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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18. The Sevii Islands Part 2

A drowning ship, a haunter grinning widely in his face, a metal club headed straight for his skull.

"I know." He muttered, scratching the back of his neck. "But I have to fight them. I'm strong enough and I'm not going to stand by while they hurt everyone. I've already beaten a group on Knot Island. That's where I am, actually."

The older man rubbed his temples. "Does your mother know?" He asked hoarsely. Ash shook his head. "Does she know about Celadon? I know that she heard about the St. Anne – she was the one who told me."

Ash's guilty expression told Professor Oak all the man he needed to know.

"Please don't tell her." Ash pleaded. "She'll just worry over it."

"She should worry over it." Oak snapped, his friendly demeanor slipping away. "You're leaping into deadly situations without thinking of her. She has a right to know these thing!"

Ash looked down. He'd forgotten how good the Professor was at making him feel guilty. He knew that he was in the wrong in this case, but he still thought it would be better for his mother to be ignorant. There was no way he would stop fighting Team Rocket but he didn't want his mother worrying over him all the time.

Oak continued after a few tense moments. "I'll make you a deal. I understand that you are a strong trainer that can handle yourself, although I don't agree with what you're doing right now. But Cinnabar is quite close to Pallet and I assumed you will be returning there."

He nodded, figuring what Professor Oak was getting at. "I was planning on coming back to Pallet anyways."

"Good." Oak nodded. "When you're done with your business in the Sevii Islands, return here and spend time with your mother. While you're here, I expect you to tell her what you've been up to."

When Ash adopted a nervous expression, Oak dropped his angry tone and comforted him. "Delia isn't a harsh woman, Ash. She won't try to keep you from going on your journey. But don't you think she deserves to know?"

"Fine." Ash allowed. He had been planning on returning to Pallet Town anyways. It wasn't as if fulfilling Oak's request would be difficult. And his mom did have a right to know what trouble he was getting into, even if he would prefer she remain ignorant to it.

The Professor smiled softly and became casual once more. "Now that that's over with, what were you calling about?"

"I just caught a Tangela." Ash replied. "Do you mind sending it over?"

Oak nodded. "Of course. Give me a few moments."

Ash sighed and patted Nidorino when Oak left. The conversation had left him a little drained. He hadn't had a serious conversation in a long time, especially not one that hit so close to home. He'd been friends with Jonathan and Amelia, but they'd never been close enough to express their deeper thoughts around each other. His pokemon were closest to him and he was always so relaxed and things were so simple that he'd never really thought that much.

He was cut from his thoughts by Professor Oak's return. Oak was carrying the plain pokeball Ash had captured Tangela with in his hand before placing it into the transfer machine.

Ash took Golduck's pokeball off of his belt and placed it into the trading machine. It glowed for a moment before switching places with Tangela's pokeball. He took his newest friend's ball off and placed it onto Golduck's former spot.

"Could you keep Golduck away from my zubat?" Ash requested, knowing that Golduck would take great pleasure in tormenting the timid bat. "Machoke can probably handle him, but Zubat isn't tough enough. Golduck is usually aggressive and doesn't like other pokemon…or people, for that matter."

The Professor smiled as he took the ball from the machine. He inspected it carefully. "He's one of those, is he? All trainers get one pokemon that they just can't work with eventually. I must admit to being curious as to how you'll work this out. Anyways, is that all?"

Ash nodded. "Thanks, Professor. It was good seeing you again."

Oak inclined his head as he stood up from his comfortable, cushioned chair. He was barely visible in the monitor. "I'm glad to see you again as well, Ash." His face grew more serious. "Be careful and remember your promise. I'll hold you to it."

The trainer nodded in return before the monitor cut off. He stared at it for a few more moments before he got out of his chair and looked down at Nidorino. His friend was lazily lying beside the chair, although his eyes were sharp and alert.

"Let's go. We need to introduce Tangela to the team before we meet up with Steven and Lance." Ash told his first partner. Nidorino grunted in response and stiffly pulled himself up. The trainer waited until Nidorino was fully ready before leaving the building.

XX

Five minutes later they were on the shores of a beach, about a quarter-mile away from the town. Ash didn't like the villagers' stares and wanted to be somewhat isolated while introducing Tangela. Aside from his desire to escape their curious eyes, he wanted Tangela to be able to meet Torrent along with the rest of his team.

When he found a nice spot on the beach Ash released his team. Dazed was the first one out and took a slightly isolated position. Plume was next and fluttered over next to Ash, the powerful winds she produced whipping up a small sandstorm that nearly knocked Ash over. It died down after a few seconds, but it left Ash spitting sand out of his mouth.

Plume cooed an apology at him and lightly nipped the back of his hat. Ash smiled and lightly stroked her crest before releasing Infernus. The powerful fire-type roared when he was released and looked around for his opponent, much like Golduck had done. But when he realized there was no foe, Infernus snorted and curled up.

Ash sighed at Infernus when the fire-type caused the sand near his tail to transform into raw, molten glass. Infernus barely noticed and curled up even tighter.

Torrent was last. He snorted a greeting at Ash when he appeared in the water and puffed out his armored chest and spines. When Ash smiled and greeted him, the water-type began swimming in backwards circles, bored.

"We have a new teammate." Ash explained to his waiting friends. "It's a Tangela. Be nice."

His friends had mixed reactions to that. Dazed seemed perfectly content with the new addition. Nidorino didn't seem to mind either, as did Plume. They were both apparently content that their positions weren't threatened thanks to their type advantage.

Infernus didn't seem particularly impressed. He stood up and roared, blasting a huge stream of flame into the sky as though to prove how much better he was than the grass-type. Ash just shook his head at the display and glanced over at Torrent. While he didn't get to spend as much time with the water-type as he'd like and couldn't read his expressions and mannerisms as well as the others, Ash could tell that Torrent didn't like the sound of the Tangela.

It wasn't too surprising. Torrent was proud of being one of the three most powerful members on the team and the only one without a weakness to another member. Nidorino had Dazed and Infernus had Torrent. A grass-type of unknown strength probably made the seadra feel defensive.

"It'll be fine." Ash said soothingly. Torrent looked at him with trusting eyes and grudgingly nodded. "Anyways, here he is."

Tangela hopped up and down when he was released, excitedly glancing between each member of the team. He ran up to Ash first, though, quickly shaking his hand before running over to Plume.

The great bird gazed down at him interestedly but squawked and tried to fly away when Tangela unexpectedly tried to hug her with his vines. Tangela quickly withdrew them when she struggled and instead tapped her on the head with one of the extended vines. Plume didn't seem too offended by the display, but turned her head away from Tangela and proceeded to push her ruffled feathers back down.

Nidorino warned Tangela off from hugging him with a low growl, but accepted one of the grass-type's probing vines that curiously ran over his head. After a few moments Tangela made his odd, happy noise and moved onto Infernus.

Ash knew Infernus was planning something the moment the devious fire-type's eyes seemed to glint happily. Infernus was a good member of the team, but he was still a magmar. They had a mischievous streak that could never be completely defused, although, as shown in Infernus' case, it could be minimized.

He called out a warning to his newest friend, but Tangela didn't hear it before curiously touching Infernus with several of his vines. Tangela made a distressed gurgling noise when Infernus suddenly increased his body temperature by a huge degree and quickly withdrew his scorched vines before running over to Dazed.

"Infernus, no more of that." Ash said sternly. Infernus rumbled in agreement but didn't seem to upset. He figured that the fire-type had known this would be a one-time trick. He looked over at Tangela, who was hiding behind the impassive hypno. "Tangela, it's all right. He won't do it again."

Tangela shot Infernus an uncharacteristically dark glare – Ash could see the wide, friendly eyes narrow and darken in the midst of the wriggling vines – before poking Dazed. He didn't do much more before running over to the water's edge where Torrent waited.

Torrent didn't seem very happy about the grass-type prodding him, but didn't do anything to dissuade Tangela either. That gave Ash some hope for an eventual friendship between the two. He shot Torrent a grateful smile in response, causing Torrent to swell up in pride as he soaked in the attention.

"There are a few others, but they aren't here right now." Ash told Tangela. The grass-type had waddled over to Ash after meeting Torrent and looked up at him with attentive eyes. "So, are you good at battling?"

Tangela bobbed his head up and down. Ash grinned. While he would have to test his newest friend out before using him, at least Tangela had a battling background. His wide move pool hinted at such.

"Well then, let's get started." The trainer said with a grin. Tangela bobbed up and down, clearly excited at getting a chance to show off his skills. Ash was glad – he'd be testing all of Tangela's limits.

XX

An hour later Ash was both pleased and worried.

