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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14. Kanto 5 Part 1

"Ring…"

"Ring…"

"Ring…"

"I've got to take this..." said Ash as he and Austin sat in the Pokemon Center's shoddy waiting room, "It's my mom."

"Psht…good luck," replied Austin, "the conversation I had with my mom didn't go over so well."

"Hopefully, I'll have better luck then," muttered Ash before standing up and plodding over to an even more remote part of the already quiet lobby.

"Click..."

Austin gave Ash a dopey, double thumbs-up while the dark-haired boy nervously answered his xtranceiver, "Hi, Mom..."

He heard a massive sigh of relief emitted through the speaker before his mother replied, "Oh my God…Thank goodness you're alright! I just saw the news report! Honey, what happened?"

Morbid images of lifeless bodies, convulsive fires, and ruinous debris grated against his psyche as he recalled the abhorrent memories of the dark, early morning.

"It's hard to explain," Ash lied, "It all happened so fast."

Truth is, he could recollect every waking moment of the calamity: Growlithe's ferocious eyes, the trail blood, Chance's deceased body, the Rockets he'd left for dead, the Champion's courage, the information on Robert Montgomery's kidnapping, Wallace's outrage, and Pido and Dreca's immensity. Not to mention the news of the Master Ball, and their plans to protect it…

...But, he couldn't share any of that with his mother. She wouldn't understand. He'd have to keep the information he disclosed to her relatively surface-level.

His journey had taken a turn. He'd been exposed to things that no child his age should see. The boy's innocence had been stolen by the corrupt organization—Team Rocket. Sure, he would heal. Time would dull the damage done to his adolescent mind. His love and dedication to his pokemon remained untainted. Ash's character was still intact, but, that didn't change what he saw. Fate had unveiled to him what true evil looks like. He was no longer oblivious to the perversion that this world can spew out of its darkest corners.

"Are you okay?" asked his Mom, "Can you talk to me about it?"

Ash could feel his suppressed emotions begin to stir like a shaken soda can as his mother's voice reverberated through the tiny device.

"I-I d-don't know what to say," stuttered Ash, "we got off just in time. A second later and I would have been killed."

There was a momentary pause before his mother finally answered.

"...Ash," bemoaned his mother, weariness evident in her voice, "…do you love being a pokemon trainer?"

"O-of course I do," stammered Ash as he willed the formulating tears from surfacing. "Y-You know that, Mom. W-why would you ask me that?"

"…Are you positive?"

"Yes, I'm positive," answered Ash after regaining control over his speech, "Now, please, tell me. Why would you ask me that?"

"Well, because…if you would have given me a wish-washy answer," said Delia, "I don't think I could justify to myself why I'm letting you do this."

"Do what?"

"What you're doing," answered his mother emotionally, "Ash, the world we live in is a dangerous place. Over the past month and a half, I've been stretched further than I've ever been stretched before. It's not easy letting you travel alone, especially when crazy stuff like what just occurred happens. The only reason I'm not dragging your butt home is that I'd be ripping away your dreams in the process. Ash, you mean the world to me…if I would have lost you today, I don't know what I would do."

Tears welled up in his eyes as his mother's words breached his emotional defense. "I know, Mom, I know. And I'm so sorry that I'm putting you through that. It's just…well, it's just that I'm not alone. I have my pokemon with me; don't forget that. What happened today was unpreventable. The SS Anne was supposed to be safe."

"But it wasn't safe!" replied his mother with conviction, "That's exactly my point. The world we live in is unpredictable. I have no idea what kind of daily challenges you're going to face. And it's impossible for me to protect you from so far away."

"Mom…" Ash mumbled, "that's one of the reasons I have my pokemon. They can protect me."

"But, what happens if you run into something like the SS Anne again?" blurted his mom, "what happens if you're caught off guard?"

There was a brief break in conversation as Ash thought of an appropriate response.

"Then I'll just have to train my pokemon so that they're always on guard," answered Ash, "Even when I'm not."

His mother stumbled over her words as she replied, "B-but, Ash, how are you going to do that?"

"Mom, I've already built a team with a unique knack for sensing danger," said Ash, "I'll just have to rely on the growth of their senses as they mature."

In response to Ash's words, his mom put forth a disoriented laugh amidst her worried inflection. "You sure have a lot of confidence in your pokemon, young man. Maybe it would help if I got a chance to meet them."

"I don't know how we could do that any time soon," said Ash, "Unless…you came and visited me."

"Hmm…that's a viable option," answered his mother, "I'll have to look into it."

"Until then, do you think you can trust my pokemon and I to make do?"

"I don't think I have much of a choice," stated his mother dubiously. "Honey, just don't be reckless. I know you couldn't have avoided what happened to the SS Anne. But you can avoid things that you know are risky, right?"

It killed Ash to be unable to comply, but he didn't have much of a choice. That was a promise that he couldn't keep. After what he'd seen aboard the SS Anne, he couldn't just sit around and do nothing. He had gotten himself wrapped up into something bigger than himself, and he had already made the decision to help thwart Team Rocket's unclear plot of evil involving Silph Co...

"I'll try, Mom," said Ash, "but like you said, the world is unpredictable."

Before his mother retorted, he heard an exasperated sigh of frustration echo out of the device. "Ashy, are you using my words against me?"

"…Maybe."

"That's not fair," huffed his mom, "but I guess I should just be happy that you acknowledge the danger of your travels. A trainers' biggest downfall is their misguided sense of invulnerability."

The concept of mortality was a point that Professor Oak had instilled in Ash and Gary from the very beginning of their studies. Ash knew that he wasn't invincible. He knew that he had limits. He was a ten-year-old boy in a hazardous world. The dark-haired boy understood that he was only as safe as his pokemon were strong. That's one of the reasons why he intended to raise beasts. Even more than before, the incident aboard the SS Anne unveiled something to him. Training his pokemon to their potential was no longer just a goal; it was a necessity.

