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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28. Kanto 9 Part 1

"Remember what I said the other day," lectured Ash with his chest out and arms folded. "Don't rely on your shell. It's a convenient catalyst, but it's hindering your ability to learn the technique."

He paused, "Protect is a projective shield created by manifesting your mental fortitude. It takes intense concentration intermixed with your inner energy. You're never going to get it to work if you keep using your physical shield, so stay out of your shell and face the attack head on, Wartortle."

The recently evolved turtle pokemon shot his trainer a cold glance before focusing his attention back on Charmander, who was his current sparring partner.

"Charmander, again!" commanded Ash.

He watched as a half purple tinted flame erupted from his lizard pokemon's maw. Despite its draconic properties, it was still an Ember, albeit repetition was beginning to reap its benefits.

Pretty soon, Charmander wouldn't be able to use Dragon Rage on Wartortle like this. As the draconic properties of the attack strengthened, and it became more of a pure Dragon Rage, it would become much more effective against Wartortle.

At the moment, Wartortle and Charmander's training was at a point of intersection. It was moments like this that Ash really liked to take advantage of.

He could kill two birds with one stone. With repetition, Charmander could continue to master his Dragon Rage. And at the beginning stages of learning Protect, Wartortle could opportunistically use the fire lizard's practice in order to trigger Protect without taking too much damage.

Moreover, it also helped that Wartortle and Charmander got along decently well. They were great training partners. Charmander was one of Ash's only pokemon that Wartortle actually felt like he could relate to, and the fire lizard handled the water-type's glacial personality with a lot of grace.

Even though their personalities outside of training were very different, they shared one major thing in common: an exemplary work-ethic. Both Charmander and Wartortle had an intrinsic drive to get stronger, which was a mutual quality that the two of them respected.

Entrenched in their similar scars of abandonment, Charmander and Wartortle each had a chip on their shoulder that most people and pokemon could not understand.

It had warped and reshaped their personalities. Wartortle became detached and fragmented, whereas Charmander became hypersensitive and high-strung. They were two opposite extremes. However, their similar emotional wounds allowed them to understand each other.

It was an unorthodox relationship, but somehow it worked.

Now, Ash wouldn't necessarily consider them friends. Outside of training, they didn't spend very much time together. Charmander gravitated more towards Growlithe and Haunter, while Wartortle was a bit of a recluse.

Nevertheless, they were good for each other, especially in regard to satisfying each other's appetite for drudgery…

"Now, dive deep into your willpower, Wartortle!" bellowed Ash. "Visualize that you are enshrouded in an impenetrable barrier! Nothing can hurt you! Nothing can so much as touch you! You are completely protected! You don't need your shell! Your strength of mind itself is sturdy enough to protect you!"

Hearing his trainer's words, Wartortle stood his ground, staring down the draconically infused fireball with concentrated eyes.

Ash watched, half expecting Wartortle to withdraw at the last moment. A small smile formed on his face when he witnessed the turtle pokemon widen his stance and clench his fists in preparation to endure whatever managed to pierce his incarnate bravery.

No matter the outcome, at least Wartortle was beginning to understand. Protect was not a technique for the indecisive.

It required commitment, which was what Wartortle was trying his best to characterize. He needed to go for broke in order to be rewarded with a new skill. The unfeeling water-type needed to give himself up to his own ironclad grit, so that he could shield even a fraction of his body.

Judging by his decisive shift in stance, he was willing to do that.

Ash's eyes widened when a minute glimmer of blue light appeared in the blink of an eye. The abrupt coruscation flickered for a second as it collided with Charmander's draconic Ember.

The dark-haired boy could immediately tell that its scope wasn't wide enough to nullify the entirety of the attack, which was expected. This was Wartortle's first time actually exteriorizing a barrier. Ash figured it would take a lot of practice before his friend could create a shield big enough to protect his entire body.

The partial Protect managed to penetrate right through the center of Charmander's incomplete Dragon Rage, causing the flame to collapse around it like a wave crashing against a mountainside.

Unfortunately for Wartortle, he was hit by the portion of the flame that the barrier was unable to obstruct. The turtle pokemon groaned as both of his arms and legs were smacked by the scorching flame.

Even though Ash knew that it wouldn't cause any significant damage, he still cringed when Wartortle cried out in pain. Just because he liked to battle didn't mean he didn't care if his friends got hurt. They were his family after all.

As the purple tinted flame and fragmented Protect faded, Ash approached his friend with a small smile on his face. "Well, at least you managed to make a barrier. Good job, Wartortle."

Although he didn't look anywhere close to satisfied, Wartortle grunted, acknowledging Ash's praise. Even when he mastered a technique, the turtle pokemon wasn't the type to ever be appeased. Therefore, Ash wasn't surprised in the least by his friend's lackluster reaction.

"How are your arms and legs?" questioned Ash as he quickly surveyed his water-type's condition.

Once again, Wartortle responded with a monotonous grunt. He was fine. He didn't look like he had any burns, and water-types were protected against fire by their natural element. The draconic energy that was interlaced in the flame probably made it sting a little more than normal, however, Wartortle didn't need a potion or anything like that. After a short amount of time inside of his pokeball, he would be as good as new.

The ten-year-old boy reached for Wartortle's pokeball, which was attached to its usual spot on Ash's trainer belt. "Why don't you take a little rest? We'll work on it some more in a little b—"

Ash ceased his sentence when Wartortle abruptly turned around, showing him eyes full of determination.

"Or…" drawled Ash, amused, "we could keep going."

Wartortle nodded his head before pivoting his glance over to Charmander.

