Symbiosis

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

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/7917071/1/Symbiosis

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There are many ways that one could say it started. It may have started when Ash and his friends met an odd girl by the base of the mountains. That was certainly where it started for them. However that was not the beginning of the situation. Events had been set in motion long before then.

One might also say that it started when the nations of the world had fought and destroyed themselves, leaving the people of the planet shattered and isolated. That is another beginning where the seeds were planted. Still, it could be argued that although it set the stage, that particular beginning was too far in the past.

One might say that it started when humans seeking to unite the nation under their brutal human rule clashed with those were more willing to tolerate and work together rather than rule. That was where many of the players were shaped and it occurred in the relatively recent past. But, even then, there were still many more likely courses life could have taken to much different results.

No, the best place to say it began was one month before Ash and his friends met a stranger calling herself Elle.

A bright sun shone during that early autumn day in the mountain forests. Peaks towered in the distance, glimpsed through a sea of yellow, orange, red, and brown leaves. Two children wandered the forest with that innocent sense of ownership that all children have for the wilderness near their home. An occasional small breeze ruffled the leaves about their heads while small flying types chirped all around them.

Their journey through the fall colors took them to a clearing made notable only by the boulder in the center.

One of the children quickly scrambled to the top. She gripped the flat of the baseball cap on her head and turned it around so that her jade eyes were shielded from the sun. Her dark red hair gently swayed in a ponytail with a small sunflower at it's base, as she goggled the scenery from her lofty perch.

At the bottom of the rock, a blonde haired boy with blue eyes nervously looked for a way to follow his cousin and scale the boulder.

The red-haired girl glanced back at her cousin and adjusted on of the straps on her denim overalls. "Hurry up, Thomas!" she called.

"I'm trying Jena," Thomas called back, slowly putting his hands on the stone. Jena sighed. She flopped down and extended a hand to the blonde haired boy. Without hesitation, Thomas took her hand and she hauled him up.

Thomas slowly got to his feet and then joined Jena gazing from their perch. The surrounding mountains stood gray and blue and white in the late morning sun, covered with crags and ridges and towering peaks. Leafy trees, just reaching the peak of their seasonal coloration, stood out against the backdrop of the mountains. And between the trees and the mountains, the land dipped, leaving naught but the glimpses of blue sky and rocky grasslands

Before Thomas could really take in the view, however, there was a tugging on his hand that quickly turned into a swift arm-yanking.

"Come on," Jena called put to him. She let go of his arm and then jumped off the boulder they stood on, landing and rolling to a stop in the grass below. Thomas descended in a more careful manner as Jenny picked herself up, looked back and then grew bored enough to start tapping her foot on the ground.

"We've got to hurry if we wanna see it all!" the girl said plaintively. "They'll notice that we're gone soon."

"I don't think we can get to it all," Thomas began hesitantly, but was interrupted.

"We can do it if we're fast enough," Jena insisted. "Now let's go!"

Jenny dragged Thomas back into the trees, continuously insisting that he go faster to Thomas's excuses and protests. They eventually compromised on a speed that was faster than Thomas liked, but too slow for Jenna.

Minutes or hours or seconds passed; time progressed weirdly when one mixed fear and fun. Woods were explored, rocks upturned, flying-type pokemon startled, and ponds accidentally discovered. It was the last event that made the two consider going home before they got cold.

But, as they trekked home, they came upon one last thing to examine.

"What is it?" Thomas asked, looking generally uncomfortable and standing a reasonably far distance from the thing.

"I dunno. Let's find out!" Jena grabbed a stick from off the ground and approached the thing.

It was purple. It was runny. It smelled funny. It flowed funny. It was a big mound of purple goo in the middle of the forest without any indication of where it had come from or what it was.

Or why it expanded and contracted regularly.

Or why it seemed like it was snoring.

To children these were all questions that could be answered by pocking the thing with a stick.

"Hmm," Jena observed the slime jerk away from her prodding. "That's weird."

Suddenly two purple pillars of slime rose from the collection and the whole mass began to shift. Both Jena and Thomas fell on their rears as they flinched backwards in surprise at the sudden animation of the strange substance.

Two black-centered white spots appeared within the things. Eyes, Thomas realized. Somehow, the purple slime had eyes and arms. Somehow, the noxious slime was alive.

Fear struck Thomas dumb and left him paralyzed. Shock held Jena in place before the foul thing.

Is it time to get up already? The creature made some sort of sound that neither Jena nor Thomas could make heads or tails of. The creature turned, eyes coming to rest on Jenny and Thomas.

Humans! This is the first time I've met humans. I"m so excited. The pile of slime began to move towards Jenny, who was still too shocked to react. You guys look weird. Like a naked mankeys. Let's see, what are you supposed to do to say hello to humans... oh, right!

Give them a hug!

Without warning the things arms, slimy and runny and sticky and just all wrong and somehow too strong to fight, wrapped around Jena and she was yanked into the mass. Order and light left her world as she taken into warm, gooey darkness. Instincts prompted her to try and gasp or scream.

Instincts betrayed her as soon as she opened her mouth. There was no air, only foul tasting muck. Panic set in, primal and unwavering. No thoughts only the blind panic of the trapped. No ideas, only the fear that accompanies asphyxiation. She could not even flail about, not within the muck. The only movement she could manage was the twitching of her feet.

Thomas watched in mute horror as his friend was taken into the monster until only her twitching sneakers remained. His pants grew damp and warm as the twitching began to slow.

And then the twitching stopped.

The thing must have noticed this as it then pulled Jena out of itself.

Oh, did you fall asleep? It turned to look at Thomas, curled up in a fetal position taking irregular breathes. I know what's going on, it's your nap times, isn't it? It gently put down Jena's body. I'll just leave you two here. I should go eat something.

The thing began to ooze away, leaving a lump of meat and a broken boy behind.

While perhaps not completely clear as of yet, the chain of events set off by what had happened in the mountain forests eventually led to Ash, Brock, Misty and Elle struggling through the leading edge of a blizzard. Elle led the way, hands buried in Growlie's fur as she had him melt the snow ahead of the group to make sure they were still on the path. She kept rubbing the shivering fire type to keep the orange pokemon from freezing and to warm up her own chilled hands.

Behind her came Brock, Misty and Ash. They each had an arm up to shield their face as they pressed onward through the wind and the stinging of the sudden snow into the darkness of the mountain storm. One of the sleeves of Ash's jacket flapped wildly in the wind; the arm that usually occupied it was curled under the fabric, clutching a cold Pikachu to his chest.

"How much further?" Brock shouted, surging closer to their guide to hear and be heard above the winds.

"Not too much further," Elle called back, barely audible.

"That's what you said twenty minutes ago," Brock yelled in response. "We have to find shelter and soon!"

"Well unless we stumble over another cave- Wait! There!" The woman made some sort of gesture that Brock struggled to make out through the white veil of the winter world. He peered through the flakes and saw that she was pointing at a group of lights.

"They always turn on all the outside lights during these storms," Elle shouted. "Just for situations like this one."

"G-g-good," Ash's teeth were chattering. "L-let's hurry then!"

I second the idiot's motion! Pikachu piped up from under Aaron's jacket.

It was still another five bone chilling minutes before they made it to the group of lights in the white world.

