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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24. Kanto 7 Part 4

In subsequence to Sabrina's cry, Ash hurled Clefairy's pokeball towards Sabrina's. It rapidly spun through the air and closed in on the gym leader's floating orb before they both abruptly snapped open, releasing a lustrous explosion of light. The scintillating display lit up the dim arena for a split-second before fading away into abeyance.

Left in place of the radiant surge of light was Clefairy and one of Sabrina's multiple abra. Ash wasn't surprised by Sabrina's first choice whatsoever. He had figured that she would save her league registered kadabra, Merlin, for last.

The abra that Sabrina sent out sat idly in the middle of the arena. If Ash didn't know better, he would have thought that it was asleep because of its iwide, closed eyes. However, abra were well known for using their psychic powers as a way to sense those around them. They usually didn't begin to use their eyes to see until the kadabra stage.

Ash hadn't gotten much of a chance to observe Sabrina's two abra that battled against Ariana's pokemon, but now that he was able to get a better look, the thing that stood out to him the most was the bblack skin that was visible between its joints and long neck. It was a feature that wasn't shared by either a kadabra or an alakazam, which made Ash wonder if, until abra evolved into kadabra, its yellow exterior was more like armor than actual skin.

The ten-year-old boy also took note of the abra's thick, yellow tail, which protruded out of its backside. It wasn't nearly as bulky as a kadabra's tail, but it wasn't skinny by any means.

Sabrina's abra had two brown pauldron-like extensions on its shoulders as well as one brown, fauld-like piece around its chest. The only movement that the abra made existed in its small, pointed ears that continuously twitched atop its kite-shaped head.

Upon release, Clefairy immediately got into a defensive position. Both she and Haunter had been briefed that their gym battle would be today, so she was prepared. Her facial expression was calm and collected, which was one of the results of her training with Sabrina. The gym leader preached that serenity was one of the key components in holding a mental barrier against a psychic.

There was a momentary pause as Clefairy focused her eyes solely on Sabrina's abra before she abruptly began to charge.

Ash's eyes locked onto what was going on in front of him, and he watched with anticipation as abra reacted to Clefairy's advancement by lethargically standing up from its sitting position. Void of emotion, just like its master, the abra raised both of its three fingered hands towards Clefairy and began to emit a purple wave.

It wriggled throughout the air, exactly like Midna's Psychic did, before making contact with a precipitously approaching Clefairy. A sliver of fear coursed throughout Ash's existence at the sight of Clefairy getting hit by a psychic attack, but it was quickly extinguished when Clefairy only made a slightly pained face while she continued to barrel forward.

"She has barriers, Trace!" bellowed Sabrina as Clefairy got within arms reach. "This will be a tough battle! A mere Psychic attack won't knock her out!"

The abra known as Trace instantly tensed up. Its entire body became more alert as soon as it found out that Clefairy had mental barriers.

Of course, if the battle was in a different setting, the first thing abra would have done is check for mental barriers. However, due to the fact that most of a league registered pokemon's gym battles involved battling against weak rookie trainers, the abra probably assumed that Ash's Clefairy was just a foolhardy pokemon that didn't know what she was getting herself into.

Unfortunately for Trace, he was wrong.

Once Clefairy was within arms reach, she used the momentum that she had procured during her sprint to deliver a heavy Pound attack. Her tiny, albeit powerful, fist connected with the abra's face, causing the psi pokemon to unintentionally soar across the arena.

A jolt of excitement stirred within Ash's body as he watched Sabrina's abra heedlessly fly towards the arena's wall, but it was suddenly ceased when Trace vanished into thin air before reappearing right next to Clefairy.

As soon as it appeared using Teleport, the psi pokemon unleashed a more powerful psychic wave. This time, Ash could actually feel the animosity in the strike. Trace was attacking to inflict damage. He was no longer just lashing out in order to cause an effortless submission.

Surprised by the Psychic attack, Clefairy had nowhere to go. All she could manage was an impulsive Minimize, but it only allowed her to evade half of the attack. The other half of Trace's psionic blast was endured by Clefairy's body and her mental barrier while she prepared for a counterattack.

With a wry expression painted across her face, Clefairy retaliated with a quick attempt at Double Slap. She opened her dominant paw in order to deliver the strike when Trace once again teleported, this time, he teleported behind her before raising his hands for another Psychic attack.

Clefairy instantly dove out of the way, narrowly avoiding the psychic strike. On account of the miss, Ash thought he saw a small hint of dissatisfaction on Trace's face, but that was probably just his imagination. Trace's species didn't typically show any kind of emotion toward anything, especially how they fared in battle.

In subsequence to Clefairy's dodge, Trace began to emit another wave of Psychic. Just like the last psionic blast, this one was tenacious. The abra was clearly trying to inflict a considerable amount of damage. The psychic-type was unleashing intense, violet colored blasts in order to incapacitate the fairy pokemon.

Ash wasn't thrown off at all by Trace's repetitive use of Psychic. Abra were well known for having one of the worst natural movesets in Kanto. It wasn't until the kadabra stage that the abra line actually started to learn techniques. The only move that an abra could learn naturally was Teleport, and that was entirely inherent.

Other than Teleport, they were incapable of learning any natural techniques, which meant that Sabrina must have used a TM to teach Trace Psychic. Ash wasn't shocked that Sabrina had used a TM. Abra was one of the pokemon that she had chosen to put on her league registered team, and without using a TM, the psychic-type was essentially incapable of offense.

Abra's shallow moveset wouldn't matter in most cases. Most trainers that walked into the gym wouldn't have mental barriers over their pokemon's psyches, so they would be easily defeated by the weakest of psychic incursions. All Trace would really need was one move, and that move was Psychic.

However, that wouldn't work against Clefairy. She was strong, and she had mental barriers. Psychic and Teleport weren't enough to defeat Clefairy. She likely wouldn't be truly tested until Sabrina sent out Merlin.

"Clefairy, dodge with Minimize, and get in close!" bellowed Ash as he thought up a strategy.

Listening to her trainer's orders, Clefairy shrank to about an eighth of her normal size, narrowly avoiding Trace's psionic wave. Once the wave had been cleared, the fairy pokemon glided to within arms reach of her psychic opponent.

Ash quickly reacted, taking advantage of Trace's shock in order to reach him before he teleported, "Disarming Voice!"

Almost in complete concurrence to Ash's command, Clefairy emitted a bizarre, ominous noise. Ash hadn't heard the technique for quite sometime, but it was just as strange as he remembered. As the ear grating song was sung, it caused his body to shiver and his insides to stir. However, his reaction was barely anything compared to Trace's.

The abra instantly jolted backward upon being hit with the point-blank Disarming Voice. If abra's eyes were open, Ash would assume that they were vacant because of the bewildered look that was delineated across Trace's other facial features.

Ash didn't think that the Disarming Voice would do too much damage. However, that wasn't what Ash was going for. What he wanted was exactly what was happening, and that was disorientation. The ten-year-old boy wanted to put abra in a daze, so Clefairy could perform a technique that would cause significant damage.

With the abra in a confused trance, Ash smiled at the thought of announcing the last move in the combination.

"Clefairy, Stored Power, now!"

