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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74. The Arrival Part 1

"So that's Mossdeep," Ash mused as he leaned up against the railing of the Seagallop Ferry, Sneasel hugging his legs close. He stared out at the vaguely green shape of the large island with a thoughtful frown. The two mountains veiled in clouds that jutted out from it that held a few metallic buildings grabbed his attention for a moment but not for long.

"Aye," Captain Donald confirmed. "It's a nice little island. Good people, strong traditions."

Ash nodded and straightened up so he could shrug off his light jacket. Even the thin layer of fabric was uncomfortable in the sweltering heat of Hoenn's northernmost island territory. It had become hot in Kanto since it was entering the summer months, but this was just ridiculous.

Sneasel was feeling the heat too — his thick black fur was meant for the frigid mountainous climates of Johto and Sinnoh, not the tropics of Hoenn. He was panting and rubbing his paws — the only parts of his body that had many sweat glands — up against the railing and occasionally blew out a frigid blast of air that Ash appreciated almost as much as the dark-type did.

"You'll get used to the heat soon enough!" The Captain laughed as he started to meander back to his station. "This is gentle, boy. Just wait until August!"

Ash grimaced and wiped his slick face. He'd never been to Sinnoh, but it was seemed a lot more appealing than this oppressive heat.

It wouldn't have been so bad if it was dry heat, he mused. But it wasn't. Hoenn was more humid than anywhere Ash had been before — even the Sevii Islands hadn't been so bad.

He shut his eyes and let the Song flow through his mind, soothing his annoyance and banishing some of the discomfort that had consumed him. Its tones echoed through his entire being and he opened his eyes only to swear he saw a flash of white in the light green waters of Hoenn.

The Song had been omnipresent in him ever since he'd set foot on the ship and departed into Lugia's domain. He could always hear it in the back of his mind right next to the constant, icy pressure he had come to associate with Mewtwo, but now he could feel the melody caressing his every thought and action.

Lugia's Song was something that felt like it had always been present in him. He'd just been too blind to realize it before Lugia had revealed it to him.

Ash sighed and thanked Sneasel as the ice-type filled the air with billowing swirls of frost.

He wasn't sure how long he'd take to adjust to Hoenn's muggy climate but it couldn't come fast enough. Until that happened he wasn't sure he'd be able to concentrate, much less let Steven hone him into a weapon of the League.

Still, he had to take a moment to chide himself. He was acting like a spoiled brat.

Hoenn was hot. Hoenn was uncomfortable.

But this was where the road of life had taken him and he wouldn't complain.

XX

His first steps on Mossdeep were shaky. He'd been on the Seagallop Ferry for around eight hours as the ship jetted its way down south to Hoenn and the abrupt quieting of the Song discomforted him.

Nevertheless he continued onward and glanced around at the inhabitants of the port. Quite a few spared him a glance too since he had arrived in the section of the port reserved for League personnel and a few stared at him — he supposed that those were the ones who recognized him from the Indigo League.

Ash felt the slightest smile slip onto his face at the recognition. He wouldn't have enjoyed being mobbed by fans like he had after the Final, but people realizing who he was left a good feeling in his chest.

He'd almost say it was a warmth, but he'd rather not add to the heat.

The second thing he noticed was that everyone wore much less clothes than they did back home. Even in the port, a place of work, there was more skin shown than he'd ever seen back in Kanto…in normal areas, at least. Beaches had less.

Ash glanced down at his plain black t-shirt and jeans. He hadn't expected this to leave him overdressed, although he did feel that he'd be losing the jeans soon enough.

Still, he didn't pay much attention. Ash wasn't too interested in looking at burly men and sailors.

Sneasel raced around him and very nearly tripped him a few times in his excitement at exploring a new place, even if he was absolutely miserable in this heat. His nose twitched constantly and Ash actually had to chide him a few times when he tried to tear small parts of crates and bags open with his claws to discover its contents.

He couldn't help but smile, though. Ash was glad Sneasel was enjoying himself. The dark-type had had a brutal month of training and deserved a bit of happiness. Besides, it was nice to see Sneasel turn away from the raging ball of aggression he'd turned into since his most recent spurt of puberty. This curiosity was much more endearing than mean-spirited pranks and thieving.

When he'd finally gotten out of the port he withdrew from the mingling crowds and took a brief respite from the oppressively wet air and hot sun. Sneasel breathed some more freezing air that Ash relished in before it dispersed into nothingness, although he soon forgot about his discomfort as he pulled out his PokeNav and accessed the map of Mossdeep City he'd looked up.

