Hey, all. It looks like I managed to catch a break and begin making this chapter. I'm going to try to be steadier with my updates and gradually write up a chapter whenever I get the chance. Also, I apologize on how I worded the author's note last chapter regarding MisterP. Now that I reread it a few times, it did come off a bit creepy. Just to clarify, I'm really proud of the steps he's making to be a full-fledged adult and to begin his own family with his beautiful fiancée.
Well, moving on…
"Wow… so is this it?" Iris commented in awe.
"It's just about right," Dawn concluded brightly.
She, Iris, and Brock stood in front of the large, vacant building they've been looking to check out. It appeared relatively simple at the lower structure, mainly composed of large glass windows decorating the front around the glass door entrance that held a sign indicating its grand opening to the public. However, the upper structure was modeled after the head of an Aria Forme Meloetta, to the point that its wavy hair extended up to the sky.
"Café Meloetta, now that's a first in the Kanto region," Brock said, chuckling to himself. "It'd certainly be a nice place to take a lovely woman out on a date."
"The fact that this café's modeled after Meloetta brings me back some crazy memories when I first met one back in Unova," Iris added.
"It's also a nice place to hang out aside from the Pokémon Center," Dawn commented, giving a brief sigh. "It's too bad it's not open now. I'd really like to try it out, seeing as it's the perfect time for lunch now."
"You girls must be hungry then," Brock indicated, pulling up his special backpack. "How about I whip us up something out here if you think you can't last making it back to the Pokémon Center? I come prepared for any occasion."
"Yeah! I've missed your cooking since you volunteered to make the opening grand feast for the Champions League!"
"You, Cilan, and his brothers make quite the cooking team," Iris praised along with Axew's approval. "I'm in agreement too. Do it, Brock!"
"Glad to see I'm well appreciated," Brock replied. "It's too bad we don't have everyone together. Cilan and I could make some grand dishes with what we have now."
"No need to worry, I'm sure the others are just fine," Dawn reassured. "Do you want us to gather some materials, like firewood or fresh berries? There's plenty in these groves around New Island."
"That'd actually be nice to cook over a natural fire for the first time in a while," Brock concurred. "Let's get to it then."
"I know where we can go," Iris intervened eagerly with a raised hand. "Axew and I found a nice spot while exploring the trees here a while back. There's also fresh fruit available over there. The grove's just less than three minutes walking south from this corner. I'll show you the way."
The aspiring Dragon Trainer took the lead once more with Brock and Dawn trailing behind. Once again, the two of them exchanged glances before smiling to themselves over the seeming abundance of Iris's wild energy and making a quick dash to catch up with their Unova native friend.
True to her word, Iris revealed the grove and spot deemed adequate for their outdoor lunch in almost no time flat. Brock immediately got to work setting up the equipment while Iris aided in setting up the table and chairs, as well as the bowls for their Pokémon.
"Looks like Piplup and I will be getting the firewood," Dawn stated with her Piplup grinning quietly on her shoulder.
"We don't need a lot, but thanks, Dawn," Brock spoke up, polishing his silverware.
"No need to worry! We got this. Let's go, Piplup!"
"Pip-Pip!" Piplup chirped, running after his Trainer as she disappeared into the trees.
The greatest of pleasures can be found within the simplest of activities. Dawn was thankful that Brock made that proposal to eat out together over his fantastic cooking like they did when they traveled Sinnoh together. She missed traveling together with friends before she went independent and focused on her career as an aspiring Pokémon Coordinator. Even Piplup could see the longing in her blue eyes to spend more time with her old friends ever since getting together and meeting the rest of Ash's previous traveling companions. The light in her eyes seemed to have brightened up when Brock suggesting eating the old fashion way, specifically him cooking for them in the outdoors.
Piplup carefully observed Dawn as she collected a few sticks off of the ground with a distracted look. It was strange to Piplup in the way his Trainer reacted, but he did come to understand why she would act this way. After all, although he didn't like to admit it, the Penguin Pokémon was greatly opposed to the idea of going separate ways from his best friend, Pikachu, when their journey through Sinnoh came to its end. Nonetheless, since arriving and exploring New Island, Piplup noted how much happier Dawn was to see everyone again, most notably after hearing the rumors of Ash's year-long disappearance from society.
