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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29. Kanto 9 Part 2

Clefairy gave him a gentle push back, causing him to chuckle, before looking up at Ash with curious eyes. Ash knew that look. She was trying to get him to elaborate.

Out of all of his pokemon, Ash talked to Clefairy and Growlithe the most about his problems. They were good listeners, and Ash found their non-verbal cues and gestures easiest to understand.

"Oh, alright…" drawled Ash, giving into Clefairy's inquiring mind, "I was thinking about everything that happened in Saffron. We saw a lot of messed up things and have a lot on our plate. It's hard to process all of it. Between Team Rocket, their hostile creation, and the prophecy, I don't even know what to worry about anymore."

He paused, "It's like my life is a movie. I can't help but ask, why me? Why is all of this happening to me?"

He pulled on his hair in frustration as he dug his heels into the earth's gravelly surface.

"It's not fair..." groaned Ash. "My dream is to be a pokemon master, I never asked to be a hero. It's too mu—"

Ash was cut-off mid-sentence when he felt Clefairy's tiny hand grasp his pant leg. He pivoted his discontented eyes towards her.

Her countenance depicted comfort and stringency at the same time. She was giving him a look that eerily reminded him of the kind of facial expression his mother would make when he was being a brat.

"Gahh…don't look at me like that," griped Ash as he diverted his eyes away from Clefairy. "You're reminding me of my mom."

In subsequence to Ash's childish behavior, Clefairy let out a sigh of obvious annoyance. She was just doing her job. A while back, Ash had asked her to point out when he, along with the rest of her male teammates, were acting childish.

He knew his thoughts were foolish and entitled. Who was he to question destiny? Just because he didn't want to be the Chosen One didn't change anything. Destiny wasn't something you could run away from or simply wish away. It didn't respect his desires. It wouldn't honor his dreams.

If he truly was the Chosen One, which he wouldn't be sure of until Bill sent him a copy of the prophecy, he was better off accepting it sooner rather than later. Maybe then, he could get a better grasp over the road that it was taking him down instead of being dragged around like a mindless magikarp…

Once again, he felt Clefairy's hand grasp his pant leg. When he looked back down at her, she was still wearing the same stern look that she had given him earlier. Apparently, the comparison to his mother wasn't enough to convince her to alter her countenance.

"I know, I know…" muttered Ash as he tried his best to suppress any desire he had to retort imprudently, "I'm being selfish."

Clefairy nodded her head and let out a small murmur, agreeing with her trainer's self-criticism.

"Blunt as always," said Ash, followed by a quiet chuckle. "Well, at least you keep me honest with myself. It's always good to have someone like that around."

Clefairy looked at him in a confused manner. It was evident that she didn't understand the meaning behind Ash's words.

"Don't worry about it," said Ash with a small smile. "Just know that I'm grateful to have you as a friend. The team would be lost without you."

Ash couldn't help but laugh when he saw Clefairy's cheeks turn red, which tended to happen whenever he praised her.

In subsequence to Ash's laughter, Clefairy gave Ash a jab on the shoulder. It wasn't hard enough to hurt him, but she put enough force behind it to let him know that she didn't appreciate the fact that he was laughing at her.

"Jeez," chided Ash as he jokingly rubbed the spot that Clefairy had hit, "I know I shouldn't have laughed, but you didn't need to hit me."

Clefairy crossed her arms and huffed, clearly not apologetic for her punch. Simultaneously, his fairy-type's wings ceased glowing, indicating that her lunar energy had been replenished.

"Well, it looks like you're done," said Ash as he pointed at Clefairy's two tiny, pink wings.

Clefairy let out a jovial squeal and stood up from her spot next to Ash. He could tell by her disposition that she felt a lot better.

"I'm happy we got to spend this time together," said Ash with a smile as he reached for Growlithe's pokeball, "but I better let Growlithe out before he gets upset."

To his surprise, she shook her head before placing her hand in the way of Growlithe's pokeball.

"What is it?" asked Ash in a confused manner. "Is something wrong?"

The fairy pokemon proceeded to hold out one finger, beckoning him to wait a moment while she once again sat next to Ash and cuddled up into his side. Ash smiled. He immediately understood what it was that she was trying to convey.

"Okay, okay, just a little bit longer…" murmured Ash, eyes sparkling as he stared up at the stars, "we can stay like this for a little bit longer."

XXX

"Ring…"

"Ring…"

"Pidgeotto, keep trying to access Agility in order to dodge those Embers!" blustered Ash as he heard the familiar sound of someone calling him on his xtransceiver. "Charmander, Growlithe, keep firing! Don't let up!"

As he stepped away from the chaotic training session to check who was calling him, he couldn't help but smile when he saw the name that popped up on the screen.

It read: Gary Oak.

He had been meaning to call his best friend ever since Professor Oak had given him his number a while back. However, he had yet to get around to it.

Be that as it may, now that he was looking at Gary's name light up on the screen, he couldn't help but overflow with excitement.

"Ring…"

"Ring…"

"Keep working hard, guys!" bellowed Ash in the direction of his three preoccupied pokemon, "Gary's calling! I've got to pick this up!"

His pokemon disembogued an assortment of affirmative grunts as he clicked the receive button.

"Click."

"Hey, Gary, what's u—"

"What the hell!?" blasted the familiar voice of his childhood friend, causing Ash to pull away from his echoing xtransceiver. "I just got off the phone with Gramps! He told me you've had my number for a couple of weeks! Why haven't you friggin' called me!?"

"Dammit…" groaned Ash as he hesitantly brought his wrist back up to his face. "You could at least wait until after you say hi before you start complaining. You almost burst my eardrum."

"Psht, you could go deaf for all I care," snorted Gary, toning down the volume. "What kind of person ignores their best friend for so long? Sheesh, you're such an asshole."

"Gee, thanks," said Ash as he rolled his eyes. "Are you done yet? Before I picked up the phone, I was actually looking forward to talking to you. Now…not so much."

"Oh, shut up," huffed Gary. "You know that you're happy to hear from me. How long's it been since our battle in Viridian? Two…maybe three months?"

"About two and a half," retorted Ash as a smile crept across his face.

His best friend had always had a short fuse, but at the same time he tended to simmer down quickly. He could be infuriated one second and the next be as chipper as a newborn seel. It was nice to see that a couple of months on the road hadn't warped Gary too much. Hopefully, by the end of their conversation, Gary would be thinking the same thing about him.

"That sounds about right," said Gary. "So, where the hell are you now, Ashy-boy?"

Ash could clearly picture the arrogant smirk on his best friend's face as he spat out the nickname that he had detested for as long as he could remember.

"Route Seven," answered Ash.

He took a second to clear his throat before continuing, "About a four day walk from Saffron. What about you?"

"Err...I'm just outside of Vermillion," replied Gary. "I've been on the road for weeks. Cerulean to Vermillion is a hell of a trip. I'm friggin' exhausted."

"You can say that again," said Ash as he recalled his own trip from Cerulean to Vermilion.

"You've done it already?" queried Gary with a hint of surprise in his voice. "Wait a second…how many badges do you have?"

"Three," said Ash while shaking his head in amusement.

He could tell where this conversation was going.

"Three?" questioned Gary. "That doesn't make any sense. Last time I saw you, you were headed to Pewter. From Pewter, you would have had to pass through Mt. Moon to get to Cerulean. If you've already made the trip from Cerulean to Vermillion, you've definitely battled Misty and Surge. Coming from that direction, it wouldn't make sense that you would have gone to Celadon before Saffron, so I'm guessing that you've already been to Saffron and are now on your way to Celadon. You should have at least four badges, unless…"

He paused, "You lost to Sabrina, didn't you!?"

Ash couldn't help but let out a chuckle. Gary's deductive reasoning skills really were too acute for his own good. However, although the scenario he had just come up with was a solid hypothesis, things had unfolded a little bit differently.

