The jet was midnight black and undetectable by radar. It was a Pidgeot DC-8 body outfitted with a Eucalyptus BW 649/650 engine, one of the most efficient – and quietest – turbofan engines available. It could hold twenty-five passengers and could make the flight from Mistralton to Vermillion in less than four hours.
There were twenty of them, each wearing black, form-fitting outfits that made them seem like living shadows that had abandoned their own bodies. They checked and rechecked the parachutes strapped to their backs, tightening and adjusting the straps as they soared closer to their destination.
The group's informal leader – a thin, wiry man who went by the codename 'Delta' – spoke into a small headset, "We're ready, sir."
"Good. Remember, this is a discreet operation. There can be no witnesses, no casualties. Not yet."
"Let me know when you are all in position."
Delta stood, walking up the aisle to the cockpit. "One minute to drop," he informed the pilot, who nodded, flipping a switch. A light blinked green as the jet's door opened, revealing the swirling black mass of night that lay outside the airplane. Far below, the lights of the League Village shone, barely visible under the dark cloak that pressed down upon it.
The twenty made the final adjustments to their packs and stood, forming a line at the open door. Delta took the lead, raising a fist and closing his eyes, taking a deep breath of cold night air. He opened his eyes and smiled.
His fist opened, and he leapt out of the jet and into the darkness.
The wind whistled in his ears as he plummeted, falling silently towards the Plateau. He knew that the other nineteen were right behind him, well, above him, rather, but he could hear or see nothing. For this moment, as he fell at near-terminal velocity towards the Pokémon League Village, he was alone.
He waited for exactly two and a half minutes before pulling the cord. He winced as the parachute yanked back on his shoulders, the black nylon material unfurling and slowing his descent. He grabbed the pull handles and steered himself towards the unlit rooftop of the Pokémon Center.
Landing gently on the darkened rooftop, Delta quickly slipped the parachute off his back and pulled in the black nylon, waiting for the others. One by one they arrived, discarding their packs until all twenty stood atop the Center.
Delta spoke. "We're in position. Waiting to receive objectives."
Another voice came on through his earpiece – not the cold, calm of Giovanni, but the mellifluous and factual voice of Admin Sahara. "We're sending you the targets now. They should be coming up on your C-Gear."
The watch-like device on Delta's arm beeped quietly as the information was transferred. Likewise, the other nineteen checked their C-Gears as well, receiving their objectives.
"Right. Everyone have their targets?" The nineteen nodded. "Good. Incapacitate and get the codes before reporting back. Remember, this is a nonlethal operation. For now."
The others nodded again. Delta turned his attention to his C-Gear, where the image of a thin, wiry man filled his screen. 'Alan Lockman', the screen read, glowing softly in the darkness.
"Embrace Hotel," Delta murmured to himself as he watched the nineteen disappear into the night until only he remained atop the Pokémon Center. "Right. Let's get started." He turned, sprinting at full speed towards the roof's edge. At the last moment, he jumped, launching himself onto the next rooftop. He landed and kept running, not stopping for even a moment. Again he raced towards the edge, and again he leapt forward. He dropped into a roll as he made contact with the low-lying roof, but otherwise kept going. The next rooftop was two stories above him. Undeterred, Delta ran forward, planting a foot on the solid brick wall and jumping up off it, grabbing the roof with just the tips of his fingers. He hauled himself up onto the roof proper and continued running, jumping from rooftop to rooftop as he made his way through the city without so much as pausing for breath. Once or twice he saw a police officer patrolling the streets below, but no one bothered to look up and see the shadow-like figure that raced atop the buildings as though the jaws of Houndooms snapped at his heels.
He pulled himself up a final roof and paused, analyzing the city. The Embrace Hotel stood proud before him, an impressive-looking building that reached up several stories. A tall statue of a Gardevoir - the Embrace Pokémon for which the Hotel was named – overlooked the streets, hands raised to the sky as though dancing. Security guards in handsome suits resembling Gallades stood watch at the door.