"What do you say, Charmander!?" yelled Ash from across the clearing. "Can you give him another one!?"

Charmander gave Wartortle a smug look before letting out a confident snort, signifying that he was more than ready.

Ash couldn't help but laugh. He'd let them have a little bit more fun before he cut them off.

XXX

"Hmm…" murmured Ash as he held his hand up to his chin in thought, "I think it's ready. What about you?"

Haunter floated around his trainer in celebration, letting out his signature, ghoulish guffaw.

"I'll take that as a yes," muttered Ash in between laughter.

"What the hell was that!?" howled the other trainer as he returned his fallen doduo.

The boy was about the same age as Ash. He had long, brown hair and a thin face. Going off of the two-on-two battle that they had just had, he wasn't very good.

The first pokemon he sent out was a butterfree. Despite its type-advantage, it didn't stand a chance against Ivysaur. The poor bug-type tried to intoxicate the grass-type with several status techniques, but it wasn't able to connect. Regardless of his bulky build, once Ivysaur activated Chlorophyll, he was just too fast to be hit with a slow, powder based technique.

Ivysaur eventually trapped the butterfree with Vine Whip before finishing it off with a vicious Razor Leaf.

In regard to Razor Leaf, the grass-type's accuracy against moving targets wasn't quite good enough for Ash to consider the technique complete, but as long as the target was still, Ivysaur could use it in combat. Thus, the Vine Whip/Razor Leaf combination would be essential until Ivysaur mastered Razor Leaf.

The second pokemon that his opponent sent out was a rather mediocre doduo. Ash hadn't faced too many members of the species, so his sample size for comparison was pretty small. Nevertheless, he knew enough to be able to tell that it wasn't anything special.

Haunter made quick work of it, hitting it with an onslaught of Sucker Punches before finishing it off with his newest technique: Payback, which was the move that their opponent was currently gawking over…

"Payback," retorted Ash with a satisfied grin on his face. "This is the first time we've used it in a battle."

"P-payback…" stuttered the trainer. "I've never heard of it."

Ash wasn't surprised; Payback wasn't a very common move. Only three species in all of Kanto could naturally learn it, and two of those species were incredibly rare.

The most obvious of those species was the gastly line, which could learn Payback easily because of their sinister nature and skill with the mystic elements. Outside of Kanto's exclusive ghosts, the only other Kanto native pokemon that could learn Payback were tauros and the vulpix line.

Tauros were uncommon, albeit Ash wouldn't consider them rare. You could catch one relatively easily at the Safari Zone, but outside of the Safari Zone, they could only be found at one of Kanto's many restricted reserves.

Both vulpix and its evolved form ninetails were rare and generally hard to find.

Simply put, Payback was a very rare technique. Unless a trainer had done a lot of research regarding one of the three Kanto pokemon that could learn it, chances are it wouldn't be on their radar.

"It's a dark-type technique," said Ash as he gently stroked in between one of the spikes on Haunter's back. "It works best as a counter-attack. Haunter converts the molecules around him into dark energy and uses it to strike his opponent. If his opponent uses a technique first, he can absorb the leftover residue from their attack, convert it into dark energy, and use it against them. Pretty cool, eh?"

"P-pretty cool!" stammered the kid as he began to back away from Ash. "More like devastating!"

"I wouldn't go that far," said Ash with a shrug. "Haunter's going to have to get a lot stronger before any of his moves could be considered devastating."

Images of the battle against Team Rocket collided with his psyche. The faces of Sabrina, Wallace, Kent and Ariana flashed inside of his mind. Their pokemon were devastating. Compared to them, his friends were cute.

"Whatever you say," said the kid as he clipped his doduo's pokeball back to his trainer belt and gave him a quick wave. "Anyways, thanks for the battle. I've got to go."

Ash let out a small sigh as he watched the kid runaway.

"What do we have to do to find a good challenge out here?" questioned Ash as he continued to scratch behind Haunter's spikes. "Over the past couple of days, most of the battles we've had have been like that."

The ghost-type raised his finger in the direction of the fleeing trainer and released a burst of laughter, clearly poking fun at the fleeing boy.

"Cut it out," said Ash sarcastically as he looked down at Haunter with amused eyes. "It's not nice to point and laugh."

In response to Ash's words, Haunter shifted his finger in Ash's direction before purposely raising the volume of his discordant voice.

"You're impossible," managed Ash before exploding with laughter.

He couldn't help but chuckle at his ghost-type's antics. Most of the time, he was just way too hilarious to take seriously.

Once they had finally finished laughing, Ash tried his best to clear his mind and change the subject, "Anyways, good job with Payback. You've mastered it quickly."

The ghost-type lowered his shadowy hand and bowed, portraying a serious face in the process.

Ash shook his head at his friend's strange behavior before continuing, "I'll have to do some research on the pokedex to figure out which move we should learn next, but that can wait until later."

He paused, "For now, we need to get moving. We've spent most of the day training and battling. At our current pace, it'll take forever to get to Celadon."

The ghost-type released his typical, cacophonous guffaw before abruptly diving into Ash's shadow.

"So, I take it you're not ready to go back in your pokeball," said Ash as a shiver shot down his spine.

From deep within his shadow, the apparition retorted with a quiet cackle.

Once again, Ash chuckled while shaking his head, "Very well. Let's go."

XXX

"How are you holding up?" asked Ash as he peeked down at Growlithe.

The pup looked up at him with argent eyes. Despite the fact that they had been moving for the past couple of hours, it was rather clear that Growlithe wasn't even close to being tired.