"Good guess," retorted Ash, "but you're wrong. I have the Cascade, Thunder and Marsh badges. Even though I went to Pewter, I ended up skipping the gym. At the time, I didn't really have anything to face Brock's rock-types."

"Ahh…okay, that makes sense," said Gary. "I was wondering how you were going to take on Brock with just Growlithe. Smart move, although I probably still would have given it a shot. Who knows, maybe you would have gotten lucky?"

"Eh, I'd rather get my badges with skill," said Ash. "Besides, it worked out better this way. I pulled out a win against Sabrina's League registered team. Now, I don't have to worry about going up against her without the help of a handicap."

"Oh, come on, how tough could she really be?" snorted Gary in a sarcastic tone.

"Dude…" drawled Ash.

"Damn…that bad, eh?" stammered Gary.

"You don't even know the half of it."

"…Shit."

There was a moment of silence as Ash gave Gary a moment to dread his upcoming future.

"Psht, I can't worry about that right now," said Gary, trying to make himself feel better. "I've got a battle against Surge to prepare for. One at a time, Ashy-boy, one at a time. Sabrina can wait until later."

"Whatever helps you sleep better at night," replied Ash with a chuckle. "Anyways, given the fact that you were just freaking out about your battle against Sabrina, I'm guessing that Surge will be your third gym battle."

"Yeah," said Gary with a hint of pride in his voice, "I've got both Brock and Misty's badges. I spent about a week training in Viridian after you left, so I'm not surprised that you've got one more badge than me. I wouldn't expect anything less from my number one rival and best friend."

Gary paused, "By the way, Misty told me to tell you that she says hi and that she's looking forward to your rematch. Including myself, the only three trainers that have beaten her League registered team this season have come from Pallet, so she's pretty fired up about this rematch that you promised her."

"I figured as much," retorted Ash, "She's a hot-headed girl to begin with. I'm not surprised to hear that she is anticipating our rematch so much."

"She's good," said Gary. "When you have this rematch, don't expect it to be anything like your first battle. I've heard her real team is devastating.

"I know, I know," answered Ash, slightly annoyed that Gary was trying to give him advice.

All of a sudden, something that Gary had just said stood out to him. He didn't know why, but it had made him curious. "Hold on a second. Did you just say that three trainers from Pallet beat Misty?"

"Yeah…" drawled Gary. "That's what Misty said at least."

"I knew there was another trainer from Pallet that would be getting a pokemon the same day as us, but I figured that they wouldn't be all that special. Nobody else in school was even close to touching our scores on the Qualification Exam. I'm surprised that this other trainer was skilled enough to beat Misty."

"Even though the other trainer got their first pokemon in Pallet, they took the Qualification Exam in Johto," said Gary matter-of-factly. "Their score wouldn't have been listed with ours."

"Really?" asked Ash. "How do you know?"

"I just do…" said Gary. "I kind of know her."

"Her?" asked Ash curiously. "What's her name?"

"It doesn't matter," retorted Gary in a suspicious tone. "Besides, you can just ask her yourself. I'm sure you will run into her at some point."

"Ah, come on…" groaned Ash, "why can't you just tell me?"

"Because..." muttered Gary, "just saying her name puts a bad taste in my mouth. We don't exactly get along."

Despite the fact that he was interested in finding out the name of the girl that started her journey in Pallet – on the same day that he and Gary did – he didn't plan on pushing Gary to talk about something he didn't want to.

He knew what it was like to have things that you would rather not talk about. Granted, most of the things that he would rather not vocalize had to do with near death experiences, a certain evil organization, a rogue experiment and an ancient prophecy.

Nevertheless, he had learned enough during the last couple of months to understand that people were entitled to their own privacy. There were other ways to find out the name of the other trainer. He didn't need to pester Gary about it.

"Suit yourself," retorted Ash. "Anyways, I've got to ask, do you have a plan for Surge? He isn't easy to beat; I say that from experience."

"Yeah…" drawled Gary. "I've heard the stories. I know he's a tough gym leader, but I should be fine. I've got a couple of pokemon that should match up well against his raichu, and his voltorb won't be a problem."

"…And those are?" asked Ash, although he already knew what Gary's answer would be.

"Like I'd tell you!" blustered Gary. "I plan on winning the next battle we have, so there is no way in hell I'm going to give you the advantage of knowing what pokemon I have. You'll just have to wait and see!"

"Jeez, Gary..." chided Ash, "everything's a secret with you. First you wouldn't tell me the name of the other trainer, now you won't share with me what pokemon you have, aren't best friends supposed to tell each other everything?"

"Psht, says the guy that's had his best friend's number for two weeks and hasn't called him," angled Gary. "Ashy-boy, you don't have any leverage to lecture me."

Ash fell quiet. He had to admit, Gary did have a point.

"Unfortunately, I can't argue with you there," said Ash with a sigh.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Pidgeotto get clipped by one of his fire-type's Embers before he transitioned into Agility in order to escape another fiery barrage. Ash would have to wrap up his conversation with Gary soon. He needed get back to his pokemon. From the look of things, he'd say that Pidgeotto was making some good progress with Agility…

"That's what I thought," said Gary arrogantly. "Anyhow, just because I don't plan on sharing what kind of pokemon I've caught since the last time we saw each other doesn't mean we can't talk about our starters. It's not like they're a secret."

He paused, "How's Growlithe doing?"

"He's great," answered Ash in a cheerful tone.

There were few things in the world that he enjoyed talking about more than his starter. So, even though he would have liked to know what kind of team Gary had put together over the past couple of months, he could settle for a conversation regarding Growlithe and Gary's squirtle.

"We've still got a lot of work to do," crowed Ash, "but he's getting stronger, and he's already become an amazing leader."

"Yeah, I can see that," said Gary. "I could also tell from the battle that we had that he has impressive battle instincts. He'll make a great arcanine."

"Thanks," said Ash as he took his focus off of his xtransceiver for a second to watch Growlithe in action.

His friend unleashed another assemblage of blazing hot flames, attempting to knock down Pidgeotto. Even though the training session was primarily meant to sharpen Pidgeotto's ability to use Agility, Growlithe and Charmander were getting a lot out of it. As of late, the majority of their accuracy training had come from helping Pidgeotto with Agility.

"You're not planning on evolving him anytime soon, are you?" asked Gary.

His voice was full of curiosity. For some reason, Ash could sense that Gary was more attached to his question than he should have been. He couldn't put his finger on it, but his best friend sounded suspicious. Maybe he had another secret.

"No…" replied Ash, "don't get me wrong, he has gotten a lot stronger, but that doesn't mean he's ready to evolve. He still has loads to learn."

"That's smart," said Gary. "The growlithe line, for the most part, can only learn moves in their primary stage. There is one exception: Extreme Speed. Other than that, arcanine are unable to learn any techniques naturally."

"Exactly," answered Ash with a smirk.

Gary's knowledge of pokemon never ceased to amaze him. He definitely took after his grandfather in that regard.

"…Which is the reason why I have no intention to evolve him any time soon."

He paused, "Anyways, what about that squirtle of yours. How's he doing?"

"He's awesome!" exclaimed Gary, "he evolved a couple of weeks ago, so he's gotten a hell of a lot stronger. We're dealing with some coordination issues at the moment, but I can't see those hindering him for too much longer."

He took a second to breathe before continuing, "Outside of battle, he's a really good pokemon. We have an unbreakable bond. There's no other pokemon I'd rather have at my side in a pinch. He's the true definition of a starter."

Just listening to Gary gloat about his wartortle was getting Ash fired up. Next time they saw each other, they would have to see whose turtle pokemon was the strongest.

Of course, Gary had no idea that Ash had his own member of the squirtle line. Even before he left on his journey, the ten-year-old boy had requested that Professor Oak refrained from disclosing any information about his team, so even Gary couldn't use his advantage of having Professor Oak as his grandfather to get an edge over him.