Most of the time, Ash had Clefairy use Stored Power after the opponent had benefited from a plethora of status techniques. But, in this scenario, Clefairy would just be tapping into her natural strength in order to emanate a powerful burst of energy at a point-blank range. Teleport didn't provide any enhancements to Trace's status, so he didn't have the option of drawing energy from the opponent. Be that as it may, Clefairy had enough built up energy to cause a vast amount of damage to the abra form this range.

In subsequence to Ash's order, Clefairy's whole entire body started to glow with polychromatic energy. It flickered for a few moments while Trace was in a dizzy trance, and Clefairy procured the entirety of her thaumaturgic energy before she released it.

As soon as the energy had been let go of, Ash had to cover his eyes in order to protect them from the penetrating glare of light that resulted from Stored Power. Once he could sense that the radiant light had subsided, he looked over the crease of his elbow and saw the aftermath of the attack.

Clefairy stood shaky and winded. It was clear that she had put more into the Stored Power than Ash would have liked. She was still in condition to fight, but she had caused way more exhaustion and damage to herself than Trace had up to this point. Maybe he should have waited longer to use Stored Power. He should have known that his fairy-type would be quick to let out everything.

Nevertheless, the result was devastating for Trace. The young abra laid still and unconscious. It was curled up on its side, and its limbs were limp and sprawled out. Despite the abra line's insane potential, their bodies were still feeble, especially in their primary stage.

Oftentimes, one powerful attack was enough to knock an abra out. They had yet to develop any moves to protect themselves. All they could really do was Teleport. No matter if Trace was trained by Sabrina or any other inexperienced trainer, she couldn't change its natural growth rate. It wouldn't unlock its true potential as a psychic until it evolved. For now, it was no match for a pokemon with a mental barrier that possesses an onslaught of physical techniques like Clefairy.

Ash also acknowledged the fact that Trace had probably just recently been added to Sabrina's league registered team. He remembered that when they were down in the Saffron Gym's basement, Sabrina had mentioned that one of her kadabra, Whiskers, had just recently evolved into a kadabra. Ash's guess was that Whiskers had been the abra on Sabrina's league registered team before Trace, and if that was the case, Trace was probably a very inexperienced abra.

Therefore, Ash had just battled an abra that was lower-leveled than what Sabrina usually had at her disposal. He was supposed to win the first round. The next battle would be different. Sabrina's league registered Kadabra wasn't inexperienced in the slightest. It was a beast that buried rookie trainers with its incredible psychic prowess. It had nearly peaked as a kadabra, and according to Sabrina, it was only a sliver of power away from making the jump into its final form.

Up to this point, everything had gone exactly as Ash had expected. Now, things were about to heat up. If Ash wanted to win this battle, he needed to get as much out of Clefairy as possible before releasing Haunter, because the true battle was just about to begin. Clefairy and Haunter would be pushed to their limits, and there was no doubt about it. Getting excited about defeating Trace was futile. Unless Ash was perfect, Merlin was more than capable of defeating both of his mystic types.

"Well done, Ash Ketchum," articulated Sabrina as she clipped Trace's pokeball back onto her belt. "You handled Trace quite well, although at his current power level he is less than a warmup to a pokemon that can endure his Psychic."

She paused as she detached another pokeball from her belt, "Merlin will provide you with your true test. Let's find out just how strong you are."

Ash nodded as he heard a trickle of cheers coming from up above. He had almost forgotten that Wallace, Bill and Robert were in the stands watching his battle. He had been so wrapped up in his match that he hadn't noticed any of the previous cheers. But, then again, it was entirely possible that there weren't any at all. When it came to trainers and pokemon experts of his friends' level, it tended to take a lot to impress them.

Ash zeroed back in on Sabrina as she nonchalantly tossed her second pokeball into the air. It floated in the air for a split-second before erupting in a vibrant array of white light. The luminous outburst existed for a brief moment prior to revealing a stoic kadabra. The kadabra known as Merlin glared ahead at Clefairy with intense, open eyes as he seemingly evaluated the fairy-type.

He proceeded to spin his single conduit spoon amidst his three clawed fingers in antecedence to raising it against Clefairy.

Ash gulped. Just by looking at the kadabra's elongated mustache and shrunken tail, he could tell that Merlin was on the verge of evolving into Sabrina's fifth alakazam. This would be even more difficult than he had originally anticipated. Merlin's disposition and level of focus clearly portrayed its superior experience.

Since Merlin's release, Sabrina had elected to stay silent. Ash assumed that she was probably communicating telepathically with Merlin, but he wasn't sure. She was behaving much more confidently. Even though she hadn't been acting unconfidently earlier, the change was easily recognizable. Ash could tell that Merlin and Sabrina had a lot of battle experience together. Taking them down would be arduous.

"Are you ready, Clefairy!?" bellowed Ash in a sincere voice. "This will be nothing like the last battle! You're going to have to step it up!"

The fairy pokemon turned around and nodded after processing Ash's words. Once she was done reassuring her trainer, she emitted an affirmative grunt as she laid her eyes back on the sagely kadabra.

All of a sudden, within the blink of an eye, Merlin vanished. All that was left where it previously stood was a confluence of fading energy. Ash's eyes went into panic mode as he used them to try and track down Merlin's whereabouts. By the time Ash finally spotted him, it was too late for him to command a counterattack. He would have to rely on Clefairy. Hopefully, her awareness significantly transcended his.

Luckily, it did.

Clefairy quickly pivoted her positioning as Merlin reappeared directly behind her. His eyes were emotionless, and his facial expression was bare, while he enveloped his silver spoon in a layer of psychic energy.

Before the battle, Ash had done some research when it came to a kadabra's moveset, so he was able to discern that Merlin was preparing to use Psycho Cut: a damage dealing psychic-type move, which involves using pure psychic energy to create blades.

Clefairy's eyes widened as she anticipated the forthcoming strike, and as Merlin used his enshrouded spoon to slash sideways at Clefairy, the fairy-type instantaneously minimized to approximately less than a quarter of her normal-size.

Ash breathed a sigh of relief when Merlin's attack missed, but his anxiety suddenly skyrocketed once more when Merlin changed the angle of his spoon and fired a Psybeam. It shot through the air at an amazing velocity, destroying any opportunity that Clefairy had to dodge.

Merlin's aim was dead-on. With his spoon pointed downward, the Psybeam hit Clefairy right on top of the head, sending a psionic shockwave directly toward her brain. Ash watched with fear in his eyes as Clefairy's expression contorted. She depicted images of pain and confusion as the beam penetrated her exterior and attacked her psyche.

"Clefairy!" Ash cried with significant worry in his intonation.

While her trainer's voice reverberated throughout the arena, Clefairy's eyes suddenly snapped open with vigor. As the beam's damage ceased, she squatted down, loading her legs with power, before leaping into the air with her fist curled into a ball.

Right before Clefairy's fist connected with Merlin's chin, the psi pokemon's eyes flashed with surprise. Clearly Merlin wasn't expecting Clefairy to have a mental barrier formidable enough to endure a close-range Psybeam, and quite frankly, neither was Ash.

That Psybeam was cogent and condensed; it wasn't a weak attack. Obviously, the training they had done over the past few days had paid off. Sabrina had gifted two of his pokemon tremendously. She had done all she could to give them a chance at defeating her league registered team. Now, it was up to him to capitalize.

