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?


21. Kanto 7 Part 1

Despite the many times he had sworn that he would never ride Pidgeotto bareback again, Ash found himself grasping onto his avian's brawny neck like his life depended on it.

The wind was frigid as it smacked him across the face and caused his hair to careen and ruffle. They were entering into the latter half of Kanto's autumn, which meant that the weather was beginning to significantly drop in temperature.

His stomach twisted and turned as Pidgeotto thoughtlessly weaved around Fearow. Ash caught a momentary glimpse of Austin giving him a knowing smirk while he too straddled his very own flying-type.

Austin's experience wasn't brutal like Ash's. Austin was in possession of a rather nice saddle made out of tauros' hide, and Fearow used his adroitly honed skill at manipulating air currents in order to provide Austin with a smooth ride.

On the other hand, Ash's ride atop Pidgeotto was anything but smooth. Pidgeotto was flying at an incredible speed and had yet to become skilled at manipulating wind. To make things worse, because of their current circumstances, Ash's anxiety had already been triggered before he ever even climbed on top of Pidgeotto.

Only about fifteen minutes had passed since Kent's conversation with Bill, and they had been forced to traipse their way up several underground flights of stairs in order to reach the Magnet Train station's surface.

Once they reached the surface, Sabrina got in touch with Kent using her telepathy. The psychic virtuoso let Kent know that she was going to ambush Ariana via teleportation and that she needed back-up. Ash didn't know anything else, but he figured that Wallace must have been forced to stay back at the warehouse, probably to look after Robert.

Their present group only consisted of Kent, Austin and himself. They couldn't fill any of the trainees in on what was going on, primarily on account of the fact that they were short on time. At least, that's what Kent said. Ash and Austin were not a part of the telepathic conversation with Sabrina, so they weren't really sure what was going on. All they knew was that Ariana had escaped the warehouse hideout and that the other team needed their help to catch her.

Ash and Austin were presently riding their flying-types while Kent was hanging onto Arcanine's back as he dashed throughout the city. Arcanine effortlessly avoided the many walking citizens by nimbly jetting around them. With just about every bound the canine took, he garnered the frightened attention of the city's people. However, to them, Arcanine just appeared to be a yellow and black blur. The canine wasn't using Extreme Speed. If that were the case, Pidgeotto and Fearow wouldn't be able to keep up. But, he was moving fast enough to appear as an obscuration to those around him.

As they followed Kent's arcanine, from the sky, Ash could hear the unmistakable sound of police sirens in the distance. The obnoxious noise was loud and belonged to many individual sources. Pidgeotto and Fearow weren't all that high in the sky, so Ash couldn't get a visual of the supposed police squad. Nevertheless, Ash was certain that the sirens belonged to Officer Jenny's squad, heading west towards the Magnet Train station and the warehouse in order to detain the hundreds of incapacitated grunts.

Ash wasn't sure how they were currently tracking Ariana. Ash figured that Arcanine was either following Sabrina's scent, or Sabrina was providing Kent with directions using her telepathy. Whatever the case, Ash wouldn't question Kent's pursuit. Wherever Arcanine went, he would follow. The first-class ACE trainer's disposition when he embarked upon his fire-type didn't depict a sliver of uncertainty.

Whether it was Sabrina's scent or her cerebral communication that was guiding them to their destination, Ash suddenly noticed a thick cloud of smoke that briskly ascended into the sky near the northern edge of Saffron.

The smoke wafted throughout the northern sector of the city, and as they got closer, Ash could perceive it with his sense of smell. It was an atrocious scent. As it traveled through Ash's nostrils, it caused his heart to palpitate and his body to perspire. The smell of smoke corresponded to calamity, and given the circumstances, he couldn't help but worry.

The sight of the smoke didn't just cause a physical reaction, but it also impacted him mentally. The last time he had seen this much smoke was after the destruction of the SS Anne. The ominous, crepuscular haze triggered multiple intrusive thoughts that vividly grated against his psyche. He involuntarily imagined the Rockets: Sid, Reid, and Jack being eaten by a blast of white flame, a product of Wallace and his decision to leave them to fall victim to the explosion.

In concurrence to the initial sighting of the fume bearing horizon, Arcanine hastened his pace. Going off of Arcanine's rapid reaction, it was safe to say that the smoke was somehow related to Sabrina and Ariana. That didn't come as a surprise. However, it didn't do anything to quench Ash's nerves. As they closed in on the smoke, the setting took a perilous shift. The sky was gloomy on account of the smog, and there was a horde of citizens madly trying to escape in the direction of the city's southern districts.

As Ash witnessed the large-scale confusion and consternation, his mind instantly went back to the moments prior to the SS Anne's demise. The look of fear in the citizens' faces caused Ash to shudder and curse the name Team Rocket under his breath.

As they plunged deeper into the calamitous fog, Ash's eyes started to burn, and it didn't take long for him to procure a nasty cough. The smoke was extremely agitating, and the longer they remained in the air, the more aggravating it would get. Until the source of the smoke was put out, it would continue to rise, eclipsing the natural beauty of today's atmospheric conditions.

The sound of the frightened citizens' screams was drowned out by the loud, discordant noise of explosions within the midst of the forthcoming blackened district. Ash could no longer bear to keep his eyes open on account of the thick, caliginous, atmospheric mask. However, his stomach was beginning to drop in response to Pidgeotto's descent. He figured that they were closing in on Sabrina and Ariana's location. As his insides plummeted, Ash tried to open his eyes in order to examine his surroundings.

They had dropped to a much lower altitude. Pidgeotto's talons nearly scraped the roofs of some of the subjacent apartment buildings. Out of the corner of his burning eye, Ash caught a glimpse of Fearow nosediving into his line of sight before liberating his wings in order to level-out.

The fully-evolved bird of prey gave Pidgeotto a conceited look as he showed off his adept aeronautical skills. Ash was also able to make out a small smirk on Austin's face before both birds dropped altitude, once again, and protracted their wingspans.

For the most part, the smoke concealed their surroundings. It wasn't quite as thick now that they had lowered themselves underneath the risen, smoggy confluence. However, Ash could only really see Fearow and Austin, who like Pidgeotto were beginning to descend for a landing.

As they carefully lowered themselves to the ground, Ash noticed Kent and Arcanine, who had come to a complete stop. Kent was currently disembarking from his fire-type as he supervised the boys' landing.

Pidgeotto and Fearow's talons simultaneously hit the street's asphalt surface. Ash grimaced in response to the jarring recoil of the landing as Pidgeotto skid to a turbulent stop. He would have worried about Pidgeotto injuring his talons on the hard black-top surface, but it wasn't necessary. Pidgeotto's talons were rough and durable. They could easily withstand landing on just about any surface.

Once Pidgeotto came to a stop, Ash instantly dismounted from his flying-type and shook his body loose of the rigid tension that he had accumulated throughout the brutal ride.

Staying on Pidgeotto wasn't an easy task, especially when the flying-type was trying to keep up with one of the fastest pokemon in Kanto. Ash's hands were nearly locked in place because of the strain required to hold onto the skin underneath Pidgeotto's feathers, and the insides of his legs were sore and raw from squeezing his flying-type's back.

Ash practically scowled as he watched Austin effortlessly jump out of Fearow's saddle. The chiseled faced teenager showed no hint of displeasure, which caused a pang of jealousy to shoot throughout Ash's being.

Before Pidgeotto and Fearow had an opportunity to butt heads, Austin returned Fearow's saddle into a tiny storage device called a depository case prior to returning his avian. The dark-haired boy followed Austin's lead and returned Pidgeotto, who had been abnormally quiet ever since his attempted murder of the ranked Rocket's persian and arbok.

