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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35. The Storm Part 2

Tangrowth hugged Ash before he waddled over to see what Sneasel was doing. Ash suspected that Tangrowth would have a new pastime if he realized that he could see his reflection in the mirror-like surface of the water. He'd grown out of climbing trees every chance he got.

"I've got some more TMs for you." He announced when his friends had focused their attention onto him. Ash figured that he'd tell them about the reactivated TMs when they had gotten used to the ones he had already bought for them. It was dangerous to upload more than two or three TMs at once to a pokemon, and he really didn't want them to focus on learning to use more than one move at once.

The news excited his friends, which wasn't particularly surprising. Most of them had learned the most powerful moves that they would learn naturally in the wild, and the easy addition to their repertoire of attacks would provide them a quick boost in strength.

Ash hurried up and removed the TM case so that things could progress. He glanced up and gave Nidoking a nod before he recalled his friend. The process was quick now that he had performed it several times before, so in just a few seconds Nidoking's pokeball was placed securely into the case's indention.

It glowed a violent purple as the data from the TM was transferred into Nidoking's mind. When the glow of the Poison Jab disk faded away into nothingness, Ash removed Nidoking's pokeball and let his friend out. Nidoking crushed his claws together and grinned as he felt the new knowledge slither through his thoughts.

Next was Plume. Her pokeball glowed a dark, metallic silver for several seconds as she learned Steel Wing. Ash was rather anxious to see just how powerful she could make it. If Plume was able to get some momentum behind her attack, he doubted that even a Rhydon would be able to stand up to her.

Ash went ahead and recalled Torrent. When he was buying TMs he hadn't thought that the dragon-type would receive one, but now that he'd reactivated some his decision had changed.

Torrent's pokeball glowed a light, icy blue as Ice Beam was transferred into his mind. Ash figured that Ice Beam would give him a bit more versatility. Blizzard was all well and good, but it focused too much on brute power and the sheer area it could affect rather than precision. In the Conference, Torrent would need precision against agile foes.

Dazed was after that. Her pokeball simply shined a pure white before he was able to recall it. Fighting-type moves based on the use of energy were much simpler for psychics to learn than the physical moves. It wasn't difficult for her to understand.

A small smile threatened to break his stoic expression as he recalled Infernus and placed him in the TM case. He was extremely glad he'd checked up on Infernus' moves before buying TMs. Ash would never have thought of using this TM on him otherwise.

Infernus' pokeball burned a soft, shining pink as the data for Teleport was transferred into his brain.

Ash laughed wildly when he saw the data take hold. It had actually worked! Infernus wouldn't be so vulnerable to long distance attacks anymore. He didn't expect Infernus to be able to use Teleport very often, but when he did it would be devastating. That kind of mobility would let him easily avoid attacks that would ordinarily hurt him badly, although, again, he expected Infernus to only be able to use it once or twice. His brain just hadn't developed to make use of active psychic powers.

Tangrowth gurgled happily before he was recalled. He knew enough to recognize that he would receive a new attack in a few moments. Ash quickly inserted the Solar Beam TM and watched as his friend's pokeball shined a bright green before returning to its ordinary coloration.

The grass-type hopped up and down excitedly when he was released, but calmed down when Ash raised a hand. "Slow down, buddy. We still need to test it out."

Nidoking stepped up when Ash nodded at him. "You know what to do. Poison Jab!"

His friend snarled and stepped forward. Nidoking's large, dull claws glowed purple as poison began to leak out of the surrounding flesh and covered them in a clear sheen of venom. A few drops of it fell onto the grass below, which rapidly turned brown and shriveled.

"Good." Ash said with satisfaction. He crossed his arms. Nidoking could technically learn the attack without a TM, but it was much easier this way. His body had simply developed to a point to where attacks his previous evolutions could learn were much more difficult to learn. The improvements on his physiology weren't without their drawbacks.

Ash glanced about the area for a sufficiently large boulder Plume could practice on. He laughed when he saw a familiar, deformed rock – the same one Infernus had practiced Brick Break on before he melted most of it. "Plume, Steel Wing."

Plume shrieked before she took to the air. Ash patiently waited, and he wasn't disappointed when he saw her large, powerful form in a blurred dive. Her wings were outstretched, and both glowed brightly with a fierce white light as she focused energy into them.

She carved straight through the boulder. Ash blinked in surprise as the top half went flying, spraying rubble and dust throughout the area as Plume took to the skies once more.

He hadn't expected it to be that powerful. It wouldn't do the same thing to a rock-type, of course, but at the very least it would let Plume actually hurt them. They wouldn't be practically invincible against the great bird anymore. She had a weapon.

"Good girl!" He called up. Plume shrieked back in joy, although she never came down. She simply circled high above them, exultant in her new strength. Ash looked over at Torrent. "Ice Beam on the boulder."

Ash shivered as all of the warmth in the area drained away. Torrent was covered in a veil of wispy frost as icy energy collected in front of his snout, his scarlet eyes bright and shining with glee at the amount of energy drawn into the attack. Infernus glanced up from his nap in annoyance and rapidly beat his tail to create some comforting warmth. He spat a bit of flame, but Nidoking casually stepped in front of it.

Five arcs of bright, icy energy shot forward with perfect precision, born from Torrent's natural skill and the long practice of firing jets of water. Each landed on the sliced boulder perfectly and covered it with a thick shell of craggy ice. Ash barely had time to blink before Infernus angrily bathed the rock in flame, which broke the boulder down to nothing but hot, sluggish liquid in a matter of seconds.

He sighed and motioned for Torrent and Dazed to put it out. Torrent quickly shot a weak Hydro Pump at it to cool it down before Dazed enclosed it within a psychic shell. Ash nodded his thanks before he rolled his eyes at Infernus and continued.

"Now that that's over with, Dazed, Focus Blast on that boulder." He said drily as he pointed at another large, moss-covered stone. Dazed nodded and silently placed her hands together. A ball of blue energy, powerful enough to have a smaller, white ball at the center, formed between the appendages.

Dazed easily pushed her hands outward. The energy ball followed her motion and slammed into the boulder at an incredible speed, almost too fast for Ash to follow. Ash was rather pleased when the Focus Blast caused the rock to explode outward, although it did make him flinch out of reflex. Dazed was quick enough to foresee the result of her attack and erected a psychic barrier around the boulder the instant the Focus Blast had been released.

"Thank you." Ash said gratefully. He glanced over at Infernus. "Your turn, Infernus. Teleport."

Ash could see the surprise in his friends' eyes as Infernus leapt up to his feet. His eyes were black with amusement as he stood on his pile of smoldering ash. Infernus closed his eyes and roared before he flitted out of existence. Moments later he appeared in front of Ash with a cloak of flames encasing his body. His friend looked tired, but was too exultant in his success to care.

Infernus looked up into the sky and roared as he shot a stream of flickering blue flame into the atmosphere, leaving black smoke lingering in its wake.

"Good." The trainer said with a maniacal grin. He could only imagine the kind of damage Infernus was capable of now. That mobility would certainly be put to good use. But for now he just glanced about at his friends. "Tangrowth, it's your turn."

The large grass-type made another odd noise before he waddled over next to Ash. All he had to do was point at another of the massive boulders that decorated the area for Tangrowth to know what his target was.

Tangrowth closed his big, friendly eyes. Particles of energy slowly gathered in front of his face and slowly coalesced into a great ball of energy. As soon as it grew to a sufficient size, he launched the powerful attack straight into the boulder.

Ash hid his eyes in pain as the solar energy tore through the air and left the area a few degrees warmer than before. It was an incredibly huge amount of energy that Tangrowth had just harnessed, and it showed in what had happened to the rock: the boulder was shattered by the concussive force behind the energy blast, and small fragments of the stone were fused together.