Ash clenched his fist with satisfaction as Clefairy's tiny fist exploded up into Merlin's chin. Immediately after she made contact with the psychic pokemon, Merlin teleported. A smile formed across the ten-year-old boy's face when Merlin reappeared across the arena, directly in front of Sabrina. The kadabra tenderly rubbed his chin, where Clefairy had connected, before developing a small smirk on its face.

At that moment in time, Ash gulped. He'd never seen any kind of emotion out of a pokemon belonging to the abra line before. Kadabra were known for there robotlike dispositions, however, much like Sabrina, they weren't entirely incapable of depicting their emotions.

Judging by Merlin's expression, he had just garnered an extreme interest in this battle. It was the same rare expression that Sabrina made when she was highly interested in something. It was often said that after a while, certain aspects of a pokemon's trainer begin to rub off on them. If that was the case, Ash had a feeling that Clefairy was in trouble.

"What did I say, Merlin?" queried Sabrina as she ran her fingers through her hair. "Didn't I tell you that he wasn't the average challenger? You're going to have to actually try if you want to win this battle."

Ash watched as Merlin turned around and nodded at his master before refocusing his piercing gaze on Clefairy. The psychic-type raised his spoon once again while preparing for battle.

As soon as Merlin got in his battle stance, Ash began to rack his brain with strategy after strategy. One thing was for sure, he needed to be patient. Psychics didn't bear a typing that you could simply strike without thinking.

They needed to dissect Merlin's defense and wait for him to create an opening for them. Otherwise, the kadabra would simply use his ability to teleport in order to instantaneously vanish and counterattack. If Clefairy mindlessly attacked, it would become a tedious game of hit and run, and Clefairy would be the one getting run over.

The ten-year-old boy caught a glimpse of Clefairy preparing to take off into a sprint. Her muscles were contracted, and she was beginning to lean forward. Ash wasn't surprised. Clefairy was a warrior; she wasn't afraid of anything. The last thing that she would want to do was sit back on the defensive, but right now that was their best option. Merlin was too strong to take on headfirst. They would need to find another way. Otherwise, Clefairy didn't stand much of a chance, and Haunter would be stuck trying to defeat a completely healthy Merlin.

"Clefairy, wait," said Ash in a firm voice.

In subsequence to Ash's command, the fairy pokemon instantly relaxed her muscles before looking back at him in a confused manner.

"Be patient," continued Ash, "wait for him to make the first move and then retaliate. You'll be way better off. I'm sure he has all kinds of skills and tricks in order to counter whatever you throw at him. If you want to cause damage, you need to do it on the defensive like earlier. Wait for him to leave an opening, and when you find it, strike with everything. Now, is the time to prove your resiliency against a powerful opponent."

Responding to Ash's words, Clefairy disembogued an affirmative grunt before pounding her tiny fists together with confidence. Despite her brashness, Ash knew deep inside that this wasn't her battle to win. Howbeit, if she could do some meaningful damage, she just might be able to help Haunter take this beast down for the team.

Victory or defeat, this battle would be resolved with Haunter on the battlefield. He knew it, and Sabrina knew it. However, until then, Clefairy would do everything she could to make a difference, and it was Ash's job to help her out as much as he could…

All of a sudden, Merlin vanished, instantly putting Ash on edge. The kadabra's teleportation signified the beginning of chaos. Wherever Merlin reappeared, the next move would be made. The psi pokemon had only been feeling Clefairy out at first. From now on, the intensity of the battle had been multiplied. What happened in the next few moments would be nothing like before.

Seconds after Merlin's disappearance, Ash caught a glimpse of an auroral, purple light burning over to his right. He instantly transferred his line of sight, and as expected, a powerful kadabra stood with its spoon raised, doused in psychic energy. Merlin most likely had several psychic attacks that involved his conduit spoon, so Ash wasn't quite sure what technique the psychic-type was about to use. But, given its positioning, Ash assumed that it was about to unleash some kind of long-range technique.

"Get ready, Clefairy!" howled Ash as Merlin thrusted his hand forward, throwing the psychic energy in what initially looked like another Psybeam.

Clefairy's eyes widened as the strong, psychic wave streaked forward in her direction. At second glance, it definitely appeared to be different than the Psybeam that Merlin had used earlier. Its breadth outstretched Psybeam, and it didn't move through the air nearly as precipitously.

Ash quickly racked his brain in order to figure out what it was: Psychic, Confusion, Kinesis and Future Sight, none really matched. Ash had done some pretty thorough research regarding a kadabra's natural moveset, and none of the techniques he'd read about fit the description.

Psychic wasn't as thick, Confusion was more pink than purple, Kinesis involved bending spoons, and Future Sight was extremely delayed. This technique didn't look like anything that a kadabra could learn on its own.

sAsh cursed under his breath. He should have known Sabrina's team would be seasoned with multiple TM moves. The gym leader probably had access to a surplus of the artificial move tutors.

Getting hit by Merlin's current move could prove troublesome. There was no way he could decipher a technique that he had never seen nor researched. All he could really have Clefairy do is dodge. He didn't feel comfortable allowing her to endure a move that he didn't know the effects of.

"Get out of there!" commanded Ash with passion behind his words.

Clefairy instantly used the fast-twitch muscles in her legs to dash out of the way of the attack. Ash's stomach dropped when he couldn't see through the duration of the psychic shockwave—the thick blast clouded the arena, and Clefairy dodged to the side unavailable to Ash's vision.

When the attack ceased, Ash was relieved to find Clefairy unharmed and upright. She was still slightly winded from the Stored Power and being hit by the Psybeam, but she had managed to go unscathed by the unfamiliar psychic blast that Merlin had just used.

Unfortunately, Merlin gave Ash and Clefairy no room to breathe. He vanished and reappeared again, although this time he appeared on Clefairy's left. When he unveiled himself, his spoon was already drenched in psychic energy, and his arm was already motioning forward in order to release another psychic blast.

"Clefairy move—!" hollered Ash urgently before his voice was cut off by the loud echoing sound of kadabra's psychic assailment echoing throughout the Saffron Gym's arena.

This time, Clefairy dodged to the right, remaining within Ash's line of sight. She managed to avoid the attack for a second time by throwing her body to the side and rolling across the gym's tile floor. As soon as her momentum had slowed down enough to get back up to her feet, she did so. The fairy pokemon leaped up and out of her turbulent tumble before beginning to sprint alongside the wide stream of psychic energy.

Clefairy's back was turned to Ash, so he couldn't get a good look at her facial expression. But, if he had to guess, he'd say it was gallant. It was times like this when Clefairy really showed her true colors, which were those of a brave, female combatant. Whether she was attacking on the offensive or the defensive, Clefairy always battled moving forward. It was what made her such a highly respected member of Ash's team despite the fact that she was the only girl…

Suddenly, Clefairy came to a skidding halt when Merlin teleported right in front of her. Ash's eyes brightened as he witnessed the kadabra's spoon light up similarly to how it did when he used Psycho Cut.

Merlin proceeded to use his psychic lance to try and slash away at Clefairy. He initiated the close combat battle with two horizontal slashes that swiped through the air at an alarming rate. The fairy Pokemon managed to dodge the first one on her own, with a swift duck, before narrowly avoiding the second by using Minimize.

