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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14. The Caverns Part 2

Ash had thought that the pokemon on the upper levels were powerful. They were, especially for their age, but they didn't hold a candle to the monsters that lurked on the bottom levels.

A single dewgong knocked out Nidorino, Dazed, and Bruiser. It was only through Torrent's sheer ferocity and protectiveness that it was fought back, and even then they only managed to fight it off. Ash quickly revived his friends and fled the area, knowing that he was too close to his goal to leave now.

He got into several more battles, all just as heated as the first one. Ash and his friends quickly adapted to fighting the pokemon, relying on Dazed's psychic techniques to weaken and render the powerful creatures that attacked them without hesitance helpless and then focusing all of their attack power on it. They had defeated massive dewgong, kingler, and golduck with the strategy. All of them had become much tougher thanks to the intense cold and powerful pokemon.

Ash did notice that the golbat and zubat colonies were nowhere near as aggressive or powerful as the water or ice-types. They would generally shy away from Ash, and when they did attack they were easily dispatched.

The trainer was thankful for that – he didn't know how well they could protect themselves from an entire colony of empowered zubat and golbat.

Even as the pokemon increased in power, the terrain did in difficulty. The upper levels had hardly been a breeze, but they were neither as cold nor filled with dangerous obstacles. Ash had been forced to find alternative ways to get to the small, jagged outcroppings of rock and islands that let him continue. Torrent just wasn't powerful enough to force his way through the strong currents with Ash on his back.

Despite the difficulty, Ash continued. He was still fine on rations, and his pokemon were tough enough to keep on going. Ash wasn't sure why he was so concerned with reaching the bottom of the cave system, but supposed it was just another challenge. It was part of his personality to seek out the greatest challenges he could and overcome them, so perhaps that was it.

Right now he was taking a break on a particularly large island that had small holes and thin, cracked ice everywhere. It was only a few hundred feet from the next area, but he wanted to take a break before continuing. Nidorino was huddled up to him and serving as a sentry. Ash had seen a few cloyster hanging around the shores earlier, so he wanted to be ready. His team hadn't fought a cloyster before, so he had been thinking of strategies to battle one.

Infernus wouldn't do much unless his flames managed to heat up the insides of their shells. Nidorino could freeze them or send lightning coursing through the shells, or else he could just have his friend test and see just how strong his horn was. Dazed could probably force them away or give Ash time to escape. Bruiser could probably pry them open or push them away.

Then he heard something he had come to dread: the mournful cry of a dewgong. He instantly shot up, but felt the little blood left in his face drain away. Ash quickly released Dazed and Bruiser.

Ash heard the call again, but this time he heard another one crying out in response. He felt the strong urge to curse and snapped his attention towards the returning call. The trainer tensed up and prepared to run.

A positively gigantic dewgong was pulling itself up onto the island. No dewgong was small, but the ones in the Caverns dwarfed the average one. Ash gritted his teeth when he saw it begin to pull itself towards them. Three seel followed it. They were probably its pups.

Then he heard the distinctive sound of an ice beam. Ash dropped to the ground and saw a beam of cold energy pass over where he had been. He shivered as the icy air hit him, but got ready to command his pokemon.

That's when he realized that three more dewgong, almost as large as the first, had appeared. They also appeared to be very angry and very powerful. Each was surrounded by at least one seel pup that innocently followed its parent. Ash grimaced – mothers were always the most dangerous.

Combined with the fact that he could barely take one of these things down, Ash realized that this wouldn't be a victory for him. All that could happen was that either he or his friends would be hurt.

So he returned all of his friends, frantically shoved the pokeballs into his pack, and took off towards the entrance into the deeper level of the caverns. His legs, tired from the climbing, travel, and cold, felt like lead as he sprinted, but he managed to make it to the oddly smooth, ice entrance.

The wind was painfully cold against his face and left the sensation of needles when he finally stopped. He was completely winded from his short sprint and his lungs screamed at him for putting them through that. Ash only paused in his wheezing to glance behind him. The dewgong hadn't bothered following him. It looked as though they didn't think he was worth the effort.

Ash just rested for a few minutes, only pausing to release Infernus. His friend knew the process by now and set to warming the area up, slowly restoring feeling to Ash's body. He didn't know how long they stood there, but by the end he felt almost normal again.

"Thanks." He told his friend. Infernus just beat his tail around and nodded before Ash recalled him. His friend looked completely miserable by the end, despite warming up the area. Afterwards, Ash released Nidorino.

Nidorino looked him over to make sure he was fine before butting his head against Ash's cold leg. Ash smiled. "Good to see you too, buddy. I think this is the last chamber. Are you ready to go?"

His friend growled and nodded in response. Ash smiled and looked around. They were in a hall of ice, which was curiously reflecting some unseen light. He was confused by the fact that the heat Infernus had generated was already gone, as well as that the ice hadn't even begun to melt.

He frowned, but had to appreciate the sight. Despite how cold it was – he was already feeling his extremities tingling – it was majestic. Ash shook his head and walked down the hallway, wondering where it would take him. It almost didn't seem natural – the hallway's walls were smooth ice, although the floor was the ordinary weathered stone he had grown used to.

Ash's frown grew, but he began the walk down the long hallway. It went down as long as he could see, which gave him more evidence that this wasn't altogether natural.

The two walked down for several minutes before seeing the end of the tunnel. It shone with the dim light that seemed to pervade each of the caverns. Ash didn't bother looking at it again for a while – he was too busy staring at the seemingly sculpted ice walls. They seemed to release thin wisps of cold mist, although it quickly diffused into the air.

Eventually they reached the end. When Ash stepped through, his breath was stolen. Not from any shock – he couldn't see anything yet – but due to the fact that it was so crushingly cold. It made the room that he had just come from seem positively warm.

Despite the brutal cold, Ash continued. It wasn't as though he could go backwards. Not when those dewgong were riled up and hunting him. He glanced down at Nidorino to see how he was doing. Nidorino was shivering, but wouldn't let Ash see any more than that.

He walked out onto the edge of a huge cliff. Ash was careful – slick ice completely covered the ground – as he moved closer to the edge and looked out over the room.

It was massive, far beyond anything he had ever seen before. While no larger around than any of the other main caverns, the cave opened up all the way to the sky, which appeared high up in the air. Ash could actually see the sky for the first time in days. He stared at it with glee for a few moments before the cold snapped him back to reality.