"Store, museum, museum, store, space center, Pokemon Center," Ash read off as he scrolled around the map. He noted several locations he'd be interested in exploring tomorrow or the next day. He didn't plan on immediately leaving Mossdeep after he spoke to the Gym Leaders. "And Gym."

With his new route in mind, Ash headed off through the city and took note of everything around him. He found himself enthralled with the city, which was very similar yet very unlike any city he'd visited before.

He seemed to be in a commercial district at the moment and easily lost himself in the bustling crowds. Everyone was so busy that they had little time to even glance at the obvious foreigner in their midst, although a few workers at the stalls tried to sell him something.

Ash slipped away easily enough, however, and continued to stare at the city. It had a very unique form of architecture that seemed much more traditional than just about anything he'd seen in Kanto with the exception of Fuchsia.

Most buildings were built in an older fashion with simply decorated exteriors, heavily tiled roofs that actually did resemble Fuchsia's ancient styles now that he looked again, and were generally one-story. Only a small handful of stores had more than one level and those that did seemed to be either very old or high-end establishments.

The buildings and houses weren't built for pure functionality or in a hurried rush to match the rate of expansion like Saffron, Vermillion, and Celadon. They weren't built in the ancient, strong styles of Viridian and Pewter meant to convey strength and fortitude.

No, the only buildings of Kanto that even remotely resembled this style of architecture were in Cerulean. They were meant to serve their purpose but also be beautiful and pleasing to behold.

There were some conventional buildings such as skyscrapers he glimpsed between the gaps of buildings but most of the city seemed to have been built with the same style as the commercial district.

Ash found that he rather liked it. The city was airy and wide open with plenty of room for the sun to shine down on…even if that wasn't necessarily a plus in his eyes. There were parks filled with grass and flowers, some perfectly kept and others somewhat untamed and wild for pokemon to inhabit.

And the people seemed a bit more friendly than those he'd observed in Saffron. They actually bothered to acknowledge one another and exchange more than the most cursory of information if they were strangers with a reason to speak.

Mossdeep wasn't necessarily a very large city, but that was all the better in his eyes. Combined with its aesthetics and attitude he found himself regarding it as a place he wouldn't mind spending time.

It was much, much better than Saffron, at any rate.

Then again, just about anywhere was. Ash would rather spend the rest of his life in Celadon with Erika rather than the soulless steel towers of Saffron even if the company would be better with Sabrina.

So he wasn't in a rush as he meandered his way through the hot streets of Mossdeep, taking in the sights and breathing in the salty ocean air. The discomfort of the heat had faded somewhat as the minutes passed on despite the fact that it was still noonish.

Ash wasn't about to complain.

Sneasel seemed to be enjoying himself as well, even if Ash forcefully kept him from leaving his side with his tight grip. He'd rather not lose the mischievous and sometimes dangerous dark-type in the streets, even if a pokeball would solve that quite quickly.

After nearly half an hour of lazily strolling past hordes of busy islanders he found himself at the Mossdeep Gym, which was located on the northernmost edge of the city and was in a very different style than the rest of the city's buildings.

Whereas the buildings of the city focused on tiles and sharp edges the Mossdeep Gym looked as though it took inspiration from Sabrina's: it was simple yet elegant with a great, glass-like dome on the top and a large pink and yellow heart with a smooth red gem on the center placed above the door.

"Well, here we are," Ash grinned to Sneasel as the two of them shrugged off whatever minor fatigue they'd acquired over the long and hot walk. "Are you as ready as I am?"

Sneasel flashed his fangs up at Ash and unsheathed his claws with a small hiss Ash had come to know as his friend's laugh. He smiled lightly and stopped to return Sneasel before he started the long walk, sparing just a momentary glance at the great forests just behind the large building.

As he reached the door he felt a gentle presence touch his mind before it flitted away — too fast for him to really catch onto any concrete information about it. The door silently opened before he could try to reach for the handle.

Ash rolled his eyes at the show and stepped into the pristine building that seemed almost sterile. Psychics might pretend to be above it all but he got the feeling that they enjoyed putting on a show as much as any arrogant trainer.

He glanced around the interior. There were a few fountains quietly bubbling and plenty of smooth, modern chairs and seats but absolutely no other living organism in sight. It was as though they'd suddenly vanished — he saw half-done paperwork sitting out on the welcoming desk as well as a sign-in sheet for challengers.