For Ash to be able to travel with complete confidence, he needed to get stronger. Before the SS Anne, he was training for potential and goals. They were still a great driving force in his dedication to his pokemon, but now he had another reason. Survival: one of the most fundamental aspects of life. Like his mother said, the world is unpredictable. The only way to beat unpredictability is preparation…

"You're right," answered Ash after taking a big breath. "I know my limits."

"Just remember, Ash, you can be whatever you want to be. You can grow as strong as you want to grow," promised his mom, "but right now you're ten, and you just started your journey. Please don't get in over your head."

"Like I said earlier, I'll try," replied Ash.

"Please do…" implored Delia with emotion behind her words. "It would help me sleep better at night."

"Alright," Ash lied guiltily, "I will."

"Good," answered his mother in a slightly cheerier voice, "I'm glad."

A couple of minutes passed by as they engaged in small talk. The conversation mostly involved daily matters such as food, clothing, hygiene and money. He thought about telling his mother about the prizes he'd earned for placing third in the SS Anne's tournament, but he decided against it. He didn't want to initiate anymore conversation surrounding the sunken ship.

"Well, I've got to get going. Is there anything else you want to talk about?"

"There was something…" mumbled his mom, "but I'm having a tough time remembering what it was."

"Do you want me to wait until you remem—"

"Got it!" interrupted his mom before her voice turned solemn, "The news report said that Robert Montgomery was amongst the missing persons' list. Have you talked to Bill? Is he okay?"

Ash covered the speaker on his xtranceiver as he cursed under his breath. He'd completely forgotten about Bill. He was so caught up in trying to figure out a way to rescue Mr. Montgomery that he had mentally lapsed over his friend who, probably, thought his father was dead.

News had yet to get out that Team Rocket was responsible for the bomb. The public was aware that there had been a terrorist attack—but no one other than himself, Wallace, and Austin knew of the perpetrators. That would probably change soon. Going off of what the Rockets they encountered said, Team Rocket wanted the credit for the assailment. But, they would most likely wait until they made their next move. Having Mr. Montgomery counted as dead was to their benefit until they got their hands on the Master Ball.

Moreover; Ash, Austin, and Wallace were forced to keep their mouths shut. Team Rocket was aware that somebody had found out about the bomb on account of the fact that thousands of people had survived the explosion. However, there was no way for them to know who was aware of their plot to steal the Master Ball or if anyone was at all. Therefore, their advantage existed within the realm of surprise. Team Rocket's plan to steal the Master Ball, as far as they knew, was an absolute secret. It was Wallace's idea to keep it that way. If the wrong source gained knowledge that they were aware of Team Rocket's plot, it could ruin their chance of saving Mr. Montgomery…

"I haven't had a chance to call him yet," answered Ash, "I will as soon as our conversation is over."

"Honey, you need to call him as soon as possible," replied Delia. "He's probably in pretty bad shape. He could use a friend's support."

"Alright, I will," promised Ash, "I'll talk to you later, Mom. Please, stop worrying so much. I'll be just fine."

"I'll try, Ashy…" said his mom with a sigh.

"Talk to you soon. I love you."

"I love you, too."

"Click."

"Damn, that sounded like a rough one!" blurted Austin as Ash approached his teenage friend.

The dark-haired boy unloaded himself into one of the Pokemon Center's uncomfortable chairs while releasing a heavy sigh. "It definitely was…"

"Don't worry, though," said Austin, "I've done this thing thousands of times. She'll get over it. At the end of the day, you picked up. Just make sure you always do; it's the best way to get them to stop worrying so much."

"Yeah," replied Ash with a huff, "that makes sense."

The chiseled faced teen changed the subject, obviously trying to get Ash's mind off of the guilt involving his mother's heartache. "So, where are we supposed to meet Wallace again?"

Ash caught onto Austin's scheme, but decided to fall prey to it. It was a kind gesture, and the distraction would most likely help. "He wants us to meet him at the Pokemart in an hour. He's still arranging transportation options for the rest of the SS Anne escapees."

"Oh, right," drawled Austin, "he wants us to stock up on supplies before we head out to Saffron City."

"Yup," said Ash, "too bad we don't have more time. I would have liked to explore Lavender Town a little more."

"Screw that, why?" asked Austin incredulously. "There's nothing here but sketchy suburbs, the crappy radio spire, and that dreadful Pokemon Tower."

To be honest, Ash didn't really know all that much about Lavender Town. He'd heard stories about it being infested with ghost pokemon, but he wasn't sure. Ghosts were a peculiar phenomenon. They usually couldn't be found unless they wanted to be. Silph Co. had developed a product called the Silph Scope—which was supposed to aide trainers that wanted to hunt down a specimen by tracking their spectral essence. But, they were an extremely high-end product that cost thousands of dollars to develop and even more to purchase.

However, that didn't change his desire to train a ghost of his own. A gastly would be the perfect pokemon to battle Sabrina with—and because of the SS Anne, he visited Lavender Town way earlier than he'd originally anticipated. Unfortunately, without a Silph Scope and a lack of knowledge of the ghost pokemons' whereabouts, he likely didn't have the time to hunt one down.

"Eh, it would have been nice to catch a ghost," said Ash, disappointingly. "My next gym battle's against Sabrina. Right now, I don't have a single pokemon with an advantage."

"Um, well, why don't you catch one then?" asked Austin matter-of-factly.

"Because we don't have time for that," answered Ash, "we've got to save Mr. Montgomery."

"Then we'll make time," said Austin. "It's gonna take a few days to get to Saffron anyway. Wallace and I can go on ahead. You can just catch up on your pidgeotto as soon as you're done."

