Chapter Twelve: Road to Recovery
THE SAFFRON POST
Rocket Raid Leaves Celadon in Ruin
A premeditated terrorist attack on Friday morning resulted in the destruction of South and Central Celadon City and the death of several Celadonians, while Kanto mourns in shock.
The attack was said to have occurred at around 1300 hours. Residents of Celadon were startled and shocked as the peaceful city was infiltrated and attacked at several iconic locations such as the Celadon Departmental Store, the Contest Hall, the Pokécenter, and Coronary Street. The military style ambush was said to have been carried out by the nefarious criminal organisation, Team Rocket.
Several eyewitnesses spoke about the horrors they faced that day. "It was the worst day of my life," says one mourning husband who does not wish to be named. "They [Team Rocket] snatched my wife away like that," he adds with a snap of his fingers.
The entire nation of Kanto is in shock at the surprise terrorist attack that had been carried out at Celadon City. Charles Goodshow, President of the IAPL has offered condolences to those who were caught in the middle of this tragedy, and a crowdfund has been set up in support for the families of the deceased.
No official statement by the Indigo League has been made yet, although Elite Bruno…
Ash didn't bother shutting the door behind him as he limped away. He was too busy getting out of this place as quickly as possible.
The past month had been a nightmare to him. It was excruciatingly painful remembering his time here; having his legs set into place, being drugged as he was fed undiluted Chansey egg, watching through half-lidded eyes as the nurse to his room tried to stop the paparazzi from bursting in, trying to ask him questions in his induced sleep. Those were simply a few bits of what he remembered.
He heard footfalls as he walked along the empty hallway of the Celadon Gym. His heart quickened and his hand went to his six pokéballs as he grit his teeth, expecting a Rocket grunt to assaul—
Instead, a comforting hand rested on his shoulder. His stress alleviated in an instant as he turned around and glanced into the concerned eyes of Misty. "Hey."
"Hello, Ash," she said nervously. "You're leaving already?"
Ash nodded. "Yep. I need to get out of here."
"Good." She sighed. Then he noticed the backpack around her. "I'm coming with you."
Ash squinted in puzzlement. "What? Why?" he asked.
She frowned. "You need someone with you," Misty replied. "You're not fine, Ash. Yes, you've recovered, but you're not ready to head out into the wild alone. You need someone with you."
"No I don't," he protested. He felt annoyance rise up as his forehead creased.
Misty clenched her teeth. "Don't make this harder than it already is, Ash," she warned. "There are still wayward Rockets in the surrounding routes, and they're being brought into Saffron every day. Plus, I already promised Erika that I'd keep an eye on you, and—"
Ash scowled. "Look, I don't need a babysitter—"
He felt something hit his ankle. He was knocked off-balance, and he tumbled to the floor, only for Misty to grab him by his arm and haul him back up. He winced as her nails dug into his skin. She was strong for her age.
"You won't last two seconds without me." Ash stared into her eyes; they were as sharp as daggers, and it felt like they were staring into his soul. "You think you're hot stuff, but you're not. You could barely navigate your way through Celadon without being attack, or nearly killed. You thought you're some prize when you were with Erika, but the second she was down you turned into a dirt sandwich. You think your pokémon are strong? Think again. I could whip you again and again without breaking a sweat."
Tears of anger burned his eyes. The worst part was that this was, in fact, true, to some extent. He hated how helpless he'd been during the Celadon Raid, how sure of himself he thought he was, when in fact he'd been cut down by a single punch when he had faced the executives. It was only the Saffron forces timely arrival that had saved him. And it stung.
Seeing the anger in Ash's eyes, Misty frowned. "Ash, you shouldn't be afraid to admit that you need someone by your side," she murmured. "You can't always think that you have everything in control when, in fact, you don't. You're not invincible. Please? Let me come with you."
Ash stared over her shoulder; he was too angry and embarrassed to actually look her in the eye. "F-Fine," he said.
Misty smiled. "Thank you. Now, do you want to leave now, or wait for a while and then head out?"
His reply was wordless. Ash turned around on his heel, tugged at his backpack's straps, and walked away. There was too much sorrow and death rooted in the streets of Celadon at the moment, more than he could handle.
The first night in the wilderness sucked.
His legs were already stiff by the time he chose a resting spot. He remembered his doctor's words to not stress them too much, but Ash needed a way to distract his mind from thoughts around Celadon. While Chansey egg could do wonders and sped up healing by tenfold, it could still have adverse side effects if the injury returned slowly. It was something Ash didn't want.
Misty didn't say much as they walked, which was good – he still wasn't in the mood to talk, not after what had happened back in Celadon. He didn't want to admit it, but she had been right – he did feel far more comforted with her presence than he would've been with her absence.
But even Misty walking alongside him didn't make things better. What made it worse was the fact that he was missing one member. At first, Ash had been scared that all his pokémon had been lost, but the League worked miracles. The rangers had first rounded up all injured pokémon with devices called 'stylers' – whatever they were – and then transferred all of them to a single storage before scanning each pokémon and transporting them to different storage boxes as per each trainer's ID. It had been a long, tedious process – taking up several whole days for workers to do it manually – but it was an effective way to find out which pokémon belonged to a Rocket and which one didn't.
The sad and horrifying part was that they weren't able to find Kratos. At all. His pokéball hadn't even popped up on his pokédex, which had a tracking radius of three miles. Which meant that – bile rose up in his throat as he thought about the possibilities – Kratos' pokéball had either perished in the explosion of the Pokécenter's destruction, or that Team Rocket had successfully managed to take the Scyther back to base.
Ash didn't need to waste even a second for him to decide which was worse.
He tried to distract himself from these haunting thoughts. Two plus two is four. Four plus four is eight. Sixteen. Thirty-two. Sixty-four. One-twenty-eight.
Ash quickly unpacked his bag and sat down on the grassy ground, holding his right leg, which was still wrapped in a cast. He clutched the cast, as if clenching it would help alleviate the dull ache in his bones. With a sigh, he unhooked his belt and released his pokémon.
This was the first time he was seeing his pokémon in so many weeks. With the destruction of the Pokécenter, his pokémon had stayed in professor Oak's storage, waiting for Ash to be discharged and get them back. The main downside of being admitted in a human hospital was that they banned the entry of any pokémon with the exception of certified healer pokémon such as Chansey, Audino, Kadabra, etc. But Ash didn't care, as long as his pokémon were cared for.
This time, Ash did not smile at the consecutive flashes of light as his pokémon popped out. There were no cries of happiness. No cheerful greeting. Simply dull movement as his pokémon focused on a solemn Ash.
For the sake of his pokémon, Ash tried a brave smile. "Hey, everyone. Long time no see."
His pokémon growled softly. Sensing his distress, Saur slowly crawled forward and nuzzled against his chest.
"Are you guys okay?" Ash said. No response. He sighed.
They must've sensed his distress, as they slowly swarmed him and engulfed him in a hug. First it was Screecher, who floated up into his lap. Then Hydrus, who rested his large head over Ash's and breathed softly. Then Delphi, and Monferno, and Zeus, who surrounded him from all sides, keeping him stable as he tried to fight the tears from running along face. Even Snorlax, who barely cared form him, was growling sadly, and peeking glances at him.
He let his tears fall freely. There was no point in holding it all in – he needed release, and he found it in the comfort of his friends, who were right by him, and who would never leave him. Snot bubbled and his breathing was sharp but his pokémon didn't care about that, they weren't disgusted, the didn't see him as weak, they simply stood there as he wallowed in self-loathing and thought about how he'd failed them and how he'd failed Kratos and how he made a promise to never let them down ever again—
An hour later, Misty draped a blanket over Ash and stared down at him in pity. Dried tears had burned his cheeks but she didn't bother wiping them away. He looked peaceful, far more than he'd been a while ago – maybe it had to do with his pokémon, who were snoring alongside him, equally at peace. Misty sighed – it was time to sleep. She looked at Wartortle, who spat a line of water and put out the campfire, then slipped into her sleeping bag, where she lost consciousness to the sound of steam rising from the scorched wood.
Ash woke up the next morning to the sound of Spearow chirping. He looked to his right, only to be met with a face full of forest scales – Saur? How had— right, he'd fallen asleep buried under his pokémon. He felt his face redden as he wondered whether Misty had heard him ugly-cry last night. That was embarrassing.
