Ash Ketchum has been determined to become the best since he was a toddler. He has his eyes set on a charmander, but a twist of fate led him to the humble Nidoran. Note: Mix between anime and the games.


15. Cinnabar Island Part 1

"That Golduck's nothing but trouble." Captain Stewart sighed as he sat down on a large box. Ash nodded in agreement and sat down across from the older man. "He's got a bit of potential, but he's too angry and arrogant to use it. It'll take time to reach him."

Ash shrugged helplessly. It was their last day at sea and they would be able to see Cinnabar Island within a few minutes. They had been trying to train Golduck over the three day journey, but even with the old trainer's help Golduck proved to be far too stubborn to properly train. He followed Ash's commands every now and then, but only really obeyed when Ash reminded him of their deal or when his own pride was at stake.

While Golduck refused to train, Ash was sure that he would do his best if Ash actually put him into battle. Golduck was too prideful to accept anything less than his best when it actually mattered. In the battles Ash had with the off-duty sailors Golduck performed quite well, following every order and managing to use some semblance of strategy.

That was why Ash would be using him against Blaine. It was a risk and Ash had thought about choosing a different pokemon to open with, but he decided that there wasn't a way that using Golduck would hurt him. Even if he lost with Golduck, he would at least do some damage and it might help to drive into Golduck's thick skull that he wasn't as powerful as he thought. If Golduck won a battle then he would have proved his worth on the team, although Ash would still have to work on the attitude.

"By the way, kid, are you coming back to Fuschia?" Stewart asked as he removed his pipe from his mouth and blew a ring of smoke into the frigid air. "That's where we're headed after we dock. I've got to make another few circuits."

Ash shook his head. "I'm thinking of heading back to my home town after I'm done here. I'll see if the Viridian Gym is open. If not I'll just get someone I know to teleport me to Saffron."

He'd come up with his plan on the first day back. Once he hit Cinnabar he would be the closest to home he had been in months. Ash was sure that Professor Oak would let him borrow his Alakazam in order to teleport to Saffron. If not he could just fly there on Plume, although he felt incredibly nervous about trying something like that. Plenty of trainers flew on the backs of pidgeot, but he would prefer to just be teleported.

Captain Stewart absentmindedly nodded. "Never been to either of those places myself. I've never wandered far from the coast. Heard about Sabrina though – most of the trainers I take are terrified of the woman."

The trainer smiled, remembering how easily she defeated him. He could definitely believe that people complained about battling her.

Suddenly the ferry's horn blared, shattering the calm silence that had prevailed over the last hour of the ride. Stewart's head snapped over and he stood up.

"I've got to go. It looks like we're getting close to Cinnabar." Stewart said lazily as he stretched out his tired muscles. "Good luck on your journey, kid. I hope you get that Golduck under control."

Ash nodded in understanding. "Aren't you going to have to come back down to give out instructions?"

"Nope." Stewart replied with a shake of his head. He was already walking away. "I've got someone else to take care of that. Sorry, kid, but there's a lot of paperwork I've got to fill out. Cinnabar's a stickler about that kind of thing."

"Alright." Ash said shortly. "Maybe I'll see you again sometime."

Stewart nodded and walked into the cabin area, his long coat flapping around his legs. Ash watched the old man walk away for a moment before sighing and looking out to the west. While most of what he could see was nothing but calm, gently rolling waves, he could see Cinnabar coming up

The trainer felt a little sad that he had to say goodbye to the old sailor. Although Stewart could be a little coarse and desperately needed to shave, Ash liked him and Stewart had taught him a lot. Ash doubted that Golduck would have trained at all if the Captain hadn't told him how to approach the arrogant water-type.

He sighed and stood up. Now that he was done attempting to train Golduck and didn't have anything else to do he should go back to his cabin. Ash had forgotten to pack the previous night, and he assumed that he only had an hour or two left before they disembarked.


An hour and a half later they landed. One of the sailors that Ash had never talked to delivered the speech that told them when the ship would be leaving, the main attractions, and what pokemon could be found on the island.

Ash found it curious that the sailor didn't mention the gym at all. Gyms were one of the dominant features of any city – the gym leader was responsible for protecting cities and towns in their territory from any threats and headed the League forces in the area. It was odd that its location wouldn't be given to newcomers.

He shrugged it off, though. It shouldn't be too hard to discover the gym. They were hardly inconspicuous.

The first thing he noticed about Cinnabar Island was that it was hot – it was a tropical resort just like the Seafoam Islands but on a larger scale. And since it didn't have an "Ice Time" Cinnabar was just as hot and bright as Ash would expect a tropical paradise to be.

The second thing was the volcano. It was the dominant feature of the island and was what Ash had been able to make out an hour ago, but he hadn't expected it to actually be the entire island. The volcano proper was at the very center of the island, and small mountains covered in forests jutted up around it. Cinnabar was built on one of the bottom slopes of those mountains, where the land had almost flattened.

