Essence

Ash has always wanted to be a pokemon master. When the time comes for him to pick out his first pokemon, he shocks Professor Oak with a peculiar request. One thing leads to another, and he ends up with a loyal Growlithe. How will this unique situation affect the boy's destiny?

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/11113835/1/Essence

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36. Kanto 12 Part 1

"I see..." drawled Sabrina, running her dainty fingers through her hair. "It sounds to me like Celadon has treated you well thus far."

"I definitely don't have any complaints," replied Ash as he scratched the fur behind Growlithe's ears.

He paused, showing her a playful smile, "Although, it hasn't been as exciting as my time in Saffron."

"Shut up, Ash Ketchum," Sabrina joked with a pretend glare. "You didn't exactly catch Saffron at the best time."

"Fair enough," said Ash with a shrug. "Anyways, did you just call to check up on me, or are you going to fill me in on what's going on with the Game Corner?"

"The Game Corner is one of two things that I need to discuss with you," answered Sabrina monotonously. "I also would like to talk about a vision that I had earlier this morning."

"What was it about?" asked Ash, raising an eyebrow.

"That's what I was hoping you could tell me," articulated Sabrina, letting out a sigh. "While I was doing my morning mediation, an image of you and a ninetails came to me."

Ash's eyes immediately widened as he recalled his experience with the mysterious Willow. Somehow, he had completely forgotten to fill his friends in on what had happened. This must have been destiny's way of reminding him.

"Dammit," cursed Ash under his breath, frustrated that he had failed to tell Sabrina about Willow when they talked on the phone the other day, "It completely slipped my mind. While I was on my way to Celadon, something really interesting happened."

"Elaborate please," replied Sabrina—her eyes squinted in a curious manner.

For the next several minutes, Ash proceeded to share with Sabrina what had happened when he met Willow. From the conversation concerning his destiny to the talk about Willow's friend and the abomination; he told her everything…

"Ash Ketchum…" groaned Sabrina as soon as Ash was finished. "How in the world did it take you this long to tell me about something this important? You should have called me the second the ninetails left your presence."

"Honestly, Sabrina, I have no idea," replied Ash with a dejected facial expression. "As soon as Team Rocket showed up, and I found out about the Game Corner, I just forgot about it. I guess I was too busing focusing on the problems at hand to think about the future."

He paused, looking at her with sincere eyes, "I'm sorry."

She let out another sigh as she used her thumb and index finger to massage her forehead.

"It's okay…" Sabrina responded, moving her hand from her forehead to her chin, "most of what the ninetails told you has to do with your own journey, so this event doesn't change too much in regard to how we approach things."

Ash breathed a small sigh of relief. For a second, he was worried that Sabrina was going to reach through his xtransceiver and wring his neck.

"As a matter of fact," continued Sabrina, "knowing that the pokemon of Kanto are aware of what's happening is reassuring. It means that we're not alone."

"What do you mean?"

"Well," said Sabrina, "going off of what you told me, it sounds to me like Willow is some sort of representative of a great force in Kanto. I'm assuming that this friend she mentioned is very influential when it comes to our region."

"I guess that would make sense," said Ash, "I mean, Willow did tell me that she herself oversaw a large portion of the vulpix in Kanto. And judging by her insane level of strength, it was apparent that she wasn't a normal wild pokemon."

"Exactly," replied Sabrina. "Pokemon have a way of protecting our region, too. Destiny's agents aren't bound by species. They're just as big a part of what's going on as we are."

"I never said they weren't," retorted Ash, flaring his nostrils.

"Anyways," said Sabrina as she looked at him with a blank expression. "If there's one thing that has changed because of your meeting with Willow, it's that we need to remain idle until this friend of hers shows itself to us."

"I agree," said Ash with a nod. "We're just going to have to be patient and see how things unfold."

They continued to talk about Ash's experience with Willow for a little bit longer before Sabrina changed the subject, "So, let me fill you in on what's going to happen at the Game Corner."

"I'm all ears."

"Well, after our conversation a couple of days ago, I talked to Kent Barringer and filled him in on what was going on in Celadon," explained Sabrina. "He immediately got in contact with one of the other first-class ACE trainers."

"And?" queried Ash.

"According to Kent, he should be arriving in Celadon any day now."

"Oh, okay," replied Ash with interested eyes. "Do you know anything about him?"

"I do," answered Sabrina. "Just like Kent, I battled him when he was a rookie."

She paused, "As a matter of fact, they took on Kanto's gym circuit the same year."

"Really?" questioned Ash. "Wouldn't that mean they're the same age? I remember you mentioning that Kent was a rookie when he battled you, too."

"Yes," replied Sabrina, "they're the same age. That year was a promising one for young rookie trainers."

"So, I'm assuming he's good, then?" asked Ash as he readjusted his cap.

"If you're referring to his skill as a pokemon trainer," replied Sabrina, "then, yes, he's good. You can't become a first-class ACE trainer unless you are."

"Yeah, you're right," said Ash as images of Kent's monstrously strong pokemon flooded his mind. "He must be pretty amazing if he's the same rank as Kent."

"Well, for what it's worth, he beat Kent in the conference that year," informed Sabrina. "I'm not quite sure how much he's grown since, but I would guess that in terms of strength, they are relatively close to each other."

"Wow…" muttered Ash, dumbfounded, "what's his name?"

"Andrew Gerdes," replied Sabrina. "His name is Andrew Gerdes."

"Hmm…" murmured Ash, "I've never heard of him."