As soon as Clefairy dodged the second Psycho Cut, Merlin brought his psychic enshrouded spoon straight down, trying to catch Clefairy in the middle of Minimize. He managed to land a blow to Clefairy's right leg as she tried to dive out of the way. The fairy-type winced as she was hit, but the full-extent of the damage wasn't seen by Ash until she landed.

The fairy-type shrieked in pain as her right foot made contact with the ground. It appeared as though the kadabra had made pretty solid contact. However, despite her cry, it didn't appear as if she was hobbled too badly by the strike. She was still able to put weight on it, which meant that nothing had been broken, although she would most likely garner a nasty bruise.

Disregarding the pain, Clefairy sprinted forward, catching Merlin off guard because of her perseverance. She used her uninjured foot to leap into the air and managed to connect a two-hit Double Slap to the psychic-type's face. She was trying for a third, but the surprised kadabra finally garnered the sense to teleport away and reappear outside of Clefairy's limited reach.

"Clefairy, use Sing!" shouted Ash, realizing that it was the best way to create a solid opening.

Not wasting any time, Clefairy instantaneously emitted a smooth melody from her vocal chords. Of course, it was toned down and skewed to Ash's ears, so that he wouldn't suffer from its slumbering effects. However, the same couldn't be said about Merlin, who was beginning to rock back and forth due to the forced drowsiness.

"Snap out of it, Merlin!" commanded Sabrina sternly.

Unfortunately, for Sabrina and Merlin, the song was too strong to disregard. The kadabra slowly fell into a sitting position as he was overpowered by Clefairy's lullaby. As his body slouched down even further, his eyelids fought to stay open. Despite the fight, it eventually proved to be futile.

Merlin's eyes closed, and he began to snore. In his current state, his disposition was oddly similar to that of Sabrina's abra, Trace.

Undeterred by the ironic scene, Ash quickly sprang into action. He would have to be an idiot to think that Merlin would stay asleep for long. The kadabra was a powerful psychic-type, and if there was any pokemon that could quickly break free of an involuntary comatose, it was a psychic that spent the majority of its time honing its mind.

"Hit it with Pound as many times as possible!" cried Ash passionately. "This is your chance!"

Clefairy quickly used her uninjured leg to push off of the ground as she prepared to heed her trainers command. The fairy-type severed the small proximity between herself and Merlin in a heartbeat before burying her small, compact fist straight into Merlin's face.

There was a notable groan of discomfort that was let out by the kadabra, and for a second Ash was worried that it had already woken up. But, it didn't. In spite of the pain that Clefairy had just inflicted on Merlin's face, her song had been strong enough to keep him at bay.

Excitement started to stir within Ash's being. Maybe, just maybe, Clefairy could do more damage to Merlin than he originally anticipated.

Once Clefairy realized that her first Pound hadn't woken Merlin up, she immediately proceeded to throw both of her fists into his gut. There was an even louder groan this time, accompanied by an array of flying saliva, as the psychic-type responded to receiving both of Clefairy's fists.

This time, Ash saw Merlin start to stir. He was beginning to awaken. Clefairy's window was soon to close, and one more hit was probably all she would get.

"Wake-Up Slap, now!" screamed Ash at the top of his lungs.

He knew it was a fighting-type move, and psychics had the advantage against all pokemon and moves classified as fighting, but that didn't change the fact that a solid Wake-Up Slap seemed appropriate at the moment. Ash had no idea what would happen when Merlin woke up, although he had a feeling it wasn't going to be pretty.

Maybe getting woken up by a degrading technique like Wake-Up Slap would hurl the kadabra into a rampage of frustration. If Ash could manage that, he would have the advantage. The abra line was most effective when they were cool and collected. A kadabra fighting angrily and impulsively would ultimately help him out when Haunter entered the battle. His apparition would surely be able to handle Merlin in a state like that.

Anyways, hearing her trainer's plea, Clefairy quickly loaded her hand with focused energy before unloading a mighty strike straight across Merlin's face. Ash watched attentively as the kadabra's eyes briskly jerked open while Clefairy connected with the previously sleeping psi pokemon. There was a loud, pained cry as Clefairy's open palm launched Merlin across the arena.

When Merlin hit the ground and tumultuously rolled into the arena's wall, Ash clenched his fists in excitement. Things were going well, really well. He hadn't expected Clefairy to perform like this. Right now, she was winning. She was beating Sabrina's Kadabra. Maybe he was wrong. If things continued like this, it was possible he wouldn't need to use Haunter—

'Don't get ahead of yourself, Ash Ketchum,' said Sabrina, using telepathy.

In subsequence to Sabrina's warning, Merlin abruptly disappeared from his feeble positioning and reappeared right behind Clefairy. This time, the fairy-type was in shock. She hadn't been expecting kadabra to move so quickly. One second he had been pinned against the wall, moaning in pain, and now she could feel him looming behind her.

Ash's nerves flared up, and his stomach dropped, as he watched Merlin's spoon light up in between blinks. It was coated in dark psychic energy and appeared to be much more potent than anything he had shown up to this point.

Under most circumstances, Ash wouldn't be too worried. Clefairy was pretty quick and with the addition of Minimize, she could dodge most attacks. However, right now, she was exhausted. And she looked way too surprised to think straight. In short, this wasn't good. She was in a trouble.

With darkness in his eyes, Merlin thrusted his Psycho Cut straight into the side of Clefairy's head. The sound that his fairy pokemon let out upon impact sent a panicked chill down Ash's spine. He cringed even more when her eyes went blank, and she began to fall face first toward the ground.

"Clefairy!" howled Ash while he helplessly witnessed his fairy pokemon face-plant into Sabrina's indigo colored tile.

After shaking off the shock of Merlin's assailment, there was a moment of silence as Ash prepared to return Clefairy, and everyone soaked in what had just happened, before Sabrina spoke up.

"Clefairy is unable to battle," articulated Sabrina. "She fought well, Ash Ketchum. But it's time for you to return her, and release your next poke—"

—Unexpectedly, Sabrina's voice was cut off by the sound of an explosion. Ash looked up, and temporarily took his finger off of the return button, as he tried to process what he was witnessing.

The arena was flooded with fading, white light while the explosion caused by the immense Stored Power disappeared into oblivion. When the obscuration from the momentous, unexpected energy blast completely disappeared, Ash rubbed the glare out of his eyes before examining the scene in front of him.

What he saw from Clefairy didn't surprise him. She lay flat on her face, clearly unconscious. There was a brief moment that Ash was worried that his fairy pokemon had exhausted too much energy, but from his current position, he could see that she was breathing normally. So, at least she wasn't in any kind of critical condition.

All of his worries were diminished when Sabrina spoke into his mind using her telepathy and said, "Do not fret, Ash Ketchum. Clefairy is just fine. She may need to spend a couple days resting, but her condition is not serious. She is merely exhausted."

Once Ash had realized that Clefairy was okay, he looked out at Merlin, who was upright, albeit clearly looked as though he had accumulated a hefty sum of damage. Ash wasn't quite able to deduce how much of it had been done by Clefairy's Sing/Pound combination as opposed to how much of it was a result of her last-ditch Stored Power.

That didn't matter. What mattered was that Clefairy had done more than Ash had ever thought she would, which meant that they had a very realistic shot at taking down Sabrina.

