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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23. Kanto 7 Part 3

After a bowl of macaroni and cheese, courtesy of Sabrina's personal chef, Ash and Growlithe found themselves, once again, standing in the center of the Saffron Gym's arena. Sabrina stood opposite of him as she detached two great balls from her fully loaded trainer belt.

"Let's not waste any time," said Sabrina with a blank expression. "Release Haunter and Clefairy, we will begin the external psychic exposure momentarily."

Ash nodded his head, although he was slightly taken back by Sabrina's forwardness. He proceeded to unclip Haunter's great ball and Clefairy's pokeball before simultaneously pressing both release buttons.

The indisputable sound of multiple pokeball releases rang out amidst the empty arena as two bright flashes of light blended together. They coexisted for a brief moment before abruptly vanishing into oblivion, revealing the alert forms of Haunter and Clefairy.

Ash's two friends' eyes darted back and forth, and they instantly put up their guards in anticipation for battle. As soon as they caught sight of Sabrina, without any of her pokemon, they relaxed. They knew why they were here. Back at the Pokemon Center, Ash had told them that they would be training with Sabrina in order to learn how to put up mental barriers.

"It's time to train guys," said Ash. "Do you remember what I told you? We will be learning how to defend against psychics today."

Clefairy and Haunter nodded their heads in order to indicate that they understood their current predicament.

"It looks like they're ready," said Sabrina with a nod as she prepared to release whatever pokemon were in her great balls. "I am going to release my two oldest alakazam, Kaz and Midna. Do not be alarmed, they will not harm you."

Ash watched attentively as a bright light filled the arena. When it finally faded, two absurdly powerful alakazam stood in its wake.

One of them Ash recognized right off the bat. It was Kaz. His long, aged mustache made him clearly distinguishable. The wise, old psi pokemon looked at Ash with vacant eyes, albeit Ash could see a sliver of recognition. The dark-haired boy simultaneously mused about the eventual challenge of training a psychic pokemon. It would be fun trying to figure out what they were thinking.

This was the first time Ash had ever seen the other alakazam. The alakazam known as Midna looked acutely similar to Yin. Judging by the fact that Midna was female, and Sabrina's second strongest alakazam, the ten-year-old boy assumed that she was Kaz's mate. Therefore, the uncanny resemblance to Yin made sense, since Midna would thus be her mother.

Midna looked at Ash with a curious expression. She was slightly easier to read than Kaz. Although her facial expression remained fixed, like most psychic pokemon, her eyes were very telling. Ash could easily decipher that she was intrigued by him.

After staring at Ash for a few seconds, Midna brought her gaze over to Haunter, Clefairy and Growlithe, who she scanned over just as attentively. On account of the fact that her eyes remained widened and dilated, they appeared to be just as interested in Ash's pokemon as they were him.

"Midna senses your potential," said Sabrina matter-of-factly. "She is my most savvy alakazam. While Kaz is my best battler, Midna is by far my most knowledgeable pokemon. She is an expert of the mind and is very adroit when it comes to performing meticulous psychic feats. She will be the one to perform the external psychic exposure."

In response to Sabrina's words, Midna gave Ash a slight bow. It was rather clear that she was also Sabrina's most sociable alakazam, albeit that really wasn't saying much. In the brief amount of time that Ash had spent around Kaz, Yin and Yang, it was pretty clear that they were very robotic in regard to their emotions, much like their trainer.

Ash reacted to Midna's courteous bow with a simple smile and wave as a question reverberated throughout his psyche. "Wait, if Midna is going to be performing the external psychic exposure, why did you release Kaz as well?"

"Kaz is just here to be with Midna," replied Sabrina. "Because of all of the chaos, they haven't been able to spend a lot of time together. I presume that you have already put together the fact that Kaz and Midna are mates, right? Typically, they are almost inseparable. However, as of late, we haven't had the luxury of downtime. So, I thought it would be nice to give them this time to coincide together."

"Got it," said Ash as he dropped his gaze toward an anxious Haunter and Clefairy. "Anyways, I think they're ready. Can we begin?"

"Yes," answered the fair-skinned gym leader as she also focused her line of sight on Haunter and Clefairy. "However, before we begin, I would like to explain exactly what it is that we will be doing. Even though external psychic exposure isn't an overly complicated process, building a solid mental barrier takes a lot of concentration."

"What do you mean?" asked Ash with a curious expression.

"Essentially, Midna will be using small waves of the technique, Psychic, to directly infiltrate Haunter and Clefairy's minds. She will not strike. She will merely invade and linger. Most of the time, when a psychic pokemon attacks, they do so quickly and efficiently. It is not wise for a psychic to attack with long, drawn out techniques unless they are absolutely certain that their power greatly exceeds their opponents' mental defenses."

"Why?" questioned Ash.

"Because the more a pokemon is exposed to psychic power," retorted Sabrina with vacant eyes, "the less vulnerable they are to it. Basically, the reason why external psychic exposure is such an efficient way to put up mental barriers is because, when done correctly, it is a safe and controlled way to help a pokemon that doesn't bear any kind of affiliation with the psychic typing to gain experience in regard to subconsciously recognizing and repelling psychic incursions."

"You're losing me," said Ash with a befuddled expression, "Can you explain that in simpler terms?"

Sabrina released a sigh as she took a moment to think of a suitable way to get her point across. "Okay, think of your mind like any other part of the body. Without being pushed in a particular way, our bodies' various parts will eventually become feeble and weak. Your body doesn't just naturally develop to be in good shape. Even with the best of genes, you have to condition it. You have to provide it with healthy sustenance. You need to expose it to things that will help it grow correctly."

She habitually ran her fingers through her hair as she paused.

"In this regard, the mind is no different than any other muscle in your body. Without proper conditioning, it is as susceptible to mental assailments as a newborn grass-type is to a wildfire. A non-psychic must learn how to strengthen their mental fortitude and resolve to a point where your mind actually begins to manifest a cognitive shield around what it wants to protect."

"A shield, but how is that possible? Where does it come from?" questioned Ash with a look of bewilderment.

"The mind is a complex thing that we will never be able to fully understand. I do not know the full details pertaining why or how the brain is capable of this. All I can tell you is what I've been able to observe."

"And that is?" queried Ash with an interested intonation.

"The brain is extremely adaptable, and the intricacy that is involved with allowing pokemon and humans to do even the most rudimentary of tasks is absolutely astonishing. The brain is the foundation of everything us humans and pokemon do. Everything starts in the mind: our thoughts, our personalities, our senses, our movements, without the brain and all of its functions none of these things would be possible," said Sabrina with a slight hint of conviction in her voice.

Ash looked down and was surprised to see that Growlithe, Haunter and Clefairy were listening attentively. Apparently, they were just as entranced by what Sabrina was saying as he was, maybe even more so.

"To stretch this concept even further," said Sabrina, "the mind of a pokemon is capable of learning and managing a plethora of absurdly complex techniques. Their brains are even more flexible and adaptable than ours, allowing them to learn moves that exist outside of their natural typing and skill set."

