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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19. Kanto 6 Part 3

"He looks strong," whispered Austin to Ash as the yellow eyed man drew closer to Sabrina.

"How do you know?" asked Ash curiously.

"I'm not sure," replied Austin with a shrug. "I tend to have an affinity towards this kind of thing."

At the sight of the forthcoming trainee, Sabrina's eyes lit up with recognition. "Ah, Kent Barringer, it's been a long time. So, you've decided to become an ACE trainer. I have to say, I didn't see this in your future when you battled my gym eight years ago," murmured Sabrina. "Your mind is formidable. I would have to really exert myself if I wanted to breach your mental defenses."

"So, what they say is true?" questioned Kent Barringer in a gravelly voice. "You really don't forget anything, do you?"

"That is correct," replied Sabrina as she ran her fingers through her hair, "especially someone as strong as you. You were the only trainer to win the Marsh Badge that year."

"Oh, really…?" drawled Kent, "I was unaware. That battle was such a long time ago. My memory of that day isn't that great, however, I do remember you being significantly less hospitable."

Sabrina diverted her gaze towards the ground before answering. "Yes, in those days I was going through a lot. On account of my personal issues, I was particularly ruthless in the gym. Kaz and I didn't give trainers much of an opportunity back then. In fact, if my memory is correct, which it always is, I believe you are the only challenger, since I became gym leader, to defeat Kaz with one pokemon."

Kent Barringer moved a hand up to his chin as he seemingly racked his brain. "If by Kaz, you're referring to that monstrous alakazam of yours…then, yeah, I beat it with my umbreon."

Ash was having a tough time following the conversation. From what he understood, this Kent Barringer sounded like an unbelievable trainer. It came off like he was close in strength to Sabrina or at least was at one time. Ash could tell because of the fact that Sabrina talked to him with the same reverence that she did Wallace. Quite frankly, Kent Barringer seemed above the position of a trainee. Sabrina was treating him like he was something much more. But then again, what did Ash know?

"Sabrina didn't even use Kaz against me when we battled," inserted Austin. "There's something more to this guy. I don't believe for a second that he's just a trainee…"

"Neither do I," added the previously quiet Bill, "but then again, maybe it's just his bloody eyes. Those things are kind of ominous, don't you think?"

Both boys nodded before focusing back in on the conversation.

"Anyways," said Sabrina with a sudden shift in her countenance. "Before we initiate this mission, how about we sever the ruse? How exactly does this system work? You were originally here to oversee the examination, right? Don't think I don't know and don't lie. Lance isn't stupid enough to leave an ACE trainer examination, such as this one, unsupervised. So, my question is...how far up are you? I can sense your power. You're definitely the strongest trainer here by leaps and bounds. I would investigate your mind to find out, but that would take too much energy. I need to be at full-strength for the mission."

Ash watched as there was an array of gasps and whispers amongst the crowd of trainees. Apparently, Sabrina had struck their interest—which didn't come as a surprise. She had struck Ash's intrigue as well, and even more importantly she had procured Wallace's.

"Told you," said Austin with a wink. "I knew he was a big deal."

"So, I guess it wasn't just the eyes," said Bill with a shrug. "According to Sabrina, this guy's a total badass."

The dark-haired boy ignored Austin and Bill and watched Wallace casually stroll over to Sabrina and Kent. His disposition was curious, albeit stern. He carried the full-weight of his title in his demeanor.

"Sabrina, what are you implying?" asked Wallace with a raised eyebrow. "Who exactly is this young man?"

Sabrina turned to Kent while gesturing towards Wallace. "This is the Champion of Hoenn, Wallace Mikari. He is here to help. He bears the same title as Champion Lance. I suggest you properly introduce yourself."

Kent shook his head and chuckled under his breath. "I guess there's no point in keeping my cover anymore. So, the ACE trainer examination has turned into an actual mission, interesting. It seems you have a lot of questions, Sabrina. So do I? However, first things first, I need to address the trainees. You've made them aware of Team Rocket's plot. You've made me aware of Team Rocket's plot. They need to know just how much plans have changed."

"Very well," replied Sabrina, "go ahead."

Before the yellow eyed ACE trainer turned around to speak to the trainees, he held a hand out to Wallace, "Nice to meet you, Champion Wallace. Thank you for helping to protect Kanto. On behalf of the League, I truly cannot thank you enough. I will answer any questions you have momentarily."

"Nice to meet you, too," retorted Wallace with a smirk, "I look forward to working with you."

Kent nodded his head before casually turning to address the trainees. He cleared his throat, garnering their complete attention, before speaking out with a booming voice.

"I apologize for the deception, but I am not a trainee! All of you that I have fooled recently, I did so entirely on behalf of the League! When Sabrina planted Saffron City's present circumstances into our brains this morning, our agenda changed dramatically! Not just that, but your examination has been converted into a real mission! I hate that I have to throw you into the fire, but we have no other choice! Kanto's beloved Robert Montgomery has been kidnapped by the corrupt organization Team Rocket! We have to get him back!"

Ash leaned over and stroked the tuft atop Growlithe's fur as he listened to Kent Barringer's speech.

"The League sent me to oversee the examination and pose as one of you! It is how we evaluate, first hand, which of you are worthy of the rank: ACE Trainer! I am actually one of the few select ACE trainers that have reached the status of first-class! With my rank, I have the power to decide which of you are worthy of serving the League! Therefore, just because our plan for today has changed that doesn't mean that your examination has been cancelled! You will be evaluated based off of your performance today! We shall thwart Team Rocket's plan and avenge the memory of the SS Anne!"

In response to the declaration, the crowd of trainees went wild. Ash was surprised. He figured that they would be nervous due to the intense change of plans. However, they weren't. In fact, they barely needed a moment's notice to embrace the new goal. It was clear that they had been trained well.

"Jeez, he's an even bigger deal than I thought," said Austin with raised eyebrows. "First-class, that's got to be pretty good. The lowest ranked ACE trainer is formidable. He must be a real monster."

"Mhmm…" drawled Bill, "even though Silph Co. is typically guarded by more than one hundred ACE trainers, not a single one of them bears the rank first-class. They are the cream of the crop, the most powerful League officials outside of the Elite Four and the Champion. Some gym leaders are as strong as them, namely: Sabrina, Giovanni, and Koga. However, first-class ACE trainers refrain from the lime light. They are essentially the League's black-ops unit, elected to do all of the dirty work."

In response to Bill's explanation, Ash and Austin stared ahead utterly awe-inspired. According to Bill, Kent Barringer was one of the strongest trainers in Kanto and they couldn't wait to meet him…

"You are only to take orders from Gym Leader Sabrina, Champion Wallace, and myself from this point forward! Do not do anything unless we say so! We are Kanto's protection, and we're alone in this fight! We cannot call for reinforcements. Remember, we have been warned by Gym Leader Sabrina's projected vision from earlier! However, we will persevere regardless of today's circumstances because we have no other choice!" howled Kent.

The crowd of trainees erupted once again. Ash had to admit, although Kent didn't look it, he was quite the motivator. It was actually rather impressive. Ash's astonishment didn't stop there, though. The thing that inspired him the most was the behavior of Growlithe. In the past, the puppy pokemon would have been in a daze because of all of the people. But now, it seemed as though Growlithe was hardly affected by all of the strangers. Call it a product of hard work or a miracle of maturity. Whatever the case may be, Growlithe had almost completely squashed his phobia, which put a smile on Ash's face.

As the crowd of trainees continued to speak amongst themselves, Kent Barringer turned around to face Sabrina and Wallace. On account of all of the noise, Ash was unable to listen in on the conversation between the group of important people. Ash wasn't well educated on the weight of Kent's position, but now that he knew that the supposed trainee was a first-class ACE trainer, there was an air of mystique around him. He carried himself with the same presence as Wallace and Sabrina. Ash had a feeling that the ACE trainer was a master of battle in his own right.

