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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13. The Caverns Part 1

Ash casually leaned over the side of the ship, staring at the deep blue waves. They'd been travelling for two long days and he had gradually gotten more comfortable on the ship. A small storm had rocked the boat for most of the first day, but after that the ocean had been mostly peaceful.

While being on the boat didn't make his fists clench or his teeth grit anymore, he still couldn't wait to get off of it. Aside from being quite dull, he just wasn't comfortable around the ocean. Too many bad memories.

He sighed and pulled himself up, barely noticing how cold the steel bar was. The boredom was the worst part of this trip. Most of the passengers kept to themselves, and he could only talk to the small crew so many times before they had to go off and work.

Captain Stewart talked to him more than any of the others, and Ash found that he quite liked the old sailor. The Captain had apparently been quite the powerful trainer at one point, although he never challenged any of the Leagues. He still had a gyarados and a few other pokemon that he wouldn't say anything about to prove it.

Still, the Captain had been busy for the last few hours. Ash looked down at Nidorino, who was anxiously pacing around him. His friend still hated the ocean with a fierce passion and rarely accompanied Ash to the deck. But he was acting more stressed and nervous than usual right now.

"It's alright." He said soothingly, crouching down to his friend's level. Nidorino just looked up at him with wild eyes before beginning to pace again. "We're safe."

Nidorino grunted softly and shook his purple head. Ash sighed and patted his friend again. "Do you want to go back into your pokeball? I'll be heading inside soon anyway."

Ash was somewhat surprised when Nidorino shook his head again, but didn't question his friend's decision. He shrugged it off and returned to his former position. Watching the ocean was calming, even if it left his heart pounding and his face pale if the waves grew too strong.

He watched the ocean. The sun was hidden behind a thick layer of clouds, so everything appeared gray and dull. It matched the temperature perfectly.

Then he noticed something. Something far away was moving, but he could barely see it. Still, from the distance he could see it from it had to be quite large. Ash felt a sinking sensation in stomach as it slowly drew nearer, but didn't do anything yet. He didn't want to cause any alarm if he couldn't actually tell what it was.

Ash thought about releasing Plume to go and check it out, but eventually thought better of it. There were too many things that might try to attack her. Plume would be more than capable of defending herself, but he didn't have access to anything that could help her if she got injured.

So he waited for another two minutes, eyes locked on the approaching creature. It finally grew near enough that he could make out massive, looping coils and a large, open mouth. That's when Ash's blood froze.

"Gyarados!" He shouted. Everyone had to be warned. Ash knew that none of his pokemon had the firepower to stop a gyarados. Nidorino had thunderbolt, but that alone wouldn't stop one of the great sea serpents.

Panic ensued the moment he spoke the dreaded word. Two burly sailors quickly ran over to him, dropping their previous tasks the moment they heard him.

"Where?" One grunted, his hand on a pokeball. He remembered that the sailor's name was Briant. Ash pointed at the looping coils of muscle and scale that were quickly drawing closer. Both sailors grew pale. "Damn it! Astley, go get the Captain. We don't have the power for this."

The shorter of the two nodded and ran off. Ash glanced down at Nidorino before turning to the sailor. Nidorino was shaking a bit, but his eyes were hard and ready for battle.

"What do we do?" He asked. The huge man looked down at Ash with worried eyes.

"You have any electric-types?" He asked. Ash noticed that his hands were shaking a bit as the man gripped onto the iron bars.

Ash shook his head. "Nidorino knows thunderbolt, though."

Briant gave a tight nod. "Good. Get ready to use it. The Captain can drive it off, but he might need a distraction. Go to the middle of the deck. It's not safe to be on the edge."

He nodded and followed Briant's instructions. Ash noticed that his entire body was shaking a bit in both fear and anticipation of the coming battle. While he doubted that he would contribute very much to this fight – Captain Stewart's gyarados and whatever other pokemon the older man had would be the main players – this would be the first time that he fought a gyarados.

Soon enough, Captain Stewart ran out of the cabins and onto the deck. He was surprisingly swift for his age, and had a hard look that was unfamiliar to Ash. Stewart had two pokeballs in his hands and quickly spotted the gyarados that was making its way towards them. It would reach the boat very soon.

"Everybody that isn't a trainer get inside!" The old man roared, his voice easily overriding the strong winds that had suddenly begun to form. He looked over at Ash. "You! Do you have any electric-types?"

Ash shook his head. "Nidorino knows thunderbolt."

"Good!" Stewart shouted, a wide grin suddenly forming on his aged face. "Use it the second it gets close enough. I'm gonna lay a surprise for this beastie!"

"You heard him, buddy." Ash muttered to Nidorino. Nidorino resolutely nodded and tensed, more than ready for the fight to come. The trainer just watched the gyarados get closer and closer. Soon it was near enough that he could discern its features.

A few seconds later, it was in range. Nidorino tensed and briefly became surrounded by a massive aura of arcing electricity. It then focused onto his horn before blasting through the air towards the ominously advancing gyarados, who had just begun to rear its massive head back in preparation for the attack.

The massive bolt of electricity struck the gyarados in the massive plates that armored its underside. Gyarados roared in pain as electricity coursed through its body, but its sheer power managed to resist the bulk of the attack. It then ducked underneath the water in order to avoid any more such attacks.

Ash fought down the burst of adrenaline that flooded his veins and grinned over at Nidorino. "Good job! You know what to do when you see it again."

Nidorino grunted in response and squared himself in an attempt to keep more stability. Ash glanced over at the Captain, who had just thrown two pokeballs high into the air.

They opened, releasing two long, serpent like pokemon into the water. The larger of the two was clearly the gyarados that the Captain had told Ash about. It was an ancient, monstrous specimen of the breed. Its scales were heavy and plated, but scarred from innumerable battles. The fins surrounding its gaping mouth were torn, but that didn't detract from the twenty five foot long beast's terrifying appearance.

As for the other, it was much like the gyarados in size, but it was far less bulky and was slim. It was still larger than most pokemon Ash had seen, but it had an incredible beauty to it that Ash hadn't seen in any other pokemon. Its tiny, almost unnoticeable scales changed color as it moved. Ash didn't know what it was, but the elegant creature seemed far too perfect to ever use in battle.

"Gira! Find that damn gyarados and use giga impact! Tora, calm that thing down!"