"Well, that's to be expected," said Sabrina with a blank countenance. "It's been seven years since he participated in the Indigo League, and he chose the life of an ACE trainer. It doesn't matter how strong he is, he's become a tool of the League. Something like fame cannot breach the ACE Corps…at least, not amongst the general public."

"Gotcha'," answered Ash as he thought about some of the sacrifices that ACE trainers had to make in order to remain shrouded in mystery.

"Anyhow," said Sabrina, "I would appreciate it if you would steer clear of the area surrounding the Game Corner for the next couple of days. Even I don't know exactly when Andrew Gerdes will make his move. For all I know, he could be in Celadon as we speak."

"I already told you," retorted Ash, irritated, "I'm not going to get involved this time."

"Ash Ketchum…" Sabrina uttered with intense, skeptical eyes.

"What do you want from me?" asked Ash, making a sour face. "I gave you my word. Would it make you feel better if I signed something?"

"Yeah, actually, it would."

"You're absurd," snorted Ash with a furrowed brow.

A small smirk formed on Sabrina's face, "Given the fact that I have to go to such lengths to keep you in check, I think that it's more appropriate to say that you're the absurd one."

Ash took a moment to reflect. If you were to tell him before he left on his journey that he would have the kind of relationship with Sabrina Marvil in which they would exchange elvish banter, he'd say you were crazy.

"Fair enough, Sabrina," said Ash, shaking his head in an amused manner, "although I think it's safe to say that we're both absurd."

"That may be the wisest thing you've ever said," answered the gym leader, retaining her impish smirk…

Ash and Sabrina continued to joke around with each other for about another fifteen minutes before proceeding to wrap up their conversation.

"Anyways, Sabrina," said Ash, "I should probably get going. The Worthingtons are giving me a ride to the Celadon Gym early in the morning, so I want to get a good night's rest."

"Understandable," replied Sabrina, "I'll let you go, then. Good luck in your gym battle tomorrow, Ash Ketchum. Annihilate Erika Mori."

"I'll do my best," promised Ash.

He paused as something crossed his mind, "Hey, Sabrina, before we hang up, can I ask a favor?"

"What is it?"

"Can you pass the message that Willow gave me to the others?" asked Ash. "It's probably best that they hear it sooner rather than later, and I'm going to be really busy tomorrow."

"I can do that, Ash Ketchum," replied Sabrina, "although I do think that you should give them each a call soon, especially that idiot Bill Montgomery. He sees you as family. I'm sure he would like to hear from you."

She paused, "Besides, it's essential that he sends you that copy of the prophecy. You need to start looking into that. If it's true, you need to know as soon as possible. Remaining ignorant in regard to something like this is just foolish."

"I know…" drawled Ash, "I'll make sure that I reach out to Bill and everyone else before I leave Celadon."

"Good," responded Sabrina, showing Ash another faint smile, which she seemed to be doing a lot more frequently as of late, "Farewell, then, Ash Ketchum."

"Bye, Sabrina…I'll talk to you soon."

"Click."

XXX

"What's that smell?" asked Ash in a curious manner as he got out of the back of Ruphus' inordinate, silver, luxury car.

"Perfume," replied Skylar as she too hopped out of the high-priced vehicle, "that smell is perfume."

"Celadon's southwestern district is littered with all kinds of different perfume and other scent related shops," added Ruphus. "It's a bit much for my taste, but the ladies seem to love it."

Ruphus was right. The second that they got out of the car, both Skylar and Ellen entered a state of bliss. It was obvious that they enjoyed the tantalizing fragrances that all of the different shops were giving off.

To be completely honest, Ash didn't mind it either. The many pheromones were strong, but they were soothing at the same time. He felt like his nose was being spoiled in a way that it never had been before.

If they weren't right outside the Celadon Gym, and he didn't feel the need to keep his puppy pokemon a secret from Erika, Ash would let Growlithe out of his pokeball. That way, he could enjoy it too.

With Growlithe's extraordinary sense of smell, he would probably like Celadon's southwestern district more than any of them. Either that or his nose would be too sensitive to handle it, which Ash didn't think would be the case.

Growlithe's nose only responded poorly to an abundance of emotions or foul smells. Something that smelt as alluring as their current whereabouts didn't tend to do anything other than put Growlithe into a state of ecstasy…

As Ash's nose began to adapt to the enticing aromas that occupied the southwestern district, he was able to use his eyes to take in the scenery around him. Other than the gym, there were a few things that caught his attention.

The landscape and architecture were completely different than every other part of Celadon he had been to.

It still had a contemporary look to it, but the buildings were a lot smaller, and everything felt way more mellow and cozy. Rather than coming off as a massive metropolis, Celadon's southwestern district made Ash feel like he was in the middle of a modest, but flourishing, town. If he were to compare it to any of the other cities he had been to, Ash would say that it reminded him of Viridian.

The streets were active enough to be welcoming and entertaining, but they weren't congested to the point that Ash felt like he was on the verge of being swallowed up. All of the visible spots that weren't occupied by some kind of man-made structure were embellished with beautiful, lush greenery. There were multiple intersecting boulevards that were lined up and down with gorgeous flowers and trees.

On just about every street corner there were outdoor markets, which primarily focused on selling perfume just like the indoor shops. However, Ash also noticed outdoor establishments that sold food and other products. In regard to its abundance of outdoor marketplaces, his mind was brought back to the streets of Cerulean.

Overall, it seemed like a nice part of the city. If Ash had to pick a place to spend a significant amount of time at in Celadon, it would probably be the southwestern district. He had more of an affinity towards quiet communities, such as this one, rather than the bustling northern districts.