Ash mulled it over, "That still doesn't change the fact that I don't have a silph scope."

"You don't need one," answered Austin candidly, "you've got everything you need to track one down."

Ash raised an eyebrow. "What are you talking about?"

"Ghosts aren't exactly my forte," said Austin, "but I have a friend that caught a gastly back when I was traveling Kanto, and he definitely didn't have the kind of cash needed to buy a silph scope."

Ash leaned forward curiously, "If he didn't use a silph scope, how—"

"He has an arcanine," interrupted Austin with a smirk. "Well, at the time, I guess it was a growlithe."

Ash listened attentively while Austin raised a question.

"What's one technique the growlithe species naturally learns that no other pokemon in Kanto has in their learnset?"

Ash's eyes lit up as he instantly knew what technique Austin was referring to, "Odor Sleuth!"

"Exactly," confirmed Austin with a smile, "and what's Odor Sleuth's primary function?"

"To make ghost pokemon dimensional!" yelled Ash elatedly. "It's used to force them out of their incorporeal guises."

"Bingo," said Austin, "and when Odor Sleuth's put in combination with Growlithe's extraordinary sense of smell, you've got yourself the perfect ghost hunter."

Ash stood up from his seat cheerfully, "Austin, you're a genius!"

The messy-haired teenager leaned back in his chair with an arrogant smirk, "Thanks for noticing."

Ash disregarded the cocky comment before raising a question, "Did your friend tell you where he found his gastly?"

"He found it in the Pokemon Tower," replied Austin. "It's definitely your best bet. The place is a seven-story graveyard: the perfect habitat for ghosts. It's also a good place to find cubone. I actually caught my marowak right around the third floor or something like that."

"Sounds kind of creepy," answered Ash, "but I guess it's worth a shot. I'll look there."

"And I'm sure you'll find one," said the chiseled faced teenager. "Just make sure you're careful. Ghosts aren't exactly placid when spotted."

Just before Ash got a chance to reply, Lavender Town's dispassionate Nurse Joy interjected—her voice being amplified by the front desk's microphone. "Ash Ketchum, Austin Turner—please report to the front desk. Your pokemon are finished recovering."

After picking their pokeballs up from the dullest Nurse Joy Ash had ever met, they exited the outdated Pokemon Center. Lavender Town's pokemon center was extremely unimpressive. It was small and lacked a lot of the prototypical features that a pokemon center was supposed to have. It basically only consisted of a single anachronous lobby and a medical wing. There were no hostels, and it seemed to be empty most of the time. It was pretty evident that Lavender Town got the short end of the stick in terms of League funding.

"What do you want to do until we're supposed to meet up with Wallace?" asked Austin as they walked towards the nearby Pokemart. "Before you head over to the Pokemon Tower, I think you should talk to Wallace. He'll probably have a couple of things he wants to say to you before we head to Saffron."

"I agree," said Ash. "Until then, there's a couple of things I need to take care of."

"Alright cool," said Austin, "I'm gonna head over to one of the shops across the street. I need to buy some clothes. I wasn't able to pack up everything back on the ship. I figure I'll spend some of my prize money on a new wardrobe."

"Okay," replied Ash as he checked the time on his xtranceiver, "I'll see you at the Pokemart in an hour. I've got to make a call, and I want to spend a little bit of time with my pokemon."

"Yup, sounds good to me," said Austin while beginning to cross the street, "see you in a bit."

"See you later," replied Ash as he walked forward towards the edge of town.

After splitting off from Austin, Ash immediately released Growlithe. Upon release, the puppy pokemon shook out his fur before looking up at his trainer with amicable eyes. The dark-haired boy joyfully smiled back. After seeing Growlithe's feral expression aboard the SS Anne, Ash was very happy to see his puppy pokemon's typical friendly countenance. The ten-year-old boy wasn't stupid; he knew that Growlithe had to be processing the horrible anterior events. As long as the pup could look at him with those affable eyes, he knew everything would be okay.

"How are you doing, buddy?" asked Ash inquisitively. "Are you feeling refreshed from Nurse Joy's restoration machine?"

Growlithe happily yipped before flashing Ash an expression that depicted curiosity.

"Good, I'm glad you feel better," said Ash, "and I'm doing alright, still processing the insanity from earlier. I have a feeling it's going to take a while to fully comprehend what happened."

Growlithe nodded his head, signifying his agreement.

"Well…anyways," babbled Ash, "the plans have changed since we made them on top of Pido's back. I know we said we would head straight to Saffron after we got our pokemon healed, but after talking to Austin, I decided that I really want to catch a ghost pokemon while we're here. We're going to meet up with Wallace and Austin in an hour."

The puppy pokemon looked up at Ash with attentive eyes.

"From there, they'll head to Saffron, and we'll stay behind," informed Ash while pointing at a tall, ominous spire on the opposite side of the eerie town. "We're gonna catch a ghost-type at that tower over there. Apparently, it's where they like to hang out."

Growlithe looked out at the tower with an interested expression. His nostrils quavered as the pup appeared to catch a whiff of something intriguing.

"Smell something strange?" asked Ash with a knowing smile. "It should be bizarre, almost unnatural."

Growlithe used his head to give Ash a positive gesture before slowly beginning to creep toward the scent.

"Not right now," ordered Ash, "I know it's probably interesting, but we have some stuff we have to get done before we head over there. Like I said, first we have to talk Wallace. But before we can do that, I have to call Bill and see how he's doing. And after I've talked to Bill, we've got to check on Ivysaur. I haven't seen him since he evolved, and I don't feel comfortable letting him battle until I've examined him."