"Good," said Ash. "I'd like to cover a little more ground before we take a break…"

It had been three days since they left Saffron, and they had hardly gotten anywhere. The majority of their time on the road had been spent training. According to his xtransceiver, they had only ventured about thirteen miles, which was pretty pathetic in his opinion.

Training was imperative, but even Ash could tell that he had been a bit obsessive as of late.

There were a couple of reasons why Ash's impulse to train had been stronger than usual, although he would blame most of his overzealousness on the fact that he hadn't had very many opportunities to train in Saffron.

Of course, he did have his special training with Sabrina, but that didn't really count. Outside of his time spent establishing mental barriers with Clefairy and Haunter, he was pretty limited with what he could do.

Not only was the majority of his time dedicated to mental barrier training, but during his time with Sabrina, almost all of his other pokemon had been recovering from the battle against Team Rocket. Now that everyone was healthy, and he was free to do as he pleased, it had been almost impossible to control his heightened compulsiveness to train.

Another reason that he couldn't help but overtrain was the uninteresting scenery that occupied Route Seven.

Unlike some of the more luscious and robust routes that he had explored, Route Seven was rather mundane. Other than the encompassing, mountainous terraces that could be seen in the distance, it was flat, and the ground consisted of mostly dirt and brushwood.

The only wild pokemon that Ash had seen were pidgey, rattata and oddish, which were all common species. Granted, Ash was only thirteen miles away from Saffron, so the wild pokemon were bound to vary and increase the further he got out. However, at this point in time, he still expected to see more, especially since Sabrina had told him that wild abra were known to dwell in these parts.

Just as he had heard from Sabrina, Route Seven was flooded with trainers, which only drew his eyes away from the insipid terrain and enhanced his avidity to get stronger. After nearly every training session that he and his friends had partaken in over the past couple of days, there had been a trainer close by to test their growing skills on.

Most of the trainers weren't worth mentioning, but every once in a while he would come across a trainer that could give him a run for his money. As a matter of fact, he had even been beaten a couple of times.

Over the last two and a half days, Route Seven had trapped him in an addictive cycle of training and battling. However, today he planned on changing that.

He had already gotten his morning training session in, so he planned on dedicating the rest of the day to his trip to Celadon. Of course, it would be a contradiction to his personality to decline a battle if another trainer challenged him, but he wouldn't go out of his way to find any opponents.

Outside of Growlithe, Ash planned on giving his friends the rest of the day to recuperate in their pokeballs. Most of them were exhausted from all of the training that they had been doing, so some time in suspended animation would be a good thing.

Ash didn't even bother asking Growlithe if he wanted to go in his pokeball. They were on the road, which typically meant that the inside of Growlithe's pokeball was off-limits.

Ever since the beginning of their journey, Growlithe had preferred to be on the outside with Ash. It was where he felt most comfortable.

Obviously, there were some exceptions.

Due to his social anxiety, which hadn't really been a problem as of late, Growlithe didn't like being outside of his pokeball in heavily populated areas. There were also times when his physical exhaustion got the best of him, and he chose to stay in his pokeball to rest, leaving the job of protecting Ash to one of his teammates.

Howbeit, those times were rare, and Growlithe was almost always right alongside his best friend.

This time around, it helped that Growlithe's training had been primarily technique oriented and that he hadn't been involved in very many battles. For the most part, his friend was fresh. He had a couple of scrapes and soreness here and there, but overall he was probably the healthiest out of all of Ash's pokemon.

The puppy pokemon's training sessions had been entirely dedicated to mastering the form required to perform the move Reversal, which was still giving Growlithe trouble.

The fire-type had definitely made some progress since they had started learning the move a couple of weeks ago, but Growlithe still had a ways to go before he could use the technique in battle. Due to his quadrupedal body-type, Reversal was one of the hardest moves in the puppy pokemon's natural learnset to get a grip on.

Since it was essentially a throwing technique, it was arduous for Growlithe to carry out. He had to use his whole body. The pup wasn't a bipedal pokemon. He wasn't born with arms that made propelling something natural. Instead, what he had to do was trap his opponent with all four of his legs while simultaneously creating enough leverage to launch them into the air.

At the present moment, Growlithe was capable of locking up his target. In Ash's opinion, he had become adept when it came to wrestling his opponents into a position that they couldn't break out of.

The problem was that Growlithe was having a tough time engaging his opponents at a point where he had enough momentum, leverage and strength to complete the throw.

Ash knew how to teach it to him. The pokedex was pretty clear in its explanation of how to teach the growlithe line the right way to execute Reversal.

The approach was basically a Flame Wheel without the flame. Growlithe needed to get a running start before flipping head over into his opponent. Right before he entered the apex of the flip, he needed to latch onto the target in preparation to throw.

Depending on the target's size, the momentum that Growlithe would acquire from the leap combined with the leverage he had accumulated with the flip was supposed to allow him to complete the toss.

In addition to all of the physics involved, there was also the accumulation and distribution of fighting spirit to factor in, but he didn't plan on worrying about any of that until they had mastered the basic fundamentals of the technique.

Simply put, they had a lot of work to do before Reversal was complete. If they didn't make some solid progress quickly, Ash would consider teaching Growlithe an additional move.

He didn't typically like to overwhelm his friends by teaching them two moves at once, but he would make an exception if he felt that it would help. And right now, complimenting Growlithe's current, tedious task with something a little more fun and natural could be healthy for him.

Other than Growlithe, all of his pokemon were either putting the finishing touches on the techniques that they were learning, or they were beginning to learn moves that came natural to them.

Pidgeotto was on the brink of gaining complete command over Agility. It turned out that the glimpse of success that Ash had seen during the battle at the Magnet Train station had only been a temporary feat.

