Flannery glanced around the box before placing a hand on Misty's shoulder. "It'll be alright, Misty. We'll find him."

The redhead sucked in a breath and rubbed her eyes. "Right, right. I'll be fine. Let's just… Let's just watch the match, okay?"

"BOTH TRAINERS AT THE READY! BEGIN!"

"Pikachu, Agility, then Iron Tail!"

"Wait until he's close, then Rōkikku (Low Sweep)!"

Pikachu ran forwards, leaping from side to side as though dodging invisible projectiles. As his speed increased, he began to blur, appearing and reappearing in different spots until all anyone could make out was a yellow blur. Pikachu's tail glowed silver as he flew towards Poliwrath.

The Tadpole Pokémon crouched down. At the last moment, he kicked out, sweeping Pikachu's legs out from under him. The two Pokémon collided, sending both flying into a nearby boulder.

"Poliwrath, Iwa no Haka (Rock Tomb)!"

The Water/Fighting Type leapt to its feet, fist glowing a bright white. "Poli WRATH!" It cried, leaping high into the air and slamming its fist down on the rocky earth. Stone walls rose up around Pikachu, trapping him underneath the rock.

"Pikachu! Break free with Electro Ball!"

For a moment nothing happened. Then, a cracking sound resonated throughout the stadium. The rocks splintered and exploded outwards, and Pikachu jumped out of the earthen prison, electricity arcing off the tip of its tail.

"Pikachu, let's finish this. Overcurrent!"

Pikachu seemed to grin. His cheeks crackled with electric charge as the Electric Mouse hunched over. Storm clouds gathered overhead, and an enormous bolt of lightning shot down from the heavens, enveloping the tiny Electric Type.

"Pi… Ka… CHUU!" Pikachu cried, throwing its head back. The lightning bolt redirected itself, arcing towards Poliwrath in less than an instant. Poliwrath didn't even have time to register the pain before it was unconscious.

The storm clouds slowly dissipated, and Pikachu walked back to Red, who picked him up and ran a hand through Pikachu's fur before placing him back on his shoulder.

"POLIWRATH IS UNABLE TO BATTLE! TRAINERS, SELECT YOUR FINAL POKÉMON!" The referee yelled, remembering his job.

"Modosu (Return), Poliwrath. You did well." Kiyo Tajiri eyed Red. "I have already lost. You have proven yourself an incredible Trainer. I cannot hope to defeat you." He bowed, expanding his final Pokéball. "But we will fight to the last breath! Meiyo to tatakau (Fight with honor), Lucario!"

In a flash of brilliant blue light, the Aura Pokémon appeared on one knee, eyes closed.

Red grinned. "Athena will be mad she missed this," he said under his breath, unclipping his final Pokéball. "Ah well. Ignite the fires, Soul!" With that, he hurled the sphere into the air, where it exploded in a burst of light.

The light faded, and Misty gazed upon the most beautiful Pokémon she'd ever seen.

Soul's silver fur gleamed in the afternoon sun. Each of her nine tails was tipped with deep sky blue. Her ruby eyes flashed, glowing with determination and spirit. Her entire body seemed to glow with a cerulean aura.

"BOTH TRAINERS AT THE READY! BEGIN!"

"Kōun (Extremespeed)!"

"Fire Spin!"

Lucario blurred, sprinting towards Soul. A clear aura surrounded the Fighting/Steel type as it raced forwards.

Soul opened her mouth, exhaling a spiral of red-orange flame that curled around Lucario. To the Aura Pokémon's credit, it barely reacted as the attack struck, running into the super-effective attack and straight through the fiery vortex. Eyes still closed, Lucario reappeared right in front of the Fox Pokémon, assaulting the shiny with a barrage of knifehands, palm strikes, and hammerfists.

"Flamethrower!"

"Dodge!"

Soul's eyes flashed white, and a stream of orange fire erupted from her mouth, enveloping the Lucario. The Aura Pokémon cried out as the scorching flames blackened its fur and forced it away from Soul, who bared her teeth in a predatory grin.

"Ōra-kyū (Aura Sphere)!" Tajiri cried.

"Dodge, then Will-O-The-Wisp!" Red countered.

Lucario backflipped away from Soul and pressed its hands together. Crouching, a ball of charged Aura appeared in its hands, increasing to nearly a foot and a half in diameter. The black appendages on Lucario's head flared, its eyes flashed open, and it released the attack, roaring intelligibly.

A ball of blue flame charging it her mouth, Soul raced forwards and leapt nimbly over the attack. Crying her name, she released the wisp, which honed in on the Aura Pokémon and wrapped itself around it. The flame burned cold into Lucario's flesh; it cried out in pain, nearly collapsing to the floor.