Delta crouched near the rooftop's corner and tapped his C-Gear. The device blinked to life again, updating to show a detailed layout of the Hotel. "Let's see here," he mused, scrolling through the surplus of data Sahara had loaded into his C-Gear. "Lockman's in room… Six-twelve… 612…" He gazed up at the Hotel once again, counting up six stories and looking at the readout again. "612 is… fourth from the left side facing the entrance… alright…" He counted over four, zeroing in on his target room. The curtains were drawn and the windows were dark, indicating that Lockman was either absent or asleep.
Nodding towards Lockman's room so he would remember its location, Delta began racing along the rooftops once more, hurdling from building to building until he was adjacent the Hotel. He was eight stories up, facing the west side of the building. His target was twenty feet below him and around the building's edge. To reach Alan Lockman, Delta would either have to infiltrate another tenant's room and find his way to Lockman, or skirt the Hotel itself and drop two entire floors onto Lockman's balcony. One false move, and he would plummet nearly eighty feet to his inevitable doom.
Delta loved a challenge.
Cracking his neck, he backed up several feet and focused on the balcony opposite him. He took a deep breath of cold night air and held it. Suddenly he raced forwards, feet pounding along the concrete roof, getting closer and closer to the edge. He reached the edge, planted his left foot solidly on the cement, and launched himself into space.
He had performed the jump flawlessly. His feet pressed against the metal bars of the balcony at the exact moment that his hands reached up to grab it. Delta pulled himself over the railing and studied the walls of the Hotel. The smallest of ledges – only a few inches wide – ran the length of the wall, and Delta assumed continued along the other side.
It would have to.
Delta climbed over the railing again, pressing his back into the wall. His tips of his feet hung unsupported in thin air. Slowly, he released his hold on the balcony rail and eased himself sideways. Taking tiny steps, he inched along the edge of the building, slowly approaching the corner.
Mew, it seemed, had smiled on Delta that night, for the ledge he inched himself along indeed continued down the other side of the Hotel. Delta dared to look down as he slowly turned the corner, thanking the Legendaries for his stroke of luck. Far below, the guards stood, completely and totally unaware of the Rocket's presence above them.
Delta inched a few feet further and grabbed the rail of the balcony. He pulled himself over once again and found his target once again, four rooms away and two down.
"You made it this far," Delta told himself, studying the distance between the balconies separating him from Lockman.
His C-Gear buzzed softly. "This is Epsilon, reporting in. I'm in location." Not a moment later, Sigma called in his position as well.
Delta mentally slapped himself. He should be ready by now! It should be him waiting on the others! Eyes narrowing, he jumped onto the metal railing and leapt, downward rather than straight across. He fell, barely landing on the balcony for room 710. The lights were on in this room. Delta spared a moment to peer into the window. Inside, a young Trainer – perhaps sixteen or so – played with a small Bonsly. The Bonsai Pokémon's eyes widened when it saw Delta lurking outside the door, and started crying.
Delta grinned evilly in the dark and prepared to jump again. He dove into the night, falling onto room 611's balcony without a noise. Again he jumped, landing perfectly onto the balcony as though he had performed the feat millions of times. He tapped the C-Gear. "This is Delta. I'm in position. You listening, sir?"
Giovanni's voice flowed through the tiny machine's speakers. "Always, Delta. You may begin."
Delta smiled. Slowly, cautiously, he gripped the sliding door to room 612 and slipped it open. The room was dark, but he could nonetheless see Alan Lockman's sleeping form in the bed. A laptop lay closed on the nightstand.
Delta grabbed a syringe from a hidden pocket in his jacket. He twirled it around his fingers as he approached the inert figure. The syringe was filled with a sleeping agent produced from a Butterfree's Sleep Powder mixed with Parasect's Spore. It rendered the victim totally unconscious, and they would stay that way for a good eight hours, which was more than enough time for Delta.
Delta stabbed Lockman's forearm and pressed down on the syringe, watching with disinterest as the purple liquid seeped into his latter's veins. When the last of the liquid had been injected into him, Delta pocketed the syringe and snatched the laptop. Cracking it open, he produced a Pokéball from his belt. Expanding it and tapping the release button, Delta watched as the midnight black sphere silently released a beam of soft maroon light, which coalesced into the polyhedral, pink and blue shape that floated silently in midair.
"Porygon, I need to find the codes to Indigo Stadium. Do your thing."