He stretched his limbs and looked at his wrist watch. 5:37, which was quite early for him. Within moments he blinked the gunk out of his eyes and searched for his backpack. Misty was sleeping, so he decided to freshen up before she woke up. He grabbed a fresh pair of clothes, and hid behind a cluster of trees before stripping to his boners boxers and then changing into a clean pair. He had a bit of trouble putting his pants on, what with his cast still being there, but he managed to do so.
By the time he returned, Misty was half-awake. Her arms burst out from her sleeping bag as she stretched them. "What time is it?" she called out through a yawn.
"It's ten to six," he told her shortly. Sighing, she returned to her cocoon, only to sigh in frustration and wake up.
Ash yawned. "Wake up, guys," he yelled, clapping his hands vehemently. When they didn't, he frowned and walked over to the cluster of them, shaking them roughly. Hydrus cracked his beak open and quacked in annoyance, and Ash grinned as the duck looked at him with a gimlet eye before giving up and listening to his trainer. That didn't mean he had to like it, and he kept giving Ash dirty looks for the rest of the morning.
Delphi had already woken up – she had taken to resting on a thick branch overhead, looking down upon the rest like a mountain climber looking down upon the populace from the peak of Mt Silver. Ash didn't bother waking Snorlax – there was no point trying to rouse the heavy sleeper right now. He decided to do it later.
As the morning trickled by, Ash's pokémon slowly joined the rest one by one. Monferno was, by far, the sleepiest – he'd been careless with his tail flame and accidentally put a shrub on fire, Misty's Wartortle put it out. While his pokémon warmed up for the rest of the day, Ash began Misty to prepare breakfast for everyone, and by the time they were done the ramen Misty had brought was cooked.
Misty picked a bunch of noodles with her chopsticks and sipped them up. "Are you ready to travel today?" she asked hesitantly.
Ash gave her a puzzled look. "What do you mean?" he asked. "We made a move yesterday."
"That's not what I meant," she said. "What I meant was, are you in the right state to make a move to Fuchsia? You look a little tense," she added.
Ash frowned. "I'm fine."
Misty sighed. "Yeah, you're not."
He scowled. "How the hell would you know whether I'm alright or not?" he snapped. "Why don't you just take your concern and—"
"Don't you dare yell at me, Ketchum," she hissed, rising jerkily from her place and ignoring the ramen spilling from her bowl. "You might be hurting but that does not allow you to treat me like dirt! You're not doing me a favour by allowing me to travel with you. I could walk out on you and let the wild pokémon deal with your sorry butt."
Ash breathed through his nose, but said nothing. Instead, they went through the rest of the morning in silence. By the time they were done packing up, Ash and Misty had made an unspoken agreement to act as if their earlier argument had never happened, and once again began heading towards Fuchsia City.
Ash had vowed to never fail his friends ever again, and so he decided to push his pokémon and himself past their limits. Unfortunately, the afternoon had not presented them with any action (he'd wanted to battle wild pokémon, but the only ones in sight were herds and packs that he did not want to agitate) and the swelteringly hot weather and added to his frustration. Misty had undoubtedly noticed him gritting his teeth every few minutes, and decided to not make small talk after his rather biting reply.
It was only an hour after lunch that Ash began encountering trainers in numbers. At first, he had enjoyed uttering pulverising his opponents, and smiled cockily as he took his cash reward. But quickly enough his arrogance waned; the trainers were getting stronger, and Ash was now beginning to face trainers with four, five, six badges, much to his dismay and ire.
It was when Ash was facing a so-called bug catcher that Ash began to lose his cool – he never lost to a bug catcher, since every last one of them turned out have had freshly-evolved bugs, but this one seemed to be an aspiring master. They had decided on three pokémon each, and Ash was already angry at having his Flaaffy out cold so soon into the match.
"Delphi, Aerial Ace!" Ash screamed. The bird nodded, then disappeared blurrily before swooping down at her opponent with streaks of white light coning around her from the tip of her beak.
"Rock Tomb," ordered the bug catcher. His Heracross tittered and stomped the ground with two feet, causing spires of rock to sprout out of the ground and entomb it. Ash growled in disconcertment as Delphi crashed into the rock with a painful sound. A moment later, the Rock Tomb was blasted open and the Heracross slammed a glowing horn straight into Delphi's midsection, forcing her eyes to bug out in pain. Ash recalled her and switched her pokéball so fast that the movement seemed nearly invisible.
"Monferno, Flamethrower!" yelled Ash as he hurled the pokéball with all his might. Unfortunately, he forgot about the rebound and the pokéball smashed into his funny bone, making him rub his elbow in discomfort as he felt the urge to smile in pain.
A stream of flames escaped Monferno's mouth, but the bug catcher's Heracross shielded itself with an emerald barrier. Scowling, Ash ordered form his pokémon to use Brick Break, which the single horn pokémon met with a Horn Attack. Both pokémon bounced back, although Monferno landed on his feet and skidded to a halt while Heracross landed on its back.
"Flamethrower, then Flame Wheel!" A line of fire blazed towards the Heracross, which had quickly recovered and leapt over the flames that razed the grass. Its translucent wings buzzed as the beetle hovered in the air, tracking Monferno with its small, yellow eyes. Concentrating power in its hands, the bug swiped its arms up jerkily, forcing spires of rock to jut out of the ground. Scowling, Monferno smashed a stone blade up ahead with a thrust of his hand. The Brick Break cut through the rock and it crumbled into fragments, but, taking its chance, the Heracross flew down and stabbed the fire-type in the back with its horn.
Ash winced as his pokémon crash on his neck; Monferno hissed in anger as he was cloaked in dust and dirt, and brushed off a few crumbs of dirt from his shoulder before leaping over Heracross, who had just dived down and aimed its forked horn at him. "Flamethrower!" A shriek sounded as a gout of fire doused Heracross' back, but the beetle flew away, a wisp of smoke trailing from its back as it struggled to stay afloat.
"Earthquake!" ordered the bug catcher. Energy coiled up in his pokémon's two fists, and it grunted before swooping down to strike.
"Jump!" Ash said, a second before the Heracross struck the ground.
Unfortunately, he'd underestimated Heracross' strength – as its fists drove into the ground, the earth heaved, then exploded upwards, sending rock and blocks of earth laced with energy into the air. The terrestrial plates shifted, split open, like a piece of wood being snapped into two. All Ash could see of Monferno was a blazing tail flame being hidden by crumbs and chunks of airborne mud.
Ash himself was knocked off balance, and he got up just in time to see a rare tree crash to the ground with a mighty thud. Uh oh.
"I won," the bug catcher announced, his Heracross flying tiredly in front of him. He grinned.
But he hadn't – there was a scream of anger before the earth burst open and Monferno leapt out, crazed with adrenaline coursing through him. His tail flame had expanded to a monstrous size and flames licked at his fur. He screamed, again, then rushed forward and twisted into a Flame Wheel which was much bigger and whiter than normal.
A fuzzy shriek hissed out of Heracross as Monferno crashed into it an drove the bug-type into a tree. As the Flame Wheel fizzled out, a bolt of white hot fire streamed from his open mouth and washed over the Heracross' carapace.
Ash was about to bite out an order when Monferno let out a tremendous caterwaul and leapt into the air, his fists flying. A beam of energy rippled from Heracross, but Monferno leapt around it and onto a tree, using the hard bark as a platform to launch himself at the single horn pokémon. The Heracross heaved as Monferno landed on its back. It began spinning around, trying to throw the simian off it, but Monferno's grip around the horn was deathly strong as he smashed his free hand into the Heracross' back and scorched him with flames.
Grimacing in pain, the Heracross began spinning faster and faster, nose-diving to the ground, where the both of them crash landed and kicked up a heap of dirt in the process.
Ash stomped. "Monferno, Brick Break!"
He blinked, however, when Monferno crazily launched himself at Heracross, cloaked in fire – that was Flame Charge, not Brick Break. He wasn't obeying Ash at all!
"Heracross, use Hyper Beam!" the bug catcher yelled at a last-ditch attempt to take Monferno out of the battle. A shockwave rippled out as Monferno slammed into Heracross and knocked it straight back, the fire-type backing up from the recoil. A split-second later a brilliant beam of orange energy shot from Heracross' mouth and pinned Monferno in the chest, driving him into the ground where he was knocked unconscious by both the force behind the energy beam and the power it packed.