"Ash Ketchum, Austin Turner, Bill Montgomery come over here," articulated Sabrina with telepathy. "It is important for you to meet Kent Barringer."

Both boys jumped up at the sudden mental intrusion before looking at each other quizzically.

"Let's go," said Austin with a nod, "I don't want to make Sabrina wait."

"Yup," replied Ash before diverting his gaze at Growlithe. "Come on, buddy, time to go."

Accompanied by a yawn, Growlithe stretched his hind muscles in antecedence to following Ash and Austin over to meet the first-class ACE trainer.

"Wait up for me!" implored Bill as he chased after the two energetic, young boys.

As they approached the group, Wallace was the first to acknowledge them. "Boys, Bill, meet Kent. He will be in charge of your team's mission. I have already informed him of your involvement and have made him aware of your skills. Bill, you are to program Kent's pokegear number into your pokegear before we begin the mission. He will be updating you on his team's activity. Ash and Austin no longer have to bear that responsibility."

"Alrighty," replied Bill as he held a hand out to Kent, "nice to meet you, Kent. I'm Bill Montgomery.

Kent politely shook Bill's hand before responding. "Hello, Mr. Montgomery. I've heard so many great things about you. It's nice to finally get the opportunity to meet face-to-face."

Bill bashfully scratched the back of his head. "Thank y—"

"Do any of those great things you've heard include his uncanny talent at cross dressing?" interrupted Sabrina with a deadpan expression.

Ash, Austin, and Wallace instantly burst into uncontrollable laughter, whereas Bill's face turned red due to embarrassment. Kent Barringer simply looked ahead in a confused manner as he tried to figure out the context behind the humorous jab.

"Screw you, you bloody witch!" howled Bill before sporadically clearing his throat and trying to change the subject. "So…Kent, I assume I can trust you to keep an eye my two friends here during today's mission."

Bill's attempt at diverting everyone's attention worked as Kent's yellow eyes instantly shot down to survey Ash and Austin. There was an intense moment of silence while Kent seemingly stared into their souls, however, the mood quickly lightened up when a massive grin formed across the ACE trainer's sculpted mug.

"No worries," retorted Kent. "Nothing will happen to them, I'll make sure of it. It's nice to see a couple of kids with guts."

The ACE trainer proceeded to shake both of the boys' hands in subsequence to one another. "The name's Kent Barringer. I look forward to working with you kids."

"I'm Austin Turner," replied the chiseled faced teenager. "Let's go kick Team Rocket's ass."

"Ash Ketchum," answered the ten-year-old boy. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Barringer."

Kent chuckled in response to Austin's arrogant comment before pivoting his eyes back and forth between Ash and Growlithe. "So, Ash, Sabrina's informed me that you will be working with the tracking specialists. She says your Growlithe has quite the olfactory sense. My arcanine will be leading the team, so you will be working directly with me throughout the tracking process."

Ash's eyebrows lifted as he processed Kent's words. "You have an arcanine?"

Growlithe's ears instantly perked up, and his tail started to wag precipitously, at the mention of his evolved form.

"Ah, yes, I remember your arcanine," said Sabrina, "it had recently evolved when you faced me. I recall that it was a unique specimen."

"A unique specimen?" queried Bill with curious eyes.

"Your memory is impeccable, Sabrina," replied Kent with a nod before addressing Bill. "I'll show him to you later, Mr. Montgomery. It's about time we get this mission started. What do you guys say?"

"I agree," replied Wallace.

"Affirmative," retorted Sabrina.

"I'm ready," crooned Austin.

"Growlithe and I are good to go," answered Ash.

"Alrighty," muttered Bill slightly peeved. "I guess it can wait."

"Okay then," said Kent with a smile. "Allow me to gather the rest of the tracking specialists and order the rest of the trainees to standby."

"Go ahead," replied Sabrina, "Ash Ketchum, Austin Turner, and I will be waiting for you right here. Champion Wallace, Bill Montgomery, I would appreciate it if you two would stick back and watch the remaining trainees. It is unnecessary for all of us to go down to see the Rocket. Your services would be better suited on ground-level."

"That's fine with me," replied the Champion, "I was planning on sticking back anyway."

"Don't tell me what to do, Sabrina," snorted Bill, "I'll stay behind...but only because I want to. After I get Kent's number, I'm going to set up mission headquarters in the guest room that I stayed in. I think I can hook my pokegear up to the computer in there, so it'll be a good place to standby for calls."

"Fine," said Sabrina, "As long as you stick behind, I don't care what your reasons are."

Bill responded by sticking out his tongue and pulling down his right eyelid like a child. Ash thought he heard the famous researcher mutter a curse word under his breath, but it was too quiet to know for sure.

"Well, then…" inserted Kent, "I will be back momentarily. When I return, we will pay this grunt a visit."

Everyone replied in their own way before they watched the first-class ACE trainer ambulate towards the trainees. As Kent addressed the conflux of ACE trainer candidates, Ash had only one thing on his mind: Team Rocket's demise.

XXX

"We're you aware of Kent's identity the whole time?" asked Austin in a curious manner as they made their way down the long, enclosed stairwell.

Sabrina stole a glance at the two boys by her side, prior to glancing back at Kent and the six trainees that were following a fair proximity behind them.

"I was aware of his strength," replied Sabrina with a blank expression, "however, I was completely unaware of his identity and League position."

"How come?" asked Ash with a raised eyebrow, "didn't you have to go inside of his mind in order to plant the thought about Team Rocket. Couldn't you have figured out his identity then?"

"Normally, yes," answered Sabrina with a sigh, "but he has defenses. He's been trained to withstand psychic incursions. The League makes sure that their top ACE trainers are nearly impenetrable, in terms of identity and knowledge, just in case they get captured. I'm probably one of the few human psychics that could break Kent's defenses; however, the amount of energy I would have to utilize would negatively affect today's mission."

"Do you have mental defenses?" asked Ash—interested.

"Sort of," articulated Sabrina, "I am a functioning psychic. I can easily recognize when someone, or something, is trying to enter my mind. My power is exponentially stronger than any other human and most psychic pokemon that might try to breach my psyche. They say the best defense is a good offense: I live by that concept. Typically, the only reason to acquire a mental defense is if you are a non-psychic. If you are psychic, there is no need to formulate a defense. Just being able to recognize cerebral intrusions is good enough for a powerful student of the mind."

"That makes sense," replied Austin as they continued to climb down the bland flight of stairs.

Ash had to admit, he was astonished by how deep into the ground the Saffron Gym's cellar was. He was expecting it to be like a typical basement—a mere fifteen to twenty feet below ground. However, that wasn't the case. They had been descending for a while now, and Ash assumed that they were at least seventy-five to a hundred feet below ground-level.

"How exactly do mental defenses work?" asked Ash.

"You boys sure ask a lot of questions," muttered Sabrina as she pulled up her sleeves. "However, I did too at your age. Curiosity is the trigger for knowledge. Knowledge is power and the key to becoming a good trainer."

Both boys nodded their heads as Sabrina continued.

"Essentially," said Sabrina, "just like with pokemon, there are two ways to acquire mental defenses. The traditional way is to internally train you mind. Through countless hours of meditation, most people can inwardly teach themselves how to access previously out of reach segments of their mind. The cerebrum is a deep and complex thing. Although it is a misconceived lie that humans are only capable of accessing ten-percent of our brain, it is true that most of us don't know how to utilize the most intriguing parts. It is difficult, but with mental fortitude, it is possible to uncover details about your psyche that you never would have dreamed of."