The Virtual Pokémon nodded, floating towards the open laptop. It briefly flashed white, before flattening and disappearing into the computer. Lines of code cascaded down the screen as the artificial Pokémon hacked into the computer and located the information. The laptop dinged! and Porygon reappeared. The computer blinked, and letters and numerals flashed onscreen.
Delta returned Porygon, "Good job, buddy," and spoke into his C-Gear. "Boss. I've got it. Indigo Stadium's security code is as follows: Celebi, Nine, Sableye, Zubat, Eight, Four. Got that?"
Sahara responded. "Got that, Delta. C9SZ84. Good work. Alpha, Psi, Omega, and Xi are the only ones that have yet to acquire their codes. Make that just Alpha and Xi."
Giovanni chuckled. "Well done, team. We now have the access codes to all stadiums in Indigo Plateau. Mission accomplished."
-The Next Day-
When Ash woke, the sun was already far above the horizon, shining its warm rays on the cool Plateau. His brow furrowed. He should have woken long ago. At the very least Athena or Pikachu should have woken him when they had gotten up. He shrugged and sat up. He made to rub his eyes, and a small object fell from his open hand into his lap. The Lure.
Instinctively, Ash snatched the Lure and shoved it into his pocket, catching the attention of Eve, who was resting nearby, keeping a half-open eye on her Trainer. "Eon!" she cried, spraying Ash with a fine mist of water.
Ash grinned and stood. "Morning, Eve." He surveyed the clearing. Pikachu and Soul were playing, roughhousing near the river. Athena watched from atop her perch on the boulder, chuckling at the two Pokémon. Jessie, James, and Persian had vanished, presumably headed down to the League Village for breakfast.
"Where's Spectre?" Ash asked, referring to his final Pokémon. Eve shrugged, glancing around the clearing as well.
Suddenly, an ear-splitting roar echoed through the clearing, and a huge shadow appeared, blocking out the very sun. Pikachu and Soul paused their sparring and watched as a gigantic blue Pokémon lowered itself to the ground, landing with enough force to shake the clearing. The Pokémon's crimson wings spread out once more before closing, folding themselves along the hardened cerulean scales.
Ash smiled and reached up to stoke the dragon's head. "Morning, Spectre. We were wondering where you were."
"Mance! Man Sal Salamence!" the Salamence replied.
"Really? All the way to Route 28? How long have you been gone?"
A few hours, Athena replied, hopping down from the boulder. He left just before sunrise.
Ash nodded, noting the subtle emphasis the Aura Pokémon placed on the word hours. "I see. Well, technically speaking, I didn't, but you all get the idea. But on to business. Have any of you begun your training yet?"
No one said anything, apparently finding the ground incredibly interesting. Ash sighed. "Really? Not even you, Pikachu?"
The Electric Mouse shrugged. "Chu pi pika, Pikapi."
"Just because I happen to sleep in doesn't mean we get the day off, guys," he replied, rolling his eyes. "Have you forgotten we're in the middle of a Tournament?"
Athena sniffed. Right, because everyone we've faced this far has been such a challenge. The other Pokémon nodded their agreement. Their previous matches had been rather, well, lacking.
Ash put a hand to his chin. "Well, if that's how you all feel…" he mused, trailing off as he produced a black headband, which he wrapped around his eyes. Stripping off his heavy cloak and tossing it to the side, where it landed near his backpack, Ash turned back to his Pokémon. He raised a hand, and a sphere of energy appeared. "Free-For-All!" he announced to the now-excited Pokémon, firing the attack at Pikachu.
Pikachu leapt into action, diving to avoid the ball of Aura, electricity sparking off his cheeks. The Electric Type raced forward, tail toughening as it shone a dull silver. He ran for Soul, leaping into the air and flipping around, swinging his hardened tail at the firefox's head.
But the Fire Type was gone, itself racing towards Spectre, fire streaming from her mouth. The Dragon Pokémon roared and took to the skies once again, roaring savagely as he flew skyward, hovering just above the fray.
Ash charged Eve, his foot glowing a deep violet. He kicked out, but the Eeveelution danced around the attack easily, knocking Ash's other leg out from under him before shooting a jet of water towards Soul.