"Iyashi ōra (Healing Aura)." Tajiri commanded, a small smile playing on his lips. Red's eyes widened slightly.

Lucario tensed, closing its eyes once again. A dark blue aura outlined the Pokémon, wisps of sapphire energy seeping into the singed flesh and darkened fur. The wounds glowed bright blue and sealed, the burns cooled and fur reformed over the afflicted areas.

"Impressive, Master Tajiri," Red began, "but not good enough. Soul! Curse of the Shadow Fox!"

Soul threw back her head and howled, a low, mournful sound that resonated through the arena. Her eyes shone a bright crimson, and her body glowed with a fiery aura.

Soul's tails glowed, and flames danced along the tips of each of the nine. Suddenly, her entire body seemed to ignite, flames surrounding her silvery fur. The fire grew higher and higher, enveloping Soul in the mighty conflagration. Higher still they grew, burning and hissing. The flames moved, twisting and writhing against themselves like Sevipers in a pit. A fox rose from the flames, roaring in what sounded like a mixture of rage – and pain.

"Behold, the Shadow Fox," Red announced solemnly to the shell-shocked crowd. "You know of the Orre region. Some of you may know of Team Cipher and their failed attempts to use Shadow Pokémon to take over the world. Shadow Pokémon are Pokémon whose emotions – and indeed, their very spirit – have been removed, turning them into soulless fighting machines. The door to their hearts have been sealed shut, whether through betrayal, pain, or other, darker, means.

"Soul here was once a Shadow. Her heart has since been reopened, but a portion of her remains locked away. This is that part. Her inner demon. This is the product of her heart's closing. This is the Curse of the Shadow." As he spoke, the flames twisted and darkened, burning black and purple as Soul's Shadow form was unleashed.

"Finish this."

Soul growled deep in her throat and charged forward towards the unmoving Lucario. The Aura Pokémon stood, dazed, as the shiny Fox approached.

"Lucario! Get out of there!"

But it was too late. Tendrils of flame erupted from Soul's mouth, encircling the Fighting/Steel Type in rings of purple fire. The burning apparition that was Soul's Shadow form collided headfirst with Lucario, knocking it back nearly a dozen feet. Her tails lashed forwards, and whips of dark flames dug into the Aura Pokémon.

Soul reared back, a huge fireball charging on her lips. The blazing fox charged forwards as Soul launched the final attack – a roaring inferno that formed the Kanji Dai .The attacks struck simultaneously, combining and exploding into a fireball that could be felt even in the highest row of the stands.

Slowly, surely, the smoke and dust kicked up by the massive explosion settled, and everyone could see once again. They saw a huge crater, fifteen feet wide and nearly five feet deep, glassed over under the intense heat. In the very center lay Lucario, fur blackened, and body limp.

It was Tajiri that finally broke the silence, returning his Pokémon and bowing to Red. "Thank you, Red-sama. I will remember this battle forever." Wordlessly, he turned and walked away.

The referee finally raised his flag. "LU…LUCARIO IS UNABLE TO BATTLE! THE WINNER OF THIS BATTLE IS RED!"

Red raised a hand to the audience, who exploded into deafening roars of approval and applause, searching the stands for his friends. Seeing Max and Brock wave to him, he smiled, returned Soul to her Pokéball, and walked off the battlefield.


"Pryce. I need to talk to you."

The Mahogany Gym Leader glanced up from the battlefield. "Eh? Oh, Misty. What can I do for you?"

"Can I speak to you in private?"

Raising an eyebrow, but otherwise not questioning her, the Ice Type Leader nodded, slowly standing from his seat. "Sure." Stealing one last look at the arena, he followed Misty outside the Leader's Box to a quiet – well, quieter – part of the stadium. "What's this about?" he asked.

"Red."

Pryce looked at her questioningly. "What about him?"

"What do you know about the Underground Gym that used to be in Mahogany?"

The old man's mouth quirked. "You know I don't like talking about this."

"Please, Pryce. It's important."

He sighed. "Fine. As you know, there was an Underground Gym in the outskirts of Mahogany about five years ago. Technically, it was closer to the Lake of Rage than it was to my city, but what does that matter?" he mused. "Nope, all anyone cares about is that there was an Underground near Mahogany, near ol' Pryce. You know the League nearly shut me down after that?"

"Pryce."

"Yeah, yeah. Have some patience. So there was an Underground Gym. What does this have to do with this Red person?"

Misty sighed. I knew talking to Pryce was a bad idea. Shoulda just asked Lance. "What happened to it?"

"What do you think happened to it? We took it out, tore the whole place down."

"Who's 'we'?"

"Me an' the Mahogany PD, of course. Who else?"

"Are you sure it was you? And the cops, I mean. You sure there wasn't anyone else?"