He figured that in order to protect Wartortle, Pidgeotto must have accessed Agility unconsciously with nothing but sheer willpower. Ever since the battle, though, Pidgeotto has had to once again work towards gaining control over Agility by pushing himself to the limit.

At first, Ash had been a little bit disappointed. He was hoping that after what he had seen underneath the Magnet Train station, Pidgeotto had learned how to shift into Agility at will. However, it didn't take long for him to get over it, and now he was just happy that Pidgeotto was finally on the verge of finishing it…

Out of all of his friends, Clefairy's training was probably the most difficult for him to understand. It wasn't like Minimize or Stored Power, though. Clefairy wasn't frustrated. In fact, she was having a blast.

Ash had finally decided to let Clefairy learn the move that her species was most famous for: Metronome—a rare normal-type technique that no other pokemon native to Kanto could learn.

Metronome was one of those techniques that came naturally to a species. It was like teaching a magnemite how to use Thundershock or a kadabra how to use Psychic. It didn't take very much on his end in order to guide Clefairy towards success.

Metronome's outlandish finger wagging procedure was simple for Clefairy to get the hang of, and the mystic energy she needed to conjure the attack came to her innately. All he had to do was show her an example on his pokedex, and she had mastered it.

It wasn't teaching Clefairy Metronome that had him confused. Ash was confused because he had no idea how to use it effectively in battle.

If Ash had to explain Metronome in one word, it would be randomThe signature technique of the cleffa line was absolutely unpredictable. There was no way to properly explain how it worked, and there was no telling what it would do.

Metronome used a strange, abstruse energy that somehow had the ability to summon the essence needed to perform any technique. The user didn't know what technique they were summoning. As a matter of fact, Ash didn't even know if Metronome knew what move it was summoning.

The whole process operated on chance.

Ash wasn't necessarily opposed to a technique that was unpredictable. He was sure that it would come in handy at some point. However, other than using it as a wildcard, he couldn't really see Metronome having much of a future in his battle strategies.

The only time he could see Clefairy using it in battle would be as a last resort. When all other chips were on the table, and she was backed into a corner, she could call upon Metronome in hope of a miracle.

Maybe she would get lucky and invoke a Hyper Beam. That would be convenient.

Anyways, now that Clefairy had mastered the form needed to perform Metronome, he didn't see the point in them practicing it for too much longer. He would allow Clefairy to have a little more fun with it. She had earned that much. But at some point during the next couple of days, they would move on.

Ash already knew what move he was going to teach her next. He had done some research the moment that he realized Metronome would be easy for Clefairy to learn and decided that he would teach her Cosmic Power: a defensive technique that once again required her internal thaumaturgic energy.

He still had to look deeper into some of the details, but he understood the general gist of the technique. It was essentially an energy cloak, made out of a thin-layer of thaumaturgic energy, that enveloped the user's body and served as a buffer against contending attacks.

Even though Clefairy really needed some more hard-hitting offensive moves, he figured that it wouldn't take her very long to learn Cosmic Power, and it had a chance to multiply her defense by a considerable amount, especially if she learned how to use it in combination with Minimize…

In addition to Clefairy, another pokemon that Ash was beginning to look into a new move for was Ivysaur.

His grass-type still hadn't gained full control over Razor Leaf, but he was getting close. Over the past couple of days, Ash had used Ivysaur a lot against other traveling trainers. With every battle, he was getting more and more accurate. Pretty soon, he wouldn't need to rely on Vine Whip to immobilize his targets prior to using Razor Leaf.

It was just a matter of time before Ivysaur would be able to hit mobile targets with ease. They were almost to the point where Ash could rely solely on live battles for Ivysaur to improve his Razor Leaf. Once that was the case, he would feel comfortable teaching Ivysaur a new technique.

Out of all of the available moves in Ivysaur's learnset, the technique that Ash was leaning towards teaching him next was Sweet Scent, which is a status move that destabilizes an opponent's cerebrum and cerebellum in a way that slows down their overall evasiveness and reaction time.

Ash had been tempted to teach Ivysaur Sweet Scent for quite sometime now, but he knew that the best thing to do in the long run would be to wait until Ivysaur gained better control over his quick-hitting Razor Leaf.

Sweet Scent was one of the primary ways that a bulbasaur trainer could accommodate for the species' general lack of speed, especially if the specimen they trained up ever evolved into its hulking final form: venusaur.

If Ash were to have taught Ivysaur Sweet Scent too soon, it could have become a crutch. Despite its usefulness, the reason he had waited until now to consider learning it was because he wanted Ivysaur to be able to comfortably battle without it, especially since his Ivysaur had been blessed with the ability Chlorophyll.

Not only did waiting to learn Sweet Scent give Ivysaur some time to naturally adapt to faster opponents, it also set him up to benefit even more than most grass-types would from the aromatic technique.

Ash was hoping for a slow motion effect. He figured that if Ivysaur could fend off agile opponents without Sweet Scent, when he actually used It, their movements would appear sluggish and conspicuous...

Speaking of conspicuous, it was very clear that Charmander was on the brink of evolution. Not only was his friend's skin darkening and his flame growing, but his claws were elongating, and the long, horn-like protrusion that charmeleon were known to have was beginning to emerge from the back of his head.

In Ash's opinion, Charmander was only a couple of battles away from evolving. Without a doubt, he would be a charmeleon by the time they reached Celadon. Hopefully, the evolution happened in the next couple of days. That way, Ash would have plenty of time to let his fire lizard get used to his new form before his gym battle against Erika.

