Traveler

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.

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/8466693/1/Traveler

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32. Mt Moon Part 1

Sneasel hissed at his opponent as he circled the machop. He sent a few teasing swipes at the grey humanoid, but Machop stood its ground and punched back. The dark-type couldn't take hits like that, so he was always forced to back off.

"Icy Wind. Quick Attack with Ice Punch after." He said smoothly. Sneasel hissed his understanding before he opened his mouth and blew a beam of wind with sparkling blue snow in it at Machop. The fighting-type clenched its eyes shut and grunted in discomfort. It wasn't enough to do real damage, but the distraction was just as valuable.

The dark-type hissed and blurred forward. When he reached Machop both of his claws were covered in thick ice and emanated freezing mist. Sneasel snickered as he smashed them into Machop. The fighting-type threw a wild punch at Sneasel, but he danced away.

"Low Kick!" His foe, a girl a little older than him cried. Machop ducked and swept his leg at Sneasel just as the dark-type escaped. Sneasel grinned and hissed something that seemed to infuriate Machop. It broke into a reckless charge.

"Faint Attack."

Sneasel's fangs were bared as he vanished in a flare of darkness. He instantly appeared behind Machop and blasted a gust of frozen air into the fighter's back. Machop stumbled, which allowed Sneasel to swipe his claws at Machop's legs and flip it onto its back.

Now that the fighter was completely at his mercy, instinct flared in Sneasel's eyes and he dived for Machop's exposed throat with his razor sharp claws.

"Stop!" Ash commanded sharply. His voice instantly snapped Sneasel out of his blood rage and the dark-type stepped back. The Machop seemed a bit shaken and quickly stumbled back over to its trainer, who glared at Ash before returning the fighting-type and rushing off.

Normally Ash would be annoyed at her, but he'd warned the girl about Sneasel before the fight and had told her that he didn't want her money. He had too much as it was. Besides, he could understand the horror that arose when one's best friend was put into a dangerous situation.

"Good job." He congratulated. Sneasel growled happily back and clambered up onto his back. Ash smiled. The dark-type had taken to battle quite well, although he was still fighting the instincts that demanded he kill whatever he had at his mercy. They were making progress on that, though, so he wasn't too worried.

Ash released Nidoking once Sneasel was comfortable. Sneasel didn't need to battle anymore – he'd already been in six today – and he didn't want anyone to bother challenging him. For some reason other trainers weren't so anxious to battle him when he had a gigantic Nidoking lumbering beside him.

"Hey, buddy." Ash grinned as he patted Nidoking's thick purple shoulder. His friend grunted back and exposed his fangs in a friendly greeting. The trainer looked down the path that would lead them to their destination. "We'll reach Mt. Moon in the next few days. Do you think you can find the Moon Stone when we get there?"

Nidoking's eyes glazed over at the mention of the sacred object, but he retained enough presence of mind to nod. His great chest rose and fell excitedly at the mention of the Moon Stone. Ash grinned. He hadn't been able to be as close to Nidoking as he would have liked lately thanks to all the excitement going on. This would give him a chance to do something really meaningful for his oldest friend.

Sneasel growled something, which made Nidoking's eyes flash. The poison-type carefully raised his powerful arm and shoved Sneasel off of Ash's shoulder. Ash grinned as Sneasel sputtered and growled helplessly before he ran back up to his position on Ash's shoulder.

"You've got to be careful now, Sneasel." Ash chided gently. The dark-type growled and stared distrustfully at Nidoking, who had bared his fangs in amusement. "You're fair game now that you're training. If you can give a hit, you can take one."

Nidoking growled his agreement before he shoved Sneasel off again. The dark-type hissed in annoyance and scampered back up Ash's back. He didn't come all the way up, however, but simply peered distrustfully over his shoulder.

"Alright, that's enough." Ash said with a grin. Nidoking bared his fangs again and pounded his claws together. "I want to get to Mt. Moon tomorrow, so let's get a move on."

XX

Mt. Moon was about five miles away. Ash would just wake up early tomorrow so that they'd reach it by noon. Five miles was a pretty easy distance to cross in a few hours. They'd crossed much more than that in the six days they'd travelled so far.

He'd set up camp just a few minutes ago. There wasn't much to do, really. Just lay out his sleeping mat, light a campfire, and feed him and his friends.

Today was one of the days Infernus had deigned to eat. Not with them, of course. He'd taken a large bag of pokemon food and dragged it off into the wilderness. Ash had spotted it catching fire in the distance before Infernus had returned to the camp. The fire-type had seemed quite satisfied and had curled up next to the campfire.

Nidoking was digging into a large pile of food and berries Ash had poured onto the ground for him. It had vanished at an impressive rate, and now Nidoking was lazily picking around for the last scraps of berries. Even though he seemed relaxed, Ash's practiced eyes could spot a tenseness about him. His friend was anxious to seek out the Moon Stone.

Plume never seemed to be very hungry. Ash assumed that she was finding most of her nutrition in other places – ones that he really didn't want to think about. Nevertheless, Plume still pecked at the large pellets of food around the campfire. It seemed to be more about bonding with the team than anything else, however. She was huddled close to Nidoking.

Torrent was already finished eating. He had simply sucked most of the food in through his snout in a few seconds – in a dignified manner, of course – and contentedly watched the campfire leap and dance. The kingdra was levitating next to Ash and kept a watchful eye on the surrounding darkness.

Dazed was standing directly behind him. She was completely silent aside from the light sound of her breathing. Ash noticed that she had been a bit more paranoid about his safety ever since his nightmares began. Whenever she was out of her pokeball she never strayed from his side.

Tangrowth was sleeping up in a tree. He didn't really need to eat except every few days or so thanks to his photosynthesis. Since he had finished training Sneasel for the night – Ash wanted to get Sneasel's coordination perfect before they engaged in any serious battles, so he had Tangrowth launching several vines at once at Sneasel, who had to slice them off or be lightly stung – he seemed to have decided that the most productive thing he could do was sleep.

Sneasel, on the other hand, wasn't in any one place. The battles and intense training didn't seem to have any effect on his energy. One moment he was prodding Tangrowth to try and get the grass-type to play and the next he was jumping on Torrent's back. Ash hoped he calmed down soon. It wasn't like he could get Dazed to use hypnosis on the small dark-type.

His PokeNav suddenly began to vibrate. Ash frowned and curiously picked it up. He'd never had a call on it before. He was always the one calling. It wasn't as though he made friends with many people.

Nevertheless he flipped it open and glanced at the message. It was quite the surprise when he realized the caller was Steven. Ash hurriedly received the call.

"Steven?" He asked disbelievingly. Ash had never expected the former Champion to call him. "Do you need something?"

"No." The calm voice of the older man replied. There was something different about his tone, however. He sounded excited and happy. "But I do have something important to tell you. Pierce has been put away for life. The trial just ended."

A wide grin split across Ash's face. "That's great news!" He grew a bit more somber. "Have you heard about what's happening in Kanto right now?"

"How could I not?" Steven sighed. His voice was tight and stony. "I saw the video. Lance sent it to me, Wallace and Cynthia. That thing…it puts everything I've ever seen to shame. To defeat three of the Elite Four and so many ACE trainers is a stunning feat. If I could, I'd come and help however I could. Unfortunately, Hoenn is calling on me. We have our own problems at the moment."

Ash nodded forlornly and glanced at the video screen. Steven looked a bit younger than when he'd last seen him, but weight far beyond his years seemed to weigh down upon the former Champion's shoulders. While he would have liked for Steven to come and help, he understood his reasons. Hoenn was Steven's homeland. It came first.

