A/N: Thanks to everyone who reviewed, followed, or favorited last chapter. Sorry for the long wait and I hope that you all enjoy the story.

Mt. Moon was an imposing sight. The massive mountain towered above them, dwarfing even the tallest of the trees a thousand times over. Fearow and other birds cawed at each other from their nests in the rocky sides of the mountain.

Fortunately, they didn't need to go over the mountain. The only fast path was underneath it.

Ash gulped at the thought of being underneath the millions of tons of stone and dirt. He would prefer that there were an alternate way to get to Cerulean, but Mt. Moon was the only real way unless they decided to go back to Viridian again and take some of the side routes. There was a reason that trade between the two halves of Kanto – the west consisting of Viridian, Pewter, and the myriad of smaller towns such as Pallet and the east, which consisted of Cerulean, Saffron, Celadon, Vermilion, Lavender, and Fuchsia – was extremely limited and it was almost entirely due to Mt. Moon.

"What are we waiting for?" Amelia asked, noticing that both Ash and Jonathan had stopped. "Mt. Moon won't take us more than a day to go through and there are plenty of markers."

"Sorry." Jonathan muttered. "But do we really have to go down there? I don't like the idea of being underneath a mountain. What if it collapses?"

Amelia rolled her eyes. "That's not going to happen. The worst that can happen is that we find an overaggressive onix or something. Besides, I bet Rhyhorn will like it."

"Fine." Jonathan said, relenting. "Let's go, Ash. We might as well get this over with."

He gulped again and followed his friends as they neared the mountain's entrance. A Pokemon Center stood to the right of the large entrance, but they didn't bother to stop at it. The group had only been traveling for a week and had plenty of food and water left. Although they had been slowed down considerably – in no small part due to Ash constantly stopping to battle every trainer that they saw, although the others tended to do the same, if on a smaller scale – the travel was still quite fast.

Only Amelia seemed comfortable as they entered the dark cave. Small beams of light shot down from holes in the mountain and kept the cave from being pitch-black. Ash saw a beam of red light flash out from Jonathan's barely visible hand and form into the small, stocky body of Rhyhorn. The stone creature roared in happiness at being released and butted its heavy head against its trainer's leg.

Rhyhorn had been extremely disobedient for a while. When she was first released from her ball she attempted to run back to Pewter, but when Jonathan recalled the rock type and let her out again, Rhyhorn realized there wouldn't be any escape. Instead the pokemon opted to destroy their campsite and charge into trees.

Jonathan – who rarely grew angry with anything, although he was easily annoyed – snapped when the Rhyhorn attempted to charge at Ash and Amelia, who were already releasing their pokemon. He released Charmander and systematically destroyed Rhyhorn until it was so beaten and exhausted that it couldn't attempt to fight him.

Ever since he had defeated it in battle, Rhyhorn had been like a dumb, overly affectionate growlithe. Her massive body and horn weren't ideal for physical affection and had caused Jonathan quite a few bruises. Jonathan didn't seem to mind, however. He kept her out of the ball at night with Charmander and tended to use her to fight off any wild pokemon.

Jonathan paid little attention to Rhyhorn and just pushed her off before she accidently hurt him.

"Make sure there aren't any other pokemon around, alright?" He said. Rhyhorn stared at him dumbly for a few seconds before the meaning of his words sunk in. When the words made sense it nodded and charged into the darkness, roaring a challenge to any other pokemon.

"I hope she gets smarter when she evolves." Amelia commented while Jonathan sighed. Ash just sniggered. They continued along through the cave for hours. Rhyhorn appeared to have scared any zubat away, so they weren't attacked by the dangerous hordes of the bat pokemon that trainers told each other horror stories about.

Still, something seemed odd about the tunnels. They hadn't encountered a single pokemon or trainer since entering, despite the fact that this was the most commonly used route for newbie trainers going to Cerulean or Pewter City. It put Ash on edge, although neither Amelia nor Jonathan appeared to notice anything.

"I'm telling you," Jonathan said loudly, his voice echoing through the tunnels, "A gyarados would beat a dragonite with no problem. It can use dragon type attacks and isn't weak to any of the dragon attacks a dragonite would use."

"And I'm telling you that you're an idiot." Amelia retorted. "A dragonite is a lot more powerful than a gyarados to begin with and could just use a lightning attack. Even if the gyarados could beat it, the dragonite could just fly out of range."

"A gyarados could fly after it." Jonathan objected.

"Gyarados can't fly!" Amelia exclaimed, apparently having gotten into this argument before. "I've been telling you that for years."

"Of course they can." The boy said. "Why else would they be listed as a flying type in the pokedex?"

Amelia groaned and began to retort, but Ash stopped her.

"I can hear somebody." He hissed. Jonathan and Amelia just rolled their eyes.

"Of course you do." She replied. "It's not like this is a restricted area. I'm surprised we haven't seen another trainer yet. We have to be close to the end. I doubt we even have two hours of walking left."

Nevertheless, they stopped and stayed quiet. Ash listened intently for the voices he was sure he had just heard, but nothing surfaced. After a few minutes the others grew annoyed and moved on. He nervously followed him, not liking the feeling that they were going into danger.

Ten minutes later they began to hear loud hisses and cries from further down in the tunnel. The others seemed to realize that something was awry, and when Rhyhorn began to growl – a deep, powerful rumble that reminded Ash of an earthquake – Jonathan cursed and recalled the pokemon. No one wanted to be detected until they knew what was wrong.

As they began to draw closer they each began to develop a painful headache. Ash thought that he could almost hear a sound, but whenever he tried to focus on it his concentration slipped and he found himself walking into a wall or tripping.

"Do you think it's some sort of pokemon?" Jonathan asked nervously as they crept through the tunnel.

"No." Amelia said, shaking her head. "It sounds more like someone's captured a bunch of wild pokemon. You know our headaches? My sister told me that zubat and their evolutions can use supersonic and give people and pokemon headaches and confuse them."

Ash groaned as the pain grew worse. He clasped his hands over his ears in the hopes of blocking out the painful noise. To his surprise it managed to work and he was capable of walking in a straight line as long as his ears were covered. The others followed his example and they began to increase in speed.

The cries and screeches of pokemon grew even louder as they continued and Ash almost lowered his hand to grab Nidoran's pokeball. He didn't want to know what had managed to cause so many pokemon – especially the tough wild ones that had survived in the depths of Mt. Moon – such pain or distress.

Unfortunately his question was soon answered. As they walked through the slowly brightening tunnel – the greater amount of light was provided by electric lamps hanging from the ceiling – the group suddenly saw two adult men in black uniforms with a crimson "R" on the front walking around a turn.

The men saw them as well and shouted something to someone behind them. Ash saw one of them tapping a pokeball and felt panic surge over him. He'd seen those uniforms in various news articles and on TV. Only one organization wore uniforms like that – the notorious Team Rocket.

Jessica's orders to them if they ever saw Team Rocket sprang to mind and he went to obey them. Although being one of the valiant heroes that fought the villainous group sounded quite appealing when he was far away from the danger he found that being in a potential confrontation with them was much more terrifying than he would have ever dreamed.

"Run!" He shouted before taking off back into the tunnels. Ash kept his ears covered – his running wouldn't do him any good if he couldn't go straight – and glanced behind him. Jonathan and Amelia were quickly gaining on him, although the Rockets were running after them even faster.

He turned his head back and tried to stop when he saw a glimpse of a very large set of fangs a scant foot ahead of him. Ash cried out as he tripped into the gaping maw of the massive golbat – presumably owned by Team Rocket – but Nidoran's pokeball suddenly shook of its own volition and released the small creature, who hissed menacingly at the golbat.

The others had run into their own foes – a coiled ekans that was hissing at Jonathan and a koffing that menacingly grinned at Amelia. Ash pulled away from the golbat at the last second, narrowly avoiding its sharp teeth.

Suddenly he heard a loud hiss and a sort of squelching noise. Ash turned his face – pale with fear – back to the golbat, which seemed to have collapsed onto the ground. He saw the familiar form of Nidoran pulling his small horn out of the golbat's stomach and turning back to Ash.

His face grew even paler as he saw the red blood on Nidoran's horn. Nidoran's red eyes glinted with rage and determination as he turned and charged to aid Charmander in his battle with the ekans. Bulbasaur was mercilessly whipping the koffing with its powerful vines, forcing the helpless koffing to the ground.

Ash fought the urge to vomit as he saw the brutal fight. He glanced at the golbat and was relieved to see that it was getting back up, although it wouldn't be able to fight for a while. Even if the golbat was Team Rocket's that didn't mean it should die.

He had heard of pokemon fighting like this in defense of their families or trainer. It was something that every child knew. Pokemon could be dangerous. Even the weakest could easily kill a human, but all but those that were most overwhelmed by hatred were naturally against taking a life except for food or necessity.

But this was more terrible than anything he could have dreamed of. He knew that it was necessary – Team Rocket were real criminals, not the harmless ones on cartoons that made overly complicated plots and failed at doing anything – but it was still horrible.

Suddenly it was all over. The Team Rocket pokemon were unconscious and bleeding, although they wouldn't die. Their pokemon had turned towards the two men that had been chasing after them. Nidoran in particular seemed to be preparing to attack them with his horn and inject poison into their veins.

Just before Ash feared Nidoran would snap, a massive, moving pile of purplish goo pushed past the two Rockets and formed into a muk. Ash couldn't hold down the wretch that resulted from the muk's horrible smell – it was like someone had mixed rotting corpses, old garbage, and every other vile smell in existence and made a pokemon out of it – and spilled his breakfast onto the cavern floor. Amelia and Jonathan had similar reactions. He managed to place Plume's pokeball in his jacket's inside pocket as he did so.

"Recall your pokemon." A cold voice suddenly ordered, breaking the tense silence that had resulted from the muk's appearance. Ash closed his nose with one hand and turned his burning eyes towards the source of the voice.

The man who had spoken was a tall, handsome man with cold eyes and proud features. He had an air of haughty sophistication about him and spoke in icy, cultured tones. His long hair was a deep blue, so Ash assumed that it was dyed.

"My name is Executive Pierce." The man said as he walked up next to the muk. "Although I must say that your pokemon are most impressive, they couldn't hope to defeat my muk. Certainly not in their pitiful forms."

Nidoran and Charmander growled while Bulbasaur stayed silent. Ash gritted his teeth and fought back the urge to lunge at Pierce.

"Hand over your pokeballs or we will kill your pokemon." Pierce continued, delivering his ultimatum. "It would be quite the shame to waste such fine specimens of their breeds, particularly when two of them are quite rare."

The group was too petrified to resist the two Rockets as they came up and pried the pokeballs from their hands. Ash was grateful that he had hidden Plume's ball, as the Rockets didn't thoroughly search the group.

Nidoran shot a regretful look at Ash before one of the Rockets returned him to his pokeball. Ash's throat and eyes burnt as he realized that he might never see his friend again. The thought that he might be killed by the ruthless group never even crossed his mind.

"Thank you very much for your cooperation." Pierce said condescendingly. He motioned for the other two Rockets to lead the group behind him. The muk gave a horrific mockery of a grin at the children as they were roughly pushed behind Pierce as he briskly walked down the tunnel.

"Your pokemon will not be returned to you. They are my, ah, organization's now, although you will be freed when our operation here is over. We have no interest in detaining children."

"Why don't you just let us go right now?" Jonathan asked nervously, his normally jovial voice high with fear. "It's not like we could do anything without pokemon."

Pierce smiled humorlessly as they were led into a large cavern. Dozens of wild pokemon of all sorts – geodude, clefairy, paras, zubat, and golbat were the most common of the breeds - were in cages far too small for them and were making a racket.

Twenty Rockets were injecting something into pokemon – these seemed to be trained, since they were much quieter and seemed to be aiming much more precise attacks at the Rockets than the random violent outbursts of the wild pokemon – that Ash assumed to be some sort of anesthetic since the pokemon went limp afterward.

Pierce seemed annoyed by the racket and pulled out some sort of remote from his pocket. He had a smile on his face as he pressed one of the numerous buttons on it. All of the pokemon cried out in pain as their cages sent thousands of volts through their bodies. Many of them were knocked unconscious. All were silent.

"Now that we can be civilized, I will give you several options that will decide your fate." Pierce began; completely unfazed by the torture he had just put nearly a hundred creatures through. "You can put up some sort of futile resistance. That unwise course of action will result in your deaths, or at least permanent maiming."