However, as appealing as the scenery around the gym was, it didn't really hold a candle to the main attraction. As he stared ahead at the structure in front of him, one thing came to his mind: This was definitely the venue of a grass-type gym leader.

The Celadon Gym could be best described as an industrial-sized greenhouse. It was dome shaped, voluminous, and its external roof and walls were completely made up of a semi-transparent material that encased a world of luscious plant-life. From Ash's current vantage point, he figured that it was made out of tempered glass that slightly blurred what was inside.

"This is the Celadon Gym," said Ruphus, gesturing towards the expansive building. "Inside of it, we'll find Erika."

"It's a lot bigger than I would have thought," replied Ash as he surveyed the entirety of the greenhouse, "and way more suited for grass-types."

"Well, not only is it a gym," inserted Ellen, "but it is one of the largest greenhouses in all of Kanto. The Mori family has been growing various plants here for over fifty years."

"Fifty years…" muttered Ash, surprised, "but it doesn't look that old."

"They take good care of it," answered Ruphus matter-of-factly. "Besides, it's a gym, so the League makes sure that it has state-of-the-art equipment and that it is regularly remodeled and up-to-date."

"Gotcha'" responded Ash as they continued to approach the gym. "Do you guys come down here a lot?"

"Eh, I don't," said Ruphus, shaking his head. "This kind of stuff doesn't really appeal to me."

He paused, "The girls do, though."

Ruphus' answer surprised Ash. Given his less masculine appearance, Ash would have guessed that he'd have more of an interest in Celadon's southwestern district. Then again, although Ruphus' appearance leaned towards eccentric, his personality was rather straightforward. Most of the Worthingtons' offbeat behavior came from Ellen, who was by far the most whimsical of the bunch.

"Oh, really?" queried Ash, shifting his attention to Skylar and Ellen.

"Mhmm…" murmured Skylar, "Mom and I do a lot of shopping down here."

"Yeah," added Ellen with a massive grin, "it's the best place for natural cosmetics, and you can't find perfume like this anywhere else in Celadon."

"I see," replied Ash as they severed more distance between themselves and the gym.

The closer they got, the more excited Ash became. The site of his fourth gym battle was way more fascinating than he had previously imagined. He could hardly wait to find out what was waiting for him inside.

As they reached the front entrance, Ash took a deep breath. He was nervous. Pretty soon, he would be taking part in his first match against a gym leader that wasn't bound by a handicap. This battle wouldn't be like the rest; this one was for real. The Rainbow Badge wouldn't be easy to obtain.

"Everything alright, Ash?" asked Skylar as Ruphus pulled open the single, glass door that served as the only public entrance.

"Yeah, I'm fine," said the ten-year-old boy, trying his best not to display his nerves.

"Good," said Skylar with a smile, "let's go in, then."

Burying his nerves in the process, Ash followed the Worthingtons through the doorway to the Celadon Gym. Despite the fact that he had gotten a decent look at what he would be walking into beforehand because of the glass walls, he couldn't help but be amazed by his new surroundings.

From the outside, although the glass was semi-transparent, the glare from the sun and the density of the glass had significantly obscured what was inside of the structure. Now that he was on the inside, he was able to clearly see the contents of the magnificent greenhouse.

Everywhere he looked was ripe vegetation. It didn't matter what it was, it was lavish and perfectly groomed. Flowers, trees, moss, bushes, vegetables, fruits—all types of plants could be found in the Celadon Gym, and they were all beautiful. The moment he entered the gym, Ash felt like he was Adam, and he had finally returned to the Garden of Eden.

It was unlike anything he had ever seen before.

"Whoa…" drawled Ash, "this is…"

"Incredible," finished Skylar with a big smile. "Isn't it just incredible?"

Ash simply nodded his head, unable to think of a better way to describe it.

Not only was there an unbelievable variety of plants scattered amongst the artificial ecosystem, but Ash also saw several people tending to the plants as well as grass-type pokemon – such as oddish, gloom, tangela, bellsprout, weepinbell, victreebel, exeggcute and exeggutor – that likely belonged to the gym.

In the center of the large, open greenhouse was another small structure. It was diminutive compared to the dome that it dwelled within and had the appearance of a cottage. Judging by the direction that Ruphus was leading them, Ash had a feeling that the cottage was their present destination.

As they approached the tiny structure, Ash noticed the gym's battlefield for the first time. It was directly behind the cottage, surrounded by a plethora of bushes and flowers. At first, Ash was shocked that it had taken him so long to notice it, but the way that it was designed made it blend in with the greenery around it.

Ash couldn't be sure because he wasn't in direct contact with it, but from his current positioning, it looked like the battlefield itself was made out of dark, rich soil. And the boundaries consisted of embedded brick and dried clay tile…

All of a sudden, his attention was drawn away from the battlefield when the door to the cottage abruptly swung open. A girl around his age stormed out, clearly infuriated.

"A loser like you has no right to tell me how to raise my pokemon!" yelled the angry brunette as she shoved a small, multi-colored trinket in her pocket.

"Who are you calling a loser!?" retorted another girl, who looked like she was in her early teens. "If I wasn't forced to use my League registered team, I would have wiped the floor with you, rookie! Come back sometime and battle my real team! Then we'll see who the loser is!"

Ash watched as the brunette glared back at the teenager before ultimately choosing to ignore her. She then continued her angry charge out of gym, all the while cursing under her breath. While she was passing by them, there was a moment in which Ash thought that she glanced at him with eyes of recognition, but he figured he was just seeing things.

