In a different life Ash Ketchum looks upon his world from an unique perspective.


33. 32-1

Their strength lay not in pokémon, but rather in humans. Team Rocket drew in all sorts of people; disaffected youths, people angry at the world, people who had lost something to wild pokémon, idealists of the worst sort, hardened criminals, cold nihilistic cynics, people looking for a better life, those whose families were dedicated to the cause, and those who simply hated. That was what had allowed them to fight the newly formed League after the end of the Great War and that was what allowed them to survive and operate after their ideological opposite's victory.

And that was why a man with a crossbow and men with explosives were able to attack the kangaskhan herd. Because Team Rocket tried to use the human solution whenever it could.

Dynamite exploded. A bolt whizzed. Kangaskhan screamed and died.

It is difficult to describe the terror that the pokémon were feeling. Being large grazing herd Pokémon, they were used to being preyed on by the top predators in the area and had the flight or fight instincts for that situation. They knew how to deal with that. The fact that their predators were usually pokémon meant they had the instincts to deal with explosions.

But predators didn't attack the whole herd at once. They didn't attack from multiple directions. They attacked the easiest prey. And they quit once they had their kill and the herd would leave them to it. It was a fear their instincts understood.

This was not that sort of attack. Their instincts couldn't deal with an attack like Team Rocket's. Wild, animalistic panic blazed through the herd. But they were pokémon, they were sentient. They had more then their instincts.

And that made it even worse. This was the second attack today, the second attack from an unknown source for unknown reasons. Children, their children were in danger. Children, their children, were dying in pain and agony. Friends were burning. They were burning as plumes of fire bloomed, waves of heat washed over their skin leaving a tingling uncomfortable warmth, flesh sizzled, the ground, no, their world shook and threw them around.

And beyond that there was their grief. The sudden yawning endless abyss as the realization that one's mother or one's child is now only a lump of rotting meat, that the irreversible, insurmountable, and inescapable change known as death had occurred.

The herd scattered. Team Rocket had carefully surveyed the herd before hand and made sure that the kid was nowhere near the blast zones. Although why they had chosen to use explosives in the first place was a question that only the leaders, who sometimes overrated their competence, could answer.

"Still no sign of the kid," Shinji said into the radio, readying another crossbow bolt as he spoke. He let the dart fly as the radio crackled in response.

"Nothing on this end," Sakura replied. "He's either well hidden or he's not with the herd."

"Look over the fallen," the male leader of the Team Rocket group told his compatriot. "We might have missed him when we were looking earlier."

"If he was in the blast zone then there's still a chance that he's alive," the female leader of the Team Rocket group thought aloud, over "as the kangaskhan would do everything she could to shield him before she died. I'll instruct the men to check each others zones."

The 'and blame everything on the one who missed the kid' went unspoken. If the kid had accidentally been killed both Sakura and Shinji would do their best to avoid any of the blame. And maybe that explained how they got to be in charge of the group and picked explosives to flush out their (relatively) fragile target.

Shinji continued to scan the herd as it milled about in confusion, idly picking off a new born futilely trying to wake up its dead mother, and two kangashkhans who were leading a column away.

"This should be the right herd," Shinji said to himself. "So where's the kid?" It would be a problem if turned out that they had to search the Safari Zone after making such a commotion. The explosion would've been heard for miles. Their plan had been for a quick and loud retrieval and then a quick and silent extraction.

His musing were undisturbed by the groaning, moaning, and dying of the sentient beings in the grass.

"We've got contacts," Sakura's voice suddenly sounded over the radio. "Deploying pokémon. There's only-"

Her words were drowned out by roars and screams and the crackle of flames and finally a burst of static. That was enough to snap Shinji out of his musings. He tuned his radio into the team's general frequency.

"We've got enemy contact!" Shinji bellowed into the device. "Get your pokémon out. I want-"

"To die! Flamethrower Charmeleon!" Rippling orange washed over Shinji who fell to the ground, screaming and rolling. White light blazed as the other members of Team Rocket released their pokémon.

"Knock out the pokémon and kill the Rockets," Barclay ordered his Charmeleon even as he threw one of his homemade explosive weapons. Another member of Team Rocket went down in flames.

Charmeleon nodded and leapt into action. There was fire, the flashing of claws, blood, and screams. And then, almost as soon as it had begun, it was over.

"Good for nothing Rockets," Barclay grumbled, kicking Shinji's corpse.

"They were reckless fools," Alice agreed, walking over. The sleeve of her uniform had been cut, showing the pale skin beneath that was marred with a brilliant crimson line. "Their foolish plan may have made ours impossible. And I'm going to need to ask you to cauterize this so we can keep moving."