On top of the fact that Charmander would be evolving soon, he was also excruciatingly close to producing a full-fledged Dragon Rage. He was finally at the point where the draconic energy inside of him was starting to reject his internal flame, which meant that pretty soon it would be strong enough to stand on its own.

Ash couldn't wait. Once Charmander's draconic energy was strong enough, he could finally separate it from his flame. Thus, his fire lizard would be able to spit out Dragon Rage as easily as his natural flame…

Another Pokemon that was getting close to attaining a new skill was Wartortle. The turtle pokemon had only been working on Protect for a couple of days, but ever since Ash had gotten it through his head that he needed to stop relying on his shell, the water-type had made a lot of progress.

Wartortle was now capable of enshrouding almost half of his body within Protect's energy barrier, which was quite an improvement over the fraction of his body that he managed to protect the very first time he manifested a semblance of the defensive technique.

If Ash were to guess, he would say that Wartortle was anywhere from a week to two weeks away from truly mastering Protect, although pretty soon it would be far enough along to where he could reflexively use it in battle…

Out of all of his friends, the one that had impressed him the most over the past couple of days was Haunter.

From the moment he faced off against him back in Lavender Town, Ash knew Haunter was strong, but now that he was traveling on his own again – without any distractions – and had the opportunity to see his friend go up against a multitude of traveling trainers' pokemon, he was finally starting to recognize just how special Haunter was.

He was on another level. Outside of maybe Pidgeotto, none of his other pokemon were even close to touching Haunter in terms of what he could accomplish in battle.

Ash had partaken in more battles than he could count since leaving Saffron, and all of his friends had participated. Out of the whole group, the only pokemon that had yet to take a loss was Haunter.

First and foremost, he was a matchup nightmare. His rare typing in and of itself took care of the majority of an average trainer's pokemon. Not too many people knew enough about ghost-types to understand what their weaknesses were, and even if they did, it usually didn't matter.

Ghosts were really only weak against other ghosts and dark-types.

The gastly line were the only ghost-types native to Kanto, and they were practically impossible to track down without an expensive silph scope or a rare growlithe that knew Odor Sleuth.

In regard to dark-types, Kanto didn't really have any. Eevee had the potential to evolve into an umbreon, which was a dark-type. But, eevee were rare enough in their own right and chances were extremely low that someone – other than a dark-type specialist – had the patience to train an eevee into an umbreon.

In addition to the fact that Haunter didn't have very many weaknesses, he was also flat out immune to normal and fighting-type moves, which were two common types in the Kanto region.

Thus, when you factored in all of the advantages that Haunter congenitally had with his exceptional battle instincts and his ability to adapt and learn at an incredible rate, it was pretty evident that Haunter would be difficult for any trainer to defeat.

Ash couldn't even fathom how strong he would be once he evolved into a gengar. He was formidable enough as a haunter, picturing him as a fully evolved gengar was just downright terrifying.

Thank God he was on his side.

Anyways, in terms of Haunter's present training regiment, he didn't really have one. At least not at the moment. He was in what Ash liked to call a transitional period.

The ghost-type had just finished ironing out Payback yesterday, and he was waiting patiently while Ash did research on the next move he planned on teaching him: Shadow Ball.

Despite Haunter's natural inclination towards ghost-type moves, Shadow Ball was a tricky technique to get a grip on. Ash wanted to make sure that he knew everything there was to know about it before he initiated the training.

In the meantime, Haunter could sharpen up on his current skills and focus on the continuation of his mental barrier training.

Also, at some point during their trip to Celadon, Ash wanted to address Haunter's other personality. He couldn't let it linger untamed for too much longer. Haunter was getting way too powerful. If Ash didn't do something about it soon and the unexpected occurred, there could be dire consequences.

He would rather not have something like that happ—

"Hey, kid, that Growlithe looks strong. How about a battle!?"

Ash's train of thought was suddenly shattered by a loud, grating, female voice.

"Dammit…" cursed Ash under his breath as he looked down at Growlithe, "we're never going to get to Celadon, are we?"

Growlithe looked up at him with amused eyes. It was pretty obvious that the pup was loving this.

XXX

"Do you know what this means!?" exclaimed Ash as he ran his fingers through Pidgeotto's plumage.

Ash, Growlithe and Pidgeotto were resting in the middle of a barren field after hours of being on the road when Ash noticed a sparkling, golden feather amidst Pidgeotto's red plumage.

Pidgeotto let out a confused squawk, unable to see the golden feather that sat atop his head.

"Oh, right," Ash laughed. "You can't see it."

The avian tilted his head to the side, clearly trying to make sense of what his trainer was talking about.

"Your first golden feather came in," said Ash, clarifying what he had gotten so excited over. "It's awesome."

Pidgeotto's typically fierce eyes brightened up the second Ash said the word golden. It was apparent that he knew the significance of the newly emerged growth.

"Yup," said Ash with a smile, responding to Pidgeotto's body language, "you'll be evolving pretty soon, probably sometime in the next month."

Pidgeotto let out a proud squawk and flapped his wings with vigor. Evolution was something that he had been yearning for since long before Ash had met him. It was his dream. There was nothing he wanted more than to soar throughout the heavens in the form of a glorious pidgeot.

"Alright, alright, settle down," managed Ash, laughing as he watched a couple of wild rattata scurry out of a shrub with their tails in between their legs. "You're scaring the locals."

Pidgeotto reluctantly obeyed his trainer's words, shackling his wings and ceasing his rowdy jubilation.

Ash couldn't help but snicker. If Pidgeotto was this excited after sprouting a single feather, he couldn't wait to see his reaction when he actually evolved.

"Why don't you fly off your excitement," said Ash as he backed away from his avian and pointed up at the sky. "You can celebrate however you want up there."