"I'll come when I can." Steven promised. He smiled slightly and clasped his hands. "From what I've heard, Lance is putting his plans into action even now. The Psychic is too powerful to strike at directly, but perhaps we can force Team Rocket to fall down around it."

He understood. "Thanks for calling me. At least now I know Pierce won't escape again."

Steven's face darkened. "He won't see the light of day. I've made sure of that." He relaxed. Ash noticed that the former Champion had been clenching the armrests of the rather expensive looking chair he was sitting in tightly. "But enough of serious matters. They seem to be all too prevalent as of late."

The former Champion smiled at Ash. "I'll be at the Indigo Conference, by the way. It's supposed to be a good year for the League and I'm quite interested to see just how far you've come."

"Thanks, Steven." Ash said brightly. He was sure that Steven was there for additional security for the most part, but at least he had something to look forward to. "Will any of the other Champions aside from you and Lance be there?"

"Former Champion." Steven corrected lightly. His brow furrowed as he adopted a thoughtful expression. "I don't believe so. Every region has its problems at the moment, and it's not good for the Champions to be in one place for a myriad of reasons. They have their own Conferences to look after." He laughed. "Lance is lucky this year. The League finally moved the Silver Conference to February. He won't have to be jumping around between the two every March."

Ash grinned at that. He could only imagine how stressful it would be to oversee two Conferences at once, even if they were held on separate days. It'd be maddening.

"Thanks for calling to tell me." Ash said gratefully. He still had a smile on his face at the news. Pierce had finally been locked up for good. Team Rocket might have unveiled their own surprise, but at least there was some justice.

"You're welcome." Steven replied with a dip of his head. He glanced at his watch. "Oh, I'm sorry. I hadn't realized it was this late in Kanto. Well, good night."

Ash smiled. There was just a hint of bitterness in the expression. Last night had been a good night, so the nightmares would probably hit hard tonight. He was wondering if he should call Lance. The Champion was probably still recovering and would probably know more about the strange manifestations of his subconscious than he did.

But he didn't say any of that. "Good night, Steven."

The screen went black a moment later. Ash looked up and realized that most of his pokemon were staring at him. It was obvious that they'd heard about Pierce.

"Pierce is locked up for good." He said in a very satisfied manner. Infernus' eyes burned dark at the mention of Pierce and the fire-type rubbed at the thick scar where the hyper beam had shot through his shoulder. It was practically invisible, but it was there.

Nidoking bared his fangs happily. He didn't have any scars thanks to evolution and the growth of his thick armor, but he still had the psychological scars from his mauling. Ash patted the large poison-type on the shoulder comfortingly, eliciting a low grunt from his friend.

The others hadn't been hurt as badly by Pierce. They'd taken some damage, true, and they were certainly glad that the man who had threatened Ash was gone, but it didn't have as much of an impact on them. Ash was glad for that. Even if they would gladly kill Pierce themselves it showed that they weren't keeping grudges for too long.

Ash glanced over at Sneasel. The dark-type seemed perplexed by everything that was going on. He assumed that one of the others would fill him in later.

He yawned suddenly, which made him realize that he should get to bed if he wanted to hit Mt. Moon early. If he had any nightmares he'd get more time to recover from them as well.

With that, he stood up and laid down on his mat. It didn't take long for him to fall asleep. Infernus would probably sleep on the camp fire and keep it from going out of control, so he didn't really have to worry about that. Everything else he could get in the morning.

XX

"My partner is foolish." The Creature hissed into his mind. It raised its orb-like fingers and crushed them together. Ash's eyes bugged out and his vision burned red as horrible pain wracked his body. His bones groaned and cracked underneath the strain and his mind raced furiously as he awaited the splintering of his skeleton. "He will see the logic in my actions soon enough. Thank you for a most interesting battle."

Ash screamed as the invisible force multiplied and his body began to break underneath the pressure. The last thing he saw were the Creature's cold, glowing blue eyes before everything exploded into whiteness –

He shot out of his bed, awoken both by the thankfully quick end of the nightmare and Sneasel's worried pokes. Ash smiled tiredly down at the small dark-type. "I'm fine. Thanks for waking me."

Dazed loomed above him as well. Her eyes were worried. The others just gave him a glimpse of concern before returning to their slumber. His friends had finally accepted that he would have nightmares and, at his prodding, had simply left him to get through it. It had taken him a while to convince his friends that there was nothing they could do to help.

"Sneasel, go back to sleep." He said soothingly. Sneasel might be fighting now, but he still had a few more weeks to go before he was mature enough to sleep with another one of the "pack" or on his lonesome. The dark-type needed his sleep. "I'll be back in a minute."

Sneasel hissed before slipping back underneath the blanket. Ash glanced at the sleek form of his friend before sighing and meeting Dazed's eyes. "I know I've said this before, but thank you. You protected me from so much for the last few months."

Dazed shrugged. She didn't seem to think it was too big a deal. Or else she was trying to take the emotion out of the situation. Ash knew that she wasn't very emotional and didn't handle the feelings well.

"Still, thanks." He replied. Ash gave Dazed a quick smile before he slipped back under the blanket with Sneasel. The trainer's mind was too active to go to sleep yet, but as he stared into the innumerable stars burning in the night sky, the sight untarnished by light or smog, he felt a bit more relaxed.

In just a few minutes he returned to sleep. There were dreams, but none of those that he feared.

XX

"Are you ready?" Ash asked Nidoking. He had just recalled Plume. She would be of no use in Mt. Moon. Sneasel rode on his shoulder. It would be good practice for him to battle any aggressive wild pokemon. Unless they were strong. Then Nidoking would take over.

Nidoking growled happily and stood by Ash's side. They weren't entering the same way as he had the first time he'd entered the great mountain. He'd gotten directions from the PokeNav's map of Mt. Moon as to where he could enter a wild area.

He knew that the Moon Stone wouldn't be accessible from the ordinary path the League had created. They wouldn't allow a natural treasure like that to be easily accessible. Aside from the importance they placed upon it, many pokemon were attracted to its power. The League wouldn't want anyone to be hurt thanks to proximity to the Moon Stone or if someone tried to steal it.

"Let's head in." He said quietly. It was a shame that he hadn't brought Seeker. She needed to get out more. Still, he'd make it up to her eventually. Right now Nidoking was able to sense the earth and feel vibrations in it. Combined with Sneasel's excellent night vision, his friend would be able to navigate through the mountain quite easily.

Sneasel hissed excitedly as they took their first steps into the gaping maw of the chasm that opened into Mt. Moon's passages. Ash just had a determined smile on his face. He didn't know how long he'd spend in the labyrinth, but it didn't matter. If it made Nidoking happy he'd spend eternity in the catacombs.

XX

He adjusted to the darkness rather quickly. Ash had opted to leave his flashlight in his pack. It was better if he just let his eyes get used to the darkness. The flashlight should be saved for emergencies.

Sneasel was having quite a bit of fun running around the caves. He'd run into several geodude, but they were easily knocked out. Ash had to spend a bit of time keeping an eye on Sneasel to keep him from going for the kill. It would normally be difficult to pierce a geodude's armored carapace, but Sneasel's claws were sharp enough. Combined with his ability to freeze the rock-types, it made Sneasel a very credible threat.

Ash was also wary of the zubat as they ventured further in. He'd had a slight headache after they'd ventured deep enough into Mt. Moon, a sure sign of active zubat being present. While he could easily fight off the zubat if they decided to swarm him, he'd rather the situation not come to that. Neither group would emerge unscathed from such a confrontation.