Amelia squeaked in fear. Ash paled even further and his hands started shaking. Pierce just smiled again.

"Did you think that we would spare you because you are children?" He said, shaking his head at their foolishness. "We have eliminated quite a few of the older trainers that have resisted us already. However, that would be a waste. Your second option is to be quiet and complacent. That will result in your release. Of course, there is a third option, one that will allow you to ascend to greatness and fight for the greater good of all."

Pierce seemed to have a fire in his eyes now, and his words were almost maniacal in their conviction. It was a far cry from the cold, sophisticated man from before.

"You are each capable trainers." The man said softly. "Your pokemon were quite powerful for such weak forms and could only grow more powerful in time. And there is a way to get them back, you know. You," he said, pointing to Jonathan, "could have your Charmander back. You," he repeated, pointing to Amelia, "could have your Bulbasaur back. And you," he concluded, pointing at Ash, "could have your Nidoran back. All that I ask is that you join us."

All three of them blanched and couldn't hide their disgust. Pierce frowned – the strongest expression Ash had seen him use so far – and began speaking again.

"I understand your concerns." The man began softly. "You likely believe the unfortunate misconceptions of the masses that we are," Pierce's face twisted in revulsion, although Ash got the feeling that it was all an act, "criminals." The man spat out. "But we are so far beyond their judgments. We are making a better world for all! Are humans not the most intelligent and resourceful creatures on this planet? Are we not deserving of complete mastery of this world? Shortsighted men claim us to be criminals, but they cannot see that we are fighting for a better future, a future in which the monsters that walk the earth are under humanity's control and no longer pose a threat! Is that not a goal that you would desire to attain?"

There was silence for a brief moment after Pierce's speech. Jonathan broke the silence in his blunt manner, his disgust and annoyance overriding any semblance of self-preservation.

"Hell no!" Jonathan said. "Not if it means that I'll be as stupid as you, you psychotic jackass."

Ash hid back a groan at Jonathan's retort. He had the same idea, but that didn't mean he was going to voice it. They were all going to die now.

Pierce's face drained of blood and his green eyes blazed with self-righteous indignation.

"How dare you speak to me that way." He hissed, storming towards Jonathan before thinking better of it. "I offer you life and a chance to unlock your true potential, and you dare to disrespect me? I have done things that you cannot even dream of, thing so great that they will soon be recorded in the annals of history forever. Unfortunately," he said, his rage morphing into cold satisfaction, "you and your friends' deaths will not be amongst those records. Muk, kill them. Painfully."

The group tried to run away, but the muk was upon them in a second. Its heavy, disgusting body completely covered them and Ash thought he would pass out from the horrible smell. Ash began to cry out in pain as he felt the toxic body begin to mold around him in an attempt to melt him down into the muk's body, and suddenly everything went black.


His eyes snapped open and the memories of the muk's thick, squishy body covering him with its poisonous burn flashed to the forefront of his mind. Ash quickly pushed himself up in a panic and searched for the muk or Pierce.

Instead of the terrifying Rocket Executive or the muk that had almost killed him he was treated to a sight that was quite possibly worse. He was in a cave that appeared to have been transformed into a makeshift hospital. Several unconscious pokemon – most appearing to be the poison types favored by the Rockets, although a sedated growlithe was also there – were being tended to by a Nurse Joy and his friends were laid out on small cots. His friends seemed to be awakening as well. None of those things were what he was paying attention to.

A gigantic steel creature with a lighter, silvery x across its face stared at them with bright red eyes. It looked as though it were taller than Ash and was made up of a metallic blue metal. Four powerful, molded legs with clawed "feet" kept it on the ground.

Ash stared at it in fear, afraid of the powerful creature. Suddenly, he heard a strong, confident voice coming from on top of the creature. He looked up and saw a man – no older than twenty-five – with messy, silvery hair slide off of the gigantic pokemon's "head". The man wore a strange looking suit that seemed to give him good mobility and had strange purple lines on the front.

"Hello." The man said calmly and in a friendly manner, "I'm Steven Stone."

He pushed himself up on weak, trembling limbs. The slight burn of the muk's poisonous body was still there, but its strength had greatly diminished and it was now little more than an uncomfortable tingle. Ash saw that the others were doing the same.

"Easy there." Steven said calmly. "You've had quite the experience."

"Where am I?" Ash choked out through his dry throat. Steven didn't answer for a moment, instead walking over to a small, rolling table next to Ash's bed and grabbing a water bottle off of it. He handed it over to Ash – who greedily began to drink from it – and began to explain.

"You're in the same cavern that the Rocket's were operating in." The man began, taking a seat on one of his unmoving pokemon's powerful legs. "A group of League officials and I were investigating the Rockets and took action when we saw the muk attacking you. You and your friends were knocked unconscious by the muk, but my friend here," he said, patting the monstrous pokemon's metallic leg, "threw it off before it could cause any further harm. After that I had you and your friends pulled out of the battle before you could be hurt."

"Thanks." Ash mumbled. Suddenly he remembered that Pierce had taken his pokeballs. "Wait! Where are my pokemon?"

"Calm down." Steven said soothingly. "We found your pidgeotto's ball in your jacket pocket. It's on that table. What other pokemon did you and your friends have? We're still trying to identify their owners."

Ash sighed in relief and collapsed back down, his arms unable to support his weight any longer. He struggled to pull himself up so that he could speak to Steven.

"I had a Nidoran. Amelia had a Bulbasaur and Rattata. Jonathan had a Charmander and Rhyhorn."

Steven nodded and had a look of concentration on his face. "I know they found a Nidoran as well as a Bulbasaur, Charmander and Rhyhorn. No Rattata though. Did your friend manage to hide the pokeball?"

"Maybe." Ash replied, a frown on his face. "I wasn't able to keep an eye on her though."

"Don't worry about it." Steven said. "No one should have to be prepared for this. All of you did well. The Rockets that you fought at the beginning told us that you were skilled."

"Not really." Ash replied, blushing a little. To distract himself from the curious eyes of Steven he turned to the table and grabbed Plume's pokeball, holding it tightly. He never wanted to let it go again. "I was useless. It was Nidoran that did everything."

"Don't sell yourself short, Ash." The man told him. "You couldn't have done much. The fact that you raised your pokemon to be strong enough to defeat Rocket pokemon with barely a scratch on them speaks volumes to your skill. Particularly since you've only been training for a few weeks."

Ash blushed again at the praise, but had a question.

"How did you know how long I've been training. Or my name?"

"Jonathan," Steven began, nodding at the unconscious boy, "has already woken up and told us what happened. Plus we examined your pokedex. It serves as an ID."

"Oh. Will you need to ask me any questions?" Ash questioned. Steven nodded, his face growing slightly hard for a moment before it relaxed.

"Just one. What did the leader of these Rockets call himself?"

"He said he was an Executive." Ash said with a furrowed brow as he tried to remember the minutes before the muk had enveloped them in its shapeless body. "But his name was Pierce."

"Thank you." Steven said before standing up. Ash thought he could see the beginnings of a scowl on the man's face. "I'll leave you to rest. Nurse Joy," he said, attracting the redhead's attention, "will give you a final examination and if you're good to go you'll be cleared for travel."

With that the man walked out of the room, his gigantic pokemon levitating up and following him. Ash stared after him for a few moments before turning his attention to Nurse Joy, who approached him with a smile. What he didn't miss was the rather large syringe that she had in her hand. It was filled with a pale purple, watery liquid.

"Why do you have that?" He asked cautiously. Nurse Joy glanced at the syringe for a moment before returning her eyes to him.

"Oh, don't worry about that." She said sweetly. "It'll just clear away any toxins left by the muk. It won't hurt very much."

Nurse Joy sighed when he continued to stare at the syringe in horror.

"Why are they all afraid of needles." She muttered. "It's not that big." Nurse Joy looked him in the eyes and began talking in a louder, persuasive voice. "Listen, if you don't take this quickly you might have to go to a hospital. I'm sure that would set you back a long way on your journey."

Ash reluctantly nodded, keeping his eyes on the needle. He had had to have shots a few weeks before starting his journey in order to keep him from getting sick – whether from natural causes like bacteria in the water or from some of the more common poison types in the region – and they had hurt. But he would rather go through a bit of temporary pain than have to wait around in a hospital for a week.

The Nurse Joy smiled – rather sadistically, Ash thought – and pulled out some sort of stretchy looking material and tied it around his arm, causing one of his veins to protrude from his skin. She took a moment to examine the skin and determine the best area to inject. Ash hissed in pain as she slid the cold needle under his skin, although he noted that it wasn't nearly as painful as the last shots he'd had.

Whatever liquid was inside the syringe was cold as it entered his bloodstream. Ash unconsciously shivered for a second as it flooded into his blood, but soon it was over and Nurse Joy smoothly removed the needle. She quickly placed a small bandage over the injection site before stepping back.

"Was that really so bad?" She asked with a smirk. Ash rolled his eyes, although he yawned before he answered. He seemed to be very tired all of a sudden.

"No." He mumbled nearly incoherently before collapsing back onto his cot. The world was spinning and was beginning to blacken and he was tired enough to have run a marathon. "What's happening?"

"Don't worry." Nurse Joy said soothingly. "It's just to put you asleep while I perform a few other tests. When you wake up you'll be free to leave."

That was all Ash heard before he fell into unconsciousness.


"Are you guys ready?" Ash asked Jonathan and Amelia as he swung his backpack on. They had been unconscious for nearly a day while Nurse Joy gave them a cocktail of drugs that would temporarily boost their immune systems and remove the last traces of the muk's toxins from their bodies. Apparently they had all been affected much worse than previously believed, although they were completely fine now.

They had been given their pokeballs back when they had finally awoken. Ash had nearly cried when he got Nidoran's ball back, realizing that it was just good fortune that the Rockets hadn't instantly transported his ball to wherever their headquarters were.

"Let's get going." Jonathan replied from his position near the exit. He stood out of the way of the League officials as they went about their business, although he exchanged friendly greetings with most of them. "I'm tired of this mountain."

Ash and Amelia nodded in concurrence and began to walk out. They had already told Nurse Joy that they were leaving and they didn't want to stay here any longer. Of all of them, Ash wanted to get to Cerulean City the most. He had realized that he hadn't called his mother at all, too enraptured with travelling and the wonders of the world he was experiencing to even think about something as mundane as his mother.

He gritted his teeth at how much of a jerk he had been. His mom was probably worried sick, and would probably be pretty mad at him as well. Not that he didn't deserve it, he bitterly reflected as he walked out into the bright sunlight.

As they all stopped for a moment to squint and let their eyes get adjusted to the sunlight, they heard someone calling out, "Wait!" from behind them. The group turned around curiously and despite their state of near blindness, they were able to make out the tall form of Steven.

They stopped and watched as the man hurriedly jogged up to them. His suit – Ash wasn't sure how it hadn't gotten even a smidgen of dirt on it – didn't seem to inhibit his movement in the least.

"I'm sorry for holding you up like this," Steven apologized as he came to a stop, "but I just heard that you were about to leave."

"What do you want?" Amelia asked hoarsely. She had gotten the worst of the muk's toxins and was still slightly weak, although she was fit for travel.

"I realized that there might be groups of Team Rocket waiting in ambush." Steven explained. "The League has everything under control in there, so I figured that I wouldn't be of any use to them. You are all still vulnerable and I know that the Rockets will be trying to regain their losses."

"Oh." Amelia said weakly. "Thanks."

Steven just nodded and looked to the other two members of the group. They grinned and welcomed him along. Both realized that Steven was an incredibly strong trainer and welcomed the opportunity to pick up any tips.

With that they began to walk down the unkempt path that would take them to Cerulean City within three or four days.


They all sat around their campfire, huddling around the warmth. A cold front had come in while the group had been recovering in Mt. Moon and it had added a new degree of difficulty to travelling.

Jonathan was holding onto Charmander and taking in the fire type's body heat. He was in the best situation out of the trio. Ash was stubbornly refusing to admit that he was cold and sat silently about a foot away from the fire. Amelia was so close to the fire that Ash thought she would burst into flame and looked like she was turning blue.

Steven was the only one that seemed perfectly fine. He seemed to be used to this sort of weather, as he was lazily reclining against a tree a few feet away from the fire and amiably chatting with the trio in an attempt to distract them from the icy air and cutting wind.

"So, Jonathan," he began, his voice barely heard over the howling wind, "what are your goals? I know you've just started out, but surely you have something you want to achieve."