The Twinleaf Town Coordinator found out recently that there was going to be a Pokémon Contest held in Wisteria Town in the coming week. She knew she would have to leave New Island for a brief time if she were to qualify for the Kanto Grand Festival. However, Dawn had a secret hope that before she would leave New Island to reach the Wisteria Town Contest on time, she would confront Ash and alleviate any barrier that appeared to impede their friendship. His constant distance from her and the others has been taken its toll.
No matter what excuse the others had, the prime example being Ash's last match, Dawn resolved to reach out to him.
"Pip-lup!" Piplup's chirp brought Dawn's wandering mind back to reality.
The Twinleaf Town Coodinator noticed her Pokémon returning to her with a stick in his flippers. With the amount of firewood in her hands plus Piplup's addition, they've reached the sufficient amount for Brock to start cooking up lunch for their small trio and the Pokémon.
"Great work, Piplup," Dawn praised, reaching down to take the stick from the Penguin Pokémon.
"Pip!" Piplup grunted, suddenly taking a defensive stance.
"Piplup, what's going on?" Dawn asked.
"Quite a diligent Pokémon you got there, little girl," an antagonizing voice spoke up.
Dawn felt chills crawl up her spine. She was scared to turn around, but her strong will managed to force her body to cooperate. She saw a man dressed in a peculiar, albeit torn-up black uniform with a familiar red insignia, also scarred up, standing in between a pair of trees. She also noticed a beige sack hanging on the right side of his waste, the clacking noise it made when it move sounded like a pile of Poké Balls. She narrowed her eyes at the stranger as Piplup stepped forward to defend her. She could see the dangerous look in his shady eyes under his black cap.
"What do you want?" Dawn demanded.
"You seem lost in this big forest, and I can help you get out of here," the stranger offered with a crooked smile. "However, it'll cost you your Piplup."
"This forest is manmade, so it's not easily to be lost unless you actually lack a functioning brain. And there's no way I'm handing Piplup over to the likes of you!"
"Listen, I'm being generous right now, kid," the stranger retaliated, now scowling at her for her irritating defiance. "I could charge you all of the Pokémon in your possession, but I'm in a good mood right now, so I'm satisfied with just your Piplup, alright, kid? If you're not going to play nice, then I'm afraid I'm not going to play nice either."
"Just what makes you think you can just take my Pokémon like that?" Dawn retorted, convinced that she can take on this lone thug. "Piplup, use Bubble Beam!"
The Penguin Pokémon quickly leapt into action, releasing a narrow spray of bubbles from his beak to where the dark stranger stood, only for him to sidestep at a remarkable rate away from the attack. Dawn and Piplup were caught off guard by the man's agility as he made his way past the Bubble Beam and stopped before Piplup himself. With the swing of an arm, he callously knocked Piplup to the ground. The poor Penguin Pokémon was sent bouncing back harshly back to his Trainer.
"Piplup, no!" Dawn cried out, quickly sweeping up her Pokémon into her arms.
"I've lived in the wild for many months now," the stranger taunted, reeling the arm he struck Piplup with back. "You have no idea of the attempts of survival I took against wild Pokémon while escaping the authorities for many months now. I've surpassed even my own expectations in doing things I never imagined with my own two hands. You're a smart girl, aren't you? You probably know where I'm from seeing how familiar you are with this simple insignia on my old uniform. Don't think that I didn't catch the way you looked at it from the start."
"My friends and I dealt with a couple of you guys many times in the past, always trying to steal other people's Pokémon," Dawn began heatedly, sending an accusing finger at him. "You're the worst, Team Rocket!"
With a casual swipe over his chest, the stranger wiped away any lingering dirt that obstructed the bold red R on his tattered black uniform. The connection appeared in Dawn's mind as she recalled Ash and Brock telling her about what Team Rocket was really like outside of Jessie, James, and Meowth while they were still together in Sinnoh. This stranger appeared to match the description of a regular Rocket Grunt, according to them.
"Team Rocket's not dead, regardless of what the world believes," the Rocket Grunt declared. "Not as long as the Boss and I still walk free, Team Rocket will rise again. I will find the Boss and together we will bring Team Rocket back to its former glory."
"You're clearly insane," Dawn openly stated, feeling more furious than scared at the foolhardy Grunt. "As far as I know, some brave guy took you down and got you all to disband. I know for a fact that he's still out there, hunting you all down."
