Chapter Two: A Thorny Beginning

(A/N) Hey guys! Here's the next update for Chasing Shadows! Hope you enjoy this one, I've had a lot of fun working on this, particularly in writing the battle scene, which was…difficult…but I think I did it justice. We meet more of the main cast here and I hope you enjoy how I've written each of them. I'd love it if anyone reading this would just take the time to review. You have no idea how much reviews inspire me to keep up the writing and…well…it makes me feel pretty damn good about myself. ;)

"Reports of another Shadow attack have just come in. Happening in the late hours of last night, quite possibly during our report on the previous attack during the eleven o' clock news, another group of Rockets have been found, in what was supposedly another Rocket safehouse. Despite claims from the Rockets that they had been guarding many legal and financial documents for the organisations "legal" enterprises, none were found barring a few folders containing evidence incriminating the apprehended individuals in several accounts of pokémon theft, breaking and entering, aggravated assault, two bank heists, an assassination attempt on the previous Pokémon Champion, Eldrick Lawless, and four accounts of murder. Once again, as with all of the Shadow's previous attacks, the criminals were located after receiving an anonymous phone call. The police had no success in tracking the call down, and claim to have no new leads on the identity of the Shadow, appearing to be no closer to catching him than they were ten months ago, when he first appeared. They are once again appealing to anyone who has information on either the identity or whereabouts of the vigilante to come forward."

A girl sat on one of the many couches in the Mossdeep Pokémon Centre, fighting back tears as she tried to concentrate on the news blaring out from the huge television fixed onto the opposite wall. It was hard to pay attention though. Just another dumb announcement about the Shadow. If the police hadn't caught him at this stage, it was doubtful they ever would. Novis was a big island, and it would be quite easy to go into hiding in one of the largely uninhabited areas encompassing the majority of the island. You'd never need to come across another human being, as few enough trainers ventured that far into the wilderness, preferring to stick to the cities and the main routes in between them.

That was what she had been told, at least. All of her learning hadn't done her much good lately, if it had, she wouldn't be here.

Her mind dimly registered the sounds of someone calling her name, and turned to see a nurse standing by a door a couple of metres away, a clipboard in hand. "Jessica Dorian?" She asked once more, looking around at the various trainers sitting in the centre's waiting room.

Jessica raised her hand and stood up, swinging her backpack over her shoulder, her face a picture of anxiety and concern. "Is he ok?" she asked, a note of concern prevalent in her voice, dreading the answer, certain that the nurse's tired face was going to deliver bad news.

Despite Jessica's fears, the nurse only gave a little smile and looked down once more at her clipboard. "Your bulbasaur is going to be fine." She said, reassuringly, smiling again as the trainer visibly sagged in relief. "He's going to need to rest for a week or two. No battling until Monday week at the earliest. He took quite a beating."

Jessica reddened at the slight tone of reproach in the nurse's voice and hung her head in shame. The nurse stared at her for a minute before finally relenting, letting out a little sigh. "Well, you wouldn't be the first new trainer to end up a little out of their depth. Just try to avoid battling the more experienced trainers for a while. You and your bulbasaur need time to bond, to grow together as a team. He's a strong little thing, he'll bounce back soon enough. He bit one of the surgeons operating on him."

Jessica gave a small laugh at the last part. That definitely sounded like Thorn all right. Thorn by name and thorny by nature. At least he'd only be out of action for a week or two. She had worried that it might have been much more severe when she brought him to the hospital, after stupidly agreeing to battle that damn trainer in the town square. She had been afraid that he was going to die…

She frowned, angry at herself once more, as the nurse led her into Thorn's ward. Her bulbasaur was apparently deep in conversation with a bayleef which had one of its legs in a cast. The nurse smiled and laid her hand gently on Jessica's shoulder, gently whispering, "I'll leave you two to it." pushing Thorn's pokéball into her hand.

Jessica took a hesitant step forward and murmured "Hey Thorn." before throwing herself to the ground, dodging a vine that lashed through the air towards her. She activated the pokéball and returned Thorn before he could send another vine whip her way. She tuned back to the rather shocked looking nurse and shrugged. "I think we have a lot of bonding to get through."