"What's with the nasty look?" questioned Austin as he clipped Fearow's pokeball to his trainer belt.

"Err…nothing," mumbled Ash, suppressing his overwhelming desire to complain, "Just a little sore, that's all."

"Figured as much," said Austin with a shrug, "riding bareback freaking sucks."

Their brief conversation was interrupted by the sound of Kent's edgy voice, "There's no time for trivial chatter. Release a pokemon that can provide you with protection, and let's go. Sabrina's in battle with Ariana up ahead."

Ash and Austin responded with silent nods as they both unclipped a pokeball from their belt. Ash proceeded to release Haunter, who entered the scene with his typical emanation of ghoulish laughter. Whereas Austin released Golduck, who simply crossed his arms and waited for his trainer to give him an order.

"Hey, Haunter," greeted Ash with a smile while his ghost-type circled him with a look of anticipation. "You know the drill. I need you to protect me from my shadow."

Haunter didn't waste any time. He quickly nodded his body up and down before lowering himself into Ash's shadow. As the friendly apparition merged into Ash's blurry obscuration, he felt a sudden change in his disposition.

He felt a strange chill trickle throughout his body, but his anxiety lessened. Once again, he felt safe. In addition, once Haunter entered Ash's faded shadow, the delineated image thickened and became more discernible. Apparently, despite the lack of sunlight, Haunter's unnatural presence in Ash's shadow made it more visible.

Ash was too busy with Haunter to pay attention to any of the words that Austin was concurrently sharing with his water-type. However, the dark-haired boy did notice that Golduck had surrounded them with a Light Screen—which would help protect them from long-distance elemental attacks.

"Good," drawled Kent as he beckoned Arcanine to lead the group, "now stay in there, and let's move forward."

As the trio and their pokemon moved forward, the smoke got thicker, and the sound of the explosions got louder. It was still blatant that the battle was happening a bit up ahead, but Ash could tell that they were getting close.

Regardless of Haunter and Golduck's presence, Ash couldn't help but feel nervous. Although the initial operation underneath the Magnet Train station had already slightly numbed his apprehension towards Team Rocket. With Kent and Sabrina on their side, they would be just fine.

"Keep your eyes peeled," suggested Kent, "we don't know how many grunts escaped with Ariana. There could be some in the area."

"Gotchya," replied Ash as he rubbed his irritated eyes.

"Yup," answered Austin while attentively swiveling his head.

While the roaring sound of detonations got louder and louder, it still took them about five minutes of carefully trudging through the polluted fog to catch a visual of the battle. Even though they had been expecting to run into something for quite some time, it still didn't prepare them for the chaos that they ran into.

The first thing Ash noticed was the wild group of battling pokemon. It was hard to get clear images because of the thick smoke and glaring, violent fires, but Ash saw some powerful specimens fighting amongst the crowd.

Right off the bat, he spotted a duo of abra taking on a blood-thirsty magmar. The apparent Rocket pokemon spewed fire in every which direction and was obviously one of the main reasons for the large, encompassing patches of fire. The two abra, which without a doubt belonged to Sabrina, had the strong magmar enveloped in a cloak of psychic energy.

However, the shackled beast still managed to spit fire all over the place and appeared to be on the cusp of breaking loose. Its eyes were redder than the flames that it let out, and its tail flame was as big as a camp-fire. It was obvious that the infernal monster was one of the executive's pokemon; no grunt could command such a monstrous creature.

In close proximity to the two abra, and the magmar, were a couple of raticate. The raticate, more than likely, belonged to grunts and not the executive. Other than their ferocity, nothing else stood out about them. They were easily being kept at bay by an oversized drowzee.

Most psychic pokemon didn't show external signs of evolution, but the drowzee line was different. Ash could see where the white mane of a hypno was starting to sprout from the fur around drowzee's neck, and drowzee's upper, yellow coat was beginning to spread out amidst its legs. The only thing that concerned Ash about the raticate was that their trainers were out of sight. As a matter of fact, he had yet to spot a single human amongst the chaos.

"Should we help!?" questioned Austin, trying to be heard over the discordant sound of warfare.

"Not yet!" howled Kent. "We need to find Sabrina! This is merely the outskirts of the battle zone! The abra will be fine, and that drowzee has those raticate under control! We need to keep moving forward. Our help is needed up ahead!"

Both boys nodded their heads as they closely followed behind Kent.

As they passed by the tandem of abra and the drowzee, the psychics acknowledged them with a cold, blank stare. Ash wasn't quite sure what their looks conveyed. He would probably have to train a psychic pokemon of his own in order to understand their stony-faced expressions and lethargic body language. But, then again, even if he did have a psychic of his own, they were almost alien in their behavior. Without the use of telepathy, psychic pokemon were very hard to decipher. It would be like trying to understand Sabrina if she was mute.

The raticate and magmar recognized their collective presence in a different way. The duo of raticate glared at them with fiery eyes, and they showed their fangs while hissing like savages. The magmar roared like a demon, and if it didn't have its hands full with the abra, it would without a doubt charge them with reckless abandon, albeit Ash doubted it would get very far.

Kent's arcanine had its eyes glued to the beast. If the magmar were to somehow break loose, it would be handled in a flash. Despite the fact that the magmar was definitely stronger than anything Ash could throw at it, Kent's arcanine was, by leaps and bounds, the stronger specimen. Just by eyeing it, Ash could tell that the magmar couldn't hold a candle to Arcanine's supreme might.

Disregarding the Rocket pokemon's infernal rage, Kent continued to lead the group forward towards the heart of the battle zone. After passing by the initial fight, there was a brief pause in the action before they came across the next assemblage of vicious battles.

Ash had to say that having Kent with them definitely changed how they approached the situation. If it was just Ash and Austin, they would be forced to track down Sabrina using more covert methods. However, with Kent's accompaniment, that wasn't necessary. Arcanine could incapacitate any pokemon that Team Rocket had, thus they all ambulated forward with confidence knowing this truth.

Their present surroundings were much more chaotic than the edge of the battle zone. If it weren't for Arcanine, Golduck, and Haunter, Ash would be afraid. His anxiety was present, but that was only natural. Ash had been through a lot as of late; he was aware of just how ruthless Team Rocket was.

Not to mention the fact that the anticipation was killing him. He was not foolish enough to think that they would remain unchallenged within Golduck's protective bubble for long. At some point, they would be forced into action. When that would take place, he didn't know.

To his right, Ash spotted a bulky, pink, bipedal pokemon that stood about five-feet tall and had a tan, striped belly that matched its muzzle. It had large, vacant eyes that presently projected an ominous blue, along with two curled ears and two sharp teeth that protruded out of its upper-jaw. On its hands, it had three sharp claws, as well as two sharp claws on its feet.

Attached to its thick tail was another entity. It was clamped on with its razor-sharp teeth. If Ash didn't have any knowledge of the being's host, he would be unsure what the creature was. However, Ash recognized the pokemon as a slowbro. He knew that the creature clamped onto the slowbro was an alternately morphed spiral shellder—which had either chosen or been forced to live its life halfway between a shellder and a cloyster.

The slowbro was at a disadvantage, facing off against a rather hideous looking victreebel. The large, yellow, bell-shaped pokemon spit all kinds of different shades of purple poison at Slowbro, while trying to get close enough to wrap its gaping mouth around the water/psychic duel-type. Its murderous eyes were locked onto Slowbro, while its large, sharp teeth secreted dangerous looking purple liquid that ate away at the asphalt when it leaked to the ground.