Other than those threats, the first day was rather uneventful. Most graveler and golem lived on the outside of the mountain. Geodude only stayed inside of the safe passages to keep away from dangerous situations. Onix weren't able to survive in the network of passageways, even if they were the ones who had formed the bulk of them in the first place. The mountain had been made too unstable by their constant digging to support their immense weight. Crobat and golbat were the real concern, although not a major one.

Ash knew there was a lot of ground to cover, so he knew that he wouldn't have found it on the first day. Still, he hoped that he could find the Moon Stone without too much trouble. Something about being in a tomb of stone and earth was disheartening. It made him feel on edge, even if his eyes were able to breach the darkness well enough.

At least he wouldn't have to search the entire mountain. He knew the Moon Stone was some sort of meteorite or celestial object. Therefore it would have to be somewhere at the top of the mountain. It had probably crashed through a bit of Mt. Moon before landing in its current position, so it would be easy enough to trace should he reach the higher levels successfully.

Unfortunately even getting to the upper levels would be difficult. Mt. Moon and the chain of smaller mountains that branched off of it to the south were the entire reason Kanto could be split into two. It wasn't as large as Mt. Silver, but it and its mountain chain still dominated the entirety of northern Kanto. The great mount was a little less than nine miles in diameter, although it wasn't particularly tall compared to its counterparts in the Ore Mountains. Nevertheless it was daunting to climb, even from the inside. Ash wasn't sure if he would simply search for holes made by Onix or have Torrent and Nidoking blast holes in the mountain for him.

Ash frowned as he laid down on his mat. His friends were around him and he felt perfectly safe, but he still wasn't sure how he would go about this. Torrent would likely be far more important than would be expected in the coming days.

XX

Torrent levitated back a bit in a rather satisfied manner as a section of the mountain above them fell down. He had shot high-pressured jets of water into the ceiling to cut it out. Ash had made sure to make as much noise as possible to warn any pokemon away from their location while they did that. He really didn't want any of them getting hurt.

"Thanks, buddy." Ash said gratefully. Torrent gave him a dignified nod before Ash recalled him. He glanced over to Dazed, who was standing right beside him. "Alright, I'm ready."

He closed his eyes as Dazed teleported him to the next level. Ash didn't want to wait while his eyes grew accustomed to the light. When it was safe he opened his eyes and released Tangrowth, Sneasel, and Nidoking.

"Thank you." He told Dazed. She nodded and was silent as he recalled her. Ash glanced over to Tangrowth. The grass-type's bright, saucer-like eyes were barely visible in the darkness but he could easily hear the excited gurgle. "Hey, buddy. Can you use Ancient Power to bring that rock back up?"

Tangrowth gurgled and shot several spheres of bright white energy into it. Ash made sure to look away, but he could hear the groaning of the stone as Tangrowth wrenched and sealed it back into place. It sounded like it took some effort to manipulate the stone by the end, but Tangrowth pulled through.

"Good job, Tangrowth." He said as his friend wrapped him up in a hug with his rubbery arms. Tangrowth didn't like the caves and tried to keep contact with Ash at all times. "I'll try to let you stay in your pokeball for a while, alright?"

The grass-type gurgled happily before Ash returned him and clipped the pokeball back onto his belt. Nidoking tapped his shoulder and Ash suddenly realized that he could hear Sneasel's angry hisses and the sounds of a scuffle.

"Thanks for alerting me." He said. Nidoking grunted and lumbered after him as Ash carefully stepped over to where Sneasel was fighting. Ash could make out the familiar, spherical form of a geodude floating and punching at Sneasel, who seamlessly dodged them and responded with a blast of freezing air.

"Sneasel, let it go." Ash said sternly. He could tell that Sneasel was about to use Ice Punch on the geodude, which wouldn't be good. It would send the geodude into shock and probably crack its shell.

It was a sign of good progress that Sneasel immediately backed off. He whined at Ash as he clambered up onto the trainer's back. Ash smiled and scratched underneath his feather. "Good boy. Nidoking, can you tell if this way is a dead end?"

Nidoking grunted a negative. Ash grinned and started stepping forward, although he took the time to gently move the unconscious geodude to the side so that it wouldn't be attacked.

They'd gotten their system down quite well. Sneasel took care of any pokemon that attacked, Nidoking told him when it was a dead end or when they could go up into another passage on a higher level, Torrent sliced the stone out, Dazed teleported him up once she was able to see where she was going, Tangrowth mended the damage they'd done, and Nidoking told him where to go.

It worked perfectly. Ash didn't like hurting the environment in Mt. Moon, so he was sure to fix any damage he caused. Tangrowth was more than happy to help.

He hoped progress stayed this fast. They'd gone up at least a few hundred feet thanks to the odd slopes and teleportation, so it shouldn't be long before Nidoking was able to guide him to the Moon Stone. Ash fully expected Nidoking to feel it when they grew closer. His friend was already acting strangely happy, so it was giving him hope.

Ash wasn't sure how long they'd been at it, but he figured he would just stop once he got tired. There was no point in overexerting himself, after all. He had all the time in the world to find the Moon Stone.

Sneasel suddenly hissed and pointed. Ash snapped his attention over to his left and saw the small form of a clefairy staring at them. When it realized that he saw it, the clefairy squeaked and began to run away. Sneasel grinned and leapt off of Ash's shoulder to go catch it.

"No." Ash said. He didn't want Clefairy to get hurt. Aside from it being the best way to find the Moon Stone, he needed Sneasel to curb his aggressiveness a bit. Besides, these tunnels were Clefairy's home. If it wished it could easily make life very painful for them.

"Just track it." Ash said. Sneasel hissed and leapt off of his shoulder. He landed lightly upon the hard stone ground and slunk towards the direction of Clefairy, his nose inches from the ground. Ash was glad for Sneasel's tracking abilities. None of his other friends would have been able to do it.

Ash and Nidoking set off behind Sneasel. Hopefully they weren't too far. Still, as long as Sneasel could keep on picking up a scent Ash would be happy.

The Moon Stone awaited him.

XX

After another two hours of following the Clefairy, Ash was forced to relent. His body was exhausted and he needed to sleep. Sneasel still had all the energy in the world, but Nidoking was of a similar mind as Ash. They had been traversing the tunnels for what felt like an eternity.

He honestly wasn't sure how the Clefairy was going so fast. They weren't known for their running speed, although he supposed that they had access to other sources of movement. Clefairy held many strange powers. Not all were useful for battle, but they could do many actions that other pokemon could not.

Ash had thought about catching one while he stayed in Mt. Moon, but quickly threw that idea away. He didn't want to anger the clefairy, especially not when he was in their territory. They weren't all that strong by themselves, but in large groups they could be devastating, even more so when they were angry. Clefairy were normally just as innocent as most people thought they were, but all pokemon were willing to protect themselves.

Clefairy also tended to harbor close relationships with the pokemon living around them. If he got on their bad side he might face an entire mountain of furious pokemon. The risk was simply too great.

Ash yawned and stared at Infernus' flickering tail flame, the only light in the passages. He could barely make out the forms of his other companions. Most were asleep. But he did need to talk to one.

"Tangrowth, could you come over here?" Ash asked. Nidoking started up at his words. He had forgone his sleeping mat for Nidoking. His friend served well enough as a pillow, if a somewhat uncomfortable one. When the poison-type realized that Ash wasn't calling for him, he went back to sleep, ears twitching.

Tangrowth gurgled. His large, round eyes reflected enough light that Ash could see them clearly. Ash started when he realized that his friend was just a few feet away from him. When he'd eaten earlier – he was having to eat actual food much more often now thanks to the lack of sunlight – he had been curled up next to Torrent.