"That was amazing!" Ash exclaimed with a maniacal grin. He patted Tangrowth's arm and got a hug in return. The trainer laughed wildly, he could only imagine the kind of enemies Tangrowth could face now. He calmed after a few moments of laughing, which had attracted odd, worried stares from his friends. Ash smiled at them before he began to give out instructions. "Everyone, go practice. You need to master those moves."

"Infernus, Dazed, stay with me." Ash said as the rest of his friends wandered off. Nidoking stayed with him as well, a large, powerful presence at his side. Poison Jab was rather simple for him to learn, and it didn't require much space to use safely. "Dazed, I need you to teach Infernus how to teleport. Make him efficient."

Dazed nodded and glanced at Infernus. The fire-type snorted and followed Dazed with powerful, smoldering strides. Ash trusted Dazed to choke out any fires that sprung up. He'd be there to supervise, regardless.

"Sneasel, come over here!" Ash called out. In mere moments the lithe creature had rushed over to the trainer and leapt up onto his back. He winced in surprise as Sneasel roughly hooked onto his shoulders, but didn't show any other sign of pain. "Nidoking, I need you to teach Sneasel how to perform Ice Beam. Get him ready for it."

Nidoking grunted and clapped Ash on the shoulder before he snarled at Sneasel. The dark-type hissed back and cheerfully leapt from Ash's shoulders to Nidoking's thick armor. It had enough segments that his wickedly sharp claws could easily hang onto it.

Ash watched his best friend lumber off to the pond before he turned and walked over to where he assumed Dazed and Infernus would be practicing. Perhaps the field would be somewhat dangerous for a rather powerful, very temperamental fire-type to be training in, but Dazed and Plume could keep it under control.

He set his face into a determined frown. There was work to be done, and not a lot of time to do it. Ash expected this to be their only day spent in Celadon. The trainer wanted to head to a new destination the next day.

XX

Ash took one last look at Celadon's sprawling suburbs, the large buildings of the city itself prominent against the city's skyline. It was a nice city, he reflected, even if it did contain his least favorite gym leader. Still, Erika herself wasn't too bad. She just didn't have the right mindset for battling Team Rocket and could be a bit condescending.

He knew he'd be aching for the idyllic city soon enough, however. His next goal was Saffron City, which he wasn't particularly fond of. Ash had several reasons for returning to the most influential city in Kanto. For one, he wanted to check on Sabrina and see her psychics. Perhaps they could drudge up useful information about the Creature from his mind, although he didn't actually know if that was within their abilities. The trainer was hardly an expert on human psychics.

The other reason probably wouldn't come into play. Ash really wanted a rematch with Sabrina. His second gym battle with the powerful psychic had been amongst the most intense of his career, rivalled only by his battles with Pierce and Giovanni.

While he doubted he would be able to face her anytime soon, he might as well drop in to say hello. It had been a month and a half since the battle with the Creature, so she should be out of her coma by now. The news hadn't said anything about her condition, but he'd missed a lot while he was travelling.

Ash knew that his friends were ready for Sabrina, even if she had trained extensively before her coma. None of his friends were equal to Alakazam, but together they would make it fall. They'd trained hard over the months since their battle and had shed blood and sweat in their effort to become the best. Perhaps he wasn't there yet, but his friends had put themselves on the path.

He glanced out over the dusty, worn trail. Sneasel had already raced down it and looked to be chasing a Raticate. That probably wouldn't turn out too well, but he'd leave them be for now. It was part of the learning process for the young pokemon.

Tangrowth, who he decided to let out and roam the area alongside him, gurgled in concern and used his powerful vines to chase after the two squabbling pokemon. Ash and Nidoking just rolled their eyes and started walking.

XX

The journey was as easy as ever. Most trainers had begun to stay in the cities so they could repeatedly challenge the more difficult gym leaders until they obtained victory, so the roads were a bit more deserted than usual. Others had retired to popular training areas so that they could battle other trainers.

It all showed just how soon the Conference really was. Back when he'd first began his journey it had felt like it would never arrive, but he was able to feel it looming closer and closer. The Conference still wasn't for another four months, but every trainer that wanted to go, which was a vast majority of them, had begun to buckle down.

He looked forward to the Conference. Ash was secure in his skills, although he knew he had a long way to go before he was a Master. Bruno had proved that when he'd casually defeated Ash's entire team without trying. But he knew he was strong. It showed in the legions of defeated trainers he left in his wake. The Conference was just his chance to prove it.

But for now he had to focus on travelling and becoming stronger. Saffron might not be the perfect place to prove that, especially since he still wasn't sure about Sabrina's condition, but at least it put him at a crossroads to pursue that goal.

If he headed south he could be at Vermillion in about a week, probably less if he hurried. That would let him head down to Fuschia's rugged territory, where he could certainly find strong trainers. Or else he could just head to the city itself and battle Koga again. He knew the man would put up a good fight. After that, perhaps he could try the Safari Zone. While he was happy with his team, it never hurt to pick up an extra friend.

To the north was Cerulean. Ash wasn't sure why he would go there. It was full of ponds, lakes, and other aquatic bodies that he could train Torrent in, but Torrent didn't need it. He could train anywhere now. Besides, the Sensational Sisters didn't provide quite the draw to him as they did to Jonathan.

There was no way he was returning to Celadon for a while. Erika didn't attract many powerful trainers, and there were too many Rockets lurking in the city for him to stay safe. Ash doubted that Team Rocket knew what he had done to them, but he'd rather avoid them in an urban setting. Team Rocket was laughably weak in a straight fight, aside from Executives and Elite Agents, but their strength was in the shadows. It was difficult to defend against a threat when they outnumbered you ten to one and ambushed you.

Ash wouldn't be heading to the east anytime soon. The only center of civilization was Lavender Town, where ghosts walked the world without fear. It was a nice town, and he wouldn't mind paying his respects to fallen pokemon, but Lavender Town wasn't high on his list of priorities.

A ghost-type would be nice, but they were too difficult to control and potentially malicious. It could take him months to get the specter to see him as its equal, much less its trainer. They were belligerent. Ghosts' unruly behavior was notorious, which was one of the reasons Agatha was so highly respected. Only dragons were more difficult to train.

But his main concern with the east and northeast of Kanto rested in the freak storm that was slowly gaining strength in the area. It had expanded to be a steady forty miles wide, and experts were baffled. At least it had stopped moving. The storm had centered on a single area.

Ash suspected the Creature had something to do with it, although the only reason he could fathom was to attract electric-types, which were still migrating en masse to the storm. It was just too powerful for a normal pokemon, or even a large group of them, to be the cause.

He stopped thinking as he walked into the busy Pokemon Center. There were at least a hundred trainers stuffed into the large building, which made him think Sabrina was conscious again. Saffron City wasn't much of a draw for trainers otherwise. Silph Co. was getting some attention thanks to word of some top-secret project being leaked, but nobody knew enough about it to bother travelling to the metropolis.

The trainer tapped the shoulder of the person in front of him when he stepped into the line. It seemed that they would have a few minutes to wait before they reached the counter, so Ash figured it was best to get some information.

"Yeah?" The short, blonde trainer replied with an annoyed grunt. "Whaddya want?"

"Why are so many people here?" Ash questioned. He pointed at the masses of people standing around, laughing, and watching television.

"You know the gym leader, Sabrina?" The teen questioned. Ash nodded. "Well, she's in that coma. But the League can't allow the gym to shut down, so they just shoved the top psychic at the gym into the position until they can get a real replacement."

Ash raised an eyebrow. "So they're just swarming here to get the badge?"

"Well, yeah. It's the only chance most of us have to get the Marsh Badge. I'm not gonna let a good opportunity go to waste." The teen shrugged. He looked at Ash seriously for the first time and noticed Sneasel, who flashed him a malicious grin. "Wow, that thing would tear through the guy they have working it right now. You should hit the gym tomorrow."

"I already have the badge." Ash informed him. The teen just looked at him in disbelief before he shrugged and turned back to the female trainer he was talking to before. He couldn't make out any of their words, although he made out a sarcastic tone and a few amused giggles.