He looked down, expecting to see the standard setup of the caverns: thick coverings of ice with a few rocky crags. What he saw was far different.

There was no water. Only a massive sheet of ice that was so thick that it appeared completely flat – not even the huge islands or spikes were visible. A single small doorway down on the icy field to his right looked to be an exit, something that he had wished for for days. But that wasn't what grabbed his attention.

Ash saw a huge, upraised sort of structure. It was open, but it had steps leading up to it from the ice that were painstakingly carved from the ancient, tough stone. They were covered in ice that appeared blindingly bright thanks to the sun's rays. The structure seemed to be a sort of shrine, albeit one covered with frost and partially hidden by swirling, icy mist.

The structure was impressive and positively huge, but even that wasn't what grabbed his attention.

A creature slept on the shrine. It was covered in a swirling shell of pale mist, hiding all but its form from Ash's view, but from what Ash could discern it appeared to be a bird. He saw that it was larger than any bird could physically be, and seemed to have fine, icy-blue feathers that released the obscuring mist.

He just stared at it with rapture for a moment, drawn in by the beauty of the bird. Even if he couldn't actually see it, the barest hint of its form and the power it exuded even without moving drew his attention.

Ash looked down at Nidorino to see what he thought, but his friend seemed to be kneeling. He completely ignored the horrible cold in his awe, only moving when Nidorino had risen again. His friend's eyes were far away and unseeing of the world around them.

"Let's go, Nidorino!" Ash said, excited and hoping to get a better look at the creature. He turned to his right and saw a long flight of slick, icy steps that would take him down to the ice level. Nidorino seemed uncomfortable with it, but carefully followed.

He was careful on the steps. Ash didn't want to have gotten through the Caverns just to fail now. Although there were a few close calls, he grew nearer and nearer to his majestic goal. It was all he could really focus on. The ordeals he had faced coming here, the cold that only seemed to be magnified with every step he took – those things were trivialities in the face of the mysterious raptor in front of him.

Ash neared the bottom of the painstakingly carved stone stairs when he suddenly tripped. He cried out in surprise as he fell down the last four stairs, wincing as he impacted the icy stairs and then the perfectly smooth ice, which sent him sliding. The trainer rubbed some of the pain out of his limbs, although he was more focused on the loud echoes his surprised cry had sent throughout the cavern. Nidorino quickly leapt down after him, nimbly avoiding the same fate he had.

He eventually came to a stop. Nidorino carefully walked over to him and nudged him to see if he was alright. Ash smiled and reassured his friend that he was fine, but the sudden howling of wind that hadn't been present before cut him off.

The trainer glanced over at the source, shivering as the temperature in the room seemed to drop another ten degrees. Ash's eyes widened when he saw the mist that surrounded the strange bird slowly dispersing throughout the room, carrying even colder temperatures with it. He could barely see through it as it covered him, but it soon swept past him, leaving only a thin layer of it behind.

He covered his eyes and face as best he could with his cold glove as it swept him by, but removed his hand when the temperature warmed slightly. Ash heard a haunting cry that made him think of ice and winter. It carried an air of power with it, sending a chill through Ash yet again.

Ash looked up and saw that the great bird had awoken. It stood up on legs larger than his and outstretched its wings, showing off its true size. The bird called out again, sending another chill throughout the cavern.

It was massive. He had known that it was huge, but Ash hadn't thought it would be nearly double his height. The bird's wingspan had to be at least twenty feet, and its long, streamer-like tail gave it another ten feet in length. Its tail flapped gently in nonexistent wing, sending out waves of cold with each movement.

Its body was simply huge, mostly consisting of large feathers the color and consistency of ice. They released a freezing aura that he could feel from here, similar to the overall feel of the Caverns but far stronger. He saw that the feathers on its chest were much lighter than the rest, more like soft snow than ice.

The wings appeared to be made of ice. Its feathers were thin but looked to be sharp and smooth. The frame for the gigantic appendages seemed to be made of partially clear but strong ice. Each feather reflected the dim sunlight that reached the heart of the Caverns, making the bird seem to sparkle and flash with every small movement.

Large talons gripped the icy stone, tearing light gouges into them. They were supported by light blue legs that were far larger than Ash's one but seemed perfectly sized in comparison to the rest of the bird's huge body.

Its head was just as large as the rest of its body, but the crest drew most of Ash's attention. The eyes were closed at the moment, and thus unnoticeable. But the crest was impressive – three massive, perfectly formed shards of ice that gave the bird an even more majestic presence, almost as though it were royalty of a sort. A small, delicate, perfectly formed beak was currently open as it cried out its haunting melody.

The bird filled the air with its song one last time before opening its eyes. They made Ash step backwards and have the urge to run. Its eyes were glowing. Not the familiar glow of psychic power, but a glow of icy energy that consumed its eyes, revealing an ancient power that Ash couldn't hope to match.

Ash recalled Nidorino and took another step back, getting ready to run. The great bird suddenly placed its attention onto him, glowing eyes burning with some emotion Ash couldn't fathom before it suddenly shrieked.

Its earlier cries were nothing compared to this. The shriek caused the temperature throughout the room to lower and froze Ash to the bone. Ice throughout the room slowly cracked underneath the sheer power of it, and Ash thought that his body would be torn apart and frozen by the cry.

Although every movement Ash took as he slowly backed away burned his muscles and body, he stood strong against the powerful cry, despite the pain and power behind it. He edged towards the door that was only a hundred feet away, ready to sprint at a moment's notice. Although the bird was majestic and powerful and beautiful beyond belief, it was clearly too dangerous and too powerful.

His mind was too fuzzy and tired to really think about what the bird was, although he knew that he wouldn't be finding it in his pokedex. All he cared about was getting away and out of this thing's way.

The bird suddenly launched itself far up into the air with a single beat of its powerful wings. It shrieked again, cracking more of the ice, and stayed aloft in the air for a few seconds as it stared at Ash with eyes that glowed with primordial strength. Ash noticed that snow had begun to fall in the cavern, despite being hundreds of feet beneath the surface.

It shrieked again in what Ash recognized as anger or annoyance. The eyes flashed with more power as it suddenly flapped its wings, sending a huge wave of icy air flecked with chunks of ice and snow towards Ash. Ash supposed that it didn't like being awoken from its slumber before he took off towards the small exit.