He'd never seen the girl before. And if he had, he didn't remember her. More than likely, she was just acknowledging his presence.

"What was that about?" Ruphus asked the black haired teenager, who was still standing in the doorway as they walked up to the cottage.

For a moment, she blinked at Ruphus with a confused expression, noticing him for the first time. However, it didn't take long for her to calm herself down and answer him appropriately.

"Oh, hello, Mr. Worthington," greeted the girl with a soft voice and a cute smile, completely altering her disposition. "Don't worry about that. It was nothing…just a small disagreement amongst trainers."

She paused, "What brings you to the Celadon Gym?"

It was apparent to Ash that she was attempting to redirect the beginning of the conversation. If he were in her shoes, he would try and do the same.

"A friend of mine would like to challenge you to a gym battle," said Ruphus, choosing not to pursue the reason behind the confrontation and gesturing towards Ash.

For the first time, the girl revealed as Erika looked at Ash with curious eyes prior to briefly surveying Ellen and Skylar.

Now that Ash knew who she was, and the bizarre scene that they had just witnessed was over, he took a good look at Celadon's gym leader. Right away, Ash could tell that she was pretty. But, she was attractive in a way that was a lot different than some of the other beautiful girls that he had met throughout his journey.

Erika's appearance leaned more towards being exquisite and cultivated rather than purely physically attractive. Granted, her fine features were drop-dead gorgeous, but it went beyond just that. The entire way she carried herself was enchanting.

Her face was fine and delicate. She wore a light amount of makeup that made her skin look flawless. Erika's eyes were a light, serene brown, and her jet-black hair was straight and went down to about the middle of her slender neck. Giving her hair a little extra bounce was an intricately designed, light red headband with detailed, white leaves etched into it.

Erika's entire body was covered by a beautiful, golden yukata. It made her look like a traditional Japanese princess, from a time long, long ago, who was gracing this era with her presence. Other than her face, the only other part of her body that showed was her delicate arms and hands. Her petite feet were covered by plain white socks, and she wore nicely made wooden clogs that looked as uncomfortable as they were graceful.

"Hmm…you must be an interesting trainer if you're being accompanied by three Worthingtons," said Erika as she planted her eyes on solely Ash. "What's your name?"

"My name's Ash Ketchum," answered the dark-haired boy as he respectfully held his hand out to her. "It's nice to meet you, Erika."

Ash had to admit, he was a little worried that Erika would recognize his name and kick him out of the gym for meddling in Celadon's affairs. However, he quickly realized that he was just being paranoid.

There was no way that Erika knew about his involvement in what was about to take place at the Game Corner. Sabrina hadn't given his name to anyone, and he doubted that Officer Jenny had contacted her about how he had stopped the Rockets. After all, she wasn't exactly the biggest fan of Erika.

Besides, Ash didn't even know if Erika was aware of the upcoming operation, yet. The League would have to let her know eventually, but there was no telling when that would be.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Ketchum," said Erika, disregarding his hand before gently grasping both sides of her yukata and performing a curtsy.

Once she was finished, she stepped aside and used one of her hands to gesture towards the inside of the cottage, "Would you please step inside? Before we battle, you must check-in."

"Sure thing," replied Ash with a nod before walking inside of the cottage.

Behind him, Ash heard Erika exchange a few words with Ellen and Skylar before she and the three Worthingtons followed him inside.

The inside of the cottage wasn't too far off from what Ash expected. There was a desk situated directly in front of the back wall. Another pretty girl that appeared to be about a year older than him sat behind it. She smiled at them the second that they walked through the door, causing Ash's cheeks to turn red.

The rest of the entry room was furnished with some comfortable looking couches and adorned with luxuriant décor. There was even a large, flat screen TV that was situated on a well-made, wooden TV stand. It was evident that the Mori family had put a lot of effort into making the cottage comfortable for those that had to wait for a gym battle.

"Follow me," said Erika, stepping in front and leading them over to what Ash assumed to be the check-in desk.

"Millie, I have another challenger," stated Erika in the direction of the girl behind the desk. "His name is Ash Ketchum. As you can see, he is a friend of the Worthington family."

"Hello, Mr. Ketchum," said Millie, giving him a quick wave.

Before Ash had a chance to respond, she shifted her line of sight over to Skylar, "Hey, Skylar, it's been a long time; nice to see you."

"Nice to see you, too, Millie," replied Skylar, flashing a smile of her own.

"You know each other?" questioned Ash, glancing back and forth between the two girls that looked roughly the same age.

"Yup," answered Skylar, "we've been friends for a long time."

"Ever since we were little," added Millie proudly.

"Gotcha'" replied Ash, electing not to dig any deeper.

Right now, he just wanted to battle Erika. If it was important, he was sure that he would find out more about Skylar and Millie's friendship later.

"Anyways, Millie," said Erika, reacquiring everyone's attention, "there wasn't any damage done to the battlefield during the last match. So, depending on Ash's skill-level, I wouldn't be opposed to accepting his challenge right away."

She paused as she glanced back at him, "Is that alright with you, Ash?"

"The sooner the better," replied Ash with a nod.

"Good," answered Erika as she pointed at the computer on Millie's desk, "well, then, if you wouldn't mind, could you hand my sister your pokedex? It'll record into our system that you've been here. The League has been trying to pay more attention to the number of challengers each gym is getting."

