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


35. 33

Gray clouds obscured the noon day sun as far as the eye could see from the foot of the mountains. A chill wind swept through the flat lands that crept up to the stony heights, rippling the short grass and the occasional grey, gnarled, and twisted tree. Clouds churned and raced above, lighter banks being driven away by the wind and replaced with larger and darker masses bearing ominous promises of bad weather. The air had the empty kind of chill that did not cut to the bone; instead it subtly leached the warmth out of oneself until one suddenly realized that their fingers were going numb.

Ash Ketchum had only recently noticed this fact and was rubbing his hands together to quickly generate some warmth. He stood within a small alcove, located within the beginning of the foothills marked the end of the grasslands and the start of the mountains. His team was there with him.

Pidgeotto, quit trying to make them powerful, just focus on accuracy and keeping them small, he instructed his flying type as she pelted a tree with blasts of air. We're trying to make a precise long range attack here, not a powerful one.

I know, Pidgeotto replied in the tense tone of someone who had quietly endured being nagged. I'm working on it. She flapped her wings and fired off several more blasts. None of them were to Ash's satisfaction, but they were better than her earlier attempts, so Ash didn't comment.

The pokéraised child turned his attention to Charmeleon and Bulbasaur, where the latter was finishing up showing the former that type advantage and evolution did not guarantee victory. It had been a short and violent demonstration that had involved clever use of vines and had ended with Bulbasaur clamping the fire types' mouth shut with one vine and using the others to slam him into the ground repeatedly.

Alright, I think that's enough, Ash said to the two. Bulbasaur you can let him go now.

How did you do that? Charmeleon rubbed his snout as he spoke. I'm supposed to be stronger now and I still have type advantage.

Strength doesn't mean anything, Bulbasaur replied. While it is true that you can be strong enough to make skill worthless, you can also be good enough to make strength useless. It doesn't matter how strong your fire attacks are if you can't use them. Your legs don't mean nothing when you aren't on the ground. Claws aren't worth a damn when someone else's got your wrist. But don't sweat it. I've fought a lot of charmanders, charmeleons, and even charizards in my time. Losing to me ain't anything to be ashamed off.

Charizards? How did you manage to take on charizards? Charmeleon was giving Bulbasaur a look of disbelief.

I hit them with Poison Powder and Leech Seed and then hid in rocky terrain, Bulbasaur answered, smirking. And then when they went looking for me, I hit them with the biggest rock I could find. Would've never worked if I had been any bigger, wouldn't have fit through some of the small openings. 'Course the one time one of them cornered me in the middle of the desert they just about killed me in two seconds flat and I wouldn't have survived if some of my comrades hadn't come to the rescue. Fun times.

Why haven't you evolved yet? Charmeleon asked wonderingly.

Bulbasaur snorted at the question.

Do you know how much food there is in Orre? Here's a hint: it ain't enough for a single snorlax. Hell, even with photosynthesis I had a hard time keeping myself fed. If I was an ivysaur I would've starved to death. And then there were the small openings that I liked to use, couldn't use them if I was an ivysaur.

But didn't you evolve after you left Orre? Charmeleon continued to question.

Melaine barely kept everyone fed as it was, Bulbasaur informed the fire type. An ivysaur would've been too much to handle.

Then why not when you started traveling with Ash? Charmeleon asked. Now Ash was curious. He walked a bit closer so he wouldn't miss what Bulbasaur had to say.

Because now I want to wait until I get back home, Bulbasaur answered simply.

Where's that? Charmeleon asked, head tilting quizzically.

A place I didn't even realize was home until they asked me to leave for my own good, Bulbasaur stared upward, seeing something other than the sky. I'll return after they're finished expanding the place. I'll bloom for her then.

Ah, Ash whispered. Returning the gift of Melaine's kindness, giving her another reminder that there was good in the world that Bulbasaur had fought for so long and that had scarred Melaine. An end to Bulbasaur's story that was a new beginning at the same time. Seed to flower to seed once more.

