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.


77. The Oak Part 2

"I don't know about that," Ash snorted. Seeker chittered a quick agreement from Bruiser's shoulder. He'd made friends with Daisy's Ambipom and Feebas rather easily and it looked like even Typhlosion and Meganium were warming up to him faster than he'd expected. "I haven't seen him like this since he was a hatchling."

Daisy shook her head gently, causing her light brown hair to dance in the flickering light of the small fire her Typhlosion had made for them. "I'm sure you're exaggerating. Look at him!"

Ash did have to admit that Sneasel looked rather innocent cradled in her arms, but he knew the dark-type far too well to expect this to last. Whatever miracle Daisy had pulled off would wear off quickly when it was just their little family again.

Nidoking grunted and stopped pretending to sleep from where he laid beside his trainer. His beady eyes narrowed curiously at Sneasel but he didn't seem to care enough to break out of his apathetic state.

He really wasn't one for larger gatherings, Ash knew. Nidoking took his duty of protecting him very seriously, almost to an obsessive level ever since the events of New Island. It wasn't noticeable around those Nidoking already knew somewhat well, but Daisy and her team were newcomers. Ash was honestly surprised Nidoking had protested as little as he had about Daisy and her team joining them.

As it were he just grunted every now and then and stayed out of the conversation. The only indications he was awake were his upraised ears and curled lip as he stared down Daisy's team.

Ash just tapped his friend on the forehead just below the massive horn. He trusted Daisy and there was no reason for Nidoking to alienate her team before he'd even given them a chance.

Besides, he thought Nidoking might have found a kindred spirit if the fiery eyes of Daisy's Gardevoir locked onto the poison-type meant anything. It seemed Daisy had a guardian just as dedicated as his own.

Otherwise Daisy's team seemed rather lax. They didn't seem to possess the deep-rooted paranoia his own had gained after dealing with so many dangers and ill-tempered teachers.

Not to say that they were weak or unprepared, though. Ash's keen eyes easily picked up on the way they moved. They weren't dedicated fighters like his team but they weren't foreign to the notion. He had no doubt that they could give even powerful trainers a run for their money given their many years of training and the skill necessary for Coordinators.

She had quite a selection, as well. Aside from the Pidgeot, Gardevoir, Typhlosion, Meganium, Ambipom, and Feebas she also had her Eevee curled up by her side, a Quagsire with a rather dim expression, a Delcatty, Ninetales, and Roserade.

Overall it was quite a group. Perhaps he'd be able to take her on rather easily in battle – Lance's training had put him beyond just about any trainer that wasn't a combat specialist, or so he assumed – but the variety was rather spectacular and he was rather interested to see what a Coordinator-trained team was capable of.

He spared one last glance at Daisy's team before he relaxed and laid back against Nidoking's bulk. His first friend curled up around him to assuage his paranoia and kept on staring down Gardevoir, who looked to be in no mood to submit to his will.

Ash just sighed and was reminded dimly of Liza's staring contest with Dazed. A small smirk played over his mouth as he thought of the Twins and he found himself missing them.

They were interesting.

With that he sent a quick glance at Daisy only to realize his new companion was still enraptured with Sneasel, who was so relaxed Ash was almost afraid he'd stopped breathing. It honestly disturbed him somewhat.

Since he didn't think he would offend her he pulled out his PokeNav and checked his messages. He hadn't gotten the chance since he'd typed out his replies yesterday and he'd rather not annoy his friends and family back in Kanto too much.

He checked his mother's message first, of course. Ash didn't expect to actually understand it after the last few incoherent messages, but he was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be legible.

Ashy! I hope you've had a great time in Hoenn so far. Samuel has all sorts of stories about it and I hope you'll have even more when you come back – have you made any friends yet? I know you were interested in those twins from the last message but you didn't say much more about them.

Have you been reading the book I got you? I was so happy to hear that you've enjoyed it so far! I was worried it wouldn't interest you at first, but it's good to be surprised. You have to expand your horizons if you want to be the best you can be, after all! There's more to training than just battling!

Anyways, I just wanted to tell you that I'm going to be headed to Goldenrod a bit early – Professor Elm got some kind of data and has locked himself in his laboratory for the last two days! I can't even imagine what could be that important, but he did apologize and invited me to come study with him again once I'm a bit further along with my education.

So I'm just going to stay with Spencer and little Molly while I wait for class to start! I'll be sure to let them send you some messages next time I get the chance – I'm sure they'll love to talk to you again!

Have fun!

Love, Mom

He smiled at that and put it into a folder with the rest of his mother's messages.

Ash never quite had it in him to delete those.

With that done he glanced over the rest of his unread files. Gary had sent him yet another boastful letter that probably had more profanity in it than Ash had ever actually heard anyone say. It was a little annoying, even if Ash found his mouth quirking up into a slight smirk – Gary didn't seemed to be very impressed with Johto's Gym Leaders so far.

Apparently one of the youngest Gym Leaders that Gary called Bugsy was "an androgynous little shit" but had somehow managed to impress Gary more than Falkner or Whitney. Ash held back a groan at the rather unflattering remarks his friend had made about the girl and her Miltank.

He almost considered showing Daisy the message, but figured that would just be cruel. Daisy was like Plume in that she could be a bit overbearing towards those she chose to take care of – that was one quality that stood out even after all these years – and he didn't want to have to deal with Gary's annoyance at her response.

The two of them got on a lot better after their battle settled their rivalry, but that didn't mean that Gary couldn't be annoying, condescending, and, as Jonathan so aptly named him, a prick. Just because they were closer than they had been when they were younger didn't mean that Ash was blind to Gary's faults, just as Gary wasn't blind to Ash's.

