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.


61. The Family Part 2

He sent a quick glance about the room. It was just as massive as he'd expected, albeit simpler. From Steven's description he'd thought it would be ridiculously opulent, but instead it bore signs of the League and its Champion's focus on practicality over aesthetics. Lance wasn't one for garish ceremony.

Gym leaders were arrayed all throughout the area, mostly next to several tables full of food and drink. Ash took quick note of their positions. Agatha, Surge, Blaine, and Sabrina stood together by one, largely avoided by the rest of the gym leaders. He suspected that they were talking of serious matters that the others had no desire to interrupt.

The Sisters, Karen, and Erika were gathered around a small water-type pokemon in a small, portable aquarium carried by an oddly exuberant Machoke that had a wide grin on its reptilian face. It was about the same size as a Magikarp and had just as much expression. The grey creature stared dully at the curious females before it tried to turn around in its small enclosure.

His lips curled into a smirk when he saw Brock standing a short distance away from the group and staring at Karen with star-struck eyes. Brock was a mature, responsible gym leader most of the time but he turned into an idiot when he was around attractive girls.

Ash was actually surprised that Surge hadn't managed to beat and shock it out of the younger gym leader yet. The electric-type specialist was rather brutal at the best of times. When he was defending the honor of the Nurse Joys and Officer Jenny's that operated under his authority he was absolutely merciless.

It didn't help Brock's case that Raichu took a gleeful satisfaction in sending a few hundred volts through him every now and then.

"Isn't it wonderful?" Will sighed as he clasped a hand over his heart and pretended to swoon. "The entire family gathered in one place! Simply fabulous!"

"It is." Ash nodded in agreement as he continued to pick out familiar faces. Bruno and Koga were speaking together animatedly far from the others, demonstrating flurries of punches and kicks that would have most fighting-types on edge. His face was split by a grin as he saw his old teacher, who caught his eye and responded in kind with a nod and reserved smile.

He noted that neither Misty nor Janine were present. It seemed that only the leaders were here to represent their gym. A gathering of the best.

"Has anyone replaced Giovanni?" Ash asked absently as he realized that the roster would be one short for an indeterminate amount of time. "Viridian can't have been without a gym leader for six months."

"Karen and I have been filling in!" Will grinned as he balanced the cane onto the tip of his pointer finger with perfect precision. "Lance believed it would be a wonderful way to gain experience. There was an unfortunate shortage of challengers, however. It seems that the former proprietor's tarnished reputation still hangs over the place."

"I can only imagine why." Ash scowled at the mention of Giovanni. He kept his fists from reflexively clenching at the traitor's name, which was an accomplishment. He just wanted to forget the man.

A cold presence pulsed in his mind in response to his thoughts, balanced out by the Feather's warmth.

He squeezed his eyes shut at the unexpected pressure and frowned, a little fear bubbling in his stomach. That presence was not something he had ever wanted to feel again.

"Is something wrong?" Will asked, his eyes a fiery purple behind his mask as he stared at Ash with a knowing look. Steven's concerned countenance locked onto him as well, to which Ash shook his head.

"I'm fine." He said firmly. "Just a headache. Let's go join the crowd."

Steven nodded and headed off through the sparsely occupied ballroom, presumably to find Lance. Will hung by Ash's side with a blinding grin, eyes still alit with psychic power as he trailed behind the younger trainer.

"Ash Ketchum." A warm monotone greeted him. His neck snapped to the source and he found himself staring into the kind scarlet eyes of Sabrina less than a foot away. She must have teleported. The strongest human psychic had been over with Surge, Blaine, and Agatha mere moments ago.

"Sabrina." He inclined his head in respect and flashed the woman a genuine smile. "You look much better than when I last saw you."

"Indeed. Mewtwo's malevolence has not touched me for a month." Sabrina stated calmly, seemingly unperturbed by the mention of the Creature that had broken her mind and left her nothing more than a pale lying helpless in a bed. "Thank you. Had you not been present our world would be irrevocably altered. It was a fortuitous series of events that led you to your fate."

Ash nodded but didn't say anything as his mind flashed back to the events at New Island.

A soothing hand broke him out of his stupor even as the Feather pulsed with its comforting heat. Sabrina watched him unblinkingly with her scarlet eyes as she retracted her frozen hand.

"You burn brightly now. The Brand you bear has no place within you in the present." She observed. Her eyes flashed and he felt twin forces rise up within him. "Carry your torch well, Ash Ketchum. It will guide you through the coming times."

"Thank you for your advice, Sabrina." He dipped his head again, grateful to the psychic for what she had told him. It was cryptic, but at least she was warning him. Something would happen in the future. If Sabrina felt the need to warn him then he should begin his preparations at once.

The woman's mouth pulled itself into a wan smile at his thoughts but did not comment further. Ash knew that she had said enough. Sabrina rarely dispensed advice concerning the future's winding path, so he would take what he could get.

"Lady Sabrina! It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance once more!" Will bowed graciously, his cane immaterial as he swept his arm forward in a needlessly dramatic manner. His eyes shone brightly from behind his mask as he looked up and met his mentor's eyes. "I can see that your beauty has only grown in the time we have been apart!"

Sabrina gazed at him blankly. "Agatha tells me you have been lax in your training."

Will smiled and bowed once more. "I would never be so remiss in my duties, Lady Sabrina. I have simply –"

A chill ran down Ash's spine as Agatha drew near, tapping her gnarled cane of ancient wood against the hard floor as she hobbled over. The Revenant Crone leered at Will, ghostly lights dancing in her mismatched eyes amidst the shadows that surrounded her aged form.

"Don't even try it, you charming little brat." The Crone bared her oddly sharp teeth in a mockery of a grin as she finally came to a stop near Ash. "I've had enough of your honeyed words and endearing little quirks. You've spent enough time dawdling with that magic wand of yours!"

The Crone's multicolored eyes latched onto Ash as he silently watched the scene. "Run along, Ketchum. I'm sure that brute Surge has been itching to speak with you. Perhaps you two can save that little fool Brock from Karen if you have the inclination."

Ash nodded and did his best to ignore Will, who seemed slightly nervous under the scrutiny of his elders. The Elite Four trainee tried to catch Ash's eye but he didn't fall for it. He'd rather avoid this situation.

He liked Will, but this was none of his concern.

The young trainer could feel Sabrina's scarlet eyes tracing him as he stepped away from the impromptu gathering but she didn't say anything. He made a note to seek her out again before he left.

