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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28. The Master Part 3

Ash and Bruno stood side by side. The campsite had been cleaned up, although Bruno had simply put most of it into the cave and had Machamp seal it up with Rock Tomb. He'd said he would come back in a few months once the Rockets had been pushed back into hiding.

The sun was bright and hot as they looked out past the mountain. Kanto stood before them, happy and beautiful. Ash would enjoy traversing its forests again. Mt. Hideaway's harsh terrain and constant threat of being attacked by an onix didn't make it the most hospitable environment.

"What are you coming back here for?" Ash asked, breaking the peaceful silence. As far as he knew, Bruno didn't have any other pokemon in training. Riolu and Tyrogue had improved just as much as Bruiser had. Bruno had pushed them to their absolute limits.

"I didn't come here just to train Tyrogue and Riolu." Bruno stated, still looking out at the proud landscape. "There is a gigantic onix that lives around these parts."

Ash blinked. Bruno would have to be much more specific.

"The locals call it the King Under the Mountain." Bruno said, eyes glinting. "It is said to be centuries old, yet hasn't evolved. I am seeking it out. Even if it will not join me, I would be honored to battle it. The experience would be a reward in itself."

The trainer nodded in understanding. He could get that. So many people focused on finding rare, powerful pokemon and catching them. Sometimes just seeing them or battling them was worth it.

"Are you going straight to Celadon?" The trainer inquired. Bruno sighed and crossed his arms as he looked down at Ash.

"No. First I'm going to Indigo Plateau." Bruno told him, a fond note entering his words as he spoke of the Plateau. "I need to speak with Lance and assemble my pokemon. They have been training hard for this day. Ariana is one of the last Executives. After she falls, the Rockets will be scrambled for a week or so. That is when the League will strike."

It made sense. Team Rocket had lost at least three Executives in a matter of months: Petrel, Pierce, and soon, Ariana. Ash didn't know much about Team Rocket's organization, but Pierce at least must have been a hefty loss. That Metagross of his was practically undefeatable in a remotely fair fight.

As for Petrel…well, he seemed competent. Much more affable than Ash had expected of a Rocket Executive, but that ridiculous exterior hid an intelligent, calculating mind. He'd proved that much with his ambush.

And soon the Rockets would lose another leader. They couldn't keep up under that kind of strain. Soon they would fall and Kanto would finally be able to rest easy, free from the nightmare that had gnawed at its safety for the past decade.

Ash looked up at the massive man beside him. He had full confidence in his ability to singlehandedly wipe out a dozen Rocket hideouts, but still… "Good luck, Bruno."

Bruno smiled. "Thank you. But it is not needed." He glanced surreptiously over his shoulder to where Hitmonchan and Machamp were dutifully sparring with Tyrogue and Riolu, pretending that each of the blows from the younger pokemon did a great deal of damage. "Who needs luck when you have friends like these?"

The trainer couldn't hold back a smile. "True. Well, I guess I should be leaving now. It's a long way back to Pallet." He turned away, but hesitated. "I know you said it was your duty to help me, but thank you. You could have told Professor Oak to find someone else. Thanks for giving me a chance."

"I've heard a lot about you." Bruno said slowly. "Lance was impressed with your efforts in the Sevii Islands and Oak has been singing about you and his grandson ever since you two started out." A sudden grin broke out on his broad face. "What was it Agatha called you two after he wouldn't stop bragging? Ah, yes, the "Prodigies of Pallet". High praise from the Crone, no matter how sarcastic."

Ash glanced away, a little embarrassed. He and Gary were good, but they were no prodigies. Still, he couldn't help but feel a little bit of pride that Professor Oak was actually bragging about him. The Professor's praise was rare. Encouraging words were easy, but praise? That was difficult to come by.

"But I didn't decide to train you just for that." Bruno said. "You're skilled and your pokemon are strong, yes, but there are plenty of trainers with the same quality. What made me choose you was that you had something that not enough trainers possess these days: Friendship. From what the Professor told me, your pokemon are your brothers and sisters. There is great trust between you, and that is what will make you stronger than all others."

The trainer nodded. Bruno suddenly gave him a crooked smile. "Of course, you shouldn't let up on your training. Trust and brotherhood will not help you if you fool around all day. Continue to grow in every way, and you will truly be a match for any of the Elite Four."

Ash grinned with pride, his brown eyes sharp with determination. "I will, Bruno. You'll see me soon."

"Good!" Bruno said with a great, booming laugh. It echoed throughout the mountain, eliciting annoyed screeches from fearow and spearow. "I will be waiting."

The Master looked down at the land again once his laughter had died down. "It is time for us to part." He said gravely. "Remember Bruiser's training. He has the foundations, but he must fight in order to reach his full potential. I wish you luck."

"Thank you." Ash replied with a dip of his head. Bruno suddenly returned all of his pokemon. Riolu whined piteously before he was recalled. He released the familiar form of a Gallade. The trainer frowned at that. It looked like his suspicions about it being a fighting-type were correct.

"Normally I prefer to travel by land, but time is short." Bruno explained as Gallade became aware of its surroundings. The pokemon bowed to Bruno before standing up and awaiting the Master's orders. "Gallade, please teleport me to Indigo Plateau."

Gallade's eyes flashed a brilliant white, but there was no burst of light before the two disappeared from the lonely mountain. Ash sighed and stared at the empty space for a few seconds. Bruno had taught him a lot, even if most of it was more philosophy than real battling. Knowledge was knowledge, however, and he knew much more than he had before.

Before he started the long trek down the mountain and towards Pallet, Ash dug around in his pack for something and released Bruiser. His friend had improved greatly under the Master's tutelage and deserved something to demonstrate his new skill.