Ash glanced around for Sneasel and spotted him sharpening his claws on the cavern walls. All he could see and hear was the dark-type's bright red eyes and a long, slow scraping sound. He figured that it was loud enough to drown out Sneasel's hearing.

"Keep a close eye on him." He said quietly. Sneasel was getting a little more independent as of late and he didn't want the dark-type running off to try and hunt on his own. That could only lead to trouble. "Wake me if you need to."

Tangrowth gurgled and tapped him on the forehead before falling back to the cavern wall in slumber. Ash glanced behind him at Dazed, who was standing right behind Nidoking's massive form. Her eyes glowed eerily in the blackness of the cave and he detected a nod of understanding from her as well.

With that in mind he focused his mind on sleep. It wasn't hard with the low groaning of the caves around him and the steady rise and fall of Nidoking's chest. When he was barely conscious he felt Sneasel slide in with him underneath the worn blanket.

XX

He was disturbed from his peaceful slumber by an angry hissing. Ash immediately snapped up and saw Sneasel wrapped up in Tangrowth's vines. The trainer sighed and noted that Dazed was by his side, glaring at the yowling dark-type.

"Let him go, Tangrowth." Ash said quietly. There was a note of exhaustion in his note. Tangrowth acquiesced and gurgled at the small dark-type as he rushed over to Ash. He glanced down at Sneasel, who was very small by his side. "Thank you."

"You can't go running off on your own." Ash chided gently. Sneasel hissed glumly but obediently. "You've handled the geodude very well, but there are stronger things that haunt these passages. What would you do if you found a sandslash or golbat?"

Sneasel unsheathed his claws and blew a puff of freezing air at the wall, leaving a thin layer of frost over the hard stone. Ash shook his head. "You're doing well, but you need to stick by us. When you're stronger I'll let you run around, but just stay here for now. Deal?"

The dark-type hissed before he retracted his hooked claws and gave a hesitant nod. Ash smiled at him. "Good. Go back to bed. There'll be plenty to do in the morning." He glanced up at Dazed and Tangrowth. Ash knew that Dazed had been the one who alerted Tangrowth. She didn't sleep. "Thank you. You just saved us a lot of trouble."

Dazed silently nodded before returning to his side as a vigilant guardian. Tangrowth made his odd happy noise before he collapsed to the ground and curled up.

Ash shut his eyes and placed one arm around Sneasel. He fell asleep quickly.

XX

He knew he was close. They had searched for eight hours, following every turn and trick the Clefairy had tried to pull. There had been a few run-ins with small groups of geodude and the zubat had begun to attack whenever they drew near, but Sneasel and Nidoking easily scared them off with Icy Wind and Ice Beam, respectively.

Ash wondered if he could get Nidoking to teach Sneasel Ice Beam. He knew that Sneasel could learn it from a TM, so he should be able to learn it if he was taught it. TMs just uploaded data to a pokemon's brain. They still had to have the capability to actually use it, even if it would never happen in the wild.

The trainer was dragged from his thoughts when Nidoking gave a soft grunt and tapped him on the shoulder with a dull claw. Ash stopped and glanced over at the barely visible form of his friend. "What is it?"

Nidoking growled and snorted. Sneasel hissed softly and hid behind Ash. Ash just watched carefully with crossed arms as Nidoking shut his eyes, which had acquired a silvery shine over the last hour. The great poison-type focused and lightly tapped his foot on the ground.

Ash frowned and stepped back when the tunnel began to shake and rumble from Nidoking's power. Nidoking suddenly caused the rumbling to cease, leaving nothing to remember it by but a thin layer of dust.

The poison-type stepped to the wall directly in front of them and turned around. His eyes shined from an otherworldly source as he brought his tail forward and suddenly slammed it into the wall, sending the ancient stone blasting outwards.

He coughed and covered his mouth and nose with his shirt as dust pervaded the air. Sneasel hissed and blew most of it away with a puff of icy air. Ash nodded his thanks before stepping up next to Nidoking. It was odd. His friend, normally calm and steadfast, seemed both excited and reverent.

Ash froze when he stood next to Nidoking. They stood on the edge of an immense crater. He looked down. There was naught but darkness, although he thought that part of the darkness seemed more intense than the rest, somehow. The trainer assumed that the tiny pinprick of shadow was the Moon Stone.

Then he looked up. Ash blinked in awe as he realized just how far away the sky was. After nearly three days of scaling the mountain from the inside they were only a little more than three fourths of the way up. But their height didn't matter, he mused. Their path was clear.

"Great job." He said reverently. Nidoking growled. His eyes glowed now, alit with an inner flame of flickering silver. The Moon Stone had a far stronger effect than Ash had expected. Its energy awoke something in the creatures whose evolution it sparked, something more than mere metamorphosis.

"Do you want Dazed to teleport us down or do you want me to recall you and fly down?" Ash questioned. Nidoking paused and grunted once. The trainer nodded and glanced down at Sneasel. Even his ruby eyes held a glimmer of silver thanks to their proximity to the Moon Stone. It was the only part of the dark-type that Ash's eyes could make out in the blackness. "I'm recalling you, alright?"

Sneasel hissed in annoyance but didn't fight as the red energy engulfed him and lit the entire cave. When it vanished, the only light source left was the pure light of the stars shining down through the crater.

Dazed's eyes didn't burn with silver when she was released. They simply exuded dark blue light, the same as whenever she used her power. Ash smiled when she nodded at him. She knew what had happened.

"Can you teleport us to the Moon Stone?" He questioned. Dazed cocked her head and considered for a moment before nodding. Ash was relieved. Sometimes large sources of energy such as the Moon Stone could have strange effects on psychics. At least Dazed would be fine.

Nidoking braced himself as Dazed shut her eyes and focused. He grunted in pain as the psychic energy entombed him in its bright, crushing grip and warped the trio down into the abyss.

Ash looked around in the darkness. He could only see traces of the large crater thanks to the weak starlight filtered through the atmosphere. Dazed and Nidoking stood by his side, each taking in the sacred place in awe.

He couldn't see the Moon Stone. His eyes were still maladjusted thanks to recalling Sneasel. The bright light had ruined whatever adaptations he had made over the hours.

Just because he couldn't see the Moon Stone didn't mean he couldn't feel it.

The Moon Stone released powerful energy that raised every hair on his body. It sent lightning coursing through his nerves and reverence flooding into his brain. Ash didn't fight it. He simply stood still with closed eyes. Starlight bathed him just as the Moon Stone's aura did.

He heard Nidoking take a knee, a powerful statement for the proud monarch. Dazed did not, but her glowing eyes, alit without any effort on her part, shined strangely. They pulsed with emotion, revealing just the hint of a large boulder's outline.

Ash breathed deeply one last time to let the energy enter his body before he looked straight up. The crater was far deeper than he had anticipated. It was at the very bottom of Mt. Moon, right where the mountain met the earth. When the Moon Stone had fallen from the heavens it had fallen hard.

They were thousands of feet down from their previous position, but he could see a barely visible half- moon hanging high above them through the gaping hole in the mountain, releasing what dim light it could upon its scion. It seemed that the stars were not the only thing attempting to reveal the crater to his seeking eyes.

And then a crushing weight fell upon him. Ash gasped as he collapsed to the ground. It felt as though he weighed a thousand pounds, although, quite fortunately, his body wasn't crushing itself with his own weight. That would be an embarrassing way to go, especially after he'd escaped death from the Creature.

