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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17. Kanto 6 Part 1

Just as planned; Ash, Growlithe, Wallace, and Austin arrived in Saffron the morning before the ACE trainer recall. The two day journey to the big, shining city was exhausting. On both days, they traveled all day long, only stopping to eat and sleep.

Ash had to admit, it was kind of nice traveling with other people. He still preferred trekking Kanto alone with just his pokemon, but the accompaniment of other trainers definitely had its benefits.

He thoroughly enjoyed the long, pokemon related, conversations that came up while on the road. The ten-year-old boy learned a lot from the two older trainers, particularly Wallace. The Champion shared all kinds of useful bits of information concerning what it took to become a master, such as rigorous training regiments, the need to challenge superior trainers, deep bonds with your pokemon, and an accumulation of battle strategies.

The dark-haired boy also appreciated spending time with someone around his own age. The majority of the friends he had made on his journey had been much older than him. Therefore, being able to have a friend like Austin, that he could easily relate to, was pleasant and impactful; especially since Austin was going through a lot of the same things that he was. The SS Anne had caused quite a lot of damage to their subconscious minds and having a friend to talk to about it was paramount in regard to the recovery process.

Despite the ample dose of travel, Ash was still satisfied with the amount of training he had gotten in. The primary reason for his intense exhaustion was his current training schedule. Due to the long days on the road, the only time he had to work with his pokemon was early in the morning and late at night. It was arduous and sometimes even aggravating; however, just because his journey had taken an unexpected turn over the last couple of days, it didn't give him an excuse to slacken his workload.

As a reward for his resolute dedication to his pokemon, all of his friends had benefited from the past couple days of drudgery. Some more than others, but that was to be expected. All pokemon grew at different rates, and some techniques were harder to conquer than others. Mastery over a pokemon's somatic potential and moveset was different for each individual specimen.

Out of all of his pokemon, Clefairy had probably profited the most from her training. She had gained complete mastery over Stored Power—which didn't come as a surprise. The fairy pokemon had excelled at it from the very beginning after all. The skill that she had attained with her thaumaturgic energy while mastering Minimize had made the learning process for Stored Power relatively simple.

They had also learned that, if necessary, Clefairy could distribute the lunar essence from her wings into her Stored Power, in order to create an even more powerful clairvoyant blast.

In addition, Ash and Clefairy had figured out that the fairy-type could maintain her Stored Power's enhancement for up to five status conditions. After five, it maxed out. And that limit more than likely wouldn't increase—at least until Clefairy had gained more overall strength and experience.

Charmander had also noticeably improved. The luscious, moist terrain in between Lavender Town and Saffron City had allowed him to train without fear of starting a forest fire. On multiple occasions, the fire-lizard had shown that he had truly completed Focus Punch, landing it against almost all of his teammates during heated sparring matches. The only pokemon he had trouble connecting a Focus Punch against was Growlithe. The canine's speed made it nigh impossible with Charmander's current skill level.

Ash had also started to teach the fire-lizard Dragon Rage. So far, it hadn't been easy, albeit it had proved to be much more facile than teaching Pidgeotto Twister. Even though Charmander wasn't a categorized dragon-type, the lizard pokemon was still close enough to where he could innately conjure at least a minuscule amount of draconic energy.

It wasn't like Pidgeotto, where the flying-type had to manipulate draconic properties from an external source. The fire-lizard had traces of dragon in its DNA, however, those traces weren't potent enough for the species to be considered a bona fide dragon.

The dark-haired boy was also happy to see that Charmander was beginning to show a lot of the signs of evolution. His tail flame was growing larger, and his orange, reptilian skin was beginning to darken into more of a reddish pigmentation. It wasn't necessarily surprising. When trained right, all three of the original Kanto starters typically didn't take too long to evolve into their intermediate phases. It was the final evolution that was tedious to attain. Once all three of his starters had finally reached their second stage, they would probably remain there for quite some time. There was a reason why charizard, blastoise, and venusaur had never been common pokemon amongst Kanto trainers.

Out of all of his pokemon, Squirtle probably put in the least amount of work the last couple of days. It wasn't his fault. After his intense battle to capture Haunter, Ash had made the choice to keep Squirtle's training light. Other than helping Clefairy and Charmander, Squirtle hadn't really done anything on their first day of travel. Yesterday, however, Ash had Squirtle begin the process of learning Rapid Spin.

It was rather evident that Squirtle would have Rapid Spin down soon. He was a natural when it came to using his shell. He had already proven it with his lightning fast Withdraw, but now it was even more evident. With only a couple of training sessions under his belt, Squirtle could already spin like a revolving helicopter propeller. The only thing holding him back was dizziness, which he would overcome in time.

On account of his unusual appetite for close combat battle, it was rather clear that Squirtle would have an easy time adjusting to the more physical wartortle stage. It was a good thing to know, since it was pretty apparent that evolution was closing in on the turtle pokemon. Like Charmander, his skin was darkening, shifting from a light blue into a darker cerulean blue. The turtle pokemon's tail was beginning to sprout thick, white fur and two sharp teeth were starting to protrude out of his upper jaw. In Ash's opinion, Squirtle could evolve at any moment. All he needed was one last push.

Although he had made some progress, Ivysaur was still struggling with Razor Leaf. It wasn't considered an easy move to learn, so his struggles were to be expected. Nevertheless, it was obvious that Ivysaur was getting frustrated. Finding the right seed for Razor Leaf was a process of trial and error. Ash just hoped that the saurian duel-type would stumble across the answer sooner rather than later. Razor Leaf would be an extremely important facet of Ivysaur's moveset; giving him a prompt, hard-hitting, long-range grass-type move, which was something that his present moveset lacked.

Much like Ivysaur, Growlithe was struggling with his new technique: Reversal. He had made some progress, as far as inflicting decent damage, but according to the pokedex, he wasn't even close to realizing Reversal's true potential.

Reversal is a technique that grows in strength depending on the user's fighting spirit. Typically, in order to tap into Reversal's full power, the wielder needs to be pushed to borderline unconsciousness. However, with good form – regardless of their stamina – a pokemon can become capable of turning Reversal into a high damaging grappling technique. Unfortunately, the form was difficult to implement with non-fighting types. Ash had a feeling that Growlithe would be stuck on Reversal for a while. They would eventually master the momentum harnessing physical throw, although it would take a while for the quadruped to completely iron it out.

In regard to his Pidgeotto's progress with Agility, Ash had to say, he was slightly disappointed in himself. The highly evasive technique was giving Ash and his flying-type a lot of trouble and the dark-haired boy was having a tough time figuring out why. They were doing everything that the pokedex said and then some. Pidgeotto was pushing himself to the absolute limit, trying to breech his mind's breaking point apposite to speed.