Both of Ash's eyebrows lifted when Erika mentioned that Millie was her sister. After taking another look, he probably should have figured it out on his own. They did resemble each other quite a bit. Millie looked like a younger version of Erika. The only distinct difference, other than their age, was that Millie's glossy, jet-black hair was much, much longer.

"Is something wrong?" asked Erika curiously.

"Oh, no, nothing's wrong," replied Ash as he reached into his back pocket to retrieve his pokedex. "I just didn't realize until now that the two of you are sisters."

"Ah, yes, Millie is my dear little sister," said Erika with an oversized grin. "She's the youngest of the Mori girls."

"The youngest?" queried Ash. "How many is there?"

"There are four of us," inserted Millie, "Erika's the oldest."

"Where are the other two?" asked Ash, unable to suppress his curiosity.

"They're traveling through the Hoenn region right now," replied Erika, rolling her eyes. "Those two could care less about what goes on here at the gym. They left on a journey the day that they turned ten and have only visited a few times since."

"Big sis Freya and big sis Harper definitely march to a different beat," added Millie as Ash finally handed over his pokedex, "but that's what makes them so cool."

"They must be twins," stated Ash, putting the pieces together.

"As identical as they come," said Erika with a small smile, "not even our parents can tell them apart."

"It must be cool having a set of twin sisters," answered Ash. "I don't have any brothers or sisters, but I've always wanted at least one. Is it fun having two that look the exact same?"

"Well…" drawled Erika, "at the very least, it's interesting."

She paused as she turned her attention back over to her little sister, "Anyhow, are you done yet, Millie?"

"Yeah," replied the youngest of the Mori girls as she removed the device from the pokedex dock that was attached to the computer and handed it back to Ash, "the match has been accounted for."

"Erika, may I ask why the League is paying such close attention to the number of challengers each gym is getting?" asked Ruphus, speaking up. "They typically only care about the number of badges each gym gives out, right?"

"I'm not supposed to say anything," answered Erika hesitantly, "but since it's you, Mr. Worthington, I'll make an exception."

Ash listened attentively. Whatever the reason was, he was sure it was intriguing.

"The League is keeping a closer eye on the gyms because of Koga," explained Erika, "if you haven't heard, he's been a little ruthless as of late."

"I remember hearing something about that," said Ash, "however, I don't exactly see why the League would need to check gym attendance because of it."

"Under normal circumstances, I would agree with you," responded Erika with a sigh, "but the problem is that Koga has gotten really bad. No one has won his badge. He's cheated the League registered system. And supposedly, over the last month, his gym has gotten even less challengers than both Giovanni and Blaine."

She paused, "I shouldn't even have to explain how ridiculous that is especially given the fact that he's the gym leader of a major city."

"Wow, even Blaine?" asked Ash, surprised, "but I've heard rumors that his gym doesn't even exist anymore."

"He couldn't be a gym leader if his gym didn't exist," retorted Erika with a sarcastic undertone, "it's just really hard to find…"

"But, that's beside the point," continued Erika. "The reason that the League is paying such close attention to gym statistics is because they're trying to build a case against Koga. If things continue as they are, Fuchsia is in danger of an economic crash. I don't want to go too deep into the details, but each Kanto city relies heavily on tourism and because of Koga's brutality, trainers have avoided Fuchsia altogether."

"The only real place of interest in Fuchsia right now is the Safari Zone," said Erika, "and that actually costs the League more money to keep running than it makes."

"I see," said Ruphus, "does this mean that Koga is in danger of losing his position as a gym leader?"

"It's a possibility," answered Erika with a shrug, "but I don't know for sure. All I know is that the League isn't happy with him."

After listening to what Erika just said, Ash had a feeling that she had no idea that the League was sending a first-class ACE trainer to take out the Game Corner. If she knew, she would be less concerned about Koga, and more concerned about her own jurisdiction.

"Whatever the case may be, the League will respond how they see fit," said Erika. "There isn't much else to it."

She paused, "What do you say we put an end to this political discussion and have a battle?"

Although Ash was interested in what they were talking about, he had to admit, he was ready to battle Erika.

"Sounds good to me," replied Ash, "like I said earlier, the sooner the better."

"Alright, then," answered Erika, looking Ash in the eyes. "Before we can do anything, I have to ask, how many badges do you have?"

"Three," said Ash as he swung his backpack in front of him in order to retrieve his badge case. "Do I need to show them to you?"

"Don't worry about it," replied Erika with a smile. "I trust you."

She paused as Ash fixed his backpack, "This will be your first gym battle without any restrictions. You're aware of this, right?"

"Of course," retorted Ash with a smirk. "I'm prepared to take on whatever you choose to throw at me."

"Good," said Erika, reciprocating Ash's smirk. "Since I'm not required to use my League registered team, I can battle you immediately."

Ash looked at her in a confused manner.

"My last opponent only had two badges before battling me," explained Erika. "She knocked out both of my League registered pokemon. So, if you would have had less than three badges, you would have had to wait here for a while until I healed my pokemon."

"Gotcha'," answered Ash with a nod.

Subsequently, Erika shifted her attention over to her sister.

"Millie, could you be a doll and round up some of the exeggutor for me?" asked the pretty-faced gym leader. "I have a feeling it's going to be one of those kinds of battles."

"Exeggutor?" questioned Skylar. "You're taking on Ash with a team of exeggutor?"

Erika and Millie couldn't help but giggle.

"Although my sister does have an exeggutor that she uses in battle," responded Millie, "these exeggutor are mostly only used to put psychic barriers over the battlefield."