"Shouldn't we do something to help them?" Barclay asked, looking at the ravaged herd. He would admit to taking extra pleasure in killing the Rockets just for what they had done.

"The best thing we can do for them is wrap up our business here," Alice told him gently. "Then they'll be out of the crossfire. Now please cauterize this."

Flesh sizzled. Nobody batted an eye. You couldn't be a member of Team Magma otherwise.

"Where are those land shits off to?" Jimmy growled, "I want to finish off my sister once and for all."

"For the hundredth time, I don't know," Juliet snapped back. "We've got to wait for Akiko to tell us."

The two quarrelsome members of Team Aqua looked over to their third member. The brown haired woman was cradling the body of her poliwrath, rocking back and forth as tears streamed out of her eyes. Her golduck, now missing an eye and cradling his mangled arm, was resting his beak on her shoulder, gazing sorrowfully at the body of his comrade. Two more of his comrades rested in their pokéballs; it was unknown if they would ever recover, but they were at least alive.

"She's going to be a while," Jimmy replied. "But if we wait too long they might get away with this!"

"I thought we were here to get the kid," Juliet asked, turning away from their comrade's grief.

"I don't care about the kid," Jimmy snapped back, clenching his fists. "Killing those land shits is more important! Lord Kyogres's triumph would be guaranteed if we wipe out Team Magma. We can get the kid when we're done killing them!"

"Kill them all!" Akiko wailed, standing up with her poliwrath in her arms, her tear covered face set in a fierce brown-eyed glare. "I'm going to kill them all for this!" Her golduck stood at her side, face still sorrowful rather than angry.

"Then it's decided," Jimmy exclaimed, raising his fist up against the world. "We're going to go killing land shits!"

His gaze eagerly searched the horizon as if he expected to see his enemy right then and there. Then his posture deflated, sheepish awkwardness replacing burning passion.

"Uh, how are we gonna find them again?" Jimmy asked the group.

They were silent for a moment.

"Aren't they after the kid still?" Juliet asked.

"So what?" Jimmy snapped back.

"Then we still got to look for the kid," Juliet explained. "We can just kill them there."

"I guess you're right," Jimmy acknowledged, deflating a bit more at the prospect of admitting that.

"It doesn't matter," Akiko's eyes were flat, dead, and hard, like ravaged, drying mud. "So long as they die."

Brock held Geodude and Onix's pokéballs in one hand, between his fingers. He kept low within the tall grass, crouched on one knee and hand. Nervousness ate away at the inside of his arms, of his legs, the uncomfortable tensing of muscles as he automatically, unconsciously prepared for an attack. Stealth wasn't his forte and being forced to play hidden backup during a crisis situation was putting him on edge.

But they couldn't risk Ranger Jenny, the only person who personally knew the Safari Zone, was the best among them at tracking, and was the one who was going to need to sneak off to getting hurt or killed. And since Aaron and Tomas were well hidden in the forest, and Tomas would have Kangaskhan with him at all times, it made more sense to leave Misty with them.

So Brock waited for Jenny to return, call out, or for him to hear the sounds of combat. His original idea had been to wait until nightfall before enacting their plan, but Jenny wanted to get moving before it got dark out. Since she had to figure out the most likely location that the herd had ended up for them, she had wanted to get started during the day. It was a plan that put Tomas, Jenny, Kangaskhan, and Aaron in greater risk of discovery. Brock didn't like it.

And he really didn't like the lack of visibility. He knew that just because he couldn't see them, crouched down in the tall grass as he was, it didn't mean that they couldn't see him. Leave stealth to Koga and his ninjas.

There was a rustling sound in the tall grass to the right of him. Brock focused his attention there, readying his pokémon for release.

"Brock," Jenny whispered softly as she rejoined him. "I think I know where they've gone. Get your map out."

"Can we get back into the trees first?" Brock asked, "We're exposed out here."

"I don't have time if I'm going to go get Tommy's parents," Jenny answered. "I'll be as quick as I can. They're to the south-"

She pulled out a red marker, and began to draw on a Safari Zone map Brock had picked up when they checked in. The ranger quickly explained where it was, the best way to get there, how long it should take them, and what they could expect on their journey.

"That everything?" Brock asked.

"That I can think of," Jenny replied. She glanced around, checking the position of the sun that was beginning to set, spilling streams of orange light all over the terrain. "You'll probably want to wait about seventy minutes before starting out if you want to do most of the travelling after dark."

"I'll keep that in mind," Brock said. "Good luck."

"Thanks," Jenny gave him a nod, and then crawled away, beginning her journey back to the campsite occupied by Tommy's parents.