A bit of excitement flashed in Sabrina's eyes as she continued.

"How is it that, with the help of a TM, an alakazam can learn Charge Beam without an internal electrical conductor? A TM doesn't provide a pokemon with anything more than information, so how is it that both Kaz and Midna can use a technique that transcends their biological skill set? Can you come up with an answer, Ash?"

Ash looked at Sabrina with disoriented eyes and a confused expression. "N-no, I can't. I honestly have no idea."

"I didn't expect you to," answered Sabrina. "This is a very complex theory. The reason why a pokemon is capable of performing such a miraculous feat is because their minds can literally make something out of nothing. A TM allows you to upload all of a technique's tangible properties into a pokemon's brain. A pokemon's mind is so powerful that with the right information they can perform almost any move."

Ash's eyes reflected disbelief as he tried to make sense of Sabrina's words. "So, you're saying that any pokemon can learn any move?"

"In theory, yes," replied Sabrina in a monotone intonation, "but in actuality, the chance that, let's say, an arcanine can learn a move contrary to its typing, such as Hydro Pump, is almost zero."

"But, why's that?" asked Ash, "if a pokemon can learn any move by simply processing the technique's information than why couldn't you just give an arcanine a Hydro Pump TM? Wouldn't that work?"

"No, it wouldn't," retorted Sabrina. "Do you want to know why?"

"Of course I do!" blurted Ash, "please, tell me!"

Sabrina crossed her arms as she began to explain.

"The reason that it is nearly impossible for an arcanine to learn Hydro Pump, even with the help of a TM, is because we as humans haven't figured out a way to artificially teach an arcanine that technique. It's rather apparent that Hydro Pump isn't in an arcanine's natural moveset. However, neither is a same-type move like Overheat. In order to teach an arcanine the move Overheat you have to use a TM that has been specifically programmed to work for arcanine and a number of other suitable species."

She brought her hand up to her chin as she continued to explain.

"Every single TM that has ever been invented has been made applicable to a certain list of pokemon. For example, the TM for Overheat is applicable to the arcanine species, meaning that an arcanine can use it. As a matter of fact, with the help of a TM, nearly every fire-type pokemon can learn the move Overheat because it is easy for a TM developer to procure the information required to teach a pokemon of the same typing as the technical machine the specified move."

"Okay," answered Ash, "so—"

"Before you interject, let me finish," interrupted Sabrina, "It is highly likely that I will answer whatever questions you have momentarily."

Ash simply nodded, slightly disappointed in himself for behaving like his overeager friend Austin.

"Anyways, what I'm trying to get at is that, with the correct calibrations, we humans are able to take advantage of the adaptability of a pokemon's brain in order to teach them things that should otherwise be impossible. An example of this would be that under no natural circumstance should a mankey be able to learn Overheat. Even by means of meticulous breeding, it is impossible for a Mankey to acquire the move Overheat without a TM."

The psychic virtuoso took a breath before carrying on.

"The only reason that the Overheat TM works on the mankey species is because Silph Co. scientists, and their collaborators, have found a way to use the species' innate aggression and fury as an ignitor, instead of a congenital internal flame. Man was able to find an alternative route to teach a pokemon a move that should, by all means, be impossible to learn, by virtue of a pokemon's extraordinary brain."

Sabrina paused before giving Ash a look that portrayed that now was an appropriate time for him to speak.

"I think I get it," said Ash, "so you're basically saying that because of the power of their minds, pokemon are capable of learning just about every move out there. However, it takes an artificially made TM that has been written to take advantage of a pokemon's specific mental attributes in order to access the means to learn the technique."

"Exactly," retorted Sabrina, "and the biggest flaw is that figuring out what those mental attributes are happens to be a strenuous and mind bending task. Most of the time, scientists only come up with an end-product by chance, and that's after countless hours of study and experimentation."

Sabrina paused for a brief moment to make sure that Ash was following.

"It's obviously a different story for pokemon learning a technique, by means of TM, when they already have all of the biological parts to perform the technique, such as an arcanine in relation to the TM Overheat. However, the chance that anyone will ever come up with the right formula to artificially teach an arcanine a contrapositive move like Hydro Pump is slim to none."

"I definitely understand what you're saying now," replied Ash with a curious expression. "But, we're not giving any of my pokemon TM's, so what does this have to do with mental barriers?"

"I knew you were going to ask that," said Sabrina with a slight smirk. "In regard to mental barriers, this information is important because it gives you a better understanding of what the brain of a pokemon is capable of."

"If what I've said is true, and a pokemon is actually capable of making something out of nothing just by acquiring the right information, then with a significant amount of knowledge concerning psychic energy, shouldn't a pokemon be able to learn how to create mental protection by means of their own cognition?"

Ash stared forward in bewilderment as he tried to make sense of what Sabrina had just said. "I'm sorry, Sabrina. But, you've lost me again."

Sabrina released yet another frustrated sigh before replying. "Basically, the reason pokemon are able to create mental barriers, by result of a process such as external psychic exposure, is because the action of exposing the pokemon's brain to placid psychic energy gives them an opportunity to subconsciously dissect its properties and obtain the information required to instinctually protect themselves, creating a mental barrier out of a minuscule understanding of psychic powers."

"Um…yeah," drawled Ash as he rubbed his temples, "I think I've maxed out on the amount of information I can digest for the time being. Is it okay if we just start? I've got a basic understanding of what's going on. Any more information will probably just go right over my head."

"Very well," answered Sabrina with a stiff shrug. "I suppose it is a lot of information to learn in such a short amount of time. However, it will be important to comprehend all of this if you ever plan on training a psychic pokemon of your own, or if you want to put up mental barriers over a pokemons' mind without my help."

"Gotcha," replied Ash, "I definitely want you to teach me as much as possible, but you'll have to be patient with me. I'll learn it, although I don't have a lot of experience with psychic-types. This is my first time hearing a lot of the stuff that you're saying, and it's kind of hard to process it all. That's why I want to just start instead of waste any time. We have a few days; I'm sure I'll be able to comprehend everything by then. But, for now, anticipation is clogging my ability to think, and I have a feeling my pokemon are on the same page as me."

In response to Ash's comment, Haunter, Clefairy and Growlithe let out grunts of affirmation, signifying that they were antsy to begin.

"Okay then," said Sabrina with an emotionless nod, "I understand. We shall begin."

A smile crept across Ash's face as he watched Sabrina's eyes pivot over to her wise, female alakazam, "Remember what we talked about, Midna? Keep the Psychic at a low-level to start out."

Midna's mustache wiggled as she nodded her head up and down.

Sabrina brought her gaze back over to Ash before raising a question, "Who will be going first?"

Ash looked down at all three of his pokemon, and was about to ask which one of them wanted to be the first to undergo external psychic exposure, when Clefairy voluntarily stepped forward.

