Disclaimer: I don't own Pokémon or have any rights to it.

The ocean looked was an endless void. There were rarely any landmarks. Its inhabitants needed other ways to navigate.

The fish wasn't sure where her school was going. She had hooked up with them a short while ago. They were not of her kind, but she couldn't afford to be picky. Her kind were few and far between.

The other fish had feelers. They twitched about, guiding their owners through the gloom.

The fish looked down and noticed a dark shape. Her heart raced. Then she looked to the others. They wouldn't listen. They were dumb as posts. All the she could do look down and anticipate its next move.

The beast rose up. Its wide jaws ensnared several of the school. The others scattered in its wake.

The fish swam as fast as she could. She had the beast's name before. Gyarados. That was what humans and their pokémon called it. To her it was just a monster.

Something appeared in the distance. It was large enough to encompass the entire horizon. Land. Fresh water. That was what lay ahead.

She tapped into her deepest energy reserves. The monster couldn't follow her upstream. She still felt it curning the ocean behind her. Fighting her sore muscles, she pushed on.

XXXOXXX

A salty smell permeated the air around the grassy field. Kanto was getting warmer, but cold air blew down from the ocean. It was a taste of what the weather would be like.

The cool breeze nipped at his face. It didn't bother him. Vander had warmed up. His hoodie pockets were filled with small rocks. He whirled around and threw one as hard as he could.

Cosmo's legs were like strong springs. He easily evaded the rock. Then he opened his mouth and released sound waves. His attack blew away several incoming rocks.

Vander flinched and covered his ears for a moment. He then got more rocks from his pockets and tried to predict Cosmo's movements.

Cosmo zigzagged. He was too tricky to hit. His eyes subtly tracked Vander's hands. When he saw Vander reaching for more rocks, Cosmo leapt at him.

With a gasp, Vander stumbled and fell on his back.

Cosmo landed lightly on Vander's chest. He leaned in to nuzzle the boy's cheek.

Vander's heart thudded. "You've never done that before," he said between breaths. He sat up and turned out his hoodie pockets. "I think we'll stop for now. Good job Cosmo."

Cosmo purred as Vander scratched him behind the ears. He then hopped off so his trainer could stand.

"I'm going to train Firebrand and Ironhide now." Vander pulled two other poké balls. "You can go explore a little. Just don't wander too far okay?"

Cosmo mewed and nodded before bounding off into the grass. His body still brimmed with energy. The grass grew thicker as he progressed. Taller blades tickled his nose.

Something startled fled from him. It was probably a rattata.

Cosmo ignored it and pushed further into the bush. His sharp ears could still hear his teammates training. Then he found a sizeable rock and leapt on top.

Ironhide towered over the grass. He was still quite visible.

Cosmo then caught a scent. It wasn't saltwater. Was it river, or maybe a stream? He took a few sniffs and then bounded in its direction.

The bush grew thicker as the field yielded to woodland.

Cosmo's eyes widened when he plowed through another thick bush and came out onto a bare riverbank.

The ground was damp and muddy.

Cosmo anticipated a bath as he followed the stream. He heard something flapping further downstream. Then he came to a small waterfall.

There was a sharp dip and rocks lined the edges.

The flapping came from below the waterfall. Something jumped out. It was a fish with brown scales and blue fins.

Cosmo squeaked excitedly as the leapt up to the top of the falls. He jumped onto a nearby rock to greet her.

The fish flailed upon seeing him. She tumbled back down and fell hard on a rock below. Then she slipped off and floated limp in the water. Her exposed side sported a large dark bruise.

Cosmo's ears drooped as he peered over the edge. He winced upon seeing the bruise. His eyes scanned the falls for a way down.

Several rocks jutted out of the edges the falls. Vines grew up them.

When he found a suitable path, Cosmo leapt from rock to rock. His feline reflexes guided him safely to the bottom. Then he stared out into the water.

The fish's mouth was moving. She was still alive. The weak current slowly pulled her downstream.

With a deep breath, Cosmo plunged into the water. He paddled over to the fish and started pushing her to shore. Once on land, he shook the water from his fur.