The trainer shrugged it off and strode up to the desk. He reached for the pen only for it to levitate up to his hand. Ash rolled his eyes again until he looked at the sheet, which caused him to jerk in surprise.

There, right under several other names — he supposed there weren't more visitors since most trainers would be at or in the Ever Grande Conference, which had only just begun — was Ash Ketchum, 12:47, and his Trainer ID number.

"Psychics…" he muttered to himself fondly before he put the pen down and crossed his arms as he waited for someone to greet him. Ash couldn't say he was surprised that it was almost completely vacated since lesser human psychics tended to have a somewhat adverse reaction to him, especially now that he'd more directly interacted with Legendaries and renewed his Brands.

As it was he reviewed what he knew of the Gym Leader — Leaders, he corrected himself — of Mossdeep. They were a bit of an odd case. While it wasn't at all unheard of for multiple individuals to share the power and responsibility of a Gym Leader position the Mossdeep Gym Leaders were unique in that they always fought together, each controlling their own pokemon.

It was a style of battle that intrigued Ash, he had to admit. He'd used multiple pokemon before, such as in the battle against Pierce, but never in a controlled setting. Battles involving multiple pokemon on either side weren't something he had a lot of practice in. The only time he'd ever used more than one of his friends at once were in life-and-death situations where he didn't actually give many orders.

So he was intrigued. Ash wouldn't use any of his most powerful teammates like Infernus or Torrent, of course. He knew that the Mossdeep Gym Leaders were very young, around seven if he remembered correctly. It wouldn't be fair to bring that kind of power to bear against them, no matter how skilled they'd become.

They likely didn't actually take part in actual Gym Leader duties yet, he reflected. He figured they were just being groomed for the full station and had reached the point where they could battle with the gym's pokemon.

Ash held back a grimace at the thought of children that young bearing the full weight of a Leader's responsibility. Even the things he'd been involved with had been trying, to say the least, and he'd remained relatively sheltered from most criminal acts. He'd grown to the point where it was best to only call him in for very special instances such as Zapdos' Storm or the assault on the Viridian Gym.

But a Gym Leader was responsible for all the crime in their city. When there was an important raid they were expected to be there. When there was something horrible going on they were expected to stop it.

"You should cheer up!" A young boy's voice piped up from behind him. Ash took a moment to compose himself before he turned to see a pair of children standing behind him with bright smiles on their small faces. "You're making the gym quiet."

"Sorry," Ash said shortly, although he did his best to project friendliness. It was…ineffective, judging from the amused looks on the twins' faces.

"You don't have to fake for us, silly!" The girl giggled. She raised her hand and pretended to poke at him, although Ash had to admit he was moderately surprised when he felt a finger-like pressure tap him on the forehead. "We think what you think. And you think a lot!"

Ash snorted at that, much to the twins' amusement. He took a moment to take them in.

At first glance they were almost identical. They were young enough to have the same slim figure and even that was obscured by the airy silken clothes they wore that had a red Hoenn League symbol embroidered on. Each wore the same old-fashioned silken slips for shoes and shared matching hairpins that kept their inky hair tied up.

But when he looked closer there were differences. The boy — Tate, he knew — had shorter hair and softer features that just barely differed from his sister's sharper lines. He had an air of meekness about him, a quiet serenity that would hold even in the midst of a storm.

Liza held more of an energy to her. It was subtle, but her eyes shone with a fierce eagerness that her brother lacked.

He found himself distracted by Tate staring up at him with bright black eyes that were almost disturbingly aware.

"You're very bright," the boy whispered to him as they made eye contact. "I could see you before you even set foot on our island. Like Fire. And Lightning. But you're cold like Ice."

Ash found himself nodding down at the boy, lost within himself as memories of the Birds rushed through the forefront of his mind like an endless torrent. Fire, Ice, and Lightning raged — the Feather grew hot and the part that had been invaded by Zapdos sent unfamiliar tingles throughout his body as a gentle current emanated from it.

"Wow," Tate breathed and reached for the light on Ash's chest. He gently caught his small hand before he could touch the Feather, fearful of what its influence would do to the young psychic. "It's so pretty!"

"Lady Sabrina said not to touch him!" Liza cried out and rushed over to her brother. "Why won't you just listen?"

Tate shook his head at his sister, his inky black eyes burning with just a hint of a blue glow. "He won't hurt us."