She had a dauntless disposition, although Ash could tell by the look in her eyes that she was slightly nervous, which was to be expected. As far as Ash knew, this would be Clefairy's first time coming into direct contact with pure psychic energy. And even though it wasn't a hostile situation, Ash understood that apprehension towards an unknown feeling was only natural.

"I guess Clefairy wants to go first," said Ash before shifting his attention to address his fairy-type, "right?"

Clefairy nodded her head as she focused her eyes on Sabrina and Midna.

Sabrina gave the fairy pokemon a small smile, which was obviously rare, before bending over to meet Clefairy at eye level. "Your bravery is refreshing. Few females possess the kind of courage I can see in your countenance. You must make your trainer proud."

Ash watched as Clefairy seemingly blushed on account of Sabrina's kind praise. The fairy pokemon had to look down at the ground in order to hide the redness that had invaded her cheeks.

Ash knew that Clefairy's bravery wasn't just inherent, but also stemmed from her desire to not appear as weak to the rest of Ash's male pokemon. Getting praised by an exponentially powerful female, like Sabrina, meant a lot to the fairy-type, who spent the majority of her time trying to outperform the gaggle of boys around her.

Sabrina proceeded to scratch Clefairy affectionately behind the ears, resulting in a purr-like response, before standing up from her crouched over position.

"Now, it's time we actually got started," said Sabrina, "the external psychic exposure itself shouldn't take too long. Clefairy is a mystic element type, so she should be used to recognizing and bending energy that is similar to a psychics. You've chosen two pokemon that will pick up on this fast. With my help, we should be able to do this a lot quicker than usual."

"Sounds good," replied Ash with a smile. "Is there anything that you need me to do?"

"Just step back," answered Sabrina with a bland expression as she waved him away and started to backup herself. "Give Midna and Clefairy plenty of space. It's possible that she might have a bad reaction."

"A bad reaction?" asked Ash as he gestured for Haunter and Growlithe to follow him while he backed away from the center of the arena, "what do you mean a bad reaction?"

"Sometimes, during external psychic exposure, the recipient sporadically lashes out," replied Sabrina. "It's usually not that bad, but it's not wise to get too close. Chances are Clefairy will react just fine, especially since she is a mystic element type. However, we may as well be safe."

"Gotcha," mumbled Ash under his breath as he put a decent amount of distance between himself and Clefairy.

He felt Growlithe brush up against his leg and could hear Haunter's ghoulish laughter while he stared ahead at his lone, female pokemon.

"Good luck, Clefairy!" bellowed the ten-year-old boy as he watched Midna draw closer to the pink fairy pokemon.

Clefairy looked back at her trainer with an assertive expression before she raised one of her fists confidently in the air. It was pretty apparent that the fairy-type was trying to depict confidence to her trainer.

Ash couldn't help but reciprocate his friend by mirroring her movements. He raised his fist in the air, signifying that he believed in her strength. "You've got this, Clefairy! You'll be just fine!"

As Ash's support bearing inflection echoed within the gym's vacant arena, Sabrina's voice suddenly pierced through it, resonating an authoritative tone. "Clefairy, once Midna enters your mind, do not resist! Instead, simply observe the psychic energy and allow your mind to soak in its properties!"

She paused to take a breath.

"It may take a while, but eventually you will feel like you can grab onto it! When that happens, pull! It means that your mind is ready to consume the energy! From that point forward, you should at least have a foundational understanding of how to begin to construct a mental barrier!"

Clefairy nodded her head as Midna began to raise her spoons. They hovered over Clefairy's head in preparation to emit the Psychic wave.

Ash had to admit, he was overwhelmed. The amount of information that Sabrina had just spewed out, while she was trying to teach him about the mind, had the ten-year-old boy's head spinning. Not to mention the fact that Ash had no way to tell what would really be taking place in the upcoming moments. He couldn't see inside of Clefairy's head. He couldn't give her pointers on how to build a formidable mental barrier.

No, this was entirely up to her. She would have to figure this one out by herself. All Ash could do was watch until he could one day garner a better understanding of the complexities of the mind. Ash didn't have the means to give Clefairy advice and help her protect her psyche from psychic assailments. He hated not being able to do anything, but at least Clefairy was in good hands. Midna and Sabrina would help her acquire a suitable mental barrier.

"Midna, now!" hollered Sabrina.

Ash watched as a ray of mystifying, purple energy enshrouded itself around Midna's risen spoons before abruptly leaving the two silver conduits. It rapidly rushed towards Clefairy, resulting in a wide-eyed look of surprise from the pink fairy pokemon.

Ash's stomach slightly dropped as he watched the psychic energy phase into Clefairy's body, but he was able to relax as soon as he saw that Clefairy wasn't displaying any sort of painful reaction. Instead, the fairy-type simply stared in befuddlement as something stirred within her mind.

All of a sudden, a flash of bright blue energy was projected from Clefairy's eyes as she stood still. After the initial pulse, her eyes remained a steady auroral blue, which reminded Ash of the elder, telekinetic clefable back at Mt. Moon.

"What's happening!?" blustered Ash from across the arena. "She's okay, right!?"

"Do not worry, Ash Ketchum!" retorted Sabrina, "The blue in her eyes signifies an inner psychic presence! So far, so good, this is typical protocol!"

Midna kept her spoons held over Clefairy's head as the psychic energy coursed throughout the fairy pokemon's existence. The female alakazam's facial expression didn't show any emotion. However, Ash had failed to notice until now that her eyes were glowing just like Clefairy's, albeit they were pink instead of blue. Ash wasn't sure, but he guessed that this was due to the fact that Midna was maintaining the psychic energy within Clefairy's mind…

This went on for roughly thirty minutes. During that time, their predicament didn't fluctuate. Clefairy remained still and void of emotion. Her eyes continuously glowed a vivid, bright blue. Midna stood over her with a stiff posture. Her eyes never refrained to emit an auroral pink brilliance.

Nevertheless, despite the lack of movement, Ash never took his eyes off of Clefairy. While one of his friends was in such a focal stupor, there was absolutely no way he could check out of the situation. What if something happened? What if she needed him? Until Clefairy came out of her psychic trance, Ash would remain utterly fastened on her status.

Out of his peripherals, Ash could see that Growlithe and Haunter were just as focused as he was. Not only were they observing for themselves what external psychic exposure looked like, from an onlooker's perspective, but it was also evident that they worried about their friend.

Clefairy and Growlithe had been through a lot together, and Haunter and Clefairy had just recently become good friends. Both of them had a good relationship with Ash's female fairy-type, so it was only natural that they would worry. Besides, Ash was convinced that all of his pokemon cared for one another to some degree. Pidgeotto, the most quarrelsome of them all, had proven this when he saved Wartortle's life back in the underground hideout—

—Suddenly, Ash's rumination was severed when the blue in Clefairy's eyes swiftly faded, and she fell to the ground panting excessively. Simultaneously, Midna's eyes ceased their glow as she lowered her spoons.

