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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73. The Parting 2

There was Oak's Charizard, of course, but Ash would sooner recall Infernus than let him face that particular foe. He had no doubt that the unique physiology of a Magmortar and particular skill set of Infernus would let him fight Charizard safely but he shuddered to imagine the destructive power that would go into that particular fight.

He didn't know the Charizard very well but from what he'd seen it wouldn't be one to hold back. Combine that with Infernus' battle-lust and they'd have a very messy situation.

"Keep going, Sneasel!" Ash called out when he noticed the small dark-type weaving in and out of the various battles taking place in order to avoid his pursuer. Sneasel hadn't seen as much battle as the rest of the team and needed to work on both his general level of experience and his speed, so Ash decided to do everyone on the team a favor and created the game of "Hunt the Sneasel".

Ash thought it might have been the most popular idea he'd ever had.

The rules were simple: one member of the team would be free to attack Sneasel with any of their abilities so long as they didn't cause too severe of damage. They had twenty minutes to corner him, although if they knocked him unconscious the game ended…that particular rule had led to some very inventive strategies on behalf of the pursuers.

Sneasel could attack them in any way he could with the same stipulations of avoiding serious injuries, although that wasn't a problem for most of the team. He'd quickly learned that running was the smartest thing to do after he'd tried to attack Dazed with his claws and received fifteen minutes of being batted around with a massive log for his troubles.

If the dark-type managed to incapacitate his pursuer or avoid them for the full twenty minutes he won.

That hadn't happened yet and with the vindictiveness the team were pursuing him with kept up Ash doubted it ever would. Sneasel's speed and stamina had increased quite a bit once he realized what was at stake but he still had a ways to go before he could claim to have the edge against any of the team who volunteered for the game.

He couldn't hold back a grin at the sheer speed Sneasel was maintaining in a desperate attempt to avoid this particular pursuer, especially empowered as he was.

Hunt the Sneasel turned out to be one of Bruiser's favorite past-times. Aside from the opportunity to unleash several months worth of annoyance on the dark-type it also provided him a chance to train Rampage, which Ash was determined to perfect.

Right now Bruiser was training the Superpower aspect of the technique. He'd managed to limit Superpower to a far weaker form, which he was maintaining for as long as he could to train his muscles further. To use Rampage to its fullest extent he needed to be able to maintain it for more than a minute at a time.

It would take a while but Ash knew they were steadily building up to a much more efficient Rampage. Bruiser wouldn't use it in every fight, but it was rapidly becoming more practical as an option against powerful opponents.

He'd mastered flaring Superpower for single uses — an especially powerful punch to break through an opponent's guard or protection, for example, or using his muscles to their full extent to leap much farther.

But that was just the edge of what Ash wanted to accomplish with Bruiser. He wanted to let the Machoke sustain a low-level Rampage indefinitely and remain in a true Rampage for at least ten minutes. That would be when Bruiser would take his place in the top ranks of the team.

That wouldn't occur for a while yet, though. Bruiser could improve by leaps and bounds in his current form but to unlock his full potential as both a combatant and user of Rampage he needed to evolve.

Until then he could only fight at a fraction of his true ability. The evolution from Machoke to Machamp was a drastic one — the growth of two arms allowed them to be much more dangerous close range fighters and the sheer reaction time and coordination they gained in order to control those extra limbs made them acknowledged as some of the most powerful fighting-types in existence.

He was torn from his reflections as Sneasel hissed furiously as Bruiser shot toward him with a Focus Blast in hand, although the dark-type was just fast and agile enough to duck under the sphere of energy that created a massive flash of light as it rent the earth.

Sneasel fired off an Ice Beam that Bruiser easily avoided with his enhanced speed and dashed off as quickly as he could, although he was forced to swerve away as Bruiser slipped further into Superpower in an effort to catch the nimble dark-type.

And then it happened.

Bruiser grinned maliciously as the shockwave from his most recent Focus Blast — the Machoke had taken to keeping the spheres in hand recently, which proved to work rather well in surprising opponents — tripped up Sneasel.

Sneasel had just a moment to fire off a second Ice Beam that barely even slowed Bruiser down before he was punted nearly thirty feet by an exceptionally powerful kick, albeit with the flat of Bruiser's foot so it wouldn't cause serious damage.

Ash snorted when Sneasel was suddenly snatched out of the air by Plume, who was gracious enough to drop him by Ash a few seconds later…although Sneasel might not have seen it that way since he skidded on the dark green grass for a few seconds before he lost his momentum.

"Give him a break," he said to Bruiser when the hulking Machoke sprinted over to him in a burst of speed most would have deemed impossible for the fighting-type. Bruiser nodded and shut his eyes. A second later he lowered himself to the ground, exhausted by his efforts. "You did good, Sneasel. You're improving a lot. Just a few days ago Bruiser caught you in the first minute."

Sneasel would have preened under the praise if he weren't too busy trying to keep his stomach inside of him. Ash smiled as the dizzy dark-type stumbled his way over to him on all fours. He snatched him up and scratched around his feather as the youngest member of the team collapsed onto his lap — this was the fifth session of "Hunt the Sneasel" today and he was well and truly spent.

"You too, Bruiser!" Ash added with a grin. Bruiser looked up at him from the ground with a similar grin, pleased with his own efforts. "By the time we leave for Hoenn you'll be ready to use Rampage in combat more frequently, I think. You're maintaining it for a lot longer now."