If Slowbro was strictly a water-type it would have been done for. Good thing it wasn't. Slowbro's secondary psychic typing gave it a way to fend off the venomous grass-type that probably belonged to Executive Ariana. Slowbro used a few close-ranged, psychic attacks to try and create distance between itself and Victreebel—a lot of which Ash didn't recognize.

However, amidst the carnage, Ash saw Slowbro fend Victreebel off with a pink array of energy. Ash wasn't overly familiar with a slowbro's learnset, but more than likely, it was either Confusion or Psychic. Ash knew this because, unless Sabrina had used a TM, Slowbro was limited in its long-ranged psychic potential.

To Ash's left, a small narrow-eyed abra faced off against a few ekans. And Sabrina's hypno battled against a humongous arbok that put the one used by the ranked Rocket, back at the underground hideout, to shame. It was at least four-feet longer than the one Pidgeotto had almost killed, and its overall girth was tremendous. Its most distinctive feature was its oversized hood, which was nearly twice the size of most arbok. Although it wasn't a giant, Ash could tell that the arbok was a gifted specimen, most likely belonging to Ariana.

As things stood now, it looked like the abra would finish off the two ekans quickly. And no matter how gifted of a specimen the arbok was, it was battling Rin, who was Sabrina's strongest hypno. Ariana's pokemon might stand a chance against some of Sabrina's less experienced pokemon, but Rin was on Sabrina's true team, which meant that the arbok didn't stand a chance. Besides, Hypno had the type advantage. Therefore, the arbok's demise was inevitable.

Straight ahead of them was—

—Ash's thoughts were severed and broken by the sound of Golduck's abruptly shattered Light Screen. Ash was barely able to catch a glimpse of the culprit when the hellish form of a pissed off Haunter frenziedly emerged from Ash's shadow, with a fist glowing of dark purple essence.

Bearing feral eyes and a closed mouth, Haunter buried its shadowy fist into the assailant, causing it to falter and skid across the smoldering street. As the attacker ceased its involuntary roll and gathered itself, Ash was able to visualize its form.

However, the ten-year-old boy's ability to process the pokemon's image was hindered by Austin, who was grimacing while cursing loud enough to be heard over the encompassing psychic blasts.

"Shit, it freaking scratched my arm!" blustered Austin, pain evident in his intonation.

Ash instantly took his eyes off of the menacing creature and looked to his left. Austin was grabbing his right arm, which was leaking a fair amount of scarlet red blood. Ash's eyes instantly widened upon the sight.

scratch—no, this was a deep laceration. The pokemon that attacked them had taken a good chunk out of Austin's arm. Ash instantly wondered how something like this could happen, but then he saw Golduck, who had been forced to one knee. The water/psychic-type put forth an angry squawk, and his eyes were injected with fury. Golduck's gaze was locked straight ahead on the creature that had injured his master.

Ash didn't recognize the pokemon that hissed in front of them. It was bipedal and weasel-like. The creature had several red feathery areas on its body, most notably its tail feathers and its crown. The devious looking pokemon, Ash guessed to be a dark-type, had a yellow oval marking in the center of its forehead. And it had three ridiculously sharp claws on each paw—one of which was covered in blood.

The dark, definitely foreign, creature barbarically licked the blood from its claw before charging forward.

Ash watched Golduck try to get up to no avail on account of whatever the dark-type had done to him. Simultaneously, Haunter began to creep forward with a demon-like expression in order to defend his master and his friends.

"Haunter, go and get—"

"Arcanine, wreck it!" interrupted Kent in a loud, booming voice.

Arcanine wasted no time. Ash's eyes could hardly follow as the elite level canine seemingly vanished, leaving a yellow and black blur before reappearing alongside the charging dark-type.

Arcanine quickly used the full-force of his momentum to tackle the foreign creature with Take Down. The assailant painfully grunted and grimaced as it collided with the ground. The canine managed to stay on top of the Rocket pokemon while it heedlessly skidded across the asphalt. Within the blink of an eye, Arcanine mercilessly finished it off with a vicious Fire Fang, which made growlithe's bite/ember combination look like a playful act of affection.

Despite the unbelievable display, now was not the right time to gawk over Kent's arcanine's unbelievable strength. As Arcanine used its maw to toss the now unconscious, infernal creature to the side, Ash pivoted his attention back over to Austin.

"Austin, are you okay!?" asked the dark-haired boy with a worry filled intonation.

Ash was surprised to find Kent already tending to Austin's wound. He had ripped a decent-sized patch of red cloth from his uniform and begun to tie it around the teenager's cut in order to stop the bleeding.

"I've definitely been better," replied Austin with a grimace, "but I'll survive. Nothing Nurse Joy won't be able to fix. The only thing I'm worried about is the blood loss. I'd rather not pass out and miss seeing Ariana arrested."

Austin's eyes shifted over to Golduck, who had a heart-wrenching look of solemnness and guilt delineated across his face. Simply put, Austin's strong-willed duel-type looked mortified, probably blaming himself for his trainer's injury.

"It's not your fault," reassured Austin. "That was a weavile: a nasty dark and ice-type pokemon from the Johto region. You know better than I do that dark-types can easily break your Light Screen. Type disadvantage isn't always fair, but it's a trainer's job to help their pokemon counter against it. I dropped my guard. If anything, it's my fault."

Golduck diverted his eyes towards the ground and shook his head, clearly not buying his trainer's attempt at reassurance.

"Ah...come on, Golduck," groaned Austin in between grimaces, "It's not that bad. Just a scratch, that's all. Let's just move past it and be more alert of surprise attacks. Life's about lessons, and we just learned one. What do you say?"

Golduck seemed a little more receptive to Austin's current attempt at making him feel better. It appeared as though the duck pokemon responded better to diluting the blame rather than omitting it altogether.

"Dammit," drawled Kent, "if it's anyone's fault it's mine. That weavile was strong, but it wasn't anything special. Arcanine took it out easily. If only I had seen it beforehand. It had to have been using some kind of dark concealment technique. Even Arcanine didn't notice it until the Light Screen had been nullified."

Ash used his hand to stroke in between the spikes on Haunter's corporeal body as Kent continued. The ghost-type needed to be calmed down. The weavile's assault had caused the ghost pokemon's congenital instincts to trigger, resulting in his present barbarous disposition.

Haunter may be more pleasant natured than others of his kind, but he couldn't squelch the entirety of his species' general behavior. It had taken a couple of dire situations for Ash to figure it out, but he had come to the realization that Haunter could be just as nefarious as others of his kind. However, his malicious behavior only came out when Ash was in danger.

"That weavile more than likely belonged to Ariana," said the yellow eyed ACE trainer as Arcanine returned to the group. "If my arcanine didn't have such an advantage, it would have put up more of a fight."

There was a momentary pause in Kent's speech as he looked Austin in the eyes before gesturing forward, "I know it hurts, but are you good to keep going? Sabrina isn't too far ahead; Arcanine's getting antsy."

Ash soothingly beckoned Haunter back into his shadow as he listened to Austin's response.

"I can keep going," replied Austin with an adamant nod. "What do you say Golduck? Can you put up another Light Screen? This time we'll keep an eye out for dark-types. I promise I won't drop my guard again."

Golduck nodded his head with an expression that resembled a smile before patting his trainer on the head using one of his webbed hands.

"Good," answered Austin, with a smile of his own, before holding up his injured arm and shifting his glance between Kent and Ash. "I'm ready whenever you guys are."

Kent smirked before giving a response, "You kids sure are something."