Without a hint of hesitation, Pidgeotto thrusted his wings towards the ground before taking off like a breakneck jet. He let out a rambunctious cry as he elevated high into the sky and nearly tapered out of sight.

"Someone's happy," said Ash as he dropped his gaze from the sky and focused his eyes on his lounging pup.

Growlithe let out a confirmatory yip. Ash could tell that his starter was just as pleasantly occupied as he was. It was rare that they got to see Pidgeotto in such a gleeful state.

XXX

"Are you okay?" asked Ash as he watched Ivysaur mindlessly gaze into the fire.

Without diverting his eyes from the warm campfire, his grass-type nodded.

Despite his affirmative response, Ash didn't know whether to believe him or not. The way that Ivysaur was staring at the fire worried him. It looked as if he was on the cusp of remembering something, something buried deep within his subconscious.

"Are you sure?" questioned Ash with a contemplative countenance. "Is there something on your mind?"

This time, Ivysaur took his red eyes off of the fire and pivoted his attention over to Ash. The ten-year-old boy watched as his friend's eyes went from vacant to muddled. It was apparent that he was beginning to snap back to reality.

Other than confusion, Ash didn't see any emotion behind Ivysaur's befuddled expression. He didn't know if that was a good thing or a bad thing. A part of him hoped that Ivysaur's suppressed, embryonic memories would never resurface, but life wasn't that easy. He would remember. It was just a matter of time.

He figured that if the memories were going to surface, now was as good a time as ever. He was in the middle of nowhere, and he hadn't seen another trainer since midday.

Ash didn't know exactly how Ivysaur felt about the matter, but he would rather handle situations like this in private. He never liked to deal with emotions while people were watching. It made him feel uncomfortable.

Be that as it may, Ash knew that the memories were going to penetrate Ivysaur's active consciousness at their own pace. It was selfish for him to think otherwise.

"Is the fire bothering you?" asked Ash as he watched Ivysaur take a few steps away from it.

He wasn't close to the flame to begin with. He was a grass-type; fire wasn't his favorite thing. Nevertheless, it didn't usually trigger this kind of behavior from him. Regardless of weakness, fire was warmth, and winter was just around the corner. Even if Ivysaur's bud didn't appreciate the fire, the part of him that was reptilian did.

For him to behave this way could only mean one thing. The fire was stimulating fear.

Ash placed his hand over Wartortle's pokeball in preparation to release him. If he needed to put the fire out, no one could do it faster than his water-type.

"Do you want me to have Wartortle put it out?" asked Ash with a bit of urgency in his voice.

Ivysaur responded by shaking his head and laying down. He gave Ash a look that portrayed that he was fine before planting his eyes back on the sizzling, controlled fire.

Ash took a deep breath and relaxed his hand. It seemed the situation was under control.

Without standing up, he then proceeded to scoot over by Ivysaur's side. Even though Ivysaur had no idea what was going on, Ash could tell that he needed him right now. His grass-type was hurting without the memories to know why.

Ash didn't know exactly what was going on inside of Ivysaur's head, but he knew that his friend wasn't acting like his normal, auspicious self.

"You know I'm always here for you, right?" said Ash in a soft voice, trying to comfort his friend.

Ivysaur let out a soft murmur, acknowledging Ash's words.

A small smile formed on Ash's face as he gently stroked the soft pedals on Ivysaur's bud.

"You might not understand everything that I'm about to say," spoke Ash, "but I need you to listen…"

Ivysaur curiously raised his head from the ground. He was still in a slight daze, but Ash could tell that he was coherent enough to process his words.

"If the time ever comes when you need to let down your guard," said Ash, "you can do that in front of me. Not only am I your trainer, but I'm your friend. You're a brave pokemon with a strong heart, but I know that there is more to you than that. We all have strengths, and we all have weaknesses. We all have happy memories as well as sad ones."

He paused, "It's okay to be broken. We all are. Just remember that you have a family that cares for you, and keep your head up."

Ivysaur lifted his head from the ground and placed it in his trainer's lap. He let out another quiet murmur as he rested in the comfort of his trainer's affection.

"I love you, buddy," said Ash as he scratched behind Ivysaur's ears, "and that will never change."

XXX

It was moments like this that melted Ash's heart.

He watched with a smile as Growlithe and Charmander gleefully ran around the brushwood, interacting and playing with a quartet of wild vulpix kits.

Ash wasn't quite sure where they came from. Charmander and Growlithe had been practicing their Ember together when the four little fox-like creatures appeared out of nowhere.

At first, Ash was a bit taken back. Vulpix were rare. They tended to be shy and didn't like to show themselves around humans. It was difficult enough to find one, seeing four in one place was unheard of.

The second that they fumbled into the clearing, Ash's instincts as a trainer skyrocketed, and he was tempted to catch one. However, he decided against it.

Judging by the way that they interacted together, chances were pretty high that the four kits were from the same litter. Vulpix weren't pack oriented pokemon, so it wasn't normal to see them act so fondly toward each other. The only time that this kind of behavior occurred was when the species was in its first year of life.

After about a year, vulpix were forced to fend for themselves. Their mother no longer took care of them, and they had to find their own way, typically severing all ties with their siblings.

It sounded cruel, but that was just their way of life. Vulpix and its evolved form ninetails weren't nurturing pokemon. They were clever and dignified, albeit they tended to be self-centered and cold towards other pokemon, especially members of their own species.

However, although the species wasn't nurturing by nature that didn't mean that they completely neglected their duties as a parent. Maternal vulpix and ninetails tended to stick around for the first year of their kits' lives in order to teach them the basic fundamentals of survival and protect them from powerful predators.