"Your Clefairy is incredibly impressive," said Sabrina as she looked over her battered kadabra. "During our training together, I could tell she was talented. However, this goes beyond my expectations. To think that she could do this to Merlin…"

She shook her head as she paused, "I never would have guessed. But, then again, I'm not using my psychic powers to foresee the result of this battle. Therefore, I have chosen to keep your clefairy's full-strength unknown to my mind."

Ash nodded his head while he pressed the return button on Clefairy's pokeball. She was instantly blanketed in a ray of ruby red light prior to being sucked back into sequester. In subsequence to the return of his valiant, fairy pokemon, the ten-year-old boy whispered words of gratitude to her pokeball before reattaching it to his trainer belt.

"Thank you for giving me a fair battle up to this point, Sabrina," retorted Ash as he reached for Haunter's great ball. "It means a lot, however, it's time we end this."

"I couldn't agree more, Ash Ketchum," answered Sabrina with one of her rare smirks, "send out Haunter and give us everything you've got. Do not think for a second that this battle is over. Merlin may be a bit beat up, but he has plenty of fight left in him. Do not hold back."

"Oh…I won't!" howled Ash as he winded back his arm in preparation to launch Haunter's great ball. "This is a gym battle after all!"

Ash watched as Merlin looked up at the impending great ball with focused eyes before getting into a defensive position. Despite his present condition, it was clear that Merlin had a fare amount of fight left in him. As a matter of fact, Ash thought he could see a twinkle of enjoyment in the kadabra's countenance. It was probably rare that the evolved psi pokemon was pushed to its limit…

After momentarily soaring through the air, Haunter's great ball clicked open before casting loose an illumination of brilliant light. It lasted for a couple of seconds prior to dying out. When it completely dissipated, Haunter's corporeal form was revealed levitating above the indigo colored tile.

The ghost-type let out his signature guffaw in precedence to looking over Merlin with his slanted eyes. After a quick observation, Haunter drifted down into one of the vast shadows that was being delineated across the floor and immediately reemerged directly in front of Ash.

"Hey, Haunter," greeted Ash as he darted his eyes back and forth between his ghost-type and Merlin. "We're in the middle of our gym battle. Clefairy battled well. All that's left is for you to defeat this kadabra, and we get the Marsh Badge. Clefairy did a lot of damage, so it's up to you to finish what she started. Got it?"

Haunter disembogued another round of ghoulish laughter except this time it bore a hint of sincere emotion. Ash could tell that Haunter wanted to win this battle for him. It was the ghost pokemon's first gym battle after all, and he knew that a win would make Ash proud.

Of course, Ash would be proud no matter how Haunter fared, but he understood where the poltergeist was coming from. On account of his devilish alter-ego, he had caused Ash quite a lot of worry as of late. Knowing the type of pokemon Haunter was, he definitely wanted to repay Ash's kindness with a win.

Now, Ash would never hold a grudge or ostracize Haunter because of his situational, aberrant behavior, but who was he to talk Haunter down from his own personal concept of debt. If giving Sabrina everything he had would help boost his self-esteem, Ash wouldn't stand in the apparition's way.

Besides, he'd have to be a complete and utter fool to talk Haunter down from his current mind state. The ghost-type was clearly focused and ready for battle, which most certainly raised Ash's chances at victory. A resolute Haunter didn't bode well for Merlin. Not only did Haunter have the type-advantage, but he was a dynamic specimen and quite possibly the strongest member of Ash's team.

He could be a bit of a wildcard, and his personality was way more complex than most pokemon. However, one thing was certain. Haunter was strong, and Ash had a feeling he was about to prove that fact once again in this battle.

Ash's rumination was cut short when Haunter blasted forward, leaving a gaseous trail in his wake. He sped through the air at an expeditious rate, causing Merlin's eyes to widen with anticipation.

Ash could feel the adrenaline surge within him as the two evolved, mystic pokemon were about to clash. The climax of the battle was being initiated, and the entirety of Ash's being knew it.

This would be fun.

"Haunter, engage with Shadow Punch!" bellowed Ash, taking the reigns.

Hearing his trainer's command, Haunter raised one of his disembodied fists while charging it with dark purple energy. The ghostly energy stirred throughout the gym's enclosed atmosphere, sending a familiar chill that traveled throughout Ash's body.

"Meet it with Psycho Cut!" howled Sabrina, providing Merlin with her first trainer command of the battle.

Once again, Merlin covered his spoon in a confluence of psychic energy in precedence to raising it above his head. Ash gulped. Without a doubt, this collision would be nasty. The amount of energy that was being emitted by both pokemon was awe-inspiring.

About a second before they engaged each other, Ash crossed his fingers. Haunter's Shadow Punch had the type-advantage, but Merlin was emitting a ridiculous amount of energy in order to nullify it. The psychic energy that was blanketing Merlin's spoon was so powerful that it actually grated against the atmosphere, causing an anguishing hiss.

Be that as it may, Ash didn't have enough time to really process just how amazing each technique was on its own. All thoughts of astonishment were pushed aside when the two powers met.

At first, there was an ear-shatter clap that sounded like a shotgun being fired. However, as the two attacks fought for dominance, the sound that they created resembled that of a howl. It was like both energies were screaming out in pain as they tried to destroy each other's essence. It was as if the energy itself was wailing while it died.

The eventual result was a large explosion that extended to the edge of both trainer boxes. Ash was curious as to whether the explosion had naturally stopped, directly in front of him, or if Sabrina was using some kind of psychic barrier to protect them. Either way, they were unharmed.

However, he couldn't say the same thing about Haunter and Merlin.

Ash's ghost-type hadn't taken too much damage, but judging by the pain depicting cringe that was currently occupying the apparition's face, it was clear that the explosion had stung at the very least.

Merlin was obviously the worse for wear. The explosion had simply added to his already heavy agglomeration of pain. His body was shaking, and his eyes looked tired. The kadabra's grip on his spoon was loosening as his body grew weaker, and his burly shoulders were beginning to slouch.

All of a sudden, amidst all of his exhaustion, Merlin's grip tightened around his spoon as he proceeded to fire a Psybeam at Haunter. It streaked throughout the air at a high velocity, causing Haunter to escape by dropping into the ground and fading out of the corporeal world.

When the Psybeam disappeared, Ash, along with everyone else in the arena, spent a moment trying to locate Haunter until he revealed himself. Unexpectedly, Haunter reemerged from concealment right in front of Merlin. Ash looked ahead with excitement as Haunter swung a fist coated with black energy at the kadabra, but his splutter of joy was precipitously smashed when Merlin teleported away.

Unlike Haunter, Merlin instantly reappeared adjacent to Haunter prior to unloading another one of those slow, widespread psychic waves that Ash was unfamiliar with. This time, Haunter was caught off guard by the psychic-type's teleportation and was unable to dodge or vanish into incorporeality.

Ash cringed as Haunter let out a cry after being hit by the strange psychic move. However, he relaxed a little bit when Haunter dissipated into incorporeality immediately after the duration of the attack and rematerialized behind Merlin.

In subsequence of the reappearance of Haunter's corporeal form, the apparition emanated a dark purple ray that Ash immediately recognized as Night Shade. Once again, the psi pokemon proved just how fast it could move, by means of teleportation, as it vanished in precedence to showing up on the opposite side of the battlefield, directly in front of Sabrina.

"Confuse Ray!" bellowed Ash, "to your left!"