Ash wondered if any powerful pokemon lived in the immense mountain. He was sure that he would probably find solitary magmar wandering around somewhere nearby – volcanoes were their favored habitat and magmar weren't particularly shy or afraid of humans – but figured that there had to be some other fire-types thriving in or around the volcano.

He promised himself that he would search around the slopes. Ash wasn't sure that he was up for actually looking inside the volcano – that seemed stupidly dangerous – but there couldn't be any harm in being around it. Maybe he would get lucky and find another magmar that Infernus could battle. It would be interesting to see how his friend compared.

But for now he should just focus on finding the gym. Once he beat Blaine he could explore to his heart's content. It wasn't as if he was short on time.

Ash sighed and looked around the town. It was a typical tourist trap. Bright colors and countless vendors vied for the crowds' attention; all seeking to take their own bite into the tourists' wallet. He did his best to ignore the vendors and various tourist attractions.

What he couldn't ignore was the stereotypical music playing in the background, the same tune that seemed to play in every resort he'd ever seen on television. It made Ash want to run out to the wilderness and embrace its silence.

"Excuse me." Ash said as he went up to one of the vendors. The tall, broad-shouldered woman seemed to think that he was a customer and went into a spiel about her product.

"Hello!" She exclaimed with a great deal of almost convincing cheer as she waved her hands over a wide selection of pokeballs. Most were just painted different colors but Ash spotted some of the rarer variants. "You've found Regina's stall of balls! Poke, great, lu –"

Ash raised his hands up. "Sorry, but I just need to know the directions to the gym."

The vendor frowned and the excitement instantly drained out of her body. "Head down that road for about a minute until you reach the end. Now shoo. I've got business to do."

"Thanks." Ash replied stonily. The vendor ignored him and looked for more potential customers with keen, predatory eyes.

Although he had his misgivings about the validity of the woman's directions, he followed them anyways. It wasn't as if he had anywhere else to go. He suspected that the rest of the advice would be just as unhelpful. If it led him to a dead end he could always just find the Pokemon Center and ask the Nurse Joy in charge.

Ash managed to slip through the crowd until he reached the very end of the road. He got out of the bustling crowd and looked around for the gym. When he saw nothing but a few merchandise stands and the ruins of some old wooden building he frowned.

"I guess she was just messing with me." Ash said with a scowl. "Where's the gym?"

"You're looking for Blaine's gym?" A soft, low voice asked. Ash snapped around in surprise and stepped back when he realized a tall man was right behind him. He took a moment to take the man in.

The man was aged, although the wrinkles on his face were faded and barely noticeable. He had a large, bristly mustache and long, light brown hair. A pair of sunglasses covered his eyes, glinting with the sun's light. He wore a bright red shirt and pants, and a necklace made of large green beads. Ash suspected that if he looked at the man's eyes they would be red and glazed over.

"Yes." Ash replied warily. He didn't particularly want to be around the strange man. "Do you know where I could find it?"

"I do, in fact." The old man said with a smirk. "The answer is a riddle. His gym is where you put your glasses."

Ash sighed. He suspected the man was wasting his time. "Could you just tell me?"

"No." The old man quickly replied, amusement coloring the tone. Ash had a scowl on his face as he thought it over. He wasn't the best at riddles. Battling was much easier.

The obvious answer was on his face. But, as he had learned from Gary when his former friend went through an odd phase where he was obsessed with riddles, the answer was rarely the most obvious one.

Ash thought about it for a few more seconds before it struck him. "In front of my eyes?"

"You are correct!" The old man exclaimed sarcastically, throwing his hands in the air. "Look over there to see your prize."

He turned to the old, overgrown ruins that the old man pointed at. Ash sighed. "Are you serious? That's a wreck."

The strange man grinned, although it had a sad undertone to it. "Blaine got tired of battling tourists that cared more about postcards and t-shirts than pokemon. That's when he abandoned the gym." His words took on a particularly strong tone of disgust when he mentioned tourists.

Ash frowned. It sounded as though Blaine had just moved the location instead of actually abandoning his gym leader status. But if Blaine had abandoned it without telling anyone the location of the new gym, the League would probably put him in all sorts of trouble. So he had to have told someone.

"I'm a real challenger though, not a tourist. Blaine has to give me a battle." Ash replied with a bit of fire in his voice. "Do you know where the real gym is? Blaine had to have told someone where he moved."

The man shook his head. "I'm afraid not, my friend. Blaine only has to accept your challenge if you can actually find the gym. But if you need anything, here's my card."

Ash carefully took the proffered card from the old man's fingers, glancing down at it. "The Big Riddle Inn?"

An odd name for a hotel, but Ash supposed that it fit the man perfectly. Ash glanced up to ask a few more questions but realized that the old man had vanished. He frowned and looked around. Still no sign of the strange man.

Ash suspected that the old man was more than he seemed. He was just a bit too knowledgeable about everything. He was probably just someone in the know – possibly even one of the people Blaine had told the location to.