Soul growled as the super-effective attack landed, whirling around to face the Vaporeon. She let loose a sphere of flame that struck Eve along the side. The attack burst outwards as it connected, enveloping the Water Type in a swirling ball of fire. Eve yelped as her sleek fur caught fire, racing towards the river. The Eeveelution leapt into the stream and vanished, the very molecules of her body rearranging themselves to melt into the clear water without as much as a ripple.
Athena raced onto the boulder and charged an Aura Sphere, aiming for Spectre. The Dragon Type flapped its wings hard, gaining just enough altitude to dodge the ball of energy before releasing a green line of flame towards the Aura Pokémon. The Fighting/Steel Type leapt off the rock, barely dodging the Dragonbreath.
A bolt of electricity arced towards Athena. Pikachu grinned, calling out his name victoriously as the attack struck. The Electric Mouse set his eyes on Soul and raced forwards, cheeks sparking dangerously. The Pokémon seemed to fade to black and white as electricity engulfed his body, repeating the first syllable of his name over and over as he sprinted towards the Fox Pokémon.
Eve appeared from the river and fired a spout of water at Spectre. When the attack struck, a cracking noise resonated throughout the clearing and the water froze, turning to ice. Spectre cried out, his left wing frozen by the beam of ice. The Dragon crashed to the ground, roaring indignantly and charging an orange sphere of energy in his maw.
Athena leapt to her feet, eyes narrowing at Ash. Master, she spoke softly, a sly grin on the Aura Pokémon's face.
Ash turned, dispelling the Aura charged in his hands. Athena's hand went to her waist, and from nowhere a glimmering violet blade appeared in her paw. She drew the sword, leveling the blade at Ash, who responded by conjuring his own sword, a dark blue katana that that seemed to draw the light to it. The two Aura Users grinned at each other.
"Grace, use Magical Leaf!"
Grace's eyes flashed green, and she raised an arm. Sharpened leaves, glowing the same light green, shot forward as she twirled, flying towards a purple, star-shaped Pokémon.
"Starmie! Counter with Rapid Spin!" Misty ordered. The Star Pokémon obeyed, leaping into the attack and spinning in midair. Grace's attack struck the rapidly spinning Starmie and bounced off harmlessly.
Max grit his teeth. "Psychic!" he yelled.
Again Grace's eyes flashed. A pinkish aura surrounded Starmie, and slowly the Pokémon stopped, hovering in midair. Grace grinned, flinging out an arm and psychically hurling Starmie into a tree. The Pokémon hit the trunk and stuck inside, two of its limbs solidly imbedded in the wood.
Misty tried to suppress a laugh at the sight of her Pokémon. "Nice job, Star. Return." She held up a Pokéball, and the Water Type disappeared in the customary flash of light.
"Yeah! Go Grace!" Max cheered, high-fiving the Embrace Pokémon and beaming up at the Cerulean Gym Leader. "Thanks for training with me, Misty!"
"No problem, Max," the redhead said, ruffling Max's olive green hair. "Starmie and Squirtle needed the extra practice."
"So'd Shadow and Grace," Max admitted, albeit somewhat sheepishly. "We haven't exactly been training all that often since the Tournament started."
"Well, you should be." Misty glanced at her Pokégear. "When did you say your match was?"
"Not for a while. One-thirty, I think."
"Well, c'mon anyway. I'm hungry, and I want to –"
Suddenly, a savage roar echoed through the trees, cutting Misty off. A flock of Pidgey took to the skies, fleeing from the sudden noise. The two Trainers stared into the trees. They glanced at each other, and without so much as a word spoken between the two, set off in the direction of the roar.
Misty took the lead, blazing a trail through the dense trees. After five minute's walking, she stopped and tilted her head. She heard the quiet babbling of a river flowing nearby, but nothing else. "Grace," she whispered, glancing at the Psychic that floated a few feet away from Max, "Think you can find whatever that was? Where they are?"
I can try, the Embrace Pokémon replied, closing her eyes. After a moment or so, the Gardevoir's eyes opened, and she pointed down the river. I think they're this way.
"They?" Max asked.
Yes. I can detect several psychic signatures, most of which are Pokémon. From what I can tell, there's only one human.
"Human? Are they in trouble? Is that what that roar was?"
Umm… The human... I'm not sure. The Pokémon are fighting, though. I'm sure of that.