Aside from that Jonathan and Amelia had sent him a joint message. Lance was quiet, not that Ash could say he was surprised. The Indigo Champion had a lot on his plate at the best of times and with the recent crises he was probably about to have a mental breakdown.

Interested, he went ahead and opened it. He'd already responded to both his mother's message and Gary's, so one more wouldn't be a stretch. Plus Daisy was still occupied with coddling Sneasel and their teams had settled down. They weren't exactly tired, but they were more than happy to rest for the night.

Hey Ash! How's it going? It's Jonathan. I just thought I'd get one last message out to you before we go out on a training trip for the next motnh…I don't know how long me and Amelia're going to not send messages again.

So I went after Clair. Take down the strongest first and deal with the rest over ya know. It was a tough battle but I held my own and really pushed her to the limit– this is Amelia, don't listen to him. That battle was embarrassing to watch.

Ash smirked as several rows of random characters were typed out. It spoke of an obvious struggle for control of whatever it was they were using to send the message to him.

For some reason he wasn't surprised.

But I think I might've found a Master to teach me! And just wait I'm gonna learn from them and kick your ass all over Kanto! You might be in the Elite Four right now but just wait and I'll be the Champion by next year. That's right you'd better be ready for me.

Sorry about Jonathan. He's been more excited than usual lately, even after Clair made him look like an idiot. Still, I guess at least he took down two of her pokemon before he fell. That's better than most people could do.

Good luck in Hoenn! Jonathan and I are thinking of going there next year assuming he doesn't have any obligations here in Indigo to hold him back. I've heard a lot about it and I hope to hear even more from you once we're able to receive and send messages again.

Anyways, we wish you the best. Talk to you later!

He smiled at that and set to work typing out an acceptable response. It was hard to really feel sympathetic for Jonathan, though. Ash had warned him about Clair before they'd left but his friend had just refused to listen.

Lance's favorite cousin wasn't someone to take lightly. She was widely recognized as the most powerful Gym Leader in Johto…possibly Indigo as a whole even before Giovanni had left. She was regarded as an Elite Four hopeful one day if she ever took the challenge.

Combined with what Lance told him was an arrogant, abrasive personality that drove most people to the brink of rage and Jonathan had his worst opponent imaginable. He wasn't exactly the epitome of calm and controlled and seeing someone with his worst traits amplified would probably rub him the wrong way.

Actually, now he was a bit disappointed Amelia hadn't taken a video of it. Jonathan's mild tantrums could be just a little bit funny when they weren't directed at him.

"What's so funny?" Daisy grinned up at him. It looked like Sneasel had finally fallen asleep in her arms. He looked very small in that moment. "Anything I shouldn't be seeing?"

"Just a message from Jonathan and Amelia," Ash replied. At her blank look he elaborated. "They're from Pallet. I set out on my journey with them before we were split up."

"Oh, those names do sound familiar!" She snapped her fingers triumphantly. "I think I remember Gary complaining about them."

Ash snorted. "Probably. They didn't exactly get along."

"You mean someone doesn't think the world of my cute little brother?" Daisy clasped her hands to her chest in faux surprise, an almost hurt expression. "I think I'm going to have to have a talk with them."

He wasn't fooled by the stern façade for a moment.

The twitching of her full lips might have tipped him off, and the chime of high, clear laughter cemented his opinion.

"Oh, I can't say that with a straight face!" The Oak giggled and rubbed Eevee, who had tiredly climbed up and curled around her neck, on its furry head.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Ash commented drily, content with reclining against Nidoking's thick hide. "Gary's a very sensitive, understanding person that does his best to get along with everyone he meets."

His new companion blinked before another round of giggles wracked her slim body. "I think your Hypno might be messing with your head, Ashy."

He grimaced at that and subtly shook his head at Dazed, whose eyes had flashed with heatless flame at the joke. She wasn't a fan of careless accusations like that, even in jest.

It wasn't something that came up often, but Ash was well aware that Dazed was still a bit sensitive from when he'd discovered she'd been eating his dreams without his permission. That hadn't bothered him in the least, especially after the terrifying nightmares that he'd finally been forced to face without her help.

Every trainer who had a Hypno as a partner knew it was almost a certainty that they'd draw on the trainer for sustenance. It was an accepted fact. They fed better off of human dreams, which they had adapted to as they encroached upon the sleeping feasts that were human cities over the last few thousand years.

And, as he said before, it was something he was grateful for. Even now Ash wasn't sure if the memories of the St. Anne's destruction or New Island lurked beneath his waking thoughts just waiting to drag him into the darkest depths of his mind.

He squeezed his eyes shut without thinking.

Icy blue eyes stared at him from behind a blank visor. He breathed in water and felt his blood boil and freeze and evaporate underneath the force of the entity's gaze and –

"Are you alright, Ashy?" He heard as a flood of burning ice rushed through his veins and a presence that he just wanted to forget flared and the flashback ended. The Feather burned and tingled, the Song rang in his ears, and he felt very, very tired all of a sudden.

He blearily looked up across the fire and saw Daisy, not his mother as his frenzied mind had thought for a moment when he heard his voice. She leaned forward curiously with a worried frown on her face as she looked the twelve-year-old over. Their teams did the same, not that he was surprised at that. Pokemon were far more sensitive to these things than humans, his own friends moreso.

"I'm fine," he said tersely, his face drawn tight at the unexpected event. Dazed appeared beside him polishing her pendulum in her shiny white mane. Her eyes were narrowed in concern but he shook his head quietly. Nothing lasting had occurred. "Just remembered something."

"Okay," Daisy said doubtfully and retreated. Sneasel was awake and grumbled unhappily at that fact, but he still loyally crawled his way over to Ash when he seemed to pick up on what had occurred. "If you want to talk…"

"I'm fine," Ash repeated firmly, though not harshly. He was just more disconcerted than anything. It had been months since he'd had those flashbacks and their unexpected reappearance was not welcome. "Trust me, it's alright."

