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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30. The Creature Part 1

"What happened? Are you alright?" Lance questioned quickly, concern evident. Ash wished he had chosen a better place to call the Champion than this alley. It was blocking his signal from actually getting a video feed.

"I'm fine." Ash told the man, some of his shakiness disappearing. "Just…just listen to me for a minute."

The Indigo Champion was quiet. Ash took that as his cue to continue. The trainer took a deep breath before he started speaking. "I challenged the Viridian Gym today. The psychic that blew up the St. Anne was there."

"What." Lance said. Steel entered his voice. It wasn't a question. "Are you sure?"

"I could feel it." Ash scowled, a grim expression on his stony face. "The gym is filled with its energy without it even doing anything. No Alakazam could do that."

Lance was quiet. Ash could practically see the contemplative expression on the Champion's ordinarily boisterous face. He could hear the rapping on knuckles against solid oak.

"Check out the records for his last few gym battles." Ash said, pressing his point even further. "I know one of the trainers that challenged him before me. He's strong and he was defeated six to nothing."

"This is unsettling." Lance said quietly. He was silent for a few more moments. "I'll look into it." The Champion's tone suddenly grew stern. "Ash, don't do anything you'll regret. Go to the Center and heal your pokemon. You might not have fought the Psychic, but they still have to be hurt. I'll contact you later."

Ash gritted his teeth. It was out of the ordinary for him, but he didn't want to listen. He didn't want to wait for justice. He needed Giovanni to be punished now! Ash didn't know where Giovanni fit into the Rockets' schemes, but the man was a part of them nonetheless.

"I will." Ash finally muttered. He knew that the League would take care of it. They hated the Rockets as much as he did and with Lance at their head they'd act quickly. Perhaps in another region they'd try to protect Giovanni's reputation. But in Indigo, justice was blind.

"I'll get this taken care of." Lance promised. Ash just nodded at the phone before the Champion cut the line.

He stared at the blank screen for a few seconds before he clicked the PokeNav shut and clipped it onto his belt. There was nothing to do now but wait.

"Let's go, Tangrowth." Ash said dazedly as he walked out of the alley. He simply returned his friend as they walked by. Viridian was strict on outsider's pokemon being released unless it was a dire emergency. It would be a shame if he got into trouble before Giovanni was arrested.

XX

"What on earth did you battle?!" Nurse Joy shouted at him as she came back from the operating room. She was furious. Ash blinked. "Your Nidoking has two broken ribs and severe bruising around his midsection, as well as minor burns on his back. Do you know what it takes to do that to one of his breed?"

Ash sighed and scratched his neck. "Yes, I do. You can thank the gym leader."

Nurse Joy's eyes widened. All anger was sapped from her posture. "That explains it." She shook her head. "I've told that stubborn man a million times to be easier on his challengers. One of these days there's going to be an injury he can't take back."

He began to clench his fists but stopped himself. Everything was going to be fine. All he needed to do was distract himself. "How are the others?"

"Hypno has severe bruising on her back and a few broken ribs. She had a few stones embedded in her skin, but Chansey got those out. There are three gashes from whatever she hit and part of her side was skinned." Nurse Joy recited clinically, doing her best to emotionally distance herself from the report. "Machoke is mostly fine, but his chin is cracked and he has a minor concussion. Kingdra is fine, just unconscious. Magmar is in pretty bad shape, though." She noted. "Four broken ribs, a bit of internal damage and some breathing issues."

Ash scowled and clenched his fists. Infernus shouldn't have been that hurt from a gym battle. It was like battling Pierce all over again.

"Listen, a full restore will get Magmar up and running, but you need to let him soak in some lava." Nurse Joy told him with worried eyes. "That'll soothe his pain and fix him up better than anything I can do." A tired smile appeared on her face. "I wish all pokemon could be healed that easily."

The trainer nodded in agreement. It would be nice to not have to buy so many potions and revives. He assumed she hadn't said anything about Tangrowth because there wasn't anything to say. Tangrowth could regenerate in a few hours if he really needed to.

"Your pokemon will need to stay here for the rest of the day at least. We can release Kingdra and Tangrowth to you now."

"Thank you." Ash said with a dip of his hat. Nurse Joy smiled at him before walking off and waving one of the attendants over. The girl quickly handed him Torrent and Tangrowth's pokeballs before rushing off to help Nurse Joy.

He clipped them onto his belt and watched the attendant walk into the operating room sadly. Ash hated that his friends had been so badly hurt in the gym battle. He hadn't thought that they'd been hurt badly – except for Nidoking, anyway. Dazed hadn't looked like she'd been badly hurt, just a little banged up. It was his fault for forgetting just how fragile she was.

Ash sighed dejectedly and walked out of the Center, taking a moment to apologize to anyone he rudely slipped past. There wasn't much for him to do for the rest of the day. It was almost night, but he figured he had enough time to pick up some supplies before he went to bed.

Not that he would get much sleep. Thoughts of vengeance for all of Team Rocket's victims – the drowned victims of the St. Anne, the pokemon that had been warped and twisted by the nefarious organization, the people that had been killed and terrorized – roared through his mind, demanding action. He didn't see it going away any time soon.

But a small smile made its way onto his face as he walked through the busy streets of Viridian. Vengeance was coming, and what was probably the most powerful of Team Rocket's supporters would be detained shortly. Whoever the head of the mysterious organization was, they would be furious when they heard of the setback.

That was the thought that kept a smile on his face as he went to the nearest Poke Mart and happily bought all of the supplies he would need through the depths of Viridian Forest.

XX

Something was shaking him awake. He sleepily opened his eyes and saw Tangrowth lightly poking him. "I'm up, buddy. What is it?"

Tangrowth gurgled and pointed at the door. Ash shrugged and pulled his shirt on from his night stand before he went over and peered out the hole before opening it up. His friend waddled up behind him and curiously peered over at the man standing in front of the door.

Had his friend not been there, Ash would never have opened a door for a stranger. The memory of the St. Anne still stuck with him, even if that part of it was a little fuzzy. But he was confident that Tangrowth was strong enough to protect him. If not, Torrent would be more than happy to oblige.

"Hello?" Ash stared up with distrustful eyes. The man that stood before him was odd, to say the least. He had dark purple hair, which was matched by his pants and sleeves. His formal attire – a mask that covered his eyes and a black coat – was a stark contrast to Ash's slightly dirty travelling clothes.

"Ash Ketchum?" The man asked in a friendly manner. Ash cautiously nodded.

"Who are you?" He asked bluntly, rubbing his tired eyes. Ash hadn't gotten as much sleep as he would have liked, and something told him that it was very early in the morning. But something about this man seemed familiar.

The man's lilac eyes widened behind his mask. "Ah, I apologize for my rudeness!" He said with a little bow. "My name is Will, trainee of the Elite Four and apprentice of Sabrina!"

Ash blinked. Now he knew where he'd seen the man. Aside from being mentioned by Lance, he was the Champion of the Indigo Conference two years ago. That had been a fun one to watch. Will, despite his odd appearance, had similar, albeit weaker, abilities to Sabrina that allowed him to command his powerful pokemon telepathically. It had been an interesting twist.