Not that it'd matter if Ash's secret got out. They'd all die. The flower would burn, the flame would be quenched, water drained, wings clipped, fist broken, fish eaten, lightning grounded, and the silk cut.

Ash shook his head, trying not to think about such things.

That's really cool!,Squirtle commented as he practiced dodging Primeape's blows. I know what it's like to hold off on evolutions.

You too? Charmeleon exclaimed.

Yeah- Ow! Squirtle's lapse in attention was rewarded with a glove like fist to the face. He jumped and then began to backpedal to keep away from Primeape's blows. When I was leading the Squirtle Squad it was my duty to make sure nobody got left behind. I was only going to evolve after all my comrades had evolved. And to answer your next question, the reason I haven't done so after coming with Ash is because I'm still a member of the Squirtle Squad. I'm not going to evolve until we're ready to be the Wartortle Warriors! It's part of the reason I keep bugging Ash to get updates on how the Squirtle Squad is doing.

So neither of you are planning on evolving anytime soon? Charmeleon asked, looking from Squirtle to Bulbasaur.

Nope, Bulbasaur replied. But that's probably a good thing. Do you know how much it would cost to feed a venusaur, blastoise, and charizard? More money than Ash can make off of advancements at this pace. And if you put off evolving you can learn some new techniques faster, seeing as you won't have to spend time adjusting to a new body.

You're making evolving sound like a bad thing, Charmeleon's gazed narrowed a little.

Nah, you do get a stronger body out of the deal, Bulbasaur sat back on his haunches. It's just that you need to keep in mind the drawbacks. And try not to judge a pokémon by how much it's evolved.

Unless you know that the evolved form tend to be jerks. Pikachu darted to a spot right next to Ash, trailing arcs of crackling electricity. Then you can feel free to judge them. And not turn into them. On an unrelated matter I still can't maintain the electric shell while moving idiot. I can't believe I'm about to suggest this, but can't we just try to copy Surge's Storm Barrier?

No, you don't have the raw power for that, Ash turned towards his first pokémon. Your greatest defensive attributes are your speed and agility. We need a defensive move that takes advantage of those.

So then why are we working on an electric barrier? Pikachu asked. Why not attempt to create a move that decreases their accuracy or increases my speed? Why not Double Team?

Uh... Ash was at a loss.

Before you two get into your comedy act, Bulbasaur butted in, why don't you give us some instructions first.

Right, Ash nodded. Charmeleon go spar with Primeape without using special attacks. I want you to get used to that new body. Bulbasaur, I want you to work learning Synthesis.

And what will you have Squirtle work on? If Charmeleon is sparring with Primeape then he ain't got anything to do, Bulbasaur reminded his trainer.

Uh... right, right, right. Tell him to work on our version of Barrage Counter some more, Ash instructed the bulb bearing saurian.

Bulbasaur shot Pikachu a look before walking away to relay Ash's instructions. Pikachu turned to Ash.

Idiot, what's been up with you lately? The electric type tugged on Ash's pant leg, trying to catch his trainer's eye.

Nothing, Ash said as he looked away.

Are you sure? You don't seem on very on the ball today.

Everybody has off days. Ash still didn't meet Pikachu's eyes, which Pikachu proceeded to roll.

You've been having an on and off week then, the yellow mouse stated. You've been clumsier than usual, talking less, being more idiotic, and don't think I haven't noticed that you haven't been sleeping as well.

It's probably just the change in weather, Ash tried to brush off his pokémon's concerns.

And what happened to telling Brock and Misty about the fact that you can understand us?

Ash froze up for a moment as he was overwhelmed by a flash of sheer animal panic.

W-w-what about that? I've changed my mind that's all. Pikachu's glare clearly told Ash that the pokémon hadn't bought it.

Spill now idiot or I'll trick Misty into stumbling over one of our conversations, Pikachu threatened.

No! Ash's response was instant. Then we'll never get any peace. They'll constantly hound us and then they'll make me act as the go between for me and their pokémon. I'll never get a free moment because they'll want to know each and every little thing their pokémon say.

Ash felt a mild sense of relief as he managed to think on his feet and belt out some plausible lies to appease Pikachu. He just needed his starter to buy it...

