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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Flakes of snow continued to fall between the two humans as they started at each other in a silent still moment. Ash's hands twitched towards his belt as his eyes bore into the murderer.

Krieg merely grinned.

"Where's Elle?" Ash was the first to break the silence. He looked around for any sign of the woman that he had met.

"She won't be joining us I'm afraid," Krieg answered. "I dropped in on her earlier, back inside, and unfortunately she's become quite indisposed..."

Something was fading.

It might have been the world, growing colder and darker, leaving her behind.

Or maybe it was her leaving the world, taken away by the wound in her gut and the poison now in her veins.

In the end, did it matter? Either way everything would be gone.

Everything she had strode for, everything she had accomplished, every friend and enemy she had met, every memory she had made, and every mistake too. Gone.

And no one to say goodbye either. Just a dark hallway and a cold wall.

Fitting, giving the mistakes she had made.

She hadn't been there for James when it counted and she had pushed everyone else away, even when they didn't deserve it. So it was only natural for her to die alone.

There was a whine from her left. She turned her head, and that took more effort then it should have, and saw a shape dragging itself towards her. Her hand, so heavy now, reached out, and touched Growlie's blood soaked fur.

"Oh. I'm sorry boy." She tried to say the words loudly, clearly, but her voice came out as a whisper. "I guess I wasn't a very good trainer."

Another whine. Her arm was gently pushed back and a mass of warm fur leaned against her side.

"Yeah. I could have handled that better. I could have handled a lot of things better." Elle sighed. Even breathing was getting difficult. "At least I managed to fix somethings. I hope that grandma will be okay. She's going to blame herself for this."

She paused.

"I'm sorry Growlie. I should have taken better care of you," she said, slowly, between breathes. "I'm sorry, Delcatty, Vileplume, you deserved better then this."

Another pause. It was getting harder to talk. Was it too dark to see or had she lost her sight?

"And James," her voice was almost too quiet to be heard. "I'm so, so... very... sorry..." Elle's voice trailed off, leaving the hallways in near silence, except for two sets of breathes.

Soon one faded. The other one followed shortly.

"Why?" Ash asked.

"Why what?" Krieg's grin never left his face.

"You're the murderer. Why did you kill them?" Ash asked. "And while we're at it, how did you survive? You were dead!"

"Oh, death can be such a hard thing to ascertain," Krieg replied. "If someone were to ingest certain poisons they would be put into a state that is very hard to differentiate from death. As anyone with my knowledge of poisons could tell you."

"Why then!" Ash cried out. "Why did you kill them?"

"Why shouldn't I have?" Krieg asked in response. "They were without hope. Their future had been diminished to the point of vanishing. Most of their kin were already dead. And what little hope they had was improperly stewarded. I was merely doing my duty in putting them out of their misery."

"You're lying!" Ash didn't believe that anyone would be willing to kill people they knew for such a cold and empty reason. Not while seeming so cheerful and calm.

Ash came from a world where acquaintances did occasionally kill each other. But it was always out of the brutal necessities of survival and the end was always a nova of passion and desperate struggle. This cold blooded killing was something new, something he never would have imagined. There must have been some other reason!

There must have.

"Oh? Such an accusation." Krieg's tone still didn't change. Still calm. Still cheerful. Still condescending. Like he was lecturing a silly child. "Besides, it was not I who was responsible for most of the deaths back there. It was my new friend Muk."

"Your pokémon killed them on your orders. You're still the murder." Ash shot back. It was a basic legal fact, nearly universal both before and after the Great War.

"Oh, you think Muk killed them?" Krieg's smile grew. "Nonsense. I'm sure that they merely fell asleep. Like Jena."

"Jena died," Ash said, after a moment of trying to remember who Jena was.

"Well, that's not what Muk thought, according to my pokémon," Krieg continued, his smile sickeningly large.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, from what my pokémon managed to communicate, Muk thought that Jena was merely napping," Krieg explained. "I'm sure Muk would never harm anyone. He merely wanted to meet some new people."

"Wait..."

"Yes," Krieg's grin grew until it reached its full sickening glory. "Muk here," he held up a pokéball in his upturned palm, "didn't know that he was killing people. Isn't that right Muk?" The question was addressed to the pokéball. It started wobble and Krieg gripped it as though he was trying to crush it. "Yes Muk. It is true. You killed them. First you killed that child with the sunflower in her hair. And then I found you." He threw back his head and laughed. "And then you killed and killed and killed! You killed, wallowing in your own hurtful, sickening ignorance. How very human of you!"

He threw the ball up in the air, watching it rise.

"Go now, you're free to continue making your own fatal mistakes!" The priest backhanded the ball, sending it behind him, flying off into the blizzard.

"You tricked him?" Ash growled, hands curling into fists. "Why? What was the purpose?"

"What purpose is there to anything?" Krieg turned back to the boy. "I doubt that you could understand the purpose of the simplest of things, let alone what has transpired here. Your actions have not shown me evidence of anything other than a rash and simple mind. The mind of a boy who would rush out to confront me and leave his friends behind."

"They'll be here soon enough," Ash shot back. "You're not getting away."

"Oh," Krieg drawled, clasping his hands behind his back. "I suppose they'll be able to follow your exact route then. Otherwise they might not be able to join us."

"What do you mean?" Aaron asked, a shot of worry piercing through the rage.