"May I come in?" Will requested. Ash nodded and stood back. The Elite Four trainee smiled at Tangrowth. "Hello, my good grass-type! I am pleased to make your acquaintance."

Tangrowth gurgled and poked Will in the head, dislodging his mask a bit. The tall man just laughed and poked Tangrowth back, eliciting a quizzical stare from the grass-type. Will laughed again and slipped into one of the chairs in the room.

"It's been too long since I travelled like an ordinary trainer." He mused, glancing around the dark room with curious eyes. "I'm afraid the League has spoiled me. Anyways, back to business." Will coughed politely. Ash sat down in the chair across from him. "Champion Lance has requested your presence at the Elite Four rally site. I'm to take you to him."

Ash frowned. "I need to get my pokemon."

"I already checked on them." Will replied. He had the grace to glance away. "They are not ready to leave quite yet. Regardless, you will not be a part of what is to come."

"Why does Lance want me there, then?" Ash questioned.

Will smiled. "You'll have to ask him that yourself." He said jovially. The man offered a gloved hand to Ash. "I can teleport you there."

Ash felt troubled about leaving his friends behind, even if they were likely unconscious and doped up on full restores at the moment, but he took the Psychic's hand once he recalled Tangrowth. If Lance wanted to see him, Ash would oblige.

The Psychic closed his eyes and focused for a moment. Ash squeezed his eyes shut as they hurtled through a whirlwind. His body felt extremely heavy for a few brief moments before it suddenly returned to normal weight. When the world solidified around them, Ash collapsed to the soft ground and emptied the contents of his stomach onto the loamy soil.

"I apologize for that." Will said embarrassedly. "I'm still learning teleportation, and I'm afraid that my skill and power doesn't even compare to Sabrina's. It was a bit rough."

Ash just groaned and stood up on shaky legs. That was nothing like all of his other teleportation experiences. Instead of being a smooth rift in space and time, it was like Will had punched through and dragged Ash along.

"But here we are." Will gestured grandiosely. Ash realized that they were just a few dozen feet away from a small camp filled to the brim with trainers and equipment. There were several guards with grim expressions walking towards them as they spoke.

"Did anyone see you?" The first of them, a short man with darting, suspicious eyes asked.

Will shook his head with an easy smile. "Of course not, my good fellow. The guards and police had nothing to suspect. Giovanni doesn't know about the assault yet."

"That damn outfit is gonna get you caught one of these days." The gruff guard growled. Ash met his eyes unflinchingly as the guard turned his gaze on the young trainer. "Guess you're the kid the Elite have been talking about, eh?"

Ash nodded, but didn't say anything. He was still feeling a bit sick from the disastrous teleportation and a little out of his element. This was a far cry from the operation he had helped with in the Sevii Islands. He'd never been involved with the Rangers and League forces working on the mission aside from the ones in charge of transportation.

"Will, the Champion wants to see you and the little guy." One of the other guards spoke up. He seemed young, just out of his teens. Ash glared at his title. "Gym Leader Sabrina has been wanting to see you two as well. She should be with Lance."

"Of course. We'll be on our way, then." Will said with a bow. Ash followed the tall man as they made their way into the camp. He attracted quite a bit of attention from the Rangers and the grim men and women in dark, plain blue uniforms.

He knew the Rangers. They were an organization that was modelled after the Pokemon Rangers that governed Fiore and Almia. In Indigo, the Rangers generally served as the League's main source of fighters outside of the police force and actually used captured pokemon instead of the strange way of the Pokemon Rangers. Although most of the time they simply wandered and protected the area they stood in and its inhabitants, they could be called into direct action by the League if necessary.

Ash glanced at the scowling trainers curiously. He didn't recognize their uniform or where they'd fit in with the League. They were obviously part of the police, but wasn't sure how far up they went. "Who are they?"

"ACE. They're an elite force of the Rangers." Will replied, automatically knowing who Ash was talking about. "They're the best the League has to offer aside from the Elite Four. Most of them are drawn from finalists in the Conference. Each and every one is a veteran of dealing with Team Rocket. Not the most cheerful fellows, but they get the job done."

He absentmindedly nodded. The League really meant business if they were drawing from that Conference Finalists. This was more than a force to lock the gym down should Giovanni try to fight – this was an army, drawn from the best Kanto had to offer. Giovanni had no chance now, not when the Elite Four were supported by trainers of this level.

"So this is an invasion?" He spoke up, taking in the large camp with broad, sweeping glances. It was well organized. Ordinary Rangers were partitioned off into one area while the ACE trainers kept to themselves. There was a section guarded by two silent ACE trainers that they were approaching.

"Indeed." Will replied as he waved the two through the checkpoint. "Giovanni has a powerful psychic at his disposal. I saw the reports on the St. Anne and the prison that was destroyed. The psychic is probably nothing more than a pokemon enhanced by technological means, but its power is very real."

Will sent a quick glance back at Ash. "This is the largest force assembled in the last thirty years. A single member of the Elite Four is usually capable of dealing with any Rocket force. But we are taking every precaution in dealing with this threat. We saw the videos that our Porygon teams gained from the Viridian gym files. It's capable of defeating most pokemon like they're nothing."

"Do you think it has any chance?" Ash scowled, remembering the destruction the monster had wreaked. It was strong, but it would be defeated today.

"No." Will said adamantly, a sudden shift from his formerly soft, polite tone. "Perhaps it could defeat a single member of the Elite Four, perhaps even two of the Elites working in tandem. But the psychic is only mortal. We have taken every precaution and will attack with overwhelming force. Our dear friend Giovanni is helpless." He suddenly pointed to a large tent with the symbol of Kanto burned into the front. "There is Lance's tent."

Will stepped in first. Ash followed directly after. The tent was warm, but not uncomfortably hot. He suspected that there was some pokemon at work. It was incredibly spacious and several tables had been put up.

Ash grinned when he saw three famous figures standing around one of the larger tables. Another was less famous, but one he knew better. Then there was one figure he couldn't quite make out – she was shrouded in shadows from where he stood.

"Hello, everyone!" Will exclaimed. The figures looked up and Ash suddenly had a wide grin on his face.

Lorelei was the first one to glance over. From the pictures he'd seen, she normally looked like she had just walked out of a classroom. Now, however, she wore clothing like Lance had in the Sevii Islands, although even more tightly-fit in order to allow for mobility.

Agatha was next. Her eyes were mismatched: one was black and one was a pale blue. It was disconcerting, but didn't look out of place on the Crone's wizened face. While she was old, she didn't appear to be ancient. The old woman's eyes were as sharp as ever and her spirit's strength made up for what her body lacked. When she saw Ash her eyes narrowed in a knowing expression.

Lance was the last of the Indigo Elite Four. He was wearing the same outfit as in the Sevii Islands and had a wide grin on his face. "Ash! Will! How's it going?"

"Good." Ash replied stiffly. He could feel the eyes of the rest of the Elite Four on him. "Where's Bruno?"

"Still off in Celadon." Lance said with a feral grin. "He's not too happy with Erika. Not that I am either." His eyes darkened before a boisterous smile reappeared. "Anyways, let me introduce you to the rest of my associates." He pointed at Lorelei. "This is Lorelei. I'm sure you've seen her – she was helping to secure the warehouse in the Sevii Islands."