It wouldn't be that bad idiot, Pikachu quit glaring and rolled his eyes again.

And Misty would know exactly what you say all the time. Just how cute do you think she'd find you then? A sly grin crept onto Ash's face as he spoke.

Pikachu shot his trainer a dirty look. It looked like he'd bought Ash's lies.

That's just underhanded and dirty. No wonder you've been off your game lately, you've been devoting most of your brain power to thinking that up, and an idiot like you wouldn't have much to spare for anything else. Pikachu huffed, crossed his forelimbs, and looked away.

One of these days you're going to acknowledge I'm not an idiot, Ash rolled his eyes as he spoke. Keep working on moving with your barrier for now. I've got to go help Pidgeotto. And no, I'm not an idiot who's going to make it worse.

And you should realize I'm not an idiot either Ash, Pikachu muttered under his breath as he watched his trainer walk away. This isn't over.

Not too far off a dark skinned boy in an olive and orange jacket lay back on a rock and watched the clouds overhead and the mountains beyond. Leaning on the side of the rock was a red haired girl in a pink sweatshirt reading a manual of some kind.

"It feels nice to take a break." Brock voiced his thoughts aloud. "To just sit back and enjoy the view."

"Or just read for a bit," Misty replied. "Go through a few Training Manuals to look for some good moves to teach, read a chapter from one of Aaron's novels, go through a few more manuals, and then another chapter."

"But you're missing the mountains." Brock gestured towards the stony spires.

Misty gave the rocks a disinterested look.

"We'll be seeing them for long enough when we go through them," she said. "I'm sure I'll be sick of them by the end."

"You might want to put on some pants or you might actually end up sick," Brock commented.

Misty gave him a look that clearly said 'really'.

"You're complaining about this little chill?" Misty said. "I'm used to far colder temperatures. Hell, when taking care of the seels I had to spend hours in water that was near freezing."

"Yeah, but I'm guessing you had specially designed wet-wear for doing that," Brock shot back.

"True, but the chill sets in eventually no matter what," Misty said with a shrug. "Worst come to worst, I'll put on a wet-suit as well. Or just wear my armor. I think I should start keeping those compression units in a special pocket."

"That would've been a good thing to have started doing a while back," Brock sighed, sitting up a bit and looking back across the grasslands they had crossed. "But it really shouldn't have been."

Misty looked over at the older boy.

"We're just lucky like that I guess," she shrugged. "At least it's been interesting."

"That's one way of putting it," Brock admitted. "I'm just getting tired of this. I wanted to go on a simple journey with somebody who seemed like they'd be fun to hang out with, who was quickly joined by someone else who's fun to travel with, and just see the world beyond Pewter City. Pick up some tips on pokémon breeding. Meet pretty girls. I didn't want to have to deal with all these criminal gangs. I didn't want to deal with them trying to steal a kid."

"Well we helped him get away," said Misty. "And everywhere else we've been, we've done a lot of good. Even with all the hardship and the fact that Aaron can't seem to go a mile without finding trouble, I've been enjoying the journey."

"And I bet Mr. and Mrs. Marshall would've enjoyed the journey home with their son too," Brock was looking down, face locked in a glare meant for someone who wasn't there. "It was nice to see parents who care about their kids. Too bad they're dead."

"Yeah," Misty looked down, loosely holding onto her manual. She was silent for several moments.

"But we at least helped them see their kid one last time," she finally said. "We can't win everything, but we seem to have a good streak going. For the most part we've been coming out on top of these crazy situations, none of our pokémon have been seriously injured yet, and everyone seems to be holding up fine."

"I'm actually surprised at how well Aaron's holding up," Brock agreed. "Back in the Safari Zone, in the forest after we got away from Team Magma, was the first time I think I've seen him start to crack."

"Yeah," Misty looked back at her manual. "Hopefully we can get through this winter without too much difficulty. Give everyone a much needed rest. And then leisurely make our way to Indigo Plateau and watch the tournament."

"We can pick up some grooming tips to make our pokémon shine!" Brock added excitedly.