There was an oak door. A large oak door. A large polished oak door. This struck Ash as strange. Why did they need a door so large? Did they usually take big things in through their front door?

From what little the group could see of the front and center of the building, it seemed to be made out of a dark brown stone, smooth, flat, and polished around doors and windows, but coarser and more irregular when it came to the walls. Most of it was hidden by the storm, a dark shape behind the flakes with the occasional pane of light from a window, or glowing globe of an outdoor light.

Elle pounded on the door.

"I know someone's there! The old woman always has someone watching and you can hurry up and open the door for us!" Her jade eyes glared at the peephole.

There was the sound of chains rattling, bolts slamming back, locks being undone, and a bar being raised. More light spilled out into the mountains as the door opened.

An elderly woman in a rather conservative black western dress stood in the door way, a youthful-looking butler with jet black hair standing just behind and to her right. The woman had gray hair with the faintest red tint that told stories of other days, when her hair must have been a vibrant dark crimson. Her eyes, jade like Elle's, were unclouded by age and locked in a hard gaze directed at the newcomers. She held herself stiffly and proudly with a raised chin and straight back. To the newcomers, everything about her screamed 'formal'.

"Oh, I see Elle has seen fit to grace us with her presence," a haughty voice from somewhere behind the old woman spoke up. Another woman stepped up to a spot behind the old woman and to her left. The newcomer was a graying blond in a rather less conservative black dress than the old woman's. Her blue eyes flashed as she looked down at the group with a sort of joyous contempt.

"She's finally here?" Yet another voice, male this time, gruff and deep joined in. "Tired of humping pokémon and finally decided to rejoin the family?" A large man with black hair, black eyes, and wearing a black suit came up behind the old woman, casting a shadow over Ash, Brock, Misty, and Elle.

"Looks like she decided to start to slut around with humans instead," the graying blond sneered.

"Oh, like you're one to talk Chiyo," Elle snapped at the graying blond. She turned to the man. "I see you made it to the front door without beating a servant or hitting your primitive skull on a door frame. You feeling okay Maki? Should I go fetch a kid for you to beat?"

"Enough." The old woman spoke up before anyone could say anything else. "Chiyo, Maki, go inside, your services are not required."

Chiyo gave the old woman a dirty look and then went back inside. Maki shot the old woman a glare and didn't move. The old woman simply looked back at him, her gaze darkening just a little. Maki's glare vanished and he beat a hasty retreat.

"Elle, do you have an explanation for your tardiness?" Old jade eyes once more looked into Elle's eyes even as the stormy veil of winter began to make its way into the mansion.

"Yes grandmother," Elle said in a carefully neutral voice. "I misjudged the timing of the storms."

"You have been taught better than that," the old woman snapped. "I wouldn't expect that sort of mistake from Thomas, let alone you, you stupid girl!"

"Yes grandmother," Elle's voice was not quite as neutral as before, carrying hints of tenseness that could also be found in the muscles of her hand as it twitched and incrementally became a fist.

"And what of your guests," the old woman's eyes swept over Ash, Brock, and Misty.

"I met them in the mountains while they were taking shelter from the first storm," Elle answered. "I extended them an offer of hospitality in the face of the inclement weather."

"As is simply proper," the old woman sniffed. "What are their names?"

"This is Brock." Elle gestured towards the former gym leader, who bowed to the old woman. "Misty." Misty gave a nervous laugh and stepped forward, offering a hand to shake.

"A former gym leader and the relative of gym leaders. What?" The old woman asked in response to the surprised look on Elle's face. "Did you assume that I hid away up here unaware of the outside world. Of course I keep my eye on things, including the League you naive girl."

She turned to Misty.

"Ordinarily, given the formality of the event that you have arrived at, I would expect a curtsy. But given your circumstances I suppose that this will have to suffice." The old lady took Misty's hand and shook it.

"And who is this last guest?" The old eyes turned to Ash.

"I'm Aaron Autumns ma'am," Ash said bright, taking moving Pikachu into the embrace of his left arm so he could offer his right hand for the woman to shake. The old woman's eyes narrowed when she saw the yellow pokémon.

"Does your pokémon not have a pokéball?" She asked the young trainer.

"He does, but he really doesn't like it in there," Ash replied.

"So you refuse to put him in there, even in this weather? Where it would be best for all involved for him to be in his pokéball so that you could travel unencumbered? Merely to avoid some temporary discomfort? You spoil him Aaron Autumns and do you both a disservice. If you do not take a stern hand to his training the consequences might be most unfortunate."

Where do you get off at lady? Pikachu shot a dark look at the old woman. And there's no way I'm going in my pokéball and leaving him alone. You're crazier than he is if you think I'd do that.

She took Aaron's hand and shook it.

"I am Chiyoko Umagoya Mr. Aaron Autumns. I hope that your pokémon won't be a problem during your stay here."

"No ma'am," Ash replied carefully.

"Good. You may come in." The old woman beckoned them inside.

The group stepped into a well lit hall with marble walls, a high ceiling, and a chandelier. Winter's chill lingered in the entryway, a result of the doors having been opened for so long, but even as they closed, one could feel the warmth returning. Ash felt the odd numbness that came with cold limbs being warmed as he kicked the snow off of his shoes and onto the rug.

"Put them up in the west wing, next to Elle's room," Chiyoko instructed the butler. She turned back to the group. "John here will show you to your rooms. The wake begins in an hour. Dinner will be served in two. If you have any formal clothes packed I suggest you put them on. I also suggest that you be discreet about your occupations and relatives."

"Wait, you're letting them come to dinner?" Elle asked, once more surprised.

"I've permitted Chiyo to bring a number of 'dates' to family events, along with Satio's 'comrades', and Ayoko's friends, so I see no reason to forbid others from bringing guests. I do, however, expect you to be a good host to them throughout the event." Her eyes twinkled with amusement. "Oh my, I must be going soft. But that's only to be expected of an 'old woman'."

And with that Elle's grandmother walked away.

"Crap, that's her game," Elle grimaced after the older woman left.

"Huh?" Brock asked.

"Nothing," Elle replied, waving away the question with a little laugh, while inwardly seething about how her grandmother managed to manoeuvre her into a position where she couldn't skip dinner.

Ash spoke up.

"Why did she say we should be dis-secret-"

"Discreet," Brock corrected.

"Discreet," Aaron repeated. "Why did she say we should be discreet about our occupations and relatives? And what does discreet mean anyway?"

"Discreet basically means 'don't advertise'," Brock informed the younger boy.

Elle grimaced.

"The short answer is that my family's not big on pokémon or the League, as you might have noticed." Elle said to the boy. "They used to be a major player in the local area and nowadays they don't have as much power. That's pretty much it."

The explanation Elle gave the group was functional in a way. It was certainly enough for Ash and company.

But there was so much more to it.

War. Harb. Krieg. Sensou. Bellum.

There are many ways to name the thing that set the stage of the world. Many words to describe the same destruction, the same fires, the same mass of death, and the shared end of an era. The same thing that had followed human civilization since its clock began to tick.

Imagine the rumble of hordes of vehicles crossing the world. Imagine the constant chattering and barking of gun. The whistle of shells and rockets. The deep booming voices of the explosions. The rhythmic thumping of giant multi-legged war machines marching across the land. The death screams of millions of men, women, and pokémon.