Lorelei smiled and waved at him. "I've heard a lot about you. You've made a good impression on some very important people. Keep the attitude you have now and you'll go far."

Ash nodded back with a slightly stiff smile. Lorelei seemed friendly, but he still felt a little uncomfortable. "Thanks, I'll remember that."

Lance pointed at Agatha. Ash noticed that her shadow seemed a bit too corporeal for comfort. For just a moment he saw it grow and writhe before settling down. It looked like Agatha didn't always keep her Gengar in a pokeball. "Agatha."

She rapped her cane on the ground and gave a disconcertingly kind smile at the trainer. It didn't fit what Ash had heard about her personality. "Indeed. So you're Oak's little prodigy. I've heard far too much about you."

Ash smiled. That was more like the Revenant Crone he'd heard about. He hadn't had much opportunity to hone his sarcasm in the wilderness, but he figured Agatha would appreciate it. "I'm sure you'll hear even more about me soon enough."

"Oh, so you have spirit!" Agatha cackled. "Not just another young fool with more brawn than brains. We'll see if it holds up until the Indigo Conference."

"I'm sure he will." Lance interrupted. Agatha gave Ash a crooked smile before settling back to her previous position. Her old-fashioned clothing was in stark contrast to the other Elite Four members' tight, flexible suits, but she looked no less powerful for it. "Ash, you know Sabrina."

He smiled at Sabrina, who returned it warmly. "You have grown stronger. Bruno taught you well."

"He did." He replied with a quick grin. "I learned a lot from him."

Sabrina closed her eyes and breathed deeply. When she opened them they were alit with bright blue energy. The air around her face shined a deep blue and distorted from its presence. "The Ice is fading from you. But it will be replaced soon."

Ash frowned. He didn't think he was forgetting about the encounter with Articuno, but Sabrina would know better than he did. But he didn't like the implications – would he be encountering something just as powerful in the future?

He held back a sigh when he saw Sabrina's lips upturn. That confirmed that something huge was going to happen soon, although he noted that they shifted into her normal stoic expression moments later. Sabrina withdrew suddenly, and the light in her eyes flickered and died, leaving nothing but bright red behind.

"Karen, say hello." Lance said with a small grin. Ash heard a sigh as the figure in the shadows stepped forward. They seemed to bend around and cling to her before falling away to reveal the form of a tall, willowy teenage girl, probably eight years older than him. She had long, silvery hair and wore a surprisingly casual outfit considering the circumstances.

"So you're the trainer that has the Rockets quaking in their boots. How amusing." The girl began with a haughty smirk. Her silver-blue eyes glittered unfathomably. "I would have expected you to be taller. My opinion of the Rockets is plummeting as we speak."

Ash blinked. He hadn't expected that.

Karen inspected him again before turning away and retreating back into the shadows. She didn't seem very impressed with him. Ash just glanced at Lance helplessly, not really sure how he was supposed to respond to that. Most people he'd met so far had been friendly, or at the very least polite. Not many people had reacted with outright disdain.

Lance just gazed at Karen in disappointment before turning back to Ash and Will. "Both of you, come over here. You need to know the plan."

"I thought I wasn't participating." Ash frowned as he walked over. Will guided him over to the spot that had been reserved for him, right between Lorelei and Will.

"You aren't." The Champion replied, glancing at Ash before looking at the map in front of them. It appeared to be the location of and around Viridian gym. "This is too dangerous, and I won't allow you to take on something like this psychic. Only League forces will be participating."

Ash's brow furrowed. Why he was he here, then? He'd reported everything he knew of the psychic's capabilities, which wasn't that much. All he really knew was that it was vastly powerful and would probably require an army to take down – which the League seemed to have taken into account.

"I called you here so you could watch." Lance revealed. "We wouldn't have caught onto Giovanni's indiscretions if you hadn't called, not for a while, at least. You deserve to see his fall. Team Rocket is going to be dealt a major blow today. Besides, it'll be educational." He laughed.

Lance pointed at the gym as Ash grinned in excitement and thanks. "Here's the plan. The ACE trainers are going to surround the facility from different vantage points. They're armed with psychics, ghosts, and dark-types. If Giovanni doesn't peacefully surrender, we're going to blast the psychic with everything we've got. Karen is in charge of that group."

"The Rangers will be evacuating the immediate area." Lance said as he pointed out a large radius around the gym. "We need to protect the civilians in case of a battle. Sabrina and Will are responsible for restraining the psychic and giving the rest of us a chance to attack."

Lance glanced around with a hard, determined face. Each of the Elite Four met his eyes with the same serious look. Ash's eyes were set as well. He might not be fighting, but he'd be willing to help if it came to that.

"The Elite Four will approach the gym and apprehend Giovanni." The Champion said seriously. His hands were clenching the edge of the table and were white from the pressure. "If he calls upon the psychic, we will do our best to defeat it. Should our initial attempts fail, we will retreat and allow the rest of the plan to follow through. There can be no mistakes. We know what this psychic is capable of, and Team Rocket must not be allowed to harness its power any longer. The St. Anne was only the beginning – a test."

Ash's eyes widened. Team Rocket had destroyed the St. Anne to try out their newest weapon? They had condemned thousands to death just to see what their new toy could do? His teeth gnashed together and fury rose in his heart. He'd enjoy watching Giovanni fall.

"We leave in ten minutes." Lance finished heavily. He stood up and glanced around. "Prepare yourselves. This will be like nothing that we have seen before. Ash, come with me."

As Lance walked outside, Ash rose and followed him. The inhabitants of the tent gazed after them, some curious and one condescending. Ash paid no heed to them. He winced as the bright light of the sun hit his eyes, which had grown accustomed to the dim tent, but didn't let it bother him too much.

He followed Lance until they stood on the edge of a high cliff. It overlooked miles of unbroken forest and showed Viridian City far off into the distance, barely a dot on the horizon. The sight was beautiful, but he knew it wasn't what Lance had pulled him away for.

Ash stood next to the Champion and crossed his arms in the same manner Lance was. The bright morning sun cast them in a long shadow, both of which melded together. Lance looked down at Ash, his angular face inscrutable.

"You did a good thing." Lance said quietly. "I don't know how high up in Team Rocket Giovanni is, but he's important. They won't recover from this." He was quiet for a few seconds. Ash listened attentively, locked onto every word of the Champion. "You won't be on the ground. It's too dangerous there. You'll be watching from the sky."

Realization dawned on Ash as Lance unclipped a pokeball from his belt and released a gigantic dragonair that Ash recognized as Saph. The dragonair cooed at the two and wrapped around both trainers in greeting. Ash laughed and patted her side. Lance just smiled and stroked the top of her smooth head.

"Won't you need her?" Ash asked as Saph unwound from around them and cocked her head. He lightly rubbed her smooth scales.

"She's not ready for this yet." Lance's eyes were a bit regretful. Saph growled quietly, eliciting a shake of his head. "Saph, you're stronger than most pokemon can hope to be. But I need the main team for this one."

