Vondrakenhof here. It's another late night posting for this story. If anyone spots any mistakes please point them out so I can go back and fix them.

So hey, did any of you play Pokémon Red, Blue or Yellow on the Gameboy? How about Fire Red or Leaf Green for the Gameboy advance? Do you remember that annoying cave you had to go through and it was pitch black inside so you had to teach one of your Pokémon an incredibly useless move called Flash (that was basically Sand Attack with worse accuracy) to get through it? Well that's where Ash is going this chapter. Should be fun right?

Anyway, I hope you'll read and review. Tell me what you liked, what you didn't like and tell me what I can improve.

Back Around Again.

"Go Muk! You can do it!" yelled Ash.

The amorphous purple Pokémon formed a fist with its arm-like slime. It swung with all its might, striking the wall of white fat before it with a loud squelch. The fist splattered and lost cohesion but otherwise there was no effect. Snorlax, who had been acting as Muk's opponent, yawned.

Ash frowned. "Still nothing, huh?" he asked. Muk visibly sagged, almost seeping into the ground in shame. Ash crouched down beside the poison type, giving it a reassuring smile. "Hey, don't worry. I'm sure you'll get it. Just keep practising while you're at Professor Oak's."

"Muh, Muk!" exclaimed the sludge Pokémon with a wide smile. It tackled Ash to the ground, smothering him in a gelatinous hug. The trainer laughed, not for the first time thankful that with the proper care and diet Muk no longer smelled as revolting as it once had. His laughter faded as he noticed the storm clouds gathering overhead.

"Okay guys, time to wrap it up," he announced, worming his way out from under Muk's embrace. He gave the poison type a round, blue fruit, an Oran berry, which was swallowed whole. He tossed two more to Kingler and Pignite, who had just finished sparring nearby. The Pokémon accepted their treat with thanks before a shadow loomed over Ash. He looked up at Snorlax and smiled at his pleading expression. Ash gave him a couple of specially made, high energy pokéblocks. The normal type devoured them instantly before lying back and falling asleep. Ash was just wondering where his other two Pokémon had gotten to when he heard the peculiar sound of rapid freezing. Turning around he found Glalie hovering over his ice pack with a smile on his face. Pikachu cried out as he sung his Iron Tail, striking the pack to break the solid ice within.

"I don't think that's necessary," said Ash when the two of them looked at him expectantly. It was true, it had been a week since he had left Cerulean City and his wrist was almost completely healed. Pikachu still kept insisting that he put ice on the sprain though.

"Pikapi," said the electric mouse sternly, crossing his arms.

Ash narrowed his eyes. "Misty put you up to this didn't she?" he surmised, earning a nod in return. He sighed and rolled his eyes before relenting. Ash recalled each of his Pokémon to their pokéballs and let Pikachu climb onto his shoulder. Together they walked back to the nearby Pokémon Centre.

They'd arrived at the entrance to Rock Tunnel late the night before and had been pleasantly surprised to find the Centre outside. It was smaller than most and the Nurse Joy on duty admitted that she was much busier than usual with the detour in place. Not that Ash had noticed, the only other trainer staying the night had been one who had just come through the cave from Lavender Town.

He waved to Nurse Joy as he walked through the doors before heading for the video phones. Dialling Professor Oak's number he was surprised when Tracey answered instead.

"Hey Ash," the watcher greeted him. "The Professor just stepped out to take care of business in the town. What can I do for you?"

"I'm just looking to change my team before I go through Rock Tunnel," said Ash before telling Tracey which Pokémon he wanted. Tracey nodded, walking away from the screen to gather them. Ash waited patiently, filling the transporter tray with his pokéballs.

"Okay, here they are," said Tracey when he came back. He hit a button on his end and the pokéballs disappeared in brief flash of white light. Moments later the tray was full again. "It was very good of Teroc Industries to set up that detour."

"Teroc Industries?" asked Ash, clipping the new balls to his belt.

"Yeah, they make all sorts of machines," the lab assistant informed him. "As soon as they heard about the operation on Route Five they moved into Rock Tunnel, lighting it up for travellers."

"Why would they do that?" Ash wondered.

"Good publicity," Tracey suggested with a shrug. "Anyway I've got to go. I'm driving back to Cerulean in a couple of hours and I've got to get my work done before then. Talk to you later Ash. Bye Pikachu."

The pair gave their goodbyes before the connection was terminated. They waved again at Nurse Joy and thanked her for letting them rest up.

