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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15. Kanto 5 Part 2

"Yeah, I think I remember Wallace telling me that it was a water/ground-type," said Ash, "I can see how that could be difficult to handle."

"It is," stated the professor. "Now, what happened after you met up with Wallace?"

"I showed him the trail," said Ash as he could feel himself on the brink of choking up, "and we followed it."

Ash took a deep breath before continuing. It was difficult enough to recall the events...talking about them was even harder.

"At the end of the blood trail was a locked 'employees only' door,'" Ash told him. "I'm sure you can understand that between the two unstaffed wings and the trail of blood, we were speculating some kind of corruption amongst the cruise staff."

"Of course," stated Professor Oak, "I would be thinking the same thing."

"Well, we weren't wrong," said Ash. "Wallace gave me the option to turn back, but I refused. Growlithe and I found the mess; we wanted to help find out what was going on."

The professor stayed quiet, but Ash could tell he didn't agree with Wallace's decision to let Ash accompany him through the door. However, there wasn't really anything the professor could do about it. What was done was done. And Ash had helped save thousands of lives. Regardless of how logical the professor's disdain for Ash's endangerment was, he couldn't argue heroism—especially of this magnitude.

The ten-year-old boy ignored the professor's awkward silence, persisting through his story with emotion in his voice. "The trail of blood continued down the new hallway, gradually thinning out as we approached another door. The door was cracked open, and we could hear two rough voices from behind it. We listened in, and what we heard was horrific."

Tears began to surface in the corner of Ash's eyes while his voice started to tremble. Professor Oak gave him a supportive nod to continue: the phone call was beginning to obtain the feel of a talk therapy session.

"They spoke of a kidnapping before beginning to unveil an even more elaborate plot of evil. They shared their name; their identity was disturbing to say the least."

"Who were they?"

"Their individual identities don't matter," said Ash. "Who they worked for was what was frightening."

Ash watched Professor Oak lean forward in his chair as he zeroed in on what Ash was about to say.

"Team Rocket…" hissed Ash—disdain evident in his intonation. "They worked for Team Rocket."

Professor Oak's eyes bulged as he raised his hand up to his forehead in shock, "So, they're back…"

"Yup," said Ash, "they are...and they're planning something big. After they unintentionally revealed who they worked for, they started to talk about how they killed a kid that had overheard them in the hallway."

Tears started to flow down Ash's cheeks as he visualized the scene. "One of them was complaining because he thought that they should have cleaned up the blood. But, the other insisted it wasn't necessary. That's when we first heard about the bomb. I still remember his exact words. He said: the ship will be up in flames in thirty minutes."

"How old was the child?" asked Professor Oak gravely.

"My age…"Ash stammered before continuing with the story. "Once we heard that there was a bomb, Wallace stormed the Rockets. While he quickly incapacitated the two grunts, I caught sight of the kid's body. He was one of the kids I battled aboard the ship. I knew him. His name was Chance Chapman."

The Professor tensely massaged the skin on his forehead as he internalized Ash's words. "No wonder your dogma has changed. My boy, that's something that no one should ever have to see...let alone someone your age. I'm sorry…I'm so sorry you had to witness something so abominable."

"You don't need to apologize," said Ash as he wiped the tears from his eyes. "It's not your fault. It is what it is. I'll survive."

The professor gave the boy a slight smile. "Your mental toughness comes from your mother. I have no doubt that you'll overcome this. I just want you to be aware that once you've consciously seen something tragic like that, you'll always remember it. We are molded by memories whether we like it or not. Anyone can make good out of the good ones. It takes a special person to make good out of the bad."

"Hopefully I'm special then," spluttered Ash as he listened to Ivysaur and Growlithe exchange serious murmurs.

"You are special," retorted Professor Oak matter-of-factly. "No doubt about it."

"Thanks, professor," said Ash while forming a smile, "that means a lot."

"I simply call it how I see it," stated the professor. "Now, carry on whenever you're ready."

Ash smiled on account of Oak's comment before proceeding. "Well, once Growlithe noticed Chance's body, he scampered over to his side frenziedly. It didn't take me long to figure out what Growlithe had focused in on. Surprisingly, the Rockets hadn't confiscated Chance's pokeballs. They were still strapped to his belt, drenched in their trainer's blood. I couldn't just leave them there; so I unclipped them, wiped the blood off, and stuffed them into my backpack. This is actually the main reason why I called you. I'd like to send you Chance's pokeballs. Do you think you can take care of them at the corral?"

The professor mulled it over before retorting. "Before I can commit to that, I'll have to call his sponsor. Usually, in situations like this, the pokemon will either be sent to the child's family or their issuer. If neither desires to take the pokemon under their custody, I'll take care of them. But, either way, go ahead and send them over to me. I'll take care of it from here. Don't worry about it."

"Thanks, professor," said Ash, "before I head to the Pokemon Center to transfer the pokeballs over, do you want me to finish telling you what happened with the SS Anne?"

"I would very much appreciate that," replied the professor with a nod, "it's probably best that you continue to verbalize what happened. Often times, the best way to overcome trauma is to talk about it."

"I can see the truth in that," said Ash. "I'm already feeling a little bit better."

"Good…" drawled the professor, "how about you continue then?"

Ash fulfilled the Professor's request, proceeding to share with him the remainder of the events that happened aboard the SS Anne. Ash told him about the interrogation of Sid and Jack, the kidnapping of Robert Montgomery, the rendezvous with his powerful friend Austin Turner, the battle between Swampert and Arbok in the wheelhouse, the dead captains, the PA announcement, Reid, and last but not least the escape via Wallace's wailords.

By the end of the story, Ash felt like he had gotten nearly everything he possibly could off of his chest. He stayed quiet about anything that might lead to a conversation about his plans to recover Mr. Montgomery. The ten-year-old boy didn't want to worry the professor any more than he already had.

"Well, professor, I should probably head over to the Pokemon Center," said Ash. "I'd like to send you those pokeballs sooner rather than later."

"Understandable," replied Professor Oak, "stay out of trouble, Ash. Don't give me a reason to tell your mother about all of this."

"Wait," replied Ash surprised, "you're not going to tell my mom."

"Not unless it's necessary," replied the professor. "If I think that these kinds of situations are becoming a common occurrence, I believe your mother has an indisputable right to know. Otherwise, just this once, I'll keep my mouth shut. I don't believe it would be good for your mother's well-being to hear any of this from anyone other than yourself."

"I agree," retorted Ash, "thanks for understanding, professor."

"Thank you for trusting me enough to open up," replied the professor. "Now, hurry up and send me those pokemon. I have a little bit of free time at the moment. If at all possible, I'd like to take care of this right now."

"Gotchya," answered Ash, "I'll head over to the Pokemon Center right away."

"Splendid," replied the professor. "Talk to you later, my boy. Keep your head up. If you stay positive, your mind will heal over time. Also, let Wallace handle the situation with Mr. Montgomery. You've done enough…"

"Okay, will do," Ash lied guiltily. "See ya later, professor."