"Good, I'm glad he's doing well," said Ash as he visualized an epic battle between two powerful blastoise. "I can't wait to battle him aga—"

Ash's sentence was cut-off when he noticed a flash of pure purple fire shoot through the sky, narrowly missing Pidgeotto, who managed to dodge at the last second with another perfectly executed Agility.

"Hey, Gary, I'm sorry, but I've got to go," said Ash into his xtransceiver.

As much as he was enjoying his conversation with his childhood friend, he needed to get back to his friends. During his brief amount of time away from them, Pidgeotto's Agility appeared to have significantly improved, and Charmander had let out what looked like his first legitimate Dragon Rage.

"What's going on over there?" asked Gary, likely confused by Ash's sudden shift in behavior.

"My pokemon and I were in the middle of a training session when you called," said Ash excitedly. "I just stepped away, but it's time I got back to them. I'll give you a call later."

"Whatever you say, Ashy-boy," snorted Gary with a hint of amusement in his tone. "I'll let you go. Wish me luck against Surge."

"Good luck!" blurted Ash – distracted – as he watched Pidgeotto phase into Agility, yet again, in order to maneuver around one of Growlithe's Ember barrages.

"Psht, thanks!" snorted Gary sarcastically. "Smell ya later, Ashy-boy!"

"Bye, Gary," said Ash, sidetracked as the call ended.

Now that his conversation with Gary was over, he sprinted back over to his friends' chaotic training session.

There were scorch marks all over the clearing, and a multitude of shrubs and small plants had been entirely uprooted, probably ripped out by either Pidgeotto's Gust or Whirlwind.

He made a small mental note to have Ivysaur and Wartortle clean up the area a little bit before they left. With Ivysaur's expertise in regard to plant-life and Wartortle's internal water reservoir, they could have this place looking as good as new in a heartbeat.

Despite the fact that his avian was only supposed to be using Agility in order to dodge, there were times when his temper got the best of him, and he lashed out with an attack of his own. Typically, Ash didn't hesitate to cut a training session short because of this type of disobedient behavior, but this time the situation was a bit different.

His friends, for the most part, had been unsupervised. Ash didn't give Pidgeotto very much slack when it came to his thirst for savagery, but if he turned his back for too long things like this were bound to happen. This one was on him. Just this once, he would turn a blind eye.

Besides, right now, he was way too overjoyed to care about such minute details. From what he could tell, while he was on the phone with Gary, Pidgeotto and Charmander may have completed the techniques that they had been working on.

Pidgeotto had been freely shifting in and out of Agility, whereas Charmander spat out what looked like a full-fledged Dragon Rage.

"That's enough, guys!" bellowed Ash.

Growlithe, Charmander and Pidgeotto stopped dead in their tracks, unwilling to combat their trainer's decision to end the training session. It was time that they took a break. They had worked hard, exhausting themselves in order to enhance their skills. Needless to say, they deserved a breather.

"I saw enough to know that you guys must be exhausted," said Ash.

All three of his friends simply nodded their heads, panting as they listened to what their trainer had to say.

"Growlithe, Charmander, thanks for your help," said Ash, addressing his fire-types. "Your efforts have helped Pidgeotto master Agility. He couldn't have done it without you."

Both Growlithe and Charmander gave Ash a look that oozed pride. It was apparent that they felt honored by his praise.

Pidgeotto, on the other hand, gave his trainer a miffed look in response to what he had just said.

Pidgeotto wasn't one that liked to admit that he needed his teammates help to accomplish anything. It had been difficult enough for the avian to admit to himself that he needed Ash, it would likely take a very long time before the giant flying-type would be able to do the same thing in regard to his teammates.

"Ah, come on," said Ash with a small, amused smile. "Don't give me that look. Even you have to admit that they were a big help."

Pidgeotto diverted his eyes in the opposite direction of Ash and let out an uninterested squawk, which was his way of saying, not a chance. Ash just rolled his eyes and sighed. His flying-type definitely knew how to be stubborn when he wanted to.

"Don't listen to him, guys," said Ash with a smirk. "He's just being a big baby."

He paused for dramatic effect, hoping that his insult would get to Pidgeotto.

"Anyways, not only am I proud of you for helping Pidgeotto, but I also think that you two have gotten more out of this than I had originally hoped."

"Growlithe, your accuracy has improved a lot," said Ash.

He turned his attention to Charmander, "And, Charmander, I'm almost one-hundred percent positive that you've completed Dragon Rage. We'll make sure later, but that last one you fired looked pure. What do you think?"

Charmander lifted his head and stuck out his chest with confidence. He then proceeded to let out an affirmative grunt, telling Ash that he had successfully separated his draconic energy from his internal flame.

"That's what I thought!" exclaimed Ash before giving his attention to the entirety of the group. "Gah, I'm so proud of you guys! What do you say we celebrate with some lunch!?"

They let out a loud cheer in response to Ash's words, which didn't come as a surprise. All three of them had just pushed themselves pretty hard. They were bound to be hungry.

XXX

"Damn," cursed Ash under his breath as he carefully reached for Haunter's great ball, "there sure is a lot of them."

He could hear Growlithe snarling beside him. Under their current circumstances, he couldn't afford to take his eyes off of what was in front of him, but he could clearly picture the fierce, intimidating disposition that Growlithe was portraying in response to their current threat.

"Don't make any sudden movements," said Ash quietly to Growlithe. "I'm counting about fifteen. None of them look that strong, but they could definitely overwhelm you with numbers. I'm going to let out Haunter. Once I do, hit 'em with whatever you'd like."

Growlithe let out a soft grunt, signifying that he understood the situation.

"Alright then," said Ash as he brought his hand closer to Haunter's great ball, "on the count of three…"

He took a deep breath as he surveyed his surroundings. There were six vexed mankey out in front of him. Their eyes were fastened on Growlithe, and he could tell that they were prepared to leap into action at a moment's notice.

"One..."

Over to his right were four more mankey. All four of them were in a four-point stance, and their red eyes were fastened on him. They emitted a ferocious snorting sound while vigorously flaring their nostrils.

Ash had to admit, he was slightly intimidated. However, this was nothing compared to what he had been through in Saffron. Compared to what he had endured over the past month, this was only a mere inconvenience.

"Two…"

To his left were five lounging mankey. Ash figured they were under the assumption that the rest of their comrades could handle him. They simply sat in the dirt cross-legged while letting out a rambunctious howl aimed toward the other ten mankey.

The howl reminded him of a gladiatorial chant. It was as if they were encouraging the other mankey to rip him to shreds.

Ash smirked. He would have to have Haunter shut them up.

"Three!"

As fast as his body would allow him to, Ash unclipped Haunter's great ball and released him. Throughout the duration of the release, Growlithe dashed in front of him, providing his best friend with cover until the apparition had sprung into action.

In subsequence to the flash from Haunter's great ball, all fifteen of the mankey cried out in annoyance. It was apparent that they didn't appreciate the sudden outburst of bright light.

When the intense light faded, there was nothing.

At least...that's what the mankey believed. Ash watched with an amused facial expression as the troop of mankey looked around the brushwood in a confused manner.

It was clear they were expecting the emergence of a pokemon. Just because they were wild didn't mean that they weren't aware of pokeballs and what they were used for.

Despite their barbaric thirst for combat, mankey were intelligent pokemon, and these mankey were occupying a route that was frequently used by pokemon trainers. They at least partially knew what they were getting themselves into, albeit Ash doubted that they were expecting a trainer with a pokemon of Haunter's caliber.

This would be interesting—

All of a sudden, Ash's instincts drew his line of sight to the right. One of the mankey had blasted out of its stance with its eyes set on Ash and Growlithe. It didn't convey a hint of restraint. It had entered the rage bent state that mankey and its evolved form primeape were known for.