Brock waited a minute and then slowly made his way back to the forest. As soon as he was in the trees he began stretching, trying to relieve the tension that had built up while he was with Jenny. He sighed.

Of all the luck. Why did all the time he got to spend with that beautiful ranger have to involve danger of some sort? What a wasted opportunity. He'd make Team Aqua and Team Magma pay for this!

Brock made his way back to where Misty and the others were hidden. Misty had put on some of her armor, covering her arms and vitals spots, forsaking the rest for extra mobility in the current situation. Her knives were sheathed at her sides, and she was going over her pokémon, making sure they were as close to one hundred percent as they could be for any future fights. Her face was twisted into a resigned frown and her shoulders slumped as she worked.

Aaron, Tomas, and World Burning Mother were eating. Aaron had gotten out some pokéchow and trail rations and had given them to World Burning Mother and her human child. The two of them were digging with the panicked gusto of the fearful, the pokémon's mouth in the bag, the small human barely pausing to breathe between bites.

Aaron on the other hand, was picking at his food, eyes downcast. He was slumped against a tree, head and shoulders hanging down and forward. Pikachu poked him, squeaked something at him, and then rolled his eyes while Brock was approaching.

Misty glanced up from her pokémon and noticed Brock approaching.

"Hey," she said. "Any news?"

"Jenny pointed me to where the herd is," Brock answered, pulling out the map, unrolling it, and showing it to Misty. "From the looks of this map, we can start now and stick to the forest for most of the journey."

"I've got no problem with that," Misty said, nodding. She turned to the large pokémon and the two younger males. "You guys ready to go?"

World Burning Mother tore into her food with increased ferocity, tearing apart the bag and sending bits of pokéchow everywhere. In seconds she finished, stood to her full height, and shook her head vigorously, sending more food flying from her face.

I'm ready now, she replied to the human's question. Tomas?

The blue haired child stuffed more food in his mouth, until his cheeks bulged like he was a squirrel.

I'm ready now, Tommy answered while chewing.

Misty turned to Aaron, who was still picking at his food, giving no indication that he had heard her.

"Aaron?" She asked again. There was still no response.

Pikachu rolled his eyes and then shocked his trainer.

Remember to speak human when you start shouting, Pikachu told his trainer, who was laying singed on the ground, shocked by the sudden shock of Pikachu shocking him. And try to respond to Misty idiot. You'll get yourself killed today if you don't start paying attention again.

"Pikachu! What are you doing? We can't afford to have anyone injured right now!" Brock admonished the electric type, frowning and glaring at the pokémon. "And Aaron, get your head in the game. Pay attention!"

"Sorry," Ash said without energy. "What were you guys saying?"

Brock and Misty glanced at each other. They both thought that he had bounced back after his talk with Brock. Evidently that was not the case.

"Are you alright? " Brock asked Aaron.

Yeah, Pikachu said. You didn't even get mad at me for electrocuting you just now.

"I'm fine," Ash answered Brock overtly and Pikachu covertly. "I'm just worn out."

"Just stay awake until we get back to the herd," Brock told him. "After that you can rest."

You're not tired, Pikachu countered. I've seen you tired before and you weren't like this. As soon as we get some privacy you're going to tell me what's really wrong.

The group packed up and moved out. Sunlight moved towards the color of blood and the world turned darker. As the light died, traversing the forest became more difficult. Brock and Misty started having trouble avoiding tree roots, large rocks, and other tripping hazards. World Burning Mother, a grazer, was also having difficulties. Pikachu, a forest dwelling pokémon was able to traverse the terrain with ease. Ash, having been raised in a forest-

Was trudging along at the back. When Pikachu noticed this, he rushed to the rear of the group to join his trainer.

Alright idiot, what's up? The electric type asked Ash softly, jumping on to the boy's shoulder. This isn't like you at all.

Ash glanced at Brock and Misty, making sure they were out of earshot for soft speaking before responding.

It's complicated, the pokéraised child responded to his friend's concern in a quiet voice.

We've got time.

Ash sighed.

It's a bunch of things, Ash told Pikachu.

What things? Pikachu pressed.

You just won't take the hint, will you? Ash asked, exasperated.

I simply assume that you're not subtle enough to drop hints. Now talk. Pikachu tapped his foot on the shoulder he was standing on.

Well I've got to figure out what the future of pokémon and humans will consist of, help Tommy reunite with his human parents, make sure that they don't try and take him away from his other mother, worry about Jessie and James messing with us while we're trying to do this, whether or not I should tell Misty and Brock that I'm pokéraised, and I think our camping permit is only good for a couple of days, so I won't have time to meet more pokémon here.