Of course, if there were anything important to discuss it would be Sabrina who sought him out. Her clairvoyance enabled her to follow whatever path led to the best possible outcome – or so he assumed. The workings of powerful psychics had always been strange and indecipherable, their abilities elevating them to a level beyond what most humans could understand. They were agents of fate, as the saying went. Nothing concrete could be known about them.

"Well look who it is! It's been a long time, runt." Surge boomed, attracting the attention of almost everyone else in the room for a few brief seconds. Raichu chattered in agreement, eyes narrowed fiercely as she whipped her tail around. "You feeling up for a battle after this tournament comes to a close?"

"Definitely." Ash agreed without a second thought, a mad glint in his eye at the thought of battling Surge again. He'd love to see how Infernus would measure up to Electivire in his new form. Electivire was one of the strongest pokemon he'd ever had the pleasure of facing. Not many opponents had ever outmatched Infernus the way Electivire had, although that had been before Infernus had undergone Lance's brutal training. "I've needed a punching bag to test some new techniques on. I guess you'll do a half-decent job of it."

Surge just grinned with Raichu, whose tail flung sparks as she became evermore excited at the prospect of battle. She probably hadn't had a good fight in ages.

"You're giving Surge too much credit." Blaine sneered before downing a small bottle of alcohol in a single chug. He absentmindedly tossed the bottle into a nearby bin, where it shattered. "After learning my technique you'll carve through his overgrown power outlets like a Flamethrower through a Rocket Grunt. I wouldn't bother."

"You want to go, old geezer?" Surge grinned broadly, cracking his knuckled. He towered over Blaine, who just snorted and glared up at the giant through his sunglasses – Ash wasn't actually sure why he kept them on in the ballroom. "We haven't gone at it in ages. Not since you went senile and hid under that volcano, if I remember it right."

Blaine glowered at his fellow gym leader. "Bah! You just can't appreciate the beauty of my arena! Its construction took precision and delicate handling an idiot like you couldn't even begin to understand. I doubt you understand anything about technology other than how to blow it up."

"I know enough to do my job." The giant retorted with a vicious snort. "Unlike you. How long has it been since you left that hotel and did something useful?"

The Fire Master just sneered again and finished off his drink with a quick motion. "I never had anything to do. Cinnabar was purged of any Rocket scum long ago."

"Whatever helps you sleep at night." Surge chuckled darkly. "Can't fault an old man like you for trying, I guess."

Blaine just scowled and returned to yet another drink. Ash idly wondered how his liver could still function after years of similar abuse. "Let's not get into your own failures, boy. I'd rather not get to the point where our little spat is bad enough to remember through the alcohol."

"Let's." Surge said tightly. Raichu chittered and pat his cheek affectionately with one of her soft paws, the cord-like tail finally calm.

"Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to start drinking." Blaine grouched. Ash could see his beady eyes glance around at the other inhabitants of the room as he sneered. "Hilarious as it is, I'd rather not see that idiot from Pewter get shot down again. Must be a masochist if he's chasing after Karen."

Ash snorted and Surge let out a booming laugh, the hostility he'd been radiating toward Blaine vanishing in an instant. Everybody else ignored it this time, used to the loud gym leader.

"You'd better let that Magmortar of yours fight seriously next time it's out. I expect the world to be in awe." Blaine growled to Ash. "That last showing was boring. Leave the battlefield in ashes."

He just nodded in response at the gruff Master, who snorted again and took a drink.

Seeing that Blaine wasn't interested in further conversation he turned to Surge. "Agatha suggested that we go help Brock."

Surge eyed the dark-skinned gym leader with a brutal grin. Brock had edged slightly closer to the girls with a disturbing smile on his face. Not quite lecherous but decidedly idiotic.

"I think it's time he learned his lesson. Let Karen sort him out. He's needed a good kick in the ass for a long time." The electric-type specialist growled as he regarded his protégé.

Ash shrugged. So be it.

"How's that Electabuzz of yours doing?" Surge grunted as he looked down at the short trainer. "She didn't get a good matchup in your last battle. That Confuse Ray wrecked her chances."

"She's fine. I'm planning on using her again in my next battle. She deserves a chance to have a fair fight." Ash responded after a moment of hesitance. He needed to talk to Oz about the battle. Being so easily dispatched couldn't have been easy for her. He resolved to do it as soon as he had the chance.

"Damn right she does. I hate Confuse Ray." The giant grumbled. Raichu hissed in agreement, sparks escaping from her yellow electric sacs as she thought of the ghostly technique. "Doesn't even give you a chance to fight back. Just screws with your head until you don't know what pain is real and what's a hallucination."

Ash nodded his agreement. He appreciated the technique for its unique effectiveness, but it wasn't something to use casually. Infernus could technically use it, although his version was a bastardized version that didn't even near the potency of the true Confuse Ray wielded by ghosts and dark-types.

He was silent for a few moments before he finally decided to speak up. "Could you help me train Oz?"

It was as if he had flipped a switch in Surge. The giant's eyes lit up and an absolutely massive grin exploded on his face. "Damn right I can! And here was me thinking you'd never ask."

A similar smile split Ash's countenance. "Thank you. Do you want –"

"I'm all tied up tomorrow, but I'll send you a time and place." Surge told him. His grin grew savage even as his eyes took on a manic gleam. "I think Lightning Bolt will be included in this package. It's probably the best time for you to learn it."

Ash's eyes widened. "Really?"

Surge just grinned. Raichu crossed her paws – a distinctly human gesture that she had undoubtedly picked up from Surge – and seemed to smile at Ash as well. He remembered the power of Lightning Bolt well, as the hidden glee in his eyes suggested.

"Yeah. Shouldn't take too long to teach if she's got the juice for it. Lightning Bolt is all about power." Surge elaborated. "You've just got to have enough control to guide the electricity out and focus it. Any experienced Electabuzz can do that without much effort."

He nodded. Oz was certainly strong enough to generate Lightning Bolt, although Ash wasn't confident in her ability to use the electric-type variant of Hyper Beam multiple times. She was powerful, but Lightning Bolt consumed vast amounts of energy for an incredible payoff. Until she evolved it wouldn't be a technique to use frivolously.

"Don't have anything else planned that day." Surge said with a nasty grin. "You aren't leaving until your Electabuzz has mastered Lightning Bolt to an acceptable degree. If you have to sleep in the training grounds you will. I don't let my students half-ass it."