Unfortunately, Pidgeotto had exhausted himself past that limit numerous times and had gotten zero results. Ash was starting to think that it might have something to do with Pidgeotto's king's nature, but he had no way to know for sure. All they could do was keep working at it. Maybe continuous repetition would eventually garner results.

Last but not least was the newest addition to his team: Haunter. Over the past couple of days, the ghost-type had made quite the impression on Ash. Due to his willingness to get stronger, he was easy to train, and on account of his humorous personality, the apparition never failed to make a training session entertaining.

After doing some research on his pokedex, Ash had decided to try and teach Haunter Payback. The vicious technique would give Haunter another solid dark-type attack to add to his repertoire. Ash didn't think he would have it ready for his battle against Sabrina, but it would pay off in the future. Payback was a powerful technique when used correctly, and it would give Haunter a good counter move against psychic-types and other ghosts. The ten-year old boy didn't think it would take Haunter too long to master the physical dark-type strike, but he didn't think it would be combat ready within the next couple of days.

Throughout the long few days of travel, Ash had gradually introduced Haunter to all of his friends. There wasn't a single one that he didn't get along with—which didn't come as too much of a surprise. Haunter was an extremely likable pokemon and truly seemed to enjoy the company of every single member of Ash's team.

Haunter, especially, seemed to gravitate towards Growlithe and Charmander. He'd gotten along with Growlithe from the very beginning, so Ash was expecting them to share a healthy friendship for years to come. However, regardless of Growlithe's influence on him, Ash was astonished with how well Charmander was getting along with Haunter.

After observing Charmander's behavior within the Pokemon Tower, Ash was under the assumption that his fire-lizard wasn't a fan of anything phantasmal. Apparently Ash had been wrong. It appeared as though Charmander was more put off by the environment than anything. Not once since leaving the Pokemon Tower had Charmander revealed any apprehension toward the ghost-type.

Needless to say, although maybe at various rates, his pokemon were growing stronger day by day and we're well on their way to becoming a force to be reckoned with…

Right now, Ash, Growlithe, Wallace, and Austin were traipsing across Saffron in search of the city's pokemon center. By virtue of Wallace's request, Ash had called Bill immediately upon arrival into the massive, busy city. The group had decided that they would meet the famous researcher at the Pokemon Center ASAP. Just like he said, Bill arrived in Saffron a couple of days ago. Ever since then, he had been busy doing some in-depth recon around the city. Apparently, he had come across a couple of leads that he was dying to fill them in on face-to-face.

"Are we almost there?" groaned Austin as he leaned over and looked at the digital map on Ash's xtranceiver.

"It should be coming up pretty soon," grumbled Ash, slightly annoyed. "I say we're about ten minutes away."

"We are," inserted Wallace, assertively, as he also examined the little pink dot on Ash's xtranceiver, which was betokening a nearby pokemon center, "just a little bit further."

They'd been trekking across Saffron City's southern suburbia for quite some time now and were beginning to become hot-tempered. The location of the Pokemon Center was extraordinarily inconvenient. It was situated in the city's southwestern corner—far away from any of Saffron's main attractions. The only thing that was advantageous about it was that they had entered Saffron from the city's southeastern entrance. Therefore, they didn't have to trudge through all of the hectic traffic that was located within the city's central and northernmost districts.

From his vantage point, it was clear to Ash that Saffron was gargantuan. It was the biggest city he'd ever been to, utterly dwarfing any of the cities he had previously visited. He knew this beforehand; Saffron City was well known for being the largest city in Kanto, as well as the second most populous. In the far-distance, he could see the colossal, skyscraping Silph Co. headquarters. The Montgomery family's pride and joy was one of the tallest buildings in the entire world, said to be visible for miles on end. The fact that it looked so far away only proved Saffron City's staggering immensity.

Saffron's southern districts may have been quieter than what Ash assumed the central and northern districts to be like, but they were still humming with people and light vehicle traffic. The majority of the people that they passed by were friendly and took time to wave as well as say hello. It was a nice change of pace compared to Lavender Town, where the citizens barely paid him any mind.

Also, unlike Lavender Town, Saffron City's suburbs were very distinctive. A lot of the houses and apartments were extremely modern and unique looking. Furthermore, they tended to be very divergent from one another. There was no pattern in the layout. Every individual building seemed to have sprouted up from a different allegorical seed, formulated from the minds of several dissimilar styled architects. It was definitely contrary to any of the other cities Ash had been to—which were all basically thematic in their designs. Ash couldn't wait to check out the bustling central and northern districts. He was sure he'd find all sorts of cool buildings and worthwhile commodities to look at.

Ash's favorite part about Saffron's suburbia was that there appeared to be all kinds of recreational things to do. Lavender Town's suburb only consisted of monothematic housing. The streets were dead, and you barely saw anyone. Saffron's suburbs consisted of everything you could possibly need to have a high quality life such as shopping centers, rec. centers, libraries, parks, training facilities, etc. It was a pleasant community: the kind of place that you'd like to raise a family.

Nevertheless, they'd been slogging across it for hours and couldn't wait to arrive at the Pokemon Center. Just because the scenery was convivial…didn't mean they weren't tired of walking. If it weren't for the delightful, steady, autumn breeze that was capering across everyone's skin, they would have gotten a taxi by now. Austin had suggested it when they first arrived, but Ash and Wallace wanted to fully embrace the city. It was hard to do that from the backseat of a moving vehicle.

As they continued to near the location of the pink dot on Ash's xtranceiver, the dark-haired boy and his Growlithe spotted a couple of domesticated meowth playing in someone's front yard. Pet pokemon were rather common amongst the suburbs. Ash had already seen several meowth, pikachu, jigglypuff, and even nidoran under the ownership of some of the civilians.

It was actually a rather nice site to see. The pokemon looked happy and so did their owners. Therefore, there was no reason for Ash to think anything other than positive thoughts. A lot of trainers carried contempt for people that only kept pokemon for self-gratification. However, Ash didn't mind. As long as the pokemon were happy, he couldn't see any harm in it. Training pokemon to their potential, and building friendships in the process, was his personal affiliation with the wonderful creatures of this world. He had no qualms with other humans that peacefully chose to interact with pokemon in a different way.

Ash, Wallace, and Austin's cranky moods lightened up when Growlithe predictably snarled at the two playful meowth. The never ending struggle between feline and canine pokemon was especially strong between the growlithe and meowth lines. Although it wasn't quite as comical amidst powerful, fully-evolved arcanine and persian, this case was a different story.