Bruiser lowered his head in respect to Ash. Ash returned the favor. "Bruiser, you've learned a lot. As Bruno would say, you're a fighting-type now. You use skill to accentuate your power, not just brute strength. So I figured you deserved something to prove it."

He revealed the object in his hands: a smooth, long length of black cloth. Bruiser's eyes widened at the sight, somehow knowing just what it was. The fighting-type didn't try to take it.

"This is a black belt." Ash recited, remembering the Dojo Master's words from months ago. "It is a sign of your strength, and has been worn by many powerful fighting-types over the years." His voice dropped the official tone, changing to a proud one. "You've become strong in more than just the body. You trained under a member of the Elite Four and he found you worthy. So take the belt. You earned it."

Bruiser took the belt with a hand that trembled with excitement. His large, grey skin was a light contrast to the black belt. He examined it carefully with his beady eyes, taking in every fiber woven into the belt.

When his examination was complete, Bruiser frowned. He didn't place it on or around his power belt, but instead tied it around his neck. Ash looked at him oddly. "Do you not like it?"

The fighter frantically shook his head. Ash frowned at that, but his eyes lit up in understanding moments later. "You don't think you're worthy of it, do you?"

Bruiser nodded, a worried grimace distorting his features. Ash smiled softly. "It's alright, Bruiser. Just keep it until you think you're worthy to wear it. If you think you aren't ready then it's your choice." He sent a friendly glance at his friend. "But for myself, I think you've earned it."

Ash smiled as his friend pounded his chest proudly, taking care not to hit the loop of black cloth wrapped loosely around his neck. Bruiser dipped his head once more to Ash as the trainer glanced out over the rugged terrain. "We should get moving. I want to get back to Pallet as soon as possible."

The machoke grunted his understanding and followed the trainer as Ash carefully began to walk down from the peak, glad that Bruno had made a somewhat traversable trail. It would have been impossible to get up and down from the peak otherwise.

He made sure to go a bit faster than usual. Ash and his pokemon had grown stronger under Bruno's tutelage. While most of the Master's attention had been reserved for Bruiser, he had allowed Ash's friends to spar with his pokemon and had lent helpful advice every now and then. This trip hadn't been a dramatic improvement for any but Bruiser and Tangrowth, but they'd all grown in small ways.

That improvement made Ash certain of one thing: He was ready to face the Viridian Gym.

Giovanni awaited him.

XX

It was raining when he arrived home. Nothing major, just a slight drizzle. Still, it made Ash feel rather glum. He was tired from the four days he'd spent on the road. The return home had been about a day shorter than it had taken him to reach Mt. Hideaway. For one, he didn't spend an entire day battling in a tournament.

Ash couldn't hold back a smile at the thought of the town. He'd been welcomed at the Pokemon Center and people had recognized him in the streets. The attention was a little uncomfortable at first, but he could easily live with it. It was nice having people recognize his abilities.

Torrent rumbled at him questioningly when Ash smiled. He'd released the water-type when it started raining. Nidoking didn't like the rain, and Ash didn't want his first friend to feel uncomfortable in the least.

"It's nothing." He replied, glancing over at the large dragon. "Just thinking."

His friend rumbled his understanding and grew quiet again. They remained in a companionable silence as they walked through the deserted streets of Pallet. Most people were either working or staying home during the dreary weather.

Ash pulled out his PokeNav and glanced at the time. It was a bit after noon, so that meant that his mother was probably at Professor Oak's for lunch. He sighed and glanced over at his small house when he passed by. The rain was picking up, and he really didn't want to spend more time in it than necessary.

He shrugged his annoyance off and released Dazed. Her eyes frowned at him, slightly unhappy with him for releasing her while it was raining. Ash rolled his eyes, although he had a wide grin on his face as he saw his friend. They didn't get to spend time together while they travelled except at night or when they battled. Dazed wasn't able to keep up with him on the road.

"Could you teleport us up to Professor Oak's house?" He requested politely. Dazed nodded. Her eyes flashed briefly before they suddenly appeared outside the venerable Professor's laboratory. "Thanks, Dazed. You want to go back in your pokeball now?"

Dazed shook her head stiffly, glaring up at the grey sky. Her eyes burned as a shell of bright blue energy formed over her head, the psychic shield protecting her furred form from the annoying drops of water. Ash laughed and shook his head before ringing the doorbell.

"Torrent, do you want to stay out here?" Ash asked as he waited on someone to answer. Torrent nodded and bowed his head thankfully. The trainer knew his friend loved being in the rain. It wasn't as good as being in water, but it still refreshed the water-type.

He was distracted when the door opened. Professor Oak glanced down at him. "Ash! It's good to see you. Come in!"

Ash grinned back and followed the Professor into the warm, cozy house. He held the door open for Dazed as she shuffled in, glancing about the familiar room critically. The trainer swiftly followed Oak into the dining room, where his mother sat with a half-eaten plate of steaming food.

"Ash!" His mother exclaimed when he walked through the door. Ash barely had time to take a breath before his mom barreled towards him and wrapped him up in a tight hug. He returned it as best he could. A few seconds later his mother pulled back, although she kept her hands on his shoulders. "I've missed you so much! How was your trip?"

The trainer grinned. "Great! I won a tournament in Dandra, and I got to train with Bruno!"

His mother blinked and her jaw dropped open in surprise. Ash smiled when he saw Professor Oak in the background, a pleased smile on his face. "Bruno of the Elite Four?"

"Yes." He replied still grinning wildly. His mother couldn't seem to say anything. Ash had told her about Steven and Lance, but he didn't think she could ever bring herself to really believe it. It was pretty amazing, after all. "But that's not all."

He reached into his pack and pulled out the egg. Ash gently set the hard shell on the table. His mother stared at the egg and gently picked it up, examining it carefully. Professor Oak had a similar reaction. Ash knew that Oak's specialty wasn't eggs, but the man still had an astounding amount of knowledge about them.