He was pleased because Tangela was better than he could have hoped. Tangela had proved to be a wily opponent, a far cry from his normal dullness. The grass-type was quite skilled at using his vines to wrap an opponent into submission and poison, paralyze or drain his opponent. Ash hadn't let his newest friend show off the fullest extent of his power, but he knew enough to realize that Tangela was powerful.

Nidorino had sparred with Tangela, although he didn't use his poison. Tangela was able to effectively immobilize him thanks to the dexterous vines and the writhing shell of vines provided a strong barrier against Nidorino's horn. It wouldn't be as effective in a real fight thanks to Nidorino's poison and added strength, but Ash knew that Tangela could handle himself in a fight.

But, despite his happiness over Tangela's abilities, Ash was worried that Steven or Lance hadn't called him yet. He had expected to be called a while ago. It was beginning to get late and –

His PokeNav rang. Ash quickly took it off of his belt and flipped it open. Steven was the one calling.

"Hey, Steven." Ash said into the device. Steven's image came up. He looked tired and dirty, although the odd suit he always wore looked almost pristine. Ash assumed that it was made out of a very durable material.

"Hey." Steven replied tiredly. "Where are you? I just got back to Knot Island. I'm waiting in the Center. Lance should be getting back soon."

Ash held back a sigh of relief. "I'm training with my pokemon. I'll be right there. Where are you in the Center?"

"A Ranger will show you to my room." Steven told him. Ash saw the former Champion's screen shake a bit before Steven reappeared, now sitting in a large, cushioned chair. "Ah, Lance just arrived. We'll see you soon. Goodbye."

Ash gave his own farewell before the screen blackened. He folded up the PokeNav and placed it on his belt. After that he looked out at his friends. Most were either wandering around the beach or standing near each other. Dazed was huddled together with Nidorino and Tangela while Plume casually circled above them. Infernus and Torrent were in their own little areas, happy in their solitude.

He called out a warning before returning all of them except for Nidorino. All of his friends aside from the poison-type and Infernus were quite tired from the day's excitement and their mock battle against Tangela. Infernus wasn't the best choice to walk through a forest, so Nidorino was his best choice.

Nidorino grunted as he plodded over to Ash. Ash made sure he was ready before heading towards the town. He was incredibly excited – he wanted to hear just what the Champions had gotten up to during the day.

XX

"And the hero returns!" Lance said with a grin. The Indigo Champion was carelessly sprawled across a sofa, clearly exhausted but in high spirits. Ash grinned and nodded his thanks towards the Ranger that had brought him here. His guide gave a nod in return before returning to the base level.

"The Head Ranger here gave me the report." Lance continued, still speaking quite loudly. On anyone else it would have been a shout. On Lance it just sounded right, befitting his position. "The villagers said you did quite well against Team Rocket. No fainted or injured pokemon. I have to admit, you did much better than I'd expected."

Ash looked down at the praise. "They weren't very good."

Steven finally spoke up. He looked much worse than he had over the video phone. His silvery hair was matted with sweat and grime and he bored several scrapes and cuts on his arms. The only untouched part of him was his suit, and even that looked like slightly crumpled.

"How are you? I heard some…disturbing accounts about the grunts." The former Champion said, sounding genuinely worried.

The trainer froze, a large metal club flashing through his memory as well as the retribution his pokemon had given.

"I'm fine." He said stonily, not wanting to talk about it. "My pokemon handled it."

"They did a good job too!" Lance said, lazily raising his head so he could look at Ash. "The one that got thrown into the house won't be doing much for a while. He'll be fine, though." He said hastily when he saw the glare Steven sent him. "Just a little banged up, is all."

Ash relaxed a bit, letting some of the tension fall from his body. He was fine. He just needed to calm down and forget the worst parts of the battle.

"What did you do while I was here?" He questioned as he slid into a small chair.

Lance smiled widely, turning his mouth upwards. It possessed more wildness and ferocity than happiness. "I destroyed three Rocket camps at the base of Mt. Ember. They haven't told us what they were doing there yet, but one of the Rangers has an alakazam that's working on them. All we know right now is that they were trying to dig something up. All of their operations on Knot Island have been shut down."

Ash grinned back. It was just what the Rockets deserved, although he was admittedly curious over what they could have been doing. Were they trying to make the volcano erupt somehow?

But he was pulled from his thoughts by Steven. The Master was far less exultant than Lance was. His demeanor was grim and tired, showing that he'd been through a lot that day.

"I went to Chronos Island." He revealed. His voice was completely smooth. No traces of emotion flickered through it. "I met up with Lorelei and a few League forces and searched the forest for Team Rocket."

Ash waited patiently as the man paused. Steven would tell him when he was ready.

"We found at least thirty wandering through the woods, patrolling and searching for League forces." He said, eyes distant. "When we found them, they regretted it. Metagross took down most of their pokemon, but a few of us were hit by some of their attacks."

Steven motioned at his bruised, beat-up appearance. "I got off easy. A weezing exploded near me, but I was only caught by the edge of the explosion. Metagross protected me from the worst of it, but a few of the League forces weren't so lucky. We have about eight of them in the hospital right now. They were teleported back to Kanto for medical care."

He had a lump in his throat as Steven recounted his experiences, wondering why the friendly man was telling him this. Was he just trying to ensure that Ash knew how dangerous Team Rocket were? Because Ash knew. Pierce had ordered his muk to kill him, after all.

"But we found their base." Steven smiled, a bit of the grimness fading. "They didn't know we did, but I have the location. Tomorrow we'll be storming it. Pierce is trapped."

Ash grinned widely. He couldn't wait to go into it. "What will we be doing?"

Steven gave him a thoughtful frown. "The League will be spread throughout the forest in order to keep any of the Rockets from escaping. Lance and I will be storming the warehouse. You will be watching over the warehouse in order to make sure no Rockets have the chance to be caught by the League."

He nodded. While it wasn't the most action-packed role, Ash figured that he'd had enough excitement for a while. Helping would be enough and he'd be doing an important job. "Do you know how many there are?"

"No." Lance replied, finally sitting up. He had a frown on his face. "We have estimates that place more than eighty of them inside their warehouse, but nothing concrete. All that we really know is that there a lot of them and that Pierce is inside."

Ash leaned back in his chair with a grin. Pierce was going to pay. But he pushed the satisfaction away. He wanted to know everything about what they would be doing. "So, how are we getting there."

"It's a choice between teleportation or flying on my dragonite." Lance said with a smirk towards Steven. The former Hoenn Champion was clamping down on the arms of his chair at the mention of flying. "The Ranger with the alakazam has an abra we can use. It's probably the better choice anyways. We'll be in before they know it and Steven won't be sick for the first half-hour of the battle."

Steven scowled but didn't react in any other way than standing. "I need to get cleaned up." He announced. The former Champion glanced at Ash. "You should get to bed – you have the room to the right of this one. I'm sure you're exhausted from the battle today. You'll need your energy tomorrow."

Ash nodded his understanding and left the Champions. Steven was certainly right about him being tired and he definitely needed to get a shower. He was dirty and smelled like dried sweat. Definitely not a good combination.

He found the room Steven had told him about quickly. It was unlocked, but a card key sat on the small wooden table by the door. Ash took it and locked the room before continuing into the room.

It was small but comfortable. Aside from a few tropical decorations, it was an ordinary Pokemon Center room. Before he went into the bathroom to get cleaned up, Ash released Dazed and Nidorino. Tangela probably wouldn't like the artificial surroundings very much.

After both of his friends found themselves a comfortable area, Ash went to the bathroom to get cleaned up. It was going to be a long day tomorrow.

XX

About three o'clock the next day, the group had assembled in a small field outside the city. It looked to have been burned by some sort of fire attack, so Ash figured one of the fire-types that lived around Mt. Ember might have come to the area.

He had woken up extremely late this morning, but greatly enjoyed it. Ash normally woke up early on his journey, so the luxury was appreciated. After that he got ready and made all of his preparations for the battle. All of his pokemon were made aware of what they were going into. Most of them seemed anxious to take the fight to the Rockets, although Tangela surprised him with his vehemence.

All in all, Ash was ready for this. He was glad to have a part in preventing the spread of Team Rocket, no matter how minor that part might have been. It was enough for him.

"Abra wants to know if she can look in your mind to get the location." The Ranger told Steven. "We can get to it if you show us a map or a picture, but this is much faster and more precise."

"Of course." Steven said with a nod. He didn't seem bothered by a psychic intrusion.

Abra yawned and looked into Steven's eyes for a moment. The man went slack but remained standing. He stayed like that for a while, long enough for Ash to glance at him in concern.

"He's fine." The Ranger assured Ash. "Abra's just young, is all. She's not used to getting information from peoples' minds yet. My Alakazam is experienced enough to have gotten it and teleported you to it by now."