He only looked back once. The wave of air added another foot of ice to the area of the cavern floor where it hit, healing all of the damage done by the cries. Ash shivered as he dumbly realized what that would have done to him and took off.

Ash heard another haunting cry before feeling the bird's presence approach. It was moving incredibly fast, and he didn't have to see it to know that it was nearing him quickly. He could feel the air that was infinitely colder than anything he had felt before approaching him, carried by the bird's huge, frozen body.

The trainer glanced back again, flinching when he saw the bird diving towards him. A roaring blizzard that had come out of nowhere followed behind it, adding thick layers of snow and ice onto what already existed. Ash quickly finished the last dash to the small entrance, not stopping when he reached the safe area.

He could still hear the angry cries of the bird as he sprinted in, and the air around him continued to get colder and colder. It was painful to breathe, and his legs felt as though they were about to give out from underneath him. Surges of adrenaline continued to push him forward, however, and slowly the cries of the bird and the freezing blizzard it carried with it quieted and eventually disappeared.

Ash still heard the cry of the bird – it was omnipresent, haunting the entirety of the Caverns now that he realized its existence, the singing emanating from the air and stone itself. It was weaker now, though. Barely noticeable unless he focused on it.

The tunnel he had entered was bright in comparison to the rest of the cave system – there were small cracks in the surface high above that let a bit of light into the tunnel. It was much like the long hallway he had taken into the bird's resting place, although it was made of carefully carved stone instead of ice. The tunnel had had an upward slant.

He also noticed that it was steadily getting warmer the longer he continued. Ash stopped sprinting when he felt he couldn't keep it up any longer and dropped to a slow walk. While he wanted to just stop and take a breath and give his frozen lungs a break, he knew he couldn't. His entire body was freezing and numb, and he had to keep moving.

While the air was getting warmer, it still wasn't enough. Ash paused and collapsed against the wall before fumbling with Infernus' pokeball. It took a while – frozen fingers weren't dexterous – but he eventually got his friend out.

Ash sighed in relief as Infernus emerged. The magmar seemed surprised that the temperature was so warm – it was about as warm as the upper levels, a nice contrast from the frozen tombs he had been traversing for the last day – and quickly set to work heating the area up.

"Thanks, Infernus." Ash said gratefully. Infernus just snorted and waved his tail around some more. They both enjoyed the heat for a few more minutes. It seemed to come much easier in this tunnel than anywhere else in the cave – Infernus had to work less to get more, and the air remained heated without his constant effort.

He stayed in the wonderfully warm air for a long time, enjoying the feeling of actually being warm for once. While he could feel the bird's influence freezing the air around him, he and Infernus inhabited a warm bubble that defied the great bird's presence. Ash sighed when he realized that he had to get a move on. His body felt warm and comfortable, and he had mostly recovered from the bird's power.

"Thanks." He repeated. "You just saved my life."

Infernus snorted again before Ash recalled him. Although it was warmer than the rest of the cave system, it was still too cold for the magmar. Icy environments and Infernus just didn't mix well.

Ash released Bruiser and Zubat in Infernus' place. Zubat quickly attached herself to his back while Bruiser just looked for something to battle.

"We're safe." Ash said as Bruiser looked down the long hallway. "I just don't know if we will be in the future."

Bruiser nodded, but looked somewhat disappointed at not having a chance to battle. Ash didn't share his disappointment. He'd had enough of battling for a few days. All he really wanted to do was find a warm, soft bed and sleep until he had completely forgotten the deep freeze of this cavern.

They continued walking up the hallway, all three of them growing more and more happy and carefree as the chill slowly lessened, giving just the hint of truly warm air. While Infernus had provided plenty of welcome heat for Ash over the past three days, it just wasn't the same as natural warmth.

As they walked up the long, narrow hallway, Ash thought of the bird. Now that he wasn't half-dead from the numbing cold and frozen air of the bird's chamber, he knew what it was: Articuno, the Bird of Ice and one of the three legendary birds of Kanto. It was spoken of only in ancient myths and legends, renowned for its power over ice and unnatural might, which matched those of the other birds.

While he was a bit annoyed over the fact that Articuno had tried to turn him into a frozen statue, his sheer awe at the great bird overshadowed it. He couldn't believe that he, Ash Ketchum, a trainer of less than a year, had already seen one of the fabled legendaries. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most people – less, in fact, since the vast majority of the population never saw a legendary at all.

Aside from his awe at seeing one of the birds so highly regarded amongst the people of Kanto, Ash was amazed at the bird's strength. It was more than just a pokemon; Articuno seemed more like a force of nature than a mere bird of exceptional size and with control over ice. It was an extension of ice itself, frozen air and water given an avian shape, a winged creature whose wing beats carried blizzards and unnatural cold in its wake.

Ash focused on his encounter with the legendary bird for the rest of the time they spent walking through the long hallway. It wasn't too long of a time – ten to fifteen minutes, perhaps – but it felt like an eternity as he constantly thought of Articuno. He could barely believe that he had actually seen Articuno, or that he had survived its ire.

But the first glimpse of sunlight breaking into the tunnel tore him from those thoughts, instilling a deep sense of glee in its place. He slipped past Bruiser and took off as fast as he could in his eagerness to escape the Caverns.

His motions disturbed Zubat, who seemed to have fallen asleep as he walked, and she gave a small hiss of annoyance as she nearly fell off. Ash slowed down a bit and felt a bit guilty at disturbing his small friend, but he awkwardly managed to pat her as he jogged.

He stopped just before he entered the actual sunlight. Aside from realizing he could actually feel a breeze coming from the exit – it carried a light scent of salt with it, but not nearly as much as the Caverns did – he remembered that zubat weren't supposed to be in the sun. Their bodies were just too sensitive to the sunlight, and if they stayed in it for more than just a few minutes their skin would become lightly burned.

Zubat was too timid and terrified of everything as it was. She had warmed up quite a bit towards him – she was happy to be around him and let him pet her, and she even got along with his other pokemon relatively well – but he knew that the fragile bond they had developed hinged upon him keeping her safe. The bat could be tough, but her general personality was just too timid for him to put her in harm's way.

"Sorry." He muttered to her. "I forgot that you didn't like the sun. I'm putting you back in your pokeball, alright?"

His scout gave an understanding cry in response. Ash took that as his cue to return her. He looked back towards Bruiser, who looked just as gleeful to return to the surface as he was.