The puppy pokemon did as his trainer said – discarding the scent – for now. The alluring aroma felt estranged, yet inviting, almost like it was yearning for interaction. The canine looked forward to meeting its source. The scent was one of many—all branching from the same evolutionary line. Some were weaker; some were more powerful. But, the one that stood out to Growlithe, didn't stick out on account of its power. There was something else. Its scent was bright amidst a plethora of darkness. The aroma depicted an image of a single lit candle surrounded by a chasm of black.

Growlithe's aromatic rumination was cut short by the sound of his trainer's voice.

"Let's go find somewhere quiet," said Ash. "I promised my mom I'd call Bill as soon as possible.

The puppy pokemon followed Ash as the dark-haired boy continued towards the outskirts of town, passing through the suburbs along the way. Lavender Town's suburban area was, as Austin would say, sketchy. Despite the housings' relatively nice architecture, it had a peculiar vibe to it. It was rare that Ash saw another active person. Everyone seemed to be shacked up in their ranch-style homes. There were a lot of for sale signs. Ash didn't know if it was a coincidence, but it seemed as if there was a collective desire to get out. All it took was a fifteen minute walk through Lavender Town's neighborhoods, and Ash understood where Austin was coming from. This definitely wasn't a place he desired to be. He'd catch a ghost and get out. There was no other reason to stick around.

It wasn't until Ash reached the outermost edge of the small town that he found a good place to check on Ivysaur. He caught sight of a rather large clearing. There was a decent enough proximity in between himself and the nearest establishment that he didn't have to worry about breaking anything throughout the examination. However, before he released Ivysaur, he'd call Bill's lighthouse.

While listening to the encompassing willow trees rustle on account of the steady breeze, Ash proceeded to scroll through the contacts programmed into his xtranceiver. He located the contact that corresponded to Bill's lighthouse before pressing the on-screen dial option.

"Ring…"

"Ring…"

"Ring…"

Ash patted a patient Growlithe on the head as the mobile video phone continued to dial.

"Ring…"

"Ring…"

"Click."

The small dial screen on the xtranceiver briskly converted to a shot of Bill's pensive mug. The billionaire pokemon researcher looked like he'd been crying: his eyes were red and his nose was runny. Bill's curly hair was a mess, and his whole entire face looked to be perspiring. Just like Ash's mother had warned him, Bill was in bad shape.

"Hey, Ash…" whimpered Bill as he rubbed his eyes. "Are you calling to offer your condolences like every other bloody plonker that has my number?"

"Jeez," answered Ash indelicately, "you're a mess."

"Of course I am," muttered Bill in an edgy intonation. "My old man was on the bloody SS Anne. Now, why are you calling, Ash? One of our family employees is coming to pick me up within the hour. I've got to catch a flight to Cerulean City later this evening. I don't have time to be chit-chatting."

"Well, you're going to want to hear what I have to say," said Ash. "Please, take a second to hear me out. It's important."

"At a time like this?" jabbed Bill with an annoyed facial expression.

"Yes, at a time like this. Just trust me. I wouldn't continue to bother you if it wasn't important," insisted Ash. "It's pertained to your father."

Bill raised a single eyebrow, "It's about Dad; I'm listening."

"I was aboard the SS Anne, Bill," said Ash, "and I met your dad, he's an awesome guy."

"You were what!?" exclaimed Bill, "Ash, you were there for that bloody tragedy!? Are you alright!?"

"For the most part, I'm fine," answered Ash, "I saw some stuff that I'd rather not have. But, physically, I'm okay."

"Thank God, you're alright," said Bill while resting his face in his palms. "I don't know what I would have done if I lost my father and my friend in the same bloody day!"

"Don't worry about me," said Ash with a smile, "like I said, I'm just fine."

"You sure?"

"Positive," answered Ash.

"Alright…if you say so," said Bill as he looked back up at the video phone's camera. "Now, what is it that you want to tell me?"

"What I'm about to tell you is top secret information," said Ash. "The only people that know about it is my friend, Austin Turner, and the Champion of Hoenn, Wallace Mikari.

"You know Wallace Mikari?" asked Bill incredulously.

"Yes," said Ash, "we became friends aboard the ship. I met your dad through Wallace."

"Right," replied Bill with a nod, "that makes sense. Last I heard from my dad, he was discussing development plans with Wallace."

"Involving the Master Ball," replied Ash with a smirk.

"How do you kno—"

"Wallace told me," interrupted Ash. "It's one of the main reasons I called you."

"Why would Wallace tell you about that?" asked Bill. "My father just told me about the Master Ball a couple of weeks ago. He was freaking out because he thought that some blighter was trying to steal it. Only a select few are aware of its existence."

"He told me because your dad isn't dead," said Ash resolutely. "Team Rocket planted the bomb. And one of the reasons why they did it was to kidnap your father unnoticed."

Bill stared blankly at the screen as he internalized Ash's words.

The dark-haired boy gave Bill a moment to process. By the look on his face, he needed it.

"W-wait what?" asked Bill, dumfounded. "Dad's still alive..."

"Yup," said Ash, "one of the Rockets that Wallace interrogated said that Team Rocket's boss needed him for something. It was Wallace who figured out that they were after the Master Ball."

Bill suddenly jumped out of his seat ecstatically, temporarily drifting off-screen. "Dad's alive! Dad's alive! Dad's alive! Bloody hell, Dad's alive!"

Ash smiled as he watched his friend's demeanor instantaneously shift. Back at the lighthouse, the ten-year-old boy had jokingly made fun of Bill's dramatic behavior. However, in this moment, it was completely understandable. The pokemon researcher had just been given a ray of hope amidst his mental cataclysm. He had lost all aspiration only for it to be given back to him by one of his few friends.

The ten-year-old boy waited for Bill to come back to the camera before he continued, "Bill, you have to keep this a secret. Act as if you still think your dad is dead. We're working on a way to save him, and it's reliant upon this information staying a secret."