Picture a hundred skies on fire. Picture the deadly orange blooms that were explosions. The smoke trials of rockets and aircraft. The high speeding specks that were flying types. The yellow flashes of gunfire in the night. Picture exchanges of fire, of electricity, of psychic energy, of ethereal power, and hundreds of other types of attacks. Picture the brilliant white light of raging energy wiping away the landscape.

Look at the edges of the sky and the black depths of space. See the streaks of light that were the nuclear exchanges as missiles raced through the atmosphere. The crackling sparks and arcing of countermeasures. See high altitude creatures explode in midair as their fluids boiled from being caught in the concentrated energy of the sensors and electronic warfare. The glint of light off of metal as man and machine capture missiles, aircraft twisting through the sky to devour and grab missiles. The light that accompanies teleportation surrounding warheads. The mini-novas in the depths of space as nuclear device detonated.

Finally feel the burn from the explosion of a neighbor's house. The bite of the bullet. The sudden terror of the warning sirens. The all consuming fear that comes with watching a city's energy absorbing defenses and shields struggle against a nuclear explosion. The loud silence that comes with hiding from an invading army.

Those situations, those pictures, those sights, sounds and feelings, only describe the smallest portion of the Great War.

Nations scattered their soldiers to every corner of the globe. Impossible amounts of machinery, manpower, and money were sent to distant lands to fight and die. There were few backwater lands that escaped being drawn into the malestorm of destruction and even they were eventually swamped with refugees.

It was an unbelievable war. Foot soldiers fought alongside pokémon, tanks, and giant walking war machines. Legions of flying types, swarms of drones, and flocks of jets dueled in the skies. Submarines and sea monster were embroiled in fantastic struggles beneath the waves of the oceans. Advanced technologies struggled against conventional and unconventional super-weapons. Barely understood discoveries were stuffed into black box technologies and thrown into the teeth of the enemy.

It started out as a 'civilized' war, if there could be such a thing. Professionals fighting professionals, taking care to avoid civilian collateral damage. It also started out small. But some saw opportunities, some made opportunities, some were called in, and some were dragged in. And then it all dragged on. And on. And on.

The war escalated, and the world began to burn. Super-weapons were neutralized leaving ordinary armies to grind against each other. Frustrated by the stalemates, commanders escalated cloak and dagger operations and information warfare. Nations cut the global computer network to pieces and isolated themselves within their sections even as they dealt with enemy spies and saboteurs. Lines of communication were cut, supplies lines disrupted, and high ranking members of armies and governments were assassinated.

Riots and revolutions erupted. The world fell into chaos. Armies lost chains of commands and nations, scattering into mercenary bands. Few nations avoided shattering into pieces.

Thus the war began to fade, dying with a whimper rather than a bang.

The closest thing to an official end the war had was a series of truces from the few remaining nations before they turned their attention to dealing the civilian unrest and reconstruction.

It had been a remarkable event. The war had been a mass migration of significant portions of different populations around the world, mixing cultures and ethnicities in ways never seen before. It had marked the largest industrial output the world had seen and the fastest scientific advancements.

It also marked the height of human strength.

For the first time in history an ordinary soldier was a threat to almost any pokémon on the battlefield. Automatic weapons and special ammunition made it possible for a rank and file soldier to kill dragon types and giant rock types. Pokémon with less natural protection died even quicker, reducing their role on the battlefield. They still had their uses, but they were no longer juggernauts. A dragonite may have been able to obliterate a giant war machine with one hyper beam, but it'd have to watch out for all sorts ambushes and avoid AA fire to get there. Humanity was the deadliest it had ever been.

There were plenty who remembered that. And some, like Team Rocket, wanted to return to that peak.

It was from the ashes of the Great War that the current world began to take shape. It was different everywhere of course. But in Kanto, it went something like this.

The picture changed. Tamed lands grow wild and overgrown. Roads degraded. People huddled in their villages, towns, and cities. Scattered soldiers traded their uniforms for those of bandits or mercenaries. The ancient truce between man and nature failed and pokémon emerge from the wilds to force their ways back into areas that humans had forced them out of.

There was more blood and fire as new power structures rose.

There was power still in humanity. Some mercenaries turned into settlers instead of bandits, carving out their own place in the burn world. In some places local feudal titles, powerless, but kept out of respect for tradition and culture, took charge once more. Large, local businesses/corporations had the resources and some remaining technology to take land for themselves. Large towns turned themselves into small armies or were conquered by other powers. In some cases, in smaller towns and rural areas, families with some combinations of wealth and skill were able to rise to power and form a pseudo aristocracy built on human power. The Umagoya's were one such family.

But the value of raw power never changed. And there was strength in more than humanity standing alone.

Strong trainers subjugated lands to support them and their pokémon as they trained and did battle with other trainers. They cared little for the actual ruling of the lands, but they protected them viciously. Some only took the lands that they did as a way of issuing a challenge to other strong trainers.

Some towns and villages allied themselves with nature, with their citizens focusing on becoming pokémon trainers, or forming relationships with groups of wild pokémon for mutual benefit. Most were too small of be of great value and too troublesome to bother with. It could be said that these villages and peoples, along with the groups of pokémon, who were twined together in mutual symbiosis, were the most fortunate.

Cities became states unto themselves as they once had, at the beginning of civilization, struggling to stay independent among the sea of new powers.

The hands of the clock return to the position they had started in.

But things were much different since those hands last rested there.

Time passed.

Problems arose in the lands governed by the pseudo-nobles, by the descendants of mercenaries, by lands ruled by businesses focused on power and money, or by towns that had become little more than groups of warlords with human based armies.

Their citizens began to strafe under their rule. As the world settled down, local trade resumed, and when trade returned people began to communicate once more. They learned how in some places, individuals had it better. What they were missing. Uneasiness grew and revolts began to form. Their rulers began to search for a solution.

Later generations descended from pokémon wielding warlords did not even bother subjugating lands. They wandered, they trained, they fought one another for the joy of battle, they worked or stole or foraged to support their teams, but the no longer ruled and protected.

Lands once defended by their predecessors were now left vulnerable. Fearing those who would exploit them, villages and towns began to hire strong trainers. Instead of tribute they offered a salary and land to fight challengers on. In exchange they asked for protection and for the challenge matches to be non-lethal. Many strong trainers agreed and settled down. They stayed and time passed. As they grew old, they began to teach the children of their lands about pokémon and pokémon training. They established buildings for battling and training, gyms.

People from towns that had developed strong trainer cultures began to flock to these places, as did those from places that lived together with pokémon, tying the communities together.

Cities continued to endure and rebuild. They were constantly tested by all the other powers in the region, from bandit bands, to the new aristocracy, to the last of the pokémon warlords, and even each other. Some begin to crumble under the strain.

More time passed.

The pseudo aristocrats, the ruling corporations, the warlord towns found a solution. It was the same solution that those like them always found. Unification against a scapegoat. They tied themselves together under a banner of authoritarianism, and against their scapegoats. They turned the growing unease their people had for them against the other powers, against non-existent conspiracies, against groups of people, and against pokémon.

They began to spread their influence to the cities. Grand dinners are enjoyed, charitable events thrown, and back room meetings held. Shows of power were made. They marched in uniform through the streets, they sent thugs, soldiers, and 'peacekeepers' into the cities, and they harassed their scapegoats.

