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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10. Kanto 4 Part 2

Ash took a few steps forward, garnering Squirtle's undivided attention. The dark-haired boy sat down Indian-style, meeting Squirtle's cold, knife-like eyes with his own.

"Do you know what's going on?"

Squirtle replied with a lucid grunt.

"You've been captured," replied Ash. "You're no longer part of the Squirtle Squad."

The turtle-pokemon quickly flashed a brief display of malice, before abruptly suppressing it in response to Pidgeotto's nefarious squawk.

Ash buried his nerves, as he continued. "The League will take good care of your gang..."

Squirtle took a big breath in attempt to remain emotionless.

"Officer Jenny told me your story," said Ash. "I know you've been through hell."

Squirtle showed a sliver of uneasiness, while listening to Ash's words. This trainer knew about his past...yet he still wanted him, why?

"My names Ash," said the boy, while pointing to himself. "I'm a pokemon trainer. I'd like to make this process as smooth as possible. I don't care how long it takes, but understand that eventually you're going to have to listen to me. The sooner you submit — the faster we can begin to train. I just want to make one thing clear...I will never release you — whether you want me to, or not. I always finish what I've started, and from the moment I caught you I made the commitment to raise you into one of the strongest pokemon in the world."

Squirtle raised the reptilian skin above his left eye, clearly intrigued by Ash's words. The boy's dogma was definitely in the right place, but humans — humans were liars.

As if Ash was synchronized with Squirtle's mind, he answered. "I know you probably don't trust me because I'm human, but I can assure you that I am different...I think that what your old trainer did was despicable. No matter how bad his injuries were. You were his family…and he betrayed you."

Squirtle showed a hint of emotion, as he expressed a barely noticeable frown.

"What do you guys think?" asked Ash aloud, desiring the support of his friends.

All three of his pokemon nodded their heads in agreement. Charmander even stepped forward, while speaking out in his native tongue. Ash wasn't exactly sure what he was saying. However, judging by Squirtle's surprised expression, he thought it might have something to do with the fire-types' similar past...

Squirtle processed what the charmander had said. According to the lizard pokemon, the human named Ash had saved the fire-type's life. Charmander had been abandoned, just like him. The lizard's wounds were physical, while his were emotional. Squirtle thought back to the good times he had shared with his old trainer, and wondered if it was really possible to have something like that again.

Ash interjected. "If you don't open up your heart things will never get better. You'll just remain stuck, all by yourself, in this icy realm that you've created. Give me a chance…I promise I will not disappoint."

Squirtle was internally conflicted; he feared opening up his heart, yet the boy's words sounded genuine. The turtle-pokemon had lived the last couple years of his life in an icy haze. Could this boy really be the one to help him feel again?

"My pokemon and I are a family," said Ash. "It's your decision what kind of role you want to take on. You can be obedient from the beginning…or rebellious. Regardless, you are part of my family now. I want to make that clear."

The turtle-pokemon suddenly felt something he hadn't felt in a long time…warmth. It started in his chest, before gradually spreading out throughout the rest of his body.

Ash witnessed a distinct change in Squirtle's eyes. They turned from a cold, hellish stare to a warmer, more hopeful gaze. For the first time the boy could tell that he was getting through.

"My training won't be easy," said Ash. "But I will do whatever it takes to bring out your fullest potential. Judging by your build, I would assume that you're close to evolving. I will help you become the strongest blastoise on the planet."

Squirtle didn't know what it was, but the boy's words transcended truth. It was as if the boy was speaking divinity.

"So what will it be Squirtle…do you choose to obey?

The turtle-pokemon mulled it over one last time…before coming to a final decision. He'd give this Ash what he was looking for. He'd follow the person that this boy pledged to be. However, if the boy failed to live up to his own, self-proclaimed expectations, he wouldn't hesitate to revolt.

Squirtle nodded, pledging his fealty to Ash.

The dark-haired boy gave Squirtle a toothy grin, while patting his new friend on the head. "Fantastic! I promise that you've made the right decision!"

Squirtle responded blankly, not quite sure how to react to the abbreviate affection.

Ash stood up from his spot, before wiping the dirt from his pant legs. "Now that the hard parts over, I'd like to properly introduce you to part of the team."

Ash looked Squirtle in the eyes, before gesturing over to Clefairy. "This is Clefairy. She's the only female on the team. She's been with me for a while now…so if you have any questions she would be a good one to ask."

Clefairy waved her hand in the air, officially greeting the turtle-pokemon.

Squirtle simply nodded, acknowledging the esoteric creature's existence.

"This is Charmander," continued Ash, while pointing at the lizard pokemon. "He joined the team right before I caught you. You've already heard his story..."

Charmander responded by puffing up his chest and flexing his stubby biceps.

"He's also pretty funny," inserted Ash with an abbreviate chuckle.

Squirtle smiled with his eyes, amused by the lizard pokemon's antics.

Ash moved on, smirking as he introduced his giant avian. "And this is Pidgeotto…you two have met under some less than friendly circumstances."

Pidgeotto leaned over like a succubus, trying to get a rise out of Squirtle.

Squirtle shot Pidgeotto a glare of his own, not backing down a single inch.

"Pidgeotto knock it off!" howled Ash, as he instantaneously tried to diffuse the situation. The flying-type malignantly chortled, while diverting his gaze from the turtle-pokemon.

Ash walked Squirtle a few feet away from Pidgeotto, before glancing down at the most recent addition to his team. "There are also two others — Growlithe and Bulbasaur. They faced the Vermillion City gym leader yesterday, so they're still recovering."

…Squirtle's eyes lit up. Something about what Ash had just said piqued his interest.

"What is it?" asked Ash. "Is something wrong…?"

Squirtle shook his head, minimizing the significance of the ordeal. The truth is; he was thrilled by the prospect of challenging the Kanto gym circuit. Competing in a gym battle was a dream he'd thought he had given up a long time ago.

Ash ignored the obvious shift in countenance. If Squirtle found it necessary to conceal his heart on the occasion it wasn't a big deal. He was just happy that Squirtle had agreed to obey…

XXX

"Try and make them bigger!"

Pidgeotto quavered both wings, distributing another installment of draconic energy into his twin tempests. The increase in the draconic element drew upon an excess of wind, thus enhancing the binary-twister's overall scope.

"Now create the wall!" howled Ash. "Compartmentalize!"

The barbaric avian inhaled a big breath with his nostrils, before exhaling a steady stream of high velocity air. It flowed in between the tempests, disrupting the natural pull of the two matching powers.

"Good! Good! Good!" exclaimed Ash excitedly. "Now stabilize!"

Pidgeotto ceased the increase in draconic energy and allowed the duel-twisters to briefly settle. Once they were secure, he let down the wall. The two menacing cyclones grated against the atmosphere, creating a loud menacing hiss. The flying-type balanced them amidst his wings, while waiting for an order.

"Throw them!"