Ash cursed as he saw Heracross hovering back to its trainer – it looked crippled, but it was still awake, and despite its droopy eyes it flexed its arms. His eyes moved from the pokémon and to the trainer, who was carefully making his way to Ash over the razed field. "I win."
Ash stonily threw a bunch of bills at the other trainer, who gave him a dirty look before shaking his head and walking all. All the while being glared at by Ash, who was close to exploding at the defeat of his pokémon.
Once the teen was out of earshot, Ash yelled in anger. He tossed Monferno's pokéball to the ground, watching it sink halfway into the crumbly mud.
Misty frowned. "Now, Ash, you can't just—"
"I lost! To a freaking bug catcher!" he screamed. "I hate this!" Ash sank to his knees, defeated and tired. "You were right, I can't do anything. I'm a loser."
Misty sighed and knelt beside him. "Come on, you can't let one loss ruin everything for you," she said. "You just need to train some more—"
"How, Misty?" he said, looking up at her. "My pokémon haven't gotten any stronger. I haven't gotten any stronger. You saw the way that— that Proton kicked me to the ground like I was a baby and tossed my pokémon aside like they were insects. You saw."
He tossed a pebble across the field. It clinked against a tree branch. "And now, I've gone and lost Kratos." He sniffled. "I'm horrible…"
"Ash, the fact that you still think about him – after five weeks, even though you barely had him in your possession– tells me that you're not horrible, at all," Misty told him. "In fact, you're one of the nicest people I've ever had the pleasure to encounter. Most trainers would've forgotten about a new pokémon within a few weeks, at most, and would've gotten a new one. Now, you can't just wallow in self-pity and self-hatred. That just makes you pathetic. If you really want to get stronger, you need to let nothing affect you. You've got to be headstrong and not let anything deter you from your goals. If Lance was in the same position as you, would he be crying like you are?"
"He wouldn't lose a friend in the first place," Ash grumbled.
Misty snorted. "You're missing the point. There's nothing you can really do now. You don't know where your Scyther is, or where the grunts who kidnapped him are. You've done everything you could – I saw you file the police report yourself. Why waste time over things you can't change? Instead, focus on training your pokémon. I'm pretty sure you'll do great in the Conference if you really put your heart and soul into it.
"You have talent, Ash," she told him. "But talent means nothing if it isn't backed by hard work. That's the difference! Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard."
For some reason, he felt invigorated by her words. "Fine," he said, sounding resigned, but inside he was excited. He jumped back up to his feet. "Let's get going!"
From then on, Ash pushed himself like he'd never done before. Misty's words kept ringing in his head: talent beats hard work when talent doesn't work hard. It served as a reminder to keep working hard so to not get a swelled head from easy wins. He kept playing those words again and again as be pushed his pokémon to the limit and even further beyond.
They spent very little time travelling, and instead focused on training their pokémon as much as they could and testing themselves against passing trainers. After all, Ash was in no rush to get to Fuchsia City; Koga was no slouch and Misty had confirmed the rumours of the Venom Nin's inclusion to the Johto Elite Four once the year was up, which was all the more reason for Ash and his team to be as prepared as the could – it wouldn't do to not be their best when facing a potential candidate for the Johto Elite Four.
Unlike the previous gym leaders Ash had faced, the remaining four – Koga, Blaine, Sabrina and Giovanni – would not take him lightly. They would do their best to crush his spirit and make him think he wasn't cut out for the Indigo Conference. And Ash wasn't going to break.
The abysmally hot weather didn't help matters either. It was frequent for Ash to wish for the night to come sooner than it did, and bring the cold wind along with it to soothe his boiling skin. Most of his pokémon echoed his sentiment, but there were some who seemed to enjoy the hot breeze blowing all over them.
With a grimace of envy, Ash stared at Saur, who had just nestled himself between blades of yellow grass and fell into a lazy half-sleep. His best friend seemed to enjoy the scorching heat the most – it was understandable, especially since he was nearing evolution by the days. It would only be a matter of a month or two before the Ivysaur would evolve. It was exciting to see the forest scales darken and thicken, and the bud slowly release sickeningly sweet scents that got thicker and thicker every few days, attracting wild and domesticated pokémon from afar. Unfortunately this meant that Ash could no longer keep Saur outside at night until the pink-red bulb on his back bloomed into the massive flower that rested on the back of Venusaur.
It was also motivating to see Zeus get closer and closer to evolution. Ash had first been worried by the thinning mane of wool, until the pokédex had assured him by informing him about the shedding Flaaffy underwent as they began preparing to transform into Ampharos. Needless to say, it would be sad to see the woolly mane go away. Ash shrugged. Sometimes, sacrifices had to be made.
Another one of his teammates who seemed to be enjoying the summer heat was Snorlax. It wasn't surprising, per se, but it certainly was annoying to see the creature sleep for even longer now that the heat seemed to make the environment cosy for him. Ash didn't really care. It made Snorlax easier to deal with and he was glad to see the frostiness between them slowly thaw out as he spent more time training and socialising with the rest of Ash's friends. He'd even allowed Monferno to sleep over his belly a few days back, which was a huge improvement.
He sighed as he looked at Monferno bounce back up from the ground. Every attempt to help the fire-type get over his Blaze-induced rage ended up with Misty's pokémon having to knock him out. It was, truthfully, extremely frustrating, and had Ash pull his hair out on multiple occasions in despair. Nurse Joy had told him that Monferno would need him to finally get over whatever traumatic event was tormenting the pokémon. But how long would it take? Weeks? Months? Years?
Ash focused on the battle. With a scream of annoyance, Monferno leapt into the air and clawed at Delphi – who instantly flapped her wings and blasted her opponent back to the ground with a gust of wind. Clawing at the air, Monferno blazed the skies with a shaky stream of fire, but Delphi danced around it like it was nothing and waved her wings, creating a wave of psychic energy that split the jet of fire along the length before exploding against Monferno. A cloud of smoke erupted, and Ash saw Monferno pop from the smoke and crash into the ground.
Ash shook his head in pity. Monferno was strong, yes, but he just wasn't as strong as his most powerful friends, and it was honestly frustrating to see him constantly challenge Delphi, Saur and Zeus. He was too wary of Hydrus and Snorlax to actively seek them out – the former had a type-advantage on him and the latter was too big to be confident in front of – and didn't challenge Screecher because he thought too little of her. Not that the Misdreavus minded; if she wasn't so friendly, she would thrash Monferno for seeing her as weak.
If Kratos was here, Ash would've pitted the two of them against each other, both to build Monferno's speed and make Kratos resist fire-type moves.
Ash shook his head. He's gone. I should focus on what I can change.
He looked up just in time to see Monferno swipe a glowing, open fist at Delphi, who had been caught unaware – but a second later she dematerialised and reappeared behind Monferno, who swiped the Brick Break at thin air. Recovering from the teleportation, the Xatu blasted the fire-type with a shadowy blob that exploded point-blank in Monferno's back and knocked him into the ground where he slumped and breathed pure soil.
Ash got up from his seat and walked over. "Okay, that's enough—"
Suddenly there was a high-pitched screech and an explosion of fire that Made everyone freeze. Ash looked up ahead, eyes wide, as he realised that Monferno had slipped into Blaze once again. An irritated Delphi shrieked as she flew across the sky, wisps of smoke trailing from feathers that had been charred by the flames.
Monferno rose from the ground, his tail blazing with fire as his pupils dilated so much that his blue irises were barely noticeable. Ash could sense the rage and fury radiating from him like waves as his body heaved from harsh breaths.
"Monferno," Ash said, holding his hands out in a placating manner as his furious eyes snapped towards him, "there's no one attacking you. You need to calm d—"
But before he could take another step, Monferno was blasted by a jet of water from the side. There was a harsh noise as the pokémon rocketed away from the force and slammed into a tree before slumping down unconscious. Misty's Octillery lowered its mouth and the Hydro Pump quickly ceased until there were only drops of water leaking from its orifice.
"Recall him," Misty said, walking over to Ash's side. "You can revive him later. I'm not taking the chance of him snapping back into his phase if we wake him up right now."
Ash glared at her as she passed him by and went for her can of soda. He didn't ask for her help, even though it certainly helped. Be begrudgingly recalled Monferno and clipped the sphere to his belt. "Delphi, good job," he called, whistling for her attention. The Xatu's ears pricked and she teleported to his side a moment later. She was getting close to perfect at that.