Sabrina paused as she cracked her knuckles.

"Using this traditional method, of looking deep within yourself, you can learn to put safeguards around areas of choice. The majority of Kanto's League officials focus on their hippocampus, which is the portion of your brain that processes and maintains memories. No human's mental firewall is impenetrable, but some are damn near close. Kent Barringer's wall is as vast and as tall as Mt. Silver. Wallace's is even bigger, but the Champion only protects specific information. The rest is as easy as reading a children's book.

"I see…" drawled Ash as he felt Growlithe brush up against his pant leg. "What about the other method?"

Sabrina shook her head. Ash thought he sensed a little bit of grief in the gym leader's disposition.

"The other method is external exposure. This method is better served for pokemon. I will be more thorough in regards to explaining external psychic exposure after the mission. For now, just let me make one thing clear. Even though some humans have had great success using this method, it is incredibly dangerous. Never try it. If things go wrong, the repercussions could be astronomical..."

Ash couldn't be positive, but he was pretty sure that Sabrina was speaking from experience. He would never ask, but maybe this explained why she was so emotionless. Maybe something had happened concerning external psychic exposure which obfuscated her emotions.

Their conversation came to an abrupt end when they finally reached the end of the descending stairwell. At the very bottom was a rather boring, wooden door. Sabrina waited for all of the trainees to disembark from the stairs before opening the door with the wave of her hand. It was highly apparent that she used some kind of telekinetic power, because the door knob turned without any anterior touch.

"I really could benefit from a psychic teacher," spoke Kent for the first time since embarking down the stairwell. "The most simple of things, such as opening doors, looks way more fun than doing them the old-fashioned way."

"I couldn't have said it better myself," inserted Austin with a smile. "I would give up my left nut to be able to open doors with my mind."

"I can arrange that," replied Sabrina with an emotionless expression.

Ash cringed at the thought, whereas Austin depicted an unpleasant frown.

"Err…it was just a figure of speech," mumbled Austin. "I'd rather not sacrifice my manhood for something like that."

Ash could hear a couple of chuckles coming from the trainees behind him as they passed through the doorway and into a room full of darkness. Before he had an opportunity to make a comment, regarding the lack of light, Ash heard a snap come from somewhere in front of him. In response to the snap, which sounded like it had come from the forced friction between somebody's fingers, the room was instantly illuminated. It only took a moment for Ash to realize that the snap had come from Sabrina. Apparently, the lights in the room were triggered by it. Either that or Sabrina was using yet another one of her psychic abilities for a rudimentary task.

"Follow me," said Sabrina as she gestured for the rest of the group to carry forward. "The Rocket grunt isn't far."

Ash took a split-second to look down at Growlithe, who glanced back up at him with affable eyes. The dark-haired boy always felt better about the unknown when he had the support of his best friend.

The first room in the Saffron Gym's cellar was peculiar to say the least. The walls were painted white, and there was no décor whatsoever. There was one lone couch sitting in the middle of the room, and there were a few oddly placed psychic pokemon scattered about. Ash would have wondered why the two psychic pokemon were previously loitering about in the dark, but then he remembered an interesting fact that he'd learned from Professor Oak. A lot of psychics were innately nocturnal; Over an unknown amount of time, their eyes had evolved to help them see in the dark.

In the far corner of the indigo tiled room sat a powerful looking hypno. It was presently using its ruff of white fur, which wrapped around its neck like a fluffy collar, to polish its marble based, circular pendulum. Its long nose quavered and its ears perked up as it acknowledged Sabrina with a nod. Sabrina casually waved back before diverting her attention towards the group.

"That hypno over there is one of my oldest friends," said Sabrina. "Her name is Rin. She is the same hypno that you defeated a few years ago, Austin Turner." Sabrina then pivoted her eyes towards Kent, "as well as the same hypno that you faced off against eight years ago, Kent Barringer."

"I thought I recognized her," replied Austin with a small smile.

"Ditto," added Kent with an expression of nostalgia.

"She likes to lounge around down here," answered Sabrina before pointing over to the kadabra that was meditating in the opposite corner of the room, "so does that kadabra over there. His name is Whiskers. He just recently evolved, so he's been spending a lot of time getting used to his newly enhanced intellect."

A thought popped into Ash's head. However, before he got the chance to articulate words for it, Sabrina gave him his answer.

"No, Ash Ketchum, Whiskers is not the kadabra that you will be battling when we have our match. However, I do hope that once the kadabra that is currently on my league registered team, Merlin, evolves; Whiskers will take his place as the kadabra on my registered team."

Ash simply nodded his head as they passed through the room and entered a short, narrow hallway. Just like the anterior room, the hallway's walls were devoid of decoration. Ironically enough, the cellar sort of felt like what Ash assumed a modern day psych ward to be like: colorless, quiet, and devoid of balanced emotions.

The abbreviate hallway briskly opened up into another similar looking room, albeit this one was much smaller. In the corner of the room was a quaint little lounging area. It consisted of a couch, a love seat, and a small, contemporary coffee table. Lying on the couch was a gorgeous espeon.

The psychic, evolved form of eevee was one of the most elegant pokemon Ash had ever seen. It was medial size compared to Growlithe, Ash thought that the espeon was probably slightly taller. However, the espeon looked to be a little bit skinnier than Growlithe, although that was to be expected. Most psychic pokemon were rather scrawny, since the majority of their training was cerebral.

Ash was sort of surprised that Growlithe, thus far, hadn't had any kind of reaction towards the psychic pokemon. Then again, Growlithe's aromatic awareness was powerful, so the pup probably knew of their presence long before Ash did.

"This is Espee," said Sabrina as she once again introduced the group to another one of her pokemon, "she is another one of my long-time friends. Espee likes to take naps down here. She enjoys the quiet…"

"Lucky…" drawled Austin with a hint of jealousy. "I want to take a nap."

"We just woke up," replied Ash as he and Growlithe passed over the misplaced, frizzy, purple rug that was rolled out in the middle of the room. "How could you possibly be tired?"

"I'm not," retorted Austin with a goofy smile, "I just like naps."

"Who doesn't," inserted one of the female trainees. She had short, black hair and a baby face. In spite of the fact that she was short in stature, her body was slim and fit.

"Too bad we don't get naps with our regiment," bemoaned a rough-looking, bald-headed, male trainee.

"Psht…we hardly get time to sleep at night, and you guys are talking about naps," scoffed another male trainee. This one was tall and lanky. Ash also noticed that he didn't have any eyebrows, which was very bizarre looking.

"Life gets better once you pass the exam," answered Kent, "outside of missions the regiment of a trainee is much more brutal. When you finally pass, your schedule will lighten up. Things like physical and mental fortitude training will stay the same, but almost everything else will lessen."

"Well, that's good to know," added another female trainee in a monotone voice. She was average in height, had long blonde hair, and didn't have much of a personality.

"Yeah…" drawled a tall, dark-skinned trainee as he nonchalantly cracked his knuckles, "I just can't wait to battle. The rest is all just fluff."

"Agreed," said a rather attractive, young female candidate. She looked to be in her late teens and was nearly flawless in appearance. Her hair was glossy. Her eyes were entrancing. And the teen's body was sculpted perfectly into an hour-glass figure. The only evident blemish was a thick, jagged scar that began at the base of her jaw and staggered all the way down her neck.

The amusing conversation, between trainees, came to an abrupt end as they passed through another short hallway and ended up standing in front of an extrinsic, steel door. The door had no handle, although situated where a handleset should be was a tablet sized, mechanical apparatus. The device on the door looked like a scanner of some sort.

Without a moment's hesitation, Sabrina proceeded to drag one of her thick, metal bracelets over the apparatus on the door. There was a momentary pause as they waited for something to happen; however, within a few seconds, there was a response. The screen on the tablet sized device illuminated a vibrant green before the entire door itself emitted a loud, grating sound.