Without a moment's hesitation, Haunter waved his fingers and an ominous, dark purple wave of energy was cast upon the kadabra. It was thick, murky and looked like a cloud full of toxins. Ash wasn't quite sure why Merlin didn't teleport away, but it most likely had something to do with his high-level of exhaustion. Teleportation wasn't limitless after all, it required energy. And energy was something that the kadabra was presently running low on.

As soon as the Confuse Ray ceased, Ash could tell right away that kadabra was confused. Its eyes looked unintelligent and were dilated, whereas its body swayed back and forth, clearly lacking stable balance.

Upon realization that Merlin had been confused, Ash clenched his fist with anticipation. The kadabra was already exhausted, confusion on top of exhaustion didn't bode well for the psychic-type's chances at victory. However, undeterred by the fact that things were leaning towards victory, Ash refused to lose focus until Merlin was completely unconscious.

"Be prepared for anything!" shouted Ash. "It's on its last leg, but the Confuse Ray's made it unpredictable!"

Haunter nodded his entire body in response to Ash's exclamation, while Merlin started to lash out due to his currently deranged mind state. At first, his confusion symptoms were worrisome. He began his rampage of befuddlement by randomly shooting a multitude of Psybeams and by sporadically slashing away at his surroundings with Psycho Cut.

There were several instances where Merlin nearly struck Haunter out of luck, but every time he got close, the ghost-type was able to evade the mindless attack. This went on for quite a bit, all the while, Haunter was using Night Shade from a distance in order to slowly eat away at the kadabra's remaining energy.

While the kadabra was getting closer and closer to comatose, Ash watched as Sabrina stood attentive with her arms folded. She hadn't said a word for a while now, and Ash was starting to get the impression that she had left the battle in Merlin's hands a long time ago.

Either that, or Sabrina was still communicating using telekinesis. However, Ash highly doubted that. Not only was Sabrina more lax than she usually was, but Merlin didn't seem like he was in a position to be receptive to her mental voice. The kadabra was exhausted, and his confusion was overwhelming.

In Ash's opinion, Sabrina's calm disposition could only mean one of two things. Either she knew something that Ash didn't, and Merlin had an outcome altering trick up his sleeve, or she had already accepted the fact that this match was over, and there was no reason to struggle.

Ash was banking on the latter.

"Finish this now!" howled Ash, "Shadow Punch!"

In response to Ash's command, Haunter enveloped both of his fists in shadowy aura. As the ghostly energy stirred, it shrieked within the gym's enclosed, stagnant environment.

While Haunter closed in on Merlin, the psi pokemon remained in a disgruntled and deranged state, using his conduit spoon at random to spew repetitive Psybeams all over the arena. In route to delivering the final blow, Haunter was forced to faze in and out of the corporeal world several times in order to reach Merlin without getting hurt.

Once Haunter was close enough to strike, he disembogued a loud, triumphant guffaw as he buried both of his fists into Merlin's gut. The psychic-type's eyes bulged, and it was clear that he was in pain, but he didn't let out even the slightest hint of a noise.

Kadabra weren't very vocal pokemon to begin with, so Ash wasn't too surprised. However, to get hit by an attack like that and not make a noise meant that he must have had the wind knocked out of him. Within a mere couple of seconds, Merlin's eyes went from full and active to empty and slanted as he passed into comatose. It wasn't until Merlin fell backward, due to momentum, that his unconscious form finally released a loud, desperate gasp for air.

In concurrence to the moment that Merlin hit the ground, the ghostly energy that was blanketing Haunter's fists evaporated, leaving a laughing Haunter levitating above the defeated kadabra's body.

Ash watched in astonishment as Haunter made his way back over to his trainer. He was slightly winded, and he winced a couple of times as he made his way back, but he was in much better shape than Ash would have originally anticipated.

It wasn't until Ash heard the familiar, jovial howl of his best friend, Growlithe, coming from up above that it finally sunk in.

He'd won. He had defeated Sabrina. He had finally won his third gym battle and had earned the right to bear the Marsh Badge.

A feeling of insurmountable joy welled up inside him as Haunter got within arms reach. An enormous grin stretched across his face, and he couldn't help but jump up and down with glee while the entire scope of the win flooded throughout his being.

"Great job, Haunter!" exclaimed Ash as he embraced his ghost-type's corporeal body in a friendly hug of affection. "I don't know what to say! You and Clefairy were unbelievable! I'm so proud of you guys!"

While Haunter let out a cheerful array of laughter, Ash finally noticed the cheers of his friends in the stands, accompanying Growlithe's celebratory howl. All Ash could do was laugh when he heard a surplus of ridiculous praise that without a doubt was coming from Bill. The pokemon researcher's loud, charismatic voice even drowned out Growlithe's as it echoed against the arena's walls.

Taking his eyes off of his ecstatic Haunter, Ash looked up in the stands when he heard Growlithe's proud barks and his friends' triumphal cheers sound closer in proximity. When his line of sight shifted, he saw that Growlithe, Wallace, Robert and Bill were making their way down the stands toward the battlefield.

Ash flashed them a massive smile as they continued to wave and cheer before his attention was suddenly grabbed by the sound of Sabrina's monotonous voice.

"Good job, Ash Ketchum," said Sabrina as she handled Merlin's capture device. "You handled your pokemon very well. Merlin hasn't been beaten like that in a long time. I have to admit, I am impressed."

"Thanks, Sabrina," replied the ten-year-old boy as he petted Haunter between his spikes, "I couldn't have done it without you. Thank you so much for your help with Haunter and Clefairy's mental barriers. It means a lot."

A rare, small smile appeared on Sabrina's face as she reattached Merlin's pokeball to her belt, who she must have returned at some point during the celebration. "It was a pleasure, my friend. It was the least I could do to repay you for all that you have done for Robert and my city."

Ash couldn't help but reciprocate Sabrina's smile, although it wasn't hard since he had been wearing an enormous grin ever since the battle had ended. Just when he thought he couldn't get any happier, he was proven wrong when he was playfully knocked to the ground by none other than Growlithe, who had apparently beaten the rest of his friends down to the battlefield.

After making contact with the ground, Ash had to shield his face with his hands as he tried to avoid getting slobbered on by the puppy pokemon's tongue. Despite the fact that Growlithe was a pup, it was rare that he showed his affection through licking. Nevertheless, when he did, it was usually overwhelming. No matter how much he loved his starter, he'd rather not receive a bath by means of Growlithe's saliva.

While he was being smothered with affection by his fire-type, Ash heard the sound of several converging footsteps accompanied by Wallace's elegant voice.

"Well done, Ash!" exclaimed the foreign Champion as he steadily approached him. "That was a well managed battle. Your pokemon fought well, and you commanded them skillfully when you needed to. I'm proud of you."

"Thanks," stammered Ash, slightly overwhelmed by the Champion's praise. "Was it worth sticking around for?"

"Absolutely," replied the Champion with a definite nod. "Words cannot describe how happy I am that I got to make it."

"Good," answered Ash with a smile, "I'm happy you enjoyed it—"

"It was a bloody damn good battle!" interrupted Robert as he patted Ash on the back. "He better have enjoyed it. You've got even more skill than I remember, Ash. I'm glad Bill talked me into rescheduling my meeting with the board. That was exhilarating."

"You rescheduled a meeting to watch me battle?" asked Ash with curious eyes.