"But what I carry within me might," Ash said gravely and knelt in front of the small boy so that they were on equal footing. "Listen to Sabrina. She knows what she's talking about."

Liza nodded, although both she and Tate seemed to have become entranced by a spot on his chest just next to where the Feather laid sealed to him. Ash froze as tiny fingers laced with just the slightest bit of psychic power traced over his heart.

Sharp scenes flashed through his mind and he was lost — memories he thought lost appeared to him clear as day.

His body stared at Mew as his basest being was assimilated into Mewtwo's infinity to be destroyed. The tiny Legendary was exhausted, broken by Mewtwo's terrible power.

Mew's eyes flashed pink — he saw a lance of vibrant light, a flash of pain, and —

He breathed sharply as phantom pain ghosted its way through his chest. His hand clutched to his heart and was held over the hands of the two children who stared at him with an unblinking gaze.

"You were hurt here," they echoed in unison. Ash nodded, drained of all feeling. "But you're better now. Brighter."

Ash nodded again and let his hand fall limply from his chest.

The twins' hands fell away soon after. He breathed again as the ghostly pain in his heart stabbed deeply and twisted one last time before it vanished for good.

"Sorry," Liza said shyly as she stared determinedly at Ash's shoes. "Daddy told us not to do that, but —"

"We couldn't help it," Tate finished seamlessly. His eyes were ink again. "You're just so bright! Even Lady Sabrina couldn't tell us what it was like and she's the coolest and smartest and prettiest person on the planet!"

"But you aren't far behind!" Liza beamed at him. "We watched you battle and you were really awesome!"

A genuine smile worked its way onto his smile as he regarded the twins. "Thank you. I appreciate that. Sabrina's a hard woman to keep up with."

The twins nodded vigorously before Tate's eyes widened — Ash hid a snort at that. Tate's inky eyes had grown so big they pretty much filled his whole face. If his mother were here she probably couldn't have stopped herself from wrapping the small boy up in a hug.

"She sounds really nice!" Liza chirped as Tate presented him with a card key. "Oh, she is nice! Just as nice as Roxy!"

"Mr. Steven told us to give these to you," Tate said solemnly. "Our Daddy was supposed to give them but he's at the Conference with our Mom. So we got to do it!"

"Well, thank you," Ash grinned as he pocketed the keys. "Why aren't you there?"

Tate and Liza shrugged as one. "Sabrina told us you'd be here and we wanted to meet you!"

Another smile tugged at his lips. "So you're all alone here?"

"Of course not! We have each other," Liza beamed. She paused for a moment. "And Solrock."

"Don't forget about Lunatone," Tate added. He looked at Ash and whispered, "They're really strong. Our Daddy gave them to us when they were little too."

"So you've been training for a while?" Ash cocked his head curiously, interested in the idea of such young Gym Leaders.

They nodded as one. "Yep!"

Ash smiled at the twins. "In that case, you want to give battling me a go? My friends could use a workout if you're interested."

"But you're Ash Ketchum," Tate mumbled as he stared at him soulfully. "My eyes can't see us beating you. You're way too awesome for that!"

"Sometimes you'll go up against opponents too strong for you to beat," Ash said after a short silence. "Just think of it as practice. If you go up against people that aren't a challenge how are you going to get stronger?"

Tate nodded hesitantly but his inky eyes averted as he kicked lightly at the smooth tile of the gym. Liza, however, grinned as her black eyes flared to life with psychic power and she gripped Tate's hand in her own.

"Let's do it, baby brother!" She egged on. "Who knows when we'll get to see him again? And you know Lady Sabrina won't tell us even if we ask."

"Okay," Tate relented before his soft features schooled themselves into a spectacularly unintimidating scowl. "And I'm not your baby brother! We're twins!"

Liza just stuck her tongue out at him and gripped his hand tighter. She smiled up at Ash with glowing eyes and offered him her remaining hand, which he took after a moment of deliberation.

"And here we go!" She chirped before they seamlessly warped through space and appeared in an elaborate stadium reminiscent of Sabrina's. Aside from the bare battlefield there were delicate metallic spires that twisted and turned in a way that appeared both natural and unnatural all at once guarding the sides, projecting the invisible walls he knew were there.

"And there you go," Tate murmured to himself before Ash found himself in the trainer's box on the opposite side of the battlefield. An instant later the twins seamlessly warped back to their own place, whatever fatigue they incurred nothing in the face of the excitement that had bled through their bond.