"Or we can get groomed by makeover specialists," Misty countered, also excited.

"Grooming is much more exciting though," Brock replied. "Watch, let's groom one of your pokémon right now. How about Psyduck."

"I'm not sure I want to do that," Misty answered. "I'm pretty sure that it'd be a waste of time."

"What, don't think you're up for it? Too challenging for you?" Brock smirked.

"Okay, bring it on," Misty's eyes narrowed as she glared at Brock. "It'll be easy."

Pikachu's right you know. Ash nearly jumped out of his skin when he heard Bulbasaur's voice behind him. You really are an idiot.

Ash turned and looked up the hill that Bulbasaur was standing on, just a little ways away from where the rest of his pokémon were training.

What do you mean by that? Ash asked the green pokémon.

Most of us can tell something's up. Pikachu's just the first one to confront you about it. Bulbasaur made his way down the hill to stand next to Ash. He really cares a lot about you, even if he'll never admit it.

I know, Ash said with a small smile. He's already claimed me as his idiot.

And you are an idiot for trying to pretend that nothing's wrong, Bulbasaur told the human boy. It ain't the correct way to behave around your comrades, person or pokémon. Now what's eating you?

Nothing's eating me, Ash protested.

You know I will hurt you if you keep lying to me. A vine crept out from under the grass type's bulb.

Ash made an expression that was halfway between a grimace and a reassuring smile.

It's what happened back at the Safari Zone, Ash answered, deciding on telling a half-truth. I'm still shook up about it all. I mean we couldn't even save Tommy's parents.

So? Bulbasaur shrugged. We at least got the kid out of there.

So? Is that all you can say? Ash exclaimed. People killed people and pokémon back there without remorse and you're fine that we only saved one? 

I'm surprised we saved that many.

Ash fell silent when he heard Bulbasaur's answer. Silence reigned as they struggled to comprehend one another from opposite points of view.

How can you- That doesn't... I just don't get it, the pokéraised child eventually said.

The mountains and oceans of the world are nothing compared to the divides that separate one man from another, Bulbasaur said, in the manner and tone of someone quoting someone else. Or one person from one pokémon in this case. Heard that from some fool down in Arre, a small region near Orre. About the only sensible thing he ever said before getting himself killed by attacking a fortified position head on. The point is that it ain't easy to get it.

But they're dead. All those kangaskhan and ranger and Tommy's parents, they're all dead. We only saved one, two if you count his mother.

And that one person has their whole life in front of them. A life of infinite potential, though he'll probably end up wasting it. Bulbasaur shot back.

That's true of all the people and pokémon who died there, Ash angrily retorted. They had lives of infinite potential too and now they're gone!

Person and pokémon stared at each other for a moment.

You know you're weird, Ash finally said. You're some sort of pessimistic optimist. Or a romantic cynic.

And you're a pessimistic romantic, Bulbasaur replied. You see what was lost, not what was gained.

Nothing was gained, Ash clenched his right hand into a fist. We only prevented one thing from being lost. It sucks.

Though Ash didn't realize it, he had helped express the key difference between him and Bulbasaur. Bulbasaur had seen all the lives, including Tomas Marshalls, as already lost to the various criminal organizations and thus any survivors were a victory. Ash had held the opposing view and saw any life lost as a defeat.

One had given up and was yet still trying anyway. And the other would not give up and would almost always be disappointed.

Ash sighed and put his face in his hands.

Some days I don't like my species, Ash continued. They can just be awful.

Yeah, but pokémon are worse.

Wait, what?

"Alright, let's start with his hair", Brock said to Misty as he unpacked his grooming supplies.

"What little there is," Misty remarked, looking at the three lone hairs that adorned the top of Psyduck's head.

"Let's start by brushing them and then getting them to lie flat," Brock continued, ignoring Misty's remark.

"Fine. It should only take a second." Misty picked up a hair brush.

What do you mean pokémon are worse? Ash asked, throwing up his hands in exasperated confusion. Pokémon might not be perfect, but they don't wage wars that scar the world, they don't pollute the land, and they don't hunt children across different region and slaughter their friends and parents. Those are activities almost exclusively belong to people.