...Pidgeotto violently propelled the large geminate tornados

They moved across the ground like a couple of wild tauros, vacuuming numerous stray objects in the process. The surrounding trees rustled and pulled, being stretched by the attacks overwhelming suction. The clearing's dirt was sporadically assimilated, changing the techniques tint from vibrant lavender, to a more ominous dark-purple.

Pidgeotto's custom technique smashed into the targeted boulder, triggering a massive explosion. As the twisters dissipated, the debris was impelled in every which direction. Ash covered his eyes in response to the dwindling fog of dirt caused by the detonation.

After noticing his trainers' uncomfortable expression, the flying-type used a quick gust in order to clear the filthy air. When the dust settled, Pidgeotto squawked in satisfaction. Twin tempest had been tamed.

"That was awesome!" roared Ash, while jumping up and down gleefully. "Great job, Pidgeotto!"

The barbarous bird chortled sadistically, truly excited for the amount of destruction he would be able to cause with his new attack.

"We're definitely using that in the S.S. Anne tournament," said Ash. "What do you say?"

Pidgeotto crooned, delighted by the idea.

"Great," said Ash. "Now take a rest…were done for the day."

XXX

Clefairy darted dauntlessly across the clearing, as Charmander fired a barrage of ember. She effortlessly minimized, dodging the fire-balls in quick succession. The fairy-type used traditional means when necessary. But the majority of her evasions consisted of manipulating herself into a minuscule target.

Ash grinned, extremely pleased by the outcome of the past couple weeks of training. "Charmander, turn it up! More fire!"

His fire-type expedited more of his inner-flame, doubling the velocity and expansiveness of his attack.

Clefairy continued to skillfully dodge, using the thaumaturgic energy in her body to shrink and expand. She bit by bit closed the proximity between Charmander and herself, preparing to position herself for a pound attack.

The lizard pokemon ceased the barrage, loading a quick-fire focus punch. Moments before Charmander was able to use the technique, Clefairy landed her hardened fist into his gut. The fairy-type's pound caused a significant amount of pain. Ash watched at the moment of impact, while Charmander's eyes bulged and his expression contorted.

The fire-type was launched across the glade, rapidly rolling across the dirt like a tumbleweed. Once the fire-type had slowed down enough to conquer his momentum, he used his short arms to spring himself back to his feet. The lizard gathered himself, before sprinting towards Clefairy while loading another focus punch. He used a well-timed ember to keep Clefairy at bay, as he completed the charge.

Clefairy shrunk to about a fourth of her normal size, as a frustrated Charmander whiffed overhead. She then proceeded to quickly expand, flattening her palm for a vicious double-slap. The lizard pokemon responded quickly, using his non-dominant arm to block his teammates strike. He sequentially used his other claw to lash out with scratch, catching Clefairy across the chest.

The fairy-type quickly minimized, before breaking free of the close-combat exchange. She was just about to emit a disarming-voice when…

"That's enough!" bellowed Ash. "It's just a spar. I need you to stay healthy before the S.S. Anne."

Both pokemon dropped their stances disappointedly, before cantering over to their beckoning trainer.

"You guys did great," said Ash. "Clefairy, I think we can probably start learning a new technique. It looks to me like you've finally mastered minimize."

Clefairy nodded; she had to admit, the technique was becoming rather natural.

"I did some research on the pokedex," muttered Ash. "I think we'll learn stored power next."

Clefairy grunted in agreement. Stored power was a technique that she recognized. A lot of the clefairy and clefable back at Mt. Moon were masters of it. Essentially it was a great counter move against pokemon that liked to increase their power with status techniques. It essentially copied the opponent's enhancement, but focused the absorbed energy into a concentrated blast. It would be a worthwhile technique to conquer.

"Glad you approve," said Ash with a smile, before diverting his attention to a solemn Charmander. "You've lessened the charge time by a ton. Don't be so down on yourself."

Charmander lifted his head, as he listened to his trainer's encouraging words. "Focus punch isn't an easy technique. It's going to take a while to fully master. Just be patient...we'll get there."

Charmander squealed elatedly in response to Ash's kind words. He subsequently clutched the boy's leg affectionately, doing whatever he could to portray his admiration.

"Thanks buddy," said Ash, as he pat his fire-lizard on the top of the head. "But be careful of your tail-flame…it's awfully close to my pants."

Charmander frenziedly backed away, after realizing that his tail was a mere centimeter away from Ash's clothes. The fire-lizard sheepishly scratched the back of his head, while diffusing an awkward chuckle.

Ash burst into laughter. Life with his pokemon never ceased to be entertaining

XXX

After checking Squirtle's move-set with his pokedex and identifying his ability, Ash needed to do a detailed evaluation pertaining the turtle pokemon's current techniques. Even though he had acquired a decent feel for his water-type's long-range style of combat during their battle at the banquet, he wanted to witness Squirtle's techniques from a more personal perspective.

Squirtle also seemed to be in a fairly good mood. After explaining to the turtle-pokemon that they were going on a cruise around the region, he instantly perked up — which in Squirtle's case meant that he looked a tad less cold-blooded. Ash had a feeling Squirtle didn't quite understand the concept of a cruise ship. The turtle pokemon had heard the word ocean and that was all she wrote.

"Alright, so tackle and tail whip are pretty much inherent…so you don't have to show me those," said Ash. "But I'd like to see your water gun, withdraw, bubble, and bite."

Squirtle grunted affirmatively in his low, alto-toned voice, before stepping out in front of Ash.

"Water gun first," commanded Ash, while pointing at one of the many scattered trees in the distance. "First we'll check velocity…shoot as hard as you can at that oval tree."

With a blank face, Squirtle concocted a powerful water gun in his gullet. It sat idly for a split-second, before being fired at a frightening rate. It hit the tree's center at an incomprehensible speed, causing the thick trunk to tremor and the leaves to fall to the ground.

"Damn…" muttered Ash. "So your velocity is obviously just fine...next we'll check your accuracy."

Ash cantered ahead, gathering a few loose pine cones along the way. The dark haired-boy subsequently placed them on a wide, stout tree stump. The surface was uneven; whoever had chopped it down had done a shoddy job of staying straight.

The tree stump was situated about a hundred feet away from where Squirtle stood. Once Ash returned to the water-type's side, he explained the objective…

"I want you to shoot down those pine cones as fast as possible without missing," commanded Ash. "They're pretty far so—."

Ash was interrupted by Squirtle's rapid fire. The turtle pokemon stood emotionless, after shooting the three pine cones down expertly within a matter of seconds.

"Okay…" babbled Ash, slack-jawed. "So accuracy is through the roof—hold on, let me try something!"

The dark-haired boy ran out into the clearing, picking up as many pine cones as possible. "I'm going to throw these high and fast…shoot them all before they hit the ground."

Ash proceeded to throw them up into the air as fast as he could, trying to challenge Squirtle's long-range expertise. He had no such luck. Squirtle shot them all down with ease, proving to be as equally adroit with moving targets, as he was with stationary targets.