Jonathan yawned and pulled himself up. "Hey, Charmander, go over and help Amelia out. She looked like she's freezing." Amelia coughed out her thanks as the lizard wrapped around her, bringing warmth to her cold body.

"Sorry." Jonathan said to Steven. "Anyways, I just want to get some experience in before I set any goals. I want to know if I'm any good or not before I try to achieve anything. I'd rather not get disappointed if I fail."

"I suppose that makes sense." Steven said. Ash thought he heard an undertone of disappointment in his voice. "How about you, Amelia?"

"As long as I get to the Indigo Conference this year, I'm happy." She said through chattering teeth. "But I want to win the Indigo League one day. My sister and parents placed pretty high in it, but none of them ever managed to win."

"How high did they place?" Steven asked interestedly, leaning forward. Ash listened curiously as well. He knew that Jessica was a good trainer, but he didn't know how good. Amelia grinned proudly – despite being battered by the weather – and replied.

"My parents both got into the top eight and my sister made it to the top four." She stated. "They only tried once, but I'm going to try as long as it takes to win."

The silver-haired man nodded. "Your persistence is admirable. I hope you succeed. What are your goals, Ash?"

Ash felt a sudden reluctance to divulge his dream. He didn't have any problem telling it to his friends, but they were just newbie trainers like him. They didn't know how skilled any of the other two would become or how far they would rise.

But Steven obviously wasn't a new trainer. He practically radiated quiet self-confidence and had an aura of authority that Ash had only encountered in Professor Oak before. Besides, anyone capable of controlling that monster of a pokemon that he had seen Steven riding around had to be powerful. And, even barring all of that, Ash had the strange feeling that he had seen Steven before.

Despite his doubts, Ash hesitantly spoke up.

"I want to be a Pokemon Master." He said, feeling slightly embarrassed just to admit it. Hopefully Steven wasn't able to see his light blush in the dark.

"That's quite the goal." Steven commented lightly. Ash was just glad that the man didn't laugh at him. He didn't even sound skeptical, just curious. "How are you going to accomplish it? Are you going to become a master of a certain type, or are you going to take one of the other routes? Any of the ways takes at the very least a decade, and becoming a true Pokemon Master is a lifelong mission."

"Well," Ash began, losing some of his nervousness, "I want to become one. But I don't want to master a single type of pokemon. That wouldn't give me a good enough variety to take any of the other routes."

"That's not true." Jonathan interjected from his spot by the fire. "Most of the Elite Fours and Champions are a master of a single type. And they're all Masters by default. I mean, Lance hasn't even had a challenger come close to beating him in years and those two Hoenn Champions – Wallace and that steel guy – are all Masters of a single type."

"I don't think that I would do good without any variety." Ash admitted. Even as he spoke he attempted to remember the name of the Hoenn Champion that abdicated his position about a year ago. "Anyone can win against me if they have a type adv— wait, you're Champion Steven! I watched your match against Wallace before you left Hoenn."

"Wait, what!" Jonathan shouted as he pulled himself up and stared at Steven. The man had a silly grin on his face as the group realized his identity. "You mean – what – really?" He finished weakly.

"Yes, I'm the steel guy." Steven said, still grinning. "I'm surprised you recognized me. Hoenn is pretty far away."

Jonathan's jaw dropped. "Are you kidding?" He cried. "We watch all the Champion battles!"

The conversation went on like that for a time. Jonathan seemed to be determined to ask everything he could possibly think of, and Ash wasn't too far behind. Amelia was the only one who was quiet. She had a small frown on her face and seemed to be thinking.

Finally, after what seemed like hours of unrelenting questions by the two boys, she broke into the conversation.

"If you're the Champion of Hoenn, why are you here?" She asked. "Shouldn't you be at home?"

"Former Champion of Hoenn." Steven corrected. He seemed glad to have a break from the curious boys. "I got tired of being the Champion. It just…wasn't for me. Instead I decided to explore new areas and look for rare stones."

"But…but you were Champion." Ash said weakly, clearly not understanding why anyone would want to leave such a prestigious position. "That's what every trainer dreams of."

"Dreams aren't always as exciting as you'd think." Steven said lightly. "Listen, you're all going to go somewhere. Maybe one of you will even become Champion. You'll understand then. But for now," he smiled, "does anyone want some tips?"

All of them grinned excitedly and began to pepper the Champion with questions. It was a long time before they finally went to bed, leaving Metagross – Steven had told a curious Amelia its name and some basic information about it – as the guard.


It wasn't until the next day that Amelia questioned Steven again. She wasn't quite as star struck as the boys, although she was still amazed that they had a Champion travelling with them. Amelia just couldn't believe that he had been at Mt. Moon right when they had needed help the most.

So when they stopped to take a break – all of them were tired from the aftereffects of the muk's toxins, although Ash constantly forcing them to stop for battles with other wandering trainers exhausted them as well – and even Ash and Jonathan were too tired to pester the Champion with questions, she took her chance.

"There has to be another reason why you came to Mt. Moon." Amelia said as they sat at one of the numerous tables the League had set up on the routes throughout Kanto. "I mean, wouldn't all of the rare stones be taken by now?"

"You're right." Steven admitted as he leaned back in his chair. "Most of the stones are gone, but I was investigating another stone from some of the old folk tales around here. Tell me," he said as he leaned forward and clasped his hands together on the table. "Have any of you heard about the Moon Stone?"

"I've heard about moon stones." Jonathan said. "They're supposed to be really rare though."

"Oh, they are." Steven responded. "They're the rarest ones of all. Their rarity is why there aren't many nidoking wandering around." He seemed to direct this at Ash, who was idly scratching an exhausted Nidoran behind the ears. Ash perked up and listened closer. "But they aren't what I'm talking about. I'm talking about THE Moon Stone."

"What's the difference?" Ash asked. Jonathan and Amelia nodded their agreement.

"Well, it's supposed to be a gigantic moon stone." Steven began. "People used to worship it, at least according to this weird scientist I found down there. He thought that the clefairy used it as a space ship."

None of the group had a response to something that stupid. Steven laughed.

"That's what I thought. Anyways, I was trying to find it when I noticed that all of the wild pokemon were gone and I was getting a supersonic migraine." Steven grimaced at the memory. "Lance warned me of Team Rocket, so I made sure to call the League once I'd located them. By the time we were ready you three were getting attacked by that muk."

"Oh." Amelia said. She felt rather foolish for being so suspicious. The group was quiet for a while before Steven stood up.

"I think we've been sitting around long enough. Let's get going. Cerulean is only a few days away."

The group eagerly nodded and followed the Champion. They were all eager to reach Cerulean City. That was where their journey would truly begin.


"Sorry, but I have to go." Steven said to the group. He had just told them his plans – to go back to Mt. Moon to find the Moon Stone and then explore Kanto some more – but they didn't want him to go. The Champion was awesome in every possible way, and he'd taught them things about training and pokemon in general that would have taken them months to learn on their own.

"Couldn't you stay until we leave?" Jonathan pleaded desperately. He was the one most enthralled with Steven – the man was practically his idol now.

"Sorry." Steven repeated. "But I'm sure we'll meet again. All three of you are going places – I know it. Hopefully one of you will be ready for a battle by the time I see you. Good luck."

"Thanks." They said in unison, each practically glowing at the praise he'd given them. Ash, of course, was more interested in the possibility of battling Steven. That would be incredible!

"I'll see you all again one day." Steven promised before releasing Metagross. The gigantic creature allowed Steven to climb up on top of it before folding its legs to its chest and levitating down the road at an incredible speed. They watched them leave for a second before turning to each other.

They were at the gates of Cerulean City. Quite a few curious onlookers had gathered when Steven had released Metagross, but they were already walking away. Ash grinned as he looked at his friends.

"What are we waiting for? Let's get to the Pokemon Center!"

The group nodded and quickly found a map of the city. Although they were slightly intimidated by its size – this city was much larger than Pewter and Viridian, and positively dwarfed Pallet Town – they adapted to it rather quickly and reached the Center within half an hour.

It only took a minute to check in thanks to the Center being rather deserted, but once in they quickly went to their rooms and cleaned up, taking advantage of the wonderful showers. All of them had practically forgotten how wonderful it felt to be clean, although their empty stomachs brought them down to the small cafeteria the Center possessed.

Since there were only a few other trainers in it – Ash only counted three others there – they were free to be as loud as they wanted. They were aware of a few annoyed glances being sent their way by the staff and other trainers, but they were far too glad to finally be in civilization again to worry about that.

"So who gets to challenge them first?" Amelia asked as she devoured the hot food they had been given. All of them had abandoned any sense of propriety when they had seen the wonderful aroma and sight of the food.

"I've already had my turn." Ash said, not even looking up from his massive plate as he tore into his noodles. "One of you can go first."

"Thanks." Amelia and Jonathan said in unison before glaring at each other.

"Rock-paper-scissors?" Amelia asked confidently. Jonathan glared back and nodded.

In the end, Jonathan ended up becoming the one who battled the Sensational Sisters first. He seemed rather pleased about this for some reason that Ash couldn't quite fathom and had a silly grin on his face as they ventured to the gym.

Much like Pewter, the gym was only a few minutes away from the Center. Unlike Pewter, however, the gym was practically bursting with people – most of them teenage boys and young adults, Ash noted. Very few seemed to be actual trainers, so Ash assumed that they were just here for one of the Sisters' shows.

As they walked in a teenage girl in a uniform walked up to them, pushing through the crowd with ease.

"Are you here for the show?" She shouted, breaking above the clamoring and cheers of the large crowd.

"Gym." Ash and Amelia told her. Jonathan, however, seemed to be more excited about the show.

"Sorry." The girl said. "But the gym's closed right now. You can come back after the show. It's on until four."

Ash and Amelia groaned in disappointment. That meant that they had to wait at least three hours before coming back. Jonathan seemed fine, however.

"How much is a ticket?" He asked eagerly. The girl smiled at him.

"Just fifty poke." She replied. Jonathan grinned and began to dig around in his pockets. In just a few moments he had pulled out a few wads of cash and handed them over to the girl. "There are still plenty of seats available. Just walk in and one of the attendants will bring you in."

"You guys go on." Jonathan said as he was led away. "I'll meet you guys at the Pokemon Center later."

As he walked away and disappeared into the thick crowds Amelia turned her head to look at the dumbfounded Ash.

"…What just happened?"

Ash just helplessly shook his head. "I guess we should come back later. We probably can't find Jonathan even if we did want to buy tickets."

Amelia shrugged. "Let's get going then. Maybe we can find out where some good pokemon are. I hear Cerulean has some pretty powerful ones nearby."


They were rather tired by the time they returned to the gym. The duo had spent most of the day at a nearby café where trainers tended to congregate and learned a lot about the area around Cerulean. Both had already bought a small map and marked out likely areas for powerful pokemon to stay at and were eager to search around.

Cerulean City was the home of the water gym for a reason. It was surrounded by rivers, lakes, and ponds that held massive amounts of water pokemon. Most were weak – magikarp, golden, and krabby were the most common – but they were quite good for beginning trainers to raise. Aside from the legions of weaker pokemon that made the area their home, there were also formidably creatures such as kingler, seaking, staryu and even the monstrously powerful gyarados. Ash just wanted one of them to diversify his team.

But now they were back at the gym. It was mostly empty, save for a few stragglers from the performance that were standing around and chatting to each other. They searched for Jonathan, but couldn't find him. Ash and Amelia assumed that their friend had decided to go ahead and challenge the Sisters and followed a few signs that brought them to a massive room dominated by a swimming pool that was probably larger than some villages. A few strips of land ran through it, allowing non-water pokemon to have a chance.

As they walked in, curiously glancing around and searching for any possible advantages in their upcoming gym battles, Ash spotted Jonathan walking over to them with a proud grin on his face. Three tall – and beautiful, Ash noticed, causing him to blush in embarrassment – teenage girls in swimsuits were circling around the edge of the pool and going to the opposite side.

"You guys got here just in time!" Jonathan shouted excitedly as he neared them. "My battles just about to start. I was about to send you a message over the pokedex."

"We can send messages through our pokedex?" Ash asked. He shook his head and ignored whatever answer his friend was about to give to him. "Nevermind. How are you going to battle them? You don't have anything that'll be really effective against a water gym."

"Well," Jonathan said as he nervously glanced over his shoulder, staring at the massive pool, "I had been planning on having Charmander turn the water into steam, but I don't think that'll work too well anymore. I'm just going to keep them on the land and try and keep on the defensive."