He fed her a few berries and brushed her feathers as she cooed softly. "I want to go wait by that tree over there, okay? I'll be there in a minute; we'll starting learning Zen Headbutt soon."
You mean I will, she said in her smooth, feminine tone. Then she was hit by a weak spray of water that came from Hydrus' and Starmie's direction. The jewels on both pokémon flashed angrily; Hydrus quacked.
Ash gave her a look. Delphi still couldn't properly converse telepathically; her words came broken and filled with static, and she'd resorted to feeding off residual psychic energy whenever Starmie and Hydrus practiced their psychic moves. It annoyed them to no end.
"What have I told you about feeding off Hydrus' psychic energy while he's practicing?" he asked her crossly, but his voice was laced with amusement.
She looked down guiltily. Then she flew off to where Ash had told her, but not before shooting Hydrus a look of betrayal.
"Yes, I scolded her, Hydrus," Ash said in exasperation when Hydrus gave him a pointed look. The Golduck hesitated, as if sceptical, but he shrugged and quickly got back to practicing Psychic under Misty's Starmie, who'd sprayed him in the face to grab his attention.
They trained all the way on, into the evening, when Misty and Ash finally decided to set camp. It was right near the woods, which was the perfect place for Delphi to perch. While the Xatu picked a branch to her liking, Misty and Ash set it up as fast as they could and then sat down to take a breather. Ash quickly pried his shoes off his feet and moaned.
Misty giggled as she kicked her own sneakers off. "It feels so nice," she said, wiggling her toes. Ash nodded.
"I'm tired," he groaned. "What are we having for dinner?"
She unzipped her backpack. "I got some instant noodles, and if you're not too sleepy then you can help me make some beef stew along with it. Sounds good?"
As Ash let the stew simmer, he released his pokémon. They were all tired, so they immediately lumbered off to a corner and waited for him to heal them up and serve them food. He took out his pack of supplies and quickly tended to them.
"Saur, I'm going to have you back in the pokéball after you eat," Ash said. The Ivysaur pouted. "Unless you want to wake up to Butterfree and Beedrill all over your bud, then it's fine by me." Quickly Saur shut up and relented, but not before grumbling about it. Ash sighed.
Once Ash was done with Zeus and the rest, he quickly cracked open a revive capsule and forced the powder down Monferno's throat. He waited for a few minutes for the simian to wake up, and tended to the beef stew till the time.
Ash crawled hesitantly over to Monferno, who groaned and winced. "Hey, buddy," greeted Ash. "Are you alright?"
Monferno growled. Ash sighed and began spraying super potions over all his bruises. The skin around the open wounds began to bubble and slowly knit themselves together. For good measure, Ash slapped a Band-Aid over it and began grooming the little fire-type.
Ash couldn't say he was disappointed with Monferno; after all, he hadn't gone crazy on purpose. As he applied a paste along Monferno's arm, he saw how downtrodden he truly was. Monferno was disappointed in himself for not being able to control himself. Ash scratched his head.
"It's okay Monferno. You'll get through this, alright? Nursery Joy said that you'll pass this phase pretty quickly. You just need time."
He filled the pokémon bowls with food and added some berries in the mix. Needless to say, he got smiles from all around as he went over to the campfire and tended to his own food.
"I'm glad to see that you've started training your pokémon seriously," Misty said. She slurped down another bunch of noodle strings.
"I always did," he snapped. "It's just that I'm now working harder than before. And it's much better. And tiring." Ash sighed.
Misty laughed. "Yeah, you're right on that one. I don't know how many times I've thought about quitting," she confided. "There's a lot to it. I bet you want to quit right now."
"…Maybe," Ash admitted. He drank the noodle broth before serving himself for the second time. "But I'm not going to, though."
Misty nodded. "Good," she said in between bites. "What's your motivation?"
"What I mean is, what makes you want to not quit? I'm not talking about wanting to win the Conference – that's not a good enough reason to become a good trainer," she said. "What's your driving force? What really pushes you to get stronger and stronger?"
Ash paused. "…I guess it's just not wanting to be like any other ordinary trainer in the world," he said. "And my brother. There are hundreds of thousands of people that decide to become trainers every year. There's a lot of competition, and I don't want to he seen as a common folk. My brother stood out from the rest. I want to stand out, just like him. I don't want to be seen as Ash Ketchum, Red Ketchum's brother. I want to be seen as Ash Ketchum, Pokémon Master."
Ash looked at her and blushed. She was staring at him very intently. "I mean, I, uh, I know that it sounds cheesy," he stammered, "but it's—"
"No, no, I like that," Misty amended, shaking her head. "I wasn't trying to ridicule you or anything for sharing your thoughts. You were honest and that's great!"
"What about you, Misty?" he asked.
She hesitated for a moment; Ash felt that he'd tried to pry too much and so he opened his mouth to apologise, but then she spoke. "It's my sisters," she said. "I want to prove them wrong. They hate me. They think that, because I'm the youngest, I can do nothing."
"They don't hate you," Ash reasoned, feeling slight confused. "I mean, Red and I argue that way all the time. It's just sibling banter—"
"You don't understand." She sighed. "My sisters are narcissists. What you've seen between us? That's a display, because they don't want the world to see them for what they are. My sisters and I despise each other. Ever since my mom passed away and made me inherit the gym. They're just show girls, and they hate that I'm better than them at actually training and battling pokémon, so they've belittled and treated me like dirt, making me feel like crap just because I'm not into looks, or, or getting a bigger bust, stuff like that. When I left to go through the gym circuit, they told me that I'd never pass. That I'd never amount to anything, that I'd never become a water-type master. It's only now that my team's gotten stronger that they finally realised that I'm not a joke. They're scared of me." She snorted. "They should be."
Ash cleared his throat. "Er, sorry."
"It's fine." Misty looked off into the crackling fire. "I need to show them. I'm going to prove them wrong and win the Conference. They'll surely begin respecting me after that."
"Not if I beat you to it," Ash interjected, grinning. Misty laughed.
They didn't talk much after that. The pot of stew was quickly emptied once Ash and Misty had eaten to their fill. While Misty recalled her water pokémon, Ash rolled out his and her sleeping bags before washing their teams' empty bowls and stuffing all their equipment in their bag.
Ash was pretty sure he was the only one awake an hour after they'd put out the fire; except for Delphi, who was perched atop a thick tree branch not too far away. Screecher was probably in something's shadow – either that, or the Misdreavus waiting for him to sleep so that she could deprive him of any nightmares that his brain would concoct.
He let the bright screen of his pokédex illuminate his face in the darkness and stared at his team. He looked at the eighth box on the page, depicting a pixilated Scyther. Ash sighed. He wondered if Kratos had truly perished in the explosion, or if one of the Rockets that had escaped taken him. It would be much better if his pokémon had been incinerated in the flames. It would be a painless death, being lost forever as scrambled data, rather than being at the mercy of Team Rocket.
He shut the device off and cleared his mind of any troubling thoughts. He didn't want to sleep having his mind being nagged so much. Ash turned in his sleeping bag. Fatigue claimed him soon enough.
Ash woke up to the sound of hushed whispers.
As he yawned himself awake, the voices became clearer. "Are ya sure?" asked a soft voice, a twang in his words. It sounded scared, and almost whimpering.
The person to whom the voice belonged was slapped. Hard. "We haven't gotten any cash, supplies, or any way to get back to base. This is the best chance we got. Now shut it, or else I'll leave you to the rangers," Ash heard the other person say. It was firm with conviction and carried dangerous undertones.
"But wh-what about them pokémon—?"
"We'll take the kid's pokéballs and bring them to base. At least we'll have a reason to let Miss Ariana let us in."
Then he felt someone's hand slip into his sleeping bag, and he froze as he felt something cold and sharp pressed against his throat. Metal. He quickly realized what it was and opened his eyes. His pupils adjusted to the darkness and he saw a scarred twisted face right above his.
"Sorry I gotta do this, kiddo," said the person. But the smile on his face betrayed his words.
He felt a small incision form as the blade was pressed into his skin—
Feeling a surge of adrenaline, Ash jerked away from the blade so that the flat of it slashed along his skin. Roaring, Ash rolled away in his sleeping back as the man wildly grabbed at him to hold him in place. He missed. Ash started screaming.
"MISTY WAKE UP THERE'S SOMEONE HERE HE'S—"
"Shut the FUCK up!" his attacker yelled – which did not help things. Ash heard the man hurl the trench knife at him. It missed him by a foot and bounced off the ground.