"Make sure you keep to the lit path," she called after them. "It's easy to get lost in the darkness." Ash yelled back to her, promising that they'd follow her advice before running out into the rain that had begun to fall. Pikachu leapt from his perch on Ash's shoulder, racing ahead towards Rock Tunnel. The entrance was little more than a hole in the side of the mountain, lit from within by a pale light. Ash hurried after his starter.

Partially soaked when they reached it Ash and Pikachu shook themselves to get rid of the rainwater clinging to their bodies. Ash plucked his hat from his head, running his hand through his hair as he looked down the tunnel. A line of connected lanterns, each holding a small bulb, hung from the cavern ceiling. The wire weaved through the stalactites, the light painting the rock yellow. The floor and walls were smooth, all blemishes worn away by time and the traffic of rock and ground type Pokémon.

"Come on Pikachu," said Ash as he replaced his hat. "We've got a long walk before we reach the way station Nurse Joy told us about." Pikachu chattered at him in agreement before retaking his place on the trainer's shoulder. They set off and it wasn't long before the strangely muted sound of the rain was replaced by only Ash's echoing footsteps, the low hum of the lights and a steady dripping of water from the stalactites. Soon the curve of the tunnel meant that the entrance was out of sight.

The oppressive atmosphere of the cave forced the two friends to walk on in silence. After more than an hour of walking Ash and Pikachu came across a fork in the tunnel. The lights carried on down the left path but the other was shrouded in darkness. Ash couldn't help but stop and stare into the black, unsettled by the sheer difference in the tunnels. A faint groan echoed from the depths of the right fork, raising the hairs on the back of his neck. It set him on edge.

"Let's keep moving," he murmured to a frowning Pikachu, unsure as to why he kept his voice low. Ash set off down the lit path once more, his strides lengthened. The sooner he was through this blasted cave the better.

The pair walked for what felt like forever, taking only quick breaks when it was necessary to rest or eat. They passed several more darkened tunnels that branched away from the lit path and each time Ash and Pikachu heard the same groaning sound. It echoed through them and stuck in their minds, giving Ash goose bumps. Each time he passed an opening he picked up his pace.

Finally after nearly a day's walk they found the way station that Nurse Joy had told them lay halfway through Rock Tunnel. It sat within a rounded cavern that Ash's tunnel opened into, the roof much higher than he'd expected. Teroc Industries had installed a generator to keep the lights that lit the cavern and the two tunnels leading into and out of it operating. There was a single story, prefabricated bunkhouse assembled in front of it; its manmade walls a stark contrast to the smooth stone around it. It had no windows, just one door that creaked when Ash opened it.

Ash frowned into the darkness, fumbling for a light switch. When he found it he had to shield his eyes, the fluorescent lights on the ceiling filling the prefab with white light. After so much time under the yellow light of the lanterns the sudden brightness was blinding. Blinking away the spots in his vision Ash saw six empty bunk beds, three on either side of the room. There was a water cooler, a coffee machine and a vending machine. Ash went straight for it, dropping his backpack on the nearest bed.

He dug through his pockets, looking for change. Finding some coins he looked through the glass, selecting a packet of tomato soup and a chocolate bar for afterward. He watched impatiently as his selections dropped to the bottom of the machine. Ash's stomach growled as he took them out of the opening. He didn't know how long it had been since he'd eaten, and that had just been a granola bar he'd shared with Pikachu. He took a paper cup from the dispenser by the coffee machine, pouring his powdered soup into it. It only took a few moments to fill with hot water from the machine.

Ash took a sip and sighed. It was bland, almost tasteless, but he was grateful for the heat. Rock Tunnel wasn't exactly warm. Taking another cup he transferred some of his soup to it before handing it to Pikachu. The electric mouse took it from him and slurped greedily. Ash wandered back to the bed he'd left his stuff on, sitting on it and sipping at his paltry meal.

It's times like this that I miss Brock the most, he mused before realising how terrible that would sound aloud. He finished his soup, tossing the empty cup into a bin in the corner, and opened the wrapper on his chocolate. It was some sort of caramel and peanut bar he'd never had before, but it was chocolate and chocolate never steered him wrong. He took a bite, savouring the taste of something actually tasty, and noticed Pikachu's pleading look.

