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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30. Kanto 9 Part 3

"Come on, Charmander, keep it down," said Ash as he watched his lizard pokemon rollover out of his lap and gag. "You can do it."

It took a little bit of time, but Charmander eventually ceased gagging. As soon as he stopped, he used a dull part of his claws to try and scrape the taste off of his tongue. When he wasn't scraping his tastebuds, he was spitting up green tinted saliva that sizzled and smoked when it the ground, which was due to Charmander's hot, internal temperature.

Ash felt bad. He knew what it was like to experience a high degree of discomfort for the sake of getting better. He had a somewhat similar experience when his favorite Nurse Joy healed his hand after he burned it on Charmander's tail flame, although Ash would say that his experience was worse. He had a tough time believing that the grotesque taste of the full restore could come anywhere close to rivaling the pain that he felt when his second-degree burns rapidly recovered.

Be that as it may, Ash was having a tough time finding the words to tell Charmander that he still needed to take another gulp. It was obvious that one sip was difficult enough for him to endure. Two would be torture.

"That bad, eh?" queried Ash with a frown. "You're already halfway there. Just one more sip, and that'll be it."

In response to Ash's words, Charmander glanced back up at his trainer with a look of incredulousness plastered across his face. Just by looking at the expression on his face, Ash could tell that there wasn't anything else in the world that the lizard pokemon would rather not do than take another sip of the full restore.

Now would have been the perfect time to ask Growlithe if he could give Charmander some friendly encouragement, but then he realized that his puppy pokemon still had his nose pressed against the earth's surface. Ash was starting to think that Growlithe had it just as bad as Charmander.

He thought about returning his puppy pokemon in order to save him from the horrid stench, but he changed his mind when he came to the conclusion that he would only have the full restore bottle open for a little bit longer. Regardless of how gross it was, one more swig wouldn't take long. They would be finished in no time.

"Open up, buddy," said Ash, pity evident in his voice. "Let's just get it over and done with."

It took the lizard pokemon a brief moment to get in the right state of mind, however, Charmander eventually unhinged his jaw, allowing Ash to pour another portion of the green solution into his mouth. His reaction was similar. It was slightly more intense, though. This time, Ash actually thought that Charmander was going to puke, and Haunter emerged from the shadows to laugh at him—which was actually his way of making sure that he was okay.

Once Charmander had settled down, and Ash was positive that he wasn't going to throw it up, the dark-haired boy put the lid back on the full restore – which was still about three quarters of the way full – before returning it to his "medical" depository case.

"Now, it's just a waiting game," said Ash as he placed the depository case back in his backpack. "According to the instructions on the bottle, you should be completely healed in like ten minutes."

Despite the fact that he still looked queasy, Charmander let out a confirmatory grunt.

At the same time, Growlithe lifted his nose from the dirt, and exhaled a small flame out from his mouth and into his nostrils.

This was the first time Ash had ever seen Growlithe do this, so at first he was confused. However, after thinking it over, he came to the conclusion that Growlithe had been clearing his nasal passageway by means of fire—which judging by Growlithe's relieved disposition must have been rather effective…

At any rate, after about five minutes, Charmander's body began to show signs of rejuvenation.

By the time ten minutes passed, he was back to one-hundred percent. A grin stretched across Ash's face as he watched Charmander and Growlithe run around the campsite with glee. Judging by Charmander's behavior, he would say that his fire lizard was feeling even better than he had before the training session.

It was apparent that despite the full restore's nasty smell and repugnant taste, it worked magic when it came to healing pokemon. Ash had never seen anything like it. Just a short while ago, Charmander could barely move. Now, he was running around, wrestling with Growlithe like nothing happened..

It was incredible.

"I told you it would be worth it," said Ash to Charmander as he started to pack up the campsite.

His fire lizard let out a playful squeal as he and Growlithe shot fun-sized Embers at each other. Ash thought about asking them to help him pick up, but he decided to let them play instead. After their training session and their exposure to the full restore, they deserved it.

Once Ash had finished loading everything back into his depository cases, he stowed them away in his backpack before calling out to Growlithe and Charmander.

"Charmander, Growlithe, back to me!" bellowed Ash while handling Charmander's pokeball.

Both of his fire-types ceased their lighthearted wrestling match before loping back over to Ash's side.

"It's time to go," said Ash, adjusting the straps on his backpack. "If we cover some solid ground today, we should reach Celadon by the end of the week."

Growlithe and Charmander nodded their heads, indicating that they were ready to go.

"Do you want to stay out, Charmander?" asked Ash as he habitually tossed his lizard pokemon's pokeball up and down in his hand.

Charmander emitted a confirmative squeal. He was feeling good; Ash could tell. There was no way that he wanted to spend the day in sequester…not when he felt as good as he did.

"Gotcha'," said Ash as he reattached Charmander's empty pokeball to his belt.

All that was left was to retrieve Haunter, and they were good to go.

"Haunter, it's time to—"

Ash's sentence was cut short as Haunter jetted out of a group of shadows, belonging to a collection of thickets, before stopping right in front of Ash. He turned his back to his trainer, causing Ash to jump back in confusion. It was as if Haunter had hurried into a position where he could protect him. This wasn't Haunter's normal behavior. Something was wrong..

"What is it, Haunter?" questioned Ash quietly as adrenaline started to surge within him. "What's wrong?"

All of a sudden, Growlithe and Charmander got into defensive stances. Their dispositions went from docile to wild in the blink of an eye. Whatever had caused Haunter to rush over to protect him had captured their attention as well.

This was strange…

Ever since Saffron, his pokemon didn't spook easily, and Ash had never seen Haunter in such a panicked state. While trekking through Route Seven, multiple trainers had approached them, and they had come across several wild pokemon. None of them had caused his pokemon to so much as bat an eye.

Why now? What was going on?

Ash's eyes were drawn over to the direction that Haunter had spurted out of when he heard a rustling sound coming from inside of the brush. Something was over there. They were being watched.

His stomach started to stir, and his heartbeat hastened. Pokemon or human, whatever it was had to be strong. His friends wouldn't have responded this way if it wasn't.

In addition, it had to be something that was capable of masking its scent. Growlithe's sense of smell may have been afflicted by the pungent full restore, but there was no way it had completely stopped working. If it did, Growlithe would have let Ash know. No, whatever was stalking them had found a way to bypass Growlithe's aromatic awareness, which sent shivers down Ash's spine.

"No sudden movements," said Ash, whispering as he slowly reached for Pidgeotto's pokeball.

