1. For prospective new members, a word of warning: don't use common names like Dennis, Simon, or Kenny if you decide to create an account. Spammers have used them all before you and gotten those names flagged in the anti-spam databases. Your account registration will be rejected because of it.
    Dismiss Notice
  2. Since it has happened MULTIPLE times now, I want to be very clear about this. You do not get to abandon an account and create a new one. You do not get to pass an account to someone else and create a new one. If you do so anyway, you will be banned for creating sockpuppets.
    Dismiss Notice
  3. If you wish to change your username, please ask via conversation to tehelgee instead of asking via my profile. I'd like to not clutter it up with such requests.
    Dismiss Notice
  4. Due to the actions of particularly persistent spammers and trolls, we will be banning disposable email addresses from today onward.
    Dismiss Notice
  5. Welcome back to QQ. The search function will be unavailable for some hours until the index has been rebuilt.
    Dismiss Notice

Ascension (Pokemon)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by TheBlackStaffAndNightMarE, Jun 4, 2020.

Loading...
  1. Threadmarks: Metadata
    TheBlackStaffAndNightMarE

    TheBlackStaffAndNightMarE I see. I write. I conquer.

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2020
    Messages:
    33
    Likes Received:
    127
    Series: Ascension

    Authors: The BlackStaff and NightMarE

    Tags: Action | Adventure | Horror | Humour | Slowburn

    Warnings: Violence | Dark Themes | Strong Language

    Summary: Red had always loved dragons. He wanted them. He dreamed of them. He desperately awaited the day he'd get a charmander, something that would one day reign as a mighty charizard. Unfortunately Red ends up with something quite different. Something cute. Something... cuddly. In a world where size is power and innocence is weakness, it will take all of Red's power to survive.

    Note: This AU incorporates characters from the game-verse as well as the anime-verse.
     
    ComradeKremer, Oakgem217 and meri like this.
  2. Threadmarks: Act 1 | Chapter 1 - A Shocking Start
    TheBlackStaffAndNightMarE

    TheBlackStaffAndNightMarE I see. I write. I conquer.

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2020
    Messages:
    33
    Likes Received:
    127
    ACT 1 - IMMOLATION


    Chapter 1 - A Shocking Start



    Pallet Town Hospital

    "Get him to the operating room! We don't have much time."

    His eyes were half-closed, his fingers lightly tapping the metal rails of the stretcher as he felt himself being rushed through a white door. Several white robbed people surrounded him, speaking in hushed tones. His eyes traced the tubes connecting the bottles with colorful liquids to the needles stabbing through his skin. He felt strangely disconnected from his own body, almost like a spectator, as he watched the doctors work around him. Despite the rough treatment and the constant injections, there was no pain, a fact for which he was beyond grateful.

    How— how did it turn out like this? He idly wondered.

    His fingers were slowly losing their sense of touch along with the rest of his body as he felt the tentative hold on his consciousness slowly fade away. He looked into the calming eyes of the doctor looking down upon him as yet another needle was gently slid into his body.

    I must look like a sandslash.

    Picturing himself with his back full of spiky needles, he let out something between a giggle and a cough. Contrary to his grim situation, this strangely amusing thought was the last thing that crossed his mind.


    A week ago

    "Congratulations, Red." Professor Oak beamed, handing over a printed document, "you passed your trainer certification exam with honors. You are now eligible to be a pokémon trainer."

    This was Professor Samuel Oak, revered all over the world as 'The Pokémon Professor'. An undefeated Champion for over eighteen years, Samuel Oak had decided to leave the world of pokémon battling and change his career, much to the shock of the rest of the world. He had willingly stepped down from the throne, allowing the previous Champion Calem to take over the reins.

    He had progressed into the world of research, leading the world through several important discoveries, his most well-known invention being the pokédex technology. Once a ruler of both the Kanto and Johto sub-continents and now a researcher who single-handedly built the world's largest Pokémon research network, Oak was a living legend, a model for trainers and researchers alike. He had come out of nowhere, sweeping through the pokémon world and ending up as champion for the next twenty years. Then, he had given it all up and taken pokémon research as his new passion and sunk into it wholeheartedly. And reached the top again.

    Today, Samuel Oak was like a massive tree, with most of the Kanto mainland under his shade and his roots spread across the entire world. A man, who had found power, fame, and wealth and yet had chosen to spend his time in such a humble location.

    A man who was currently—

    "Old man, stop pinching my cheek!"

    The old professor pinched said cheeks a little harder for good measure. "Come now Red, don't spoil my fun. In a few days, you'll be gone on your own journey, leaving this old man all alone."

    "Yeah, yeah," The teen rolled his eyes at the overly dramatic gestures and crossed his arms. "Stop trying to manipulate me into staying back as a research apprentice. I'm not falling for that."

    The old professor had the decency to look away in embarrassment. "Was I that obvious?"

    Red rolled his eyes, "Duh!"

    Oak chuckled. "Can you blame an old man for trying? You'd really be a good researcher, just like your mother." He puffed his chest up in mock-haughtiness. "Besides, most people would give their right arm to work under the great Samuel Oak."