"Oh, I know what this is!" His mother said happily. She was running her finger down the smooth surface carefully, smiling at the egg. "It's a –"

"Don't tell me." Ash interrupted quickly. His mother looked at him oddly.

"Don't you want to know what it is?"

Ash shook his head. "I want it to be a surprise. I don't want my opinion to be colored by knowing what's inside. I just want everything to go along naturally."

Oak smiled at him. "I understand. Some of my old training friends did the same." He sighed and looked past Ash. "I never got to raise an egg. It's something I regret. Hatching and raising a pokemon is a highly educational experience. You bond with it in a special way. I'm sure that you'll learn a lot."

The trainer nodded. He could definitely see that. But he was surprised that Professor Oak had never hatched an egg before. The Professor had a long career as a trainer, although Ash had never heard just how far the man had gone. It was kept quiet, and Ash had never had the opportunity to really look for Oak's legacy. But if his incredibly powerful pokemon were any indication, Oak had won at least one Conference.

He picked the egg up, but nearly dropped it when it suddenly shook a bit. Ash gently placed it on the wooden table and watched carefully, a grin raising across his face.

His hopes were suddenly dashed by Professor Oak.

"It's not hatching." The researcher told him. Ash glanced over, confused. "I'd say it's relatively close to hatching, but eggs often shake when touched. The shaking will become more frequent as the hatching date grows closer."

Ash frowned, a little disappointed. He'd been hoping that the egg would hatch. He wanted to see what his newest teammate was.

"By the way, make sure to call me when it hatches." Oak told him. Ash nodded as he gently placed the egg back into his pack. It shivered again, although it was more of a twitch than real movement. "I can temporarily add an additional slot to your Trainer ID. Because of the importance of guiding and maintaining a close bond with a hatched pokemon, you are allowed to bring it along with the rest of your team."

That made sense. Ash remembered reading something about that in the trainer handbook. Young pokemon needed some sort of parental figure in their lives, and it was best for a trainer to supervise their growth.

"If you need any tips, I'll be glad to help!" His mother chimed in. Ash smiled gratefully at her. She was never a trainer herself, but she knew a lot. Now that he thought about it, she'd probably helped to hatch a few eggs herself. "Now, sit down. You must be hungry after being on the road."

Surprisingly enough, Ash shook his head. "I ate an hour ago." He explained. "I wasn't sure if the rain would pick up, so I wanted to eat lunch just in case."

As he sat down, his mother asked him another question. "So, what was training with Bruno like? I've heard a lot about him."

"It was intense." Ash recalled, tapping his chin with his finger. Oak slid into the seat next to his mother. "He gave me a few tips and a lot of advice, but I didn't actually train with him that much. Bruno spent most of his time with Bruiser and taught me how to train him. A lot of it was him explaining the fighting-type to me."

"That sounds like Bruno." Oak said with a fond smile. "His passion is fighting-type pokemon. He realized that you had no idea how to train Bruiser, but at least he could pass his teachings on. Bruno is far more than he appears."

Ash flashed back to their long conversations, especially the ones about the mysterious energy Bruno used. He'd told Ash a lot about it and had peaked the trainer's interest. Maybe when he had time he'd look for a teacher. It would be amazing if he could do half the feats Bruno could perform.

"Thanks for sending me to him, Professor." Ash said with a thankful grin. "I learned a lot. Bruiser would never have been as strong as he could have been otherwise. Now I can actually help him."

"You're a good trainer." Oak replied. "You needed help with Bruiser and you've helped Kanto quite a bit lately. The very least I could do was to get you a proper teacher."

His mother frowned at the mention of his battles against the Rockets. "So, where are you going next? I know that you said that you were going to Viridian City, but don't you want to go to another gym first? It would be good practice." She said, trying to divert the conversation away from where it was headed.

"No." Ash told his mother. A mournful shadow flickered over her features, so fast that Ash barely caught it. He frowned at that, but didn't say anything. "I beat Sabrina. None of the other gym leaders could pose a challenge. I want to beat Giovanni so I can start training for the Conference."

She didn't say anything to that. A few seconds later she spoke up. "Alright. When do you think you'll leave?"

"As soon as possible." Ash said without hesitation.

"That won't be possible." Oak said suddenly, a frown on his tan face. "The gym leader has taken a few days off. Gary is waiting there now. I'll tell you when you can head off."

That was odd. Gym leaders generally didn't take time off, or at least had a substitute while they were gone. While it was probably more lax in Viridian since Giovanni only got a few dozen challengers the entire year it still didn't make sense. The League probably wasn't very happy with Giovanni.

"I guess I'll spend a few more days training, then." Ash shrugged. It wasn't as though he was in a huge hurry. There were months before the Conference. Suddenly, something Oak said struck him. "Wait, Gary's challenging Giovanni?"

Professor Oak scowled. "Yes." He said shortly. "He believes that Blastoise will carry him through. Gary's a strong trainer, but I don't believe he's faced off against enough powerful trainers to match Giovanni. I'm afraid that one of his pokemon will be hurt. Giovanni is not a kind foe."

Ash frowned when another brief flash of emotion went across his mother's face. He'd have to get the story eventually. His mother didn't seem comfortable around the subject of the Viridian gym. It was odd, but he wouldn't pressure her until he had more of a reason.

"I've started planning for him." Ash revealed. Neither of the adults looked surprised. Oak had helped him a bit before, but Ash had looked up one of Giovanni's battles in the pokedex database. He seemed to stick to just a few pokemon, so Ash felt comfortable in his strategy. "It's like this –"

They spent another hour talking about his next gym challenge and Ash's journey. Ash spent a while talking to his mother. He'd missed her.