"Well, what are we waiting on?" Ash asked Bruiser with a grin. Bruiser perked up, his eyes almost manic at the thought of escaping the Caverns. "Let's get out of here!"

Ash suddenly took off, running as fast as his tired legs would let him. Bruiser wasn't far behind, his massive bulk barely inhibiting his speed as he followed Ash with short, choppy steps. He grinned widely as he felt the light and warmth of the sun hit his face for the first time in days.

He didn't even look at his surroundings for a moment. He just basked in the feeling of finally being away from those forsaken Caverns. It wasn't a hot day – it would have been fairly cold if he had arrived from anywhere but the heart of the Seafoam Caverns – but it felt incredible.

Eventually his eyes opened. He continued to enjoy being away from the Caverns – even though the conditions had grown steadily better as he left through the hidden exit the feeling just didn't compare to knowing that he had finally escaped – but he realized that he had to focus.

He was standing on a large patch of stone. The tunnel was small and almost unnoticeable, just a small, smooth cut in the earth's surface that was half-hidden by the immense boulders that covered the area. Grey sand and herds of slowpoke lazing in it dominated the landscape before him, and the cold ocean seemed incredibly calm.

Ash turned backwards and noticed that Bruiser still seemed to be relishing the fact that they were out. He looked up and saw that the tunnel led into a huge hill. It wasn't quite a mountain, but it was as close as the Seafoam Islands were going to get.

The trainer stepped away from the patch of sea-weathered stone and into the grey sand, which crunched underneath his cold, wet shoes in a way that was wonderfully different than the way snow or slush did. He found a small stone to sit on and called Bruiser over. Ash wanted his friend close.

He pulled his PokeNav from one of the storage compartments – he hadn't wanted it getting messed up during his venture into the Caverns – and activated it. When all of the covers had opened, he squinted at the screen that was dimmed by the sun's light. Ash fiddled with it for a while before getting to the map.

Ash selected the Seafoam Islands' map and quickly found his location. It showed that he was at the very southern tip of the island, not too far from the small town he had arrived at. He smiled when he saw that he didn't have to walk far and stood up. The trip would only be thirty minutes or so unless there was particularly rough terrain.

"Bruiser!" He called out. His friend had walked away and was curiously examining a slowpoke. The slowpoke was belly up in the sand and had its head submerged under the sand. Bruiser was carefully poking it, seemingly putting all of his focus into the task.

Bruiser looked back at Ash and stood up, not embarrassed in the least. Ash just laughed. "We aren't too far from the town. Let's go."

His friend nodded and took his position by Ash's side. Ash was tired, but he was too excited to really notice it.

With that, they set back to the small seaside town. It would be a short journey.

XX

When they arrived nearly an hour later – it turned out that they had to find their way around a few cliffs – Ash went straight to the Roaring Wailmer, although he returned Bruiser before entering the town. Ash could go to the Pokemon Center tomorrow. Right now he just wanted to talk to Captain Stewart and take a very long, very comfortable sleep in the bed that he hadn't been nearly grateful enough for.

He didn't have to show his ticket to the sailor that stood by the ship with a bored expression on his face. The man recognized him and waved him aboard, only glancing up from his magazine once.

Ash found Captain Stewart fairly quickly. The older man was lazily sprawled out on a long, reclining chair. He was reading some sort of book, but Ash didn't look at the title.

"Hey, Captain." He called out wearily, too tired to care about how he sounded. The Captain grinned widely and stood up, tossing his book to the side.

"Glad to see you back, kid!" Stewart laughed. He pulled out a cigar and lit it before saying anything else. "Were the Caverns everything you heard?"

Ash thought for a moment about the brutal cold, dangerous terrain, monstrous pokemon, and the powerful raptor slumbering in the heart of the crucible. As he thought about the cold, he realized that he was still wearing his jacket. He took it off and slung it over his arm before answering.

"Yes, it certainly was." He replied drily. "I went to the deepest levels. Just one of the pokemon down there managed to knock out half of my team, the cold was so intense that I had to use my magmar every hour or so just to stay alive, and I had to spend hours trying to find safe paths."

Stewart's grin grew wider. "That sounds about right." His brow furrowed. "Wait, you went to the deepest levels? What did you find down there aside from the pokemon? I only went down until I couldn't bear the cold anymore and nearly had Gira defeated by a dewgong and a pack of seel."

"I saw Articuno." Ash said bluntly, his eyes far away as he recalled the experience. "It was just around an hour or two ago, in fact."

Stewart chuckled. "Nice joke. Now, really, what did you see? Any water stones or just a bunch of ice. I know a few guys that have gone down there before, but none that went down during the Ice Time."

"I saw Articuno." He repeated. "It was sleeping on some sort of shrine. I think that it's the cause of the Ice Time – I could feel it everywhere."

"You aren't kidding, are you?" Stewart asked dumbly, taking his cigar out of his mouth and staring at Ash. "Where did you see it?"

"At the very lowest level of the Caverns, or at least I think so." Ash replied. "It was just in this huge cave that opened up into the sky. I accidently woke it up, and it tried to attack me. I ran into this weird hallway, though, and found my way up to the surface. People must have made it a long time ago as a short cut."

Stewart listened in wonder. He sighed and shook his head after a while. "Do you remember where that entrance is?"

Ash nodded. He doubted he would ever be able to forget it, although it might take him a while to find the exact area again.

"Well forget it." Stewart ordered firmly. "Don't tell anyone else about it unless you know that they won't tell anyone else. Don't even talk about Articuno except to people you can trust. Those caverns are dangerous, and if you tell the world that Articuno dwells within you'll get all kinds of idiots and crazies trying to find it."

"I get it." Ash replied, perfectly understanding Stewart's position. He hadn't been planning on telling many people anyways, not if it meant disturbing Articuno's rest and forcing the legendary to find a new place to roost. Besides, he would never tell the location of the hidden entrance. If somebody was going to see the great bird, they would have to go through the same trials that he did.

Stewart smiled. "Good. You're a lucky one, kid. I've only seen a single legendary in all my years of travelling – a Latias, and that was only a glimpse while I was in Altomare. But seeing Articuno close up…I envy you."

Ash couldn't recall what a Latias was, but got the gist of it. He suddenly yawned, causing Stewart to laugh again. "Go sleep, kid. Three days in those caves must have been damn hard. Enjoy your rest."