"I wouldn't dream of it." Ash rolled his eyes. He locked eyes with the giant man. "Just wait. She'll master it in no time at all."

"Sure she will, runt." Surge snorted. "Don't get too cocky. Just because you're hot stuff right now doesn't mean you can mouth off and get away with it."

Ash smiled. "Maybe not, but I can try."

Their conversation was cut short by a tap on Ash's shoulder. He reflexively pulled away and snapped his head to the side, only to relax when he realized it was Steven.

"Lance wants to see you." The Master said quietly with an incline of his head to the entrance of the room. The Indigo Champion stood there casually, making idle conversation with Lorelei as he awaited the trainer's approach. "It shouldn't take too long. He just wants to have a quick chat."

"Thank you." Ash said quietly. He nodded to Surge. "I'll be seeing you in a few days, I guess."

"Yeah." Surge grunted noncommittally. "Try not to lose this next battle. I want to see how you react when you find an opponent that makes you squirm. There's some bets riding on you."

Ash arched an eyebrow. "Really?"

"That's enough." Steven rebuked Surge. He glanced over to Lance again. Ash understood his message and shrugged before he headed across the ballroom, thankfully avoiding the attention of the Sisters and Karen as he did so.

He liked the Sisters, but he wasn't used to people being so affectionate. His bubble of personal space was only breached by his friends most of the time. He didn't interact with most people he met long enough to establish that kind of connection.

Not that he had with the Sisters either, now that he thought about it. They'd just taken a liking to him after his actions in Viridian and had little to no regard for others' boundaries.

Karen was Karen. He blushed faintly at the memory of her quick kiss to the cheek. He didn't have much experience getting close to most other trainers. He had zero experience with that kind of thing.

"I'm afraid we'll have to part ways for now, Lorelei." Ash overheard Lance say to the redhead as he neared the two. "But please reconsider my offer. As much as I'd like to see Will and Karen step up, I'd prefer to keep more than just Bruno in the Elite Four. I don't know if Koga will be able to commit. Fuchsia –"

"Will be fine." Lorelei replied. She adjusted her glasses, which had slipped slightly. "It's already recovered from the hurricane. The villages are cleaned up and inhabitable. Janine is well-trained. There is no need to fret."

Lance sighed. "Just think on it. Indigo can always use your skills."

"Not as much as my home can." Lorelei frowned. She sent a considering glance and friendly nod to Ash as he finally came to a stop. "We will speak of this later. Goodbye, Lance."

The Champion just shook his head before he shrugged it off and smiled at Ash. "Hey, Ash."

"Lance." Ash grinned, glad to see the Champion again. He'd miss talking to him next year. "Steven said you wanted to talk to me?"

"I figured now would be the best time to catch up and discuss a few things." Lance said as he stepped out of the ballroom. Ash followed silently, just listening to the Dragon Master. "I won't have very much free time coming up, what with the Conference's end and the preparations for the Silver Conference."

Ash nodded as they exited the massive room and passed two ACE trainers guarding the door.

"Champion Lance." The tall man to the left acknowledged. His partner echoed the statement moments later.

Lance gave the elite League guards a quick nod of respect as he swept by, cape fluttering out behind him as he took his long strides. Ash struggled to keep up, barely holding a smile back at Lance's twitch of annoyance at the ACE trainers' capes.

"I'm going to kill Steven." The Champion growled as he led Ash through the twisting halls, unfazed by the circles and loops they traveled. "Where did he even get those capes, anyway?"

"Celadon Department Store." Ash replied. Lance raised an eyebrow, curious as to how he knew that. "I remember that they had a sale on replicas of your cape when I was there last."

"Huh." Lance frowned, anger forgotten. "I should probably demand royalties for that. It's not as if they could say no."

His eyes regained their normal fierceness a few moments later, though. "I'll definitely have to get Steven back at some point or another. My cape isn't just an accessory, you know. It's a symbol of the most powerful warrior of the Wataru clan, the Drake. That position has been mine since I was fourteen years old."

"There is no single cape passed down my line, but we are expected to wear a traditional mantle whenever possible and a more practical one in battle." Lance continued. His angular features pulled up into a smile. "Thanks to the number of Wataru Champions over the years it's come to be associated with the position as a whole – a nice little reminder of our legacy."

"For some reason I doubt you mind following that tradition." Ash commented drily.

Lance smiled as they came to a stop in front of his office, which seemed to appear in a random wall. "It does make me look rather dashing, doesn't it?"

"That's a question to ask the Sisters, not me." Ash snorted as he followed Lance into the office, curiously noting that the Champion didn't stop as they walked past his desk and the piles of sleeping dragon-types. Dragonite and Dov opened their weary eyes to watch them go but didn't move.

"I suppose it is." Lance chuckled. He came to a stop in front of an empty expanse of rich wall, although a large door of polished mahogany and brass rippled into existence as he waved a hand in front of it.

Ash eyed Lance curiously. Did he have some sort of psychic power that he didn't know about? He couldn't imagine Lance not telling him about an ability like that or actively using it to enhance his efficiency in battle.

"No psychic powers." Lance told him, correctly guessing his thoughts. "Just the privileges of being the Champion coming into play."

Lance stepped past the door as an invisible force opened it. Ash followed the Champion and found himself in a dark passageway, expertly cut into perfect angles and lines. It travelled far, lowering into the heart of Mt. Silver, which Indigo Plateau was built on.

Ash's eyes flared in recognition as he glanced at the sides of the passageway, which were alit with ghostly blue flares of fire. Ancient symbols had been painstakingly etched into the stone walls with the utmost precision. The first on his left was the emerald plant of Viridian, followed by Fuchsia's heart, the golden star of Vermillion, and the rainbow flower of Celadon.

He looked to the left to see what order the symbols were arranged in but Lance's words yanked him away as they continued to walk briskly through the passageway.

"Indigo Plateau is just one big illusion to the uninitiated." Lance explained, features cast in shadow by the ghostly flame. "Ghosts and psychics constantly shift the perceptions of those who have not had their minds given special access by our own psychics. The Plateau was built as a fortress, after all, and such a defense makes it almost impossible to infiltrate. When you see loops I see a straight line."

His eyes widened and he gave Lance a slow nod. It was an ingenious defense, a second layer of protections against anyone daring and able enough to enter the League citadel in the first place. He'd wondered why Indigo Plateau was a maze. Now he had his answer.

"Where are we going?" He asked as the end of the tunnel became visible. A strange symbol he had never seen before jutted out from the stone directly above the exit. It was an indigo plant, polished to perfection. It almost glowed from the pale light.