    Red pulled himself away, absently rubbing his cheeks. "I'd rather follow the path of Samuel Oak the champion and not the professor. How about this. Make me the offer once I'm the champion. Then I'll consider it."

    Oak rolled his eyes at his grandiose response. "Arrogant brat," he muttered, good-naturedly. "You should be getting your pokédex and your Trainer ID by Monday."

    "The Pidgeotto Mail service then?"

    Oak nodded.

    The cheapest form of long-ranged transportation was the Kanto Mail Service, an organization that bred and maintained several hundred pidgeotto under their care and trained them to transfer mail from one city to another. Easily affordable and widely available, this service was integrated into the cultural aspect of the Kanto mainland. For those who found pidgeotto too slow for their purposes, there existed a secondary, high-speed version, which involved pidgeot instead of their younger forms. A third transport system functioning through psychic teleportation did exist, but it was far too expensive for the average trainer.

    "Does that mean I get to pick a charmander from the ranch?"

    Oak chuckled. "No, it doesn't. You are going to have to wait until your pokédex arrives. You will then be given a choice between the three starters, out of which—"

    "Charmander, " Red interrupted him, an obstinate gleam in his eyes, "Not one of the three starters. A charmander."

    "Of course, that's what I meant," Oak rolled his eyes. "In that case, you should be happy to know that the newest batch of sanctioned starters will probably arrive next week as well."

    "By Monday?"

    "Mmmm, not quite, but you should have them before Thursday, I imagine."

    Red bit his lip, an expression of annoyance filtering past his countenance. "Come on, old man. Why can't you just let me take one from the ranch? What about one from the new litter born from that charizard with a scarred left cheek?"

    "Because the litter are babies, not starters. A charmander needs to be capable enough to use at least two basic-tier moves to be considered a starter. Nothing short of that will do."

    "But why can't you just give me a baby?" Red demanded stubbornly. "I don't care about a starter. I'll be happy to accept anything from the ranch as long as I can get a charmander along with it. I swear."

    "You know I cannot do that." The old man replied softly. Red often had tunnel vision when it came to his obsessions, and unfortunately, charmander was one of them. "As your sponsor, it is illegal for me to grant you multiple pokémon right off the bat. Catching your first pokémon with your starter is a unique experience, one that you should experience. Besides, you are not… experienced enough to take care of a baby."

    Red arched an eyebrow. "What about the dozens of—?"

    "While journeying as a trainer." Oak finished, shutting the boy up. "Taking care of them at the ranch is different from caring for an egg while on a journey. Maybe when you have accomplished a little on the gym circuit and have caught a good number of pokémon yourself, I'll think about it."

    Red pouted at that. "You are just making it sound difficult."

    Oak's lips curled. "Really? What happens if you encounter rogue pokémon?" His tone shifted from affection to complete seriousness. "Why back in my day, several trainers suffered from… unfortunate accidents on their journey, either because their starters were simply too weak to begin with, or because they challenged a wild pokémon and their starters ran away. At least the League now has a minimum competency level for starters."

    "Don't get all nostalgic, old man." Red rolled his eyes. "We both know that you were the one who set up the starter system."

    "I proposed the starter system. It was agreed upon after Lance took over the reins."

    "Semantics." Red let out a long-suffering sigh. "And even so, stop trying to do that to me, old man." He crossed his arms in an attempt to look more intimidating—or as intimidating a fourteen-year-old could be. "Shutting people up through logic is my gimmick. Your thing is to just float around, uncaring of the world, and then drop tenets of wisdom on unsuspecting trainers."

    "It is, isn't it?" Oak chuckled, smiling through his eyes.

    "Yeah, that and trying to misguide little youths into becoming boring research apprentices, instead of following their dreams and living the grand life."

    The old professor laughed heartily. "I'm going to miss this. Why couldn't Gary be a bit more like you ..."

    Red sighed. Gary was the 'honorable' grandson of the reverend Samuel Oak, and saying that his relationship with Gary was skewed, would be an understatement. Anyone would probably think that he and Gary would be best buddies, considering that Red's mom Delia worked as the professor's assistant at the lab, and as such, Red and Gary had practically been raised together.

    That couldn't be farther from the truth.

    While it was true that he and Gary had been friends back in Little Tuft Elementary for a few years, this friendship had gone downstream ever since. Delia was a single mother, but she made it no secret that her work was her greatest passion, keeping her away from home most of the year. This along with the fact that Professor Oak found little Red Ketchum fascinating, had resulted in him spending more and more time at the ranch.

    Judging from how Gary's behavior had changed since then, he had obviously not taken it very well. In all possibility, Gary felt that he was being replaced by Red, and had never forgiven his grandfather for it. Over the next couple of years, Gary's demeanor had grown bitter (in relation to Red), and he had begun to demonstrate a sense of superiority over every other kid at school. Between his natural talent, his exuberant attitude, and his position as Grandson of the Oak, the entire town bent backward to fuel his sense of entitlement.