"Pretty damn impressive," retorted Ash. "Your water gun is impeccable."

Squirtle quietly nodded — he had spent countless hours honing the technique.

Water gun — check.

"Alright time to show me your' withdraw," said Ash. "This shouldn't take too long...just let me see how fast you can conceal and reveal. This technique is all about speed. A squirtle's shell is always durable, unless there is some kind of birth defect."

By the time Ash had finished his next blink, Squirtle had palpitated in and out of his shell. The turtle-pokemon revealed a feeble smirk, as he watched Ash's jaw drop for a second time.

Withdraw — check.

"Okay…how about bubble?" requested Ash. "You used it against Pidgeotto, but I'd like to see just how much range it actually has."

Squirtle responded quickly, sucking in a massive breath. His cheeks condensed, as he passed the air through his internal hose and into his everlasting container. He secreted his gastric acid consciously from his stomach into his container, temporarily carbonating a portion of his internal reservoir.

Ash watched, as Squirtle dispersed a voluminous array of chemically induced bubbles. They floated through the air at an impressive velocity, proving their wielder's competence. Not a single bubble popped incidentally. Every single one lasted until contact — which resulted in a discordant paroxysm.

"Well done," praised Ash. "Bubble is just as impressive as the others."

Squirtle gave Ash a curt nod, signifying that he was ready to move on.

Bubble — check.

"Gotcha," said Ash, as he wiped the sweat from his forehead, before leading Squirtle over to a thick, ring-cupped oak tree. "Last but not least...I want to check out your bite. Now this is a pretty sturdy tree, so feel it out before you commit."

Squirtle obediently set his jaw around a fragment of the tree. He did as the boy asked — feeling it out cautiously before entrusting the strength of his jaw. Once he calculated its density, the turtle pokemon came to a decision. He opened his mouth as wide as possible, before closing it with tremendous force. He bit straight through the tree's trunk, unintentionally smacking his teeth together jarringly, as a result of exceeding the required amount of effort.

Bite — check.

Ash chuckled aloud. "It seems you pass. All of your current techniques are perfect."

Squirtle stared ahead expressionlessly, not knowing how to react to Ash's praise.

Ash scratched the back of Squirtle's head affectionately, purposely ignoring his confused quaver. "Good job. Now that I know exactly where you are at, we can start learning a new technique."

Squirtle looked up at Ash; his countenance expressed nothing, however his eyes showed interest.

"Next we'll begin to learn rapid spin," explained Ash. "You could use another physical attack to compliment your long-range expertise."

Squirtle emitted a low grunt.

...So far so good — his new trainer had yet to disappoint.

XXX

"Ring…"

"Ring..."

"Ring..."

"Click."

"Hi honey!" exclaimed his mother, as she elatedly picked up the phone. "How are you doing? Have you reached Vermillion City yet?"

Ash smiled, as he soaked in the sound of his mother's voice. "I've been in Vermillion since Tuesday. I already got the Thunder Badge!"

"Well isn't that exciting," acknowledged his mother. "I hear Lt. Surge is quite the gym leader. It must have been a tough battle."

"It was," said Ash. "He even asked for a rematch…I'm gonna get to battle him at full-strength once I earn all of my badges."

"That's great," replied Delia. "I can't wait to hear all about it! Now tell me, how do you like Vermillion City? Gosh...I haven't been there in years."

Ash turned up the volume on his xtranceiver, as he answered. "I like it...It's a really busy city, so it's kind of been crazy. But I got to watch the S.S. Aqua depart the other day, so that was pretty cool."

"The S.S. Aqua's the one that goes to Olivine City, right?" asked his mother. "I always get it confused with the one that they're having that big event for."

"Yeah, the S.S. Aqua travels to and from Johto," replied Ash. "But the S.S. Anne is actually one of the reasons that I needed to call you."

"What about it?"

Ash continued. "Surge was giving out tickets to anyone that defeated him. So when I beat him, I won a ticket to board during the fiftieth anniversary event. I leave tomorrow morning."

"Well isn't that a treat!" exclaimed his mother. "How long is it?"

"A week," answered Ash. "All expenses are paid for; it's basically a free vacation."

"Oh honey I'm happy for you, it sounds like you'll have a blast!" elated Delia. "Just make sure you don't forget to change your underwear amidst all of the festivities."

Ash blushed, garnering the attention of Growlithe and Clefairy — Growlithe had finally fully-recovered, so Ash was happy to have him lounging about outside of his pokeball.

The ten-year old boy sat down on the edge of the lodges' bed, as he disconcertedly replied. "I won't mom…."

Ash could hear Clefairy snicker from behind him. Growlithe didn't make a peep. The puppy pokemon had already met Mrs. Ketchum…he didn't want to run the risk of her over hearing him.

Ash ignored his giggling fairy-type, as he prepared to wrap up the short conversation. "Well anyway…I should probably get going Mom. I leave first thing in the morning and need to get some good rest."

"Absolutely honey," said Delia. "Get a good night sleep. I love you."

"I love you too Mom," replied Ash. "I'll give you a call sometime soon."

"I look forward to it. Bye Ashy, have fun!"

"Bye Mom."

"Click."

Ash released a giant sigh, as he promptly fell backward on the comfortable bed. "I miss her…"

Feeling the need to provide comfort, Growlithe and Clefairy cuddled up next to him. The dark-haired boy smiled at his friend's thoughtfulness. He couldn't ask for better friends, he mused to himself…as he internally reflected.

Ash laid there for a while, simply meditating over his adventures. When he felt like he was close to nodding off, he returned Clefairy — who preferred to sleep in her pokeball. In subsequence he hit the light, causing the scope of the room to dwindle out of sight. He burrowed underneath the covers with Growlithe snuggled up right by his side. Tomorrow he would disembark on the S.S. Anne, until then…he was signing off.

XXX

After waiting through the obnoxiously long line and passing through the many security checkpoints, Ash found himself at the base of a long, slanted boarding ramp.

He spotted a decent enough gap in the large mass of people to get a visual of the ship's hull. It was colossal — probably close to a thousand feet in length and a hundred feet in breadth. Ash obviously wasn't able to see the base of the keelbut he would guess that the ship was probably close to a hundred-and-fifty feet tall. The S.S. Anne definitely lived up to its billing as one of the greatest man-made wonders of the world. Its size was almost as impressive as its elegance. The hull's pearl-white exterior glistened beautifully, as the light from the sun shined across its surface. Its two golden chimneys reached towards the sky with authority, complimenting the pearl-white exterior's exquisiteness.

Ash had to wait another half-hour to get through the line on the ramp, before he stood face to face with a muscular, well-groomed sailor. The sailor sat behind a temporary booth, barely inside the confines of the ship. Situated to the left of the booth was a tall wooden cubby, filled to the brim with room-keys.