The dark-haired boy instantly sprinted out toward the middle of the arena with Haunter and Growlithe trailing closely behind him. Concern began to rise within him as he neared his grounded fairy-type.

"Clefairy, what's wrong!?" wailed Ash frantically. "Are you alright!?"

"Ash Ketchum, do not fret," articulated Sabrina as she slowly approached Ash and his pokemon. "Clefairy is just fine. This method may not be painful, but it is extremely exhausting. She's just tired. Am I right, Clefairy?"

A smile stretched across Clefairy's face as she raised one of her tiny fists in the air. Ash wasn't sure whether it was a fist of triumph or simply a way to indicate that she was okay. Whatever the case, he was just happy to know that she was alright.

"Thank God," drawled Ash as he wiped the nervous sweat from his forehead. "I was worried there for a second."

Clefairy looked up at him with gentle eyes, seemingly flattered by Ash's genuine concern.

As Ash crouched down in order to get closer to Clefairy's level, he listened to Sabrina as she interacted with Midna.

"So, Midna, how did it go?" asked Sabrina, "It looked to have been a success from my end."

There was a momentary pause as Midna ostensibly communicated with Sabrina using telekinesis.

After a couple of seconds, Sabrina brought her gaze down to Ash as he gently scratched the fur behind Clefairy's pointed ears.

"What did she say?" Ash asked Sabrina as he felt Growlithe cuddle up next to his side.

A small smile formed across Sabrina's face, for the second time since Ash had arrived at the gym, before she responded. "According to Midna, it went well. She said that your Clefairy is very adept when it comes to manipulating mystic energy."

"She was able to process most of Psychic's properties relatively quickly, and her mind was able to begin constructing the groundworks for a solid mental barrier. Midna doesn't believe that she will need any more external psychic exposure. She has internalized everything she needs. Clefairy can complete the rest of the process on her own."

"Really!?" exclaimed Ash, "that's awesome!"

He quickly shifted his attention from Sabrina to Clefairy, "Great Job, Clefairy, I'm so proud of you!"

Clefairy smiled, once again, as Growlithe congratulated her with a jovial yip, and Haunter used one of his shadowy hands to playfully pat her on the head. The ghost-type flinched when Clefairy's eyes closed, afraid that he had somehow sent her into comatose, but Ash could tell that the fairy-type was just resting her eyes.

"It's fine, don't worry," crooned Ash as he petted in between the spikes on Haunter's back. "She's just tired."

Ash proceeded to unclip Clefairy's pokeball from his trainer belt as Haunter breathed a ghoulish sigh of relief. "She needs to take a nice, long break."

The dark-haired boy pivoted his eyes over to Sabrina before pressing the return button, "That's okay, right?"

"Yes," retorted Sabrina, "that is fine. Clefairy is done for the day. We will continue her mental barrier training tomorrow."

"Gotchya," answered Ash with a relieved intonation as he pressed the button on Clefairy's pokeball.

There was a tranquil smile on Clefairy's face as she was soaked in a blanket of ruby red light. Ash wasn't exactly sure what she was thinking, but it was probably something along the lines of satisfaction. Clefairy was a warrior, and few things made her happier than strengthening herself. More than likely, her serene smile derived from an overwhelming sense of accomplishment.

Once Clefairy had been returned, Ash stood up from his crouched over position before centering his focus on Sabrina, "So, what now?"

"Now," retorted Sabrina monotonously, "we repeat the process with Haunter."

A small smirk formed across Ash's face while Haunter let out a confident guffaw.

The next few days were definitely going to be interesting.

XXX

About an hour after their first session of mental barrier training, Ash stood in one of the arena's trainer boxes with Growlithe sitting loyally by his side. Standing directly in front of him was Charmander, who had his hands full trying to draw out enough of the draconic energy that was coursing throughout his veins in order to perform Dragon Rage.

They had started the process of learning Dragon Rage while Ash was traveling with Wallace and Austin to Saffron. During those few days, Ash and Charmander had spent the majority of their one-on-one time learning how to properly access the fire-lizard's draconic energy.

The pokedex said that Charmander's draconic energy was located deep within his internal flame. In order to use Dragon Rage, the lizard pokemon needed to learn how to sift through his inner furnace and separate the parts that were fused with inherent draconic energy.

Up to this point, Charmander was able to put forth a draconically infused ember. Essentially, it was an ember with tiny bits of draconic essence. It was a good start, but they had a lot of work to do before Charmander could filter out the fire and release a pure draconic shock wave.

Moves that were categorized outside of a pokemon's natural typing were always more difficult to learn than same-type moves. So far, Charmander's training with Ash had solely consisted of techniques that existed outside of Charmander's typing, such as Focus Punch and Dragon Rage. Due to this fact, Charmander's growth had been slower than the rest of Ash's pokemon, since he's had to spend much more time ironing out the basics of each move he's learned.

Be that as it may, it would pay off eventually. Charmander was accumulating quite the diverse moveset. In due time, his strength would catch up with his potential, and he would be an extremely formidable member of Ash's team.

Hopefully, Ash would have enough time to really work with Charmander over the next couple of days. Out of all of Ash's friends, he definitely needed the most work. The ten-year-old boy was hoping that his fire-lizard would evolve at some point between now and his battle against Erika. It would give Charmander the extra boost in strength that he needed in order to be a real factor in the battle against Celadon's young gym leader.

For the time being, though, all Ash could do was take advantage of the present moment. Sabrina had just recently left to attend Robert's press conference, so he had some free time to work with his other pokemon.

Ash wasn't quite sure what the exact agenda for tomorrow looked like, but Sabrina had made it clear that they would be working on raising and solidifying Clefairy and Haunter's mental barriers. Both mystic element users had ended their first session with Sabrina having created a solid foundation for their mental barriers.

Haunter ended up doing just as well as Clefairy, which was to be expected. Not only was Haunter a mystic element type, but he was also a pokemon that could be taught the move Psychic: the most frequently used move for external psychic exposure.

Psychic wasn't in a haunters' natural moveset, however, with the help of a TM, the ghost-type could easily be taught how to conjure psychic energy—which meant that somewhere amidst a haunter's incorporeal brain, scientists had garnered enough knowledge about the ghost-type's mental attributes to figure out the trigger for Psychic. And according to Sabrina, if scientists were able to figure out the formula to artificially teach a pokemon a move using a TM, the fragment of Haunter's species that was capable of learning Psychic must not have been that far out of reach in the first place.

Simply put, the psychic energy that Midna used to enter Haunter's mind wasn't so foreign to the ghost-type that he had to undergo multiple rounds of external psychic exposure. Instead, like Clefairy, he could work out the rest of his mental barrier on his own. Clefairy and Haunter might both need some pointers and instruction from Sabrina, but everything they needed to put up a mental barrier now existed within them.