In response to Ash's words, Bill's countenance depicted seriousness, "Ash, this is my father were talking about. The only way I'm going to oblige to keep my bloody mouth shut is if you share your plan with me."

"Fair enough," said Ash with a shrug, "but just remember, I didn't have to tell you in the first place."

"But you did," replied Bill with a subtle smile, "because you're my friend, and friends don't keep important stuff from one another."

Ash bashfully scratched the back of his head, "You got me there. Now, let's see…the plan starts with where I am right now."

"And that is?" asked Bill curiously.

"Lavender Town," answered Ash neutrally. "We arrived here late this morning. We escaped the explosion via Wallace's wailords. The trip didn't take too long, and it was relatively smooth. Ever since we arrived, Wallace's been working out travel means for the other survivors—a request from Lance."

"Leave it to that knobhead Lance to parcel out his duties to another region's Champion," heckled Bill as he wiped the sweat from his forehead.

Ash ignored the comment as he continued, "Once Wallace is done, Wallace and Austin are going to head out to Saffron City. I'm going to meet up with them later today."

"Why aren't you leaving with them?" asked Bill with an interested cast.

"I'm going to try and catch a ghost-type at the Pokemon Tower," replied Ash. "I'll catch up on Pidgeotto when I'm done."

"Ah, I see…" drawled Bill, "you're going after Sabrina next, eh?"

"Exactly," replied Ash, "I'm planning on taking her on with Clefairy and a ghost-type."

"Smart move," answered Bill. "Do you know her League registered team?"

"I don't. I keep forgetting to ask around," said Ash with a curious expression. "Do you?"

"I do," replied Bill with a smirk, "but finish telling me the rest of your plan...I'll tell you after."

Ash's facial expression jolted, "But!-"

"Nope," replied Bill furtively, "I'm not bloody budging."

"Fine," replied Ash curtly. "Well, anyway, after I meet up with Austin and Wallace; it'll probably take a few days to get to Saffron. Wallace is convinced that Team Rocket won't make their move until then."

"Why?" interrupted Bill.

"We had it explained to us aboard the ship," said Ash, "that Team Rocket's boss has appointed members called 'executives' that lead the organizations operations. There was one aboard the SS Anne. However, we are unaware of the executive lead's identity."

"What does that have to—"

"I'm not done," angled Ash, "let me finish."

Bill nodded, allowing Ash to proceed.

"Silph Co. is under twenty-four hour surveillance by ACE trainers," said Ash. "You should know that on account of the fact that your dad is active CEO. You should also know that Ace trainers aren't a joke. Wallace told me about the rigorous regiment they're put through, by the League, in order to acquire the kind of power they have at their disposal."

"You're correct," answered Bill, "at all times, there should be at least a hundred ACE trainers stationed at Silph Co. and each and every one of them has been put through excruciating training by Kanto's Elite Four, themselves."

"Yup," said Ash, "however, Wallace told me that once every year, all ACE trainers are recalled for a mandatory examination of their skill level. During that time frame, they're secretly replaced by ACE trainer candidates—which is part of their final evaluation to become official League employees. On top of the inexperience, the League is only able to fork out about half of the normal amount of stationed trainers. The recall is in three days. Do you get where I'm going with this?"

"Bloody hell!" yelled Bill. "They're going to strike during the recall."

"That's our guess," said Ash with a frown. "It definitely makes sense."

"But the recall is top secret information," said Bill. "How could they possibly know about it? Unless—"

"Bill…" Ash interrupted, "they've been idle for five years. They infiltrated the SS Anne; who's to say they didn't infiltrate League ranks."

"Those friggin' rotters!" cursed Bill before forcing himself to calm down. "Now, where does this executive you were talking about come into play?

"The executive in charge of this operation most likely has your father," replied Ash bluntly. "They need him in order to get into the Master Ball's security room. We assume that there's some sort of DNA passcode."

"More like multiple," replied Bill. "I'm not sure of all the details, though."

"And neither are they," said Ash with a nod. "Hence the reason they captured him alive."

Bill rubbed the skin under his chin as he mulled something over. "Is there a reason why you guys are keeping this a secret from the League? Wouldn't it help if we had more firepower to stop them?"

"We don't know who to trust," said Ash simply. "I know Lance and the Elite Four are probably safe, but who knows how deep Team Rocket's infiltrated. If news gets out that someone is aware of their plot, we might lose our only chance at rescuing your father."

"Gotchya," replied Bill, "understandable. So, is there anything I can do other than sit back on my bloody arse and wait for all of this to unfold?"

Ash slyly smiled, "As a matter of fact, there is…"

"What is it?"

"Come up with an awesome disguise and change your flight to Saffron," said Ash.

"Oooooh, that sounds fun," drawled Bill. "What do you fancy I'd be doing?"

"Recon," said Ash. "It would be great if you could be on the lookout for any suspicious movement. If we can figure out where they're hiding out, it would be a huge advantage."

Bill practically jumped out of his seat. "This is going to be a blast! I better start working on a clever disguise!"

"No pokemon costumes," Ash jested, "especially kabuto."

Bill gave Ash a wry expression, "Just because I messed up once, doesn't make me a bloody cack. Besides, that would hardly be a suitable disguise. I plan on going completely incognito on those bastards."

Ash laughed, "You do that Bill. I can't wait to see what you come up with."

"It's going to be bloody great. I better get working on it," said Bill. "Thanks for telling me about my dad. I trust you'll get him back."

"Absolutely," said Ash, "we'll definitely get him back. We have a Champion on our side."

"Very true," replied Bill. "Now, I'm going to go Ash. Good luck catching a gho—"

"Wait!" blurted Ash with vigor. "You still have to tell me what Sabrina's registered pokemon are!"