"Sayonara, my boy…"

"Click."

Ash simultaneously hit the sleep button on his xtranceiver as Professor Oak's lived-in features cut out.

The dark-haired boy proceeded to get two yearning stares from Growlithe and Ivysaur who were ready to go. Ash could tell that Ivysaur was a bit bewildered, most likely because of the news that Growlithe had just disclosed to him.

"It looks to me like you guys are ready," stated Ash. "Let's go, we're already running late."

XXX

After quickly having Lavender Town's Nurse Joy help him use the Pokemon Center's transporter unit to successfully transfer Chance's pokeballs to Professor Oak's lab; Ash, Growlithe, and Ivysaur headed over to the Pokemart. As he approached the door, he checked the time on his xtranceiver. Much to his displeasure, he was ten minutes late. He hated being late. However, this time he didn't have a choice. The well-being of Chance's pokemon was much more important than being frugal with time.

Upon entrance into the pristine, blue-roofed building, Ash caught sight of Wallace and Austin with a stockpile of items checking out at the cashier's desk. Other than his friends, the decently stocked store was rather empty in terms of shoppers. The only other person in the Pokemart was the craggy featured old man that served as the store's cashier.

"Hey, guys..." said Ash as he neared Wallace and Austin, "sorry I'm late."

Both the Champion and the chiseled faced teenager turned around as they heard Ash's adolescent voice.

"Hello, Ash," said Wallace with a benign smile, "don't worry about it. We just went ahead and got the supplies without you."

"Great," said Ash while watching the Champion pay for a bag full of essential items. "Did Austin fill you in on the change of plans?"

"I did," interrupted Austin with a smirk. The teenager held a big shopping bag of his own. It appeared he'd already paid on account of the lengthy receipt he was holding. "You took so damn long to get here—I figured you'd already headed to the tower."

Ash scratched the back of his head sheepishly. "Yeah, like I said, sorry. I underestimated how much I had to get done."

"Eh, you're fine," snorted Austin as Wallace finished the transaction. "I just thought you'd gotten over eager about ghost hunting, that's all."

"Yeah…" drawled Ash while the three trainers exited the Pokemart. "I probably would have thought the same thing. Anyways, what do you think Wallace? Is it alright if I take a slight detour?"

"I don't have any objections," crooned the silvery-toned man as he stopped outside of the Pokemart. "Just call when you're done. Your xtranceiver can receive coordinates, right?"

"I think so," said Ash, "at least, that's what Bill told me."

"Good," replied Wallace, "I'll send you the coordinates of our current whereabouts after you contact me. That way, you'll be able to find us. Saffron City's about a two-day trip from here, so don't rush yourself. Pidgeotto seems like a fast flyer. By the time you're done, we probably won't have made it all that far. My guess is it won't be that long of a flight. I'm sure we'll see you later today."

Ash honestly had no idea how long it would take. But the faster he could catch a ghost the better. Until he bought a saddle, the idea of flying on Pidgeotto's back for longer than a half an hour sounded horrible.

"I'll try not to take too long," said Ash. "Are you guys planning on heading out right now?"

"We are," replied Wallace. "We'd like to get to Saffron with a day to spare. That way, we can do some reconnaissance."

"Makes sense," said Ash. "By the way, I've got someone else that's helping us with the recon."

Wallace and Austin's faces instantly contorted, confused by Ash's actions.

"I thought I specifically said to keep everything between us," scolded Wallace. "Who'd you tell!?"

"Don't worry," Ash stammered, "it's just Bill. I called to check on him, and he was a wreck. He had a right to know. Robert is his father after all. Besides, he's a good friend of mine. I couldn't just leave him in the dark."

Wallace wiped the sweat from his face as he took a deep breath. "You should have said it was Bill from the beginning. Yeah, that's not a problem. I was planning on giving him a call myself anyways. You told him to keep his mouth shut, right?"

"I did," said Ash. "Trust me, he won't say a word. He's too obsessed with coming up with a good disguise to blow anyone else's cover."

"A disguise?" asked Austin in a confused manner.

"Yeah, I told him to come up with a clever disguise and fly out to Saffron. He's going to help us with recon until we arrive in the city. Team Rocket thinks their plan is an utter secret. They have no reason to pay attention to who's in the city or to speculate anybody's identity for that matter."

"Hmm…that was actually a clever idea, Ash," said Wallace while stroking his chin with his fingers, "but next time, please run it by me before you do anything."

"Gotchya," muttered Ash slightly guiltily. "I will...I promise."

The ten-year-old boy had been so used to traveling alone, for the past month and a half, that cooperation was something he needed to work on…

"Good," replied Wallace, "anyways, we're going to head out. Is there anything you need before we go?"

"Not really," answered Ash as he looked down at Growlithe and Ivysaur. "I've got my pokemon with me. I don't need anything else."

Austin leaned over and looked Growlithe in the eyes. "Take care of your trainer. Ghosts are unpredictable and they love to get under your skin. When you activate Odor Sleuth, you shouldn't have any problem seeing them. Also, make sure Ash doesn't get in over his head. Don't mess with any gengar. Gastly are preferable, and some haunter would be fine, but gengar are too powerful. Ash isn't ready to battle one...let alone train one."

Growlithe nodded his head before looking up at his laughing trainer.

"What do you think I am—an idiot?" laughed Ash. "I know my current limits. I wasn't planning on going after one."

"I'm just making sure," said Austin. "Ghosts are powerful. You've got to be careful."

"I will be," said Ash, "I won't do anything too risky."

"That's all I ask," said Austin as he punched the ten-year-old boy playfully on the shoulder. "Now go catch one, kid."

"Will do," said Ash, "see ya guys, I'll try and catch up as soon as possible."

"Eh, we'll see you later today," replied Austin as he dug into the bag full of items. "One more thing before you go. I thought I'd be a friend and buy you a box of great balls. A gastly or haunter hardly warrants an ultra ball, but a pokeball might be a little bit too weak to catch a haunter. Here you go, nothing too special, I think there's three in there."

Ash looked at Austin incredulously as he held the blue, cardboard box. "Thanks…I don't know what to say."

"You don't need to say anything," replied Austin with a shrug. "It's not a big deal. Honestly, I'd feel bad if I spent all of my earnings on myself."

"Well, now that I think about it…you did win 15k," heckled Ash.

"Hell yeah, I did!" blurted Austin as his eyes practically transformed into dollar signs. "What's a box of great balls when you're rich like me? With the right investments, I'll be the next Robert Montgomery."

Ash shook his head with a laugh while he opened the box of great balls in precedence to placing one in his coat pocket and the rest of the package in his backpack. "You're a trip, Austin."

"That's for sure," drawled Wallace in a humorous intonation.

"Anyways, guys, I really should get going," said Ash while beginning to back away accompanied by Growlithe and Ivysaur. "I'll see you soon."

"Us too," replied Wallace, while beginning to head west towards Saffron. "Bye Ash, good luck."