Pikachu gave his trainer a flat, hard look of disbelief.

You can worry about almost all of that later, the pokémon snapped. Right now you need to focus on Tomas. We can get a new camping permit later, we can't do anything about Jessie and James, we can let Brock and Misty handle Momma and Poppa, and you can leave the future stuff to me.

What? I was going to figure out an answer to question posed by the future! Ash protested.

Psshah. You'll eventually wisen up to my obvious mental superiority and realize that the best thing you can do for the world is to be my messenger among humans. Pikachu nodded to himself.

... Is this related to your birthday request for goats and a chariot?

Possibly, Pikachu answered.

Pokémon don't even celebrate birthdays, Ash protested. Why did you tell me that list? Do you even know when your birthday is?

We're among humans now and celebrating birthdays is a human tradition. One should always try and honor the traditions of one's hosts, Pikachu replied sagely, nodding to himself again.

Do you even know when your birthday is? Ash asked Pikachu, narrowing his eyes and speaking in a suspicious tone.

I figured that I'd just use yours.

I don't know when my birthday is- Ash began.

Really? Every other human seems to know their birthday? How'd you forget? Pikachu tilted his head, puzzled.

Well toddlers generally don't know their birthdays and everyone who could've told Poison Lance was either dead or couldn't be talked to, Ash snarked back.

Then I decree that we steal Brock's birthday! Pikachu exclaimed.

Why not Misty's?

Because she's cuter than Brock, Pikachu answered.

And why should they listen to you anyway? Ash asked, glancing back at the group to make sure they were still out of casual earshot. They were, but Brock turned and caught Aaron's eye, gave him a quick glare, and motioned for him to hurry up before continuing forward.

Because I command the lightning!

They don't know that, Ash reminded his first pokémon, mentally thanking providence for that fact. He didn't want to know just how irresponsible teaching Pikachu to harness a powerful force of nature was. The punishment would probably be life imprisonment or being permanently committed to an insane asylum.

They ceased their conversation there, hurrying up to stick close to Brock and Misty. The sun continued to fall from the sky and the colors of the world started to fade in to the grey-black of night. If one were to glance up at that moment, and had a clear view, they would've been able to see the colors edging the sky flow into a deep velvet that turned into the rich darkness of the night sky.

It was because of the fading of the light that they didn't realize what they were seeing when they reached their destination. There was a sickening smell when the exited the forest. The grasslands beyond were filled with strange, large, dark lumps and marred by small craters. Brock looked quizzically at his map, holding it up to catch the last of the light.

"This should be the place," he told the others. "Did they move?"

World Burning Mother sniffed the air.

Someone burned here, she stated aloud, sniffing deeply. The scent tickled something at the back of her mind. She sniffed deeply, straining her senses and memory to try and figure out what she should be thinking about or remembering.

And then it hit her, like a sharp blow to the stomach.

Oh no.

Those who could understand pokémon and even those that couldn't sharply turned their heads towards her when they heard her suddenly broken sounding voice.

Mommy? Tomas reached up and tugged on her elbow, giving his adoptive mother a look that was between concern and fear. What's wrong.

It's them. It's the herd.

It can be difficult for human children to understand, truly understand death. To understand that another being will never touch them again, never again speak, or cry, or play, or love, or eat, or drink, or ever be seen, all of them be seen and not just a lump of rotting meat. Pokémon were different. Death was a constant part of life. Everyone was killed and everyone killed; even herbivores ate certain grass-type pokémon. Death was understood and accepted.

But accepting death didn't mean that one couldn't be hurt by death. All sentient beings who ever valued another's company were hurt by death. And to find out that there had been a massive death of those close to oneself-

That was incomprehensible for everyone at first. It could take minutes for the full realization to sink in. Not the full realization of all the deaths, but rather it was not some generic disaster. That it was the end for them.

Some might take more time for the weight to sink in. Others might be hit with it like a freight train the first very instant that it could. It depended on the individual.

Humans might collapse to their knees. They might go cationic. Their minds would do their best to refuse the truth for as long as they could. Or their minds might try to hide from it. Or they might wallow in it. One could never know. The pain would never fade, it would always stay the same size, the closest it would come to ever shrinking was in proportion to the person as they grew beyond it, as it was buried under new emotions and experiences.

And it wasn't just the pain. Humans were always thinking of the future. An instance of sudden death would make a human realize that it could happen to anyone they cared about in the future. Death brought fear. And thoughts about the future reminded them that death had already taken from them. The future was permanently lessened. Death stole happiness. And in the future that they thought of, the humans would see themselves still hurting, still grieving.

Death brought despair.