"To an area long forgotten by all but the Champions and most knowledgeable of the League." Lance answered cryptically. A harmless golden flame licked out from under the sleeve of his formal attire, holding the pale light at bay. Ash felt his own Feather burn in tune, increasing as they neared a great pressure that sent a constant flush of heat through Ash's blood.

"Koga told me that you hunted down the First's Rhydon." Lance smiled as they neared the end. "That you defeated it speaks volumes of your skill and strength. The Rhydon was renowned as the most powerful of the First's team a millennium ago. It's strength has only grown in that time, to the point where it is far past the power of any individual pokemon constrained by mortality."

A feral grin slashed Lance's features in half. "It's actually a trial for new Champions, you know. The Rhydon is the ultimate test of strength. To defeat a team must trust absolutely in their trainer and that trust must be returned tenfold. Resolve in fighting its overwhelming strength is as important as the power to match it."

Ash's mind flashed back to the battle with the ancient Rhydon, the struggle against its nigh invulnerable armor and absolute mastery of stone and earth. Had it been a mere fraction as powerful in the days of the First as it was now it would have been almost unstoppable.

"It is normally a volatile creature." Lance commented as they finally stepped under the indigo plant. "We do our best to keep trainers away from it, although some individuals lacking in the common sense department seek it out anyway. They don't usually come back."

"It didn't try to kill me." Ash pointed out as he looked around at their new surroundings. They had entered a grotto of sorts. Pools of water spread out around them, only a perfectly preserved bridge of arching stone bare of the icy water that poured from high above and left clouds of mist spread throughout the sanctum.

"You didn't try to hurt it or its herd." The Champion smiled slightly as he came to a stop and waited. "Reports say that it usually challenges those humans it meets to a battle. If they are weak then it chases them off or kills them. We aren't too happy about that part, but it is both far too important and powerful to try to restrain it. It would require at least two of the Elite Four and myself to subdue in a serious fight and even then I would fear for our teams. All in all, it's best to have Rangers follow it and warn surrounding trainers away."

Ash nodded slowly, slightly stunned at the threat Lance accorded the giant Rhydon. He could only imagine how the Champion would react if the cornerstone of the First's team managed to evolve into its vastly more powerful form.

"What is this place?" He asked as he stared across the stone bridge to a large slab of marble. Two familiar statues stood proudly on their pedestals, their features untarnished by the ravages of time.

Taimu and his Tauros rose side by side, high above the water that pooled around them. The First's eyes were twin sapphires that stared sharply at Ash and Lance as they stood at the entrance of the room, dead stone but with an intensity that didn't belong with unfeeling gems.

He could see the First more clearly than he could in Rhydon's monument. The man was obviously not created to scale considering that he was ten feet tall and with the proportions to match, but that was only a bonus in this case. Taimu had high cheekbones and an angular face much like Lance, but markedly different enough to the point that he didn't seem to be of the relatively insular Wataru clan. They were from Johto, anyway.

The crown of ethereal icy blue flames wreathed around his head gave him the appearance of one of the noble Wataru, perfectly matching the stern sapphires as it flickered and roared amidst the grotto.

Taimu was still portrayed as young, which made Ash wonder just how old he had been when he died in the Fuchsia wilds. It was a sad fate for one of the greatest figures of history.

The trainer also noted a scabbard tied to the statue's back, which meant he must have been of relatively high birth. Ash knew that swords were rather rare back in that time period considering their great cost and the difficulty in creating it.

Steelix carcasses and meteorites were the best options for finding metal strong enough for a blade back then. Considering that Steelix were biologically immortal and ventured to the surface only in the most desperate of times the falling stars were much more common.

He fixed his gaze on the form of Tauros next. Every muscle had been expertly sculpted by masterful hands, the thick layer of fur clearly defined and its horns curled in a way that made it seem almost alive. It looked as though it would charge him any minute if the statue of Taimu could give it an order.

More of the ghostly blue flames flitted about the area, slowly surrounding Ash and Lance. He felt discomfort as he stared into the ghostly fire and felt the chill heat held within. The Will-O-Wisps hovered in a circle and seemed to summon more of their kind as they pulled from the grotto, although Taimu's crown of flames was never disturbed.

"Be still." Lance murmured to Ash as the fires pulsed in tune with their Feathers. A core of gold became visible in the flames, growing more prominent as the Will-O-Wisps came together and melded into the form of a lithe, golden Ninetales.

The image of a Ninetales with ruby eyes preserved in weathered stone flashed through his mind, although the replica paled to the creature that gazed at him with eyes of scarlet flame.

"Bearers of Fire, why do you come?" The stern, wise voice of a young woman echoed into his mind. Ash flinched, but did not feel the terrible pain that accompanied Mewtwo's telepathy. He felt his Feather blaze to the point of slight pain, although the power with which it invigorated his body far outstripped the discomfort. The golden flames of Moltres burned around the molten obsidian frame, leaving his chest a rich fiery yellow.

Lance's own Feather left his arm ablaze as he lifted his head, although he did not meet the Ninetales' eyes directly. He kept his fierce, challenging eyes directed just below the fire-type's scarlet orbs. It seemed that even the mighty Champion Lance could be cowed.

"I beg your forgiveness for intruding upon your sanctum, noble ally of the First." The Champion said respectfully. He inclined his head to Ash, who took his hint and kept his eyes away from those of the resplendent golden Ninetales. "I believed it would be prudent for my student to meet you and pay respects to the First's memory. He has encountered your brethren and looked upon the resting place of the Champion Taimu, Uniter of Indigo. He possesses the right to see this secret unveiled, as befitted to a bearer of the Feather of Moltres."

The Ninetales, golden as Moltres' flames, stalked in front of Ash. Her voice caressed his mind once more. "Look into my eyes, little human. The Golden Fire in your heart demands my respect, but I would know your being. Look into my eyes."

Ash felt a powerful influence rush against his will, but he fought it off. It could not compare to the oppressive weight of Mewtwo's dominative presence.

Instead he met the Ninetales' rubies on his own terms. Brown met scarlet for mere moments before he found himself locked in the Guardian's hypnotic gaze.

His eyes squeezed shut as a millennium of memories rushed through his mind in an instant, the great torrent enough to leave his mind a gibbering wreck had he actually been able to comprehend the river of experiences as anything other than a few distant images and a beautiful warmth that suffused his being.