There was a loud clonking sound accompanied by a high-pitched beep. It was put forth from the apparatus before the door slowly began to slide open. The thick, steel door gradually receded into the wall as the group of pokemon trainers looked ahead towards the new room that was being revealed.

Once the extrinsic door finally receded, Sabrina beckoned them to follow her through the doorway. On the other side of the door was a strange, small room: its purpose was revealed the moment that they entered. Straight across from the door was a compact, metal panel. There were all kinds of buttons and levers on top of it. It reminded Ash of the control panel that was located within the SS Anne's wheelhouse. Ash wasn't quite sure what all of the buttons and levers exact purposes were, but he was more than certain that they had something to do with what was directly behind the panel.

The control panel was protruding out of a transparent wall that was made out of sturdy plexiglass. Inside of the bright, white room that the plexiglass was shielding off was a restrained, handcuffed man. The handcuff's strands were made out of solid metal material, just like a typical set of standard police handcuffs. However, the unique link that connected the strands appeared to be made out of some kind of laser. The bright, blue light constrained the handcuff strands tightly, giving the man little to no slack.

The Team Rocket grunt looked like he had been starved by Sabrina. His complexion was pale, and his body was grotesquely thin. He was wearing casual, but tattered, clothes. It made him appear as if he'd been stranded on an uncharted island for a couple of weeks. His hair was messy, and his eyes were disoriented. Ash was under the assumption that the plexiglass had been tampered with. Although they could see him, the ten-year-old boy was pretty sure that he couldn't see them. The grunt was staring straight at them without a hint of recognition in his depraved eyes.

"This is the grunt, eh?" questioned Kent with raised eyebrows. "Have you been torturing him, Sabrina? He looks awful."

"Other than when I sifted through his few remaining memories, I have done nothing to him," replied Sabrina, "he refuses to eat and will only drink the bare minimum amount of water to survive. He's been excruciatingly difficult. If I weren't a psychic, I'm afraid I probably wouldn't have been able to get anything out of him. The bastard has no regard for himself. His mind is twisted and fragmented. He's been brainwashed down to his core. Simply put, he is nothing but a nefarious shell."

"Is he responsive?" asked the tall, dark-skinned trainee.

"He is," replied Sabrina with a sigh. "This plexiglass is only transparent from our point of view. I had one of my mr. mime modify it. He can't see anything. It is also soundproof, which means that he has absolutely no awareness of our presence."

"So, are we going to go in there or not?" asked the beautiful, but scarred, brunette trainee in an edgy tone.

"Momentarily," retorted Sabrina as she gave the teenager's attitude no mind whatsoever. "First, I would like you to release your canines. The grunt will be less hostile if he knows of their presence from the beginning, albeit I would still expect some sort of physical outburst. His wrists are the only part of his body being presently restrained. I do not desire to be cruel, however, if I find it necessary, I will disable his entire body with my mind."

At the mention of the other canines, Growlithe's entire demeanor shifted. His eyes lit up, and his tail wagged energetically. In response to Growlithe's excitement, Ash bent over and ruffled up Growlithe's fur. He had never actually seen Growlithe amidst others of his breed, so the dark-haired boy was pretty excited.

On account of Sabrina's request, each of the trainees proceeded to simultaneously detach a pokeball from their trainer belts. Even Kent unclipped a pokeball from his belt, which Ash assumed belonged to his arcanine. There was a brief moment of silence, while everyone handled there canine's pokeball, in precedence to the accordant sound of a collective release.

In subsequence to a massive display of effulgent light, seven new canines stood in the congested room. Four of the newly released canines were growlithe. They instantly began the process of feeling out each other's pheromones before interacting together in a playful manner. The adorable, heartfelt scene didn't hold Ash's attention for too long, though, and it wasn't because it wasn't interesting, but rather on behalf of the fact that the sight of the three regal arcanine was that much more compelling.

It had been a long time since Ash had seen the evolved form of his best friend. The dark-haired boy hadn't set his eyes on an arcanine since the last time he had seen Professor Oak's monstrous specimen. Growlithe's mother was significantly larger than the two arcanine that belonged to the trainees. However, that didn't take away from the immense presence that the beasts had. Arcanine were a large species after all. Even the smallest specimen would completely tower over the ten-year-old boy.

The bigger of the two, average sized, arcanine belonged to the tall trainee with the dark-skin. He gently ran his fingers through his arcanine's long, off-white mane before smiling at the orange and black canine. "Good to see you, too, Samson. We've got an important task to complete. Are you up for a hunt?"

The evolved canine nodded his head before he grunted. The dark-skinned trainee's arcanine was extremely well-behaved, however, it had a hint of malice in its eyes. Ash could tell that it had a strong affinity towards battle.

The other, trainee owned, arcanine was a little bit shorter and a lot slimmer than the dark-skinned trainee's arcanine. On account of its physique, Ash assumed that it had just recently evolved. More than likely, it was a young female. Female mammalian pokemon tended to be smaller than their male counterparts. The female arcanine was also a lot more energetic than the other arcanine. Her eyes were constantly darting over to the playing growlithe, eager to join them.

The female arcanine belonged to the girl with the scar. She smiled at her canine before using her right hand to gesture for the canine to sit down. "I know you want to play, but now is not the time. We have work to do. I need your help."

The canine pokemon heeded her trainer's request, relaxing her eyes, before fastening them on her trainer.

"Good girl," crooned the brunette teenager as she soothingly scratched her overgrown pup underneath the muzzle.

All conversation came to an end when Kent's prodigious arcanine walked out into the middle of the room. Ash had obviously noticed it the second it was released, but all of the activity within the room had swayed his undivided attention. The dark-haired boy was convinced that all of the trainees must have already been introduced to the monstrous Arcanine; otherwise, everyone in the room would be utterly entranced.

The sight of the incredible canine was enough to render Growlithe completely still. The moment of its release, Growlithe had locked his eyes on the beast and never looked away. The puppy pokemon was captivated. He paid attention to nothing else in the room as Kent's canine approached him.

Out of the corner of his eye, Ash noticed that Austin's eyes were cemented on the arcanine. The young teenager was clearly astonished: his slacked jaw and wide eyes made that rather obvious.

Sabrina looked as stony-faced as ever which didn't come as a surprise. She was Sabrina after all. Besides, the gym leader had mentioned earlier that she had faced off against the unique specimen a long time ago, and she didn't seem like the type of person that could be amazed by the same pokemon twice. No matter how astounding it was.

Kent's arcanine was, by far, the most mesmeric pokemon Ash had ever seen. He was a little bias toward the species, but the internal compliment was still saying quite a bit. The special arcanine was even more impressive than Professor Oak's Arcanine, which was hard to admit, given the fact that she was Growlithe's mom and a pokemon that Ash had known ever since he was a toddler.

Although it clearly wasn't a bearer of the king's nature, Kent's arcanine was a very large specimen. If Ash had to guess, he'd say that it probably stood two-feet taller than the other two arcanine. Pokemon continued to grow well past their final evolution; their age, health, strength and experience all factored into their size and power. It was highly possible for a fully-evolved specimen to grow significantly. However, the amount of time and energy it took to raise a pokemon of that level was considerable.

Its immense size wasn't what made it enamoring, though. It was impressive and definitely gave Ash an idea of how strong it was, but it wasn't what had caused the dark-haired boy to stare straight ahead, utterly enraptured. No. What blew Ash away was the arcanine's gorgeous color scheme. Kent's arcanine was born with one of the two distinct genetic mutations that Bill had spoken of back at his lighthouse. The arcanine was born with the same, rare, genetic difference as Wallace's wailord, Dreca, and the giant dragonite that he and Bill had become friends with.