As things stood now, Haunter and Clefairy were well on their way to acquiring strong mental barriers. However, right now, it was time for them to rest. Right before Sabrina had left for the press conference, she had specifically instructed him to let Haunter and Clefairy have the rest of the night off. The external psychic exposure had exhausted them, and they needed time to recuperate their energy.

Since Haunter and Clefairy were out of commission for the rest of the evening, Ash had originally thought about using the computer in his guest room to find a live feed of the press conference. It couldn't be too hard to find given that it was being streamed worldwide.

It definitely would have been an interesting watch, but Ash already had the inside scoop on what was going on. He had been a part of the mission to rescue Robert—it didn't get much better than that. There wasn't anything that was going to be announced during the press conference that Ash hadn't already been told by Robert himself.

The only reason that Ash could think of, in regard to watching the presser, was to see the reaction that Robert got when he stepped out into the public eye. The world would go crazy, although that wasn't really something that you could truly witness by means of a fourteen-inch computer screen.

Therefore, Ash decided that his time would be better spent training some of his pokemon that wouldn't be taking part in the external psychic exposure, especially the pokemon that would be participating in his fourth gym battle against Erika. Since Ash had already decided to give Growlithe some time to rest after the intense battle in Team Rocket's underground hideout, Charmander was the first that came to mind.

The low ceilings of the Saffron gym didn't particularly agree with Pidgeotto, and Ash would have to trek a long way to find a suitable place outside the gym to work with his avian on Agility. So, for now, any training with Pidgeotto would have to wait until he left Saffron.

After Ash finished working with Charmander, he planned on doing some light training with Ivysaur. The grass-type had earned a nice rest after his hard work during the mission, but a little work with Razor Leaf wouldn't be asking too much. For the most part, Ivysaur would just be sifting through his internal seed supply. He had yet to find the seed that could sprout into the blade-like leaf that Ivysaur needed in order to perform Razor Leaf, so until then, his training didn't particularly involve anything exhausting.

Anyways, all of that would come later. Right now, Charmander had his undivided attention. The fire-lizard was periodically spewing out bursts of draconically infused ember, desperately waiting for a breakthrough.

The pokedex said that a Charmander's draconic energy was something that got stronger with repetition. Just like the rest of his internal flame, he needed experience using his draconic energy in order for it to strengthen.

According to the pokedex, eventually it would get strong enough to where Charmander could easily separate it. When that finally happened, his draconic energy would no longer feel the need to latch onto his flames. Instead, it would dwell within him, apart from his internal flame, in a separate furnace-like organ.

"Keep it up, Charmander!" howled Ash encouragingly as the fire-lizard exhaustively propelled a multitude of purple-tinged fireballs.

Intermixed with Ash's cries of encouragement were Growlithe's loud, supportive yelps. Charmander and Growlithe were great friends after all. Whenever one was working hard the other was usually nearby, ready to offer their support. It was a culmination of their bond as fire-types, which was growing stronger each and every day.

Throughout the training session, Charmander's draconically infused fireballs were gradually starting to get purpler as the draconic energy within them increased. There was still a lot of work to do until Charmander's draconic power was potent enough to where he could try separating it from his flames, but at least they were making progress.

They continued this process, of Charmander putting forth draconically infused Embers, for quite some time until the fire-type was completely exasperated. By the time they finally finished, Charmander could barely stand. His short legs were wobbling and he was panting exhaustively.

"Good job, Charmander," crooned Ash as he approached his drained lizard pokemon. "That's enough for now."

Growlithe subsequently put forth a laudatory bark, praising his fellow fire-type for his hard work.

Charmander released a tired, but pleasant, squeal as he grabbed onto Ash's pant leg for support. The fire-lizard loved the feeling of a hard training session, but it was rather apparent that they probably had overdone it. Next time they trained, Ash would have to pay more attention to Charmander's stamina levels.

The fire-lizard liked to overwork himself and had a habit of willfully suppressing his exhausted disposition, during training, so that Ash wouldn't notice how tired he was until he absolutely couldn't hide it anymore. It was an unusual tendency that's sole purpose was to allow Charmander to train past the point that Ash would typically cut him off at.

It was a commendable tendency, but at the same time, Ash didn't like it. At times, it could be dangerous, and the ten-year-old boy wasn't keen to the fact that he couldn't always read His friend. It made him feel like he lacked control over his fire-lizard and that unsettled him.

Charmander had never actually shown this tendency in battle, but the second he did, Ash would definitely confront him. In order to battle healthily, Charmander couldn't be consciously trying to suppress his emotions. Not only was it dangerous, but it was a waste of energy.

Wartortle was different because that was his personality, and Ash and the turtle pokemon had worked hard to figure out ways to overcome it.

The fire lizard's personality was full of lively emotions, so it only made sense that he would wear that personality in battle. It was the personality that Ash had bonded with; it was the personality that the dark-haired boy knew and understood. It didn't bode well for Ash, tactically, if Charmander ever attempted to extinguish that part of himself in battle.

"It looks like you've overworked yourself again," said Ash with a frown. "What did I tell you? You've gotta' stop doing this. It's not safe."

Charmander looked up at Ash with a frown. The dark-haired boy could tell that he felt bad, but at the same time, he'd given Ash this look before and still refrained from doing anything about it. Ash had a feeling that Charmander was going to have to learn the hard way that overworking himself wasn't a good thing.

"It's alright…" drawled Ash as he handled Charmander's pokeball, "just let me know when you've hit your limit next time. Until then, take a rest. You need it.

Ash returned Charmander with a slight frown before looking down at Growlithe, "I'm going to need you to talk to him about that. I don't like it."

Growlithe gave Ash a determined look as he disembogued a grunt of affirmation.

"Thanks," said Ash with a smile. "It means a lot."

The puppy pokemon replied with a joyful yip, happy that he had pleased his trainer. It was times like this when Growlithe needed to step up and assume the role of leader on Ash's team.

Lucky for Ash, his best friend was willing to take on the task.

XXX

"What is it, Ivysaur?" asked Ash while his grass-type exited a deep, meditative state. "Any luck?"

A wide smile stretched across Ivysaur's face as he nodded his head.

"Really!?" exclaimed Ash with bright eyes and a smile of his own. "Are you sure!? If so, let's test it out!"

The saurian let out a low, acquiescent grunt before pushing the seed that he believed would hatch into Razor Leaf out of his internal seed supply and into one of his protrusion slots. He then proceeded to douse it in one of his many internal organic growth hormones in order to trigger an accelerated growth.

Ash watched as Ivysaur's vines pushed out one glistening, verdant leaf. It was fine and unlined, bearing a pristine, blade-like appearance. All it took was one look at it to be able to tell that Ivysaur had finally procured the correct seed.

"Hold still," said Ash as he crouched down to Ivysaur's level in order to examine the leaf even further.

Growlithe, who had been by Ash's side the entire time, followed his trainer's example, leaning forward so that he could get a closer look as well.