Ash watched in awe as the two massive serpents began to follow their orders. The gyarados dived down into the water, its size and bulk splashing salty sea water onto the deck as it did so. The other pokemon began to glow a vivid pink, slowly sending pulses of pink energy into the water and the air.

He stared at the mysterious pokemon for a few more seconds before walking over to Captain Stewart, who looked oddly calm for the situation. Ash stumbled when the boat began to rock – he didn't know what the two gyarados were doing, but it was causing the sea around them to explode upwards. The remnants of a hyper beam blasted out of the sea, carrying a good amount of water with it before the bright orange beam dissipated.

"What do you think of the battle, kid?" Stewart asked with a grin. The Captain was casually leaning on the side of the cabins, his former seriousness gone and replaced with childlike glee. "Wish it were above water. Battles between gyarados are incredible."

"It's impressive." Ash said with a small smile. A sudden cyclone erupted out of the water, slamming into the side of the ship. It barely knocked the ferry to the side, but it did completely drench Ash. He sighed before continuing. "What's your other pokemon? I've never seen it before."

Stewart laughed and took his pipe out of his mouth, blowing a great deal of smoke into the air. "That, boy, is a milotic. One of the rarest pokemon in the world as well as one of the most powerful. I think of milotic as a sort of counterpart to gyarados. I'm lucky enough to have the pair - I looked for its pre-evolution for sixteen years before finding it. She was worth every second of it."

Ash nodded, but flinched when the two gyarados suddenly exploded out of the water only twenty feet away. He shielded his eyes from the sea water, but Stewart just calmly watched and smoked his pipe. The trainer quickly returned to watching the battle.

The Captain never gave Gira any orders. Gira seemed experienced enough to battle incredibly well on its own. Ash noticed that it was slightly slower than the other gyarados, but the other's attacks barely seemed to scratch the thick armor of scales Gira possessed. Gira's own attacks seemed more refined – it bit right in the small chinks between the gyarados' armor.

"This shouldn't take too long." Stewart said, breaking the silence. "That gyarados is just a baby. Probably just evolved – its scales are thin and its pretty tiny. Gira is just playing with it."

While he wasn't sure he could call anything that enormous tiny, Ash accepted the old sailor's words. Stewart seemed to be a Master when it came to water-types, or at least have the knowledge of one.

Ash watched the battle for a few more minutes, in awe at the sheer endurance and power of the gyarados. They had both done damage to each other that would instantly knock out and badly injure any other pokemon, but neither seemed willing to stop.

It wasn't until the other gyarados used hyper beam, blasting the thick stream of bright orange energy straight into Gira's armored hide and blasting Gira into the sea, that Stewart gave any orders.

"Gira, use thunder. Tora, get up here."

The milotic elegantly floated out of the water somehow. Ash wondered if it was part dragon or psychic. It landed heavily on the deck besides them and nearly took up the entire length of the ship, although Tora took up less room when she coiled up.

Tora gave out a low, keening cry as she placed her scaled head near Stewart. The old sailor grinned and patted her gently before turning his focus to the battle. Gira had just pulled itself out of the water and was arcing with electricity.

"Won't that hurt Gira as well?" Ash asked.

Stewart shook his head. "Gira's a tough old bastard. He has some resistance to electricity now. It'll hurt, but it won't knock him out."

Ash was satisfied with the explanation and watched carefully as Gira released an incredible amount of electricity into the water, sending the amplified attack straight into the other gyarados. The gyarados roared and thrashed wildly for a few seconds before falling unconscious. It slowly sank into the water. Gira roared his victory before slowly swimming back to the ferry.

"Good job, Gira." Stewart said lazily. Gira roared in response. Ash unintentionally backed away when he saw the gaping maw and the fangs that were longer than his arm. "I'll be sure to get you something special once we hit land."

Gira seemed satisfied and patiently waited to be recalled. When Stewart did, he turned to Ash. "Kid, you should get your Nidorino and head to your cabin. Clean up is going to take a while."

Ash nodded and did as the Captain said. Nidorino followed right behind him as he walked back to his room, hoping that it hadn't gotten any water in it from the battle. The deck was completely flooded, but the rest of the ship had seemed pretty secure.

It turned out that he was lucky. While there was a bit of water that had drained into the halls, his cabin was completely dry. Ash sat down on his bed and pulled out the pokedex. There wasn't much to do, and he wanted to look over the pokemon that frequented the Seafoam Islands.

XX

The rest of the journey was thankfully uneventful. It took another two days for them to arrive at the small group of islands, but it wasn't quite as boring. The gyarados attack had been the talk of the ship, and Stewart had let him see Tora and Gira again afterwards, along with his third pokemon, which was a wailord that was larger than the ferry. Ash was amazed at how strong all of them were. They were old, but hadn't lost any of their strength.

He had learned quite a bit about water-types as well. Stewart had taught him a few things about seadra that the pokedex hadn't mentioned – apparently they could learn to levitate in the air after extensive training, although Stewart didn't recommend that Ash try it unless he had a few months of down time – and told Ash that he might find one of the rare Dragon Scales in the Seafoam Caverns or at one of the small markets at the Islands.

While he didn't plan on evolving Torrent yet – he wanted Torrent to grow more powerful and get some additional experience before he evolved – Ash wouldn't mind having the Dragon Scale. They were incredibly rare and were only found in dragonite or the other fully evolved dragon lairs, and he would jump at the chance to obtain one.

Ash felt quite a bit of relief when he saw the four islands from the boat. He didn't have quite as much trouble with the ocean anymore, but it still made him anxious and he wanted to get back onto land the second he could. His pack was ready and he was practically jumping as the ship neared the small harbor.

As they drew mere minutes away from disembarking, Ash fought his way to the front of the line and listened to Captain Stewart as he spoke to them. The Captain was precariously perched atop a crate and seemed perfectly comfortable shouting instructions at them.

"Now that we're nearly at our destination, I have to tell you a few things!" He shouted over the wind. "We're staying here for four days. We're leaving at eight in the morning on the fifth day, so don't sleep in. You can either come back to the ship to sleep or find somewhere on the island. If any of you trainers are interested in heading into the Seafoam Caverns, wait and talk to me after the rest leave."

Ash groaned when he heard he would have to stay aboard. He slipped through the crowd to the empty area near the Captain, who nodded at him in greeting. Stewart leapt down from his perch, not showing any discomfort from the shock of the fall.