Ash withheld a smirk as he realized that their teleportation was far smoother than Will's. He might have to mention that the next time he saw Sabrina's apprentice.

"We're going to have a double battle!" Liza's voice projected as though she were standing right next to him. Tate spoke up next. "Two-on-two, the winner is declared when their opponent's pokemon have been defeated."

A moment passed by in silence.

"I did that right, didn't I?" Tate asked from beside him, even if his body was still several hundred feet away. Ash's mind flickered back to his former challenges. "Thank you!"

The twins' eyes flashed blue as they released their pokemon, a Lunatone for Liza and Solrock for Tate. Ash took note that both of their eyes were glowing too — Tate and Liza had established a psychic link with their teammates.

He was impressed. Psychic links were advanced material. Dazed could only just form the beginnings of one with Ash, and even then a moment's distraction would easily shatter it.

"It was really hard, but we did it!" Liza giggled. Solrock rumbled affectionately, even if its rocky exterior failed to betray any emotion. Lunatone just stared blankly at Ash. "I hope you're ready for everything else we can do."

"I hope so too," Ash grinned as he released Oz and Sneasel. Both were some of the weakest members of the team at the moment and could use the practice. Plus he felt that Sneasel needed to learn how to work with others. He'd gotten stronger but any real threat would brush him aside without a moment's hesitation. "Sneasel, Oz: this is a double battle. You need to work together."

Oz nodded and windmilled her arms to start creating her electricity while Sneasel just nodded and hissed at the twin rock-types ahead of him with his claws unsheathed. Frost coalesced around the sharp bones as electricity sparked from Oz's large fists.

Ash took just the briefest moment to review what he knew of the pokemon in front of him, very glad that he'd spent countless hours reviewing the National Pokedex upgrade that Professor Oak had given him.

Both were mysterious pokemon and tied to each other. Lunatone's eyes could channel psychic power to mentally affect a pokemon's mind and either take control of its body or put it to sleep. But he had no fear of that. Sneasel would be immune to the psychic power thanks to the alien energy coursing through his body and Oz's will with his dark-type techniques. strong enough to resist the mental attack.

Solrock drew its power from solar energy, so he wouldn't have to worry about it too much indoors. He was sure it was still a threat but it wouldn't be at its most powerful. As it was he knew that it could read minds, which would only be effective against Oz.

One thing he was wary of was the two mysterious pokemon working together to overwhelm Oz. She was the more immediate threat, especially since her powerful blasts of electricity would be excellent distractions for the swift, nimble Sneasel to dive inside of their guard and cause chaos for the twin psychics with his dark-type techniques that would neutralize their mental powers and levitation.

He also knew that Double Team, which would normally be quite helpful against two opponents, was useless. The psychics would be able to pick out the real Oz in a heartbeat thanks to their ability to sense her mind.

So he'd have to be aggressive. He doubted that either Lunatone or Solrock could match his friends on an individual level, but the advantage that their well-honed teamwork would give them could not be underestimated, especially if they were receiving direct input from their trainers.

Those were his immediate observations. He'd have to wait before he could determine anything else.

"Let's start," Tate whispered into his ear. The twins gave him a few seconds to gather his bearings before they began their attack.

Solrock and Lunatone moved in perfect unity born of months and months of training together. It was Solrock that advanced and used its powers to spin itself rapidly, heating up the air around it to extremely hot temperatures and creating a blinding light that left Sneasel hissing in agony. Oz, more used to that sort of intensity, just snarled and hurled a Thunderbolt at Solrock only for a shield from Lunatone to absorb it, although the barrier nearly shattered under the attack.

"Sneasel, focus!" Ash ordered as Oz was suddenly pummeled with a wave of psychic force and then locked into a prison of glowing blue energy, although from the constant jerks of movement it was just barely enough to hold her. "Ice Beam!"

The dark-type yowled furiously as his ears twitched, locating the two psychics with sound rather than sight. An instant later several arcs of jagged icy energy erupted from his fierce maw and slammed into Solrock, who spun into position between the Ice Beam and Lunatone in order to spare its ally the damage.

Solrock emerged relatively unscathed, although the heat that suffused the area was almost gone and the psychic had yet to start spinning again. It just groaned as Sneasel repeated the attack, although Lunatone raised a barrier just in time to save Solrock a second hit.