"Oh yeah…" muttered Bill as he scratched the back of his head. "Well, for rookies she doesn't stray away from the abra evolutionary line. For trainers with less than three badges, Sabrina uses an abra and a kadabra. But if you've got more than three, who knows what the bloody hell she'll use. The woman is a monster."

"Good thing I've got one more rookie gym battle," said Ash. "If I manage to get a ghost-type, it should be doable."

"Now that you know Sabrina's registered team, I'm going to go," said Bill. "I've got a disguise to create."

Ash laughed, "Suit yourself…later, Bill."

"See ya, mate!"

"Click."

Ash watched as the miniature screen on his xtranceiver read: "Call Ended" after Bill's face rapidly cut out.

"He's just as entertaining as ever," laughed Ash as he looked down at Growlithe.

The puppy pokemon looked up at him with disappointed eyes. Ash had failed to notice Growlithe's eager expression that persisted throughout the entire conversation. The pup had wanted to say hello to the researcher as well.

Ash frowned. All it took was one look at his starter for the boy to know what was wrong. "My bad, boy, I was so busy appeasing Bill that I didn't notice. I should have known that you wanted to say hello. Don't get too upset, though. We'll see him soon enough."

Growlithe's expression slightly lightened up as Ash leant over and scratched the fur behind his ears.

"Now, what do you say we check on Ivysaur?" suggested Ash.

The puppy pokemon nodded his head elatedly as he was anxious to see his teammate's new form.

Ash proceeded to unclip Ivysaur's pokeball from his trainer belt before releasing the saurian grass-type. In wake of the release's flash of white light, the evolved specimen darted his eyes back and forth observing his surroundings. Once Ivysaur had deciphered the purpose of the situation, he calmed down.

"Hey, Ivysaur," crooned Ash as he watched the grass-type's four fronds flutter with the wind, "how are you feeling?"

The seed pokemon happily nodded his head up and down, bespeaking his super-eminent well-being.

Ash couldn't help but smile. His grass-type appeared to have retained his auspicious personality. "Good. I'm glad. Do you feel stronger?"

In advance to Ash's question, Ivysaur protruded his vines ostensibly examining his new body. After checking his vines, he bunglingly lifted his forelegs inspecting his reconstructed muscles. The seed pokemon seemed to be impressed by his new form.

Even more importantly, it appeared as though Ivysaur's trauma had yet to surface. Ash would be lying if he said he wasn't worried about it. Ever since Melanie had filled him in on Ivysaur's past, it had been a looming thought in the back of his head. Nevertheless, Ash was prepared to support Ivysaur throughout his mental assailment. However, that didn't change the fact that he hoped it would come later rather than sooner. Right now, there was just way too much chaos going on.

"Seems you're happy with your new form," said Ash with a grin. "How would you like to test your techniques?"

Ivysaur nodded affirmatively.

"Awesome," said Ash, "now, before we do anything, does your body feel awkward at all? Evolution tends to irk coordination. Other than your bud, there haven't been any extreme changes to your physique. You're bigger, but I did some research and found out that your species doesn't typically go through a physical ineptitude phase until the venusaur stage."

Ivysaur shook his head left to right before cantering off into the clearing. His pink bud fidgeted atop his back as he bound across the faded grass. Ash didn't descry any inelegance within his physical proficiency. His speed had taken a slight negative hit, but that was to be expected. Ash couldn't wait to see the fresh, new fruits of his transformation.

"Let's see how fast you are after you use Chlorophyll!" bellowed Ash from across the field. "Activate it!"

Ivysaur obediently carried out Ash's orders, absorbing the solar rays emitted from the bright, yellow sun. He instantly noticed the difference in the capability of his new bud. Compared to his primary form's bulb, it was much more efficient. The assimilation phase was quicker, and the result was a much stronger organic steroid. The saurian facilitated it from his internal beaker, into his legs, greatly enhancing his speed.

"Now this should be interesting…" said Ash to Growlithe as Ivysaur prepared to burst forward.

The puppy pokemon acknowledged his trainer's comment with a yap while staring straight ahead.

Ash watched in awe as Ivysaur took off in a blur. After being pumped up with chlorophyll, the boy's Ivysaur was even faster than he was antecedent to evolution. Ash made a mental note to check if the League manufactured Sunny Day TM's. Sunny Day is a fire-type technique that allows the user to manipulate the encompassing skies to clear out a pathway for the sun. Ash had never actually seen it done before, but it was also rumored that high-level pokemon can grow capable of procreating a temporary artificial light source that acts as an ersatz sun indoors. Ash was pretty sure Ivysaur couldn't learn the technique naturally. However, it would be nice to be able to use his saurian's ability regardless of weather forecast.

Ash looked down at his starter with a benevolent grin. Growlithe glanced back up at Ash with impressed eyes.

"That's enough!" exclaimed Ash—directed towards Ivysaur. "Great job, that was fantastic!"

Ivysaur compliantly slowed down while returning to Ash's side slightly out of breath. The grass-type's countenance portrayed satisfaction as he looked up at his proud trainer.

"No coordination problems," reported Ash with a smirk, "and your ability checks out even better than I could have imagined. Are you ready to check your techniques?"

The evolved saurian nodded like a novelty bobble head. He couldn't wait to explore even more of his newfound strength.

"Alright, so I'm not too worried about your physical attacks," said Ash, "so we don't have to check those. I'm much more interested in observing your elemental techniques and status moves. My guess is that your evolution has primarily affected you in those two areas."

Ivysaur listened attentively as Ash continued.

"Let's start with Leech Seed," suggested Ash. "I'd rather not have you use it on one of your teammates right now. So, how about we just check your propulsion rate?"

"You see that willow tree over there?" asked Ash while pointing at one of the faraway, deciduous trees. "Hit its trunk."

Ivysaur disembogued a low, acquiescent grunt as he turned his body to directly face the willow tree. He used his bud to internally hatch a cluster of parasitic seeds before loading them into his two protrusion slots.