She was already on land when the shock wore off. The fish flailed when she saw Cosmo staring down at her. She winced almost immediately.

Cosmo's ears drooped. He eyed the dark bruise and then looked around. The woods seemed empty. Surely he could get back to Vander in time. After one last look, he returned to the top of the falls and started retracing his steps.

XXXOXXX

Vander sat with his back to a tree, looking over his notes. He had half a mind to look for Cosmo. His other two pokémon were training, clearly visible in the field nearby

Firebrand swooped through the air. Her claws and tail glowed dark blue and her flame had turned the same color. She had little trouble smashing the falling rocks.

There were several portals above her.

Ironhide stood nearby, towering over the local trees. His eyes were shut tight as he summoned more rocks. He willed some portals shut, so he could open others.

Small rocky fragments sprinkled the ground as Firebrand shattered one rock after another. Not a single boulder had landed intact.

Soil like sweat was oozing out of his segments. Ironhide opened his eyes, panting. His portals closed moments later.

Firebrand landed next to him and flexed her sore muscles.

Vander closed his notebook and stood up. "Why don't you two rest up now? We'll be heading straight to Oreburgh City once we reach Sinnoh. You might want to take it easy until then."

Firebrand nodded and lumbered to Vander to lie down.

Ironhide burrowed, creating a large hole in the field. He would be back within the hour.

Vander stretched his arms, legs and back. "I should go find Cosmo." He turned to start looking. Then he noticed something darting through the thick grass.

Cosmo leapt out into the field. His tail twitched as he chattered. He started tugging Vander's pant.

Firebrand perked up. She growled out a question. Her eyes widened at Cosmo's response.

Vander looked between the two and nodded. "Okay I'll go with Cosmo." Then he glanced at Ironhide's hole. "Firebrand, can you stay and tell Ironhide what's going?"

She nodded and draped her wing over Vander's backpack.

Cosmo led Vander through the thicker grass and into the woods. He reached the stream within minutes and immediately bounded over to the waterfall. Then he turned and mewed.

"Alright I'm coming," Vander was panting as he jogged over to Cosmo. He looked down and saw the fish lying on the bank below. His eyes fell on the bruise. "Okay…so how do we get down there?"

Cosmo promptly showed Vander the rocks. As before he cautiously leapt from rock to rock and landed safely on the bank below. Then he looked up and his ears drooped. He hadn't thought of how Vander would climb down.

Vander scanned the area around the falls and soon found his own way. He could climb down the vines that clung to the rocks. It was tricky, but he eventually made it to the bank where Cosmo was waiting.

The fish noticed the new arrival and trembled.

Vander squatted near her. "Is it…a magikarp maybe?" He cupped his chin. "No…it's something different."

Cosmo nudged Vander's leg.

He nodded and shuffled closer to the fish. "It's okay," Vander said in a soft voice. "I can help you." He was mindful of the large bruise on her side.

The fish flailed when he got too close. She then winced and stiffened up as sharp pain shot through her.

Cosmo's ears drooped.

Vander hesitated, but then slowly moved his hands under the fish's body. He felt her stiffen up. "It's okay," he cooed. His fingers curled around her dorsal side. "Alright…" He took a deep breath and slowly pulled her to him.

Cosmo sighed, but then looked back at the falls. How would they get back up with the fish?

"We'll find another way," Vander said. He started walking into forest with Cosmo in tow.

XXXOXXX

Her eyes slowly opened. She squinted as they adjusted to the light. Where was she? The last thing she remembered was the human child carrying her.

The room wasn't warm or cold. There were few smells and all surfaces looked immaculate.

Her wide eyes glanced around. Nothing was familiar. A tube was attached to her gills, pumping a soothing fluid through them. The fish opened her mouth to suck in air. Like all fish pokémon, she could breath out of water.

The door opened. A woman, dressed in white entered the room with a rotund pokémon. They both sported cheerful smiles.

She wanted to move, but something made her body limp. The fish opened and closed her mouth. That was all she could do. Her heart was thumping hard and fast. Why couldn't she move?

A nearby machine started beeping.