Despite the fact that he didn't know what they were dealing with, he wanted to be prepared to release another one of his friends just in case. The thing that was watching them had scared Haunter – a ghost-type, and his strongest pokemon – which meant that it was on an entirely different level.

They were in the presence of something overwhelming. Otherwise, Haunter would have taken care of it long before it had a chance to approach Ash. If it was hostile, they would need all of the help they could get.

"Do not attack unless I say so," said Ash, "hopefully, whatever is over there is just curious about us. Follow my lead."

Growlithe, Charmander and Haunter nodded. They understood the situation.

There was a moment of silence as they waited for the hidden entity to make a move. All that Ash could hear was the sound of the breeze as it danced throughout the bracken and the steady pulse of his own breathing.

About thirty seconds subsided before Ash noticed another movement in the brush. This time it was closer.

…The being was on the verge of revealing itself.

When it finally did, Ash's eyes widened and his jaw dropped. Strutting out of the assemblage of chaparral was a beautiful, lustrous ninetails. It looked as powerful and primordial as it was elegant. He didn't know what it was, but he had a feeling that it wasn't your average specimen.

It was his first time ever seeing a ninetails, so he couldn't be sure, but something felt different about it. Now that Ash had laid eyes on it, he wasn't surprised that Haunter had fallen back to him. Just standing in its presence made Ash feel inferior. It reminded him of the time that he had met the elder clefable within the depths of Mt. Moon or the mesmeric dragonite at Bill's lighthouse.

Ash could tell that it was ancient and wise. He had heard stories that ninetails could live to be more than one-thousand years old. Until this moment, he had thought those stories to be fiction. However, just by standing in this ninetails' presence, Ash knew that he had been wrong...

It didn't appear to be hostile, but Ash and his pokemon didn't drop their guard. Ninetails were crafty after all. There was no way to tell what it was up to.

Ash watched in awe as its thick, luxurious golden-white fur flowed with the wind, and its nine long tails – each of which were tipped with pale orange pelage – curled elegantly behind it.

The ninetails had a fluffy crest atop its head and a small mane that covered its neck. It had long, slender legs with three toed-paws, and although it's body was thin, Ash could tell that it was muscular and athletic.

Even though its physique was impressive, its most captivating feature was its radiant, red eyes. No matter how hard Ash tried, he couldn't stop looking at them.

They were bewitching. It's not like he didn't know that ninetails' eyes had the ability to control minds, however, with a specimen of this level that kind of knowledge was useless. If ninetails wanted him to get lost in its gaze, Ash would get lost in its gaze. He had no say in the matter. It was unavoidable.

As a matter of fact, as long as Ash was in the presence of such a being, he had no control over anything. He would speak when permitted to. He would move when beckoned to. He wouldn't divert his eyes until ninetails allowed him to. And if it chose to turn hostile, his chances of survival were slim. A fraction of its might would overpower all of his friends combined, and he knew it.

For that reason, Ash just stood there. His eyes remained planted on the ninetails as it waltzed closer to them. Even though its red eyes were primeval and extrinsic, Ash was able to tell that it was sizing them up. It was definitely interested in him and his friends. Why...Ash didn't know?

All of a sudden, the dark-haired boy grasped his head when he felt an intrusive aura press up against his mind. It was nothing like when Sabrina had delved into his thoughts and memories. Instead, it reminded him of the time that the elder clefairy had breached his psyche with zero regard for comfort.

He couldn't help but let out a loud, jarring scream. Judging by the fact that he could hear his friends disembogue painful cries in their own native tongues, Ash assumed that the ninetails was entering their minds as well.

"Good afternoon, Ash Ketchum,said a mature, female voice that rang inside of his head.

It echoed within his mind like a crash in a long, empty corridor. He had to use every ounce of his strength not to fall to his knees; the ninetails' telepathy was that painful.

"Hello," managed Ash as he fought to stay on his feet.

Hopefully, his mind would either acclimate to the pain or go numb because the ninetails had only communicated four words, and he didn't know how much more of it he could handle. He was wrong to compare the ninetails' telepathy to the elder clefable's, it was far more painful.

It felt much less natural, probably because of the ninetails' typing. Although the elder clefable wasn't a psychic-type, its typing was still categorized as one of the mystic elements. The ninetails species may have some supernatural abilities, but it was still a fire-type. Obviously, a fairy-type would be much more adept when it came to a metaphysical skill like telepathy.

"Young ones, Shadow Dweller," articulated the ninetails as she slowly circled around them, "good day to you as well."

Ash heard all three of his released pokemon let out grunts of acknowledgement. He could clearly hear the pain in their voices. It sickened him.

"My name is Willow," said the ninetails as it focused its attention back on Ash. "I apologize for my telepathy…"

She paused as she looked at him with a devious expression, "I don't use it very often. I'm aware that it is rather…uncomfortable."

Ash ignored the comment. He didn't want to say anything that could upset the ninetails. If the ninetails wanted to deride her telepathy then she could deride her telepathy. It didn't matter how painful it was, Ash wasn't stupid enough to risk insulting her.

"Do not fret, child," said Willow as she got as close to Ash as possible without touching him. "I don't bite."

Due to the fact that she was using telepathy to speak to him, Ash couldn't sense any emotion in her projected voice. However, judging by her countenance, he wasn't sure if he could believe her. Her body language and mannerisms portrayed mischievousness. Ash got the feeling that life was one big game to her.

He kept his eyes locked on her as he thought of an appropriate response. "That's good to know. I'll admit, I was worried."

"Worried..." drawled Willow as she squinted her scarlet red eyes, "about me? Oh, hush, child…I'm harmless…"

She paused as she impishly bared her fangs, "That is…if I like you."

Ash resisted the urge to gulp as he formed a small smile. His gut told him that Willow would respond better to flippancy than discomposure.

She let out what sounded like a light chuckle as she began to circle them once more.

"Just kidding," she said with an elvish expression on her face. "I wouldn't hurt you even if I didn't like you. Lots of detestable trainers pass through these parts, and I leave them alone. I know enough about human society to understand what happens if a pokemon harms a human. Why subject myself to that kind of inconvenience? That would be nonsensical, don't you agree?"

"I d-do," stammered Ash as he once again fought the desire to fall to his knees. "A being as powerful as you is far too intelligent to get mixed up in something like that."

"Your words flatter me, child," enunciated Willow while approaching Ash from behind. She placed her head on Ash's shoulder as she used one of her tails to gently wrap him up into a soft embrace.

For the first time, due to her awkward positioning, Ash was able to take his attention off of Willow's alluring eyes. He quickly looked into his peripherals to check on his pokemon. All three of them had their eyes fastened on the ninetails. It was as if they were frozen, completely motionless on account of the ninetails' mighty aura.