"Ticket please," said the sailor, as he held out his hand expectantly.

The ten-year old boy handed over his crumpled ticket — which he had desperately tried to smooth out while he was waiting in line. The fresh faced man didn't have any kind of reaction. Ash assumed that the thousands of people passing through the embarkation process had the man operating on auto-pilot.

"Your room number is E37," informed the sailor, while handing over the rooms' corresponding key.

The sailor subsequently allowed Ash to walk through the entry passage, and into the luxury liner's expansive main lobby. Before observing his surroundings, he immediately released Growlithe. Because of security reasons, his starter had been forced to his pokeball throughout the entirety of the boarding process. Apparently, a lot of pokemon's unique physiologies messed with a lot of the security equipment. Ash figured that those issues primarily pertained to steel and electric types; however, he didn't find it worth it to complain.

Although the luxurious, multi-storied corridor was brimming with people, Growlithe seemed to be doing okay. Ever since his ample dose of exposure therapy back when they arrived in Vermillion City, the pup appeared to be responding better to large crowds.

While following the signs to the E-wing's lodging zone, the boy observed some of the different activities going on aboard the ship. There were: games, shows, restaurants, buffets, clubs, battles, raffles, etc. The ship hadn't even left port yet and the place was already booming.

The E-wing's lodging area consisted of several floors. The boy had to take the wing's smooth ascending elevator in order to reach the third floor — which was where his room resided.

After exiting the elevator and following a few more signs, Ash found his assigned room. The inside was small, yet extravagant. Despite his status as a gym leader, Surge must have been allotted some of the more affordable rooms. The League needed to make some money off of the event. They couldn't afford to give free admittance to the pricier deluxe rooms that the S.S. Anne was well known for.

The room was decorated with all kinds of fancy adornment. Its' walls were painted a classy beige. The bed appeared to be king-sized, and there was an expensive looking flat-screen TV stationed in an armoire across from it. The cabin had its own bathroom — which was expectant on a luxury cruise liner. Honestly, the only fallacy Ash could come up with was that his room didn't have a window. But then again he didn't pay for the tickets…so how upset could he really get.

"What do you think, Growlithe?" asked Ash. "This definitely isn't something that we're used to…but I still think it's a rather nice change of pace."

The puppy pokemon yipped, affably conveying his approval.

"My thoughts exactly," replied Ash, making up his own dialogue for Growlithe in his head.

After dropping off some of his more replaceable items, such as potions and empty pokeballs, Ash headed out to explore. He thought about leaving his backpack all together, but he was too paranoid about someone stealing his precious moonstone fragment.

Once he finally made his way back to the lobby, Ash asked around in search for some kind of registration booth. He wanted to register for the single-elimination tournament as soon as possible. The ten-year old boy had no idea if there was some kind of deadline, and he'd rather not have to worry about taking care of it later.

…Ash wasn't very good at procrastinating.

After finding his way to the registration booth — which was located in the B wing, alongside the entrance to the battle facility — Ash waited in the abbreviate line to register. Moments later, he was elated to find out that he had barely beaten the wave of restless competitors. It didn't take long for the line behind him to rapidly grow to about the length of a gyarados.

Once he reached the front of the line, the boy stood opposite of one of the S.S. Anne's staff members. He wore a crisp, navy-blue suit over a formal white dress-shirt. His red and blue diagonally striped tie was neatly fastened around his neck. The man's dainty smile was so obnoxious it almost seemed faked. His name badge read: Reid — Reid's eyes were in conflict with his countenance. Something was off about him...

"Hand me your pokedex' young man," said the creepy staff member, as he unnaturally held his smile throughout the duration of his request. "It's a necessity."

"Okay…" said Ash, while reaching into his back pocket. "What do you need it for?"

"Authenticity of course," replied Reid, as he reached out and snatched the red-device curtly from Ash's hand. "We must make sure you are who you say you are."

"I guess that makes sense…" said Ash, slightly suspicious.

"Ash Ketchum, eh?" questioned the man peculiarly, as he scrolled through Ash's pokedex'. "Ah…it says here you have a Bulbasaur — very nice...and a Clefairy, mhmm even better."

Ash tried to ignore the man's bizarre behavior. He watched, while Reid typed something short into the keyboard connected to his computer, before handing back Ash's pokedex.

"You're all set Mr. Ketchum," smiled Reid. "The tournaments in three days; report to the battle facility's main arena by 11 a.m. sharp on Tuesday. Enjoy your stay aboard the S.S. Anne."

"Thanks," said Ash, before putting as much distance between himself and the odd man as possible.

XXX

Ash grabbed hold of the steel railing that encompassed the deck, while he watched Vermillion City slowly taper out of sight.

"It's definitely better firsthand, eh?" thought Ash aloud, as Clefairy and Growlithe stood awe-inspired by his side.

Ash was surprised when he got a verbal response from an elegant, cultured human inflection — accompanied by Clefairy and Growlithe's grunts of avouchment.

"It sure is," drawled the elegant-toned man, as he approached Ash from behind. "It always saddens me to see that such a small minority of the ship's guests are willing to stop what they are doing...to watch something magnificent such as this."

"Everybody's different I guess," said Ash, as he turned around to face a tall extravagantly dressed man.

The wealthy-looking man had a benign smile on his finely-featured face, as he leant up against the railing next to Ash. His long, stylish, turquoise colored hair flowed gently with the wind, while he looked at Ash with his matching colored irises. "Very true, everybody certainly is different...I suppose I'm just disappointed because the ocean is my passion."

Ash nodded, before raising a question. "Do you wish people cherished it the same way you do?"

The man chuckled, as he adjusted his mallow-purple tie. "I'm a dreamer, not a fool. I know only a select few will see the ocean for what it truly is. I just wish more people could at least show a sliver of appreciation."

"I understand," said Ash. "I feel the same way about pokemon."

"It shows," crooned the well-dressed man. "Your pokemon seem happy. Besides, not many people are given the privilege of training a Clefairy."

Ash glanced down at both of his friends with knowing eyes. "Thank you, that's a high complement."

"It's just the truth," stated the comely man, as he straightened the coat of his white suit. "Well, I better get going. I have some matters to attend to."

"Nice to meet you," said Ash politely, while reaching out to shake the man's hand.

"I don't believe I caught your name," inserted the well-cultivated man, as he shook Ash's hand firmly.

"Ash Ketchum," answered Ash. "And you are?"

"Wallace."

"Wallace, eh?" Ash thought aloud, before properly responding. "Well I'm sure we'll run into each again at some point."

"I'm sure we will," replied Wallace with a smile. "See you later, Ash."

XXX

After three days of: comfortable sleep, fine dining, tough training, and winless raffle tickets; Ash waited with hundreds of other trainers in the bleachers of the S.S. Anne's main arena.