The meowth were merely kittens—babies of their species. As Ash and his friends passed by, they showed no animosity towards Growlithe. As a matter of fact, they looked at him with jovial eyes, evidently desiring contact. Growlithe simply snarled and looked ahead; he knew better than to mingle with felines. In his opinion, they were sly and not to be trusted. And even if they weren't, it was nonetheless unnatural. Growlithe were dogs, and meowth were cats. The two species simply weren't compatible.

Growlithe's disinterested gaze was enough to beckon the meowth not to approach them. Ash simply laughed. The whole brief situation was way too stereotypical not to. It was almost like something straight out of a cartoon.

Anyways, after about five more minutes of dragging through the neighborhoods, they eventually reached and entered Saffron City's pokemon center. It was situated in a more commercially inclined section of the suburbs—surrounded by all kinds of busy concession and convenience stores.

Although his digital map said otherwise, Ash had a tough time believing that this was the only pokemon center in the city. It was state of the art and expansive, appearing to have all of the features of a major city's pokemon center. However, it was too ill-placed.

Thus far, in every city he'd been to, the pokemon center had been located within close proximity to the city's official gym. But that wasn't the case in Saffron City. Sabrina's gym was located on the opposite side of Saffron—planted somewhere within the city's northeastern district. That didn't make any sense to Ash. Why would the League set things up that way?

Nevertheless, Ash discarded the unnecessary speculation. They had finally arrived at the Pokemon Center—which meant that it was finally time to meet up with Bill…

"Do you guys see Bill?" asked Austin as he scanned the lively lobby. "I've only seen a few pictures of the guy, and I'm having a tough time remembering what he looks like."

"I don't see him," answered Wallace while also surveying his surroundings, "but remember, he's supposed to be in disguise. I don't know Bill quite as well as I know his father. He's Robert's son, I assume he'll be tough to find. Chances are he'll spot us first."

Simultaneous to Wallace finishing up his statement, Ash, all of a sudden, noticed a lone, brown-haired woman sitting by herself—reading a book in one of the lobby's comfortable lounging areas. Typically, Ash didn't get stuck examining too many random people, but for some reason the brunette seemed familiar. He was certain he'd met her before.

She looked to be in her late twenties, but it was hard to tell her age because of the irrational amount of make-up that was heaped on top of her thin face. She had dark-brown eyes and extremely long lashes: it was pretty evident that they were fake. However, a lot of girls wore fake eye lashes, so Ash didn't think too much about it. Her outfit was rather professional, consisting of a violet colored blouse and a black, draped skirt. She also wore black, pointed toe heels that seemed to fit awkwardly on her wide feet.

Needless to say, she was a strange looking woman. Why did Ash recognize her? Surely he had seen her before.

"Ash, is something wrong?" asked Wallace after watching the ten-year-old boy zone out into oblivion.

Ash shook himself out of his self-inflicted trance. "No, it's just…I feel like I know—"

He suddenly cut off his sentence as the woman looked up from her paperback book. He had to cover his mouth in order to stop himself from making a scene. After all, this quite possibly was the funniest thing he had ever seen. Now that she and her masculine jawline were staring straight at him, it was blatantly obvious to Ash that the woman was none other than Bill in disguise—cross dressing as a young, business women.

"What is it, A—?" asked Wallace before catching a glimpse of Bill himself. The Champion instantly recognized the famous researcher, prior to reacting in a similar manner as the ten-year-old boy.

"What are you guys laughing at?" whispered Austin confusedly as he noticed Growlithe begin to emit a sound that resembled mumbling laughter. "I mean, I know that lady's weird looking, but don't you think you're acting kind of rude?"

Ash and Wallace disregarded Austin's comment while wiping the laughing tears from their eyes. Once they'd gotten themselves under control, they approached Bill, who was glaring at them with fiery eyes.

"Shut it, you bloody prats!" hissed Bill quietly as he slammed his book shut. "You'll blow my cover!"

"Oh my god, don't tell me…" muttered Austin with a flushed face.

"You hit the nail on the head," chuckled Wallace in a quiet intonation as he nonchalantly crossed his arms. "It's been a long time, Bill."

"Yes, yes…good to see you, too, Wallace. Now, hurry up and sit your arse down. You're drawing unwanted attention."

Ash looked around the Center only to notice that Bill was in fact correct. A few of the other trainers in the Pokemon Center had stopped what they were doing in order to pay attention to their group's peculiar display. Ash disregarded it for now and focused back on Bill. Their stares would go away as soon as he and his friends calmed down.

Wallace seemed to relax a little bit as he adjusted his suit—which had gotten ruffled amidst all of the body jerking laughter. Ash was slightly surprised that no one in the Center seemed to recognize Wallace. He was the Champion of a region after all. But then again, Ash hadn't recognized the Champion the first time he'd met him aboard the SS Anne, so maybe it shouldn't have come as a surprise. Hoenn was pretty far away.

Everyone proceeded to sit down before Bill turned his attention towards Ash.

"How's it going, Ash?" asked Bill with care. "You look rather weary in the eyes."

"I haven't been getting very much sleep since the SS Anne," answered Ash with a shrug before smirking at his friend, "but at least I haven't resorted to cross dressing."

"Ha Ha—hilarious," answered Bill sarcastically. "When you hear the Intel I got my hands on, though, you'll be thanking me for dressing up as a bloody munter. I wasn't messing around when I said I'd go completely incognito on the Rocket bastards."

"Apparently…" drawled Wallace in a heckling tone, "I mean, people have given me crap for dressing a little too flamboyant from time to time. But, Bill, you've taken things to the extreme. It's not like Team Rocket expects you to be in Saffron. You could have chosen a million other disguises, but you decided to dress up like a business women."

Ash watched Bill's complexion turn red, from embarrassment, as Wallace gave him a hard time.

"At least this isn't a regular thing," angled Bill while leaning forward. "You wear a bloody cape under your own volition."

"You wear a cape?" asked Austin incredulously as he turned to Wallace. "Don't you think that's kind of lame?"

"It's not a cape!" hissed Wallace in a whisper while becoming as red as Bill. "It's a cloak. There's a difference."

"Don't let him fool you," heckled Bill as he sat up in his chair and pointed at Wallace. "It's a cape. I don't know what it is with you Champions. Lance wears one, too; he has an excuse. His is a cultural tradition of the dragon clan. I don't know why you wear a cape, other than the fact that you enjoy drawing people's attention."

Ash watched Wallace shake his head; he clearly didn't have comeback. Although their bickering hadn't been entirely serious, Ash had a feeling that Bill had slightly irritated the Champion. Ash wasn't shocked, though. Bill had warned him back at the lighthouse that he wasn't the best at making friends. Maybe this was the reason why? Ash never took anything Bill said too seriously, so he usually didn't get offended by what Bill said. Nevertheless, Bill could be a little too blunt from time to time—which definitely rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.