"Bill told me I couldn't miss it," said Robert as he fixed his suit, "and he was right."

"Psht, I don't know how you ever planned on missing it in the first place!" retorted Bill. "It was a battle between your adopted daughter and my friend. I would have left a bloody shit in the middle of headquarter's lobby if you didn't come!"

"Whatever you say, son," laughed Robert sarcastically. "You've been using that empty threat for years. How do you expect me to believe that you'll crap in headquarter's lobby when you're too afraid to use a public lavatory?"

Ash, Wallace and Sabrina snickered while Bill's face turned as red as a tomato.

"Dad…" drawled Bill, "You promised you'd never say anything."

Robert huffed before he responded. "And you've promised me a million times that you would stop threatening to crap in my bloody lobby. Consider us even, son."

"Bloody geezer," cursed Bill under his breath before letting out a forced cough, signifying that he wanted to change the subject.

"Well, anyways…" crooned Bill in a melodramatic tone of voice as he turned his attention back over to Ash. "That was a great battle, Ash! You made me proud to be your friend!"

The pokemon researcher glanced over at Sabrina for a brief moment before looking at Ash in a humorous way, "You really took it to that bloody witch. I've never seen her so frazzled. She didn't know what to do, especially once you confused her kadabra."

In response to Bill's idiotic comment, he received a death glare from saffron's prestigious gym leader. "Bill Montgomery, your idiotic behavior never ceases to amaze me."

"Oh, shut it, Sabrina," Bill sighed with a smirk. "It was just a jest. As much as I hate to admit it, we all know what you are truly capable of."

"Do you now?" queried Sabrina with vacant eyes in precedence to shifting her gaze down toward Ash, Growlithe and Haunter. "Anyways, let's not take this moment away from, Ash Ketchum. This is an important moment for him. I'd rather not spoil it with our trivial banter."

"I agree," interjected Wallace with his arms folded. "Ash still hasn't received Sabrina's badge."

"Your right,"said Bill with a cynical expression. "What the hell, Sabrina, are you trying to screw over my friend here? Give him his bloody badge already."

"Would you please just shut up, Bill," replied Wallace before Sabrina had a chance to wring the obnoxious pokemon researcher out with her psionic powers, "you're being an utter idiot."

"Am not," scoffed Bill, clearly offended.

He proceeded to fold his arms before looking at Ash for support, "Right, Ash?"

"Sorry, Bill," answered Ash with a shrug as he scratched behind Growlithe's ears, "but I'm going to have to side with the others this time. You're being an idiot."

The pokemon researcher froze with a look that portrayed hurt. Ash was one of his only friends after all, so anytime the ten-year-old boy had to give Bill some hard truth, it usually took him a while to process. Nevertheless, it had to be said. What kind of friend would he be if he didn't try and help point out when Bill was acting ridiculous? The stubborn billionaire didn't listen to anyone else, so Ash really didn't have a choice.

He had to be the one that pointed out Bill's flaws every once in a while. It was one of the many roles of being a good friend.

"Well, now that Bill Montgomery's been put in his place, I guess it's time I hand over your winnings," said Sabrina as she drew Ash's attention away from the now sulking pokemon researcher."

Ash's eyes lit up with anticipation. He had been waiting for this moment for a long time. The Marsh Badge signified his progress as a trainer. Not only was it Sabrina's badge, but it was also his third, which meant that from this point forward, he would no longer be battling gym leader's league registered teams.

He had finally completed the preliminary battles of the Kanto Gym Circuit. From this point forward, his journey was about to get a lot more challenging.

His rumination was cut short when two familiar alakazam appeared out of nowhere. Ash had to carefully look them over to figure out their specific identities, but after a couple of seconds, he was able to decipher that they were Sabrina's two strongest alakazam: Kaz and Midna.

"Ash Ketchum, hold out your hands," said Sabrina as everyone else in the arena remained silent and watched."

The ten-year-old boy didn't question the psychic virtuoso. He held out his hands, obeying Sabrina while he waited for what was about to unfold.

"On account of your victory at the Saffron Gym," said Sabrina, "I, Sabrina Marvil, grant you with the Marsh Badge as proof of your victory."

In subsequence to Sabrina's words, Ash watched as Kaz crossed his spoons. The next thing the dark-haired boy knew he was holding a golden circular trinket in his palms. Its design was extremely simple, consisting of one small circle resting within one larger circle.

Ash stared at it for a couple of seconds in awe, reflecting on its prestigious significance, before placing it in one of his jacket pockets. He would have stuck it in his badge case right away, but he's left it on his backpack, which was sitting on the bed that he had been staying at in the gym.

"Thanks so—" managed Ash prior to an unexpected interruption from Sabrina.

"Hold off on the gratitude," said Sabrina with a minute smirk. "I have one more thing to give you."

"What," questioned Ash, bewildered, "there is something else? But, haven't you already done enough for me?"

"Ash Ketchum, after what you've done for Robert and Saffron," said Sabrina, "I don't know if I could ever adequately repay you. However, that is beside the point. The other thing that I want to give you is actually the final part of your mental barrier training."

"Huh?" asked Ash. "What do you mean?"

"Hold out your hands again," said Sabrina.

"Um…okay," drawled Ash while doing what he was told. "But, how could you give me something that will complete my mental barrier training? I'm confu—"

"Midna, now," interrupted Sabrina.

Ash attentively observed Midna as she proceeded to cross her spoons just like Kaz had moments prior. All of a sudden, Ash's hands got heavier when something abruptly materialized within them.

He reflexively looked down, curious as to what Sabrina had given him. As soon as he laid his eyes on it, they lit up jubilantly.

"Is this what I think it is?" asked Ash with excitement brewing in his intonation.

"That depends," answered Sabrina with a hint of interest in her eyes. "What do you think it is?"

Ash looked over the small, black cardboard box that had the number twenty-nine printed on it in large, white letters. Following the number was the word, Psychicwhich happened to be printed in dark purple letters.

"It's a Psychic TM, right?" asked Ash.

"Correct," answered Sabrina with a proud look in her eyes. "Inside of that box, written on a disk, is the information required to teach Clefairy or Haunter Psychic. Both species are compatible with the TM."

"Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!" exclaimed Ash as he joyfully looked up from the box that the TM occupied. "This will be a big help!"

"Sabrina provided the information required to make that TM," said Robert, chiming back into the conversation. "It's applicable to almost two hundred different species spread oute across the world."

"Really!?" blustered Ash. "That's so cool! This is awesome, Sabrina, I can't wait to use it!"

"It's not a big deal," retorted Sabrina blankly. "Robert gets me them for free, since I helped design them. I figured that since you are heading to Celadon, you would be getting a TM case pretty soon. Once you get your TM case, you can apply that Psychic TM to either Clefairy or Haunter. Not only will it be a good technique to use in battle, but it will also give you a means to use external psychic exposure in order to put up mental barriers over the rest of your pokemons' psyches."

Ash took a moment to soak in the significance of the gift before finally responding.

"Wow…" drawled Ash, "that's awesome. I don't know what to say."

"There's no need to say anything," said Sabrina, "You earned it. It is my gift to you for everything that you've done."

Ash simply nodded his head. Words couldn't describe how happy he was. Not only had he won the Marsh Badge, but he had also gotten a TM that would open the door for all of his pokemon to be able to compete with psychics—.