"Can she talk to you?" Ash asked curiously. He'd heard of psychic-types that could use telepathy, but he was never sure if they were just myths. If not he couldn't understand why Dazed wouldn't speak to him.

The Ranger looked surprised. "Of course. It takes a fair bit of specialized training, but psychic-types like the abra family or the ralts family are capable of using it. Most psychic-types that hang around humans long enough can as well, although it's an off and on kind of thing. Some just aren't capable of it."

"I don't think your hypno can speak, Ash." Lance interjected. He was leaning against a tree and patiently waiting for Steven to be revived. "Not yet, anyways. From what Sabrina's told me they have difficult communing with non-psychics. They're more focused on physical manifestations anyways. Hypnosis and telekinesis and whatnot."

"Oh." Ash said with a frown. He'd never come across an entry in the pokedex that had claimed hypno could speak, but he had hoped after hearing about the abra.

Abra suddenly tore her eyes away from Steven, allowing the former Champion to slump to the ground. He waved away any attempts to help and clambered back up to his feet. Steven blinked a few times and brushed his silvery hair out of his eyes before looking at Lance and Ash.

"I'm ready if you two are."

The Ranger grinned. "Alright, Abra. You know what to do."

Ash suddenly saw a flash of light before suddenly appearing in a completely different area. He blinked in surprise before looking around. Steven and Lance were right next to him and Abra was behind them. She vanished in a small flash of light an instant later.

So that was teleportation. Ash had expected it to be unpleasant, but in reality it didn't even feel like he'd moved. It was just that he'd been warped through space, not that he'd been thrown hurtling through some alternate dimension that made him spin and feel sick.

"Surprised, huh?" Lance grinned, swinging his arms around to warm them up. "Teleportation's a pretty easy way to travel. You blink and you're somewhere a hundred miles away."

Ash smiled and nodded but looked at Steven. The slight man had a frown on his face as he looked past the forest's edge.

He followed Steven's gaze and blinked in surprise. Once the forest diminished and died, a small meadow began. In the center of the meadow was a huge building, easily a hundred feet tall. It was obviously the Rocket base, although it wouldn't be so obvious to an unknowing observer. There was no logo emblazoned upon the side or any other indicator other than the fact that Ash knew where they were going.

Roughly twenty people working in pairs patrolled the perimeter. They had arbok and weezing out, polluting the air with their noxious fumes. One had a massive, savage Houndoom beside him. It snarled and breathed small blasts of flame towards any of the Rockets that drew near.

"Steven, call Lorelei." Lance ordered, eyes focused on the Rockets. "Tell her to be on standby. I'll take these Rockets out, but if any try to run away I want her to be ready."

Steven took out a small black device and began typing in something. Ash watched curiously, but Steven glanced over at him. "Ash, wait by the door when the Rockets are defeated. Lance and I will enter the building. You just wait for any stragglers fleeing the scene."

Ash nodded in understanding and looked at Lance. The Champion had a removed a pokeball from his belt and tapped the button, releasing a long, serpentine pokemon that was around fifteen feet long. It had dark, glossy eyes and a small horn on its forehead. Small feathery wings adorned the sides of its head and it was covered in sapphire scales everywhere but its belly, which was a bright blue. Small blue orbs hung under its neck and on its tail.

He immediately felt a calming aura engulf him, although the slight anxiety he was feeling nullified most of its effect. Ash stared in awe at the massive Dragonair.

"Hey, Saph." Lance said softly to his pokemon, gently tickling its chin as it lunged at him and licked the side of his face. "Use thunder wave on the Rockets and their pokemon."

Saph gave a low, happy call in reply and turned towards the patrolling Rockets. Thanks to their dense coverage, none of the criminals had seen the group.

It stared at the Rockets before releasing a blue stream of electricity from its horn. The stream arced towards the Rocket with the Houndoom before splitting off and slamming into all of the visible Rockets and their pokemon, overloading their nervous systems and paralyzing them. A second thunder wave knocked all of them out.

Ash started when they were unconscious, but a restraining hand from Steven kept him from leaving the cover. Steven shook his head at Ash and nodded to the Rockets.

He moved back and watched carefully as another three pairs of Rockets ran out from the other side of the warehouse, apparently alerted to the fall of their comrades somehow. One of them pulled out a small handheld device to presumably call for help, but Saph fired off another thunder wave that knocked them out.

Lance pointed to two small cameras by the large, heavy doors blocking the entrance. An instant later Saph fired a thunder wave at the cameras, overloading them and frying their circuits.

With that the Champions ran out from their cover towards the large, steel doors that blocked the entrance. Saph picked Ash up and quickly darted after them, easily catching up with the Champion's head start and dropped Ash next to them before she was returned by Lance.

Steven tried to open the doors with the button, but a small keypad above it suddenly beeped and gave them a message. "Only authorized personnel are allowed within this building. Please enter the two passwords given to you by your superiors."

Lance scowled. "Passwords? Really? Well, that doesn't matter. I have my own."

The Champion quickly released his hulking Dragonite. It was quiet and had determined eyes as it waited for Lance's instructions.

Steven released the familiar form of Metagross as well. Both moved back about ten feet and were quickly followed by Ash.

"Stay behind us while we do this." Steven said calmly. "Metal Claw!"

Metagross gave a cold, mechanical roar that sent chills down Ash's spine. It sounded like grinding metal. The huge steel-type then raised an "arm" that glowed a bright, metallic silver before slamming it down on the thick steel doors. They crumpled like paper, torn down with barely any effort.

Ash heard shouts and screams coming from inside the warehouse as Metagross tore the doors down and telekinetically picked them up before hurling them into the warehouse. Dragonite gave a roar of its own before bursting into the warehouse after Metagross, a hyper beam already charging in its mouth.

"Get back to the forest line!" Steven shouted as he ran towards the building. He turned his head to look at Ash before vanishing into the ravaged entrance. "Stay safe!"

He quickly followed the command, releasing his pokemon except for Torrent and Infernus when he got to the safe zone. Infernus would just attract too much attention. Ash would release him in a battle, but until then he was relying on stealth.

From the gaping hole torn into the side of the building, he could see bright flashes of light and small explosions. Shouts and screams continued to echo out, but he never heard anything that might be from the Champions or their extraordinarily powerful pokemon.

Plume was circling in the sky, high up enough so that she wouldn't be easily seen but low enough to where she could interfere and attack if needed. Nidorino was crouched next to his side, horn lowered and ready to charge or launch a thunderbolt.

Tangela had an interesting strategy: he crouched in front of Ash, serving as camouflage in front of the shrubs and bushes. It wouldn't stand up to a critical glance, but in the heat of battle it would work well enough.

Dazed was hidden at an angle. Despite her skin color she seemed to disappear in the forest, probably manipulating the air or the surroundings minds with her abilities. He could only see her because he knew her so well. Her eyes were focused on the gash in the steel and her pendulum was up and waiting, already trembling with energy.

He waited for several minutes. The blasts that raged throughout the warehouse and caused the massive steel building to shudder and quake gradually slowed before almost disappearing. Ash figured that Steven and Lance had taken down most of the opposition.

While he would have doubted the viability of the assault had it been any other two trainers, Ash had complete confidence in the Champions. He'd seen both of them battle on television before and it was simply awe-inspiring. Even when they hadn't been using their full strength against challengers they had proven to be on an entirely different level than the Elite Four. They were worth a hundred trainers each.

But one last explosion tore through the building, blasting an even larger hole in the wall on a different side of the warehouse. Ash managed to spy several shapes sprinting out of the improvised exit before he whistled to Plume. When he gave her the signal she dived towards the Rockets with a fierce shriek.

They didn't have any pokemon, so the criminals were helpless to resist Plume as she flapped her powerful wings and sent a huge gale of wind into the Rockets. The three uniformed men shouted in surprise as they were sent to the ground with crushing force. Plume sent another gust into their collapsed forms for good measure before tearing back up into the air with a single flap of her wings.

Ash grinned at his friend before snapping his head back to the original entrance. He saw a slight, hazy form slipping out of it from the corner of his eye.

He squinted and prepared to give Nidorino an order. But then he looked at the haughty, aristocratic face of the fleeing man and froze.

Pierce was running away from the warehouse and hadn't even noticed him.

For a moment Ash couldn't think. He could just feel the icy waters of the roaring ocean pulling him deeper, the putrid stench of the muk enveloping him and burning him with its toxic, acidic body. He shuddered before snapping his eyes open and scowling. It was time for Pierce to be the weak one.

"Disable! Thunderbolt!" He roared, anger taking over. Pierce was alerted to him now and released three pokemon before any of Ash's friends could do anything.