When the contact ended Ash found himself on the ground, his physical body exhausted. Ninetales seemed none the worse for wear, having only received a trickle of earthly experiences compared to her own waterfall.

"You are a strange one, but you have served the Golden Fires' purposes well." Ninetales murmured gently. She stopped in front of him and fanned out her tails, golden with age to the point that the tips were indistinguishable from the rest. "My name is Chinatsu, Ash Ketchum. Remember it, for it shall never be heard upon this base earth again."

"Thank you." He gasped as he pulled himself up on dead limbs. The Feather restored his vitality several seconds later, but the deep ache of fatigue still burned. "I will never forget you or Taimu. Your memory will live on."

The smooth female voice chuckled, a delightful sound akin to the chiming of bells. "Oh, I have many years yet before I am reduced to a memory. My fire still burns bright so long as the Golden Flame demands it."

Ash felt his Feather pulse and found himself staring at the base of Ninetales' neck. Flickering amongst the golden fur, indistinguishable but for the comforting heat, laid a Feather of her own. It roared from her skin, the obsidian frame having bonded with her fur and skin and bone many centuries ago.

"Yes." The legendary Ninetales preened under Ash's astonished stare. Her fur rippled as flames passed over it and seemed to revitalize her vibrant fur to an even brighter gold. "I, named Chinatsu by the Champion of Champions, am a bearer of the Golden Fire and the instrument of its will. The current Champion and yourself are merely temporary vessels. I am eternal, it's chosen."

Ninetales melted back into the ethereal blue flames and was left nothing but a coalescing mass of swirling fire with a core of gold and eyes of blood. The blazing figure cocked its serene head and stared at him for a few brief seconds.

"You have seen the resting place of the paragon of your kind, He whose will carved a future for humanity." Her voice echoed throughout his mind and throughout the grotto as blue fires danced through the mists. "My ancient partner's monument is sacred ground. It is where His bones lay entombed in the stone when life fled His weary body."

A Will-O-Wisp appeared next to Ash's head and it felt as if Chinatsu's voice spoke to him from within.

"To see such a sight is an honor none deserve. But you have." The flame crackled. "You are not an inheritor of His mantle, but my own monument is no holy place. Here I protect the legacy of mighty Taimu and forgotten Shinobu and ensure that the future bearers of His office have not forgotten. The eyes of a bearer of the Golden Flame will not tarnish its purpose."

"Thank you for allowing me to remain." Ash bowed his head, grateful to Chinatsu. He glanced up at the sapphire eyes of Taimu and then to the hulking form of the Tauros. "Shinobu is the Tauros?"

The flames dissipated, but the Will-O-Wisp remained near him.

"Yes." The Ninetales replied curtly. Lance opened and shut his mouth, opting to remain silent as the ancient fire-type responded to Ash's query. "He was a valiant comrade that fell in service to Taimu at the Battle of Mt. Silver, when the armies of united Kanto met Johto in war to determine the course of your kind's history. The Champion of Champions emerged victorious, but Shinobu's life was the price paid to strike down the Drake of Blackthorn, who led our foes."

Ash turned to Lance in surprise at the statement. "I didn't know your clan was that old."

"The Wataru have been an integral piece of Johto for many, many centuries. When my forefathers saved the life of a Dragonite and were rewarded with several eggs we have built our legacy." Lance said proudly. "The Drake of that time was one of our most prominent members, although history has all but forgotten him."

He nodded, although he didn't spare Lance an odd look. Ash knew that Lance took pride in his heritage – and for good reason, considering the innumerable renowned warriors and leaders it had produced – but he'd never said much about it. He'd just assumed that Lance preferred to make his own name legendary rather than rely on his clan's fame.

"Speak not of the Drake." Chinatsu hissed, cold fires flaring. "Not in the presence of my fallen brother."

Ash dipped his head to the Ninetales. "I apologize for my disrespect. It was not my intention to dishonor Shinobu's memory."

The Will-O-Wisp calmed but remained colder than before. It seemed that the golden Ninetales held her memories of the fallen Tauros close to her heart. "Pay your respects, bearer of the Golden Flame, and take your leave from my shrine. I seek a return to my lonely vigil."

With that the Will-O-Wisp fled and took its place on Taimu's fiery crown, just above the idol's sapphire eyes. Ash stared at it for a few brief moments before he took a deep breath and stepped onto the thin stone bridge.

"Aren't you coming?" He asked Lance when he realized that the Champion wasn't following.

"No." Lance shook his head. "This is for you. I paid my respects long ago and my line is not favored by the Guardian."

Ash nodded in understanding and walked slowly up to the massive monument. He stared up at the First's proud face briefly before he focused on the true subject of the memorial: Shinobu.

He saw a small plaque of gold soldered to the marble with etchings similar to those on Taimu's grave. They were rough, seared into the metal by an untrained hand. It stood in stark contrast to the utter perfection and clarity of the immortalized images held in the smooth stone, but Ash thought the effect was stronger for it.

"Interred here are the remains of Shinobu, Greatest of his kind and Terror to the Unjust. He died in my service in the Battle of Mt. Silver. Mighty Shinobu died to the Drake of Blackthorn's partner, but with his sacrifice slew the Beast of Blackthorn and brought victory to the Brothers and Sisters of Kanto. May his name live forever in the stars."

"He carved those words with his own hands." Chinatsu sighed, lost in memories a millennium old. "They were bloody from the heat of battle, still stained with the essence of Shinobu's life. His mind was vacant with grief."

Ash could sympathize. His brown eyes squeezed shut as he remembered the heart-clenching grief that had stabbed and twisted into his chest when Moltres had killed Infernus. It had been the worst feeling he had ever experienced.

The First might have lived in a harsher age, but he could only imagine how terrible it would be to watch one of his friends torn apart by what was most likely a Dragonite. Infernus' first death had been quick and far away from Ash. It was clean.

Shinobu's death could not have been so gentle. Dragonite were naturally even-tempered, but they were amongst the most fearsome creatures on the planet. Their partnership with the Wataru had left the Blackthorn natives the most powerful force in Johto for centuries, despite their small numbers.

And when pushed to the limits of desperation the wrath of a Dragonite was a terrible thing indeed. Mighty Shinobu had managed to slay it if Chinatsu's words were anything to go by. It would have fought with all of its fearsome power to survive and protect its partner. It was no wonder the Tauros had fallen, although it managed to become one of the few throughout history to kill a Dragonite in the process.