The state of the art battlefield was extremely impressive. If it weren't for the occasional tremor, caused by the unpredictable sea, there would be no way to tell that they were on a boat. The battlefield itself was built out of coarse stone — which was a rather neutral element. It was officially marked with a glossy white paint. Ash's estimation was that the encompassing bleachers could probably seat about a thousand people.

The surrounding chatter was abruptly interrupted by an amplified female voice. Her intonation was smooth and sultry, somewhat contradictory of a typical emcee. "Hello competitors. My name's Ariana and I'll be your emcee for the single-elimination tournament. The S.S. Anne is hosting this event in commemoration of the vessel's fifty straight years of active duty."

Ash examined the source behind the voice. She stood loosely in the center of the arena — her semblance was utterly beautiful. The emcee's body was shaped like an hourglass, and her perfect curves resembled those of a goddess. Ariana's facial features were fine and unlined; her makeup was done up flawlessly — not too little, not too much. It was like a work of art, painted by a master class artisan. The goddesses' hair was a burnished carmine-red —analogous to her voluptuous eyes. She wore a formal black blazer, accompanied by a pair of polyester dress-pants and dark-red, pointed high-heels.

"Due to the large number of entries, we shall hold five preliminary rounds located throughout the battle facility. If you manage to battle your way out of the preliminaries into our version of the top sixteen, you will earn the right to battle in our official arena…in front of an audience."

Ash nodded his head attentively, listening carefully to the enticing woman's words.

"Each preliminary battle is one-on-one and there is no rules pertained to the usage of pokemon. You may use five different pokemon for each battle, or a single pokemon for the entirety of the preliminaries. The choice is yours. There will be a nurse stationed outside of each arena with a restoration machine, and a surplus of League mandated full-restores. Feel free to use both if necessary, they are completely complimentary!"

After the news concerning the full-restores had been revealed, Ash glanced around to observe the museum of astonished faces. Full-restores were a highly concentrated potion that had the ability to heal nearly any physical injury — including impairments of the bone. The dark-haired boy wasn't quite sure about its contents, but he was aware of its excessively steep cost. The League typically only issued a limited supply of the miracle concoction to its Pokemon Centers, because of its uneconomic developmental cost.

"Those of you who manage to make it out of the preliminaries, will be required to report back to the main stadium at 5 o'clock tonight," informed Ariana. "The top sixteen will then battle for a chance to be crowned the tournament's champion. There will be a prize for all of you that make it to the top sixteen — each prize varies in value. The better you place, the better the prize."

Ash smirked; this tournament was starting to sound even better than he'd anticipated.

"The battle times and match-ups have been posted in the B Wing's lobby," orated Ariana, as she nonchalantly checked the expensive looking watch fastened around her delicate wrist. "You better get moving…the first wave of battles begins in fifteen minutes."

The crowd erupted out of their seats, flooding out of the stadium in a boisterous frenzy. Amidst the ruckus was Ash, who rudely pushed his way through the conflux of trainers like a hungry houndour.

In the background, Ash could hear the echoing voice belonging to Ariana, as she graced the crowd with one last assemblage of words. "Good luck..."

XXX

Fifteen minutes later; Ash stood opposite of a short, snub-nosed, tubby kid with an anxious disposition. He looked about the same age as Ash, and wore an arrangement of fine linens. He handled his pokeball nervously...Ash assumed he didn't have much battle experience.

The mock arena they occupied was official size, but enclosed. The only person that accompanied them was a tall, dark-skinned man that served as the referee for the match. He raised his hand in the air, before harnessing the power of his booming voice.

"This is a one-on-one battle between Ash Ketchum of pallet town, and Duke Martin of Celadon City! The battle will be decided once a pokemon has been rendered unconscious! Trainers prepare for battle!"

Ash unclipped one of the pokeballs suspended from his belt, as he zeroed in on his opponent. He watched Duke Martin fumble his pokeball with his pudgy hands, before finally gaining decent control over his body.

"Begin!"

The opposing pokeballs wafted through the air, before snapping open to emit a flurry of bright light. Once the display of radiance dissipated , Charmander and a dinky paras were unveiled.

Charmander disembogued an abbreviate burst of fire from his nostrils, before raising his claws for battle.

Paras chattered its six sharp teeth, and examined Charmander with its two large pupils, while its frail extremities nervously quavered. Its' foremost pair of legs — which were larger, and served as its frontal claws — were anchored heavily on the ground. They worked to maintain balance, while Paras' posterior legs continued to tremble.

Ash felt slightly sorry for the nervous duo. It didn't take an expert to make a prediction on how this battle would go.

"Make quick work of it, Charmander."

Charmander instantaneously unhinged his jaw, before belching out a thick curtain of smoke. It spread throughout the arena, making it nearly impossible to see what was taking place. All of a sudden, Ash could abruptly make out a quick outbreak of light within the smoke-screen. It punctured the darkness for a split-second, while concurrently triggering a high-pitched shrill.

Ash winced, as he registered the ear-shattering shriek. He felt a slight twinge of guilt, knowing that the battle had ended as quickly as it had begun. The dark-haired boy disliked blowouts, almost as much as he hated losing. However, it was part of the enterprise — and he'd rather win handily, than risk an upset.

Minutes later, when the smoke finally cleared, Charmander stood unscratched by Ash's side. Lying scorched and unconscious in the center of the arena was Paras, whose tochukaso mushrooms had been burned off of its back. Ash squinched his face — it was a tough sight to look at. Regardless, they would grow back quickly. Paras were well known for the brisk reproduction of their potent medicinal mushrooms.

"Paras is unable to battle, Charmander is the winner! Victory goes to Ash Ketchum of Pallet Town!" exclaimed the official.

As Ash examined Paras' charred body, he watched as the insectoid pokemon was suddenly enshrouded by a coverlet of scarlet-red light. The pudgy boy returned his bug-type with a disappointed hunch, before hastily plodding his way out of the mock arena. Ash tried to catch his attention in order to thank him for a good match, but the boy was too preoccupied by his Paras' pokeball to notice. Ash expressed a faint smile — the beginner trainer definitely cared for his young Paras…

Ash gratefully thanked Charmander, before returning the dissatisfied lizard-pokemon to his pokeball. It was obvious that the fire-type was expecting a better battle…

The ten-year old boy subsequently headed back to the B Wing's busy lobby. He spent nearly a half an hour scrolling through his pokedex' in attempt to kill the tedious time in between matches...

...His next couple of battles unfolded similarly to the first.

In his second preliminary match, he went up against a girl named Sydney from Fuchsia City. She summoned an average-sized oddish with an immature shrub atop its head. Clefairy easily knocked the grass-type out with a single combination of sing and wake-up slap. Just like Charmander, Clefairy was rather disappointed by her opponent's skill level.

The third opponent Ash faced off against was a curly haired man named Jake. Ash was expecting a better match on account of the severe age gap between himself, and the middle-aged gentlemen. However, the battle was once again a breeze. Bulbasaur pulverized Jake's average raticate with an onslaught of vine-whips, followed by a vicious takedown.