"Don't worry about your friends," projected Willow. "They're fine. Just in a trance, that's all. They can perceive everything that is going on, but they can't move. The relationship between pokemon and trainer can cause a pokemon to do irrational things. I'd rather avoid something like that. Your pokemon are very loyal to you; they're the type that would sacrifice themselves for your safety."

She moved her head from Ash's right shoulder to his left before continuing, "Especially that handsome little Growlithe of yours. He would die for you if the situation called for it. Although, I can't see that happening. Your potential as a tandem is way too immense for destiny to allow something like that to happen. At least, I think so. I would never claim to be a fortune teller nor would I ever want to be one. Life is more fun when it's unpredictable."

Willow took her head off of Ash's shoulder and released him from the grasp of her tail before settling back in front of him. As she stood in front of him, he finally worked up the courage to ask her a question of his own.

"What is it that you want?" asked Ash. "Why has a wild pokemon of your level revealed herself to me?"

Willow squinted her eyes and tilted her head as she seemed to be thinking of a response.

"Well, I have multiple reasons for visiting you, Ash Ketchum. I will not and cannot reveal all of them. However, I don't see the harm in sharing some of my intentions for seeking you out."

"Okay," said Ash as he felt the pain from the telepathy begin to lessen, "I will be grateful for whatever you choose to share with me."

"You're a rather well-mannered child, Ash Ketchum," said the ninetails, contemplatively, while sitting back on her haunches. "Either that or you simply handle me well. Hmm…I think, I think I've come to the conclusion that I don't dislike you. Maybe, I'll share more than I originally intended."

"It's up to you," retorted Ash with a shrug, "I'll take whatever you are willing to give me."

At this point, his mind had already acclimated to Willow's presence. Her telepathy had dulled into more of an unnatural pressure rather than pain.

"Hmm…let's see…" articulated Willow, tilting her head from side to side, "one of the primary reasons that I have come to see you is that you showed rare kindness to four of my younglings the other day."

"Ah, I get it," said Ash, "so you're those four vulpix kits' mother?"

"Oh, no, child," snickered Willow. "Those four vulpix are merely a couple months old. They're just babes—the youngest in the valley. My days of fertility are long gone."

"I don't understand," said Ash, "why did you call them your younglings then?"

"Ah, well," said Willow, "they are younglings because I am much, much older than them, and they are mine because they are my descendants. I secretly oversee them, just like every other vulpix and ninetails in this part of Kanto."

"Wait…" drawled Ash with a look of astonishment on his face, "I don't get it. Are you trying to say that all of the vulpix and ninetails in this area are related to you, or are you trying to tell me that you look after all of them? Which one is it?"

"Both," answered Willow, bearing a sly smirk. "But the details of my kin are irrelevant at the moment. I wish to go back to your original question."

Ash nodded, respecting the mysterious Willow's privacy.

"Another reason I have come to see you is because of your two fire-types," explained Willow as she used her head to gesture towards Growlithe and Charmander. "A friend of mine has told me that they have quite a bright future ahead of themselves. I wish to test their strength while they are in their adolescence."

Ash had to admit, he felt a load of pride well up inside of him when Willow mentioned that she was interested in Charmander and Growlithe. He was also curious about who this friend of hers was, but he figured it would be better not to ask. He liked to ask questions, but now wasn't the time to be nosy.

"I'm sure they would be honored to be evaluated by you," replied Ash.

Ash heard Growlithe and Charmander let out grunts of affirmation, confirming his words.

"Are you wanting to do this now?" asked Ash with curious eyes.

"Soon…" said Willow as she eyed Growlithe and Charmander, "but not quite yet. I'm enjoying our conversation, and I still have more to share with you regarding my purpose for being here."

"Alright," replied Ash. "If that's the case, can I make a request?"

"What is it, child?" questioned the ninetails as she tilted her head to the side.

"Now that my friends and I are aware that you're not a threat," said Ash with adamant eyes, "can you please release them from the trance? They won't do anything stupid. I promise."

"Oh, yes, of course," said Willow with what looked like a fake, absent-minded expression. "I should have done that a while ago. Silly me..."

She blinked her eyes. Simultaneously, Ash felt Growlithe, Charmander and Haunter move around him. He still didn't feel comfortable taking his eyes off of Willow, so he wasn't able to check on them visually. However, just knowing that they could freely move their bodies again was a major relief.

"Thank you," said Ash with a smile. "Now, where were we?"

"I was just about to share with you another reason that I have come to meet you," Willow explained as she resumed her waltz around Ash and his friends.

Ash nodded his head and listened attentively, allowing Willow to reestablish control over the conversation.

"You have been a part of some rather paramount happenings as of late," said the ninetails, coming to a halt directly in front of Ash, "correct?"

Memories of the SS Anne and Saffron ricocheted within his mind. Evil, pain, suffering, death, Team Rocket, abomination, prophecy, Chosen One—all exploding against his psyche like a conflux of rogue fireworks.

"Um, yeah," said Ash as he wondered how Willow had learned about the cataclysmic events that he had been a part of over the past month.

"My friend has asked me to deliver a message regarding these matters…" said Willow as she stared Ash straight in the eyes. "And the ones to come…"

Ash's heartbeat began to quicken, and his stomach started to stir. Of course the ninetails' presence had something to do with all of the calamity that was unfolding. Like it or not, he was intertwined in this mess. Whether it was due to coincidence or an ancient prophecy, he was a part of it.

"What is it?" asked Ash with apprehension evident in his voice. "What's the message?"

"Breathe easy, Ash Ketchum," said Willow as she flashed him what appeared to be her version of a smile. "It is nothing to worry about. The message is, 'Do not fret over destiny. Take things as they come, and trust your allies. You will be prepared; it has already been ensured. Focus on your dreams, for they were given to you by the Father. They will guide and sharpen you, so that you can slay whatever evils get in the way.'"

"...What the hell?" stammered Ash as he looked at Willow in a confused manner.

"Do you need me to repeat the message?" asked Willow as she tilted her head from side to side. "I didn't find it that complex, but I don't mind repeating it if you need me to."

"No, that's okay," retorted Ash as he readjusted his hat. "The meaning isn't what has me confused. For the most part, I understand it all. I just have a couple of questions."

"Yes?"

"At first, I wasn't going to ask," said Ash, " but you've mentioned this friend of yours twice now, and whoever it is seems to know a lot about me. Who is it? Do I know them?"

"That is something that I cannot tell you," answered the ninetails. "You will find out when the time is right."

"Dammit, okay…" drawled Ash.