A smile formed across Ash's face in response to Kent's comment, although he didn't quite feel worthy of the praise. All he did was stand there as Austin was hurt and Kent took care of the perpetrator. Austin was the one that, in Ash's opinion, was something.The chiseled faced teenager had been seriously injured and didn't even hesitate to carry on. Ash could only hope that he could be that brave if he were the one that had been injured instead of Austin.

Ash watched Austin survey his surroundings before speaking up, "Should we help Sabrina's pokemon out before we move forward. The hypno is probably fine, but what about that slowbro? It's having a tough time with that victreebel."

"They'll be fine," replied Kent as Ash watched the Slowbro connect a psychic enshrouded head-butt into Victreebel's body, "Rin will finish off the arbok soon. The slowbro can hold off the victreebel until then. Once Rin defeats the arbok, she'll help out Slowbro. These are Sabrina's pokemon we're talking about. They can handle just about anything Ariana throws at them. It's best we move forward, the real fight is just up ahead."

"Okay…" retorted Austin while grasping his injured arm, "if you say so…"

"Now, let's go," said Kent, "we're wasting time."

Ash and Austin emitted acquiescent grunts before Austin diverted his attention back towards Golduck, "Golduck, Light Screen."

The duck pokemon immediately tapped the jewel on his forehead before raising another translucent barrier. With a heavy squint, you could see a slight purple tint in the encompassing air, but at first glance it appeared to be invisible.

Kent and Arcanine once again led the way as Ash, Austin, and Golduck followed closely behind them. Of course, Haunter was there as well, but he was inside Ash's shadow. If it weren't for the strange sense of comfort Ash got from Haunter's incorporeal presence, he probably would have forgotten that the poltergeist was even there.

As they continued to trudge forward, Ash was able to really soak in the destruction that had been wrought in the area. Buildings were destroyed, cars were crushed, street lights were uprooted, and nearly everything was on fire. Ash wasn't really surprised, pokemon were powerful creatures. And the pokemon that were currently battling were especially strong. Ash was just happy that, so far, he hadn't seen any innocent citizens that were hurt.

Hopefully, everyone had fled the area before any significant damage was done. However, judging by the vastness and severity of the decimated district, Ash had a feeling that he wasn't being realistic. Unless Sabrina had found a way to intervene herself, there had to be casualties. Ash couldn't see how the calamitous setting could exist without having taken the lives of at least some misfortunate people.

The world wasn't that forgiving.

At this point, Ash's lungs were starting to hurt because of all of the smoke, and his eyes were equally as irritated. After looking around, he could tell that Kent and Austin were just as uncomfortable.

Kent didn't show it as much as the boys, but regardless of his intense League training, he couldn't completely suppress the side-effects of being exposed to this much carbon monoxide.

Austin was struggling, but he was hanging in there. The lack of oxygen didn't bode well for someone that had lost as much blood as he had, however, he would endure their current circumstances. Ash had no about it. Besides, if things got really bad, Fearow could just fly him out of the foreboding smog. The avian was a fast flyer and could get Austin to the Pokemon Center in no time if he was in need of treatment…

The sound of the forthcoming chaos was getting louder and louder. The upcoming explosions had completely drowned out the sound of the battles that they had already passed by. It didn't take a genius to figure out that they were approaching the epicenter of the pandemonium. With every step they took, the cacophonous blasts increased in volume until Ash was tempted to cover his ears.

Unfortunately, he couldn't afford to do that. The thick cloud of smoke had already caused considerable disruption to two of his five senses. Blocking out another one, under his own volition, didn't necessarily seem like a good idea.

Ash wished that Golduck's Light Screen would block out the smoky fumes, but the transparent shield didn't work that way. Maybe if it was a minute amount of smoke, but there was simply too much for Golduck to keep out.

Light Screen acted more like a defensive detector than an actual shield. It could nullify elemental attacks in small doses, but it wasn't meant for situations like this. If Golduck used his Light Screen to fend off the smoke, it would just be worn down, leaving them susceptible to more dangerous elemental strikes.

Their only option was to endure. The only way to get rid of this much smoke was with an excessive number of water-type pokemon or an appropriately equipped League firefighting squad. Ash would have Wartortle try and put out some of the encompassing fires, but he was still disoriented from the evolution and was in no condition to be released under their current circumstances.

Ash thought about asking Austin to have Golduck extinguish some of the walls of flame, but the water-type had his hands full maintaining Light Screen. Including the battle back at the Magnet Train station, Golduck had been using Light Screen for well over an hour now. That was a long time to maintain any technique, especially one that required a great amount of mental focus.

On account of the fact that Kent had not released his Cloyster, he must have come to the conclusion that it wouldn't really make that much of a difference. The amount of fire and smoke that was violently dancing across the streets of Saffron required a water-type specialist to make a difference.

Wallace would be the perfect person to rescue Saffron's northern district from the perilous fires, but he was probably tending to Mr. Montgomery. Robert was a high-priority to the world that they lived in, and in a situation such as this one, they couldn't afford to leave him under the care of mere ACE trainer trainees.

The smoke would have to be put up with, and the fires would have to wait. The sooner they detained Ariana, the faster the northern district's dreadful conditions could be dealt with. Right now, the capture of Ariana was their top-priority.

After a couple more minutes of traipsing through the scorching, orange and black fog, their eyes widened as they caught sight of the present scene. Ash was aware beforehand that the smoke was probably concealing a large-scale battle, but this was much more than he had expected. It was the definition of chaos. He had never seen anything like it. There weren't even close to as many pokemon as there were in the underground hideout, but in this case, quality greatly outweighed quantity.

The battle was taking place in the middle of a massive four-way intersection. There were several flaming cars scattered amidst the street and two giant traffic lights that had been previously suspended above the roads were grounded and demolished. Utility poles were uprooted, leaving power lines free to wiggle about on the ground spewing up a surplus of electrical currents. The multitude of surrounding buildings were demolished and up in flames.

In short, the sheer amount of devastation was overwhelming.

The exact number of active pokemon occupying the fork junction was easy for Ash to obtain. There were eight elite level pokemon battling upon the asphalt. Sabrina's were easy to track down. All he had to do was look for the psychic pokemon. The fact that three of them were prominent alakazam and one of them was the elegant espeon that he had seen back in the Saffron Gym basement made it rather easy to sort out which pokemon belonged to Sabrina as opposed to Ariana.

Engaged in battle with Sabrina's four stalwart psychic-types were four corrupt creatures that practically oozed vulgarity, one of which literally percolated vileness. Sprawled across the center of the intersection battling against Sabrina's espeon was an absolutely atrocious muk. Its horrible smell could be perceived from the furthest edge of the battlefield, and the mere sight of it made Ash want to wretch up his breakfast.

The disgusting blob of poison sludge was five times the size of one of the grimer that he had seen back at the underground hideout. Due to the fact that muk were actually made up of several melded grimer, Ash guessed that this one consisted of at least four or five.

The dark-haired boy had never done any detailed research on the anatomy of a muk, so he wasn't quite sure how the merging process worked or if the grimer could be separated after. He had never had any interest in training a grimer or muk of his own, thus the only tidbits of information he had gathered involved how to battle against one of the highly toxic creatures.

Of Ariana's four pokemon, two were foreign. Ash recognized one of the two foreign pokemon. It was a Johto native honchkrow, which is a fully evolved dark/flying-type rarely seen in the skies of Kanto. The honchkrow was a decent-sized specimen, but it wasn't even close to matching Pidgeotto or Fearow in terms of height and wingspan.

However, just because it wasn't all that big didn't mean it wasn't a dangerous specimen. The dark blue avian's plumage resembled that of a person wearing formal attire, and it had a large feather crest, resembling a fedora hat, that had spikes extending from the back of it. Honchkrow had circular, red eyes with white sclera and dark blue eyelids. Its yellow beak was curved and looked to be sharp enough to tear through flesh, and its chest was full of prominent white feathers.