And even the past was tainted by death, as each happy memory would bring the knowledge that one of the beings treasured was forever gone.

Death ruined memories.

Pokémon endured the pain. It hurt, but it was a familiar sensation. Pokémon were creatures of the present. There was less dwelling on the past for them, and much, much less thinking about the future. The experience came as close to being forgotten as anything could without actually being forgotten. There was always variation, between indviduals, and between wild versus trained pokémon, but for the most part, the species would continue almost as if nothing had happened after the sudden knife of death had struck close to them. This was because pokémon were naturally creatures of the present.

And that was why humans, creatures of the future, decided the course of the world.

Because of all this, neither World Burning Mother or Tommy did anything along the lines of collapsing to their knees, clawing at the ground, or howling their grief to the world. The kangaskhan simply rocked gently from the shock. The pain was there, but they would endure until it was safe, grieve, and move on.

To pokémon who weren't so involved, it would've been a fearful sight. Those without a trainer, family, or friends in the area would flee as fast as they could. Pikachu felt uncomfortable at the sight of the slaughtered kangaskhans. The grief of World Burning Mother and Tomas, subdued as it was, made him want to go cuddle with them, but the slaughter unnerved him in a way he couldn't describe. Had Pidgeotto been out she would've avoided looking at the scene as best she could. Charmander would've wanted to hide behind Ash, but the fire type would not have done so, not wanting his trainer to think him weak. Primeape would have been confused.

Magikarp's only reaction would be to sigh, if he were out of his pokéball at the time. Squirtle- Squirtle would get mad and swear to do something to redress the wrong. Butterfree, if he were still with them, would have suggested finding the surviving members of the herd and offering to help.

Bulbasaur would have no reaction. Scattered corpses, needlessly slaughtered, burned innocents, children dying before their mothers, mothers dying in front of their children, none of those were things he hadn't seen before.

Brock was a young gym leader from a quiet area. The sight of the massacre was new for him in terms of scope, but his prior experiences were enough to help him deal with it. Instead of shock and sickness, the boy from Pewter City felt only a slow burning rage, like the embers at the bottom of a fire, not as bright as the flames but far hotter.

Misty had only been a gym trainer, and the youngest sibling of the three gym leaders who were also raising her. The Sensational Sisters of Cerulean City would never have let her near anything like the field of dead bodies. She had no prior experience to blunt the knife of fear, dread, and disgust that the sight stabbed her with.

But she did have her training. She did know that she was able to make a difference. She had her pride. And she was stubborn. Together it was enough to turn away the knife, allowing her to swallow the emotions and suppress them.

It was Ash that who came the closest to falling to his knees. It was Ash who came the closest to giving into fear.

He remembered the flames. He remembered the screams. He could vaguely remember the pain of not seeing them again. Even less defined was the memory of the fearful flight and the final death, but it still lurked within his mind, like a shark dwelling in dark waters, occasionally breaking the surface of the waves with its fin and reminding the dry world of the monster in the wet world.

This sight, this mass of death, was something that could happen to his home. The fires, and the screams, and the dark shapes, and the fear, and the death, it could all come back.

His mind was filled with an altered version of the image his eyes were seeing. Instead of the large forms of the kangaskhan, there were smaller forms. Pidgeys, rattatas, nidorans, caterpries, and other types, large and small. In the place of the kangaskhan young, there were his friends, the small pokémon he had played with. And in the center, there was a dead pikachu, a dead butterfree, a dead squirtle, a dead charmander, a dead pidgeotto, a dead bulbasaur, a dead primeape, a dead magikarp, and a dead weedle.

There had never been a point in his life where he had been raised to be a pokémon, unlike with Tommy or any other pokéraised child. Poison Lance had always made sure that Ash was being raised as a human, to be a human. He had taught Ash to think about the future and to value his intelligence.

Thus Ash couldn't simply endure it like a pokémon. The only reason he didn't give into the animal like fear that was ripping and tearing at his mind was that he had to act normal. He had to do his best to avoid attract attention to himself for the wrong reasons.

Poison Lance had given Ash the greatest protections he could. Anonymity and secrecy. They were protections greater than all of Lucas's old team put together. It should have worked. Ordinary trainers did not stumble into the situations Ash had whenever they went somewhere.

Poison Lance had drilled into him the desire to appear normal, to not attract attention for the wrong reasons. And now he had a very clear picture in his head of what could happen if his secret ever got out.

It couldn't. Nobody could ever know. This could never happen. This would never happen.

Ash forced himself to repeat that in his own head, eyes closing tightly, eyelids squeezing together in fear. It would never happen. His secret would stay safe.