Although he could probably learn a bit from the man, Ash decided to avoid the Big Riddle Inn as best he could. He didn't want to put up with his oddities if he didn't have to, especially since it just seemed like the old man was only trying to waste his time.

Nevertheless, he placed the card in the pocket of his jacket. The town looked as though it were filled to capacity. While the Pokemon Center should have plenty of room it was best to be on the safe side.

He figured that he should probably head to the Pokemon Center. Ash could remember the directions to it pretty easily, and perhaps one of the nurses would know where he could find the gym.

Ash walked away from the ruined gym a few moments later. He wanted to be able to look around the town and island before nightfall, so it was best to get started.


"What do you mean there's no room?" Ash asked in annoyance. He tried to keep his patience with Nurse Joy – she looked horribly stressed out and exhausted – but he couldn't keep all of it out of his tone. "Are any of these people actual trainers?"

Nurse Joy shook her head. "Maybe one or two are real trainers, but most are just tourists that have a trainer's license. They're abusing the system, but I can't legally force them out. I'm really sorry, but we just don't have enough room. People are even sleeping in the lobby."

Ash sighed. "Thanks for your time. But do you know where the gym is?"

"The gym? I have no idea." Nurse Joy frowned. "Blaine just took off one day and set a fire in his old gym. It has to be somewhere on the island, but I wasn't informed about it. But if I know Blaine, it'll be somewhere that no one will expect – somewhere that only the smartest or the strongest would be able to reach. I'm sorry that I can't help you."

He grinned and waved it off. Nurse Joy just gave him a hint. Maybe he would be able to find it on his own, even if it would take a while. "It's fine, and thanks for taking the time to talk to me."

Nurse Joy smiled at him before leaving to attend to the tourists. Ash scowled at the tourists clogging up the Pokemon Center before he left. He would have to spend even more time looking for a place to sleep now. While he would be fine curled up somewhere on his sleeping mat and with his friends, he would prefer to stay under a roof for at least tonight.

Unfortunately, even after two hours of searching that had put him in a very bad mood, he had no such luck. Although Ash went to almost all of the hotels that he could find – and there were a lot considering that this was a resort town – they were all completely full. Apparently he'd had the misfortune to come during the busy season, so there was no chance of him finding a room.

Ash hesitantly pulled out the card that the old man had given him. While he really didn't want to see the stranger again, it looked like he had no choice. Unless he wanted to be searching the town for the foreseeable future in the vain hope that he could find a place to stay he had to at least try the Big Riddle Inn.

It had the name of the hotel in the upper right corner, under which was a simple drawing of a volcano. A house and clouds were on the left side of the card. Under the volcano were a few lines of text. Ash angled the card into the light and squinted at the small words.

"If you look near the swings you'll see my hands, or at least my face." He read aloud.

Ash's eye twitched as he realized that it was another riddle. He wouldn't be surprised if the old man printed these out just to mess with people, although he couldn't see how the Big Riddle Inn stayed in business if nobody knew where to find it.

He scowled and put the card back in his pocket. While it wasn't doing anything for his somewhat short temper at the moment, it might be useful later. Ash made sure not to "accidentally" tear it as he put it in.

Unfortunately the Inn was his best bet, so he would do his best to find it. If he couldn't find it then he would just set up camp outside of the city. It wouldn't be too bad, although he preferred sleeping in an actual bed when he was in a city.

The trainer turned back into the hotel he'd just left. While the receptionist hadn't been able to get him a room, maybe she could tell him where the Inn was.

She was reading a magazine when he came in. Ash supposed that there weren't that many people coming in this late – it was sunset by now – and she didn't have to pay as much attention. The receptionist quickly put the magazine away when he walked up and looked at him with a raised eyebrow.

"Look, I've already told you that we don't have rooms. I doubt any of the other hotels do either, come to think of it." She said in an annoyed tone. Ash frowned and brushed her off.

"I just need to know where I can find the Big Riddle Inn." He said stonily, not bothering to be particularly polite. Ash had gotten fed up with this about an hour ago.

The receptionist raised an eyebrow. "That's the one that crazy guy runs, right?"

Ash wordlessly nodded, figuring that was an apt description of its proprietor.

"Sorry, no one knows where that place is. I think a few trainers have gone there, but they never say anything. All I know is that it's somewhere outside the city proper."

"Thanks." Ash sighed. He should have figured that it wouldn't be that easy. Oh well, at least this made his choices somewhat easier. If he didn't find the inn he could just make camp wherever he felt like.

The receptionist was already back to her magazine and waved him away. Ash frowned at her for a moment before leaving the brightly lit hotel, just a bit annoyed with the teenager.

But he didn't have time to be annoyed. Ash didn't want to be stumbling around outside the city at night so he needed to hurry up. Hopefully he wouldn't have to. Plume didn't have the best night vision, but he hoped that she could use the little daylight they had left to find the hotel.