Ash wasn't sure what finally caused one of them to snap, but it was inevitable. Pretty soon, the rest would follow suit. When one mankey rampages, the rest of its colony can't help but join it. The species took the term pack oriented to the extreme. The longer they lived together, the more each specimen synchronized to each other's behaviors and emotions.

Simply put, depending on how tightly knit together this troop of mankey was, the others would be lashing out soon. They couldn't help it; it was in their DNA.

A small smile formed on Ash's face as the impending mankey quickly closed the distance between them. Although it was completely unexpected, he couldn't have asked for a better situation. What a perfect way for Haunter to work on his self-control.

"Haunter, knock it out!" howled Ash.

The moment Ash finished his sentence, an ill-tempered Haunter emerged from the ground beneath the mankey with a fist full of black energy.

Caught completely off guard, the mankey didn't have a chance to react as it was hit in the gut by a vicious Sucker Punch. Ash watched as its eyes turned white, signifying that it had instantly phased into comatose.

All of the encompassing mankey grew quiet as their comrade fell face first into the ground. It was apparent that they had been overcome with shock, otherwise they would have already retaliated with nothing on their minds but vengeance.

Ash watched as Haunter levitated over the unconscious mankey's body with an expression that portrayed contemplation. Haunter was way too complex of a creature for Ash to be sure of what he was thinking about, but judging by the circumstances, he would guess that Haunter was on the verge of doing something that he would regret.

"No killing!" bellowed Ash. "I know it's hard for you to control yourself when I'm in danger, but this is an opportunity for you to decide what kind of ghost you want to be! Do not give into your other personality!"

In response to Ash's words of encouragement, Haunter shook himself free of the red eyed one's grasp. This time, he wouldn't allow himself to be controlled. He would defeat the group of mankey with a sober mind, void of intrusive thoughts of murder. He would protect his master without placing fear in his heart.

Haunter lifted his eyes from the defeated mankey before drifting back towards Ash. To Ash's surprise, he used one of his shadowy fingers to taunt the troop of mankey, wagging it at them while sticking out his tongue.

Ash couldn't help but laugh. The fact that Haunter's sense of humor was still intact meant that, for the time being, he had successfully warded off his alter-ego.

Now, Ash wasn't stupid enough to think that he had seen the last of Haunter's red eyed personality. However, this was still a monumental moment. It meant that it was possible for them to treat Haunter's tendency to lose track of his morals when Ash was in a dire situation…

Ash's thoughts were suddenly broken when one of the mankey positioned in front of him let out an ear-shattering howl that forced him to cover his ears. Shortly after, the rest of the mankey erupted with violent cries.

It didn't take a genius to figure out that they were infuriated. Not only had one of their kin been defeated, but its victor had purposely provoked them afterward. In the eyes of a prideful species like mankey, actions such as Haunter's were unforgivable.

Even the group of mankey that had previously been sitting down were now on their feet and prepared to exact retribution. At this point, Ash could tell that their rage wouldn't be extinguished until either Ash and his pokemon were defeated, or the mankey themselves were sent into unconsciousness.

Unfortunately for them, they didn't stand a chance against him. They may hold the edge in terms of quantity, but just by looking at them, Ash could tell that even the strongest specimens weren't on the same level as any of his pokemon.

Take into account the massive advantage that Haunter had because of his typing, and his ghost-type was bound to have a field day. Wild mankey of this level had no way to counter against a ghost-type. The majority of their techniques were classified as either normal or fighting-type moves, which were completely useless against ghosts.

A high-level mankey could naturally learn assurance, which could be problematic for a ghost-type, but the chances that any of these mankey knew a dark-type technique like that were low. Mankey didn't learn assurance until they were close to evolving, and there wasn't a single mankey within the entire troop that was showing even a single sign of evolution.

As a mankey neared evolution, its tail would shrink, and it would begin to develop a stress mark on the left side of its forehead. Their arms and legs were supposed to begin to lose their shaggy fur, revealing their brown skin, and their pupils tended to become beadier.

Not a single member in the entire group had begun to undergo any of these changes. Therefore, it wasn't difficult for Ash to estimate their rather dull skill level. Haunter by himself would be enough. With Growlithe fighting alongside him, the barrel of mankeys' defeat was eminent.

Be that as it may, the forthcoming battle had still piqued his interest. Experience was experience, and his pokemon didn't get very many opportunities to fight while outnumbered. At the very least, they could brush up on some of their fundamentals…

Ash's thoughts were put on hold when the remaining three mankey positioned to his right jetted out of their stances. Their eyes were as red as the top half of a pokeball, appearing to be blind to anything other than the rage that drove them to attack.

Ash watched as Growlithe opted to make his first move. He dug his posterior paws into the ground and pushed off, erupting out of his stance at a speed that made the mankey look like a triad of slowpoke.

He then accessed his internal flame as he flipped his body head over, bursting forth into what was a perfectly executed Flame Wheel. In a fraction of a second, he severed the distance between himself and the mankey before targeting the specimen in the middle of the three mankey formation.

On account of its mindless rage the mankey in the middle took Growlithe's attack head on. From Ash's vantage point, it appeared as if the mankey tried to counter Growlithe's Flame Wheel with a Karate Chop right before they collided, but it was to no avail.

The mankey was barreled over without giving Growlithe so much as a sliver of resistance. In Flame Wheel's wake, the unimpressive specimen was left charred and sprawled out on its back, clearly unconscious.

In subsequence to the collision, Growlithe immediately ceased his Flame Wheel before flipping into his natural stance. He then prepared to take on the other two mankey, who had registered their comrade's defeat and adjusted their way of attack.

No longer were they blindly stampeding towards Ash's position, but rather they had settled in close proximity to Growlithe. The two enraged mankey circled the pup. The ten-year-old boy could tell by their precarious movements that they were looking for an opening.

At this point, it appeared that Growlithe had them preoccupied. Therefore, Ash pivoted his eyes over to Haunter, who was levitating in front of him in order to provide protection. The apparition's line of sight was focused on the five mankey to his left.

The five on the left had begun to converge towards Ash's position. This group of mankey advanced at a much more methodical pace, creeping forwards with a look of pure resentment delineated across their faces.

Despite their state of animosity, they were intelligent enough to read the flow of the battle. On account of the fact that two of their kin had been defeated, due to charging recklessly, they had altered their strategy of attack.

While they slowly closed out the distance between them, Ash figured that they were trying to come up with a way to defeat Haunter. After all, they couldn't get to Ash unless they took out the ghost-type. No matter how hard they tried, the difference in strength would prove to be too much, and their type disadvantage was too steep of a detriment to overcome.

This would be over in a flash.

"Haunter, end this quickly," said Ash as he pointed toward the group of five mankey. "Use Hypnosis on those ones over there."

Following his trainer's orders, Haunter lifted his ghoulish hands and wriggled his fingers, diffusing a portentous, violet energy. It crawled throughout the sky, expanding to a width that exceeded the overall breadth of the group of five mankey.

Three of the five mankey were caught in the clutches of Hypnosis. Due to their lack of urgency, Ash had a feeling that the ones that got caught didn't know what Hypnosis was, and thus didn't see the strange purple energy as a threat. Once they were hit, they became limp, falling to the ground in a state of deep slumber.

The two mankey that managed to avoid Haunter's Hypnosis seemed to recognize it immediately, using their extraordinary reflexes to jump out of the way. They then proceeded to veer out in opposite directions, attempting to flank Haunter on both sides.

Simultaneously, Ash felt a presence moving toward him from straight ahead. He rotated his line of sight to find the group of six mankey barreling toward him with malicious intent. He reflexively reached for Pidgeotto's pokeball, but he relaxed his hand when a barrage of flames, belonging to Growlithe, collided with the group of mankey and knocked them off of their path.