He bowed his head to the monument to the great Tauros. It would be the only one of the First's legendary team that he wouldn't meet. If it possessed the same sort of longevity gifted to Rhydon by its biology or Chinatsu by her Feather and the strange powers of the Ninetales and had managed to survive its last battle it would be an incredible foe indeed.

Ash wondered how it could have measured up to its comrades. Rhydon was a veritable force of nature given its size and natural power, a beast that could have been seen as a minor god in ancient times. Ninetales had always been mysterious and legendary figures, heralded as agents of fate and movers of the world.

In comparison Shinobu was somewhat mundane, although certainly one of the strongest of his kind to have existed. Tauros were incredible fighters, their muscle almost dense enough to match that of a Machoke and bones hard enough to weather the most powerful of strikes without breaking. While a rare and notably effective fighter even in the modern world, a Tauros didn't have the same mystique and elemental abilities that a Rhydon or Ninetales possessed.

But it was strong enough to survive the First's brutal battles in the reunification of Kanto and emerge relatively unscathed until the most pivotal moment in human history. Although Ash knew the Tauros had to be overwhelmingly powerful to do so, he wondered just how much of its ability to survive came down to raw determination and the will to fight for its team.

A Will-O-Wisp danced down from Taimu's fiery crown and landed on the tip of Shinobu's sculpted horns, ending his contemplations. "Your time here is at an end, bearer of the Golden Flame. I grow weary of your presence."

Ash nodded and stood up, casting one last glance at the plaque before he turned to the ghostly flame. "Thank you for giving me this opportunity. Shinobu will not be forgotten."

"Be sure that is the case." The Ninetales' avatar responded, satisfaction evident in her cold tone. "Keep this place in your heart. Shinobu was never immortal in body, but his spirit burned brighter than mine ever did. Its light is not yet ready to be quenched by humanity's ignorance."

He gave the ancient Ninetales one last nod of understanding before he turned his back to her and headed to Lance, who stood patiently as Ash returned.

"Feel enlightened?" Lance asked with a flippant grin on his face as he looked down at the younger trainer. "I remember when my predecessor showed me this place. The Guardian wasn't too pleased at seeing another Wataru take on the Champion's mantle, but the memorial made up for it. The First is an enigmatic figure. To learn more of my peoples' legacy was worth any amount of scorn."

"I know what you mean." He replied slowly before giving Lance a quick shake of his head. "But I don't feel any different. All I did was pay my respects and learn of another name to honor."

"I don't know about you, but I think that's all the wisdom anybody needs." The Champion grinned as he clapped Ash on the shoulder. "Come on, I think the Guardian wants us to leave. There's still some stuff we need to talk about, anyways."

With that they set off, Ash curious as to just what it was Lance was going to tell him. He assumed it had something to do with his future after the Conference – Steven had said he was going to make his own offer, after all.

By the time they ascended from Mt. Silver's heart to the Champion's office he was slightly winded. He'd gotten soft from sitting around his house for the last month. Adjusting to intense travel again would take a few days before he was comfortable with the pleasant soreness.

"Take a seat." Lance motioned to the chair in front of his massive desk. The dragons laying throughout the room didn't even acknowledge their presence. "I'll try to keep this quick. I'm sure there are plenty of people in the ballroom you'd like to catch up with."

"Here." The Champion handed him a small packet of papers after a few moments of digging through the numerous piles sitting on his desk.

Ash glanced down at the first page curiously, only for his eyes to bug out when he actually read it. "You want me to –"

"Be an Elite Four trainee? Yes." Lance responded with a wild grin. He idly brushed through his red hair with a calloused hand. "I don't think you're quite at the level to actually become a member of the Elite Four – and I wouldn't take a position away from Will or Karen, either – but you will be soon. Very soon, in fact. I just want to help you get to that point as quickly as possible."

He was silent as he stared at the paper, numb. This was an honor. More than an honor – this showed the complete and utter faith Lance put in him, his team, and their abilities. As far as he knew nobody had been offered a position on the Elite Four in their first year of training, not even as a trainee.

This was history.


"Don't make a decision yet." Lance said quickly, having anticipated Ash's concerns. "This isn't a decision to take lightly and I know Steven's already put his own offer on the table. Think on it. It's a standing offer that you can take up whenever you want. I just wanted to give you the option."

"Thank you." He said quietly, dumbstruck. "What exactly does being an Elite Four trainee entail?"

"It means you're essentially an unofficial member of the Elite Four. A bit weaker and inexperienced, but fully qualified to handle any situation and well on your way to becoming a Master – if you aren't one already, that is." Lance replied. He continued his explanation once he saw that Ash had absorbed the information. "You will be sent on missions, usually under the supervision of a senior member of the Elite Four. The rest of your time will be spent training and learning the duties that come with becoming a full member."

Ash stayed silent as he considered the offer. He knew Lance was right. He couldn't give an answer right now. There was too much riding on this for him to act rashly. So many consequences.

"…I'll have an answer by the end of the Conference." The trainer said finally. "I'm going to have to spend a long time thinking about it."

"Of course." Lance nodded and motioned for Ash to hand him the Elite Four trainee registration form. When he received it he placed it at the top of one of his mountainous piles of paper. "It will be waiting for you, whatever your decision is."

"Thank you." Ash smiled. "Speaking of the Conference, what can you tell me about the Unovan?"

"George Grey?" The Champion asked distastefully. "He's powerful, somewhere around your level of strength. I don't know that much about him, other than that he worked as a contractor for the Unovan League and built himself something of a reputation there. I doubt you have much information on his Hydreigon, but you should have picked up that it's dangerous. It has a reputation similar to Tyranitar's. Anyone who can control such a creature is no joke."

Ash nodded as he considered the information. Grey certainly wouldn't be a pushover. He'd have to try and familiarize himself with the foreign pokemon he used in case he had to battle him. Michael and Neesha didn't have anything too exotic in their repertoire.

"Thanks for the information." He grinned.

"It's nothing you couldn't find out if you scoured the databases." Lance waved his thanks off. "I just shortened the process. I've had eyes on him, anyway. The Unovan League is notably lax when it comes to the ethics of their contractors and he was well-paid while he worked for them – and nobody working for the Unovan League makes that much unless they are willing to do things most trainers would shy away from."

That didn't bode well, but Ash figured he wouldn't have to worry about it. There were always the trainers that let their strength go to their head and leave them unstable. Grey couldn't pull anything in the Indigo Stadium, not with the eyes of millions on him.