"Anyways…" drawled Bill, sensing that it would be a good idea to change the subject, "did you have any luck catching a ghost-type, Ash?"

"I did," replied the ten-year-old boy with a wide grin. "I caught a Haunter. He's pretty awesome."

"Good," answered Bill as he anxiously looked around the Pokemon Center. "You'll need it against Sabrina. She's extra scary right now."

"What do you mean?" asked Ash in a confused manner. "Did you visit her gym?"

"Not exactly…" mumbled Bill while scratching the back of his head, "she actually sort of came to visit me."

"But, what about your disguise?" asked Ash, "how'd she know it was you?"

"Are you kidding me?" Bill scoffed, "that woman is the greatest psychic of this generation. You'd have to be an idiot to think that you'd walk into her city – with the kind of information we have – without her knowing about it."

Wallace and Austin sat up in their chairs as they zeroed in on Bill.

"What did she say?" asked Wallace as he pointed at Bill. "Sabrina Marvil doesn't just visit people for the hell of it. Does she know about our plan?"

"Of course she knows about it," huffed Bill. "Come on, Wallace, you couldn't have possibly thought that she wouldn't find out."

"Kind of," answered Wallace, slightly flushed. "At least, I was hoping she wouldn't…"

Bill raised his eyebrows and shook his head before replying. "Well, I guess it's not your fault. You are from another region. I should have known that you'd underestimate Sabrina. Most of the population of Kanto doesn't even know what she is truly capable of."

"What exactly is she capable of?" Ash asked curiously.

"Her true team is at least elite level, probably just as strong as Agatha's. The only reason she isn't a member of the Elite Four is because she is obsessed with Saffron's protection. Don't get me wrong, she cares about all of Kanto, but she wouldn't bat and eye if she had to choose between Saffron and the rest of the region. She grew up here. It's her home. In addition to her pokemon's strength, she is the most powerful human psychic in the world. Sabrina is rumored to be on equal terms with her most powerful Alakazam—which she only uses against the toughest of challengers. If she were to throw her true power at the trainers that challenge her, I'm afraid she wouldn't be giving away any badges."

Ash gulped as he processed Bill's words. Even though her power would be compromised, he would have to face Sabrina's unbelievable strength in order to walk away from Saffron with the Marsh Badge.

"Okay…" retorted Wallace, "so if Sabrina knows about Team Rocket's plan to attack Silph Co., why hasn't she informed the League?"

Bill smirked, "Because then she would blow our chances at saving my father, whom she shares a strong friendship with. Sabrina and my dad work together, to protect and help govern Saffron. They have a father-daughter relationship or something along those lines. Besides, she's fully aware of your strength, Wallace. Why does she need to call the League, when she has the strongest representative of another region coming to help her?"

"Hold on, let me get this straight…" answered Wallace—void of emotion. "Sabrina's become a part of our plan?"

"Yes," replied Bill, "whether you want her to or not, she will be taking part in our plot to stop Team Rocket and rescue my father. Sabrina made that very clear when she visited me yesterday."

"I see…" mumbled Wallace. "I guess we don't have much of a choice than. We should probably meet with her as soon as possible."

"I agree," said Bill, "but before we do that, I would like to fill you in on the information we have already procured."

"Of course," answered Wallace.

Ash and Austin continued to watch Bill and Wallace with bewildered expressions as they tried to digest all of the information that was being passed between the two extremely important individuals.

Bill crossed his legs and cleared his throat before continuing. "Essentially, Sabrina and I have managed to procure two pivotal tidbits of information."

"And…?" drawled Wallace. "Elaborate please."

Before leaning forward with a smirk, Bill scanned his surroundings to make sure that no one was listening in.

"What if I told you that we figured out the name of the Team Rocket executive that's leading the operation?" whispered Bill.

All three trainers sat up on the edge of their seats as they greatly anticipated what Bill was going to say next.

"Sabrina scraped the name from some cack-handed cock-up that stumbled into one of the central district bars last night," said Bill. "You see, wherever their main force is hiding out, it is protected by numerous psychic-types. We've tried to find their hideout, but have had no luck. Sabrina thinks they're using a legion of psychic pokemon to mess with everybody's brains. The woman can feel a presence, but she can't locate it. She was able to pull some information from the misplaced grunt's mind. Unfortunately, for the most part, he didn't know anything. It's like his mind had already been wiped of anything substantial, possibly an after-effect of leaving this, so-called, psychically protected hideout."

"Wait. I'm confused," interjected Wallace. "How'd she know that this grunt was going to be at the bar?"

Bill shook his head. "The woman's not just a telepathic psychic, but she's also an empath. She's got this whole city under some kind of empathetic link. She can feel the slightest tinge of evil coursing throughout someone's being. She explained it to me, although a lot of it was hard to make sense of. Essentially, we all have traces of evil: greed, selfishness, jealousy...I can keep going, but I think you get the point. Anyways, in essence, we all bear the fallacies of the human race. However, there is a difference between evil of the mind and evil of the heart."

"Evil of the mind is natural. It's part of living in this fallen world. You can't avoid it. Evil of the heart, on the other hand, is different. This is the kind of evil people act on. It's the kind of evil that inflicts pain on everything it comes in contact with. Minor evil buggers possess small traces. Super evil buggers are brimming with this kind of black essence. This is how Sabrina knows there's a psychic barrier concealing the bloody pricks. There's a block in her empathetic link. Something's protecting Team Rocket from being sensed by Sabrina."

"But wait," interrupted Wallace, "shouldn't she be able to locate the psionic block?"

"Hmmm…under normal circumstances, yes, she would be able to," said Bill as he mindlessly played with the pages in his chapter book. "Unfortunately, they've got enough psychic-types to not only conceal their presence but to also scramble their location. The bloody bastards really thought this one through."

"I see…" drawled Wallace with a deep sigh, "but like you said, one of them messed up and ventured outside of Team Rocket's psychic concealment."

"True," said Bill with a shrug. "But, I also said that the barrier stripped nearly everything from his mind. Sabrina immediately sensed his insane levels of corruption with her empathetic link. However, when she interrogated him after taking him into custody, only one thing remained etched into his anima—and that is the name of the executive."

"Which is…?" questioned Wallace.

"Ariana," answered Bill. "Her name is Ariana."

All three trainer's eyes lit up, and their jaws unhinged, as they soaked in what Bill had just said.

Vivid images of the SS Anne tournament grated against Ash's psyche as he remembered the name of the beautiful, burnished-haired emcee. Ash was honestly shell shocked. How could such a gorgeous, charismatic woman be an executive for Team Rocket? Maybe it was just a coincidence? It had to be. True evil couldn't look like that, could it? No. Evil looked more like the Rockets they'd confronted on the SS Anne: Reid, Sid and Jack. Evil couldn't look like Ariana: the delightful figurehead of the SS Anne. If so, she had put up quite a facade

Bill raised an eyebrow, "Does that name mean something to you?"