Nidoking was strong enough to remain standing, even when Ash felt the weight slowly increase. He remained on his knee, however, blind to the troubles of the world as he gazed upon the celestial body that meant so much to his kind. Ash wondered just how much power it had over him. A single shard of the Moon Stone had held his attention for hours on end. The trainer wasn't even sure if Nidoking was capable of thought at the moment.

Dazed was unaffected. Her eyes emanated a frightening amount of light as she fueled an intensely powerful shield around her. It grew brighter and brighter under the strain of resisting whatever power was doing this. She looked helplessly down at him, although her attention was forced to return to maintaining her own protection.

When his mind cleared, Ash recognized this technique. He'd seen Will use it back in the Finals two years ago. It was called Gravity. The effects were obvious: whatever used the technique utilized psychic energies to manipulate reality around the target so that gravity was stronger around them. Quite useful for bringing down levitating creatures or flying-types.

And that meant Clefairy and Clefable. They were the only pokemon Ash knew of on Mt. Moon that could utilize the technique, rare as it was. It seemed that he had angered them in approaching their object of worship.

He squinted as the moonlight suddenly intensified, casting everything in a bright silver glow. Nidoking's eyes seemed to be moons themselves.

Ash's attention and reverence was first directed to the Moon Stone itself. The Moon Stone was a huge, roughly spherical object of stone blacker than black. All light seemed to be directed around it, never reflecting off. It was as though it was a hole in the world, albeit one that was physical.

But then he saw the pokemon surrounding them and blanched.

Three Nidoking and Three Nidoqueen stood beside the Moon Stone, eyes burning with the power infused into their bodies by the Moon Stone. They were led by the largest Nidoking and Nidoqueen Ash had ever seen.

The Alpha Nidoking was the paragon of his species. He was nearly twice the size of Ash's friend and his armor was so thick that Ash wasn't sure anything could breach it. His horn was nearly two feet long and dripped vile poison that sizzled when it landed upon the stone pedestal that kept the Moon Stone from touching mundane ground.

The Alpha Nidoqueen was no less impressive. She seemed to be calmer than the Alpha Nidoking, but still held a bright, shining anger about her. Her body was roughly nine feet tall and Ash suspected that she was six feet from the tip of her muzzle to her tail. Her armor, while less thick than Nidoking's, was covered in decades worth of battle-scars.

He wouldn't be able to take either of the Titans in battle. Even Torrent would be helpless against the sheer strength they exuded, empowered by their long proximity to the Moon Stone. They were the perfect guardians – indomitable and reverent to their charge.

The Patriarch sent the entire mountain groaning as he moved – at least that's what it seemed like to Ash. Every step sent ripples of energy through the ground, completely unintentional upon the Patriarch's part.

It stared down at Nidoking, who refused to look away from the Moon Stone. The Patriarch growled, a sound that elicited every bit of Ash's self-preservation instincts to run, and laid the massive horn that could probably spear through a steelix at Nidoking's throat. His friend didn't react at all, drowned by the Moon Stone's influence.

Ash wasn't so blinded. He snarled and thrashed as a bead of poison dripped from the Patriarch's horn onto Nidoking's back, powerful enough to eat through a bit of Nidoking's armor. The Patriarch growled down at him and put his horn at Ash's throat, but Ash just glared back at the Patriarch's ancient, narrow eyes.

The Patriarch's irises seemed to be filled with fury at Ash's defiance and he roared. Ash refused to flinch away as the mountain trembled beneath the Patriarch's voice, the gnawing fear held back by steely resolve.

A tiny drop of poison fell onto the ground in front of Ash. He stared as it ate several inches through the earth, leaving a rancid smell in its wake. The Patriarch lowered his horn so it was a mere inch from stabbing into Ash's frail throat.

That was what broke Nidoking's vacant stare. He yanked himself up, despite the crushing force that was still placed upon his body, and tried to charge at the Patriarch. The Patriarch simply grunted and used a single hand to wrench Nidoking back into position. Nidoking growled and roared, but it was a pitiful thing compared to the Patriarch's.

A low hum distracted the Patriarch from his rage. The Matriarch stepped forward, leaving the lesser Nidoqueen arrayed next to the Moon Stone. She sniffed the air and slowly lumbered over to Ash. Her movements were just as powerful as the Patriarch's, who was currently glaring down at Ash, but more refined. There was a strange grace in her movements that Ash wouldn't have expected from a pokemon her size.

The Matriarch tapped the Patriarch on the shoulder with a blunt claw that could have easily crushed a boulder into fine powder. Ash held back a sigh of relief as the Patriarch stepped back and removed his horn from Ash's throat.

He watched as the Matriarch glanced at Dazed and met her eyes, molten silver matching burning blue. In just a few moments she made a satisfied noise and stared down at Nidoking, who still bared his fangs at the Patriarch. His friend's attention was soon focused upon the Matriarch, however, who cooed softly at Nidoking.

Nidoking grunted back for a few seconds. The Matriarch gave a nod with her great head and stepped back. She stamped her foot against the ground, which caused Ash's teeth to rattle and the force of thunder to roll through his bones, and gave a low, bright cry.

Ash gasped in relief as the weight crushing down upon him vanished. He painfully pulled himself up and breathed deeply. His lungs hurt badly from the intense pressure. The trainer nodded at Dazed, who quickly allowed her shield to dissipate. Her yellow-furred body slackened as the power she'd been forcing through her mind vanished, but she stayed standing.

"Are you alright, Nidoking?" Ash asked through gritted teeth. Nidoking growled and protectively stood next to Ash, reminding the trainer quite a bit of the beginning of their adventures, back when Nidoking was a small, fearful Nidoran.

His friend glared hatefully at the Patriarch, who seemed unimpressed. The Patriarch snorted and stared disdainfully back.

Ash's eyes were drawn to movement at every edge of his vision. He frowned when he realized that dozens of Clefairy were separating themselves from the shadows. Each of their eyes glowed the same eerie silver as Nidoking's.

But there were others mixed in. There were about ten jigglypuff intermixed with the clefairy and cleffa, and about three wigglytuff staring at him with molten eyes. He cocked his head curiously when he saw several small, pink felines standing next to a large, tan feline with purple ears at the back of the group.

A single Clefable suddenly appeared in front of him. It seemed to materialize from nothingness, although Ash wasn't sure how. He didn't think that Clefable could learn teleport. Not naturally, anyway.

He'd only seen Clefable on TV before. None of them even compared to this one. It seemed to be ethereal, its star-shaped body shimmering as though it were underwater. Clefable's eyes shined as brightly as the Matriarch and Patriarch's, perhaps even brighter. The normal-type waved its hand and forced him to his knees, eliciting a growl from Nidoking. Dazed quickly shut him up.

Clefable gently grabbed his face with a small hand and forced him to look into its burning silver eyes. The small pokemon seemed ageless, neither young nor old. Ash didn't know how old it was, but the aura of power it exuded made it seem like it was as old as the Moon Stone, the very incarnation of its essence.

In practice it was probably just a very old, very powerful Clefable. Still, something about the Clefable made Ash think that the Matriarch and Patriarch were merely assistants or acolytes. The true Guardian of the Moon Stone stood before him.

He hissed as he saw Clefable waggle one of its fingers and place the glowing digit upon his forehead. He'd heard that Clefable and its line were shy. Researchers had apparently never met this stern, ageless creature.

Clefable closed its eyes, but the molten silver glow was still present from behind its eyelids. Ash felt a presence, ancient and fluid, slip into his mind and take in his entire being. It must have used Mind Reader or some variation on it, although Ash had no idea how it had done so. The normal-type had clearly used Metronome. For it to have gotten exactly what it required was disturbing. Nothing could choose what it wanted from the move.