"And how would you know if that man's still out there?"
"Take it from someone that actually knows who he is," the Grunt continued, taking a threatening step forward and causing Dawn to involuntarily step back. "For all you know, he could be here in this little tournament, trying to escape the twisted reality he's fallen in."
"Just what are you trying to go about now?"
"I'm afraid that's all I'm going to say, nosy girl. You know too much."
The deranged Rocket Grunt took another step closer. Dawn quickly scrambled to her feet. She wasn't going to deal with this anymore. She had to get away and expose him to the authorities. But then, the thought of Brock and Iris setting up lunch came to mind. She didn't want to get them involved, considering that they were vulnerable at the moment.
Huge need to worry! I've got to get outside help! Dawn screamed mentally, steadily maintaining her breathing.
Her current instinct was to run, keep her distance from the Rocket Grunt while making sure he stayed on her trail, and get him captured and brought to justice. He had already proven dangerous enough to evade and attack Piplup without using any Pokémon, including the ones he appeared to have stolen and hid into that waist sack. He was even catching up to her despite the brief head start in running away. This wasn't good.
The light into the main hub of the island shone at the edge of the grove she was running to. Dawn was going to make it. She was going to expose the remaining member of Team Rocket.
Her triumph was cut short when the tip of her boot collided against a buried rock, causing her to trip and tumble out of the grove and onto the stone sidewalk, landing on her arms and knees. Piplup fell out of her arms and rolled a few feet away from Dawn. The scrapes were minor, not deep enough to shed a single drop of blood. However, Dawn's moment of weakness allowed the pursuer to catch up and find her recovering from her fall.
"What rotten luck," the Rocket Grunt sneered, standing at the higher edge of the grove. "You picked a bad place to reveal me when there's not another living being around aside from us. But with your stubbornness prolonging what should've been, I guess you leave me with no other choice."
"Wh-What are you going to do?"
The Rocket Grunt jumped to the sidewalk and stood over Dawn with a crooked expression, cracking his knuckles with sadistic anticipation.
"You're going to be my first major casualty. The only living being within the next minute here shall be me!"
Dawn cringed, paralyzed in fear. Piplup managed to stand back up, but by the time the Penguin Pokémon could reach the two of them, the damage would've been done regardless. All she could do at this desperate moment was brace her arms over her head with her eyes closed, mentally berating herself for winding up in such a mortal situation.
Dawn's eyes jarred openly widely. Piplup was unable to move from his spot, watching in shock at the scene transpiring before his oval-shaped eyes.
The Rocket Grunt's body had flown a few feet to the left and landed on his side. He roared in pain, clutching the left side of his head as though it had been austerely inflicted by something. Dawn and Piplup directed their sights to where he originally stood, discovering that the 'something' that miraculously intervened and saved the life of the Twinleaf Town Coordinator was a Pokémon of a rather small height and sketchy appearance.
"Scraft!" the Pokémon hissed, leering down at the direction of the fallen Rocket Grunt.
"Who's that Pokémon?" Dawn muttered to herself in awe; she had witnessed that Pokémon used what appeared to be a High Jump Kick on the Rocket Grunt's head, and a very powerful one at that.
"Dawn!" a duo of familiar voices called out.
Dawn looked to her right, from where the voices came from. Brock and Iris were seen running her direction with a third man in a brown trench coat accompanying them, the man being also familiar to her as well as they got closer, much to the Twinleaf Town Coordinator's surprise and following relief.
"Guys! And Officer Looker too?!" Dawn yelled back.
"Dawn, are you alright?" Brock asked, immediately kneeling next to her to examine any injury she had suffered.
"I didn't know you guys knew Looker too," Iris commented, gesturing a thumb at the Interpol agent. "He found us in the middle of making lunch and warned us of a rogue Team Rocket member that was causing several Trainers problems and overall interfering with the Champions League."
"This is my fault," Brock intervened, pulling out some bandages after discovering the scraps on Dawn's knees and right elbow. "I overhead some officials back at the grass field stadium when we were leaving that there was someone loose in New Island causing trouble. I should've told you guys sooner."