"Celebi, woman, what're you getting at? Are you trying to accuse me of something?" Pryce crossed his arms, offended.

"Of course not!" Misty cried, exasperated. "Look. My friends and I met Red earlier today and he told us he got his Lucario after raiding the Underground at Mahogany. His Lucario backed up the story. She was nearly crying. So either Red and his Pokémon are really pulling our legs, or you're not telling me something." She stared hard at the Ice Type Gym Leader, daring him to lie.

Pryce maintained eye contact for a few moments before sighing and looking down at the floor. "Okay," he said, holding up his hands in mock surrender, "you got me. I didn't raid the Underground."

"So Red did?"

"Apparently. Listen. Here's what I know: Officer Jenny got a call in the middle of the night, a tip for an Underground gathering place near Lake of Rage. She followed protocol, called me and organized a team to go in and take 'em out. We had an R-K-9 squad and everything. Only problem was, when we got there, we found the door wide open – not to mention a huge hole in the wall – and twenty or so Underground Trainers, all knocked out. Almost no Pokémon whatsoever. They'd all escaped. Jenny and I figured the Pokémon had rebelled and broken free. End of story. I'd never heard of Red before this Tournament."

Misty held her gaze a moment longer. "Thanks, Pryce."

The elderly Gym Leader looked away. "Don't mention it," he said gruffly, watching Misty walk away.


Max was toying with Grace's Pokéball, tossing it up and down as he waited outside the doors of Terra Stadium for Misty to show up. May and Dawn were elsewhere, doing whatever it was Coordinators did in their spare time – shopping, most likely. "Brock, have you ever seen a Shadow Pokémon?" he asked, looking up at the ex-Gym Leader.

Brock shook his head. "No. I'd heard about them, but I've never actually seen one."

"They don't look all that different from normal Pokémon," said a voice behind them. Red chuckled underneath his hood as the Max and Brock jumped and whirled around. "But there are ways of detecting the Shadows."

"Like what?"

"Well, there is a device called the Aura Reader that can identify whether or not a Pokémon is a Shadow. Alternatively, one sufficient enough in the use of Aura – such as a Lucario or an Aura User – can read a Pokémon's Aura and tell if the door to their heart is open or not."

"Aura Users?" Max raised an eyebrow. "You mean like Riley and Sir Aaron?"

Red paused, scratching Pikachu on the forehead. "Not exactly. Riley is an Aura Guardian, as was the Sir Aaron of legend. An Aura User is merely anyone with the ability to use Aura – not necessarily for good."

"Hey guys, sorry for taking so long. Pryce wouldn't say anything 'till I told him about Athe-" Misty froze as she realized Red was not two feet in front of her. "Oh. Hey, Red…"

"You didn't believe me." It wasn't a question so much as a statement. Red's voice seemed hurt, but the patronizing grin on his face told another story. "Who hurt you so bad you forgot how to trust?"

Misty sweatdropped, rubbing the back of her head awkwardly. "S-sorry, Red. I just -"

She was interrupted by Red waving a hand dismissively. "Don't mention it. I probably wouldn't believe me either."

"Pikachu…" Pikachu added, eliciting a laugh from Red.

"Of course," he said, smiling bemusedly at the Electric Mouse. "Say, where's Dawn and May?"

Max's mouth quirked at the mention of his older sibling. "Oh, them. They're probably out shopping somewhere. We won't see them until sometime tonight."

Red nodded, accepting the answer. Casually, his hand went down to his belt and he unclipped Soul and Eve's Pokéballs. Expanding the spheres, the hooded Trainer glanced up at the confused group. "Oh, sorry. You all don't mind if I let Soul and Eve out, do you? They hate being cooped up in their balls."

"No, go ahead," Brock said, and Red tapped the release buttons, nodding his thanks to the Pewter City native. In a flash, the two Pokémon appeared. Eve let out a sigh of relief, stretching out her muscles. Soul shrank back from Max, Misty, and Brock at first, a growl forming in her throat, but after a gesture from Red she calmed.

"Soul, meet Max, Brock, and Misty," Red said with a grin. The shiny Fire Type dipped her head to the three before turning and running off with Eve. "Thanks for that. They get mad if I have them in there for too long."

"How come?" Max asked, taking his eyes off the shiny Ninetales to glance questioningly at Red. "What's wrong with Pokéballs?"

"Nothing's wrong with them. It's just my friends don't like being… confined. I only use Pokéballs if I have to, and even then I try to make it as short as possible. My Pokémon are more comfortable that way, when they're happy, I'm happy."

Brock nodded. "That actually makes a lot of sense. Pokémon's life spans almost always increase in captivity, and especially so if their Trainer is a good, caring person that really loves his or her Pokémon."