His attention was grabbed by Lance's computer when it suddenly began to blink and ring brightly, obviously an alert of some kind. Lance frowned and glanced at it.

"I'm afraid we'll have to part ways for now, Ash." He sighed as he registered whatever was on the screen. "Business is calling."

"I'll see you later." He nodded, to which Lance grinned.

"Just keep going for the victory. I'd hate for you to be bored watching the last battle of the Conference." The Champion said with a slight smile. He suddenly seemed to remember something. "Could you point Steven this way if you see him? We have some issues to discuss."

"Of course." Ash replied. A sudden thought struck him. "How am I supposed to get back?"

Lance ignored the beeping of his computer for a moment as he quickly tapped a button on the side of his desk. "Will is –"

"Right here!" The flamboyant man exclaimed mere inches from behind Ash. "You have need of me, Champion Lance?"

"Take Ash back to the ballroom." The Champion said with a half-smile. His expression turned stern as he looked to the computer. "Goodbye, Ash."

He nodded again as Will led him out of the Champion's office, idly playing with his cane as it vanished and materialized several times in quick succession.

"Thank you for the distraction, my friend." Will grinned good-naturedly. "Lady Sabrina was most displeased with me and I was afraid I'd have to rely on Karen to save me – a most disagreeable situation. Do you mind if I walk you back?"

"Not at all." Ash grimaced as he remembered Will's attempts at teleportation. Just the thought made him slightly queasy.

"Fantastic!" Will cheered. "Let us move on, then. Perhaps Lady Sabrina will have forgotten her anger by the time we return."

Ash doubted that Sabrina would be so absentminded but shrugged it off. Will would be the one paying for this, not him. He'd just watch the show.


"You've grown since I last saw you." A deep voice that held nothing but serenity in its timbres spoke to him as he stepped into the room behind Will, who had already rushed off to find Karen. She seemed to have disappeared with the Sisters. "It is a change for the better."

Ash's eyes lit up as he turned to regard the giant of a man that stepped to him from the side. "Bruno!"

"Ash." The Black Belt acknowledged with a wide smile. "I must say, you learned your lessons well. With Lance's additional training you have become strong. A fighter, rather than a mere brute bludgeoning away with raw strength."

"Thank you." He replied, grateful for Bruno's compliment. Ash had only spent a week with Bruno, but that had been one of the best and most productive weeks of his life. Bruno was wise and strong, everything that he aspired to be as a Master. "What all have you done since we last met? I know you had a lot to do during the war with Team Rocket."

Bruno's broad face twisted in distaste at the mention of the Rockets. "I did many things and performed actions that I would prefer not to speak of. This was a dark year for the League. Hopefully you will not be exposed to such things. Peace has reigned for many years now, and hopefully for many to come."

"You have spoken to Lance?" The Black Belt asked after a short silence. His wise eyes locked onto Ash curiously, assessing him. "You know his offer?"

"I do." Ash said quietly. "I haven't made a decision. If there's one thing you taught me it's to never act rashly."

The Master smiled slightly. "Good. Ponder this option for a long time. It would be an honor to have you serving at our side, but you must determine your own path. Follow your heart. Allow the universe to guide you."

Ash raised an eyebrow. "That seems a little contradictory."

"You will find that the universe and your heart are often one and the same." Bruno said mysteriously. "Open your mind to the world and the world will open itself to you. Your path will be illuminated, ready to be walked. It is up to you to follow that course."

He nodded slowly, taking a few moments to comprehend Bruno's philosophical mutterings. It had been a long time since he'd had to decipher such words. Lance had waxed philosophy every now and then during their month together, but for the most part he was blunt and direct with his advice. Bruno was similarly direct, but he wove intricate mazes with his words that entranced him.

Silence reigned again for a few more seconds.

"I was impressed by the technique Bruiser used." Bruno said finally. "It showed a deep understanding of his physiology and skills, although I don't believe that it is practical outside of regulated tournaments. Has he healed yet?"

"It's only used as a last resort." Ash agreed. "He's been active for several days now. I'm planning on having him fight in my next match – I'll try to avoid Rampage, but I might need it since Nidoking is wounded."

"Of course." The Black Belt murmured. "Rampage. It is a fitting name."

Bruno suddenly stared at Ash with his warm brown eyes. "But I must ask about your friend. Why does he not wear the belt? I saw It tied around his neck."

"He doesn't think he's worthy of it yet." Ash shrugged. "I think he wants to evolve first or find some way to prove his strength beyond a doubt."

"I am not surprised." Bruno confessed. "A desire to prove oneself is a common trait amongst fighting-types. Their level of strength is never enough. They possess a lust for power, one they accomplish through harsh training and an iron will. It might be years before Bruiser finds that he has surpassed his own expectations, although I suspect such an event will come to pass significantly sooner provided that you assist him."

"Of course I will." Ash replied with a fire in his eyes. "He's my friend."

A smile crossed Bruno's tan face. "Good. The cooperation between allies is the source of our greatest strength. For Bruiser to reach his potential he must have staunch supporters behind him. It pleases me to see that his trainer will be one of them. Too many lack the will to aid their brothers and sisters succeed."

"My friend, I must speak with you." Koga said as he emerged as if from nowhere. He gave Ash a brief nod of respect before he addressed Bruno, who eyed him with a curious gaze. "In private, I am afraid. I have news of the boy and Domino."

Bruno's eyes flickered to Ash's face for the briefest of moments. "Very well. Ash, I am afraid I must take my leave. Open yourself. Allow yourself to be a conduit of the energy that shapes our lives and follow the path placed before you."

"I will." Ash dipped his head. "Thank you, Bruno."

With that the two men were gone. His sharp ears didn't leave him with nothing of what they spoke, however. It didn't actually answer his questions, unfortunately, and left him with a burning curiosity of what was so secretive that they had to hide it from him.

"…spotted near New Bark Town, although that was several days ago. She seems to be harboring him, possibly training…"

He sighed as his ears finally failed him. It seemed that he wouldn't have his answers today. Perhaps Lance would be willing to tell him.

Since his conversational partner had been dragged away he looked around the room for someone else to catch up with. Steven was nowhere to be found. He'd most likely found his way to Lance's office already.

Fortunately for Ash, he didn't have long to wait before someone found him instead.

"Ash! I didn't know you would be here." Brock grinned down at him. "I'm glad I came, then. We never really got to catch up after we split up after the mission, did we?"

"I suppose we didn't." He laughed. "What have you been doing?"