Bruiser nodded and collapsed. His muscular chest rose and fell steadily as he let himself rest. Ash didn't disturb him further — Bruiser had been using Superpower almost constantly in small bursts throughout the day and Ash couldn't even imagine how hard that was.

He started for a moment when he saw a massive flash of golden light and felt the rumble from Torrent's Draco Meteor far in the distance — he'd separated himself from the rest so as to avoid accidentally hurting them. Draco Meteor wasn't something even Tangrowth could shrug off and Torrent had been experimenting with it under Ash's suggestion.

"How'd your training earlier go?" He asked the exhausted Sneasel, who hissed in annoyance at the mention of his failures. Ash sighed and stroked the dark-type's feather to appease him. He'd put Sneasel through a lot and he wouldn't press him too hard on this. With his general combat abilities improving rapidly the technique Ash had devised wasn't vitally important. It would give him an edge to place him on par with the rest of the team, though, and Ash desperately wanted to add it to Sneasel's repertoire. "Just keep at it — I'm sure you'll figure it out eventually. If not then Steven might know someone who can help us."

Sneasel growled and burrowed deeper into Ash's jacket, determinately trying to ignore any outside influence so he could sleep. Ash smiled and lightly patted him, although he opened up his jacket a little more so Seeker could escape from the dark-type. He doubted the tired Sneasel would be bothered with Seeker but it was better to be safe than sorry.

Seeker squeaked happily as she clung to his back. Ash lightly scratched her ears, glad he'd chosen this shadowed spot while he supervised his team's training. The Zubat had been his best company over the last few days and he'd enjoyed the time spent with her.

He glanced back down at Steven's message now that he'd altered what training he'd needed to — Dazed was working on her teleportation by following the battle between Arcanine and Infernus to quench any fires and Oz was busy playing catch with Amelia's Raichu, who she'd lent to him since she was visiting Jessica in Viridian.

They were fairly evenly matched as they tossed a bolt of electricity at one another, absorbing it then redirecting it back to their opponent at speeds he could barely follow. Raichu was naturally better at manipulating the flow of electricity and was a tad faster than Oz, although she had a greater capacity for storing electricity, which helped her greatly in controlling the steadily more powerful bolt of lightning.

She also slowly grew more powerful as the constant addition of electricity to her system sharpened her speed and strength much like magma's effect on Infernus.

All in all it was a highly useful exercise, especially for Electabuzz seeking to evolve. It forced them to be capable of storing larger and larger amounts of electricity and also enhanced their control, both of which were vital for the transformation into an Electivire.

He sighed and focused back on the message.

Ash, Lance told me it was time to send this. He should be sending the general information you are required to know for your new position soon. If not, just send him a message. He's not so busy cleaning up the mess from your most recent escapade that he can't get your manual to you — it's the Orange League's problem, not Indigo's.

As we previously discussed, I would like for you to leave Kanto in around three weeks. That should give you plenty of time to get a sense of Hoenn on your own while I deal with the Ever Grande Conference.

I'm assuming you've already plotted out your route, but if not I'd suggest you go to Mossdeep City first. It's the closest to Kanto and I believe that Tate and Liza, the Gym Leaders there, would be very interested in meeting you. I also own a house there that you're welcome to stay at. Tate and Liza can direct you to the man that holds the key.

From there you go your own way. You are expected to meet me in Rustboro on the twenty-first of June, which should give you around three weeks to explore.

The address you will meet me at is 626 Stonewall Avenue, Apt. 257. Be there by noon.

I look forward to traveling with you.

— Steven

He read it several more times to make sure he'd picked up on everything he needed to.

Ash had been planning on starting his journey in Mossdeep anyway. As Steven said, it was the closest Hoenn city to Kanto and provided a good launching off point no matter where he decided to go next.

Right now he wanted to take the aquatic route and head south to Sootopolis before making his way around Hoenn to Dewford, from which he could then travel to Rustboro with relative ease. Plus in the relatively uninhabited archipelago that dominated eastern and western Hoenn he'd be free to train without any of the self-imposed limits that restricted him in Pallet.

At the moment he planned on spending a lot of time flying with Plume rather than taking ferries or hiring boats. He'd already scheduled a Seagallop Ferry with Lance's help earlier in the month that would take him to Mossdeep but didn't want to enlist its services any longer than that.

He'd learned to love flying with Plume now that the saddle he'd ordered had arrived and he didn't have to fear slipping off of her glossy feathers. He knew that she enjoyed it just as much, if not even more than he did. Most of the time they didn't get to interact while Ash was traveling — she was often scouting ahead or just enjoying the chance to stretch her wings. This added in a bit more of a personal experience between the two of them that they'd lacked before.

"Yo, Ash!"

The voice drew his attention and he raised an eyebrow as Gary flew in on the back of his own massive Pidgeot, who shrieked in surprise as Plume and Dragonite shot past him at their insane speeds.

Pidgeot came to a graceful stop just a few feet away, although the winds he carried were enough to force Ash to keep a tight hold on Sneasel and Seeker. Both were light enough to have been thrown away from him otherwise.

"Gary!" He greeted with a smile and stood up. Sneasel hissed in protest but quieted as Ash slung him over his shoulder — it was a mark of how exhausted the young dark-type was that he didn't snap at Seeker or even bother to unsheathe his claws. "How'd you find me here?"