"Lightning Bolt!" He ordered as Solrock concentrated for a few seconds before releasing a massive Solar Beam straight at Sneasel, although the beam just barely clipped the dark-type as he lunged out of the way with Quick Attack.

Lunatone just barely erected yet another shield to cover both it and Solrock before Oz's body flared with electricity that coiled into one of her raised fists before she blasted it all into an arcing spear of bright white light.

Ash grinned as Sneasel actually took the initiative and blurred towards the stunned psychics with claws wreathed in shadow — Lunatone's shield had broken under the immense power of Lightning Bolt, although neither looked too badly harmed. Just surprised.

Still, that was enough for Sneasel to leap at Lunatone with his Shadow Claw at the ready to sever the psychic's abilities and give Oz time to recover.

Sneasel hissed as Solrock suddenly intercepted him by spinning into the dark-type's fragile body, which sent Sneasel crashing to the ground in a cloud of dust. Solrock groaned and took advantage of the situation by hurling dozens of small, sharp stones into the surprised Sneasel.

He winced as Sneasel tried to blur away only to be struck with several of the shards. Sneasel wasn't out, but he was in a bad position as Solrock tried to finish him with several more Stone Edge attacks. Only a few of the flurries of sharp rocks managed to hit him but the damage was adding up and Sneasel was slowing down.

"Oz, get in there!" Ash called out. Sneasel was in a bad situation and Oz had only just recovered enough stamina to actually fight. Lightning Bolt still took a lot out of her, which was probably a weakness that could only be rectified by her evolution into the vastly more powerful Electivire. "Put pressure on Lunatone."

Oz growled and shot forward with Quick Attack a moment later, although she snarled in annoyance when her assault was stopped inches away from Lunatone by a psychic barrier. She fired off several blasts of lightning to try and penetrate the barrier and cripple Lunatone but Solrock spun into her a moment later, knocking her to the ground with the force behind the blow.

Just as the psychics were about to capitalize on their advantage Sneasel shot forward in a black blur with his claws wreathed in warping shadow and carved into Solrock's mineral hide the best he could. The physical damage was negligible but Solrock rumbled piteously as its power failed it and its orange-and-yellow body collapsed helplessly to the earth.

Ash grinned at the display of teamwork from Sneasel and glanced at Lunatone. It was as unfazed as ever, although it had beat a hasty retreat when it realized that its physical protector was momentarily useless.

"Finish Solrock," Ash said as he watched Lunatone. "Oz, keep Lunatone on edge."

Oz whirred and rushed at the psychic, who managed to levitate just a bit above her lightning-encased fist and knock her back with a blast of telekinetic force, although the Electabuzz was on it again in a second.

Sneasel took a moment to fire a supportive Ice Beam at Lunatone, which distracted it just long enough for Oz to connect with a solid blow that sent the psychic spinning back even through its hastily raised barriers.

When the dark-type turned to knock out the helpless Solrock Ash had only a moment to warn him before he was bowled over by the psychic's large body, which was suffused in blue energy which held it aloft. Sneasel whimpered as he laid there, stunned, until he recovered long enough to get up and find the new battle.

Oz had heard Ash's warning, thankfully, and she'd managed to dodge the Solrock as Lunatone carried it with its own psychic powers to turn it into a very powerful projectile. Solrock was left casually spinning to gain speed, not bothered in the least at being turned into a living wrecking ball.

By the time Sneasel had stumbled back over to the battle Oz was on the defensive. She did her best to keep Lunatone on edge, but that was rather difficult when Solrock was hurled at her every few seconds only to be pulled back to attack her from the rear. Her body was pushed to its limits — they had trained with Lightning Bolt but she'd put a bit more power into it than usual in order to try and finish the battle decisively.

"Ice Beam!" He ordered calmly. Sneasel hissed and quickly followed Ash's command to fire the jagged arcs of cold which Lunatone's shields shattered under.

He smiled. Lunatone and Solrock had great teamwork that made them very formidable opponents, but individually they were still limited. Without Solrock to guard it Lunatone had been forced into using its shields more and more frequently, which sapped its strength. Levitating Solrock was a very effective strategy, but Lunatone just didn't have the power to maintain it for long.

It had been spread too thin.

Sneasel yowled and ducked under Solrock as Lunatone pulled its teammate towards it, just barely able to dodge the living weapon. He panted and had to dive out of the way once more, but Oz covered him with a Thunderbolt that finally shattered Lunatone's shields and stunned the psychic.