"Oh stop that," said Ash, breaking a piece off the bar. "We both know you're gonna get some so put away the Growlithe eyes." Pikachu smiled, taking the offered chocolate gleefully. Ash knew he shouldn't give in to him, that chocolate was probably bad for Pokémon, but he'd never been able to deny Pikachu anything. It was why the mouse got so much ketchup.

Ash finished his chocolate, the wrapper going the same way as the cup, and shrugged out of his jacket. He lay down on the bed without bothering to remove his shoes or his hat or even turn out the light. He didn't know how long it had been since he'd set out that morning but he was bone tired. Pikachu curled up in a ball by his head and the moment the pair closed their eyes they fell into the dreamless sleep of the truly exhausted.

Ash awoke suddenly, falling out of the small bed. He looked around blearily before the reason became obvious to his sleep deprived brain. The ground was shaking violently and the walls of the prefab were falling apart. A monstrous roar sounded from somewhere nearby. Ash jumped to his feet, grabbing his jacket and backpack. He rushed for the door.

"Let's go Pikachu!" he yelled, throwing the door open. The electric type darted out of the bunkhouse from between Ash's legs, just as eager to escape as his trainer. The roar assaulted their ears again and the ground beneath Ash began to crack and crumble. It fell out from under his feet as something burst through the cavern floor from beneath. Ash grabbed onto the new ledge, his legs hanging into the darkness.

"Pikapi!" shouted Pikachu, turning back to help his trainer. The little mouse grabbed onto Ash's t-shirt, trying and failing to pull him up. Ash struggled, but without any purchase on his legs he couldn't get anywhere. There was a loud crunch behind them, forcing them to look.

The bunkhouse lay in ruins and a chain of large boulders sat upon them. The Onix roared again and Ash gritted his teeth against the sound. It was larger than he remembered Brock's Onix being and its eyes were like fire. Something had really pissed it off and it was taking it out on the way station. The rock snake Pokémon swung its long stone tail at the humming generator. The machine shattered into pieces under the blow and Rock Tunnel spluttered into darkness.

Something struck the ground next to Ash's hands, showering him with gravel. He lost his grip on the ledge, falling in the darkness and dropping his coat and bag.

"Pikapi!" Pikachu screamed as they fell. Ash held him close to his chest before his back struck rock. He bounced and rolled down an unseen slope, gaining speed. They were only stopped when they hit wall. Ash lay face down, breathing in the dirt.

"Ow," he finally moaned, getting to his feet. He was relieved to find that nothing was broken or even sprained this time. "You okay Pikachu?" he asked. The electric type chattered an affirmative, climbing out of the trainer's hold and onto his shoulder. Ash plucked a pokéball from his belt, snapping it open and releasing its occupant.

A warm orange light filled the cave, revealing it to be another tunnel. The light extended up to the level above, showing Ash that he hadn't fallen that far. The source of the light, a blue and cream mammalian Pokémon with fire emerging from its head and lower back smiled at its trainer. "Quilava."

"Thanks Quilava," said Ash, picking up his jacket and backpack from where they'd fallen. He put them on, staring at the slope he'd fallen down and the hole above. "That doesn't look so bad," he mused. "I think we could climb back up. What about you guys?"

No sooner had he said this did the Onix above roar, diving into the hole and digging into the slope. Ash turned, shielding his Pokémon from the debris. The sound of tunnelling faded away, and the trainer turned back around. And cursed. The slope was gone, replaced by a freshly dug tunnel. There was no way they were climbing back up now.

"Well, it can't get any worse, right?" Ash asked. The tunnel filled with a screeching sound and the young man paled. Pikachu slapped a paw to his forehead. "When am I going to learn to keep my mouth shut?"

A colony of Zubat emerged from the darkness of the lower tunnel, their eyeless faces taking on a sinister appearance in the light of Quilava's flame. Ash and the volcano Pokémon backed up against the smooth rock wall as Pikachu leapt from Ash's shoulder, his cheeks sparking with electricity. Zubat broke off from the main group in twos and threes, swooping for the intruders.

"Pika-chu!" the electric type cried, unleashing a Thunderbolt that crackled through the air. It caught the first of the Zubat, stopping them in their tracks. They fell to the ground a heartbeat later, twitching and smoking. Pikachu continued to zap any of the poison types that thought to attack and each suffered the same fate. It wasn't long before he'd dissuaded them of attacking, the entire colony of Pokémon flying up through the hole in the tunnel roof left by Onix.