"Good luck." Amelia said before giving him a light smack on the head. "And that's for leaving us to go see that stupid show. Make sure to win."

Jonathan gave a shaky grin and waved them away. After the duo had taken their place in the observer's station – a raised platform with thick, clear walls that would protect them from most stray attacks – he took his place on the challenger's platform. The Sister that was facing him – the only one with a natural hair color, a rich, golden blonde – took her position and waved for the referee to explain the rules.

Ash didn't really pay attention to the referee. He knew it would just be the standard rules – as many pokemon as the challenger had against the same amount of gym pokemon, and they would go until one of the opponents' pokemon were all knocked out or one of them forfeited.

Both of the friends were tense as the Sister sent out a large seel. It didn't look like much of a battler, but all of them knew that appearances could be deceiving. Behind the happy grin on the seel's face could lay a hardened veteran of many battles. The seel happily leapt into the water and began swimming in a small circle to warm up.

Jonathan didn't seem nervous at all, although Ash knew he had to be. He released Charmander, who lazily got up from his curled position and looked around his surroundings. Ash had to hold back a snort as the Charmander realized that it was surrounded by water and began to glare at Jonathan. The trainer merely shrugged guiltily and pointed at the seel, who had jumped out of the water and was now happily looking at Charmander with its tongue lolling out of its mouth.

Charmander's normally lazy and sleepy personality vanished as he saw his opponent. Even from the distance they were at Ash could see the small lizard's tail flare up and his body tense up. The tension in the moments before the battle began was thick.

When the referee finally called out for them to begin, the seel quickly followed a short whistle from its trainer and dove into the water. Jonathan called out for Charmander to run out to the center of the pool, where a large island provided more protection.

As the lizard slowly shuffled towards the island, the seel suddenly burst out of the water near it, startling the poor Charmander. Ash winced as the small creature slammed into Charmander's side with its sharp horn before leaping back into the water. He wasn't sure if Jonathan could win this one.

"Smokescreen." Jonathan shouted from his platform. Charmander heard and shook off the surprise attack. Smoke poured from its wide jaws and began to hide him from view. Some of the smoke seemed to settle on the water's surface and stain it a dark grey.

Seel didn't attack for another minute. It was only when Charmander had finally run out of the smoke that obscured him from view and the Sister gave a sharp whistle that it burst out of the water and splashed Charmander with a large wave of water.

As Charmander was distracted, the seel opened its mouth and fired a beam of multicolored energy that strongly reminded Ash of pictures of the aurora borealis that he had seen. He recognized it as an aurora beam and gave a sigh of relief when he realized that it probably wouldn't knock Charmander out.

Despite the attack's power – Ash knew that the seel had probably perfected the move – Charmander weathered it and listened to his trainer's frantic shouts to recover. Seel had taken advantage of the lizard's pain and was charging at him.

"Smokescreen!" Jonathan screamed from his position. He looked desperate as he realized that Charmander could be easily taken out by another attack.

Fortunately for them, Charmander reacted quickly enough to blast copious amounts of pungent smoke right into the charging seel's face. Ash saw the seel miss Charmander by nearly a foot before the two were obscured from his vision.

"Metal claw and slash!" Jonathan commanded desperately. Ash supposed that he was just giving Charmnder moves to use. There was no way he could actually see the brutal battle going on in the smoke.

Suddenly the Sister whistled sharply again, this one a different pitch than the others. Seel pulled itself out of the melee as soon as it was able, although Ash saw Charmander chasing and slashing at it with glowing claws. Most of them connected with the seel, slowing it down and letting Charmander get a few more good hits in.

Ash was amazed that Jonathan had actually managed to do that much damage. He'd honestly expected a complete domination by the Sister, but his friend had actually managed to pull out a small victory. The seel couldn't take too much more damage after the beating it had just taken. Of course, the victory hadn't come without a cost. Charmander was limping from something and had discolored areas all over him.

The Sister seemed to realize that seel wouldn't be able to escape if Charmander was allowed to continue his brutal attacks and whistled again, this time at a very low pitch. Everyone was surprised when seel turned around and opened its small mouth, releasing yet another aurora beam directly into Charmander's chest.

Amazingly enough, the lizard remained standing, although it looked like anymore damage would knock him out. Jonathan realized that as well and quickly took advantage of Charmander's last reserves of strength.


Charmander's tail blazed in one last show of defiance as he ran at seel and slashed at it with glowing claws. Seel cried out in pain as the attack impacted, although it was cut short as the tired creature fainted.

There was silence for a moment from all sides of the arena. Even Jonathan didn't believe he had managed to win that round.

A moment later Ash and Amelia burst into cheers and were loud enough that Jonathan turned towards them and gave them a thumbs up. His attention was pulled back to the battle when the referee announced that the battle would be starting up again.

Charmander didn't seem impressed when the Sisters sent out a small, pink heart-shaped pokemon. Ash had never seen it before, which was quite surprising considering how many foreign battles he watched. He aimed the pokedex at it, but nothing came up except a screen saying, "Scanned pokemon not found in regional database. National Pokedex upgrade required. Please see your pokedex supplier for more information."

Ash frowned and put the pokedex away. Maybe Professor Oak could get him that upgrade. He put the matter out of his mind and focused on the match.

The pink pokemon was already in the pool and proved to be exceptionally fast. Charmander was halfheartedly blasting the surface of the water with embers, but none of them even came close to hitting the water type. Its attacks got weaker and weaker as the pokemon drew nearer.

"Luverin, finish it off!" The Sister shouted from her platform. A moment later the pokemon leapt out of the water by Charmander and shot a water gun at Charmander. It impacted square in the lizard's chest and knocked it unconscious.

He could see Jonathan frowning as he returned Charmander. A second later Rhyhorn's pokeball landed out on the strip of land and released the stone creature, who grunted as it saw the water surrounding it. When the match was continued, it was still until it heard the Sister's whistle.

For some reason the whistle caused it to panic and frantically search the area despite Jonathan's attempts to calm it.

"Rhyhorn!" Jonathan shouted. "Calm down. Nothing's going to hurt you."

It slowed down in its search, but Rhyhorn continued to sniff at the ground. Suddenly, Luverin erupted out of the water next to Rhyhorn and shot a water gun at the scared creature. Ash and Amelia groaned as the pokemon went berserk and charged straight at the area where Luverin had attacked it from.

Jonathan never even had a chance to calm his pokemon before Rhyhorn fell into the water. Ash and Amelia shouted in fear the moment they saw it, and Jonathan looked terrified as he recalled Rhyhorn just a second after it sunk into the water.

"Challenger Jonathan forfeits the match!" The referee cried. Ash and Amelia groaned and stood up. They both felt awful for Jonathan – he had managed to win a battle with Charmander, but victory was torn from him in the second half of the match before he even had a chance.

Their friend was waiting for them by the time they had left their box. He was morosely staring at his pokeball with a blank expression, although he didn't seem to be angry. Ash wasn't quite sure how to approach him – he knew that Jonathan didn't take losing very well, a trait that he shared.

Fortunately, Amelia was more adept with these matters. She walked up to him and gave him a hug. Jonathan gave her a small smile and returned it.

"You did good. A lot better than most people would have done."

"I know." He mumbled. "But I thought I was actually going to win after Charmander did so good. I guess I'll just have to train some more. He'll do even better when he evolves."

Ash nodded, although he was too uncomfortable with the situation to say anything. He wasn't very good at comforting people, plus the interaction between Jonathan and Amelia reminded him just how much of an outsider he was in the group.

His thoughts were interrupted when the Sisters walked up. The blonde one that Jonathan had just battled was in the lead. She seemed rather happy.

"That was, like, totally incredible!" She said in congratulations when the Sisters grew near. Jonathan blushed slightly.

"I still lost." He muttered.

"That doesn't matter at all!" The Sister said. "You still put up a better fight than most people would have. So I'm giving you the Cascade Badge."

Jonathan looked up hopefully, although he had a bit of confusion mixed in. "Wait, what? You're giving me the badge?"

"Of course!" The Sister said cheerfully. "It's not like you actually have to win to get the badge. The gym leader just has to think you deserve it. And I think you deserve the badge."

His friend grinned as the Sister pulled out a small, metallic case with the Cerulean insignia inscribed upon it and opened it, revealing several rows of gleaming badges shaped like a rain drop. The Sister carefully withdrew one of the badges and handed it to Jonathan, who proudly took it in his hand.

"There you go." The Sister exclaimed. She suddenly seemed to notice Ash and Amelia. "Oh, are you here to challenge us too?"

"Yeah." They said in unison. For some reason the Sisters frowned, although it was quickly wiped away and replaced with their former cheerfulness.

"Both of you can have a badge too. Our pokemon are pretty tired out from our show and won't be ready to battle for a few days. The only one left is Luverin."

Ash was surprised, but shrugged it off. Even if he'd been looking forward to battling the Sensational Sisters, it didn't really bother him that he'd be getting the badge for free. A badge was a badge, after all.

Amelia, however, was more scrupulous than he was.

"Could I just fight you in a one-on-one battle?" She asked the lead sister. "Luverin only battled for a minute or so and didn't take any damage. It should be fine."

"He." The Sister corrected before sighing. "Fine. Get up on the platform."

Amelia nodded and waved back to her friends as she moved up to the platform. Jonathan and Ash waved back and called out, "Good luck!" before moving back into the observation platform.

A few minutes later everything was ready. Amelia had already released her choice – Bulbasaur, who was eager to fight after being cooped up in his pokeball for so long – and the Sister – or Daisy, as Ash had learned from a swooning Jonathan – had released Luverin. They were just waiting on the referee.

Mere seconds later the referee announced the rules and sounded her whistle. Daisy quickly blasted on her own whistle, which caused Luverin to dive into the water.

"Get in the middle of that island and keep your vines out!" Amelia shouted. "Try to get the fish onto land if you can."

Bulbasaur grunted in understanding and extended its powerful vines. He warily glanced around the pool in preparation for Luverin's attack. Ash and Jonathan tried to find the pink blur that would give Luverin's location away but found nothing. It was probably deep under the water.

Suddenly the pink pokemon burst from the water and shot a high powered jet of water at Bulbasaur. It did little damage to the grass type. Bulbasaur reacted quickly and wrapped its vines around Luverin with supernatural speed.

"Smash it on the ground." Amelia ordered. Bulbasaur gladly complied and repeatedly slammed the helpless pokemon against the ground. Despite Luverin's frantic squirming and bites, Bulbasaur refused to let it escape and quickly knocked it out.

Ash and Jonathan were slightly disturbed by the tactic Amelia had used, but put it to the back of their minds as they went down to congratulate her. Daisy sighed and returned Luverin before walking over to them with her sisters.

"Good job!" Jonathan said as he gave her a high five. Ash nodded in agreement with a smile on his face.

"Here's the badge." Daisy said from behind them. Amelia grinned widely and eagerly took the shining rain drop from the older teen's hand. The Sister looked at Ash. "By the way, unless you want to wait a few days you can have the badge now."

"Sounds good to me." Ash replied as he began to take the badge from her hand. Suddenly his hand was batted away by the referee. He looked up in annoyance.

Now that he actually got a good look at the referee – he didn't bother to before, other than a quick glance – he was able to recognize her as the girl that he'd beaten in the first few days of his journey. Her eyes displayed just as much annoyance as he felt and her hand was on a pokeball.

"Aren't you that girl that I beat my first day as a trainer?" Ash said, feigning stupidity. Maybe he could rile her up. If she wanted to battle him then he could distract her enough to where she made stupid mistakes.

The Sisters snickered as the referee blushed. Ash smirked as her face twisted in anger.

"Shut up!" She growled. "I'm challenging you to a pokemon battle. As a gym leader here, I don't think you're ready for the badge."

Ash stared at her in confusion. "But I already beat you. On my first day as a trainer."

"Shut up." She repeated. "I wasn't taking you seriously. Now let's go. Get up on the challenger's platform."

The trainer shrugged. He supposed that Plume could use the experience. Only Nidoran had been training very much over the last few days. Besides, it had been too long since Plume had stretched her wings.

Both of his friends wished him good luck before going back over to the observation platform. The Sensational Sisters groaned in annoyance and went with his friends. Ash expected that Jonathan wouldn't be paying attention to the battle.

One of the Sisters stayed behind in order to act as a referee. Ash placed a hand on Plume's pokeball as he stared intensely at his opponent, barely listening to the rules. He knew them by heart.