"Brock, it's not your fault," Iris said, placing a hand on the Pokémon Doctor's shoulder as he applied Dawn's bandages. "No one knew what was going to happen. And Dawn and Piplup are safe and sound now. By the way…" Iris looked at Dawn. "What saved you anyway?"
"Look," Dawn gestured with the direction her chin pointed at the Pokémon that made quite the dynamic entry.
"Hey, that's a Scrafty!" Iris exclaimed upon immediate recognition, warranting Axew to emerge out of her hair to take a look for himself.
"Scrafty's a Pokémon native to Unova," Brock mused. "I wonder who this Scrafty belongs to. Is it yours, Officer Looker?"
"No, I'm afraid not," Looker replied with a shake of his head. "I just happened to follow it as it seemed to be looking for something in a hurry." He then looked to where the Rocket Grunt was steadily standing back up. "And I believe that something is that rogue Rocket Grunt that's eluded us for so long now."
"Lucky shot," the Rocket Grunt growled, keeping a hand on the side of his head where Scrafty kicked him. "But I've endured worse. Just like how I keep getting back up, so shall Team Rocket stand back from its ashes and shine in glory once more."
"According to my resources, this particular member was known to be a big-time aspirer, coveting the positions of Executive next to the title of Rocket Boss itself," Looker explained. "However, his unstable fanaticism had caused certain operations he participated in the past to fail because obviously, secrecy, self-control, and modesty were what he lacked completely. It's quite ironic, though, that he managed to live in secret for months after Team Rocket's disbandment."
"Well, we're here to help you, Looker," Brock announced, getting back on his feet while pulling out Croagunk's Poké Ball. "We've got him outnumbered."
"Don't be so sure, Brock," Dawn warned, glancing to where her Piplup was. "That man was able to handle Piplup with a punch and even dodged Bubble Beam. Be careful with him."
"Scraft Scraf-ti!" the Scrafty growled, standing in front of the group with its arms raised up as though it was going to defend them, much to their confusion.
"Say, I feel like I recognize you from somewhere," the Rocket Grunt muttered, forming another crooked smile. "Maybe once I catch you, my memory will come back to me. And as a bonus, I'll make you pay for giving me this troublesome headache!"
He then charged in with quite the reckless temperament, much to everyone's surprise. Scrafty was ready as the Rocket Grunt came in with a low sweep. The Hoodlum Pokémon pulled up the loose skin on its waist to absorb the attack, quickly retaliating with a forceful pull. The resulting shock pushed the Grunt back, only for him to expertly somersault back to his original position.
"This guy's incredible," Brock remarked. "He's actually fighting Scrafty hand-to-hand. I've got to step in!"
Before Brock could throw in Croagunk's Poké Ball, Looker extended an arm in front of him to prevent the Doctor from doing so. When Brock glanced over to the Interpol agent, he only saw Looker shake his head in disapproval.
"There's no need to fret, for my partner, Agent Poké Ball Seven, has arrived," Looker proclaimed confidently.
"'Poké Ball Seven'?" Brock, Iris, and Dawn repeated incredulously.
"His code name," Looker stated simply, looking to where the Rocket Grunt was preparing his next attack by reaching to the sack hanging on his waist.
"Let's see how you'll do against all this firepower raining over your head!" the Rocket Grunt announced, digging into the sack for various Poké Balls to use against his opposition.
Before anyone knew it, a bright red-orange powdery cloud blew in from the grove over the Rocket Grunt. Brock, Dawn, and Iris looked on in astonishment as the Grunt appeared to react violently to the cloud, coughing up a few times before revealing his motions becoming stiff and locked in place. He then collapsed, dropping the stolen Poké Balls while he struggled to move. Behind him was another mysterious figure, who appeared to be smirking at the Grunt's fall.
"Mission accomplished," he muttered with a grin. "Excellent work, Amoonguss."
Out of the grove emerged an Amoonguss, which was no doubt associated with the man behind the Rocket Grunt's ultimate downfall. The group scrutinized the newcomer carefully, seeing that he was dressed in a particularly suave, jet-black suit adorned with a light blue rose in his front pocket, which complemented and closely matched the color of his hair. His unique hairstyle strangely reminded the three of them of someone they knew that also shared Poké Ball Seven's hair, but the theory was somewhat dismissed when seeing that he wore black oval sunglasses concealing his eyes.