Bulbasaur's power had nearly doubled since his battle against Surge. Judging by the darkening of Bulbasaur's pigmentation, and the growth of his bulb; it was obvious that the saurian was nearing evolution…

In succession to his initial three effortless wins, Ash stood opposite of his next opponent. His adversary was a teenager with a nasty temperament. He was tall and angular — his long, greasy, black hair covered a portion of his furrowed face.

The referee assigned to oversee their battle was a stout, muscular, middle aged man. He followed typical protocol, raising his hand in preparation to initiate the battle. "This is a one-on-one battle between John Thompson of Viridian City, and Ash Ketchum of Pallet Town! Last trainer with a pokemon standing is the winner! Trainers prepare for battle!"

Both trainers handled their pokeballs indelicately — in anticipation for the battle. The greasy haired teen menacingly glared at Ash, as the referee signaled the beginning of the match. "Begin!"

...Both trainers unleashed their pokemon.

The teenager released a brawny machop. It pounded on its chest with pride, signifying its eagerness to compete. The short, gray-skinned, humanoid pokemon flexed its vascular muscles arrogantly, while it stared down its adversary.

Squirtle stared straight ahead with an icy countenance, as he calculated his opponent's existence. Machop were well known for their overwhelming strength. Even though they weren't nearly as formidable as their evolved forms, they still possessed an ample amount of power. If Squirtle wanted to win this battle he would have to keep Machop at an arms-length.

…Good thing long-distance battle was his strong suit.

"Focus energy!" bellowed the furrowed faced teen, as he dramatically pointed forward. "Then go get it with a karate chop!"

The machop's red eyes intensified, while it clenched both of its fists in a crouch. Its muscles pulsated and its body perspired, as it prepared its mind for battle.

"Shatter its concentration!" howled Ash. "Quick-fire water gun!"

Squirtle loaded a water gun into his gullet, as he analyzed machop's options for escape. He prepared his internal water supply to be drawn upon, readying himself to reload.

Chaos unfolded concurrently, as Squirtle unleashed a barrage of highly concentrated water guns. They sprayed throughout the air like a pivoting turret, whistling throughout the process. Machop darted back and forth throughout the arena, closing the proximity between himself and the turtle pokemon. It grunted painfully, as a couple of water guns connected with its shoulder and oblique. Unfortunately for Ash, the impacts weren't powerful enough to stop machop in its' tracks.

Machop impressively maneuvered around one more round of water guns, before it was close enough to strike. It flattened its hand like a brick, before slicing through the air towards Squirtle's head. The turtle Pokemon brusquely withdrew itself, narrowly avoiding the machop's powerful attempt.

"Reveal and bite!" yelled Ash passionately.

While Machop was extended and off-balance; Squirtle reemerged. He exploded out of concealment with his jaw gaped open, ready to sink his teeth into the fighting-type.

Machop painfully grimaced, as Squirtle vigorously clamped his teeth into its side. The fighting-type responded with a hammering karate chop, thrusting it down atop Squirtle's head. The turtle pokemon's eyes bulged as he endured the blow. But he quickly shook it off, before firing a water gun into Machop's chiseled chest. The close-ranged water gun struck with an immense amount of pressure. It lifted Machop off of the ground, launching him towards the arena wall. The collision was cogent — the fighting types eyes billowed and his chest heaved at the moment of impact.

"Don't let it get in close again!" commanded Ash. "Finish it at a distance!"

Squirtle had to admit, his new trainer thought similarly to himself. The turtle Pokemon emitted another series of water guns, trying to hit the machop while it was embedded into the wall.

The superpower pokemon registered the attack, before hastily using its strength to free itself from the arena's entrapment.

Ash watched, as Machop heedlessly barreled out of the way of the enfilade. The boy quickly changed his plan of action, understanding the need for a wider scope. "Shift to bubble!"

Squirtle had already initiated the transition, as he seeped his gastric acid into his water supply. The water-type proceeded to impel a bombardment of chemically induced bubbles. They propelled through the air at a dangerous rate, spreading out with malignant intent.

Squirtle examined the cannonade of bubbles, searching attentively for any breaches in the barrage. He quickly located three options for avoidance, before loading another round of water gun. He would eliminate the gaps caused by bubble's random accuracy — that is…if it was necessary.

...it wasn't.

The wall of chemically infused bubbles crashed into a helpless Machop, who was unable to locate a breach in the attack. He was hit hard by the fusillade, causing him to scream in agony while the chemicals seeped into his skin.

Squirtle was pretty sure that the battle had been won. However, he coldly fired a quick battery of high-velocity water guns for good measure. It made coercive contact in numerous places, overpowering Machop's will to stay conscious. The superpower pokemon slid across the ground aimlessly, eventually coming to a limp stop in front of its flabbergasted trainer.

"Machop is unable to battle, Squirtle is the winner!" announced the referee. "The victory goes to Ash Ketchum of Pallet Town!"

"Dammit…" sighed the greasy haired trainer, as he returned Machop. "Good battle my friend, but we've still got some work to do."

The angular teenager acknowledged Ash's victory with curt nod, before hastily shuffling out of the arena. Ash cursed under his breath — sportsmanship didn't appear to be a high-priority aboard the famous S.S. Anne.

Ash proceeded to divert his attention towards his water-type. The turtle pokemon had proved himself to be trustworthy in their first official battle together. Ash wanted to make it clear to Squirtle just how much he appreciated his support. The dark-haired boy gave Squirtle a warm smile, as he leaned over and affectionately scratched the top of his head.

"Great battle Squirtle," crooned Ash. "You were exceptional."

Squirtle backed away from Ash — unsure of how to handle the sudden affection. He subsequently nodded his head up and down with a blank expression, attempting to respond to Ash's gratitude in a more comfortable way.

Ash smiled; he would always remain available if Squirtle ever chose to open up. Until then, he wouldn't pressure his water-type to change. The ten-year old boy was just happy that Squirtle was listening to him. He would accept Squirtle's personality no matter how distant it was…

"Be prepared for another battle," warned Ash. "I might need to use you if I keep winning."

Void of emotion, Squirtle grunted affirmatively, before waiting expectantly for suspended animation. Ash gave Squirtle what he wanted, smiling tranquilly as he returned the water-type to his pokeball…

After healing Squirtle in the mock arena's corresponding restoration machine, Ash once again headed back to the B Wing's lobby. It was much less chaotic, primarily because the majority of the competition had already been eliminated. He walked over to the front desk in order to check his next matchup. His final opponent of the preliminaries was some kid named Chance Chapman. The receptionist informed him what mock arena his battle would take place in, before shoeing him along in order to take care of the next inquisitive trainer.

Ash had exactly thirty minutes until he battled his next opponent. If he won, he would have a little more than an hour to prepare for the S.S. Anne's top sixteen. Ash spent the duration of the wait doing research on his pokedex' and internally debating which pokemon he was going to use next. Once the drag of a wait had finally come to an end, he headed towards the site of his final preliminary battle.