The woman's face changed. She slowly approached the table and squatted to the fish's eye level. "Don't panic. We're here to help."

That language, it sounded familiar. She had picked up a few words in her travels.

The rotund pokémon had moved to check the machine. Then she closed her eyes. Her body was enveloped in a pink energy. It radiated from her.

The fish was suddenly peaceful. Her heart slowed. That energy felt so warm and comforting. Suddenly, the human woman wasn't threatening. Looking around, the fish realized something. She was safe. Nothing was trying to eat her here.

"Good job Chansey," said the nurse. She glanced at the heart rate monitor and nodded. "Okay little one." She then reached out and stroked the fish's tail. Her eyes fell on the shrinking bruise. "You'll be as good as new in a few days."

A bell rang. It was from the front desk.

The nurse smiled. "That'll be him. I'll get it." She nodded to chansey and left the room.

Vander was waiting at the front desk. He had a bag full of berries from the supermarket.

Cosmo stood on the desk. His tail wagged faster when the nurse emerged. He purred when she scratched him behind the ears.

"That pokémon is healing well. You can come in and see her now."

Vander nodded. "So it's a girl…magikarp?"

The nurse shook her head. "She's a female, but not a magikarp; at least not a normal one." She then lifted up a divider to let him in. "Try not to be too…energetic," the nurse said as they reached the door to the room. "She's in a vulnerable state."

"Okay." Vander slowly stepped into the room. He saw fish sitting on the white mattress. First he set down his grocery bag. Then he retrieved several berries.

The fish recognize him. She didn't startle when he set berries in front of her. The soothing energy kept her still.

"I think that's enough Chansey," the nurse said with nod.

Chansey smiled and stood off to the side. She would only intervene if the fish had another panic attack.

Cosmo climbed onto the mattress. He watched closely as the fish examined the berries.

"I have more if you want." Vander kept his head low so he would be at eye level. "Come on. I know you're hungry." He gave her a reassuring smile.

The nurse had been looking into the grocery bag. "Why did you pick those berries?"

Vander maintained eye contact with the fish. "I can figure out what to feed her based on her choice. Those berries cover all the basic flavors." He felt grin coming when the fish inched closer.

She could smell them. Each one was different. One smelled much better than the others. Her mouth opened and she slowly sucked the chosen berry into her mouth.

Vander's eyes lit up. "Perfect. I have a bunch of ones like that." He slowly backed away and retrieved more berries. "Here. These are similar." He lined them up in front of her and removed the rejected berries.

She slowly finished off her first berry, savoring the sweat taste. Her jaws slowly squeezed out the juices as she swallowed it whole. It was better than what she normally ate.

Cosmo's tail was wagging. Then his eyes fell on the bruise. It had shrunk, but was still very visible. He crawled a little closer and mewed.

The fish looked away from the berries. She remembered Cosmo. He looked harmless now. Her lungs inflated. She belched out a few goofy sounds.

Vander smiled and raised an eyebrow. He noticed Cosmo perking up. "I think we're okay in here," he said to the nurse.

She nodded. "I'll be at the front desk if you need me." She left with Chansey in tow.

XXXOXXX

A few days had passed since Cosmo found her. The nurse finally allowed Vander to take the fish out with him.

Vander sported a big grin as he carried her to the field. He had already told Firebrand and Ironhide about her. He had even named her, Shell. Now they would all meet.

Cosmo trotted alongside them. He chattered almost constantly.

Shell tensed up a little at his descriptions. They would both be huge. Firebrand sounded especially scary with her fangs, claws and flaming tail. She shuddered at what might happen if they attacked.

Vander felt her stiffen up. "Don't worry Shell. Firebrand and Ironhide are really nice. They won't hurt you." His words had little effect. She still felt stiff in his arms.

They soon found Ironhide's feeding hole.

Vander set Shell down so he could remove his backpack. Then he released Firebrand and Ironhide.

Shell eyed the hole with wide eyes. Based on Cosmo's stories that had be Ironhide's doing. He was much bigger than she imagined; larger than any pokémon she had seen.

Cosmo sat next to Shell and allowed her to lean on him.

The two larger pokémon appeared in flashes of white light.