Saph cooed understandingly and snapped toward Lance so that she could lick his cheek. Lance smiled and scratched behind one of the tiny wings adorning her head. He glanced over at Ash. "She'll get you where you need to go. Saph can make some cover so that the two of you won't be seen by the guards." Lance suddenly smirked. "I hope you don't mind getting wet."

Ash sighed. He where this was going. They were travelling by air and they needed cover. What better than a cloud?

The dragonair suddenly moved so that Ash could get on her long, thick body. Ash climbed up and glanced over at Lance. "Good luck."

Lance grinned wildly. "The Rockets will need it more than us." He sobered up after that. "Hopefully none of us will need it. I don't want this getting messy." The Champion shook his head and snapped his fingers. Saph reared up and launched into the air.

He yelped in surprise as Saph took off at a great speed, much faster than she had been the last time he rode her. Apparently any speed was fine as long as he didn't have a concussion. Saph rumbled happily as she smoothly maneuvered through the air. The wind bent around her and left her in a bubble of calm air. Ash was just glad that she could do that – he wasn't being buffeted too badly by the winds at such a high altitude, which was nice.

Ash glanced down at the forest. They were probably two thousand feet up in the air. The air was getting thinner but not too insubstantial. His stomach lurched when he looked down at the trees, which were little more than multihued green dots. He grabbed onto Saph tighter, grateful that her scales were just rough enough to get a good grip on.

The bundle of smooth jewels on her tail and under her neck began to shine brightly as they neared the city. Ash sighed when moisture began to gather around them and condense into a large cloud that shrouded them from prying eyes. He'd expected it to soak him to the bone judging from Lance's warning, but it was more like he walked into a cold fog than anything else. His clothes were damp, but that was about it.

Saph gave a low, haunting call as she raced towards Viridian. Ash managed to force himself to look down after nearly a minute of flying and saw that, through the white fog encasing them, they were just a little bit away from Viridian. Its small, Spartan buildings soon began to pass underneath them at a dizzying speed.

Ash began to feel a little queasy and looked up. He hadn't realized just how fast Saph was. Her manipulation of the air currents made it feel as though they were just gliding along, when in reality they were barreling through the air. The trainer wondered just how fast Plume was in comparison.

The dragonair gave another cry as she suddenly dove down and stopped. Ash closed his eyes and clenched onto Saph's large body as she suddenly ground to a halt. The kickback was enormous and made him wince from the pain. It faded quickly enough, however, and he recovered enough to peer down at the gym, which was recognizable even from their height hundreds of feet above it.

He could see the ACE trainers positioned on top of the buildings. They were nearly invisible, but he could just barely make out their definition. The streets around the gym were completely deserted, and the guards in front of the gym were the only one humans he could see.

"What do you think will happen?" Ash asked quietly, thoughts strangely calm. He was about to see Giovanni given justice, and he wasn't even sure he could feel happy about it yet. It was like he was in shock.

Saph cooed softly to him and peered back at him with wide, sapphire eyes. She flicked her tongue out of her mouth and blinked before nodding toward the gym. Ash followed her gaze and saw three figures stepping towards the security checkpoint. Lance's massive frame was clearly visible, as was Lorelei's slim body and Agatha's old, frail form.

The guard seemed to be in shock and immediately let them in. Ash grinned at that – he had probably never expected three of the Elite Four to be in one place outside of Indigo Plateau, let alone at the gym. Lance nodded to the guard but was stopped by the two men in bronze armor.

A few stern words from the Champion appeared to force the guards to relent. They stood back and opened the door for the Elite Four, but Ash saw one of them speak into some sort of communications device. Ash figured he was warning Giovanni.

It was a quiet situation as the Elite Four entered the gym to confront Giovanni, so Ash took some time to analyze where each of the ACE trainers were. That way he would know where to watch if a battle came to pass.

Most were on roof tops, mainly partnered up with another trainer. Some were on the street or in alleys and they looked to be alone. Ash spotted Karen skulking in the shadows with two of the powerful trainers flanking her. He wondered just how powerful she was to be an Elite Four member in training. She certainly hadn't received the position for her attitude.

Will and Sabrina were situated together on top of a large building. They both sat cross-legged on the dirty surface and seemed deep in meditation. Their pokeballs circled them continuously, held aloft by a constant flow of psychic energy. He could see energy pulsing beneath their eyelids, giving the two psychics and eerie appearance.

He glanced away from the psychics. They weren't interesting yet, and he wanted to see if there were any more forces he could discover. This was an incredibly powerful force, but –

Pain.

Ash heard a distant scream echoing through the blood pounding in his ears and numbly realized it was own. He clutched his head so tightly that his nails drew light trails of blood, but that was barely noticeable compared to the vast, piercing lance that stabbed into his mind and twisted until he screamed and bled and burned.

And then there was nothing. Ash panted heavily as he began to see something aside from whiteness of his agony. The pain had vanished as suddenly as it had appeared, replaced by a gentle, soothing caress that kept him calm and healed the damage to his mind.

He shuddered briefly and wiped his eyes. It felt as though he should be crying from the pain. There was nothing.

Saph seemed fine, however, if strained. Her eyes were closed, the thick, glossy blue hidden from the world. She seemed to be maintaining all of her energy towards staying aloft or maintaining her own influence.

"Thank you." He gasped, coughing as the aftereffects of the strange assault wracked his body. Saph cried out gently. Ash clenched his teeth and stared down at the gym. It looked like things hadn't gone over diplomatically.

That was made all the more apparent as the Elite Four were dragged into his vision by a corporeal shadow with bright red eyes and a wide, grinning set of sharp fangs. Agatha seemed furious and rapped her cane against the ground. Another Gengar popped out of the nearby shadows and whisked her away to the top of a building where she would be safe. The first one followed and appeared by her side.

A ghostly pokemon Ash as a Mismagius appeared beside her as well, its features obscured by its large hat. What must have been some sort of foreign pokemon also materialized, its single, blazing orange eye cold and furious. It appeared to have a scowling face on its ethereal chest and was connected to the ground by a tendril of shadowy energy.

The ACE trainers quickly released their own pokemon. They seemed to have recovered from the assault when Agatha's ghosts appeared, although they were still wincing in agony. Each quickly released their own ghosts, dark-types and psychics. The psychics' eyes immediately began glowing, as though they were empowered by some otherworldly force.

Ash shuddered as a wave of gloom and cutting cold spread through the air thanks to the presence of so many ghost-types. He felt a brief surge of paralyzing fear wash over him, a natural response to large numbers of ghosts, but he fought it down with an iron will.

Ghost-types naturally disrupted a psychic's powers – they weren't of this dimension and warped reality to the tiniest extent wherever they appeared, which in turn disrupted a psychic's ability to manipulate reality.

Dark-types simply had another kind of energy theorized to be from a universe where everything was distorted coursing through their bodies. It meant that they produced an energy field that completely prevented psychic energy from directly affecting them, unlike ghosts, who were incredibly vulnerable to psychics thanks to not being firmly grounded in reality – they were in a sort of halfway state. Ghosts couldn't be killed, but their corporeal forms could be destroyed. They could reform quickly if powerful enough, but most would be left as nothing more than wisps for months or years.