A monstrous, feral-looking umbreon leapt in front of Dazed's vision, its dark-typing allowing it to absorb the disable with no ill effect. It snarled and bared long, needle-like fangs. The yellow rings that adorned its body glowed brightly and its red eyes gleamed with savagery and maliciousness.

The next pokemon was a dark purple, round, bipedal shadow. It hovered just a bit above the ground with its legs pointed downward. Its bloody, scarlet eyes seemed to grow darker when it spied Ash and the other pokemon and shadows coalesced around its floating form. The gengar grinned broadly, a wide row of razor-sharp fangs suddenly appearing in its face.

The last was one that Ash had intimate experience with. His face paled and he stumbled backwards as the gigantic muk appeared. It poisoned the ground around it, not exercising the least bit of control to prevent such horrific damage to the earth. Its blank eyes looked off into space, not caring about its surroundings in the least.

Muk easily absorbed the thunderbolt, the electricity doing little to its thick, oozing form.

"I don't care who this is – kill them." Pierce said calmly, no fear or anxiety about the destruction of his warehouse showing. "Golbat, get me out of here."

A golbat suddenly swooped down and landed near his feet in a slavish manner. Pierce didn't even spare Ash a glance before climbing on. Golbat quickly took off, dodging Nidorino's automatic thunderbolt.

Ash grit his teeth in frustration when Pierce began to lift off, but he grinned in satisfaction when Plume suddenly swooped into the flying bat, raking its sides with her large, sharp talons and slamming it to the ground with a blast of air.

Pierce kicked his golbat in disgust when he got up and eyed Plume in annoyance. "I don't know who you are, but I suggest that you leave. I will not hesitate to kill you and your pokemon."

The trainer stepped out of the trees and shadows, looking the man he feared the most straight in the eye. "I'm not going to let you go. Not after what you've done."

Ash scowled at the Executive and twisted his hat around. He would need the additional visibility.

Pierce stared at him oddly for a moment as he strode over to a safe area behind his pokemon, apparently fine from his crash other than a bit of dirt and dust on his clothing.

A slight glimpse of recognition worked its way into the man's cold, dispassionate eyes. They glinted in an amused sort of interest. "Ah, yes. The boy. Where are your friends? I was hoping to wring the other boy's neck personally." He sighed in faux sympathy. "It would have been a much kinder fate than allowing muk to eat you."

Ash clenched his fists, not willing to let Pierce goad him anymore. "Psychic!"

Dazed reacted quickly to the order, suddenly appearing in the tree line and blasting a huge wave of telekinetic force at the opposing pokemon. Umbreon snarled and jumped in the way of the blast that would have hit Pierce. The psychic energy was easily absorbed by the ferocious dark-type and what remained only clipped Pierce and sent him stumbling. Muk was caught by a great deal of the blast, however, and groaned in pain as it was sent flying into the side of the warehouse. Gengar grinned before disappearing, suddenly popping out in Pierce's shadow.

Pierce snarled at him, the icy composure that Ash had come to associate with the man breaking. He was acting like he had back when Jonathan had insulted him in the heart of Mt. Moon.

"Kill them!" He roared, cold eyes growing hot and hateful. "Umbreon, tear out that runt's throat!"

Umbreon's rings glowed a bright, sickly yellow as it bared its long fangs at Ash. He glared back and met its hateful scarlet eyes with his own brown. The canine snapped its jaws once before charging towards Ash, small shadows collecting around it.

It gave a furious snarl as it neared Ash, poisonous sweat leaking out of its body. Umbreon opened its jaws and suddenly leapt at Ash with deadly grace, only to be met with an angry Nidorino's ice beam mid leap. The feral dark-type yelped as it was slammed into the side of a tree by the ice beam before snarling and getting back up.

Ash's mind kicked into overdrive as he formulated strategies. He wasn't about to let Pierce or his deadly pokemon escape.

The first thing he did was to back away from the fight. He didn't want to be caught by any attacks. Pierce's pokemon would be aiming to kill, and his own would be fighting seriously. An accidental hit could seriously injure him.

The second was to match his pokemon to their best opponent. Nidorino was already entangled in a fierce battle with the Umbreon, jabbing his horn in an attempt to hold the dark-type away from Ash and Dazed. Ash didn't want to interfere in that battle. It was much too fierce and even a moment's distraction for Nidorino could give the quick, ruthless Umbreon an opening to go for the kill.

Dazed was still focusing on Muk, firing her psybeam at it with pinpoint accuracy. Ash was content to let her continue taking potshots at Muk, but he cried out for her to watch out when he saw a large, purplish shadow stalk towards her from the woods.

The psychic snapped around and raised a barrier just a moment before Gengar would have struck with its large, razor claws. Dazed's eyes glowed a bright blue as she engaged Gengar, keeping the shifting, agile ghost away from her.

"Tangela, sludge bomb on Umbreon." Ash ordered, speaking clearly so that the slower-witted Tangela would understand him. Tangela gave him an odd sort of chirp in response and turned towards Umbreon. His newest friend's vines suddenly withdrew a bit from around his hidden face as a glob of brown, noxious sludge was shot from inside the vines.

Ash grinned as the reeking, poisonous sludge slammed into Umbreon, giving it a dangerous dose of poison and sending it crashing to the ground. Nidorino didn't waste any time in taking the advantage, firing an ice beam into the fallen dark-type before charging towards it with his horn lowered.

He looked away as Nidorino slammed into Umbreon with incredible force. Ash tried to ignore the pitiful yelp that emerged from the snarling muzzle of the dark-type and focused on the rest of the battle.

Dazed and Gengar were still sparring with one another, each firing fast, precise attacks at the other in order to test their defenses. Gengar was on the run, but seemed to be effortlessly dodging her psybeams by phasing through trees and melting down into shadows in order to disappear. But he wasn't able to make a move in return, so Ash felt comfortable leaving her alone for now.

Muk, on the other hand, was a real problem. It was slowly making his way over to them with a wide, melting mouth open. A trail of highly toxic sludge was left in its wake, bubbling and releasing the smell of trash into the air.

Ash couldn't help but gag as the scent finally reached him. He'd thought the stench was bad in Mt. Moon. In the warm, tropical environment of the Sevii Islands the rotting smell of trash and decomposition was horribly amplified.

He made sure to breathe in through his mouth after that, although the sensation of actually tasting the Muk's scent was quite possibly even more disgusting. It at least let him focus on the battle, even though his eyes watered slightly from the putrid odor.

Muk slowly grew nearer, forcing Ash to make a move. Tangela was hardly the best choice Ash had to battle the large, powerful poison-type, but he just didn't have time to release Infernus.

"Stun spore, then use sleep powder." Ash ordered as he backpedalled from the approaching behemoth. Tangela kept by him at a safe distance, shaking his body and releasing a cloud of gold-orange powder from beneath his vines at Muk. Muk slowed down as the spores touched its large, toxic body, but the orange spores were melted by the sheer acidity of its body. The sleep powder met a similar fate.

Ash grimaced as he ran out of options. Dazed would be the ideal choice to help him, but a cursory glance towards her revealed that she was still locked in a fierce battle with Gengar, although she seemed to have the edge now. A psybeam appeared to have hit Gengar, disrupting its abilities and hurting it badly. It was moving slower now, although it seemed much more aggressive.

Plume couldn't do anything against the amorphous blob of toxins. She just didn't have the power to knock it back or do anything to it. Even touching it would cause her to be severely poisoned, so a distraction attempt was out.

"Stun spore." He ordered again. Tangela loyally followed his order and shook his body, releasing more of the orange spores. They settled on Muk, slowing the monster and giving Ash enough time to release his saving grace.

Infernus roared in fury when he was released, realizing the danger that they were in. He didn't bother wasting the flames that erupted with his roar into the sky, instead directing the stream into Muk. The noxious poison-type bubbled and gurgled in pain under the intense heat, but continued advancing even as its toxic body slowly evaporated into the atmosphere.

"Flamethrower!" Ash ordered calmly, not letting the panic go to his head. "Follow with fire punch."

That was all he could get out before Tangela suddenly grabbed him with two long, blue vines. Ash squirmed in surprise as his newest friend placed a vine in front of his mouth and nostrils as the poisonous gas released from Muk's body slowly advanced towards Ash.

It drew near and Ash stopped struggling, realizing what Tangela was trying to do. Infernus blasted Muk with a flamethrower, his robust constitution allowing him to ignore the worst effects of the poison. Temporarily, anyways.

As the toxic fumes grew closer, Plume dived down from high in the sky and flapped her wings. She shrieked her success when the majority of the gas was blown into the forest, far from the fierce battle raging in the corner of the meadow.

Infernus continued his long blast of flame on Muk as he advanced, holding none of his power back and preparing to end the fight. Ash realized that Infernus had the situation handled and glanced over to Dazed.