It wasn't your typical mother and child relationship. Just because the mother stuck around didn't mean that they were always glued to their young. Unlike the relationship between a mother arcanine and her pups, the vulpix line gave their kits a lot of freedom.

They were allowed to go off on their own for long periods of time, giving them an opportunity to explore and prepare themselves for the day that their mother left them to fend for themselves.

Of course, throughout the first year of a vulpix's life, its mother was never too far away. Due to the vulpix line's unearthly intuition, a mature specimen was capable of keeping track of its kits' well-being from a distance.

Simply put, if the younglings got themselves into a dire situation, the mother would know and could respond accordingly, which was one of the reasons that Ash was reluctant to try and catch one.

The last thing that he wanted to do was get on a fully grown ninetails' bad side. Wild ninetails were typically ruthless and vengeful, known for leaving curses on humans that wronged them in any way.

Ash didn't want to mess with that. It wasn't worth it.

He already had two young fire-types. There was no need for another. Maybe one day, but not now. He didn't plan on taking on another fire-type until Growlithe and Charmander were fully evolved and mature.

Anyways, it didn't make Ash any less excited to see them just because he didn't plan on catching one. Granted, he would be lying if he said that he wouldn't rather have ran into a conflux of abra, but that was just wishful thinking.

Seeing the vulpix litter was a breath of fresh air. Ever since leaving Saffron, the only wild pokemon Ash had seen were members of the rattata, pidgey and oddish lines. Prior to this moment, he was starting to get the impression that he would never find anything worth mentioning.

For the first time in four days, his hopes were up. Maybe there was more to Route Seven than he had originally thought…

"Growlithe, Charmander!" bellowed Ash in attempt to grab their attention.

He watched as both of his fire-types immediately ceased their interaction with the vulpix kits and shifted their attention towards him.

At the same time, the four kits stopped in their tracks and looked his way with curious eyes, visibly acknowledging his presence for the first time since making themselves known.

"Could you please introduce me to your friends?" asked Ash as he attempted to come off as friendly as possible.

In response to Ash's words, both Charmander and Growlithe gave him a brief nod before diverting their attention back towards the vulpix kits.

Speaking in both of their native tongues, Ash's two fire-types proceeded to communicate with them. Every once in a while, throughout the conversation, they would glance over at Ash. During those moments, he just smiled. He wanted to make sure that he looked as amicable as he hoped his friends were currently describing him to be.

After about a minute of pokemon chatter, Growlithe and Charmander led the four vulpix over to Ash. As the litter approached him, Ash's memory instantly went back to the first time that he had met Growlithe. The kits' innocent dispositions reminded him of his friend at the beginning of their journey.

He wasn't sure, but if Ash were to guess, he would say that the four vulpix kits were about the same age that Growlithe was the first time he met him back at Professor Oak's lab.

"Hi, guys," said Ash, softly, as he crouched down to their level. "I'm Ash, Charmander and Growlithe's trainer, nice to meet you."

The kits awkwardly looked around at each other, contemplating how to respond, before one of them stepped forward. It was the biggest of the litter, likely the strongest of the group.

With its chest up and its snout out, it leaned forward in order to explore Ash's scent. This went on for a couple of seconds until the largest of the vulpix kits turned around and used its head to beckon its siblings over to its side.

In subsequence to their sibling's gestures, the other three vulpix stepped forward. Mirroring their sibling, they moved forward with their chests up and their snouts out. It was rather obvious that they were trying to appear dignified.

At this point in time, Ash took a moment to admire how elegant and comely the kits were.

They truly were beautiful pokemon. Their glossy, red-brown pelts were gorgeous, and their brown, pupil-less eyes held an air of genteel mystique. Ash also thought that their large pointed ears were cute and that the curls at the ends of their six orange tails made them appear more sophisticated than if their tails happened to be straight.

He had to admit, they were definitely some of the most adorable pokemon he had ever met. If he had to choose, though, he would still say that Growlithe was cuter at their age. Then again, it was possible that he was just being biased.

"Don't worry," said Ash as he slowly reached out his hand in the general direction of the four vulpix, "I'm not going to hurt you. I promise."

In response to Ash's movement, two of the vulpix took a step back with a twinge of fear in their eyes, whereas the leader and another slightly smaller specimen pressed their snouts up against Ash's palm in order to further investigate his scent.

Ash held his breath and tried his best not to make any sudden movements. He didn't want to do anything that might scare them off. He had a special opportunity to make friends with four rare Pokemon. He didn't want to mess it up.

A smile stretched across his face when he felt a wet, tickling sensation on the tips of his fingers. It was the smaller of the two. Apparently, it had deemed Ash safe because it was licking him affectionately while looking up at him with cordial eyes.

"That tickles," said Ash in between laughter. "You're a sweet one, aren't you?"

The smaller vulpix, which Ash guessed was a female, let out a soft, jovial squeal as Ash used his other hand to pet the top of her head.

The leader of the group took Ash's interaction with his sibling as a green light and joined her display of affection, rubbing his head up against Ash's arm.

It didn't take long before the other two kits let down their guards, and joined their braver siblings. Ash couldn't help but giggle as they overwhelmed him with their sudden amorous actions.

"You guys are way too kind," said Ash to the kits as he spotted Growlithe and Charmander poking fun at him in the background.

He let them continue to convey their affection for a little bit longer before slowly standing up from his crouched over position.

"So, do the four of you live around here?" asked Ash as he wiped all of the saliva off of his arms and face.