Celadon City was the first to be brought into the fold. Vermilion City, Fuchsia City, and Cinnabar Island soon followed.

They formed what was called the Unification Alliance. They rallied themselves against the social minorities, against the sexual minorities, against the misfits, against their political opponents in neutral places, and against pokémon supporters. Not against those who used pokémon, those who enslaved them, or treated them like tools, but those who cared for pokémon, for fought for them and alongside them.

The Unification Alliance rallied their people with hate and sweetened the deal with grand promises of glory, of riches, of power, and of advancement. Promises of restoring the old human power. Promises of restoring the old nation. Promises of unifying the world.

Promises of returning to space.

Their opponents gave them the nickname 'Team Rocket', but members of the Unifcation Alliance embraced the nickname.

Cities not yet under their sway began to look for ways to protect themselves. They could no longer sustain their militias and mercenary armies, at least not at the strength they once enjoyed. Leaders and councils looked around for a solution and they stumbled over the gyms. Cities copied this idea, attracting the best trainers, replacing their much more expensive mercenaries and reorganizing their militias.

A league formed in opposition to the alliance. The Kanto League to counter the Unification Alliance. Both sides prepared for war.

They clashed over one of the few neutral cities remaining, a center for research and manufacturing, Saffron City. The battle was a story in and of itself. It was an echo of the Great War that had preceded it. Saffron City was almost shattered by the fighting.

But what was really important was that, while both sides had been equal at the beginning, by the end one side had nearly been totally destroyed.

The power of the Unification Alliance was shattered. They lost their grip on their cities. They lost their grip on their people. They lost nearly everything, snapped up by the triumphant League.

But they still had most of their wealth. They still had sway over parts of the countryside. And their organization was not entirely destroyed. It went underground, becoming the criminal terrorist organization Team Rocket.

And their families remembered.

"We just don't have enough time," Brock lamented, putting away a formal jacket that turned out to be too big for Aaron. "If I had a day-"

"You make some fancy clothes?" Ash asked, putting his jacket back on. The two of them were standing in a rather large bedroom, decorated in green colors, including two large four poster beds with curtains, a door leading to a large ivory bathroom, a large wardrobe, and several other luxuries. Pikachu napped on top of the wardrobe.

Scattered about the room were bits of formal wear, taken from the aforementioned wardrobe and delivered by the butler. Brock had done his best, but there was nothing in the house that would fit Aaron.

"Of course not," Brock snorted. "I'd sew up some hemlines or-"

He was interrupted by a knocking on the door.

"Come in," Brock invited the visitor. The door opened and Misty entered.

"So are we going in formal dress or not?", the red head asked the former gym leader.

"Well, since Aaron has nothing in that category, I think we shouldn't." Brock finished putting the jacket away. "Let's show some solidarity here."

"Soli-what?" Aaron asked.

"Solidarity," Misty answered. "Sticking together. Presenting a united front."

"Oh." Ash thought and then frowned. "Why do we need to present a united front? I mean they're probably not going to like us no matter what we do, if what Elle told us is correct."

"Yes, but if we don't present a united front, they'll spend all their time picking on the person who doesn't fit in," Misty pointed out. "In this case you. So we'll be good friends and take some of the attention away from you."

"This is going to be a long night," Brock sighed. "Oh well. The wake should be over soon and Elle or the butler will swing by to escort us to dinner."

"Do you think they'll get mad if we take our pokéballs? Even with with keep them out of sight?" Misty asked.

"Probably," Brock answered. "It would be an insult to their hospitality if they found out that we brought them. It would mean that we didn't trust them."

Misty nodded, letting it go unsaid that she didn't really trust them.

They loitered in the room for a while exchanging the occasional bit of small talk. Brock messed with his hair from time to time, trying to make it seem a little neater. Ash toyed with the bathroom door. Misty leaned against a wall.

There was a knocking on their door, ending the boring awkward silence.

"Come on in," Brock said, opening the door.

"We've got a great party going on! Join us for shots!" Misty added sarcastically.

"Thanks," the knocker was Elle, with a wan smile.

"You okay?" Misty inquired.

"Well enough," Elle answered. "I managed to get out before Grandmother sent the butler to fetch you guys. Gives me a break. But we should get going."

They filed out of the room, Aaron closing the door behind them.

"Is your pikachu going to behave?" Elle asked the dark haired boy.

"Yeah," Ash answered. "He might look for a TV, movies, and a movie player, but he shouldn't damage anything."

After that they walked in silence through the long halls of the mansion, eventually reaching the dining room.

Brock was expecting something different, given what he had already seen and heard. He had expected something more along the lines of a dining hall, with lots and lots of space, something that could fit hundreds. Something lit by a large chandelier.

Instead what they saw, while certainly large, was not a grand hall. There were no chandeliers, only electric lamps on the walls. What they arrived at was a room that was a cross between blue and stone gray, with a long rectangular table shrouded with white table cloth. There were candle sets on the table, casting dim orange light over the surface and casting the faces of those already seated into dim light contrasted with muted shadow.

Eight people had been seated. Aaron recognized Elle's grandmother, Chiyoko, and the two relatives that had 'greeted' them at the door, Maki and Chiyo. There were five more, three women, two men, and a boy who, if not for the the small telltale signs of breathing and open eyes, could have been the guest of honor at the wake.

When Ash and company entered, Chiyoko cleared her throat and stood up.

"Everyone," the old woman's voice focused the attention of all the humans in the room, "while Elle was journeying here, she was caught in the storm. She took shelter in a cave while waiting for the weather to die down. While she was waiting, these strangers stumbled into her shelter. She talked to them and they revealed that they were unfamiliar with the area and the weather. She then extended our hospitality to them as was only proper."

"You will all to extend the courtesy and hospitality expected of an Umagoya to these people, even in times such as this." Chiyoko's eyes swept the room. "Do I make myself clear?"

The people nodded, some normally, some grudgingly, but all save the boy did nod.

"Good. You may now resume dining." The old woman sat down.

"This way please," the butler directed Ash, Brock, Elle, and Misty to the table to be seated.

What caught Ash's attention first was the food. The table was covered in eastern cuisine with lots of rice and seafood, with the occasional western dish thrown in here and there. His stomach growled, demanding the food, but Ash ignored it. He'd have to remember to be polite and not take too much.

The four of them sat down and began to help themselves to the food in silence .

"Hmph," Ash paused in his eating and turned to look at the source of the noise. It was Chiyo who had spoke up.

"Look how low we've fallen," the graying blond said, vaguely looking in Chiyoko's direction. "Our guests", she spoke the word in a voice like poisoned honey, "have to serve themselves. In the old days we'd have staff to handle that, we'd have a proper meal."

Chiyoko finished her food, calmly put down her utensils, and then pointed a finger at Chiyo.

"In the old days we cared less about such events. In the old days we wouldn't have come together for a funeral. In the old days we might not have mourned a child." The older narrowed her gaze. "The old days are gone. I think you can continue living in spite of that."

"I dunno," Maki spoke up, rather loudly, from the other end of the table, shooting a dirty look over at the trainers. "I think there are some parts worth bringing back."