"Damn…" muttered Austin as he clenched his fists and shook his head. "Could it really be her?"

"It can't be," inserted Ash with a frown. "She was nothing like the other Rockets. It's probably just someone with the same name."

Wallace used his hand to gesture for Ash to be quiet before shaking his head. "I'm afraid it's probably her. It actually makes perfect sense."

"Can somebody please fill me in on what's going on," Bill implored as he leaned forward in his chair—eyes glued on Ash. "Who is this woman?"

Ash cleared his throat before answering. "There was a pokemon tournament aboard the SS Anne. A woman named Ariana was the tournament's emcee, but she didn't seem like the type of person that would work for Team Rocket."

"Listen, Ash," interrupted Wallace, "often times, it's the ones that don't look it that are the worst of the all. Have you ever heard the saying, don't judge a book by its cover?"

"Of course I have," said Ash, "everyone's heard that."

"Well, it doesn't just apply to good stories with bad covers," answered Wallace with narrowed eyes. "Sometimes, it's the books with the most pleasant covers that are filled with atrocious content."

"Deep…" chided Bill sarcastically as he eyed Wallace. "I think he gets the point, Wallace. No need to speak in rhetoric."

Wallace sat up in his chair and huffed, clearly offended. Before continuing, he took a moment to regather his thoughts after Bill's sarcastic remark.

"I guess my point is that, although Ariana seemed like a good person, she was just fooling us. Her cover was perfect. She worked with Robert on a daily basis as part of the tournament committee and used her position opportunistically to gain his trust. The wench lied through her teeth, making Robert feel comfortable until it was time for Team Rocket to strike."

"If that's the case," said Austin while scrunching his eyes in thought. "Why wouldn't she use an alias?"

"In her mind, their probably wasn't any point," inserted Bill. "If what Wallace says is true, she probably thought that everybody that knew her name would be killed in the explosion."

"Exactly," replied Wallace under his breath as he angrily pounded his fist into his palm. "I should have known something was wrong with her! I was so close to her, and I had no idea. Dammit, I could have stopped everything before it even started!"

Austin placed a hand on Wallace's shoulder. "We were all there Champ. Don't beat yourself up over it; it's not your fault."

Ash looked Wallace in the eyes while he spoke with conviction. "He's right. None of us suspected anything of her. If anything, this just proves the lengths at which Team Rocket is willing to go. In order for a Team Rocket Executive to get a position like Ariana's, they must have been planning this operation for years. The SS Anne didn't just let anyone work for them."

"You guys are right," said Wallace with an exasperated sigh. "I just can't help but feel incompetent."

"Oh please, Wallace," spluttered Bill. "You're a bloody Champion. Everyone here knows that you're the farthest thing from incompetent."

"Yeah," muttered Ash. "If you're incompetent, what does that make us?"

"Magikarp," heckled Austin, causing everyone – other than Wallace – to burst out into laughter.

Wallace just sat there without saying a word, more than likely reflecting on the events that took place aboard the SS Anne. Although Wallace had a sense of humor, Ash had spent enough time around him to tell that he was a bound and determined man. It would take a lot more than some reassuring comments, from a couple of kids, to get Wallace's mind off of his failure to see through Ariana's facade.

Bill seemed to catch on to the fact that Wallace needed to be distracted. He set his eyes on Austin before reaching out to shake the teenager's hand. "I'm sorry. Our conversation began before I got a chance to properly introduce myself. I'm Bill Montgomery."

"Nice to meet you, Bill," replied Austin in a confused manner as he shook the young researcher's hand. "I'm Austin."

Ash assumed that the chiseled faced teenager's confusion stemmed from the fact that Bill was just now introducing himself.

"Ah, yes, you're the one Ash mentioned over the phone," said Bill with a quirky smile. "Well, any friend of Ash is a friend of mine. I look forward to getting to know you."

"Same here," retorted Austin while reciprocating an awkward smile.

After Bill had finished introducing himself to Austin, he diverted his gaze back towards Wallace. "Are you going to come back to reality anytime soon? Before we go see Sabrina, I have one more bit of information that I'd like to share with you."

Antecedent to a reply, Wallace shook himself out of his self-inflicted trance. "Of course, sorry, I was just thinking about something. What else have you found out?"

"Something important," replied the researcher. "We can base our entire plan off of what I'm about to share with you."

All three trainers perked up in their seats as they waited for what Bill was about to say.

"Sabrina shares a special kind of empathetic bond with my father. She can perceive all of his thoughts and emotions as if they were her own."

"How's that different than her other empathetic link…?" questioned Wallace.

"Just let me explain," retorted Bill. "Anyways, this special empathetic bond is called empathetic symbiosis. It's something that often forms between a psychic pokemon and their trainer. Essentially, it's an empathy link that develops on account of deep levels of emotional intimacy. Ever since she lost her dad, my old man has been like a second father to Sabrina. I've never really gotten a chance to get to know her, but my parents think of her as a part of the family. My dad was good friends with her late father; he felt like it was his duty to be there for her after her dad's death."

"Hmmm…so Sabrina and Robert are that close, eh?" drawled Wallace. "I wasn't aware of that. So, what exactly does this empathetic symbiosis entail? How does it apply to our plan?"

"It applies to our plan," answered Bill, "because her empathetic symbiosis with my dad is too strong for the Rocket's psychics to distort."

"So you're saying that we can locate the Rocket's base by following Sabrina's empathetic symbiosis," answered Wallace with an energetic rise in his intonation.

"Not exactly," frowned Bill. "Sabrina and I are both under the assumption that they're holding my dad at a different location. On account of the failed attempt to kill everyone aboard the SS Anne, Team Rocket is most likely hesitant about including their henchmen in on the full details of their plan. The less people that know about the details, concerning how the executive is going to steal the Master Ball, the better."

"Besides, they think there plan will be a complete surprise attack. All they think they need to do is attack Silph Co. brainlessly with their main forces, while a small, elite Rocket team sneaks in to steal the Master Ball. If it weren't for Sabrina, they'd get away with it, too. Fortunately, Team Rocket isn't aware of the full extent of Sabrina's prowess. They don't know about her adroitness with empathy."

"I see," answered Wallace. "That would make sense. Have you guys tried to follow this empathetic symbiosis yet? Have you looked for this location?"

"Indeed," retorted Bill. "We think they're holding my dad in an abandoned warehouse, within Saffron's northwestern district. That's where Sabrina's empathetic bond with my father leads to."

"So, you're pretty set on their being two locations, eh?" asked Austin. "I mean…don't you think you're putting a little too much weight into that?"