Panicked voices added to the commotion. Misty had probably waken up, judging from the angry scream of rage and fear from afar. The two men were shouting and yelling – Ash began to scramble out of his backpack when he felt a vicious punch to the back that knocked him to the ground.
"You're dead!" the man shouted. Ash looked up and choked on his spit. His eyes were bloodshot as he grabbed Ash by the collar.
Suddenly, the air went cold and the assailant yelled in fright as a shadowy figure formed right in front of him. The mystery creature let out a horrible screech that made the man let go of Ash and grab at his ears. Ash felt like ripping his ears out as the harsh shriek reverberated through the clearing, until it was interrupted by a flash of light.
The sudden brightness allowed Ash to see something printed along their soggy, ragged shirts – a big red 'R'. Dread began to fill him. "MISTY THEY'RE ROCKETS!" he yelled above the growl of the pokémon the man had released.
"Tauros, Zen Headbutt!" the burly Rocket yelled. "Fritz, help me!"
The mammoth of a bull snorted and stomped the ground before charging forward, concentrating psychic energy around its skull. Ash rose to his knees and his head snapped up just in time to see the bullish creature heading for him. With a push of his feet, he rolled to his right at the last possible second and the Tauros had no opportunity to move in his direction. There was a heavy thud as the beast crashed headfirst into a tree trunk and felled it with its skull.
The moonlight was finally enough for Ash to be able to see everything clearly – as clearly as a person could see at night. The ghostly figure – who he identified as Screecher – flew in front of him and engaged the recovering Tauros in battle. Sucking in air, the Misdreavus exhaled to unleash a frigid blast of cold at just as the horned creature charged at her with another Zen Headbutt. The Icy Wind clipped the Tauros in the face; its horns and cheeks were beaded with condensation as a thick streak of frost and snow began to grow where the winds had struck.
Screecher dove into the shadows just as the Tauros neared. As the wild bull pokémon screeched to a halt, the ghost popped back up and struck it between the shoulders with a Shadow Ball. The enraged Tauros was taken by surprise and howled as its front legs gave way, but its knees snapped back in place. It shook the ice off its face and glared into the skies with dilated pupils and glaring eyes before shooting a bolt of electricity from its horns.
Ash looked to his right and scrambled out of the way of a Hyper Beam from the Rockets' Hypno. Just then he heard a wild shriek and saw something feather and tall blur towards the Hypno and crash into its abdomen with a spinning beak. As the Hypno stumbled away from the Drill Peck, Delphi lifted her foe into the air and drove it into the ground.
"Holy shit!" yelled the burly Rocket. "Fritz, grab their bags and get me the hell out of here!"
Ash took notice of the blade lying innocently on the ground. Without thinking twice, he picked it up and hesitated as he stared at the distracted Rocket in fear, his breathing short and harsh. Just as the man turned, Ash tossed the knife at him, regretting it instantly.
The trench knife sank into the Rocket's shoulder with a wet thump. A strangled scream escaped his throat, blood circling around the hilt of the knife, which was sticking out of his arm. "I'm going to kill—"
His next words were scrambled into a yell of pain as a blue glow surrounded the Rocket, courtesy of Delphi. His back bent in pain and his limbs twisted as he was levitated into the air and then thrown back to the ground. As the psychic glow dissipated, froth began to bubble at it lips, but it didn't seem threatening, and so Ash simply walked around him.
The other Rocket seemed to lose spirit by the loss of his companion and looked lost as Delphi, Starmie and Screecher quickly took charge of the battle. The Tauros bellowed angrily and began charging as fast as it could at Starmie. It opened its mouth to collect brilliant white energy, but it was smote in the face with a powerful Hydro Pump that sprayer water in every direction as it splattered against Tauros' forehead. Ash was amazed to see the bull keep charging straight through the Hydro Pump, screaming through the agony of being drenched by pressurized water; but it wasn't strong enough, and by the time it had moved halfway through the stream of water it was already on its knees, heaving and panting as it dug its hooves into the ground to stop itself from being driven back, in vain.
The Tauros struggled to stand back up, but just as it looked like it had regained its strength it was ploughed in its flank by Delphi. Her head drove into its body and a scream escaped the Tauros' throat as it was knocked away by the force of the Aerial Ace. It tumbled across the ground, and halted on its side.
Meanwhile, Screecher was toying with the Hypno – she seemed to be enjoying her battle with the psychic-type pokémon. Ash cringed when Screecher placed a hellish Curse on herself, the ominous red aura engulfing her, then Hypno, who writhed under the attack. Weak Shadow Balls popped explosively against the Cursed Hypno and threw it under a slow, exquisite torture as the shadowy blobs shattered its mental defences and distorted its mind. A Confuse Ray pounded the yellow creature, and soon it was hissing and moaning as its eyes glazed over, its mind scrambled.
It was disturbing to see Screecher cackle maniacally as the Hypno twisted and moaned painfully on the ground. Never had Ash ever seen the Misdreavus behave in such a sadistic manner – he knew she enjoyed prolonging the defeat of her enemies, but seeing it every time made Ash slightly sick. Thankfully, Misty's Starmie put it out of its misery and knocked it out cold.
He glared at the Misdreavus. "You've got to stop doing that," he hissed. He opened his mouth to say more, but he was distracted by the sound of footfalls – the Rocket was making an escape.
But he didn't make it far. Delphi teleported away in a blink and reappeared in the air, flying, carrying the distraught Rocket in a psychic hold. He flailed in the air and yelled in fear as he stared at the ground, which was several feet below him. Ash didn't feel sympathetic.
Delphi wasn't gentle when she let the Rocket down. She abruptly let her psychic hold go, and the grunt fell to the ground in a mangled heap. He'd probably broken an ankle.
"Please, I wasn't gon' do n'un!" he sobbed. Ash glared.
"You tried to kill me!"
"I've called the rangers, they're en route," Misty informed him, looking up from her pokégear. Ash ignored the Rocket's groan. "They'll be here in five. Starmie, get the other one over here."
As the water-type levitated the unconscious Rocket agent to where they were Ash felt vibrations in his jacket's pocket. Frowning, he pulled it out and turned it on. A notification was begging for his attention. As he tapped on it, his eyes nearly popped out.
"No freaking way," he whispered, utterly shocked to the core.
Misty perked up in curiosity. "What?" she prompted.
Ash didn't answer. Instead, he simply gaped as the screen in front of him burned in his mind.
Name: Kratos; Species Name: ScytherM); OT: Ash Ketchum; ID No.: 01301; Pokéball Distance: 4 ft. approx. 0 s
Ash's enraged eyes slowly moved from the screen of his dex to the pair of grunts by his feet. The Rocket who wasn't unconscious stared at him in puzzlement, but his fear didn't wane.
"Wh— What?" he stammered, sounding confused.
"You stole my pokémon!" he screamed, spit flying. The Rocket cringed. "Where is it!?" He jumped the men and grabbed at their pokébelts.
"Ash, what's going on?" Misty asked.
Ash didn't bother answering. Instead, he ripped their belts away and plucked off the pokéballs, which bounced off the ground. His eyes looked crazed as he picked up each sphere and checked the back before tossing it around. It had to be here somewhere, the dex couldn't be wrong—
He almost – almost – looked over the labelled pokéball by his foot. But the glint of an engraved name caught his eye, and he picked it up, revering it, as if it was the largest gemstone in the world. A sob crawled up his throat. On the lower half of the pokéball was the word 'Kratos' engraved in a tiny scrawl.
Tears spilled down Ash's cheeks; he didn't feel embarrassed or ashamed for crying, and held the pokéball close to his chest as tremors wracked his body. He'd thought he'd lost the Scyther forever, believed himself for being the worst trainer in the world, but now he'd gotten him back, and he couldn't wait to let the Scyther out and give him a hug—
Either the gods were looking down upon him, or he was afflicted by a disease of sheer dumb luck. Either way, he was glad – euphoric, even. A massive knot of anxiety loosened in the pit of his stomach and was replaced with a bowling ball of relief and joy. He offered a silent prayer to any higher power that existed and praised the incompetence of Team Rocket before rising and glaring at the grunts. But he couldn't keep the grin off his face.
"Holy shit, you're the luckiest bastard in the world," Misty told him, looking at the pokéball in his hand, held in a death grip. She expected it to be crushed under his fingers and second now with how tight he was palming it.