There was no sense in arguing with the indomitable ninetails. Ash knew she wouldn't budge. Besides, just because they were having a pleasant conversation, didn't mean that things would remain that way. He still wanted to avoid frustrating an entity as powerful as Willow if he could.

"You said you had a couple of questions?" asked Willow as she expectantly brought her face closer to Ash's.

"Who's the Father?" questioned Ash, "and does all of this have to do with the 'Prophecy of the Chosen One'?"

"Once again, child," said Willow, squinting her eyes, "those are questions that I'm not permitted to answer. Eventually, you will get answers, but they cannot come from me. However, for now, take comfort in the fact that your journey as a pokemon trainer is just as much a part of destiny as all of the imperative events you have and will play a part in."

She paused, "So, during these moments of peace, it is important that you train, battle, create relationships and enjoy yourself. Do all of the things that an aspiring pokemon master is supposed to do, and do them with all of your ability. Take pleasure in life, and rejoice in the fact that you have a purpose. Without a purpose, happiness is impossible."

Feelings of guilt boiled up inside him as he thought about the way that he had responded to the possibility of being a part of an ancient prophecy. Willow was right. He should feel honored. He should take pride in the fact that he, of all people, could have been chosen. He should be happy that his purpose in life could be something so…heroic.

After all, not everyone's destiny involved following their dreams. Not everyone's destiny gave them an opportunity to be happy. Not everyone's destiny gave them a purpose.

"You're right…" answered Ash with a small smile, "thank you for delivering the message. I needed to hear it. I'll trust the fact that my questions will be answered when the time is right, and I'll follow my dreams the best that I can."

"Wise words, Ash Ketchum," retorted Willow with a smile of her own. "It makes me happy that you have come to this realization. Now, what do you say we move forward with the test? I'm anxious to see the potential of your fire-types first-hand."

"Okay," answered Ash. "How do you want to do this?"

He paused, "What do you have in mind?"

She smirked as her eyes shifted from serene to vigorous. "How do pokemon usually test each other's clout?"

Ash's eyes widened as he deciphered Willow's words, "Oh, God…um, alright. Growlithe, Charmander, are you up for the challenge?"

Although he could sense a hint of fear in their voices, both of his fire-types let out grunts of approval.

In concurrence with his fire-types' response, Haunter put forth an array of cacophonous laughter. The apparition was clearly entertained.

The ten-year-old boy took a deep breath as he mentally prepared himself for the upcoming, lopsided battle. At the very least, things were about to get interesting.

XXX

"Let's do this!" bellowed Ash.

Despite the fact that a loss was inevitable, he wanted his friends to give this battle their all. No matter how out of their league they were, this was a great opportunity.

Willow was as strong or even stronger than any pokemon he had ever met before. She was elite. As far as wild pokemon go, her presence was on the same level as the elder clefable and the momentous dragonite.

In subsequence to Ash's encouragement, Growlithe's muscles tensed in preparation to explode out of his stance, whereas Charmander raised his claws for battle. Ash had to admit, his friends were brave. Even though they were at a big disadvantage, they weren't hesitant to take the current challenge head on.

Undeterred by the fact that they were afraid, they were able to look past their fear for an opportunity to display their potential to an ancient and almighty fire-type. To say that they were inspiring would be an understatement.

"Impressive…" articulated Willow, projecting her monotonous voice so that Ash could understand her, "both of your essences are rich with courage. Your spirits are strong."

She squinted her eyes and bared her teeth before continuing, "bravery is essential for a formidable internal flame. Show me the fire that dwells within the two of you."

As Willow's words echoed withIn his mind, Ash felt the temperature in the air rise when both of his friends rapidly loaded their maws with scorching flames. If fire was what Willow wanted, fire was what she was about to get. There was no sense in sitting back and waiting for the elder ninetails to make a move. It was time to attack.

"Now!" howled Ash while Charmander and Growlithe exploded forward out of their stances.

Both of them let out loud battle cries as they approached Willow with fire leaking from their mouths. The elder ninetails stood still, unperturbed by Ash's two fire-types' impending presences. A small simper could be seen on her face as Growlithe and Charmander rapidly severed the distance between her and themselves.

As they drew closer and closer to Willow, it became apparent that she had no intention of dodging them. From point-blank range, Growlithe and Charmander released two full-power Embers. The raging flames engulfed the ninetails, covering her in what looked like a reddish orange blanket.

Ash clenched his fists with vigor as he watched Growlithe immediately follow his Ember with Flame Wheel. He enveloped himself in fervent flames, causing the temperature around them to rise even higher.

Ash had to say, Growlithe and Charmander's flames were livelier than usual. Either the training they had put in since leaving Saffron was reaping even more benefits than he originally anticipated, or the ancient ninetails' presence was magnifying their overall fire output.

...Maybe it was a combination of both.

In concurrence with Growlithe's Flame Wheel, Charmander emitted a swirling ball of orange and purple fire. His control wasn't perfect, but it appeared as if Charmander's skill with Dragon Rage was improving even more.

Now that he could release a full-fledged Dragon Rage, they had been practicing some more intricate variations of the technique. While working on Dragon Rage, they had learned that the mixture of natural and draconic flames could be imposing even without mastery over Dragon Rage.

However, now that Charmander's internal flame and draconic energy had separated, with practice, he had become capable of intentionally blending his Dragon Rage and Ember into a controllable combination attack. Thus, fulfilling Willow's request to experience the extent of his flames, Charmander intermixed Dragon Rage with his Ember in order to enhance its intensity.

Both Growlithe's Flame Wheel and Charmander's Draconic Ember converged on Willow at the same time, sandwiching her in what would have been a devastating fire-type combination against a normal opponent.

Too bad that there was nothing normal about Willow.

She had already been doused in flames, so Ash wasn't able to see if she depicted even a slight hint of pain. Nonetheless, when the flames subsided, it was evident that the elder ninetails hadn't taken any damage. The only visible difference that Ash could detect was that her coat looked even more dazzling than before.

Despite the fact that Ash knew Willow was on a level that he couldn't comprehend, he was still surprised to see that his friends' attacks were entirely ineffective. The vulpix line may have the capability of developing a formidable internal flame, but they weren't as impervious to fire as species like the magby or slugma lines.

No, like Growlithe, a vulpix or ninetails could be hurt by their own element if their opponent's internal flame was strong enough. Unfortunately, although Growlithe and Charmander had improved a lot over the past couple of months, their internal flames weren't even close to being strong enough to damage a ninetails' of Willow's caliber. She was just too strong.

"I see…" drawled Willow as Charmander and Growlithe leapt back, putting distance between themselves and the almighty fox, "your flames ooze with potential."