He only reacted when he heard the Sister yell out, "Begin!"

Plume screeched out a challenge as she erupted from the pokeball. Her chest was proudly puffed out and she spread out her wings in an expression of dominance. Ash smiled at Plume's antics, although he was more focused on his opponent.

The girl sent out a starmie. Ash supposed that it was just the evolved form of the staryu he'd faced in their last battle. He instantly began to analyze what he knew of starmie.

It could rapidly spin its back star in order to propel itself out of water and through air for a short period of time. He also knew that they had powerful psychic abilities and could fire weak energy beams from their jewel.

"It can shoot energy beams from its jewel and can fly out of the water!" Ash said to Plume. He figured that he didn't need to be shouting when Plume's sensitive ears could hear him just fine. Plume screeched out a challenge as she launched herself into the air with a single flap of her powerful wings.

"Starmie, use water gun and knock it out of the sky!" The redhead shouted. Ash noticed that she was actually having to talk to starmie instead of blowing on the whistle like the other Sisters. She was evidently less experienced than the other gym leaders.

"Dodge them." Ash ordered. Plume screeched in acceptance even as the water type began to fire powerful jets of water into the air. Fortunately for Ash and Plume the starmie seemed somewhat inexperienced when it came to attacking flying types and couldn't keep up with Plume's incredible speed and erratic movements.

The battle continued on like this for a while. Ash wanted to tire the starmie out before getting in close with a wing attack or another physical move – he knew they could learn psychic and a few other ranged attacks that could put Plume out of commission for the battle – and so far it seemed to be working. Starmie's attacks were starting to become weaker and less focused, which had the added bonus of frustrating his opponent.

Just a few moments before he was about to begin the next stage of the battle by allowing Plume to begin to cause actual damage, his opponent finally became frustrated enough to change her strategy.

"Starmie, use thunder wave to paralyze it!" She cried. Ash frowned at the move. He hoped that Plume would be fast enough to dodge it. Being paralyzed would end the battle if Plume fell into the water.

"Dodge it!" Ash shouted. Mere moments later the starmie shot a small burst of lightning out from its temporarily glowing jewel at Plume. Plume easily swerved out of the way of the attack and screeched in annoyance. The trainer noticed that starmie seemed to recoil from the shriek, which gave him an idea.

"Screech as loud as you can." He ordered. Plume followed his order quickly, which resulted in the starmie being temporarily distracted as it recoiled from the painful noise. "Gust."

"Get out of the way!" The redhead shouted frantically. Unfortunately for her, the starmie was still recovering from the screech when the powerful gale of air slammed into it, hurling it into the water. Ash groaned when he realized that he just gave his opponent an advantage. Starmie would be much more maneuverable in the water.

His opponent also seemed to realize this. "Use rain dance and follow it up with thunderbolt!" She said with a wide grin. Ash's face paled as he realized that this could very easily lose him the match. The added water would amplify the electric attack to ridiculous levels and would easily knock out Plume.

"Evade it. Keep low to the water." Ash said. He couldn't think of a way to get out of this without potentially harming Plume, but he realized that the thunderbolt would do a lot more damage than one of his desperate attempts at salvaging victory.

Plume soared through the air, ignoring the rain drops that were beginning to pepper her body. Ash knew that the rain dance wouldn't adversely affect her, although it might make flying a little bit more difficult. Her feathers were oily enough to keep the water from soaking them through.

The only way he could think of to avoid the thunderbolt was to keep it from ever happening. Starmie couldn't use thunderbolt underneath the water without knocking itself out, so he had to hit starmie hard enough to keep it from being able to complete the attack.

He got his chance soon enough. The starmie exploded out of the water and went high into the sky as its jewel began to glow and send small arcs of electricity ominously into the air. Ash wasted no time in giving Plume an order when he saw the starmie leap out of the pool.

"Quick attack!"

Plume didn't nod or screech in confirmation this time, instead following the order as quickly as possible. She disappeared from her position nearly fifty feet away from the starmie and nearly instantaneously reappeared into its side.

Ash dimly heard Jonathan and Amelia cheer for him as the starmie's attack was disrupted and it was knocked back onto the ground. Plume didn't seem to have taken much damage from the attack, so he felt safe in ordering her to continue the attack.

"Wing attack. Then use fly. Peck if it's still conscious."

Plume called out in confirmation as she launched herself at the knocked over starmie. As it began to pull itself up from the ground, urged on by its trainers desperate pleas, Plume slammed into it with glowing wings outspread. Starmie was thrown back to the ground and Plume launched herself up into the air in order to continue her attack.

"Get up, Starmie!" The redhead cried desperately. "Use swift and watergun!"

It never had the chance to follow its trainer's commands. Plume had fallen into a dive as its jewel began to glow and by the time the starmie was ready to attack Plume had reached it. Ash winced as the starmie was forced onto its back again. The starmie couldn't take much more damage.

Ash's thoughts proved to be correct when Plume finished off his string of commands. While Starmie pulled itself up with its dexterous arms the pidgeotto casually launched itself off of the ground and slammed its beak straight into the starmie's jewel.

The starmie couldn't take any more damage. Its cracked jewel began to lose color and vibrancy as it was knocked unconscious. Ash grinned widely and pumped his fist in triumph as he realized he won. Plume cried out in victory and fluttered over to his shoulder.

He nearly buckled against the bird's massive weight, but managed to hold himself up. Ash kept his grin as he stroked Plume's impressive crest.

"You did awesome." He whispered. Plume lightly pecked his hat in affection as Ash began to walk down from the platform. Daisy, Jonathan, and Amelia were already waiting for him. The trainer had a wide grin on his face as he saw Daisy holding up the Cascade Badge for him.

Before he could take it, Jonathan and Amelia walked over. Jonathan heavily clapped him on the back, sending him teetering. Plume glared at the shorter trainer, but Jonathan ignored her gaze.

"That was great!" He exclaimed loudly. "I didn't think you would be able to get out of that rain dance and thunderbolt combo."

"Yeah." Amelia grinned, pushing Jonathan out of the way. "I wouldn't have thought of using quick attack. I would have just used gust. We're going to have to battle soon."

Ash smiled and nodded before turning to Daisy. The other Sisters had seemingly vanished from the area. His opponent – whose name he still didn't know, he realized – was probably still circling around the gigantic pool.

"Good job." Daisy said with a smile. "Here's the Cascade Badge. By the way," she said to the entire group, "you should all come back when you get better. I want to see how good you get."

"Of course." Jonathan said with a grin. Ash suspected that he wouldn't just be coming back for the battle.

The trainer turned his thoughts away and took the badge from Daisy's hand. He looked at it curiously for a moment, memorizing the smooth curve of the metal, before placing it in his pocket. It could go in his badge case later.

He was distracted by the redhead walking up to him. Despite the short temper she had displayed in and before the battle, she seemed remarkably composed.

"Good job." She muttered before holding out her hand. "Look, I'm sorry about being a jerk earlier. My name's Misty."

"Ash." He responded as he shook her hand. The trainer wasn't really sure what to do. Both of them were saved from an awkward situation by Daisy, who smiled and motioned for her sister to follow her.

"Come on, runt. We've got to close down."

Misty shrugged and left. The trio looked at her oddly as she turned back.

"I'm going to beat you soon, Ash! Just you wait."

The group was quiet as the two gym leaders left. None of them were quite sure of what to make of the girl.

"Well, that was weird." Amelia muttered. "Anyways, let's go. We probably shouldn't be out after dark."

"Agreed." Jonathan said. Ash nodded and returned Plume to her ball with an apologetic nod. A few moments later they made their way out of the gym and to the Pokemon Center.

Ash was glad that they had gotten there early. It would give him a lot more time to make excuses and try to save himself from the verbal whiplash that would be sure to follow when he finally contacted his mother.


"Five weeks." His mother said in a terrifyingly calm voice. Ash gulped and had to fight the urge to shut the visual down. She might not be able to do anything to him through the screen, but her eyes made him question that fact. "It has been five weeks since you've called me or sent me a message."

"Sorry." He muttered. Ash didn't really have anything to say in his defense. It was clear that he was in the wrong.

"Do you know how worried I was?" She hissed. "The only reason I didn't have Professor Oak fly me out there was because Jonathan and Amelia's parents told me that they were with you and that you were fine. I didn't even know that you were travelling with them until two days after you left!"

He didn't try to say anything, instead opting to look down in shame.

"I'm not going to tell you to send me a message every day." His mother said in a slightly more relaxed voice. "But you need to remember to call me whenever you get to a city. I was so worried about you."

"Sorry." He repeated quietly. Ash felt extremely guilty about forgetting his mother. Even if he was on his journey there was no excuse for it. "I'll call you whenever I can."

"That's all I want." His mother said with a small smile. Most of her tranquil fury seemed to have dissipated. "Good luck, honey. I'm sure you'll do great!"

"Bye." They said in unison. A moment later the screen went black. Ash sighed, although he brightened up when Nidoran – who had been quietly sitting next to his foot the entire time – carefully butted his head against Ash's leg.

"Thanks, buddy." He said tiredly. "Let's get to bed."

Nidoran chirped at that and twitched his ears. Ash knelt down and carefully picked the small creature up. A few minutes later they were both asleep in the rather comfortable bed the Pokemon Center had provided for both of them.

It had been a long day.


"So, guys, what's the plan?" Jonathan asked as he took a break from devouring his breakfast. "Are we leaving for Vermillion today or are we going to take a few days off?"

Amelia paused in her own ravenous frenzy. "I was hoping we could stay here for a while. Ash and I found a few good spots to find pokemon and fishing poles are really cheap around here. None of us have a water type, so at the very least one of us need to catch one."

"Agreed." Jonathan said with a yawn. "But I'm going to go back to bed soon. I feel like I'm about to go to fall into my cereal right now. Maybe I'll meet up with you guys later."

"Oh, come on." Ash interjected. He had just finished clearing his plate. "You blew us off yesterday to go see that show. Don't do it again."

Jonathan shrugged. "Alright, I'll go. But don't blame me too much if I fall asleep in the middle of what we end up doing."

"We won't." Amelia smirked. "I'm used to it by now."

Their friend rolled his eyes and shrugged again. "Funny. Anyways, where do we buy some fishing rods? We should try to get out early before the other trainers get up."

Amelia and Ash nodded in agreement and continued eating, although Ash tried to think of where he would fish. The older trainers that had hung around the café yesterday warned them to stay pretty far away from each other while they fished or looked for pokemon – apparently the pokemon around Cerulean were slightly skittish and tended to shy away from groups.

A few minutes later they put their cleared plates away and left the Pokemon Center. It wasn't a long trip to the Pokemon Mart, but the crowds slowed them down somewhat. Still, it took hardly any time at all before they were leaving the store with three high-quality fishing rods. In almost no time at all they found themselves at the city boundaries in preparation for their explorations.

"We need to split up." Ash reminded the others when they showed no sign of going their own ways. "Do all of you have a map so that you don't get lost?"

"Yeah." Amelia nodded. "I say we meet up at the Pokemon Center later. Does six sound good?"

The two boys nodded. They awkwardly stood around for a few moments before Amelia and Jonathan ran off their own separate ways, leaving Ash standing alone. He shrugged and withdrew his map. The trainer had spent a few minutes last night marking likely locations for pokemon on it and wanted to be reminded.

Unfortunately, just as he began to put his map up and walk down the road he heard a rather unwelcome voice.

"Oh look, it's the loser." Gary sneered from behind him. Ash groaned and turned around. He'd been hoping he wouldn't have to see his rival again until the Indigo Conference. "I'm surprised you've made it this far. I half expected for Brock to beat you so bad that you quit."

Ash glared at Gary. "What do you want? Still sore about our last battle?"

His rival colored a bit, but retained control over his temper. "Shut up." He growled. "You just got lucky. I didn't think you even knew how to let your pokemon out."

The trainer's glare intensified as Gary continued. Now Gary had a devilish smirk on his face and had withdrawn one of the six pokeballs clipped to his belt.

"You know what?" He asked with a wide grin. "Let's have another battle. I could use some more spending money. How many pokemon do you have?"

"Two." Ash retorted. Gary smiled condescendingly.

"Only two?" He gasped in faux surprise and theatrically pressed his hand to his heart. "I've already got fifteen. I guess I can't hold you to my standards though. Not everyone is as talented as me."

"How about you stop talking and battle me." Ash said stonily. He already had Plume's pokeball in his hand and was tossing it up in the air and catching it. Nidoran could be saved for last. "Two on two. We don't stop until one of us surrenders or our pokemon is unconscious."