"Look," the Rocket grunt said, licking his lips, "you got your pokémon; now, please, let me go. I swear I'd n'un to do with it. It was all Jones' idea. I wasn't gon' do n'un! You don' need to send me packin' to the rangers or anythin', I— ah don' think I can make it in jail—"
All of a sudden, two rangers descended into the clearing atop a Pidgeotto and a Fearow. All of a sudden, the Rocket's snivelling, whimpering manner disappeared, and instead, was replaced by a snarl and a frown.
The rangers approached Ash and Misty with flashlights and quickly replaced their flying-types with an Arcanine and Arbok. "Return your pokémon, trainers."
Misty and Ash complied, holding their hands to the side to show that they were unarmed. The Rocket shifted and tried to stand up as Starmie, Delphi and Screecher were recalled, but a hiss and a glare from the Arbok made him cower behind his unconscious partner.
As soon as the pokémon disappear, the rangers visibly relaxed. Their pokémon, however, did not. "So these are the crooks who assaulted you?" one of them asked. Misty replied yes, and the ranger who'd questioned her nodded at his companion. "Arrest them. We'll take them back to base."
The ranger took out a pair of zip-tie handcuffs and locked their wrists and ankles together – not constricted enough to stop blood flow, but enough to make them wince in pain. "Are those their pokémon?" the ranger asked, nodding in the directions of the breathing Hypno and Tauros.
"Yes," Ash said. "My Misdreavus took care of the Hypno and her Starmie took down the Tauros. What will happen to them?"
"As they are Rocket pokémon, we'll first be flushing out all drugs out of their system, followed by a psychological evaluation," the ranger answered. "If they are deemed sane, they will be put through rehabilitation until they are deemed safe enough to be released into the wild, or given to a trainer."
Ash watched as the rangers recalled the Hypno and Tauros, then put the pokéballs in a pair of sealable zipper storage bags. "Alright, Brad, take 'em to the outpost," the head ranger muttered, pinching the bridge of his nose. Corporal Brad – somehow – loaded the pair of grunts onto his Fearow, and took off. The other ranger, however, decided to stay back.
"Aren't you leaving too?" Misty asked, as the Fearow disappeared into the night.
The rangers shook his head. "This area is compromised, and I think it's too late for the two of you to take your camp elsewhere. Arcanine and I will be keeping guard if any other Rockets make their way here. You do not need to worry."
Ash barely listened to him, however; he was too busy smiling down at the enlarged pokéball in his hand. He wanted nothing more than to release the Scyther right now and welcome him back and smother him with affection. But he decided against it – he was sleepy, and tired, and the rush of adrenaline was quickly leaving him and making his shoulders sag. Well, as long as his pokémon were safe, he thought to himself.
It took a long time for Ash and Misty to get back to sleep. Even though they were tired, they were feeling the aftereffects of the adrenaline boost, and the eerie quietness, disturbed only by the soft rustling of leaves, certainly didn't help keeping them on the edge. But soon enough, like he always did, Ash drifted off to a deep slumber, this time hypnotised by the periodical hisses that came from the ranger's Arbok.
As the bright light shone down upon them, Ash glanced at his team through squint eyes. "Okay guys, be on your toes," warned Ash, holding Kratos' pokéball in his hand. He spun it on his finger – something which he had mastered after seeing Blue Oak do it so many years ago. "It's been a long time since Kratos was taken away from us. We don't know what must've been done to him. Don't be aggressive; if he attacks, I want you guys to do your best to not hurt him, understood?"
Receiving nods of comprehension, Ash turned and tossed the pokéball far ahead, where it snapped open and released a brilliant beam of red light. Kratos appeared up ahead and memories of the last time he'd seen him washed over Ash. He felt a wave of warmth fizz up his chest, and felt like he was going to tear up.
Kratos, however, did not seem to reciprocate. As Ash took a step towards him, they Scyther crossed his scythed arms out defensively. The bug-type pokémon's eye were red and bloodshot with rage and confusion. Ash noticed the pokémon's already battered and bruised carapace. Subsequently, Ash felt a pang of hurt and anger, but swallowed his emotions and tentatively spoke.
"Kratos, it's me," Ash said, but barely a second after he'd spoken the Scyther shrieked and blitzed forward in a green blur.
As soon as the pokémon moved, Ash was yanked back by a psychic force, and grimaced in pain as he bounced on the ground. Looking up, he saw Kratos swiping wildly as the rest of Ash's team did damage control.
Unfortunately, against the might of his six teammates, Kratos didn't stand a chance. As he Slashed Zeus across the chest, he was grabbed by the arms by a pair of thick, sturdy vines. As he tried to escape he was held strong in a psychic glow. Still he struggled, but once Hydrus Disabled him Kratos froze in place.
"Kratos, hold on!" Ash yelled, bringing the Scyther's focus back on him. He felt the pair of dangerous eyes fall on him, but Ash didn't back down. "It's me, Ash. Don't you remember? Your trainer?"
He rose from the dirt, groaning as his knees creaked. Slowly and carefully, Ash began to make his way towards Kratos, who was breathing heavily while the rest of Ash's pokémon surrounded him. Ash attempted a brave smile. "You've been trapped in your pokéball for five weeks – that's a long time, and we thought you'd been lost to Team Rocket—"
A snarl made his voice sputter and die. At the first sign of aggression, Delphi waved her wing – a brilliant blue barrier came to life in front of her trainer. Ash was a little miffed, but he felt a little relieved when he learned that he was being protected by something.
"Okay, no Team Rocket." Ash winced. "The point is, you're back. We've got you back, Kratos! You're with your pack now – Hydrus, Delphi, Saur – they're all here."
Kratos hesitated when he saw them all standing together. He trembled slightly, perhaps from the cold water Hydrus had drenched him with, but remained still. Ash began to tread closer when it was clear that the Scyther wouldn't attack and held forth an open palm. "Kratos?"
Kratos' mood immediately switched to an overwhelming protectiveness and affection as he came to realise that everything Ash had just said was, in fact, true. The Scyther chittered, his wings moving at incredible speeds. He placed a scythe on Ash's hand and ran it along his palm – it drew a little blood, and made Ash wince, but it was pain that he could bite out.
It was after Ash stuck a Band-Aid over the little cut on his hand that he looked over Kratos – who seemed to be in really bad shape. Ash scowled. His pokémon hadn't manhandled him when he'd been released from the pokéball. As the bruises and bumps on the Scyther's carapace healed, Ash glared at the gouge in Kratos' midsection and the charging Tauros from the previous night flashed in his mind. Clenching his teeth, Ash counted in an attempt to cool down, and popped open a super potion.
"Do you want to take a break for the rest of the day? Or are you ready to train?" Ash asked. He might not have liked the latter very much, but Ash offered Kratos the option anyway. Kratos shrugged his armoured shoulders and looked at the rest of the team.
To Ash's surprise, Hydrus let out a snarl and released an angry quack. "What's going on, Hydrus?" Ash probed, but the Golduck kept glaring at Kratos, who stared back impassively. It was the first time any of his pokémon had ever been aggressive to another so openly. There had always been the tension between Saur and Luna at first, but that had gotten over fairly quickly, and had been more due to Luna's dislike for poison-type pokémon…
After a few moments of assessing the foreign emotions coursing through his mind, Ash had a faint idea of what was going on – of course. Hydrus had never liked Kratos, ever since Ash had traded the Clefairy over to Dawn in exchange for her Scyther. He saw him as a replacement for Luna, and not an actual member of the team. At first Ash had simply disregarded it as Hydrus trying to get over the loss of his teammate. But now it was clear that the Golduck had not yet fully accepted Kratos into the group. Ash had never allowed them to settle their disagreements and had largely ignored it as an obstacle that they would eventually get over.
"Hydrus, Kratos is part of the team now," Ash snapped, drawing the Golduck's attention. His beady red eyes glittered in annoyance. "You can't resent him just because Luna wanted to pursue coordinating with Dawn."
Hydrus chose to disobey him. He quacked noisily and took a step forward, puffing his chest at Kratos, who was simply exuding pride and confidence, something that Hydrus didn't seem to like. The lack of reaction didn't help things either. Another quack, this time sharper and louder and bubbling with challenge. Kratos hissed, but didn't step back – he was too prideful to be seen weaker in front of Hydrus, who didn't take no for an answer, and proceeded to get in the Scyther face. His beak looked like it was going to peck his rival.