Kent's arcanine was born different. The first-class ACE trainer's arcanine was, what pokemon researchers like to call, shiny.

The muscular canine's shaggy fur, on its head, muzzle, and chest, was off-white, which remained the same as a typical arcanine. The long tufts of off-white fur that grew out from behind its forelegs, and around its hind ankles, also remained the same. The major difference of Kent's arcanine, compared to a normal specimen, was that the part of its pelt that was typically orange had been traded for an aureolin yellow. Although the rest of its features were relatively the same, the lone color change in its pelt made the powerful arcanine look so much different. Arcanine were sometimes called the "legendary pokemon" because of their stoic nature, but Kent's arcanine, in a way, almost looked like an authentic Legendary.

For some reason, Growlithe's silent infatuation with Kent's arcanine was being requited. Ash found it peculiar that out of all of the canine pokemon in the room, especially the two arcanine, the unique beast had shown the most interest in his pup. Maybe it was because the arcanine was already familiar with the other canines, or maybe it was because Growlithe was entirely focused on him. Whatever the reason was, the alternate colored arcanine was slowly approaching Growlithe with a look of intrigue.

"It seems as though Arcanine has taken an interest in your Growlithe," said Kent to Ash as he casually folded his arms.

"I see that," muttered Ash in return. "Do you know why? I mean, it's not like he's the only growlithe here."

"My arcanine has always been intrigued by others of his kind that bear a vast amount of latent potential," replied Kent, "if Arcanine is interested in your Growlithe, I'd assume that you have one special pup."

Ash watched as Growlithe proceeded to sit on his haunches and allow Arcanine to explore his scent. At this point, even the other energetic growlithe had stopped what they were doing to watch the interaction. The two arcanine looked forward attentively, completely fascinated by the display.

"I'm confused," said Ash with a sigh. "Why are they all watching? They were all doing their own thing a moment ago."

"It's because Arcanine hasn't taken an interest in any of them before," retorted Kent. "You see, I posed as a trainee for more than a month. During that time, Arcanine never interacted with a single one of the trainee's canines. He's kind of weird that way. He may show a lot of interest in those that bear potential in his eyes, but the opposite is true for those that don't. If they don't live up to his standards, Arcanine barely acknowledges others of his species."

"Is he that way with other pokemon species?" asked Austin curiously.

"He isn't," retorted Kent with a sigh. "I don't know why either. I've been trying to figure it out for years…"

"Hey, yo, Kent," blurted the tall, dark-skinned man with the male arcanine. "Looks like your arcanine finally found one that he likes. I don't think he's ever even, so much as, glanced at my Samson here."

Ash listened to the conversation as he watched Kent's arcanine beckon Growlithe to play with him by lightly nudging him with his furry muzzle. Growlithe responded by leaning back on his posterior legs and using his paws to playfully swipe at arcanine's chest. For the first time, Ash thought he saw what resembled a smile on Arcanine's face as the large canine emitted a jovial yip. Ash had to admit, it was a heartfelt display. He hadn't seen Growlithe show such pure joy since before the SS Anne.

"Must be a special Growlithe, Tompkins," replied Kent as he spoke in the direction of his fellow arcanine trainer, "I'm not saying that Samson isn't, but you know how my arcanine is…"

"Yeah, he's a jerk," chided the girl with the scar, "Sheila's been trying to get his attention for more than a month now and nothing's worked."

"Well…I don't know what to tell you, Trish," replied Kent with a shrug. "Arcanine is how he is. He's never going to change the way he sees his kin, at least not by any of our persuasion."

In response to his last comment, Arcanine diverted his attention from Growlithe over to his trainer. He gazed at him with soft eyes before setting his attention back on Growlithe. The dark-haired boy wondered what exactly that look entailed. It appeared as if Arcanine was yearning for Kent's approval. What he wanted approval for, who knows?

"I understand that the puppies want time to get acquainted," interjected Sabrina in a loud, but monotone, voice. "However, it is not wise for us to waste anymore time. Team Rocket could move at any moment, and our plan relies on them staying put. My two mr. mime may have conjured an illusion, but that doesn't change the fact that Silph Co. headquarters is vulnerable. Let's go pick up this grunt's scent, so your canines can track down the hidden hideout."

There were a few wry faces, but for the most part everyone understood where Sabrina's sudden oration was coming from. Regardless of how great it was to see Growlithe having a good time with Kent's arcanine, now just wasn't the appropriate time. They needed to move as quickly as possible. And although it had only been a couple of minutes, they were wasting valuable time.

"I agree," replied Kent with a nod, "let's go in."

In subsequence to Kent's suggestion, the gaggle of trainees responded with a quiet, affirmative nod.

"Very well," answered Sabrina as she beckoned the group of pokemon trainers over to the thick, steel door situated to the side of the control panel.

As they made their way over to the door, Ash noticed that Austin appeared to be slightly hesitant. The dark-haired boy was curious as to what had caused such an expression to form across his friends mug, but his answer was soon given to him by means of Sabrina's articulate, robot-like voice.

"Austin Turner, you are here on account of your friend," spoke Sabrina as she dragged her thick bracelet over the door's external entry lock. "I do not feel comfortable separating you two. Fate wants you both to learn what lengths we must go to in order to protect what is important to us. You and Ash Ketchum are to learn together. Although I am unaware of the details, I have had visions of your importance to Kanto."

"It is necessary for you to take this time to learn how to protect each other. After today, your journeys will take you to different places. However, the two of you shall have a major influence on the next generation, and your paths shall cross plenty of times along the way. Just because you do not have a canine does not mean that your presence is not needed. Throughout today's mission, there will be things that you can do that young Ketchum cannot. That does not mean that his presence won't be needed. Lean on each other. That is what friends are for, am I correct?"

Austin hastily nodded his head before flashing a smile at Ash. "You hear that, dude. Even fate thinks we're gonna be a big deal."

Ash couldn't help but snicker, "That would be what you would take from all of that."

"Ah, I see…I was wondering why these kids came along with us," said the bald-headed trainer.

"Same," inserted the female trainee, with the baby face, as she leaned over and patted her growlithe on the head.

"So, you kids are special…why?" questioned the blonde haired woman with the distinct lack of personality.

"Did you really not pick up on any of that, Gretchen?" asked the trainee with no eyebrows, "Sabrina had a vision. Fate wants them here. You can't argue with that."

"So, you guys are like prodigies, eh?" questioned Trish as she pursed her lips. "When you get strong, I'd like a battle. What do you say?"

"Um…sure," drawled Ash, with an overwhelmed expression, as he eyed his loyal pup.

Growlithe sat next to him, confused, trying to follow the sporadic conversation.

"Give em a break, Trish," chided the dark-skinned trainer named Tompkins. "Besides, I'll be the one that gets the battle, right boys?"

Austin scratched the back of his head in a confused manner, while Ash was thinking of a way to divert the conversation.

"Enough talking," groaned Kent with a look of irritation, "can't you guys see that the doors unlocked. It's time to go in."

Everyone went silent in response to Kent's abrupt scolding. Sabrina peered at all of them for a split-second, depicting who knows what, before gesturing for them to follow her through the swung open door.

As they entered the room, Ash instantly shuddered in response to the grunt's precipitous outburst.

"Ariana! Ariana, is that you!? Ariana!" the grunt blustered with depraved eyes and a contorted face.

"How many times have I told you?" replied Sabrina, in a calm voice, while she approached the Rocket, "Executive Ariana isn't coming for you."

"You!?" hissed the grunt, "why do you continuously doubt Ariana's love for me!? She will come! She will come! She will come! She will come!"