"I think it might be best if we move on," said Ash, staring at the unconscious Zubat. His Pokémon nodded and Ash took a moment to get his bearings. Realising that one of the tunnels went on in the same direction the lit tunnel above had led he chose that one. Quilava went first with Pikachu right behind it, their trainer not two steps after them. Ash could only hope the tunnel somehow merged with the one above. He didn't want to be lost in Rock Tunnel forever.

The crackle of Quilava's flames kept the group company as they walked onward, accompanied by the sound of their feet on the stone. Every now and then they would here the same groaning Ash and Pikachu had heard the day before, or at least what Ash thought was the day before, he couldn't be sure how long he'd slept. It hadn't been much at any rate. The groaning was louder down here too, more insistent. None of them liked it.

"Okay you two, I think we should stop for food," said Ash after hours of walking. He knelt down, slipping his bag from his back. He dug through it with Pikachu and Quilava eagerly waiting beside him. He pulled out a tin of wet Pokémon food and two of the bowls he kept at the bottom of the pack. He split the food between the two Pokémon who ate it up greedily. Ash took his canteen out and sighed, drinking just a capful before replacing it. He didn't know how long he'd be in the cave, he needed it to last.

Ash groaned as he realised the only thing he had to eat for himself was another granola bar. He'd bought quite a few in a small town he'd come across before reaching Rock Tunnel, thinking they'd make for a decent snack on the road. They'd turned out to be filling, if dry and tasteless. He grumbled to himself while unwrapping the cereal bar. With a dry mouth it would be like eating-


Ash froze with the bar halfway to his mouth. Pikachu and Quilava stopped eating. Just outside of the volcano Pokémon's firelight a pair of eyes gleamed. The owner stepped into the orange light, revealing a craggy stone body with four arms and stubby legs.

"Chu!" Pikachu warned the Graveler, getting on all fours with his tail raised into the air. It took on a metallic sheen as the electric type readied his Iron Tail. The Graveler smirked, unimpressed. It growled. More eyes gleamed in the darkness.

"Dude." "Graveler." "Geo" "Geode" "Graveler."

Pikachu's eyes widened. A horde of rock types revealed themselves, growling and sneering at the trio. Pikachu and Quilava began to back up, their fur standing on end. Ash moved his hand to his belt as slowly as possible so as not to startle them.


Ash glanced behind him. A brown, reptilian biped stared at him through the holes in the skull it wore. The Marowak raised the bone it wielded like a club pointing it at the trainer. More Pokémon appeared behind it, a few more Marowak, some of its pre-evolved form, Cubone, and a couple of Machop, the ridges on their heads gleaming in the light.

"Pikachu, Quilava," Ash murmured, keeping his voice low to avoid startling the wild Pokémon. His friends grunted. "When I give the signal I want you to give everything you've got to the Pokémon behind us." The fire type froze, having not noticed the second group but Pikachu simply nodded his head. Ash removed two balls from his belt, gently pushing their buttons to enlarge them. The lead Graveler and Marowak shouted at the same time and Ash threw the balls, roaring at the top of his voice. "Hydro Pump! Leaf Storm!"

The blue and white furred Oshawott and the thin, leafy Snivy burst from their pokéballs in a flash of white. The water type moved his paws in a circle over his scalchop, summoning a torrent of water that raced for the Graveler and Geodude. Snivy glowed green for a moment and a multitude of sharp leaves appeared out of nowhere, soaring on either side of Oshawott's attack, crashing into the rock Pokémon with the water. Pikachu and Quilava leapt to either side of Ash, aiming behind him. Lightning surged from the yellow mouse, doing little more than blind all but the Machop. Furious fire billowed from Quilava's mouth, heating the air of the cave.

"Let's move!" Ash shouted, grabbing his pack and racing for the newly opened hole in the rock Pokémon lines. Pikachu and Quilava were hard on his heels, chased by a number of burned ground types. Snivy, quick on the uptake, wrapped a vine around her trainer's chest, hoisting herself up onto his shoulder for a ride. Oshawott just stared around confused until Ash ran past, grabbing him by the scruff of the neck. Ash leapt over the fallen Graveler and tried desperately to avoid tripping on unconscious Geodude as he ran at full speed past the angry Pokémon.

The ground seemed to shake as the small army behind Ash and his Pokémon hurried after them. Pikachu and Quilava, each running as fast as they could on their four legs, pulled ahead of their trainer. Ash was distracted by Snivy poking him in the neck. He risked a quick look behind him and swore loudly. The ground types were gaining. He tried to pick up the pace.