"Ring…"

"Ring…"

"Ring…"

The moment was cut off as everyone except for Ash checked their pockets to see if the pokegear that was going off belonged to them. Ash examined the xtranceiver on his wrist to make sure that it wasn't him.

The situation was resolved when Wallace pulled his flashing pokegear out of one of his pant pockets.

"One second," said Wallace as he walked away from the group in order to take the call in private, "I've got to take this."

"Click."

In subsequence to Wallace picking up the phone, everybody else mingled amongst each other until he returned to the group a few minutes later. As he approached them, a look of disappointment formed across his face prior to addressing them.

"Well…" sighed Wallace, "that was a League official from Hoenn. Apparently, there's a taxi waiting for me outside. I've got to get to the airport ASAP. My flight leaves in a couple of hours."

Ash frowned, although he wasn't surprised. He knew that Wallace would be leaving soon. However, even though he knew that it was coming, it was still difficult to hear. In a short amount of time, Wallace had become like an older brother to him. The last thing he wanted was for that older brother to leave, especially when leaving meant that he would be going to a faraway region like Hoenn.

"Don't give me that look, kiddo," said Wallace as he playfully messed up Ash's cap. "We'll stay in touch. Besides, I'll see you again at the League tournament. Hoenn's season starts later thank Kanto's, so the conference tournament isn't until August. There shouldn't be anything keeping me in Hoenn when Kanto's conference is held at the Indigo Plateau."

"Really?!" exclaimed Ash, excited at the thought of Wallace watching him battle at the tournament.

"Yup, unless there's an emergency, I'll be there," said Wallace before directing his attention away from Ash and toward everyone else. "I take it I'll see you guys there as well."

"It's mandatory for gym leaders to attend," retorted Sabrina, "so I will be there."

"I'll be there," added Robert with a big grin. "I haven't missed the Indigo Conference in twenty years."

"I'm coming," said Bill, gloomily. "I can't miss Ash battle. Besides, I'm pretty sure I already promised Lance that I'd make an appearance.

Ash pivoted his eyes toward Growlithe, and then over to Haunter, as his friends shared their plans to attend the League tournament. "You hear that guys? Everyone's coming to watch us battle; we better not disappoint 'em."

Growlithe let out a proud bark, and Haunter emitted his usual ghoulish guffaw in response to Ash's words.

"Well, anyways," interrupted Wallace as he prepared to make his way around the group in order to give everyone a friendly goodbye handshake, "I probably shouldn't make the taxi driver wait any longer. I'm going to head out. I'll see all of you at the conference."

"Goodbye, my friend," retorted Robert sincerely. "Have a safe trip. We'll keep in touch."

"Farewell, Champion Wallace," said Sabrina. "Thank you so much for coming to Robert and Saffron's aid. We couldn't have stopped Team Rocket without you."

"Tootles, Wallace," crooned Bill, who seemed to be getting over his overemotional mood shift. "Don't get your cape stuck in the front door."

Wallace simply ignored Bill's predictable snide remark as he dropped his eyes down to Ash's level.

"Bye Wall—"

"Ash, could you please accompany me to the taxi," interrupted Wallace as he began to back away towards the front entrance. "There's something I would like to discuss with you before I leave."

"Um…sure," drawled Ash, unsure of how to reply.

As Ash, Growlithe and Haunter started to trail Wallace out of the arena, Bill tried to follow them.

"Just, Ash," said Wallace sternly as he turned around and gestured for Bill to leave them alone. "I'm sorry, Bill, but I would like to talk with Ash in private before I leave."

Ash could tell that Bill was about to protest, so he too gestured for him to stay put. Ash could tell that Bill was slightly hurt that he couldn't tag along, but he would have to get over it. Whatever Wallace wanted to say to him must be important if he didn't feel comfortable saying it in front of everyone else.

"Whatever," snarled Bill as he turned around and walked the other way. "I didn't want to come anyways."

Ash ignored Bill's childish behavior, for now, as he continued to follow Wallace out of the gym. Unlike Bill, Sabrina and Robert let them leave without saying a word. It was clear that they respected a Champion's request for privacy.

"So, what's this about?" asked Ash as soon as they were far away not to be heard.

"Hang tight," replied Wallace as he sporadically shifted his suspicious gaze, "I'll tell you as soon as we exit gym."

Ash nodded as they continued to make their way out of the gym. All the while, his nerves were starting to spike. What was it that Wallace wanted to tell him? Why would he pull him off to the side like this? Was it important? What could it possibly be?

XXX

The ten-year-old boy's stomach dropped, and his nerves heightened, as he watched the taxi disappear in the distance.

Wallace had left.

After the last couple weeks of insanity, the Champion had finally departed for his home region. Under normal circumstances, Ash wouldn't be as upset as he was. He knew he would keep in touch with Wallace; he understood that he would be seeing him again.

However, after the information bomb that Wallace had just dropped on him, he couldn't help but feel sick while watching Wallace leave.

If what Wallace had told him was true, Kanto was in trouble. They needed all of the help they could get, and Wallace was the strongest trainer that Ash had ever met. Kanto needed him, but that wasn't possible because he had his own region to protect.

Of course, they always had Lance. However, Ash had a tough time believing that even Lance could stop what Team Rocket was hiding.

Damn, who would have ever guessed that they had been up to something so sinister?

No wonder they had disappeared for five years. The little bit of information that Sabrina had ripped from Ariana's mind had completely blown him away.

He had expected something foreboding. Austin had opened him up to the thought that Team Rocket could be after a legendary, but this was way worse.

Hopefully, Sabrina had been mistaken. Maybe it was all just a misunderstanding. But, deep down inside, he knew it was true. Wallace believed it, and Sabrina believed it, and both of them were two of the most credible people he knew.

Howbeit, maybe if he denied it, it would never come to pass. But, then again, he knew he was just fooling himself.

Everything made sense now. The facts had finally come together, and everything had aligned.

Team Rocket had a secret weapon—a weapon that they were waiting patiently to unveil.

If it weren't for this mission, they wouldn't have found out about it. At least something good came out of this whole fiasco. Now they knew what Team Rocket was planning. Something so dastardly that even Sabrina had been rattled by what was about to unfold.

He didn't know when, all he knew was that it was soon. Wallace guessed that they would strike before the Indigo conference. The Champion assumed that their secret would be revealed around the end of the League season.

Ash didn't know what he could do to help. He didn't know how he could stop what was coming. The only thing he could think of was to get stronger, so that he wouldn't simply whither away when this storm finally came to pass.

Ariana's mind revealed that a monster dwelled within Kanto: a beast so powerful that it made a dragonite look like something less than a caterpie.

Sabrina couldn't garner a name, but its origin wasn't natural.

It was an abomination, resembling a creature that had only been mentioned in ancient legends. Ariana had said that she had been exposed to psychic levels that even Sabrina couldn't match, and she was right.

The truth behind Team Rocket's agenda was worse than anything any of them could have imagined. There master plan involved a psychic-type, who's DNA was spliced from the legendary Mew itself.

Simply put, regardless of how chaotic the last few weeks had been, they were a walk in the park compared to what was to come.

Sometime in the near future, evil in its purest form would be descending upon Kanto, and even Champion Lance wouldn't be able to put a stop to it

Hopefully, fate had an answer.

XXX

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