She took a deep breath as she centered her eyes on Ash, "Do not judge the power of their internal flames based off of their effect on me. I haven't been burned by fire for centuries, and the flames that scalded me belonged to a Legendary. Growlithe and Charmander are mere babes, and this battle is nothing but a test of potential. If you expected me to take any damage…well, that's just silly."

Ash had to admit the bit about Willow being burned by a Legendary was pretty damn cool, but he stayed quiet as he watched the ninetails snicker at him. He didn't have anything to say back to her. She was right after all.

"If fire won't work, we'll have to use some of our other techniques," said Ash to Growlithe and Charmander. "Charmander, use Smokescreen followed by Focus Punch! Growlithe, use Helping Hand on Charmander!"

Ash watched with hopeful eyes as Charmander spat out a plethora of black smoke in the direction of Willow. It spread throughout the clearing, covering almost everything except for Ash and Growlithe. As Charmander's Smokescreen diffused around the glade, Growlithe's body was enveloped in a faint, white energy. Ash could see the energy leaving Growlithe's body and entering Charmander, providing the lizard Pokemon with a temporary power boost.

A small smile crept across Ash's face. It had been a long time since Growlithe had gotten an opportunity to use Helping Hand, so at the very least, he was happy that his friend was still able to pull it off. He knew that it wouldn't make a difference in the battle against Willow, but at least they were able to execute all of their techniques.

Once the Smokescreen had been set and the Helping Hand had been initiated, Charmander took off into the black smoke. The only part of him that Ash could see was a tiny orange and red illumination that was undoubtedly his tail flame. Charmander seemed to know this as well, which is why he let out a barrage of Embers towards the ground that would help disguise his location.

It was a smart idea, albeit Ash was worried about the environment. Hopefully, Charmander's Embers hadn't made contact with any dry shrubs. He didn't want to have to ask Ivysaur and Wartortle to clean up after his fire-types again. They were getting tired of it; he could tell.

All of a sudden, amidst the inky cloud, Ash heard a loud crash and a painful sounding cry that belonged to Charmander. The moment the fire lizard shrieked, Growlithe took off into the smoke like he had been launched out of a cannon.

Simultaneously, a large pillar of blue fire shot through the air, causing the smoke from the Smokescreen to disperse in a heartbeat. Even though he didn't see it being released, he didn't have to think very hard to figure out that the massive, bright blue flamethrower had been put forth by Willow. Neither of his friends were capable of emitting such a monstrous flame.

When the smoke vanished, Ash cursed under his breath as he saw Charmander down on the ground, trying his best to get back up on his feet. He wasn't quite sure what had happened, but judging by the way the fire lizard was favoring his side, Ash guessed that Willow had performed some kind of counterattack when Charmander had tried to use Focus Punch.

At the same time, Growlithe charged the ninetails, who was looking at him with impish eyes. Ash cringed when he saw Growlithe leap forward in order to use Bite, only to get effortlessly smacked away by one of Willow's tails. He hit the ground hard before turbulently skidding halfway across the clearing.

"That's enough!" exclaimed Ash as he handled Growlithe and Charmander's pokeballs. "There's no need to take this any further, right? That should have been enough to gauge their strength, and I don't want my friends to get hurt for no reason."

Willow flashed Ash a small smile as she gestured with her head in the direction of Charmander. "Be patient, Ash Ketchum. I may have already analyzed their potential, but…well, just look for yourself."

Ash's expression brightened up when he redirected his line of sight over to Charmander, catching a glimpse of the determination in his lizard pokemon's eyes the moment before his entire body erupted in an incandescent, white light. A grin stretched from cheek to cheek as he processed what was going on.

Finally, it was happening. Charmander was evolving.

Ash watched in awe as the surge of bright light enshrouded Charmander's entire being. All Ash could see was a shadowy silhouette of the fire lizard's body within the light, rapidly growing and changing shape into something new.

When the light finally subsided, and the evolution was complete, a smirk crossed Ash's face as he examined his friend's new form. The first thing he noticed was that Charmeleon stood at least a foot taller than he had as a charmander, and his frame was much more muscular.

Even though the color of his reptilian skin had already significantly darkened prior to evolution, his scales were now crimson in color rather than reddish orange. His snout had elongated, giving his facial features a much more draconic look, and the horn on the back of his head had also gotten longer than it had been right before he evolved.

His irises had gone from blue to green, which gave Charmeleon a much fiercer countenance, and the claws on his fingers and toes had grown bigger and sharper. Ash also couldn't help but notice the size of Charmeleon's tail flame, which had grown to about twice the size as it had been when he was in his primary form.

Overall, if Ash had to explain Charmeleon's evolution in one word, it would be badass. He had shed his former cute, cuddly appearance for something way more intimidating.

"Hell yeah, Charmeleon!" bellowed Ash with elation evident in his tone of voice. "You did it! You evolved!"

Charmeleon blinked a couple of times in a confused manner before inspecting some of his new features with admiration. Ash could tell that his friend was excited. Evolution was something he had been working toward for a while now, and finally it had happened. No longer would he be the only member of Ash's elemental trio that was still in his primary stage. He had caught up to the others.

Charmeleon's self-examination was put on pause when Growlithe approached him in a mirthful state. The puppy pokemon looked even more excited than Charmeleon as he let out a series of joyful barks. Ash couldn't help but laugh as he watched his two fire-types celebrate.

"What a beautiful friendship," said Willow, snatching Ash's attention away from his friends.

Ash observed as Willow steadily crossed the clearing. At this point, it was apparent that the battle was over. Willow had accomplished what she wanted to, and it wasn't smart to battle right after evolution unless it was absolutely necessary. The strain on a pokemon's body after going through evolution was too high to risk immediate activity.

Granted, the transformation from primary to secondary stage for the charmander line wasn't drastic, and Charmeleon didn't look to be in any pain. Nevertheless, it was smart for them to play it safe, and it appeared as though Willow understood that as well.

"There are few things in this world that make me happier than camaraderie between fire-types, which is something that isn't prevalent amongst my kin," said Willow, flashing Ash an authentic smile. "I like these two a lot. You've made some wondrous friends, child. Regardless of the trials that you will be going through, do whatever you can to keep their hearts pure and their lightheartedness intact."

Ash nodded as a billion questions regarding the trials Willow referenced flooded his mind. However, he decided to keep them to himself. She had already shared everything that she intended to. There was no reason for Ash to pester her with questions that she had no intention of answering.