As Ivysaur tried not to move, Ash ran his fingers over the flat side of the leaf. It was a strange sensation. The saurian's Razor Leaf felt nothing like a normal leaf. It seemed to be durable and flexible. If Ash didn't know better, he would think that it was artificial.

The dark-haired boy didn't need to touch the edges to know that they were dangerously sharp. The pokedex entry said that a Razor Leaf was sharp enough to penetrate the thickest of hides, although at Ivysaur's current level, it probably wasn't strong enough to cause anything more than a flesh wound.

Ash wouldn't have to worry about Razor Leaf being powerful enough to kill until his friend was well into his venusaur stage. And by that time, his saurian would garner the kind of control needed to make sure that a fatal strike never occurred.

"Yup," said Ash with a massive grin on his face, "this is it. Do you want to try firing it?"

In subsequence to the ten-year-old's question, Ivysaur gave Ash a look that indicated that he was dying to give it a whirl.

"I'll take that as a yes," retorted Ash with a laugh as he looked around Sabrina's gym in search of a suitable target. "Damn, I don't see anything…Have any ideas of what we can test it out on?"

Ivysaur gave Ash an inquisitive look as he tried to think of a sufficient solution. A few seconds went by before Ivysaur's eyes lit up with an idea.

Ash stood up and watched as Ivysaur made his way over to one of the many stone pillars that cascaded from the low ceiling into the ground. He took a moment to size it up before unloading a battery of Leech Seeds at the pillar. Upon impact with the stone, they instantly sprouted leaving a mess of tangled, glowing vines wrapped around the beam.

Once the vines from the Leech Seed had covered a good portion of the pillar, Ivysaur fired another round for good measure. Just like the preceding seeds, they sprouted instantaneously when they connected with their target. When they hit, they covered the pillar even more, resulting in an abundantly thick convergence of vines.

"Good thinking," said Ash, impressed. "Your Razor Leaf definitely shouldn't be able to penetrate all of that. We should be able to get a good feel for how strong it is. Just don't miss. I'm afraid of what Sabrina will do to us if we damage anything in her gym.

Ivysaur nodded before centering his red eyes strictly on the vine covered pillar.

"The pokedex says that you're supposed to use your vines as a catapult to fire them," explained Ash. "I think you're probably going to have to cover the seed in the growth hormone and propel it before it sprouts. Shoot it like Leech Seed—it'll change into Razor Leaf in midair."

The seed pokemon once again emitted a low-toned grunt before discarding his current Razor Leaf. Ivysaur understood what Ash had been talking about when he said that he would have to fire it as a seed. Once Razor Leaf had sprouted, it was difficult to get a good grip on. The stem was short and stubby, which made it hard to hold onto, and the rest of the leaf was too sharp to latch onto without injuring his vines.

Once Ivysaur discarded his original Razor leaf, Ash had Growlithe burn it into nothingness with Ember. Something that sharp was too dangerous to have lying about. Besides, Ash kind of wanted to see how it would respond to being drenched in flames. As expected, it burned like a normal leaf. Its unusual durability wasn't a factor when exposed to its greatest weakness: fire.

After Ash watched Growlithe incinerate the Razor Leaf, it was time to let Ivysaur have a go at propelling it. Ash observed as Ivysaur took a moment to focus his aim before releasing two seeds from his protrusion slots at a high velocity. It was hard for Ash to see, but about a half-second after the seeds were exposed to the outside, they sprouted.

Appearing in midair were two frighteningly fast leaves. They sliced through the air horizontally like two razor-sharp disks. Upon impact with the tangled pillar, Ash smirked as they glided through the first layer of vines before getting stuck in the second.

It was nearly perfect. Ivysaur's Razor Leaf was powerful enough to make a difference, but it wasn't too strong to where it could be fatal. Judging by the damage that Razor Leaf had done to the vines, Ash figured that with most mammalian and reptilian pokemon the leaf would stop well before it hit the bone and would never go through.

As for some of the boneless species out there, Ash and Ivysaur would just have to be careful. The ten-year-old didn't want any pokemon's blood on his hands.

"That was awesome, Ivysaur!" blurted Ash with excitement evident in his intonation before slowly approaching his grass-type from behind. "As a matter of fact, it was just about perfect. The only thing I think we need to work on is ironing out the timing of the release. Unless I tell you otherwise, the longer you can wait with it the better."

He paused in thought as he brought one of his hands up to his chin.

"However, I do think that we could probably do some cool stuff by varying the speed in which you release the seeds. It would probably throw off our opponents' timing if we had some Razor Leafs sprout immediately, while others are delayed. Whatever the case, this is going to be fun!"

Ivysaur nodded frenziedly with joy in his eyes. He had done even better than he originally thought he would.

"What do you say we try it again?" asked Ash. "But, this time, try and delay the release a little bit after you apply the growth hormone. I want to cut down the lag time in between the release and the sprouting of the seed.

The saurian released a grunt of affirmation before plodding forward in preparation to fire another round. He'd only just learned it, but Razor Leaf was quickly becoming one of his favorite techniques.

XXX

A few days had gone by since Clefairy and Haunter's mental barrier training had begun, and once again, Ash and Growlithe stood out in the middle of the Saffron Gym's arena. He had just returned Wartortle, after a satisfactory evaluation of the turtle pokemon's newly acquired strength, when Bill showed up.

The billionaire pokemon researcher was wearing his usual formal garments and looked to be much better rested than he had just a couple of days ago. He waltzed into the gym with a cheerful attitude, although Ash could tell he was hiding the fact that he felt slightly guilty for not having shown up until now.

The melodramatic Montgomery wasn't the best at hiding his emotions.

Bill was supposed to have been commuting back and forth from Silph Co. headquarters and Sabrina's gym, throughout the last few days, but never showed up. Ash was a little disappointed that Bill hadn't kept his word. However, he wouldn't hold it against him. Bill had probably gotten caught up in a bunch of his father's affairs and didn't have as much time as he'd expected.

The aftermath of Robert's press conference had been crazy after all. Ever since the populace had found out that their beloved Mr. Montgomery was still alive, Saffron's streets had been wild. The entire city of Saffron had been turned into one massive party. In Ash's opinion, it was kind of overwhelming, albeit it was nice to see the people celebrate after the last week and a half of terror…

"How did your first couple days of training go?" asked Bill as he leaned over and petted the tuft atop Growlithe's head.

"Pretty good," said Ash with a shrug. "Sabrina says that we should be finishing up our mental barrier training later today."

"Oh, really?" questioned Bill with raised eyebrows. "So, everything went according to plan then?"

"Yeah," retorted Ash with a smile, "I don't think that there were any setbacks. Everything except for the brief round of external psychic exposure was internal, so it was kind of hard for me to tell. Sabrina says that they've made a lot of progress, and Haunter and Clefairy appear to be happy about where they are at, so I don't have any reason to suspect otherwise."

"Gotchya," drawled Bill while standing up from his leaned over position. "Well, if Sabrina says that it's going well than it must be. I can't stand the bloody wench, but it would be stupid for me to deny her expertise in this field. Besides, she seems to have garnered a soft spot for you. I doubt that she would give you anything other than her very best when it comes to training."