The normal-type withdrew its finger from Ash's forehead and waggled it again. Ash felt strangely exhausted from the mental intrusion. Clefable's eyes glowed a mixture of bright blue and molten silver as it used the technique Ash recognized as Future Sight. Once again, its selection of its move disturbed him. Metronome was random. Pure chance. It had never been commanded with precision.

But those worries were wiped away when Clefable's wide face, which was simply an extension of its body, broke into a smile. It snapped its finger and Ash heard Dazed collapse. He worriedly glanced over and saw that a psychic net had dematerialized from around her. The trainer scowled at the attack on his friend, but Dazed shook her head.

Ash sighed and glanced over at Nidoking. He was back underneath the Moon Stone's thrall, although he made sure to move with Ash.

Clefable smiled again and motioned toward the Moon Stone before waggling its fingers and disappearing seamlessly into the universe. Ash recognized teleportation when he saw it.

But he broke into a smile as he realized that they had been given permission to go to the Moon Stone. Ash was aware of the eyes of dozens – no, hundreds, he realized as he looked around at the growing number of pokemon drawn to the Moon Stone – of pokemon upon him.

He ascended up the smooth stone pathway to where the Moon Stone rested. The Patriarch and Matriarch were silent as he passed by their vigilant eyes, as were their fellow Nidos. When he was mere feet from the Moon Stone, he stopped.

"Nidoking, go on." He said with a smile. Nidoking was broken from his spell and turned his great head to Ash, shocked at what the trainer was giving to him. "You deserve to go first. This is your journey."

Nidoking grinned at Ash, exposing all of his fangs. He stepped forward, but stopped. The poison-type looked at Ash with bright silver eyes and pointed. Ash blinked. Nidoking was giving up his chance to go first? He'd managed to break the Moon Stone's power over him?

He glanced at Dazed, who shook her head. Ash slowly stepped forward and reverently placed his hand upon the impossibly smooth, glossy surface of the Moon Stone. It seemed to shimmer underneath his touch.

Ash closed his eyes. He could feel the energy from the Moon Stone flowing through his body, stimulating his nervous system and giving him strength. Something about the massive amount of energy emanating from the Moon Stone made him understand why so many pokemon seemed to worship, or at the least revere, the Moon Stone. Ash didn't get a fraction of what they did from it and it was incredible.

For just a moment he wanted to stand there and let his body remain empowered by the Moon Stone for eternity. But he yanked his mind from that addiction and simply ran his hand over the Moon Stone's glossy surface for a few more moment. He couldn't hold back a smile when he felt a tiny chip in the otherwise perfect surface.

He had no idea how Steven had convinced the Guardian to let him take a shard from the Moon Stone. Steven must have been incredibly convincing, or at the least a very smooth talker. Or perhaps the Clefable had seen something in the former Champion that merited a reward.

Whatever it was, Ash knew just how impressive Steven's feat was when he pulled his hand away from the Moon Stone and stepped back. He watched with a soft smile as Nidoking stepped forward, bound to the Moon Stone's will.

Nidoking's eyes flared up when he gently touched the Moon Stone with the very tip of his claw. What was once a flickering silver flame ignited into silver suns as the celestial object's energy flooded Nidoking's body. His friend was still for nearly a minute as he was content to simply bask in the Moon Stone's power.

Finally, Nidoking stepped away. He lumbered over to Ash and wrapped him in as gentle a hug as the massive creature could manage. Ash grinned and returned the hug as best he could. Nidoking reared his head back and met Ash's eyes with his own burning silver. There was pure gratitude in them, no sign of any other emotion except for pure happiness visible.

Ash squeezed his friend's armored shoulder before he glanced over and saw Dazed. She seemed almost bored as she touched the Moon Stone, although her eyes burned just as brightly as Nidoking's. In just a few moments she had joined him and Nidoking, although her gaze did linger on the Moon Stone for a few more seconds.

He quickly released the rest of his friends. The Patriarch growled and lowered his horn, but the Matriarch calmed him. Apparently all of his friends had been judged worthy as well.

Plume awkwardly hopped over to the Moon Stone. Her eyes didn't glow, but they did have a shine to them. Ash assumed it was because she was fairly mundane. Nidoking and Sneasel had a strong connection to the Moon Stone, or at least the night. Dazed was simply powered by the energy released from it.

She bowed her large head and gingerly touched the Moon Stone with her beak. Her eyes glowed slightly, but the light was cut off the moment she hopped away from the sacred stone. Ash gently stroked her crest when she arrived. Plume cooed and lightly nipped his hat. The trainer wondered just how long it would be before she accidentally sliced through it.

Sneasel tried to dash past the others, but Torrent gave him a hard glare. The dark-type timidly slunk away, wary of the temper Torrent had been revealing in bits and pieces over the past few days. Torrent snorted when Sneasel ran off and levitated up to the Moon Stone. He cocked his head and closed his eyes before dipping his head and lightly touching the onyx with the tip of his snout. In just a second he had his fill of the intoxicating energy and floated away.

Torrent was certainly the most immune to the Moon Stone so far. Perhaps it was a result of his own strength of mind and body, or perhaps he was simply untrusting of it. He seemed to respect strong will and independence. To see so many pokemon bound to the Moon Stone's energy was probably disturbing to him.

Ash had to admit that he was a little worried when Infernus stepped forward. He had shoved past Tangrowth with something unidentifiable in his dark eyes. The trainer was afraid that Infernus would try to burn the Moon Stone or use Brick Break on it. It seemed like the petty sort of thing Infernus would do if he had the desire.

He gave a sigh of relief when the magmar snorted at the Moon Stone. Infernus tapped it with one of his sharp claws. His eyes didn't change at all, but simply burned with his own inner fire. The fire-type growled in disgust and took his place by Torrent. His tail flicked around in annoyance, casting off angry blue flames. Ash thought he seemed more disappointed than anything else, as though Infernus couldn't understand what the fuss was about.

Sneasel dashed past Tangrowth, who didn't seem to mind in the least. The grass-type simply kept a few vines behind Sneasel to catch him should he fall on the smooth stone. Ash smiled at that, but found his attention focused upon Sneasel.

The newest addition to the team touched a claw to the Moon Stone with reverence Ash had never expected. Ash had heard that the most important thing in each Weavile and Sneasel pack's unique culture was the night. Still, he hadn't expected it to be an inborn trait, even with Sneasel's strong connection to darkness. The Moon Stone seemed to be as important to him as it was to Nidoking.

Sneasel took a knee and kept his eyes squeezed shut. After what felt like an eternity he finally stepped away, although he sent longing looks toward the Moon Stone and its strength. There was a look of greed in his eyes, mixed with reverence.

Tangrowth was last. He stared at the Moon Stone for a few moments before waddling over. The grass-type cocked his vine-covered head and poked the Moon Stone with one of his large, rubbery arms. Ash smiled as he continued to poke it, not really sure what he was supposed to do.

Finally, Tangrowth got bored and waddled over. Ash noted that he didn't seem enthralled by his contact with the Moon Stone at all. Perhaps it was a sign of a strong will or perhaps Tangrowth simply didn't understand the appeal of power.

He flinched when Clefable suddenly appeared in front of him. The ethereal fairy smiled mysteriously at him before snapping its fingers.

Ash didn't have time to react before everything went black.

XX

The harsh sun pounded on his face. Ash groaned and groggily sat up, eyes blearily glancing around to see where he was. He suddenly stood up. Lightning shot through his body as he remembered the Moon Stone and the events that had taken place there.