"I'll go ahead and tell you what to do." He said, taking his pipe out of his mouth. "Anyways, the entrance is pretty easy to find. But buy a thick jacket and plenty of things to keep you warm." Stewart warned. "The Caverns are the coldest place in Kanto, and it's the Ice Time at the moment."

"The what?"

"The Ice Time." Stewart replied with a shrug. "It's what the locals call it when the entire cave system freezes over. Normally only the bottom levels are frozen, but for a few months every year the entire cave freezes. It means that there are more ice-types running around, but it's dangerous as hell. Be careful in there and make sure you have enough food. Do you have a fire-type?"

Ash nodded. "A magmar."

Stewart grinned. "Good. Don't try to use it in battle – the water-types will hurt it badly – but using it to keep you warm is a good idea. You'll go through hell in there, but it's worth it. By the way, you need to go to the Pokemon Center and tell the authorities you're going in."

Ash nodded his thanks and went to rejoin the rest of the crowd. He really was glad that he would be able to get off the ship early. Dry land would be a great relief.

A few minutes later the ship docked. Ash was amongst the first of the passengers off. He felt a quick surge of glee when he landed on the wooden dock – he was finally on solid ground, if not land. The trainer quickly escaped the area before the other passengers could clog it up.

He glanced around the island once he was away from the dock. The Seafoam Islands were small and isolated, but they served as an important way station between Fuschia and Cinnabar. They were tropical, but the air was rather chilly and held none of the warmth that he had expected, likely due to the "Ice Time". It was incredibly bright, however.

The resort area that they had landed it was rather small. Ash thought that he might like to return sometime when it was actually warm. None of the locals or tourists seemed to notice how cold it was, however. Many were either laying out on the beach or frolicking in the shallow water. He shuddered just from watching the display and found his attention drawn to a small herd of slowpoke that carelessly slept on the beach. A few were awake and lazily dipping their tails into the river in search of food. Ash frowned when he saw an odd looking man with a lab coat and distinctively large nose watching the slowpoke with a strange look in his eye as he scribbled down notes.

His hand almost went to his pack in order to withdraw a pokeball, but he thought better of it. Ash didn't want to disturb the herd, and he expected that such an action would annoy the locals. Besides, in a few hours he would be in an environment full of far more powerful pokemon.

Ash walked around for a bit and took in the sights. The area appeared to be an ordinary tourist trap – huts full of gaudy jewelry and brightly colored souvenirs littered the area. Quite a few people were stopped at them, either examining the wares or buying them.

He turned away and looked for someone he could ask for directions. It didn't take too long, and he quickly found a helpful local who gave him directions to the Pokemon Center. Ash thanked the tall, shirtless man and followed his instructions.

The Pokemon Center wasn't too far from the beach. It was unlike many other Pokemon Centers in that it had a similar style of architecture as the buildings around it. If it hadn't been for the large insignia emblazoned upon the building and its distinctive size he never would have noticed the difference. It was wide and flat and only appeared to be a single story, and was built with simple plaster walls.

Ash walked in after taking it in. He casually pushed the door open, but gasped when the air of the Pokemon Center hit him. It was freezing and he wished he had a jacket. There were quite a few people lingering in it and talking and laughing to each other. Ash thought that it might be the busiest Pokemon Center of its size that he had encountered.

Before he talked to the Nurse Joy casually leaning on the counter, he followed the sign that would take him to the room where he could speak to Professor Oak and see about that zubat that had been taken from the dead Rocket grunt's belt. He hadn't even thought of it for more than a month, but he'd been thinking about his venture into the Seafoam Caverns a lot during the sea trip and realized that Plume wouldn't be able to do anything in the Caverns.

While she would probably take whatever cold temperature there was better than he would, Plume wouldn't be able to stand up to anything that had access to an ice-type move. The cold would weaken her to begin with, and an actual attack would easily defeat her. In addition, she probably wouldn't have room to maneuver in a cave.

Since he liked to have something that could scout, Ash had decided to check on the zubat. If it was rehabilitated, great. He would be able to meet a new friend. If not, he could just keep Plume in her pokeball.

Ash felt a little nervous as he punched in Professor Oak's number. The large screen was black as the Pokemon Professor was called, and Ash patiently waited until it finally flickered to life. He looked at the small room the screen revealed curiously. He recognized it as Professor Oak's main computer room. It was rather comfortable looking, and had windows that Ash could see out of. Professor Oak wasn't there.

He frowned, but the Professor entered the picture a few moments later. Oak had on his usual lab coat and outfit, but his graying hair was bedraggled and far messier than it ordinarily was. The Professor's eyes were red and tired, and he squinted at Ash for a few seconds before recognizing him.

"Oh, hello, Ash!" Oak exclaimed. He stood up a little straighter and a grin stretched across his tan face. "It's been a long time. How is your journey coming along?"

Ash grinned. "Great! I've already got five badges and I'm heading to Cinnabar for my sixth."

"I'm impressed." Oak commented. "Your mother told me how far you'd gotten, but I'm afraid that I forgot. What are you doing in the Seafoam Islands? Do you need something?"

He nodded. "I took a zubat from a Team Rocket grunt. It was taken away for rehabilitation. Do you know where I could find it? I'm heading into the Seafoam Caverns and I want something that could help me navigate."

Oak's grin faded with Ash's news. "I heard about the St. Anne. I'm sorry you had to go through that."

Ash grunted, not wanting to discuss it. Oak seemed to understand the signal and continued, his tone becoming lighter as he moved away from the grim subject.

"Anyways, I've actually been holding that zubat for you." Oak said, leaning onto the table that held the screen. "The League sent it over just under two weeks ago. She's in good shape, but be careful with her. The zubat is terrified of everything. She'll do whatever job you need done, though. Give me just a minute to send her over."

Ash thanked the Professor and found a comfortable seat to wait in while Oak prepared to send his zubat over. He was a bit worried that the zubat wouldn't be able to function well if she was as timid as Oak claimed, but supposed that she would still be a better choice to have in a cave than Plume.

That was when Ash realized that he would have to send Plume's pokeball over if he wanted to use Zubat. Trainers that had more than six pokemon on them had their seventh locked until their ID was given authorization to have more, which only occurred when the trainer proved themselves powerful and responsible enough to care for the additional pokemon.

He pulled Plume's pokeball off of his belt and released her. Plume squawked out a greeting as she was released and gently pecked his bag. She scanned the small, brightly lit room in confusion before cocking her head and looking up at him.