"Yeah—good luck, dude!" bellowed Austin with a smirk as their proximity grew too far to speak in an average volume. "Don't leave Lavender Town without a ghost!"

"Not even an option!" howled Ash with a wave before turning around and heading east towards the Pokemon Tower with Growlithe and Ivysaur on both sides of him.

He'd catch a ghost-type. No doubt about it.

XXX

The walk over to the Pokemon Tower was even more eerie than when he had trekked through Lavender Town's suburbs. The few districts were very quiet, even when compared to the much smaller town of Pallet. In addition, the people looked like they were in a disinterested daze, going about their lives in a melancholy trance. Nevertheless, he persisted through the gloomy town eventually ending up at the site of the Pokemon Tower.

Ash presently stood out front of the colossal, foreboding spire with Growlithe and Ivysaur by his side. The atmosphere was ominous. Encompassing the tower was a multitude of weeping willows and bloomless cherry blossom trees. The landscape was littered with tombstones bearing human names. Apparently, a hominid graveyard had been established outside of the tower. According to his friend Austin, the fortification's interior was only meant for fallen pokemon.

Amidst the traditional outdoor graveyard, there were a few despondent people visiting loved one's burial sites. Ash got a sick feeling in his stomach as he watched a languished old lady weep in front of a large tombstone. He wasn't sure whether she'd lost a husband or a child. Regardless, it was hard to witness such raw, grief-stricken emotion. He wished he could help. Unfortunately, the woman was too deep in her sorrow to genuinely approach. He would only be a nuisance if he disturbed her.

Ash turned to Growlithe as they neared the front door. "Do you smell any ghost pokemon out here?"

There was no need to use Odor Sleuth until they were in the direct presence of a ghost. For now, Growlithe's aromatic awareness was more than enough to begin the hunt.

The puppy pokemon shook his head before gesturing Ash forward towards the spire.

"Dammit," cursed Ash under his breath, "after seeing this graveyard, I was kind of hoping we wouldn't have to go in."

Before he headed into the spire, Ash detached Charmander and Squirtle's pokeballs in precedence to releasing them. There were no rules concerning how many pokemon you could use to capture a wild specimen. Besides, he felt safer with more of his friends on the outside.

Upon release, Charmander and Squirtle instantly observed their surroundings. The first thing they noticed was Ivysaur's new form. Neither of them had seen Ivysaur since the evolution. This was highly apparent by the way Charmander congratulated Ivysaur with a dopey thumbs-up, and how Squirtle encircled the saurian with a blank expression and curious eyes.

Charmander had spent much more time with the auspicious saurian than Squirtle, so he was way more enthusiastic towards the evolution. Squirtle, however, barely knew the grass-type. Their only few encounters occurred when Ash had them spar as training partners during the first couple days aboard the SS Anne. Even so, it's not like Squirtle was prone to showing any kind of emotion in the first place. Ash was just happy that his other friends had accepted the turtle pokemon. Moreover, the fact that Squirtle was trying to get along with the others in return—albeit Pidgeotto, who the water-type didn't care for whatsoever.

Ash interrupted the mingling of his pokemon in order to explain to Charmander and Squirtle their current objective.

"Charmander, Squirtle—we're no longer aboard the SS Anne due to some unforeseen circumstances. I'll tell you about them later. Right now, we've got something important to do. I would like your guys' help to capture a ghost-type. There's a bunch inside this tower, so be prepared for anything. When the time comes, Growlithe should be able to make them visible with Odor Sleuth. What do you say? Will you help me?"

Charmander puffed up his chest and flexed his stubby arms, depicting to his trainer that he was ready for the challenge.

Squirtle simply nodded his head affirmatively—void of all emotion.

"Awesome," said Ash with a grin as he reached for the decorative door's handle set. "Let's go in then."

Growlithe, Ivysaur, Charmander, and Squirtle emitted acquiescent grunts as Ash pulled open the thickset door. The large florid, yet decrepit, door disembogued a spooky creak while the unkempt hinges pivoted the door outward. Ash's skin crawled in response to the grating noise; it triggered an adverse physical reaction sort of like nails on a chalkboard.

Upon entrance, Ash instantly questioned his decision to search the tower. The main entrance was a dim, commodious chamber. Its only lighting came from a collection of suspended lanterns fastened around the first floor's aged stone walls. Just the room itself gave off the feel of a haunted medieval antechamber—take into account the scattered tombstones, and it was rather cadaverous.

Just like outside, there were a few grieving people spread out amongst the graves. Out of curiosity, Ash examined one of the many burial spots. The stone floor that tightly surrounded the tombstone's encompassing area was different in texture and color than the rest of the stonework. Ash figured that the buried pokemon's past owner was given the right to pick what kind of stone the grave was sealed with. It only made sense given that each and every grave was constructed uniquely.

After examining the floor's graveyard, Ash turned to Growlithe who sat alongside his anxious teammates, "Anything on this level?"

Growlithe shook his head before beckoning his trainer to follow him. Ivysaur, Charmander, and Squirtle followed suit, trusting the judgment of the canine.

"Alrighty…"Ash drawled, "lead the way, boy."

The puppy pokemon quickly sifted through his available scents. He discarded anything that was non-living or human, choosing to focus his aromatic awareness on the bizarre redolences he had smelt earlier that day. There was a multitude of ominous pheromones coexisting above. He wasn't exactly positive of each individual scents precise location, but that would be revealed as they drew closer.

Amidst the several related scents, there was one that he locked on to. It was strong, but not overbearing. Just like how he was aromatically aware of Chance's feelings aboard the SS Anne, he could smell the being's semblance. It was unlike the rest of its kind. Its dogma was brighter and much less sinister. Growlithe could tell it was surprisingly good-natured, albeit mischievous—which wasn't rare amongst its species. The rest of the spectral beings were foul spirited and demented, especially the collection of powerful scents that existed at the very top of the tower.

By smell alone, Growlithe was able to descry two definite objectives. Their first objective was to track the cordial ghost-type that's pheromone was oddly pleasant. Their second objective was to, at all costs, avoid the last couple floors. He wasn't positive, but his assumption was that the tower's few gengar lived up there. The rest of the tower's ghosts were sinister by nature, but not blood-thirsty. They would be fine as long as they didn't bother them...

Ash observed his surroundings as Growlithe led the group up the tower's enclosed, winding staircase. Fixed along the stone walls were more of the decrepit, but functioning, lanterns that were on the first floor. They emanated just enough light for them to be able to see the steps while they climbed their way up to the second floor.

When they reached the top of the flight of stairs, they walked passed a plainly built upper archway and onto the second floor. While accessing the new level, Ash glanced down at his pokemon.

Growlithe and Squirtle were the least affected by the baleful setting. The puppy pokemon simply continued to lead the way like a brave kangaskhan patriarch. Ash figured the pup's experience aboard the SS Anne had considerably numbed his sense of fear. Squirtle, on the other hand, moved forward like some sort of stony-faced machine. If the water-type felt anything at all involving the haunted tower Ash was completely unaware of it.