In fact, Ash continued, springing to his feet and starting to pace back and forth as he ranted, it's mainly people who murder for fun, who make other people murder for fun, who trick people into murdering, who steal, and torture. Pokémon are mostly nice. They keep to themselves and focus on surviving. They don't burn people for not mating with them, they don't randomly abandon the beings their supposed to care for, they don't try and kill beings by tricking them just to be cruel, they don't steal friends from each other, they don't mind control people and make them kill each other, and they don't kill beings unrelated to their goal. The world would probably be a nicer place without so many people!

And yet pokémon are still worse, Bulbasaur said calmly, lying down on the hillside while his trainer grew agitated.

How can you say that! Ash exclaimed, nearly pulling at his hair.

Because almost every pokémon regularly kills other sentient beings without any guilt, Bulbasaur answered.

Ash froze.

You forget that pokémon eat other pokémon to survive, Bulbasaur continued. That includes most herbivores, and as a grass type I'm damn well sure of that. Except for the odd small pokémon that can survive on actual plant life like pikachus, all pokémon will at some point probably eat another pokémon. Hell, the whole type system might be all 'bout that for all I know. Attack and defense against food and hunters.

I mean take a look at Magikarp, Bulbasaur used a vine to gesture in the direction that the others were training. How much family of his has been eaten? Hell Pidgeotto ate one of them and then acted like a human who had bumped into someone rather than someone who just killed a family member. And most wild pokémon, like Magikarp, think that's normal, that it's right. It's accepted. But it ain't right.

Bulbasaur sighed.

That's why I left the wilds, the green pokémon told his trainer. That's why I went to Orre were there weren't no naturally occurring pokémon in the wild. Just animals and the sun. Hard to get by in a desert but at least I didn't have to kill to live. Well, nothing that could protest being killed. Course I started killing not that long after arriving, but that was when I got mixed up in human business, not for food. Wasn't all that bad. I helped right wrongs and even made friends with people and their pokémon. Some of them even survived.

"Why won't it lie down!" Misty pulled at her own hair so hard that Brock was worried that she'd lose her hair while trying to tame Psyduck's.

"Misty, just calm down," Brock said, slowly reaching for the brush.

"No! It's just three hairs. Three little hairs! It should be easy to get them to lie flat!" Misty glared at the offending strands. Psyduck gave her a blank look back.

"I know what'll keep them down. An Ice Beam!"

"Misty don't!"

I'm guessin' that you've thought about this, at least a little, Bulbasaur said a minute or so later, after watching Ash sit down and silently digest what Bulbasaur had said.

Well, yeah, Ash replied. Obviously. I grew up with pokémon. Poison Lance only discouraged large predators from staying or regularly hunting in the Pallet area.

Surprised it isn't a bigger issue for you.

It's, well, as you said normal for pokémon, Ash replied with a shrug. I just sorta accepted it.

Bullshit, Bulbasaur snorted. Like you of all people would just accept something like that.

I was taught that it was just part of life for pokémon, Ash said, not looking at Bulbasaur. There wasn't any malice most of the time and it was to survive.

And you were okay with that?

No! Of course I wasn't! Ash snapped, turning to his pokémon. I didn't like that Bellsprout was eaten by Pidgey. Or that Pichu got killed by Ekans when Ekans was passing through. I hated it. I hated losing friends. I hated friends killing. I hated it when my friends ate my other friends. But there was nothing I could do! I couldn't get mad at my friends for trying to survive, I couldn't get Poison Lance to stop all the killing at home, and it's not like I could have defended them myself!

Ash crossed his arms on top his knees and then rested his chin on them.

I loved the fact that I grew up on berries, roots, fruit, and stolen human food, the human boy continued, looking down. It meant I didn't eat any pokémon. That was one of the first things I liked about human civilization, they tend not to eat pokémon. Their food almost entirely consists of non-sapient beings.

The boy's shoulders drooped.