Hydrus screeched. Kratos hissed. Then Ash stepped in and separated the two before they tore at each other with no qualms.
"Enough!" Ash shouted, glaring to and from his pokémon. "I've had it. Now, you're going to get to training and smile at each other, even if you don't like it. Do you understand?"
Hydrus quacked some gibberish, and that pushed Ash to the edge. But Misty appeared right before he could explode at the water-type.
"What's up?" When Ash explained the situation to her, she smirked. "Oh. Your Scyther's a runt, right? It's pretty common. You'll have to let them fight it out. Your Golduck wants to assert his dominance over Scyther. There's no other way to handle it, unless you want them to bottle it up and pop it open when they're angry enough to kill each other."
Ash glanced nervously at the pair of them – they looked ready to kill each other right now. They were all up in each other's faces, and he scowled when he saw the rest of his team crowding eagerly around the two, as if it was a schoolyard fight where everybody was eager to see two kids throw flimsy punches, like they'd never seen a fight before. Unfortunately that made Ash remember the time he'd fought Gary and the front tooth he'd lost. That was not a particular memory he was fond of.
"Fine," Ash snapped. "Hydrus, Kratos – that way," he ordered, pointing away from where they'd set camp. They glared at each other from an inch away, like a pair of boxers at a press conference, but listened to Ash, and stalked to where he was pointing; the rest of the team trailed along eagerly. He didn't know how strong Kratos was – having only have had the Scyther for a few days under his ownership until he'd disappeared – but Ash did know that Hydrus was one of the strongest pokémon on Ash's team, on par with Delphi and Saur, and Zeus only being a little lower. He didn't have to be a seer to know the outcome of the battle, but he did want to see for himself how strong the Scyther really was compared to his strongest.
Hydrus slapped his chest arrogantly and glared across the field, where Kratos was hovering calmly, rolling his shoulders. The rest of Ash's team, and Misty's, gave the two fighters a wide berth to rumble. "Now," Ash yelled, "you're teammates, so I don't want anyone to try to kill the other," he said. He received amused and annoyed expressions when he looked pointedly at Hydrus as he said that.
They squared off against each other. Ash sighed. "Begin!"
Hydrus made the first move. His beak snapped open to a near-180 and released a brilliant blue ray of freezing energy. Swiping his blade to the right, Kratos released a burst of high-powered wind, which crashed into the Ice Beam, and negated it almost immediately.
Hydrus was annoyed at how easily the Vacuum Wave made his attack useless, but didn't let it make him unfocused. He quickly enshrouded himself in a veil of water and propelled himself forward, like a bullet, and began spinning in a corkscrewing motion. For a second, Kratos eyed the Aqua Jet, but then he made a decision and effortlessly conjured copies of himself from thin air. The sight of so many Scyther must've confused Golduck, for the cloak of water shut of and he tumbled to his webbed feet before being circled by twelve perfect copies of his opponent.
All of a sudden one of the Scyther closed in with blurring speed, but slow enough for Hydrus to notice. Quacking in triumphant anger, a blast of boiling water escaped the Golduck's gullet the moment Kratos' arm came swinging down. Ash waited the a shrill shriek of pain to escape Kratos, but it never came – instead, the Scyther exploded to nothingness and left Hydrus confused and annoyed as he stared at where he foe had once been.
Realizing that he'd been tricked, Hydrus whipped around, only to be slashed across the chest with dark energy. His chest hissed where the Night Slash had struck him and negative energy sank into him, shattering his senses. Angry and in pain, Hydrus fired another Scald, but Kratos flew away with mind-numbing speed and the hot water instead struck a clone that had conveniently circled right in front of him.
Ash no longer watched the battle with annoyance. Instead, he was captured by the way Kratos danced and kept tricking Hydrus, not once, not twice, but again and again. At this rate he wouldn't be surprised if the Scyther actually won. He was making up for his lack of strength compared to Hydrus with his brilliant speed. He was genuinely impressed.
All of a sudden there was a horrifying, ear-shattering Screech that rippled from Hydrus' vocal chords and echoed around the clearing. Through squinting eyes, Ash saw the eight Scyther stumble from discomfort and pain the noise was causing, and Hydrus took his chance. The harrowing noise shut off and his head snapped around before Hydrus aimed an Ice Beam at the Scyther. Two clones were destroyed as a result, but nothing more come out of it.
Then one of the Kratos clones closed in swung their arms. Growling, Hydrus forced his palms together and focused to generate a pulsating ball of water in his hands. The first Kratos slashed his arm and immediately disappeared when he touched Hydrus' shoulder. A second one came and Hydrus whipped around, assuming that it was the real one, and thrust out his head, around which he had collected psychic energy simultaneously. The Zen Headbutt passed through the Scyther's torso and forced it to dissipate. Ash sighed; the real Kratos quickly closed in, and—
Suddenly Hydrus smashed the Water Pulse to the ground and it exploded, spraying a wave of water and energy all around. Ash blinked. Hydrus was caught in the crossfire and was blown back by the point-blank explosion at his feet, but he'd been willing to take that price; the rest of the clones had been crushed as a result and as the water hit the ground a dazed and surprised Kratos stumbled out.
A freezing bolt of ice struck Kratos' leg just as he recovered from the dizziness. His thick, armoured foot was encased in a block of ice, mist steaming as the frost creeped around the grass. Hydrus quacked triumphantly and brought his hands together, producing another Water Pulse as Kratos hacked away at the shell of ice locking his feet to the ground. With a burst of energy, Hydrus sent the sphere of water shooting and Kratos was engulfed in another destructive wave of water and energy.
Another cloak of water swallowed Hydrus and he was propelled forward like a bullet. With a quick heave, Kratos threw himself to a standing position from a push-up in time to block the Aqua Jet against his forearms, which he did not have time to angle such that his blades angled out. The force drove him backwards, but he sank his scythes into the ground and closed to a halt before countering with a Night Slash, catching Hydrus in the side.
Hydrus quickly flipped around and encased his tail with water before driving it into Kratos' back so hard that the Scyther was knocked to the ground. As he flipped onto his back, he looked up just in time for another Aqua Tail to drive into his skull, eliciting a pained hiss of pain and surprise.
Two brutal swings dug into Hydrus' shoulders and sent him to his knees; but the Golduck scowled through the pain and smacked the claws away before raking his own against Kratos. It managed to make him stumble away, but Kratos quickly flew into the air and swiped his arms in the air, producing a quartet of wind blades.
Hydrus breathed out an Ice Beam and released it in a sweeping arc, freezing the Razor Winds as the spun down at him. The scythes of air were crystallised in a second and, as they plummeted down, they were smashed to bits when Hydrus swung an Aqua Tail at them. They exploded in a shower of glittering shards that rained down to the ground and sparkled beautifully under the noon light.
A taunting growl surface from Hydrus as the gemstone on his forehead flashed and a beam of coloured energy blazed from his eyes. Dancing around the Psybeam, Kratos crossed his scythes, which began to glow a sickly shade of green, before slashing down at Hydrus in the shape of an X. A scream rippled from him as the X-Scissor burned his chest and he spat an Ice Beam that froze Kratos wings in an instant, making him lose flight and hit the dirt.
When Kratos struggled to pick himself off the ground, he was knocked back to the ground by an destructive psychic wave that had bubbled from the jewel on Hydrus' forehead. Another Ice Beam was spewed from Hydrus' gullet, freezing parts of Kratos and he was glued to the ground. Then a sphere of water began to grow and pulse in Hydrus' hands.
"Stop!" Ash yelled. The battle was over and everyone knew it. Hydrus frowned and looked over at Ash. "There's no reason to beat a dead Rapidash. Kratos, are you alright?"
Kratos stared at Ash angrily. His pride had been wounded and he was stuck to the ground, covered in ice. No, he was most definitely not alright.
Kratos began to pull himself out of the ice. The frost cracked under his strength and crumbled away when he flexed his limbs. He struggled to gain footing under such weight, but maintained his composure around Ash. Ice stuck to parts of his armour and he breathed heavily. He exuded humility and even some shame.
A cocky smirk crept up Hydrus' face as Ash's two pokémon stalked up to him. He quacked arrogantly and looked at Kratos with a grin. Ash gave him a look. "Enough. You should've settled your differences by now."