"Alakazam located you," Gary shrugged and came to a stop just in front of him. Pidgeot took to the skies with a fury and spread his wings to their fullest extent, an act which temporarily blotted out the sun for Ash. It was easy to forget just how gigantic the flying-type was. "Not that I really needed his help when you've got your freak of a Magmortar battling Gramps' Arcanine. I could see the flares from Pallet, ya know."

Ash smirked lightly at that and glanced over to the aforementioned battle, which seemed to have ramped up while he was distracted. They'd stopped trying to hit each other physically and were instead lashing out at one another with tight, intense streams of flame.

He was sure Dazed was having fun with that. She'd probably be disappointed that she wouldn't get to play Hunt the Sneasel after, though.

A particularly large gout of flame drew his attention, though, and he idly wondered if he'd need to have Torrent come and provide assistance.

"Yo, Ash, you there?" Gary scowled and snapped his fingers in front of Ash's face. He crossed his arms irritably and glared pointedly at the other trainer. "I was talking to ya, you know."

"Guess you didn't have anything especially important to say," he smiled. When Gary rolled his eyes he grew a bit more serious. "Alright, what is it?"

Gary snorted. "Well, I figured you'd want to know that I'll be leaving in three days. The Silver Conference is over and I want to have as much time in Johto as I can get. From what I hear there's a lotta overrated pricks that could be knocked down a peg or two over there."

"Like who?" Ash asked, not letting his surprised reaction to the news slip into his voice. "I can't say I know too many of the big trainers in Johto."

"Falkner, for one," Gary grinned dangerously. "He's visited Gramps a few times and I've wanted to punch his smug prick face for a while now. With Pidgoet over there I'm gonna show him what a real bird is like. Then there's a few trainers I met in Kanto I've had my eye on. I heard from them at the Conference that they'll be heading over to the west side and I'm not gonna let them get away from me that easily."

"Good luck with that," Ash said sincerely. "I'd better see you holding the Silver Cup in a year's time, alright?"

Gary nodded. "Don't even worry about it, Ashy-boy. I've got that tournament in the bag. I'm not sure I even need to show up to compete, not with how hard I've been pushing myself!"

Ash snorted. "You want to get another battle in before you leave? It might be good to get rid of all that hot air."

"I think I'm good," Gary looked down and kicked the dirt. "Just wait, though. The second you get complacent…BAM! I'ma knock the crap out of you one day, Ashy-boy."

"Just not today," Ash finished for him. "So, what time?"

Gary took a moment to catch up with him. "Probably morning. I'm just gonna make my way to Johto on foot, maybe use Pidgeot if there's too tough of terrain. No point bothering Gramps' Alakazam if it's less than a hundred miles, ya know?"

Ash nodded but didn't say anything back.

"Anyway, that's not really why I came," Gary shrugged. He stuck his hands in his pockets and actually looked nervous for once, which was an event rare enough that Ash stood up straight and paid very close attention.

For some reason that didn't seem to make Gary any more comfortable. Ash smirked slightly.

"I figured that since I'll be missing your birthday and already had your gift I'd go ahead and give it to you," Gary said very quickly, tripping over a few of his words. "Figured I'd make it good to make up for the last few years, ya know?"

Ash nodded dimly, barely able to process that this was happening. He'd made up with Gary but he'd never actually expected a birthday gift from him. It wasn't something they'd done even before the duo had their schism.

Gary dug around in his pack before he finally found what he was looking for. Ash's eyes widened when he saw what his former rival was holding out to him. He took it reverently and couldn't even manage to give Gary a very necessary thank you.

The other trainer flashed Ash a confident grin that showed he understood. "I got this from Gramps when I caught Arcanine last year. It was some complementary thing from Silph and he figured I could get a lot more use out of it than him…and he was right. That thing saved my ass against a lot of trainers but I don't need it any more. Arcanine's the only fire-type I'll ever need."

"I know you're the last person I need to tell this to, but take good care of it, alright? It was a gift from Gramps, ya know?" Gary finished before he glanced out to the furious battle between Infernus and Arcanine. "Oh, and make sure to send me a video of the first time that crazy Magmortar of yours uses it — I wanna be the first to see if there's gonna be a new landmark down in Hoenn."

"You'll be the first to know," Ash confirmed as he stared at the exceedingly rare and valuable TM in his hands. "Gary…thank you. Really. This is —"

Gary snorted when Ash had trouble finishing his sentence. "Don't go crying on me now, ya hear? And yes, I know it's awesome. I'm the one giving it, after all."

"Just don't lose it!" Gary pointed at him. "Do you know how many Overheat TMs were made? Two hundred! That TM right there is worth more than you are, Ashy-boy! Or it would be if you hadn't decided to turn the world upside down and join the Elite Four."

"Trust me, I know," Ash said drily and finally tore his gaze from the TM case. "And what happened to you being so supportive? If I remember correctly you were more invested in me joining than I was."

His former rival raised his hands in faux offense. "Hey now, Ashy-boy. Don't blame me for trying to keep you from making the biggest mistake of your life — for all I know you were going to wuss out and go running off to dick around in the wilderness for a year."

Ash scratched the back of his head awkwardly, not wanting to show Gary that before Steven's offer that had pretty much been his plan.