"Well, you see, I had prepared a plan for my fight with Jessibelle. Many plans in fact." Krieg explained. "I had my pokémon planting traps all over the mansion before I revealed myself. Small deadly traps. I'm afraid, that if your friends try to follow us, they might end up in an... unfortunate situation."

Brock slumped back from the body of the old woman.

"She's gone," he said, wiping his brow. He looked back at Misty who was holding Thomas. The boy's eyes were closed; it seemed that the day's events had taken their tole on him and he retreated into the refuge of sleep. "Where's Aaron?"

"I don't know," Misty hissed back. "He hasn't come back and I can't exactly go look for him and keep an eye on the kid."

"Fine, you stay here with the kid and I'll go after him," Brock replied, grabbing a pokéball. "Get your pokémon out. Don't panic if you feel the building shake, it just means I've brought out Onix."

"Careful, it's probably a trainer who uses poison types," Misty warned, thinking back on the muk and the Poison Sting attack that had killed Chiyoko.

"Then I've got type advantage," Brock growled. "He'll regret showing himself, I'll make sure of that."

Misty wasn't so sure that he would show himself. She knew a bit about how poison type trainers operated.

She had an idea, but it probably wasn't worth talking about...

Ash was sick of Krieg's mouth. He grabbed two pokéballs.

"Primeape! Take him down!" White light blazed in the winter night, casting long shadows onto the snow. Primeape materialized in mid leap, grabbing Magikarp in mid air, soaring towards a still smiling, still motionless Krieg.

Behind them a dark shape took to the air. There was the sound of wingbeats and suddenly something slammed into Ash's pokémon before they could get close to the murderous priest. Primeape went tumbling away and Ash recognized the shape as a golbat. Before he could do anything he heard a sound coming from behind him.

Dodge idiot! Pikachu kicked himself off the side of Ash's head, causing the human to stumble. There was the noise of Pikachu colliding with something while Ash fell to a hand and knee to look behind him. Pikachu had launched himself into a long dark shadow that had burst out of a hole in the ground, spraying snow all about it in its sudden exit. Pikachu's attack knocked it off course and the carried the two back towards the mansion. In the seconds it took for them to move closer to the light source Ash noticed the pokémon's fangs and purple skin, recognizing it as a seviper.

"Pikachu Speed Burst! Don't let it get you!" Ash shouted, panic starting to set in. He reached down and grabbed three more pokéballs. Three more pokémon materialized, Bulbasaur, Squirtle, and Charmeleon.

Dodge! Bulbasaur shouted, stumbling as he tried to follow his own advice.

Silver specks streamed through the night, gleaming in the dim light that revealed them to be silver needles. A Poison Sting attack peppered the area, as the three pokémon and one human dodged. There was a whistling sound and Squirtle ducked into his shell on instinct. Slicing leaves cut across his shell and Squirtle recognized the Razor Leaf attack.

Yet more white light blazed, this time by Krieg. Out came a tentacruel and a nidoqueen.

"Water Gun the charmeleon," Krieg ordered calmly.

"Dodge!" Ash shouted. "Squirtle, Pikachu, counter together if you can!"

Bit busy here! Pikachu shouted back. Yellow light shone and electricity buzzed as the yellow mouse tangled with the snake.

The seviper was good, very good. Fighting it in the dark was like fighting a shadow; hard to see and impossible to touch. It dove in and out of the snow, burrowing into the ground to avoid Pikachu's attacks and popping up randomly to attack the rodent. Pikachu's attacks left trails of steaming snow as his electricity sought the snake.

Charmeleon tried to scramble to his feet, but whatever had been affecting him earlier made the task akin to gaining one's balance in a spacecraft tumbling into the atmosphere. A powerful jet of water drilled into his shoulder, stripping away skin and sending him spinning back to the ground.

Squirtle popped his head out of his shell and blasted back with his own high pressured stream. There was an explosion of mist, sending droplets of water all over the battlefield. More leaves sliced through the air while Squirtle was distracted and bounced off the back of his shell, leaving shallow cuts along the rear of his head. He let out a hiss of pain, spinning to face the source.

"Go Pidgeotto! Find the plant type over there!" Ash released his flying type and pointed. She let out a caw and winged over towards the area he indicated.

"Stunky Poison Sting! Nidoqueen, Poison Sting! Take down that bird. Tentacruel, Water Pulse that Charmeleon! Golbat, Seviper, stay on your current targets, keep them busy." Krieg's reacted instantly. More silver needles streamed into the night, forcing Pidgeotto to roll out of the way of the speeding spikes.

Pulses of water cut troughs through the snow, bursting on Charmeleon, staggering him around like a drunken fool. Tentacruel paused in the barrage for a moment and blasted out an aqua orb, twice as large as any before it, streamlining into an exaggerated drop shape. It exploded on Charmeleon's chin, knocking him on his back. Snow sizzled and steam rose up from where his tail fell.

"Bulbasaur, get that tentacruel!" Ash ordered. "Squirtle, just keep the pokémon behind us busy. Just focus on defense. Pidgeotto, try and help Pikachu!"

"Nidoqueen, Poison Sting the bulbasaur! Tentacruel, Acid Spray, slow down that flying type!"