"The Celadon Gym is also their home," added Erika before glaring at Millie. "You make it sound like they're merely tools…"

"I think they know what I mean," retorted Millie, annoyed.

"Eh, whatever," answered Erika, realizing that they were on the verge of bickering in front of guests.

She then placed her focus back on Ash, looking at him with a unique fire in her eyes, "Let's not waste any more time."

Ash gave her a quick nod. Judging by the shift in demeanor and even the scene that they had walked in on right before meeting Erika, he had a feeling that her personality took a unique turn when she battled.

Erika was a lot different than he would have thought. After having a few conversations with other people about her, he had been under the impression that she was a stuck up girl that had stumbled into the role of being a gym leader. He hadn't even battled her yet, and he could tell that there was a lot more to her than what people thought.

Ash was snapped out of his rumination as Erika casually walked past them, making her way towards the cottage door.

Excitement stirred within Ash as he realized that it was finally time to let loose.

"Follow me, Ash."

XXX

While trekking through the thick soil in order to get to his designated trainer box, Ash felt like he had stepped into an oversized planter rather than a battlefield. He could see why Erika had chosen to design her gym's battlefield the way she had. The rich soil was a great environment for all kinds of grass-type techniques—Ingrain immediately came to Ash's mind.

Still, he couldn't help but feel like it was a bit much.

"What do you think!?" asked Erika, from across the battlefield, as Ash stepped onto the tile based trainer box.

"Well, it's perfect for grass-types!" yelled Ash while trying his best to shake the soil off of his shoes.

"Exactly!" replied Erika. "This soil is full of nutrients. It is the perfect terrain for grass pokemon."

"I bet!" exclaimed Ash, humoring Erika as she gloated about her gym's most important feature.

As he took a deep breath to prepare himself for what was to come, he saw Ruphus, Ellen and Skylar standing off to the side, waiting with anticipation for the action to begin.

It was nice to know that he had friends there to watch his battle, but at the same time, he felt like it added to the preexistent pressure that already came with the fact that this was his first gym battle since acquiring three badges.

He also couldn't help but think that it was the perfect opportunity to show them that he was truly worthy of training Eevee. They would get a chance to see what the silver fox had to look forward to with him as her trainer. The Worthingtons were about to see his friends at full strength.

"The rules will be a little different now that you have more than three badges!" shouted Erika, recapturing Ash's attention, "so let me explain them to you before we begin!"

She paused, "First of all, this will be a four-on-four battle as opposed to a two-on-two!"

Ash nodded. He'd been expecting a four-on-four, so that wasn't a surprise.

"In addition," continued Erika, "although I am not allowed to return a pokemon once they have been released, you may switch pokemon freely and as many times as you would like!"

She smirked, "I suggest you take advantage of this rule! While facing a superior opponent, match-ups are everything."

Ash couldn't help but snicker under his breath. He was right; Erika definitely had a different air to her when it came to battling. A superior opponent; talk about arrogance. He'd make her eat those words.

"I'll keep that in mind!" retorted Ash vigorously.

"The rest is just like any other battle!" yelled Erika, seemingly oblivious to the fact that she had just riled Ash up.

She paused, glancing around as if she was searching for something, "Millie should be—"

"I'm right here!" replied the youngest of the Mori sisters, causing Ash to turn his head in the direction that her voice was coming from.

Walking up behind the Worthingtons was Millie, who was accompanied by four bulky exeggutor. Each one of their three heads portrayed a different facial expression, and the green foliage extending out of the top of their trunk-like bodies had all four of them standing at least six-feet tall.

Ash didn't know too much about exeggutor; the exeggcute line wasn't a breed that he was particularly interested in. However, he knew enough about them to understand that they were difficult to train and required a strict trainer that was willing and capable of managing their triad of personalities.

Given the fact that the Celadon Gym had four well-behaved exeggutor, who weren't even a part of the gym leader's team, it was clear to Ash just how talented Erika and her gym trainers were when it came to handling grass-types. He couldn't wait to find out what kind of grass pokemon Erika would call upon in their upcoming battle.

As Ash visualized in his head his four pokemon of choice going up against whatever Erika threw at him, he witnessed each exeggutor casually position themselves on one of the four sides of the battlefield.

Subsequently, all four of the exeggutors' six eyes emanated a bright pink light as they initiated the process of raising a large protective barrier over where the match would be taking place.

As the exeggutors' psychic energy gradually came together, forming a bright pink, rectangular shaped barrier that encompassed the entirety of the battlefield and extended vertically all the way to the greenhouse's ceiling, Ash couldn't help but be reminded of the handful of kadabra that raised the psychic barrier over the SS Anne's state-of-the-art arena.

To be completely honest, Ash was more impressed by the barrier that the four exeggutor had conjured up rather than what the kadabra on the SS Anne had materialized. The fact that they had been able to create such an airy barrier in such a short amount of time was remarkable.

"Awesome!" exclaimed Ash as he stared up at the towering barrier.

"Isn't it!?" shouted Erika from the opposite side of the battlefield.

She paused, "It's a combination of Light Screen, Psychic and Reflect—configured so that elemental techniques can't permeate through either side. It doesn't nullify physical attacks, and people and pokemom can freely move in and out without taking any damage."

"Wow…" drawled Ash, "that's quite the combination move. Does it have a name!?"

"Nope!" shouted Erika, shaking her head. "We don't really see the point in naming it since the exeggutor can't use it on their own, and it's really only useful for this purpose."

That makes sense!" replied Ash.

Now that the barrier was up, and they were both situated in their respective trainer boxes, Erika shot Ash a look that signified that it was time to start the battle.