"I mean, you should be thanking me!" Gary continued with his usual smirk. "I'm not sure your social skills could handle a year alone — I already doubt their existence, ya know."

He shrugged. Ash knew himself well enough to know that interacting with other humans wasn't one of his strong suits. That was something that had become even more painfully obvious with Amelia's outburst several days ago.

"You know, I have something for you too," Ash said slowly and sat back down on his rock. Gary looked at him oddly but didn't interrupt him as he dug through his pack for the storage compartment that held his TMs. A slow grin eased its way across Ash's face as he found what he was looking for — he'd kept this particular TM separate from the rest even after he'd taught it to all of his teammates that could learn it.

Gary stared at the plain TM curiously as Ash pressed it into his hands. "What's this?"

"Hyper Beam," Ash couldn't help but grin as Gary's face slackened in disbelief.

"You're joking," his former rival said flatly. When Ash shook his head the boy's face practically broke under a genuine smile, not the smirk that seemed omnipresent on him. "No way!"

"I figured you could get more use out of it than me," Ash echoed Gary's earlier words with a quick laugh. "Just…keep it close, will you? It was a gift."

"Don't worry, Ashy-boy," Gary reassured him. "I'm not sure I'll ever let this go. I mean, it's not Overheat, but damn!"

Ash snorted. "Don't get all sappy on me, Gary. It doesn't suit you."

That finally got to Gary and the other boy rolled his eyes. "Ah, shut up! I thought you were supposed to be the one with a bleeding heart."

"I'm helping those desperately in need, aren't I?" Ash retorted. "No, but seriously. You aren't the only one who needs to make up for the last few years. Neither of us really have the high ground on that one."

Gary snorted. "Yeah, we were both kind of brats. But those days are over and done with."

Ash nodded and lightly scratched the gently purring form of Sneasel as they stood silently.

"Call me a glutton for punishment, but I think I want to get one last battle in before I leave," Gary broke the silence as his hand went for the row of pokeballs on his waist. "Hope you're ready, Ashy-boy. Let's make this last battle one to remember!"

Ash smiled.

XX

"Well, I guess this is where we go our separate ways," Gary said after a long silence. Ash nodded. Professor Oak and his mother had already said their goodbyes and stood quietly behind them to watch their interaction. Jonathan and Amelia had unsurprisingly decided not to show up.

Actually, on second thought Gary very well might have not told them at all. He didn't exactly hold either of their fellow trainers in high regard.

Gary shifted his pack that was full of supplies they'd bought two days ago at the Celadon Department Store — Ash had been sorely tempted to buy a replica Lance cape and take a picture of it for the Champion — and regarded Ash quietly.

"When I see you next you'd better be holding the Silver Cup in hand," Ash finally grinned and offered his hand. Gary smirked and took the handshake. "I'm holding you to that, you know."

"Please!" Gary scoffed with that well-earned arrogance Ash had become so accustomed to. "With how fast I'm gonna steamroll over these Johto losers I might as well come back and win the Indigo Conference too! Might as well make a little history of my own, ya know what I'm saying?"

"Yes," Ash replied with a perfectly straight face. "I do know what you're saying."

"Ash. Shut up," Gary rolled his eyes. He sighed and lightly pat Umbreon, who had been engaged in a death stare with Sneasel for the past few minutes, on her head. "I'll smell ya later, Ash. Try not to run into any more terrifying flocks of Spearow. Gramps, try to remember to eat and drink. Ms. Ketchum, good luck at the university."

The others waved their goodbyes as Gary set off for Johto with Umbreon at his side. Ash just smiled at his friend.

Then, suddenly, Gary stopped and turned. His fierce eyes met Ash's cool ones. "You get ready, Ashy-boy! The Silver Cup's just a warm-up!"

Ash smiled and Gary went on his way.

He wasn't sure how long the three of them stood on Pallet's border lost in their thoughts but it felt like an eternity.

Of course, he would have stayed there at a lot longer or gone out to relax with his team if Oak hadn't broken the stupor that had fallen over the three.

"Ash, would you mind returning with me to my home?" Oak tapped his shoulder to grab his attention. "I don't mean to intrude, but I would like to speak with you while I have the chance."

"Of course," Ash nodded. He wasn't about to deny the Professor anything. Not after everything he'd done for him and his mother.

"You're welcome to come to, of course," Oak smiled over at his mother. "I daresay that I'll miss our lunches, Delia. I'm not too proud to admit my own skills are rather deficient in that area."

"That's putting it lightly!" His mother giggled. "You might be the only person I've ever met that could burn water. At least there's something the great Samuel Oak can't do!"

The Professor chuckled. "Indeed. Even Daisy wasn't willing to put up with my cooking. If I remember correctly she took over that when she was…five? Six? I'm afraid my memory's not quiet up to task."

"Six," his mother confirmed with a wistful expression. "She was always a fast learner, that one. She picked up on it faster than I could teach her!"

Oak smiled, even though Ash could see an undertone of exhaustion. Ash didn't know too much about Daisy — he remembered her very well as a cheerful girl babysitting him and Gary but she'd left for her journey when he and Gary were seven. It wasn't too long after that that Gary started acting like, as Jonathan would put it, "a grade-A prick". Once that happened he was no longer privy to that sort of information.

"But I'm afraid I have to go take care of things at the restaurant," his mother continued with a slight frown. "Sally's a good girl but I'm not sure she'll be able to keep things running smoothly. I think I'll need to hire on another worker before I leave."