Quilava planted its forepaws on the rock floor, swinging its body around until it was facing the pursuing Pokémon. It stood defiantly between them and its friends. Ash skidded to a halt, staring back in horror.

"Quilava what are you doing?" he yelled. "We have to escape!" The fire type ignored him, its flames burning brighter.

"Quil-laa-va!" it cried. A plume of fire erupted violently from its back, striking the cavern roof and shaking the tunnel. Stalactites and chunks of the ceiling came loose, crashing down in front of the oncoming ground types. A cloud of dust rose and the tunnel was blocked by debris. The light flickered out.

"Quil- Quilava?" Ash questioned the darkness in a tiny voice, echoed by Pikachu's "Kakakapi". Ash coughed on the newly risen dust but his eyes were stinging for a different reason. He fell to his knees. "Quilava!" he shouted, the word echoing throughout the cavern. There was no answer. Ash hung his head.

The padding of tiny feet drew their attention. Flames burst into life as Quilava stepped closer. It tilted its head, obviously wondering why its trainer had tears streaming through the dust on his face. Ash wiped his eyes.

"Don't scare me like that," he choked, scratching the fire type under the chin. Its fur was soft and warm, like a hot towel. Quilava closed its eyes and smiled, enjoying its trainer's attention.

"La, la!" it cried. Their moment was interrupted by the loud groaning noise that resounded from the bowels of Rock Tunnel. Oshawott let out a shriek, ducking his head into Ash's jacket. Snivy scoffed at him, though Ash could see that she was shaking.

"We should keep going," he said, running his gloved hand through Quilava's fur one more time. He got to his feet, dislodging Oshawott in the process. The water type fell on his back, immediately jumping up and clutching at Ash's jeans. The young man stared down at him, shaking his head in bemusement. He began to walk down the tunnel, the sea otter Pokémon hanging on like a small child would his father. Snivy rolled her eyes, leaping down from her perch on Ash to walk by herself, taking position with Pikachu behind Quilava.

It was a few hours later when Ash realised that he was dragging his feet. Oshawott, who had long since stopped hanging onto Ash's leg, yawned. Pikachu and Quilava's pace had slowed almost to a halt and even the prideful Snivy looked tired. The trainer nodded to himself and removed his backpack. He found a spot against the wall and took out his sleeping bag, laying it down. He didn't bother getting into it; he was worried he might have to get up quickly should any wild Pokémon come across them. Ash put his back to the wall and slumped down onto the bag.

Oshawott collapsed against him in the same position, his head resting on Ash's thigh. The water type began to snore almost immediately. Pikachu and Snivy climbed into their trainer's lap, each of them lying on a leg. Ash soon heard the sound of their soft breathing, knowing that they too had fallen asleep. Quilava crawled as close as it dared to the other four, an unhappy expression on its face. Ash smiled.

"I think we'll be all right without the light for tonight Quilava," he whispered, holding out his hand. The volcano Pokémon smiled and let the fire on its head and back die down until the five of them were in total darkness. Ash felt Quilava snuggle in against his left side, the warmth of its fur spreading to him and the others. Ash laid his head back against the stone wall, listening to his Pokémon breathe.

This is why I love Pokémon training, he thought to himself. The battles were a big part of it, sure. And Ash couldn't deny that he loved the adventures he had. But this was the most important part, the bonds that he formed with his Pokémon. Each one he caught became part of his team. Part of his family.

Ash stayed awake, watching over his friends for as long as he could. But before long he too slipped into sleep, comforted by the fact that he was surrounded by family.

The groaning of Rock Tunnel, as Ash had begun to think of it, woke the trainer. He blinked the crud from his eyes, sure that he'd only gotten a few hours of sleep. Ash stretched with a yawn, feeling his stiff back pop as he did so. He dislodged Pikachu and Snivy from his lap.

"Pikapi," his starter moaned in the darkness. Ash felt Quilava and Oshawott stir beside him.

"Sorry guys," Ash whispered sincerely as Quilava's flames flickered into life. The fire type yawned. "It's not safe to sleep here for too long." The four Pokémon accepted that glumly, but none of them were particularly happy about it. Ash took two cans of food from his backpack, pouring out enough for each. With a stern look he told Oshawott he could only have his own. The water type scratched the back of his head sheepishly.