Ash could tell Ivysaur and Charmander were at least slightly put off by their surroundings. Even though neither of them appeared to be cowering in fear, it was blatantly obvious that they were uncomfortable. Ivysaur kept sporadically looking behind them. Charmander nervously ground his sharp teeth together, emanating a sound oddly similar to that of a manual pencil sharpener.

"Are you guys alright?" asked Ash, to his two anxious pokemon, as they ambulated across the vacant second floor over to the crosswise, ascending staircase.

Both elemental types frantically nodded their heads, trying not to show weakness to their trainer. Ash noticed Squirtle concurrently look at both of them with condescending eyes, clearly judging their mental fortitude.

Ash simply half-smiled and faced forward; his pokemon definitely weren't bereft of individual personality.

The second-floor was basically identical to the first. Their seemed to be an equal amount of graves, and the walls were bare of anything other than the suspended lanterns.

"Nothing on this floor, eh?" Ash asked Growlithe as they neared the next flight of stairs.

The puppy pokemon emitted a quiet grunt, and shook his head, as they passed by the second floor's last row of graves.

"I don't want to waste anytime then," said Ash. "Let's go up."

Growlithe nodded in accompaniment to the rest of Ash's released pokemon as he initiated the steep climb up the next flight of stairs. During the ascendance, Ash thought of something that Austin had mentioned earlier.

"Can you smell any other type of pokemon besides ghosts?" asked Ash curiously. "I remember Austin saying that cubone could be found here."

Growlithe once again shook his head left to right, attesting that there was no trace of the species.

"Damn, really?" questioned Ash disappointedly, "I mean, I don't really have any interest in catching one. But it would have been cool to see a wild specimen. Maybe they only visit the tower on occasion."

Growlithe simply ignored his inquisitive trainer as he continued up the steep, winding staircase toward the tower's third-level.

Ash, out of annoyance, huffed in response to being ignored, "Just because it was slightly a random question, doesn't mean it's not worth responding to."

The dark-haired boy looked down at his other pokemon for reassurance who just happened to be purposely paying him zero attention.

"Thanks guys," snorted Ash facetiously. "I'm so happy to have your support."

All four of his friends emitted a simultaneous grunt as they walked out onto the third floor.

Instantaneous to their disembarkation onto the third-level, Growlithe shot Ash a conspicuous look. In response to Growlithe's cogent behavior, Ash instantly knew that they were in the presence of at least one apparition. Now that he was aware of a presence, he could actually feel a potent distinction in the atmosphere. The room felt different. It was cold, yet, he was sweating as if it was hot. And despite the vastness of the room, he felt claustrophobic as if the stone walls could swallow him alive at any moment.

"There are ghosts in here," whispered Ash as they walked out into the center of the room. "Is it time to use Odor Sleuth?"

Growlithe gave Ash a resistive look indicating that it wasn't time yet. At this point in his journey – through body language – Ash was able to decipher a general gist of what his starter was trying to depict.

"Wait, not yet?" questioned Ash quietly in a confused manner. "Why?"

Squirtle proceeded to nudge Ash in the leg with one of his compact arms before pointing up at the ceiling.

It took Ash a moment to make sense of what his pokemon were trying to say to him before he replied, "Ah…I get it. There's a specimen you're tracking, isn't there?"

Growlithe and Squirtle nodded affirmatively, while Ivysaur and Charmander took a big breath in attempt to focus their minds. They would discard any anxiety in order to protect Ash from the incorporeal beings.

On account of the few other people that were paying their respects to their deceased pokemon, Ash figured that the ghosts on this floor weren't hostile. Howbeit, he didn't drop his guard as he followed Growlithe, along with his other pokemon, across the third floor. The whole way across the floor, he could feel the odd perceptual sensations caused by the illusory, disguised ghost pokemon.

As Growlithe beckoned his trainer and teammates up the next flight of stairs, Ash could feel the visceral phenomenon grow even stronger. With every step he took, his body got colder...yet his sweat grew thicker. With every stair he climbed, the walls seemed to get closer and closer to entrapping him. He knew it was just an illusion, but the truth didn't change how real it felt. Nevertheless, he persevered. The ten-year-old boy wouldn't be forced to turn back because of some spectral delusion.

Ash wasn't sure, but his pokemon didn't seem to be quite as affected by the ghostly ruse. That only made sense though. Humans were almost always more susceptible to pokemon techniques than other pokemon. Especially, those of the mystic elements such as psychic, ghost, dark, and fairy…

When Ash and his pokemon walked out onto the fourth floor, they could instantly feel an even sharper shift in the room's atmosphere. The phantasmal energy was much more potent, causing a slight shiver to run its course throughout everyone's bodies. Ash wasn't an expert, but he figured it was one of two things.

Either this floor was flooded with gastly, or there were some haunter amongst them. It could also be a combination of both, but he was certain of one thing: there were no gengar. If there were, he probably wouldn't be standing. When untrained, the fully-evolved ghost-type was typically depraved and nefarious, void of compassion and mercy. There was a reason why Austin sincerely stressed for him to stay away from any gengar.

Even so, no matter of the discomfort, they continued to trudge forward in search of the Growlithe's targeted ghost.

"It's got to be on this floor, right?" asked Ash. "I don't know how much higher I can go. I feel like I'm about to get eaten by this place."

Unfortunately, Growlithe once again shook his head. By now, the pup was beginning to feel overwhelmed by the guises of all of the spectral beings. It was difficult to be aware of numerous entities aromatically and not be able to see them visually. However, he still elected to stay away from using Odor Sleuth until absolutely necessary. He figured that once the ghosts were aware that he could force them into their corporal forms, they would no longer remain disinterested in confrontation...

Up to this point, the fourth floor was by far the most ominous. There were less traditional graves. Instead, it was primarily dedicated to elaborate, auriferous, pokemon shrines. Despite the heavy ghostly presence, there were still people scattered amidst the level. Several were cloaked in the same, white, occult outfits, evocative to the robes of a Shinto Priest. Few of the supposed channelers paid him any mind, albeit the ones that did stared at him with vacant eyes—similar to that of a drowzee. It gave him the creeps, even more so than the looming presence of the supernaturally hidden ghosts.

"Alright, Growlithe, nod if it's on the next floor," whispered Ash, "I want to get out of this place ASAP."

Out of the corner of his eye, Ash watched Ivysaur and Charmander frantically nod their heads in agreement. Neither seemed to be too afraid, but it was obvious that everyone was on edge. Even Squirtle looked slightly distressed, in the eyes, as they felt the glares of the channelers fastened on their backs while beginning to walk up the next flight of stairs.

Finally, accompanied by a soft and reassuring bark, Growlithe nodded his head. The pleasant ghostly redolence was, in fact, on the next level.