She nodded, obviously unconvinced. Daisy Oak was many things but a good liar was not one of them. "Sure, sure."

An awkward silence fell over the camp. Awkward for Daisy, anyway. Ash was perfectly comfortable. It reminded him of his time traveling alone.

Though, to be fair, he also had much more important things on his mind.

"So…" Daisy cheerfully broke the silence. "You haven't introduced me to your team yet! I know a few, but most of them I didn't even know you had!"

Ash smiled as he looked over his team. They were all arrayed behind him with the notable exceptions of Torrent and Infernus. Not that anything within a mile of the island didn't already know exactly where the two titans were fighting.

Flashes of truly massive gouts of fire illuminated the sky like a sun and the crashing of millions of gallons of water against the island and fires released shockwaves of force that summoned gales of wind and vast clouds of hissing steam.

"First thing's first!" His companion continued. "Who's your starter?"

"Nidoking," he grinned as he patted his guardian's cheek just underneath a few venomous barbs. His friend rumbled happily and leaned into the touch even as he kept his staring contest with Gardevoir intense as ever. "He's tough but once he gets used to you he'll mellow out."

"I can't wait!" Daisy smiled at Nidoking, careful to avoid showing teeth to the territorial poison-type. "I bet we'll get along great in no time."

Nidoking snorted at that and just kept glaring at Daisy's own protector. Ash just rolled his eyes and relaxed even further against his first friend.

"My starter is Eevee," she pointed at the ball of fluff curled around her. The Eevee's friendly eyes met Ash's and it yipped a happy greeting to him and the rest of his team before its eyes shut and it fell back into its slumber. "I don't think he'll have any problems making friends."

Ash snorted in an unnerving mimicry of Nidoking. He didn't doubt that at all.

"My second is Plume," he nodded over to the Pidgeot. Plume raised her head proudly and stared at Daisy, who didn't even come close to balking at the raptor's fierce gaze. "You've already met her."

"How could I forget?" Daisy kept her soft green eyes locked onto Plume's even as she spoke. "She's gorgeous!"

The corners of his mouth pulled up slightly as Plume preened under the praise, some of her earlier posturing forgotten. Daisy was a bit more perceptive than he'd expected if she had already picked up on Plume's vanity. It was less pronounced than it was when she was younger, but the Pidgeot still enjoyed her appearance a little more than the rest of his team.

He didn't know what else he'd expected. Ash already knew Daisy was brilliant considering some of the research Gary had mentioned she was involved in but this was a nice little reminder that Daisy was no less intelligent than her brother or her famed grandfather.

…Well, perhaps less than her grandfather. Professor Oak was a genius on an entirely different level than anyone he'd met besides Blaine.

With that thought he decided that he'd have to get the two of them in the same room sometime. It shouldn't be too hard once he returned to Kanto – the Professor was probably invited to most of the League events already.

Ash sighed inwardly. It would probably be harder to get Blaine there than Professor Oak. He took pride in being a hermit and would be content to live in his inn toying with his insane gym forever if he was allowed.

Daisy finally let her gaze drop from Plume, who didn't even seem to have noticed. "Pidgeot's actually my second as well! I caught him pretty much the minute I stepped out of Pallet, actually. Funny story, that."

An annoyed shriek ripped through the peaceful air as Pidgeot made his thoughts about that known but Daisy just giggled and continued on.

"I didn't even mention to catch him, honestly!" She toyed with one of the pokeballs on her waist absentmindedly. It was polished to a shine but Ash was perceptive enough to note the scuffs and scratches on the smooth metal that told of its age. "I walked out, saw this adorable little Poliwag wandering around outside the gates, and decided to catch it."

He nodded, showing that he was following along.

"Thing is that I had nothing resembling aim back then," Daisy admitted as she stared past him. Her lips were raised into a fond smile as she recalled one of her earliest moments as a trainer. "Eevee chased after the Poliwag but it hit the poor little guy with a Water Gun and ran off. So I threw the ball to try and catch it, but I hit a branch instead."

Ash glanced over at Pidgeot and noted that the flying-type had decided to very firmly hide his head underneath his great wing in embarrassment.

"I was really disappointed when the ball fell to the ground since I'd already primed it, but then the next second I saw this sleeping Pidgey fall out of the tree, land on the pokeball, and capture himself!" Daisy fell into another fit of giggles as she looked over at Pidgeot. "He was really, really confused when I released him, but I guess he didn't have anything better to do because he just tagged along."

"I can't say I've made any of my friends like that. Most of them wanted to fight," Ash recalled. "Bruiser – he's the Machoke – we sort of walked in on when we were looking for shelter in the mountains by Fuschia. Tangrowth's probably the most similar. He caught himself too."

Tangrowth gurgled happily at that and wandered forward from where he sat beside Quagsire and Roserade. Daisy smiled at him and didn't say anything as he curiously ran several of his vines over her to try and figure out what she was.

"This is Daisy," he introduced her to the Tangrowth. Technically he'd already told his friends about her and introductions had already been made when he'd first introduced them, but this way he hoped that Tangrowth would actually remember. "Daisy, this is Tangrowth."

"It's a pleasure to meet you," she said politely and giggled when Tangrowth, mimicking a gesture he'd seen Ash perform several times, shook her hand. "I'm looking forward to traveling with you, Tangrowth!"

He bounced up and down on his feet as he gently pulled back his vines and a high squelching noise Ash knew to be an expression of Tangrowth's happiness emanated from beneath his massive tangle of vines.

Ash eyed Daisy speculatively. He'd heard about how easily she befriended pokemon from Gary – he'd been rather annoyed that he couldn't replicate the feat when it came to some of his more temperamental pokemon – but it was fascinating to watch it up close and personal.