It sounded magical back then, human civilization. A place where beings didn't have to kill to get through their daily lives. Ash's eyes shut beneath the shadow cast by the brim of his hat. Where friends wouldn't have to eat friends. I mean I knew about war and murder, but those were supposed to be the exceptions.

And yet you keep running into them, Bulbasaur got up and walked over to Ash's side. Life ain't fair. Is that why you're always telling us not to kill?

Pretty much, Ash answered, not looking up.

Bulbasaur sighed. Sometimes he forgot how young Ash really was. And other times he wondered if Ash himself forgot how young he was.

Well, I don't agree with the whole not killing thing, but I've met other people like you before, began Bulbasaur. Not people who don't kill, though there were some, but people who wanted to help. Plenty of them. Most of them didn't last very long, but by the Tree, they tried. A lot of them were stupid and young and died foolishly. But they never gave up. They pressed on and on, faltering but never really falling, getting better and making the world better. Bulbasaur smiled a soft rueful smile. Sometimes I'm glad that the world is so awful just because I got to see them like that. You remind me of them a bit. That's part of the reason I agreed to come along.

You and people like you are why I don't hate your species, and why I spend most of my time around your kind. The grass type put a vine on Ash's shoulder like a human would use a hand. People like you encouraged me not to simply avoid the awfulness of the world, but rather to fight it in any way you can. I might think most of your species is shit, but I think that about the world in general, so it's nothing special. You, you've just hit a run of bad luck; witnessing all this murder and the like. People are awful, but at least they realize it some of the time. They try and improve themselves. I don't really know if they're worse than pokémon or not, but they do at least try.

Ash made a sound that was somewhere between a hiccup and a sob.

I don't know if we'll run into any more of that crap, but if we do, I don't mind following your lead, Bulbasaur continued. You ain't perfect, but you messing with these situations has always given a better end then they would've gotten if we left them alone. Human civilization might not be everything you imagined, but that's fine. Things can be worse than you imagined, but I'm sure there's other things that are better than you imagined.

So you're a cynical idealist? Ash asked, his voice heavy despite the joke, as he rubbed at the corner of his eye. That's a contradiction you know.

I'm a plant that's an animal that's a pokémon, Bulbasaur squeezed Ash's shoulder with the vine. I'm allowed to be a contradiction. But I'm not really an idealist, more of a cynical optimist. I just think that it's possible for things to get better. Not likely, but possible.

So your glass is always half full?

Full of shit.

Ash grinned.

Feeling better now idiot? Ash jumped a bit when he heard Pikachu speak up behind him.

How long were you there? The human asked the electric type.

I arrived near the end of Bulbasaur's little speech there, Pikachu answered, jumping onto Ash's head. I figured I'd let him talk to you before I called you an idiot and shocked you into telling me what was wrong.

I called him an idiot for you, Bulbasaur chipped in.

Good. Now, idiot, are you feeling better? Pikachu leaned over the edge of Ash's cap to look at his trainer.

Yeah, Ash answered half honest. The talk had helped. It might not have been about the issue currently plaguing his mind, but it had taken care of something that had been starting to bug him. He was honestly feeling better.

Come on then, Pikachu patted the side of Ash's head from his upside down position. Let's go gather up the others and find Misty and Brock.

That sounds good, Ash said, smiling.

The three of them set off in the direction that led to the rest of Ash's team.

Anyway, thanks for taking care of my idiot for me Bulbasaur, Pikachu said from on high.

You're welcome, Bulbasaur replied. It was my pleasure.

Your idiot? Ash's eyes darted upward. Since when do I belong to you?

Since we met at Professor Oak's and I single handedly saved you from a crazy fearow, Pikachu replied matter-of-factly. I'm sure you remember. It's where we met Misty.

You didn't save me single handededly! Ash glared upward. Without me you wouldn't have learned to control the lightning that you used to defeat the fearow.

Potatoes, pototoes, Pikachu waved a forepaw. In the end my so called reward for that venture was this idiot. In retrospect that's even more depressing, if I had been alone I could have gotten Misty as my human instead. I coulda had an adorable human instead of an idiotic one.