Finally, they left Oak's house. The rain had died down a bit, so Ash was fine with walking to his own home. Besides, that meant that he might get to see Plume and Seeker.

XX

Just as Ash's home entered his vision, he heard a loud shriek. Ash glanced up into the air and grinned as he saw the massive form of a great bird hurtling towards him, the shadow large enough to cover a huge amount of land.

Plume slammed into the ground in front of him, tearing the muddy road apart with the force she landed with. She awkwardly hopped over to him and lightly pecked him on the shoulder, taking care to avoid hurting him. The pidgeot cooed happily as Ash gently stroked her crest in greetings.

"Plume!" He exclaimed with a grin. "I missed you! How have you been?"

His mother smiled and mouthed that she was going inside. Ash distractedly nodded as Plume happily shrieked and lightly butted her head into him, sending him stumbling back a bit. It looked like she'd had a good few days, although she clearly missed him.

"That's nice." He said softly. Plume cooed again and excitedly hopped around. Her sharp talons absolutely destroyed the soft, wet ground but Ash couldn't find it in himself to care. He'd missed Plume. Ash hated being away from any of his friends. "So, did you get along with seeker alright?"

Plume chirped. Ash construed it as a yes. "That's great! Did anything exciting happen?"

She shook her head. Ash hadn't exactly expected anything, but it was always worth asking. Arcanine did too good a job keeping harmony in the Corral for anything to go wrong.

"Listen, I've got to go inside but I'll be out in just a few minutes, alright?" He patted her side gently. She nodded and fluffed up her wings. "Good, good. See you in a bit."

Plume called after him happily as he made his way to his house. He could see that his mother was just walking in. Ash glanced over at Dazed. She nodded at Plume in greetings and plodded after Ash as he began the trek. The psychic-type seemed a bit annoyed at the mud that was plastering her feet. She'd probably use psychic to clean it off later.

In just a minute he arrived at the door. Ash absentmindedly wiped his feet off before he walked in and held the door open for Dazed. She shuffled in and moved to a corner. The trainer glanced at her as he walked in, but a small ball of blue fur suddenly slammed into his chest.

Ash blinked in surprise as he was knocked back a step and glanced down at Seeker, who was cuddling into his chest. She was chattering excitedly and lightly butting her head into him. His mouth curved upwards and he lightly scratched behind his friend's ears.

"Hey, Seeker." He said softly. She glanced up at him with blind eyes and chattered happily. "Were you good?"

She hissed indignantly, just as she had when he'd posed the same question before he'd left. Ash laughed again. "I know. You're always good. Did you get along well with Plume?"

Seeker chattered some more. Her small, soft ears were twitching excitedly. Ash smiled again and stroked her furry back. She shivered happily and dug in closer to his chest.

"Bruiser learned a lot." He murmured. Seeker glanced up confusedly. "He's always been strong, but now he knows how to use that strength. Do you want to see him?"

The zubat clicked an affirmative. Ash grinned as he released the large fighting-type. Bruiser's eyes lit up when he saw Seeker. He dipped his head to Ash in thanks before gently picking Seeker up from Ash's chest.

"Have fun catching up." Ash told the duo. Bruiser nodded. "I'll be back in a few minutes. I've got to check up on Plume."

Ash walked away from the two with a smile on his face. Watching the two friends was always heartwarming. Most of his friends got along with each other and liked each other, but Bruiser and Seeker had the closest friendship out of the bunch. Hopefully the rest of his friends would gain a bond like that as time went on.

He took one last glance at the two before walking out the door. There was a lot to get done, and he'd like to see a bit more of their friendship before he started training for Giovanni. They only had a few days, and Ash wanted to be completely ready before facing the most powerful gym leader in Indigo.

XX

Ash glanced down in surprise when he heard a loud beeping coming from his belt. He unclipped his PokeNav and glanced down at the screen. Professor Oak was calling him. Now that his interest was piqued, Ash quickly flipped the device open and answered the message.

"Hey." He replied, a little surprised. It had been two days since he'd returned to Pallet. Ash hadn't expected any news from the Professor this quickly. Tangrowth waddled over from his training and peered into the screen curiously. "Sorry, Tangrowth, but I need to talk to Professor Oak."

Tangrowth gurgled understandingly and tapped Ash on the forehead before walking away. Ash smiled and watched as he went over to continue sparring with Bruiser. They'd just started training an hour ago. It was nowhere near as intense as when they'd trained at Mt. Hideaway. Their training was more of maintenance, really.

"Ah, hello, Ash." Oak greeted. He was in his lab. Ash could see the Corral's wide open fields in the background. "I have good news. Giovanni returned to his gym last night. I just received the message from my contacts in the League."

Ash grinned. "Thanks, Professor. I'll head back to my house right now. Does my mom know?"

"No." The Professor shook his head. "She hasn't come over for lunch yet. Do you want me to call her?"

"I'll tell her." Ash told him. "I'm not sure how long I'll be gone. I need to say goodbye before I head off."

The Professor smiled. Ash caught a hint of sadness before Oak said his goodbyes. "Good luck, Ash. Tell me how it goes."

"I will." Ash promised. A moment later the screen went black. He quickly folded it back up and clipped it onto his belt. The trainer glanced out at his friends. They were completely focused on his training, although Bruiser was taking a breather. Even he wasn't immune to the stresses of training. Seeker had stayed at the house. The sun and heat were too great for her today. "Hey, we're leaving! I'm returning you now."

His friends immediately stopped training and stood still, making it all the easier for them to be returned. Ash only left Dazed out of her ball. She stared at him with sleepy eyes and cocked her head, relatively certain of Ash's request.

Ash confirmed her suspicions with his next words. "Dazed, do you mind teleporting me to my house?"