She had quite the gift, although he had no doubt that dealing with pokemon for the better part of a decade honed that inborn talent quite well. Daisy didn't seem to have any truly temperamental pokemon on her team but it wasn't easy dealing with powerful, evolved pokemon like Typhlosion or the Ninetales renowned for their legendary pride and cunning.

And while he doubted that the Ninetales was anywhere near as powerful, intelligent, or flat-out mysterious as Chinatsu – the Feather warmed his chest rather unnecessarily at the thought of the First's partner – no Ninetales could be called weak. Even the youngest and most inexperienced possessed a wily mind that could entrap foes in complex illusions and fantasies.

"I guess Ninetales should come next," Daisy murmured as she caught Ash's attention. The fire-type watched him with open curiosity with its ruby red eyes. "She was actually a gift from a friend when I was just making my first trip around Kanto. I visited my friend's house, we took a shining to one another, and I guess that's that. My friend said that we got along too well to keep us apart."

He nodded, interested in the short story. Daisy really was skilled if she could demand the open admiration of a Ninetales. They were notoriously selective even in the modern age where their legend had faded somewhat.

"After that it's history," she recalled fondly as Ninetales happily raised her elegant head to be pet by her trainer. "You know, there's actually a funny story with her if you don't mind me telling."

"Go ahead," Ash invited as he settled in for a long night of introductions and stories. "We're in no rush."

Daisy flashed him a winning smile at that and started her tale, which slowly bled into more and more about her team and his team until they had reached the point of exhaustion.

It was a good night.


The Song that permeated even his dreamless sleep broke in an instant.

Hail, Storm-Tamer. Your Legend has travelled far indeed for it to have reached my ears. Even now the Wingull and Wailmer scream of your deeds to the sky and sea, spread by the Guardian itself.

His will flexed and his mind grew aware. There was nothing but blackness that boomed around him as a foreign mind spoke to him.

Something unseen was there and a brief flash of a tall, spindly figure with long flaps of skin resembling a dress and thick, green cartilage that covered most of its face echoed in his mind.

"Gardevoir?" He rasped as he took in the unnaturally slender shadow before him. He'd never seen one of her kind this close before and he couldn't help but to regard her suspiciously.

Of course. You couldn't expect me to ignore contact with such a fascinating specimen, regardless of what your Dream-Warrior desires. Besides, you are a potential threat to my trainer.

The world burned with scarlet energy that leaked out of the void like bloody fire at that. Spectral tongues of power licked out from the corners of his nonexistent vision in an aura that demanded respect and fear the likes of which he had never felt.

Unfortunately, this Gardevoir was fairly low on the list of terrifying entities he had matched.

He watched those tendrils with an air of boredom. His family and the shadow that lurked in his mind would not allow a psychic of her caliber to touch him.

I know not what power lies within you, but I cannot find it within myself to care. Fire, Ice, and Lightning…they may be circumvented. The Guardian of the Abyss? I do not doubt its power, but I am certain it is far away from this little island. The Guardian of Life lurks far to the north. And that Abomination…I do not fear its strength, maimed as it is.

Ash snorted at that and half-expected her to be smote by Mewtwo for that little comment. The entity that had protected him from Articuno required more energy in one second than Gardevoir had in her entire body.

But the void went nowhere and his mind was tickled by a mind that was not his own. He found it oddly easy to recognize that she was amused.

You thought earlier that our family is not specialized for combat. And you would be correct. Mistress hates fighting. She understands it to be brutal and disgusting even when necessary. An ugly stain on what training should be.

And I agree. I support our family as we learn grace and elegance and compassion from our mistress. My own skill has grown enormously from her peaceful teachings, as have we all.

Battle is horrific. Every moment of strain, every movement, every blow…it sickens me to watch and wounds me to take part in petty feats of strength. The dance my mistress has perfected is my love.

The tendrils that had slowly receded from his unseeing eyes slowly flared anew in displeasure.

But I am the reason the others may find peace. I shed blood so they may not. I am my mistress' sword and shield. She will never know harm under my vigil.

But those who may bring conflict into her life…I do not abide by their threat. I have taken lives before and if I must I will perform my grim duties again.

I do not wish to do that to you, Storm-Tamer. You have done much for this world, but the world is a small price to pay for the security of Mistress. I doubt you will push me so far in these two weeks, but know that I will end you and your team if one of you brings harm to Mistress.

Ash scowled and his eyes finally saw. The gentle light of the moon was visible as the trainer's eyelids opened by a hair's width.

"Is this all you have?" He rasped as more and more of the night sky was unveiled to him. The scarlet energy fled quickly, although he could see some of it simply lingering at the corners of his vision.

But red held no power over him. No, all he saw was blue.

How are you awakening? My art is not so weak as to be broken by a mere human!

His mouth twisted into a vicious snarl as his eyes were half-open and the scarlet power redoubled its assault. He could care less for her protests right now – all he knew was that this Gardevoir had just threatened his family and he would never accept that.

Blood pounded in his ears as his eyes opened in full, too fast for Gardevoir to slow in this dream-state, and barely managed to stop himself before he broke out of the mental embrace in full.

Even in this state, propelled by righteous anger, he did not do anything rash. Instead he just felt the pounding of his chest and stared.

"Never threaten my team again or I will end you," he growled. Some of her fear bled over to him – the Gardevoir line was uniquely gifted with their ability to detect and transfer emotions – and it grounded him. "I would never harm Daisy or anything with her. If you don't return the favor then I'm afraid you'll never be in a position to threaten anyone again."

With that his body returned to him in full and the boy woke up to a whole new world.

"Ashy!" A worried voice called out to him as he felt his shoulder be shaken. "Are you alright? You were talking in your sleep."