Barring Squirtle, Ash and the rest of his pokemon breathed a massive sigh of relief in response to Growlithe's affirmation. In concurrence to the good news, they could also feel the nasty, phantasmal pressure begin to slightly lessen as they steadily approached the top of the stairwell.

"Alright, so you're sure it's on this level?" asked Ash as they walked out onto the least maleficent floor.

Growlithe nodded his head with an excited expression while emitting a convivial yip.

Before commanding Growlithe to use Odor Sleuth, Ash examined the room. The Pokemon Tower's fifth floor only bore a dozen graves—which was by far the least amongst all of the chambers. It was apparent that all twelve graves were frequently visited on account of the numerous fresh flowers piled at the base of each tombstone.

Suspended along the walls were the same eerie lanterns that were on the lower floors. However, the old-fashioned light sources in this chamber appeared to emit much more light than the fixtures on the lower floors. In addition, each one of the sealed graves was constructed with some sort of fine alloy such as gold, silver, or copper. To top it all off, there was a resplendent grand piano pushed into the far corner of the room. The magnificent instrument looked to have been recently polished. It sparkled elegantly amidst the irradiate chamber's lighting.

Ash was confused.

Including the adorned graves, the fifth floor felt slightly out of place. Compared to the rest of the tower, it was rather pleasant, producing the feel of a place you'd actually want to bury a loved one. Even though it was still pretty apparent that there was a surplus of ghost-types, besides the existing perceptual symptoms, Ash felt like he could relax a bit. There were no blatant feelings of apprehension in the midst of the room.

Ash's observation was suddenly cut short by the beautiful, yet eerie, sound of the massive keyboard instrument. No other humans were in the room, so at first, Ash was rather freaked out. He knew that a lot of electronic pianos could be programmed to play by themselves. However, in this situation, he had a feeling that wasn't the case.

More than likely, it was a ghost that was pressing down the keys on the large, classy instrument.

In response to the supernatural performance, Ash quickly glanced down at his friends. Ivysaur, Charmander, and Squirtle were presently fixated on the piano. Their expressions portrayed qualm and confusion, albeit Squirtle...who showed his minute emotions through his eyes. Growlithe, however, watched the performance with amicable eyes and a jovial countenance. The pup didn't seem to be disturbed in the slightest.

"Growlithe, I need you to use Odor Sleuth," implored Ash as he looked down at his friend. "Now."

The fire-type didn't need to mull it over. He immediately emitted a potent, invisible scent out of every single one of his exocrine glands. The pungent odor could be smelled by Ash and his friends as it diffused throughout the chamber. The piquant scent caused the dark-haired boy to cover his nose while he watched the surrounding ethereal beings slowly sputter into their corporal forms.

All in all, there were probably around ten gastly buoyantly floating around the room. The abhorrent, spherical ghosts seemed to be in a trance as they heedlessly ricocheted against one another like a bunch of mindless billiard balls.

"What in the world is going on?" asked Ash as he examined the many purple enshrouded gastlys' disoriented expressions. "Did Odor Sleuth put them in a trance?"

Growlithe adamantly shook his head before gesturing back towards the piano.

Floating above the piano's seat was a dark-purple being with a gaseous body. It had its two, three fingered, disembodied hands making precise contact with the grand piano's keys. The ghost-type, Ash recognized as a haunter, mysteriously had its rounded back to the rest of the room as its three spiked protrusions on both sides of its head quavered throughout the performance.

The dark-haired boy also noticed the vibrant, purple waves being synchronously emanated from the piano's soundboard. Ash had no way to be sure, but it looked as if the haunter was infusing hypnosis with the sound of the instrument. Intertwined with the sleep rendering power of hypnosis, the purple rays appeared to be a corporeal manifestation of the emitted sound waves. Simply put, the result was a super powered Sing and Hypnosis combination using the piano as an external catalyst for the move, Sing.

It was impressive...borderline ingenious.

Be that as it may, Ash was befuddled. Why was the evolved specimen hypnotizing its kin? Why wasn't he being hypnotized? Why weren't his pokemon being put to sleep? What were its motives?

…Why was Growlithe so interested in it? There had to be a reason.

Ash slowly crept forward while doing a good job of not running into the multiple, aimless, levitating gastly. He passed by the graves and over to the other side of the room. His pokemon were practically glued to his side throughout the covert advancement.

His heart thumped heavily, and his stomach turned, as he neared the wraithlike creature. It continued to carry out its tune, expertly using its ethereal extremities to dance across the keyboard like a concert pianist. Ash looked down at his pokemon for strength as he gradually shrunk the proximity between himself and the haunter. Charmander, Ivysaur, and Squirtle appeared to be just as unsure as he was, but Growlithe looked up at his trainer with definite eyes. His starter trusted that he was safe, therefore Ash moved forward.

The shadowy creature had yet to physically acknowledge Ash's presence; however, Ash knew it was aware of him. Just when the ten-year-old boy was close enough to reach out and touch the – now corporal – specter. The haunter crashed both of his disembodied hands onto the keyboard creating a loud, discordant sound.

"Holy crap!" bellowed Ash as he jumped back from the sudden cacophonous noise, reminiscent of his skittish friend Gary Oak.

Ivysaur, Charmander, and Squirtle followed suit before quickly gathering themselves to get into a defensive position.

Growlithe simply stood still, unsurprised by the haunter's antics.

The haunter continued to levitate with its back to the group as its ghoulish hands remained planted on the piano's keyboard. There was a drawled out moment of stillness as the gaggle of inharmonious notes echoed throughout the chamber. All of a sudden, like a jack-in-the-box on steroids, Haunter expeditiously turned around only to point and laugh at them hysterically.

Ash nearly fell over. The surprise was so overbearing that he felt like his heart was going to explode. Simultaneous to the jolt, he heard a large crash as Ivysaur, Charmander, and Squirtle released a flurry of their strongest elemental techniques, specifically: vine whip, water gun, and ember.

The dark-haired boy quickly suppressed his consternation, forcing himself to observe his surroundings. The haunter had barely avoided the attacks, managing to dart out of the way at the last second. Thankfully, the assailment didn't do too much damage to anything, most likely because the individual techniques weren't focused and were primarily an impulsive reaction.

Growlithe looked to be a little surprised, but, seemed to be amused as if he was at least partially aware of what was going to happen. At this point, Ash was completely sold on the concept of Growlithe's rumored ability to smell emotions. There was just way too much proof to think otherwise.

Thankfully, all of the gastly remained in comatose, aimlessly drifting under the influence of Haunter's hypnotic powers.

Ash refocused his attention on the evolved ghost-type, trying to do whatever he could to descry what was going on. When the haunter noticed that Ash's investigative eyes were fixated on him, he floated towards the boy concurrently putting forth a discordant, yet impish laughter.

It took Ash a little bit, but he eventually understood what was going on when he caught a good glimpse of Haunter's countenance.

"Squirtle, Charmander, Ivysaur—stand down!" commanded Ash as he smirked at the dark-purple poltergeist.