"Hey, Plume." He said with a grin, although he felt a bit of guilt at leaving her behind, no matter the reasons or logic in doing so. She lightly chirped. "I'm about to explore a cave. It's full of ice-types, and I'm afraid you're going to get hurt."

Plume shook her head and shrieked in an attempt to convince him otherwise. Ash felt the guilt grow more, and he found himself kneeling in front of her.

"Look, I'm going to have to send you to the Oak Corral. It's only for a few days, and I promise I'll get you back the second I can." Ash said with a pained look on his face. "I really don't want to, but you won't be able to fight well against the pokemon we'll be fighting. I just don't want you to get hurt."

The pidgeot turned her head away from Ash, trying to ignore him. Ash continued to apologize until she finally looked at him again, although it was clear that she was insulted. He sighed and tried to stroke her head. Plume grudgingly allowed it, although she refused to look at him while he did so.

Professor Oak finally arrived, a plain pokeball in hand. Ash sighed and stood up.

"Just put your pokeball in the transfer machine and they will trade places." Oak explained. "Don't worry, I'll take good care of your pidgeot."

Ash tensely smiled and stood up. "I'll get you back as soon as I can." He promised Plume. She just looked at him stonily. "Bye."

He recalled Plume and felt a hard pang in his chest as he placed the pokeball of his second friend into the transfer machine. It glowed for a moment before disappearing, replaced by Zubat's pokeball. Ash noticed that there was a lump in his throat as he took the new pokeball and examined it.

It had no markings, and was completely indistinguishable from any other. Ash sighed and put it onto his belt. He wish he had another spot to put it. There was just something wrong about putting it in Plume's spot.

"Thanks." He said to Professor Oak. The older man just smiled and nodded, although his face grew a bit more serious.

"Be careful in the Caverns." Oak warned. "I explored them once in my youth. I have confidence in you, but they are treacherous and the wild pokemon are more aggressive during the Ice Time. Try to avoid the deeper levels, and good luck."

Ash nodded his thanks and prepared to leave. Before he cut the connection, however, he had one last thing to say to Oak. "Hey, Professor, could you tell my mom I said hi? I don't think I'll be able to call her a while."

The Professor smiled. "Of course. She's coming over for lunch later. I'll tell her then. Stay safe, Ash."

He smiled at the Professor. "I will. Bye, Professor."

Ash cut the connection. He smiled at the blank screen before turning around. The pangs in his chest at leaving Plume were slowly weakening, although he was sure that he wouldn't forget his friend. He looked at Zubat's pokeball once more before leaving the room. It was time to get on with his journey.

XX

A Nurse Joy smiled at him as he approached the counter. She was tanner than the Nurse Joys he had seen elsewhere and her uniform was also thinner and less restrictive. An assistant and a chansey stood next to her, but the assistant was speaking to another trainer.

"How may I help you?" She asked. Ash noticed that she had a different accent than the ones on the mainland. It was a bit sharper and caused her to speak noticeably faster.

"I was told that I needed to tell you if I wanted to go into the Caverns." Ash replied. Nurse Joy frowned and leaned forward, casually resting on the counter.

"I can't let you enter the Caverns right now unless you have more than three badges or can defeat my friend here." Nurse Joy said, nodding at the tall trainer speaking to the assistant. The man grinned and looked at Ash, baring his teeth. "The Caverns are dangerous during the Ice Time, and I need to know that you won't be getting yourself killed."

Ash grinned and withdrew his pokedex. He quickly went to the section that held his trainer ID and showed it to Nurse Joy, revealing to her that he had five badges. She sighed.

"I guess I can't stop you. But be careful," she warned, "right now the pokemon in there will be much stronger than they are normally. They are dangerous, far more so than the average pokemon that you have come across. Some will be aggressive, and all will be more than ready to fight you off. Make sure you buy more than enough supplies – the Caverns can be treacherous. Try to leave markers so that you can find your way out."

He nodded his understanding and his thanks. Nurse Joy sighed again and pulled a small ticket from her pocket.

"By taking this you understand and accept that the Pokemon League of Kanto is not responsible for your safety for however long you stay in the Seafoam Caverns." Nurse Joy said in an official monotone. "You understand the risks that you are taking and agree not to blame the Pokemon League of Kanto should you be injured in the exploration of the Seafoam Caverns."

Ash took it without hesitation and thanked Nurse Joy again. She looked towards the tall, fierce looking trainer that was talking to the assistant as Ash left. "You'd better head to the entrance. He doesn't look like he'll wait long."

Before he exited, he heard Nurse Joy speak to the trainer again. "I really hope he's not one of the unlucky ones. We need to get the badge limit raised – we get too many cocky young trainers that get trapped and lost in those caves."

He ignored the comment and headed to the marketplace that he had seen a little past the Pokemon Center. It wasn't very big, but it looked to have all of the necessary equipment that he would need from the quick glance he took at it.

When he got to the small market, it was packed. There were several dozen vendors, all hawking their wares at small booths for high prices. Ash was jostled and shoved around as people bustled through the market, but managed to find his way to someone who sold the equipment he would need.

"How may I help you?" The somewhat overweight man asked Ash as he approached. He had the same accent as Nurse Joy, although it was much thicker. "I offer everything any trainer could ever need in order to brave the dangerous Caverns: heavy coats, rope, ice heals, gloves – you name it!"

Ash nodded at him and looked around. The booth was small, but filled to bursting with plenty of things. He found several things that he wanted over the next few minutes. Although the vendor's hawkish eyes made Ash feel a little awkward, he found a thick coat, equally thick gloves, and several of the ice heals – potions modified to quickly warm pokemon – as well as a thick coil of rope and a small ice pick. He already had plenty of potions, pokeballs, and revives.

"How much is this?" Ash asked, his voice slightly muffled behind the stack of items he was carrying. The vendor quickly glanced over the items before responding.

"That would be four hundred and eighty seven." The fat man grinned, apparently quite glad that Ash had purchased so much. Ash sighed at the high price and forked the necessary bills over. "Thanks for your business, kid. Have fun in the Caverns."

"Thanks." He muttered before transferring most of the equipment into the storage compartments in his pack. His pack implemented similar technology to that of the pokeball – although he kept important things like his sleeping mat, a pokeball, and other necessities ready for access at all times, everything else could be transferred into the three storage compartments. They didn't have infinite space, but it let him carry much more than he normally could.