The nidoqueen smoothly switched targets, needles shifting from the air to Bulbasaur, who used his vines to push himself off the ground and out of the way. Meanwhile the tentacled pokémon pointed its beak to the sky. A yellow-red spray of liquid was released, cutting a path in front of Pidgeotto. The flying type banked sharply right, avoiding most of the attack.

But her left wing was covered in burning drops of acid and she let out a screech of pain. She corkscrewed into the ground, plowing through the snow. Without coming to a complete stop Pidgeotto rolled to her feet and took wing once again, each stroke burning and wrenching, but not enough to keep her out of the air.

All of Ash's pokémon were out. The battle was joined.

Ash struggled to keep up with events as pokémon ran and attacks were exchanged. Events started to spiral towards chaos.

The battle continued, and not in Ash's favor. He knew he couldn't afford to hold back anymore.

Charmeleon, get back to the mansion and find the pokémon attacking us at a range! Ash commanded. Charmeleon nodded and growled, scrambling to his feet and towards the mansion.

"Code? A foreign language?" Krieg chuckled as he observed the fire type's movements. "Clever young man, clever. But it won't be enough. Tentacruel, Water Gun the charmeleon! Nidoqueen, cover her."

Pikachu, buy yourself some time and use Thunderbolt on the tentacruel! Ash ordered. Bulbasaur, keep that nidoqueen occupied with razor leaf. Pidgeotto, if you can, help Primape and Magikarp. Squirtle, stay safe and be ready to help Pikachu!"

"Nidoqueen, defend me and Tentacruel," Krieg said, and then waited, and watched as Ash's pokémon followed their trainer's orders.

Pikachu unleashed a series of Thundershocks that forced Seviper to retreat away from the mouse and back into the ground. Squirtle ducked into his shell and lay on the ground, observing Pikachu through the hole. Bulbasaur fired off a series of sharp green leaves at nidoqueen. Pidgeotto soared over to Primeape, who was valiantly fending off the golbat with Magikarp. Charmeleon tripped as he tried to make his way towards the mansion, narrowly missing the jet of high pressure water that Tentacruel sent at him.

Nidoqueen crossed her arms in front of her face, growling as the leaves cut into her flesh. Golbat was force to flap up to try and deal with the wounded flying type's assault, gaining altitude to escape the wings, talons, and beak. Pikachu prepared his attack, glowing yellow for a brief instant, just enough of a warning for Nidoqueen to throw herself in front of Tentacruel. Pikachu's lance of electricity harmlessly earthed itself in the poison/ground type pokémon.

"Stunky, Poison Sting the pigeotto. I want that bird down. Roselia cover everyone with Razor Leaf. Nidoqueen, Poison Javilin that primeape!"

Nidoqueen threw back her head as she prepared her attack. Bulbasaur tried to take a shot, but was interrupted by a brace of razor leaves in the back of his bulb. Instinct took over and he spun around to fire his own spread back.

Primeape watch that nidoqueen! Ash shouted.

Primeape dodged, and a lance of silver flashed past. He hissed and clamped his free hand down on an angry red line that glancing attack had left.

"Golbat, get the Primeape!" Krieg ordered.

Pikachu thunder-

"Seviper, attack!" The snake struck the distracted Pikachu, who was positioning himself to respond to Ash's command. Long fangs scraped along his yellow side, depositing poison. Pikachu shrieked and shocked, sending electricity coursing into the purple pokémon. Seviper was thrown back, writhing in pain as he flew. Pikachu fell forward, curling into a fetal position. He could feel the unpleasant sensation of Seviper's poison, spreading from the scratches. It wasn't enough to put him out of the fight, but it was a significant and painful handicap.

Pidgeotto shrieked as a Poison Sting attack clipped her already damaged wing. There was the rushing roar of flames and orange flames illuminated the mansion roof, above the single lamp, revealing a purple skunk like pokémon and a bipedal green pokémon with three spikes on its head and flowers for hands. A stunky and roselia.

Squirtle, Water Gun that stunky! Ash shouted. Charmeleon, Flamethrower that Roselia! Primeape-

Give me a sec! The fighting type was ducking and dodging as Golbat attacked, swooping and diving to attack, constantly harassing Primeape with both physical and sonic attacks. Magikarp tried to flop closer, to aid Primepae, but the Golbat made sure to keep the two apart.

Bulbasaur, keep Razor Leaf up on the Nidoqueen and Tentacruel, Ash continued. I don't want to see anymore long range attacks from them!

If I can! Bulbasaur growled through gritted teeth. He could feel himself growing sicker and weaker. With a sound that was a mix of grunt and roar the plant type began to unleash a barrage of sharp greenery. Leaf after leaf cut through the air, slicing into Nidoqueen who still guarded Tentacruel, and Krieg, who was making sure to stand behind the large pokémon.

An idea struck Bulbasaur.

If Pikachu's up to it, have him arc a Thunderbolt around the nidoqueen and hit the trainer!

Or a Thundershock! Ash said, thinking of an attack less likely to be lethal. Pikachu!

"Wait a moment," Krieg's eye's narrowed. "Did you-? No, you couldn't have."

I'll try! Pikachu shouted back, pushing himself up.

Boss, it sounds like he's speaking properly! Tentacruel shouted. She turned to Nidoqueen. How do we charade that?

Worry about that after the battle, Nidoqueen grunted, taking more Razor Leaves on her arms.