Ash looked over to his right to find Growlithe sprinting toward the group of six mankey, bearing a frightening countenance. The two mankey that he had previously been up against lay battered and unconscious. Both of them had been defeated by means of fire; Ash could tell because of the distinct scorch marks that were plastered across their bodies.

Showing no mercy for the pokemon that had tried to hurt Ash, Growlithe lunged forward towards the closest mankey before sinking his maw into its side. He then discharged a close-ranged Ember, triggering the final part of his Bite/Ember combination.

"Nice, Growlithe!" exclaimed Ash, cheering for his best friend.

In wake of the Bite/Ember combo, Growlithe leapt over the body of the unconscious mankey he had just defeated before emitting another Ember in order to hit one of the other mankey.

In the midst of Growlithe's Ember assault, he was bombarded by a different mankey, who had managed to flank Growlithe and strike from one of his blind spots. It howled with anger as it attempted to wrestle Growlithe to the ground with one arm while using the other to inflict damage with Scratch.

Ash's brow furrowed as he tried to think of a way to get Growlithe out of his current predicament. "Break free with Fla—"

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a burst of ominous, dark purple energy shoot across the dell. Of course, it belonged to Haunter, who from the looks of it had finished up with the remaining two mankey that had been positioned on Ash's left, leaving him free to help Growlithe with the final group of aggressive primates.

The dark purple energy, which Ash immediately recognized as Night Shade, hit the backside of the mankey that was attacking Growlithe. The mankey cried out in pain as it was knocked off of Growlithe's back and sent tumbling across the dirt.

The second that Growlithe had broken free from the mankey's grasp, he dashed out of the middle of the skirmish in order to get back to his trainer's side. Ash could tell that Growlithe was tired, but overall he was still in great shape. He had a few scrapes here and there, caused by the mankey's repeated use of Scratch, but it hadn't done any damage that a standard potion wouldn't take care of.

Not too long after Growlithe returned to his side, Haunter did as well, levitating back over to his left. Once his ghost-type had settled back in next to him, Ash looked out at the remaining mankey.

There were four left.

Three of them were in good shape. Their fur was slightly blackened because of Growlithe's Ember, but it didn't look like they had taken any noteworthy damage.

The other one was barely hanging onto consciousness. It whimpered as it crouched down on one knee. The rage that had previously occupied its eyes was no longer there, instead they were filled with pain.

Ash couldn't help but feel sorry for it. He even thought about catching it for a moment, but he knew that wasn't a good idea.

Sure, it would be nice to have a fighting-type, but he had never had any interest in training a member of the mankey line. They were a staunch species, but he would much rather train one of the other fighting-types native to Kanto; a specimen belonging to either the tyrogue or machop lines sounded way more appealing to him.

As the three healthy mankey violently shrieked in the direction of Ash and his friends, desiring nothing but revenge for their defeated comrades, Ash pointed in the direction of the weakened mankey.

"Haunter, use Hypnosis on that one," ordered Ash, mercy evident in his intonation. "It can no longer fight."

Following his trainer's command, Haunter waved his fingers at the injured mankey, emitting a bright purple wave of psychic based energy. Ash watched as the mankey painfully flinched. It looked like it was trying to get out of the way of Haunter's Hypnosis but didn't have the energy to move.

Upon impact, the weakened mankey promptly fell asleep. As it plopped forward and landed on its face, it drew the attention of its fellow troop members, who were practically exploding with acrimony.

Ash shook his head. Despite their anger towards the fact that Haunter had sent another one of their own into comatose, it's not like they had tried to protect it. They were too busy wailing out cries of contempt to do anything that would actually help their comrade.

Ash was actually disappointed. It was obvious that these mankey were far from maturation. They acted like haughty children, and their bark was clearly bigger than their bite.

"Finish them off!" commanded Ash to both Growlithe and Haunter. "We're done here!"

As soon as Ash finished his sentence, both Haunter and Growlithe advanced forward. Haunter jetted toward the three leftover mankey with both of his fists enveloped in crepuscular energy, whereas Growlithe loaded his maw with fire in preparation for what Ash assumed would be a Bite/Ember combo.

The three mankey dashed forward with vigor.

Two of the mankey had their fists up, ready to perform what looked like either Fury Swipes or Scratch. The other mankey had its dominant arm firm and slanted, which told Ash that it would be attacking with a Karate Chop.

Without a hint of hesitation, Haunter and Growlithe continued their advancement. They would end this battle here and now; there wasn't a doubt in Ash's mind.

Growlithe was the first to strike. Once he was in range, he leapt through the air, maneuvering around a Karate Chop. Ash clenched his fist with triumph when Growlithe managed to bypass the mankey's flailing extremities before burying his flaming jaw into his opponent. The mankey yowled out in pain as it was burned all the way into a coma.

Even though it happened at almost the exact same time, Ash was able to witness Haunter permeate through two mankeys' Fury Swipes before knocking both into somnolence with a wicked double Sucker Punch attack.

To be completely honest, using Haunter against pokemon of this level wasn't even fair. It made Ash worry more about his opponents' well-being rather than his own pokemon. From here on out, he would try his best not to use Haunter in situations like this.

When the aftermath from both techniques subsided, Ash took a look at his surroundings. Fifteen mankey lay beaten and unconscious. Moreover, there were scorch marks all over the dirt, and several shrubs had been burnt to a crisp. Yet again, Ash would have to have Ivysaur and Wartortle clean and nourish the land. It was the right thing to do after a battle such as this one.

"Growlithe, Haunter, back to me!" called Ash as he focused his attention back on his friends.

Ash watched as Haunter and Growlithe took their eyes off of their fallen opponents and returned to Ash's side.

His pup had a look of tiredness on his face. Despite the fact that he hadn't really been challenged by any of the mankey, he had still exhausted a lot of energy. Battling that many pokemon at once tended to have that kind of effect, albeit it was nothing compared to the weariness that consumed Growlithe after the battle against Team Rocket and their horde of debased pokemon.

"Good job," said Ash while flashing Growlithe a playful smirk, "although you do look tired. Did those mankey give you a good workout?"

The puppy pokemon let out a quiet grunt as he cozied up next to his trainer. Ash could sense the indifference in Growlithe's intonation. Essentially, he was saying that it wasn't a good battle, but it wasn't a bad one either. If it weren't for the intense training session that Ash had put Growlithe through just moments before the mankey attacked, he would have been fine.

"That's what I thought," said Ash as he let out a deep sigh. "They weren't very strong."

He paused, "When they showed up, I was hoping that at least one of them would give us a challenge, but that wasn't the case."

In response to Ash's words, Haunter let out a loud, ghostly guffaw. Ash couldn't always tell what his ghost-type's outlandish outbursts meant, but in this situation, Ash figured that he was agreeing with him.

"Anyways…" drawled Ash, altering the direction of the conversation. "I'm proud of you, Haunter. You did a great job of fighting off your other self. Even though those mankey were weak, they still threatened me. The fact that you were able to keep calm was a step in the right direction. Next time, we'll have to suppress your other personality against some higher level threats."

He took a breath before smiling at the apparition, "Only then will we be able to find out just how far you have come."

Haunter's grin stretched from one side of his shadowy mug to the other as he soaked in Ash's words.

"Okay, guys," said Ash, grabbing both Growlithe and Haunter's attention. "Before we start moving again, I think we should check to see if any of these mankey have significant injuries. I doubt that they do, but I'd rather not have them scraping at my conscience."

He paused as he guiltily glanced at a bundle of burnt shrubs, "I also want to have Wartortle and Ivysaur clean up a bit. We made a mess."

Growlithe and Haunter nodded, respecting their trainer's wishes.

"Let's hurry up and get this over with," said Ash as he reached for Ivysaur and Wartortle's pokeballs. "I want to hit the road as soon as possible."

XXX

"Hey, Wartortle," said Ash, catching his water-type's attention after a long, grueling training session, "I have a question."