The leader of the group nodded his head before gesturing to his right. Ash figured he was telling him that they lived somewhere north of their current whereabouts, probably in the dense underbrush over by the rocky terraces.

"What brought you guys over here?" questioned Ash with curious eyes.

This time the slender female was the one to react to Ash's words. She pointed her snout towards Growlithe and Charmander while emitting a yap.

"Growlithe and Charmander, eh?" asked Ash.

He wasn't surprised. The vulpix line's enhanced intuition could probably sense his fire-types' presence from a significant distance, especially since they were members of the same type classification.

The only fire-types that lived in this part of the region were the growlithe and vulpix lines, and they were scarce. Depending on how adept the vulpix kits' intuitions were, Growlithe and Charmander probably stuck out like sore thumbs, especially amidst a part of Route Seven that mostly consisted of common species.

The leader let out an affirmative grunt, reacting to Ash's question.

"I see…" drawled Ash, "so you just wanted to meet them?"

One of the two less assertive vulpix nodded its head before prancing over to Growlithe and Charmander. It then dropped the front of its body to the ground and outstretched its anterior legs while raising its rear in the air, inviting Ash's two fire-types to play.

"Of course," said Ash with a giant grin. "You guys were just looking for some new friends to play with. Am I right?"

The leader proceeded to let out an affable yip while using one of his front paws to nudge Ash.

"Why not," said Ash with a shrug, taking the vulpix kit's touch as an invitation to join them. "We've already finished up our training for today. There's no harm in having a little bit of fun before we hit the road."

All four of the vulpix kits pranced around with glee, obviously happy with Ash's decision to entertain them.

"What do you say, guys?" asked Ash in the direction of Charmander and Growlithe, who were in the middle of showing off their Embers to the two more passive vulpix kits. "Do you want to stick around for a little bit? I don't mind."

Both of his friends glowingly nodded their heads, reminding Ash that they were still striplings themselves.

Even though this wasn't how he expected to spend his afternoon, Ash had to admit, he was enjoying himself.

More importantly, his friends needed this. They had been working extremely hard since they had been on the road. It was good that they got a chance to socialize and play with pokemon that weren't a part of the team.

Just like how it had become important to him that he made new friends on his journey, he wished the same for his pokemon. Experiencing different pokemon and their unique personalities was a good way for his friends to grow. Strength wasn't everything. Sure, it was important, but moments like this were too.

His friends deserved the opportunity to experience some of the other joys that life had to offer, especially since Ash had them working everyday to realize their full potential as battlers.

Besides, at the end of the day, what kind of person would he be if he denied the four vulpix kits a play session?

In his opinion…not a very good one.

XXX

Once again, the time of the month had come when Clefairy needed to refuel her lunar energy.

The moon was nearly full, so it was a good time for her to replenish her supply. Typically, Ash liked to wait until the actual full moon for Clefairy to restore her lunar essence – it was more potent that way – but this time, they didn't have much of a choice.

She had used a lot of lunar energy in her battle against Sabrina and if she didn't do something about it soon, she would hit empty.

"Does the moon's energy feel different when it's a full moon?" asked Ash as he eyed Clefairy's blue, glowing wings.

His lone female pokemon nodded her head as she gazed up at the sky with admiration in her eyes.

"Figured as much," said Ash with a bit of disappointment in his voice. "Next time, I'll make sure that you make it until the full moon. I want you at your strongest."

In response to her trainer's words, Clefairy shifted her attention away from the moon and focused her eyes on Ash. She flashed Ash an expression that portrayed gratitude before standing up and moving from her position across the campfire over to his side.

Clefairy didn't usually show Ash too much affection. It wasn't because she didn't want to, but rather due to the fact that she didn't want to come off as soft to her other male counterparts.

At least, that's what Ash thought. Whenever it was just the two of them, Clefairy was one of his most amorous pokemon. If any of the others were on the outside, she was much more distant, which is one of the reasons that Ash liked to keep everyone else in their pokeballs when it was time for Clefairy to replenish her lunar energy.

He tried to treat nights like this as their bonding time. Just like the rest of his pokemon, every once in a while, Clefairy needed one-on-one time with him, and Ash tried his best to satisfy that need for all of his pokemon.

"Are you happy that we've gotten to spend more time together now that we're on the road?" asked Ash with a smile as he softly patted Clefairy on top of her head.

His fairy-type let out a rare squeal as her whole facial expression lit up with apparent joy.

"Good," said Ash, smiling from cheek to cheek, "I think all of us like being on the road more than being in a city."

Clefairy nodded, agreeing with her trainer.

"Especially after everything that happened in Saffron…" continued Ash with an exasperated sigh.

Clefairy frowned, reacting to her trainer's sudden change in disposition. Saffron had been hard on all of them, but Ash definitely got the worst of it.

He had taken part in everything, from the battle underneath the Magnet Train station to the arrest of Ariana. In addition, there was all of the overwhelming information regarding the rogue abomination and the Prophecy of the Chosen One.

Simply put, his time in Saffron hadn't been easy, so this time away from civilization was nice. He didn't even care that Route Seven was bland. As long as he was sleeping under the stars and spending night and day with his pokemon, he was happy.

Of course, he still looked forward to the day that they arrived in Celadon, but he didn't mind that they were still more than a week away from their destination. He would savor this time on the road. And when the day finally came for him to take on whatever challenges awaited him in Celadon, he would be ready…

Ash's rumination was interrupted when he noticed Clefairy's somber expression. She was looking up at him with worry in her eyes, likely trying to understand what was going on inside of his head.

"What's with that look?" asked Ash with a smirk as he nudged Clefairy playfully with his elbow. "I'm fine. Just thinking…that's all."

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