Solrock collapsed to the ground now that Lunatone's focus had broken but had managed to recover enough energy to send itself spinning towards Oz, who snarled and smashed a fist covered in electricity into the creature.

The Solrock groaned one last time before it collapsed. Tate returned it an instant later.

Just as Sneasel leapt at the crippled Lunatone with rage in his eyes his prey disappeared in a flash of light, leaving his claws to cut nothing but air. He hissed but sheathed his claws before he curled up to lick at his wounds.

Ash didn't pay Sneasel mind, although he approved of the relatively mature reaction. A few weeks before Sneasel would have been furious at the loss of his target and stewed over it for days.

Oz just sat down. She was breathing hard but hadn't actually taken any real hits. Mostly she was just tired from Lightning Bolt and the constant blasts of electricity she'd kept up almost the entire match, short as it was.

He went ahead and returned them. They could use the time in stasis to recover and he'd be letting them out soon enough anyway…well, maybe not Sneasel. Ash wasn't sure he wanted to risk letting the thieving dark-type out in Steven's house.

"That was awesome!" Liza cheered beside him. Ash blinked and realized that they'd teleported beside him in the instant he'd been glancing over to his friends. "Aren't you glad we battled, little brother?"

"We're twins," Tate's face scrunched up in annoyance. "But yes. That was fun! What'd you think?"

Ash grinned down at the twins. "I thought it was fun too. You two are strong. I never saw Solrock coming."

"We've been practicing that for weeks," Liza bragged before her face fell. "But Lunatone can't keep it up for long. She tires out really quickly."

"Just keep at it," Ash advised. "If you keep battling strong trainers Lunatone will catch up in no time. When you really come into your own I bet even I won't want to battle you — your teamwork is great."

"We know," they echoed. "We're best friends now!"

Ash smiled at that. "That's the way to do it. If you'll do anything for your team — your family — then they'll do anything for you."

"We know," Tate repeated solemnly. He reached up to tap the spot over Ash's heart, ignoring the Feather that crackled and burned at the proximity of his psychic energy. A stabbing pain twisted through his chest and he held back a gasp. "We see it in all of our aunts and uncles. Mr. Steven, Uncle Wallace. Phoebe and Sidney and Mrs. Glacia and Drake. But in you our eyes show us the truth."

"Tate, you're doing it again," Liza pinched her brother, who looked at her with annoyance. "You know Mom doesn't like it when we do that!"

"Mom's not here," Tate grumbled and pointed at Ash. "He is."

Liza pouted. "But what if she comes back from the Conference early today?"

"She won't," Tate whispered. "Her path does not lead here. It lies in Ever Grande, watching the challengers with eyes that pierce the veil and see the light. If she were here with us she would be blinded."

"Now you're doing it on purpose!"

Tate didn't deny it and just smiled softly. His inky eyes crinkled up with laughter that just barely remained hidden.

Ash had to hide his own grin. For whatever reason he felt very comfortable with these two — they pulled him in like nobody had in a long while. They could understand him like no other than his family and Sabrina, who probably knew his mind better than he did.

As he opened his mouth to speak, Liza looked up at him.

"Oh, you want to know where Steven's house is?"

He nodded and rolled his eyes. Ash really should have expected that.

"Hold tight!" Liza giggled as she held hands with Tate and grabbed Ash's. The twins' eyes flared blue and they were outside a surprisingly modest house for somebody with Steven's capital and influence. Then again, he shouldn't have been surprised. The former Champion didn't seem the type to have a mansion with marble pillars plated with gold. "Here we are."

"Thanks," Ash grinned at the two as they stood before the simple home. It matched the rest of the houses perfectly with its solid walls and tiled roof. "Do you come here often?"

"No," Tate frowned. "Mr. Steven's not here very often. But he always invites us when he stops by. All of his stuff is so cool!"

"I'd imagine," Ash commented with a light grin. "He's seen a lot, I bet."

"Yeah!" Liza cheered as Ash slid in the card key and opened the door to reveal the simple living room. It looked like it had just been cleaned and not a single item was out of place. There were several couches and recliners situated around a small fireplace but most of the walls were dominated with hundreds upon hundreds of rare stones.

"Wow," he breathed as he looked upon the collection. Some were mere gems: rough and uncut sapphires, rubies, and emeralds. Others were cut expertly and looked like they could be the crown jewel in some ancient king's treasure hoard. There were diamonds, topaz, opals…if there was a gem, it was there. "It's incredible."