"Yes," he murmured as Daisy's pretty face gazed down at him. "I'm fine…just a bad dream."

"But," she frowned and looked over to Dazed. The Hypno just stared at her unblinkingly until Daisy was uncomfortable enough to break it off. "Never mind. Well, sweet dreams, Ash. We've got a few hours to go before we head out."

He nodded tiredly. "Good night, Daisy."

The teenager took one last concerned glance at his face before she went back to her own sleeping roll. Gardevoir laid next to her, face frozen in slumber.

I apologize for the delay in my assisting you, Friend-Trainer. I did not expect her to take such a rash direction…many psychics have desired to speak with you and I felt this was the most inconspicuous manner to deal with it.

"No, thank you," he said as he pulled himself up to his knees. "It was…educational. What was that?"

A skilled application of her abilities. She simply waited until the rest of us were asleep and attempted to form a mental link with you. Arrogant, but I will admit that if I were not more vigilant she would have been successful for a time.

Fortunately her own dismissal of my abilities proved to our advantage. I watched and waited until you had broken from her grip and trapped her mind in a deep sleep. She will not awaken within the next day.

He nodded and plopped back onto his sleeping mat. Ash grimaced as he felt the itch of sand against his arms – it must have been brought in during his unconscious struggle – but a sweep of Dazed's power removed them from his well-used sleeping pad.

"Thank you, Dazed," he said gratefully. Her eyes smiled at him before they hardened when she looked at Gardevoir's still body.

It is of no trouble, Friend-Trainer. I trust you will not mind if I restrain myself from imbibing your dreams tonight? I see a far more appealing target nearby.

Ash sighed when he saw a harsh blue light flash from beneath Gardevoir's frozen eyelids. Dazed had already mentally dominated her. And if Daisy and her team were ignorant to it…well, all the better.

Regardless, he could not support that. His anger had cooled and although he doubted he would ever regard the meddling psychic as a friend, he understood exactly where she was coming from. She'd just gone around in the worst possible way of doing it.

Trouble did seem to follow him, after all.

"You can speak to her, but do not eat her dreams without her permission," he whispered to Dazed. "I want this settled before it grows into an outright grudge."


Ash got the sense she was disappointed but Dazed didn't speak on her feelings.

Good night, Friend-Trainer.

With that he fell into a very welcoming abyss.


"You look terrible," Daisy noted as they saddled up their respective Pidgeot. "Did you sleep alright?"

Ash thought back to his encounter with Daisy's guardian.

"I did not."

"Aww, that sucks!" She sympathized as she pulled the last straps just tight enough that Pidgeot wouldn't be uncomfortable. "More bad dreams?"

He shrugged noncommittally. "Something like that."

"You're not a very helpful person, are you?" The Oak huffed and sent him a fondly frustrated glance. "Well, I won't pressure you to talk if you don't want to. Are you ready to head out?"

Ash nodded. "I'm all packed up."

"Good," Daisy smiled. "Let's get a move on, then. It shouldn't take us more than two hours to get to Pacifidlog and then we can use the rest of the day to rest. Then it's off to Dewford!"

He smiled agreeably. Pacifidlog didn't really excite him since it was so tiny and essentially just a small port used for long voyages in the modern day. Ash would not deny its cultural importance – Cynthia's book mentioned it as a hub for the surrounding archipelago to gather at for ceremonies and such, but nowadays its role was seriously reduced.

These days Pacifidlog's cultural history was overshadowed by the scientific interest in the massive Corsola colonies located around the islands it covered. Those colonies were some of the largest in the world and had managed to avoid the damage unintentionally done to the Corsola colonies around the major cities during humanity's first, disastrous forays into the industrial age.

Most of the damage from those days had been easily correctable once humanity had realized what they'd done – a consequence helped along by a dramatic increase in pokemon attacks and open rebellion amongst trained pokemon. But the Corsola colonies were a bit more sensitive to damage and took a long time to recover. It would be centuries before the slowly reproducing water-types would be returned to their former glory.

So Pacifidlog's colonies were a figurative goldmine for scientific research. There were plenty of other Corsola colonies spread throughout the Hoenn archipelago, many of them similarly unspoiled, but most were either smaller or too remote to be easily studied.

But even that didn't especially capture his interest. It was just an interesting little note that made Pacifidlog stick out in his mind. Dewford was what held appeal for him, what with its gym and the Granite Cave.

There were a number of interesting pokemon that lived in the Granite Cave and Ash certainly wouldn't mind adding one or two of those to his team. He still had a few slots that needed to be filled and he would love to fill those in early so that he'd have plenty of time to train them to their utmost.

Aside from that, he knew that Bruiser would love to test himself against fellow fighters. Rampage would be a no-go, of course. It was still too damaging to Bruiser at the moment and he knew that his friend would prefer to test his skill rather than how far he could power up his body.

"Catch me if you can," he grinned at Daisy as he strapped himself into Plume's saddle and secured the large goggles he wore to protect his eyes from the dust and wind of the atmosphere.

Plume screamed her challenge to Daisy's Pidgeot, who shrieked back defiantly as the younger shot into the air like a dart.

It wasn't long before Daisy and her Pidgeot were just specks in the distance.

Not that Ash was worried. They'd slowed down enough. Their companions might be hard pressed, but Plume was traveling sedately enough that it would just take them only a few minutes to catch up.

He'd rather not get lost in the skies of Hoenn, after all. That would be much more trouble than it was worth.


Pacifidlog, he decided, was a nice little city. Certainly not large, even compared to Mossdeep and Sootopolis, but he was the last person to judge a place based on population or territory.

What he really loved, however, was just how integrated it was with the environment.

Mossdeep melded well with its mountains and beaches. Sootopolis was a perfect example of humanity carving their place into the natural world.