"Maybe," said Bill with a shrug, "but it makes the most sense. The warehouse that Sabrina's empathetic symbiosis leads to isn't very big, and this has to be a large operation. Even if Silph Co. won't be guarded by authentic ACE trainers, they're still trainees for a reason. Each one of them is worth at least three or four Rocket grunts."

"Therefore, if Team Rocket is who we think they are, they're more than likely bringing at least three hundred grunts...probably more. They want my dad's bloody Master Ball. That much was made clear by what they did to the SS Anne. Team Rocket will not come unprepared, we need to do whatever we can to stop them. We may be acting on a whim. But, if that whim gives us a chance to get my father back, and cause a major blow to the bloody rotters, we have to take it. There's no other choice."

"I understand," replied Austin, "you're right."

"What do you think, Wallace?" asked Bill.

"I think that there's a good chance you're right," answered Wallace. "And even if you aren't, it wouldn't change how we should handle this situation."

"What do you mean by that?" asked Bill with a raised eyebrow.

Ash leaned over and scratched Growlithe behind the ears, who had been sitting patiently throughout the entirety of the conversation, as he waited to hear Wallace's proposition.

Wallace shook his head, "It doesn't make sense to talk about a plan until we meet with Sabrina. Besides, we're being careless. We shouldn't be talking about such serious matters in public. I'll share my idea later. For now, let's get our pokemon restored by Nurse Joy. I have a feeling they're going to need to be at full-strength. There's a storm coming."

"A storm?" asked Ash.

Wallace nodded before surveying everyone with his eyes. "The storm's name is Team Rocket. It is best we prepare. Whatever strategy we come up with, one things for certain, tomorrow there will be a battle. Don't be fooled, we will all be pushed to our limits."

Everyone stared ahead intently—anxiety evident in their collective disposition.

XXX

As they exited the Pokemon Center, they were nearly blinded by a sudden flash of silvery light. It penetrated Ash's pupils, causing them to drastically contract like parchment at the touch of flame.

"What the hell was that!?" blurted Austin as he too was evidently affected by the incandescent surge.

"I don't know," answered Ash in between awkwardly concentrated blinks, "it kind of looked like a pokeball release."

"It wasn't," inserted Wallace while rubbing out his eyes. "It was some kind of supernatural energy."

"Sabrina…" groaned Bill, "I think it was Sabrina's teleportation."

"Hello again, Bill Montgomery," said a soft, toneless female voice present amidst the temporary blinding light, "Wallace Mikari, Austin Turner, Ash Ketchum, hello to you as well."

While listening to Bill reply, Ash repetitively scrunched his eyes in attempt to regain his eyesight. His current status distracted him from giving a response.

"Bloody hell, Sabrina," grumbled Bill, clearly peeved, "what are you trying to do, blind us?"

"No. I wasn't," retorted the monotonous voice that belonged to Sabrina. "Although blindness would relieve your friends' minds from the grotesque image of the disguise you are wearing."

While his vision finally started to defog, Ash couldn't help but snicker at Sabrina's curt jab. It was still difficult to get a clear picture, but Ash could see an obscured image of a woman standing in front of him. She looked to be about average height for a female adult, albeit she appeared to be somewhat frail. That didn't shock Ash, though. Just like most psychic pokemon, Ash assumed that human psychics were probably weak in stature. Almost all of their strength came from their minds.

Psychic pokemon, who were natural wielders of the mystic, cognitive element, were practically required to spend countless hours in meditation, honing their craft in order to become adequate. Humans had to nearly double the hard work of a psychic-type in order to even breach the surface of their latent psionic potential. This type of mental training didn't leave room for conquests of the body. Sabrina, more than likely, had to completely forfeit her physical fitness to be able to reach her unmatched psychic capabilities.

"I see you're as pleasant as ever," angled Bill while rubbing his eyes. "Now tell me, why have you come out here? We were just about to head over to your gym? We have a lot of things to discuss."

"Hence the reason I am here," replied Sabrina, "I thought I would save you the time and energy. I've come to pick you up; we will be traveling to the gym by means of teleportation."

Once his vision had shifted back into focus, Ash looked over Saffron's famous gym leader. She was actually way prettier than Ash would have expected, although her distant pink eyes were slightly off-putting. The young woman wasn't quite as frail as Ash had thought she was. Sabrina was skinny, however, she wasn't bony. In fact, her body resembled that of an inverted triangle. Her chest was well-endowed, her hips were narrow, and her waist wasn't well-defined by any means.

Sabrina's facial features were fine and unlined. She only wore a small amount of make-up, and in Ash's opinion, she didn't necessarily need it. Her skin was flawless and unblemished, although she was rather pale. Not that it was a bad thing. As a matter of fact, her pale skin made her look delicate and royal, almost like an Edo era princess. Her hair was jet-black, shoulder-length, and styled in a blowout. As she looked at them with a detached expression, the curls at the end of her hair sat perfectly atop her bare shoulders.

Her outfit was rather simple and casual. She wore a light-pink spaghetti strap tank top that ended just below her belly-button and a pair of white skinny jeans. Fastened around her waist was a thick, black trainer belt with at least a dozen different kinds of pokeballs clipped around its circumference—most notably a couple of pristine ultra balls. Her outfit was completed by a pair of light pink tennis shoes that matched her top.

Once Ash was done looking Sabrina over, he took a step forward in order to introduce himself to the powerful gym leader.

She instantaneously gestured for him to stop in his tracks as she spoke up, "We will avoid introductions until we are back at the Gym, Ash Ketchum. I do not sense any malignant intent within close proximity. However, Team Rocket is precarious. I'd rather not stay here any longer than necessary."

Ash gulped. The fact that Sabrina was more than likely observing his thoughts made him feel awfully uncomfortable. He proceeded to nod his head before diverting his attention towards Wallace, who had seemingly shaken off the blinding effects of Sabrina's teleportation.

"How would you like to do this, Sabrina?" asked the Champion. "Typically, teleportation requires physical contact. Would you like us to link arms or something?"

"That won't be necessary," answered Sabrina with vacant eyes. "My power stretches beyond rudimentary laws such as that one. Stand still. We will arrive at the gym momentarily."

"Okay—" Wallace managed to splutter as he was cut off by Sabrina's abrupt, blazing eyes. They fluctuated between the colors pink and purple while emanating an intense aura.

Between blinks, within a fraction of a second, they were all elsewhere. Ash's vision was once again briefly disoriented, and his stomach was slightly nauseous. It was reminiscent of how he felt when he was teleported by the clefable envoy back at Mt. Moon. On account of the collective groan, it appeared that everyone was having the same adverse reaction to the teleportation except for Sabrina, who was quiet amidst the choir of empty disgorge.