He nodded thankfully and staggered to his cabin, the exhaustion finally hitting him after being staved off for hours by a constant supply of adrenaline. Ash released Nidorino, Dazed, Bruiser, and Zubat before he collapsed into bed. They all looked incredibly happy to be on the surface again, but he didn't have much time to watch them before he was lulled into unconsciousness.

XX

The next day was a lazy one. Ash woke up late – he had slept through the rest of the day he got back and most of the morning of the next – and hung around the ship for an hour or so, eating all of the food that he could get his hands on. Captain Stewart eventually kicked him off the vessel, telling him that he needed to have some food left over for the voyage to Cinnabar and that Ash should go explore the town.

He didn't bother looking around the town at first. Ash went straight to the Pokemon Center, realizing that he hadn't called his mother yet and that he needed to get Plume back.

Ash hoped that Plume had gotten over some of her anger at him. He knew that she was a prideful pokemon, and probably thought that him sending her to Professor Oak meant that he saw her as weak, but he hoped that she would realize that it was just because she would have gotten hurt.

The trainer wasn't looking forward to sending back Zubat. She had proven to be a valuable friend, and he didn't damage her already fragile emotional state. Zubat had only just begun to really trust him; Ash could only hope that that trust wasn't damaged by him sending her back.

Nurse Joy looked a little surprised when he stepped into the Pokemon Center. Ash saw that Will was nowhere to be found. The older trainer was probably preparing someone else to go into the Caverns.

"So you're back." She said as he walked up to the counter. "How were the Caverns? Were they what you expected?"

Ash shivered. "It was a lot more than I expected. I should have taken another two jackets."

The nurse smiled. "Sounds about right. Anyways, what do you need?"

"I just need you to check up on my pokemon. It got pretty cold and I'm not sure how well some of them took it." He replied, taking all of the pokeball's but Zubat's off of his belt and placing them on the counter. Ash had to snap out a steadying hand to keep Dazed's ball from rolling off the counter.

Nurse Joy called out for her assistant. The teenager came out from the back room a moment later and took the pokeballs after Nurse Joy gave her instructions.

"They'll be ready in about ten to fifteen minutes." She said. Ash thanked her and went to the Transfer Room. No one else was in it, so he didn't have to wait on a line like he had feared. The Pokemon Center was just as busy as it had been when he first arrived.

He quickly punched in Professor Oak's number. The machine hummed for a minute as it activated, the black screen slowly coming to life. It made one last noise before suddenly cutting on, displaying the same room Ash had seen last time.

Professor Oak wasn't in the room, so Ash took the time to release Zubat. The small pokemon squeaked as she was released before flying to her ordinary position. Ash didn't even wince at the slight pain he felt when her small, sharp hooks grabbed onto his shirt. He'd gotten used to it over the time they spent in the Caverns.

"Hey, Zubat." He whispered, taking care not to scare the flighty creature. Zubat hissed back at him in a friendly manner. "I'm just telling you that I have to send you back to the Oak Corral. We're going to be in the sun a lot, and you wouldn't be able to come out of your pokeball."

Zubat hissed in a somewhat less friendly manner, her hooks jabbing harder into his back. Ash just frowned; he could detect the undertone of fear in her hiss. It was higher and more piercing than her usual squeaks and hisses.

"Shh." He said soothingly, reaching around his back to lightly pet Zubat. "I'll see you as soon as I can, alright? But you'll just be stuck in your pokeball for the next few days or weeks, and I'd rather you be outside."

His friend hissed again. Ash sighed and glanced at the screen. Professor Oak still hadn't arrived yet, so Ash still had some time.

"I promise that I'll see you soon. You're a good friend. I wouldn't just leave you. Come on, Zubat, I just need you to trust me, alright? I'm not going to forget about you."

Zubat's hiss was a little bit lower this time, and Ash felt that he was making headway. He didn't want Zubat to become distrustful or angry at him. Ash really did like the little bat, even if her meekness could be a little difficult to work with at times.

"You know what?" Ash asked. He felt Zubat shift around on his back. "I never nicknamed you, did I? You're a part of the team now – one of our friends. Do you want a nickname?"

His friend clutched a little tighter and squeaked in what Ash assumed was agreement. Ash realized that he would have to get Zubat off of his back when he was talking to her from now on. It made her much more difficult to interpret.

"Is that a yes?" He asked, just to be sure.

Zubat squeaked again.

Ash had been thinking of a nickname for his newest partner ever since he had first released her. He had narrowed it down to a fairly narrow list, and he started off with his favorite. Perhaps it wasn't the most creative, but Ash thought it fit Zubat. At least her main role for the team, anyways.

"How about Seeker?" Ash questioned. Zubat squeaked in the same tone again, which Ash assumed was satisfaction. If she didn't like it, he was sure she would lightly jab him with her small hooks. "Alright, then. Seeker it is."

The newly dubbed Seeker squeaked again. Ash smiled and scratched her ears and spoke to her some more for the next few minutes. He started to grow tired of waiting, but after a while a red-faced Professor Oak appeared on screen, panting and sweaty.

"Oh, hello, Ash!" The Professor wheezed out. Ash returned the greetings and patiently waited for the older man to recover. When he did, Oak continued. "Sorry about the wait. I was out in the fields with your pidgeot. She's been a great help in managing the rattata."

"I'm glad she could help." Ash said with a grin. "Plume's actually what I came to talk to you about. Could you send her over? I'm going to be on a ship for the next few days and I don't want Zubat cooped up in her pokeball the entire time."

Oak nodded. "Of course! I actually have her with me right now. You know what to do."

Ash whispered a goodbye to Seeker before returning her, promising the zubat that he would see her again soon. Seeker squeaked a goodbye before she was returned.

He carefully placed the pokeball into the transfer machine. Oak did the same with Plume's pokeball and a moment later the balls had been switched. Ash took Plume's ball from the machine and clipped it onto his belt. While he was sad that he had to send Seeker away, he was ecstatic to have one of his first friends back.

"Before you leave, could you tell me how your trip into the Caverns went?" Oak questioned. "Gary was thinking about heading into them for a little extra training in a few months."

Ash took about five minutes to tell his experiences to Professor Oak, although he left the part about Articuno out. He didn't think the Pokemon Center was secure enough, although he knew that he would tell Professor Oak about the legendary sometime in the near future.