"I know," answered Ash. "I trust her judgement. I just wish there was more that I could do. I haven't really been of much use. For the most part, it has been Sabrina training them. I've just been sitting back and watching."

Bill let out a laugh that oozed mockery, "Did you honestly expect anything less? Ash, you're a genius for your age, but you have zero experience when it comes to the realm of psychics. Sabrina is the cream of the crop. Of course, she would be the one taking the lead."

Bill paused as an expression of disgust formed across his face. It was without a doubt a result of the kind words that he had just spoken about Sabrina.

"Ash, how much have you learned over the past couple of days?"

A mishmash of information stirred within his mind at the mere mention of the word learned. Over the past couple of days, Ash had learned more about the mind, and psychics, than he ever could have on his own. There were times when he felt like his mind was going to crash because it was working on overdrive in order to retain all of the information that Sabrina had been bent on drilling into him.

"A lot," replied Ash with dazed eyes.

"That's what I thought," answered Bill with a smirk. "Not only is Sabrina helping you train your pokemon, but she is also training you. She knows how important it is to you that you resume your journey, so she is working as fast as she can to help your pokemon accumulate their mental barriers. However, at the same time, she is trying to ingrain as much knowledge as she can into your head."

He paused.

"Let me ask you something, Ash. Now that you've spent a few days training with Sabrina, do you think that you're better prepared to train a psychic of your own than you would have been beforehand?"

Ash thought about it for a second before replying, "Without a doubt."

"Moreover, do you think that if you had a pokemon that knew Psychic you could use them to help the rest of your pokemon put up mental barriers?"

Ash smiled as he instantly knew the answer to Bill's question. "Yeah, I could. Sabrina has been very thorough when it comes to explaining what she is doing."

"Now, do you understand?" asked Bill. "The whole point of this is to teach you how to handle psychic pokemon and mental barriers by means of observation. Sabrina is doing the work now, so that you can do it later. Even I can see that she is offering you a lot more this way than if she were to simply provide the psychic exposure, and let you flop around like a magikarp out of water, while you try to figure out the rest on your own."

Ash had to admit, he felt like an idiot. Listening to Bill speak the truth helped him see how immature his precedent thoughts were. The ten-year-old boy had been so caught up in the fact that it had felt like Sabrina was training his pokemon, and not him, that he had completely looked past all of the fruits of knowledge that he had been reaping.

"I get it," said Ash with a slight frown. "I was being an idiot. I shouldn't be complaining about anything. What Sabrina is doing is above and beyond anything that I could have asked for. I've learned a lot from her."

"Now, you get it," retorted Bill with a massive grin as he gave Ash a friendly pat on the back. "Save all the complaining for me. I'm the one that can't stand her."

Ash let out a laugh before earnestly looking Bill in the eyes, "Thanks for that, Bill. You're a good friend."

Bill's smile stretched even further as he internalized Ash's words. Ash thought he could see a sliver of a tear cascade from one of his eyes, but it quickly vanished like a shooting star. The ten-year-old boy wouldn't put it past Bill to tear up from a single compliment, especially one that pertained to friendship. The pokemon researcher had proven to be overemotional when it came to the topic. He had shown that during their first encounter at the Montgomery's lighthouse.

"That means a lot coming from you, Ash" replied Bill before having a dramatic shift in countenance.

His disposition went from eemotional to austere in a matter of seconds. It was rather clear that Bill had just thought of something that was a lot less lighthearted, "I don't know why, but I just thought of something I'd like to ask you."

"What is it?" asked Ash with a gulp, sensing the tension that was emanating from Bill.

"Sabrina…" stated Bill with a look of seriousness delineated across his face, "has she happened to mention anything in regard to Ariana? Has there been any progress concerning breaking down Ariana's mental barrier?"

To be honest, Ash had been so busy with his training that he had completely forgotten that the Team Rocket executive was being held approximately seventy feet below him.

It's not like he had been glued to Sabrina's hip, so it was very possible that she had been going down to the basement while they were apart. However, there had been no signs that Sabrina had started using her psychic powers again, so Ash doubted that she had begun the psychic interrogation yet.

"I don't think so," retorted Ash. "I mean, it's possible. But, I don't think her psychic powers have been completely restored yet. Most likely, Ariana is just shackled up, waiting for Sabrina to have a go at trying to breach her mental barrier."

"Oh…" drawled Bill, "I see. Well, I guess that's to be expected."

"Sabrina should be using her powers again really soon, though," said Ash. "So, I'm sure that there will be some progress soon. It might be after I leave for Celadon, but as soon as Sabrina is comfortable using her powers, she'll be down there. I think she wants to figure out what Team Rocket is up to more than anyone."

"Gotchya," replied Bill. "I'll just have to be patient then."

His facial expression lightened up as he prepared to change the subject.

"So, when's your last round of training?" asked Bill with curious eyes. "You said you were set to finish later today, right?"

Now that the tension had left Bill, Ash relaxed. "I honestly don't know. Sabrina didn't give me a time. She just said, be ready."

"Sounds like Sabrina," spat Bill. "Anyway, if everything goes according to plan and you finish your mental barrier training today, can I assume your gym battle will be tomorrow?"

Ash smiled as the thought of earning his third badge pierced through his mind. "Yeah, I think so. Sabrina hasn't said anything about it since we started, but I believe that's what we originally agreed to."

"Brilliant," said Bill. "If it's tomorrow, I think Wallace might be able to make it. He's leaving for Hoenn tomorrow afternoon, and I know he wanted to see you before he left. As soon as you know the time, let me know."

"Awesome," replied Ash. "What about Austin? How's he doing?"

Bill frowned, "You weren't expecting him to make it to the gym battle, right?"

Ash shook his head before answering. "No, I wasn't. I just want to know how he's doing."

"Phew!" said Bill with a look of relief on his face, "in that case, he's doing just fine. Nurse Joy says he should be good to go in a couple days. I just didn't want to be the one to blow up your expectations if you were expecting him to make it tomorrow."

"Good, I'm glad he is getting better," said Ash with a smile. "Even though it would have been nice to have him at the battle, I'm just happy he is alright."

"Same," retorted Bill, "he's a nice chap and a really good friend to you. It's a bummer that he can't make it, but his health is much more important than a gym battle."

"I couldn't agree more," replied Ash, "so what are your plans for the—"

"Ash Ketchum, it's time to apply the final touches to your pokemon's mental barriers," interrupted Sabrina as she ambulated out of one of the many converging hallways and into the arena."

Her vacant eyes were drawn over to Bill for a split second before she disregarded him and fastened her attention back on Ash, "Let's go, release Clefairy and Haunter."

"Not even a hello, Sabrina," said Bill sarcastically with disdain evident in his intonation. "Already having a rough day?"