"That bloody sucked!" blurted Bill as he stood up from a keeled over position. "I forget how awful teleportation feels."

"It isn't exactly pleasant to have the energy in all of your nuclei ripped apart and put back together," answered Sabrina. "Nevertheless, you get used to it with repetition. The side-effects will go away in about a minute. It doesn't take too long for your energy to replenish."

As Ash's vision corrected itself, he looked around at his surroundings. They were in an enclosed, medium-sized, rectangular shaped room. In the center lay a far-reaching, oval shaped conference table. There were probably close to twenty chairs neatly pushed in and arranged around its perimeter. In addition, the walls were brown and void of décor. The only color in the room was the indigo, marble tile that covered the floor.

"Where are we?" asked Austin in a confused intonation. "This doesn't look like the Saffron Gym."

"It is," replied Sabrina, "this is my meeting room. I meet with my gym trainers and visiting League Officials in here. I figured it would be a good place to talk about the upcoming events."

Austin simply nodded as he and the rest of the group continued to examine the Saffron City Gym's meeting room.

"Shall we engage in introductions?" asked Sabrina. "Every second counts. As Bill Montgomery said earlier, we have a lot to discuss."

Ash had only been around the psychic virtuoso for a couple of minutes, and he could already tell she was peculiar. She spoke almost like a machine, bearing an uncanny tonal resemblance to a female artificial intelligence. Her posture was kind of stiff, albeit all of her movements were efficient. Sabrina didn't seem like the kind of person that ever wasted a step. The thing Ash noticed the most, though, was her countenance. It never changed. Her expression was always empty of emotion, similar to his stone-faced squirtle.

Sabrina approached Wallace first before reaching out to shake the Champion's hand. "Champion Wallace, nice to finally meet you. With your help, I look forward to squashing this Team Rocket operation."

"Hello, Sabrina," replied the Champion with an awkward smirk. "I'm happy to be able to help. Team Rocket doesn't stand a chance."

"That they do not," retorted Sabrina expressionlessly, anterior to moving on to acknowledge Ash.

"Greetings, Ash Ketchum," nodded Sabrina while suddenly depicting her first hint of emotion towards the group.

Sabrina expressed a slight smile before holding out an open palm. "Can I have your hand please? Your relationship with your memories is rather interesting. Your mind is still developing, yet your maturation is confounding. With your permission, I would like to perform a palm reading."

"Um…sure," replied Ash, slightly abashed. He raised his hand up to Sabrina's before gently resting it on top of her palm. Her hand was cold and soft. For the first time, Ash noticed her silver painted finger nails.

"Do not worry," murmured Sabrina, "I will not disclose any information unless you ask. This is simply to satisfy my own curiosity."

"Okay then…go ahead," answered Ash.

Although he wasn't exactly keen on getting his palm read, Ash didn't want to rock the boat. As long as she didn't share too much with him – or anyone else for that matter – he figured there was no harm in allowing Sabrina to look into his future. When he looked around at his friends, he could tell that they were interested as well. Bill seemed to have gotten to know Sabrina the past couple of days, and he wasn't trying to stop her. Therefore, Ash figured he would be just fine. Bill and Wallace would have asked Sabrina to refrain if they were skeptical.

Anyhow, with Ash's permission, Sabrina proceeded to examine his palm. She started at the base of his middle finger and worked down, following a faded palm line all the way down to Ash's wrist. The dark-haired boy watched as Sabrina suddenly lifted her hand from his own before hovering it back over to where she originally begun. Ash didn't know anything about chiromancy, but he figured she was about to begin the actual reading. The human psychic once again pressed down on the same palm line, except this time, she only used her first two fingers. She carefully brushed her fingers down his palm, spontaneously stopping along the way. Throughout the process, Ash watched her facial disposition. It was stuck like a statue, depicting nothing but sober-mindedness. There was a slight glow within her irises, albeit it wasn't auroral like when she had performed her teleportation.

"Are you seeing anything interesting?" queried Bill, interrupting the unmediated silence.

Sabrina remained focused on Ash's palm as she answered Bill undemonstratively, "I've chosen to ignore all but his fate line. It's all that I'm interested in. The rest I can read through his memories and psyche."

"Err...and how's that going?" stammered Ash.

"I'm not finished," retorted Sabrina. "Your fate line is unwonted. I've read thousands of lines of destiny, and I've only ever seen one other like it, whose identity I have sworn not to reveal."

"Is that a good thing?" asked Ash with a frown, ignoring the sworn secret, "or…not?"

"That's for you to decide," answered Sabrina. "I didn't actually look into any of the events that your fate line alludes to. Something powerful is telling me that I shouldn't. However, I can say this. You will have a monumental impact on our world, whether you want to or not. Be prepared for anything. Fate has a lot in store for you."

Ash gulped as he soaked in Sabrina's words. Fate was a scary thing, what could it possibly want with him? If Sabrina was reluctant to look into his future, it couldn't be good. But, then again, maybe he was wrong. Maybe, it was good. He couldn't know for sure, all he could really do was wait. Time would eventually unveil what destiny had in store for him.

Sabrina's irises ceased their glow as she lifted her fingers from Ash's palm, "Very interesting. I look forward to watching you grow. Thank you for being brave. That is all for now, although it seems this reading has had the opposite effect of my original desire. My curiosity has only grown towards you."

"Err...no problem," replied Ash as a question pierced through his mind.

The dark-haired boy didn't even get to open his mouth before Sabrina replied to his thought.

"Like I said earlier, I chose not to perform a reading on your other palm lines because it wasn't necessary. You have a strong personality. Other than the line of fate, most of the palm lines pertain to character and personality. Yours is very, very strong. There is no need to examine the other palm lines because your entire being radiates who you are, unparalleled to any other child your age that I have ever encountered."

"I see…" drawled Ash, "that's a lot to take in, especially since I don't feel all that special."

"Ah...but the fact that that was your response," said Sabrina, "only proves that my analysis of you is correct. I could have guessed that you would respond with humbleness. It is a part of your confounding maturity."

"Just take the praise," said Austin as he placed a friendly hand on Ash's shoulder. "She's pretty much calling you a prodigy. You couldn't ask for a higher compliment."

"Austin is right," inserted Wallace, "you are incredible for your age, Ash, and it doesn't take a psychic to know that."

"I can second that," replied Bill. "Look at the pokemon you've procured in less than two months, it's almost unheard of. You're well on your way to becoming a master. Just apply yourself and see what happens."

"Thanks guys," replied Ash, "I don't know what to say."

"Then don't say anything at all," retorted Wallace. "We're just stating what we've seen firsthand. There is no reason to thank us for that."