"Alright, Ash, are you ready to do this!?" howled Erika.

"Oh, I'm ready!" answered Ash, eyes ablaze.

"You won't stand a chance if you're not!" retorted Erika.

She paused, "The first move is on you! The battle starts when both of us release our first pokemon!"

"Is there no referee!?" shouted Ash, raising an eyebrow.

"They're not required for gym battles where the challenger has more than three badges!" stated Erika. "I' m more than capable of judging this match on my own!"

"Gotcha'!" howled Ash as he thought of the fact that Sabrina had illegally chosen not to have a referee during their League registered match...

For the next several seconds, it was quiet as Erika waited for Ash to release his first pokemom. Before he arrived at the gym, he already knew who he was going to start off with. He'd heat things up right away with one of his fire-types: Charmeleon.

While Ash reached for Charmeleon's pokeball, he was suddenly halted by a female voice calling out his name. He shifted his line of sight in the direction that the voice was coming from and was surprised to find Skylar, passing through the barrier before sprinting over to his side.

"What's going on!?" shouted Erika, confused.

"Sorry, Erika!" apologized Skylar, quickly turning around and bowing in an awkward manner at the teenaged gym leader. "I just have to ask Ash something real quick!"

"Um, alri—" managed Erika before Skylar turned back around and faced Ash, cutting her off.

"Can I have Eevee's pokeball?"

"Huh, why?" questioned Ash, interested in hearing Skylar's intentions.

"I think that it will be good for the two of you if she sees this battle," replied Skylar without hesitation. "Although you defeated Eevee and won her allegiance fair and square, she's going to take a little bit of time to warm up to you. I think if she witnesses this gym battle firsthand and sees what she has to look forward to, she'll end up listening better when you start training together."

She paused, lowering her voice down to a whisper, "When it comes to Eevee, respect means a lot. She probably respects you already because you defeated her, but I think she may admire you even more if she watches you defeat Erika."

"But, I haven't even let her out since she officially joined my team," answered Ash. "I was planning on doing that when I had the time to sit down and talk to her. I don't want to confuse her, you know?"

"Don't worry about that," said Skylar with a smile. "I've known Eevee for a lot longer than you have. I can take care of whatever is going on inside of her head. Just trust me, and focus on beating Erika."

She held out her hand, waiting anxiously for Ash to give it to her.

He let out a deep sigh as he detached Eevee's pokeball from his belt.

"Fine," responded Ash, placing it in her hand, "but I'm blaming you if I lose, and she changes her mind about me."

"But, you're not going to lose, are you?" said Skylar, followed by a wink, as she slowly started to back away in the direction of her parents and Millie, who had joined them at some point.

"I'm not planning on it," he replied with a confident smile.

"That's what I thought," answered Skylar as she waved playfully in his direction before phasing back through to the other side of the barrier. "Good luck, Ash!"

"Thanks!" exclaimed the dark-haired boy as he focused his attention back on Erika.

A few seconds later, he noticed a flash of bright light being unleashed from the outer edge of his peripherals. Skylar sure didn't waste anytime in letting Eevee out.

"Okay, Ash, no more distractions!" howled Erika as she pulled a shrunken pokeball out of one of the loose sleeves on her yukata, causing Ash to raise an eyebrow. "My patience is running thin!"

"I understand!" retorted Ash, detaching Charmeleon's pokeball from his trainer belt. "There won't be anymore distractions; I'm ready!"

He drew a relaxing breath through his nose as he enlarged his lizard pokemon's pokeball.

Erika responded by mirroring Ash and enlarging the red and white orb in her grasp.

Choosing not to delay the inevitable any longer, Ash clenched Charmeleon's pokeball tightly in his hand before launching it into the center of the battlefield.

In immediate succession, before Charmeleon's pokeball had snapped open, Ash saw Erika's pokeball leave her hand as she casually tossed it into the air.

The next few seconds consisted of a bright array of twinkling white light as both trainers' first choices materialized onto the battlefield.

When the light from the pokeball Ash had thrown dissipated, the form of a crimson scaled reptile stood in its stead. Upon release, Charmeleon beat his chest with one of his claws and spewed out a quick, intimidating burst of flames from his nostrils, signifying that he was ready for battle.

The outburst of energy from Erika's pokeball lasted a little bit longer, but once it had faded, a strange ball of blue vines appeared on Erika's side of the field. Ash immediately recognized the outlandish pokemon as a tangela: an extremely rare grass-type that was indigenous to southwestern Kanto.

Other than Tangela's surplus of thick, blue, twisted and snarled vines, the only other parts of its body that were visible were its two big goofy looking white eyes – that each had a minute black speck for a pupil – and its pair of red boot-like feet.

"That's a good looking Charmeleon!" shouted Erika from across the battlefield as both pokemon stared at each other. "However, if you think that type-advantage alone will win you this match, you're fooling yourself!"

Ash ignored her comment. He'd let the battle speak for itself. There was no need to engage in pointless banter. Besides, he didn't need her to tell him that type-advantage in and of itself wouldn't ensure a victory; he wasn't that narrow minded. Type-advantage certainly helped, but this battle would come down to a lot more than something as rudimentary as that.

"Charmeleon, start things off with Ember!"

Obeying his trainer's command, Charmeleon spit out a lone, condensed fireball. It jetted in the direction of its target at a tremendous speed, whistling and hissing as it pierced through the air.