Gary nodded with that annoying smirk still firmly on his face. He tapped the release button on his pokeball. Ash did the same.

Ash sighed when the two beams of red light formed into two identical pokemon. Plume was giving Gary's pidgeotto – a massive creature that looked to be near evolution judging from its magnificent plumage – a condescending glare. Gary's pidgeotto simply looked at Plume for a moment before glancing away in boredom.

"That's a pretty small pidgeotto you've got there, Ash." Gary grinned. "Think it can keep up?"

"Can yours? It doesn't look very smart." Ash retorted. Gary kept the grin on his face, responding to Ash's words with a command.

"Get up in the air." His rival ordered. With a powerful push of its massive wings the pidgeotto launched itself up into the air. Ash examined the nearly flawless pokemon in curiosity, trying to find any weaknesses Plume could exploit.

Unfortunately, he found none. The gigantic bird's form was perfect and its bulk would keep it from being affected by many of Plume's weaker moves. It was slower than Plume, however, so that was an advantage. And from what Gary had said about his number of pokemon Ash figured that it wouldn't be nearly as well-trained or skilled as Plume was.

"Fly. Keep away from it as best as you can." He told Plume. His friend nodded before launching herself upward to join her opponent in the sky, voicing a loud shriek of challenge as she pushed upwards. The pidgeotto returned the challenge before diving at Plume with raised talons.

Gary had a smug smile on his face when Plume failed to dodge the attack, despite Ash's calls. Plume barely seemed affected by the attack, however, and had forced the larger bird away with a snap of her sharp beak.

"Screech." Ash ordered. A second later, Plume released a horrific sound that reminded Ash of grinding metal. Gary's pidgeotto was badly affected by it due to its sharp ears and lost focus for a moment. "Wing attack. Follow with peck."

"Focus!" Gary screamed. When the pidgeotto heeded his call, Ash noticed that he had a cocky grin on his face. It shrunk when Plume still managed to painfully jab his bird with her sharp beak, but didn't vanish. "Now use twister. Knock that runt out of the sky."

Ash had a bad feeling about this. He'd never even heard of twister before, although he assumed it had something to do with a wind attack. "Dodge whatever it sends at you."

He hadn't been expecting Gary's pidgeotto to flap its wings and fire a full-fledged tornado at Plume. Ash had to shield his eyes from the massive dust clouds pulled up by the attack.

"Get out of its way!" He shouted, losing his composure. Plume could be hurt extremely badly by that attack if she was thrown into the ground. And then he wasn't sure if he would be able to resist punching Gary in his smug face.

A few seconds later his vision cleared enough for him to see that Plume had mostly evaded the attack, although her feathers were dirty and ruffled. She shrieked in annoyance but waited for Ash to give her an order.

He couldn't think of a strategy. The only moves he had had Plume use would be mostly ineffective against the larger pidgeotto, but he had to do something if he wanted to keep Plume from being blasted by attacks like that twister. Of course, there was one move that the pokedex had told him Plume had, although he had never bothered to use it before.

"Whirlwind!" He cried out in desperation. Plume shrieked and flapped her wings, sending a powerful gust of wind at the other pidgeotto. Ash watched urgently as the pidgeotto tried to dodge the attack due to Gary's urgent shouts, but cheered when it was hurled into the ground. Not even its massive bulk could keep it protected. "Finish it with fly!"

Plume shrieked in acceptance and dived at the injured pidgeotto. Ash had a massive grin on his face as Plume swept down at the other bird and jabbed her talons into its exposed chest with incredible force. The pidgeotto fainted quietly.

"Is that the best you've got?" Ash mocked. It looked like he was right. Even though that pidgeotto was probably one of the best specimens in Kanto it wasn't nearly as well-trained as Plume. "I'm not very impressed."

Gary had a sneer on his face. "I just got that one." He replied. "Let's see if your Nidoran's gotten any better. Wartortle certainly has."

"Good job, Plume." Ash said before calling her back. A moment later he released Nidoran, who growled when he saw Gary. "Get ready, Nidoran. This'll probably be a hard fight."

His rival smirked. "And you won't win this one either. So you nicknamed your pidgeotto? How cute."

Ash glared. "Let's just battle. I have things to do after I beat you."

"Whatever." Gary yawned. He casually released Wartortle, who Ash carefully examined. The turtle was certainly more intimidating than it had been as a squirtle and Ash figured that Gary would have spent a lot of time training it after his loss. His rival never had liked losing.

The atmosphere was tense. Both trainers knew that they had to win this. Ash might have beaten Gary's pidgeotto with Plume, but that was just a warm up for this battle – the real battle. Nidoran and Wartortle were their strongest pokemon and both would serve as the real test of each other's strength.

Ash knew that Wartortle would be slightly faster than Nidoran, so he decided to wait. Maybe he could get lucky and poison Wartortle before the battle really got going. A few moments later Gary made the first move.

"Water gun!" He shouted. Wartortle didn't show any reaction other than opening his mouth and shooting the powerful blast of water at Nidoran. "Follow up with rapid spin. Try to keep away from its spikes!"

"Stand your ground and prepare focus kick." Ash ordered. Nidoran wouldn't be able to jump out of the way of such a fast attack and he didn't want his friend to waste the energy doing so. It was best to prepare for the next stage of the battle. Nidoran recoiled from the attack, but it didn't do much damage.

Nidoran glared intently at Wartortle as it pulled itself into its shell and launched itself at the smaller pokemon. Ash idly noticed that tufts of its fur were still exposed. As Wartortle spun towards Nidoran, Ash grinned. His friend was already jumping up into the air and preparing to use his combo.

It worked to perfection. Wartortle narrowly dodged Nidoran, but was knocked to the ground when Nidoran used double kick. Ash cheered for Nidoran and ordered him to get back. There was no doubt that Wartortle would be much more proficient in close combat than Nidoran due to its superior size, strength, and speed.

"Water pulse." Gary ordered in annoyance. "Then finish the runt off with bubble."

Wartortle was good at following orders. It quickly shot a large ball of water at Nidoran, who failed to avoid the attack. Ash gritted his teeth and gave Nidoran the order to use an attack that could possibly change the tide of battle.

"Confusion." Ash barked. Despite the pain Nidoran had suffered, he stared at Wartortle straight in the eye before Wartortle could use bubble. His eyes began to glow a bright, vibrant pink and slowly grew in intensity.

"Where did you learn that?" Gary shouted in confusion. Ash just grinned as the helpless Wartortle was slowly raised into the air by Nidoran's psychic attack. Despite its struggles it was lifted a few more feet into the air before being thrown away by Nidoran.

"Get up and fight back!" Gary roared as he began to lose his composure. Ash gave Nidoran a moment to rest before pressing his advantage. The confusion had taken a lot out of him and Wartortle was having trouble getting back up.

When he deemed Nidoran to be ready, Ash began the fight once more. "Poison sting. Follow up with focus kick."

Nidoran growled as he lowered his body and shot several thin, poison filled needles at the Wartortle. Most were deflected by Wartortle's thick shell, but one managed to land in its vulnerable belly and injected its poison into the creature.

Ash grinned when he realized that Wartortle couldn't keep fighting if he took another major hit. The confusion had battered him pretty badly and now he would be steadily weakened by the poison, albeit a bit slower than Ash had hoped.

"It's time to get serious." Gary said angrily. "Use protect and then finish that runt off with your newest attack!"

He rolled his eyes. Gary probably thought that Nidoran would be defeated by something like aqua tail. Ash knew that Nidoran still had more than enough fight in him to survive Wartortle's attacks. All he had to worry about was the protect.

Although Nidoran went through with the attack – it had been too late for Ash to tell him to stop – it did absolutely nothing against the thin green shield that Wartortle had created. Now he just needed to get away from Wartortle before he could attack.

"Get away as fast as you can!" Ash shouted. Nidoran's ears twitched as he heard the command. He quickly scampered away from the weakened Wartortle, but couldn't have anticipated the water type's next move.

Wartortle reared his head back and shot an icy blue beam of energy directly into Nidoran's back as the small creature ran away. Ash shivered as he felt the air grow cold around them but was too afraid that Nidoran had been hurt to notice.

"Good job." Gary told Wartortle smugly. The ice beam had knocked Nidoran out the moment it had hit, its energy to powerful for the tired creature to resist. Ash was stunned as his friend collapsed to the ground, unbelieving that he had actually lost.

"Better luck next time, Ashy-boy!" Gary said with that same smug grin. "Guess that first time was just a fluke. Maybe you'll get to my level someday." With that he returned Wartortle and walked off.

Ash didn't move except to go to Nidoran's side. The shocked trainer gave him a revive. He patted his friend on the head in consolation when Nidoran looked up at him in sorrow.

"It isn't your fault, buddy." Ash whispered. "It's mine. I should have realized that Gary would be fitting Wartortle up with TMs and power it up as much as possible. I should have been training with you and Plume more."

Nidoran was silent as Ash continued to absentmindedly pat his head. Ash just stared at the sky in confusion.

How he had lost? He had never lost a battle. Trainers much more experienced than he was had been soundly beaten by Nidoran's unpredictability and decent power. So how in the name of Mew had he lost to Gary of all people?

He sighed and pulled himself from his thoughts. Maybe this was a sign. Cerulean was the gateway to the rest of Kanto, where his real adventures and the real trainers were. Gary was just the first of those that could beat him. Nidoran and Plume were strong, yes, but they couldn't win these battles with just the two of them and on their own strength.

They needed to train and he needed to diversify his team. He wanted to progress as far as he could in the Indigo Conference and take the League by storm. He wanted to win.

And he definitely wanted to beat Gary every time they met. Ash frowned and stood up. Nidoran looked up at him in curiosity.

"Let's go, Nidoran." He said with renewed determination. "We've got a team to build."

Nidoran growled in agreement and kept his head high as he followed Ash down the trail. Half an hour later they had arrived at one of the likely spots Ash had circled on his map. The pokemon sat down next to Ash as he sat down and released Plume, who happily released a piercing cry when she was released.

Ash smiled and leaned against a large rock as he cast his large lure into the river. It was nice to relax.


Amelia was bored. There was no other way to put it. She couldn't find any trainers to battle, which meant she couldn't improve. In fact, there weren't even any wild pokemon around to fight. Rattata had made sure of that by snapping at any of the other pokemon he sensed.

Maybe things would be less boring if Jonathan or Ash were here. They were always doing something fun or exciting. Arguing with Jonathan always killed the time and it was practically second nature to them by now.

Ash, on the other hand, would have been fun to battle if he were here. He didn't really talk much in Pallet Town, always with his nose stuck in some book about pokemon or arguing and fighting with Gary. Her face twisted in distaste as she thought of the stuck up boy.

He hadn't been that bad back when they had first started school – and had even been best friends with Ash for a while, she dimly remembered despite what a strange concept it was to her now – but over the past few years he had become even more arrogant than before and became something of a bully in their class, albeit a well liked one.

She shook herself out of her thoughts. If she kept on thinking about Gary she would have the strong urge to punch something. Hard.

Ash was a much better subject. He was nice enough and was clearly going to be an incredibly powerful trainer when he became more experienced and placed some diversity into his team, but for now she would still be able to pose a significant challenge to him.

All three of their little group were unusually skilled – that was something that she had noticed quite soon, once they had begun to sweep nearly every trainer they had encountered out of the way – although Ash was clearly the most powerful. He hadn't even lost a battle yet.

She frowned and wondered whether he would continue his winning streak. It seemed unlikely, although she had to admit that she would like to be the one to do it. Ash was the most formidable opponent right now, although she and Jonathan were close to him in skill level at the moment.

Her thoughts turned to her best friend. She wasn't sure where he had ventured off to, although she assumed it was to a shaded spot where he could take a nap. He had seemed quite tired from their journey and wouldn't be in a very good mood until he'd slept well, so she hoped he did.

Amelia closed her eyes for a moment and stopped thinking. This was supposed to be a time for relaxing and spending time with her pokemon, who were currently asleep and huddled against her.

Rattata was curled up on her lap and seemed to be dreaming, judging from the small twitches on his face and the adorable little growls that came out from his small body. She knew that he would be ready to awake at a moment's notice if he heard something nearing their fishing spot.

Bulbasaur had just recently dozed off and had trapped her right arm under his small, heavy body. She had made sure to loosen it enough to where it wouldn't cut off blood flow and would be easily movable if she actually managed to – wait, there was a pull on her lure.