Ash's stomach dropped in response to the grunt's evident insanity. His outcries of nonsense proved just how far gone he was. As intrusive thoughts of fear grated against the ten-year-old boy's psyche, Ash tried to squelch his rising anxiety. He had no such luck, until the boy suddenly felt Growlithe nuzzle up against his leg, offering his support, which sent a flood of comfort throughout his body. Ash looked down at Growlithe with thankful eyes before focusing his attention back on the deranged grunt.

"You don't even know who you are," replied Sabrina, "yet you put your faith in a single memory of someone else, why?"

"Ariana is all I know," mumbled the grunt as he shot his scornful gaze toward the ground. "She is my entire existence."

"Damn…" muttered Austin quietly to Ash, "this guy's freaking crazy."

"You can say that again," added Trish before glancing over at Kent. "Kent, should we just take the redolence from here, or should we have the canines get in closer?"

"We should get in closer," answered Kent, "we want the scent to be as strong as possible. The closer we can get...the better."

"Gotchya," replied Trish before turning her body to face Tompkins. "You hear that, Tompkins?"

"Affirmative," retorted the dark-skinned trainee before pivoting his line of sight towards Kent. "What do you say, Kent? Should we send the arcanine in first?"

"Yes," said Kent in a no nonsense tone of voice. "My arcanine will lead the group and instill fear. Have Samson and Sheila follow in behind him. The five growlithe will swoop in from the back. We want to make sure he doesn't lash out. I'd rather not have Arcanine have to draw blood until later today. This guy isn't an actual treat, so I'd rather not have to hurt him. It wouldn't sit well with my conscience."

"There's no need to go through all of this trouble," articulated Sabrina with vacant eyes, "on second thought, I'll just restrain him. We'll let the dogs do their job and get out."

Ash processed the formulating strategy while watching the grunt's peculiar behavior. The captured Rocket continuously spewed out the name Ariana as he viciously ground his teeth. Although the man was a Rocket, Ash couldn't help but feel sorry for him. He was nothing but a mindless fiend now, operating off of nothing but the memory of his twisted superior and his own corrupt soul.

"Go ahead and restrain him then, Sabrina," said Kent with a gesture of his hand. "We'll send the canines in once he's under your control."

Sabrina wasted no time. She raised an open hand, in the direction of the grunt, before lightly clenching her fist. In response to her movements, the Grunt's mouth instantly froze, and his body went stiff. A string of drool dribbled out of his mouth, and his eyelids stayed still like an untouched dead man.

"It has been done," informed Sabrina, "now hurry. It is time we move on to the next phase of the plan."

"Gotchya," replied the yellow eyed trainer as he casually pointed towards the grunt. "Arcanine, lead the way. Get in close and retrieve the scent."

Arcanine surprisingly looked down at Growlithe before gesturing the pup to follow closely behind him. Ash understood that the original plan was for the three arcanine to lead the way, but it appeared as though Arcanine had other plans. The two, trainee owned arcanine looked at Kent's canine quizzically, for a fraction of a second, before shaking it off and following closely behind. Trailing in behind Growlithe, and the three Arcanine, were the other four growlithe. The previously playful pups' disposition had changed. All four of them had a look of seriousness depicted across their face as they readied their minds for the upcoming task.

Ash watched as Arcanine and Growlithe severed the proximity between themselves and the Rocket. Once they deemed to each other that they were close enough, they leaned forward, leading with their snouts before drawing in a large breath. From their current positioning, the scent of the Rocket was strong. Ash assumed that neither had any complications because it only took them a few seconds to procure expressions of satisfaction. Once they were done, they peeled away from the Rocket and headed back in the direction of their trainers, allowing the rest of the canine's to follow suit.

It only took a couple of minutes for the rest of the growlithe and arcanine to pick up the scent. Once they were done, they returned to their respective trainer's side.

"The task is complete," spoke Kent with a smirk, "they've embedded the Rocket's scent into their aromatic almanacs. Arcanine is presently sorting through durational periods with his aromatic awareness. He should be locking onto the location of the hidden hideout rather quickly. Once he's finished, he'll help the others. By the time we ascend back up to ground-level, we will be ready to initiate the tracking phase."

"Understood," replied Sabrina as she released her psychic grip on the Rocket.

The grunt instantly began to leave off where he started, shouting Ariana's name like it was the only word he knew. It appeared as though whatever Sabrina had done to the grunt hadn't caused any evident side-effects. More than likely, she had put some kind of mental lock on his movements. The deranged grunt didn't seem to acknowledge that anything had happened to him, so Ash figured it was relatively painless.

"I've had enough of this place," said Trish as she pointed up toward the ceiling. "Let's go back up."

"Agreed," retorted Tompkins with fire in his eyes, "I'm ready to beat some Rocket ass!"

"Hell yeah!" blurted Austin with a devious expression. "Let's freaking go!"

The rest of the trainees agreed in their own way before Sabrina spoke up.

"Very well, it's nice to see some urgency. We have a big day ahead of us. It is time we decimate Team Rocket and rescue Robert."

"Absolutely," answered Kent with a thick grin before looking down at Ash and Austin. "What do you say kids? Are you ready to find out just how strong the League is?"

Both boys nodded with a hint of veneration in their eyes.

"You'll never win!" interrupted the disoriented grunt with insidious eyes. "You won't defeat the goddess Ariana! She will come for me! You'll see! And when she does, we'll kill all of you! And we won't stop there! We'll murder everyone that you've ever cared about especially this Robert that you're trying to rescue! Every! Last! One!"

Ash watched as Sabrina raised her hand from her side before precipitously pinching her thumb and index finger together. In response to the rapid movement, the grunt's lips closed shut, muting the evil that was coming out of his mouth.

"That's where you're wrong, trash," articulated Sabrina—void of emotion, "we will win. We will destroy Ariana. And we will make sure that the bitch pays for kidnapping Robert. I will see to it myself. Now, just rot away in this hole and get this through your thick skull, the last face you will be seeing is mine. When this is all over, I'll come down here and show you exactly how I decimated this 'so called' goddess of yours. Next time you see me, your Ariana will be in chains, fearfully dreading the day that she is put to death for the crimes that she has committed."

Out of the corner of Ash's eye, he noticed Austin staring at him with a look of bewilderment. If the dark-haired boy had to guess, he'd say that Austin was thinking the exact same thing that he himself was mulling over: this Sabrina was scary. The Sabrina that Ash had heard stories about growing up, the Sabrina that lashed out at Bill for making a joke about her emotions, and the Sabrina that had just threatened the delusional Rocket, they all painted a picture of what Sabrina could turn into if she ever lost control. It was a scary thought. Thank God she was on their side.

"Let's go, Sabrina," stammered Ash as he mustered up the courage to interrupt the gym leader's rant. "We're wasting time. Like you just said, we need to move before Team Rocket does."

"The boy's right," added Kent, "Sabrina, let's go."

The master of psychics turned around with eyes as cold as an articuno, "You're correct. It is time to take back Robert and destroy every last trace of Team Rocket in my city. I can no longer stomach the knowledge of their presence."

XXX

To their pleasant surprise, it only took the canines about an hour and a half to track down the hidden Team Rocket hideout. The location of the hideout came as somewhat of a surprise, although it only took a brief moment to dissect the logic behind it. The scent had led them to Saffron City's Magnet Train station, which operated as one of the few public commuting options to travel to and from the Johto region.

The magnet trains were, without a doubt, the most economically friendly way for the general public to travel between neighboring regions. It was much more cost friendly than buying a plane ticket or traveling aboard the SS Aqua. It was also well known as the most convenient option, linking two of the biggest cities in the world: Saffron City and Goldenrod City.