"That is your choice of course," the old woman replied. "Though I do hope that you remember how the old days ended. It would most unfortunate if you failed to heed the lessons of the past."

She sighed.

"We've learned too many lessons the hard way." Chiyoko shook her head and returned to her dinner.

Ash turned back to his own dinner. He managed to get two bites in before he was interrupted by someone addressing him.

"It is a rare sight to see pokémon trainers in these halls," Ash turned to look at the speaker. It was the man across the table from him.

It was a tall man, but not a broad man, making him seem more slender than he actually was. He wore the robes of a monk, letting his hat hang down his back as he he ate. Brown eyes, shining with intelligence, looked out from beneath brown bangs.

"But fate makes strange bed fellows and all are equal before the element of nature," the man continued. "The only way for us to survive is to work together, to be united, to not poison the common well with our hate, our bitterness, and our differences."

"Uh, I guess," Ash shrugged, a bit confused.

"After all a twisted root bears only the fruit of death," the man continued. "As a wise sage once said-"

"Oi, Krieg, give the kid a break," the priest was interrupted by a woman with orange hair, sitting on Ash's right. Blue eyes rolled at the priest as the woman tilted her head back to take a long sip of her drink, taking care not to spill any liquid on her black and blue party dress.

"You don't need to try and give a sermon every time you talk," the woman continued. Ash noticed that her words were slightly slurred. She turned to look at the young trainer. "I get that a gathering like this is above your head, but you should know that you can feel free to ignore him when he starts preaching."

Ash shrugged, not trusting himself to say anything.

"I am a priest," the man named Krieg protested. "It is my duty to preach wherever I go Ayoko."

"You already gave a sermon today," the woman named Ayoko shot back before taking another long drink. She sallowed, sighed, and sadly looked at the liquid in the glass. "Now's the time to sit back and forget."

"Something you'll have little trouble with, I'm sure," Krieg said, eyeing the drink too. "Boy, I hope you do not follow her sinful example. Alcohol causes spiritual impurities-"

"Which you can take care of, I'm sure," Ayoko replied. "Isn't that why you stick around?"

Krieg sighed.

"You see what I put with? Truly to be virtuous is to suffer." The priest spoke, once more turning his attention to Ash.

"I realize that I have been impolite young trainer. All this talk and I still do not know your name."

"I"m Aaron Autumns," Ash answered politely.

"And I am Krieg," the priest bowed his head.

They were silent for a long moment while Ash fidgeted with his food, not sure if the conversation was over and whether or not it would be polite to begin eating again.

"I've never heard a name like that before," Aaron offered up a new topic of conversation. "Um, is it a name that's been in your family?"

Krieg folded his hands together in front of him and grinned.

"I wouldn't know, it was the name given to me by the priests who raised me," the robed man answered. "You see I was one of the many orphans found in the wake of the fighting that marked the creation of the Kanto League. I never knew my parents. I only know that I was found as a newborn in one of the villages that was destroyed in the battle for Saffron City."

"Oh." Ash looked down at his food. "I'm sorry." An apology from an orphaned child with some memories of their parents to an orphan with none.

"There is no need for condolences," replied the man. "I feel as if I have found a family, both in the priests who raised me and here with the family who's spirits I care for."

"Oh," Ash didn't know what to say.

There was another silent moment and a couple of awkward mouthfuls of food before speaking again.

"So what was it like?" Ash asked, curious. His own experience as an orphan had been... unique to say the least. He was eager to learn about the experiences of other human orphans.

"What was what like?" The priest asked the boy, still smiling.

"Being raised by priests," Aaron clarified.

"As compared to what? Him maybe?" The priest speared a piece of food with his fork. He took a bite and then gestured with fork, pointing the half eaten morsel at Maki, who was squabbling with Chiyo. "I cannot claim to be able to be able to truly compare my childhood to his as I have not lived his life. Man can never truly understand another man like he understands himself. But, none the less, it is our duty to-"

"Is this preaching?" Aaron interrupted. As far as he could tell the priest was starting to get off topic.

"Ah, you have less spirituality than my Stunky," the priest bemoaned, holding his head in his heads, shifting the fork out of the way. "What is today's youth coming to?"

"You have a stunky?" Ash's eyebrows quirked in interest.

"Most of the priests from my temple have pokémon," Krieg answered. "We caught pokémon that were related to the nature of the shrine we served while we were at the temple."

"Then you're a trainer too!"

"Not really," the priest replied. "We all were trained with our pokémon, we did not train them. I would have never been accepted in this household if I was a pokémon trainer."

"Oh." Ash looked down at his plate.

"It was one of many forms of training that we were forced to go through." The priest's expression grew distant for a moment and then he winced. "It was far preferable to our martial arts training. They trained us against machops, so that we would not grow complacent with normal human opponents. It was not pleasant. However it did teach us the nature of suffering and life. Truly, in order to-"

"You're preaching again." Ayoko stopped the priest once more. "Krieg go lecture Maki on tolerance and temperance again, will you?"

"I have done just that many times-"

"I think once more should do," Ayoko smiled sweetly as the priest rolled his eyes. Krieg then turned to the woman sitting next to him. Ash noted that she was picking at her food lifelessly when the priest began to talk to her.

"So, kid, how's the food," Ash turned to look at Ayoko.

"It's good, I think," Ash replied hesitantly. He hadn't had much of chance to try it really, but Poison Lance had told him to always try and be polite.

And Ash almost always did try to be polite... it was just that he usually failed.

"Better than what you're used to I imagine," Ayoko smirked.

"I guess," Ash shrugged.

"Ayoko, don't waste your time with him," Chiyo called over. "He can't have anything interesting to say."

"Oh, and you know this how?" Ayoko replied. "Have you even said three words to him?"

"I don't need to talk to his kind," Chiyo said, shooting a glare at Ash. "After the storms have cleared up, what do you say that we go over to the Rokubungi's? There are far more interesting," the woman practically purred that word, "talks that we could be having with them."

"Mhmmm," Ayoko took another sip of her drink. "And I suppose we'll also get involved in their oh so secret talks as well? About how we can go to Saffron City and paint the town red?"

"Well, it would be nice for our family to visit that city again. And we'll bring even more friends then we did last time." Chiyo smirked.

"And this time we won't even need to buy gravestones!" Ayoko said in a sickly sweet cheery voice, lightly clapping her hands together. "Because there won't be anyone left to buy them!"

"Only if you go with that defeatist attitude," Chiyo harrumphed and turned away.

"I don't know why she thought it was a good idea to bring that up around strangers," Ayoko muttered to herself before.

"Ummm..." Ash began, confused by the exchange between the two women, but Ayoko spoke again before he could complete a thought.

"Don't pay her any mind," the orange haired woman said to the black haired boy. "She's just a bit set in her ways." She sighed. "Like the the rest of them..."

"You seem sad," Aaron said softly, without thinking.

"You know, we all did just got back from a wake," Ayoko pointed out, keeping her voice low and giving her drink a little swirl.

Ash had actually momentarily forgotten that fact.

"Most of you aren't acting like it," Ash said, looking around the room.

Ayoko laughed a small, quiet, and bitter laugh.

"We've all attended enough funerals to learn how to maintain appearances," the woman's face twisted into a self mocking grin. "We mourned for a time at the wake, we'll mourn when we bury the casket in the spring, and we'll mourn that night. But, for the rest of the time, we'll just carry on until the next one of us dies."