"Speak of the Giratina." She muttered with a grin, smoothly pulling her arm out from underneath Bulbasaur and taking hold of the fishing rod. It was a rather weak pull, but she could feel it growing stronger.

Rattata growled at her when she began to stand up, but landed on all fours when he fell and turned to the water. He began to scurry towards it in curiosity, but she kept him from going to near. She didn't want him getting hurt if it was a powerful water type.

"Stay over here." She ordered. Rattata hissed and drooped his ears. Amelia looked at him guiltily. "I'll give you a treat later."

Her gluttonous pokemon seemed to perk up at that and quickly scrambled over to her. Amelia grinned widely and began to focus on pulling whatever had bitten her lure up onto the ground where Rattata and Bulbasaur could knock it out.

It was a surprisingly short battle. Whatever pokemon she had caught couldn't have been very old or strong yet, or else it would have attempted to put up a stronger resistance to her efforts to overpower it.

Soon enough the mystery was explained. Amelia grunted as she gave a final herculean effort and pulled the pokemon up into the air, revealing a creature with two long, brown-green tentacles and a bulbous body at the top with two large eyes and even larger smooth red orbs above its eyes. She immediately recognized it as a tentacool, a rather common pokemon throughout Kanto and the surrounding regions.

The creature's lack of rarity didn't diminish its usefulness in any way, however. It was common, but because of that there were a surprisingly low amount of trainers that were willing to train them, preferring more exotic breeds instead.

But it could be honed into a powerful weapon and defensive powerhouse in its own right given enough time and effort. Poison types were notoriously difficult to defeat unless you had a pokemon that was effective against them or immune to poison, due to their toxicity to surrounding life and environments. Combined with the fact that few pokemon were effective against them made them a popular choice to wear down opponents.

So she was quick in ordering her pokemon to attack. Gently, of course. She didn't want to injure a pokemon, even if it wouldn't be joining her team in a few short minutes.

"Rattata, hyper fang. Bulbasuar, use stun spore." She ordered. Her friends faithfully carried out her commands and quickly overwhelmed the tentacool while Amelia picked up and prepared the pokeball she had set out next to her bag.

When she was sure the tentacool was helpless against the pokeball her pokemon were ordered to back off. She hadn't brought any revives and she wanted to talk to the newest member of her team before continuing to fish or search for other trainers to battle.

Rattata and Bulbasaur quickly stopped their assault on the helpless creature and backed away. Bulbasaur calmly plodded to her side while Rattata continued to circle around the weakened tentacool, baring his fangs and hissing.

Amelia primed the ball before throwing it. It struck its target, landing on the gelatinous body before rolling off. The ball was motionless for a moment before the button glowed a bright scarlet and opened up, transforming the tentacool into iridescent red energy and pulling it in before snapping shut.

She watched carefully as the ball shook several times. When it finally stopped moving and clicked she walked over and carefully picked the ball up. Amelia looked at it for a moment before releasing Tentacool into the water.

It was almost completely motionless as the waves began to carry it away, but Amelia's sharp eyes caught its tentacles wrapping around some sort of supporting structure in the water that kept it from drifting away.

Amelia made sure it was secure before pulling out her pokedex and scanning the pokemon.

"Tentacool. The Jellyfish Pokemon." The robotic voice said as it began to give Amelia the abridged version of the entry on the pokemon. "Its body is almost entirely composed of water. It ensnares its foe with its two long tentacles, then stabs with the poison stingers at their tips.

This tentacool currently knows the moves: Poison sting, supersonic, acid, toxic spikes, bubblebeam, and wrap. Its ability is Liquid Ooze, which inflicts damage on foes using any draining move."

It had a pretty good move pool, Amelia thought as she looked over the information the pokedex had pulled up. Tentacool tended to learn a vast amount of moves anyways, but for such a young example of the breed it was impressive.

She would have preferred for it to have Clear Body as an ability since it would negate some attacks that would make Tentacool near useless, but she could easily find a way to incorporate Liquid Ooze into her battle strategies. At least it would give her an edge against some grass types.

But now wasn't the time to be making strategies. It was the time to make friends with the newest member of her team. Amelia didn't know what personalities that tentacool tended to display, but she hoped that this one would be easy to get along with.

"Hi." She said cheerfully. Tentacool looked up at her fearfully with its large eyes. "I'm your new trainer and you're my new friend."

It just shrank back, apparently still afraid of her.

"Don't worry." Amelia said soothingly. "I'm not going to hurt you and neither are my friends."

Rattata sent an annoyed glance at her, but she glared back until he calmed down. He was much more irritable than Bulbasaur, but she was sure Tentacool would be able to fight him off pretty quickly. The normal type hated getting in battles with poison types to begin with, so hopefully there wouldn't be a problem.

Bulbasaur grunted in agreement with Amelia and seemed to do the bulbasaur equivalent of a smile at Tentacool. Apparently Tentacool was encouraged by this because it seemed to lose some of its timidity.

"So, do you want to be friends?" She asked. Tentacool stared up at her before nodding. Amelia wasn't quite sure how it knew to do that, but was glad that it did. The trainer wasn't sure how else Tentacool could have said yes.

"Good." Amelia smiled. "We're going to have a nice relationship."

She promptly returned Tentacool before releasing him closer to her. The aquatic pokemon looked at her in confusion as it fell to the ground, but seemed to know not to resist when she began to heal its injuries with the variety of paralyze heals and potions she had brought.

When it was all over with, Amelia transferred him back into the water. Tentacool wouldn't be very happy on land, after all. And when all of her pokemon had returned to their happy positions she threw the lure back out into the water.

Getting her pokemon some extra experience couldn't hurt, she thought as she leaned back against the tree trunk and began to idly scratch the snoozing Rattata's ears. And they deserved to get stronger.

Of course, she didn't especially mind if she didn't find another pokemon to catch or battle. The peace was nice.


"Metal claw." Jonathan yawned. Charmander lazily used the attack on the large rhyhorn, carving deep gouges into its side and knocking it unconscious in a single blow. The rhyhorn's trainer, a large hiker that looked rather disgruntled at being beaten by a kid, returned the ground type and walked over.

"Here's your winnings." The gigantic man scowled. Jonathan casually thanked him for the charity and sent him on his way.

He rolled his eyes when the man was gone. That was the third battle he'd had since splitting up with the others an hour earlier and he had easily won every single one of them. All of them had thought that Cerulean would hold trainers of a higher caliber than the ones they had previously encountered, but so far he'd been disappointed. It seemed that nearly everyone he met was an amateur.

Jonathan shrugged and looked over at Charmander, who had curled up on the warm rock and was trying to sleep.

"Hey, no sleeping." He scowled. "If I don't get to do it, you don't either."

Charmander growled in annoyance and shot a small poof of smoke at him. Jonathan rolled his eyes.

"Quit your whining." He said. "Let's find a nice clearing or something. I don't want to sleep where other trainers might find us. Jerks might wake us up."

The lizard seemed to understand that and stopped giving him the evil eye. Jonathan smiled when he realized his friend wasn't annoyed anymore and released Rhyhorn. Might as well give both of his pokemon time to stretch their legs.

He was careful when the gigantic ground type was released. Rhyhorn could be a bit "enthusiastic" in her greetings and he didn't want her to accidently bruise his leg. She would be terribly torn up about it later and would probably be sulking for the rest of the day once Rhyhorn realized what she did.

So he casually side stepped her initial happy charge. Rhyhorn hurtled past him before finally realizing that he wasn't there. When she turned around and trotted towards him at a much safer pace he let her butt her hard head against his leg in greeting, although he winced a bit as the stone impacted it.

Nevertheless he patted her head – snickering when he heard the stone creature rumble in happiness – before looking over at Charmander. The stupid lizard had already tried to go back to sleep.

"Will you get back up?" Jonathan asked in annoyance. "You're like a snorlax."

Charmander shot another small cloud of oily smoke at him in annoyance, but got up as Jonathan casually waved it away. He waddled over to the trainer's side and waited for Jonathan to scratch his neck.

"How would you get on without me?" Jonathan asked the silent creature as he caved in to his friend's pleading eyes. "Anyways, let's go. I was looking at the map while you beat that rhyhorn – not you," he said when Rhyhorn glanced up at her name, "and found a few spots that look pretty isolated. It should only take about an hour or so to get there."

Jonathan really could sympathize with Charmander's reluctance – he didn't exactly enjoy the prospect of shoving through the tall grass and walking that much on his tired legs either – but didn't throw his friend a bone. Charmander needed to get his endurance up anyways, and walking sounded like a fine way to do it.

Despite Charmander's annoyed snorts of smoke, Jonathan knew that the lizard was following just behind him as they began to set off. The only bad thing about the journey would be that Rhyhorn had gotten excited and charged through the tall grass surrounding the small clearing where he had just battled, forcing them to take her way.

Still, it wasn't as though they were in a hurry. Jonathan cheerfully whistled a random tune as he followed his pokemon's path of destruction through the brush, completely unaware of where it could take him.

Life was an adventure, after all. Why not follow the paths it presented him?


Ash roared in victory as he yanked whatever was biting on his lure out of the water. Whatever it was had to be extremely light – he hardly had the strength to lift a seaking or staryu out of the water – but it put up an incredible fight.

Nidoran and Plume were both waiting for whatever formidable foe Ash pulled out of the water. Plume's feathers were puffed up, making the massive bird seem even more intimidating, while the barbs on Nidoran's back were leaking a clear, potent poison. Ash had made sure to bring plenty of antidote for whatever pokemon would be the newest addition to their team.

While he hadn't exactly been expecting to pull up a gyarados or psyduck, he hadn't been expecting the small blue creature fiercely remaining attached to his lure to have put up such a strong fight.

The horsea was small, but had proved that it had enough fight to earn a place on any newbie's team. It looked strangely angry for its breed and glared at Ash and his pokemon for a moment before it let go of the lure and landed on the ground, although it spit a glob of ink at them as it fell.

Plume easily fluttered out of the way and Nidoran clearly wasn't the target. Ash, however, got a face full of ink that left him gagging and sputtering in an attempt to get the foul smelling and tasting liquid out of his mouth.

He was blind and useless to his pokemon while the horrible ink was covering himself, so he quickly set to wiping as much of it off. Soon enough Ash was able to see, but he knew that his face was stained with ink and would probably be completely black for a few days. But his problems didn't matter. The fight his pokemon were in did.

Ash still couldn't talk – he was still spitting up ink and trying to remove that awful taste from his mouth, although he hadn't thrown up…yet – but he was capable of priming a pokeball and was more than ready to hit the horsea with it if his pokemon began to go too far. The trainer knew that his pokemon would have taken offense to the attack upon him and might endanger the horsea if not stopped fast enough.

As he watched the battle he was pleasantly surprised with his friends' composure. They were fighting hard against the fierce horsea, but were reigning themselves in to avoid causing real danger to it. Ash was proud that they had such good self control.

The battle was incredibly short. Despite the horsea's insane method of fighting – it was firing powerful jets of water at his pokemon incredibly quickly and seemed to have no defense other than a great offense – his pokemon were hardly even disturbed by its attacks.

Plume was simply too fast for them to accurately strike her and seemed to be toying with the water type and Nidoran seemed to be spending more time dodging the attacks than really fighting.

When Nidoran finally became serious and recklessly charged the horsea, the horsea pulled the same trick as before. Ash had to hold in a laugh as Nidoran was sent reeling from a blast of sticky, reeking ink, but felt more than a few twinges of sympathy for his friend.

Nidoran backed off and attempted to wipe his face off on the grass. Ash decided to end this and catch the horsea once Plume had weakened it.

"Gust." He ordered, ignoring the thick feeling of ink on his tongue and the strong urge to gag. Not even spitting had removed it. Plume cried out in acceptance and flapped her powerful wings, sending a strong blast of air at the weak horsea.

Ash was impressed that it managed to stay strong, although he knew it would only take one more attack to knock it unconscious. The horsea had almost no endurance and had to be tired from the struggle it had put up in order to keep from being pulled up with the lure.

"Quick attack."

Plume seemed to flit out of existence for a moment before she appeared in front of the horsea. The force gathered by her speed was more than enough to knock the small creature out and she was no worse for wear when she flew over to Ash and landed on his shoulder.

He smiled and stroked her crest before kneeling down.

"You did good, Plume." Ash said happily. "But could you make sure the horsea doesn't escape? I've got to clean up Nidoran first."