The highly efficient travel option had only been around for the last decade or so. Even though the technology needed to successfully create such a system of travel had been around for quite some time, the sheer amount of labor required to link the two regions took countless years to complete, especially in regard to finding viable pathways to navigate through Mt. Silver.

Two magnetically based guideways connected the Magnet Train station in Saffron with the station in Goldenrod City. One of the guideways existed above ground, functioning in a similar manner as an elevated monorail, while the other operated underground, resembling an old-fashioned subway system. The magnet trains worked using magnetic levitation to move without touching the ground, reducing friction and allowing the vehicle to perform at an incredible speed. During their trip over to the station, Kent had explained to Austin and him that both trains can travel up to 340 miles per hour.

Their trip over to the station had been interesting. Ash and Austin had gotten a chance to prod Kent with all kinds of questions, the majority of which regarded subjects such as the League, missions, pokemon, Team Rocket, and Kent's expectations for the forthcoming invasion. The ACE trainer was very open with them, sharing anything that wasn't classified as top-secret information

Ash had to say, he liked Kent. Besides the fact that the older trainer was powerful beyond measure, Ash could already tell that he was a genuinely good guy. He spoke to the boys as if they were equals and included them in on everything. He wasn't the kind of overzealous prick that abided strictly by the rules and saw them as a nagging nuisance. He was much like Wallace, in the way that he used their accompaniment as an opportunity to speak into the lives of the next generation.

Speaking of Wallace, the moment that they had reemerged from the Saffron Gym's cellar, Wallace and Sabrina had taken their small, twelve-person team and headed towards the Rocket's warehouse base. Both Sabrina and Wallace were antsy to save Robert, particularly Sabrina, who had been sent into an introspective rage on behalf of the captured grunt's abhorrent words.

Bill had already contacted Kent in order to inform him that Wallace and Sabrina's team was in preparation to strike. However, they were waiting on Kent to check in on his end. The plan required a simultaneous invasion by both teams. They couldn't risk a leak, from one base to the other, signifying that they were under attack. It would result in a complete forfeit of the element of surprise that they had worked so hard to attain.

The best news, in regards to the location of the hidden Rocket hideout, was that the Magnet Train station wasn't that far away from the warehouse hideout. Originally, they had figured that Team Rocket would try and further distribute their forces amongst the city. However, that wasn't the case. Team Rocket had elected to locate both of their hideouts within Saffron City's northwestern quadrant.

On account of the fact that the Magnet Train station was practically hugging Saffron City's border, it served as the perfect place to hide grunts without being spotted. It was far away from the heart of the city, where the majority of the population resided. In addition, it maintained hundreds of artificial maintenance tunnels that the League used to provide the trains with sustenance. It provided plenty of opportunistic underground locations to conquer and create a base of operations within a functioning part of the city.

All Team Rocket would have had to do is exterminate one of the magnet trains maintenance crews and operate their base of operations under the disguise of a work crew—similar to what they did aboard the SS Anne. Given the fact that Team Rocket had been dormant for more than five years, and the world had yet to hear about their second coming, they very easily could have been occupying and managing a division of the Magnet Train system for years while waiting for this one lone opportunity.

The fact that both hideouts were in the northwestern quadrant of the city could become essential if the plan were to go awry, namely, Wallace and Sabrina's objective. They had only allotted themselves with ten trainees, which could become problematic if Team Rocket had a lot of men stationed at the warehouse. Regardless of their individual prowess, numbers did factor into the outcome of pokemon related warfare.

No matter how strong Sabrina and Wallace were…it would be hard to lead a successful operation if the warehouse concealed more than the expected number of grunts. Ash doubted that Sabrina and Wallace would be in danger, however, Ariana could use her men as a distraction to escape with Robert. He definitely wouldn't put it passed her, especially after seeing the mental state of the captured grunt.

The topic of Wallace and Sabrina's mission had been one of the many things that the boys had talked to Kent about on their way over to the station. Even if it was only for a short while, they had touched on the idea of providing backup if deemed necessary. Kent was convinced that their half of the operation would resolve smoothly. The only thing he was worried about was Ariana. Kent was adamant about how critical her capture was.

If they could apprehend Ariana, the League could find out what Team Rocket has been up to the past five years. Kent hadn't exactly been specific, but it was obvious that after all these years, Team Rocket was still on the League's radar. Although they didn't suspect terrorist attacks as big as the SS Anne and Silph Co., the first-class Ace trainer left many verbal hints that the League had been waiting for Team Rocket to make a move.

Despite the fact that the trip over to the Magnet Train station revolved around a vital hunt, and consisted of intense conversation, Ash and Growlithe were able to see a part of the city that they hadn't previously explored. The northern part of Saffron was very commercially inclined. There were a lot of busy shops and tall office buildings. The streets were flooded with people who were completely unaware of the forthcoming chaos.

One of the more notable buildings that Ash had noticed – almost immediately after exiting the Saffron Gym – was Saffron City's Fighting Dojo. Ash had heard a lot of the history behind the building before visiting Saffron, but Austin and Kent had decided to give him a lesson on its backstory anyway.

The Fighting Dojo had been around ever since the foundation of Saffron City and had served as the city's first official gym. The dojo was run by the Katsu clan, which was a family of martial artists that had trained and battled in the gym for over a century. Their current head of the family – also known as the Karate Master – was Kiyo Katsu. Kiyo was extremely famous within the world of martial arts, having acquired the majority of his region-wide fame as being the second best fighting-type specialist in the region—outside of Bruno of the Elite Four.

Ash knew he wanted to visit the Fighting Dojo at some point, however, he wasn't sure when. He had thought about attempting to take on Kiyo after the mission, but that likely wouldn't go over too well. Even though the Fighting Dojo had lost the battle to be recognized as Saffron City's official gym, that didn't mean that it was weak. As a matter of fact, the Fighting Dojo was probably stronger than more than half of the official gyms in Kanto. Howbeit, to the dojo's dismay, it resided in the same city as Sabrina's gym, which would always remain in control of Saffron as long as Sabrina was still breathing.

Other than the Fighting Dojo, Ash also enjoyed walking passed Saffron's local governmental buildings and pristine City Hall. They were extremely elaborate and embellished, giving off an unprecedented feeling of prestige. Ash wasn't all that into politics, especially as of late, but that didn't change the fact that the architecture was alluring.

Anyways, they presently stood outside of city limits in the brushwood with an observant eye on the Magnet Train station. Ash's group consisted of Kent, Austin, five other trainees whose names escaped Ash's memory, and himself. They had split up in attempt to stay unnoticed. Traveling in a group of fifty wasn't exactly inconspicuous. Instead, they decided to track the scent in seven different groups, with seven different tracking specialists leading each one.

Kent's arcanine's aromatic awareness was extraordinarily powerful, thus they had arrived at the site of the hideout before anyone else. Growlithe had followed the scent as well, although it wasn't necessary. For the most part, Growlithe's role was that of a student learning from an elder of his kind.

Upon arrival, Kent had immediately contacted the rest of the groups. They would be reconvening shortly. From his group's vantage point, they hadn't seen any suspicious movement outside of the station, just the typical travelers, entering and exiting in order to reach their designated destinations.

The Magnet Train station was enormous in terms of breadth. Its external perimeters covered a vast amount of space. Kent had informed them that the building inhabited more than two million square feet. Ash wasn't exactly sure what those measurements entailed, however that didn't matter. Just by eyeing it, Ash could comprehend its humongous size. In regards to overall space, it was probably the biggest building in the city—even exceeding Silph Co. headquarters.

Its design was very contemporary. Judging by appearance, it was obvious that it had been built within the last decade. Saffron City was a rather modern city to begin with, but the station was definitely the most modern of all of the architecture Ash had seen. It was built almost entirely out of fine alloys and glass window panes. The station's exterior was somewhat abstract in shape, giving off a distinct artistic vibe. Overall, its appearance didn't exactly appeal to Ash. He tended to appreciate more rural and old-fashioned architecture, probably on behalf of growing up in a small town like Pallet.