Sneasel growled with impatience and began to unsheathe and retract his claws in a quick pattern. Ash just sighed when he realized that he would be dealing with a very bored Sneasel for the next few minutes. His friend didn't mind crowds very much, since the dark-type usually took it as a chance to steal everything he could reach, although Ash made sure that never actually worked out, but there wasn't anything exciting going on.

Nurse Joy looked at him oddly when he finally reached the counter. Sneasel was perched on top of his hat and wrapped around his head, since he'd finally gotten too big to stay on Ash's hat easily. "Can I help you?"

"Just a room." Ash requested. Sneasel snickered at something and started poking the top of Ash's head with his paw, which made Ash scowl in annoyance. Nurse Joy just seemed vaguely amused as she handed over a card key. "Thank you. Have a good day."

When he left the line, the first thing he did was pull Sneasel off of his head. The dark-type growled, but obediently clung to his back instead. Ash sighed in relief when the annoying taps were gone and slipped his key into his pocket.

"Could you stay off my head?" He directed at Sneasel. The dark-type snickered, but didn't do anything else. Ash sighed. "Whatever. At least you're just annoying me."

Sneasel tapped the back of his head in agreement. Ash sighed again and readjusted his pack before he left the Pokemon Center. The dark-type hissed in annoyance as he was knocked off balance and forced to cling onto the back of Ash's shirt tightly, but just continued to poke Ash as a form of revenge.

XX

He had a fond smile on his face as he stepped into the simple beauty of the Saffron City gym. Its gentle, sweeping architecture seemed to welcome him in with a pulse of familiarity as he crossed the threshold. The psychics were not in the atrium when he arrived, which was a bit odd.

"Hello, Trainer Ketchum." An old man with a short, well-trimmed gray beard said to him. Ash snapped his gaze to the side, where the man had seemingly stepped out of the nowhere. The old man raised a hand in a placating gesture, causing his soft blue robe to ripple like water. "I apologize if I startled you. Please, follow me."

Ash did so, albeit with a degree of suspicion. It was odd that there wouldn't be a single psychic in the atrium. They seemed to tend to the gym itself. "Are you the gym leader?"

"Temporary gym leader, Trainer Ketchum." The Psychic said gravely. Ash couldn't find it in him to be surprised that the old man knew his name. He watched as the Psychic gently waved his hand when they approached a large, shimmering door. It smoothly slid open underneath the psychic influence. "Lady Sabrina will be returned to her power soon enough. She has awakened, but she is still weak."

His face was split by a grin. "That's great news! Do you know when she'll be better?"

"Soon." The Psychic replied enigmatically. Ash sighed at the answer. Psychics weren't known for being upfront, as he'd learned through his experiences with the Saffron gym leader. "She has told us to bring you to her."

"How long has she been out of her coma?" Ash asked, a curious note in his tone. Everyone he'd spoken to seemed to be under the misconception that Sabrina was still unconscious.

"Since yesterday. Her body is weak, but her mind bursts with vigor." The Psychic revealed as he opened another set of doors. Ash could feel the temperature grow colder as they continued through the long, smooth halls of the gym. "She is drained, but she is aware. Her mind has recuperated quite well from the shock – the Creature, I believe you call it? – inflicted upon her. When we received her and her apprentice, their minds were broken. Their wounds have been healed for the most part."

Ash frowned worriedly. "How is Will?"

"He rose three days ago. The Creature saw him as an afterthought to Lady Sabrina, thus he was defeated without difficulty. Lady Sabrina had to be broken." The Psychic replied in an eerily calm manner as they turned left into a room.

Two children, dressed in the flowing robes of Sabrina's acolytes, stared at him in awe as he entered. They suddenly clutched their foreheads and stared up at Ash with agonized eyes. Ash stepped backward in shock as their eyes released a steady stream of icy blue energy, the same color as the Creature's.

Burning blue eyes stared coldly at him from behind an inky black visor, energy no mortal should control swirling around the Creature in a vortex as the world –

Sneasel hissed and touched him directly with a soft paw, which negated the foreign psychic influence that forced the flashback. Ash breathed heavily and silently thanked Sneasel for his assistance. A light sheen of sweat covered his body from the memory – or was it a nightmare?

He reached forward to help them when he had gotten over his shock, but the Psychic held him back with a deceptively strong hand. A moment later the two women vanished into nothingness. Ash glanced up at the Psychic, whose worn face was suddenly tired. His body trembled, as though the old man had just completed some strenuous exercise.

"I apologize." He rasped as he slowly shuffled forward, the Psychic's age apparent on him for the first time. Ash walked beside him in concern, ready to help the older man if he needed it. "They were not supposed to be here. Your mind was marked by the Creature in ways I cannot explain. Only Lady Sabrina properly understands it."

"Could you try and explain it?" Ash asked. He lightly scratched underneath Sneasel's feather, which made the dark-type purr in content.

The Psychic sighed. "The Creature is powerful enough to leave a mark on your mind simply by using its power near you. All of the beings present during the battle have the same signature branded upon their mind. Lady Sabrina and Will were powerful enough to remove it themselves, and those with the mental fortitude can ignore it. I can say no more."

Well, that explained why the man hadn't started glowing the moment he'd seen Ash. It wasn't too much of a surprise that the man was able to protect himself from the signature. He was the strongest psychic at the gym apart from Sabrina, at least if the blonde trainer had told him the truth.

His guide opened one last set of delicately carved doors. "Go in. Sabrina awaits you. Recall the dark-type. It will disrupt the healing."

Ash nodded and recalled the annoyed Sneasel, but uncertainty grew in his mind. He assumed that Sabrina's body had been healed, but was her mind back to normal? It would be disturbing to see a different Sabrina.

Nevertheless, Ash stepped into the room. As he stepped in, a cold weight settled onto his shoulders. It was different than the energy that permeated the gym itself.

The floor was marble, and the walls were of the same silvery material as the rest of the gym. While it was beautiful, the room wasn't homely. It was cold, more like an office than a room.

The only furniture inside of the room was a small, clean bed. Two psychics sat by it with closed eyes. Energy gently pulsed beneath, but they didn't acknowledge him in anyway. Both women were still as he slowly walked into the room.

Ash frowned when he saw Sabrina. She was pale underneath the covers. Her presence was usually imposing, even when she did not intend for it to be so. Sabrina was one of the most feared gym leaders in Kanto, the greatest human psychic in the world and amongst the strongest people Ash knew of.

Now she just looked small.

He stepped closer. Ash still had no idea what he was supposed to do. It would have been nice for the Psychic to give him an instruction other than to simply walk in. The trainer glanced down at the psychics beside Sabrina again.

One suddenly clutched the sides of her head. Ash flinched as her eyes suddenly burned an icy blue, a far cry from the soft, soothing pink of before. Memories and nightmares, a few one and the same, flashed through his mind as –

The roar of water and the screams of –

He fought it back, but only found himself in reality long enough to realize that the other psychic had succumbed to the dark influence he brought with him as well, although –

Icy blue eyes stared at him behind the visor, careless of the boy in front of it, focused only upon the Champion behind him. It raised its arm, alit with energy, and –

Ash scowled and forced it back again. The energy of the room pulsed as it became stronger and stronger, driven by the raging emotions in the area as well as the power inscribed upon Ash's mind. His eyes widened in horror as he saw Sabrina's closed eyes burn with the same icy blue energy. That meant –

Pain. The Creature's cold, taunting voice wracked his brain as it tore his mind apart simply by making contact. Energy coalesced into the Creature's hand, bright and more powerful than anything Ash had ever seen, and it seemed bored as it prepared to –

He gasped as reality solidified around him. Ash numbly realized he was on the cold marble floor and stood up on trembling limbs. The effect wasn't just psychological. Being touched by the psychic power was as much physiological trauma as it was mental in this case.