Ash realized that all of his friends were still unconscious save for Dazed and Sneasel. He assumed that it was some sort of psychic technique the Clefable used on them. Clefable seemed to have a knack for them.

"Dazed, where are we?" He questioned. Dazed smiled at him with her eyes and dipped her head to his right. Ash walked over but froze when he stared down into an abyss so deep that even bright sunlight could not reach it. He immediately knew where they were: the very peak of Mt. Moon. "Wow."

Dazed nodded and shuffled over to him. She peered deep into the darkness as well, but her eyes suddenly glowed. Ash breathed deeply when a film of psychic energy covered his eyes, casting everything in a dark blue shadow but illuminating so much.

The shadows that somehow remained in the wake of the sun's appearance were dispelled, showing that they had been created through psychic means. At the bottom of the impossibly deep yawning hole at the peak of Mt. Moon laid the Moon Stone, just as perfect as he remembered. The sunbeams seemed to bend around it, unable to touch the sacred object.

"I guess we had our time." Ash mused. Dazed nodded in agreement. He glanced over at the pile of his friends. Sneasel was running about and poking them. The dark-type snickered every now and then as one of his victims unconsciously growled or twitched. "Can you wake them up?"

Dazed shook her head. Ash sighed. "It looks like a waiting game, then. We just need Plume to wake up. I know you aren't able to teleport to the base of the mountain yet."

The psychic-type nodded understandingly. She stayed in the same place as Ash found himself a somewhat comfortable pillow in the form of Nidoking. He was still a bit tired, despite the hours he had probably spent snoozing on the mountaintop.

He shut his eyes and lowered the bill of his cap. With the sun gone, it didn't take too long for him to dip back into a sea of blackness.

For the first time in around three weeks his sleep was dreamless.

XX

"Alright, Plume, are you ready?" He asked somewhat nervously. Plume affectionately nipped his shoulder and nodded. Her eyes were bright and eager for this. Ash sighed and mounted Plume the way the pokedex had told him to. Thanks to her being able to manipulate air currents with some of her moves, a saddle was not necessary. It would have made him feel safer if he had one, though.

"Take it easy, alright?" He requested. Plume nodded before taking off. Ash yelped as his second friend took to the skies with a single wing beat. The trainer clung tightly to her feathered body as she blasted through the air.

Although he knew how smooth a flier she was, he was still surprised when there was little air resistance. He wasn't buffeted by the air at all, which meant that he loosened his grip just a little bit. Ash was never more grateful for teaching her Tailwind. It was intended to let Plume push herself along with air, but she had mastered it to the degree that she could bend the air in front of her out of the way, creating a perfect bubble that enabled her to travel even faster than she ordinarily would have.

He hesitantly looked down at the ground, which Plume was quickly approaching. Even from their rapid descent – Ash didn't want to know just how fast Plume was really going – the trees appeared as nothing more than a seamless mass of different shades of green, although some differentiation occurred as they grew closer to the ground.

Ash was almost tempted to have Plume fly him to Cerulean City, but he knew it was too risky. They needed more experience with this before attempting such a long journey. It would be at least a few hours long. Plume wasn't slowed down that much from Ash riding her, but Cerulean was a week's time away by foot.

The trainer found himself actually enjoying the flight by the time it ended. Once he got over his nerves and the prospect that any real adjustments on Plume's part would probably send him flying into nothingness it was rather pleasant. He'd have to do this again eventually.

"Thanks, girl." He said with a wide grin on his face. Ash patted Plume's side before he released Nidoking and Sneasel. Plume cried out and cooed at him before taking to the skies once more. She seemed rather pleased with herself. Ash watched her go before turning to his friends. "Well, it's a long way to Cerulean. We'd best get started."

Nidoking growled in agreement and stood faithfully by Ash's side before they set off. Sneasel ran ahead, probably looking for some wild pokemon to chase. Ash smiled as Nidoking stood alongside him. They'd never lost any of the closeness between trainer and starter, but their bond felt even stronger now.

Ash met his friend's eyes and grinned before they started walking. Last night had been amazing, but today was a new day. It was time to start anew.

XX

The route to Cerulean was rather boring, honestly. Most trainers were put off by the large, intimidating Nidoking that walked beside him or by Torrent, whose haughty glare was enough to send most scurrying off. He still managed to find a few willing to battle his real team, though, and they tended to be good ones. Not always difficult, but the other trainers were determined.

Sneasel got in a good bit of practice as well. Most trainers were much more amenable to fighting the small dark-type than the hulking Nidoking. They tended to think better of it after seeing Sneasel in action – he'd grown much stronger very quickly, although he was leagues behind the rest of the team and likely would be for another few months at the very least.

They'd been travelling for five days now and Ash had made camp. The PokeNav said he was only six miles away from Cerulean, so he figured that would be a good warm up in the morning.

He prodded the dim, flickering flames with a stick. Ash idly raised the stick when its end caught aflame and blew it out, which left only a bright, glowing ember in its wake.

Sneasel promptly dashed over and blew it out with a puff of freezing air, although he leapt past and scurried into a tree. Ash shook his head at the small prank before he glanced over at Nidoking. The little dark-type needed to burn some of that energy, and training was the best way to do it.

"Nidoking, could you fire an ice beam at him?" Ash yawned. He leaned back into the stone he was sitting in front of and smiled when Sneasel hissed and fell out of the tree once Nidoking had shot the beams of intensely cold light at him. "Evasion practice, Sneasel."

The dark-type growled and glared at Ash, only to leave himself open to another of Nidoking's intentionally weak ice beam. Sneasel yelped as he was sent flying back into a tree. A thin layer of frost covered his fur, which Sneasel struggled helplessly against.

Tangrowth helpfully shattered the ice with a few strategically placed strikes of his vines. Sneasel hissed and glared at Nidoking again, although this time he was fast enough to evade the single strand of icy energy. It struck a bush and completely froze it.

Infernus snorted and joined in on the game as well. He looked up from where he was curled up and shot a feeble stream of dull orange flame at Sneasel, who promptly ducked underneath it. Ash nodded thankfully at Infernus for not using anything more powerful.

Sneasel shot a cone of icy air towards Infernus, which didn't even make contact thanks to Infernus suddenly flaring up, wreathing his body in fire. He idly shot another stream of fire towards Sneasel, who leapt above it and avoided a feeble ice beam from Nidoking in the process.

Ash smiled as the dark-type did his best to escape the attacks. He was fast and agile, so it wasn't too much of a problem. Still, Sneasel weren't built for endurance. They were fast hunters meant to strike with a partner and escape, not to dog their prey until it collapsed. That was a weakness Ash was doing his best to fix with exercises like this.

When Sneasel accidentally jumped into a sleeping Torrent, he froze and met Torrent's suddenly angry eyes. Sneasel's expression changed as he realized just how much trouble he was in before he suddenly dodged a blast of water from Torrent. The game had another player.

For several minutes Sneasel dodged dozens of attacks from Nidoking, Infernus, and Torrent. He was obviously breaking underneath the assault, however. His reflexes were slowing and his movements were less agile.

Dazed seemed content to watch as Sneasel struggled to fight back, a stark contrast to Tangrowth, who seemed rather worried. There was no love lost between the psychic and dark-type.

Ash motioned for the game to stop when Sneasel was hit by a weak blast of water from Torrent and went flying into a tree. Infernus snorted amusedly and returned to sleep, bathed in the heat of the campfire.

"Good job, Sneasel." He said with a pleased grin. Sneasel panted and glared at him, but couldn't find the energy to growl at Ash. The dark-type always got a little prickly during training, especially when it was unexpected. At least he was tired out now. "Come over here and go to sleep."