"Not much." Brock shrugged. "There have been a few Rocket remnants holed up in Pewter's territory but for the most part it's been quiet. My father's been taking care of gym battles, so I've just been training and focusing on keeping the Rockets beaten down." He finished, a sneer on his face as he mentioned his father.

"But what about you?" Brock continued with a knowing look in his squinted eyes. "Apparently you've had a pretty exciting time – training with Lance, helping to save Kanto from that abomination. It's getting hard to separate the fact from the fiction nowadays."

Ash shrugged as his lips quirked up. "It hasn't been particularly normal."

"You're really good at understatements, aren't you?" Brock sighed as they fell into the camaraderie they'd built up during the long trek to the power plant. "Eleven-year-olds aren't supposed to be as quiet as you, you know. They're supposed to be obnoxious brats that can't shut up to save their life. Forrest certainly is."

"One of the litter?" Ash asked with a wide grin as he stole Surge's term for Brock's incredibly large family.

Brock rolled his eyes. "Yeah. He's the oldest, right behind me. A chip off the old block." He swelled up proudly. Ash had the feeling the rock-type specialist wasn't talking about his father.

"Where'd Surge go?" He questioned, dragging Brock out of his happy stupor.

The older boy blinked. "I'm not quite sure. I think he left with Blaine. They've been getting after each other for a while now. I wouldn't be surprised if they decided to have an impromptu battle just to make sure there aren't any hard feelings."

"Should we be worried?" Ash raised an eyebrow. Surge and Blaine were two of the most destructive fighters he knew of. Both of their teams were centered around incredibly powerful pokemon, each capable of wrecking a battlefield with a single attack. The results of a battle between the two gym leaders wouldn't be pretty.

Brock shrugged off his concern. "Nah. The closest battlefield is Bruno's training ground. It's reinforced to the point that Steelix couldn't break out of it. They might leave some marks but they can't cause serious damage."

Ash nodded. He shouldn't have been surprised. The Elite Four would utterly destroy the areas around them during training if they didn't have sufficiently powerful psychic barriers and reinforced training grounds. Otherwise they'd have to leave and head miles into the forest before it would be safe to push their teams to the fullest, something the busy Masters had no time for.

"Have you heard –" Brock began, only to freeze and stare as he looked past Ash. The younger trainer frowned curiously before he glanced behind himself and immediately understood the source of the utterly disturbing expression on the ordinarily level-headed Brock's face: Karen.

"There you are, oh Great Protector of Kanto." Karen drawled as she drew near, her beautiful face twisted into a smirk as she regarded the boy. "I hope you haven't gotten a big head after all of your heroics. That would be ever so disappointing to the good Champion."

"It still wouldn't be as big as yours." Ash shrugged, the Feather's heat in his blood pushing him on.

Karen just smiled. "Probably not. I suppose you wouldn't be talking with lover boy here if you'd gotten caught up in some misguided sense of arrogance."

"Hey!" Brock interjected, obviously annoyed at the implication in Karen's words. She just waved his complaint away with a flippant toss of her silvery hair.

"Quiet down." The beautiful girl said condescendingly before she looked down on Ash. "You, Ketchum, come with me. The Sisters want to talk to you for whatever reason."

"Why didn't they come over themselves?" He asked, sending a surreptitious glance over at the Sisters. They were still crowded around the small aquarium fawning over the dull-looking water-type that floated idly in the clear liquid.

Karen rolled her pale silvery eyes. "They're too obsessed with their new pet to even consider leaving it. I have no doubt that Feebas evolve in no time with all of the attention they're drowning it in."

"Feebas…" He murmured to himself, rolling the name over his tongue. Was that the creature Captain Stewart had spoken of on their way to Cinnabar? It was so long ago…

"Focus." Karen snapped. She turned around and began to walk off. Ash sighed and followed her, although Karen suddenly wheeled around and glared at Brock. "You can come if you behave. Just try not to embarrass yourself."

Brock had a wide, silly grin on his face as he nodded vigorously, eyes locked onto Karen as he and Ash followed her to the Sisters.

He found himself edging away from the rock-type specialist. He liked Brock, but the changes he underwent around girls were rather disturbing. Ash could certainly see why Surge had resorted to having Raichu shock Brock if he had to deal with this every day.

"Here he is, ladies. The great Shield of Kanto. Try to ignore his height. It makes his image a lot more believable." Karen said flippantly as she slinked over to the Sisters and crossed her arms over her chest, expression incredibly bored.

Ash blinked in surprise as he was suddenly wrapped up in a huge by the Sisters. He didn't think he'd ever get used to that.

"Hi." He said, voice muffled. The Sisters finally pulled back and gave him the brilliant smiles that had earned them thousands of adoring male fans. From the way Brock was staring at them he certainly wasn't an exception.

He really hoped that he didn't act like that when he was older. Hopefully Surge would be there to set him straight if his hormones ever took over.

"It's been, like, forever!" Violet gushed, accentuating her words with erratic hand motions. "Is it true that you –"

"Wait, I get to go first!" Daisy interjected. She smiled sweetly at Ash. "So, is it true that you're going to be an Elite Four trainee?"

Ash nodded hesitantly. "Lance offered me the position, but I haven't committed."

"That's so cool!" The quietest of the three, Lily, exclaimed. She glanced around conspiratorially at her siblings. "We're so going to set him up with Misty!"

He blinked as Brock and Karen snorted. "What?"

"Oh, nothing." Daisy waved his concerns away. "You don't have to worry about that just yet. Runt would probably get mad at us anyway."

Ash looked to Brock for help, hoping against hope that he'd somehow know how to handle this. Brock seemed to be rather distracted, however. Lily had gone to talk to him and it didn't look like he'd be thinking anytime soon.

"You haven't been over to see Feebas yet, have you?" Violet asked. She stared lovingly at the creature whose glazed eyes were locked onto a rather uninteresting segment of the wall. "Isn't she just amazing? We've been trying to get one from Wallace for years!"

He looked at the rather uninspiring water-type. Its fins twitched slightly. "Yes. She's stunning."

"I know, right?!" Violet gushed. She was certainly a passionate person. "Do you even know –"

Ash resigned himself to his fate. He didn't mind being around the Sisters, but he could think of better things to talk about than Feebas, no matter how impressive she would be once she evolved.

It wasn't as if he would be here too much longer. Sabrina looked to have already left, although she might be presiding over the battle between Surge and Blaine. Her talents might be necessary to limit their destruction if they got too deep into the fight.

At least the view was nice.

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