Dazed was on the defensive now. Gengar was flitting from shadow to shadow, visible only thanks to its distinctive coloration, scarlet eyes and wide, bloodthirsty grin. It hurled shadow balls at Dazed at an awe-inspiring rate, the dark, ghostly orbs of energy quickly shattering whatever psychic shields she set up in order to avoid the blasts.

"Do you know if you can hold onto Gengar with your vines?" Ash asked Tangela. The grass-type looked confused by the question for a few moments before happily nodding. "Could you catch it from here? Dazed just needs a few moments to take it down. Try to take some of its energy with absorb."

Tangela happily bounced up and down before releasing two of its vines. They grew to an incredible length before snapping towards Gengar with unnatural speed. Ash couldn't even see them blur as they caught the bloodthirsty ghost and restrained it, wrapping around its small limbs and binding them together.

Gengar released a hiss that was audible from where Ash was standing before beginning his struggle. It tried to melt into an incorporeal shadow, but Tangela's long vines suddenly tightened and began to glow a bright green. Ash recognized it as the absorb he'd ordered.

The ghost briefly fell limp as a massive surge of energy was sucked away by Tangela's probing vines, but when Dazed's eyes flashed a bright blue and a high-powered psychic blasted into it, Gengar frantically tried to tear away from the trap it found itself in, but it could do nothing before the psychic tore through its shadowy body and knocked it unconscious.

Ash gently patted Tangela on the head for his work and thanked him before he turned to Dazed. "Make sure Pierce doesn't get away!"

Dazed nodded and shuffled towards Pierce with her pendulum gently swaying, seductively attracting attention to itself and the calming psychic energy it released. The Executive seemed nervous for the first time since he'd met the criminal and had a hand tapping at one last pokeball around his waist. Ash was satisfied that Pierce wouldn't escape in the confusion and looked towards Infernus and Muk.

Infernus still hadn't let up on the flamethrower. Muk seemed to have lost half of his mass in the form of toxic gas, but Plume dove down from the clouds every now and then to blow it away before it could hurt any of them.

Finally, the fire-type let go of the flamethrower and rushed towards Muk with a burning fist. Muk squelched as the fist impacted it and reared up. Ash frowned in concern when he realized that Infernus' fire punch had gotten stuck in Muk's thick, gelatinous body, leaving Infernus completely helpless to any other attacks.

Muk reared up as high as it could despite its reduced size and mass and surged towards Infernus. Infernus was nearly covered by the large body of Muk before punching it again and forcing it off. Unfortunately that left his other hand stuck in Muk's body.

Ash prepared to order Dazed to finish the fight and let Infernus go free, but Infernus had other ideas. He roared and spat a huge blast of flame in Muk's face, forcing the poison-type to shrink back. It still kept Infernus' hands securely imprisoned in its sludgy body and pulled the fire-type down with it.

Muk oozed onto Infernus when the fire-type fell, enveloping and smothering Ash's friend.

"Infernus!" Ash cried as he saw his friend disappear under the still-huge body of Muk. He started forward, but a restraining vine from Tangela kept him from running over to his friend. The trainer snarled in anger and looked towards Dazed. "Psy—"

Muk began to bubble. It opened its mouth in pain and concern before looking down with its beady black eyes, the only things on its body that weren't toxic or sludge. A familiar, burning hand suddenly plunged up through its back, tearing a hole in its thick body.

A second one followed. Both slowly burned brighter and more intense until Ash could feel their incredible heat. He had to turn his head after just a few moments. It felt as though he were sitting right next to a bonfire.

Muk's body bubbled more and more, but it wasn't until both arms shot up through its body, ablaze with bright white and orange flame, that Muk exploded. What mass hadn't been lost in the form of gas was shot throughout the entire meadow in small chunks of moving, wriggling sludge.

Ash looked in both awe and horror as Infernus pulled himself up from the remnants of Muk, still covered in the toxic sludge and looking tired for the first time that Ash could remember. He stamped his foot and caused lava to burst up around him before he let loose a proud, victorious roar. A huge stream of flame crackled into the sky, burning some of the sludge on Infernus' head.

Infernus suddenly flared up, melting off the rest of Muk before proudly accepting Ash's congratulations. Ash grinned at his friend and praised him for the battle.

If Infernus had caused any pokemon other than that Muk to explode, Ash would have been horrified. It was a cruel, horrible death for even the worst of creatures. But in a muk's case, such an attack wasn't lethal. The explosion was painful, true, and greatly weakened the muk for a long time to come, but muk were interesting creatures. They were alive in an odd way alien to most living organisms. By being destroyed, they separated into many grimer.

Most of the grimer were small and practically defenseless, but it was more than possible for them to come together and form into a new, larger grimer or even a full muk. But it would be a completely different organism than the one that had been destroyed. Fission like that destroyed the original's identity, giving birth to many new organisms.

So, while Infernus had killed the Muk that haunted Ash's dreams, he had just given birth to many new organisms. They would have to be captured soon to prevent any ecological damage from occurring thanks to the inexperienced grimer, but Ash thought it was the best fate that could have happened. Whatever damage and torments Team Rocket had wrought upon Muk for it to become so aggressive and hateful would be gone forever, left in the past for the new population of grimer.

Ash focused his attention on Pierce. The man was blank-eyed and calm, but it didn't seem like he was really hypnotized. He had seen people hypnotized by a hypno before in Mt. Moon and in the form of the Rockets that had taken over Knot Island, but Pierce wasn't perfectly calm. The Executive had too much nervous energy about him.

He narrowed his eyes and glanced at Dazed. She looked perfectly fine, so what could –

A vine suddenly pushed him to the ground. Ash yelped in surprise and looked over up at Tangela from his fallen position. The grass-type stood in front of him bravely, a bloody, furious Umbreon captured in his vines. Umbreon snapped his jaws on one of the vines holding him, cutting the vine off, but Tangela barely seemed to notice.

The dark-type tried to lunge at Ash from inside the web of vines Tangela had bound it in, but the wriggling vines simply grew tighter and immobilized it. Umbreon continued to glow brightly and snarl and spit poisonous saliva and sweat at Ash, but the trainer was completely safe.

Ash quickly pulled himself back and stumbled away from the twisting and snarling Umbreon, staring at the bloody creature in horror. Umbreon was clearly injured – Ash could see that its side was stained a dark red and one of its long, narrow ears looked torn – but it didn't seem injured enough for that much blood.

His mind was instantly alit with fears of what the feral monster might have done to Nidorino. Ash felt immeasurable guilt swell up in him when he realized that he hadn't checked on his first friend after the first phase of fight, knowing that he might have consigned his friend to a horrible fate.

He clenched his fists and glanced at Umbreon with hateful eyes before glancing at Pierce. The Executive was no longer feigning hypnosis. Pierce had a small smirk on his face, matching the cold persona that Ash had grown familiar with far better than the psychotic, murderous look he'd worn during the beginning of the fight.

"Knock it out." He said tightly, not letting any of his fear or horror into his voice. Ash couldn't let Pierce know that he'd gotten to him. Tangela gurgled in reply and quickly sucked out all of Umbreon's energy, leaving the feral canine limp in his vines. The grass-type casually tossed the unconscious Umbreon aside, letting the dark-type fall to the ground heavily.

Ash gritted his teeth as he looked around for Nidorino. He couldn't see him in the immediate area, so he whistled for Plume. His friend swooped down from her lofty position and circled around the air about twenty feet above him.

"Find Nidorino and make sure he's safe." Ash called up to her, making his voice just quiet enough so that Pierce wouldn't be able to hear very well. Plume shrieked her understanding before taking off in search of their endangered comrade.

He glanced over at Tangela again. The grass-type was attentively watching him with a cocked head. "Use stun spore on Umbreon and come with me." Ash looked over at Infernus. "Come with me. We need to make sure Pierce doesn't get away."

Infernus tensed up at the name and something, fear, perhaps, no matter how alien the emotion was on Infernus, shot through his eyes. Ash frowned at that, but Infernus loyally walked ahead of him as he neared the frozen Executive.

"Don't try anything." Ash warned. Pierce just stared directly ahead, feigning hypnosis again. "Or I'll have Da—"

Pierce moved fast, so fast that Ash had no time to react. He plucked his last pokeball off of his belt and released whatever tormented monster slumbered within. Dazed tried to move, but whatever was in that pokeball was powerful enough to break her psybeam before she even used it.

Ash yelped in surprise when a metagross burst into the meadow, taking a good portion of the available space up with its incredible bulk. It gave the same cold, mechanical roar that Steven's Metagross had released before rearing up and slamming its front two legs onto the ground.