Ash rolled his sleeping bag back up while his Pokémon ate. His stomach growled angrily. The granola bar he'd had the day before had been lost when the wild Pokémon had attacked. There was nothing else in his bag fit for humans and he was sorely tempted to eat some of his Pokémon's food. Ash pushed that impulse away; it would be a long time before he stooped that low.

After breakfast the group continued to trudge on down the tunnel. The occasional Zubat flitted over their heads and through the stalactites but none bothered the group. Ash wondered if they'd been part of the colony the day before, or heard of Pikachu's power through them. His thoughts were interrupted by the grumbling of his stomach. He did his best to ignore it, with about as much success as he had ignoring the groaning resonating through the cave. After maybe an hour or two of walking the trainer found himself at two divergent tunnels.

"Which one do you guys think we should take?" Ash asked, frowning and scratching his head. Pikachu inspected the pathways, sniffing at the air. His ears twitched and he jumped onto his hind legs. The mouse Pokémon pointed down the left fork, chattering excitedly to Ash. "You can hear people?" the trainer asked. His face lit up and he set off down the tunnel at a brisk jog. "Maybe they have food!"

Ash's Pokémon kept pace with their trainer, Quilava taking the lead to light the way. Each of them were eager to get out of the mountain, the people ahead would surely know the way. It wasn't long before a new sound reached their ears, the clink of metal on stone. Miners. Ash slowed to a stopped, his brow furrowed. His friends looked at him, confused.

That can't be right, he thought. The Nurse Joy at the Pokémon Centre had told him that there was nothing to mine for in Rock Tunnel, that anything worth having had been taken away generations ago. He walked on, trying not to make any noise. Soon he spotted a white light entering the tunnel.

"Quilava, put out the fire," Ash whispered. The volcano Pokémon obeyed, the firelight dying down. The light ahead gave them enough light to creep forward and the groaning sound that had plagued them through the cave grew louder. Finally Ash came to a hole in the wall of the tunnel where the light poured through. His back to the wall he looked through to the other side.

"Oh, Mew," he swore quietly, his stomach rolling in revulsion. Beyond the wall was a large cavern lit by several floodlights that were powered by generators like the one that was destroyed at the way station. Another prefab sat at the edge of the cavern. A group of men were hard at work under the supervision of an older woman, some with pickaxes and some with wheelbarrows. They each wore a hard hat and a high visibility vest over their clothes, though a few men didn't bother wearing a shirt beneath it. Ash paid little attention to any of that.

He was staring at what they were mining.

It was a series of rocks bearing a green sheen. It was held down by a pair of Machoke, a pair of Golem and chains. It was the source the groaning heard throughout Rock Tunnel.

"This is sick," Ash muttered angrily, watching as the men with pickaxes dug them into the sides of the shiny Onix, prying chunks of stone the size of his fist loose. He quietly released his final two Pokémon from their capsules. They turned around to greet their trainer happily and froze at the sight before them. "We are going to put a stop to this," Ash told his friends, his voice shaking with rage. "Here's the plan…"

Moments later something round and grey leapt into the cavern. Cracks formed in the ground where it landed and the whole cave shook. The workers stumbled, many falling over as the Earthquake attack took their footing. The sphere unravelled, revealing four stocky legs, a long trunk and two strong tusks. "Don-phan!" the ground type shouted before curling back in on itself and rolling at high speed towards the men. They scrambled to get out of the way.

So preoccupied with the armour Pokémon were they that no one noticed the small electric mouse darting into the chaos after Donphan. At least until he jumped into the air, yelling his name and unleashing crackling Thunderbolts at everything in sight. The workers screamed in agony, their clothes and hair smoking. Several collapsed, twitching.

Four other Pokémon emerged from the hole in the cavern wall, their trainer following after. Gossamer wings carried a large blue insect straight at one of the Machoke holding the Onix down. His powerful horn glowed white as it struck the superpower Pokémon, forcing it back from the rock type. Machoke struck back, hitting the bug type with a Karate Chop. Heracross didn't give any indication that he'd felt the attack, clocking the Pokémon in the face with an orange, glowing forelimb and knocking it down.

A ball of flame descended on the other Machoke, who backpedalled away from the rock snake Pokémon, clutching at its suddenly burned head. Quilava let the flames go out as it landed and with implausible speed shot through the air, striking the fighting type in the chest with an Aerial Ace attack.