She nodded tightly and shuffled over to him. Her eyes were showed a hint of dislike at the thought of teleporting, but Ash knew she didn't mind teleporting him too much. He made sure to thank her each time, though. Dazed hadn't evolved to warp space and time with her mental powers. It required far more effort than it would otherwise.

They vanished in a brief flash of light. It forced Ash to blink. When he opened his eyes back up, he found himself inside of his house. Dazed smiled at him with her expressive eyes before shuffling to the corner, where she could keep a tight watch on everything.

"Thanks, Dazed." Ash said offhandedly to his friend. She blinked at him before staring at the bright light that lit up the room. He turned to the rest of his house. "Mom! Are you here?"

"Coming!" His mother's cheery voice called out from her room. She walked into the living room a few seconds later with a wide smile on her face. "Ash, I thought you were training for the rest of the day?" His mother grew worried. "Did something happen?"

Ash shook his head and raised his hands in a calming motion. "No, no. Everyone's fine. Professor Oak just called and told me that Giovanni went back to Viridian. I wanted to tell you that I'm leaving soon."

A flicker of unease passed over his mother's face, so fast that Ash wasn't even sure if he'd seen it. While her face returned to its normal happy smile, her voice seemed a little choked up. "Of course! I'll pack a lunch. It's a short journey to Viridian, but you shouldn't have to eat those trainer meals."

"Thanks." Ash said with a grin. He'd gotten used to the bland, flavorless meals that most trainers bought, but it was always nice to get something else. He could easily afford good food now, but most of it would spoil over the long duration of his expeditions. Trainer Meals weren't bad and they lasted practically forever. "I'll go pack, then."

He heard his mother heading to the kitchen as he jogged up the stairs. Dazed lazily teleported up behind him. Ash smiled at her and held the door to his room open for the psychic-type. She didn't like not being able to watch him.

Ash hurriedly put all of the necessities into his pack. Most of his things were already packed, but some things like his toothbrush weren't. He'd made sure to be able to leave at a moment's notice.

Before he left, he went over and pulled his trophies from their hiding place. Dazed paused in polishing her stone pendulum when Ash pulled out the shard of the Moon Stone. He smiled at the inky stone. It had given Nidoking all the power he deserved, just as the massive, golden Dragon Scale had for Torrent.

He sighed and placed them both back. Eventually he'd have to get a case for them. They shouldn't be sitting in his drawer for the next few years. Ash stood up and shouldered his pack. Dazed shuffled after him until they reached the stairs, where she quickly teleported to the bottom.

When he walked into the kitchen, his mother was humming an unfamiliar tune as she finished packing a few sandwiches. He patiently waited for her to finish. She turned around and smiled at him when she realized that he was there before returning to her task silently.

Suddenly a small blue ball of fur slammed into his chest. He coughed and glanced down at Seeker, who was relentlessly clutching to his jacket. She chattered sadly at him.

"I'll miss you too." He said remorsefully to her. Seeker buried her blind face into his chest. Ash gently scratched behind her soft ears, making her grow a bit lax. "But I'm leaving Bruiser behind for a few days. I'll need him for my gym battle, but until then he's yours."

Seeker wriggled happily at that. Ash grinned and took Bruiser's pokeball off of his belt so he could release the powerful fighting-type. His friend pounded his thick chest and bowed his head to Ash in respect when he saw him. The zubat happily fluttered over to Bruiser and climbed onto his back. Ash could see her small head peeking out from behind Bruiser's.

"You heard we're going to Viridian, right?" Ash asked. Bruiser nodded. "I'm leaving you here until the battle. I know you haven't had much of a chance to catch up with Seeker over the last few days. Just make sure to keep up with your training." He grinned. "We don't want Bruno's training going to waste, do we?"

Bruiser made a grunt that Ash construed as a laugh and nodded. He dipped his head to Ash once more before walking out of the room with Seeker. She turned back and chattered a goodbye to Ash before vanishing into the rest of the house.

Ash watched the two friends fondly for a few moments before his mother tapped his shoulder.

"Here's your lunch!" She said as she handed him the wrapped up sandwiches. Ash quickly placed them into the storage compartment where he kept his food. The second he was done doing that, he was wrapped into a crushing hug. "Good luck." His mother said quietly. Ash idly realized that he was as tall as she was now. "I know you can win."

"I will." Ash promised, pulling back and meeting his mother's eyes. "But I'm going to be gone a while."

His mother furrowed her brow curiously. "Why?" A dawning sense of realization made its way onto her face. "You aren't coming back to Pallet, are you?"

"No." Ash said with a frown. He felt a lump in his throat. He'd plotted out the rest of his journey and was glad to get back into travelling, but it had been nice seeing his mother so often. He would miss her. "After I beat Giovanni I'm going to go back through the gym circuit. The gym leaders want rematches and I want to oblige them. There's a lot I need to do before the Conference."

"I understand." His mom told him quietly. She hugged him again, taking Ash off guard. He managed to return it, though, even if his arms were practically locked to his sides. "Stay safe, sweetie."

Ash stepped back and dipped his hat in acknowledgement. "I will." He promised as he adjusted his pack. Ash was quiet as he walked to the door. "…Bye, Mom. I'll see you soon."

His mother gave him a teary smile. "I know." It took on a slightly more mischievous shape, and Ash grimaced. He knew what she was about to say. "And remember to change your under—"

He was out the door before she could finish the joke, although Ash couldn't keep a small smile off of his face.

XX

Ash stood at the gates of Pallet Town. He hadn't been here since the first day of his journey, when he'd started off with just Nidoran and his two travelling companions. The trainer spared a moment of thought for his human friends, wondering just where they were.