Ash habitually brushed nonexistent dirt off of his pants as he regained his footing. He drew in a long, trembling breath before he opened his eyes. The trainer hadn't even realized that he'd squeezed them shut.

Both psychics were crumpled on the ground, he noted. Ash's hand uneasily moved to Dazed's pokeball. She would be the most help in this situation. But he remembered what was far more important: Sabrina, in her vulnerable state, had been warped by the signature the Creature had unconsciously branded him with.

Guilt rose in his stomach as he realized what might have happened. He couldn't force himself to look at Sabrina for a few seconds. Her mind had been recovering, and he had exposed her to the influence of the same monster that had done this to her in the first place. If he'd set her back…

When he finally managed to look at Sabrina, he was surprised, to say the least. She was not curled up in pain and confusion or even unconscious. The gym leader was awake, although she looked exhausted.

"Wha—?" He began, confused. Ash had no idea about the events that had just occurred. Logic told him that Sabrina should be hurt right now, or at least confused.

"Hello, Ash." Sabrina said monotonously as she propped herself up on weak arms. Her eyes flashed a bright, warm purple for a moment. Her hair, slightly ruffled from the bed, smoothed out. Aside from the slight atrophying of her limbs and body, which had somehow been slowed to barely noticeable levels, she looked as she always had. "I apologize, my vision has been erratic as of late, else I would have been awake already."

He blinked. Ash began to open his mouth to ask his questions, but Sabrina seamlessly cut him off.

"They assist my recovery." Sabrina explained. "To resist your brand was a test. It is a shame they were overcome. I had prepared them for this moment and warned them of the difficulty that lay in resisting the brand."

"You knew what this would happen?" Ash asked. His head was spinning. Dealing with Sabrina was never easy.

She gave him a drily amused smile. Ash figured she knew what he had thought. "I know many things, past, future, and present. Without the physical world to distract me, the sight is amongst the most trivial of my powers."

Ash frowned. Did she know how the raid at Viridian would end?

"No. The Creature," she said, adopting Ash's name for it seamlessly, "warped my vision. It is too powerful. I knew that a being of immense strength would be present to brand us with its power, but I did not know how it would end. The Creature disrupts the laws when it acts."

"What laws?" Ash demanded. He winced at his tone. It was rather rude, and Sabrina didn't deserve it.

"I have said too much." She replied softly, a bit of regret entering her tone. Sabrina lowered herself back onto the bed. Her bright red eyes were weary. "Know that the Creature is more powerful than you believe. It is restrained at the moment, both by technology and its convictions."

He looked at Sabrina disbelievingly, even if he knew she spoke the truth. Ash couldn't picture it being stronger. It had effortlessly defeated the greatest trainers the League could throw at it. His blood ran cold at the thought of it being capable of that while held back. But how did –

"It entered my mind." Sabrina stated matter-of-factly, although her face paled at the memory. It was one of the few obvious displays of emotion Ash could remember from the powerful psychic. "I received glances, for lack of a better term, at its consciousness. Information it couldn't hold back. The Creature is powerful, but inexperienced."

Ash looked at Sabrina eagerly, ravenous for information about the Creature. Maybe she'd picked up a weak point, or some way to destroy it.

"No." Sabrina said with a shake of her head. The energy in the room pulsed with her regret. "Nothing so direct. It will only be of use to the Champion and the League."

He nodded with disappointment. The lack of information was disheartening, to say the least. Ash noticed that Sabrina's eyes were dipping with exhaustion. She might have emerged from the coma, but her body was still frail. The gym leader needed to rest. "I should go."

Sabrina didn't seem surprised. "Yes. I must rest and recover my strength. Team Rocket encroaches upon my borders, and I will not be as lenient with them as before."

Ash blinked. He remembered the images released into the news of the Rockets that had invaded Silph Co. a few months ago, right after he'd left the city for the first time. Quite a few had permanent brain damage, and most were hospitalized for weeks before their trials could occur. The trainer could only imagine what she would do to them now.

Her lips curled upward, despite the stern set of her face. She didn't remark on his thoughts, however. Sabrina simply laid back in her bed and glanced at him with impassive red eyes. "Prepare yourself, Ash Ketchum. The future is unclear."

He didn't bother asking her to elaborate. From the few encounters he'd had with Sabrina and other psychics, they were frustratingly vague. Ash would only be able to guess at her meaning until the events actually came to pass.

Sabrina's lips twitched again, but her eyes finally closed. Ash took one last glance at the psychics still on the cold marble floor. They were beginning to wake up. He figured that he'd just tell the temporary gym leader what had occurred before making his way to the Pokemon Center.

Before he left the room and the cold energy that dominated it, Sabrina spoke once more. "I apologize that I am not in sufficient condition to conduct a gym battle. I enjoyed our last match."

Ash glanced back and nodded. There was no need to tell Sabrina that he would return to battle her again. She already knew the answer better than he did.

He found the Psychic waiting outside the doors. The old man frowned when he saw Sabrina's attendants struggling to rise, but didn't say anything. Apparently Sabrina hadn't seen fit to warn him.

"She is awake?" The Psychic questioned. Ash nodded, and the man smiled in satisfaction. "It is good to know that Lady Sabrina's sight was not diminished by her injuries. Soon, everything shall fall into place."

The trainer nodded distractedly. He took one last glance at the cold room he had left behind before he followed the Psychic out of the gym. It was a shame that he hadn't been able to battle Sabrina again, but he suspected that it was for the best. Ash only wanted to battle Sabrina when they were both at their peak.

Besides, Sabrina's warnings echoed in his mind. He needed to be ready, and it was hard to do that if most of his friends were unconscious.

XX

Ash glanced over at his friends as he dialed his mother's number. It had been a few days since he'd called her, and she was probably waiting on him. He'd be leaving the next day anyway, so he might as well call his mom while he wasn't dirty and tired.

His friends were arrayed around his room. Nidoking was curled up on the floor beside him, although his bulky form barely fit in between the wall and the bed. The poison-type's large head rested contentedly on the bed, right next to Ash. He idly patted Nidoking's tough hide as the PokeNav rang.

Torrent levitated by the window that looked out onto the bright city. He barely fit in the room, but they managed to squeeze him in. The dragon-type alternated his gaze from the entrancing lights and sounds of the bustling city outside and sadly at the large aquarium in the room that was still much too small to fit him.

Dazed, as usual, stood in the darkest corner of the room. Her humanoid form was barely visible, although her long white mane gave her presence away. She watched Ash carefully, but just as much of her attention was focused upon holding herself back from leaving and numbing her hunger.

Hypno had adapted well to cities and urban life. They had a massive supply of sustenance available in the form of the thousands of dreamers present and could slip in and out of areas with ease. In massive cities like Saffron, they and drowzee were amongst the most common pokemon, although their numbers had dwindled after dark-type pokemon like houndour and houndoom took up residence.

He knew that Dazed had particular trouble resisting the temptation. She had only fed on the other members of their team for more than a month, which had started to take its toll on the powerful psychic. Her powers were still overwhelmingly strong, but they were waning.

Sneasel had begun to venture away from Ash on more occasions and had even begun to slip away from the trainer at night to sleep on his lonesome, so he hoped Dazed's needs would be filled soon. If Sneasel decided to sleep over with Tangrowth as it looked like he would, then Dazed would be fully restored by the time the team arrived at Vermillion.

Tangrowth, as he'd mentioned, was lying back against a wall. His saucer-like eyes were closed, which left nothing but a gaping void between his vines. He gurgled softly in his sleep, and some of the vines curled around Sneasel protectively, although the dark-type hissed in annoyance at the contact.

"Ash!" His mother exclaimed. She clasped her hands together in excitement. "It's been so long. How are you? Are you in Saffron?"

"I'm good, and I made it to Saffron today." Ash replied with an easy grin. "I'll be leaving tomorrow. Has anything happened over in Pallet?"