But then there were the true treasures, at least to him. Rows and rows of Fire, Water, Leaf, Thunder, and Moon Stones. There were rarer stones as well: Sun Stones, Dawn Stones, Dusk Stones, and even an odd stone he didn't recognize that shone with an incredibly dazzling light. He even saw the odd Everstone, although very few featured prominently.

He looked at it in awe and almost completely ignored the sections devoted to more common samples of stone. Ash suspected that Steven probably valued the mundane stones as much as the rest, even if they weren't as flashy or valuable as the evolutionary stones or gems. If he didn't they wouldn't have a place here.

"Isn't it cool?" Tate asked as he stood before the Moon Stones. His eyes flared with psychic power as he stared at them. Ash felt his body heat and tingle as his eyes swept over the Fire and Thunder Stones.

"Wow, you're even brighter than before…" Liza murmured as she stared at his chest where the Feather burned. She held both a Fire and Thunder Stone in her tiny hands, which she interestedly held up close to his chest.

Curious as she was, he didn't bother to stop her. He froze when he felt Lightning rush through his body and flood into the Thunder Stone, which shook as the "bolt" inside of it seemed to tremble and grow.

Ash just barely managed to bat the Stone out of the little girl's hands before it exploded into hundreds of tiny shards and massive eruptions of lightning that was just barely contained by a psychic sphere formed by Tate and Liza before it could damage any of Steven's priceless collection.

He blinked and looked at the shards littering the floor. Small arcs of electricity jumped between the pale green-yellow stones, although they slowly began to die down.

"I guess I won't be using any Thunder Stones for a while," Ash muttered to himself as he stared at the wreckage. Liza very quickly pulled the Fire Stone away and put it back on the shelf. "And I suppose I owe Steven a few thousand dollars."

Tate and Liza just stared at him as they silently pulled the fragments of the Thunder Stone into a pile, which then disappeared into nothingness. Ash wasn't sure where they sent it and he wasn't sure he wanted to.

"So…is anyone else hungry?" Ash plastered a forced smile onto his face.

"You don't have to fake for us," Liza giggled, finally losing her shock. "That was really cool! Do you have any Stones? I want to see it happen again!"

"You should have seen it," Tate scrunched his face up in a smile to the point that his inky eyes were hidden. "It was so bright! My eyes couldn't even see what happened."

Ash nodded and let the tension drain from his shoulders. It was hard to say just how relieved he was that the twins weren't very disturbed — he barely knew how to react to the odd happening himself.

"But we know a really good place to go eat," Liza cut in and came to his rescue. Ash sent her a grateful look and left his pack on one of the sofas. He'd return for it later. "Take my hand!"

He took it.

XX

Ash took a sip of his water as he stared out at the glittering sea of deep green. Tate and Liza had taken him here after they teleported to a small stall they seemed to frequent quite often if the familiar greetings they exchanged with the aging cook and his young daughter, who'd stared at Ash in an unnervingly intense manner before her father had sent her off to fix their food.

So here they were, eating ramen and rice balls while sitting silently on the beach.

It was nice, he decided.

"I think so too," Tate murmured as his food lazily levitated itself up into his mouth. "Mossdeep is quiet this time of year. I like it."

"Stop being such a show off," Liza complained. Her eyes flashed and the noodles feeding themselves to Tate collapsed back into the small bowl they'd left the shop with. "And it's so boring right now! We haven't gotten to battle anyone in forever!"

"Forever?" Ash raised an eyebrow. "My memory must be off, then."

Liza pouted at him. "You know what I meant!"

Ash smiled.

With that Tate cut in with some incendiary comment — "That's not true!" — and Ash lost himself in the waves.

The sea had lost what terror it held over him. It had been a long time since he was truly afraid of the ocean, but now he almost embraced it. The Song was stronger here in the meeting place of land and water and if he closed his eyes he could almost feel himself with the Flute between his fingers.

"That's a pretty Song," Liza commented. Ash's eyes flashed open and he stared at the girl. "What?"

"You can hear it?" He asked in disbelief. "How?"

Tate looked at him blankly. "You."

Ash opened his mouth, thought better of it, and shook his head. He honestly didn't know what else he'd expected.

"I don't either," Liza confided in him. Tate stared, although Ash idly noted that the boy had begun to levitate food into his mouth again. "Tate!"

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