Misty and Max glanced at each other. Slowly they crept forward, following Grace's lead. Misty's hand tightened around a Pokéball.
The trees ended, giving way to a large clearing. Another roar split the air, and the earth shook as the huge body of a Salamence crashed to the earth, unable to fly with its left wing frozen solid. A Vaporeon emerged from the river, a smug expression on its face.
"What..?" Max nearly gasped out loud. Misty followed his gaze, and her eyes widened.
In the midst of the clearing, a Lucario and the tall figure of a man circled around each other. The Aura Pokémon clutched a sword of deepest violet in its paw, and the man one that shone dark blue. As Misty, Max, and Grace watched, the two held out their blades in a formal salute. The man held out his sword, as did the Lucario a moment later.
Their blades touched.
The man swung into action, slicing downwards at the Lucario's stomach. The Pokémon sidestepped the blow and countered with a slice of its own, an upwards slash that the man countered with his ethereal blade. The two swords collided in a flair of purple and blue sparks.
The man lunged forwards, but the Pokémon batted the attack away with a flick of its wrist, charging a sphere of pulsating blue in its other hand. The man backed away from the threatening orb of energy, keeping his sword leveled at the Lucario. The Aura Pokémon fired.
Gripping his sword with both hands, the man sliced, a lightning-fast stroke that cut clean through the sphere of aura. The volatile attack detonated in a flash of blue. Misty and Max covered their eyes, instinctively shielding themselves from the brilliant light.
The light faded, and the two Trainers refocused on the battle.
It was Misty's turn to gasp. The man's sword had disappeared, replaced by a floating Aura Sphere, charging in his hands. The Lucario grinned. Opening its palm, the sword vanished, fading from existence as though it were nothing more than a dream. The Aura Pokémon crouched down, hands at its waist. An amethyst sphere formed between its palms, swirling and compacted itself into a tight orb of pure energy.
The man said something. The Lucario nodded.
"Misty…" Max whispered urgently, grabbing the Gym Leader by the shoulder. "That's Red!"
Man and Pokémon launched their attacks, bellowing unintelligibly. The two spheres met in midair and exploded, knocking Max off his feet and back a foot or so. Misty managed to keep her footing by grasping a nearby tree. The two squeezed their eyes shut. If the previous burst of light had been bright, well, this was Zapdos's Flash Cannon performed right in front of their eyes.
Slowly, vision and color returned to the world. Max sat up and rubbed his eyes. Misty blinked a few times, unsure if what she had seen, and what she was seeing now, were real, or a fantastic hallucination, a dream brought on by her subconscious.
Back in the clearing, Red remained upright, as though the attack hadn't affected him at all. Athena rested on one knee, breathing heavily, sweat pouring from her face. Red's remaining Pokémon lay strewn about the clearing; none too severely injured, but all definitely strained by the so-called 'training exercise'.
"Good morning, Max, Misty," Red said suddenly, turning to face the two Trainers. "Come on out."
Exchanging glances, Max and Misty stood, walking slowly into the clearing. "Hey, Red," Misty coughed.
"Thought you could spy on me, eh?" the Aura User said, retrieving his cloak from the ground and pulling it over his dark t-shirt. Misty and Max flushed, mareepishly stammering out apologies, but Red waved their concerns away. "Forget about it." In one swift movement, he untied the black piece of cloth that blindfolded him and pulled up his hood, stuffing the headband into a pocket.
"How…How did you do that?" Misty managed to ask. "With the sword and all…"
"Isn't it obvious?" Max replied, grinning. "Red's an Aura Guardian! Just like…" the Hoenn native trailed off, wincing. "Like Riley. Or Sir Aaron. Yeah," he finished lamely, "that's who I meant."
"I wouldn't say I'm an Aura Guardian, but I'm most certainly a User," Red allowed, producing a small vial of the liquid he'd used to heal Golduck. Walking over to Athena, he helped the Aura Pokémon up and handed her the glass. Athena nodded her thanks and took a swig of the drink. The Fighting/Steel Type straightened as it took effect, healing and recharging her. "Riley is the only Aura Guardian I know of that's alive today, but there are countless people around the world that have the ability to use the Aura," Red continued, walking to Pikachu next, who was lying nearby. "Heck, I'd go so far as to say anyone can learn to use Aura, if they really wanted to." He poured a few drops into the Electric Mouse's mouth, and Pikachu perked up, leaping up onto Red's shoulder.