The avian's talons were black and razor-sharp. The feathers on the inside of its black wings were crimson red, matching the tips of its primarily black tail feathers. While Ash wasn't quite capable of seeing the full-extent of the muk's malevolence on behalf of its fluidic body, he could clearly decipher the ferocity and ruthlessness depicted across the honchcrow's face. It was a frenetic specimen with an evil core.

It was said that no pokemon were naturally evil, but some species were more susceptible to dark actions. Honchkrow was one of those pokemon, and when trained under the tutelage of a depraved human, they were capable of abominable things.

Under the assumption that Honchkrow had been trained by Ariana herself, its disposition made sense. It was completely corrupt. No amount of League rehabilitation could dilute such a creature's nasty habits of wickedness. All it took was one look to be able to tell that any trace of good was long gone. Honchkrow was a slave to darkness that went far beyond its natural typing. What Ariana had done to it was utterly repulsive.

Honchkrow was engaged in an extremely intense battle with one of Sabrina's alakazam. Ash wasn't sure, but on account of its shorter mustache, the dark-haired boy assumed it to be a female. It looked a lot like Yin. However, Ash had no way to know for sure. Yin had disappeared right after she dropped them off at the underground hideout, so it was possible that she could have teleported to Sabrina's aid afterward..."

Ash was able to get a really good look at the other foreign pokemon because it was battling closest to their group. Although, despite the fact that he could see all of the feline pokemon's features, Ash had no idea what it was. It looked extremely exotic. Ash wouldn't say that he was an expert regarding Johto's native pokemon, but the devious looking mammalian pokemon definitely didn't look like it was from anywhere close to Kanto or Johto.

As a matter of fact, if Ash had to take a guess, he would say that the slender, purple feline was from a faraway region like Kalos or Unova. Other than the simple fact that they existed, Ash knew nearly nothing about either region. He'd heard stories that the indigenous pokemon were very different, but he had never done the research to actually verify them. Foreign pokemon from other continents were rarely seen in Kanto. Maybe this was one of those cases.

The exotic feline's coat was a gorgeous purple speckled with a multitude of yellow rosettes. Covering its green eyes was a pink mask, which accentuated its evident dark nature. Its nose was pink, and it had two pairs of yellow whiskers that sprouted from both sides of its snout. Its muscular legs and underside were covered in a bright yellow fur, and its long purple tail winded into a sickle-like shape towards the tip.

Overall, Ash had to admit, it was a beautiful pokemon. However, now was not the time to admire foreign species, especially when they belonged to a Team Rocket executive.

The exotic feline was facing off against yet another one of Sabrina's alakazam. This alakazam's mustache was much longer than Yin's, so it was rather evident that it was a male. The two alakazam that were facing off against the honchkrow and the unknown cat pokemon were being pushed to their limits. It was obvious that Sabrina's alakazam were the stronger specimens, but that didn't change the fact that they were at an extreme disadvantage.

Ash knew for a fact that Honchkrow was a dark/flying-type, and after watching the feline pokemon battle for only a couple of seconds, he could tell that it was using techniques that consisted of the dark element. The devious feline was evidently a dark-type in some fashion. Whether it was a pure dark-type or a dual-type, Ash didn't know.

Due to their strange and darkened minds, psychics were incapable of cerebral intrusions against dark-types, which meant that psychic attacks didn't work against any pokemon classified as a dark-type. If it weren't for this truth, Ash had no doubt that Ariana would have been detained by now.

However, Team Rocket was smart. Either they supplied Ariana with a team that could effectively battle Sabrina, or she was selected for this mission on account of her powerful dark-types. Whatever the case may be, Sabrina's greatest strength was being suffocated by the Rocket executive, forcing the psychic virtuoso's pokemon to rely on non-psychic techniques to fend off the dark-types...

Despite the presence of the two foreign dark-types, it seemed as if Sabrina had elected to leave her two alakazam to battle them without her supervision. At least, that is the way it looked. She could be using some kind of omniscient telepathic link to command all of her pokemon at once, but Ash didn't think that even Sabrina was capable of such a feat.

She was still a human after all. And, right now, that human had her back turned to the rest of the battle while she commanded what looked like her strongest alakazam, Kaz, against Ariana and a rather crazed gengar.

"Sabrina needs help!" hollered Ash, trying to be heard over the loud sound of turmoil. "Ariana's pokemon are strong and have the type advantage! No wonder she escaped!"

"I see that!" bellowed Kent, "I wasn't expecting this, but luckily we have yet to be noticed! The situation isn't an emergency! I'll steal the advantage in an instant! Leave it to me!"

"What about us!?" queried Austin in between painful grimaces, "how can we help!?"

"Both of you have bright futures!" howled Kent as he reached for two pokeballs that were clipped to his trainer belt, "but you're not quite ready to battle against pokemon of this caliber! Take this moment to learn! Let Sabrina and I do the work!"

"But—!"Ash managed before Kent quickly interjected.

"No buts, Ash! You're not ready for something like this! The risk is too high! Your pokemon would only get hurt!"

Ash and Austin gulped before the older of the two gave a response, "Dammit, alright, I'll stay out of it!"

Ash was reluctant, but he wasn't foolish enough to argue the orders of a first-class ACE trainer. However, Ash was slightly confused. Why would Kent bring them with him if they were going to do nothing but watch? They'd yet to contribute, so what was the purpose?

"Okay...but if we're not going to help, why did we come with you in the first place!?"

"Because…" drawled Kent as he handled both of his pokeballs, "there was no time to grab any of the other trainees! Besides, this is valuable experience for two young trainers aspiring to be masters! I thought you deserved this opportunity to watch and learn!"

Ash and Austin stood by and watched as Kent ran his fingers through his canine's fur, "Are you ready, Arcanine!?"

Arcanine let out a loud, affirmative grunt that Ash could hear clearly in between encompassing explosions.

"Alright then!" shouted Kent, "after I release Electivire and Scizor help Sabrina's espeon take out the muk! I'm going to use Umbreon to help Sabrina and Alakazam defeat that fiend of a gengar! Do you understand!?"

The evolved canine nodded, confirming his comprehension.

Kent subsequently pressed the release button on both of his pokeballs, resulting in a sudden blast of bright light. In wake of the beaming display, two monsters were unveiled.

One of them was Kent's beastly electivire, who Ash had just seen wreck nearly the entirety of the underground hideout. It stood focused and fresh, ready for the upcoming action. It was rather apparent that if Electivire took any damage during the invasion of the hideout, his brief rest in his pokeball had erased it. Electivire was as good as new.

Just as Kent had said, the other pokemon was a battle hardened scizor. The evolved form of scyther opened and closed both of its big, red pincers, eagerly yearning to tear through the flesh of its forthcoming prey.

Scizor was much more intimidating than its pre-evolved form, and the mere sight of it made Ash deeply desire to train up one of his own. It was the first time Ash had ever seen the steel/bug-type in person, and it definitely lived up to all the hype that Ash had accumulated in his head over the years.

Without ever seeing one up close, scizor had always been Ash's favorite bug-type. Its shimmering, red exoskeleton and fierce, yellow eyes were mesmerizing. And its obsession with battle made its pre-evolution a pokemon that was at the top of Ash's "to catch list."

The bipedal, insectoid pokemon's red exoskeleton was made out of a highly-refined metal, and it had gray, retractable forewings and hind wings with simple, curved venation. Scizor's head was kite shaped with three blunt horns extending above its forehead. Its neck and part of its thorax looked to expose black skin while being surrounded by its exoskeleton. Scizor's abdomen was large with three black, pointed stripes below the waist.