A massive earthquake ripped through the ground, leaving deep gouges and fissures in the earth. Ash was pulled away by Tangela just a moment before the deadly attack would have hit him. He nodded his thanks at the grass-type before focusing on the powerful pokemon that had taken over the field.

He didn't know much about metagross aside from the fact that they were amongst the most powerful pokemon in the world, native to Hoenn, around the same level of intelligence as an alakazam, and nigh invulnerable to physical attacks. Ash wasn't sure if he could take this monster of a pokemon down by himself. The Champions would be his saving grace if he wasn't strong enough.

But he wouldn't let Pierce walk over him. He would put up a fight, even if Metagross was probably strong enough to take on his entire team.

"Infernus, flamethrower!" Ash cried. Infernus pulled himself up from where he'd been knocked over and roared before following the command. A huge blast of flame burst from his mouth, streaming onto Metagross.

"Light screen." Pierce sneered. He looked over at Ash with a smirk. "You should run while you can! My dear cousin is still occupied in the warehouse and won't be able to save you this time."

Ash frowned in confusion. Cousin?

But he didn't have time to ponder it. The flamethrower had been nullified by Metagross' light screen, which appeared in the form of a bright, golden cube that simply absorbed the flames. Infernus was already rearing his head back to try again, but Ash stopped him with a shout.

"Fire spin. Blind Metagross." He commanded, stepping back from the battle. If Ash's next strategy worked right then it wouldn't be a good idea to stay around the battlers.

Infernus released a twister of orange flame at Metagross, heating the air up by an incredible degree. It didn't break upon the light screen as flamethrower had. Instead it encircled Metagross and swirled around it, completely blinding the steel-type and weakening it thanks to the intensity of the flames.

"Fire punch!" Ash ordered. He turned towards Tangela as Infernus' camouflage took effect, allowing the powerful fire-type to disappear into the roaring inferno and strike from anywhere. "Metagross is going to snuff out the fire spin. Can you hold it down when that happens?"

Tangela bounced up and down as he nodded. Ash grinned and patted him on the head. "Thanks."

Ash couldn't see anything beyond the swirling column of fire that engulfed Metagross other than a few glimpses of blue-gray steel, but a metallic roar showed him that Metagross must have been hit by the fire punch.

An instant later the light screen exploded outwards, carrying the flames with it. Most of the flames died before they could reach Ash, but a few white-hot cinders managed to survive. One hit Ash on the arm, causing the boy to hiss in pain and clutch at the small burn. He did his best to ignore the pain and focused on the fight.

Metagross was hurt by the fire spin and fire punch. It looked a bit less confident than it did before the battle began, but it still looked as though it could easily take on Ash's team.

"Beam spread." Pierce commanded in a casual manner before Ash's pokemon could counterattack. He was standing straight and tall, apparently uncaring of how the battle went. Ash wondered why he hadn't run yet, but figured that the Executive fully understood that there was no way he could escape without something that could teleport or fly. The Executive was probably just trying to take Ash down with him.

Ash didn't have to tell his pokemon to dodge whatever Metagross was about to do. He and his pokemon all leapt behind some sort of cover, mostly large, thick trees. He spotted Tangela using its vines to pull him up into the branches of a tree. A moment later, just as a huge sphere of pulsating white and gold energy formed in front of Metagross, Tangela yanked him up as well.

He recognized it as the beginning of a hyper beam, although Metagross seemed to be using its psychic abilities to hold the ball of hot energy in place as it grew and grew until it was much more powerful than it would be normally.

Metagross didn't seem to care that its targets had hidden. The hyper beam was suddenly released at full strength, but not in the way Ash had expected. Instead of a single large, powerful beam, the hyper beam was released as a hundred smaller ones. Each carried incredible power behind it, the focused energy capable of cutting through trees and stones as though they were paper.

The forest was left in ruins. A single one of the tiny hyper beams cut cleanly through an entire trunk and possessed enough power to carve through several trees before fizzling out. Everywhere around them the trees were collapsing and smoking from the immense heat and energy of the hyper beam. Ash's own tree wasn't fortunate enough to escape, but Tangela pulled him down as the grass-type left the tree. He managed to spy Infernus nursing a wound to the shoulder in the midst of the chaos, but he thought that Infernus would be fine. His friend had taken worse than a hyper beam.

While it had done some damage – the modified hyper beam had reduced the forest to fallen timber and had caused several dozen neat, molten holes in the side of the steel warehouse as well as the damage to Infernus – the hyper beam left Metagross completely exhausted. Pierce seemed to be fruitlessly searching for their bodies amongst the fallen trees and smoke, but he wouldn't be finding anything.

The deadly attack had made Ash's next strategy much easier. Metagross would be helpless as it recovered from the incredible strain the hyper beam placed upon its body, so Ash was going to take full advantage of it.

"Shadow ball, flamethrower, smokescreen, leaf storm!" Ash cried out breathlessly, speaking as fast as he could. His friends needed as much time as they could get.

A forgotten player in the battle suddenly made her presence known. Dazed blasted her powerful shadow ball into Metagross' side from her hidden position in the forest. Its energies disoriented the psychic-type and caused immense pain for Metagross, adding an additional effect upon the exhaustion the hyper beam brought upon it.

Infernus refused to let his injured shoulder hold him back and released the most powerful flamethrower Ash had ever seen from him, pouring all of his remaining power and fury into it. The massive cone of white flame washed over Metagross, the sheer power of the blast not inhibited in any form.

Before the flamethrower had even finished, Tangela shook his body and released dozens of green, glowing leaves surround him, carried by a cyclone. They shuddered for a moment before the cyclone carried the razor-sharp leaves towards Metagross at an incredible speed.

While such an attack wouldn't ordinarily do much damage to Metagross, the flamethrower had served to soften and melt some of Metagross' nigh invulnerable body. It would quickly harden again, but the leaf storm had been fired soon enough so that it did some real damage.

Infernus staggered towards Metagross with a feeble roar before he spewed out a huge cloud of black, oily smoke. Ash was at enough of an angle to where he could still see Metagross, although the right half of its huge body was still obscured from his vision.

From what he could see, the barrage of attacks had done quite a bit to the titan. Metagross looked to be in terrible pain from the shadow ball and flamethrower and slowly staggered upwards, having finally recovered from the hyper beam.

There was no worry in Pierce's voice as he gave a string of commands to Metagross. He seemed almost bored. "Evasive Attack Combination."

Metagross screeched in return, the high-pitched sound grating on Ash's ears. Ash blinked as he suddenly realized that there were four Metagross staring his friends down, each blurry and indistinct. A light blue aura of psychic energy covered each of them and they rushed towards the exhausted magmar at a terrifying speed that a gigantic steel monster should never reach.

None of them had time to react before the four Metagross rushed in on Infernus. Ash didn't even have time to blink before Metagross reached his friend. All he could make out was a raised arm that shined a brilliant white before coming down on Infernus' body, golden star-shaped particles blasting into the air as the huge metal claw crushed Infernus, sending the fire-type slamming into the ground with horrible force..

Ash blinked before a horrible rage overcame him. Infernus was crumpled on the ground, hot blood steaming and pooling from the large wound the attack had given him onto the ground. From what he could see the attack hadn't done any serious damage, but it had knocked Infernus unconscious and had hurt his friend. The severity of the wound mattered little to Ash when rage pounded through his head and his vision pulsed red.

"Shadow ball!" He roared to Dazed. "Tangela, hold it down!"

"Hyper beam." Pierce said lazily. He was haughtily standing up with a smirk on his face, amused at Ash's anger. "Full power. Kill the runt. You can take the shadow ball." The Executive seemed annoyed at some unspoken signal, however. "Yes, I'm sure! Just kill him!"

Metagross roared in reply and stared directly at Ash with its cold red eyes. He thought he could see a hint of remorse in its eyes before it prepared the attack. Ash blinked in fear as a sphere of churning red and gold energy formed in front of its face, the steel-type too fast for him to react in the least. Even Tangela was unable to pull him out of the way before the lethal hyper beam flashed towards him.

But a perfectly aimed ball of shadowy energy collided with the hyper beam midway through its journey, stopping the attack in its tracks. As the attacks met, a huge explosion occurred, hurling Ash and Tangela several feet back from the sheer force behind the blast.

Ash groaned and sat up, his ears ringing. He blinked sluggishly and looked at the exhausted Metagross. The strain of firing so many hyper beams in such a short amount of time weighed heavily upon the steel-type and it was helpless to resist as another shadow ball hurled by Dazed slammed into it, knocking the immense beast to the ground.

His perception was skewed, but he thought he saw relief in Metagross' eyes before it was thrown back by another shadow ball. It tried to pull itself back up, but it was a half-hearted effort. Dazed ruthlessly hurled more and more shadow balls at the incredibly powerful and resilient pokemon, preventing it from carrying out any of the commands Pierce was calmly giving it.