"What is that stuff?" Misty questioned, referring to the bottles Red used to revitalize his Pokémon.
Red glanced up. "Huh? Oh, this stuff? It's a special kind of Potion I use. I make it by mixing Oran, Sitrus, Leppa, and Lum Berries together with Revival Herbs. It revives and reinvigorates them, as well as healing all but the most serious of injuries." He uncorked another vial, pouring half the contents into the Salamence's open maw. The Dragon slowly rose to its feet, flapping its wing experimentally as the ice thawed. It grunted in thanks. It growled when it saw Max and Misty, but stopped when Red waved a hand. "Spectre, meet Max Maple and Misty Waterflower."
The Dragon Pokémon tilted its head, observing the two Trainers. Max waved nervously at the huge behemoth. Misty stared straight into the beast's eyes. She'd had the opportunity to train with Lance himself a few months ago, and had been submitted to the same staredown by Dragonite and Aerodactyl. Dragons, Lance had explained, were prideful creatures. It took a powerful Trainer to catch one, even more so to earn their respect.
Spectre exhaled loudly, covering Misty in its warm breath before turning away.
"He says he likes you," Red said, grinning.
Misty nodded slowly.
Max glanced hopefully up at the hooded Trainer. "Say, Red, do you think you could teach me to do that thing with the sword? I mean, that would be so cool…"
Red chuckled and shook his head. "Sorry, Max. I probably couldn't teach you anything."
Max raised an eyebrow. "Why not? You said like two minutes ago that anyone could learn to use Aura. I wanna be able to make an Aura Sphere! I mean, can you imagine the look on Aaron's face when he saw me with a freakin' glowing sword and everything-"
Red raised a hand, cutting the olive-haired boy off. "I said anyone could learn. I didn't say anyone could be taught."
"What's the difference?"
The difference, Max Maple, is that the Aura cannot be given. Athena walked over to the boy, looking him up and down. What do you know about the Aura? She questioned.
"Um… well," Max stammered, caught off-guard by the Pokémon's question. "It's energy, right?"
"Technically speaking, you're correct," Red accepted, glancing at Athena. "Aura is a form of spiritual energy found all throughout nature. It is essentially the essence of every living thing. Anything that lives, from the largest Wailord to the smallest acorn, has Aura within it. The Aura flows around and within us, surrounding us and binding us all together. Aura Users are able to tap into this energy, and influence it."
When I make an Aura Sphere, Athena continued, holding out a paw. A sphere of blue energy swirled into her open palm. I am taking the Aura around my paw and condensing it into an attack. I'm not creating Aura; I'm not conjuring up a ball of pretty light. I'm merely using that which is available to me. She closed her palm, and the orb faded as the Aura dissipated into invisibility. The same goes for 'that sword thing', or any sort of attack that requires Aura.
"I can't teach you how to control the Aura," Red explained, "No one can. The most a teacher can do is point their student in the right direction. You must learn for yourself. That is how Athena and I learned, though we helped each other along the way. Grace may be able to help you, if you are serious about wanting to learn."
The Psychic Type looked up, shocked. What? Me? How?
As a Psychic, you have an aptitude for sensing energy already, Athena explained. You can tell one living thing from another already, can't you?
Well, yes, but that's different. I'm reading their psychic signature, not sensing Aura.
Call it what you will. You can still detect the life all around you, the energy in the air, the earth? You can feel it blossoming around you, like a flower seeing the first rays of the sun? You can feel the earth itself, breathing, living, dying?
Red grinned, gesturing for Misty and Max to follow him. "Let's leave them be for a while." He led the two Trainers out of the clearing, following the river.
"What was Athena talking about, feeling the earth?" Max asked.
Red held up a hand. "Hush. Look around you. Listen. Can you not feel it as well? Both of you sit down," he instructed, taking a seat in the soft grass. When they had complied, he continued. "Close your eyes. Tell me what you hear, what you smell, what you feel. Tell me what you see."
"I see the back of my eyelids," Misty said dryly.