His turtle pokemon pivoted his gaze away from Growlithe – who he had been having a conversation with – and centered it on Ash.

It was just Ash, Growlithe and Wartortle. They had been working on Wartortle's Protect in a clearing, about halfway between Saffron and Celadon, when a thought permeated Ash's mind.

At first, he tried to discard it. It had to do with Wartortle's past, and he had told himself back when he had first gotten through to his water-type – just outside of Vermillion – that he wouldn't push him to open up. However, this time around, his curiosity got the best of him. He couldn't help himself. There was something he had to know.

Ash shot Growlithe a look that signified that he wanted him to stay out of the upcoming conversation before continuing.

"I know this is kind of random…" murmured Ash, "but do you still think about your old trainer?"

In response to Ash's question, Wartortle gave him a quizzical look. His face remained expressionless, but his eyes told a different story. Now, although Wartortle's typical countenance was glacial and void of emotion, there had been times when he would unknowingly reveal his feelings through his eyes.

This was one of those moments.

Wartortle's eyes were like a changeable kaleidoscope, flashing Ash different colors depending on his turtle pokemon's feelings.

The first emotion that he involuntarily showed Ash was confusion. The ten-year-old boy had never asked Wartortle a question like this before, so Ash could understand why it would come as somewhat of a surprise.

The second emotion that Ash saw was anger. He wasn't sure if this was directed towards him for asking such a question or his former trainer. Maybe it was a combination of both, who knows? Ash only saw it for a second, so he didn't have an opportunity to even start to try and decipher the root behind Wartortle's quick burst of animosity.

Next, he caught a glimpse of sadness, which was pretty straight forward. For a moment, Ash could see the deep hurt that Wartortle's former trainer had inflicted on him. It was abyssal, having infiltrated every part of Wartortle's mind and soul. He was who he was because of this pain, there was no way around it and no point in denying it.

After witnessing sadness, Ash observed an emotion that could only be described as hope. It wasn't happiness. At this point in time, Ash didn't even know if Wartortle was capable of feeling true happiness.

Rather, Ash witnessed what looked like a ray of aspiration within Wartortle. It was the kind of emotion that Ash imagined a terminally ill person would experience if they were told that technological advancements were on the verge of finding a cure for their sickness.

Last of all, Ash saw ambition. Out of all of the emotions that flashed within Wartortle's eyes, this one shined the brightest. It was his dominant mental state. With the help of the hope Ash had given him, ambition had consumed everything else. It had swallowed sadness and anger and turned them into a driving force that fueled his newfound desire to get stronger.

Simply put, Wartortle was changing. Ash could see it in his eyes. If he had asked Wartortle this question a couple of weeks ago, it would have triggered a different response. Now, Wartortle's mind could handle it. He could at least begin to look at his past in retrospect without shutting down completely…

With a hint of hesitation, Wartortle gave Ash a slight nod, signifying that he did think about his old trainer from time to time.

"I see..." drawled Ash with a look of seriousness on his face. "I suppose he will always have an influence on you."

Wartortle let out a small grunt of affirmation, reluctantly agreeing with Ash. No matter how much hatred Wartortle had for his former trainer and the memories he had left him with, there was no way of changing what happened. He had been abandoned by the same person that had introduced him to the concepts of love and happiness. He had been betrayed by the one that at one point in time he would have been willing to give up his life for.

There was no way to pay no mind to something like that. No matter how much Wartortle wished he could sever all things having to do with the boy that carved away at his essence, his first trainer would always be a part of him. It was sickening, but it was reality…

"Well, if that's the case," said Ash as a small smile breached the serious look on his face, "I have another question for you."

Wartortle kept his eyes planted on his trainer. Ash could tell he had piqued his water-type's curiosity. Despite the fact that his friend was oftentimes hard to read, Ash could always tell when Wartortle was interested in something. If he wasn't intrigued by the question, he wouldn't have acknowledged it.

"After all of the pain that your former trainer has caused you," stammered Ash with a bit of insecurity evident in his tone, "do you think I can make up for it?"

For the second time in a matter of minutes, Wartortle looked at him with confused eyes.

Ash took a moment to come up with a better way to convey what he was trying to say before continuing, "What I'm trying to say is…do you think I can replace the bad with good? Do you think I can help you find happiness again?"

Wartortle looked at him with a blank expression. It was obvious to Ash that he didn't know how to respond. It was also likely that at this point in time, Wartortle didn't have an answer. Sure, Ash had done a lot for him since they met, but happiness. Happiness wasn't something that Wartortle had experienced for a long time. It was something that had become so foreign to him that he had forgotten what it even felt like.

After a couple minutes of Wartortle staring ahead with a stony face, Ash came to the realization that his question wouldn't be answered today. As a matter of fact, Ash had a feeling that he would have to accept that his question may not ever be answered the way he wanted it to be.

Wartortle may have come a long way, but he wasn't ready to talk about things like happiness. It had been difficult enough for him to acknowledge that he had emotions buried underneath his icy exterior in the first place.

"Never mind," said Ash, breaking the silence. "Forget that I asked. You don't need to be worrying about things like that."

Wartortle nodded discreetly. He seemed to be contemplating something. It was apparent that he was confused, but maybe Ash had brought up something that Wartortle could begin to work out on his own.

When Ash had first seen Wartortle's reaction to the question, he thought that he had made a mistake. However, it was possible that he hadn't, and Wartortle just needed time to process things. He hoped that was the case. Just like the rest of his pokemon, Wartortle deserved to be happy. The fact that Wartortle himself didn't even know how bad he was hurting broke Ash's heart.

Could it be possible that this would be the conversation that helped push Wartortle to recover emotionally?

Well, only time would tell…For now, he just needed to shut up and let Wartortle think.

XXX

"Awesome job, Ivysaur!" howled Ash as he returned a tired Pidgeotto, who had just gotten done helping the saurian with his training.

His grass-type had just finished up working on his Razor Leaf, and it had gone well. His velocity was nearly perfect, and his accuracy was getting better everyday.

He was finally at the point where he could use it in battle against quicker opponents without having to incapacitate them with Vine Whip, which meant that Ash felt comfortable enough with the status of Ivysaur's Razor Leaf that he thought it wouldn't be a bad idea to begin teaching him the next technique in his learnset: Sweet Scent.

"How are you feeling?" asked Ash before sharing his plan. "Are you low on energy?"

Ivysaur shook his head and let out a loud snort, indicating that he had plenty of energy left in the tank.

"Good," said Ash with a smile, "because I've got an idea. It has been on my mind all week, but you weren't ready."

The saurian looked up at his trainer with interested eyes. He was always a good listener, but Ash could tell that he was especially intrigued at the moment. More than likely, he could sense the excitement in Ash's voice.

"Now that you are on the verge of mastering Razor Leaf, and don't really need my help when it comes to ironing out your minor accuracy issues, why don't we start to learn another move?"

Without a hint of hesitation, Ivysaur nodded his head. Ash wasn't surprised; he knew that Ivysaur would like the idea. Ivysaur had been working on Razor Leaf everyday for a couple of weeks now, and it was starting to become tedious. After a while, techniques that required such a high level of intricacy could wear on a pokemon's patience. Razor Leaf was beginning to have that effect on Ivysaur, so a change of pace must have sounded like music to his ears.

"I figured you'd respond that way," retorted Ash as he folded his arms. "Have you ever heard of Sweet Scent?"

In response to Ash's question, Ivysaur nodded his head. If Ash had to guess, he would say that either Melanie or one of the grass-types living at her wild pokemon spa had told him about it. It's not like he had ever mentioned Sweet Scent to Ivysaur before, so he knew that he wasn't the one that had taught him about the valuable status technique's existence.

"Do you know what it does?" asked Ash curiously with his fingers crossed.