He wasted no time in heading towards the main gate. Ash had passed it several times while looking for a hotel, so didn't have to ask directions. The walk to it took only about five minutes, so Ash didn't burn up too much precious daylight.

Ash quickly walked out of the confines of the city, releasing Nidorino and Plume once he did so. Plume quickly soared up into the air with a single beat of her powerful wings. She took her position high above Ash, scanning for any danger. Nidorino took Ash's side, staying just a little bit behind the trainer.

"Hey, guys." Ash said with a grin, his mood lightening a bit thanks to his pokemon. "I'm looking for a hotel called the Big Riddle Inn. Plume, could you help me out?"

Plume shrieked an affirmative and took off. Ash slowly walked down the trail. His friend would easily be able to find him even if it was dark, and he might get lucky and find the hotel in an area where Plume's vision might be unable to penetrate.

He wandered around for a bit, although he always stuck to the trail. Cinnabar Island had similar trees and plants to the mainland, although most of the trees here were much taller and thinner. There were a few large patches of the light forest that had been completely burned down. Ash figured that it proved at least some fire-types made their home on the island.

About fifteen minutes later, he heard a loud shriek coming from above. Ash looked up and smiled at Plume as she gracefully landed in the space just a few feet in front of him, her massive bulk not inhibiting her in the least.

"Did you find it?" Ash asked hopefully. The sun was almost completely down and he would have to set up camp soon, even if he was only about a mile from the city.

Plume nodded proudly and puffed out her chest. Ash smiled and gently stroked her crest, whispering his thanks to her. She soaked up the attention, chirping brightly.

"Can you show me where it is, or do we need to wait until tomorrow?" Ash asked, not wanting Plume to fly at night if it might cause her problems.

His friend seemed to snort at him as best a bird could and took off, sending a gale of powerful wind to the ground that kicked up a huge cloud of dust and sent Ash stumbling back. Plume shrieked out her position to him once he had recovered, prompting him to look up. She slowly flew forward, pausing and circling around when Ash didn't follow fast enough.

Ash coughed a bit to get some of the dust out of his lungs and followed Plume, his eyes locked onto her dark form. It was getting dark, but he figured that the hotel couldn't be too far away. So he followed his friend's direction, doing his best to get around every minor obstacle the terrain threw in his path. Nidorino managed to guide him around small gaps in the earth caused by the constant seismic activity.

Eventually the journey took them up several steep hills, causing Ash to believe that they were starting to climb one of the mountains or the volcano itself. Night was converging quickly, so Ash increased his already brisk pace. He saw a small playground at the base of one of the hills. Ash's mind flashed back to the riddle, "If you look near the swings you'll see my hands, or at least my face". It looked like he was getting close unless, of course, the old man had given him the card purely to mess with him.

But after scaling the steep hill – he felt a little annoyed at Plume for being able to fly; she constantly shrieked at him in order to get him to go faster and flew over his head now and then, apparently unable to understand that hills were difficult to climb up – he was able to see a faint glow coming from a large, dim shape.

Ash's hopes rose drastically in the moment Plume lazily glided over to the shape, which he recognized as a large building. The fatigue in his legs from the climb practically vanished as he jogged towards the building. Plume circled over the building and he could hear Nidorino's large, heavy feet pattering the ground as his friend charged behind him.

He slowed down to a brisk walk as he neared the building. From here he could vaguely make out the sign above the door proclaiming the building to be the "Big Riddle Inn".

"Finally!" He exclaimed. Nidorino growled in agreement. Ash looked up to Plume, who was still circling over the building. "Thanks, Plume. You did great!"

Plume cried out in response before he returned her. Ash pulled the door open – it was a bit of a struggle considering that it was thick, heavy wood, but he managed – and stepped inside. He held the door so that Nidorino could get in as well and looked around.

The room was quite large, although the ceiling was a bit low. Several large windows opened up an incredible view that showed off the glowing lights of the town and the wide expanse of untouched forest that provided a buffer between the town and the Big Riddle Inn.

A small, empty desk was right in front of him. Several small tables holding various pictures of the sights around Cinnabar Island dotted the room. He noticed that most of them focused on the volcano. More pictures showed off the forest or some of the wild fire-types. Ash counted a ninetales, vulpix, arcanine, and several magmar in the portraits.

"So you managed to find me." The low, soft voice of the old man spoke up from his left. Ash snapped his attention to the old man, who was leaning on the brown wooden wall with his arms crossed. "As a prize, I give you free rooms here at the hotel."

Ash nodded. "Thanks."

He blushed as his stomach suddenly growled. Ash hadn't eaten since he got off the ship and it was beginning to show. The old man grinned.

"I guess I'd better get started on supper. Your room's over there." He said, pointing to a hallway. "First one on the right. The hot springs are through those stairs. They'll take you out back." The old man continued, gesturing towards a set of stairs that descended into the ground. "I'll just call you when dinner's ready."