"I'm serious. Consider this a first lesson in Aura. Take a deep breath. Meditate on the world around you. Expand your senses outward. What do you see?"
Misty shook her head. This is ridiculous, she thought, but did as Red had told her. She took a slow, deep breath.
At first, all she heard was her own breathing, the quiet beat of her heart in her ears. Slowly, though, her sense adjusted. She heard the calm breathing of Red nearby, a quiet rustle in the grass as Max shifted positions. She focused on the quiet murmurings of the river. She listened to the water, ever flowing, down the streams, to the ocean. She heard the clear water tumbling over the rocks. She heard a soft ripple originated from the middle of a widening in the brook, and in her mind's eye could clearly see a baby Poliwag surfacing for air, confused at the sight of the three humans that sat along the water's edge.
"Poliwag?" asked a small voice. Misty's eyes snapped open, zeroing in on the sound. There, swimming quietly in the middle of the river, precisely as Misty had imagined it. The Tadpole Pokémon's large, round eyes looked questioningly at the Gym Leader once more before it submerged once again, leaving little more than a ripple.
"Impossible…" she breathed. She turned to see Red's eyes locked on her, a knowing smile on his face. "What… How did…"
Red chuckled softly. "Did you feel it? Could you see? Max, tell me what you saw."
The olive-haired boy's eyes opened wide. "That was incredible!" He said in a hushed voice, not wanting to disrupt the natural beauty that surrounded them. "I focused, like you said! I heard so much! I heard a kind of blink, you know, like when a Pokémon teleports, and I looked, and there was an Abra ten feet away from me! It was so cool!"
"I heard the river," the Water Type Gym Leader began. "I listened to the water, I heard it on the rocks, heard it flowing down towards Indigo Bay. There was a ripple, and I imagined a Poliwag, coming up for air-"
"And there it was?" Red finished. Misty nodded.
The trio was silent for a minute of two. "Why did we hear different things?" Max wondered aloud, "I mean, we're all in the same spot, shouldn't we hear the same stuff?"
"Excellent question," Red looked up the river, back towards his campsite. "I'll answer it with another. Was Grace your first Pokémon?"
"Would you say you spend more time with Grace than with the rest of your team?"
"I suppose… I mean, Grace'll stay out of her Pokéball sometimes when we're on the road, keep me company."
"Last question: Are you afraid of the dark? Ghosts? Bugs?"
"Well… I don't like Bug Types that much. A Beedrill stung me once as a kid. Ghost Types creep me out a little. They don't seem natural. It's like they don't belong. Ever been to Mount Pyre? It's a Pokémon cemetery off Route 121. I went there once. It was spooky, man. Ghastlys and Shuppets all over the place… ugh. I'm alright in the dark, though. Shadow helps me out."
Red nodded. "I suspected as much. The reason you saw and heard what you did is because you are more attuned to the Psychic Type than to the others. You've spent more time, and I presume trained more, with Grace than your other Pokémon, and because of this some of her abilities and characteristics have rubbed off on you."
Max's reaction was predictable. "What?"
Red smiled good-naturedly. "I'll try to dumb it down. You know how Pokémon share similar traits to their Trainers? How over time they begin to think and act like one person?"
"Yes," Max said crisply. He didn't like being called dumb, even if it was a joke, "it happens because Pokémon tend to imprint on their Trainers, learning their mannerisms as well as their battle strategies. Believe me; I've had more than enough encounters with Pokémon who act like jerks because that's all they've ever known. There was this chick named Lexi who followed me bloody everywhere around Hoenn. She was a complete ass to her Pokémon. Treated 'em like crap. And when one of 'em dared to disobey her during a fight me and her were having? Abandoned him on the side of the road. She wouldn't even look at the guy. I took him in after that, but he barely trusts anyone but me and Grace."
Red stared at the young Trainer. Max certainly had matured since the last time he'd seen him. "I-"
Max looked away. "Sorry. I didn't mean to explode like that. I just don't like it when people think I'm dumb just 'cause I'm thirteen. I traveled with this guy a long time ago who was only thirteen. He was smarter than most adults. Better at battling, too."
Red winced. In his heart, he wanted to throw back his hood and tell his friends who he really was: their friend and companion, Ash Ketchum. But he couldn't. Not yet. Telling them now would only endanger them. "Sorry, Max." And he was.