"That's what I mean," Ash pointed out. "You keep saying things like that, sad things."

"Me? Sad? Never!" Ayoko placed a hand over her heart. "The very idea! As long as there are drinks to be drunk I'll never be sad. So what if my network of friends and family refuse to adapt and are stuck in a self destructive rut? So what if one of the few remaining breathes of fresh air in this family was recently snuffed out? So what if I'm too much of a coward to leave my family and train some companions for Silks? I've really got nothing to complain about."

"Silks?"

"My persian," answered Ayoko.

Ash blinked.

"Wait, you wanted to be a pokémon trainer?" Ash asked, surprised.

"Maybe," Ayoko replied coyly. "It doesn't really matter. There was never any chance of that happening."

"Why not?"

Ayoko snorted.

"I'm relatively certain you seen how Elle was received here," the woman paused and took another sip of her drink. "It used to be worse when the family was bigger. Uncle George almost attacked her the first time she came home after she became a trainer. And- "

"Wait, but you already have a pokémon," Ash interrupted. "Aren't you a trainer?"

"If anyone asks, Silks is a pet," Ayoko responded. "Or a guard animal. Just like Maki's blastiose. Nothing more. Nothing like the relationship you and your pokémon have or the relationship Elle shares with her pokémon."

"But-" Ash couldn't imagine treating one's pokémon like a simple pet. He could understand having a pokémon and not training it; one could just enjoy spending time with the pokémon as one would a human friend. But, in that situation, one would interact with the pokémon as an equal. One wouldn't treat it like a pet.

"Yeah, it's a hypocrisy," Ayoko continued, not understanding the true cause of Ash's confusion. "But we're all hypocrites one way or another. Still, it's a hypocrisy I'm grateful for. I don't know where I'd be without Silks and I don't know if I could have gone through what Elle went through."

"When she was younger there was a large part of the family, all dead now, who wanted to kick her out. Erase her name from the records, burn all photographs of her, the whole nine yards." The woman took yet another sip of her drink and sighed.

"Really, grandmother is the only reason they didn't go through with it. Or, rather, the reason they couldn't go through with it. Joke's on them though; Elle's still a part of the family and they've all disappeared or died. Though I wonder how many in the former category were moved into the latter category by Agatha after what happened to Saffron City."

"Oh," Ash looked down. He didn't really know what he was supposed to say. Poison Lance had never prepared him for dinner conversations with tipsy people.

A more 'normal' human might wonder why Ayoko was so willing to talk to Ash about the topics she had covered. A more 'normal' human might have realized that there is a certain sort of arrogance that a person might possess that makes them forget about the rather significant difference between ten years of age and three years of age. A mistake that could be encouraged by alcohol and turbulent emotions.

In other words a more 'normal' human might realize that Ayoko saw Ash as a brat, twerp, baby, or little kid.

Luckily, Ash was not normal and thus no offence was taken.

Ash returned to his meal, determined to eat his food before it became cold. For a few minutes he was able to make good progress towards that goal.

Only to be interrupted again.

"Are you even alive!" Ash nearly dropped his utensils when he heard the shout. He turned towards the source and saw Maki, hunched down and trying to look the seemingly lifeless child in the eyes.

"Please don't-" began a man with rather large glasses sitting next to the child. He had black hair and black eyes, and was wearing a drab and dull looking black suit. He reached out and grabbed Maki's shoulder.

"Hikaru, shut up and sit down," Maki snapped at the man. "If you aren't going to try and help your kid, I will."

"You're not-" Hikaru tried to talk again, but Maki turned to him and pushed him back into his seat with one hand. Hikaru tried to stand up, but Maki shot him a fierce glare, and the black haired man settled back down.

"Maki," this time it was the woman on the other side of the child. She was wearing a white funeral kimono, with her blonde hair tied back in a bun. Her jade eyes were pointed downward even as she spoke. "Cousin. Please, let us handle it."

"I'll take care of it Jean," Maki replied firmly. "Just sit down."

Jean didn't reply. She merely looked down at the ground.

Maki turned back to the child.

"Thomas look at me!" The large man bellowed at the child. The child did nothing.

"Look at me!" Maki bellowed again. Once more the child did nothing.

"Thomas, you coward," Maki knelt down and glared Thomas in the eye. Thomas's eyes looked to the side to avoid eye contact, but he didn't move the rest of his body. "You thinks this helps! You think that acting like a brat is going to make anything better!"

There was still no reaction.

"Have you seen what you've been doing to your parents! You're killing them! Do you want them to end up like Jena!?" Maki continued, his voice growing even louder. His face reddened, his eyes grew wet, and he jerked even closer to Thomas, causing the kid to flinch back. "You think we don't miss her too! You little shit, say something!"

He drew his hand back, ready to slap the boy, only for Elle's hand to grab his wrist. The trainer stared down at the large man, her back to the light, leaving her eyes in her own shadow. The jade orbs were fixed in a stony glare.

"Let go you," the man growled. His own black eyes narrowed and his other hand clenched into a fist. His shoulders shifted -

"That's quite enough," both Maki and Elle's heads snapped towards the voice of their grandmother. Elle let go of Maki's wrist, and Maki jumped back from Thomas, standing up to look at the old woman.

"Maki, you've said your piece. Now go sit back down." Chiyoko's stern stare followed her grandchild as he returned to his seat.

"Elle," the brown haired woman flinched when Chiyoko addressed her. Her jade eyes glared into her grandmother's own jade orbs. "Thank you for intervening."

"You're welcome," Elle's voice was even, but her glare remained. She too returned to her seat.

Ash hoped that he could at least finish half of his plate before something else interrupted him.

After dinner Ash collected Pikachu and his other pokémon, and talked to the staff to see if there was any place he could do some light training indoors. One the maids informed him that the mansion did not contain such a place, but there was a small yard on one of the sides of the manner that would provide some protection from the wind and snow.

Outside they found a tiny island of light, pool of white snow, shining with the reflected light of the single electric lantern above the door. A gray, flaky veil surrounded the small island, the wind whipped snow of the storm flowing around the house. Everywhere the wind howled its hollow sounding rushing howl.

Ash shivered and rubbed his shoulders, letting out a misty breath. Pokéballs flew, light shone, and Ash's team joined him in shivering in the cold.

Dis is because you're still mad at me, ain't it? Primeape mimicked Ash, rubbing his upper arms.

Don't be ridiculous, Magikarp spoke up. He's finally decided to grant me death. You're here to watch me freeze to death. Magikarp smiled, a goofy looking thing, but filled with simple honest joy. It should be a nice death.

I've let you all out because we're going to do some light training today, Ash announced, silently ignoring the fish that desperately needed to see a therapist. And so I can talk to beings that I actually understand, but mainly some light training.

Charmeleon, you're with Bulbasaur. Nothing major, just some accuracy training. Bulbasaur will shoot off some Razor Leaves and you have to blast them one at a time, Ash instructed.

Yes Ash, Charmeleon replied dutifully.

Sure thing, Bulbasaur answered.

Pidgeotto, continue practicing on that new both of yours, Ash said, turning to his flying type. But stay close and low. Don't go into the snow.

Alright, Pidgeotto nodded.