Despite their confusion regarding the ghost-type, the elemental trio loyally heeded their trainer's order

"It seems we've got ourselves a jokester," said Ash as Haunter surveyed him with its large, angled eyes.

Haunter responded with another outburst of amused laughter as it floated around Ash with its large mouth agape, ostensibly sizing him up.

Ash diverted his attention towards Growlithe as the fire-type spoke to Haunter in his native tongue. In reaction to Growlithe's murmurs, Haunter's tail quivered and his smile grew even larger.

Ash noticed that his other pokemon seemed to have relaxed. Whatever was going on between Growlithe and Haunter must have put them at ease. Prior to Growlithe's arbitration, even Squirtle was on edge; albeit, much more subtly than Ivysaur and Charmander.

Ash had no way to decipher exactly what Growlithe had said, howbeit he could portray his request. Over the past month, Ash and Growlithe's personalities had started to conform to one another. So, hopefully, Growlithe had done Ash a favor and prepped Haunter for what he was about to ask it.

"Hey, Haunter," crooned Ash, "I'm Ash Ketchum, a pokemon trainer. I've come to this tower in search of a powerful ghost pokemon. You're exactly what I'm looking for. How would you feel about a battle? If I win, you come with me. If you win, I won't bother you again."

Haunter didn't hesitate. He frantically nodded his body in agreement. Ash wasn't exactly a medium, but the rather jaunty ghost-type seemed to welcome the idea of being caught—which was strange given the fact that ghost pokemon were typically excruciatingly difficult to capture. Nonetheless, some pokemon just longed for adventure regardless of their species' typical behavior.

"Where do you want to do this?" asked Ash as he gestured towards all of the gastly. "This room is hardly suitable. There are too many other ghosts."

Haunter nodded his head dramatically while disemboguing a confirmatory guffaw.

"Do you have a place in mind?"

Haunter used one of his disembodied extremities to point towards the descending staircase before subsequently drifting towards it. Ash and his pokemon stood there for a moment until Haunter used one of his hands to gesture for them to follow. Ash shrugged before looking down at Ivysaur, Charmander, and Squirtle.

"Let's go guys," said Ash with an amused undertone.

The elemental trio nodded in concurrence while processing the outlandish situation. There was no need to address his starter; Growlithe had already begun to tail the congenial specter…

The amicable ghost-type led Ash and his friends down the multiple stairwells and out of the ominous tower. The trip down was a lot more comfortable than the trip up. The channelers on the fourth floor left them alone entirely, probably because they were being escorted by a corporeal ghost. And the phantasmal pressure had significantly decreased. Ash wasn't sure why, but it more than likely had something to do with Haunter.

Ash half expected some of the other ghosts in the tower to reveal their corporeal forms, but, they didn't. Even though one of their kin was openly anatomical, it seemed as though they would rather stay hidden. The ten-year-old boy knew he shouldn't have been surprised. Ghost's weren't typically loyal to anything, including their own kind, which was the biggest reason why so few trainers chose to a take chance on them. They tended to live in groups, but there was no real camaraderie. Apparitional pokemon were inherently selfish and internally absorbed. The other ghosts in the tower, more than likely, could't care less if one of their brethren was captured—especially one that was so much different.

As they exited the building, Haunter got a lot of confused stares from the people visiting the outdoor graveyard. Ash figured that, although Lavender Town was well known for their ghost-type infestation, it was seldom that anyone from the town actually saw one. There was no reason for wild ghost-types to reveal their physical bodies. The only time they needed to become corporeal was to feed or to engage in battle.

Most ghost-types stuck to dreams, but some of the more insidious beings ate life-force. One of the biggest reasons why ghosts usually lived in packs was that they fed off of each other. Practically all pokemon were smart enough to figure out that it was stupid to attack humans. Just like how the League had a zero-tolerance policy for pokemon abuse, they were even stricter with pokemon that attacked humans. If a ghost-type was to maim or kill a human, chances are the League would wipe them out with a legion of dark-types. Sometimes the more powerful apparitions, such as gengar, would go after pokemon of other species. But, it was rare. Wild gengar were typically territorial and didn't like to leave their unearthly roosts...

Haunter ignored the many stares and led them around to the back of the tower. All that could be seen was a glut of baneful vegetation, concretely: weeping willows, leafless birch trees, and spooky looking shrubs.

The evolved poltergeist had them lumber their way through the thick, irritating underbrush. Haunter simply passed through it like a man walks through insubstantial molecules.

On the other side of the brush was a relatively plain clearing. The grass was dead, and there was nothing else worth mentioning. All in all, it was a pretty good place to battle.

Even though he could easily clean up after any mess he made, he'd rather stay away from using either of his fire-types. The defoliated area was too dry to let a fire last more than a short while in fear of spreading. And he'd rather not have Squirtle running around like a doduo with one of its heads cut-off trying to put out every stray fire.

Ivysaur could probably handle the challenge, but Ash would rather use his water-type. Squirtle worked best from long range, and that was typically the best way to defeat a ghost without a distinct type advantage. Besides, Squirtle had Bite in his repertoire—which was super-effective against ghosts. Other than maybe Growlithe, he was definitely his best available option.

Haunter proceeded to drift out into the middle of the clearing, patiently waiting for the start of the battle. The apparition buoyantly levitated in the air, putting forth a discordant outburst of laughter in the process.

Ash's pokemon all looked up at him, waiting to find out who would get to face the spectral being. Growlithe didn't seem all that interested in battling. He was too amused by the specter's charisma to want to fight it. Ash could tell that, if things went over smoothly, Growlithe would definitely have a new friend to play with.

Ivysaur and Charmander both appeared to be interested in battling Haunter, but not like Squirtle. The water-type looked at Ash with adamant eyes—which happened to be about as deep as the turtle's emotions could get. So, although Ivysaur and Charmander looked up at Ash with hopeful expressions, Squirtle's piercing eyes were practically begging him to pick him.

Ash didn't have a problem with it. He'd already decided to go with his water-type in the first place.

"This battle is all yours, Squirtle," said Ash with a smirk. "Let's show Haunter what we're all about."

The turtle pokemon emitted a low, alto-toned grunt as he vigorously stepped forward for battle.

"Are you ready, Haunter?!" howled Ash with a smile as he gestured for the rest of his pokemon to step back. "Let's see what you've got!"

The ghost-type jovially bounced up and down in the air. Ash could tell it was excited to engage in what was to come.

Ash looked down at his non-participating partners for support. Growlithe, Ivysaur, and Charmander simultaneously nodded, ready to watch the match unfold.

"First move's all yours, Haunter!" hollered Ash. The poltergeist had been rather courteous outside of his welcoming prank; the least Ash could do was let him initiate the battle.