"Of course," Oak nodded understandingly. "Feel free to stop by once you're done, of course."

"Of course!" His mother repeated with a bright smile. "I'll see the both of you later! Ash, dinner's at seven. Don't stay out training too late!"

He nodded and watched as his mother left with a spring in her step. She'd become insanely giddy lately since her departure was in just six days, the same time as Jonathan and Amelia would be leaving on their own journey.

"We'd best be off," Oak announced and started heading off in the direction of his house. "I'm sure you have plenty of things to be doing."

Ash nodded again and followed Oak. It was a quiet journey, but that didn't bother him.

XX

"What do you need?" Ash asked as they stepped into the Professor's study. Oak smiled at his bluntness and opened a drawer in his desk and pulled out a small disk in a case of metallic grey.

"This disk holds my notes and studies regarding the unnatural weather patterns produced by a certain psychic clone and the Shamouti Birds," Oak explained as he tapped the case. He handed it to Ash, who took it curiously. "There's several terabytes of information on that disk and it's all highly sensitive information contained by the League. Too sensitive to be transmitted via computer."

Ash nodded and put the case into one of his storage compartments. The study was illuminated in a brief flash of scarlet light as the matter was converted to energy and stored.

"I need you to take this to Professor Birch in Littleroot Town," Oak said. "He specializes in pokemon habitats and distribution and will be able to make far more effective use of this data than I. It's not an urgent matter but I do request that you take care of it in a timely manner. This information will be invaluable to Professor Birch's research regarding the effects of Legendaries on the environment and how they affect pokemon on a regional, national, and global level."

"I understand," Ash nodded. He was happy to help Professor Oak in this. He also supposed that Professor Oak was glad to have his help — Ash was privy to this classified information since he'd been present at both accounts and would also be the best security for the disk short of a fully fledged member of the Elite Four. "So there's research into Legendaries now?"

The Professor nodded. He looked very tired all of a sudden. "Yes. Some such as the Legendary Beasts of Johto as well as Lugia and Ho-Oh have been confirmed to exist for quite some time but it is only recently that we have confirmations of Mew and the Legendary Birds. Legendaries hide far from our prying eyes, it seems, and what humans do know of them are not keen to part with that information."

"Lance is driving the effort," Oak continued. "He refuses to allow those few researchers he trusts to know of the Legendaries' existence approach them personally, but I can hardly blame him if what he has told me is even remotely accurate. Sabrina shared what threads of memory she could glean from Lance and they were…disquieting, to say the least."

"Instead we study their effects and will determine just how far-reaching their influence is," he explained. "Responsibility has been split between Professor Elm, Professor Birch, Professor Rowan, and myself. I've already told you the nature of Professor Birch's research. Professor Rowan has begun looking into their effect on semi-instantaneous metamorphosis — evolution," the Professor elaborated.

"He has already discovered very interesting leads. The number of psychic evolutions spiked several times this year with no noticeable pattern other than the appearances of Mewtwo and as a whole they've increased almost exponentially — psychic pokemon are evolving younger and many human psychics discovered their potential, mostly in the vicinity of Viridian and Vermillion. And, if I recall our last message correctly, he's now begun to receive new data from after the events that took place at Shamouti."

Ash nodded, very interested. He followed Oak's lead and took a seat.

"Professor Elm's currently assisting Professor Rowan in his research. His personal project is investigating if unusual abilities result from proximity of Legendaries and their effects on pokemon breeding cycles," Oak smiled slightly and stared pointedly at Ash. "I'm sure he'd be interested in speaking with you at some point, Ash. You've had more encounters with Legendaries in your single year of traveling than have been recorded in the last century!"

"Give him my number," Ash said drily. "I'm happy to help."

"I'll be sure to get it to him," Oak smiled. "He'll certainly appreciate your assistance."

Ash smiled before he looked at Oak with a quizzical frown. "So what are you doing?"

"I'm attempting to pinpoint the exact locations of Legendaries in Kanto and Johto so that we may steer clear of them in the future and attempt to keep from disturbing them," Oak smiled. Ash could tell he enjoyed his job. "My specialization of human and pokemon relationships isn't especially useful in this regard, but with the recent developments in Kanto and with both Rowan and Elm applying their specialties 'm in the best position to perform this task."

"Which ones do you have?" He asked, ready to correct any deficiencies in Oak's knowledge the best he could.

"Mewtwo is at New Island…although it seems to have, well, disappeared," Oak began with the most potentially dangerous of the lot first. Ash felt a cold fire burn in his veins and a low chuckle in the back of his head. He steadfastly ignored it. "There are the Birds at Shamouti, of course. Then there's the Moltres Lance refuses to acknowledge as a threat at Knot Island, another Articuno we believe to be roosting on Mt. Silver's peak —"

"Look into the Ice Time," Ash interrupted. Oak stared at him. "It should make itself obvious."

Oak nodded with a faraway expression. "Of course, of course…thank you, Ash. Now, the Zapdos that caused the Storm several months ago seems to have vanished. We attempted to trace it but to no avail. And Sabrina refuses to assist, of course."

"Of course," Ash agreed as the Feather crackled against his chest. He felt the part of him that had been revealed to the Truth of Lightning thrum, content. For the briefest moment he saw two glowing eyes of gold flash in his mind's eye and wings of storm clouds flap in the midst of a shell of lightning. An icy fire rushed through his veins and quelled the glimpse and he fell silent.