"Great job, Poké Ball Seven," Looker applauded, approaching his partner as they stood around the incapacitated Rocket Grunt. "I was hoping you'd find us sooner."
"The trap needed to be set and the timing just right for Amoonguss's Stun Spore to catch that fiend," Poké Ball Seven explained, glancing at the resilient Grunt. "Any mistiming and we would've been exposed."
"You!" the Grunt roared, catching everyone's attention with the outburst as he forced his head to face the new agent's direction. "Traitor! How dare you show your traitorous face to me!"
"Team Rocket's done and over with now," Poké Ball Seven responded coolly. "Even I know the Boss had given up and moved on with his life doing who knows what."
"Lies! You were nothing before and now, you're still nothing!"
"I'm afraid you're mistaken, dear boy. I'm now a 'something' with my freedom in the world, more than anything than before, and I'm happy for the first time in a long time. You've had potential to become a something yourself, but it's sad, really, to see the state you're in now."
"Hey, Looker, is he… a former member of Team Rocket?" Brock asked to the side, prompting Dawn and Iris to glance between him and the Interpol agent. "They almost appear to be on familiar terms."
"I'm afraid that is for Poké Ball Seven to share at his own disclosure," Looker replied somberly.
"I see," Brock said, holding back his tongue before helping Dawn to her feet. "Well, Dawn, you and Piplup are now safe. We should thank this Scrafty for coming to your rescue."
"Yeah, you're right," Dawn concurred, smiling to the Hoodlum Pokémon that was still standing with them. "Thanks for saving me, Scrafty."
Scrafty didn't say anything, but merely kept a neutral stare at his grateful recipient. A few seconds passed before he responded with a wide grin and nod, openly accepting Dawn's gratitude. Dawn smiled back before a strange sense of intuition caused her to look at Iris, more specifically at Axew.
The Tusk Pokémon appeared to be mesmerized by the sight of Scrafty, as if it was a sort of longing. Dawn then glanced back at Scrafty, who appeared confused on what she was doing before a new, strange idea started to connect in her mind and made itself known through her outer voice.
"Something wrong, Dawn?" Brock asked.
"This Scrafty… I feel like I've seen it before, which is strange since I never encountered a Scrafty before, not even when I visited Unova," Dawn explained.
"Hey, isn't Scrafty the evolved form of Scraggy?" Iris pointed out.
Almost instantaneously as Iris shared the fact, Dawn and Axew appeared thunderstruck, much to Iris, Brock, and Piplup's confusion. Scrafty appeared taken back from watching their reactions, quickly opting to flee before any more trouble went his way. He knew that his only assignment was to make sure this particular group was safe and unharmed by the rogue Rocket Grunt and to take down the latter with nothing held back should he confront him. With the Grunt disposed of, he was required to return to his Trainer posthaste.
"Scraft!" Scrafty grunted, leaping back into the grove.
"Hey! Wait!" Dawn called out, quickly chasing after Scrafty with Axew, having leapt out of his surprised Trainer's hair and onto the Coordinator's shoulder.
"Dawn, Axew, hold up!" Iris shouted, momentarily stumbling on her feet from Axew's jump. "Where're you going?"
"Wait, Iris!" Brock intervened, grabbing the young Dragon Trainer by the arm.
"What are you doing? They're going to get away!"
"Hold on for a sec, okay? There's something I need your help with."
"With what?" Iris inquired.
"With who Poké Ball Seven really is," Brock answered with another glance over to the Interpol agents, much to Iris's initial bewilderment. He didn't appear to joke around through the way he stated his problem, which was pretty frightening to Iris to see him so serious. "I know that you had an idea who Poké Ball Seven is when he stopped that Team Rocket member from causing any more trouble."
"Yes. And this is something I feel must be done. It can't be ignored. It just can't."
"But what about Dawn and Axew?"
"They'll be fine this time. Besides, there's someone here just as worried as you are."
Iris took the time to look down to Piplup, who was left behind when Dawn impulsively went after Scrafty. She could see that Piplup was just as concern as she was with their respective partners running off after a strange Scrafty. Sharing understanding with the Penguin Pokémon, she took him into her arms, wherein there were no objections from the normally haughty Pokémon, and walked with Brock over to join Looker and Poké Ball Seven where the Rocket Grunt still laid on the ground.