The nurse simply sighed once more, her good humour gone, and presented Jessica with a few standard release forms. When Jessica had finished signing them and handed them to the nurse she was informed that she was free to go, but with that bulbasaur of hers, it probably would be wise not to stray too far.

Jessica reddened once more and gave an embarrassed nod to the nurse, acknowledging the truth behind her words, then turned tail and fled from her judging gaze. As she walked through the streets of Mossdeep, looking for somewhere to sit down and rest for a while, she mournfully cursed her bad luck. Of course she'd be saddled with the most malevolent, vindictive and evil starter ever assigned in the history of pokémon training! And weren't grass types supposed to be the easiest types to train for beginners? Three years of advanced education, and for what? She might as well head back to Blackroot University and return her degree! Nowhere in any of the texts that they had studied gave any suggestions on what to do when your own pokémon tries to kill you! And her starter, no less! Wasn't there supposed to be some sort of natural bond between a trainer and their starter? And by a bond, she didn't mean a vine coiled around her throat, strangling her in her sleep!

She walked into the park adjacent to the Pokémon Centre, and found a bench, continuing to fume. The damn thing wouldn't even listen to her anyway! How could she train it if it persisted in refusing to obey her? She had done everything by the book upon receiving her starter as a present for her seventeenth birthday. When she first released it, to the awe of her extended family, she gave the little grass-type some specially cooked treats, hoping this act would endear her to it, as it was no doubt hungry from the time spent inside the pokéball.

And then it all started to go wrong.

The bulbasaur had taken a small, hesitant sniff of the treat before concluding that Jessica intended to poison him, and then proceeded to attack everyone in the room with quite an impressive mixture of tackles, bites and vine whips, growling throughout. It was only after the little green devil had knocked Uncle Robert into the huge crystal punch bowl that she managed to return it.

Her father's response was "It's a lively little thing, isn't it?" before sending a servant to fetch a towel for Uncle Robert, who was soaked through his suit with the sweet smelling liquid, and was still catching his breath after receiving a rather strong tackle to the stomach.

Their relationship hadn't improved much since. Thorn continued to try and attack her every time he was released from his pokéball, unless something else caught his attention first. As a result Jessica had resorted to only releasing him for pokémon battles, unwilling to continue trying to fight off his attempts at murder.

And, well, it had been working up until last night. Thorn's ferocity, despite his unwillingness to obey her commands, meant that he was able to trump most other pokémon at his level. Unfortunately, Mossdeep wasn't a traditional starting area for pokémon trainers, as its Gym Leader, the grass-type specialist, Jonah Root, was considered to be one of the tougher ones, refusing to take it easy on beginners unlike the majority of his counterparts. As a result, the only trainers in Mossdeep were either experienced enough to consider taking on the Gym, or university graduates like her who had travelled here from Blackroot as it was the only town that was easy to get to for new trainers.

Thorn had won the majority of his matches that night, and had even grudgingly allowed Jessica to pat his head without immediately trying to kill her, when a guy, about her own age came up, asking for a battle. Jessica at first had been hesitant, not recognising the trainer from university, concluding that he must be one of the trainers in town to challenge the Gym.

The trainer, seeing her hesitation, told her that he was from a small village north of here, and confessed that he hadn't in fact won any Gym badges yet. Encouraged by his confession, Jessica had agreed to the battle, momentarily shocked when the trainer released a graveler, but took some comfort in the fact that the rock-type was at a disadvantage.

The battle was over in mere seconds.

Thorn's vine whip wasn't nearly strong enough to penetrate the graveller's thick, stony hide. The rock-type simply tackled the small bulbasaur, and then followed up with a seismic toss, sending Thorn crashing into the ground, bleeding heavily. Jessica ran towards her pokémon, taking him into her arms and was to make for the Pokémon Centre when the trainer stopped her, demanding the winnings for his victory.

Jessica, too upset and concerned with Thorn's safety to care about money at this moment, handed over the exuberant sum the trainer demanded, and fled, running as fast as she could, praying that Thorn would be alright.

Jessica held his pokéball out in front of her, wondering if it would be fairer on Thorn just to release him back into the wild. He clearly detested her, and who could blame him. She clearly was a poor trainer, the fact that Thorn had taken such a beating last night was the only confirmation she needed. She wouldn't need to feel ashamed about it. She could…she could go back to her father and get a job in his company, and go back to being the good-little-pretty-rich-girl. And…after a few years…maybe she could try again? It wasn't unheard of for people to become trainers in their twenties or even their thirties! This didn't mean she was giving up, did it?