"Moreover, understand that their potential is nearly limitless," said Willow as she pressed her snout right up against Ash's ear, "but it is up to you to help them fully realize it. Continue working hard, and groom them for what lies ahead. There is no reason why Growlithe and Charmeleon shouldn't be elite when it comes to battle. Their talent is too immense for them not to be."

"I know that," replied Ash.

He smiled as he witnessed Growlithe and Charmeleon's dispositions change when they finished their spirited celebration and noticed that Willow had moved over to Ash's side.

"It's my job to help all of my friends realize their full potential, not just Growlithe and Charman…I mean Charmeleon."

"Yes…" drawled Willow, circling around Ash in the process, "well said…You are wise beyond your years, young one."

"Thank you," retorted Ash while watching Growlithe and Charmeleon lope over to his position with joyous expressions.

This was probably the first time Ash had ever witnessed his friends in a good mood after a loss. From the start, he knew that they were just as much aware of the difference in strength between themselves and Willow as he was, but the fact that they were able to be so positive after such an overwhelming defeat showed Ash that they were maturing.

Of course, Charmeleon's evolution gave them something to actually get excited over. Howbeit, they had been able to read the situation and understand that the battle wasn't about winning, but rather about allowing an unbelievably powerful being, such as Willow, evaluate them.

"Good job, guys" said Ash with a smile as his friends approached him. "You did great."

He centered his attention on solely Charmeleon while placing his hand on the lizard pokemon's shoulder, "Congratulations, I'm so proud of you. I know this is something you've been wanting for a long time."

Charmeleon responded with an affirmative grunt as he emitted a quick burst of flames out of his nostrils in honor of his evolution. In subsequence, Growlithe disembogued another celebratory yap, letting his friend know that he was proud of him as well.

"Pardon me," articulated Willow, "but there are a few things that I would like to say before I go."

"You're leaving already?" asked Ash with a small frown.

Despite the ninetails' overwhelming presence and elvish personality, Ash was sad to hear that she would be leaving.

Not only did she know a lot of things that he was curious about, but for some strange reason he actually liked being around her. He didn't know why. All they had done was have a quick conversation – which brought up more questions for him to find answers to – and have a one-sided battle in which his friends were essentially toyed with.

Be that as it may, there was something about her that mollified his soul.

It was as if she had been sent to him by something divine—an omnipotent being that knew everything about what he had recently been through and desired to help guide his blemished mind and anxious heart in the right direction.

"I'm afraid so," answered Willow, "I have to get back to my duties."

She paused as she used her eyes to survey all three of them, "I am happy that I have gotten the chance to meet all of you. Your potential is insurmountable, which has put my heart at ease. At this point, it has become rather clear that you will play a pivotal role in Kanto's future. Keep your heads up, and continue to strive for excellence. There isn't a doubt in my mind that you will live up to your expectations…as well as everyone else's."

"Thanks," said Ash, pride swelling up inside him.

Both of his friends mumbled something in their own native tongues. If Ash were to guess, he would say that they were saying thank you as well.

"Also," said the ninetails as she squinted her eyes in a serious manner, "no matter what you do, do not attempt to take on the abomination before my friend has revealed herself to you. It doesn't matter how much support you have. It doesn't matter what plan you have formulated. Without the help of my friend, you will fail."

"Pass this message along to your comrades that also know about the abomination's existence: Do not be reckless, and wait until the time is right. Do not go after the abomination until my friend has revealed herself to you. If you do, Kanto is doomed."

"I-I understand…" stammered Ash, utterly shellshocked.

He knew that Willow was well informed, but he never expected her to know about the abomination. Just who the hell was this friend of hers?

Ash looked down at his friends, who looked just as stunned as he did, before responding.

"I just have one question…" jabbered Ash, hoping that Willow would answer him this time.

"What is it, child?"

"Compared to you, just how strong is the abomination?" questioned Ash, "My friends and I have an idea, but what exactly is it that you think we're dealing with?"

"I do not know the full extent of its power," answered the ninetails, "but let me put it this way. My abilities cannot even hold a candle to my friend's might, and even she is apprehensive regarding this beast. If it is not handled correctly, it has the power to destroy everything."

Ash gulped. "Now, when you say everything, do you literally mean everything?"

"Unfortunately, child, I do," said Willow, "which is why it is essential for you and your friends to wait until the time is right. We do not wish to anger the abomination until we figure out what its motive is. Right now, it is in a state of confusion, diligently seeking out its purpose. We desire to wait until it has figured out at least that much. Hopefully, it is not as evil as we fear."

"I'll pass on the message," said Ash, trying his best not to let fear overwhelm him.

"Good," answered Willow as she slowly began to back away. "Anyways, it is time for us to part. Remember to focus on your journey, and try not to worry. I know destiny can get heavy, but you and your friends are protected."

She paused, "Goodbye, Ash Ketchum, Growlithe and Charmeleon. Good luck."

"Goodbye, Wi—" muttered Ash, slightly taken back by the abrupt change in the atmosphere, before the ninetails suddenly vanished.

She hadn't used Teleport; Ash was sure of it. However, somehow she had managed to disappear into nothingness like she had never existed in the first place. It was unlike anything he had ever seen before.

"Well, that's one way to make an exit," said Ash with a quaint smile, trying his best to make light of the situation.

He had exposed his friends to enough of his fear as of late. He couldn't keep falling into a tense state every time he got heavy news or something bad happened. If his destiny involved the kind of things that he thought it did, he had to learn how to harmonize his thoughts and focus on the here and now.

He would worry about the future later. All of the things that he had talked about with Willow didn't need to be processed now, and he could pass on the message to Bill and the others when he got to Celadon.

Right now, he had a certain fire lizard's evolution to celebrate and some traveling to do. He was still a few days away from Celadon, and although he was definitely loving his time on the road, it was about time that he covered the rest of the distance in between himself and the most populous city in all of Kanto.

"Let's get going, guys," said Ash while he fixed his cap and readjusted the straps on his backpack. "We've been here for way too long."

Growlithe and Charmeleon nodded, letting out confirmatory grunts in the process.

"Alrighty then," retorted Ash as he checked his bearings on his xtranceiver, "follow me. West is this way"

Both of his fire-types happily accompanied him as he marched through the frail brushwood, trekking his way back to the main path.

XXX

"What is it, boy?" questioned Ash, concerned as he watched Growlithe stop dead in his tracks.

The fur on his back was erect, and he had his snout pointed in the air. Ash took a deep breath as adrenalin welled up inside him. Growlithe only behaved this way when he had picked up a disturbing scent. Something strange was going on somewhere close by.