With that, Ash left the bustling market and retreated to a more isolated spot in the wide, open streets. He leaned against a wall as he looked at the small ticket that Nurse Joy had handed him. It was slightly crumpled from being shoved into his pocket, but was readable.

The ticket gave him instructions to the entrance as well as giving him permission to enter. Its instructions were fairly simplistic – it gave him a list of roads to take and where to go after that. Apparently the entrance was somewhat hidden in order to dissuade people that weren't strong enough to enter from finding it.

Ash carefully folded the ticket before beginning to follow the instructions, keeping it ready as a method of reference. He wasn't always the best at following directions, but it wouldn't take him too long to find his way. It was a pretty small island, after all. Besides, he had great motivation to do so.

XX

His trip across the small island took him far away from the small town that dominated the east coast and through the wild part of the island. After thirty minutes he had left even the roads behind, and another thirty minutes later he had made his way through the light foliage and reached the western coast of the island.

The island was beautiful. Despite the chilly weather and strong winds, the vegetation was still lush and green. Ash had to admit that he liked the coast more, however. Even if it was next to the ocean it was a majestic sight. Tall, jagged towers of rocks guarded the coastline, and the beaches were full of herds of slowpoke. He only encountered one group of trainers, all of whom had pale skin and wild eyes. They didn't speak to him and barely acknowledge his existence as they passed him by.

It only took a few more minutes to find the massive beach that held the hidden entrance to the Caverns. The beach took up almost the entire length of the western coast, periodically dotted with large clusters of stones. Ash released Nidorino as he entered it. The island's forests might have few wild pokemon, but the beaches were full of coastal pokemon. He didn't want to be caught off guard.

He was thankful that they weren't aggressive. The few slowbro that led the herds watched him with slightly more awareness than their slowpoke brethren, but made no move against him. The slowpoke only watched him dumbly – when they realized that he was there at all, that is.

Ash followed the beach until he found a large hill of weathered stone. He recognized it as the entrance to the caverns and casually walked to it, easily stepping over a lone slowpoke that was belly-up in the coarse grey sand. It was apparently involved in a staring contest with a particularly large boulder.

Soon enough he found the area where the stone began to form a sort of funnel. He stepped into it, but a light cough distracted him. Ash nervously snapped towards the source of the sound, but relaxed when he saw that it was the tall trainer from the Pokemon Center.

"Hey, wait up!" The trainer said as he stood up from a long, flat stone bench and walked towards Ash. "I've got to take that ticket. Your name's Ash Ketchum, right?"

Ash nodded and handed the ticket over to the man. The trainer looked Ash over for a moment before speaking.

"My name's Will. Anyways, I'm just here to give you a few tips before you go into the Caverns." Will said easily, leaning against the tall wall of stone. Ash listened attentively.

"Rule number one: keep warm. I can't tell you how many people have gotten frostbite from that cave. Some people die. Rule number two: be prepared at all times. This is the Ice Time, and every pokemon in those caves is powerful, aggressive, and mean right now. Ice-types are going to be in the higher levels, and they can take out your pokemon in a hurry if you aren't careful."

Will frowned. "You should know the other rules. They're common sense. Leave markers, leave when your supplies get low, don't antagonize wild pokemon. None will try to injure or kill you unless you do something that means you deserve it, but they'll do their best to drive you out. Stay in the upper levels if you can, and be careful."

"Thanks." Ash said, making sure to burn those tips into his brain. He didn't want him or his friends to get hurt.

The older trainer sighed. "Just be careful. Those Caverns are dangerous this time of year, and I don't want to have to call your family if something happens to you. Anyways, good luck."

"I will." Ash promised. "And thanks."

"Don't mention it." Will said, waving his thanks off. "Anyways, have fun. I'm out."

With that the older trainer left the small stone funnel and began the long trek back to the town. Ash watched his retreating back for a moment before withdrawing his coat and gloves and getting the rest of his supplies ready.

He looked down at Nidorino, glad that his friend was a good choice to go into the Caverns with. His friend might be a native of forests and plains, but he was more than tough enough to take whatever this Cavern threw at them.

Ash had a grin on his face as he and Nidorino walked further into the stone funnel. This would be the greatest challenge he had faced yet, and he couldn't wait to conquer it.

XX

His first thoughts as he entered the Caverns proper mainly revolved around the fact that he should have bought another coat. The air was freezing, and he immediately felt the icy air chill his bones. Ash just stood still for a second and got slightly used to the cold temperature.

Nidorino fared much better. Pokemon were naturally resistant to all sorts of things that humans couldn't take, but Ash hadn't expected Nidorino to seem as though he were barely chilly. His friend was casually sitting next to his foot, more than ready to protect him. The cold didn't even faze the pink creature.

Ash's teeth chattered a bit and he couldn't focus for another minute. He slowly adjusted to the temperature, only aware of Nidorino patiently waiting for him to toughen up. When he was finally ready to continue and had quashed the desire to leave this forsaken, freezing cave and retreat to the gloriously hot – relatively – air outside, he looked around.

The cave was much larger than he had expected. It wasn't cramped or a tunnel like Mt. Moon, but was actually a cavern – the stone roof raised high into the air, and he could see a few rays of sunlight shining down through holes in the thick roof. Ash almost felt guilty now – Plume would have plenty of room to fly, although he realized that the bitter cold would harm her much worse than any of his other friends.

He pushed the thoughts out of his mind. Ash couldn't do anything about that, and he could at least make a new friend while Plume was being pampered at the Oak Corral. Speaking of his newest partner, Ash pulled the pokeball off of his belt and got ready to release Zubat.

"Be nice." He told Nidorino as he reached into the pack, withdrawing some of the pokemon food he bought. "This is that pokemon we got off of the…the grunt. She's apparently terrified of everything, and I don't want to scare her."

Nidorino grunted and caused his barbs to recede. The poison that had been dripping off of them was quickly absorbed into his friend's skin, leaving no trace of it. Ash smiled at the diminutive stance his friend took, the powerful, aggressive posture receding. His friend almost looked like an abnormally large Nidoran.

He released Zubat. It was tiny, but its long, thin legs made it look slightly larger. Its purple wings doubled its size, and its ears were as large as its body. Ash saw it helplessly land on the cold ground, apparently able to ignore the freezing stone. Zubat opened its mouth, showing four small fangs and shrieked. A second later it froze tensed up, ready to fly away. He guessed that it had seen him with its echolocation.