"Excuse us," Brock beckoned politely, eliciting their attention.
"Is there something wrong, Brock?" Looker asked.
"It depends, as I actually have something to ask your 'partner' here," Brock answered, to which both agents exchanged glances. "I've traveled over four regions and gained much experience to stand where I am in the world. I've seen many things, and if there's anything that I finally can do from learning from my past mistakes, it is that I can finally see through you."
"What are you trying to say?" Poké Ball Seven spoke up, right as Brock locked eyes with him.
"Are you… who I know you are?"
Deeper in a grove…
Ash stood in the center of a widened area, where a faint beam of sunlight was able to penetrate through the treetops. Pikachu and Marowak stood around him on opposing sides, keeping their eyes out for one more member to return to them. The search had been fruitless for the three of them, even as they had parted and went their separate ways a while ago. Though the people he sought for were happy and content, it was still unknown on how long that state would last.
That deranged, obsessed man was still on the loose, as far as they knew. But who knows what could've happened over the past ten minutes since they regrouped at their designated meeting spot.
"I was certainly not expecting to find you out here," a soft voice spoke up.
Pikachu and Marowak tensed briefly and went into a defensive formation before realizing who had entered their midst. Ash turned to the direction where the newcomer came from, mildly surprised in seeing her again in a short amount of time, granted that it had already been days since their last confrontation.
"Anabel…" Ash mumbled quietly.
"Hey there, Ash," Anabel greeted amiably with a demure smile. "And Pikachu and Marowak, how are you two doing?"
"Pika!" Pikachu replied back, signifying his cheer on seeing the Salon Maiden again.
"Maro," Marowak snorted with a polite nod, though kept a weary look on her regardless.
"I hope I wasn't interrupting anything important," Anabel said. "I came out here hoping to find an adequate place to train. Greta said it's time I got serious in getting stronger, so she's helped put me on a better schedule on when to train and when to rest."
"… That's… not a problem," Ash replied, keeping a hand on the edge of his cap's visor.
Anabel appeared to fidget during their silent moment, casually allowing time to pass over while hoping Ash was going to say or do something in the next few minutes. Almost instantly, an idea struck her that was going to involve getting to spend time with Ash, provided that the Pallet Town Trainer was going to cooperate willingly with it. It was simple, and regarding the current stance they had toward each other, the chance that he would accept appeared bright as the afternoon sun.
"Hey, Ash?" Anabel began.
"I was wondering… if you wanted to−."
"Scraf-ti!" Scrafty grunted, jumping into the clearing where his Trainer was.
"… You've returned, Scrafty," Ash spoke, sounding expectant as the Hoodlum Pokémon joined Pikachu and Marowak; Anabel quietly cursed her bad timing in the meantime. "… Did you find him?"
"Scraft," Scrafty replied with a nod.
"… … Has he been taken cared of… ?"
"… And are they safe and unharmed?"
Just as Scrafty was about to respond…
"I'm telling you, Axew, I know I saw it went this way," a familiar, girlish voice spoke aloud.
"Hey! Don't take that tone with m−huh?"
Dawn brushed aside a branch and into clearing, originally arguing with Axew regarding where Scrafty ran off to before stumbling upon where the Pokémon they sought for right in front of them, along with a few others brought into the scene.
"It's Ash…" Dawn whispered, amazed that she finally ran into him, only to sweep her eyes towards the other person next to him. "And Anabel?"
"Uh… Hey, Dawn," Anabel greeted rather quickly with a nervous giggle, nervous only because of what Ash was thinking now that an old friend of his has actually found him. Ash?
Yep, the mysterious assailant was a bit of faux-shadowing, meaning that there's really nothing deeper to look forward to and no secret plot or plan brewing underneath to think about, but to introduce some things I saw fit to introduce in this time. I enjoyed reading all the guesses you readers made though. However, I meant what I said earlier when the tournament and character development were my main purposes for this story.
Now you have new things to ponder over until the next update, like who Poké Ball Seven really is (if you paid attention to the clues, but then, it was rather obvious from the start), how Ash would deal with Dawn being the first from his old traveling companions to confront him face to face, and what Anabel's going to do about this. And of course, everything will be explained in the next and future chapters.
Well, it's time to measure up my writing skills. Please review!