Vander beckoned them to lean in so he could whisper. "I brought Shell with me today. Just so you know, she's a bit intimidated by your size."

It was an understatement.

Shell shivered at the sight the two titans. Ironhide was larger than the monstrous gyarados that attacked her school. Everything about Firebrand screamed apex predator. She leaned more onto Cosmo.

He stood firm like a rock. Cosmo gave Shell a friendly lick and then chattered softly to her.

Firebrand lay down on her belly. She kept her head to the ground. Then she let out a friendly purr.

There was a spark in Firebrand's eyes. Shell saw it in Ironhide as well. It was worlds away from the bestial eyes of wild gyarados or the more glazed eyes fellow fish. Perhaps this was mark of a trained pokémon. After a moment's pause, Shell tentatively wriggled closer to Firebrand.

Cosmo was with her all the way. His tail swished about more vigorously as they got closer. He was patient throughout the five minutes it took Shell to reach Firebrand's snout.

Firebrand kept her mouth closed to hide her fangs. Her wings were folded tight against her back. Her tail was flat on the ground with the flame shrunken and far away.

Shell flinched when Firebrand started nuzzling her. It took a few minutes for her to relax. Then she was at ease, especially with Cosmo at her side.

"Here." Vander knelt to give Firebrand a berry. "This is her favorite kind."

Firebrand took the berry and slowly held it to Shell's mouth. She waited as Shell nibbled through it.

The ground rumbled a little as Ironhide slithered into his hole. His head soon poked out of the ground.

Shell looked away to watch the spectacle, but soon returned her focus to eating. Once finished with her berry, she started wriggling over to Ironhide. Though larger, he looked less menacing than Firebrand. Cosmo's presence also bolstered her.

Ironhide couldn't feed her, but he stayed still to avoid startling her.

After a brief hello, Shell wriggled back to where Vander was unpacking his bag. She was more or less at ease with them.

"Let's have dinner out here," Vander said as he gathered sticks for the campfire. "We can get Shell more acquainted with us."

Firebrand nodded and lit the wood with light puff of flames.

Vander soon had his pot over the fire. He was boiling several weeds and vegetables. He glanced at Shell as he stirred the pot. It looked like she was chatting away with Firebrand.

Cosmo was always next to her.

Vander cupped his chin. Perhaps Cosmo finally found someone he could protect. For once he wasn't the weakest among them. He smiled and shook his head. It was time to ask her if she wanted to stay with them. Then his smile faded as he remembered something.

The water started boiling.

Vander used a ladle to pour the soup into three bowls. Then he sliced up berries for Cosmo and Shell. He was frowning. They all needed to know why he was challenging Pokémon League.

Only Firebrand knew the full truth.

"Dinner's ready," Vander called. He set bowls in front of Cosmo and Shell. Then he started soaking Firebrands meat.

Firebrand noticed the slight change in Vander's mood. His smile looked forced to her. She stood and lumbered over to him. With a soft purr she nudged cheek.

A genuine smile crept onto Vander's face. "Your meat's almost ready," he said. Then he looked at her and raised an eyebrow. Her gaze looked penetrating. He leaned away from her. "What?"

She looked into his eyes and growled softly.

Vander glanced to Cosmo and Shell. They were both engrossed in their meals. "I need tell them," he said, looking back at her. "They need to know about…Him."

Firebrand nodded and then looked at Ironhide's hole.

"Yeah…I'll start when Ironhide gets back." He had only briefly mentioned the man to Ironhide. Vander looked back to the pot and pulled the meat out with his tongs. "Here." He tossed the meat slab.

Firebrand snatched it with her jaws and gulped it down whole.

Vander sipped his soup. "It's almost dark," he said, looking up at the sky. Then he glanced at the hole. "Ironhide should be here soon."

The ground started rumbling several minutes later. Ironhide poked his head out the hole. He growled to announce presence.

Cosmo and Shell stopped their conversation to acknowledge him.

Vander quickly slurped the remaining soup from his bowl and stood. He took deep breath and looked at all of his pokémon. "Guys. I have story to tell all of you."