"Shh." He said, kneeling to the ground. "I'm not going to hurt you."

Zubat looked no different. Ash slowly inched closer to it, hands up in a placating position. The pokemon might not be able to actually see him, but hopefully it would understand what he was doing. He stopped moving closer when Zubat bared her fangs, doing her best to appear intimidating.

"Look, do you want some food?" He asked slowly, trying to soothe the frightened pokemon. "I know you must be hungry."

He smiled when Zubat slowly crawled over using the tiny hooks at the end of its wings. The pokemon was extremely cautious and looked ready to flee at any instant, so Ash set the food down and backed away a little. Since Zubat didn't seem bothered by the cold, he assumed that the dry food being set on the stone floor wouldn't be a problem.

When Zubat gingerly began to chew on the small pellets, crushing it with its small fangs before gulping it down. Ash let Zubat become comfortable eating before talking to the tiny bat.

"See?" He said. "I'm not going to hurt you. I just want to be your friend."

Zubat froze and looked at him with a cocked head. It relaxed a moment later and returned to eating the food. Ash got the feeling that it was about to try and flee.

"Look, if you want to go back to the Oak Corral, I'll let you. I understand that Team Rocket did some pretty bad things, but I just want to be your friend."

The pokemon finished the dry food before looking up and cocking her head. Ash patiently waited. Nidorino just stayed still.

Finally, Zubat slowly made her way over to him. It was cautious and Ash could tell that she didn't quite trust him yet, but it was a start. At least she felt somewhat safe around him.

He slowly raised a hand and tried to pet Zubat. She shrank back, but didn't try to flee as he gently petted his newest partner. Eventually she relaxed and leaned into his gloved hand, causing Ash to smile.

"Hey, do you mind helping me with something?" He asked. Zubat cocked her head and looked up at him oddly, her ears twitching. "We're in a cave system, and I think I'll need your help to navigate in some areas. I won't ask you to battle, but could you help me out when I need it?"

Zubat nodded. Ash grinned and scratched behind her ears. "Thanks."

That got one problem out of the way. He didn't have a permanent light-source aside from Infernus, and he didn't want to keep his most temperamental friend out in this cold for very long. While Infernus could take it, Ash remembered that magmar had a habit of trying to heat up cold surroundings. Additionally, the fire-type would be slow and sluggish in this environment.

He scratched Zubat's ears one last time before telling her that he was about to put her back in the pokeball. Zubat didn't seem to mind, so he went ahead and did it. While he didn't ordinarily tell his pokemon when he was recalling them, he figured it would be best to do so with the timid Zubat.

When Zubat was back inside her pokeball, Ash stood up and looked around the cavern. Most of it was stone, but in the center a large, thick layer of ice bridged the cavern. Ash looked at it with distrusting eyes. He definitely wouldn't be walking over it.

Ash spotted a large opening in the stone wall on the other side of the cave. It looked as though it would take him deep into the cave system. He looked over at Nidorino and nodded towards it. "Let's go."

He was glad to get moving. It helped to keep some of the cold at bay and let him think about something besides the unpleasant temperature.

The walk over to the gaping opening only took a minute. Although he was careful to avoid the sections of the floor slick with ice, this area seemed to be quite dry. Ash knew that he would not be so lucky on the lower areas.

Ash glanced down the dark tunnel and released Infernus. He didn't want to be going blind into the cave and wanted to save the small lantern he had bought for a more desperate time. If everything went to plan, he would be in the Caverns for three or four days before leaving. Something was sure to go wrong in that amount of time, so the lantern would be a last resort.

Infernus didn't roar when he was released, and seemed far more subdued than usual. He looked at Ash with an annoyed look and blasted a small spurt of flame after a moment, temporarily warming the area.

"Sorry." Ash said. Infernus slowly nodded, the cold already beginning to slow him down and weaken his body. "But I need you to light the way through that tunnel. I promise that I won't call you out anymore unless I really need you for something."

The magmar seemed far more happy about staying in his pokeball than he had before. Ash figured this would be the only time that Infernus wouldn't mind staying out of battles.

Infernus groggily stepped forward into the tunnel, a little unsteady. He grew more comfortable as he continued, but slowed down. Ash followed right behind him, although he gave Infernus plenty of room to swish his tail.

Suddenly, Nidorino growled. Ash looked down at his friend curiously and saw that Nidorino was staring up and was baring his fangs. He felt his body tense as he looked up at the cave ceiling, paling when he saw that there was a gigantic mass of small, furry bodies huddled together on the stone.

He had walked straight into a huge number of zubat. They didn't seem to be aggressive, but it was the fact that they were right there and he hadn't noticed them that mattered. Ash got ready to run down the tunnel, but a large bat that fell out of the midst and landed on the floor blocked him. It was a golbat, and it was hissing at him.

Ash's desire to run faded. If the golbat wanted a fight, it would get one. He knew that his friends could take on this entire colony. It would be difficult, but they could do it. Numbers didn't mean much in a confined area and a massive flamethrower.

Golbat stretched its huge wings out and menacingly stepped towards Ash in an odd sort of stumble, but the fangs kept Ash from being scornful. Then Nidorino growled and stepped forward, squaring himself and preparing for battle. Infernus did so as well, despite his sluggishness and the cold that weakened him. Ash felt a momentary burst of pride and happiness over how loyal his friends were.

It stumbled back a little and hissed again, but Infernus stamping his foot and flaring up seemed to make the golbat realize that fighting them wouldn't be a good idea. Golbat hissed at them one more time and flew up to the ceiling, taking its place in the mass of zubat huddled together for warmth.

Ash grinned at his friends. "Thanks." He hoped that they could solve most of their disputes like that. While his pokemon were strong, they couldn't take a dozen battles with the hundreds of zubat and golbat that probably lived in these Caverns.

Nidorino grunted in reply and Infernus just let the flames he had ignited die down. Ash felt a stab of pity for the fire-type, who looked positively miserable at the moment, but knew that he needed Infernus' help.

So they continued, Ash making sure to keep the pace up. Hopefully it would keep Infernus from cooling off too much and would let Ash return him sooner.

It only took a few more minutes for them to emerge from the dark tunnel and into a huge cavern that positively dwarfed the opening one. Ash could see that huge holes in the ceiling illuminated most of the cavern. While it was still quite dark, he was able to see well enough.