Pacifidlog was harmony. A small archipelago connected by vast bridges of logs and massive stones that jutted out of the waves that lapped at the protrusions. The buildings that held a population of just over five thousand were spaced out as far as possible, many of them centuries old. Some even floated out on the water, held aloft solely by massive rafts of logs and connected to the town by the same.

Aside from that, the people were rather interesting. Their skin was darker than most of the people in Mossdeep and Sootopolis. It was natural, unlike the even tans of the sailors and natives of the other islands he'd been to so far.

He had to admit that it was a bit fascinating to him. In Kanto most people were much paler than they were here in Hoenn, much less than the natives of Pacifidlog. Ash was tanner than the norm and even he was a bit lighter than the inhabitants of northern Hoenn, let alone the southern peoples.

Only the ancient mountain tribes of the Pewter territory bore a similar shade, if he remembered correctly. And that was more the kiss of the sun than genetics. Their culture emphasized working outdoors and training ones body alongside their pokemon, so they tended to get a bit more exposure than most of Kanto's people.

Ash attracted his fair share of looks too. A decent number were from people his own age, some of who gave him a second glance as though they recognized him. They lingered and younger children looked up to their mothers and pointed at him curiously.

It seemed he wasn't the only one who'd encountered new people today.

Their style of dress fascinated him as well. Quite a bit was simply regular attire – albeit modified to be open and airy for Hoenn's hot, muggy weather – with floral or shell patterns. Some men opted to go shirtless with only loose swim trunks. Both genders favored loose tank tops and shorts, although quite a few women simply wore skirts that ranged from rather short to almost ankle-length.

He had to admit that he had to stop himself from staring at some of the women who chose to walk around in bikini tops, though. Lance knew what he was talking about.

Ash grimaced at that. He imagined that his mentor enjoyed himself a little bit too much in Hoenn if this was the norm outside the cities.

Still, now he had to deal with the real problem: he had nothing to do. There were no attractions in Pacifidlog besides the research station that he didn't feel like visiting. Just a bunch of normal, hardworking people trying to make a life for themselves.

It was a good place.

That didn't mean it wasn't boring, though. He couldn't even let his friends out to alleviate the tension that had set in his nerves, let alone train with them.

Torrent was just a little bit too powerful to be throwing around his miniature hurricanes in a place like this. Pacifidlog just wasn't quite…solid enough for him to feel confident in releasing his team.

Not to mention he doubted he could even find the space to let them out. With how densely populated the tiny archipelago was the only clear spaces were inside buildings and on a few of the tiny strips of beach, most of which were converted to docks or markets.

With such little space there wasn't much choice but to make use of every bit of it.

He wiped a lone bead of sweat off his brow and grimaced as he was starkly reminded of the brutal heat. Hoenn was even more obnoxiously hot in the south and the humidity somehow managed to be worse than it was in Mossdeep and Sootopolis.

When he breathed he should not be able to practically taste the water in the air.

Ash honestly didn't know how people lived like this. If he stayed out for much longer he'd be positively drenched in sweat, although the short flight with Plume had managed to keep him cool. The winds and high altitude actually kept him comfortable in the hot, humid climate rather than freezing him to the core like their flights in Kanto had.

He supposed he'd just have to get used to it. He'd faced much worse in his travels and he had no right to complain considering he really was enjoying himself.

That didn't mean he wanted to stay out in the heat longer than necessary. Ash shielded the screen of his PokeNav from the light of the sun and squinted to try and get a decent look at the map.

"There we go," he muttered to himself as he mentally oriented himself and headed towards the Pokemon Center. Daisy had gone there and gotten them their rooms – apparently Pacifidlog's Center was usually relatively empty considering its isolated location and low population – but he'd wanted to take a quick look around the town. It was nice to stretch his legs out after so long on Plume and seeing the town itself was just an enjoyable bonus.

It didn't take him long to find himself there. Pacifidlog was so small that the Center was on the same island and less than five minutes away by walking. If the streets hadn't been so packed with people and the buildings clustered so tightly together he probably would've been able to pick it out from where he'd been wandering.

Ash let out a brief sigh of relief as he stepped into the air-conditioned buildings and felt the sweat that ran down his body cool almost instantly. That was probably the most satisfied he'd felt in a long time…well, aside from Dazed letting Gardevoir know that they were not to be toyed with.

He relished in the cold building as he headed to the room number Daisy had sent to him – at least the Pokemon Centers were constructed in the same simple manner as they were in Kanto. The reception area, medical bay, and pokemon holding facilities were on the ground floor while the residential area was on the second floor and up, although this Pokemon Center was small enough that it only had the basic two stories.

"So, what do you think?" Daisy asked with a grin as she opened the door moments before he reached it. Ash assumed Gardevoir had alerted her to his presence. "It's a cute little town, isn't it?"

"Little sounds about right," he nodded. "It's certainly peaceful."

Daisy eyed him knowingly. "You don't sound too happy about that."

"I don't really do peaceful," Ash admitted. "Not when it means I don't have anything to do, at any rate. I've been passive for long enough as is – I just want to stretch my legs and explore at this point."

"I know how you feel," she smiled and opened the door wider to let him in. "Don't worry about it. When we head into Granite Cave we'll have plenty of adventure! I've only been once but it was pretty fun. Lots of rare pokemon to see."

Ash cocked his head curiously at that and stepped into the door. He'd already reviewed the pokemon commonly found in Hoenn and where they tended to live, but he was interested in her own experience. It would be a bit more thorough than a few data tables.

When he stepped into the room he was met with the dull red stare of Gardevoir, who watched him unblinkingly. The skeletal psychic looked absolutely terrible – normally the spindly forms of a Gardevoir offset their somewhat uncanny appearance with a sort of inner grace that shone past their rail-thin bodies. Every movement was fluid and measured, speaking of dignity and nobility of spirit few humans could match.