His mother shook her head. "It's been normal. Professor Oak's been stressed out of his mind lately, though. Between Team Rocket," her eyes narrowed into dangerous slits, although they returned to their normal shape in a few moments, "and that project for Silph Co. he hasn't had any free time. He's only off for lunch."

Ash hummed in agreement. He could understand the stress the Pokemon Professor was going through, if not the full degree. Professor Oak was still incredibly important in the League, even if he didn't work directly for them, and probably spent quite a bit of time helping with the Rocket situation.

The Professor could probably destroy the entire organization if he ever met them in a fair fight, he thought as he remembered the pokemon that had appeared at Nidoking's evolution party. As the images of the massive Charizard and even larger Dragonite flickered through his mind, Ash wondered again just how far Professor Oak had gone.

"Oh, I almost forgot to tell you that I'll be gone for a week in December, from the fifth until the twelfth." His mother spoke up. That caught Ash's attention, and he looked at his mother's image with confusion. "I'm going to visit Spencer and Molly over in Greenfield."

Ash nodded in understanding. It had been a while since either he or his mother had seen the family friends, and he'd heard something about Spencer's wife disappearing a few weeks before he'd started his journey. His mother and her constantly upbeat attitude would probably help the two out a lot.

"Are you sending Bruiser and Seeker up to Professor Oak's?" Ash asked as concern for his friends sprung up. He thought he saw Seeker flutter around in the background, although the motion was too fast for him to be sure.

His mother smiled. "Yes. Professor Oak said he'd be happy to take them! He said Pikachu and Arcanine were having some trouble with a few mankey and primeape in the area, so Bruiser'll be a great help."

"That sounds good. I'll try and get to Pallet Town before you leave for Greenfield." Ash promised. He didn't know his schedule yet, but if all else failed he could call Professor Oak and get Alakazam to help him. Oak had said he was trying to keep her from becoming complacent.

"Just make sure to call me before you get there!" His mother laughed. A smile made its way on his face. "But don't interrupt your journey on my account. I know these last few months are really important for trainers."

He nodded and made sure to remember her words. Ash would make sure to get to Pallet Town, even if he didn't really have to. By that point it would have been three months since he'd seen his mother or Professor Oak in person.

"Have you been alright lately?" His mother suddenly asked, concern evident in her voice. "You've been looking worn down ever since…you know."

Ash frowned. He hadn't mentioned the disruptive nightmares to his mother, especially since they'd been less and less frequent. He certainly hadn't thought that they'd had any noticeable effect on him, least of all his appearance. While he really didn't want to lie to his mother, he didn't want to make her worry either. She had enough going on.

A ring on his PokeNav saved him from that dilemma. Ash frowned when he saw it was an unfamiliar number, although the identification code showed that it was from the League. "Mom, could you hold on for a minute? Someone's calling me."

"Of course! I'll be waiting." She said cheerily. Ash was sure that she wouldn't be nearly as upbeat if she knew that the call was from the League. His mother was rather terrifying when they were mentioned. She wasn't happy with them enlisting Ash to help out with the Rocket problem.

"Hello?" He asked as the screen cut to a rather impressive office. It wasn't familiar, although he had to admit the rather impressive collection of draconic artifacts such as fangs, scales, and claws tipped him off to the caller's identity. His suspicions were confirmed when he saw who was sitting in the large, stone throne behind the desk. "Lance?"

The Champion grinned wildly. He looked much better than when Ash had last seen him. There was no evidence of the bandages and casts he was covered in at the hospital, and everything about him seemed robust and powerful. Ash saw a small, pudgy creature with dark blue coloration and a red underbelly sitting on his desk. It growled contentedly as Lance absentmindedly scratched the large fin on its head.

"Hello, Ash." Lance said with a friendly nod. He wore a formal, crisp uniform, which Ash recognized as the one he wore during formal League battles. His cape still hung around his shoulders, which unconsciously brought a smirk to Ash's face as he remembered the advertisement. "Have you been well?"

Ash nodded. "I'm good. Everything's calmed down a lot since Viridian." He grimaced. Memories ran through his head, which made his heart rate skyrocket before he took a few deep, calming breaths.

"If only I could say the same." Lance sighed. He brightened up after a few moments, although his demeanor remained serious. "You're in Saffron, correct?" When Ash nodded, he continued. "Good. When you're done there, could you go to Vermillion?"

"Sure." Ash replied. He was heading there anyways. Fuschia was his next target, and Vermillion was the most reliable way to get there unless he took a boat. "What do you need me to do?"

A frown crossed Lance's angular face. "Surge is going to investigate the storm in northeast Kanto. He needs assistance, but I can't spare any League forces. I assume that you are up to the task?"

"Of course!" Ash exclaimed. He might have a few misgivings about the source of the storm, but he was willing to help however he could. At the very least it might distract the Creature from protecting Team Rocket – if it was even the force behind the storm. "Do you need me to teleport there?"

"No. Surge still has his own preparations to make." Lance explained. "Try to get there within a week. By then Surge should be ready. The storm is merely an oddity at the moment. Should it become threatening, I will have Sabrina teleport you."

Ash dipped his head in understanding. "I'll leave tomorrow."

"Thank you. When you return with Surge, I'll add twenty thousand dollars into your trainer account." Lance's eyes glinted with amusement for a moment. "Make sure to call me when the job is complete. I have an opportunity for you that you won't want to miss out on. Good luck."

The trainer's expression sparked with interest, but before he could ask about the opportunity, Lance cut the call. He stared at the screen before he called his mother back. Ash wasn't sure how good of a conversationalist he would be after the Champion's call, but he could at least listen.

XX

Sneasel snickered as he froze the water in Ash's water bottle, and the noise grew even louder when he poked Ash painfully in the side with his sharp, hooked claws. Ash, who had been about to drink, sighed in annoyance. He looked over at Infernus, who had curled up in a pile of smoldering ashes. Before he could get the fire-type over to discipline Sneasel, he suddenly realized that Sneasel was about to get his comeuppance in a different manner.

Dazed had started forward in annoyance at his little prank, but Sneasel disappeared in a burst of darkness. She met Ash's eyes, and he gave her a short nod. Sneasel had been pushing the limits lately. He had been vicious toward most of the team since they'd set out for Vermillion the day before, and had even reacted with hostility to Ash.

It looked like he was starting to go through puberty. Pokemon went through it rather fast since they were mostly developed within their egg, but it would be a dangerous month or two. Sneasel would enter a state of hyper-aggressiveness for the duration, although it could be mostly curbed if he nipped it in the bud right now. And after all the trouble Sneasel had put Dazed through, he figured she should be the one to do it.

His other symptoms included a minor increase in muscle and bone density, which would put him up with the other adults of his species and make him a bit tougher and faster. It would also make him ready for evolution into a Weavile, although Ash didn't see that happening anytime soon.

For Sneasel to evolve, he'd either require a Razor Claw, which was an artificially produced item designed to trigger the signals in his cells that would trigger evolution, or train for several months in an extremely cold area. He'd probably go with the Razor Claw when he thought Sneasel was ready. After his experience in the Seafoam Islands, he had no desire to be in the cold.

But that could come later. For now, Sneasel needed to be taught his place. Ash had been fairly stern in disciplining him over the month and a half since Sneasel had hatched, but that wouldn't be enough to curb his aggressiveness during his short puberty. As loath as he was to admit it, he'd have to be harsh.

Sneasel silently stalked Dazed. He gracefully circled around Infernus and his ash pile before he suddenly dashed toward Dazed with his claws unsheathed. The dark-type hissed as he leapt at her, only to sink his claws into thin air.

Ash crossed his arms and watched with a sad frown as Dazed controlled a log with Psychic and hurled it into the aggressive dark-type. Sneasel yelped when he was suddenly hit and went flying, but he managed to hook onto a tree and growl at Dazed before he disappeared.