She stood up and walked over to a nearby lamppost, punching it in her anger with her free hand and then letting out a small groan as the pain hit. She stood there, shaking her hand, cursing her own stupidity and falling back into despair. She almost jumped when a voice suddenly spoke to her, and she raised her eyes to see a tall young man with short, spiky brown hair staring at her with a concerned look on his face, an absol by his side. Jessica's eyes widened at the sight of such a rare pokémon, and she gave a sad little smile before registering what the man had just said.

"Hey kid, are…are you ok?"

Her face suddenly contorted into a frown, and she glared at the confused young man. "I'm sorry, but I'm not a child. You yourself can't be more than a year or two older than me!" She paused, suddenly aware that the man was smiling slightly to himself, completely unperturbed by her sudden burst of anger. She shook her head slowly before sinking back into her seat, slowly muttering "I'm fine."

The man walked over and sat on the bench across from her, his absol similarly sitting down by his side. "Really?" he asked, still smiling slightly, his eyes containing a touch of concern. "'Cos you don't look fine."

Jessica just shrugged sighing, irritated by this man with his questions and obnoxiously obedient pokémon. "Ok, maybe I'm not." She grudgingly conceded. "My bulbasaur hates me, and he spent last night in hospital after some asshole of a trainer lied to me about how many badges he had and then forced me to hand almost half my money over. Fucking asshole.

The man frowned. "Lied about his badges?" He asked, a harsh underlying tone to his voice.

Jessica took a deep breath and nodded in confirmation, refusing to look up, not wanting the stranger to see the tears forming in the corners of her emerald-green eyes. "Well, he claimed he didn't have any badges yet, but he had a fucking graveler! He couldn't not have any badges, it was just too damn strong. He's lied to a few other trainers as well. At least, that's what one of the nurses said to me when I handed Thorn in last night. They've had a couple of other trainers pokémon in, pretty badly injured, thanks to that guy. Apparently the police can't do anything about it because he's not breaking any laws."

The young man shook his head angrily and his absol began to growl next to him, a deep, fierce, primal sound that reverberated through Jessica's body. "Trainers are required to be honest about their badge count and tier level." The man murmured, his fists clenching and unclenching rapidly. "It's the very foundation of the Pokémon League. It's one of the lines that you can't cross, along with abuse of your pokémon, and using your pokémon for violence outside of a battle. It might not be a law, but that doesn't make it less important."

He spoke slowly, enunciating every word carefully as though he had learnt them by rote many years before. He sat there for another moment, still shaking his head angrily, before springing up to his feet.

"Show me where you battled this guy." He demanded, his face serious, his deep blue eyes locked on her.

Jessica only stared at him for a moment, before shrugging to herself. "Fair enough." She muttered, wondering what harm it could do. Privately she was hoping that somehow this would end up with the graveller's trainer getting the crap knocked out of him, a hope that seemed likely to be fulfilled due to how agitated the young man next to her was acting.

She led him to the town's square where Thorn had battled the graveller the night before. The blood that he had bled onto the cobbles the night before was gone: evidently the town was prepared for events like this, and dealt with them on a regular basis. "It was just here." She said, turning to face him. The man looked around casually, his hand resting on the head of his absol as he scanned the area, his eyes darting from side to side.

"Is that the guy?" he asked suddenly, nodding over her shoulder. Jessica spun around, searching for the boy who would no doubt plague her nightmares for the next few days, sneering at her as Thorn lies bleeding on the ground. Suddenly, she saw the boy he was referring to, and gasped slightly as her eyes fixed on him.

"That's him." She confirmed, nodding slightly, her eyes narrowing as the boy strutted out of one of the many stalls that permanently surrounded the square, offering their merchandise to anyone with enough money to buy them. This place was a haven for trainers as the stalls sold many rare items that ordinary pokémarts simply wouldn't have in stock. The boy stopped for a moment his interest fixated on a display of firestones, unaware of the two trainers watching his every movement.