His final preliminary match was on the same battlefield as his first. The dark-haired boy could still see the black scorch marks that were an evident aftermath of Charmander's ember. Ash kindly waved to the same dark-skinned referee that had overseen his first round battle, before strolling over to the furthest of the two trainer's boxes. He waited patiently for a couple of minutes in advance to his opponent's tardy arrival.

The ordinary looking kid suddenly dashed into the arena exhausted, before scuttling his way over to the trainer box opposite of Ash.

"I'm sorry for being late!" confessed the blonde-haired boy apologetically, as he wiped the sweat from his thin face. "I lost track of time!"

"No worries," replied Ash. "You're only a few minutes late."

"If your opponent doesn't have a problem with the delay, than neither do I," said the referee. "A couple of minutes aren't a big deal. Just don't make a habit of it."

"Yes sir," retorted the blue-eyed boy, as he shifted his gaze towards Ash. "Thanks for being cool about this…"

"Honestly, it's really not that big of a deal," answered Ash, while unclipping a pokeball from his belt. "Now let's get on with this."

"Absolutely," replied Chance, mirroring Ash by detaching his own pokeball from his waist. "I'm ready to go."

The tall referee raised his hand, as he prepared to start the match with his thundering voice. "This is a one-on-one battle between Ash Ketchum of Pallet Town, and Chance Chapman of Vermillion City! The battle will be decided once a pokemon has been rendered unconscious! Trainers prepare for battle!"

Both trainers focused on the battlefield in anticipation for the competition.

"Begin!"

Ash was the first to send out his pokemon. Appearing in a flash of vibrant light was Growlithe. He instantly crouched, ready for battle. The dark-haired boy could feel the intense heat being accumulated by his puppy pokemon, as he displayed his inner-flame through his open maw.

The boy named Chance sequentially released a valiant looking pidgeotto. It proudly squawked, as it raised its body into the air with its glossy wingspan. Ash found it interesting to see an average-sized pidgeotto. He had gotten so used to his giant Pidgeotto that seeing one that lacked the king's nature was sort of diacritic.

Regardless, the ten-year old boy wasn't foolish enough to disregard this pidgeotto as a lesser challenge. Just because it lacked his specimen's unique physical blessings, didn't mean it was less powerful. The blonde-haired boy's pidgeotto very well could have a distinct advantage in experience. Growlithe had attained a surplus of knowledge battling the species — however Ash was unsure whether the difference in size would make for a different type of battle.

...A smaller Pidgeotto, meant a smaller target.

Ash immediately noticed that Growlithe's ability had taken affect. Chance's pidgeotto appeared to be slightly flustered, causing its flight pattern to look somewhat less natural. Intimidate typically only activated against lesser opponents, but Ash tried not to jump to conclusions. He was one battle away from the top sixteen — competition was bound to strengthen at some point.

Growlithe initiated the fight with a salvo of ember. The fire-balls rocketed through the air at an expeditious rate, bearing the violent intent of their user.

"Pidgeotto dodge!" commanded Chance. "Retaliate with quick attack!"

The flying-type skillfully maneuvered around the barrage, before harnessing the breakneck speed that corresponded with quick-attack. It descended through the air like a torpedo, after stiffening its neck muscles.

Growlithe instinctually barricaded himself within a cloak of fire, using his flame wheel as an elemental shield.

Speed collided with fire…and both parties were violently forced back.

Pidgeotto appeared to have taken the brunt of the damage, as it wildly skidded across the arena floor. Growlithe momentarily barrel rolled, while his flaming cloak dissipated in the process. Although there were blatant expressions of pain depicted across Growlithe's face, the puppy pokemon was able to quickly recover his balance. His paws slid across the floor, as his momentum finally came to a stop.

Pidgeotto simultaneously used its wings like a parachute in order to stop its momentum. Once the flying-type slowed down enough to gather itself, it used its talons to push itself off of the ground. The bird pokemon thrust its wings, catapulting itself into the enclosed air. Its recovery time was tremendous; as it instantaneously used its wings to throw a flurry of gusts, catching Growlithe off-guard.

Despite his surprise, Growlithe dodged, using his well-conditioned fast-twitch muscles to frenziedly bolt out of the way. After clearing the battery of wind, he catapulted a second array of ember. The fire-type instantaneously dashed towards Pidgeotto, who was preoccupied by the incoming flames. The puppy pokemon masked himself behind his own attack, causing Chance's pidgeotto to jolt when the fire-type unveiled itself behind a ball of scorching fire.

"Bite/ember combo!"

The canine sunk his teeth into Pidgeotto's side, while using the force behind his leap to rip the bird down to the ground. Upon collision, Growlithe unleashed an outburst of fire, causing an abrupt detonation. Pidgeotto shrieked like a misdreavus, as its body was harshly impacted on both sides by the hard surface and Growlithe's bite/ember combo.

Ash winced in response to the brutal attack. Bite/ember combo was typically an endurable technique, but when amplified by the massive amount of force Growlithe was just able to create, it became unbearable.

"Pidgeotto is unable to battle! Growlithe is the winner!" boomed the referee. "Victory goes to Ash Ketchum of Pallet Town!"

Growlithe proudly exhaled a curtain of fire, as he walked back to Ash's side with a bit of a sore limp. The unconscious pidgeotto was quickly wrapped up in a quilt of red-light, before being returned to its pokeball.

Ash bent over and congratulated Growlithe with a brief stroke to his tuft, before being interrupted by Chance's orotund voice.

"Good match, Ash," said Chance. "That Growlithe's got quite the bite."

"Thanks," replied Ash, as he held his hand out to the friendly thin faced boy. "Growlithe's been working hard on it. That Pidgeotto of yours has strong wings — Keep training it hard."

"Of course," answered the blue eyed boy, while he shook Ash's hand. "Well anyway, I better get going. I don't want to miss out on getting a seat for the top sixteen."

"I won't hold you up then," said Ash. "Nice meeting you Chance... I'll see you later."

"Yup, see you around Ash," inserted Chance. "Good luck with the rest of the tournament."

In order to avoid an awkward second goodbye, Ash let Chance get a head start out of the arena. After thanking the referee, the fresh-faced boy proceeded to return Growlithe so that the pup could get healed by one of the S.S. Anne's restoration machines. The ten-year old boy didn't know how long he would be able to last in the top sixteen of this tournament. Nevertheless, it comforted him to know that he'd have a healthy Growlithe as an option.

In subsequence to getting Growlithe's pokeball back from the S.S. Anne staff member, Ash once again headed back to the B Wing's lobby. Before he would head over to the main arena, Ash wanted to sit down in the lounge and strategize. Coming up with a plan of action would be rather difficult. He had no way to know what pokemon his opponents would choose, or how strong they would be. The dark-haired boy simply wanted to figure out which of his pokemon he would choose to give the valuable experience to.