Dazed was too fast. As Sneasel leapt out of the shadows behind her, she teleported a few feet away, right in front of Tangrowth's sleeping form. The others had begun to stir from their slumber now, so the battle had an audience.

Sneasel hissed and blew a gust of icy air towards Dazed. The frost left small crystals of ice in its wake, most of which were carried along with the breeze. Apparently the dark-type expected Dazed to teleport away, so he began a quick rush in order to attack the psychic.

The dark-type was rather surprised when Dazed chose to take the attack head on. She simply closed her hands together, formed a ball of iridescent blue energy, and shot the Focus Blast straight through the gust of air. Sneasel whined in pain as the fighting-type attack slammed into his small body and exploded.

Ash covered his eyes, but Dazed had raised several shields around the rest of the team so that they wouldn't be hit by the blast. Nidoking grunted in annoyance at the bright psychic energy and sat up, although he stayed close to Ash. It was good that the fight wouldn't be too destructive since Sneasel didn't have any powerful attacks yet. If it was, Nidoking would have put a stop to it already.

Sneasel slammed into a tree thanks to the concussive blast. He growled pitiably as he struggled to his feet, but Ash could see fear in his narrowed scarlet eyes. It had taken much longer than Ash had expected it to, but Sneasel had realized that Dazed was much more powerful than him.

Dazed charged up another Focus Blast, but Sneasel dipped his head and took a knee. He was suddenly tired and weak, unwilling to take another brutal Focus Blast for his pride. Sneasel was a cunning predator at heart. It was much more important to avoid injury than to suffer for his own defiance.

When Dazed looked as though she would hit him one last time, Ash stopped it. "Enough." The trainer said sharply. "Sneasel, you need to keep yourself under control. I know you're angry a lot, but it'll pass in time. Stay focused."

The dark-type hissed at Ash in understanding. He slunk away into the shadows. Ash managed to make out a ripple of movement near Tangrowth, and the grass-type's affectionate gurgle told Ash that Sneasel had finally decided to stop sleeping with him. It looked like the team's baby was growing up.

"You can eat my dreams." Ash told Dazed. He laid back down on his sleeping mat, a little sad. It was good that Sneasel seemed to understand that his behavior needed to be curbed, but he felt like their relationship had changed. Sneasel wasn't a baby that needed to be nurtured anymore. He was becoming an adult, a full member of the pack.

Dazed smiled at him with her knowledgeable eyes, but he could see that there was empathetic sorrow for what he had realized. Ash knew she didn't like Sneasel, but Dazed was adept at detecting emotions, although she wasn't the most expressive individual. She could feel what he felt, if to a lesser extent.

He laid his head back against Nidoking's chest, who gave a low, happy grunt that made the ground around the duo shake. Ash smiled and affectionately patted his friend's bulky shoulder before he closed his eyes, protected by his friends.

Thoughts swarmed and roiled within his mind, however, and he did not fall to sleep immediately.

It was strange to realize that the disruption Sneasel had brought to the team's status quo was slowly coming to an end. He was becoming another member of the team, if one that needed quite a bit of practice and intensive training to match the others. Everything was settling back into place.

He heard Dazed shuffling about before he finally managed to fall to sleep, the blackness washing over his mind before he drifted off into unconsciousness.

For the first time in a long time, he slept a dreamless sleep.

XX

It took five more days to reach Vermillion. Ash travelled at a hurried pace. Although he made sure to give Sneasel plenty of practice against trainers on the road, he still reached the warm city with plenty of time to spare.

Sneasel had taken his words to heart. For the first day or two after the fight with Dazed he was a bit subdued and cold toward the others, and actually stayed around Tangrowth most of the time, but he returned to a relatively normal state after. Dazed simply had to glare at the dark-type with glowing eyes to enforce his good behavior. He hadn't stolen anything or attacked another member of the team since that night.

Ash didn't like using fear to keep Sneasel on a good path. It was a low thing to do, but it was necessary. Sneasel's pokedex entry had frequently mentioned that his species only respected strength and cunning. The behavior was much less prevalent in properly trained members of the breed, but during their short period of puberty Sneasel's instincts essentially ruled him. To maintain his obedience, Ash had to keep his respect.

He'd noticed a change in Tangrowth as well. The grass-type was a bit more protective over Sneasel than usual, although he wouldn't stop Ash or the others if Sneasel needed to be reprimanded. But he was much quicker to gurgle angrily should he believe the others took it too far. Tangrowth simply tapped Ash on the forehead with a bit more force than usual.

He hadn't said anything to his easygoing friend yet. Ash hoped that it was just a phase Tangrowth was going through, induced by the minor injuries the pokemon he had more or less adopted was incurring whenever he took things too far. If things continued, he would intervene.

The rest of his friends were doing fine. Nidoking and Torrent had continued to teach Sneasel the exercises required to focus his energy and manipulate ice, which managed to placate the dark-type. Ash figured that if it could teach him control and focus, it was worth teaching.

Dazed wasn't fully healed, but she looked much better now that she was able to feed on Ash's dreams again. Ash couldn't believe that he didn't notice how haggard she had looked. Her mane had become lank and her short yellow fur was dull and lacked its former luster, but the healthy glow was returning quickly. He wondered if she'd manipulated his perceptions to keep him from worrying about her. It was a common behavior of protective psychic-types, Ash had read.

Plume just seemed happy to be with the rest of the group. Ash felt a bit of guilt about leaving Bruiser and Seeker alone for so long, but according to his mother they were incredibly happy and content. Nevertheless, he always diverted a few minutes to speak to his friends after he and his mother were done talking.

But he made sure to pay quite a bit of attention to Plume. She was incredibly close to mastering Hurricane. At her current rate of progress, she would be able to perform the attack perfectly after a week or two. As of now she could easily blow down a few trees.

He made sure to pass by the gym before he went to the Pokemon Center. Surge should know that he had reached Vermillion. Ash figured that they'd leave tomorrow, although plans might change. Lance hadn't told him much about the job, after all, nor what preparations were being made for it.

"You here for a battle?" One of the tough gym trainers snarled at him as Ash walked up to the gym doors. Several of the trainers waiting in line glared at Ash. Ash looked up at him impassively and thought the trainer was the one that had taken over the gym for Surge after their battle. The bulky man squinted in recognition. "Wait, you're that kid who beat Surge, right?"

Ash nodded. "I need to see him."

The gym trainer nodded and looked over to his counterpart. "Hey, Berna, keep the little brats out of the gym would ya?" He said as he pointed at the long line of trainers Ash had skipped by. "Surge told us to let the kid in."

"Got it." The tall woman growled. She glared over at one of the trainers who began complaining. "Shut up, runt. Maybe if you knew how to battle Surge would let you in the gym."

Ash didn't hear any more of the conversation as the gym trainer took him inside. The gym was as pristine as ever, with the notable exception of the field, which was torn up with large ruts that looked as though a young onix had made them. A short trainer about his age was battling Surge and Raichu with a Scyther.

"Scyther, use your Quick Attack!" The boy cried. He pointed dramatically at Raichu. Scyther growled before it blurred forward.

"Thunder Blast." Surge yawned. He seemed rather bored, although he laughed raucously as Raichu's cheeks sparked and bolts of brilliant lightning shot out and covered the entire field, too fast for Scyther to dodge. The bug-type was briefly illuminated as electricity crackled through its body before it simply dropped to the ground. "Kid, get out of here. Come back when you've actually trained that Scyther."

The trainer clenched his fists, but recalled Scyther and left the gym. Before the next trainer was called in, the gym trainer called out for Surge.

"What is it?" The giant snapped before he saw Ash. "Ah, the runt's arrived! Jack, you've got the gym for the rest of the day. You know the drill: blast 'em with Electivire. Let him do what he wants."

"Yes, Sir!" The gym trainer shouted with a salute. As Surge and Raichu walked over to Ash, Jack called out, "Next challenger!"