Water rushed and flames billowed as Squirtle and Charmeleon attacked Krieg's pokémon stationed on the roof. Roselia ducked and huddle back, letting the flames pass over her. Stunky sidestepped Squirtle's attack and spat a Poison Sting attack back. Squirtle countered with another burst of water, blasting away the center of the attack, but not all of it. Two needles embedded themselves in Squirtle's arm. He grimaced and yanked them out.

Meanwhile Pikachu scrunched his cheeks and sent out several tendrils of electric power. They arced out and around, converging on Nidoqueen and Krieg. But as soon as she saw Pikachu scrunch his cheeks, Nidoqueen had been moving. She stuck her tail straight out and knocked Krieg backwards. Pikachu's electricity converged on empty air.

"You can understand his code?" Krieg asked, picking himself up. "I'm not much one for flights of fancy, but now I can't help but wonder..."

Pikachu again! Keep at it! Ash shouted.

"Roselia, pay attention to that Pikachu!" Krieg ordered at the same time. "I don't want that happening again. Stunky, don't worry about hitting Golbat, he's resistant, the other flying type is not! Tentacruel, Water Pulse that Squirtle!"

A series of Water Pulse attacks sped over the snow, aimed at Squirtle who tried to dodge. His failure resulted in an explosion of water and a dazed water type.

"Seviper, attack that Squirtle!" Krieg ordered.

Pidgeotto, help Primeape again. Bulbasaur, Squritle, Charmeleon, keep your targets busy. Pikachu, keep an eye out for Seviper. Ash ordered. Everyone, be ready to change targets!

Night was repeatedly broken by fire and lighting, snow sizzling and steaming as the pokémon fought. Cries of rage and pain filled the air as attacks landed on their targets. Leaves cut, water tore, and needles stung. Flesh thudded against flesh and humans shouted orders in two tongues.

Ash tried trick after trick. He tried having his team suddenly switch targets, Charmeleon sending a fireball at Nidoqueen, Bulbasaur firing Razor Leaf at Roselia, and Squirtle blasting at Stunky. He tried to have Squirtle and Pikachu combine attacks on the fly, hoping to take out Seviper or Tentacruel. He tried to entrap Golbat in Pidgeotto's Gust Bullet, blind Stunky with Pikachu's Flash, surprise Nidoqueen with an attack from Primeape, and more.

It didn't work. The battle was slipping away from him, no matter what he tried.

In the end-

He. Just. Wasn't. Good. Enough.

Krieg's pokémon blocked, dodged, and weaved, entirely on the defensive. Ash and his team continuously failed to land an attack, but Krieg and his team had quit trying to go on the offensive.

After all, there was no more reason for them to try. Each of Ash's pokémon was slowing. Their movements were growing more sluggish, their attacks were weakening and falling shorter and shorter. There was no need for Krieg to fight anymore.

It was the classic strategy of poison type trainers. Inflict a simple wound and then let their toxic power slowly drag the enemy down. A single wound could prove deadly without an antidote.

And there was no time to disengage and receive one.

Pikachu was the first to stumble and fall. Weaving webs of electric fury, he was trying to hem in the golbat and ward off the seviper. The snake like pokémon hid under the earth and the golbat dodged, soaring between attacks, spinning and rolling, and climbing to avoid being caught. Pikachu's web grew tighter and tighter as his cries grew louder. Golbat managed to slip away and Pikachu decided not to let him.

He emptied his lungs into a war cry and through everything into the attack. The night turned yellow for a moment and a singed golbat spun through the air. It recovered and managed to bank upward and avoid the snow.

Pikachu stood still for a moment. He fell forward and didn't move.

Pikachu! Ash shouted.

Primeape was next. With Pikachu gone there was no one to keep the seviper occupied. Krieg's pokémon burst out of the ground behind him, fangs sinking into the fighting type's flesh. Primeape howled and lost his grip on Magikarp. Seviper slapped the fish pokémon with its tail and slammed it into the ground. Magikarp lay still.

Pidgeotto's agility was been clipped by the injuries on her wings. It wasn't long before a Poison Sting attack took her down. Her wings were not strong enough to return her to the air. She fluttered on the ground under hit by a tackle from the nidoqueen.

Bulbasaur struggled to stay on his feet, caught between a growing number of cuts and the effects of the poison. Razor Leaf after Razor Leaf was exchanged with the pokémon on the roof, his limbs growing feeble all the while. He used his vines to prop himself up under the assault. He lasted until two leaves cut his vines and a Poison Sting hit his back. He could fight no more.

Squirtle deflected attack after attack off his shell, blasting away at all the incoming attacks. But there were too many too fast. Water Pules, Razor Leaves, Poison Stings, sonic assaults, all came. He eventually went down, a trickle of blood coming from the corner of his mouth.

Charmeleon was last. He stood alone against a horde of enemies attacking from range. His flames burned bright and he roared his defiance. His body twisted, weaved, and ducked, flames lashing out. Nearing the end he went nova. A gigantic gout of fire billowed out of his mouth, covering the rooftop, with a great roaring and hissing. Roselia and Stunky fell from the roof, screaming and writhing in pain as they burrowed into the snow to put out the flames consuming them. Beams of red light lashed out and took them back. Charmeleon panted for a moment and then was blasted in the back by a Water Pulse, falling next to Pikachu. He didn't get back up.

Ash cried out, turning from fallen team member to fallen team member.