The trainer next to her glanced at his absol for a moment, before nodding and strolling towards the stall displaying firestones. Jessica stared at him for a moment, unsure of whether she should follow, before starting after him.

The trainer and his absol reached the stall, and spent a few seconds appearing to admire the display, until the boy reached for one of the firestones on display, whereupon the absol began to growl softly, causing the boy to glance over at it, then at its trainer.

"Those are pretty expensive items." The absol's trainer murmured, locking his eyes onto the boys. "Hope you're not planning on stealing them."

The boy laughed, amused, and shook his head. "No, I have the money." He took out a wallet and shook it slightly, to emphasise his point. "Battling has been going well recently. More money than I need to be honest." His grin faded slightly when he realised that the man's absol was still growling, and the disapproving frown had never left the trainer's face. Jessica took this moment to catch up with them, the smug smile returning on the boy's face as recognition dawned on him.

"I trust it was all honestly gained?" He asked, his eyes still locked on the boys, his lips barely moving, his body utterly still.

The boy seemed to grow a bit uneasy at this, and behind the stall its owner, recognising the start of a fight when he saw one, began to pack away the more expensive of his items, though he left a solitary firestone on the counter because, well, you never know.

"Of course!" The boy exclaimed in an aggrieved tone, though his eyes flickered for a moment in Jessica's direction. The absol's growls intensified, and its trainer took a step closer to the boy. "My friend here says otherwise." He murmured softly, nodding towards Jessica.

The boy gave a little laugh and spat on the dirt beneath him. "My graveler won that battle fair and square. Wasn't my fault that her bulbasaur was a weak sack of shit. Couldn't even put up a decent fight!"

Jessica coloured at these words, outraged at the boy's claims, and took a step forward, intending to punch the living daylights out of his, but the absol's trainer stuck out an arm, impeding her.

"Then how about you battle me?" he asked coldly. "Your graveler must be rearing for a "good fight" if all you've been doing is thrashing kids lately."

The boy stared at him, appearing to be sizing him up, then his eyes focused on the absol. His eyes widened slightly with greed and he nodded slowly. "Ok. How about a two-on-two battle, right here, right now? If you win, you get your friends money back. If I win, I get your absol."

He smirked, certain that the trainer would refuse these terms, or at least hesitate. To his surprise, the trainer merely chuckled slightly and agreed, turning away from the stall.

They walked into the centre of the town's square without exchanging another word, followed hesitantly by Jessica, who hadn't spoken a word throughout the proceedings and felt more than a little out of place, a feeling which only increased as a crowd began to gather in the square as word spread of the battle.

The boy released held out two pokéballs, expanded them, and released his graveler, followed by a rather fierce looking mightyena. The other trainer seemed unperturbed and glanced down at his absol. "You want in?" he asked, and only smiled when the absol gave a disinterested grunt and flopped down on the cobblestones, yawning, clearly uninterested in battling.

The boy reddened, clearly angry at the absol's dismissal, and began muttering advice to his pokémon. The other trainer took out two diminutive pokéballs from his pack, expanded them, and released his pokémon in two flashes of light. When the flash subsided a scyther and a heracross stood before him, calmly regarding their opponents with a cool detachment.

"Red, the mightyena's yours, Forge, you take out the graveler. You know what to do."

The scyther and the heracross glanced at each other and nodded, moving slowly towards their opponents. The scyther glowed for a second, its twin blades slicing through the air as it spun around enacting some sort of complicated dance, growing faster and more confident with each step, a move Jessica recognised from her lessons as sword's dance.

The heracross ignored its partner's antics, concentrating solely on the graveler. Its eyes began to glow slightly and Jessica realised that it was using the fighting move known as focus energy; slipping into a mentality where all that exists is the pokémon the user is battling. The boy, surprised that his opponents didn't begin with physical moves, as he had been expecting, ordering his graveler after the scyther and his mightyena to tackle the heracross, determined to interrupt whatever strategy his opponent was using.

The mightyena sprang towards the heracross, only to be tackled in mid jump by the scyther, who raked its blades across the side of the huge dog, causing it to yelp in pain as two parallel cuts open up along its ribcage. The graveler paused for a moment, unsure if it should continue going after the scyther, which was a good few feet away from it, or deal with the fast approaching heracross. Making a quick decision, it held back one of its four fists, which glowed brightly as it prepared to unleash a devastating rock smash. As the heracross made it to within a metre or so of the rock-type, it lashed out, but connected only with mere air as the heracross dissolved before its eyes.