Ash glanced at Kratos. "You're not as skilled as Hydrus, or Saur, etc., but don't worry; that's what training is for. Shake it off. We'll have you at their level in no time, but you've got to work hard. Got it?"
Kratos agreed. Ash smiled. "Good. Now, I want you all to split into pairs and start training – Hydrus, you need to keep practising Hydro Pump, so you need to be with Misty's group – but the rest of you, focus on improving your moves you've been learning recently and I'll come by to check up on your progress. Alright?"
His team acknowledged him quickly, then began to follow the orders. Screecher and Zeus bounded off to a cluster of large rocks not too far and began to make their Power Gem attack more focused and efficient. After everyone else had left, Snorlax finally rolled off his belly and lumbered off to a spot not too far away and began mentoring Monferno in the art of Mega Punch.
Ash was too distracted to notice the nasty lever Hydrus had sent Kratos, who returned it with a snarl. Their problems were far from over.
A scream of pain. A splatter of blood. The sound of a gunshot ripping through the air and the thud of a body hitting the ground. Then there was an explosion of unbearable agony that crept up his legs like hot fire. All around him, chaos and death moved like dancers and Ash looked up to see Proton's evil face smiling down on him and a blade closing on his throat—
He bolted upwards and yelled angrily as he clawed at his enemy, only to find his fingers tearing at thin air. He swatted at his throat and looked around, his chest rising and falling rapidly. No metal. No blood. No screams and definitely no rotting corpses surrounding him.
Ash heard a shuffling noise and tensed, grabbing at his sleeping bag. A shock of orange hair appeared in front of him and he jumped when he felt a pair of hands close on his shoulders. But they were comforting, and soft, and he sighed into them.
"Ash?" came Misty's soft voice. "What's wrong?"
He shook his head. "N-nothing. Just…It was a bad dream."
He saw her frowning despite the darkness. "You're getting the nightmares too, huh?" He could hear the bitter amusement in her words.
Ash sighed. "Yeah."
"What do you dream of? That is, if you don't mind me asking?"
He felt a touch of irritation, but he felt a sudden urge to appear vulnerable to someone, and so he spoke. "It's just…just chaos at first. Then everything becomes clearer, and the noise becomes louder. I see Proton's ugly face every time." He shuddered. "Then…then I can see Erika being shot, and my legs being shattered, and Officer Jenny being m-murdered—"
"Shh, it's okay," Misty soothed. "If you ever need to talk about it…It's also nice to know that you talk to people, too."
"I'll keep that in mind."
He heard a sigh, and the hands lifted off his shoulders. Then Ash felt a pair of arms wrap around his neck and he let out a startled yelp, but before he could fully process everything Misty had let go and she rushed back to her spot. Ash felt a his cheeks burn as he stared oddly at Misty slipping into her sleeping bag. He'd never expected her to be an affectionate person. Maybe she pitied him?
With a stifled yawn, Ash tucked himself in his sleeping bag. Nightmares or not, he needed sleep. Tomorrow would be another long day, and they'd dawdled long enough on their journey to Fuchsia City.
Trainer: Ash Ketchum
Pokémon In Possession:
Saur – Ivysaur
Delphi – Xatu
Zeus – Flaaffy
Hydrus – Golduck
Kratos – Scyther
Well there it is. I'd like to apologise for the time it took to put this chapter out – I know I promised faster updates, but it seems that writer's block is as unpredictable as my libido.
Anyway, thanks for reading! I'll be bringing out the next chapter in a few weeks. College is starting in a few days, and I've got to adjust to the schedule of waking up early in the morning and downing gallons of coffee.
Thanks to everyone who reviewed – whether negatively or positively – and for following, sharing, and marking this story as a favourite. The support helps me write faster and brings a smile to my face every now and then.
1995hzq: One of the most brutal pokemon stories ever, hope nothing worse comes next.
—I guess we'll have to see :D
Zyr0TruthCanExist: Holy crap. This single chapter made so many impacts, I can already tell. You had what felt like a mildly rushed S.S. Anne and it didn't really have the impact that most stories seem to. However, this chapter was insane. I got the same feeling reading it as I did when reading Chapter 14 of Traveller. If you can keep up the writing style that has been shown in the last couple of chapters, I definitely see you 'reaching' the the levels of it, Challenger, TME, etc. I am personally glad that more and more people are starting to develop Pokemon fics on this level of writing. This was a brilliant chapter.
—Thank you so much! I can definitely agree that the St Anne arc is lacking impact when I took another look at it; as I proofread the previous chapters I'll try to make them better.
Realistic view (Guest): So I've just finished chap 11 and it just makes me more disappointed at society. Weakened from Peace times, it's sickening. It's easier being the villain because they don't need to hold back. why hasn't the League declared war against the rockets? honestly! These guys are literal terrorists and yet the police are still hesitant to kill, Ash is still hesitant to kill. This is far from being a kind person, this is a naive person who thinks he can stop criminals without actually hurting them, even if he is literally on the verge of death, even when everyone around him is dying.
If this is what you were aiming for, where you will finally rip away his hesitance towards killing criminals after building up his kind and sympathetic personality, then i applaud you but if even after all this, after Erika is most certainly gonna die because she is a low key plot device that's suppose to be a trigger for him to grow. if even after all this he still feels remorse for hurting the rockets then i will be severly disappointed in your character control and would recommend you send the pussy of a 10 yr old back home where he can climb back into his mama's womb where he can try being born again under a different name.
On a side note, this is the 2nd time Ash has nearly died in a public skirmish, surely Red should consider some protection methods now, what kind of champion can't even protect or at least train his younger brother. If i was in his shoes i would leave one of my pokemon that has trained for 5yrs at least as an ace so it could keep him alive, but that's just from a... realistic view.
—Ash is still a kid – and despite what he's gone through it's pretty hard to kill someone, even harder if you're a ten/eleven year old child. Ash still views the world as black and white; he's still naïve, and he's still an innocent kid whose morals are still unwavering despite what he's seen and gone through. It's very easy for one to be able to say that they'll do things when they're simply bystanders but it's totally different when you're actually going through it; after all, there are many rape victims that are asked why the didn't push their rapists off, etc. There will come a time where Ash will have to make a decision to take someone's life but it's definitely not going to be easy and it's going to take a harrowing toll on him…you'll just have to wait and see.
Gust (Guest): I swear if you kill off erika...
—Haha, fortunately she's alright. Unfortunately, Officer Jenny took her place.
This is so sad, Alexa play "Sorry not Sorry"…
Garm88: First I need to say that this is very well written, enjoyable and interesting.
Now ends the compliments and comes the criticism. There is no way, zero, that this could not break my suspension of disbelief. The reaction time for all first responder forces involved in this is utterly abysmal unless the entire chain of communication was broken or infiltrated by eny agents.
At the very most it would have taken five minutes for league forces to be completely swarming Celadon in a world where long range teleportation is so common and easily accessible. Especially if it's recently enough after a civil war where Surge is both still as young as he is and as well known. This is a society that has to have an astounding amount of recent militarization, with a city as big as Celadon probably having a fairly powerful force stationed nearby. If there was any competency on the part of the White Hats, the Rockets should have been utterly spanked in quick order.
Either you didn't think this through all the way, which is understandable, or just ignored it for narrative convenience, while also understandable is just unfortunate.
—Long range teleportation isn't exactly as the name suggests. Sure, you can take huge leaps, but, like I've mentioned in the previous chapters, teleportation drains on a pokémon's use of psychic powers and thus they can only travel some hundred meters before being unable to continue. It's kind of like PP, where a pokémon can use a certain move only a number of times until they can't. There are also anti-teleportation fields that the Rockets set up to prevent the league forces from popping in. Unfortunately I mucked up in the last chapter by making Delphi able to Teleport Ash and Zack out of the Pokémon Centre pretty easily, and also forgot to mention the anti-teleportation fields they put up. My apologies.
Another thing is that Team Rocket took Celadon by surprise, and had attacked several major locations in a matter of minutes (i.e the Departmental Store, the Contest Hall, the Pokécenter, etc.). When the 26/11 terrorist attack happened in Mumbai, it took until next morning for the NSG forces to make their move. I suppose it would make sense for the Saffron forces to appear about half an hour or two after the Celadon forces had taken charge.
Thanks for reviewing! I hope this clears it up. If it still doesn't make sense…I guess I fucked up pretty bad, eh?
Once again, thanks for reading. Until next time!