Ash nodded his thanks and headed to his room, Nidorino calmly following. He saw the proprietor go off to wherever the kitchen was before he went out of sight.

He wrinkled his nose when he stepped into the room. It was fine – the furniture was well-looked after and everything looked fresh and clean – but there was the slight stench of sulfur in the air. Ash sighed and figured he'd get used to it in a few minutes. The smell was probably from the hot springs underneath the hotel. There probably wasn't any getting around it.

Despite the unpleasant smell, Ash found the rest of the room to be satisfactory. He placed his pack underneath the bed and found a toothbrush and other toiletries inside the small connected bathroom. Ash looked around and let Nidorino jump up on the bed.

Ash sat down next to his friend a few moments later, done exploring. The room was pretty small, so there wasn't that much to see. He just patiently waited for dinner, patting his friend every now and then and making a plan of what to do tomorrow.

He figured that he would explore the island in search of the gym tomorrow. Blaine might have hidden it well, but Ash would find it even if he had to walk over the entire island. The gym leader couldn't hide it from Plume's eyes, and Ash knew that he would find it.

After that he would probably stay in Cinnabar for a few days to relax and hopefully let Infernus test his strength against others of his kind. Infernus was the most powerful member of his team, although Nidorino was a close match in both power and experience. It would be interesting to see how he compared against other magmar.

And then it was back home. Ash still had two badges to get, but he figured a bit of relaxation wouldn't hurt him too badly. Besides, if he was at the Oak Corral he could stay and train with all of his pokemon. It would be nice to not have to switch out just to train them.

Suddenly, the call for dinner reached his ears. Ash snapped out of his thoughts and rushed out of the room, pausing only to let Nidorino out. His stomach had a far stronger hold on him than his mind did at the moment.


"Huh. Is that how I used to eat when I was a trainer? You're worse than a snorlax." The old man said as Ash tore into the food, staring at the boy in disbelief. Several empty plates and bowls were littered around him and Ash was half-way through another. Ash's utensils were almost a blur as he dug in. Nidorino was little better. The poison-type was devouring bowl after bowl of food.

Ash just ignored the man. He had barely realized how hungry he was until he reached the hotel. It was nice to have a practically unlimited supply of food. When he was finished that bowl, he sat back and sighed. The proprietor decided that was the best time to cut in.

"Well, now that you're done eating most of my food, what's your name, kid?"

"Ash Ketchum." He replied, sitting up a little bit. "What's yours?"

The old man ignored Ash's question. "So you're a pokemon trainer. What pokemon do you have? Aside from your Nidorino, that is."

"A pidgeot, seadra, hypno, magmar, and golduck." Ash said, listing the pokemon he currently had. "Those are the ones I have on me, at least."

He noticed that the man's eyes brightened when he mentioned Infernus. The man leaned forward and clasped his hands together. "You've got a magmar? How well-trained is it?"

"He's one of the most powerful members of my team, along with Nidorino here." Ash grinned, patting his friend on the head. Nidorino grunted in thanks and quickly dove back into his dinner.

A wide grin split the old man's face. "I'm glad. I've grown up around magmar. They can be devastatingly powerful if trained correctly. If it's doing so well, I suppose you must be quite the trainer. If you can find Blaine's gym, I'm sure you'll put up a fight."

"Thanks." Ash replied. "Are you sure that you don't know where the gym is?"

The old man shook his head. "Sorry, Ash, but Blaine's gone. Those ruins are all that's left of the gym. Damn tourists ruined it for all the real trainers."

He frowned. While he hardly thought that the old man was telling the whole truth, it was clear that he wouldn't get anything out of him. It looked like he'd have to find the gym leader himself.

The rest of their dinner was quiet, with only a few snippets of conversation here and there. Ash finally grew full a few minutes later and went to his room after telling the strange old man good night. He released Dazed and took a shower before heading to bed, despite how early it was.

He wanted to get up early tomorrow so that he could have as much time as he could to search for the gym. If he had to sacrifice a few hours of scanning the pokedex database, so be it.

Ash took nearly an hour to go to sleep. He couldn't help but twist and turn as he fruitlessly sought sleep. Normally he was either exhausted when he went to bed this early. All the other times he went to bed at an incredibly late hour, so it wasn't that hard.

But he finally got himself tired enough to sleep. His last thoughts were that Dazed might have been helping him out.


He woke up just as early as he'd hoped. It looked like the sun had only just risen and the air still held an early morning nip, although it was still warmer than most places on the mainland. Ash carefully slid out from under his covers, taking care not to disturb Nidorino. His friend was still curled up on the bed, ears twitching as he slept.

Ash nodded a hello at Dazed who was staring at him. She blinked in return and returned to staring out the window. Dazed's odd habit of staring into space or at walls had lessened since she had evolved. Instead she stared at sources of light or living creatures, analyzing their every movement. It had disconcerted some of the passengers and sailors aboard the Roaring Wailmer, but Ash didn't particularly care. Dazed could do what she wanted. She wasn't hurting anyone.