Squirtle, you might want to practice sledding, Ash turned to his water type. But take it slow-

On it! Not bothering to heed the last part of the request, Squritle withdrew his limbs into his shell and began slide around on the snow.

Ash rolled his eyes.

Anyway, Primeape, Magikarp, all that I've got for you two to do is shadowbox. If you'd rather go back into your balls-

Nah, it'll be an opportunity to stretch my limbs, Primeape answered, started to stretch. How 'bout you Magikarp?

I'm fine, Magikarp agreed.

And Pikachu- Ash looked at the yellow rodent on his shoulder.

Aye, aye captain! Pikachu gave a mock salute.

Ash rolled his eyes.

I've got some ideas for that defensive move we've been working on, the human boy continued. How well do you know Flash?

It's not something I use on a regular basis, Pikachu admitted. Why?

I call it Flash Armor, Ash grinned. Basically the idea is to see if we can't surround you with a constant Flash attack, making it hard to get a good look at you.

Hmmm, Flash isn't that tiring, but that's because I'm only doing it for an instant. I've never tried to sustain it. It could work if it's the setup that actually the tiring part, Pikachu mused.

I was actually thinking that it might be an inherently wasteful move, Ash commented. I mean when electric types use it, you just overcharge a discharge and let it destabilize, right?

Ash, I should slap you for talking like that. Pikachu folded his arms and glared at his trainer. I get what you're trying to say, but really? I mean, 'overcharge a discharge'? You should know better than that.

Sorry, Ash rubbed the back of his head. I forgot the proper terminology. It's all the weird humans I've been around today.

Oh, do tell, Pikachu inquired.

Well, there was the priest who liked to talk a lot, Ash began. He kept trying to preach about stuff tangentially related to what we were talking about. And then there was one of the old women who insulted us, or at least I think she did. I couldn't really follow. And then there was this woman who drank a lot. She was sarcastic and gave me a great deal of information about herself. More than I needed really. And then there was this one kid who was frozen from grief and then everyone else had an emotional meltdown.

Ash sighed.

I wish I could have just stayed in the room with you, the trainer said to his pokémon.

Well that's your fault for not being a pikachu, Ash's first pokémon told his trainer. But, from what you've just told me, it seems like you just dealt with humans who have issues with grief. Then again, I don't know that much about humans. Almost everything I know is from watching TVs at an electronics store.

Neither do I, Ash sighed. But enough about them, let's start working on that defensive move. 

Ten minutes passed as the team worked in the cold. They sparred, sledded, worked on their aim, and talked about move mechanics. Even in the biting cold, even with the howling wind, Ash enjoyed his time with his team far more than his time in the mansion.

Pikachu's ear twitched. He focused, trying to ignore the sound of the wind.

I think I hear someone coming, the electric type announced. Ash, remember that you're just a simple human now.

Ash nodded and the door opened. Out stepped Krieg.

"I see that you are indeed a dedicated trainer," the priest began. "Such determination and devotion to your chosen path is admirable. For, as a great sage once said-"

"Are you preaching again?" Aaron interrupted.

The priest sighed.

"Would it kill you to spend more time contemplating spiritual matters?" Krieg shook his head.

"I... don't think so," Aaron replied hesitantly.

"It was a rhetorical question," Krieg said, shooting the boy a dirty look. The priest then turned to look at Ash's team. "So this is your team. Care to introduce me?"

"Sure!" Like most trainers, Ash would always take an opportunity to brag about his team, his friends.

"Alright, this is Pikachu, he was my first pokémon!" Ash held the yellow rodent up to show him off.

Nice to meet you I guess, Pikachu nodded at the priest.

"So, as your first pokémon, is he your strongest?" The priest inquired.

"I don't really know," Ash replied. "I mean it depends on what you mean by strongest, I guess. I mean, Charmeleon's probably got more strength than Bulbasaur, but Bulbasaur still beats him all the time."

I'm his best pokémon though, Pikachu spoke up.

And I'm his coolest! Squirtle exuberantly added.

And I'm da... Primeape scratched his head, ... one with the best punch I guess?

Well some of us don't even have arms, Pidgeotto said, rolling her eyes.

Some of us have moved past the need for arms, Bulbasaur smirked, giving his vines a little wave.

Have you ever tried to punch with claws? Charmeleon looked down at his talons. It's not easy.

Krieg looked at Bulbasaur and Charmeleon with a critical eye, shoving his arms up the opposite sleeves.

"And then this is Pidgeotto, she was my third pokémon," Ash continued, ignoring his pokémon's chatter. "Caught her in the Viridian Forest. Then there's Bulbasaur, One of his friends convinced him to come with me. And then came Squirtle, he joined after I helped his group of squirtles put out a forest fire. And then I got Charmeleon when he was still a Charmander when his previous trainer abandoned him, because his previous trainer was not very nice or smart. Then I caught Primeape after he stole my hat outside of Saffron City and Magikarp I picked up in the Safari Zone."

"I see." Krieg removed his arms from his sleeves and put his palms together in front of him. He bowed. "It is a pleasure to meet you all."

He remained bowed for a second or two, and then straightened up, shoving his palms against each and then shooting his arms out into a stretch. The priest let out a little groan.

"I apologize. I have been either sitting or preaching most of the day." Krieg told Aaron. He took a deep breath. "It was nice to get some fresh air, but I fear it is too cold to linger. Though suffering is the path to virtue, suffering without purpose is-"

"Are you about to preach?" Ash inquired, cutting of the priest.

The priest returned to the mansion, muttering under his breath.

"I think he's right guys," Ash said to his team. "Let's go back inside."

Finally, Bulbasur muttered, walking forward. Ouch!

What is it? Charmeleon asked, heading towards the plant type. Ow! That stings!

"What's wrong?" Ash inquired, rushing over to his two pokémon.

Nothing, Bulbasaur answered. Just stepped on something that stung. There's probably some nettle or something underneath the snow that isn't dead yet. You should probably avoid training in unfamiliar places where you can't see the ground. Trust me, it ain't fun to discover a pit or some sharp rocks.

"I'll keep that in mind," Ash replied. He took out his team's pokéballs. Red light shone and his team was recalled.

"Your pikachu doesn't have a pokéball?" Krieg was loitering in the hallway when Ash came in.

"He doesn't like it in his pokéball," Ash informed the priest. "So he just sticks with me all the time."

"I see," Krieg's voice was strange. "That is interesting. Where are you staying?"

"Uh, the west wing I think," Aaron answered.

"Then I will walk with you," Krieg said. "I never got a chance to meet your human companions. Can you tell me anything about them?"

"Well, their names are Brock and Misty," Aaron answered automatically as they began to walk. "Brock used to be a gym leader for Pewter City. He left after his father returned so he could work on becoming a pokémon breeder. "

"The rock type gym," Krieg said softly.

"Misty's a gym trainer from Cerulean City," Aaron continued. "Brock's a bit of a worrywart. He can be overprotective and annoying. And he's always chasing after women. "

"How sinful."

"And Misty's got a temper. She used to act weird occasionally, but she's quit that. She's also bit of a runt, at least compared to her sisters," Aaron continued on, oblivious. "She's also a bit sarcastic."

"That must get tiring," Krieg commented. "Dealing with such people."