"I try to be the best Trainer I can be," Red replied solemnly. "Arceus knows these guys deserve it. My team has been through some serious stuff, and if I can do anything to help them, I will."

Misty smiled. "Not a lot of people think like that," she said. "I'm glad there are Trainers like you out there, Red." Was it her imagination, or did Red blush under her praise? She blinked, but the moment had passed, and Red's face was unreadable.

"I… uh, I should probably head back to camp," Red hesitated. "I need to check on the others. See you guys tomorrow?" The group nodded, and Red turned on his heel, motioned for his Pokémon to follow, and disappeared into the forests surrounding the League Village.


-That Night-

Ash sighed as he looked up at the night sky. Absentmindedly, his eyes traced over the constellations, finding the Guardian, the Skorupi, Teddiursa and Ursaring. He rolled over, facing the stream that ran through the clearing and listened to its soft lullabies.

He couldn't sleep. He'd tried to just close his eyes and relax, but his mind didn't seem to get the message. He'd tried finding a more comfortable position, but nothing seemed right, which was odd, because he'd been sleeping on the ground like this almost as long as he'd been sleeping on actual beds. He'd even gone so far as to try counting Mareep, but he'd only made it to thirty-seven before he'd abandoned that attempt.

He glanced at the campsite around him. Jessie and James were cuddled up near the dying embers of the fire; Persian was sleeping nearby. His Pokémon were resting in various places throughout the clearing – Eve by the river, Athena propped up against a tree, and so on. Even Pikachu was asleep, lying comfortably in a clump of soft grass next to Ash's sleeping bag. Probably dreaming of ketchup, Ash thought with a grin.

He sighed again, sitting up slowly so as not to disturb the others. He quietly slid his backpack over and unzipped it, flinching at the noise. He idly rummaged through the contents – A change of clothes, some water bottles containing the red liquid he'd revived Golduck with earlier that day, two spare Pokéballs, a small (and almost entirely unused) first-aid kit, some clean underwear – not searching for anything in particular. He was about to push the pack away and try to fall asleep again when his hand brushed against something deep inside. It was smooth, with an odd shape. Confused, he withdrew his hand, letting the dull light from the moon illuminate the object.

A small figure winked back at him, and Ash gasped out loud. Pikachu's ear twitched, and the Electric Mouse rolled over in its sleep. Ash ignored this, focusing on the object in his hand.

Misty's Lure.

Just like that, he was ten years old again. He was in the Safari Zone with Misty and Brock, fishing for rare Pokémon after that creep with the guns told them only Safari Balls and fishing rods were allowed – emphasizing the point by pressing the gun's barrel directly against Ash's head.

He was in the Orange Islands – Kinnow Island to be exact – a few months later, listening to Misty and that one girl – Marina? – talk about lures and Golducks and Water Pokémon. The Golduck in question had been mistakenly claimed as Misty's, and was, in fact, wild. Ash still remembered Misty's face when she realized the truth, and he chuckled softly to himself.

He was in Hoenn, nearly a year later. He'd just lost to Brandon, and was pretty upset about it. Professor Oak had shown up and given him enough gifts to make a Delibird jealous – including the Lure. The Lure had cheered him up, reminding him of his best friend, and he'd sworn he would work harder and beat the Battle Pyramid. And he had.

He was in Sinnoh, now. He and Dawn were fishing, and Ash had brought out the Lure. Dawn had asked to borrow it, but he'd refused. It was his Lure. It was a gift from Misty. It was special. He'd nearly had a heart attack when Buizel had appeared and stolen their rods – Misty's Lure still attached.

Ash sighed, stroking the likeness of Misty with a single finger. Those were the days. He'd been so intent on becoming the world's best Trainer – like no one had ever been before. It was a dream he still longed for, a dream that had convinced him to go out alone, with no one but Pikachu by his side. Smiling, he held the Lure tight in his palm as he lay back down. The ground didn't seem so uncomfortable anymore. His breathing became deeper, more even. He heard a jet fly overhead, but even that wasn't enough to stop him from falling asleep. A small smile adorned his now-slumbering form as he slept, dreaming of the day when no one would question him, when he would be renowned as the best Trainer throughout the world. When he was a Master.

When he was the True Champion.

Wheew! I'm Back with the longest chapter I've ever written ever!

Lemme say this before I say anything else: Kiyo Tajiri was inspired by my fellow writer CracktheSkye's freakin' epic story Indomitable Spirit. Go read that, like right now. I apologize to anyone who actually speaks Japanese, because I used Google Translate, and who knows how accurate that thing is.

Anyways, what do you all think of these long chapters? Gusta or no?

GIVE ME YOUR FEEDBACK!

See you next time,

-Wolverinejoe