"What he said," added Austin with fiery eyes, "I just can't wait until you get a couple of years under your belt. That way, we can have a battle on more equal terms. Who knows, maybe one of these days we can even compete in the same league."

"That would be awesome!" blurted Ash.

Vivid images of himself facing off against his older friend flooded throughout his psyche, causing his countenance to outwardly gleam.

"Speaking of battles," interrupted Sabrina, "your memories say that you are also in Saffron City for a gym battle."

"I am," retorted Ash with a smile. "It'll be my third gym battle."

"I'm well aware of that," replied the psychic virtuoso, "however, I'm afraid now is not the best time. It would be better if we wait until after we have handled this Team Rocket ordeal. That way your mind is clear, and your pokemon are at full-strength to fend off the enemy. Besides, I'm under the assumption that you still have a bit of training to do. After we dismantle this Team Rocket operation, you should work with your Clefairy. It is essential that she learns how to deal with a psychic assailment, although my words are just meant to help persuade. I know that you are already aware of what you must do."

"I was already planning on waiting to challenge you," muttered Ash as he ignored the fact that Sabrina was actively reading his mind. "I can wait a couple of days. Right now, this operation comes first. Also, you're right. I do need to work with Clefairy on defense against psychics. I got so caught up teaching her Stored Power, the past couple of days, that I forgot to look into how to create mental barriers."

"Leave that to me," answered Sabrina monotonously. "I will teach you how to train your pokemon to defend against psychics. It's the least I can do. You are helping me protect my city after all."

Ash's jaw dropped. Sabrina, the most powerful human psychic in the world, was going to teach him how to protect his pokemons' minds against mental assailments, but why? Why would Sabrina offer to help a challenger prior to their battle? It seemed sort of counter-productive. What exactly was her motive?

"I wouldn't necessarily say I have a motive," said Sabrina, reading Ash's mind once again. "If anything, I'd say that I merely wish to help. Mental barriers are easy to put up when you know what you are doing. But, if done incorrectly, it can take ages. Ask your friends, they would agree."

"She's right…" muttered Austin, "it took me forever to help my pokemon put up the mental barriers. It wasn't until I caught Golduck that I really learned how to do it. The best way to put up defenses against psychics is with the help of one."

"It's a rather short process with a psychics help," added Wallace. "It pretty much requires the exposure of psychic essence. It's very possible to do it without a psychic. However, it's a much longer process that requires hours of meditation. Exposure to a psychic-type quickens the process, sort of like how the body's immune system creates antibodies when exposed to fragmented bacteria. The brain is part of the body after all. You can think of this psychic exposure kind of like a vaccine. It'll artificially give your pokemons' minds the ability to create the barriers."

"Very well put, Champion Wallace," said Sabrina before diverting her attention back towards Ash. "So, will you accept my help?"

Ash didn't need to think it over. The offer was way too good to pass up. "Of course I will. Thank you so much."

"Good," retorted Sabrina, "now back to the introductions. We will discuss this subject more in-depth once we've rid of Team Rocket's presence in my city."

"Absolutely," said Ash as he watched Sabrina abruptly shift her gaze over to Austin.

"Austin Turner—longtime no see," said Sabrina while holding out her hand.

"You remember me," replied Austin with a surprised look on his face, prior to shaking Sabrina's delicate hand. "I could have sworn you didn't recognize me."

"I don't forget anything," replied the gym leader with a hint of pride in her eyes. "Besides, I could never forget that golduck of yours, quite the unforgettable specimen."

"Thanks," retorted Austin with a smirk. "Golduck's grown a lot since I challenged you."

"Your memories say so," said Sabrina, "It will be a valuable asset against Team Rocket."

"Ah, so you guys do know each other?" interrupted Wallace. "I figured as much."

"Yes. We have met," replied Sabrina with vacant eyes. "Austin Turner came to my gym a couple of years ago seeking the Marsh Badge. We had a four-on-four match. He won. Austin Turner was the only rookie, with more than three badges, to beat me that year. Although other than my hypno, I didn't use any pokemon from my true team. Nonetheless, it was an impressive feat. Hypno alone is enough to wipe the floor with most veteran challengers."

Austin scratched the back of his head sheepishly as a result of the praise. "Eh, I probably got lucky. Anyways, it's nice to see you again, Sabrina."

"Nice to see you as well," spoke Sabrina before pivoting her attention over to Bill, who she glanced over with a judgmental eye.

"What?" asked Bill snootily, "is there something you'd like to say?"

"Nothing…I just can't get over your abominable disguise," chided an expressionless Sabrina, prior to addressing everyone. "Anyways, shall we take a seat? We have a lot to discuss."

In response to Sabrina's suggestion, everyone took a seat at one end of the conference table. One look at Bill, and Ash could clearly tell that he was desperately trying to refrain from a snide remark. It appeared that the famous researcher had realized that the forthcoming meeting was more important than his pride.

"Now, where do you suppose we should start?" asked Wallace, initiating the discussion.

"Right before we left the Pokemon Center, you said you had a plan," replied Bill while shifting back to his normal, intuitive disposition. "How about we start there?"

"Yes, Champion Wallace," inserted Sabrina, "if you have a suggestion, I would love to hear it."

"Very well," answered Wallace, "this plan is reliant upon the idea that there are two Rocket hideouts in the city: one where they're keeping Robert, and the other, where their main forces for this operation reside."

"I see, so you believe there are two locations as well," answered Sabrina.

"According to all of the information Bill has already given me, yes, I believe there are most likely two locations."

"Interesting," murmured Sabrina, "I can see this plan floating amongst your thoughts. It is bold, but it just might work."

"How about you fill the rest of us non-psychics in then," groaned Bill with a look of irritation.

Ash leaned forward in his chair as he anticipated Wallace's words.

"Well…" drawled Wallace, "in order for this plan to go smoothly, we'll need two teams…"

XXX

"At this rate, he's going to be a monster," praised Wallace as he watched Ash's muscular squirtle spin throughout the air like a propeller.

"He's got a real knack for close combat," said Ash with a grin. "I can't wait until he evolves. He's going to make one hell of a wartortle."

It had been about an hour since their meeting concerning Team Rocket, and Ash wanted to do a little bit of training with Squirtle. The turtle pokemon had gotten the least amount of work throughout the past couple of days, and he wasn't very happy about it. The ten-year-old boy had decided that they would use a portion of today to master Rapid Spin; Squirtle was close to completely grasping it after all.

Besides, Ash was hoping that Squirtle would evolve soon. The more work they put in the faster it would happen. Squirtle had great endurance, so Ash figured that a good training session wouldn't tire him out for tomorrow's mission. It's not like he was sparring. They were just doing some technique training in hopes that Rapid Spin could be ready by tomorrow.

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