"The Legendary Beasts are rather difficult to trace," Oak mused. "There are semi-frequent reports, of course, but they rarely stay in one place for long and flee from humans should they be spotted without their intent. I have deemed Lugia and Ho-Oh impossible to track given their nature and they seem more stable than the rest. They move frequently without causing global crises, at the least."

"And Mew?" Ash said quietly, memories of the tiny Legend flitting through his mind. He unconsciously rubbed the spot just over his heart that Mew had pierced.

Oak shook his head. "I have my suspicions, but I doubt Rota would appreciate my inquiries. I'll have to find a proper agent to investigate in due time. It's counterpart, Celebi, I have also deemed impossible to trace."

"How do you even know it exists?" Ash raised an eyebrow. He didn't know much of Celebi — nobody did, really — but he could recall the legends surrounding it. His mother had always loved those stories. "It seems a bit harder to pin down than the others."

"I have my sources," Oak replied mysteriously. At Ash's flat stare he shrugged. "If you want to know more you should speak to your friend, Michael."

"Michael…" Ash murmured, curious. Now that was interesting. Perhaps he'd end up heading to Orre sooner rather than later, if only to assuage his own curiosity.

Oak glanced over at his computer monitor, which had flickered on unexpectedly with a short message on it. "I'm sorry, Ash, but it seems I'll have to cut this short. I assure you that I'll inform you of any new developments. If anyone can appreciate this sort of information it's yourself, after all!"

"Thank you," Ash said after a long moment of deliberation. "Don't worry about the disk. I'll make sure it gets delivered."

"Of course," Oak muttered as he rapidly typed a response to whatever message he'd received. "I'd expect nothing less of you."

Ash smiled at that and turned to leave.

"Oh, and Ash?"

He glanced to see Professor Oak looking at him with a slight smirk, something he'd only seen rarely previously.

"Thank you."

Ash nodded and flashed the aging Professor another brilliant smile before he left. Daylight was a finite resource and he wanted to spend as much time relaxing with his friends as he could. They'd all earned a break and he needed to tell them about the new developments.

Professor Oak had certainly given them quite a lot to think about.

XX

"You just wait!" Jonathan ranted and threw his arms up in the air wildly as they stood together at the edge of Pallet. "I'm gonna find a Master, win that Silver Cup for myself, then come back and beat the crap out of ya, Ash — Elite Four or no! You know what, I'm gonna do more than win that stupid Cup! I'm gonna kick Lance's ass and then be the Indigo Champion and then I'm gonna kick your ass! You hear me!"

Ash blinked. "Yes."

"That's what I thought, punk!" Jonathan grinned manically. He was acting like he had just consumed all the sugar in Pallet and Ash wasn't sure why — he'd never thought Jonathan loved traveling so much. It looked like there were plenty of things he didn't know about his friend even after he'd started spending more time with him and Amelia. "So where can we have our epic showdown? On a bigass volcano? In the Indigo Stadium — you probably have clearance there, actually. Oh, wait! I've got it — Mt. Silver's peak! That actually sounds like your kind of place, actually."

"You know what, when you're ready I'll be waiting there," Ash said as sincerely as he could. "I don't know if I'll be saying much but I'll be there."

"Awesome!" Jonathan cheered and pointed dramatically at him. "I'm holding you to that, right Charizard?"

Charizard pumped his arm alongside his trainer and grinned as best as he could at Ash, who just stared at the large fire-type. He wasn't disturbed in the least by the trickles of flame that spilled out unconsciously from the draconic pokemon's maw.

He saw worse than that from Infernus every single day since he'd met him.

"Are you done?" Amelia said crossly with her hands on her hips. "You aren't the only person here, you know!"

"Yeah, yeah," Jonathan rolled his eyes. "I guess I have to give you the spotlight every once in a while. Don't want to leave ya feeling too left out."

"Thank you so much!" Amelia clasped her hands together sarcastically before flicking Jonathan on the forehead. The boy scrunched his face up in annoyance but didn't say anything.

She turned to regard Ash with a warm smile. "Well, I guess this is where we part ways. Good luck in Hoenn, Ash! Try not to make too much history, alright?"

"I'll do my best," Ash chuckled. "No promises, though."

"I guess I can't hold you to that, then. How sad," Amelia rolled her eyes. "I'm not going to be holding you to any insane challenges like Jonathan and we won't be having a Battle of Destiny anytime soon but I'm looking forward to our next meeting. I don't want to be a Master like you or Jonathan but I do have my own goals to work at, you know. Hopefully we'll all have achieved our dreams by then."

"Hopefully," Ash repeated. He cast a quick glance at her. "Good luck to you too, Amelia. Keep an eye out for Gary, by the way — I'd rather him and Jonathan not run into each other in Johto. I don't think I trust either of them to not start a giant fight in the middle of a city."

Amelia's face soured at the mention of Gary. There was no love lost between the two of them. "I'll keep that in mind. At this rate I'm afraid I'll be spending half of our time in Johto minding Jon…"

Ash raised an eyebrow and sent a look at Jonathan, who was busy jabbering away to Charizard. "Isn't that what you spent the last year doing?"

"Well, sort of," the girl murmured. "But I always had someone to distract him — you, that jerk Paul, all sorts of people. Jon's kind of scary when he doesn't have anything to keep him busy."