"Well boy," Krieg crowed. "It would seem that this is over now. This was a futile effort, but I can see from your stance that you don't realize that. You should be thinking about how to recover your team so that you may have some hope of taking them to safety. And yet I can tell that you haven't given up on this battle." He started to walk forward. "I see I will have to teach you. As the great sage once said, 'Pain begets wisdom in those who would learn'. I hope you would learn child." He cracked his knuckles and started walking forward. "I would hate to waste this effort. But then again maybe I need to suffer the pain of fruitless work."

Shut up! Ash screamed. Abandoning thought he rushed forward, fists raised. He would-

Krieg slapped his attacks away and casually backhanded him. Ash fell sideways into the snow. He spit out a tooth, blood staining the snow, and jumped back up. He kicked out, like Brock had taugh-

The priest kicked the inside of Ash's leg and smashed his palm into the boy's forehead. Ash's head snapped back and he stumbled away. His vision went blank for a moment and he nearly fell again. He let out a yelp of pain and shook his head.

Krieg's fist impacted his abdomen. Ash's breath abandoned him. A blow to the head. A kick to the side. Hands grabbing the front of his jacket and throwing him. Snow and hard earth beneath him.

"Do you know why I do this?" Krieg asked, kicking at Ash's shoulder. "It is because humans must change or die. Those who fail to learn as their world crumbles around them only bring misery to creation. There is only mercy in killing them. It is no sin to avenge the lost sunflower."

"Murderer!" Ash shouted through the pain, grabbing at Krieg's foot.

Krieg tutted, crouched and punched Ash in the back. The child cried out in pain.

"It is not murder to kill the hopeless, as those without hope are dead." Krieg continued. "I was named after my own hopeless birth and see where my origin has returned me? Both me and this began so long ago. Tonight it is finally over. Everything has returned and all those involved will be free."

"You're not making sense," Ash gasped, trying to push himself up.

"Oh, I make perfect sense to the wise. Perhaps you need some more wisdom," Krieg grunted the last word as he kicked Ash.

Krieg was surgical. Krieg was precise. Krieg was painful. Krieg was through.

He didn't break any bones. He didn't do any permanent damage. He didn't spare any pain. He didn't give an opportunity to escape.

In the end Krieg left Ash lying in snow stained with spots of blood.

The priest looked out over the battlefield. His gaze covered the streaks of melted snow, the remains of attacks scattered about, and the prone and dying pokémon that made up Ash's team. He looked back down at Ash, who was trying to get up, eyes still determined.

"You still haven't learned. Physical pain obviously isn't working. Perhaps you will learn when you watch your team die." Krieg reached down and grabbed Ash once more. He looked the boy in the eye. "Then maybe you will gain some wisdom."

He threw the boy and Ash landed next to Pikachu and Charmeleon. Ash pushed himself up, eyes falling on the yellow pokémon and the fire type, both of whom lay prone in the snow.

Pi-kachu, Ash could barely say the words. Charmeleon. I-

He was interrupted by Krieg kicking him in the side.

"I wouldn't be speaking right now," the priest chided him. "You have other things to attend to."

Don't- don't- Don't you touch him! Pikachu pushed himself up, electricity sparking all around him. There was a crackled and a yelp of pain from the priest who was blasted off of his feet by a tendril of electric power.

Krieg's team didn't need instructions. Golbat dropped from the sky, driving Pikachu back into the ground. Nidoqueen and Tentacruel rushed to their trainer's side.

"I'm fine, I'm fine," Krieg reassured them, getting back on his feet. "It would appear that his team had one more surprise left. But I think I'll let you hold the pikachu, Nidoqueen. You can break its neck in front of Aaron here."

Charmeleon looked up.

He was weak. He knew that. It didn't matter what Ash thought, or whether the boy cared about how strong he was. Charmeleon knew he was weak. If he had been strong he could have done something. If he had been strong he might have helped Damien to become a better person. If he had been strong he might have been able to make a difference in the Safari Zone. If he had been strong he might have been able to help Ash get to the top of that building in Saffron City quicker.

He needed to be stronger. Ash and his comrades were counting on it.

The fire type closed his eyes, looking deep within himself. He had felt that strength before. He could find it again.

Charmeleon began to glow with a white-orange light and it hurt.

What was strength? Was it the ability to hit hard like Primeape? Was it the ability to move like Pidgeotto? Was it the ability to use powerful special attacks like Pikachu? The ability to know when and where to hit like Bulbasaur? To take hits like Squirtle? Or was it the ability to survive like Magikarp? Charmeleon didn't know. Maybe it was the ability to withstand the pain he was feeling, to endure the waves of nausea and emptiness racking his body as he forced it to do something that it shouldn't be doing yet.

But Ash needed him to be strong, right here, right now, whatever strength meant. Charmeleon didn't care about the price. Charizard just knew that he needed to defeat the enemies in front of him.

His new wings flared outward, knocking the golbat off of Pikachu. Flames lashed out at Krieg, splashing of the chest of Nidoqueen who had moved to shield him. His claws tore into tentacruel, cutting into soft flesh.

"Stunky, Poison Sting!" Krieg shouted, throwing a pokéball. White light blazed and silver slivers flew into Charizard's back, sent by the badly burned, but still active stunky.

Charizard roared in fury, in triumph. He could barely feel the effects with his new body. It was less than a pinprick to him now.