He hoped they'd gotten as good as he had. When they met again, Ash wanted a challenge. Jonathan had a gyarados, at least. Maybe that would be a good battle for one of his friends that wasn't Nidoking.

As he thought of his friend, he released Nidoking. The poison-type growled happily at the sight of him and gently tapped Ash on the shoulder. His friend had gotten better at controlling his strength, but it still made Ash's knees buckle.

"Hey, buddy." Ash grinned. He patted Nidoking on his leathery, muscular chest. Nidoking rumbled at the contact. "Sorry we haven't gotten to talk that much lately. Do you want to stay out with me? Plume's watching us, so we don't have to be too paranoid."

Nidoking smiled, exposing his long, powerful fangs. His ears, which were the same size as they had been as Nidoran but were much more normal relative to his bulky frame, twitched happily. He stamped on the ground and sent a few trembles through it for good measure. It made Ash think a bit of Infernus.

"Sounds good." Ash replied with a laugh. He grew a bit more sober. "Do you remember the first time we were here? It feels like it was so long ago."

The poison-type grunted in agreement. A bit of nostalgia swirled through his sharp, narrow eyes. Nidoking gave the gates a long look before stepping forward, grunting insistently as he did so.

"You're right. We should get a move on." Ash said as he glanced up at the sky. Plume was circling high above them, barely a dot in the bright sun. He'd switched her pokeball with Bruiser's. He missed Plume. She would be staying with them until at least Viridian City, and he'd likely take her through the Viridian Forest. Her skills and navigational abilities were invaluable in the dense maze of a forest.

With that he stepped forward and began the next step of his journey.

Giovanni awaited him.

XX

The trip was about a day shorter than it had been the first time he'd gone to Viridian. He was more experienced now and he wasn't horribly sore, which was always a plus. It was strange seeing the first steps of his journey through more experienced eyes. What had seemed a vast and insurmountable distance before was just another few days of walking now.

He recognized quite a few landmarks from his days as a newbie trainer: the area where the group had made their first campsite, where he'd beaten Misty the first time, even where he'd first met Plume. Ash smiled at that memory. Plume had swept down from the air when they'd passed over it and terrified the pidgey and spearow roosting in the tree that was practically sacred to her. She'd taken the exact same position as she had when they'd first met and peered down her beak at Ash with faux arrogance.

Ash had laughed and asked her if she wanted to battle again. Plume had ruffled her feathers disdainfully and hopped down to the ground so that she could lightly peck Ash's shoulder. It was still a little sore and his clothes were still dirty from when she took off and created a dust cloud.

The trainer had even recognized the place where he'd been chased by the spearow and fearow. It was a fairly distinctive campsite set up by the League, so it wasn't too hard to identify. Ash had frowned at the memories of being so weak he'd had to have help to protect himself from a flock of spearow. He'd grown a lot since then.

He had idly wondered what had happened to fearow. Ash hadn't thought to ask Michael when he'd last seen him in between Celadon and Saffron all those months ago. It wasn't really important, but it would have been nice to know.

But now he had reached something that he would always remember: the gates of Viridian. They were large and thick, mostly to keep any of the aggressive pokemon competing for mates outside during mating season. Pokemon never killed anyone, but their attempts to show off their strength constantly resulted in major property damage and some minor injuries amongst the populace.

Since it wasn't breeding season, there were only a few guards on the walls. Viridian City was notoriously hard on crime and had completely driven out Team Rocket and other organized crime groups within its famous walls. The police and guards that would ordinarily be watching for frenzied pokemon were probably focused within the small city now.

Ash gave a polite nod to the lone policeman standing outside the walls and returned Nidoking. The guard returned the nod after that and motioned for him to go on through.

He had never gone to the Pokemon Center in Viridian City, but he knew where it was thanks to the PokeNav maps. Like most major cities, Viridian's Pokemon Center was just a few minutes in. Ash took in the sights eagerly as he made his way to the Center.

Viridian City was one of the oldest cities in Kanto, but amongst the great cities that held the major gyms it was one of the smallest. While a respectable size, Viridian City had no massive skyscrapers like Saffron or the sheer size and sprawling suburbs of Celadon. If Ash had to pick, he'd say it was more similar to Fuschia than anywhere else.

While Viridian wasn't quite as ancient or isolated as Fuschia, it boasted a similar heritage of defending Indigo Plateau, was only accessible through the south from Pallet and the surrounding areas, west from Indigo Plateau, and north from the dangerous Viridian forest. It was practically inapproachable from the east, thanks to a small, rugged mountain chain and dense forests. There was a route that allowed Celadon to be accessed, but it was dangerous and only accessible to trainers who had six gym badges or could prove their strength.

Ash shook himself out of his thoughts as he walked up to the Pokemon Center. It was of a similar elegant style to the buildings around it. He thought it was odd that it largely rejected the standard of Pokemon Centers, but didn't think on it too much. The Center was probably just old.

He didn't bother going to the front desk first. There was a line already and he wanted to get his pokemon switched out. If everything worked out, he planned on challenging Giovanni today.

The trade room was practically empty, which was somewhat of a surprise considering that the lobby was filled. Ash quickly sat down at one of the computers and dialed Professor Oak. While he waited, Ash released Plume so he could say goodbye.

She would be able to avoid the ground-type attacks Giovanni commonly utilized, but she just lacked the offensive power to battle the hardy and heavy ground-types. Plume just didn't have the right skills to deal damage. They'd already discussed this on the journey over, and she knew it was true.

"Hey, girl." He said with a smile. Plume playfully nipped at him, although he swerved back at the last second. "You ready?"

Plume nodded. She liked the Corral quite a bit, Ash knew, although she would rather be him. At least this wasn't a punishment for her.

Professor Oak suddenly connected. He already had Bruiser's pokeball in hand. Ash was glad that he'd called Professor Oak just before he arrived at the city limits. It really sped the process up.