In response to Kent's update regarding their location, it took about five minutes for Trish's group to shuffle up to the meeting point, with her female arcanine leading the way. They must not have been too far in front of Tompkins because he filed in a few minutes later. Eventually, after about twenty minutes of accumulated standby time, all seven groups had conjoined into one fifty plus unit of trainers that were ready to bring the fight to Team Rocket.

"Alright," orated Kent in subsequence to clearing his throat, "now would be a good time to make sure that you have all of your pokemon close at hand. The infiltration phase is going to be hectic."

Kent proceeded to unclip a pokeball from his trainer belt before casually tossing it up and down. "Sabrina thought of a way to bypass a search of the building. To be honest, I'm a little reluctant to try it. But, we don't have much of a choice. Who knows how detailed Team Rocket's security of the building is. We can't just walk into the lobby with our canines and expect nobody to notice."

There was a collection of nods and grunts as everyone listened to Kent's words.

"So, Sabrina let me borrow Yin. Now that the grunt's scent has been confirmed to the Magnet Train station, there is no doubt in my mind that the hideout is somewhere underground. We can't risk being spotted traveling down to the maintenance tunnels, so we're just going to have to avoid that step all together. Instead, were going to have Yin teleport us in."

There was a collection of gasps as Ash, Austin, and the trainees processed Kent's words.

It didn't take long for Tompkins to speak up, "How are we going to do that, Kent? There are countless amounts of tunnels down there."

"Yeah...," added Austin, garnering annoyed looks from some of the less friendly trainees. Not everyone agreed with Ash and Austin's presence, "how's Yin going to know where to teleport?"

Kent smirked before giving an answer, "My arcanine is quite talented in regards to picking up the details of a scent. From this range, he can practically visualize the highest duration point of the grunt's scent, which just so happens to be the location of the hideout."

Kent proceeded to take his eyes off of the group before looking at his big, yellow arcanine for reassurance. "Right, Arcanine?"

Arcanine emitted an affirmative grunt as he nodded his massive head up and down.

"But, still…" interrupted Trish with a curious expression, "how are we going to get in? Unless—"

"Were going to have Yin take the location from Arcanine's mind and use it as a destination point for her teleportation. If we do it this way, not only will we avoid being spotted by any Rockets, but we will also be able to teleport in all at once. Best case scenario is that by the time Team Rocket can react, we'll have already decimated nearly half of their main force.

There was a collection of smiles and laughter while everyone internalized the ingeniousness of the plan. However, Ash felt slightly weary. He didn't exactly respond well to teleportation. He hoped that he'd be able to endure the nausea and disoriented vision, in order to fight and properly command his pokemon.

Almost immediately after his pessimistic thought, Ash felt an alien stir within his demeanor. His eyes instantly shot down to his shadow, which was the cause of the peculiar feeling. Suddenly, a two-dimensional image of his haunter appeared amongst the earth's surface. Haunter gave him a distinct look of support as the poltergeist tried to use his optimistic disposition to calm down Ash's thoughts.

Ash wasn't exactly sure of the details concerning the connection he and Haunter had while the ghost-type was dwelling within his shadow, but Ash could tell that it went beyond mere inhabitation. When the ghost-type concealed his presence, for long periods of time, it felt as if Haunter always provided him with a shell of protection. The ghost-type would fade in and out of Ash's conscious thoughts frequently, but there was always a deep rooted feeling that he was looking out for him.

The dark-haired boy didn't know if he would always let Haunter dwell within his shadow, but it was definitely something that he was going to repeat the next time he faced danger. His confidence had been boosted by the ghost-type's incorporeal form, and it didn't appear that anyone that wasn't previously informed of Haunter's existence was even slightly aware of his presence. The ghost-type quite possibly offered Ash the perfect invisible defense.

Ash's thoughts about Haunter were interrupted as Kent continued to take charge.

"Now, it's time to prepare for battle," said Kent with fiery eyes and a fierce intonation, "I will now release Yin. I have informed Bill that we're about to initiate the invasion, so there is nothing holding us back. Please handle your pokemon of choice. Prepare to release them the moment we are teleported."

The trainees responded with grunts of obedience. Ash glanced at Austin, who was detaching a pokeball from his belt, before looking down at Growlithe in search of his best friend's support.

"You ready, buddy?" asked Ash in an antsy tone.

The puppy pokemon looked up at him with assertive eyes. Ash could tell that his friend was prepared for the upcoming events. Although Ash was originally worried that the horrific events aboard the SS Anne would debilitate Growlithe, they had actually had the opposite effect. Growlithe had always been a focused pokemon, but as of late, his level of focus had increased to extremely high levels. The puppy pokemon no longer acted like a youngling. Even in comparison to the other trainees' growlithe, Ash's best friend was much more mature and ready to take on whatever the world threw at him.

After interacting with Growlithe, Ash looked down at his thick, murky shadow. "Haunter, we're about to be teleported into hostile territory. I need your protection."

In response to Ash's request, the dark-haired boy heard a cacophonous array of ghoulish laughter being emanated from the earth's surface. Ash knew it was Haunter reassuring him that he had his back, but the trainees that heard the guffaw didn't. They looked at Ash with confused expressions, wondering what could possibly have made such a discordant noise.

The looks of confusion suddenly ceased, though, when a bright light erupted from the pokeball that Kent had been handling. Left in the coruscating light's wake was one of Sabrina's alakazam: Yin. For a brief moment, she stood aloof in front of them before looking at Kent with inquisitive eyes.

"Hello, Yin," said Kent, "Sabrina filled you in on the objective, right?"

Yin stared at Kent momentarily, more than likely speaking to him telepathically.

"I understand," said Kent before directing his gaze towards his arcanine. "Arcanine, you need to let down your mental defenses in order for Yin to get a perfect read."

Ash assumed that Yin must be talking to Kent through telekinesis, either that, or Kent was just really good at reading psychic pokemon's dispositions. More than likely, it was the former rather than the latter. Alakazam didn't typically portray any kind of readable countenance. Just like Sabrina, their dispositions were usually barren and void of emotions.

Arcanine gave Kent an acquiescent nod, letting the alakazam retrieve the necessary information from his mind in order to make the jump. After a few seconds, Yin was crossing her spoons in preparation to teleport. In subsequence to Yin's movements, Kent spoke out once again.

"Last warning to prepare for battle!" Kent blustered.

Ash watched Austin, Kent, and the trainees firmly grasp the pokeballs in their hands while he himself reached for Squirtle and Ivysaur's pokeballs. His heart pounded, and his palms sweat as he anticipated the forthcoming moments.

"Ash," muttered Austin with a no-nonsense look depicted across his face, "as soon as we're in the hideout, I'm going to release Golduck. Stick close. I want to make sure that both of us battle from within Golduck's barrier."

The dark-haired boy had just enough time to respond with a nod before being distracted by the sound of Kent's booming voice.

"Yin, do it now!"

The next few seconds of Ash's life were spent in a crepuscular sequester before his vision readjusted to reveal someplace new. There was a cursory lag as everyone came to grips with their current circumstances. They rematerialized together, in the same physical position that they previously stood, only to find themselves surrounded by an utterly bewildered crowd of disgruntled people.

They looked to be preparing for something. The hundreds of palpable Team Rocket members were at various stages of getting ready. Some were putting on their black jumpsuits; others were loading their trainer belts. Ash saw multiple, assumed to be, Rockets dressed in white work-crew clothes which proved his theory that Team Rocket had been posing as part of the Magnet Train's maintenance crew.

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