"Nidoqueen, Body Slam and keep him down," Krieg continued. "Tentacruel Water Gun when you see an opening!"

Nidoqueen rushed the fire type and Charizard met her. Before she could jump up he began to grapple with her, stopping her from launching her attack. They locked eyes and Charizard smirked. He opened his mouth and engulfed the poison/ground type in a wave of fire.

"Stunky! Slash and then Toxic in the wound!" Krieg yelled. The poison type obeyed, pushing past her pain to leap up and tear into Charizard, right between the wings. Before it hit the ground Stunky managed to spray poison into the wound.

Charizard roared in pain, cutting off the flame engulfing Nidoqueen. A Water Gun drilled into his side, tearing away skin and costing him his balance. Nidoqueen took advantage of that to swing Charizard over her head and slam him into the ground. Before he could get back up, she used Body Slam.

A ring of snow rose around the pair and Charizard couldn't even scream.

"Such loyalty," Krieg proclaimed. "Your charizard was willing to force an early evolution and potentially cripple himself for you and his comrades. You're going to have to remember his loyalty for the rest of your life."

Pikachu, Charmander, friends in danger. Ash needed to do something, he needed to move.

Needed to get up. Needed to take another swing at the smug priest.

Just needed to marshal the strength, just needed to ride the swell of emotions inside of him.

"Now, I want you to watch this. Nidoqueen, would you please get ready to kill that fire type?" The priest's tone was casual and gloating as he approached the downed child. He gripped the back of Ash's black hair and pulled back so that he could look the boy in the eyes.

"This is the result...," the murderer's voice trailed off. Aaron's eyes were supposed to be amber.

Not glowing blue.

Ash moved, this time too fast for the priest to react. Krieg flew back, managing to land on his feet, sliding back on the wet ground. He barely got his balance back before Ash launched himself at Krieg. Human flesh slammed into flesh and Krieg was sent rolling back, finding his feet quicker this time.

More blows came, swift and unrelenting. Krieg floundered, trying to block them, constantly driven back. They were too close together for his team to intervene and the boy was too fast to simply disengage. Another hammering blow to his center and the priest was sent skidding back once more.

The boy was moving too fast for a child his age. The boy was too strong for a child his age. There were very few humans of that stature who should have that kind of strength, and none should have that kind of speed. It was an almost unheard of combination in a human opponent.

But there were more things than humans in the world. More things to encounter, to fight, and to learn from.

Krieg set up his stance in one instance, he began his move in the next, and then Ash reached him. The boy's fist was back to deliver a massive punch to the priest's head, eyes blazing blue as he came closer. His face was locked in a snarl of rage and he was screaming a war cry as he moved in.

His expression changed when he reached the priest. It became one of confusion and then a wince of pain. Ash's blow missed, Krieg had dropped down and driven an elbow in the child's ribs, using his foe's momentum against him, breaking several bones. Krieg grabbed Ash's ankles and flipped him back while he was still processing the pain. The boy managed to make a full rotation in mid air, coming down on his feet.

Just in time for Krieg's form perfect punch to break something else.

There was a reason trainers studied martial arts. To train themselves for personal combat while they also trained their pokémon for battle. The world could be a beautiful place, a kind place, a place of great joy. It could also be a dangerous place. For some, being a pokémon trainer meant seek out the dangerous places of the world. To seek challenges to grow stronger, to meet new pokémon, to find untamed wilderness, to fight in the domain of their enemies, to tame the lawless wastes, and to conquer the danger. Trainers would need every edge they could get to survive. Martial arts was just one such edge; learning how to use their bodies to a fuller potential, to hit harder, to dodge better, to learn how to withstand trauma better.

The priests of the shrine Krieg was raised at had taught him combat along with his pokémon as a form of meditation and a way for them to bond. They had pitted him against all sorts of opponents, human and non-human, alone and alongside his pokémon. That was why he could battle the boy who had suddenly quit fitting into any rational human definition.

He moved swiftly, denying Ash a chance to respond. He pounded on the boy's soft spots, pushing past the child's unnatural toughness. He dodged counter blows by hair's width, cautiously waiting for a chance to trap and damage the limbs. He focused on his awareness of their surroundings, hoping to move the fight to a spot where he could disengage and let his team take care of Aaron.

It was brutal. It was terrifying. But it was all under control.

The horrific sound of a bone being broken rang out as Ash finally made a mistake too big for his strange power to compensate for. Krieg was able avoid the blow, trap the limb, and then, without hesitation, rolled into a hold that allowed him to break the limb. Incredibly the boy started fighting harder. The illumination from his eyes flared, casting a blue glow all around. The priest was forced to let go of the limb.

There was a brief scream of anger and pain as Aaron tried to push himself up with both arms and discovered that he couldn't. Krieg continued to retreat. The intensity of the blue light began to fluctuate wildly as he pulled himself to his feet, the ground crumpling as he slammed one palm into it forcing himself up-

Only for the light to flicker and the body to stumble. It would appear that he hadn't avoided all of Krieg's traps. Yet, despite the poison coursing through his veins he stood again, leaping forwar-

Nidoqueen's tail slapped Aaron away before he could resume his assault. Snow flew and Ash shrieked in agony. Nidoqueen was on him again, punching him down repeatedly. Each blow should have been enough to keep a child of his age down, but Aaron kept trying to struggle up. Finally, after a great two handed blow from Nidoqueen, he stayed down.