In response to Ash's exclamation, Haunter oddly gestured each of his disembodied hands at Squirtle. The apparition put forth a jeering burst of laughter before emanating a bizarre, dark-purple wave of spectral energy at Squirtle. Ash wasn't exactly an expert when it came to ghosts, but it looked like a Night Shade attack. He'd watched some of the ghost-type master Agatha's battles on television and recalled seeing the technique used. He wasn't entirely sure, but he thought he remembered it to be a relatively medial damaging move with extremely high-accuracy.

Squirtle tried to dodge as the ominous energy whisked through the air like a gust of wind. While he darted out of the way, the turtle pokemon realized he wouldn't be able to clear the entirety of the ethereal technique's scope. He withdrew into his shell at the last possible moment minimizing the damage. He was slightly clipped on the lower half of his legs. The contact from the ghostly technique was more draining than painful. He could feel a slight bit of his energy being whisked away into oblivion.

The turtle pokemon's shell sputtered throughout the air for a short moment after contact. In subsequence to the Night Shade, the testudine reptile quickly reemerged from his biological shield. While in the air, the water-type reached into his internal water reservoir and loaded his gullet with enough water for a couple of high-pressure Water Guns. When his feet touched the ground, he unloaded on the ethereal being's corporeal form.

The ghost-type hissed as it was struck by the first blast of water. However, it managed to dodge the rest of the barrage, dashing through the air like an intelligent cloud of smoke. Squirtle didn't let up. The emotionless water-type continued to impel Water Guns while calculating the ghost-types trajectory.

Haunter managed to continue to avoid the flurry. The ghost-type appeared to be quite skilled when it came to perfunctory maneuverability. During a momentary break in the enfilade of Water Guns, while Squirtle reached into his internal reservoir, Haunter used his shadowy hands to disembogue a ray of auroral pink.

Ash instantaneously recognized the technique as Hypnosis, albeit, it was a different variation than what the apparition had conjured on the piano.

"Dodge!" howled Ash vigorously.

Unfortunately, it was just a distraction; ghosts never failed to be deceptive.

Squirtle easily dodged the hypnotic strike only to be bombarded by a flanking Haunter. The corporeal ghost winded back its nebulous fist before striking Squirtle in the side of his face with a powerful Sucker Punch. The water-type was impelled across the clearing. He emitted several painful grunts as he turbulently rolled across the dead grass like a golem using Rollout.

"Withdraw!" howled Ash as he watched his water-type uncomfortably falter.

Squirtle mentally digested his trainer's cry and managed to enshroud himself within his natural protection. When he slowed down enough to reemerge, he did so, simultaneously releasing a flurry of chemically induced bubbles. They aimlessly floated through the air. Squirtle anxiously bit the side of his mouth as he watched the bubbles waver towards the laughing poltergeist.

The spectral being dashed towards the ground; a fraction of a second before it phased through the defoliated earth, it cried out in pain as it was hit by a volatile bubble. Almost synchronously, it reappeared behind Squirtle with a wry expression painted across its face. Haunter's fist was enshrouded in black energy as it prepared to bring it down on Squirtle.

"Behind you!" bellowed Ash. "Bite!"

Squirtle pivoted expeditiously. Right before the ghost planted its shadowy knuckles into the turtle pokemon, he managed to embed his teeth into Haunter. Both pokemon shrieked out in agony as they felt the other's focused attack course throughout their bodies. Although Haunter's Shadow Punch managed to create separation between the two battling pokemon, it didn't do so until Squirtle was able to cause significant damage with Bite. Even though it was typically transparent, Bite's dark energy was visible when used against the highly afflicted ghost. Ash watched the black static of Squirtle's Bite trickle throughout its body as the ghost-type shrieked like a banshee.

While Haunter sporadically fidgeted in the air, Squirtle was forced to one knee as the agonizing, ghostly impact streaked throughout his existence. He cried out in pain while he desperately tried to force himself back onto his feet. Despite the struggle, the emotionless water-type managed. His knees wobbled and his arms shook as he stood resolutely in front of the gaseous apparition.

Squirtle looked Haunter in its intimidating, angled eyes as the ghost-type afflictively twitched. Regardless of his current status, the turtle Pokemon had no doubt in his mind that he would win this battle. He watched intensely while the shadowy creature shakily raised its hands for another caliginous Night Shade. As Squirtle dug deep into his will power, he felt a massive pull from deep inside his internal reservoir. He'd felt this sensation before; however, it was a long, long time ago.

Ash and the rest of his pokemon watched in astonishment as Squirtle was enshrouded within a hurricane of rampant water. The ten-year-old boy witnessed Haunter's eyes bulge with fear when he saw the dense aqua fortress constrict against Squirtle's body creating a thin layer of glowing, yet transparent, precipitation. It looked like a blue, auroral cloak glistening against the water-type's reptilian skin. Ash knew what it was. It was Squirtle's dynamic ability: Torrent.

Torrent is a power boosting ability that ignites when the user is on its last leg. Essentially, it nearly doubles the strength of a water-type's elemental techniques. Simply put, for a short amount of time, Squirtle just got a lot stronger.

The gleaming water-type proved his temporary, newfound strength by unleashing a battery of authoritatively fast Water Guns. The high-pressured streaks of water shot through the atmosphere as fast as an infuriated bullet, piercing the air in search of their target. Ash watched Squirtle follow his shots, leaning his head forward and throwing his arms behind his back. The little, glowing beast looked like an aqua based torpedo as he sprinted behind his technique at an expeditious rate.

Haunter managed to dodge one of the Torrent enhanced Water Guns, but was hit by the other three. The evolved ghost-type howled as the triplet of water bullets collided with its corporeal body. If the super powered Water Guns weren't enough then Squirtle's next attack definitely was. He concealed himself behind his barrage while closing the proximity between himself and the apparition. When he was close enough to touch the, already weary, ghost; he heard his trainer's command.

"Close ranged Bubble, now!"

Squirtle disembogued a tenacious Bubble attack at point blank range, resulting in a high-pitched scream. The duration of the strike was short given the basis of the technique. When the non-existent aftermath settled, Haunter sunk to the defoliated earthy surface, unconscious and phasing in and out of his corporeal form.

Ash quickly pulled the great ball, Austin had given him, out of his coat pocket before lofting it at the benumbed ghost-type. Due to battling Haunter until unconsciousness, Ash figured a pokeball would have sufficed. However, the ten-year-old boy inferred that the gaseous pokemon was worthy of one of the blue and red upgraded capture-devices. Besides, he had three of them—might as well put them to use.

When the great ball made contact with Haunter, the ethereal being was masked in a ray of dazzling red light. The scintillating illumination wafted in the air for a split-second before being briskly sucked into the capture device. The great ball fell from suspension before promptly clicking upon impact with the ground. Haunter had been caught. He was now in possession of a new ally...one that was capable of standing up against the mighty Sabrina.

In precedence to retrieving Haunter's great ball, Ash checked on Squirtle who was surrounded by Ivysaur, Charmander, and Growlithe. The turtle pokemon was lying on his back utterly exhausted. Torrent had left him with nothing—an unfortunate side-effect of the temporary power boost.