Pikachu noticed something was wrong with Ash, as his trainer wobbled and repeated the mantra inside his head. The yellow pokémon quietly nuzzled the black haired boy's cheek.

For several minutes that felt like hours, nobody spoke.

"This was just senseless," Brock said finally. "I can't think of a reason why'd they'd do this. It's not even Team Magma's M.O."

"Maybe it wasn't them," Misty spoke up, pointing. There was a charred human corpse slumped up against a tree. Most of the body and its clothes were blackened from whatever fire had killed it, but if one looked closely, they could make out a discoloration shaped like a large R.

"Team Rocket doing this would make more sense," Brock agreed. "But that's even worse- now we have to worry about them going after Tommy."

What do we do next? World Burning Mother asked, relaying her question through her human child.

"I'm not sure," Brock admitted, resting the side of his face in his palm. "I don't think we're good enough to sneak past Aqua, Magma, and Rocket. Since Jenny doesn't know that Team Rocket's here, we can't count on her safely reaching Tomas's parents."

"We could hide in the forest," Misty suggested. Brock shook his head.

"It would only buy time, and with no guarantee of reinforcements, that's simply delaying the inevitable."

"We could hunt them down first," Misty threw out another idea.

"We don't know their full strength, and we can't effectively protect Aaron and Tommy while attacking them," Brock shot that one down as well.

"What do we do then?" Misty asked desperately.

"Hmmm... Kangaskhan, just do you think you could keep up with an onix?"

"Is it just me, or do we use Onix as a solution to a lot of our problems?" Misty asked Brock.

"Well, if you can't endure until the problem goes away, then you can just smash the problem, and Onix is great at both options," Brock replied. Brock, Misty, and Ash were sitting on Onix, near the stone serpent's head. Ash and Misty were clinging onto the rock type, while Brock was calmly sitting.

Brock turned back to address Aaron.

"Don't tell your pokémon anything that we haven't approved," the dark skinned boy told the younger sternly. "We can't afford any mistakes here."

"Yes Brock," Aaron replied with little trace of life in his voice. Perched on his left shoulder was Pidgeotto, doing a pre-flight preen. On his right shoulder, Pikachu gripped the cloth of Ash's jacket tightly.

Behind them were Tommy and Bulbasaur. Bulbasaur had used one of his vines to tie the blue haired boy onto the rock type pokémon. A second secured Bulbasaur himself to Onix. Another more acted as a tether for Squirtle, who stood near the rear of Onix, ready to discourage pursuit. Between them and Bulbasaur, Primeape clung to Onix using three limbs, using his last to hold Magikarp.

Starmie and Staryu swirled around Onix's head, preparing to defend the rock type against possible water attacks. Geodude floated near Brock, awaiting his trainer's orders. World Burning Mother stood by Onix's side, staying near her son.

"Everybody," Brock spoke up loudly, "our only goal here is to keep everyone alive and get Tommy to safety. No heroics, stick close to the group, and don't die! Everyone got that?"

Nobody touches our idiot or his friends! Pikachu cried out to his comrades.

Anyone who thinks that they can get my son will die! World Burning Mother roared.

There were more cries of affirmation, cries of approval, and nods from Misty and Ash.

Again and again, it never changes, Bulbasuar said quietly, eyes distant as he remembered his past.

"Good. Move out!"

At Brock's command Onix surged forward, carving a furrow in the grasslands. World Burning Mother began to run, pounding footsteps sounding as she kept up with the other pokémon. Pidgeotto took off from Ash's shoulder, gaining height to keep an eye out.

"How long do you think it'll take?" Misty asked Brock, speaking loudly over the sounds of their travel.

"Well it's only between ten and fifteen miles away," Brock answered. He looked towards the horizon, where the last bits of light were falling out of the world. "It should take about forty minutes."

"Should we have Aaron get Charmander out? Extra protection in case they find us."

Brock shook his head.

"His tail flame's too visible at this hour. We'll have Aaron get him out only if we do get attacked."

"If he's too visible, then why use him at all?" Misty questioned.

"He just needs to buy us a little time. We're only trying to get Aaron, Tommy, and Kangaskhan to the helicopter," Brock informed her. "Just because they can see us doesn't mean they can get to us before we drop them off. Once they're safe, you and I will have an easier time getting out of the Safari Zone and back to the Fuschia City gym."

"You're not sending me away," Ash protested.

"Yes we are," Brock shouted back. "You'll be safer there, Misty and I can escape easier, and you can use Pikachu to fend off any flying types that they might try and send."

Ash didn't argue back.

Brock's meager hopes for avoiding discovery were smashed about fifteen minutes into the journey.