Ever since he evolved, Charmeleon's velocity with Ember and Dragon Rage had increased to a level that he never would have been capable of as a charmander. It was impressive to say the least. However, he would have to be a little more creative if he wanted to hit a gym leader's pokemon, especially with a move that it was weary of.

It's not like Tangela had too many options when it came to dealing with a move like Ember, which it was so vulnerable to. Unless it knew Protect or some other neutral nullification technique, blocking it wasn't an option. It was either find a way to intercept it or dodge.

Right before the Ember was about to make contact with it, the tangela emitted a strange gargling noise that was incomparable to anything Ash had ever heard before, and it precipitously threw its body out of the way.

As soon as it cleared the Ember, Tangela unleashed what looked like a chain of twisting and intersecting vines downward that submerged into the soil, stopping it from tumbling awkwardly across the battlefield.

In the moment, Ash wasn't sure whether Erika's tangela was using Vine Whip or Ingrain to stabilize itself. Whatever the case may be, it was unorthodox, and he now knew that it had a way to move across the field in a nimble and elusive manner.

"Tangela, use Vine whip to strike!" shouted Erika as the outlandish grass-type came to a standstill.

While keeping some of its, now elongated, vine-like appendages firmly rooted in the soil, Tangela distended another group of vines in the direction of Charmeleon. They started off soaring through the air like a bundle of casted fishing lines. However, it didn't take long for their malicious intent to be revealed, abruptly hurtling at Charmeleon like a bunch of menacing whips.

"Burn them!" commanded Ash without a hint of hesitation.

He'd had Charmeleon spar with Ivysaur enough to know that he wouldn't be able to dodge them in time from this distance. On top of that, Tangela's numerous amounts of vines far outnumbered Ivysaur's trusty duo, giving it a much greater chance at landing a direct hit.

Smoothly and efficiently, Charmeleon shot out a barrage of flames that intercepted all of Tangela's impending vines. As expected, they were scorched to nothing in less than a second, leaving Charmeleon untouched.

Ash smiled, clearly amused. The battle's first exchange was free of damage; he couldn't see that lasting for very much longer.

His eyes widened when Tangela shook its body, covering itself in a bright purple powder that came from somewhere beneath its multitude of vines. It didn't take him more than a second to decipher that the grass-type had coated itself in a thin layer of Poison Powder.

"You can't let it touch you with its vines!" bellowed Ash as the tangela once again prepared to lash out with Vine Whip.

Truth be told, the poison would likely reach Charmeleon even if its vines got close, but Ash didn't want to make his friend overthink things too much. Ash knew ahead of time that Erika was bound to use moves that left status effects. This battle would just as much be about avoiding status effects and enduring them once they'd been inflicted, as much as it was about dealing damage to the opponent.

Listening to Ash's warning, Charmeleon darted out of the way while torching any vines that got too close with Ember. The second he made it through Tangela's first Vine Whip/Poison Powder assault, the tiny, albeit powerful, grass-type shook out some more Poison Powder before trying to lash at him again.

"Keep at it, Charmeleon!" Ash encouraged his friend as he repeatedly dodged and intercepted vine after vine with Ember.

While Charmeleon was busy avoiding Tangela's relentless assailment, Ash did whatever he could to think of a counterattack. He had a couple of ideas in mind, but in order to make any of them a reality, he had to wait for an opening that they could take advantage of.

"When it shakes for more poison, hit it with as many Embers as you can!" commanded Ash, "In the meantime, continue to dodge the best that you can! I have an idea!"

For the next several seconds, Ash watched as Charmeleon desperately tried to maneuver around Tangela's poisonous vines. Somehow, he managed to outlast its assault, but as soon as he thought that Tangela was about to shake out some more poison, Erika switched things up by giving her grass-type a new command.

"Tangela, use Growth followed by Bind!" yelled the gym leader, raising her hand in an authoritative manner.

Following Erika's orders, Tangela withdrew the vines that it had been attacking Charmeleon with while pumping its body with whatever natural chemicals it needed in order to raise its attack power.

Ash wasn't too familiar with the move Growth, but usually status moves that boosted a pokemon's physical attributes took a second to stabilize. Just as he had been planning on taking advantage of the time that Tangela took to douse its vines in Poison Powder, he would use this as an opening.

"Don't wait for it!" ordered Ash with excitement in his voice. "Charge it, and hit it with an Ember barrage!"

Huffing and puffing on account of the tremendous amount of energy he had exerted while dodging Tangela's multiple attempts at Vine Whip, Charmeleon dug his reptilian feet into the ground and loaded his mouth with blazing hot flames before taking off toward Tangela.

He kept his flames idle in his maw for a brief moment as he forced up as much of his internal flame as he could. When he finally let them go, it was apparent that Charmeleon had put a lot into them by the way that the temperature within the barrier drastically increased.

As the flames closed in on Tangela, Ash crossed his fingers and hoped that they would hit. Just when he thought that the grass-type was too preoccupied with Growth to do something about Charmeleon's incoming attack, Tangela once again attempted to throw itself out of the way by using the vines that it had buried in the soil as leverage.

There was a loud, aberrant shriek as the first of the Embers collided with Tangela, burning part of the vines that directly shielded its body. Even though it sounded and looked bad, Ash wasn't too concerned about the Tangela's general well-being. It was still a ways away from being defeated. Moreover, Tangela were known for rapidly regenerating their vines.

After all, there was a reason why scientists had yet to find out what was hidden underneath a tangela's vines. Under ordinary circumstances, they grew at an extraordinary pace. When stimulated by pain, anxiety or adrenaline, they grew almost ten times as fast with a significant increase in abundance.

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