"Hello, Ash!" The Professor said with his standard greetings. "How is your journey coming along?"

Ash smiled. "Pretty good. I'm going to go get a room at the Center and then I'm heading off to face Giovanni."

"I know I've said this a lot lately, but good luck." Professor Oak said earnestly. He placed Bruiser's pokeball into the trader machine. Ash almost did the same with Plume, but hesitated. "Giovanni is a brutal battler. You will face injuries, but I'm sure you can overcome him. You are strong, your pokemon are strong, and your will is strong."

"Thank you." Ash said as he bowed his head. He glanced at Plume before he recalled her. "I'll have you back in no time at all. I won't be letting you run away from me again for a long time." He said teasingly.

Plume chirped happily and cocked her head at him before he recalled her. He stared at the smooth metal of the pokeball for a moment before placing it into the trading machine. The pokeball briefly glowed a bright white before vanishing. Bruiser's replaced it.

He met Oak's eyes and nodded thankfully as he clipped Bruiser's pokeball to his belt. Oak smiled and nodded back before the screen cut off.

Ash made sure the pokeball was secure before he walked out of the trading room, leaving the large, black screens and their computers behind. He glanced over at the front desk and noticed that the line had disappeared.

"How may I help you?" Nurse Joy asked as he walked up to the desk. Ash smiled at her and dipped his hat before responding.

"I just need a room." He said politely. Much to his surprise, Nurse Joy frowned.

"I'm sorry." She said apologetically. Ash noted that she was very flustered. "But all of our rooms are full. We've had a huge influx of trainers for some reason. I'm so sorry!" Nurse Joy said very quickly.

Ash shook his head and held back. "It's fine." He replied. "Thanks for helping me out."

Nurse Joy smiled guiltily at him. "I really am sorry. I could try to find you alternative housing if you'd like. There are a few families that will be more than happy to let you stay with them for a night or two."

"No, thank you." Ash said quickly. "I've got it under control. Again, thanks for your help."

With that, he said goodbye to Nurse Joy and walked out of the Center. He wasn't sure if he would be coming back in an hour not. There was a certain someone in Viridian that would probably let him stay for a night, but he wasn't sure.

XX

He eventually made his way to Jessica's house. Ash remembered the general area of it, so it wasn't too hard to narrow it down. A few helpful sets of directions from sympathetic strangers had led him right to the small, drab house.

Ash felt a little awkward as he walked up the worn wooden steps. He'd met Jessica a lot in Pallet – it was such a small town that everyone knew each other at least a bit, even if it was only on sight – but didn't really know her. The age difference hadn't exactly made them stay in contact.

The trainer glanced at the sleek, powerful Persian that hissed at him as he knocked on the door. It lazed happily in the sun, one eye slit open so that it could see Ash. While it was too lazy to actually do anything without Ash posing a threat, Ash could see just how dangerous it could be. Persian were naturally aggressive to anyone they considered weak, and the long, sharp claws the specimen in front of him was carelessly exposing bespoke of incredible strength.

"Persian, stop that!" A kind, yet stern, voice chided as Jessica opened up the door. "I'm sorry about him. He's usually not this bad-tempered." Jessica suddenly realized who she was looking at. "Ash? What are you doing here?"

Ash scratched the back of his neck, a little embarrassed. "The Pokemon Center ran out of space. So I was just wondering –"

"Sure!" Jessica exclaimed. "You can stay for as long as you want. I haven't had company in a while. I guess you're here to battle Giovanni?"

Ash followed her in, but was butted out of the way by Persian. It glanced back at him with the closest it could get to a smirk on its face. The trainer frowned back as the arrogant feline strutted behind its trainer. He watched curiously as the Unown he'd seen last time whizzed through the room, emitting a strange humming noise.

"Uno, calm down!" Jessica said softly. Uno hummed some more before flying out of the room. She turned to Ash "So, it's been a while. What's your team looking like?"

That made a grin spread on his face. "Nidoking, Pidgeot, Kingdra, Hypno, Magmar, Machoke, Tangrowth, and Zubat."

"Huh, the zubat kind of sticks out." Jessica commented as she took a seat. "Nice team, though. Especially for how long you've been training. How'd you get a Kingdra, though? Those things are way too expensive to buy, and I haven't even seen a Dragon Scale on the market."

"I helped some people out." Ash said simply. He trusted Jessica, but he wasn't about to go into the operations at the Sevii Islands.

Jessica rolled her eyes. "Alright, thanks for going in-depth." She leaned forward and took on a serious tone. "Look, I'll let you go battle Giovanni – the nasty piece of work – soon. I just want to know what happened on the St. Anne. Amelia and Jon have only called twice since then, and I'm worried about them."

"I don't know what they're doing. We were split up after the St. Anne was destroyed. I haven't seen them since." Ash said stonily, the subject of the St. Anne – falling into the freezing ocean, watching the great ship be neatly sliced in half and condemned to the depths of the sea, rushing water – causing him to tighten up. "I don't have a way to contact them."

"Thanks." Jessica sighed, a troubled look on her face. "Sorry you had to go through that. I watched the stories on it – that's awful. So many people just…gone. I'm glad you got out of that mess."

Ash just nodded. There was nothing to say. "Could I leave my pack in the guest room?"

"Sure." Jessica muttered, looking as though her mind was somewhere far away from the cramped living room. "Good luck with your gym battle. I never managed to beat Giovanni."

"Thanks." Ash said before he departed. He didn't feel like talking much. The St. Anne wasn't something to remember.

The guest room was fairly easy to find in the small house, even if he barely remembered it. He smiled at the Leafeon that was curled up on the bed. It looked like the Eevee that had been sleeping there that night had evolved. The trainer was careful not to wake it as he slid his pack under the bed, old habits refusing to die.