The graveler glanced around, confused, before its trainer suddenly screamed out a warning. "Behind you!"

The graveler made to spin around, but the warning came too late, the heracross' knee connected with the graveler's back with a sickening crunch. The graveler crashed into the ground but swiftly pulled itself back up to its feet, its eyes narrowed, not going to be fooled by another double team. It threw another rock smash, which connected this time, but the heracross appeared completely unfazed, rapidly replying with a punch of its own. The graveler took a step back, then another, as the heracross rained blows down upon it, its fists gradually becoming two rapid blurs, pounding the rock-type into submission.

Meanwhile the mightyena had gotten to its feet once more, and began to throw every attack in its arsenal at the fluidly moving scyther. The bug-type seemed to take little notice of the teeth and claws that snapped and swiped at it, dancing with seemingly little regard for the mightyena at all, but somehow never being in the space that the mightyena was trying to bite or scratch.

Incensed by this, the mightyena let out a bone-chilling howl and charged at the scyther, its eyes wide with rage. The scyther appeared not to notice it until the last possible second, simply stepping by as eighty pounds of snarling canine flew past, its scythes flashing in the sun as it sliced through the mightyena's coat. The dog stopped in its tracks, slowly turning around, panting, blood slowly seeping out of its cuts. Behind it the heracross ceased pummelling the now dazed graveler, then grabbed two of its arms, opened up its wings and took to the air, lifting the graveler beneath it. When it reached about twenty feet it paused once more, hovering above the battle field, and began to spin around.

The crowd began to move back, not wanting to get in the way of a plummeting graveler. All eyes were on the blue bug and its cargo, high up above them. The heracross seemed to reach its maximum speed, and, with a slight groan, swung the graveler over its head, sending it hurtling back toward the battlefield.

The mightyena sensed that something was wrong when the scythe suddenly darted away, and it turned around slowly, apprehension building. It caught sight of the graveler at the very last second, but there was no time for it to react before the rock type slammed into it, pinning it to the ground as a cloud of dust rose up around their prone, unmoving forms.

When the dust settled the two bug-types walked back to their trainer, following him when he then walked up to his opponent. "Guess I win." He stated coldly, holding out an outstretched hand, eyes fixed on the boy's.

The boy paused a moment, before shaking his head and trying to back away. He turned around, and collided into an immovable and malevolent scyther, which glared at him, its blades crossed, causing him to take a step back. The trainer laid a hand on his shoulder. "I wouldn't try running away, if I was you." He murmured, almost kindly. "Red's not the most…restrained of pokémon."

The boy only stared, and wordlessly reached into his pocket and produced the money, trembling slightly. The trainer counted it carefully, and then gestured for more. The shaking boy silently added a few more poké to the wad of cash. When the trainer was satisfied he returned his scyther and heracross, but left his absol out. "What's your name?" he asked the boy as an afterthought.

"J-James Rams-sey." The boy stuttered, clearly just wanting to get away, though not prepared to simply walk off while the absol continued to keep its eyes on him, a rather unreassuringly evil glint in its amber eyes.

The trainer leaned towards him, his face set into a fixed smile. "If I ever catch you lying about your badge count again, it'll be you waking up in a hospital, rather than your pokémon, understand?" When the boy nodded he shoved him away, saying "Now get your pokémon back to the Centre. They're in pretty bad shape."

He continued watching the younger trainer as he recalled his pokémon and sped off in the direction of the pokémon centre. When the boy had disappeared from sight he turned to Jessica and held out the money. Jessica gratefully took it off him, still a little stunned by the battle she had just witnessed. "That…that was incredible." She stammered, unable to express the awe she was currently feeling, her interest in her mysterious benefactor alight.

The trainer only shrugged. "The kid needed to be taught a lesson. The way he was going, he'd screw with someone more dangerous than he could handle and end up face down in a ditch somewhere." He paused before noting the shocked look on Jessica's face, defensively continuing, "It's happened to better people."

The girl only shook her head slowly. "Who are you?" she asked, exasperated.

"Just…call me Adam."