"I see." Oak said, scratching his chin and reclining back into his chair, deep in thought. "Perhaps I can get Gary to wait until the Ice Time is over. If I'd known it was that dangerous, I'd have done my best to stop you from going in."

"I would have found a way to get in anyways." Ash said confidently, a little bit of spirit breaking into his answer.

Oak frowned, although his eyes showed that he was amused. "I'm sure you would have. Telling you not to do something never did work out very well. Anyways, have you talked to your mother yet? She's been very worried about you."

Ash shook his head, a bit of guilt worming its way inside of him. "I'm calling her right after this. I just wanted to get everything ready beforehand."

The Professor sighed. "I won't keep you then. Send my regards to Gary if you see him. He hasn't called me in a long time."

He frowned, but didn't get a chance to say anything before the monitor cut off. Ash sighed and punched in his mother's number. He didn't want her to be worried about him.

XX

After a long conversation with his mother about his experiences in the Caverns – he had made sure to keep most of the dangerous bits out of the story, although he made clear that it wasn't an easy journey – Ash left for the markets. He wanted to see if they had found any Dragon Scales.

An hour later, he walked away from the busy marketplace empty-handed. Ash was a little disappointed that he couldn't find the item, but figured that there were plenty of opportunities in the future. But while he had been shopping, he realized that he should probably get Golduck from the Oak Corral and meet him. The Cinnabar Gym was known to be difficult, and he didn't want to use Golduck without knowing that the pokemon would obey him.

Ash transferred Bruiser over to Professor Oak. The older man didn't seem to have a problem about having to work with Ash twice, apparently glad to see Ash after more than three months.

Once he had Golduck, Ash went out to the forest. He had to search a while for a clearing sufficiently large enough to comfortable hold all of his pokemon, but he got lucky and found one on the northern end of the island. There were two tasks he needed to complete before he could relax with his friends.

First, he had to talk to Plume again. Ash just hoped that she hadn't harbored a grudge against him. Plume had her pride, and he probably hadn't done that pride a favor.

Second, he had to meet Golduck and feel out the newest addition to his team. Golduck had seemed far more aggressive than any of his pokemon outside of Infernus, so Ash wasn't sure if the water-type would be under control by the time they reached Cinnabar.

Ash didn't hesitate in either of his tasks. He first let out all of his pokemon aside from Torrent, Plume and Golduck.

Nidorino grunted and looked up at the sun, basking in the rays that he hadn't felt in several days. He stayed like that for a while before taking Ash's side, receiving a pat on the head as greetings from Ash.

Dazed had a similar reaction, albeit more subdued. She nodded at Ash once before exploring the clearing, experimentally glancing up into the sun now and then.

Infernus, however, went wild. He seemed prepared to freeze for a few minutes as he saved Ash's frozen body from dying, but froze when he realized that they were no long in the Caverns. A moment later Infernus began roaring and stamping his foot on the ground, sending flames cascading in all directions and causing the earth around him to bubble and crack in Infernus' glee.

Ash just smiled and stepped away from Infernus. The fire-type had suffered greatly for him in the Caverns. He wasn't about to take away Infernus' fun.

After a few minutes, even Infernus had calmed down. Ash put a hand on Plume's pokeball, unclipping it and returning it to its normal size. He almost hesitated, but quickly threw the ball into the air and released Plume before he could think about it anymore.

Plume shrieked out her arrival, drawing the attention of the rest of his friends, before taking to the skies. She began to circle over the clearing, letting loose piercing cries. Ash could feel her keen eyes glaring at him.

Nidorino didn't seem to like that. He tensed up and gave a deep, rumbling growl. Ash placed a calming hand on his head, carefully avoiding the horn that was beginning to leak poison.

"Don't hurt her." He said to his best friend. "She has a reason to be made." Ash turned his gaze to Plume, who was still circling high in the sky. "Plume! Come down. I want to talk to you!"

His friend shrieked again before slowly coming down, losing altitude at a lazy rate. Ash patiently waited with his arms crossed, knowing that he had as much time as he needed. Plume was just a bit upset.

She finally landed, carefully slamming into the ground just a few feet in front of him. Ash met her fierce gaze calmly, undaunted by the bird's sheer size and power. Nidorino growled at Plume and tensed up.

"Calm down, Nidorino." Ash commanded. He turned back to Plume. "It's nice to have you back. How was the Corral?"

Plume shrieked at him and beat her wings. A bit of charred earth and soot left over from Infernus' celebration was whipped up and thrown at him, but Ash didn't particularly care.

"Is that a yes or a no?"

His friend shrieked at him in annoyance and stepped closer on her talons, but a growl from Nidorino and the smell of charged power in the air kept her back. Ash frowned.

"Look, those Caverns were brutal. There were ice pokemon there powerful enough to take out half the team. We got lost several times. We encountered Articuno and nearly froze to death. How would have you helped out? All that would have happened is that you got hurt, and I really don't want that to happen."

Plume's puffed out chest seemed to deflate a little, but she still seemed a little angry. Ash sighed and continued.

"Do you think I liked transferring you? You're one of my first friends. I like Seeker, but she can't replace you." Plume's chest puffed out again, and Ash stepped closer. "Listen, I just traded you to keep you safe. You're strong, but you couldn't battle against those ice-types, not when they were given a power boost."

The bird preened under his praise and Ash smiled. He meant everything he said, but he did have to embellish it a bit. Plume's vanity was the best way to approach her, although it was usually kept in check by her loyalty and friendliness.

"I promise that I'll never leave you unless I have to. This was just a bad area. There isn't another place in Kanto I can think of where you'll need to leave." He said, pressing his position. Ash gently stroked Plume's smooth crest, making her lean her head forwards.

She had no objections to him touching her, and seemed pleased enough with him, so Ash assumed that he was forgiven. He hoped that he didn't have to be separated from his friend for a long time.

The group relaxed for a while, enjoying the chance to actually communicate and see each other instead of hurriedly moving along in the hopes of not freezing to death. Infernus was particularly pleased – he was practically dancing around the clearing, sending small bursts of flame through the air around him with every movement. Ash had Plume blow any that managed to gain a fuel source out, although most died on their own.

After an hour of messing around and relaxing, Ash finally remembered Golduck. He had a frown on his face as he called over his friends.