In the blink of an eye, Ash observed while Ivysaur emanated a battery of green, glowing pellets. They shot through the air at a breakneck pace, resulting in a quiet crash as they imbedded themselves within the living host. The willow tree's trunk was then wrapped up in a net of vines which proceeded to fluctuate into the same verdant hue as the seeds.

"Good job, Ivysaur. Your Leech Seed looks great," praised Ash before looking at Growlithe and pointing back towards the tree. "Growlithe, can you bite off that Leech Seed? I'd hate to kill the tree."

Growlithe happily obliged, scampering off towards the tree in order to carry out his trainer's order.

Out of the corner of his eye, Ash watched Growlithe sink his teeth into the fluorescent, parasitic web. However, his primary focus was on Ivysaur who he was currently giving his next order to, "Let me see your Vine Whip, please."

Ivysaur quickly distended his thick, vine-like appendages before swinging them down at the ground like a sledge hammer. As the whips hit the faded grass, there was a turbulent thump!

Ash whistled in response to Ivysaur's blatant power boost. Left in Vine Whip's aftermath was a crevasse. It was by no means large, but it was nevertheless a depression—which was something Ivysaur wasn't capable of when he was a bulbasaur.

"Wow," stated Ash, "I'd hate to be on the other end of that."

Ivysaur smirked after hearing Ash's comment—his two, protruding, upper teeth gave him a slight look of arrogance throughout the expression.

"I guess the only things left to check are both of your status powders," said Ash as Growlithe returned from the willow tree, "but that's for you to figure out on your own. I can't really help you there. You should try and keep the component levels relatively close to what they were when you were a bulbasaur. The only thing I'd really like to know is whether or not your secretion sacs have grown?"

The evolved saurian did a quick diagnostic of the inside of his bud before giving Ash an affirmative nod.

"So they're bigger?" asked Ash, looking for reassurance.

Ivysaur repeated his nod—this time putting forth a gentle grunt throughout its duration.

"Do you need time to figure out the measurements for your concoctions again?" asked Ash, "or can you make your status powders now?"

The saurian grass-type proceeded to close his eyes focusing in on his intramural beaker. He prepared his Poison Powder first, carefully measuring and mixing a hodgepodge of toxic chemicals in order to create a sickening solution. Once it was properly mixed, he facilitated it into one of his designated secretion sacs. The seed pokemon quickly repeated the process. This time he brewed a batch of his powerful Sleep Powder. In subsequence to Sleep Powder's formulation, he emptied his internal beaker into another secretion sac.

When Ivysaur was finished, he opened his eyes...exiting his internal laboratory.

"How'd it go?" asked Ash.

Simultaneous to Ash's question, Growlithe looked over at his evolved teammate with a curious cast.

Ivysaur simply smiled while muttering something happily in his native language.

"Sweet!" exclaimed Ash, "it looks like all of your techniques are just fine. I'm going to have to check the pokedex to figure out what move we're going to learn next. Here's the good news, I definitely think you're just fine to continue training like normal."

Growlithe concurrently yapped something affirming towards his comrade garnering an elated response from the grass-type.

"I'm glad you're proud of yourself, my friend," said Ash before addressing both Ivysaur and Growlithe. "Now, what do you say, you two? Would you like to walk back to the Pokemart with me? It's about time we meet up with Wallace and Austin."

Both Growlithe and Ivysaur synchronously emanated a compliant murmur as Ash cheerfully led them back towards the heart of town.

XXX

Ten minutes prior to when Ash was supposed to meet Wallace and Austin, he arrived outside of the Pokemart. The dark-haired boy took a seat on one of the town's public benches as Growlithe and Ivysaur sat on both sides of his grounded feet.

"I guess...we'll just wait here," said Ash as he took off his backpack in precedence to laying it down next to him on top of the ironclad bench.

"Might as well do something productive," muttered Ash while unzipping one of his backpack's multiple pockets.

Ash heard Growlithe and Ivysaur's inquisitive murmurs as they curiously watched their trainer.

"I'm looking for my pokedex," said Ash, "I stuffed it in my backpack when I was rushed to pack everything back on the ship. I haven't needed it since, so it's still in here."

While he was digging through his bag's middle pocket, he suddenly felt a slightly sticky metallic sphere. At first he was confused; he kept all of his pokeballs inside of his bag's back pocket. However, as he pulled the scarlet stained orb out of concealment, a spine-tingling image of himself crouching over Chance Chapman's lacerated body pierced through his mind. Once again, He could practically feel the frigidness put forth from Swampert's Ice Beam while he replayed the memory of himself wiping the blood from Chance's pokeballs.

Ivysaur and Growlithe emitted cries of worry as Ash's complexion turned pale. The mental image was suddenly broken when Growlithe used his head to nudge Ash's leg, garnering his attention.

"Sorry, boy," bemoaned Ash, "I just remembered that there's something else I have to do."

Ivysaur looked up at Ash, befuddled, before glancing at Growlithe in just as confused of a manner. The puppy pokemon, however, knew exactly what Ash was talking about. He stood up from his spot on the ground before waiting for Ash to lead the way. Ash didn't waste any time; he'd have to make this quick. The dark-haired boy was supposed to meet Wallace and Austin in less than ten minutes.

The ten-year-old boy led both of his pokemon around the back of the nearby Pokemon Center looking for a quiet place to make his third phone call of the day. He found a small, vacant, public playground across the road from the Pokemon Center's posterior. It wasn't exactly your typical station of solitude, but it would work just fine. He beckoned both of his confused pokemon to follow him across the playground's sand and up the jungle gym, where he leaned up against the play structure's metallic railing.

Ash looked down at Growlithe and Ivysaur who both synchronously released an inquisitorial yowl.