The trainer quietly got ready in the bathroom, brushing his teeth and taking his shower in just a few minutes. When he was done, Ash left the room and entered the main room. Dazed quietly followed him, shuffling behind the trainer and curiously examining the furniture and lightbulbs.

He didn't see any breakfast, unfortunately. Ash shrugged it off. There was some food in his bag that he needed to eat. It was getting a bit old and he didn't want to waste any of it. Besides, he was still feeling a little bit full from the huge meal he had gorged himself on last night.

Ash looked around a bit more but soon realized that the there wasn't very much to look at. While everything was clean and in good condition, the old man didn't decorate beyond the bare minimum.

Since there wasn't anything to do in here and he could hear the old man's loud snores coming from the lone bedroom near the flight of stairs that led to the hot springs Ash figured that he could just leave. He'd be coming back anyways, so it wasn't as if he needed to wake the old man up.

The trainer walked back into his room and woke Nidorino up. His friend frantically looked around and growled until he realized it was Ash. Nidorino grunted an apology at Ash and stretched before jumping off of the crumpled, balled up sheets.

Ash accepted his friend's apology before tidying up the room. He figured it was the least he could do since the old man had given it to him for free. Afterwards he left the hotel, although he remembered to recall Dazed before he did so. She had more endurance as a hypno, but she still didn't enjoy walking for long periods.

When he left he released Plume. She shrieked in happiness at being released and took to the skies. Ash grinned and looked around. He hadn't been able to see his surroundings very good last night.

It turned out that they were on the slope of the volcano. The fiery mountain loomed above him, its presence a reminder of nature's power. The Big Riddle Inn was on a carved out, flat piece of the mountain, almost a quarter of the way up. Ash supposed that the slight slope he had been travelling on had added up to quite a bit of height.

He turned his attention away from the volcano. Ash needed to focus on the important thing: finding Blaine and his hidden gym. Sight-seeing could come later.

A few moments later he set off. Ash decided to explore around the base of the volcano first. Blaine would probably set it up somewhere around the mountain of fire just for symbolic purposes. It would make sense.

But as he began the first steps of his search, Ash began to have a bad feeling that he would be searching for a very long time.


It turned out that his prediction came true. For two hours he searched, finding nothing except a few clawed out burrows and several very annoyed vulpix. Ash managed to get away from the foxes quite easily – they weren't aggressive enough to chase him very far. After that he'd had lunch, feeding all of his pokemon the last bits of spare food. They deserved the treat.

Then he'd searched for another three hours. That hadn't turned up anything besides a few tourists that apparently had no idea it wasn't safe to be outside the city walls without any pokemon. Ash sent them back to the city, knowing that any mischievous or aggressive pokemon would terrorize them.

After that, he'd looked higher up on the base of the volcano. Ash wouldn't be surprised if Blaine had managed to hide a gym on the volcano's slopes, disguised and camouflaged from all but the most perceptive seekers.

And then even that hadn't turned up anything. He'd found evidence of magmar living around the volcano, but nothing else. Ash was beginning to get incredibly frustrated with the search and had finally retreated down past the slope of the volcano until he was back in the forest. At least this way he might find a trainer to battle, even if it was probably wistful thinking.

But right now he was investigating a massive stretch of charred earth. The blackened stumps of trees littered the area, showing that it was once a forest. A thin layer of ash and soot covered the entire clearing, causing each of his steps to leave an imprint. Gouges were ripped out of the earth and partially-hardened magma covered the area around it. All in all it looked as though a huge battle had taken place.

Ash kneeled and examined one of the tree stumps. The entire area was still quite hot and the ash in particular was still painful to the touch. Cinders burning in some of the tree stumps – Ash noticed that some of them looked like they'd been torn apart instead of just incinerated – told him that whatever did this couldn't be very far away.

He looked down at Nidorino. "Get ready. I think that whatever did this is close. Do you hear anything?"

Nidorino's face tightened in concentration and his long ears twitched. A few moments later he shook his head, although Ash noticed that he didn't seem completely sure. His friend seemed quite wary of something, although not even Nidorino knew what it was.

"Should I be on guard?"

Nidorino nodded and glared around the destroyed portion of the forest. Ash looked up at Plume. She still hadn't attacked, so Ash assumed that she hadn't seen anything from her lofty position. Hopefully that meant he would be fine.

Just to be safe he released Infernus. Judging from the sheer amount of devastation the area had been put through he assumed that a magmar had battled. The gouges in the earth resembled Infernus' lava plume attack. Still, Ash doubted that a single magmar could have wreaked this much destruction unless it was quite powerful. More likely it had been two fighting over territory. Magmar weren't exactly the most sociable pokemon, after all.

Infernus seemed to sense something the others didn't. He immediately walked to a safe distance from Ash and flared up, releasing a huge wave of heat from his body as he roared a challenge. Ash quickly backed away and was quickly followed by Nidorino.