So it made sense that almost all of the pokemon released were of the ghost and dark-types. They would be the only thing to really stand up to a psychic pokemon that powerful.

Ash watched with clenched fists as Lance released six massive, overwhelmingly powerful pokemon: Two Dragonite, one of which was the one Ash had met previously, a Charizard that rivalled Professor Oak's, a Kingdra that made Torrent look tiny in comparison, the Aerodactyl that Ash had seen at the Rocket Warehouse, and a Gyarados that took up the entire city square in front of the gym.

Lance's face was stone as he leapt onto Dragonite's back and took off into the air, too fast for Ash to see as anything but a blur. His second Dragonite immediately followed. Aerodactyl and Charizard took to the skies as well, but Kingdra and Gyarados simply watched and waited. Each seemed to know exactly what to do, even without Lance's output.

Lorelei moved like water as she released her pokemon in smooth, flowing motions. A gigantic Mamoswine appeared beside her and reared up, while a Cloyster, Lapras, and Slowking materialized in a semicircle around the Ice Queen. They were tense and ready to attack.

He was well aware that these were the most powerful pokemon he had ever seen. Only Professor Oak could rival them. Each of these pokemon were capable of destroying a town in a day and defeating an army of lesser pokemon with little effort.

These were the kind of men and women who, in times long past, had possessed the strength to band together and unite an entire nation. Their pokemon were practically undefeatable, the greatest specimens of their breed.

On their own, the three members of the Elite Four would be able to defeat anything that the world could throw at them. Supported by some of the strongest trainers Kanto could offer they were the most powerful fighting force Kanto had seen in a very long time.

These were the Masters.

But his attention was now drawn to the gym. It was rattling and some of the more ornate pieces of the impressive building were falling off. He blinked as a small section of the roof exploded, sending rubble flying high into the air.

He could see that something was hidden in the smoke – a pair of burning blue eyes that seemed subdued in some way he couldn't place were clearly visible in the thick haze. But they flashed again and caused the smoke to be blasted into the atmosphere, leaving the figure that had haunted Ash's thoughts visible for everyone to see.

A humanoid figure hung in the air, supported by nothing but its own mind and willpower. Sleek armor covered the creature, leaving thin sections of its body exposed. What wasn't black and metallic was covered with thin, gray fur. But the glowing eyes that were hidden behind the black, unfeeling visor attracted the most attention.

The creature was silent. Everything froze for just a moment as they took in the entity that had proven to be such a menace.

Even Lance took a moment to examine it and had Dragonite slow down. He suddenly scowled. "Attack!"

It was bombarded with a hundred attacks at once by the ACE trainers' teams. Shadow Balls, Dark Pulses, Night Dazes, and Ominous Winds blasted towards it, enough to kill even the most powerful psychic. Ash even caught a few psybeams and other psychic-type attacks in the mix, each far, far brighter than they should be.

The Creature seemed to regard them with disinterest as it flicked its wrist. A supernova flashed through the city as its energy set to work. Bright energy encompassed the Creature in a protective cube. Ash watched in horror as the attacks that should have carved straight through the barrier washed off harmlessly.

It flicked its wrist again and sent a shockwave towards the ground. The attack didn't really do much, but it provided enough of a distraction for the creature to raise one armored arm and create an orb that shined as brightly as the sun in the time it took Ash to blink.

As the next volley of attacks launched, tiny beams of multicolored energy that shot out from the blue sun seamlessly intercepted each one, vaporizing even ghost and dark-type attacks. After the explosions were finished, Ash saw a countless number of intense blue beams shoot out from the small blue sun and shoot a hole through every ghost-type's chest.

Ash felt true fear for the first time as he saw every ghost-type in the area glance down in shock at the hole in their corporeal form. Even Agatha's pokemon had been struck by the psychic beam.

An instant later their corporeal forms exploded in a puff of ghostly energy before diffusing into the atmosphere. Each of the ACE trainers reacted quickly and recalled their pokemon immediately, although Ash noted that Agatha's ghosts reformed after just a few seconds.

Agatha seemed furious. She tapped her cane against the building again, prompting her ghosts to immediately appear next to the Creature. They launched a flurry of attacks, but the Creature simply glanced at the ghosts with burning eyes and they exploded into their incorporeal forms.

Ash shuddered as Agatha was forced to recall her powerful pokemon, the only ones that had a chance to disrupt the Creature's power to begin with. It was up to the rest of the Elite Four now.

Saph cried out mournfully at the scene as Lance began his assault. The Champion fearlessly commanded his draconic beasts as they darted at and around the Creature, blasting it with streams of fire and energy that would easily destroy a building. Ash couldn't even see the Creature as it was consumed in an inferno of fire, ice, lightning, and several hyper beams.

Lorelei began her assault as well, followed by Karen. Her ice and water-types bravely began to fire ice beams and blasts of water that would effortlessly slice through steel, adding the powerful attacks to Lance's coordinated assault.

Karen looked tense as her Umbreon, Houndoom, and a large, white pokemon with a large scythe on the side of its head shot intense blasts of dark-type energy at the Creature. Although Ash couldn't see their effect, he knew it was the most likely thing to actually hurt the Creature now, especially since the ACE trainers were still supporting the Elite Four with their own dark-types.

He frowned and wondered uneasily what Will and Sabrina were doing. Ash glanced over at their former location and realized why the Creature hadn't retaliated yet. Both humans had released their pokemon, who were arranged around them in a circle. All the powerful psychics were staring at the Creature, who was barely visible behind the enormous amount of attacks being thrown at it, with eyes far brighter than any Ash had ever seen.

Ash assumed that they were doing their best to distract the Creature, or at least take over its mind for a few brief seconds. Their efforts were at least preventing the Creature from acting, so they were getting something done. Hopefully the combined force of the fourteen incredibly powerful psychics would be enough to lock the Creature into place and give the Elite Four and the ACE trainers enough time to take it down for good.

The stalemate continued for another minute. During that time he began to desperately think of any way that he could possibly help or make a difference with Tangrowth and Torrent.

There wasn't one.

Neither side was able to hurt the other, but Ash could tell that the ACE pokemon were beginning to falter. It was difficult to keep a sustained assault like that up, and even they couldn't keep it up forever.

But the Creature was unable to retaliate either. It seemed to have enough presence of mind to casually deflect the incredible power of the attacks being thrown at it relentlessly but was too distracted by the psychics to actually finish the fight.

Ash's palms began to sweat and the pit in his stomach began to grow when he saw each of the psychics – each some of the most powerful in the world, human or pokemon – suddenly freeze. Their eyes, which had been mostly light blue or pink, suddenly blazed in a supernova of ice blue energy. The psychics had lost their mental war with the Creature – it was just too strong.

The light hiding behind their eyes suddenly snuffed out, leaving them to collapse to the ground. Even Sabrina – the most powerful human psychic in the world, on par with an Alakazam – and her monster of an Alakazam had fallen to the Creature's might. Ash wasn't sure if they were unconscious or dead. He wasn't exactly an expert on psychic combat but he dearly hoped they were just unconscious.