Raichu nimbly climbed up Surge so that she could sit on his shoulder. Thanks to the man's incredible size, the large mouse didn't look out of place in the least. She chattered at Surge excitedly, and the gym leader scratched behind her oddly formed ears with a smile.

"Let's go. I've got something to show you." Surge said flatly. His demeanor was grim and oddly subdued.

Ash nodded and followed the massive man out of the gym. The trainers waiting to battle the gym leader gawked at Surge as he walked out. Surge just put on a mean grin and Raichu sparked menacingly. All of the trainers that had battled him before backed away nervously, while the ones that hadn't just looked confused.

"What is it?" Ash asked curiously. Surge had never been like this, not even when he'd met him in the hospital after the St. Anne. That had just made him angry, even if the sorrow was evident if one knew where to look.

"You'll see." Surge grunted. He looked down at Ash, who barely came up to the gym leader's waist. "I guess I should start telling you about the job. Lance contacted me and Brock the same day as he did you. I've got the preparations ready."

He blinked. "Brock's coming?"

"Yeah. We would have used Giovanni," Surge spat the name in disgust, "since he was the ground-type leader. Most of Brock's pokemon have got a resistance to electricity, if not outright immunity. That Steelix of his will be a damn good transport, if nothing else."

"We aren't teleporting?" Ash questioned. It seemed like a fairly important mission, at least when he looked at the kind of money Lance was throwing at him. He had thought time was of the essence.

Surge shook his head. Raichu growled as she was forced to cling to the thin fabric of the man's shirt. "Teleportation doesn't work past Lavender Town. We sent a few Rangers to scout it out, but they could only teleport a few miles into the storm before it just stopped working. That doesn't happen often, and it's one of the reasons Lance saw fit to send gym leaders to assess the situation. We don't usually go on grunt missions like this."

"What do you think's stopping the psychics?" Ash asked. Even though his mind was filled with potential explanations, he didn't understand the theory behind psychic-types enough to come up with a good one. "It's just a storm, even if something else is fuelling it."

The gym leader paused for a moment in surprise. "You picked up on that? Most of the idiots I talk to just think that it's a freak occurrence, brought on by too much manipulation of the weather. The League thinks differently."

"The Creature." Ash muttered. His fists balled tightly.

Surge nodded. "That's what you call it? It's as good as anything the League's come up with. We know that the storm isn't natural, and the only thing that could potentially keep up a storm for that long is the Creature. The psychics being blocked just gives more proof to it."

"What are we supposed to do, then?" Ash asked as the warm, salty ocean and its softly lapping waves came into view. "There's no way we can take it on."

"All Lance wants us to do is investigate." Surge grunted. He angled to the left, close to the port. Ash felt a bit of fear rise up in his stomach as several cruise ships came into view. His fists involuntarily clenched, tight enough to leave slight traces of blood on his nails. "If we see that thing, we leave."

They were silent for another few minutes. Ash was lost in his thoughts and preparations, and Surge just had a hard look on his face that grew darker and darker as they moved on.

When they stopped, Ash recognized where they were. This was where the St. Anne had set off on its last voyage. He took a few deep breaths to get the rush of icy water and screams of the dying out of his head.

There was a massive statue in front of them. It showed a large ship, the perfect replica of the St. Anne, atop a large wave of marble. On the wave, which was ten feet high and nearly fifteen feet long, thousands of names were inscribed.

"Memorial to the St. Anne Tragedy. Dedicated to men and women unjustly killed." Ash read in a tight voice as he saw the script just above the names. A lump developed in his throat. He had to force himself to not touch the monument. The trainer glanced over at Surge, who had his arms crossed and a determinedly stoic expression. "How many names?"

"Three thousand eight hundred and eight." Surge sighed. Raichu patted the side of his head affectionately and chattered in an attempt to cheer him up. The gym leader smiled slightly and scratched her ears. "That's not counting the pokemon. There are still divers searching for pokeballs."

Ash was silent for a few moments. "Thank you for showing me this. I had no idea it existed."

"You're welcome." Surge said in a tone that could almost be mistaken for soft. He patted Ash's shoulder, which unintentionally sent the trainer stumbling forward. "I figured you deserved to see it. Are you coming back?"

"I'm going to stay here for a while." Ash said quietly. He stared at the names immortalized in stone, well aware that he could have been amongst their number. He would have, had Torrent not found strength in his desperation.

"I understand." Surge said gruffly, but in a manner that told Ash that he understood all too well. "We're leaving tomorrow. Meet me outside my gym at six o' clock in the morning. I'll explain more then."

Ash nodded silently as Surge walked off. He idly noted that Surge could be surprisingly quiet when he needed to.

He felt all of the emotions he'd felt in the wake of the tragedy return in full force. Ash scowled as pure rage and sorrow, alternate emotions that fit far too well together, surged upward. The lump in his throat grew, but he didn't acknowledge it. What he acknowledged were the names of those that Team Rocket had killed, all in the name of playing with their new toy.

But there were no tears.

He'd outgrown that. All he wanted was for Team Rocket to fall, no matter who dealt the blow.

XX

Ash felt better by the time he stood outside of Surge's gym the next morning, five minutes before he needed to. Seeing the Memorial had drudged up some feelings he would rather have forgotten, but it was refreshing, in a way. He hadn't dealt with it in the months since the tragedy, and finally seeing the evidence of the horrific night made him feel like a weight had been lifted off of his shoulders.

"Sneasel, calm down." He said soothingly. Sneasel was incredibly hyper this morning, probably because of the cold, crisp air. It was probably the coldest Sneasel had ever been. The dark-type hissed understandingly, but kept on hopping up and down by his feet. Every now and then he'd sniff the air and bare his fangs. Ashs assumed he smelled a rattata or other urban pokemon.

He snapped his head to the gym when the door suddenly slammed open. Surge walked out and motioned for him to come in. "I've got to modify your trainer privileges before we leave and brief you on the mission."

Ash followed Surge into the gym, which was rather warm and bright compared to the streets of Vermillion, which were still dim and misty with a bitterly cold atmosphere. He rubbed his arms and restore some feeling back into them, but Sneasel wasn't so happy with the insulated gym. The dark-type growled and leapt up onto Ash's shoulder, although soon he would be too big to comfortably do so.

Surge directed him into a room that was mostly empty, save for a large computer and a trading machine. The massive gym leader sat down in a chair that was clearly made for him and powered up the computer. Raichu awoke in the corner and skittered over to Surge, who absentmindedly pet the orange rodent.

"You said you didn't have an electric-type, right?" The older man growled as the computer's screen sparked to life. Ash nodded. "Well, if you want one this mission is the time to get it. Almost every electric-type in Kanto has migrated up to the stormy areas. I'm giving you an extra pokeball slot so that you can catch one and not have to bother trading it out."

"Thanks." Ash said gratefully. He looked at Sneasel oddly when the dark-type deftly leapt off of his shoulder, but sighed when he saw his friend trying to sneak up on Raichu. "Sneasel, don't do –"

He was cut off by the crackle of electricity and the smell of ozone. Sneasel blinked once before he collapsed to the ground in a smoking heap. Ash sighed and recalled his friend, whose thick fur was standing up on end in a comical manner.

"Good girl, Raichu." Surge laughed uproariously. Ash was relatively certain the gym leader had just woken up everyone in the adjacent buildings. Raichu made on odd noise that Ash assumed was laughter before she climbed up onto Surge's shoulder. The massive man didn't even seem to notice. "Runt, what's your I.D. number?"

Surge typed rapidly as Ash called off the numbers he had memorized. As part of their training, potential trainers were required to know it in case their pokedex was destroyed or inaccessible. It was a basic safety measure, although it took Ash a moment to recall it.

"And it's done." Surge grunted. Ash was surprised at how fast he could type. His fingers were just as large as the rest of him, but it seemed that he hadn't lost any dexterity from it. "I went ahead and extended the time you've got for your Sneasel another two weeks."