Misty coughed, bringing the boys out of their reveries. "So, Red," she began, eager to end the silence, "why did Max and I hear what we did?"
Red nodded. "Right. Sorry. I was explaining. Uh… Pokémon share similar traits to their Trainers because they imprint. That's not the word I would use, but, eh, close enough." He cleared his throat. "Have you ever considered that Trainers 'imprint' on their Pokémon?"
"Well, you could no doubt pick Grace out of a crowd of Gardevoir, right? Misty, you could do the same with Golduck? You 'learn' your Pokémon much in the same way they 'learn' you. You know their limits, they know yours. You help them surpass these limits, teach them new things, strengthen and train them; they do the same to you. You heard that Abra, Max, because that is what Grace would hear. You heard that Poliwag, Misty, because that is what your Pokémon would hear. They instinctively focus on their own element, and you do the same."
Max put a hand to his chin. "So you're saying I'm a Psychic Type."
Red grinned. "Exactly."
"What?" Misty raised an eyebrow at the hooded Trainer. "Max is a 'Psychic Type'? I'm sorry, but that's a load of Tauros-crap. What does that make me, a Magikarp?"
"I was going to say something along the lines of a Milotic, but if you'd prefer a Magikarp, that's your own opinion."
Misty's eyes widened, and her cheeks reddened. "That…" Her eyes narrowed again, trying – and failing – to pretend she hadn't been flattered. "That doesn't even make sense! I'm no more a 'Water Type' than Max is a Gallade!"
Red shrugged, as though he'd been expecting rebuttal, and held up a finger. "If that's what you truly believe, fine. That's your own opinion. But before you devote yourself to that way of thinking, let me ask you one question: How long can you hold your breath?"
"What? What kind of question is that?"
"An inquiring question, I believe," Red responded instantly, glancing at Max for approval. "Or perhaps a questioning one? You haven't answered," he reminded her.
Misty shrugged. "I don't know… ten, eleven minutes? Twelve, maybe?"
"With or without loading up on oxygen beforehand?"
"Without," the Gym Leader responded automatically. "My record's just under twenty minutes."
Max stared. "Twenty… minutes?" he finally managed to say. "That long?"
"And she doesn't believe she's a Water Type," Red chuckled. "Misty, how are you able to do that, do you think?"
"My Pokémon," Misty said finally, slowly beginning to understand. "You mean…"
"Yes. Your Pokémon have 'trained' you as you have trained them. With time, you'll be able to behave more and more like Golduck and Starmie – or a Magikarp," he added as an afterthought. "Alternatively, if you began training with, say, Dark Types, you would begin to develop increased senses in the dark; you'd react quicker, be able to see and hear better. I suspect you'd become something of a Noctowl, and sleep mostly during the say. You'd feel more energized in the dark, you'd – well, you get the idea."
Silence reigned once more, but this wasn't the sad, solemn silence the three had shared before, but the silence when you've discovered something too great for words, so you say nothing at all, basking in the light of your revelation and the knowledge that you, for this moment at least, are not alone.
Damn. I was not expecting this chapter to be so long. Originally, this was only about a third of what I had intended to write for this chapter, but Muse went overboard, and things… escalated. Not that I'm complaining.
Sorry it's been so long since my last update, but Life, it seems, has been keen to throw lemons at me, with which I am planning to burn down Life's house. Ah, Portal reference. Excuse me, wrong fandom. Anyways. I've had a lot of stuff on my plate: Midterms, Chemistry whipping my butt, having to write a ten-plus page short story for Creative Writing (well, that wasn't that bad, but still), my brother starting Basic Training last weekend (having Thanksgiving a week early is interesting, to say the least. And now my bro's Taking A Lesson in Badass, so when he comes home he'll be able to kill me that much easier)… you get the picture.
I'll probably work on chapter eight over Thanksgiving Break, so maybe we'll all be pleasantly surprised and I won't take another month to write the next chapter…
…but I digress. You didn't come here to read about my personal life! You came here to read about Red's personal life! And to REVIEW! AND TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT THE CHAPTER!
I'm so subtle. And clever. And witty. And modest.
Peace out, readers and writers. See ya next chapter.