He briskly walked out of Jessica's house and pulled out his PokeNav. It gave him directions through Viridian's maze of streets and would lead him directly to the gym.

Ash had a scowl on his face and a blaze of fire in his eyes. Maybe it was the bad mood he'd been put in, but he wanted to beat Giovanni now more than ever. He just wanted to win and leave this city.

XX

"Identification, please." A tall, broad-shouldered man said. He was polite but firm. Three pokeballs hung on his belt, each ready to be used at a moment's notice.

Ash showed him his pokedex ID, assuming that word of mouth wouldn't be enough. The guard glanced at it with hard eyes and scribbled something onto a clipboard before motioning for Ash to go through. "Good luck."

The trainer nodded his thanks to the man as he passed through the checkpoint. For some reason Viridian City had become extremely paranoid. No other gym required going through a security gate to pass. Perhaps they were wary of Team Rocket's retribution. Giovanni had been vicious when dealing with the group and had run them out of Viridian and its territory.

He paused for a moment as he saw the gym. Unlike the rest of Viridian, which was plain and utilitarian in design, the gym was ornate. Four marble columns proudly jutted from the ground as he approached and they guarded the walkway of white stone, evenly cut and distributed.

Two guards in ancient, metal armor stood sentry in front of a shimmering bronze door. They carried halberds and their faces were obscured by large helmets. Ash frowned at that. It was an odd choice and much more ceremonial than most gyms. He assumed that it was a testament to Viridian's ancient task of guarding Indigo Plateau. Viridian was a city steeped in traditions, so the gym, which exemplified the city's attributes, would likely adhere to some of them.

They frowned and clashed their halberds together when he walked closer. Ash met their silent glares with one of his own. He wasn't in the mood for this.

"There is only one trainer allowed in the gym at a time." They said in a chorus. Ash crossed his arms. "When the current trainer exits the building, you will be allowed into –"

A blur in a dark blue shirt suddenly rushed out of the building, throwing the heavy doors open with furious strength. The figure slammed into Ash and knocked him to the side.

Ash scowled when the figure spoke.

"Out of my way, Ashy-boy!" Gary said with pure rage in his voice. "I don't have time for you today."

The trainer frowned and grabbed Gary's shoulder, forcing him to stay. Gary never lost a chance to put in a few comments to Ash. Something had happened in there. Probably a loss, but it must have been major. "What are you talking about?"

Gary wrenched out of Ash's grip and stared daggers at the trainer. "I just got creamed! I couldn't even take down his first pokemon. My pokemon weren't even able to hurt that, that thing he sent out against me!" His voice had lost its hot rage and was now just upset. "You won't do any better, so let me go and leave me alone!"

Ash stared at Gary as he rushed past the security checkpoint. Gary hadn't even managed to defeat one of Giovanni's pokemon? That was odd. His rival had a long way to go in the personality department, but he was a strong trainer. He should have been able to beat some of Giovanni's pokemon. Something strange was going on.

"Challenger, you are now being allowed entry." One of the guards told him dispassionately. The two casually slid the massive bronze doors open, allowing Ash to walk into the dark gym.

He breathed once before heading in. The room was pitch black for a moment before the lights flashed on and revealed a massive, plain stadium. It was of high-quality and showed no signs of the battle that had just taken place on it, although if Gary had been as easily defeated as he claimed there probably wouldn't be much damage anyways.

Ash winced as he felt the air. It felt energized somehow, as though an incredibly powerful psychic like Oak's Alakazam had just done some incredible feat. It made his skin tingle and the hairs on his neck and arms stand straight up. It reminded Ash of something, although his mind seemed unable to lock onto the exact source.

The only part that remained dark was a single balcony. He could barely make out a solitary form in it, although the shape became clearer when it stood up and walked over to the edge of the balcony, where it was revealed to be a tall, broad-shouldered man in a dark suit. Ash knew that this was Giovanni, although the reclusive gym leader had never been photographed clearly. When he was caught by the media, he often wore a stylish fedora to obscure his face.

Giovanni was familiar, somehow. He was stern looking and, even if he didn't seem to be doing it intentionally, seemed dark. There was something behind those cold, dispassionate eyes that disturbed Ash, although it was replaced the moment Giovanni met his eyes. Ash noticed that they were black. Aside from the obvious, something about Giovanni's face looked as though he'd seen it in a mirror every day of his life.

"I am Giovanni, Gym Leader of Viridian and holder of the Earth Badge." The gym leader boomed, his powerful voice projecting throughout the massive chamber and echoing off the walls. His face was completely relaxed now, friendly even. An absolutely massive Persian that made Jessica's look like a skitty prowled up beside him, purring loudly enough for Ash to hear as Giovanni scratched behind its ears. "What is your name, Challenger? I don't get many of your kind anymore."

"Ash Ketchum." Ash replied, as much confidence as he could muster infused into his voice. It was not nearly as deep as Giovanni's, but the effect was similar. Giovanni's narrow eyes that reminded Ash a bit of Nidoking's widened in shock for a brief moment and he blanched. The powerful gym leader recovered quickly, however, and it was as though the reaction never happened.

Giovanni's voice was almost hesitant, the first show of weakness Ash had noticed. "Are you related to Delia Ketchum?" He asked quietly. The force behind his voice was still enough to let Ash hear him clearly.

"Yes. She's my mother." Ash replied slowly, not sure why Giovanni was asking. His mother had grown up in Pallet. He couldn't see her knowing the reclusive Giovanni at all.

The gym leader stared at him with something new in his eyes. He pulled out a small communications device and muttered something into it. Giovanni's eyes turned hard, but his powerful shoulders relaxed after a few moments.

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