Lance zoomed by on Dragonite's back and whistled. From the brief flash Ash saw on his face, Lance knew that their chances of victory were shrinking quickly. He had a hard look of determination in his narrow eyes. There was no fear.

All of Lance's pokemon attacked at once. Each fired a hyper beam from their mouth that bathed over the Creature in a wave of golden and orange energy. Ash had to turn away from it. The heat and sheer energy released by the hyper beams was incredible that it felt as though it were burning him, even from hundreds of feet away.

The Creature banished the explosions in a swirl of psychic energy. Ash clenched his teeth even as Saph cried out mournfully. Each of Lance's pokemon barely seemed affected by the immense strain they had just put their bodies under, but all the attack had done was show that the Creature was practically invincible. Those hyper beams would be enough to destroy almost anything – if it could block that that then nothing they could do would affect it.

Lance didn't give up, however. He whistled again, this time at a higher pitch, which caused his monstrously powerful pokemon to snap into action and begin their attack anew. The ACE trainers did their best to support him, and Lorelei continued to blast the Creature with powerful ice and water-type attacks over and over again to little effect.

Agatha's ghosts were flitting around the battlefield, hurling shadow balls before slipping back into the darkness. Every time they were struck by a tiny beam of the icy light, their physical forms exploded before reforming moments later. But it was starting to drain on them, Ash could see. It was taking longer to force their physical form back into being.

Finally, the Creature seemed to have enough of the battle. The shield it had raised blasted outward, encasing around each pokemon it hit and locking them into place. Even Lance's pokemon were affected. They growled, but couldn't even thrash against their psychic bonds. All of the others were unable to even make a sound.

It was eerie watching the Creature stare at the pokemon in disgust, casually sending them hurtling into the ground one by one with a flick of its wrist. Ash thought it seemed slightly tired, but not enough to stop it from battling with the same ruthless power it had used the entire fight.

Luckily, Saph was far enough away to avoid the psychic blast. It faded out of existence mere moments before it would have frozen her in an aura of psychic power. Ash watched in horror as the Creature suddenly hurled Lance's second Dragonite to the ground at crushing force, although it would only be enough to bruise the powerful creature. The brutality of the act and the worry of what was to come was what really bothered him.

"Saph, can you support a Tangrowth?" He questioned, blanching as he realized what was going to happen soon. Saph cooed a reply that he took as an affirmative. "When I release him, fly towards Lance and Dragonite as fast as you can."

Ash quickly released his large friend, who wrapped one arm around Ash happily. The trainer glanced up. "Tangrowth, I need you to catch a man if you see him falling. Make sure he stays safe."

Tangrowth gurgled a reply and wrapped around Saph's long body even as the dragonair took off. She didn't bother spending the time manipulating air currents, and for good reason – the Creature had just flicked its wrist and sent Dragonite and Lance hurtling to the ground. From that height it would be fatal.

Lance was unable to hold onto Dragonite as the Creature assisted gravity's call. His form was sent flying into the air, helplessly grasping for something to keep him from splattering against the pavement below. Ash could see him growing closer and closer as Saph launched herself through the air as fast as she could. Just a few seconds before the Champion hit the ground, several long, dexterous vines wrapped around him and yanked him onto Saph's back.

Ash pumped his fist in victory as the Champion was settled onto Saph, but that turned into a cry of surprise when one of the tiny, bright blue beams of energy shot out from the Creature's armored hands and slammed into Saph's side, carving a large, neat hole through her long blue body.

Fortunately, they were close to the ground. Saph slammed into the marble surface of the gym's exterior before crashing into the hard ground. She groaned pitifully in pain. Ash saw that she wasn't able to move her body past the hole. It had burned straight through her spine, but there was little blood. The immense energy in the beam had cauterized the wound.

He gasped as he slammed into the ground. The air was knocked out of him and it felt like he'd cracked a rib. Every breath felt as though a knife was stabbing into his side. Nevertheless, Ash pulled himself up. Tangrowth assisted him a bit and tried to stand in front of the trainer's body in a protective reaction.

Ash wheezed and gratefully nodded at Tangrowth, who gurgled sadly in reply. He winced as he turned to look at Lance. The Champion was hard-faced and had returned Saph. There was no noticeable sorrow on his face, but his eyes shined with immeasurable sadness. But he was all business as he hobbled over to Ash as fast as he could with what looked to be a badly injured leg. While he couldn't see the specific injury, Ash could see a lot of blood and the leg seemed misshapen.

"We have to get out of here!" Lance shouted. He grabbed Ash's arm and began to limp and lead him away, but they both stopped and clutched their heads in pain as another supernova of light blasted through the square. Ash looked up with eyes nearly squeezed shut from the pain and saw that every person and pokemon in the area had been locked down.

The Creature suddenly appeared in front of them, its armor menacing and dark in the sunlight. But what scared Ash the most were the burning blue eyes. They held no fear, no sorrow, and no regret. He couldn't even see what they really looked like.

Lance stood in front of Ash and met the Creature's eyes fearlessly. Ash took the opportunity to recall Tangrowth, ignoring his friend's fearful gurgle. He looked past Lance's large body and met the Creature's eyes himself.

He was going to die.

He would not die a coward. He would not bring one of his best friends to die with him. He would not die without staring his death in the face and making it watch and see what it had done.

A long, armored arm swung up and pointed at the two trainers. Three large, orb-like fingers crushed together as a miniature sun of blue ice appeared in front of it. It intensified until it looked as though it would be able to wipe Viridian off the map with a careless gesture.

"The Champion of Indigo and a Child." A deep, masculine voice echoed inside of Ash's mind. He crushed his hands to his ears in a futile action to stop the horrific pain as the words ripped through his mind and split his brain in two. Ash was in too much agony to be properly awed at the fact that he was actually hearing a pokemon speak. "I had not expected the honor. This confrontation was not expected for a long time yet. My partner believed that you and your Elite Four would be a proper test of my skills, Champion. He was right. This battle was amusing. It will be a shame that none of its participants save I shall be alive to remember it."

Ash refused to close his eyes and stared straight into the Creature's eyes as the glow intensified even further. He idly wondered if there would be anything left of the two to find. The energy being collected in the Creature's grip looked like enough to reduce them to atoms.

But death did not come immediately, as he had expected. Instead the creature continued to stare at them. There was no pity in its glowing blue eyes, but the light pulsed in annoyance.

"Champion, step away from the child and it will live." The voice wracked their brains again, the pain even worse thanks to the annoyance bristling in its words. Lance accepted and began to step away from Ash, but the trainer refused to let the injured Champion do that.

Lance was worth much more to Kanto and Indigo than he was. Ash was an up and coming trainer, but Lance was a leader, a symbol of the strength and fighting spirit of the League. He was a legend, the role model of every young trainer in the region, an enduring fighter and great warrior.

He wouldn't let the Champion die. Even if Lance was just a symbol or famous figure Ash knew of, he wouldn't let the man die. But Lance was more than that: He was a friend, and Ash held the power to potentially save his life.