Firebrand already knew it. She calmly lay down to listen.

Cosmo's tail swished and his eyes lit up. What kind of story would Vander tell? He glanced a Shell, who looked mildly interested.

Ironhide squirmed a little farther out of his hole. His head was now next to the campfire.

Vander sat cross-legged on the grass. He looked across the group and took a deep breath. "Okay. This is about why I'm trying to win Pokémon League and beat the Elite Four."

Cosmo and Shell squirmed closer to him. They were clearly interested.

Vander closed his eyes and thought back. "I used to live with my dad and my sister, Venus. My dad worked for Professor Oak." He looked directly at Shell. "He's a man who studies pokémon."

Shell nodded.

Vander felt his chest knotting up as he thought the little girl who always followed him around. "Venus with me when Firebrand was born."

Cosmo looked up at Firebrand. He couldn't picture her as a charmander.

Vander took a deep breath. "Then one day, this strange man came to Pallet Town. His pokémon were really strong. He even beat Professor Oak in a battle and made it look easy."

Ironhide's jaw dropped. He still remembered the power of Firebrand's parents. How could anyone beat them easily?

"I don't remember what Venus said to him…" Vander cupped his chin. "…But the man was suddenly interested in her. I don't know. I think he said she had some sort of power."

Firebrand's flame flared up a little.

"Then…some group attacked Pallet Town." Vander closed eyes as he tried to recall every detail. "I don't remember everything. There were lots of golbats. People were running around. I found my dad. Something had frozen him and then broken ice into little pieces."

Cosmo and Shell squirmed uncomfortably while Ironhide clenched his jaw.

"Then I found Venus." Vander clenched his fists. "That man had put her to sleep and was carrying her away." His eyes grew moist. "Firebrand was there too. We tried to stop him, but he was too strong. We didn't stand a chance."

Shell thought of gyarados that had scared her into swimming upstream.

Cosmo remembered how powerless he was when Dusknoir took Vander to the Spirit World.

Ironhide thought of Machamp.

Vander clearly recalled that moment. A thick vine kept him pinned to the ground. "He took Venus away. The police and the Pokémon League couldn't find him. They were too late to stop anything."

Firebrand's flame was now bluish white. The tongues flicked about vigorously. Her body remained still as she watched Vander carefully.

"He's still out there," Vander said in a slight whisper. "I want to stop him." Then he looked back at the group. "The Professor knows how strong he is. That's why he wants me to beat the Elite Four first. Then I'll be ready to go after him."

Ironhide nodded growled out his support.

Cosmo walked over to Vander and sat in his lap. He purred when Vander started stroking his back.

Vander felt his pulse coming down as he stroked Cosmo. He turned to look at Shell. "I just wanted you to know what my plans are. You can come with us if you want." His free hand moved to feel a pendant hidden beneath his hoodie. It was made from the last fragment of Vega's gem. "I'll do my best to keep you safe."

Cosmo raised his head and looked expectantly at Shell.

Shell looked into Vander's eyes. Then she stared at the other three pokémon. Her eyes closed as she weighed her options.

Vander let her think and looked down at Cosmo. "I didn't get around to telling you any of this. Do you still want to battle for me?"

Cosmo answered by wagging his tail and mewing. He turned and nuzzled Vander's hand. Off course he would stay.

Shell opened her eyes and wriggled closer to Vander. "Bah! Bah!" She managed to rear back on her tail and put her fins on Vander's lap. "Bah!"

Vander lifted Shell onto his lap and smiled. He understood her well enough. "Welcome to our group." Then he felt a warm body behind him.

Firebrand sat behind Vander and nuzzled his cheek.

Ironhide crawled further out of his hole. He stopped when his head was close to the others.

Vander leaned back into Firebrand's surprisingly soft belly and closed his eyes. He raised a hand pet Ironhide. "Thank you," he whispered.

They sat quietly for a few minutes.

It was dark out. Vander knew the nurse would be worried. After recalling his two larger pokémon, he carried Shell back into town with a skip in his step. His team was growing. They were now five strong.