"It would appear that you will not stay down. It would appear that you cannot become wise." Krieg announced, panting. "You must be put down permanently."

Aaron's eyes briefly met Krieg's; they were golden brown once more. Whatever strange power that had been exhibiting itself earlier was gone now. Krieg still didn't want to take the chance that it could reappear. He would kill the boy and then be on his way.

"I think I will crush your head," he announced, walking closer. "Nidoqueen, if you would do the honors?"

There was a rumbling that interrupted Nidoqueen pulling back to launch the punch. She and Krieg both paused to look towards the source of the noise.

Plaster dust billowed and bricks flew. Onix came rushing out of the broken wall, unstoppable as a tsunami. Nidoqueen and Krieg jumped back, re-positioning themselves to better withstand the attack, Nidoqueen bracing herself, stomping through the snow to rest her feet against the earth beneath, arms out to catch Onix's horn. Krieg trying to get a better view of where Onix had come from.

They needn't have bothered.

There was a sound like slapping a steak across a boulder. Nidoqueen grabbed the horn and stopped it from impaling her, sliding backward, heels carving up snow and earth. With a roar, Onix rammed into the nidoqueen and flipped his head back, sending the purple pokémon up into the air. Onix curled around himself, bringing his tail around into Nidoqueen. A ring of snow rose around the point of impact. Nidoqueen was smashed back into the ground like an errant meteorite, causing the ground to crumble into a crater.

"Tenta-" Krieg began, but something grey whizzed out of the hole in the mansion. Tentacruel spat out a strong jet of water on reflex; the grey shape twisted to avoid most of the attack, a small stony chunk falling away, and then grabbed the water type's beak in an iron grip. Geodude squeezed, cracks spreading across Tentacruel's beak while the water type's tentacles flailed.

Golbat swooped in to rescue his comrade. A small speedy mass slammed into him from behind and then assaulted his ears with a sonic attack. Golbat spun away from the attacker, forcing himself to recover, and prepared to retaliate against the newcomer Zubat.

Before he could do so a stream of fire engulfed one of his wings. Vulpix sat back on her haunches, looking pleased with herself from the edge of the battlefield.

"Stunky, Roselia, take down that fire type," Krieg shouted. "Golbat, help Tentacruel!"

The priest's command came too late for tentacruel. With a sickening wrench, Geodude yanked back and tore the beak off the water type. As the pokémon let out a silent scream, Geodude tossed the beak over his shoulder and then tackled his opponent to the ground. He began to pound, ignoring the feeble attempts to repel him.

Golbat tried to intervene, but Zubat rammed into his burnt wing and sank his teeth into the fried flesh. Golbat tumbled from the air.

A spiral of fire spun around Stunky and Roselia. Twin screams and then silence.

"Geodude," a voice rang out from the hole Onix had torn in the building. Krieg noticed something almost sparkle from the interior of the building; ice, ice that had no business being there. It must have been that trainer from Cerulean City. The blasted girl must have coated the hallways with ice to disarm his traps.

Before he could pursue the thought further the geodude was on him. The first blow from the stony fist broke his arm and then he couldn't keep track of any of the other blows.

Ash was barely aware of the world. Darkness closed around the edges of his vision. Sounds seemed to come from the end of a long tunnel. He faintly heard the crackle of an ice beam and worried shouts. He saw a red blur and a black blur on top of weird shapes.

"Aaron?" Ash thought that he recognized the voice.

Misty?

"He's speaking gibberish-" came the voice from the red blur, Misty Ash guessed.

"Aaron, listen to me," came a loud voice from the other blur. Brock Ash guessed. He could be a bit bossy like that. "I need you to stay awake. Did he poison you?"

Aaron slowly shook his head. He didn't remember getting hit with any poison attacks. But there was a lot he didn't remember in that last fight.

"Aaron," the voice was weird now. Like it was cracking, or hasty, or something weird. Ash idly wondered what was up with Brock. "Aaron, I need you to stay awake. Can you do that for me?"

Ash shrugged. He could give it a try. It wasn't like he was going to give in to the tired darkness within until he had checked up on his team.

"Aaron, it's important that you stay awake. Can you tell me where it hurts?"

It hurt everywhere, well it did. Things were weird now. Ash could still tell that it hurt, but it was further off. At the edge of his mind.

Team? He asked his most important question, but then remembered that his two human friends couldn't speak properly.

"Team?" Ash/Aaron repeated.

"Misty, go give his team antidotes!" Brock snapped.

"But-"

"I can handle him for now, you go tend to his team."

The red blur vanished.

"Team? Are they well?" Ash struggled to get the words out.

"They'll be fine," Brock answered. "Misty after you're done, get Pikachu over here if he's not-" there was movement Ash couldn't make out "-wounded anywhere that would make it a bad idea to move him."

Brock continued to question Aaron. Ash responded without caring.

The red blur returned and then there was a splotch of yellow. A warm weight was placed on his chest. Ash slowly raised his arm and gently laid a hand on Pikachu's back. He could feel it rise and fall.

Ash sighed in contentment. Ignoring the cries from both Brock and Misty the boy let himself slip away into darkness and warmth.

Brock sat in the hallway, elbows on knees, face in hands. It wasn't a particularly remarkable hallway; if someone had seen one pokécenter human medical hallway, one has seen them all. Nor was there any interesting about the bench he was on.