"Be careful. This could get ugly." He warned his friend. Nidorino nodded and got ready to protect Ash from any threat. Ash released Dazed just to be on the safe side. She hadn't gotten much action lately and she would be invaluable against a fire-type.

And then a gigantic explosion occurred. Ash covered his eyes and was grateful that he had released Dazed – she instantly threw up a psychic barrier that easily shielded the three of them from the flames, heat, and lava that had accompanied the blast.

Wait, lava?

Ash watched with wide eyes as the familiar form of a magmar erupted from beneath the layer of ash and hardened magma at the edge of the clearing. Only this time it wasn't on his side.

Infernus roared again, challenging the newcomer. The magmar roared back, blasting a huge wave of flames toward Infernus. They were easily dodged, and Infernus sent a powerful blast of flames blazing back in response.

While the magmar dodged them, Infernus beat his tail around and roared again. The other magmar repeated the ritual and gave Ash the chance to examine it closer, although the waves of heat produced by the two battlers caused the other magmar's natural camouflage to act up and shroud some details.

From what he could see, this magmar was smaller than Infernus, but built stockier. It seemed older, however, as Ash could make out a few massive scars crossing over its body. In addition its attacks seemed more focused than the reckless, powerful attacks of Infernus.

Ash decided to let Infernus handle this. He'd heard that Blaine had an old, powerful magmar on his team, back from his days of being in the Elite Four. This way he could learn what worked and what didn't work against it.

Infernus made the first move. He stamped his foot, sending the earth around him blasting upward and causing lava to explode from around him. Magmar roared and expertly dodged the attack, displaying speed and agility beyond what Infernus was capable of.

Magmar quickly closed the ground against Infernus, dodging or taking the blasts of flame Infernus constantly sent at it. The older fire-type slowed for a second as it neared Infernus. Its eyes burned a bright red and a purple ball of energy flashed towards Infernus. Ash winced – he recognized a confuse ray when he saw one.

Ash's friend roared and suddenly attacked in all directions, releasing massive blasts of flames from all over its body. Magmar seemed smug about its successful attack and turned its head up to the sky. Its arms glowed brightly for a moment before firing a beam of bright, golden energy into the sky.

He began to pant as the sun suddenly intensified, casting a bright glare over the area. Ash was glad that he had his hat. It managed to block the worst of it, although the heat continued to be a problem. Dazed's barrier only blocked some of the heat from the battle itself, so this addition just amplified the discomfort he was feeling.

Magmar casually walked up to the wildly flailing Infernus and punched him in the gut. Ash winced at the attack. It didn't do much, but it had to have hurt his friend. The wild pokemon wreathed its fist in flame and punched Infernus in the face, clearly expecting the blow to be the end of the battle.

That's when Infernus breathed a stream of white smog from his mouth, covering Magmar and sending the older pokemon reeling and clutching at its face. Infernus quickly took advantage and spit a stream of powerful flame at Magmar, distracting it as Infernus slammed a flaming fist into its face.

Infernus continued the relentless assault, hurting Magmar not with the flames on his fists but by the sheer force and power behind them. The previously confident Magmar was helpless underneath the constant blows and was finally knocked to the ground. It wasn't unconscious thanks to its immense durability and energy, but it was defeated.

His friend suddenly slammed a shackled foot onto Magmar's chest. An instant later the earth around him exploded, sending chunks of earth slamming into Magmar's back. Infernus stepped off of Magmar and blasted it with a flamethrower, adding insult to injury. The attack did little, but it made Magmar realize that it had made a mistake.

The older fire-type suddenly blasted flames everywhere – Ash noticed that quite a few of the blasts were aimed at him and the other pokemon, although the barrier managed to hold up – and ran away. It blended in perfectly with the rippling flames, but Infernus didn't seem fooled. He charged after Magmar, blasting huge streams of flame with a newfound ferocity.

Infernus angrily roared when he realized that his foe had eluded him and turned back to Ash. With a stamp of his foot the flames covering him were extinguished, although the inferno around them blazed, albeit far away from Infernus and the others.

"You did great, Infernus!" Ash shouted. Dazed lowered the barrier and let Ash run up to his friend. Infernus roared at the praise and shot a huge blast of flame into the air, apparently not even tired from his recent battle. The trainer grinned – he really liked how tireless Infernus was. He'd be up for a battle in just a few hours.

Then he turned to the inferno. It was still roaring and the heat was brutal – he was sweating like crazy – but Ash figured Plume could get rid of it easily enough. He whistled and called her down. While it might have been smart to call out Golduck, Ash didn't expect the water-type to actually do anything. Golduck refused to do anything outside of battles.

Plume quickly extinguished it with great gusts of wind. The flame had already begun to weaken and die once Infernus stopped powering it, but now it was being swept away, leaving nothing but a few cinders that would soon die in the charred surroundings.