"It was perfectly fine until you showed up, Bill Montgomery," retorted Sabrina drily. "Now, scurry along. Ash Ketchum and I have some work to do."

"Psht, my father must be a bloody nutter to take you in as a daughter," groaned Bill. "Don't you agree, Ash?"

"Err…I wouldn't necessarily go that far," stammered Ash, wishing to play no part in their frivolous exchange.

Bill shot Ash a look that signified that he was a traitor as Sabrina responded.

"Why thank you, Ash Ketchum," hummed Sabrina, albeit monotonously. "I appreciate your honesty."

"No problem," said Ash before shifting his attention over to Bill, "no offense, Bill, just calling it how I see it."

Bill released an exasperated sigh before answering, "No problem. I understand."

He shifted his eyes over to Sabrina before gesturing up towards the encompassing bleachers, "Do you mind if I watch the last bit of your barrier training? I promise to keep my banter to a minimum if you say yes."

"I do not mind, Bill Montgomery. You may watch," articulated Sabrina with a slight smirk, "but it is not necessary for you to dial back your ridicule. It doesn't faze me in the slightest, and if it did, you wouldn't want to stick around to find out what I do to those that truly rub me the wrong way. My strife with you is nothing but a way to amuse myself. If I really couldn't stand you, I wouldn't allow you to step foot in my gym."

Bill gulped. By the look on his pensive mug, Ash could decipher that he was thinking something along the lines of, 'maybe I should stop showing so much contempt for Sabrina.' However, it didn't really matter what was pulsing throughout Bill's mind. The pokemon researcher was too prideful and bent on his own way to change his behavior, unless he actually had to.

"Thanks," said Bill, through his teeth, while he started to trek over to the bleachers.

"I'll be watching from up there," announced Bill to Ash as he pointed up towards the stands. "If you need anything, just holler!"

"Yup!" blurted Ash. "Thanks for your support!"

"Of course!" retorted Bill from across the gym, "that's what friends are for!"

A smile stretched across Ash's face as he thought about Bill's kindness. That smile stretched even further as he felt Growlithe brush by his pant leg before using his nose to nudge at Clefairy's pokeball and Haunter's great ball.

"I agree with Growlithe," stated Sabrina, "it's time to focus. The faster we get this last bit of mental barrier training done, the faster we can have a fair gym battle.

"Alright," answered Ash with fire in his eyes as he thought about getting his hands on the Marsh Badge, "let's do this then."

"Excellent," retorted Sabrina as she reached for one of the great balls that were fastened around her waste, "Midna will be evaluating Clefairy and Haunter's status before we start. From there, we will initiate the final round of building their barriers."

"Sounds good," said Ash, excited, as he reached for Clefairy and Haunter's capture devices.

By the end of the day, their mental barriers would be up, and tomorrow would be the day of his long awaited battle against Sabrina.

XXX

A day later, Ash stood in one of the arena's trainer boxes, handling Clefairy's pokeball within his sweaty grasp. His nerves had spiked, and there was a slight quiver in his legs. The excitement of a gym battle tended to have that kind of affect, especially when it had been as anticipatory as this one.

Standing straight across from him, in the opposite trainer box, was Sabrina. She was as expressionless and sober minded as usual, and she was wearing the same casual attire that she had on the first time he had met her outside of the Pokemon Center. The psychic virtuoso had one pokeball floating around her body; it was enshrouded in psychic energy, which signified that after days of dormancy, Sabrina had finally recovered her psychic powers.

While the moments prior to the battle subsided, Ash looked up in the stands in order to soak up his support. Sitting to his right, roughly twenty feet above his head, were Growlithe, Bill, Wallace and surprisingly Robert.

Ash had to admit, he was pretty thrilled that Wallace had found a way to make it. Although he would have understood if the Champion couldn't, it still would have been disappointing.

Wallace was like family to him now, and Ash knew that in all likelihood this was the only time that he would be able to see one of his gym battles. Ash presumed that the Champion's duties in Hoenn would make it nigh impossible for him to travel, under his own accord, for quite sometime.

Robert's attendance was an utter shock. Ash could have sworn that Silph Co.'s CEO would have been way too busy tending to occupational matters to attend the gym battle. However, when Ash had spoken to him upon arrival, Robert explained that he had cleared up his schedule in order to make it.

Apparently, a battle between his dear Sabrina and his son's closest friend was way too important to miss. But, then again, Robert was a huge fan of pokemon battles. Maybe he was just using sentiments as an excuse to watch a good battle, which sounded like something that the head of the Montgomery family would do.

Sitting adjacent to Bill was Growlithe, who Ash had made watch the battle from the stands. It's not like Ash didn't want Growlithe by his side. However, without a mental barrier, the puppy pokemon was way too susceptible to psychic attacks to be hanging out in the arena. Sabrina had already ensured that she would protect Ash from any stray psychic assailments, adding Growlithe to that equation would only amplify her workload.

The only other people that Ash realistically wished could be there were Austin and Kent, and unfortunately, neither had a choice. Austin wouldn't be released from the Pokemon Center's hospital wing for another day or two, and Kent had to take care of a plethora of league matters. The fallout of the mission had proven to be more than any of them expected.

A lot of destruction had been accumulated within Saffron, and the league had given Kent the job of figuring out why. He had been busy interrogating the grunts that had been captured during the mission and had yet to find any substantial evidence on their end. Since he was momentarily keeping his mouth shut about Ariana, his progress would remain stationary for a while.

Ash was pretty sure that he wouldn't be seeing Kent anytime soon. The first-class ACE trainer was currently way too busy, and if everything went according to plan, Ash would be out of Saffron sometime within the next couple of days.

Anyways, Ash's attention was focused back on the battlefield when Sabrina spoke up from across the arena.

"Alright, Ash Ketchum," articulated Sabrina, "before we commence the battle, it is required that I state the rules."

Ash just nodded. It's not like he was surprised, every gym leader is required to recite the conditions of the battle before the match begins.

"This will be a two-on-two battle," said Sabrina with a monotonous intonation. "The trainer with the last pokemon standing wins. As you know, I am required to use my league registered team, so it should be no surprise what pokemon I use. Since the pokemon you will be using now have adequate mental barriers, I will not hold back. You will get the very best that my league registered team has to offer."

"Sounds good," said Ash with a smirk as he anxiously grasped Clefairy's pokeball.

"Also," added Sabrina, "there will be no referee. I promise to give you a fair match. There is no need to have one."

Sabrina then used her hand to gesture towards the others in the stands, "Besides, there are some highly astute individuals here to watch the match. If I make a bad call, they most certainly will interject."

"Gotchya," retorted Ash while rapidly nodding his head. He just wanted to get started before he exploded due to excessive anticipation.

"Alright then!" Sabrina blustered as her eyes reflected an auroral purple. "Challenger, Ash Ketchum, prepare for battle!"

Ash firmly gripped his fairy-type's capture-device as he watched Sabrina's enshrouded pokeball levitate into the middle of the arena.

"Begin!"

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