"From up here, we can see if anyone's approaching," said Ash. "I've got to call Professor Oak and let him know that I'm sending over Chance's pokeballs. There's no way the professor won't ask questions. I have a feeling I'm going to have to tell him about everything that happened..."

Growlithe simply nodded, understanding his trainer's motive.

Ivysaur still looked as confused as a slowpoke while he spoke something in his native tongue directed towards Growlithe.

"While I'm on the phone with the professor, why don't you fill Ivysaur in on what's going on." Ash said to Growlithe while flipping through the contacts programmed into his xtranceiver. "I'll try and make it quick."

Growlithe nodded as Ash pressed dial, "Remember…be on the lookout. No one can hear this conversation."

Both of his pokemon proceeded to put forth affirmative grunts.

"Ring…"

"Ring…"

"Ring…"

"Click."

"Ash, my boy, I was just about to call you!" blustered the professor as his worried, lived-in face appeared on screen. "I just got off the phone with your mother. Are you okay?"

"Err…I'm alright, I guess…" mumbled Ash; he should have known that his mom would call the professor.

"You sure don't look it," answered the professor bluntly while pointing at the screen. "I've known you since you were a toddler, Ash, and I've never seen your eyes so tired."

"Well, I only got a few hours of sleep last night," said Ash. "I was kind of busy escaping the SS Anne."

"That's not what I mean," replied the professor. "Your semblance has changed since the last time I talked to you. While your face looks ten, your eyes look aged. Reminiscent of the boy I met back—"

Ash watched as the professor stopped himself mid-sentence, scratching his head anxiously as if he'd sputtered something he shouldn't have.

"Well n-never mind. That's beside the point…" stuttered the professor. "The point I'm trying to make is that you look like you've seen something. Talk to me child."

Ash decided to ignore the professor's bizarre behavior for now. He wanted to get straight to the point of why he was calling.

He had to be careful concerning what intel he shared. He trusted the professor with his life, but the old man's loyalty to his mother was unprecedented. The dark-haired boy would only disclose information about what had happened; he had zero plans to share his involvement in what was to come.

"Professor, please don't tell my mom about what I'm about to tell you," said Ash in precedence to the info he was about to disclose. "She would freak out if she knew what really happened aboard the ship."

"If I deem it for the best," said Professor Oak, "I will remain silent. Now carry on."

Ash momentarily hesitated before continuing.

"I'm the one that found out about the bomb," said Ash with a firm countenance.

The professor's posture changed as he sat up in his chair. His expression depicted attentiveness while he looked Ash in the eyes, "How, what happened?"

Ash ignored the lump in his throat as he recalled the memories of the crepuscular, early outset.

"It all started when I suddenly woke up after hearing a loud crash outside of my lodge. I knew something was wrong, but it wasn't until I saw Growlithe's expression that I realized that it must be something serious."

"Ah…yes, the species is incredible at sensing danger," said Professor Oak. "It was wise of you to trust Growlithe's judgement."

"Thanks," replied Ash. "Anyways, Growlithe had me hurry up and pack up of all my stuff. He was pretty adamant that there was a chance we wouldn't be coming back."

"Intriguing…" muttered the professor under his breath as Ash continued.

"After I finished packing, we left the room. Growlithe instantly took off in a haste forcing me to sprint to keep up. We took a couple of sharp turns throughout the lodging zone. I could tell that Growlithe was tracking something abnormal. His eyes were feral, and his expression was vicious."

"What was it?" asked an engaged professor.

"Blood," bemoaned Ash. "Growlithe led me straight to a blotch of human blood."

Professor Oak shook his head sorrowfully. Ash knew that this conversation was going exactly where the professor had hoped it wouldn't.

"I'm sorry you had to see that, Ash…" groaned the professor, weariness evident in his voice.

"It doesn't get much better," confessed Ash. "Should I continue?"

"G-go ahead, my boy, I'm all ears," stammered Professor Oak.

Even though the old man tried not to show it, Ash could tell it was hard for Professor Oak to listen to him talk about his tragic experience. The professor had pretty much known him his whole life and had treated him the same as he would his own grandson. Professor Oak was protective of Ash—just as he was Gary. Therefore, it was completely understandable that the old man was having an adverse reaction to Ash's story.

"Very well," said Ash, carrying on. "So, after examining the blood, Growlithe took off once again. I followed him out of one wing and into another. This time, Growlithe led us to a second sighting of blood. It was much more gruesome than the first. It was smeared across the tile making a long, winding trail."

Professor Oak once again shook his head incredulously. "Where were all of the workers? I thought the SS Anne was supposed to be staffed twenty-four seven."

"At the time, I thought the same thing," said Ash. "It was so strange. It was as if that part of the ship had been abandoned."

"You didn't follow the trail by yourself, did you?" asked Professor Oak. "You got help, right?"

"Earlier on the trip I met the Champion of Hoenn—Wallace Mikari," said Ash, "I called him. I didn't know what else to do."

"Yeah, now that you mention it, that makes sense. The news report said that the famous foreigner got most of the passengers off in time. There was also a bunch of live video of Wallace talking to reporters by Lavender Town's southeastern coast," said Oak. "I never would have guessed that you helped him, though. First Bill Montgomery, now the Champion of another region; Ash you're starting to procure quite a group of friends."

"I guess you could say that…" said Ash while scratching the back of his head sheepishly. "Well, anyways, after waking Wallace up with a phone call, we met up. He had a strange pokemon that I'd never heard of before with him. It was beyond elite level. Its name was Swampert."

"Ah…a Swampert, eh?" questioned Professor Oak, "I haven't seen one of those in ages. Their primary form mudkip is one of the Hoenn region's traditional starters. Swampert are extremely powerful pokemon. Unless you have a competent grass-type, their duel-typing is very difficult to strategize against."

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