That might explain why Brock's mind was far away from the hallway in both time and space. Thinking of a rather unpleasant recent past and a dreaded future.

He didn't know if he had made a single correct call while they were locked in the mansion, before they had stabilized Aaron and the staff had brought back help. He had kept insisting on strong static defenses even when it had been clear that Krieg had been able to find ways around them.

But then again, he didn't know how much they had impeded the murderous priest. And there was no way of telling if Krieg could have done a better job of picking them off if they had taken a more dynamic approach. Or maybe the static defense would have worked better if he had been less accommodating to the Umagoya's demands.

But then again, he always preferred to take a defensive stance. Maybe not necessarily always static, but he always chose to rely on things such as endurance or toughness over guile or reflexes or speed. To let his opponents break on the power of his pokémon, whether they were charging through or standing firm. He was predictable and lacked adaptability. And how many people died because of it? How badly would Aaron have to pay for it?

And would he or Aaron even be alive if it wasn't for Misty? She was the one who suggested covering the floors that they had to cross with ice so that any traps or ambushes would be disabled or inconvenienced. Brock hadn't even considered the possibility while desperately searching for Aaron after they had confirmed that Chiyo was dead.

The young man from Pewter City sighed. It was a good thing he wasn't a gym leader anymore- no, if he had been a gym leader he would have had more resources and approached the problem from a different angle. He would have also been continuously improving on his skills.

He wouldn't have needed to rely on luck; not for the survival of his friend, nor for not being suspected of the murders of the Umagoyas. During the first couple hours talking to the authorities it was obvious that the police could see a different picture being painted by the evidence and circumstances then the one by the testimony of Brock and Misty. Thankfully there was enough medical evidence and Thomas's testimony to pin the blame squarely where it belonged.

It didn't matter now. The only thing that mattered was the news that he was dreading.

A door opened and Misty entered the hallway.

"The-" Brock swallowed, "What's the prognoses?"

Misty looked him in the eye and gave a small smile.

"He should make a full recovery," she answered, sliding down onto the bench next to him.

"And his team?"

"They should also make a full recovery, but Charm- Charizard might need some therapy."

Brock closed his eyes and let out the breath he was holding.

"That's good. That's very good."

"But," Misty continued, "it's going to take a couple of months. We'll probably have to winter here."

"That's fine," Brock replied. "I could use a break."

There was several more minutes of silence.

"Do they have any clue as to what Krieg's motivation was?" Brock asked.

Misty shook her head.

"No, not really," she answered. "Nothing concrete. It's just that genetic testing turned up something, well, interesting."

"What?"

"Evidently Krieg was an Umagoya," Misty answered.

Brock froze for an instant.

"I thought his parentage was unknown," Brock said, mainly to himself. He hadn't talked that much to the priest, just some light conversation during dinner after the awkward scene, but he had learned a couple of things. "That he was an orphan left at a shrine in the Saffron area."

Misty shrugged.

"I'm just relaying what the police found when they compared his DNA to entries in the database," she replied.

"Hmmm," Brock stared into empty space.

More silence.

"Do you think that he knew?" Misty asked.

"I'm actually wondering if they knew," Brock responded, still thinking.

A bastard spawned by the Unification War, raised near the greatest battlefield of that era, and becomes a priest and a trainer. He sets out into the wider world to find any hint of his family. Perhaps he had some sort of heirloom to guide? Or just stories? Maybe he relied on random genetic testing? Whatever the case he finds his way to the Umagoyas, he finds his family.

And they are crumbling. They are wasting away. Many are still trying to fight the war that they lost, championing their lost cause. So he aids them in the only way that he knows how; he starts trying to tend to their spiritual needs.

Things get worse. Everyone gets worse. The priest feels more and more stressed. His illusion and hopes that he once had of his family crumble away.

Maybe he holds on hope for the children, for the next generation, the generation that should survive while the older members die off. Or maybe he tries this for a generation or two and it doesn't work.

Finally it's down to Jena and Thomas. His last hopes for his family. For their recovery. For an end to his own pain. His last hope.

And then Jena dies. Thomas is possibly traumatized.

What hope does the priest have left? What fruit have his labors borne?

So he gives up. So he snaps. And people die.

It was mere speculation Brock knew. The truth was lost with the priest's death. But it was as likely a truth as they were going to get.

"It doesn't matter," Brock said, shaking his head.

It really didn't. All that was important now was that Aaron was safe.

Misty and Brock let the rest of the day die in silence.

A boy named Thomas sat in his home, isolated from his new guardians by the pain of betrayal and memories of a muk. The possibility of recovery was questionable.

A family graveyard became even fuller. There would be few visitors and all the ties the occupants had would fade into the past never to be revisited.

A purple blob of a pokémon mournfully approached a fast moving stream. It jumped in and was no more.

Ash lay in his hospitable bed feeling better than he had in weeks. Oh his ribs gave a small twinge of pain with each breath, his arm started to itch in his cast, and a host of other small things bothered him, but it was irrelevant.

He had spoken properly in front of Krieg and the man hadn't figured it out. He may have suspected, but the murderous priest couldn't tell that he was pokéraised. Ash's secret wasn't so easily revealed.

Maybe he could relax a little. Let pain and the knowledge that he had narrowly avoided death keep his nightmares away. His team would, all his friends were safe.

In the end everything was right enough in the world.

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