Scizor had broad shoulders and thin segmented arms ending in its large, round pincers. Its legs were defined with large hip joints, thin thighs, and wide calves. Its steel body was strong and durable, but it was evident that Scizor was built for speed rather than raw strength. Ash couldn't wait to see what it could do in live battle.

"Electivire, go knock that Honchkrow out of the sky!" commanded Kent, "Scizor, cut down that purple cat!"

Electivire and Scizor wasted no time as they dashed off towards their selected targets. Electivire moved quickly, discharging blue static as he glided across the cluttered intersection. Even though the electric-type was fast, Scizor moved faster, leaving a plethora of after-images while it shot across the battlefield like a red cannonball.

Ash's eyes couldn't keep up with Scizor, so he didn't bother. Instead, the dark-haired boy watched as Electivire enshrouded himself in a jumpsuit of electricity. The dark avian was busy dealing with Sabrina's female alakazam. It didn't even notice Electivire's presence until he was directly in front of its face.

Before Ariana's honchkrow could react, Electivire unleashed a devastating Thunderbolt. It ripped through the air while creating a cacophonous, atmospheric clap. Honchkrow's red eyes widened as the Thunderbolt approached.

There was no time to dodge. The Honchkrow was struck viciously by Electivire's Thunderbolt. As the thousands of watts of electricity coursed throughout the honchkrow's body, it mindlessly shrieked in pain.

Suddenly, despite the lively action, Ash's attention was persuaded to shift back to Kent when he released another pokemon: Umbreon. At the same time, Ash noticed that at some point Arcanine had taken off and was now helping Espee with the oversized muk. The evolved canine was ruthlessly dousing the blob of poison with Flamethrower while Espee continuously hit it with a powerful, bright purple ray of concentrated psychic energy.

Ash's overwhelmed attention-span zeroed in on solely Kent's inauspicious umbreon as the yellow eyed ACE trainer gave it orders. "Umbreon, follow me! We have to help Sabrina with that gengar!"

Umbreon looked up at its trainer with assertive eyes as Kent said a few choice words to the boys before leaving their side, "Stay here! This will be quick! Don't do anything unnecessary!"

Both boys nodded as Kent swiftly turned around and darted off with Umbreon close by his side.

Ash kept his eyes glued on Kent while the ACE trainer and his umbreon charged ahead toward Sabrina and Ariana. While using his eyes to follow Kent, Ash noticed that the elite level trainer was presently the focal point of everyone's attention. All of the pokemon stared at him, out of the corner of their eyes, as they continued to fend off their corresponding opponents.

Ariana's gengar even managed to throw a dark purple, ghostly sphere – which Ash assumed to be Shadow Ball – at Kent, but it was quickly nullified by Umbreon, who used some kind of pulse made up of black energy to intercept the gengar's long-ranged assault. Gengar's attention was subsequently stolen back by Kaz, who used a Shadow Ball of his own to knock the ghost-type's corporeal form back.

Ash was pretty sure that alakazam couldn't naturally learn Shadow Ball, which meant that Kaz had probably been artificially taught the ghost-type technique with a TM. Sabrina had been training Kaz for more than a decade after all. It had most certainly already mastered its congenital moveset. Nowadays, the majority of his training probably consisted of grasping pertinent TM moves, strengthening and honing its current moveset, and creating signature techniques by fusing two or more natural moves together.

Kent had also managed to procure the attention of Sabrina and Ariana. Ash didn't know exactly when they had noticed the ACE trainer's presence, but he assumed it probably happened at the same time Electivire and Scizor engaged their targets. Ash wouldn't put it past Sabrina to have noticed their presence even prior to their arrival, but the ten-year-old boy had a tough time believing that.

Before Kent's intervention, Sabrina had been preoccupied in a stalemate. Despite her incredible skill-level, her pokemon were still at a disadvantage. Unfortunately, it was one of the biggest drawbacks of specializing in a specific typing. Every once in a while, you came across an opponent that could take advantage of all of your weaknesses.

Ariana had a team consisting of Sabrina's natural bane. The fact that Sabrina was matching Ariana blow for blow just showed how good Sabrina truly was. Pure psychic-types weren't supposed to stand a ghost of a chance against dark-types, especially dark pokemon of this caliber. However, Sabrina's psychics were different. They had been trained to battle under disadvantageous circumstances. Their adeptness in this battle proved that.

Unlike Sabrina, who was hard to read because of her droid-like disposition, Ash could see Ariana's feelings towards Kent's arrival depicted on her face. Regardless of her natural beauty, the woman's attractiveness had dwindled now that she was outwardly showing her true colors. The woman had a devilish scowl where her pleasant smile used to be, and her sparkling, red eyes no longer resembled ruby red jewels, but rather projected an image of Hell itself.

Her face had blotches of black soot from the surrounding battle, and her makeup was a sweaty disaster. Ariana's hair was no longer burnished, albeit frizzy and frayed. The Rocket executive's pristine, white uniform had been tattered and charred, and in the places where her body had been exposed, due to the tears in her attire, scarlet red blood dripped through her uniform.

It was pretty apparent that, compared to Sabrina, the battle had had a bigger physical effect on Ariana. Other than a few rips in her battle attire, and some scuff marks on her face, Sabrina didn't look to have taken any considerable damage. For the most part, she appeared exactly as she did when they split up back at the gym.

As Kent and Umbreon rapidly approached Ariana and Sabrina, Ash's concentration was naturally ripped away when he heard an ear-shattering shriek from across the battlefield. The cry belonged to the exotic purple feline, who was lying on the ground bloody and unconscious. Kent's scizor stood over it with one of its claws hovering over the foreign pokemon's throat. At first glance, Ash was worried that the steel/bug-type was going for the kill. But, then he realized that it was simply subduing it.

Scizor's quick defeat of the feline solidified his theory that it was a dark-type. Dark-types were one of the few types that were extremely vulnerable to a bug-type's strange, alien-like techniques. Much like how the purple feline was using its type-advantage to overwhelm Sabrina's alakazam, Scizor probably used a flurry of powerful bug-type attacks to incapacitate the dark specimen.

Sabrina's alakazam that had been previously facing off against the dark-type acknowledged scizor's victory with a slight nod before vanishing from its position by means of teleportation. Ash was curious to find out where it teleported to, but his curiosity was soon quenched while the dark-haired boy drifted his line of sight back over to Kent and his Umbreon.

The male alakazam took no time to rest. He used Teleport to instantaneously come to the aid of Arcanine and Espee, who were finishing off the gigantic muk. Neither Arcanine nor Espee necessarily needed the help, albeit it would quicken the process.

If muk were a typical poison-type, it would have been defeated a long time ago. Unfortunately, it wasn't. Due to their aqueous body-type's, muk were extremely durable life-forms capable of absorbing a multitude of different physical and elemental attacks.

Muk wasn't able to absorb psychic and fire techniques, though, so it was getting shredded by the current onslaught of attacks. Nevertheless, muk had a lot of stamina, and it took an effective sustained attack to defeat it. Its eventual demise was eminent, although it would probably out last the rest of Ariana's pokemon.

As Ash concentrated back on Kent and Umbreon, he saw that the dark eevee evolution and Kaz had already meshed their battle styles in order to quickly take out Ariana's gengar. Umbreon had enshrouded itself in dark energy, and was using a technique Ash recognized as Feint Attack, in order to accurately deal large chunks of damage to the vulnerable ghost-type. Whereas Kaz was using Umbreon's presence opportunistically in order to hit the gengar with super-effective balls of ghostly energy.