For a split-second, Ash thought about ignoring whatever Growlithe had caught a whiff of. He wasn't that far removed from Saffron: a place where he had been exposed to things that kids his age weren't supposed to even be aware of, and it had only been a few days since he had met Willow—the ancient ninetails that seemed to know everything about his life.

For the past week and a half, almost nothing had gone wrong. He had been able to spend quality time with his pokemon. His team had gotten plenty of training in. He had battled a plethora of trainers varying in skill level. Charmander was now Charmeleon. And he had even come across some rather interesting wild pokemon.

Essentially, up to this point, his journey to Celadon had been a refreshing one, void of any of the dangerous occurrences that had plagued the last month of his life. However, just by looking at Growlithe, he could tell that his luck was about to change.

He wasn't the type of person that could just sit back idly while somebody could be getting hurt. It wasn't in his DNA to do nothing and just hope that the situation worked itself out. Despite the fact that he would probably be throwing himself into trouble, he couldn't ignore Growlithe's behavior. It would be contradictory to his morals and personal integrity.

Thus, he suppressed his urge to walk the other way and decided right then and there to get to the bottom of whatever was going on…

"Is someone in trouble?" asked Ash as he knelt down next to his tense pup.

Growlithe pivoted his gaze toward Ash. His eyes looked fierce and feral, reminiscent of the time that they had been introduced to Team Rocket back on the SS Anne.

"Gotcha'," said Ash as calmly as possible.

His stomach started to plummet and his pulse began to hasten as memories of the SS Anne and Saffron penetrated his mind like they always did during times like this. Hopefully, this wasn't one of those kinds of situations.

As he stood from his crouched position, he reached for Haunter's great ball and Clefairy's pokeball while looking Growlithe in the eyes. "Get ready to follow the scent. I'm going to let out Haunter just in case something bad happens, and Clefairy can use her ears to help us better understand the situation."

The pup nodded his head before taking a couple of steps forward. Ash could hear the faint, raspy sound of Growlithe's snuffling nose as he tried to detect the location of the abhorrent scent that had just invaded his nostrils.

While Growlithe reached out with his aromatic awareness, Ash released Haunter and Clefairy. His two mystic element types greeted their trainer as usual. Haunter made his typical goofy face while letting out an array of cacophonous laughter, whereas Clefairy acknowledged Ash with bright eyes while suppressing her urge to give Ash a hug because of the presence of her male counterparts.

After greeting their trainer, Haunter and Clefairy's dispositions changed when they noticed the look of seriousness on his face. They went from relaxed to alert, ready to follow whatever orders Ash gave them.

"Growlithe's aromatic awareness has picked up a disturbance in the area," explained Ash. "We don't know the severity of the situation, but I need your help."

In response to Ash's words, Haunter bobbed his body up and down while Clefairy let out an affirmative murmuration.

Ash turned his attention over to Growlithe, who was eyeing his comrades with a decisive countenance.

"Do you know where we're going?" asked Ash in the direction of his pup as he unconsciously turned his hat backwards.

Growlithe let out a confident grunt before using his head to beckon them to follow his lead.

"Haunter, you know the drill. I want you in my shadow," said Ash. "If the situation is out of control, knockout anything that you think is a threat. I'm trusting your judgement."

Haunter let out a ghoulish chuckle before casually submerging into his master's shadow. As his ghost-type vanished from view, Ash felt a comforting chill run its course throughout the entirety of his being.

Once the temporary goose bumps caused by Haunter's presence within his shadow subsided, Ash centered his attention on Clefairy.

"I need you to provide tracking support with your sense of hearing," explained Ash. "Growlithe can only pick up the emotions involved. As we get closer, your ears should be able to give us a more detailed idea of what were getting ourselves into."

She nodded, letting Ash know that she understood what he wanted from her.

"Listen for things like battle noises and heated conversation," continued Ash. "If you pick up anything that sounds suspicious, I want to know about it."

Clefairy gave Ash a look of determination; she knew what she had to do.

"Okay then," said Ash as he planted his eyes on Growlithe, "now that everyone's been filled in on the situation, lead the way."

Without hesitation, Growlithe loped south towards a thick part of the bracken. Ash didn't know where or what his pup was leading them to. Nevertheless, he followed his best friend with belief that he was making the right choice.

No matter what was waiting for him, he always had his pokemon. They would protect him.

XXX

After about thirty minutes of trekking through Route Seven's granular terrain and overgrown thickets, Growlithe started to move in a much more decisive manner, and Clefairy's ears began to fidget like crazy.

They were getting close.

Hopefully, they would be able to prevent something bad from happening. Thirty minutes was a long time, and Ash knew it. He didn't want to show up too late to make a difference…

All of a sudden, Ash heard a scream coming from the direction that they were heading in. The voice was female and frightened.

The moment it pierced his eardrums, Ash felt Haunter's presence surge towards the surface of his shadow, and he watched as Growlithe and Clefairy hastened their pace before leaping through a large hedge that blocked the view of what was in front of them.

Using the crease of one of his elbows to shield his eyes, Ash followed his friends and jumped through the big, scrappy plant without hesitation.

He cursed out loud as the bush scraped both of his arms as well as the part of his face that he hadn't covered, breaking the skin. He would have to have a chat with Haunter when he got the chance. There had to be a way that his apparition could protect his body when he was forced to recklessly expose himself to harsh landscape.

When Ash uncovered his eyes, he scowled at what he saw on the other side of the oversized bush.

The first thing he noticed was the massive amount of dilapidated objects scattered around what was a small, mostly defoliated area. The majority of it was destroyed camping gear, but there were some items that definitely belonged to a pokemon trainer such as broken pokeballs, crushed potions, dented in repel canisters, etc…

However, it didn't take very long for his focus to be snatched away by the frightening scene that was unfolding in his peripherals. Over to his right, Growlithe and Clefairy were carefully examining a girl around his age. She was bruised, beaten and bleeding. In addition to the injuries that she had, someone had used an excessive amount of rope to bind her to a large, craggy boulder.

Reacting to his instincts, Ash sprinted over to the battered girl in order to help her.

"Are you okay!?" asked Ash, despite the fact that she clearly wasn't.

Her eyes snapped open as she looked at Ash with an expression that depicted fear. Her face contorted, and her body tensed as she began to toss herself back and forth in attempt to break free of the thick rope that was binding her.

"Let me go! Let me go! Give him back!" shrieked the girl with a combination of alarm and despair evident in her voice. "Give Eevee back!"

Growlithe and Clefairy leapt back, putting enough distance between themselves and the girl that they wouldn't get kicked by her flailing legs. In subsequence, Ash quickly glanced down at his shadow to make sure that Haunter wasn't on the verge of doing something stupid.