Fire knifed out of the blackness, creating an island of orange light in the dark sea of the night. Staryu countered with a brief pulse of ice beam, sending a packet of blue light against the orange. Power clashed and temperatures equalized.

"Aaron, get your last pokémon out!" Brock shouted, shielding his eyes from the stabbing light with his hand. "Geodude, protect the ones in the middle."

More fire bloomed in the night. Brock could feel the dry heat from the flames on his skin, a stark contrast to the chill of the night. Staryu and Starmie countered again, five bursts of cold versus five bursts of heat. White light blazed behind Brock and Misty and a vine wrapped around the newly released Charmander.

"Onix, pick up the pace if you can!" Brock ordered. "Kangaskhan, do your best to keep up. No point in hiding after their light show. Aaron, have Pikachu blind them!"

"Pikachu, don't hit Pidgeotto, use Thundershock!" Aaron ordered. "Bright as you can!"

Sure thing! Electrictricity crackled, tendrils of power erupting from Pikachu as he jumped off of Ash and onto Onix. Yellow-white light flared, eye searing in the night.

More fire answered, but it was inaccurate. Misty's pokémon didn't even bother countering the assault.

And then they were past the sources of the flames. Brock let out a sigh of relief. They were past the first and hopefully only wave.

"Alright, here's to hoping that we don't run into Team Rocket or Team Aqua next," Misty said.

"Well we're about halfway there so we've got a good chance," Brock told her.

Neither of them were giving any more thought to Team Magma. Which was too bad, as Team Magma hadn't been trying to stop Onix, or even hurt him. They had simply want to partially blind the riders and the mount.

Slowly a stowaway crept up Onix's tail. It was careful to keep its grip light; rock types weren't known for their sensitivity. His tail was bothersome, it was a pain to keep it covered even with the special hood his trainer made.

The stowaway used the light from the newly released Charmander's tail observe his targets. He'd need to kill the squirtle first, then the bulbasaur to get rid of the vine tethers, and then he'd grab the human child. After that it'd be a matter of avoiding the Staryu and the Starmie until he could rejoin the Team Magma group.

Claws were readied in the darkness. Muscles tensed-

Enemy on Onix's tail! It's a charmeleon! A voice shouted from above.

Charmeleon moved even as he cursed his misfortune. Claws flashed in the light of Charmander's tail.

Yipe! The claws met only air as Squirtle ducked his head into his shell. Charmeleon turned the failed slash into a spinning back kick. Squirtle was sent flying off of Onix with a dull thump.

"Onix stop! Misty have your pokémon take care of that Charmeleon!" Brock ordered, having turned around when he heard the commotion.

"Staryu, Starmie-" Misty began. But she was cut off by the sound of water and Onix's pained roar. A lance of high pressured water had shot out of the darkness and blasted several fist sized chunks of rock off of Onix.

"Guard Onix!" The redhead changed her order.

"Onix, go left!" Brock ordered. "Aaron, do your best back there! Team Aqua just found us."

"Bulbasaur, pin him down with Razor Leaf and get Squirtle back up!" Ash shouted. "Charmander-"

Before Ash could finish giving instructions the enemy pokémon surged into action. Scrambling over Onix's segments, Charmeleon rushed Charmander, making sure to keep Ash's fire type between him and Bulbasaur.

"Charmander get out of there!" Ash's voice rose sharply as he saw Charmander in danger.

I can't, Charmander managed to reply before being forced to duck back from a slash aimed at his throat. The charmeleon pressed the attack with a headbutt that Charmander fell backwards to avoid. He raised his silver claws to finished off the downed fire type as Charmander tried to scramble backward-

And then the Charmeleon ducked on instinct, a blue blur passing over his head, propelled by a Water Gun attack. Primeape had to duck to avoid being clothes-lined by the vine attack to Squirtle.

Stay down! Bulbasaur warned. He fired off four Razor Leaves. Charmeleon turned them to cinder with a burst of flames. The orange pokémon glanced to the side. He caught a glimpse of movement.

Squirtle came blasting back at the stowaway Charmeleon. This time though, the fire type was prepared. He spun around and lashed out with another back kick, making sure to hit Squirlte from below. Ash's pokémon was sent flying upward until he Bulbasaur's vine snapped taunt. Physics took over and Squirtle path changed to a downward arc. He hadn't had time to react to the sudden change and hadn't quit using Water Gun.

There was a loud thunk as Squirtle hit the ground, the impact jarring him such that his head and limbs popped out of his shell, and a quieter thunk as Squirtle bounced into Onix headfirst. The water type went limp.

Squirtle's out! Pidgeotto shouted. Ash, get him out of here!

Red light reclaimed Squirtle.