Ash wiped a bit of sweat from his brow. He looked at his hand in distaste. His sweat was gritty and black from the soot.

"Thanks, Dazed. Infernus, you did awesome. I bet you'll beat anything Blaine throws at us!" Ash said. Dazed nodded with a bowed head while Infernus roared again and blasted even more fire into the atmosphere. With that he returned them, letting them rest inside their pokeballs.

Once the last of the flames were gone, Plume landed in front of him. He grinned at her and lightly scratched her head. Plume chirped at the contact and leaned into him, causing Ash to stumble back and laugh.

"You did good, girl. I'm going to head back to the hotel." Ash said, observing the world around him. Sunset had just begun, and he knew that it would be useless to try to find anything in the dark. He couldn't even find that accursed gym in the day.

Plume nodded her understanding and took off, leaving large talon marks in the ash. He looked down at Nidorino, who seemed much more relaxed now that the hidden threat had been vanquished.

"Alright, buddy, are you ready?"

Nidorino nodded. Ash grinned and set off. He might not have had the most productive day, but at least it had been kind of fun. At least the walk back wouldn't be too bad. He was only about half a mile from the Big Riddle Inn.


As he left the huge clearing, he almost ran into a tall figure. Ash leapt back and looked at the shadowed figure with careful eyes. Nidorino growled and squared himself for battle.

"Oh, sorry. I didn't see you there." The figure replied. The deep voice revealed the figure as a man. Despite the casual words, the voice carried with it a powerful undertone of authority and power. Ash noticed that it had a slight accent that Ash couldn't place. "I'm just going to investigate a fire I saw a few minutes ago. Do you know what they are?"

Ash took in the man before answering.

The first thing he noticed was how absolutely massive the man was. He was quite tall, although not to a ridiculous extent, and his burly frame balanced it out. His build was powerful, filling out his height without seeming odd or disfiguring.

The second thing was the hair. It was long and styled backwards in order to keep out of his eyes, but what attracted Ash's attention was that it was light red. Not quite pink, but closer to it than any other shade. The color seemed to fit the man, however, and didn't detract from his intimidating appearance.

His clothes were also unique. He wore combat boots and an odd sort of suit. It was mostly dark blue, although the chest and stomach area were a bright crimson, as were the cuffs. The suit was made of some odd material that Ash couldn't really describe, although it looked highly durable and somewhat shiny.

Ash couldn't help but notice the cape. It was small enough to be relatively practical, but at the same time it was a cape. He didn't think that he had ever seen anyone wear a cape before out of movies, and all in all it seemed like an odd clothing choice.

The man's face was fierce looking, although it was relaxed and calm at the moment. It was angular, a characteristic only augmented by his hair.

All in all it wasn't a look that Ash ever expected to see travelling in the forest, although he had the funniest feeling that he'd seen the man before. It was at the back of his mind, but it was like something was keeping him from realizing it.

Ash shook his head and answered the tall man. "Me and my pokemon got into a battle with another magmar. It ran off, though, so everything's fine."

The man frowned. "Are you alright? Magmar can be pretty dangerous."

"I'm fine." Ash confirmed. He went out on a limb, figuring he had nothing else to lose. "Do you know where I can find the gym here?"

Ash was met with an ambiguous expression. "I might. What's your name?"

"Ash Ketchum." He replied honestly. "What's yours?"

"My name is Wataru. Anyways, I can give you help. Of a sorts, at least. You see, Blaine built another gym, one that tourists never see. It's in a place where firefighters can never win." The man said with a grin. Ash scowled – what was it with weird strangers and their riddles?

Fortunately, this was an easy one considering where they were. The place where firefighters could never win – a volcano.

"No way." He whispered, eyes growing wide. "Blaine built his gym in the volcano?"

Wataru nodded, a slight smile on his face. "Correct. Since you figured it out, I'll give you another hint. Have you come across the Big Riddle Inn?"

Ash slowly nodded, mind racing at the possibilities. And then Ash pieced it together. The riddles along the same vein as the one Wataru just gave him, the hotel that was the only building even close to the immense volcano.

"You've got to be kidding me. The hotel owner is Blaine?" He said incredulously. Wataru smiled.

"Indeed. Anyways, look for a gyarados. Blaine is waiting."

Ash nodded distractedly, disbelief overtaking his other thoughts. He couldn't believe he'd missed it. After talking to the man and even spending the night there, he hadn't even been suspicious of the old man. Maybe he'd thought that the old man – Blaine, he corrected – knew something about the gym's location, but never that he was the gym leader himself.

"Thanks. But how'd you know that any—" Ash suddenly stopped talking, finally noticing that Wataru had vanished. He sighed, slightly annoyed at the helpful man's disappearance. It just didn't seem right that such a large man was able to slip away like that.

Oh well. That didn't matter at the moment. What did matter was that he knew where the gym was and how to enter it.

Ash had a wide grin on his face as he set off, no longer feeling the accumulated fatigue of the day.

Blaine awaited him.


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