Chapter 84: Fire it Up
Ash trekked through the alolan wilderness, pushing through branches as he searched for his first opponent.
"Man, this sure is different than the other leagues we've been in, huh buddy?"
"Yeah, you said it! I can't wait to get in some action."
"Oh? Well, looks like its your lucky day, punk."
Ash turned around to see one of Guzma's flunkies approaching him.
"Oh, hey, you're..."
"Come on man, you've seen me plenty of times! Your friend's mortal enemy, you know me!"
The grunt fell over, enraged by the mixup.
"Do I look like a girl to you?! Name's Tupp, and just for that you and I are gonna throw down right here, right now! Bring it on!"
"Salazzle, I choose you!"
The slender lizard smiled smugly, flicking its tongue out mockingly. Remembering his last encounter with one of her kind, Croconaw was even more determined to win.
"Block it with Aqua Tail, Croconaw!"
Salazzle created a fire leash and whipped it towards Croconaw, who easily put it out with a swipe of his tail, enraging Tupp.
"Grr, use Gunk Shot!"
Salazzle concentrated hard, creating a huge bubble of poison which it launched at the alligator.
"Break it up with Water Gun!"
Croconaw, not even fazed, Shot bursts of water rapidly, slowly breaking the bubble down before hitting Salazzle head on, causing it to wobble before regaining its footing, though panting heavily.
"Alright, no more Mr. Nice Guy! Salazzle, use Poison Jab and bury that thing!"
"Wait for it, Croconaw..."
Croconaw narrowed its eyes, waiting patiently as the giant lizard loomed overhead, glowing claw ready to strike him down. But then...
"Propel yourself into the air with Hydro Pump now!"
...Croconaw jumped, hitting the snake with a huge burst of water as it jetted into the air. Although it was still able to fight, Salazzle was on its last legs as it struggled to stand up.
"Hit him with Aqua Jet!"
Salazzle had only enough time to look up and see Croconaw speeding towards her like a bullet before being struck full force, knocking it out with ease.
"Way to go, Croconaw!"
Tupp balled his fists, anger filling his blood as Ash walked up to him, hand outstretched.
"Good match, Tupp. You gave us a challenge, there."
Tupp slowly raised his hand, quivering as if about to strike...
only to instead shake Ash's hand genuinely, anger seeming to disappear slowly.
"Yeah, you too. A deal's a deal..."
"Get away from him, you big bully!"
"Yeah, you don't deserve his petal!"
Rapp and Zapp appeared, ready to bring out their own Pokemon and avenge their comrade, but Tupp held them back.
"No, leave him be. He beat me fair and square."
"Wait, you guys were going to ambush me if I beat him?"
Rapp and Zipp sheepishly rubbed the back of their heads, trying to not look guilty.
"Whatever, man, that's in the past."
Just then, everyone's stomachs growled, signaling that it was lunch time. Ash laughed nervously.
"No use arguing over an empty stomach!"
Taking out the backpacks provided by the league, the the four hastily prepared a campfire and shared a meal of cooked ramen. While they ate, they talked about their life growing up, and soon became good friends.
"Wow, that's incredible Rapp!"
"Thanks, Ash! Someday, I hope to become a famous rap artist!"
"Hey, there's something I've always wondered about you guys."
"Why do you follow Guzma around? I mean, he doesn't seem to care about you guys that much, and he's not exactly the best trainer there is. Surely you'd guys would be better off on your own?"
The three criminals' faces fell.
"It's not like that, bro. Guzma can get mad, sure, but he'd never lay a finger on us. He's crazy, but he knows how to keep a team together."
"And for a lot of us, this is the closest thing to a family we have. A lot of us Skull grunts, we come from broken homes, or no homes at all for some. Turning to a life of crime was the only way we knew to keep ourselves off the streets. Team Skull isn't much, but for us its our world."
Seeing that it was getting late, Tupp got up to leave the area while his friends headed off to find more trainers. Before he left, Tupp turned back to Ash.
"Look, what Guzma did to your Pikachu was wrong, I won't argue that. But there's a lot more to him than what you see on the surface. Just...give him a shot."
With that, he took his leave, leaving Ash to his own thoughts.