"We have a new teammate." Ash announced. "Dazed, you remember him. Nidorino, you probably got a glimpse of him. He's a golduck and, if he's as aggressive as I remember, we might have some trouble with him. Get ready to battle."

Nidorino growled. Ash saw an arc of electricity travel up his horn before dissipating. Dazed's eyes began glowing, clearly ready to battle the powerful golduck.

Ash stepped back and released Golduck. The large blue creature seemed annoyed at being released, but quickly scanned the surroundings. When it saw Ash, its eyes glowed a bright blue and it spit a fast, powerful blast of water at him.

He flinched and ducked, but it turned out that there was no need. Dazed had erected a barrier of shimmering blue energy in front of him a split second before the powerful water gun hit. Ash slowly looked up and saw that Nidorino and Infernus were attacking Golduck. The others were forming a circle in order to keep the combatants from escaping.

Dazed continued to stand by him, maintaining the psychic barrier with minimal energy. Ash just watched as his friends battled Golduck. They only had a little bit of trouble battling the powerful water-type and it also gave Ash a chance to appraise Golduck's skills.

The first thing he noticed was that Golduck seemed much weaker than it had inside of the Caverns. Granted, he hadn't gotten many chances to actually see its capabilities, but Golduck just didn't have the power it had previously displayed. It was reacting slower, had less power behind its attacks, and could only use its psychic abilities a few times before it was exhausted.

Despite its lessened power, Golduck held its own against the combined might of Nidorino and Infernus. It spit water at Infernus, dodged several of Nidorino's thunderbolts, and did its best to viciously attack both of his friends. Golduck took as many hits as it dealt out, but it seemed to have no battling instinct other than to attack relentlessly.

It was Infernus that took the frenzied Golduck out. While Nidorino drew its attention and dueled it in a battle of claw and horn, Infernus attacked it from the rear and wrapped his large, hot hands around Golduck's torso. Infernus roared and flared up, sending flame blasting out from all over his body.

Golduck squirmed and bit and kicked, but the flames eventually knocked it out. Infernus casually dropped his defeated foe to the ground and belched flames into the air as a sign of his victory. Nidorino just grunted and curiously stood over Golduck.

Ash complimented his friends on their work before withdrawing his pokedex and scanning the unconscious Golduck.

"Golduck, the Duck Pokemon." The calm, mechanical voice said. "Golduck is the fastest swimmer among all pokemon. It swims effortlessly, even in a rough, stormy sea. It sometimes rescues people from wrecked ships floundering in high seas. When it swims at full speed, its forehead begins to glow.

This Golduck knows the moves: Water gun, confusion, water pulse, aqua tail, zen headbutt, and hydro pump. Its ability is Damp, which enables it to have a resistance to explosions and fire-type movesElectric attacks will be amplified."

Ash could definitely make use of its move pool. While not as formidable as it had once seemed, Golduck still had a fair bit of power backing him up. Coupled with its impressive move pool, he was sure that it would be a good opponent for Blaine. Its ability had a few perks, but he was ambivalent about it. Water-types already resisted fire. That weakness to electricity was a huge hole, but Ash could work around it in most cases.

The trainer checked Golduck's gender. It was a male.

He walked over to the fallen Golduck and kneeled beside him. Ash put his pokedex up and gave Golduck a revive. A few seconds after the white powder fell into Golduck's mouth, the pokemon stirred and began to pull itself up with its strong arms.

Ash stepped back and gave Golduck a little space. Nidorino and Infernus took their places by his side. He nodded at Dazed, who took the signal to flank Golduck and prepare to disable and hypnotize him.

Golduck wearily stood up. It looked ready for battle, and its eyes glowed with its fury when it saw Infernus. The water-type quickly spit a powerful water-gun at Infernus, but Dazed disabled it the moment afterwards. Infernus flared up the instant before the water hit him, converting some of the water gun into steam and taking only a little bit of damage.

Infernus roared and stepped forward. His fist erupted in flame and the bad-tempered pokemon prepared to take his vengeance on Golduck.

"Infernus! No!" Ash commanded, leveling a stern look at the aggressive fire-type. Infernus growled and looked as though he might ignore Ash, but another command caused Infernus to acquiesce and return to his former position. "Thanks. We don't want to hurt him."

The magmar snorted at that, which Ash ignored. Ash stepped forward and placed his hands up in a gesture of peace. Golduck glared, but he was still locked in by Dazed's disable and couldn't do anything.

"Calm down. I don't want to hurt you." Ash said placatingly. Golduck glared and began to move a little. "But if you keep on trying to attack us, I'll just have my friends knock you out again. I have all the time in the world, and I just want to be friends."

Golduck growled and waved his arms a little. He quacked angrily when Ash just stood there staring at him. Ash could tell that the disable would wear off in just a few moments. The psychic lock was already beginning to fizzle out.

"So, are you going to calm down?" Ash asked as the disable finally wore off. Golduck tensed and prepared to fight, but a deep growl from Nidorino convinced him otherwise. "Like I said, I just want to be friends. If you come with me, I'll make you a lot stronger."

Unlike most pokemon Ash had met, this statement didn't draw much interest from Golduck. He seemed almost insulted by the remark and stood up much straighter. But he did glare and nod at Infernus. The fire-type roared at the challenge and spit a massive flamethrower into the sky, causing small, burning embers to float down around them.

Ash grinned. It looked like he had a way to get Golduck to cooperate. "You want to battle Infernus?"

Golduck quacked and nodded, never letting his gaze drift from Infernus. Ash's smile grew wider.

"Then let's make a deal. I'll let you battle Infernus, but under a few conditions: I won't be commanding him, and if you lose, you have to cooperate with me and join my team. If you win, I'll take you back to the Caverns and release you. Deal?"

An unholy gleam entered Golduck's ruby eyes and they began to glow with psychic power. Golduck nodded and prepared for battle. Ash nodded at Infernus and let the fire-type square up. Ash and the rest of the team moved far away from the fierce battle about to take place.

When the rest of the team had moved to safety, the battle began. Golduck quacked angrily and went for the obvious way to defeat the powerful magmar – his psychic power.

Golduck's eyes and head glowed brightly, providing a bright spot that stood out even in the powerful rays of the sun. An aura of blue energy enveloped Infernus, and Golduck's eyes surged with even more light.