Nobody would find you adorable if they could understand what you were actually saying, Ash growled.

Ah, humans, Pikachu sighed, ignoring Ash. So big and curious and helpless.

I know, Bulbasaur joined in. Stumbling about completely clueless. They are rather cute. That's why we tolerate them.

I hate you both, Ash muttered, glare downward.

And we all know that you can't say that in any manner even distantly resembling convincing, Pikachu patted the top of Ash's head.

Why did I want to be a pokémon trainer again? Ash asked of the heavens.

Because you're an idiot, Pikachu answered from on high. But you're our idiot, so you can quit worrying. We'll take care of you.

"How?" Misty gasped upon the ground. "I've been defeated by three little hairs?" She gazed up at the sky as the hairbrush slipped from her fingers, pokéballs scattered about her.

"Impressive," Brock mused, stroking the sides of his chin. "I've never seen such little hair put up so much fight."

So, Psyduck began, standing next to his fallen opponent and looking down on her. What was with that weird training?

Should I break it to him? Staryu asked Starmie, standing behind Psyduck.

Nah, it's way funnier this way, replied Starmie. I just hope we didn't hit anything with those ice beams.

"There. Is. No. Justice. In. This. World." Misty panted.

"There are only three hairs," Brock intoned in the manner of someone stating cosmic wisdom.

What? These? Psyduck licked his hand and then smoothed down the three black strands. What about them?

Misty's rage filled shout rang through the grasslands.

"Uh, what's going on here?" Brock turned to look at Aaron who had just arrived.

"Just practicing grooming our pokémon," Brock answered nonchalantly.

Ash looked around and noticed the muddy gouges in the ground and the banks of ice dotting the landscape.

"Is it normally this messy?" The pokéraised child asked the dark skinned boy.

"No, this was just a special case," Brock replied. "Are you done cursing, Misty?" Brock asked, turning to the red head. "Can we move on?"

"Yeah, I'm done," Misty groaned, rolling over and pushing herself up. "Let's get going, maybe we get some distance before it starts to rain."

Brock snorted.

"You're worried about rain?" the boy from Pewter City asked the red head incredulously.

"Well it slows you two down and I want to be done with those mountains as soon as possible," Misty explained as she brushed herself off. "Also, I want to accomplish at least one thing today."

She glared at Psyduck's head.

What? Psyduck tilted his head and looked up at Misty.

Red light flashed, Psyduck disappeared, and Misty started stomping away, furiously fuming.

Brock and Ash looked at each other. Brock shrugged.

"Well, I don't think a little rain will slow us down that much," Brock said, before the two of them set off after Misty.

Brock might have been right. A little rain didn't slow them down.

Instead it was the extremely early snowfall that did the trick.

The rocky trails, splotches of plant life, and the occasional tree were all lost within the swirling white vortex. Thick, fat, flakes of snow rushed around, getting everything wet and slippery as small piles of white built up. A fierce wind pushed against the party, making walking a struggle within the rocky confines of the mountain path.

"Where the hell did this come from?" Brock nearly shouted to make himself heard over the winds, shielding his face with one of his arms as he pressed forward.

"I've got no clue," Ash shouted back, as he hiked onward, hunched over and holding Pikachu in his arms, close to his chest.

"It's these damn mountains," Misty called back from further up, edging up the natural trail to reduce wind resistance. "It must be some freaky local phenomenon."

"Phenom-what?" Ash hollered.

"Phenomenon," Brock looked back at the younger boy. "The word pretty much means 'something that happens'. Like early snow in certain areas."

"Ah, a weird thing," Ash said mostly to himself. "I've got plenty of experience with those." 

And yet you still have yet to find me a goat like flying type, Pikachu muttered, snuggling deeper into Ash's warmth. Is that not weird enough for you to stumble over?

"We need to find some a cave or some trees," Brock yelled. "Someplace out of the wind, where we can start a fire."

"Or we could just go to the light!" Ash replied.

Both Brock and Misty turned their heads so sharply that Ash was worried that they would hurt their necks. Their expressions of panic softened when they saw him pointing. They looked in the direction his finger indicated and noticed a faint orange glow.