"How long do you think this will take?" Ash asked with a frown. He still had another few weeks with Sneasel before he'd have to see about swapping his friends out.

Surge stood up and shrugged. "We're going to a decoy power plant in the northeast of Kanto. That's where the League placed the epicenter of the storm. It's normally a journey of about two weeks, but the storm wrecked everywhere it touched. I'm thinking it'll be three."

He nodded. It was no surprise that it would be such a long journey. Decoy power plants were made specifically to keep electric-types from ravaging the power plants humans depended on and cities. They were usually in locations far from civilization and tended to be incredibly expensive to maintain. But the investment was well worth it.

"Can we use any transport?"

Surge laughed condescendingly, although not mean-spirited. "Runt, the only thing we'll be riding is Brock's Steelix. Let me explain the situation." He stood up and started pacing in front of Ash. Raichu adopted a stern expression and sparks flew from her cheeks. Ash could easily see his background as a decorated member of the League's forces. Maybe he was an ACE trainer.

"The storm spreads eighty miles in any direction, and grows larger every day." Surge barked. "Its effects have spread to Lavender Town and, in a matter of days, Cerulean City. Almost every electric-type in Kanto is within its boundaries, and they have been reported to be more aggressive than usual. According to some spooks, there are hurricane force winds in the five miles outside of the eye. Tornadoes are commonplace. As of today, the League has demanded an evacuation of the area, and they've sent a request for castform from the Hoenn League."

Ash blinked. He hadn't realized things were so bad. The news hadn't shown off how extreme it was, although he'd known that a storm raging for that long couldn't be good. But Surge had just made him see how serious it was.

"How are we supposed to get to the power plant if the winds are that strong?" Ash questioned worriedly. "We can't fly in that kind of weather, and it sounds like most pokemon wouldn't be able to handle the storms."

Surge grinned wildly and pulled out a strange pokeball. It was purely white except for its ring. He tapped it and released a strange pokemon. It was tiny and looked as though it were made of gray clouds. "This is Castform. It's the first of the bunch to be delivered from Hoenn. It normally just changes form with the weather, but has a pretty strong affinity for manipulating it as well. Castform is our best shot at calming the storm around us."

Castform squeaked in agreement and floated over to Ash. Its body was wispy and translucent, solid but only to the loosest definition. The strange pokemon stared at him before Surge returned it to its pokeball.

"If that fails, we'll just ride in Steelix's mouth or tunnel." Surge said in a disgruntled manner. He didn't seem any more pleased about it than Ash. "If it comes to that, survival is the goal."

"I can see why Lance wanted two gym leaders and a trainer with eight badges for this." Ash said softly. He hadn't thought it would be so dangerous.

Surge squinted at him. "You aren't thinking about backing out, are you?"

"Of course not." Ash replied with a maniacal grin. This would probably be safer than anything else he'd done for the League. Besides, it would be interesting to travel with a human for once, especially one as strong as Surge. Brock didn't seem too bad either. "This'll be fun."

"Good to hear!" Surge boomed. The serious persona he'd adopted for the conversation slipped away, showing his true colors. "Let's be off, runt. We need to move fast."

Ash nodded and followed Surge as he suddenly moved and took a long stride out of the door. This would be an interesting experience, to say the least.

XX

Ash sat down beside the campfire and squinted at the horribly familiar can that Surge was opening. His mouth immediately went dry and he felt a reflexive urge to heave overcome him.

They'd just stopped travelling. Surge was a harsh taskmaster, although he at least understood Ash's weaker physical state and gave a few allowances to stop and eat. Aside from the short breaks, though, they'd travelled nonstop for nearly fifteen hours. Their pace was a bit more intensive than what he was used to, although not too bad.

It wasn't too demanding for Ash, who had gotten quite a bit of endurance from trekking across Kanto, but by the end even his feet were sore. He had no idea how Surge was still laughing and easily pushing on, especially since the man didn't seem to leave his gym all that often.

His friends still hadn't adjusted to Surge's presence. Plume swept over them in concern every now and then, and suspiciously eyed Surge and Raichu whenever she landed. Surge just tossed a few scraps of food her way and laughed at her threatening shrieks.

Torrent, who Ash had elected to walk beside him, simply kept a constant vigil over Ash. He and Raichu seemed desperate to battle each other, but Surge wouldn't hear of it. Ash wasn't too anxious for the battle either. With the kind of power both of the potential combatants were packing they'd wipe out everything around them before it was over.

"Please tell me that isn't what I think it is." Ash said disdainfully as he laid back onto Nidoking, who was curled up on his side. The poison-type respected Surge thanks to their battle so long ago and seemed almost happy to see the powerful gym leader again, which Surge had reciprocated.

"You've had the broth?" Surge snorted in amusement. He easily poured the contents of the can into a bowl and hung it on a wire over the flickering campfire. Infernus growled from next to Ash. He wasn't happy about his position being usurped. "Best food for the road. The Broth of Champions, as Bruno calls it."

Ash rolled his eyes. "You have a different standard of good. I only had to eat it for about a week and I still can't get the taste out of my mouth. I'm fairly certain it's made from grimer."

"Of course. They're the secret ingredient." Surge said seriously as he added a bit of water to the thick blob of gelatinous goo that lay prostrate in the bowl. "No other way to get that texture."

He shuddered and began unwrapping his own food, which was a bland but ultimately better choice than the black broth. It didn't need heating, so he contentedly ate while the rest of his friends tore into their own piles of food. Nidoking lazily moved every now and then, but had already wrecked his own immense stack.

"So, where are we meeting Brock?" Ash broke the silence. He relaxed and watched in disgust as Surge scraped some more of the black broth out of its can and into the bowl. Nidoking rumbled in amusement at his revulsion.

"Berge Town." Surge replied. He carelessly batted Raichu's dexterous paws away from the can of his disgusting meal with a massive hand. The gym leader suddenly snorted. "I hope he didn't pass through Cerulean. I'm not sure the idiot could handle being around the Sisters."

"What do you mean?" Ash perked up. Brock seemed nice, and so did the Sisters, although outwardly they were a bit airheaded.

Surge cocked his head and stared at him with bemused blue eyes. "Have you never talked to the kid?"

Ash nodded slowly, his brow furrowed in confusion. Brock was probably amongst the most normal of the gym leaders he'd met. The Sisters…well, that didn't need an explanation. Surge enjoyed beating trainers and their pokemon black and blue, Erika was just odd, Sabrina was the most powerful human psychic and made his brain tie itself into knots half the time, Koga was a ninja, and Blaine had an awful sense of humor. Giovanni didn't count.

"Kid's more hormonal than Erika." Surge snorted. "I've got to warn Holly whenever he comes to Vermillion. Every Nurse Joy and Officer Jenny in Kanto knows him by now."

"Really?" Ash remarked. One eyebrow was raised. He was rather surprised that the friendly, level headed gym leader would act like that. "Why was he at Vermillion?"

Surge answered as he took the bubbling broth off of the fire. Ash fought down the urge to wretch when the rancid aroma wafted over to him. Nidoking started coughing. His strong sense of smell wasn't always a boon.

"I trained him." Surge said. A shadow cast over his hard face. "His father was supposed to, but I'm not going to get into that."

Ash quieted down and silence reigned for a few more minutes. He was too tired to really make an effort to speak, and when he was done exhaustion overcame him.

He couldn't help but be intrigued by the new information about Brock, though. It was strange to realize that people could hide such drastically different sides of themselves from view. Maybe he'd learn more when they actually met up with the teenager.

XX

Surge's prediction was right on. They arrived at Berge Town in exactly a week. The weather had begun to foul during their third day of travel, although it hadn't shifted to an actual storm yet. It was just more proof that the storm was unnatural. Its effects were spreading out to cover more and more of Kanto every day, although the storm itself advanced at a far more sedate pace.

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