While Umbreon and Kaz took care of the gengar, Sabrina and Kent converged on Ariana in order to make the arrest. Ash didn't know why, but for some reason, Sabrina wasn't using her psychic powers to restrain Ariana. Maybe it had something to do with mental barriers, or it quite possibly could be related to the fact that Sabrina needed Ariana's memories so that she could find out Team Rocket's motive for attempting to steal the Master Ball.

Ash was just guessing...he didn't know for sure. However, whatever the reason was, the dark-haired boy was intrigued. He would have thought that Sabrina would have no problem detaining a non-psychic like Arian—

—"Ash, look out!" screamed Austin with desperation in his voice.

Ash frantically turned around in response to Austin's plea. He anxiously jumped and jerked when he spotted a big feral raticate cantering towards him. In the midst of all of the chaos, Ash had failed to notice its approach. His peripherals also registered that two more raticate were closing in on Austin and Golduck, which made sense as to why Golduck hadn't taken out Ash's assailant on sight.

As the impending raticate leaped forward to strike, Ash's instincts triggered, and he curled his fists into a ball. Team Rocket's pokemon were well known for their mercilessness. The impending raticate was, without a doubt, attacking to kill. However, Ash wouldn't go down without a fight.

A ten-year-old boy hardly stood a chance against a mature raticate, but that didn't matter. There was no way he was just going to close his eyes and allow the rodent to dig into his flesh without some kind of retaliation.

While Ash's adrenaline skyrocketed, and he prepared to connect his adolescent fist into the rodent's maw, he was suddenly reminded why he had been able to stand confidently amongst the disarray in the first place. Almost too fast for Ash to comprehend, Haunter emerged from his shadow.

With murderous eyes and malignant intent, Haunter reacted in an instant, thrusting his black, shining fist at the fully-evolved rodent.

The Sucker Punch sent raticate flying into a nearby building. There was a loud crash as the vehement rat heedlessly triggered the destruction of a large glass windowpane.

Ash's eyes instantly pivoted over to Austin and Golduck, who were still busy fending off one of the raticate with the water-type's Hydro Pump. At this point in time, Ash was able to see Golduck's exhaustion clearly. Holding Light Screen for so long had taken its toll. Stamina-wise, he was definitely on his last leg.

"Haunter, help Golduck finish off that—"

"Don't bother!" interrupted Austin. "Golduck can handle this! Take care of the grunts!"

"Grunts!?" blustered Ash, curiously, with raised eyebrows.

"There are two grunts up ahead!" bellowed Austin as he pointed forward at a tandem of fleeing men in Rocket uniforms. "They're the ones that sent out the raticate! Get 'em before they escape!"

"Gotchya!" bellowed Ash as he pointed forward towards the Rockets. "Go take them down, Haunter! Knock them out! No killing!"

Haunter's slanted eyes flickered between blood red and white as he seemingly tried to get a grip over his congenital thirst for blood.

At this point, there was plenty of proof that his murderous instincts came out when Ash was in danger. But, Ash could tell that his behavior was involuntary. Hopefully, over time, Ash would be able to help Haunter dull his inherent bloodlust.

To Ash's evident dismay, now was not that time. The dark-haired boy gulped as Haunter's eyes settled on red, and the rest of his facial expression depicted depravity.

The ghost-type let out a quick burst of ghoulish, sadistic laughter as he took off in a blur. Haunter left behind a trail of ghostly energy while he closed in on his prey. Ash's heart sank as he witnessed his, typically friendly, poltergeist behaving like an utter fiend. The two grunts abruptly looked back in fear as they felt Haunter's looming form.

Once he was close enough, the crazed ghost pokemon used his shadowy hands to simultaneously grab both of the Rockets by the shirt collars. The two corrupt men let out muffled cries as their bodies jerked back, falling victim to severed momentum's nasty whiplash.

Upon hitting the ground, one of the Rockets was instantly knocked unconscious as his head turbulently smacked against the asphalt. Blood leaked out of the back of his head, forming an ominous red puddle on the blacktop. Ash cringed at the sight. The amount of blood that flowed from the Rocket's head made the ten-year-old boy consider the possibility that he was dead.

The other Rocket lay sprawled on the ground. He had a few scrapes, but he didn't look to bear anything that Ash would consider a serious injury. When the Rocket saw Haunter's malicious eyes stare down at him, he desperately tried to crawl away.

Ash's heart sank even deeper as he saw Haunter raise his hands in preparation for a Night Shade attack. Ash stared ahead shocked as he watched Haunter charge his claws with dark, spectral energy.

"No! Please, don't! I won't resist! Just don't kill me!" begged the Rocket, fear evident in his voice.

"Ash, stop staring like an idiot, and call him off!" bellowed Austin, at the top of his lungs, as Golduck finished off the last of the three raticate. "He's going to kill him!"

Ash snapped back to reality as he tried to reach out with his voice. What came out the first time was a muffled squeak, a result of the smoky atmosphere. However, with a second try, he managed to get his vocal chords to breach through the smoke that had penetrated his lungs.

"No, Haunter, stop! This is wrong!"

As Ash's voice traveled across the street, Haunter abruptly froze. Ash whispered a small prayer under his breath, desperately hoping that he had gotten through. He already had three, maybe four, Rocket's deaths on his conscious. He didn't want anymore.

Ash didn't want Haunter to stain his shadowy hands in blood. The dark-haired boy definitely didn't want his friend to be that kind of ghost.

When Haunter suddenly ceased his Night Shade, and the red that filled his eyes faded, Ash unleashed a massive sigh of relief. The dark-haired boy muttered a thank you under his breath as he watched Haunter look around in confusion. It appeared as if his surge of savagery had left him in a state of befuddlement.

With Austin and Golduck following closely behind him, Ash ran over to Haunter, completely disregarding the Rocket that was lying flat on his face having a mental breakdown. He was most likely crazy to begin with, but the near-death experience had sent him into a loophole of mindless rambling.

Ash almost felt sorry for the guy, but right now, his primary focus was Haunter. His pokemon's well-being meant way more to him than the sanity of a Rocket that had tried to kill him. Ash just didn't want his pokemon, or himself, to ever resort to killing. As long as the Rocket was alive, Ash didn't really care what his current condition was.

"Haunter, what happened?" crooned Ash in a soft voice. The explosions had ceased in the background, and all that could be heard was the crepitation of the surrounding flames. "Are you okay?"

The shadowy poltergeist looked at Ash with a disoriented expression, unsure of what his trainer was talking about.

"After you sent that raticate flying, I told you to knockout the grunts," said Ash as he pointed toward the two grunts on the ground.

Golduck was subduing the conscious, crazed grunt while Austin was checking the other grunts vitals.

"You lost control. Luckily, I stopped you. Otherwise, you would have killed both of them."

The apparition looked down at both of the Rockets with curious eyes. Ash thought he saw a look of recognition course throughout Haunter's expression before the ghost-type looked back up at Ash with an extremely guilty countenance.

Despite Haunter's look of guilt, Ash could tell that the ghost-type wasn't surprised by his actions. If Ash had to guess, he would say that Haunter was well aware of his murderous tendencies.

"I know it wasn't what you wanted," said Ash as he patted in between the spikes on Haunter's head, "but we have to get a grip over this. Killing is never okay, no matter what. I know you are protective of me, but you can't lose control like that."

A look of contemplation formed across Haunter's face as he looked down at the ground. It was clear that the ghost-type had been severely convicted, which meant that Ash had gotten his point across. He would never give up on his gem of a ghost-type, no matter what, but the League wasn't very forgiving of pokemon that took lives. They were simply labeled as too dangerous and either locked up or put down.