Ash looked around a bit more, looking for a route through. Most of this room was ice, but a few rushing currents seemed to be too powerful for ice to form on them. He saw the odd zubat flying around, but they seemed few and far between. Every now and then he saw a glimpse of another pokemon moving in the darkness, although he judged that most either had homes to keep them warm or were able to survive underneath the ice.

He turned back to Nidorino. "Well, this looks like it'll take a while. Let's get going."

Nidorino growled in approval and followed Ash as he set off to explore the area.

XX

He eventually got used to the cold. Ash didn't ignore it, and the icy bite made his hands and toes painfully cold, while a light ache all over his body kept him wary of the weather. If it weren't for his heavy coat and gloves, he was sure that he would have had to leave the freezing cave system. As it was, he knew that he was underprepared.

Infernus saved him many times. Few golbat or zubat were willing to antagonize the fierce, powerful fire-type, although the ones that did were quickly defeated. His most valuable function was to use his immense power to heat the air around Ash and his high body temperature helped to keep Ash from freezing. Ash released him every hour or so.

Nidorino had eventually been worn down from the intense cold, although he had more of a resistance to it than Ash did. The constant battles with aggressive wild pokemon such as seel, krabby, and staryu eventually caused Ash to recall him.

The pokemon in this cave were just as aggressive as he had been warned. Although he had an easy time with them – they were unusually powerful, particularly for how young they seemed, but had no sense of tactics aside from ambushing and then attacking him – he knew that they were just the beginning. He had only had one battle with an evolved pokemon so far – a huge, vicious dewgong that had burst out of the ice and tried to blast them with an ice beam – but it had been horribly difficult. It had taken Brute to finally take it down, although the dewgong swam away before Ash could try to capture it.

Torrent loved this cave. As a water-type, he was highly resistant to ice, even though he couldn't stay in it for extended periods of time. But these Caverns were his chance to shine, and the seadra had taken full advantage of the fact. Ash was using him the most thanks to the plentiful supply of lakes – some of them hadn't frozen over for some reason, although they were littered with chunks of ice – and Torrent had quickly begun to fight off and intimidate even the most aggressive of the weaker pokemon.

Bruiser was his main pokemon for land. Ash figured that the fighter needed more experience, and the fighter was surprisingly durable against the cold and effective against pokemon that attacked him on the land such as a surprisingly enraged slowpoke, several moderately powerful psyduck, and the krabby that seemed to be everywhere.

Dazed only saw a little bit of use – just to hypnotize the more powerful pokemon or to knock any attacking colonies of zubat out with a single psychic attack – and she seemed more than happy to stay in her pokeball. Her species lived in temperate or warm areas, not icebergs.

Zubat saw a surprising amount of use. He didn't dare use her in battles – she would probably try to fly away or hide behind him – but she served well as a scout and was able to guide him through particularly tricky areas. She saved him a lot of trouble with both the environment and with other zubat. They seemed more content to remain huddled together and warm when they saw her with him. Ash still hadn't nicknamed her, though. Zubat still seemed a little nervous around him.

He had begun to cycle his pokemon out over the two days he had been traversing the Caverns, going deeper and deeper into them. None were out too long, since the strengthening cold was draining even for them. Ash wasn't sure how much deeper he could possibly go – he had gone steadily deeper into the earth the entire time, and soon the cold would become so powerful that he would be forced back.

Ash still had plenty of rations, however. He didn't need that much food, and neither did his pokemon. They'd gotten used to not having quite as much as they'd like during his travels, although Ash made sure that they all had enough to be comfortable. The team needed to be in great condition in such a dangerous area.

The trainer had gotten lost several times, sometimes losing several hours before Zubat and luck set him back on the right track. He had remembered the tips given to him and had Nidorino frequently gouge huge carvings into the stone walls with his incredibly sharp and powerful horn. Ash hoped that would be enough, although he was doing his best to memorize every section of the immense cave system as he travelled through it.

As of now, he was in a particularly confusing area of the cave. Zubat was clutching to his back, lightly jabbing him with a claw in order to direct him through the proper route and Bruiser plodded along behind him, the tunnel to thin for them to walk side by side. He hated these areas – sending Zubat ahead to discover the safe way made it simpler, but the fact that anything could be waiting on the other side of a curve made him anxious.

He sighed in relief when they finally emerged from the tunnels, which were lit by his small lamp. Ash carefully turned the lamp off and placed it back into the storage compartment before continuing out of the tunnel.

The trainer's eyes widened in surprise when he stepped into the cavern. In itself, the large room wasn't particularly impressive. What was impressive was the fact that a huge number of psyduck congregating in it, practically filling the entire room. He estimated that there were around thirty.

This wouldn't be so surprising anywhere else. Psyduck always congregated in large groups, usually led by a golduck. Safety in numbers and whatnot – they were practically defenseless on their own if their headaches peaked. While they would exhibit powerful psychic abilities during such a time, they were in so much pain that they were unable to react to other danger.

He just didn't think that they would do the same in an environment like the Seafoam Caverns. The only psyduck he had seen in the Caverns were in small groups of three or four, so he'd assumed that it was the standard.

They didn't react to his presence – most stared into space with a vacant expression eerily similar to Dazed's. Ash ignored that little tidbit and looked towards Bruiser. His friend nodded and stepped forward, ready to protect Ash if the psyduck tried anything.

Ash also got ready to release all of his pokemon. While psyduck weren't very dangerous, all of the ones he had encountered in the Caverns were far more powerful than their mainland counterparts. In such a large group, they could be very dangerous.

Unfortunately, he couldn't turn back. He had upset quite a few seel when he passed by earlier, and he had heard them calling for reinforcements. Ash wasn't sure that they wouldn't try to hurt him when he went back – they had been furious, far from the usual for the normally docile seal.

He tried to creep around the large group, who took up the entire center and only left the edge for him to move in. Once or twice one of the pained psyduck walked into him, knocking them down. Those incidents made Ash hold his breath and get ready for the fight of his life, but the psyduck didn't seem to notice. Instead they just looked at themselves in confusion, quacking a few times as they wondered why they were on the ground.

Ice crunched underneath Ash's shoes as he moved around the flock of psyduck, but they didn't attract attention. Ash thought that he and Bruiser would get out unscathed when a loud, angry cry alerted him to a new danger.