Sneasel hissed at Nidoking as he passed, but quietly slipped under Ash's arm. Ash felt his breathing slow and steady as the dark-type finally fell asleep. He smiled before bidding his friends a good night.

It didn't take him long to fall asleep himself.

XX

Cerulean was the place that most trainers truly began their journeys. The west side of Kanto, aside from the Viridian gym, was a learning experience. It was where young trainers tended to congregate and get a bit of experience before exploring and battling seriously.

Its gym did a good job of testing young trainers. While it was hardly difficult, the unprepared would be torn apart by the pokemon the Cerulean normally used. The gym leaders were actually quite competent when they deigned to actually battle. They had to be if they wanted to keep their positions. The League wouldn't let just anyone protect and essentially rule a large part of Kanto.

While his last battle there hadn't been particularly difficult, perhaps he could get them to use one of their real pokemon, the ones they would bring to a serious battle. Ash had heard that they had a few incredibly powerful pokemon there, each exceptional.

Still, he had to focus as he entered the Pokemon Center at about three o' clock. He just wanted to get in and out. Neither he nor his friends were tired enough from the journey to need to wait to battle.

"How can I help you?" The attendant chirped. She had a bright smile on her pretty face as she greeted him. Sneasel purred contentedly as she waved at him. There were several teenage trainers staring at her from the TV area, Ash noticed.

"I just need a room." Ash told her. The attendant nodded and gave him a key to one of the second story rooms.

"Have a good stay!"

Ash nodded his thanks before walking out of the Center. He pocketed the card. A few other trainers watched him curiously, locked onto Sneasel. They were probably confused as to why anyone would allow such a notoriously vicious pokemon to have its claws anywhere near their throat. Sneasel were involved in quite a few "training accidents".

He just glanced at them before he left the Pokemon Center. Maybe he'd get a battle out of a few of them later. Nidoking needed a challenge. His first friend definitely wouldn't be battling in the Cerulean gym.

But before he stepped out, he saw what was on the TV screen. It was the news.

"…the storm that passed through Saffron City a month ago has centered in the north east of Kanto." A female anchor droned. "It has remained strong and engulfs an area of ten miles in heavy rain and lightning. Experts report that the storm is growing and are baffled at this turn of events. The League has been silent on the matter."

Someone clicked to the next station.

"And the death toll continues to rise as the League raids on Team Rocket grow more frequent." A tall, stocky man said grimly. "We have word that League casualties have risen to nearly a hundred over the past few weeks, ever since the incident in Viridian City. Officials have claimed Team Rocket is being driven back, but this reporter has to ask: Just how long before the Rockets strike back?"

Ash scowled and clenched his fists. Sneasel hissed curiously at him, but Ash just walked out the door. He didn't want to hear about that. It was a good thing that he'd been out in the wilderness for so long. The grim realities of the war in the shadows with Team Rocket were quickly appearing.

But he had to wonder the same thing as the newscaster. How long would it be until the Rockets unleashed the Creature again?

XX

"Welcome to the Cerulean City gym!" The girl at the front desk said brightly when Ash stepped up. It wasn't quite as busy as the last time he was here, but there were still quite a few challengers ahead of him. She looked up and cocked her head quizzically. "Hey, have we met? You seem familiar."

"I've been here before." Ash noted. "It's been a few months, though. I think it was back in May."

The girl nodded. "I guess that's it. Anyway, are you here for a gym battle or are you wanting a ticket to one of the shows?"

"I'm here for the gym." Ash replied quickly. He didn't care to watch people swim, not when he could be making progress on his journey.

"Name and badge number, please." She requested. It was something he hadn't expected to run into. Most of the primary gyms either went all out like Surge, Koga, Sabrina, Blaine, and Giovanni, or just adjusted for the kind of trainer that usually went to the gym like Brock, Erika, and the Sisters.

Ash adjusted his hat. "Ash Ketchum, eight badges."

The girl's head snapped up. Her eyes were wide with surprise. "Really? But this has to be your first year."

"Yes." He said with a shrug. "I just focused."

She rolled her eyes. "Alright, I've sent it in. You'll be called in soon. But I've got to ask something. What are you doing here if you've already got your badges? The Cerulean gym isn't the hardest."

"I'm doing another loop." He explained before a small smile crossed his face. "Besides, Daisy wanted me to come back when I'd gotten stronger."

The receptionist nodded. "Got it. You'll get called up in a few minutes."

Ash dipped his head and took a seat. There were only a few other trainers hanging around. Most trainers had already gotten the Cascade Badge by this point, so only the stragglers remained. In about five minutes, a bit after the trainer before him had been called up, a familiar voice broke the monotony of the situation.

"Ash Ketchum, you're up!" Misty called out. Ash stood up and glanced curiously at the girl. She looked just like she had a few months ago, although much cleaner. Being in a city instead of on the road could do that.

Her blue eyes widened when she saw him walk up. Sneasel bared his fangs at her in greeting, although she just ignored him. "I knew your name sounded familiar! How's it going?"

Misty seemed much friendlier than she had last time. Ash just did his best to ignore his surprise. "Pretty good. I thought you were travelling, though. How are you?"

"Good. I just got tired of being on the road. All I'd wanted to do was see Kanto for myself, and I went to every city. I got back about a month ago. My sisters are annoying, but it's nice to be home." Misty said as she led him out to the massive swimming pool. She glanced back at him guiltily. "Sorry about the last time we battled. I was being a brat."

"It's fine." He said uneasily. That wasn't a part of his journey he liked to recall. "If I remember it right, I wasn't nice either. That was right after a pretty bad event. I still hadn't gotten over it."

She nodded, but before the surprisingly friendly girl could inquire more, Ash noticed the Sensational Sisters standing in front of the challenger's box. They were chatting about something, but lit up when they saw Ash.

Ash blinked when he found himself being hugged by the Sensational Sisters. That…wasn't the greeting he had expected.

"Thank you so much!" One of them gushed. Ash couldn't remember her name. Was it Violet? "Karen told us what you did back in Viridian! That was, like, totally awesome. You saved Lance and did all of the girls in Indigo a favor!"

He blinked again. Ash sent a desperate glance to Misty. While he wasn't particularly averse to being touched, he didn't like his personal space to be invaded. He'd gotten better about it ever since Tangrowth joined the team, but the point still stood. She just looked at him with wide eyes.

Ash had to admit that he was surprised that Karen had told them. The caustic teenager didn't seem the type to talk much with the bubbly, air-headed Sisters. He halfway suspected that she'd told them just on the off chance that he went to the Cerulean gym again. Karen was the type to mess with him like this.

"Oh, sorry. You probably came here for something else, didn't you?" Daisy apologized. He remembered her more vividly than the others. They let him go. While he wasn't exactly able to breathe during the hug, it wasn't nearly as crushing as that of his mother's.

"I just wanted a battle." He explained as he brushed himself off and readjusted his jacket and hat. The Sisters sighed in disappointment.

"Fine." The last one, Lily, he thought, said despondently. "You got the runt last time, right?"

Ash nodded, but he sent an apologetic glance at Misty. He didn't want to ruin whatever friendly connection they had at the moment. She just crossed her arms and rolled her eyes. Misty seemed used to the teasing.

"Well, let's go then! Don't worry, we'll give you a good fight. One on one." Daisy exclaimed. The Sisters laughed as one. Ash cocked an eyebrow as they ran off to the other side of the pool. That was unexpected.

"I hope you've got an electric-type." Misty muttered to him before she went off to work as the referee. "Daisy looks serious about this one. She only gets like this if she thinks a battle will be really good.

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