"Maybe scary is what he needs," Ash reasoned. "He needs something to drive him."

"Yeah, yeah," Amelia sighed. "I didn't come to talk about Jonathan, though. I just want to say goodbye and, again, good luck. And sorry about what I said when you got back…I was too harsh."

"Don't apologize," Ash shook his head. "I needed that. I know I haven't always been the best friend to either of you and I want to fix that. So good luck in Johto — I know the both of you can achieve your dreams. Just keep at it."

The girl flashed him a bright smile. "Thanks, Ash. Well, we probably need to get headed out — tell your mom I said bye!"

"I will," Ash dipped his head in acknowledgement. "Bye, Amelia. I'll see you next year, I guess."

She nodded and walked over to Jonathan. Amelia said something to him and he looked over to Ash.

"See ya! Get ready for our epic battle!" Jonathan shouted, even though he was close enough that it made Ash's ears hurt a bit. "They're gonna have to rewrite the maps after I'm through with you!"

Ash rolled his eyes but waved back anyway. He watched the two head off for a few minutes until they were just dots in the distance. The trainer took a moment to wish them well before he started the walk to Oak's house.

Now it was time to say goodbye to someone more important even than those two.

XX

"Alakazam's ready whenever!" Oak shouted down to them from his study. The Professor had already bid his mother farewell and said he had work to attend to, although he was happy to help her out. "Just say the word and she'll take you to New Bark Town!"

"Thank you, Samuel!" His mother yelled back up. She turned back to Ash with a soft smile. All of her luggage was arrayed around her, but she was holding something behind her back. "Hi, Ashy!"

He smiled back. "Hey, Mom. So you're leaving?"

"In just a few minutes," she confirmed. "I was just waiting to say goodbye to you. How were Jonathan and Amelia?"

"They're good," he replied. "Jonathan was Jonathan and Amelia wanted me to tell you she said goodbye."

"That sounds about right," his mother giggled. She'd gotten to know the duo a bit more since they started showing up at his house more often. "How are you feeling?"

Ash glanced away. "I'm fine."

His mother sighed and wrapped him up in a one-armed hug. "I'm sorry I'm having to leave so soon…I wish I could have stayed for your birthday, but there's just no time."

"It's fine," Ash reassured her as he returned the hug. She was more caught up about missing his birthday than he was — he'd long since accepted it and moved on. His mother seemed to think he'd taken it as a personal offense, though, no matter how many times he told her otherwise. "Really. I was gone for my birthday last year too — it's really no big deal."

She shook her head and pulled away. "Fine, fine. But I have something for you."

"Really?" Ash raised an eyebrow as his mother pulled out a small package from behind her back. He took it with a grin and shook it lightly to get a sense of what it was. It definitely took up most of the space, although he really had no idea what it could be. "So what is it?"

"Open it up and find out!" His mother chirped. "I know you already bought all of your supplies, but I thought you'd like this!"

He nodded and quickly unwrapped the gift, unsure of what to do with the paper around the cardboard box hidden by the colorful wrapping.

That problem was solved rather quickly when Sneasel leapt off of his shoulder and attacked the paper with a fury he'd never seen before, shredding it with glee usually reserved for his opponents.

Ash and his mother laughed at the playful dark-type but Ash quickly returned his focus to the gift. Sneasel helpfully leapt up to carefully slice open the tape before he dived down to attack the paper with renewed vigor, although Oak's old Arcanine seemed to have wandered in thanks to the commotion and had taken an interest of his own in the wrapping paper.

He just sighed and ignored Sneasel's angry hiss as Arcanine playfully pawed at the shredded paper before he glanced suspiciously around the house to make sure nobody was watching and ate the wrapping paper, utterly ignoring Sneasel's furious growls.

His eyes narrowed in curiosity as he regarded the large tome bound in the thick purple of shed Arbok scales in his hands.

"History, Legends, and Folklore of Hoenn by Cynthia Carolina," Ash murmured and traced the words carefully.

"If you don't like it you can always return it," his mother babbled. "I ordered it but there's a place not too far from the Goldenrod University that'll be happy to take it and it won't be any trouble for me to take it by —"

"Mom, it's alright!" Ash interrupted with a wide grin. He stared at the book again. "I love it, really."

His mother exhaled and wrapped him up in a hug. "Oh thank goodness! I was worried!"

"I could tell," Ash snorted into her shoulder. "Thanks, Mom. I really do appreciate it."

"I'm glad," she whispered into his ear. "I just thought it would be good for you to get to know more about Hoenn since you'll be a stranger there. I've heard the book's very good, and I wanted to remind you that there's more to the world than battling. I know you tend to get obsessed…I'm not a stranger to that, either. Just remember that there's a whole world out there and battling's just one part of it!"

Ash nodded and hugged her tighter. "I will, Mom. I'm going to miss you."

"I'll miss you too," she said tearfully. Ash could feel his shoulder becoming damp before she pulled away and looked him in the eye. "Make sure to call me at least once a week and remember to change your underwear!"

"I will," he said with as straight a face as he could. His lips still twitched without his consent, though. "Don't forget to live a little. There's more to life than studying, you know."

His mother laughed at that. "Oh, don't worry about me! I'm not going to become a recluse, you know. It's been years since I've been out to a big city — there's so much to do and I love Goldenrod! I can't wait to see how it's changed!"