…The preliminaries for the most part were a breeze. Ash had a feeling that the top sixteen of the S.S. Anne tournament wouldn't be nearly as facile.

XXX

Ash, together with the rest of the remaining competitors, sat in the first row of the risen bleachers. He watched entrancingly, as a gaggle of kadabra raised a psychic barrier over the conflux of spectators.

It was the first time Ash had laid eyes on the psi-pokemon. Their yellow humanoid forms were eerie, yet sublime. The species deep-set eyes slanted narrowly, while glowing with an auroral pink. The red star on their foreheads oscillated and their conduit spoons quavered, while they dutifully doused the bleachers with protective enchantments.

Ash gulped — he would have to battle one of these creatures when he faced Sabrina.

…How on earth was he going to approach his battle with the psychic virtuoso? His pokemon had no experience battling a pokemon of the psychic typing. Furthermore, none of his friends currently possessed a way to protect their minds from even the weakest psychic incursion.

Right now, there wasn't a single pokemon on his team that he could confidently challenge Sabrina with. Even though defeating a psychic pokemon was a skill that he'd like to eventually teach all of his pokemon — that kind of training would take months. Clefairy could probably learn in a lot faster, due to the unique thaumaturgic energy coursing through her veins. However, it would be foolish of him to think that his fairy-type could take down both of Sabrina's registered pokemon.

Sabrina's famous Kadabra would be a long shot in and of itself. Any other psychic pokemon she had under her revered tutelage would be overkill. The dark-haired boy had yet to research what Sabrina's other league registered pokemon was — which was pivotal information if he wanted to stand a chance. Nevertheless, now wasn't the appropriate time to worry about this.

…He needed to focus his attention back on his current surroundings.

The vast psychic barrier was successfully suspended above and around the crowd. It could be descried with a heavy squint, but for the most part it was completely transparent. Anytime the league hosted a battle that was accompanied by an audience, some kind of protection had to be established.

All registered trainers, were required to sign a waiver after the qualification exam that exempted the League of responsibility for any injuries attained from a stray attack. However, this didn't apply to spectators. As long as you had tickets, anyone could watch a match taking place at a League accredited battle site. Therefore, if the League had provided your means for attendance, they were responsible for your safety.

After the squad of kadabra had plodded their way through the barrier, they effortlessly maintained their focus on the other side. The dark-haired boy painstakingly watched in awe, desiring a kadabra of his own.

Ash's attention was suddenly diverted, when he heard the distinct sound of Ariana's disembodied voice.

"Welcome everybody to the top sixteen of the S.S. Anne's single-eliminationtournament," crooned Ariana. "Give a round of applause for all of the trainers that have fought their way through the preliminaries, for a chance to battle in this arena."

Ash tracked down her voice amidst the ruckus of the crowd. The ten-year old boy lusted, as she swaggered her way down the bleacher stairs from the direction of the mounted broadcast booth.

She continued to speak smoothly, like a siren, as she strutted her way over to the center of the arena. "We will commence the competition in a few short moments. But before we start, I would like to introduce a special guest."

Ash looked around at the intrigued crowd, as Ariana patiently waited on the appearance of the specified spectator. Suddenly…standing up and out of the first row of the bleachers, opposite of Ash, was a familiar elegantly dressed man. Ash recognized him as the man he had met on his first day aboard the ship; the one who yearned for the respect of the sea — Wallace.

Ariana beckoned him over to the center of the battlefield, before proceeding to present the comely man to the audience. Right before Ariana spoke; Ash noticed the assortment of slack-jawed onlookers trickled amongst the sea of people.

…They alluringly gazed at the extravagant man as if he was an exalted king.

"I welcome to the arena the newly crowned Champion of the Hoenn region, Wallace Mikari of Sootopolis City!"

Ash joined the rest of the masses — acquiring a dropped jaw and a pair of awe-inspired eyes.

He had engaged in small talk, with a Champion.

Wallace carried the same title as the Kanto regions, Lance Wataru, of the dragon clan. Ash didn't know too much about the other regions leagues; mostly because a Champion's jurisdiction didn't extend outside of their own region. For this reason, unless you were an international traveler, seeking out more than just the essence of the pokemon in your home region, information on the other champions wasn't a necessity.

The only other Champion Ash knew of prior to this moment, was the Johto region's master dark-type trainer — Karen Karin. Because of Johto's close proximity to Kanto, Lance and Karen made a lot of appearances in each other's regions. Also, on account of Kanto and Johto's great relations; there were a lot of co-events shared between both regions requiring each champion's presences — such as the Kanto/Johto grand festival. Therefore, Karen Karin's fame was precedent in Kanto, just as Lance's was in Johto.

Ash's thoughts were smoothly interrupted by Wallace's silvery voice.

"Congratulations trainers for making it this far, like Ms. Ariana just said, I come from the far away land of Hoenn. It has been a pleasure to get the chance to remove myself from the familiar, and enjoy another region's people and pokemon. I've only been a champion since the end of last season. Nevertheless, it's been nice to be able to relax a bit. The work of a champion can be arduous. Therefore, a cruise aboard the famous S.S Anne has been exemplary."

The audience applauded and whistled in response to Wallace's humble words.

"On my first day aboard this ship, I met a boy that reminded me that all people are different," said Wallace, as he intentionally diverted his gaze directly towards Ash. "I look forward to seeing those differences surface in today's battles."

In that moment, Ash felt like he was the only person being talked to, as Wallace spoke of their previous encounter. It appeared that he had somehow piqued the interest of one of the world's most acclaimed masters. The dark-haired boy continued to look ahead, while the well-dressed Champion shifted his gaze directly above him.

"For those of you that are just spectating, please enjoy the show," advised Wallace. "I have a feeling it's going to be a good one."

Wallace subsequently handed the mic back to Ariana, before returning to his spot in the bleachers. Ariana lifted the mic back up to her luscious lips, while she spoke in a fluid exclamation. "Let me hear it for the Champion of Hoenn, Wallace Mikari!"

The arena erupted, cheering madly for the foreign master. Wallace simply crossed his arms with a smirk, as he listened to the blustering noise of the adoring crowd. Ash observed, as Wallace handled the obnoxiousness of the conflux serenely, closing his eyes while he eventually gestured for them to get quiet.

Once the crowd had calmed down, Ariana spoke out once again, while running her fingers through her silky red hair. "I'm sure Mr. Mikari appreciates your cheerfulness. However, now that our guest has been introduced, it's time to get this party started!"

The large assembly of people enlivened the voluminous chamber once again, roaring in response to Ariana's exclamation.

"Now let's not waste any more time!" echoed the gorgeous emcee. "Quiet down so I can announce the first matchup!"

The collection of voices gradually fizzled out, as they listened carefully to Ariana's words. Ash listened attentively, anxious for his chance to battle in the state of the art arena…

XXX

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