Even though the girl had clearly been the victim of a ruthless assault, he never knew how Haunter would react in a situation like this. On account of the panic that was surging through her being, she was out of control. The last thing he wanted was for Haunter to deem her as a threat and try and protect him. He was a ghost-type after all. His train of thought didn't always make sense, especially when his other self emerged from the depths of his subconscious.

When Ash glanced down at his shadow, he caught a glimpse of Haunter's eyes peering up at him. They were attentive and alert, but at the same time he wasn't showing any sign of malicious intent.

Ash breathed a sigh of relief. Once again, Haunter was proving to him that he was progressing toward controlling his fiendish desires. Between their present situation and the occurrence involving the enraged troop of mankey, Ash was starting to feel better about Haunter's psychological well-being…

"Calm down! Calm down!" yelled Ash, just loud enough to be heard over her frantic, screaming voice. "We're here to help!"

"Liar!" bellowed the girl as her eyes widened even more than before. "You're lying! We're in the middle of nowhere! You have to be with them!"

"I don't know what you're talking about," said Ash, trying his best to calm her down by lowering his voice. "I'm a pokemon trainer. My Growlithe sensed that something strange was going on and led me here. I don't know who did this to you, but I had nothing to do with it."

She seemed to relax a little bit as she listened to Ash's words. Her body slightly loosened, and she stopped kicking. Hopefully, the sincerity in his voice had reached her.

Tears welled up in her eyes, and Ash could see a light ray of hope shine through them. However, it didn't take long for the fear to regain control of her. This time she didn't flail, but her eyes widened once more, and her body tensed back up as she raised her voice again.

"How do I know you're not lying!?" bellowed the girl apprehensively. "Maybe you're one of their friends! Maybe you've come to get your fill! Look at me! Look what they did to me!"

"I see you," said Ash, rage building up inside him.

Whoever did this was going to pay. He didn't know a thing about this girl, but no one deserved to go through what she had. This was despicable; she was utterly traumatized.

"I see what they did to you. It's awful, and I would never be a part of something like this. We're not too far from Celadon. Once I untie you, I'll call Celadon's police department and give them the coordinates to our location. Once they hear about the situation, they'll get someone out here as soon as possible."

Her eyes softened, and her expression relaxed. This time Ash had gotten through to her. He was sure of it.

Once again, tears fell from her eyes as she tried her best to answer him, "D-do you promise? D-do you promise that you're not one of them? C-can I trust you? A-are you really going to help me?"

"You can trust me," said Ash as he flashed the girl a big smile, "and that's a promise. Now, let's get you untied."

The girl seemed to settle down even more as she breathed a major sigh of relief and formed a faint smile.

"Growlithe, use Bite to break her free," commanded Ash as he turned his attention over to his best friend.

Listening to his trainer, Growlithe sunk his teeth into the rope that was constricting the girl. He began to gnaw his way through the side of the rope that was looped around the back of the boulder, making sure that the girl was faraway from his razor-sharp teeth.

As Growlithe chomped his way through the thick rope, the girl snatched back Ash's attention.

"W-what's your name?" queried the girl with a faint voice.

"My name…" drawled Ash before answering. "It's Ash...Ash Ketchum."

"T-thank you, Ash," said the girl as her eyes involuntarily slithered shut, "My name's S-skylar…"

Ash didn't even bother answering her. It was a miracle that she had stayed conscious for as long as she did. She deserved a rest as he called the police department.

"Clefairy, once Growlithe gets her out of that rope, lay her down carefully," said Ash with a serious tone of voice as he reached for his pokedex. "She's in bad shape. I don't have anything to treat human wounds as serious as hers, so the best thing we can do is keep her still until help arrives. The Celadon Police Department's number should be in my pokedex."

Once he fired up his pokedex, it was just a matter of sifting through the phone directory archive that was configured inside of its database, and he had found the number he was looking for. The second he found it, he plugged it into his xtransceiver and called.

Despite the resilience that Skylar had shown upon Ash's arrival, the source of her energy was strictly adrenaline. There was no time to waste. The sooner she saw a doctor the better.

"Ring…"

"Ring…"

"Come on…" drawled Ash as he waited for someone to pick up.

"Click."

"This is the Celadon Police Department," said an alert female voice. "Is this an emergency?"

"I wouldn't be calling if it wasn't," retorted Ash sarcastically, "I came across a girl that's beaten up pretty bad. She needs medical attention ASAP.

"What's your location?" asked the female voice. "I'll send help right away."

"We're about a half day's walk east of Celadon," said Ash as he looked up their location on his xtransceiver. Can your phone receive messages? If so, I'll send you our exact coordinates."

"It can," retorted the voice on the other end of the phone. "As soon as we get your coordinates, we'll send someone right away."

"Thanks," said Ash as he eyed the girl known as Skylar. "Please hurry."

"Help will be there soon," reassured the woman on the other end of the line. "We'll send one of our alakazam with a medical team and a couple of officers. In the meantime, watch over her, kid."

The moment the woman he was talking to called him kid, an image of his favorite Officer Jenny popped into his headAlthough her tone of voice was different, something about it reminded him of her.

More than likely, he was on the phone with a member of the Jenny family. After all, he had called a police department. There were likely several members of the large family of identical woman stationed at the Celadon Police Department…

"Awesome," retorted Ash. "We'll be waiting."

"Click."

He ended the call before sending the coordinates to the Celadon Police Department. Hopefully, they'd keep their word and show up soon.

In the meantime, there was something he needed to do.

"Growlithe," said Ash with adamant eyes, catching the attention of his pup, "come here."

The puppy pokemon, who had just finished severing the rope that had bound Skylar to the boulder, loped over to his trainer. At the same time, Ash watched as Clefairy moved the poor girl's unconscious body over to a soft patch of dirt before gently laying her down.

"I need you to find the scents of the people that did this to her," said Ash with disgust in his voice. "She mentioned something about an eevee while she was freaking out. I think they stole it from her. As soon as help arrives, and she's in safe hands, we're going after them. There's no way I'm letting a couple of pricks that would do this to a little girl get away with stealing her pokemon."

He paused, "We're going to get that eevee back."

Growlithe looked up at him with feral eyes and nodded his head. It was clear that his best friend was in complete agreement.

"Good," said Ash as he shifted his line of sight over to the girl, "They won't get away with this…I promise."

As Ash's words subsided, he heard a foreboding snicker coming from his shadow.

"As long as you don't kill them," muttered Ash to Haunter as he angrily looked at Skylar's beaten body, "I'll let you do as you see fit."

XXX

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