Ash began to pull himself up as Metagross was hit by one last shadow ball, this one finishing the immensely powerful steel-type off. It crashed to the ground unconscious, causing the ground to tremble.

He was assisted by two helpful vines that supported him as he stumbled towards Infernus. Ash was barely aware of his own injuries, although he still knew of them.

From what he could feel he would be badly bruised the next day. His mouth tasted like dirt and grime and his face felt like it had a heavy covering of ash on it. Ash didn't care, though. He just collapsed next to Infernus, examining his friend's wound with furious eyes.

"Dazed, use psybeam on Pierce!" He shouted. It wouldn't kill the Executive that had done this and so many other horrible things, but it would make him feel just a fraction of the pain his victims did.

Ash saw Pierce cry out in pain, real emotion and hurt on his face for the first time Ash had ever seen. Pierce slumped to the ground as Dazed sent another, weaker psybeam at him for good measure, the weak psychic attack blasting him onto his back.

He barely cared anymore. Ash just lightly touched Infernus for the first time, ignoring the hot pain coursing through his hands from Infernus' uncontrolled body heat. The trainer took most of his hand off when it grew too intense even for him but kept on staring at his friend's injury.

Infernus was hurt. He had a large gash on the center of his chest where the powerful attack Metagross had used impacted and blood was dribbling from the wound. A neat hole was burned into his shoulder, not going all the way through but coming close. Ash blinked and stared at both wounds in horror for a few moments before his sense returned to him.

Ash fumbled for Infernus' pokeball to return the injured pokemon. But even as he set his finger on the button that would return his friend to stasis, Infernus awoke slightly and blinked at Ash, reaching up for the trainer before collapsing again. He was returned a second later, out of his pain for a while.

He warily stood up, sending a glare at Pierce – who Dazed had disabled while Ash examined Infernus – before leaning on one of the few trees still standing after Metagross' devastating attack. The trainer gratefully accepted Tangela's support and let the grass-type prop him up.

He knew just how much this battle had cost him. Infernus was badly hurt, Dazed had come close to being eviscerated by Gengar, and Nidorino was still somewhere, probably hurt and possibly…no. That couldn't have happened. Nidorino was more than strong enough to take on that Umbreon. His friend was too tough to be…that.

Ash was suddenly aware of a gentle presence that prodded at his mind. He opened the eyes that he had unconsciously closed and stared at the bright blue form of Saph. The dragonair gently cooed at him and floated towards him before wrapping him up in its comforting coils.

Tangela hopped up and down and tried to hug Ash through the dragon's coils. Ash smiled at both of them but it slipped away when he looked at the familiar, limping form of Lance.

The Champion had a frown on his face as he surveyed the devastation, but his entire body tightened with anger when he saw Pierce. "Dragonite, get Steven. We found him."

Lance didn't waste time on the Executive once Dragonite had taken off. He walked over to Ash with a remorseful expression on his face.

"Are you okay?" The Champion asked worriedly. He put a hand on Ash's shoulder and kneeled in front of him. "What did Pierce do to you?"

"I'm fine." Ash replied stonily, still a little dazed from the explosion. "My pokemon, though…"

The Champion frowned and stood up. He released an immense pokemon, although it was smaller than dragonite. Ash looked at it through hazy eyes, noting that its stone was grey and rocky, but it had wings and looked like some sort of small dragon.

"Ash, what pokemon are you missing?"

Ash blinked before responding. "Nidorino got separated from me during the fight." Ash said guiltily. "My pidgeot is looking for him right now."

Lance nodded and glanced at the large stone beast. "Aerodactyl, go look for his Nidorino. Help his pidgeot bring it back safely."

Aerodactyl gave a low, rumbling growl before taking off, his large wings somehow supporting its massive weight. Ash watched it fly off, realizing that he'd seen that kind of pokemon before in a news article. It was one of the ancient, extinct pokemon that had been successfully cloned.

Those ancient pokemon were still incredibly rare, but they had been given immune systems that allowed them to survive in this new world. He never thought he'd see one in person, although he supposed it would make sense for the Champion to have access to such a rare pokemon.

"Listen, everything's going to be fine." Lance said soothingly. "Nidorino are tough. Yours is particularly powerful from what I've seen."

Ash nodded, still numb. His ears were ringing and everything Lance said seemed just a bit fuzzy and indistinct. But he could understand it well enough, even if it was hard to concentrate on what the Champion was saying.

Lance suddenly turned his head and called out to a newcomer. Ash followed his gaze and made out the furious form of Steven, his gigantic Metagross that positively dwarfed Pierce's floating behind him with a matching expression.

Steven stormed over to Ash, the angry expression fading into that of a worried one. "What happened?"

"Pierce's Metagross fired a hyper beam. Dazed intercepted it with a shadow ball. I got his by the explosion." Ash said, stumbling over his words a bit. Steven's face darkened at the mention of Pierce's Metagross but he was too concerned about Ash to do anything other than nod at the fallen man. Metagross quickly floated over to the Executive and stood on top of him.

"Lance, he needs to get to a Pokemon Center. Can Saph take him?"

The Indigo Champion nodded and looked at Saph. "You heard Steven. The Pokemon Center on this island can take care of him and his pokemon.

Saph crooned at Lance in understanding and uncoiled from around Ash, although it made sure that Tangela could keep him standing before doing so. Ash pulled himself up tiredly before looking at Lance with a curious expression.

"What about Nidorino?" Ash asked worriedly. "I need to get him and Plume."

"I'll take care of them." Steven said. "Just give me their pokeballs and I'll make sure they're safe."

Lance decided to interject. "I have several full restores on me at the moment." He explained. "Nidorino will be fine, I promise."

Ash wasn't happy about it, but he trusted the Champions. He took Plume and Nidorino's pokeballs off of his belt and handed them to Steven. The Master carefully took them and placed them on several additional slots on his belt.

"They're in good hands." Lance assured him as Ash returned Tangela and Dazed and climbed onto the waiting dragonair's back. Saph's small wings suddenly grew several sizes and the dragon-type began levitating in preparation to fly. Her scales were smooth but it was easy to securely hang onto her.

Lance walked over and spoke one last time to Ash before the young trainer was taken away. "You did great." He said approvingly. "Not many people could have taken down Pierce. I'm glad we brought you along."

Ash grinned at the praise before Saph took off, levitating just a bit higher before beginning to fly in earnest. She was careful and did nothing that might knock Ash off or even make him uncomfortable.

They quickly gained altitude. Ash's stomach lurched when he looked down, but after a few movements he calmed down. Saph's soothing aura helped him to lose some of the fear he felt at being up so high, enabling him to look down at the vast forest of Chronos Island without feeling any fainter than he already was.

He spotted several groups of people dressed in League uniforms rushing towards the Rocket warehouse as they passed over the forest. They were only flitting glances and he was too high up to make out any details, but he was just glad that they were there. At least there were enough of them to make sure none of the Rockets escaped.

Ash wasn't sure how long they spent flying, but after a while they began their descent. Saph was travelling at an incredible speed if the massive expanse of forest behind them was anything to go by, but she somehow kept the air from buffeting Ash. In fact, the winds seemed almost nonexistent. Perhaps she was manipulating the weather.

Saph carefully and quickly guided them down into the small town on Chronos Island. It was much larger than the one on Knot Island, but was still positively tiny compared to any of the great cities or towns of Kanto. Ash thought it was possibly the size of Viridian City, probably quite a bit smaller.

But that didn't matter. Saph knew exactly where to go. She gently landed right in front of a Pokemon Center. A Nurse Joy and several other workers were waiting in front of it. Nurse Joy quickly helpled him off of Saph, keeping him steady.

"Thanks." He directed towards Nurse Joy and Saph. The large dragon-type crooned her response at him before taking off again, probably heading back to the warehouse. She vanished in just a few seconds, no longer restricted by Ash's safety.

"Sam, take his pokemon." Nurse Joy ordered in a no-nonsense tone. A boy a few years older than Ash quickly removed the pokeballs from his waist. "You, what pokemon of yours are injured? The Champion was rather urgent."

Ash answered quickly, a sudden bout of clarity striking him in order to help his friends. "My magmar has a hole in his shoulder and got his by a meteor mash from a metagross. I don't think any of my other pokemon are hurt too badly."

Nurse Joy gave a sigh of relief and gently pulled him into the Pokemon Center. She guided the injured trainer through several hallways before reaching a room. He was put into a small bed before Nurse Joy began to rapidly do a bunch of things that Ash couldn't follow.