Oshawott struck one of the Golem head on, as the sea otter Pokémon surrounded himself in water. The megaton Pokémon roared in pain as it reeled away from the attack. Oshawott burst from the Aqua Jet attack, his face uncharacteristically angry as he took his scalchop from its place on his stomach. A blue light extended from the shell in the shape of a blade and, wielding it like a sword, Oshawott struck at the rock type.

The remaining Golem backed away from the Onix, panic clear on its face as it watched its fellows get attack. It turned around to see a spinning green ball flying through the air before Snivy uncurled herself and whacked it in the face with her glowing green tail.

"Get out of here!" the woman ordered the men in a raspy voice. Her grey hair was pulled back in a ponytail and anger made her wrinkles more pronounced. She wore a red and white check shirt beneath her high visibility vest, with jeans and hiking boots. "Get the stones and load them onto the trucks! It'll all be for nothing if we don't have those stones!" The workers hurried to obey, grabbing the wheelbarrows filled with pieces of the Onix and racing for the tunnel on the other side of the cavern. The woman turned to Ash. "You're going to pay for this, kid."

A large, beefy man with a full, brown beard kicked the door of the prefab open. "Charlie!" he yelled. "What's going on?"

"What do you think, you idiot?" the woman shouted back at him. She pointed a grizzled finger at Ash. "We're under attack!"

"But it's just one little brat!" the man snarled, snapping open a pokéball to release its occupant; a large black Pokémon covered in steel plating. Charlie followed his example, a black and red canine with white horns and ridges on its back materialising in a flash. Ash took several steps back as the Aggron and the Houndoom advanced on him. A geyser of water stopped them in their tracks and a moment later Oshawott careened into the dark Pokémon while Heracross appeared out of nowhere, punching the Aggron away from his trainer. The man growled, rolling up the sleeves of his grey shirt. "Fine, I'll crush him myself!"

Ash had just enough time to register the tattoo that was partially visible on the hulking man's forearm, what might have been K or an R, before he was in his face. The older man grabbed Ash by the jacket, hoisting him into the air, rage filling his eyes.

"Pikachu," Ash called out before his assailant could do anything. "Break the chains!"

"Are you mad?" the man holding him questioned. "It'll kill us all!" But it was too late, Pikachu rushed between each chain with a Quick Attack, using his Iron Tail to shatter the links. The Onix roared as it became free, a roar that promised vengeance. The man growled at Ash, pulling his fist back to pummel him when he was steamrolled by Donphan and forced to drop the trainer, who stumbled.

"Pierce, we've got to go!" Charlie yelled to the downed man while staring up at the enraged Onix. Pierce snarled in frustration before getting up as fast as he could and returning his Pokémon. He ran with his colleague to the cavern exit.

Ash looked up at the rock snake Pokémon as his friends gathered around him. It stared at him for a long time, as though deciding whether to crush him or not. After a tense moment it roared again and turned to give chase to the fleeing work crew. Ash breathed a sigh of relief.

"Well done, all of you," he said with a smile. His Pokémon accepted the praise with varying degrees of modesty; Oshawott puffed his chest out while Snivy waved the comment away. Heracross and Donphan were just happy they could help and Pikachu and Quilava had content smiles on their faces.

Ash forced himself to get up, walking over to the prefab and hoping against hope that there was food inside. Looking through the open door he gave a feral grin. There was a vending machine full of sandwiches.

"Well," he said to himself, picking up a hammer that lay on a nearby table. "I'm sure they won't mind if I help myself." Ash smashed the glass front of the machine, taking as many sandwiches as he could at a time. After all, he had no qualms about stealing from people who'd been doing what they were.

Ash didn't know how long it took them to get out of Rock Tunnel but they'd had to sleep against a wall again. They weren't bothered by any more wild Pokémon; in fact the trainer blamed their earlier aggression on what the miners were doing to the Onix. And though they were dead tired by the time it happened when Ash's Pokémon finally smelled fresh air they all raced for it, the young man himself not far behind them.

When they emerged from the tunnel to see clear black sky dotted with bright pinpricks of light each of them collapsed in relief. The open air never smelled so good, the grass never felt so pleasant and the stars never looked so beautiful. Ash couldn't stop smiling even if he wanted to as one by one his friends, his family, dropped off to sleep. He was too tired, too relieved to be out of the mountain, to even bother with his sleeping bag so he put his arms behind his head and followed their example.

A/N: Well, I did say in the summary that Ash would be meeting new enemies. They're not exactly pleasant people. Again, I ask that you review. I like it when people give me constructive criticism.