"No!" Ash protested. "I mean they can get annoying, but they're good people. I like traveling with them!"

"Oh? Then why didn't you list their good qualities just now?"

"Uh..." Ash was stumped. "I don't know."

"I see," Krieg said, stroking his chin. "Well, I'm sure it's nothing. I realized that I have forgotten to take care of something. I must take my leave now."

"What are you doing here?" Brock stopped deciding which way to go at the intersection of the hallways and turned around to find Elle behind him, her arcanine following. "You should probably stay in the west wing."

"I'm looking for Aaron," Brock told her.

"I'll look for him," Elle said. "You can go back to your room."

"If it's all the same to you, I'll keep looking for him," Brock replied.

Elle let out a small sound of disapproval, but nodded.

"Fine. I'd start by looking over this way," she pointed at the left hallway.

"Lead the way," Brock offered. She shrugged and began to walk. Brock joined her.

They searched several unused rooms with furniture stacked and dusty personal items packed away, all in awkward silence.

"So," Elle began, trying to break the tension. "I'm guessing you might have some questions about what happened at dinner?"

"Not really," Brock replied, thinking of some of the the issues with his own family. "Well, I don't get why you hate your grandmother so much. Also, our reception wasn't as bad as you said it was going to be."

"I don't hate her," Elle's response was automatic. She paused for a moment. "And, as to your reception, I was still thinking of the days when this family used to be bigger. I think most of us do. I still can't believe that a family reunion can fit into that little room now. Most of those who would have hated you are gone, but memories of them define what I think of when I remember our homes."

"I'm sorry about that," Brock told her, leaving it vague whether he was referring to the shrinking family or the bad memories. "But you are lying about your grandmother. You looked more ready to attack when speaking to her then when manhandling your relative," Brock pointed out.

Elle looked down for a moment.

"I guess I still have work to do before I start player competitive poker," the woman stated with a wry grin. The grin quickly faded. "It's a long story."

"Do you want to talk about it?" Brock asked.

Elle threw back her head and let out a short laugh.

"Ah, I'd need to get some alcohol first to really get into it," Elle said, wiping at her eye. "It's not really something to talk about casually with strangers."

"We're stuck here until the blizzard's over," Brock replied. "We've got to talk about something. And since I get the feeling that your family doesn't want to talk about the deceased..."

"We quit doing that years ago," Elle told him. "Too many funerals and not enough people left to talk at them."

"So we're left with a couple days of awkward silence or we can look for topics to talk about," Brock continued. "I'll tell you about my deadbeat gym leader dad and you can tell me about why you despise your grandma."

Elle snorted.

"You'll show yours if I show mine," Elle grinned and let out a breath. "Well it began a long time ago."

She began to pet her arcanine's head.

"It was long before I got Growlie here. I actually hated him back then, but I was a stupid kid."

"We all were," Brock agreed with a shrug.

"There was this boy." Elle continued. "If it wasn't for our families private tutors we would have both been in primary school. He was Growlie's original owner when he was just a pup." Elle ruffled the fur on said pokémon's head and flashed him a grin. "I had a bit of a crush on him-"

There was a loud boom and then the lights flicked and went off.

"That's not good," Elle muttered. "Growlie, a light please?"

A small, yet bright flame fluttered out of the arcanine's mouth.

"Come on, let's go check on the generator," Elle said. "This way."

She led him through several more hallways at a brisk walk. Growlie's orange light illuminated the way as they hurried towards the problem.

The two of them rounded a corner and nearly bowled over a surprised Aaron and Pikachu.

"There you are," Brock said, grabbing the younger boy's shoulders to steady him. "I've been looking for you. Where have you been?"

"I found a spot outside to get a little training in," Aaron answered. "What happened to the lights?"

"I think something happened to the generator," Elle informed him. "Come on, we were heading down there ourselves."

A group had gathered in a basement room, a group carrying flashlights. Many beams illuminated the smoking wreckage of the power generator. There was the butler, several other servants of varying types, and most of the family, excluding Maki and Elle.

"I don't know if it was deliberate or not," a man in a mechanic's suit said, standing up from where he had been crouching by the generator. "There's a flaw with this model that can cause this to happen in rare circumstances."

"Can you fix it?" Chiyoko asked.

The man shook his head.

"Not with the parts we have here," he told the old woman. "I'll need to go to town to get some parts."

"What happened?" The heads in the crowd turned to look at the newcomers: Elle, Brock, and Aaron.

"There is a slight problem with the generator, as I'm sure you can observe," Chiyoko stated flatly. She then turned back to the mechanic. "We don't have any vehicles this year as it was only supposed to be a short visit. You'll have to carry the parts back yourself."

"In that case I'll need to bring some of the other staff with me," the man replied.

Chiyoko quickly looked over the room.

"Take everyone but Julie and Marget. Those two can see to our needs while the rest of you make the trip to town." Chiyoko instructed. "How's the backup generator?"

"You'll get some minimum power," the mechanic told her. "It'll be enough to heat and light one wing, power the kitchens, and take care of ventilation. All other systems, including security, will be offline. You might be able to get a bit more power if you can find a charged power cell or two lying around, but I wouldn't count on it. Most of them would've been fried when the generator blew up."

The old woman nodded.

"Very well, you should start getting ready to go off. Go as fast as you can in this storm, but do not take any unnecessary risks. No need to die over this. When you get to town, I want you to bring back medical professionals and a vehicle if you can, just in case. You are dismissed." The mechanic nodded and all the staff began to file out of the room. Chiyoko turned to her family and guests.

"While I have no proof that any wrongdoing occurred here today, I will be keeping a close eye on all of you," Chiyoko said to the people remaining, making sure to look both her family members and her guests in the eyes. "I hope that there are no further problems. I suggest that you all retire back to your rooms."

Everyone else began to leave the room. Chiyoko tapped Elle on the arm before the younger woman could leave.

"Yes grandmother?" Elle asked, trying to hide the terseness in her voice.

"Do you know where your guests have been recently?"

"I know Misty was in her room," Elle answered. "And I encountered Brock in the halls. He was looking for Aaron."

"So you don't actually know where Brock and Aaron where," Chiyoko stated. "Have you seen Krieg or Maki?"

Elle shook her head.

"No sign of them," she answered.

"And I haven't seen Ayoko since dinner," Chiyoko told Elle. "Nor have I seen Hikaru."

"What about the staff?" Elle asked.

"I was supervising them after dinner." Chiyoko informed her granddaughter. "We should try and locate Krieg and Maki now."

It took them awhile to comb through the mansion without the servants, as they were packing for the first part of the search and then they left during the second part. At first the pair stuck to the lit hallways, but eventually they had to start combing the unlit ones.

"If that boy is up to what I think he is up to there will severe consequences," Chiyoko muttered darkly. "I've told him repeatedly-"

"You think he's bothering the maids again?" Elle inquired. "If that's the case, that ass might have cornered Marget and Juliet in one of the laundry rooms."

"I have made it perfectly clear that they are free to strike at any part of his person that they think appropriate if he bothers them," Chiyoko said, picking up her pace as she headed for the nearest laundry room.

She yanked open the door and flinched back. Elle peaked over her shoulder. She froze at the sight that greeted her.

Sprawled on the floor were the bodies of Maki, a pokéball in his hand, and the bodies of two maids.

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