Plume nodded and fluttered over to the horsea. Ash felt a bit of sympathy for the poor water type when he saw Plume delicately put her sharp talons onto its back. If it was conscious it would probably be terrified.

Now that he didn't have to worry about the insane horsea spitting ink at him he turned back to Nidoran. His friend looked pathetic trying to rub his face against the grass and nearby rocks, succeeding only in smearing the ink further.

"Nidoran." Ash called out. Nidoran's ears twitched and the pink creature slowly waddled over to Ash before he whined sadly. "I know, I know. Just stay still for a moment."

Ash picked up the towel he had brought in order to dry himself off and carefully began to wipe the ink off of Nidoran's body. Most of it was concentrated on his face, although some had landed on his barbs. The trainer made sure to avoid those. His poison would probably end up destroying the ink later anyways.

His job was far less than perfect. Nidoran still had black smeared all over his body, but Ash figured that a quick dunk in the water would get most of it off. Maybe Nidoran would be more amenable to it if Ash joined him. He wasn't looking forward to meeting his friends with a face full of ink.

"Oh well." Ash muttered as he pulled the permanently stained towel off of Nidoran's head. He could still use it, at least. "Nidoran, no hard feelings towards our new friend, all right?"

Nidoran growled at the mention of the horsea, but didn't do anything. Ash took that as acceptance.

"Alright, Plume, you can get off of him now."

Plume glared down at the horsea before fluttering over to Ash's shoulder. He managed to stay mostly upright this time. Ash paused to pet her before throwing the primed pokeball at the unconscious horsea.

It sucked the horsea in before rocking a few times. Ash grinned when he saw it click and staggered over to collect the newest member of his team.

"Plume, could you get up in that tree?" He said to the bird. "I don't want Horsea to be intimidated."

Plume nodded and launched herself into the air before eventually settling in one of the trees whose branches were strong enough to hold her great weight. Ash would have to make sure he released Horsea in a position where he couldn't see the bird.

Nidoran quietly sat by his foot. Ash crouched down and scratched behind one of his large ears before releasing Horsea. Maybe it wouldn't be so violent if it didn't see him as such a large being.

Horsea was still unconscious when it was released, so Ash took the opportunity to scan him with the pokedex.

"Horsea. The Dragon Pokemon." The pokedex began. "If Horsea senses danger, it will reflexively spray a dense black ink from its mouth and try to escape. This Pokemon swims by cleverly flapping the fins on its back.

This pokemon currently knows the moves: Bubble, smokescreen, water gun, bubblebeam, and agility. Its ability is Swift Swim, which increases the pokemon's speed when it is raining or in water."

Ash nodded slowly. Horsea would definitely be a good team mate. It could cover quite a few weaknesses that his team had at the moment. But right now he needed to make friends with it.

The trainer carefully dug a revive out of his pocket and snapped it in half over Horsea's…mouth? Ash wasn't sure. Nevertheless, the powder inside the diamond shaped container went into the Horsea's system, shocking it back into consciousness and repairing most of the damage.

He didn't expect the Horsea to blast him in the face with a weak water gun the second it woke up. Ash hissed in pain as the force of the attack knocked him onto his back. The trainer wearily pushed himself up and realized that Nidoran was about to attack Horsea.

"Nidoran, stop." He ordered calmly. His friend glanced at him and loyally sat back down. Ash wasn't foolish enough to think that the pink pokemon wasn't more than ready to poison their newest team mate, however. Nidoran was quite protective, after all.

Ash turned back to Horsea, who was warily staring at him. At least he wasn't attacking. That could have caused a problem.

"Please listen to me." He said soothingly. Horsea still didn't attack, which Ash took as a good sign. "I've captured you. That means that I'm your trainer and that they," he motioned to Nidoran and Plume, although Horsea didn't look back at the large bird, "are your teammates. I'm not going to hurt you. I just want to help you get stronger."

Horsea perked up at the last sentence. Ash grinned. It looked like he'd found what Horsea wanted out of their relationship.

"I'm wanting to be the best trainer and I think that you can help me toward that goal. Do you think you can keep up?" He asked slowly. Horsea eagerly nodded, the determined spark lighting up in its eyes. "Good. So are you going to stop attacking us?"

A somewhat less eager nod. Ash grinned.

"Well then, Horsea, welcome to the team." Suddenly a thought sprung to his mind. Would Horsea want a nickname? When he voiced the thought to Horsea, the water type nodded.

Ash struggled to think of a name that would fit Horsea. He went through countless names – Blaster, Berserker, and Wave to name only a few, but none of them seemed to fit. Horsea seemed to like the names that had something to do with water more, so he eventually listed everything that had even the most tenuous connection to water until he finally found one that Horsea liked: Torrent.

"Alright then, Torrent," Ash said. The name rolled off of his tongue fairly well and it seemed to fit the fiery Horsea. "Let's get a move on. I want to see what your limits are."

Torrent's eyes narrowed in concentration as Ash returned him and began to walk back the way he came with Nidoran walking by his side. Plume flew high above them, searching for possible challenges to test Torrent on and any threats that they should flee from.


"Wrap and poison sting." Amelia commanded. Tentacool coiled around the other trainer's krabby and bound it with its powerful tentacles. When the water type was defenseless, Tentacool stabbed its stingers into the krabby's hard shell and injected as much poison into it as it could before the krabby overpowered it and forced Tentacool to retreat.

"C'mon Krabby, use vicegrip!" The other trainer – an overconfident teenage boy that had stumbled upon her fishing spot and promptly challenged her – shouted. Amelia rolled her eyes as the krabby slowly pushed itself towards Tentacool.

She didn't even have to tell Tentacool to push itself away. It easily propelled itself a safe distance away from the krabby and awaited her next order.

"Supersonic and follow up with bubblebeam." She said casually. Tentacool's deep red orbs glowed as he sent out a wave of supersonic sound at the slowed krabby. It quickly took effect and disoriented the krabby even further, causing the creature to sink to the bottom of the riverbed.

Now it was just a waiting game, she thought with a smile. The krabby was completely useless now and she could tell that the poison was already beginning to work on its victim.

When it was sure that the krabby was defenseless, Tentacool forcefully ejected a stream of bubbles towards its foe. They pushed the krabby back but didn't do much damage.

"Stay away from it and dodge any attacks." Amelia commanded. Tentacool understood and stayed far away from the rapidly weakening krabby.

A few minutes later she had accepted the money from the put out trainer and had begun to reexamine Tentacool's performance in the battle.

It was fast in the water, although nearly useless on land. Tentacool was adept at neutralizing foes as well and could escape from most attacks that would crush or hold it thanks to its small body.

All in all it had been a success. Tentacool had proved its worth.

Now all that was left to do was get back to Cerulean. It was nearly time for them to meet up again.


Jonathan knew he needed to turn back soon, but he didn't care. He had just wandered into someone's house or workplace – although it reminded strongly of Professor Oak's lab due to the pristine whiteness of the place and the strange machines and computers whose purpose he couldn't divine – and was currently looking at a small clefairy.

He grinned and knelt in front of it. Although he would like to catch it – clefairy were notoriously rare in Kanto, only being found in the depths of Mt. Moon – he realized that whoever owned it would be rather put out with him if he tried. It wasn't so far from Mt. Moon by itself without being captured or bought.

Of course, now he wanted to find whoever lived here.

"Charmander, do you smell anyone?" He said to the lizard. Charmander sniffed the air before pointing to the clefairy.

"Besides the clefairy." Jonathan responded with a roll of his eyes. "Are there any humans that are here?"

Charmander just pointed a claw towards the clefairy. Jonathan sighed and began to turn away. He doubted that the owner of the house would want him snooping through their things.

Just as he reached the door, he heard someone cry out frantically in a voice that almost made him scream out, "Nerd!". Jonathan turned back and looked for the source of the voice. He didn't see anything. Maybe it was just a haunter playing a trick on him.

"Down here!" The nasally voice cried again. Jonathan gaped when he saw the clefairy pointing at itself.

"How the hell can you talk?" He asked in astonishment. "You aren't psychic."

The clefairy crossed its arms in annoyance – an oddly human gesture. It disconcerted Jonathan a bit.

"That's because I'm not a pokemon." It retorted. Charmander nodded in agreement. "My name is Bill and I own this place. I was doing experiments with a transporter, but it changed me into this clefairy."

"Is there a way to change you back?"

"Yes." Bill replied. "See that computer over there?"

Jonathan turned his head and saw a small console that seemed far more boring than the more exotic equipment that littered the rest of the room. He looked over at Bill.


"Good." Bill said in satisfaction. "There's an icon on the screen that has the word 'Activate' underneath it. When I get into the transporter and close the door, press the button."

The trainer shrugged as the clefairy clumsily walked over to the large machine. He guessed that Bill hadn't gotten used to his form yet.

When the transporter's large hatch smoothly closed, Jonathan found the icon and tapped it. He covered his eyes when the machine began to glow a brilliant, impossibly bright white. Jonathan warily looked at the other transporter when the light was gone. A bit of smoke was still seeping out of the machines, but it seemed to be fizzling out.

Jonathan watched in wary fascination as the other transporter's hatch opened, revealing the form of a scrawny man with messy green hair and a pale, thin complexion. He wore an expensive looking suit and looked to be very reserved. All in all it was a bit different than what the trainer had expected.

He had judged Bill to be some scrawny guy with a lab outfit, not someone whose appearance screamed, "I'm richer than you!"

"Thanks for getting me out of that form." Bill said as he stumbled out of the transporter. "I was afraid that I would be stuck like that until one of my acquaintances came over next week."

"Not a problem." Jonathan said with a grin. He looked down to Charmander, who now seemed quite bored. "Anyways, I should probably go. I was supposed to be back at Cerulean a while ago."

Bill nodded. "Of course, don't let me keep you. But before you go, here's a reward." The man dug around in one of his pockets for a moment until he pulled out a crumpled ticket. "I was sent this by one of my friends in the League, but I'm not going. Giving it to you is the least I can do."

"What is it?" Jonathan asked as he took the paper. He looked down at it, but it was just a ticket with a few numbers.

"That," Bill said, "is a ticket to the S.S. Anne, a luxury cruise liner that sails the world. It's going to be stopped in Vermillion City in three weeks, so you should head down that way if you're interested."

Jonathan frowned. "Is it only good for me? I don't want to get separated from my friends."

"Hmm." Bill hummed. "That might be a problem. I've heard that any trainers that can beat Lt. Surge the week before or the two days that it's staying in Vermillion will receive tickets. That's probably your best bet. Anyways, when it leaves it will be going to Fuschia City. Your ticket will get you to Fuschia, but after that you have to get off."

The trainer grinned. "Thanks. This'll help a lot."

"No problem." Bill replied as the trainer ran out of the house.

Jonathan returned Charmander as he ran out the door. As much as he liked having his friend walk with him, the lizard wasn't very fast over long distances. And considering he had several miles to go before he could get to Cerulean he couldn't have anything slowing him down.


"So we just have to beat Lt. Surge to get our tickets?" Amelia asked. Jonathan nodded. "That shouldn't be too difficult. Rattata and Bulbasaur shouldn't have too much of a problem with him. Tentacool might, but I wasn't planning on using him yet anyway."

Ash wasn't so sure. He'd been talking to other trainers here in the Cerulean Pokemon Center Cafeteria that had come from Vermillion. They'd claimed that Lt. Surge had started to put everything he had into his fights, brutally beating opponent pokemon until they had to be rushed to the Pokemon Center.

While he was sure some of it was exaggeration, Ash was just as sure that there was quite a bit of truth hidden within the rumors. Tales of Surge's brutality were famous amongst trainers and anyone who followed the Kanto battling scene so it wasn't too hard to believe that he'd gotten worse. Still, surely the League would have intervened by now if he had been taking things too far.

Even if Surge was going to be more difficult to defeat than Ash would have expected, he was sure that he could still do it. Only Torrent was actually weak to electric types and he was sure Nidoran could beat any of Surge's pokemon in a one on one battle. Of course, they needed to get there before he could come up with any real strategies.

"Alright, so are we ready to leave?" Ash asked, speaking up for the first time. The others looked over at him and nodded. "Good. We need to get to Vermillion in two weeks if we want to have time to beat Surge and explore the area. So let's leave at about noon. That gives us two hours to stock up on supplies."

"Sounds good. Let's get going then." Amelia added in.

They nodded and picked up their bags. It was time to get a move on. Vermillion awaited them.