"This might hurt a bit." She warned. Ash didn't have a chance to see what she was doing before a sharp pain spiked in his hand. He winced but didn't try to get away from the needle she'd stabbed him with. A few moments later his vision faded and dimmed before cutting to black.

XX

Ash awoke an indeterminate amount of time later. He was sore all over, but his ears were completely fine. They weren't pounding with pain or ringing anymore, which was a great step up from the last time he'd been conscious.

He looked around curiously. Ash remembered being pulled into a Pokemon Center before being given the anesthetic, and this room definitely gave credence to that memory. It was just an average Pokemon Center room, albeit one with emergency medical equipment thrown up.

When he tried to move his hand, he felt a sharp pain. Ash hissed and immediately let himself fall back down. He looked at his left hand and saw that it had a needle stuck into it, feeding some sort of liquid into his body.

Ash frowned, but didn't try to get back up. Whatever was getting pumped into him was there for a reason. Besides, he was sore all over. Even the slightest motion sent pangs of pain throughout his body.

So he waited, worried about the fate of his friends. Infernus would probably be fine, but there were all kinds of things that could go wrong when an attack that powerful hit. He just couldn't get that niggling worry out of his head.

It was Nidorino that he was really worried about. He at least knew what happened to Infernus. Nidorino had been pulled away before he got into the real fight with the savage Umbreon. Ash had no idea how bad his injuries were, but they had to have been bad enough to leave some of the blood that matted Umbreon's fur. What really struck Ash about the danger Nidorino was in was that Umbreon had gotten away from him. Nidorino was far too stubborn and protective to let the dangerous dark-type anywhere near Ash.

But Ash still held onto his hope. Like Lance had said, Nidorino was tough. He would pull through.

He was suddenly pulled from his thoughts as the light wooden door was carefully opened. Two figures that he instantly recognized as the Champions stepped through. Their expressions were both hard, but they lightened up when they saw that Ash was awake.

"And the hero's awake!" Lance said loudly. He was grinning maniacally. "Damn good job, Ash! Like I said before, I'm glad we brought you. Pierce is now secured behind bars. He won't be getting broken out anytime soon!"

Ash gave the boisterous Champion a small grin. It made his face feel sore, but it was worth it. He was glad to have earned his hero's approval. But Steven was different. The former Champion obviously thought that Lance's praise was more than enough and looked at Ash with a critical expression, obviously worried.

"How are you feeling?" Steven asked. He looked completely fine, untouched from the storming of the warehouse. The former Champion walked over to Ash and handed him a water bottle. "You've been kept hydrated for the last three hours." He explained. "But I know from experience that it doesn't help with your throat."

Ash nodded his thanks towards him before taking small sips of water. He knew that if he tried to take huge gulps that he would end up regretting it later. When he finally had enough to sooth the slight burn in his throat Ash replied to the patiently waiting Steven.

"I'm fine." Ash said. It wasn't a complete lie. He was sore and bruised, but that was to be expected. He could easily get over that. What mattered right now was his pokemon. "Did you find Nidorino? How's my magmar?"

Lance took over. "Calm down there, Ash. We found Nidorino. He was hurt, but he'll be fine. Your magmar is already healed. It took four doses of full restores, but all the damage was healed."

Ash sighed in relief. "How badly was Nidorino hurt?" He asked worriedly. Even if his friend would be fine, he wanted to know what Nidorino had been put through.

Steven frowned, a shadow flashing over his face. "He was savaged by Pierce's Umbreon. It looked like he dealt just as much back, but Nidorino was knocked out. He had a few broken bones and some bad bites. They're working on him now."

The trainer crashed back down to the bed. He suspected that Steven wasn't going into the worst details in order to avoid upsetting him, but what he'd been given was enough. Ash scowled and looked at the ceiling before asking some more questions.

"What injuries do I have?"

"Nothing major." Steven said calmly, but a flash of restrained anger burned through his face as he described the injuries. "A few lacerations and gashes on your arms and chest. You had a few minor burns and severe bruising on the front of your body. Everything but the bruising has been fixed. You're going to be sensitive and a bit weak for the next few days, but aside from that you'll be fine."

Ash sighed in relief, but froze after that. He'd had a lot of work done. Just how long had he been unconscious. When he voiced those thoughts, Steven smiled.

"Just five hours."

The trainer looked at the former Champion quizzically, unable to believe that. He didn't even feel any cuts or stitches, let alone gauze or anything else for the burns.

Steven seemed to understand his confused expression. "You only had minor injuries. Nurse Joy just had to stitch you up and put some modified potion on your cuts. About an hour later it had healed enough for the stitches to dissolve. She just used a modified burn heal for everything else. Unorthodox, but it works. Your bruising was the only thing she couldn't fix."

Ash nodded. He didn't have any more questions relating to his pokemon's injuries or his own. But he still had a few things to ask about the battle itself. "How did your battle go?"

Lance suddenly made his presence known again, dominating the room with his loud, powerful voice. "It was child's play!" He boomed, no longer serious as he had been during the operation. "A few more Rockets than we'd expected, but it was child's play for Dragonite and Metagross!"

The bedridden trainer cocked his head. "But you were expecting about eighty grunts."

"Exactly!" Lance laughed, the same maniacal grin on his face. His cape lightly flapped from the small breeze coming through an open window as he continued grinning. It seemed that their victory had made him quite excited. "They were almost boring to fight. Most of them just tried to run after we defeated their pokemon. Those grunts weren't even good distractions for Pierce."

Ash scowled at the mention of Pierce. The Executive might be behind bars now, but Ash would hate him with a burning passion for the rest of his life. Pierce had ended and ruined too many lives for him to just vanish out of Ash's memory.

"The Rockets have been sent back to Indigo Plateau." Steven said calmly. "They are awaiting trials at the moment. Their pokemon are being rehabilitated."

"What's happening with Pierce?" Ash asked. The grunts were just a minor problem in comparison to the man that had destroyed the St. Anne and left thousands to die. "And his pokemon, for that matter."

Steven frowned thoughtfully and leaned back in the chair he had taken. His hands were clasped together as he spoke. "Pierce is actually being sent back to Hoenn. He's too valuable for the Rockets to not attempt a rescue attempt and they don't have enough of a presence in Hoenn to try one."

"Back?" Ash questioned.

"He came from Hoenn." Steven admitted, his eyes glinting with anger at the thought of Pierce. "That's why we have first dibs on him. He's one of ours, and we're taking him back."

Ash frowned. He could understand their reasons for taking him back to Hoenn, but he wanted Pierce to pay for his atrocities in Kanto. The people of Kanto were the ones he had terrorized. Still, justice was justice. They were all united against Team Rocket, after all.

They were silent for a while until Lance spoke up. He had a slight smile on his face. "By the way, don't think you aren't getting rewarded for your work. You kept one of the worst criminals in Kanto from escaping and played a vital role in battling Team Rocket."

He leaned forward curiously. Ash was never averse to an award.

"I just added forty thousand dollars to your trainer card." Lance said, grinning wider at Ash's stunned expression. That was twice as much money as he'd made in his entire career so far, and he'd battled more trainers in a few months than most did in a year. "That about a tenth of the money we've recovered so far at the warehouse, so I thought it would only be fair to give you it."

"Thanks!" Ash said in a daze, stunned at the reward. Lance just smirked.

"Did you think that's all? Steven and I both have something for you as well."

Ash managed to pull himself up, curious as to what the Champions might have gotten him. Lance suddenly snickered. "We aren't giving it to you yet. You'll get it when we arrive at Cinnabar Island."

"When are we leaving?" He asked in a disappointed tone, annoyed at Lance for stringing him along.

"Tomorrow." Steven replied as he suddenly stood up. "You'll be ready to travel by noon and Nidorino will be stable enough to put into a pokeball."

While he was annoyed that he wouldn't be getting whatever it was the Champions were giving him right now, Ash was more focused on the fact that Nidorino would be healed by tomorrow. From the injuries Steven had described he'd expected Nidorino to stay in the Pokemon Center for at least two days.

Ash suddenly felt tired. It had been lingering with him the entire time he'd been talking, but the excitement had made it come to the forefront of his mind. He collapsed back onto the bed.

"It looks like your painkillers are taking effect again." Steven said quietly. "We'll leave you to your rest now."

Lance gave him a grin and another bout of praise before leaving, cape trailing in his wake. Steven followed him moments later.

Before the former Hoenn Champion left, however, he glanced back at Ash. "You did better than I could have imagined. As Lance said, not many trainers could have taken down Pierce with only their pokemon. Keep on going, Ash. You're going somewhere."

With that Steven left Ash. Ash struggled to keep awake, but he couldn't fight the exhaustion for very long. Soon he fell into unconsciousness, getting some well-deserved rest.

XX

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