XXXOXXX

Vander wet his hair and light patted it. He pulled it back and bunched it up. It wasn't quite long enough for a ponytail. With a sigh, he let it hang loose. "I'm ready," he said when he stepped out of the bathroom.

Cosmo perked up and hopped off the bed. His tail wagged. He thought of all the strange new pokémon they could meet in Sinnoh.

"Knife, med pack, flashlight, wallet," Vander whispered as he check his belt and pockets. "Okay." He turned to Cosmo. "Notice anything missing?"

Cosmo darted around Vander and looked him over. He then shook his head.

"Good." Vander then slung on his backpack. He let Cosmo hop onto his shoulder before leaving the room.

"Remember to dress warmly," the nurse told them down at the lobby. "Sinnoh is still pretty cold this time of year."

"I know. I put on an extra layer for that." Vander fingered the turtleneck collar poking out form under his hoodie. "We'll be leaving soon. I just need to make call."

The nurse nodded. "Well goodbye, and good luck in Sinnoh."

After saying goodbye, Vander moved to one of the computers in the lobby. He opened the videophone app and entered Molly's home number.

The screen beeped for a few minutes. Then it played the voicemail greeting.

After leaving a message Vander headed for the port with Cosmo on his shoulder. They were soon at the dock where their ferry would arrive. Vander shivered as a cold ocean breeze blew past them. "God I hope Sinnoh's not this cold all the time." His hands were shoved deep in his hoodie pockets.

Cosmo gave him a comforting nudge. He then stared out at the rippling waves. Shell had told him a little about creatures of the ocean. He could only imagine what lurked beneath those waves.

Vander stared out at the horizon. It felt like hours passed before he spotted it. "There. I think that's our ship," he said, leaning across the metal railing. He pointed out a large white ship with three floors above deck.

Cosmo's eyes brightened.

The ferry slowly eased into port.

Vander was among the first few to board the boat. He immediately found a window side seat on the main deck. The ship's bobbing made him cling to the seat. "Are you okay Cosmo?"

Cosmo nodded as he lay on Vander's lap. He yawned and curled up, anticipating an uneventful voyage. The bobbing slowly rocked him to sleep.

With nothing else to do, Vander started flipping through his sketchbook. His pictures were getting better. The most recent was of Cosmo and Shell sitting together under a tree.

The ferry's horn blared as it left port.

The sound roused Cosmo. His ears twitched. He raised his head to look around. There were more people inside now. Most of the seats were occupied.

Vander closed his notebook and returned it to his backpack. "Hey, do want to go outside and look at the ocean?"

Cosmo smiled up at Vander and nodded. He hopped off Vander's lap and followed him out to the deck.

"Cosmo look there!" Vander pointed over the ship's railing at a large blue object spouting water. "It's a wailord I think. You rarely see them from land."

Cosmo wagged his tail. He sat firmly on Vander's shoulder. His paws maintained a strong grip.

They watched as more spouts appeared. Both were oblivious to the man watching them from a higher deck.

His tall and lanky body leaned over the railing. A grin slowly spread across his face as he observed Vander. "Hello Cortez," he said casually into his cell phone. "Could you tell Pinkie that the kid made it out of the Spirit World?"

There were more spouts. Then several ellipsoid fish leapt out of the water near them.

Vander chattered excitedly to Cosmo as they watched.

"As you wish." The man ended the call and then looked around to make sure nobody was watching. His hair slowly shifted from wavy blonde to straight and brown.

"I wonder if we'll see a wailord fossil in the Oreburgh," Vander mused to Cosmo as they watched the spouts.

Cosmo just wagged his tail.

The man had overheard Vander. His eyes lit up. He pulled a poké ball out of his red jacket. "Mr. Winkles," he whispered into it. "We'll be seeing some familiar faces at the mines."


This chapter was originally going to be very different. I decided to focus more on Vander's new pokémon and shed a little more light on the main antagonists. I also figured that it would better to give the main antagonists more presence in the early part of the story instead just putting them off until after the Elite Four.

Also, one thing I'm becoming concerned about is developing Vander's pokémon. I want to try and make them developed characters as well. Have I done a good job balancing their development so far? If not, which ones do I need to work on the most?