Infernus roared angrily and threw off the psychic attack, his body too powerful for the attack and his rage too bright. He seemed to remember Golduck's improved resistance to electric attacks and didn't bother blasting the water-type with a flamethrower. Instead, Infernus blew a huge cloud of thick black smoke from its mouth, small embers mixed in with the gas.

Ash could still see Infernus even as he moved into the obscuring cover of the smoke – Infernus wasn't built for stealth, not when he constantly had flames blazing from his body and licks of fire trailing him in combat – but it was still harder to discern him. He heard Golduck squawk in anger and heard sizzling sounds.

Suddenly, the smoke was blasted away by a burst of flame. Ash coughed and covered his mouth as some of the smoke drifted over to him, but turned his attention to the battle when it passed. Infernus seemed to have blasted the smoke away with a small explosion of flames, but had turned to fire spin in its stead.

Infernus flared up and released a twister of flame towards Golduck, which curled around and trapped the water-type in a vortex of swirling flame. Ash could barely see through the inferno and was very glad that most of the grass and vegetation had already been burned away. He looked towards Plume and nodded at his friend. She quickly took off and began blowing out flames that had the potential to spread. The trainer looked on at the battle curiously, surprised at the strategy Infernus was using.

He hadn't used fire spin very much. Infernus was generally capable of powering through most foes, and the fire-type generally had a strong aversion to using the camouflage afforded to him by the flames. But it looked like Infernus disliked Golduck enough to override that quirk.

Infernus roared and flared up as Golduck blasted him with a hydro pump. He was hurt by the attack, but his almost supernatural stamina allowed him to survive the attack. The fire-type suddenly disappeared into the flames, his body allowing him to stalk unseen through the blaze.

Golduck quacked in surprise and suddenly formed a ball of blue energy in his hands, which he threw onto the charred ground. It formed a massive wave that exploded outward when it hit the ground, slamming into the fire spin and weakening the flames' power.

But Infernus had dodged the attack and suddenly appeared behind Golduck, leaping from the vortex of flame and slamming a burning fist into Golduck's back. Although the flames didn't badly hurt Golduck, the sheer force behind the blow sent Golduck sprawling to the ground. Golduck quacked and shot a high-powered jet of water at Infernus, but it did little other than to slow the fire-type down.

Ash grinned when Golduck was consumed by a massive flamethrower, Infernus' rage fuelling the hot flames. It wouldn't hurt Golduck, but it would weaken the proud pokemon. Infernus quickly pressed his advantage and slammed a burning foot onto Golduck's chest, pinning the water-type beneath his weight.

When Infernus pulled his large foot up and prepared to slam it down and send an eruption of flame and lava blasting up from beneath Golduck, Ash drew the line. He snapped his attention to Infernus and called out for him.

"Infernus! That's enough!"

Infernus obeyed him almost instantly this time, extinguishing the flames that consumed his body and caused the heat waves that made his appearance shimmery and indistinct to die down. Plume blew out the fire spin, which was easily gotten rid of thanks to Infernus no longer powering it.

After Plume blasted the rest of the flames out, she fluttered over to Ash and took her place beside him. Ash smiled at her, glad that she hadn't held a grudge. A moment later, however, he stepped forward until he was just a few feet away from Golduck.

"Good job, Infernus." He said with a grin. Infernus roared and seemed quite pleased with himself. Apparently the fire-type had little love for Golduck.

This fight did make Ash realize that he was wasting Infernus' potential. He had just been using him as a nigh unstoppable juggernaut for the month or so that they had been travelling together, using him as a battering ram that defeated opponents through sheer power and ferocity. Ash had actually somewhat forgotten about the cunning and other abilities that Infernus had displayed, as well as the strategic use.

To be honest, Ash was disappointed with himself. He'd let both Infernus and himself down. He would just have to remedy that in the coming days. But for now he focused his attention on the ash-covered Golduck, who had pulled himself up on tired arms.

Golduck retained his pride. He ignored Infernus' celebrations and stood up as tall as he could manage. The water-type looked Ash straight in the eye, pride bent from the crushing defeat but not broken.

"Are you ready to be part of the team?" Ash asked with a grin. Golduck snarled as best he could, although his defeated appearance ruined the effect. "We made a deal. I'd expect a golduck to honor it."

The water-type stood up even straighter, eyes blazing with anger. He quacked and nodded, bowing his head a bit in acknowledgment.

"So are you going to cooperate?" Ash questioned. Golduck slowly nodded, although it looked extremely difficult for him to do. "Good. I promise that I'll make you as strong as I can."

Golduck quacked in response, seemingly unconvinced, before walking away and turning his back on the rest of them. Ash shook his head in annoyance. While Golduck had acquiesced to join the team, it didn't seem like he would be very close with the rest of them.

Oh well, Ash thought as he looked at the rest of the team. Now that the drama had passed, they had returned to their former activities. There would be plenty of time to try and work that arrogance out of Golduck later. For now, he just wanted to relax.

XX

The next morning found them on the ship as it disembarked from the port. Ash stood with Nidorino by his side, watching the familiar town slowly fade away as they moved farther and farther away from the Seafoam Islands.

While Ash couldn't say that he would ever miss the Caverns or the trials within, he had grown fond of the island and appreciated the strength the Caverns had imparted upon him and his pokemon. After facing the icy depths of the Caverns, he was sure that he could do anything. It had made them all tougher, both physically and mentally.

He had kept Golduck, although he got Professor Oak to bring Bruiser to the screen so that Ash could apologize and explain his reasoning. Bruiser seemed far more understanding than Plume had and accepted Ash's reasons, although he still seemed disappointed. Ash promised to bring him back soon, though.

Golduck was responding better to Ash, although he had a fierce rivalry with Infernus and disliked the others. He respected their power but hated them for it at the same time. Ash hoped that he could reach the water-type and make him a bit more amenable over the trip to Cinnabar.

Captain Stewart promised to help Ash with the unruly Golduck in his off-time and gave Ash permission to let the water-type swim alongside the ship. Ash hoped that the physical work could make Golduck happier and more receptive to his outreaches.

As the small outline of the Seafoam Islands finally vanished from Ash's view, he turned away and looked towards the direction of Cinnabar. The Seafoam Islands had been an important part of his journey and had posed difficulties that he wouldn't forget, but he was excited to move on and test his strength against new challenges.

Ash had a grin on his face as he thought of Blaine, the old, experienced battler that would be his next challenge.

Cinnabar Island awaited him.

 
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