Right now Gardevoir held none of that. Her scarlet eyes were bloodshot and she slumped in exhaustion. The almost crystalline horn that extended from her chest was dull and erratically pulsed with veins of light. When Ash eyed her carefully the horn seemed almost to droop.

Hail, Storm-Tamer.

There was no malice in the voice, just exhaustion.

He nodded to her. He wanted to end any sort of feud before it could truly begin.

"I'm guessing you want to hear about them?" Daisy observed after she sent a worried glance towards her partner, although she seemed almost frustrated after a moment of unheard conversation. When he nodded to confirm that she motioned for him to take a seat.

"Probably the most common pokemon in the cave are Zubat," his companion began. Ash snorted at that, not surprised in the least. Zubat bred almost impossibly fast and were surprisingly adaptable so long as they had a relatively cool, dark place for them to take shelter in. With how large Granite Cave was it made sense for there to be a massive Zubat population – it was probably one of the only places they could easily hide from the heat and humidity of Hoenn.

"They're pretty passive, though. As long as you aren't alone they'll be too timid to think of you as a meal. And if you have a pokemon they'll do their best to avoid drawing your attention."

He nodded. The Zubat line could be vicious when threatened and their method of feeding on the bodily fluids – they were renowned for leaving dessicated husks behind when they acted defensively and fed without regard for their victim's health. Otherwise they were relatively harmless and often managed to enter "contracts" of sorts with other pokemon that would allow them to get their required nutrition without being forced to kill off massive numbers of their neighbors to support the large population a Zubat colony entailed.

But as long as they were left alone and weren't absolutely desperate for food he would be fine. He would have to be careful with Seeker, however – Zubat were generally easygoing and happy to accept another of their kind but the Golbat and Crobat were generally a bit more territorial.

"I've heard reports of Abra living there – it would make sense with how isolated it is – but I never came across one myself. Geodude also supposed to have a thriving population in Granite Cave. They generally hunt the Zubat and there's enough of them to support a population larger than anywhere else in Hoenn!"

Ash held back a grimace at that as he imagined Seeker fighting against a Geodude. It was…messy.

Geodude didn't require a lot of energy due to their sedentary lifestyle – most of their time was spent sleeping in the earth – but when they needed to gain energy and supplement their more regular diet of minerals and earth they tended to go after Zubat. They shared habitats and the flying-types were both exceptionally plentiful and vulnerable to a Geodude's abilities.

Not to mention their incredibly potent stomach acid enabled them to make use of every bit of their prey. Fur, muscle, bone – everything was used in their highly efficient digestive process.

"Aside from that there's a decent amount of pokemon that can be found only in Hoenn!" Daisy chattered on excitedly, distracting Ash from his morbid thoughts. "Makuhita live in the upper sections of the cave and I even saw a Hariyama last time. It had a few young Makuhita with it so I had to get away, but it was really exciting!"

"Then there's Nosepass, Aron and Mawile. You can find Aron on the upper levels, close to Makuhita, but Mawile tend to live further down. When we get down there I'd keep a close eye on Seeker and Sneasel – Aron and the odd Lairon won't really care about them as long as they don't try to attack, but Mawile are territorial enough to try and take a bite out of them."

He nodded at that. His mind instantly supplied an image of a Mawile's massive jaws, perfect for crushing similar sized pokemon. And if the Mawile was wild it was unlikely they'd restrain themselves in battle like a trained Mawile would.

Sneasel could handle himself unless he was surprised. He was quick, cunning, and had a solid arsenal of techniques to either scare whatever accosted him away or defeat it. While he wasn't a juggernaut like Infernus, Torrent, or Nidoking he was by no means defenseless. He just hadn't quite caught up was all. To the average pokemon he was a fearsome foe indeed.

"And finally there's Sableye," Daisy actually grimaced. The ugly expression didn't fit her face in the least. Ash looked on with interest as the nearly invisible veins threaded throughout Gardevoir chest-horn flashed scarlet with displeasure.

"Is there a story here?" He felt the corners of his mouth pull up.

She sighed. "Don't get me wrong, most Sableye are fine. They're usually quiet and hide away from most living things – just as scared of us as we are of them. But last time I went to Granite Cave I had to deal with one basically stalking me the whole time."

Ash raised an eyebrow.

"It wasn't trying to hurt me," she clarified. "Mostly it seemed curious. Unfortunately, it decided that its curiosity meant that it should steal my hat, my equipment, and my necklace! Plus it thought it was funny to sneak past Gardevoir and wake me up while it was standing right over me – Ninetales didn't take kindly to that."

He didn't even try to hold back his snort at that. Ash had no doubt that Daisy had just said the understatement of the day – Ninetales that found themselves a partner worthy of their presence were generally fiercely protective of their ally and didn't take kindly to anything threatening them.

Add that protective instinct to powerful fire attacks that could banish the darkness ghosts thrived in and their own relatively unique abilities over the same powers that ghosts drew upon and that was a very, very unlucky Sableye.

"But enough of that – I don't want to ruin the whole surprise for you!" Daisy cheered up relatively quickly. "Where's the fun in that?"

"Where indeed?" Ash muttered as he finally took a seat. "How long would you mind staying in Dewford? I'd like to visit the gym before we leave."

"Ooh, you want to hit up Brawly?" She smirked. "Make sure to tell me when you go – I haven't talked to him in ages. I wonder if he's gotten any better? Last time I saw him he was still just training to be the Dewford Gym Leader."

Ash nodded thoughtfully to that. He would have to make sure Brawly actually used his true team against him. Oz would be up to the task, especially due to her natural advantage against close-combat fighters. Her electricity would do an excellent job of keeping them at bay.