When it came to teaching a pokemon how to use Sweet Scent, half of the battle was trying to explain to the user what kind of effects it would have on its target. If Ivysaur already knew all of that, it would save Ash a lot of time.

Ivysaur already had all of the chemicals that he would need in order to perfect Sweet Scent. However, much like Sleep Powder and Poison Powder, he would have to figure out what chemicals he needed to mix together as well as sort out their proper measurements in order to create the correct pheromone…

To Ash's pleasure, Ivysaur once again nodded his head and let out an affirmative grunt.

"Hell yeah!" cheered Ash as a massive smile formed on his face. "If that's the case, there isn't much for me to explain. I'll let you experiment. You're going to be spending a lot of time inside of your bulb in order to master this technique, and it will probably be way more difficult to find the right chemicals than it was with both of your status powders. Just be patient with yourself, and don't be afraid to try things that might seem a little odd."

He paused to take a breath, "the pokedex has a few formulas that other trainers' grass-types have used, so I can share those with you if you want, but it says that the most potent Sweet Scents are created through trial and error. Apparently, since every individual specimen has a different DNA strand, and it is impossible for a living host to mix biological chemicals without including a part of its DNA, you can't create the exact same Sweet Scent that another grass-type has made using the same formula."

In subsequence to Ash's spiel about Sweet Scent, Ivysaur let out an enthusiastic growl. It appeared as though all of the talk about DNA, chemicals and measurements was starting to excite him.

"Last but not least, have fun," said Ash with a chuckle. "I know you love this sort of stuff, so I want you to enjoy it."

The saurian's eyes brightened, and a wide smile stretched across his face as he listened to his friend's words.

"Alrighty then!" exclaimed Ash. "Let's start!"

XXX

The puppy pokemon aggressively flipped forward into Charmander, who tried his best to fend off Growlithe with a powerful Focus Punch.

As Charmander extended his arm, Growlithe used one of his posterior paws to smack away the fire lizard's attempted strike. In concurrence to intercepting Charmander's fist, Growlithe latched onto his sparring partner with his two front paws in order to immobilize him before reaching the apex of his flip.

"Good, good, good!" exclaimed Ash with excitement evident in his voice. "Now, throw!"

Listening to his trainer's command, Growlithe held onto Charmander throughout the duration of his flip before using all four of his paws – in a addition to the momentum from the flip – to push Charmander toward the ground. Within the blink of an eye, his fire lizard hit the ground hard, letting out a nasty groan in the process.

Growlithe awkwardly landed on all fours. It wasn't perfect; they would have to work on sticking the landing as well as performing the technique against larger foes, but it was an undeniable improvement.

For the first time, Growlithe had successfully performed Reversal.

Ash's natural reaction was to clench his fist victoriously. They had finally had a breakthrough with a technique that they had been working on since before Saffron. However, he cut his celebration short as soon as he remembered that it was one of his pokemon that had been on the receiving end of such a devastatingly physical attack.

"Charmander, are you okay?!" queried Ash as he sprinted over to his lizard pokemon's side.

Growlithe quickly filed in alongside him. It was apparent that he was worried as well. Reversal was a powerful technique, and they had been sparring for quite sometime before Growlithe decided that he wanted to try it out. Needless to say, Charmander had accumulated a hefty sum of damage prior to getting slammed by Reversal, hopefully he hadn't been injured too badly…

Ash let out a massive sigh of relief when Charmander tottered back up to his feet.

His eyes were droopy and his knees were wobbling. The ten-year-old boy was still concerned, though. Charmander was on the verge of unconsciousness, and Ash didn't like to push his pokemon that far during training. However, it was a good sign that he was up. It meant that a couple of potions would have Charmander feeling as good as new.

"Whoa there, buddy, don't push yourself anymore than you already have," said Ash in a soothing tone as he leant over and picked up his friend, making sure to secure his tail flame in the process.

Charmander was getting heavy. Pretty soon, Ash wouldn't be able to pick his friend up like this anymore. The feeble charmander that Ash had found beaten and abused in the middle of nowhere would evolve into an able charmeleon.

It was a crazy concept to think about. Once Charmander evolved, all three members of his elemental trio would be in their second stages. It was an indubitable result of his growth as a trainer and blatant proof that his friends were getting stronger. He couldn't help but smile, although given their circumstances that smile quickly subsided.

Right now, it was more important for Ash to give Charmander some medical attention.

…Reminiscing could wait until his friend was all healed up.

The dark-haired boy carried Charmander back over to their campsite before setting him down on a soft patch of dirt. He made sure that there was nothing flammable within reach of his tail flame. The last thing he wanted to do was start a wildfire, especially in such a dry part of Kanto.

"Hang on, Charmander," said Ash before calling out to Haunter, who had been hiding in the shadows guarding all of Ash's belongings while he trained his fire-types.

"Haunter, bring me my backpack!" bellowed Ash as he leant over and gently rubbed the scaly skin on Charmander's head.

Growlithe lied down next to Charmander with a guilty expression on his face. Just like Ash, the pup was concerned for his friend, but Ash also could tell that Growlithe felt responsible for Charmander's current physical condition.

Charmander would be fine, and Growlithe hadn't done anything wrong. However, it was rare that his friends actually hurt one another during their training, so Ash understood why Growlithe felt bad.

"Don't worry about it, buddy," said Ash to Growlithe as he rested Charmander's head on his lap. "It's not your fault. You guys were just training. This kind of stuff happens; it's a part of battling."

Growlithe let out a small, apologetic whimper. It was clear that Ash's words weren't enough to nullify the pup's guilt.

A light smile formed across Ash's face, though, when Charmander lifted his claw from the ground and placed it on Growlithe's paw. He then let out a soft, friendly murmur that undoubtedly was meant to soothe his fellow fire-type's bad conscience.

Growlithe's eyes brightened up the moment that Charmander looked over at him. There was no animosity in Charmander's expression. In fact, he was smiling. The Reversal may have hurt, but it was a clean technique. Growlithe didn't do anything that any of his other pokemon wouldn't have done if they had been given the opportunity to make further advancements with a technique that they were working on.

At least, that's what Ash guessed was going through Charmander's mind. Charmander, more than any of his friends, knew what legitimate abuse looked like, and this definitely wasn't it. Growlithe and Charmander had been battling on an equal playing field. Sure, their mock match had gotten a little heated, but both participants had kept going under their own volition.

If Ash were to blame anybody it would be himself. He shouldn't have let Growlithe and Charmander's pride as fire-types consume what was supposed to be a simple spar. Be that as it may, what happened, happened, and no amount of blameful musing would be beneficial...

Growlithe and Charmander's sentimental moment was interrupted when Haunter levitated over to them with Ash's backpack in his shadowy grasp.

"Thanks," said Ash as he snatched his backpack from Haunter's clutches. "Stay on the look out for any curious, wild pokemon. I'm going to be distracted until I finish Charmander's treatment."

Haunter bobbed his head up and down and let out an array of laughter, indicating that he had everything under control, before submerging himself within a nearby shadow.

Even though he could endure the light that didn't mean he liked to. Outside of training and battling, very rarely did Haunter expose himself to sunlight. During the daytime, he would much rather operate from the shadows, which Ash approved of.

Despite the fact that he was out of sight, Ash trusted Haunter to stay close by. Besides, having Haunter out of sight tended to be a good thing. Few traveling trainers had the guts to approach him when Haunter was out in the open, and the amount of wild pokemon Ash saw drastically decreased.

Simply put, due to justifiable stereotypes regarding most ghost-types, Haunter was often wrongly judged as a blood-thirsty killing machine, which was unfortunate but unavoidable. For that reason, Ash selfishly encouraged Haunter's desire to stay out of sight when the sun was up. Things were just easier that way…

Anyways, now that Ash had his backpack, he unzipped one of its middle pockets and pulled out a handful of depository cases.