So he grabbed the badly injured, barely conscious Champion – now that he looked closer, he could see blood dribbling from a large gash on the Champion's face and the arm that was at an angle that no arm should ever bend to – and forced him to the ground. Ash repaid the favor Lance had tried to do him and stood in front of the horribly wounded Champion.

Lance was barely conscious, but he had still tried to shield Ash and save his life when the opportunity presented itself. Ash would show the Champion the same respect and honor.

The Champion tried to stand up and hobble away from Ash so that the boy's life would be spared, but he was unable to force himself up on his one good arm and collapsed to the ground. Ash couldn't stare away from the Creature's eyes, daring the Creature to strike him down and violate whatever almost-forgotten principle or order kept it from simply killing him.

At first it appeared that the Creature would pay no heed to whatever voice was telling it to spare Ash, but it casually snuffed out the orb of light that would reduce his body and mind to nothing but atoms.

He couldn't see past its shiny black visor, but Ash could tell that it was staring at him with its own form of annoyance.

"Consider yourselves lucky." It said flatly, driving another spike of pain through his mind. "My partner is acting irrationally. He will not allow you to be hurt, and unfortunately my power is too great to so much as touch you without crushing your body into a bloody pulp."

It whipped its large tail around angrily. "It is a mistake, but I will honor my partner's wishesBesides, it looks like more of your misguided allies have arrived." The Creature said, annoyance echoing in its painful mental roar. Ash could see dozens of people in Viridian City police uniforms rushing onto the scene behind the Creature. "Perhaps this is for the best. My message has been sent.

The Creature rose from the ground, not obviously harnessing any sort of energy and stared down at the two in disgust. "I will meet you again, Champion. You will not be protected by the child forever. I will claim your life, and next time not even my partner's protests will spare you."

Ash watched in awe as the Creature rose far above the ground before glancing over the area in disgust. It teleported away with no visible effort, leaving the scars of its presence over the entire area. He collapsed to the ground on trembling limbs and glanced over sorrowfully at Lance. The Champion had fallen into unconsciousness from the severity of his injuries.

Thoughts of the Creature roiled in his tired mind as he stared at the Champion's lax face, watching worriedly as the large man lightly breathed and gasped in air. The Creature was nothing like the world had ever seen. It had defeated at least a hundred ghosts without trying, along with their dark-type counterparts. It made psychics more powerful than they should be and still defeated fourteen of the greatest psychics in the world, all the while defending against an army and the Elite Four.

It had defeated the Champion as though he were nothing and had locked hundreds of incredibly powerful pokemon into place while still being able to harness its power and speak into their minds.

He sighed and closed his eyes. He was tired.

Screams and worried cries suddenly woke him from his attempted slumber. He snapped his eyes open and watched as Lorelei and Karen rushed over to the two fallen trainers with terrified expressions on their faces.

"Lance!" They cried as they rushed over to the unconscious Champion. Karen went straight for the Champion, but Lorelei paused and looked over Ash.

"Are you all right?" She asked quietly, resting a cold hand against his cheek. When she pulled it away there was blood. That was funny, Ash hadn't even noticed he was bleeding.

"I'm fine." He muttered, thoughts still racing through his mind. Why did Giovanni spare him, assuming that was who the Creature's "partner" was.

The man seemed to like him well enough – he mentally shuddered at the thought, even more so when he remembered that Giovanni had mentioned offering him a job in a few years – but that shouldn't have kept him from taking the opportunity to kill the Champion and most of the Elite Four. Team Rocket didn't exactly have a problem killing children should it be necessary.

It was a mystery, and he didn't like it. He blearily cut back to Lorelei, who was staring at him worriedly and whispering to him, probably try to keep him awake.

"—medics should arrive soon." She said soothingly. Her pale face, which was mostly untouched from the battle aside from her glasses being somewhat askew, was as calm as could be. "You did a very brave thing, you know. I've known that you were brave in taking on the Rockets, but you did more than anyone could have expected. You saved the Champion's life."

He nodded tiredly, comprehending what she was saying perfectly well but too exhausted from the sudden loss of adrenalin to particularly care. He'd done what any real trainer would have done.

"Lorelei, I need to say something to the kid." A haughty voice entered his ears. Ash sighed when he recognized it as Karen's. Lorelei frowned but stood up and walked over to check on Lance's crumpled form.

Karen squatted down next to him. She looked at him for a while with inscrutable silver eyes.

"…Thank you." She said quietly, meeting his eyes. He could see the fear in them. Ash started. Karen didn't seem like the kind of person who would willingly show any genuine emotion. "I could see what you did. Lance owes his life to you, and everyone in Kanto ought to thank you for that. That would have been a terrible blow to all of us."

She suddenly dipped down and kissed him on the cheek. Ash's eyes snapped open in surprise and he froze, staring at the Elite Four trainee in shock. Karen stood up and laughed, all solemnness gone.

"There's your reward from me, kid." She smirked. "Try not to get a big head about it."

He stared at the teen as she walked over to Lance and crouched beside his body. That was unexpected.

Ash shrugged and did his best to ignore the spot on his face that tingled slightly – a sharp contrast to the rest of his face, which was pounding with heat. He closed his eyes and waited for the medics to arrive.

He wouldn't be forgetting that anytime soon.

XX

"You're all free to go, Mr. Ketchum." The female doctor said. She didn't seem too happy about giving him admission to leave. Although they'd corrected all of his injuries in the first three hours he stayed – he had two broken ribs which had been set and injected with a modified potion, the large gash on the side of his face had been cleaned and stitched up before another potion had been injected, and the bruising on his chest was mostly gone – he still wasn't completely healed.

But he wasn't about to let that hold him back. He wasn't in danger of hurting himself any worse now, he just had to make sure to take it easy as he travelled. "Thank you."

He rose from the bed and stretched, grimacing at the slight waves of pain that shot through his body. Ash shook it off. What he was feeling was nothing compared to some of the League forces that had been involved in the battle.

Speaking of League forces, he noticed two bulky ACE trainers standing in the doorway with grim expressions. They were silent as the doctor spoke again.

"Don't push yourself too hard. You're largely healed externally, but your body needs rest. Potions accelerate healing, but they take up a lot of energy for humans." She warned. Her aged face broke into a scowl. "Personally, I think you should stay for another day just to make sure. But the League has requested that you be released as soon as it is safe to do so. Your medical records and any proof of your existence have been sealed as well. The gentleman over there can tell you more."

The shorter of the two stepped forward and cleared his throat. Unlike the ACE trainers Ash had seen, his uniform was solid black, but a silver Ranger insignia was stitched onto it. "Mr. Ketchum, before you leave, we have your pokemon. We took the liberty of retrieving them from the Pokemon Center. It's chaos there right now."

"Thank you." He said gratefully as he walked over and took the bag of pokeballs from the Ranger's hand. Ash quickly clipped them onto his belt, glad that he had all of his friends back.

"Champion Lance has also requested your presence before you depart." The man said in a professional tone. "We will lead you to him now. Follow me, please."

Ash nodded and followed both agents as they strode through the bare white halls of the hospital. He gave the tired looking doctor a grateful nod before he left her. They travelled through the building quickly. It was deserted, which was odd. He'd expected that it would be busy considering how many League forces the Creature had hurt.