He nervously turned and was faced with a golduck stalking towards him, red eyes burning with rage and claws outstretched. It cried out again and faced Bruiser, who matched its stance. Zubat clutched harder onto his back. Ash winced a bit as her sharp claws jabbed his skin, but he ignored it as best he could. He had bigger things to worry about.

Before the battle began, Ash took notice of the golduck's appearance. It was smaller than most of its kind, but was still dangerous. Instead of the small bulk that most golduck needed to battle each other, this one was lithe and thin looking. Nevertheless, Ash could still see the powerful muscles working beneath the feathers that were so thin and small that they looked like flesh.

It was blue, and had webbed hands and feet. Golduck had small claws, but they looked extremely sharp. A long tail emerged from its rear for swimming, and overall its body was extremely hydrodynamic. The duck cried out at him again before it suddenly focused on Bruiser with glowing eyes, alit with psychic power.

Ash immediately recalled Bruiser, sending out Dazed instead. Bruiser had no chance against a psychic attack, not with the kind of cold they were facing. Dazed looked at him in annoyance when she felt the cold, but quickly returned her focus to Golduck.

He took one of his ultra balls from his pack. Ash wanted to catch a pokemon while he was in the Caverns, and this golduck seemed more than powerful enough to make a good addition to his team. The dewgong had been his first choice – it had knocked out half of his team – but the golduck would be just as good.

Dazed prepared herself as Golduck used some sort of psychic attack on her. Ash grinned as she casually dispersed the attack into nothingness, her psychic powers far too formidable for Golduck to stand against. She leveled a cold glare at Golduck, her eyes glowing in preparation.

"Hypnosis." He ordered, his blood beginning to pump and make him forget the cold. Dazed began to slowly wave her pendulum, opting to use her natural abilities instead of the skill itself. Her natural abilities worked more quickly than the skill did, but could be disrupted if the victim had a strong enough will to close its eyes.

Her pendulum rocked through the air, attracting Golduck's attention with every swing. Ash smiled as he saw the power it gave her. Dazed had left him for a few minutes yesterday as he set up camp, and when she emerged she held the pendulum in her hand. She showed it to him, and he was able to tell it was made from the weathered stone of the Cavern.

He thought that this fight would be over before it began, but Golduck managed to break Dazed's spell and attack with a blast of water. Ash recognized it as a hydro pump.

"Disable!" He ordered, wanting to make sure Golduck didn't have access to its attacks. Water and ice-type moves seemed more powerful than they normally were in these Caverns. Ash couldn't let Golduck keep using the amplified power.

Dazed resolutely took the attack, using her power to direct some of it around her. Ash could still see that it hurt her, but the effect was dampened somewhat by her barrier. She held her own and quickly focused her power. Dazed's eyes glowed bright as she enveloped Golduck in a blue aura. Golduck froze, unable to do anything for a short amount of time.

Disable wasn't a move Ash had used often. He'd used it a few times against trainers with devastatingly powerful pokemon, but normally he was able to either overpower them or outmaneuver them. It locked them in place in its basic form, and Ash heard that at its more advanced stages it was able to make a pokemon forget its moves for a while as well as immobilizing it.

"Hypnosis." He repeated. Dazed quickly took advantage of her opponent's helplessness, lulling Golduck to sleep with her swaying pendulum. Ash grinned when he saw Golduck's eyes slowly droop before shutting altogether.

When Golduck collapsed to the ground, the psychic energy of the disable no longer suffusing his body, Ash carefully threw the ultra ball at it. He realized that this was the first time that he would ever use one of the powerful tools, despite the fact that he had received them nearly two months ago.

The ball hit Golduck once before transferring the water-type into it. Ash watched with held breath as the powerful ball rolled around. Apparently Golduck didn't want to be caught. He suspected the struggle would be much more frantic had Golduck been awake when it was captured.

"Get ready ." He said to Dazed. Thankfully, their caution proved to be unnecessary. The ultra ball proved to be too powerful for Golduck, and it shuddered for a moment before glowing. A moment later it had been transferred to the Oak Corral.

It was then that Ash remembered the psyduck. He had ignored the catatonic creatures for the battle – they wouldn't pose a threat unless he directly attacked them – but now realized that some of them were beginning to stir. Two were already up and staring at Ash with blank eyes that seemed to have just a bit of malice in them. Ash knew that psyduck weren't as stupid as they seemed, and felt a little nervous.

"Zubat, let's go. Dazed, good job. You did great."

Dazed turned around and seemed to smile at him with her sleepy eyes before he returned her. He quickly edged into the small, jagged opening of the tunnel behind him, watching the psyduck all the while. More were beginning to stand up, and he was rather glad the exit was so close. None followed him, although several psyduck's eyes were beginning to glow a bright blue.

He quickly retreated into the dark tunnel, ignoring the fact that it was even more freezing than the psyduck room. At least that had been warmed a bit by the flock's body heat. This tunnel was safe, but it brought the deep chill in his bones back. His adrenaline was beginning to fade.

Once he was far enough in, he let Zubat leap off of his back and begin to look around. He heard her shriek a few times in order to use her echolocation. Since he didn't feel her slam onto his back in order to hide, he assumed that there wasn't anything else in the cave.

Ash released Infernus when he had made sure there was enough room. He leaned against one of the wet cave walls as his friend was released, bringing heat back into his body. Infernus growled and swished his flaming tail around, quickly heating the air up.

He nodded at his friend, sorry that Infernus had to suffer but glad that he was here. "Thanks, Infernus."

Infernus gave a deep rumble from his chest in response, making all of his flames flare up a bit before relaxing. The magmar liked these tunnels more than the caverns, Ash had noticed. They heated up faster, making it better for both of them.

When he noticed that Infernus was beginning to tire, Ash returned him. He was going to give Infernus whatever he wanted when they got out of these caverns. The fire-type had made all of this possible.

Ash gladly relaxed in the warm air for a while. He noticed that it dissipated unusually fast, but chalked it up to being in the bottom of a huge cave system. There couldn't be much more to go before he hit the bottom. The trainer only had one day to travel before he had to make his way back up, and he dearly hoped that he would be able to reach the bottom level.

Zubat landed on his back, apparently done scouting. Ash smiled and let her lead him through the darkness, avoiding anything that might make him trip or fall. He might be miserable and cold right now, but he thought that this was worth it.

He stepped forward, beginning his journey to the bottom of the cave.

XX

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