Each one of them was labeled and designated to hold a different type of item—which was something that Ash had been working on ever since he left Saffron. The one that he was looking for right now was the depository case that he had placed all of his medical related items in.

In addition to his "medical" depository case – which consisted of things like potions and status healers – his stuff was presently occupying four of the other depository cases that Robert had purchased for him back at the Silph Co. headquarters.

Ash had designated one of the cases to hold his excess capture devices.

Of course, it would be stupid for him to put all of his empty capture devices in it. He had to have some that were within reach just in case he came across a wild pokemon that he wanted to catch, albeit it was unnecessary to have immediate access to more than one of each type of capture device. Other than one pokeball, a great ball and an ultra ball – which Ash kept fastened to his trainer belt – the rest of his capture devices were stored away in one of his depository cases.

Another one of the labeled depository cases consisted of food. It didn't matter what kind. He used his "food" depository case for his pokemon's food as well as his own. He typically ate at the same time as his friends, so it was easier that way. Besides, he didn't see the point in segregating his human food versus their pokemon food.

At this point in time, he would just be inconveniently activating another depository case. It's not like he had that much stuff. As a matter of fact, he could fit all of his things into one depository case if he wanted to. The only reason that he hadn't done that was because he didn't want to get confused while sifting through the cases' retrieval system.

It was better to be somewhat organized than in complete disarray. However, too much organization was, in Ash's opinion, extraneous. As long as he knew where everything was, and his backpack no longer gave him back problems, he would be just fine.

The other two depository cases that he had activated were assigned to carry his daily necessities and miscellaneous items. The "daily necessities" depository case carried things such as his sleeping bag, tooth brush and clothes; whereas his depository case specified to hold miscellaneous items stored things like his Moon Stone and the Psychic TM that Sabrina had given him.

Needless to say, the depository cases that he had acquired back in Saffron were being put to good use. He reminded himself to thank Austin next time he talked to him. If it weren't for his goofy friend's suggestion to purchase them, his back would still be aching from hauling around all of his stuff the old-fashioned way.

As soon as Ash found his "medical" depository case, he placed the others back in his backpack before pressing the on button.

For the most part, all depository cases were the same in size and appearance. They were small, black and rectangular. On the face of the device was a touchscreen that was about the same size as the screen on his xtransceiver, and the on button – which was about the same size as his fingertip – was located on the apparatuses' side.

The only difference, appearance wise, on some depository cases opposed to others was the bold, white number that was printed on the side of each device, opposite of the on button. The number corresponded to the size of the case. If its maximum weight limit was fifty pounds, it would read: fifty pounds. Duly, if its maximum weight limit was one ton, it would read: one ton…

After turning on his "medical" depository case, the screen on its face lit up. It displayed a home screen, which was rather bland in appearance and only gave him two options: "Inventory" and "Settings".

He pressed "Inventory".

Immediately, a short list of curative items came into view. He scrolled through them as he weighed his options.

"(19) Potion"—no, not strong enough.

"(8) Super Potion"—maybe.

"(2) Hyper Potion"—no, running low.

"(20) Full restore"—perfect and plenty.

After making a decision, Ash tapped on "Full Restore". Granted, Charmander's current condition didn't really warrant the use of a full restore. A super potion, or two, would have been more than adequate.

However, Ash had yet to use any of the full restores that he had won after coming in third in the SS Anne tournament, and he was eager to find out just how well the unrivaled miracle concoctions worked.

In subsequence to tapping the "Full Restore" option, Ash pointed the face of the depository case toward an empty patch of dirt next to Charmander and Growlithe. He watched in awe as the screen poured out a bright, blue light that covered the area that Ash had pointed it at. The duration of the light lasted for a couple of seconds – about the same amount of time that the light from a pokeball shines when releasing a pokemon– before fading away.

Left in its wake was a small, intricately designed bottle. Its base and mouth piece were tan in color, while the chamber itself was clear, revealing an effervescent, green liquid.

As he picked it up, Ash saw Charmander's confused facial expression.

The majority of medical concoctions were applied externally, typically in the form of a spray. However, higher level potions such as the hyper potion, max potion and full restore were a little bit different. They weren't produced in the form of a spray, but rather a liquid that had to be orally ingested.

Thus, Ash figured that Charmander's confusion stemmed from the fact that the full restore had a mouth piece rather than a nozzle. Ash's theory was confirmed when Charmander's expression shifted from confused to disgusted as he figured out the reason behind the subtle difference in the bottle's appearance.

"Oh, come on," said Ash, slightly amused, "I'm sure it's not as bad as it looks."

Charmander contemplatively pivoted his eyes back and forth between the full restore and Ash before giving him a look that screamed, you're full of crap!

Ash let out a brief chuckle as he thought of a response, "Okay, maybe it'll be gross, but it will make you feel better. Right, Growlithe?"

Growlithe let out a half-hearted yip while looking at the green concoction. His eyes depicted repugnance. It was clear that Growlithe didn't like the looks of the full restore either.

In subsequence to Growlithe's less than convincing bark, Charmander emitted a disconsolate groan. The fire lizard definitely wasn't happy that he would have to drink such a nasty looking solution.

"Thanks, Growlithe…" drawled Ash as he shot his best friend a dirty look, "he's going to have to drink it either way. You could have at least helped me convince him that it wouldn't be a horrible experience."

Growlithe diverted his eyes away from Ash before centering his attention on Charmander. Despite the fact that he was just as put off by the full restore as Charmander, he used his head to gesture towards the concoction, beckoning Charmander to drink it.

Charmander made a wry face as he dubiously nodded. Ash wasn't positive what was going through his mind, but it looked like he would willingly drink it.

With a smile on his face, Ash picked up the full restore. "I promise, it'll be worth it. Once you drink it, you'll be feeling great."

In return, Charmander gave Ash an unenthusiastic smile. No amount of smooth talk would convince the fire-type that this was going to be a pleasant experience.

He shrugged before removing the plastic seal that was bound around the full restore's mouth piece. Once the seal had been excised, Ash opened the attached lid. He almost gagged as he was smacked in the face by a repulsive odor. Although it wasn't even close to being the most disgusting thing he had smelled – which was Ariana's muk – he couldn't imagine having to drink it.

Upon catching a whiff of the atrocious smelling miracle potion, Ash felt bad for Charmander. If the full restore smelt this bad, it probably tasted ten times worse. Charmander had been right to be disgusted. This definitely wasn't going to be fun.

Once Ash had a little bit of time to become somewhat acclimated to the smell, he looked up and saw that his pokemon were having a similar reaction.

Growlithe's nose was buried in the ground, which didn't surprise Ash. If the smell of the full restore had been disgusting to him, it was probably unbearable to the pup whose sense of smell was rumored to be millions of times greater than that of a human.

Charmander's facial expression had gone from disgusted to utterly mortified. Ash watched guiltily as his fire lizard's tiny nostrils palpitated, and tears, like those that you get when you chop up an onion, leaked from his eyes.

"Damn," said Ash, blinking excessively as the pungent odor seeped into his eye sockets, "that's awful. Let's get this over with."

Charmander let out a groan as he slowly nodded his head, whereas Growlithe rubbed his nose even deeper into the ground.

Alrighty then…" said Ash as he tried his best not to breathe out of his nose, "open up. I'll pour... you drink. Since your injuries aren't that bad, only take a couple of sips. That should be plenty."

He paused, "Once you swallow, no matter how gross it is, keep it down. It'll be a waste if you don't. It needs to reach your bloodstream. If you throw it up right away, it won't have a chance to do that."

Charmander nodded before hesitantly opening his mouth. At least he didn't have to drink the whole thing.

Ash cringed the moment that the green liquid hit Charmander's mouth. The fire lizard's eyes bulged, and his face contorted. It was apparent that the concoction tasted as bad or maybe even worse than it smelt, which was definitely saying something.

Nevertheless, he swallowed it.

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