The two suddenly motioned to a door about a minute after walking through the winding halls. "Champion Lance is awaiting your presence."

He nodded and stepped in. It was similar to his own room, if a bit larger. Two more ACE trainers were inside, although they gave him a respectful nod before walking out and leaving Ash and Lance to their privacy.

The Champion looked very weak. He was covered in casts and bandages and an IV fed an unfamiliar fluid into his veins. Ash could barely equate this wounded man to the proud, strong Champion he knew. Lance had never been anything but exuberant and powerful in the short time he'd known him. This Lance was alien to him.

"Hello." Lance rasped. His chest rose and fell in shallow breaths, but he seemed to be in much better condition than he had when Ash last saw him. "Ash, I'm sorry. I should have kept you away from the battle. I knew that the psychic was powerful, but I was careless."

"No!" Ash replied sharply, barely believing he'd just said that. "It was for the best. We all know what Team Rocket can do now. And what if I hadn't been there? You'd have died!"

Lance frowned and sighed. "Team Rocket might as well have killed me. I'm alive, but they've sent a message. They have the power to defeat the Elite Four, and it's only a matter of time before they use it. We will fight as hard as we can and find some way to defeat the psychic, but they've spread fear. They've shown that even the Elite Four can be defeated."

Ash didn't have much of a reply to that. It was true. Team Rocket had showed their last card. They'd been losing their war in the shadows ever since Lance truly began his campaign against them. Now the tides had turned. But at least the Elite Four could still fight – even if they'd been defeated, they were still alive to keep on fighting.

"How's Saph and your other pokemon?" Ash asked quietly, hoping to turn the conversation to a different topic. Nothing productive could come out of the path it had been taking.

Lance closed his eyes briefly. There was visible pain and regret on his proud face. "They're fine. Most were unconscious and badly injured when they were recovered from the wreckage, but they survived and will be back to normal in a few days. Saph has a longer recovery."

"How is she?" Ash asked uneasily. He'd seen that Saph was paralyzed – not in the battling way in which the nervous system was stunned or muscles were locked up, but in the real way where the spine was severed – but he didn't know what else had happened to her.

"She'll be okay in about two weeks. What our doctors can do today is closer to miracles than medicine." Lance said, a trace of happiness mixed into his tone. It was clear that he'd been terrified for the dragonair. "They've healed the most extreme damage to her body, but injected some ditto cells into the spine. They should specialize and replace her spine and nerve cells in about a week. Then it's all about getting her used to her body again."

Lance sighed and leaned back onto his hospital bed. He glanced at the needle that was neatly slid into his hand. "I don't know where ditto came from, but I thank whatever caused them to pop up a few years back. If not, Saph might have never recovered."

Ash nodded in sympathy. For any pokemon to lose its mobility would be an awful thing. But for a pokemon with as much natural majesty and power as Saph it would be a true horror, a half-life. Battling pokemon enjoyed fighting. It was their life.

"But I didn't request your presence for that." Lance continued. Ash just silently waited for the Champion to speak. Every word seemed to take effort. "First, I wanted to thank you. You saved so many lives by standing up to the psychic. I don't know why it and its partner refused to kill you, but you thought quickly and acted bravely when I was too injured to do so."

"Any real trainer would have done the same thing." Ash echoed his thoughts from earlier.

Lance smiled and shook his head. "Perhaps. But there aren't many real trainers anymore, if there ever were." He sighed forlornly. "But I'm proud to say that you are part of that exclusive group. You've proved many times over that you are braver and more skilled than your years suggest."

Ash hid an embarrassed smile.

"I've placed several ACE trainers in Pallet Town." Lance murmured. "I don't know if Team Rocket knows your identity or if they grew enough of a conscience to recoil from slaying a child," both Lance and Ash's face showed their doubt of that sentiment, "but I believed it would be safest to do so."

"Thank you." Ash replied, clenching his fists at the thought that Team Rocket might target Pallet Town because of him. "If Team Rocket tried to do anything and I wasn't there…"

"Then the good Professor would likely intervene." Lance smirked, although he coughed a bit afterwards. "Professor Oak is no pushover, as I'm sure you know. But it never hurts to have a few extra fighters, especially when they are as powerful as ACE."

Ash nodded his agreement. Oak might be powerful – although he didn't know just how strong the older man was – but he couldn't protect the entire town at once. At the very least the ACE agents could hold attackers off while the Professor finished the rest.

"If you would like, I can assign a Ranger or ACE trainer to you for a while." Lance spoke up. Ash frowned. He knew the Champion was only trying to help him, but he was more than capable of protecting himself. The only thing the Rockets could throw at him that he couldn't beat was the Creature, and no amount of protectors would defeat it. "Just until some of the heat dies down. Your identity has been kept sealed, but I'm afraid the media will leak your image soon."

He shook his head. "I'll be fine. I'm leaving today anyways. The Rockets won't have time to trace me."

Lance frowned and a troubled expression took root on his angular face. "Very well. Be careful and keep a watch on your surroundings. I'll do everything in my power to keep you out of the spotlight, but the Rockets have their own resources. We still don't know if the psychic is capable of entering our minds. Sabrina and Will are still practically catatonic."

"Are they alright?" Ash snapped out worriedly. He'd known they were hurt, but he'd forgotten about the psychics in the following confusion and pain. "I saw them collapse."

"The League said they would be perfectly fine, given time." Lance replied soothingly, momentarily forgetting his own injuries. Ash could see that he had a cast on his right arm, his left leg, and several stitched gashes. They would be removed shortly. The casts were just there to set the bone as it healed from the potions. "They're stable, as are their pokemon."

"Who else was hurt?" Came the dreaded question. Ash hadn't seen the Creature's actions after he'd crashed, but he knew that it had done something. It had certainly disabled each of its foes. But he didn't know if it had actually finished the job.

Lance grimaced. "Eight ACE trainers are dead. Five more are severely wounded from the aftereffects of the destruction of their ghosts. Most of the dark-types have been hospitalized, but the ghosts have started to reform. Only a few psychics were actually killed, however. It was lower than we'd feared."

He felt sick. The Creature had added more victims to its long list. Had it been given a bit more time it probably would have killed everyone in the area. Whatever it was, it needed to be put down or stopped somehow.

Ash knew he wasn't to blame – he'd told the League what he could about the Creature, and they'd prepared extensively for it. But he still felt as though he could have informed them of just how dangerous it was. Mere words didn't communicate his message well enough.

"It's not your fault." Lance said. He had managed to pull himself up so that he could meet Ash's brown eyes on an even level. "We underestimated the psychic. The League has never combatted such a powerful entity before. Your information at least gave us an idea of its potential."

He collapsed down into his pillows with a pained grunt. His arm was shaking from the strain of pushing himself up. "It is better that we met a minor defeat now than a major defeat in the future. We know to escape should we ever meet the psychic again. You've saved more lives by revealing its existence."

The trainer nodded. He knew that. It made logical sense. But that irrational, gnawing guilt continued to tear at his stomach. Ash suspected that it would for a few more days, at least.

"Ash, I need to sleep soon." Lance said exhaustedly. "The doctors have increased my dosage."

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