Ash nodded and there was a short silence that he broke, surprisingly enough.

"Take care of yourself," he said quietly. "And say hello to Uncle Spencer for me…and Molly too, I guess."

"I will," his mother promised and pulled him into one last hug. She kissed him on the cheek before they parted. "I love you, Ashy. Remember that."

He nodded and pulled away. "How could I forget? I love you too, Mom."

She smiled tearfully one last time before Alakazam appeared seamlessly beside her, startling Sneasel and Arcanine, who belched out a puff of fire and smoke with small bits of brightly colored wrapping paper before he pulled his massive body up off the floor, grabbed the cardboard box in his massive jaws, and flashed away in a burst of speed.

Shall we leave, Ms. Delia?

Alakazam was gracious enough to broadcast her telepathy into Ash's head. She cast a bored gaze at his mother's bags.

Luggage. Lovely.

"Nobody's asking you too, Alakazam," his mother laughed through her tears. "But yes, I'm ready."

Very well.

"Bye, Ashy!" His mother said to him one last time. "I love you!"

Ash nodded and as he returned her words his mother disappeared into nothingness along with all her luggage. Sneasel hissed as he climbed up Ash's leg, bitter at his toys disappearing with Arcanine.

Alakazam appeared moments later. She regarded Ash curiously and focused before her small mustache bristled. A moment later a piece of firewood was hurled at Sneasel, who barely managed to leap off of Ash before the projectile would have smacked him off. The dark-type hissed futilely at the vastly more powerful psychic before he obediently stayed still under the Alakazam's flat stare.

Hail, Storm-Tamer. I thank you for your service and apologize for not warning you. But I may not interfere. Not here.

"I understand," Ash sighed. "Thank you for keeping the pokemon here safe, though."

It was what I was allowed. I would not turn away such an opportunity.

Ash nodded and glanced down at the Arbok-scale tome. He'd have to get started on the thick book. With no friends or family outside of his team to distract him he'd have plenty of time on his hands to do so.

Alakazam followed his gaze and her mouth curved up in a smile.

A good read. Should you desire to discuss its contents simply call for me. I am always listening.

He flashed her a smile of his own. "Thank you, Alakazam. I think I'll take you up on that."

Ash felt a fleeting sense of warmth pass over him before Alakazam seamlessly disappeared from the room.

He smiled softly at Sneasel and hoisted the dark-type up onto his shoulder before he sighed. Ash supposed he should probably vacate the premises now that neither his mother nor Alakazam were here.

A warm hand on his shoulder snapped him out of that train of thought.

"If you need anybody to talk to, stop by," Oak said quietly. "It's going to be rather lonely here this year."

"I — thank you," he said sincerely. "Are you good for lunch tomorrow?"

Oak smiled. "Of course! I'm always happy to have you."

Ash smiled.

Well, even without his mother and friends he wasn't totally alone with his family. Besides, he was always glad to talk to the good Professor.

XX

The Seagallop Ferry was waiting for him on the slightly choppy waters that had followed the storms that had just recently swept through the area. Ash stared at it from the Pallet pier. He was in no hurry.

"Leaving so soon?" A warm voice distracted him from his thoughts.

"Professor Oak!" Ash grinned back at the man, who'd arrived with Alakazam and Arcanine. Dragonite and Charizard circled above, each a bright light in the gloomy sky. "I was hoping you'd come. I wasn't sure you'd be able to get away from work."

"I have a fairly lax schedule," Oak chuckled. "Advantages of being the boss, I suppose. I wasn't about to let you go free that easily."

Ash smiled. At times like this he could see where Gary got some of his personality from.

"I trust that you won't need to rely on luck in Hoenn," Oak chuckled. "You're smart and skilled, Ash. Just listen to Steven Stone and you'll have no problems at all. But remember, Ash, you will be in real danger as you follow your orders. Stay safe for all of us."

He nodded seriously. "I will, Professor. Thanks for everything."

Professor Oak smiled. "It was no problem at all, Ash. I daresay you've repaid me several times over considering the sort of disasters you've averted. Now, I didn't come here just to say my goodbyes, you know."

"Oh?" Ash raised an eyebrow. He was legitimately curious — Professor Oak didn't seem the type to leave things to the last minute, especially considering he'd had lunch with the Professor every day of the last week. "And what could that be?"

"Just a word of advice. Well, more of a phrase, really," the Professor smiled.

"And?" Ash prompted.

"I hear Sootopolis is wonderful this time of year."

Ash waited for anything else besides the cryptic sentence but Oak just smiled.

"Have a good time in Hoenn, Ash. It truly is a beautiful land," the Professor said wistfully. "Just…just make sure to call every now and then, alright?"

"Of course," Ash nodded. "I'm not going to forget about you that easily, Professor. Who knows? Maybe I'll send you a few postcards."

Oak laughed. "I think I'd like that."

Ash send the Professor one last smile and sent his team nods of respect before he turned to step onto the Seagallop Ferry. The sailor who'd be taking him to Hoenn had already greeted him and given him the same instructions as the previous captains.

He stared out at the grey sky and empty expanse of the sea. Hundreds of miles to the south was Mossdeep. He was about to embark on a new adventure to a strange land full of strange people and strange pokemon.

The journey of a thousand miles began with a single step, after all. And this was it.

Hoenn awaited him.

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