Ash would be lost if that ever happened to any of his pokemon, thus he would do whatever he needed in order to ensure that Haunter and Pidgeotto remained in control, even when Ash, or another member of the team, was in danger.

"You should get some rest," said Ash as he unclipped Haunter's great ball from the extra docking clip that Sabrina had given him after dinner last night. "We'll talk this all through later."

Haunter responded by solemnly nodding his body up and down as he waited for sequester. In return, Ash proceeded to press the button on Haunter's great ball, returning him, before reattaching the upgraded capture device to his belt.

"I think you handled that well," said Austin as he finished wrapping the unconscious Rocket's head in the ripped up piece of cloth that Kent had previously tied around his arm. "These are the risks you face when you train a ghost-type. At least Haunter has a conscious, it'll make dealing with his instincts a lot easier."

Ash unleashed a sigh as he ignored Austin's comments, "That guy's alive, right?"

"I wouldn't be wrapping his wound if he wasn't," retorted Austin as the blood from the deep cut on his arm dripped down to the ground. "He's lost a lot of blood, and he'll have one hell of a concussion, but he's not dead. His breathing is just fine."

"Thank god..." said Ash as he released a sigh, "What should we do with them—"

—"Please don't kill me!" blurted the conscious Rocket as Golduck used Disable to immobilize him from the neck down.

"We're not gonna' freaking kill you, man!" retaliated Austin, annoyed. "Now, shut the hell up!"

The Rocket ceased his idiotic rambling while Austin regathered his thoughts in order to answer Ash.

"Err...I'll stick back and watch 'em while you go see what's going on with Sabrina and Kent," said Austin with glazed eyes. "We can't carry them, and I need to rewrap my arm before I lose any more blood."

It was rather clear that the loss of blood, and all of the smoke, was starting to make Austin delirious. Ash was honestly impressed that he was still conscious. He didn't necessarily feel comfortable leaving Austin alone right now, but then again, he had Golduck. The water/psychic-type would know what to do if Austin's condition plummeted.

"Okay," replied Ash, "I'll go see what's going on and come right back. Once I talk to Sabrina and Kent, we'll get you out of here. You need to see Nurse Joy as soon as possible."

"Sounds good," replied Austin after taking a deep, exhausted breath, "Don't worry about me too much, though. I'll be just fine."

"Alright," said Ash with a smirk as he started to walk back towards the battle zone, "I'm holding you to that."

"That's fine with me," answered Austin in between grimaces. "Don't forget to release one of your pokemon. In this kind of situation, it's always better to be with a friend. You never know when something might jump out at you."

"You're right," said Ash as he reached for Charmander's pokeball, "now focus on getting your arm wrapped up. I'll be right back."

Austin simply waved him off while Ash turned around and headed back toward the intersection. Along the way, he released Charmander, who was ecstatic to see him. Charmander had a few scuff marks here and there and was still a little winded, but for the most part, his time spent in his pokeball had helped him recover from the battle in the underground hideout.

The fire-lizard responded extremely well to their current environment. The charmander line lived in conditions even hotter and smokier than this after all. To Charmander, the present condition of Saffron's northern district probably felt nice, albeit the fire-lizard was clearly able to tell that the situation was, or had been, dire. His serious disposition corresponded to their present circumstances.

Ash and Charmander walked side-by-side, alert, as they weaved around a large burning building in order to get to the site where the battle against Ariana had taken place. The scene was relieving, but also tragic. From what Ash could tell, all of Ariana's pokemon had been defeated by Kent and Sabrina, but regardless of their affiliation with Team Rocket, seeing pokemon beaten-up as badly as they were was nauseating.

Ariana's honchkrow was lying on the ground battered and unconscious. There was a sporadic trickle of electricity that diffused from its body, and a large scorch mark stretched out across the asphalt.

Electivire sat comfortably against a nearby, bent streetlight. One eye was glued on Ash as he walked by while the other stayed planted on Honchkrow. It was rather clear that the dark avian wasn't going to be getting up anytime soon, but Kent had probably ordered Electivire to keep an eye on it just to be safe. The ACE trainer definitely didn't want to be caught off guard by a desperate honchkrow.

Muk was splattered all over the middle of the intersection. Ash may not have been an expert on the species, but he knew enough about pokemon to assume that it was still alive. Muk weren't solid life-forms. Their bodies were entirely made up of sludge, void of any kind of organ system. They were very durable and tough creatures; therefore, Ash assumed that something like this wouldn't kill one.

Of course, he could be wrong. Ash honestly just wanted to believe that Sabrina and Kent's pokemon weren't trained to be quite so merciless. Killing Ariana's pokemon in such a manner wasn't necessary.

The League had more humane ways to take care of pokemon that were too corrupt to be rehabilitated, such as lifelong detainment or lethal injection. Being silenced by dismemberment wasn't exactly a cordial way to take care of a situation like this, even if the pokemon of topic was a bizarre, fluidic creature like muk.

Arcanine was no longer in close proximity to muk, but Espee and one of Sabrina's alakazam were. They stared ahead at muk's charred and scattered body with focused eyes as if they were waiting for something to happen. Maybe they were weary of the muk's body reforming. It seemed like a logical enough explanation. Ash half-expected them to physically acknowledge his presence while he walked by, but then he remembered an important fact: they were psychics. They didn't need to see him with their eyes in order to be aware of his presence.

Kent's scizor still had its claw hovering around the purple feline's throat. Ash could tell that the steel/bug-type desired to kill the dark-type. Its eyes were wild, but there was an odd hint of restraint.

Scizor had the same kind of look that Pidgeotto had when he defeated his opponents and yearned to finish them off. Much like Pidgeotto, the dark-haired boy had a feeling that scizor was a complicated specimen. Its sadistic nature was probably being suppressed by its reverence for its trainer.

Scizor's self-control gave Ash hope. Its desire was right in front of its face. The feline was about as evil as a pokemon could get. The world would probably be better without it. However, going off of the fact that Kent had stopped Pidgeotto from killing the persian and arbok, it was clear that he didn't agree with killing in the name of justice. Scizor's bloodlust was apparent, but it respected the rules of its trainer. One day, Ash hoped that he could teach Pidgeotto and Haunter how to sustain self-control of this level…

Ash and Charmander had to crossover to the other side of the intersection in order to reach Sabrina and Kent, so they had gotten a chance to take in the entirety of their surroundings. On top of the effect that Ariana's decimated team had on them, the aftermath of all of the fighting was just as appalling.

The encompassing fires were raging even more intensely than before, and the smoke was getting thicker and much harder on the lungs. The asphalt that Ash had chosen to walk on was fine, but there were various other parts that were smoldering and some were even melted.

Street lights and traffic lights were not just uprooted, but at some point a few of them had actually been thrown. How or why? Ash had no idea. All he knew was that they were definitely not in their original location. One had even been pierced through the second-story of a proximate apartment building.

Cars were in ruins. A few had actually been crumpled into balls of machinery, probably the result of one of Sabrina's psychics using their telekinetic powers creatively in order to make an effective long-range weapon.

Ash tried his best not to let any of the surrounding calamity bother him too much, but it was hard, especially as horrific memories of the SS Anne simultaneously pulsed amongst his thoughts.

Charmander used his tiny claws to latch onto Ash's pant leg, not because he was scared, but rather on behalf of the fact that he wanted to provide Ash with support. All of Ash's pokemon had gotten pretty good at sensing when he was troubled. Charmander was exceptional at this, probably because the little guy had already been through so much personal turmoil within his short life.

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