"Pidgeotto, Quick Attack!" Ash ordered. "Primeape cover Charmander!"

On hearing Ash call out to a flying type Charmeleon pointed his head upward and used Fire Spin. A spiral of fire sped upward like a predatory tentacle. Pidgeotto Quick Attacked right into it.

She shouted a phrase that children shouldn't hear and then tumbled out of control. Wings angrily flapping, she managed to regain control of her flight even as she burned.

Charmeleon snapped his head back down, ready to deal with Primeape, but a red boxing glove like fist hit him right in the snout. Snout stinging, Charmeleon stumbled back- only to be hit on the side of the head by a magikarp.

The hell? Charmeleon held the side of his face. That was unexpected.

Y'all just need to get off! Charmeleon barely managed to jump back to avoid getting kicked in the stomach. He retaliated with a wide gout of flame meant to force the attacker back. But out of the flames burst Primeape, shielding himself with Magikarp.

Primeape came in with a sweeping low kick, knocking the fire type off of his feet.

The fight should have ended right there and then. But, in a display of dexterity that his kind wasn't known for, even as he was falling, Charmeleon wrapped his tail around Primeape's arm. Charmeleon yanked, fell onto his back on Onix, Primeape's face was slammed into Onix, and the fighting type was barely able to hold onto Magikarp.

Charmeleon lurched upward, getting back on his feet with one violent movement. Primeape pushed himself up with one arm and swept Magikarp forward with the other. Charmeleon kicked at him with one clawed foot scratching up and scraping off several scales.

Ash, get 'im outa here! Primeape shouted, flipping back on one hand and tossing Magikarp back towards his trainer.

Wait! Keep me out here, this Charmeleon might kill me, Magikarp pleaded before a beam of red light sucked him into his pokéball.

Charmeleon had no words for his now magikarpless opponent. He simply lunged forward with a Fire Fang. Primeape bit back a cry of pain as the attack grazed his hand. He used his unwounded limb to backhand Charmeleon, buying space.

Pikachu, do ya think ya could give 'im a zappin? Primeape called back to his comrade.

Ash has me busy trying to zap Team Aqua, Pikachu shouted back. Didn't you notice the lights?

His fire's bright enough thank ya, Primeape retorted, glancing at the wound on his hand. It wasn't too bad; he could still fight with that hand.

The fighting type threw a one-two jab at Charmeleon, with a speed that would be hard to track in the day and was practically invisible at night. The fire type staggered back, recovered his stance, and forced Primeape back with a vicious slash.

Primeape flipped backwards to avoid the deadly talons and Charmeleon followed the attack up with a barrage of fist sized fire balls. Acting on instinct Primeape jumped straight up to avoid the stream of fire balls. Even as he rose, he realized his mistake.

Bulbasaur! Primeape shouted the warning, fearing the worst for his green comrade. A series of super effective attacks streamed under him, with Bulbasaur unable to dodge-

But then again he didn't need to. Charmander countered the fireballs with an intense Flamethrower attack, running forward as he did so. Charmeleon covered his eyes with one arm to shield them.

"Charmander, get back!" Ash ordered, his heart stopping as his Charmander attacked.

Primeape landed behind Charmander as Ash's fire type scratched at his evolved form's leg. Charmander twisted to avoid the retaliatory slash and then tripped, trying to duck a bout of flame. However, in tripping, he avoided the slash that the flames had been a set up for.

"Brock, can't you have Onix buck him off?" Ash shouted.

"After we deal with Team Aqua," Brock answered. "I'm sorry, but you're going to have to just hold on back there."

Charmander bit Charmeleon's leg, the same one he had scratched, and began to tear at it. Charmeleon howled in pain and raised his clawed limb high. They glinted in the light of Charmander's tail as Charmeleon prepared to deliver a fatal blow.

I'm back! Pidgeotto Quick Attacked Charmeleon, slamming into his back out of the dark night. He staggered forward, flesh tearing under Charmander's teeth. With a scream of pain mixed with rage, Charmeleon swiftly slashed at the fire type savaging his leg.

No ya don't! A fist hit Charmeleon's face like a runaway tauros. One sharp tooth came flying out, spinning away into the darkness. Charmeleon clutched at his face.

"Charmander, bite down and stand up!" Ash ordered, voice gone all tight and high as his heart leapt into his throat.

Ash's fire type pushed himself to his feet, wrenching his head to the side as he did so, yanking Charmeleon's leg out from under him. The larger fire type fell, hitting his head on Onix's back, and then was finally flung off the rock type.

Charmander crowed, flush with victory. He had managed to beat a strong pokémon! He felt so full of energy that he was surprised he wasn't glowing!

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