"Good catch!" Brock told the younger boy. "We're going to have to hurry before the storm gets any worse!"

It was a struggle as they fought the wind and the slippery ground. But they managed to push onward towards the orange glow, which became more and more distinct. Eventually they could make out the outlines of a cave and then they put forth a final burst of effort.

Ash and Brock were shivering as they stumbled into the cave, leaning against the rock walls and rubbing the sides of their arms. Misty darted ahead to confront the occupant of the cave, hoping that they wouldn't look familiar.

"Well, it's nice to have company." There was a woman and three pokémon sitting around the fire. A large arcanine kept a watchful eye on the flames, while a vileplum and a delcatty sat on either side of the human woman, all three leaning against the furry fire type.

The woman had brown hair, which Misty suspected was a dye job due to the red around her roots, and kept it in a long ponytail. Her eyes were jade with just a hint of blue and her face seemed vaguely familiar. She was wearing what seemed to be a custom form hugging tuxedo, an extremely dark blue version, with a red bow tie, and seemed pleased to see the newcomers. The arcanine turned away from the fire to regard the arrivals with a wary eye.

"Didn't think that anyone else would be out there," the woman continued, standing up and walking towards Misty, Brock, and Ash. "I'm 'Elle." She offered her hand to Misty. "That there is Growlie, Vileplume, and Delcatty. Come in, the fire's warm."

"Uh, hi," Misty shook the woman's hand. "I'm Misty. That's Brock, this is Aaron, and that's Pikachu, Aaron's pokémon."

"So what are you four doing up in these parts?" 'Elle asked the group, looking over Brock and Aaron.

"Just passing through," Brock answered, standing up straight. He'd like to try and charm the woman, but he was too cold. Maybe after he recovered...

"Ah, so you didn't know about the local weather," 'Elle walked back over to the arcanine, Growlie, sat down, and leaned against him again. "There are always two early snow storms in these parts. First one usually lasts a day and the second three times that."

"Oh great," Brock groaned, moving closer to the fire. "How long is the delay between storms?"

"Anywhere from a couple hours to two days," 'Elle answered. "Sit down, Growlie won't bite."

Ash and his friends sat down around the fire, letting the dancing orange flames drive the chill from their bones.

"Great, so we're either stuck in this cave for almost a week, stuck in a blizzard in the mountains, or stuck in the foothills," Brock groused. "We might need to take Onix back down after this clears. We can find a better camping spot in the woods in the foothills. Wait."

The dark skinned boy looked at the woman with the hair dyed brown.

"'Elle, you seem familiar with these parts. Do you know of any better shelter around here?" Brock asked the woman.

"Yeah, it's the place I was heading to," 'Elle stretched backward into the arcanine, settling into the fire type's fur. "My family's got a mansion up here. It's not too far from here, only a couple of hours. If you want, you can join me and come with."

"Okay," Ash said before Misty or Brock had time to think the offer over. The older humans were thinking about potential dangers and obligations that taking up the offer from a stranger might bring. Ash saw the chance to meet more people and get to know them, even as he hid himself from them.

"Are you sure we wouldn't be intruding?" Misty asked after shooting a dark look at Aaron.

"Why are you headed up there right now?" Brock asked right after Misty.

"There's a family event going on," 'Elle stared at the fire. "We're all heading up there right now. And don't worry about intruding. If they turned away travelers during a snow storm, then they wouldn't be 'keeping up appearances'. Well, at least if they did it in front of witnesses, but the staff and I should count as witnesses. They'll probably just put you guys up in a room in the east wing until the storm passes." Her pleased demeanor seemed to fade as she talked about her family.

"That sounds a bit like we'd be intruding-" Brock began, but the older woman cut him off.

"Nah, it'd give me someone to talk to to between arguments," 'Elle told him, waving away his concerns. "And my conscious wouldn't stand for leaving you guys out in the snow."

"Alright, we'll come with," Brock gave in, holding his hands up to the fire. "What's the event?"

'Elle sighed and looked into the fire.

"A funeral."

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