"You fought well," crooned Ash as he crouched down to talk to his battered water-type.

Squirtle huffed in response. He was clearly too worn down to do much else.

Ivysaur, Charmander, and Growlithe showered the turtle pokemon in praise before Ash spoke up once again.

"I'll get you to the Pokemon Center before we head out," said Ash while holding Squirtle's pokeball over his tired body, "until then, take a rest. You deserve it."

Squirtle emitted an acquiescent grunt, and smiled with his eyes, as the pokeball's intramural energy returned him into a timeless sequester.

After reattaching Squirtle's pokeball to his trainer belt, Ash walked over to Haunter's great ball with his friends right behind him. He half expected the blue and red orb to vanish due to transportation, but it didn't. Not that he doubted Bill, but he was still rather flabbergasted that he had managed to get his carry-limit nullified.

As he held his seventh pokemon's capture device in his sweaty hand, he couldn't help but smile. He had finally captured a ghost pokemon...one of the species that he had desired to catch when he first set out in his journey. Ivysaur, Charmander, and Squirtle's captures felt almost like anointed gifts. He hadn't planned to catch any of them. It just kind of happened. Not that he was complaining, he loved his elemental friends dearly. However, Haunter's evolutionary line was one that he had planned to go after all along. Therefore, like Clefairy and Pidgeotto, he felt like he had accomplished one of his many requisite goals. It felt good. It made him feel capable.

His intramural reflection was broken as he felt a firm pull on his pant leg. The ten-year-old boy looked down to find an eager Charmander trying to get his attention.

"What is it, buddy?" asked Ash. "Is something wrong?"

The fire-lizard grabbed his cream colored belly as it unintentionally disembogued a sound that was similar to that of a grumpy poliwrath.

"Hungry, eh?" questioned Ash with an amused smile as he listened to Charmander's growling stomach once again cry out for help. "We'll get a bite to eat at the Pokemon Center. We might as well get a free meal before we hit the road."

Ivysaur and Growlithe put forth a couple of positive squeals as they nodded in agreement. Now that Ash thought about it, his pokemon hadn't eaten since before the tournament yesterday. They deserved a good meal.

"Alright, let's go get a bite to eat and have Nurse Joy heal Haunter and Squirtle," suggested Ash as he listened to his own stomach growl like an ursaring. "Then we'll go meet up with Austin and Wallace."

Growlithe, Charmander, and Ivysaur happily agreed before Ash led them west, back towards the Pokemon Center.

XXX

The sun had already set as Ash uncomfortably straddled his airborne pidgeotto. In attempt to shield his eyes from the vexatious wind, the ten-year-old boy rested his forehead on Pidgeotto's broad neck. His disgruntled avian was flying much more careless than usual, presumably on account of his brutal loss to Austin's fearow. Ash expected Pidgeotto to be sour over his defeat for a while, especially since he lost to his inherent primordial enemy.

Ash decided that the best thing to do was to let Pidgeotto work it out on his own. He could bear a short, unpleasant flight if it meant Pidgeotto would learn a lesson. The flying-type needed to be brought back down to earth. He wasn't the strongest flying-type in the skies, yet. It was something he was starting to believe before the loss. The king of pidgeotto had been humbled. Hopefully, it would lead to an even stronger urge to train.

They were rapidly approaching Wallace and Austin's current location. Just like the Champion had speculated, it wasn't a long flight. The coordinates Wallace had sent to Ash's xtranceiver, while he was waiting for Haunter and Squirtle to be healed at the Pokemon Center, indicated that he was currently only about five minutes away from their campsite.

Ash couldn't wait to show them his new haunter. During their brief conversation over the phone back at the Pokemon Center, Ash had kept his ghost-type's identity a secret. He wanted to surprise his older friends. More than likely, they were expecting him to show up with a weaker gastly.

Right before he left Lavender Town, he had released his new ghost-type. Haunter was a little disoriented at first—a pokemon's first experience inside of a pokeball was typically jarring. Nevertheless, the corporeal apparition eventually gathered his impish composure. Ash used their first brief encounter as partners to explain to Haunter his expectations and their current circumstances. The jaunty creature simply laughed and nodded a whole bunch. Ash wasn't positive, but it seemed as though Haunter was just thrilled to get out of that dreadful tower, which made things a whole lot easier. In terms of having a trainer, ghosts usually had a very difficult time adjusting. Ash was elated he wouldn't be having that problem. His ghost-type was unusual to say the least, and he had zero qualms about it.

Ash mused for a couple more minutes before he felt Pidgeotto begin to descend. Despite the turbulent wind, he looked down at the shadowy, verdant woodlands from a bird's vantage point. In the distance, the boy could see a bright, orange glow slightly hidden within the thick brushwood. There was a slight waft of smoke that could be smelt from afar—the unmistakable scent of a campfire.

"There!" hollered Ash as he pointed at the luminous glow. "They're over there!"

In response to Ash's exclamation, Pidgeotto discordantly squawked, clearly annoyed. He'd seen the campfire with his keen eyes a while ago; hence the reason why he'd already begun to lose altitude.

Ash held on tightly as Pidgeotto shackled his wings and pierced the heavens with his spearlike beak. The king natured pidgeotto entered into a steep descent, jetting towards the trees at a tremendous speed. The affliction of riding bareback instantly reminded Ash of why he needed a saddle. After today, he'd do whatever he could to avoid riding Pidgeotto until he evolved.

Right before Pidgeotto approached the tree tops, he liberated his wingspan, allowing resistance to slow himself down. He then proceeded to strategically flap his wings while lowering himself into the thick, brush-covered woods. All the while, Ash held on tightly as he looked down at the earth's hardy surface. He frowned when he watched the rich soil be disrupted by Pidgeotto's oversized talons raking against the living earth.

In concurrence to the avian stretching out his talons to land, Ash spotted Wallace and Austin who we're looking up from their meals with entertained expressions. In response to Pidgeotto's rough landing, the ten-year-old boy squinched his face and ground his teeth. Flying on Pidgeotto bareback was brutal enough. Landing was absolutely grueling, especially, when the colossal flying-type was in a bad mood.

"Damn! You better work on that landing!" heckled Austin as Ash gingerly disembarked from his massive pidgeotto. "That looked brutal!"

Wallace simply chuckled. Austin had pretty much summed it up with his chide remark.

Ash shot Pidgeotto an indignant glare. "He's just cranky. His loss to Fearow has got him acting like a brat."

Pidgeotto huffed before looking the other way. Ash wasn't positive, but he was pretty sure that the flying-type felt bad. Either that or he was just being overdramatic.

Ash let out a guilty sigh, on account of his disgruntled jab, before handling Pidgeotto's empty pokeball. "Thanks for the ride, though. Have a good rest."

With a flash of red light, Ash briskly returned the avian before focusing his attention back on Wallace and Austin.

"The big guy doesn't handle losing very well, does he?" asked Austin as Ash sat down next to the warm campfire.

"Not at all," retorted Ash with a groan.

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