Sneasel wasn't quite up to that level and would lose rather badly to any high-level fighters in a straight up battle. His speed would do an excellent job of equalizing their conflict but if a single hit was landed on him he was finished.

But it was Bruiser he truly wanted a challenge for. He hadn't fought too many fighting-types similar to his level. To truly test his limits against his equal and learn just how he matched against fellow fighters could be the catalyst he needed to push past his current form and become a Machamp.

For many fighting-types a combination of physical fitness and mental balance were required. It was a survival mechanism that restrained those unfit for the strength of their new bodies from potentially hurting themselves or the things around them.

The Machop line was a bit different. Their bodies were naturally powerful to a ridiculous degree – bones almost impossible to break, tendons and ligaments absurdly tough, muscles strong enough to crush stone into a powder. As a result their evolutions were more closely tied to their mental state, their own view of themselves.

And therein lie the problem.

Bruiser didn't feel he was ready and, as such, was limited to the form of a Machoke. Ash wasn't about to try and force his friend to evolve, but he would do his best to walk with him down their path to power. Bruiser was strong, fast, and skilled enough to evolve. He had been for a while.

What Ash had to do was open his friend's eyes to that reality.

"So, got anything you want to do today?" Daisy asked, distracting him. "We've got some time to kill and, while we could just head out for Dewford now, I'd rather spend the night in a nice, warm bed."

He blinked. "What is there to even do in Pacifidlog?"

Daisy opened her mouth, closed it, opened it again, and finally closed it resignedly.

Ash nodded. That's what he thought.


He couldn't sleep that night, even with the Song's soothing notes intertwining about his being.

No, his mind was much too busy. And Dazed hadn't seen fit to push him over the precipice into the black abyss he silently yearned for. Instead she watched him, long fingers carefully rubbing her pendulum with the silky fur of her white mane.

There was so much he had to do before he met with Steven and it looked like he wouldn't have much free time to accomplish it.

Nidoking needed to master several more techniques. Ash had some ideas for him and aimed to develop at least one important supplementary technique before he ran into whatever tests Steven was sure to put him through.

Plume just had her speed. She was excellent as she was but there was always room for improvement. Plus he had a few ideas to make sure she could keep up with the rest of the team in raw destructive power…

The aquatic environment of Hoenn was excellent for training Torrent, of course. It would make it far easier for him to start off with advanced water manipulation techniques since he would have so much of it available. Plus it was hard to wrap his mind around just how happy it made Torrent to be back in his natural habitat – his mood had been more like a playful Horsea than the mighty lord of the seas he had become ever since they'd arrived. His determination was higher than ever.

Aside from that there weren't too many specific techniques he wanted to teach his team – Bruiser's Rampage, Dazed's mental manipulation, Sneasel's general combat training, and Oz's control.

He did have special plans for Tangrowth and Infernus, however.

Tangrowth had unknowingly inspired him during the battle with the Birds. When they'd been near Infernus when he'd had the Fire Sphere embedded into his body the grass-type had playfully attempted to pull up the lava with Ancient Power. From what he could very vaguely remember his friend had some measure of success.

Ash would make that a reality. Lava manipulation, assuming it really was possible, would be incredibly valuable if he could use Tangrowth after Infernus had already ravaged the field.

He couldn't use it against regular opponents, of course. That would break so many laws even his status as an Elite Four trainee wouldn't get him out of it. Besides, he would never use it against something that couldn't survive the magma without dying or suffering severe injuries.

But against something that Tangrowth would ordinarily have very little offensive options against – say a Steelix or other powerful steel-type with the thick armor to ignore his vines and Ancient Power – it would be invaluable. Brutal, but effective.

And considering who his new teacher would be a powerful offensive technique against the impenetrable steel-types was absolutely necessary.

As for Infernus, he was more concerned with his ability to act in a team. Infernus could probably be described as the opposite of a team player right now: he was consumed with a desire to conquer all around him, acted alone almost always, and was egotistical to a degree none of his other family members could match.

That couldn't stand. Infernus had learned something of acting as a single component of a team during their training under Lance but Ash feared that his massive increase in power after his evolution had nullified that development.

It was hard for Ash to argue with Infernus' own view of himself as an unstoppable warrior, after all. He'd gone from one of the strongest of Ash's team to the undisputed top fighter.

His mere body heat could kill easily and for most of his matches in the Conference – against some of the strongest pokemon in Indigo – he'd just had to relentlessly blast flames or teleport in close in order to obtain victory.

He'd only been truly pushed when facing off against Michael, and even then he'd taken down the strongest Jolteon Ash had ever seen and a Salamence before a Snorlax was required to take him out.

Infernus was a monster in combat, plain and simple. It was his oxygen, his love.

And after he tasted the power of the Fire Sphere Ash doubted he'd gone unaffected. Infernus' loyalty was undoubted at this point but his willingness to work with others was.

So Ash needed to reintegrate him into the team dynamic. He knew his duties as an Elite Four trainee would lead him into perilous situations and while he knew he was strong, his family needed to work together in perfect harmony to ensure all of them survived the coming storm.

Gone were the days where he could face threats with a single fighter at his side. If he was working with the League he'd be running headlong into real battles with real consequences for more than just himself and his family.

He needed an army – and that was a role his team could fill quite well.

So if he could get Tangrowth and Infernus to work together and heal the slight grudge that Tangrowth still bore against Infernus in the process he'd be rather pleased.

Small steps.

All he needed was to set Infernus on the right path. The team would take care of the rest.

Sleep now, Friend-Trainer. I believe your mind to be weary enough for one night.

Ash's eyes closed without him even realizing it at Dazed's amused words. A flash of red later and he knew nothing.

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