    Samuel Oak was one of the richest men in the entire world. Pallet Town itself was sort of a project created by Oak—a small town amidst forests and hills, where the reverend professor could research in solitude. However, unlike the senior Oak who wore his wealth lightly, Gary had embraced his status as the richest kid in town with pride. He had soon found himself as the center of attention, almost perpetually surrounded by admirers, henchmen and cheerleaders alike. Red might have preferred the calm serenity of the ranch but Gary thrived in the attention and adulation of the masses.

    "You realize that his boisterous behavior is just a facade, right?"

    Oak chuckled mirthlessly.

    Red shook his head. "It's practically written on his face. He's got this… formal thing with you. He only meets Daisy on weekends for lunch, and from what mom told me, his only conversation with his parents—" He stopped abruptly, realizing that he had stepped into an uncomfortable zone. After all, Gary's parents were Oak's own children.

    Oak nudged him gently. "You are not going to upset me, Red. Always speak your mind."

    Red frowned. "What I mean is, he only talks to his parents when he needs something."

    "It cannot be helped." Oak sighed. "Evan is obsessed with his work. Showering him with presents is practically the only way he knows to show appreciation to a child."

    "You're preaching to the choir, old man," Red muttered. Gary's parents were traveling researchers who worked for the Aether Foundation in Kalos, leaving Gary and Daisy to be parented by the old professor as long as he remembered. Then again, his own condition wasn't very different, with his mom spending most of her time at the lab or with Professor Ivy at Seafoam

    "It doesn't really matter." He spoke, more to himself than to anyone else. "Me and Gary are acquaintances at best, and rivals at worst. But enough about that, I thought you were sending him to Technical School?"

    "He turned it down."

    Red mentally grumbled. Trust Gary to turn down an offer from Pokémon Tech Academy.

    "Does that surprise you?"

    "Not very much," Oak admitted. "Though I hoped a few years away would help him get out of his shell."

    "Three years from Pallet Town?" Red whistled. "You should have done that earlier. Life would be so much easier without— ."

    "Stop that." Oak snapped good-naturedly.

    "What? Three years of Gary not being a pain in my ass is such a—"

    "Language."

    Red stuck out his tongue in return.

    Oak shook his head in amusement. The rivalry between Red— the overly helpful kid that lived on his ranch, and Gary, the prodigal son of his legendary family, was practically the talk of Pallet Town. Regardless of their personal awkwardness, Red and Gary had consistently been the top scorers in every exam so far, and if he were honest with himself, Gary had pretty much done all he could to ensure that Red had an insular life of the 'smelly-kid downtown'.

    And that was because Gary had the bright idea of inviting people over when Red had been helping Oak with the rearing of a very temperamental group of Tauros.

    "Anyway, you should probably get going soon. I'm sure Delia must have planned something special for you today, right?"

    Red let out a world-weary groan. "Get up to speed, old man. You sent mom off to Ivy yesterday."

    Samuel blinked. Then blinked again. "Ah, yes, sorry I forgot. It comes with old age, I suppose. Now, if only I had someone to help with—"

    "Get Daisy to do it."

    Oak blinked.

    "Your other grandchild. You know, the not-so-conceited one that helps you in the lab?"

    " I know who Daisy is, thank you very much." The old man answered. "Well, if you have nothing else to do, why not have lunch with me? At Pineco's perhaps?"

    Pineco's was the name of a general restaurant that belonged to the Ketchum family and was one of the biggest in all of Pallet Town. Originally it belonged to Delia's uncle, who had passed the ownership deed to her after his untimely death. The restaurant had its own manager and working staff, and as far as Red was concerned, an endless source of free food.

    "Right. I suppose you're gonna treat me there, huh. I didn't know you were such a miser."

    Oak rolled his eyes. "They charge me twice the average customer."

    "As they should." Red defended religiously.

    Oak sighed."Whatever. Are you coming or not?"

    The teen seemed to consider it for a moment, before waving it away. "Nah… I'll just grab some lunch from the restaurant on the way back. Mia is waiting for me back at home. I told her I'd be back by noon and she'll just sulk for hours if she thinks I forgot about her."

    Mia was a cute little kirlia, who had joined their family some eight years ago. The overly inquisitive ralts had been one of the extras in a study that Delia was involved with over the Gardevoir line. As far as Red was concerned, she was his loving, albeit slightly obsessive, younger sister who played with him, kept him company, and was the most prominent presence in his entire life. Even more than his own mother, who was her legal trainer. In fact, he was pretty sure that if it came to it, Mia would listen to him over anyone else.

    Despite being a full-fledged psychic, Mia had never once demonstrated the slightest interest in advancing her skills. He'd know. After all, they were practically family. Unlike his mom's Alakazam, who went by the name Kaz and had modeled himself into a researcher like Delia, Mia was closer to Red in behavior and mindset.

    "Ah… Mia. Still sulking over your decision to travel, huh?"

    Red opened his mouth in surprise to say something, but decided better. Letting out a world-weary sigh, he looked at the professor. "I'd have asked her to join me on my journey, but you know how much she hates violence. She cries at the smallest amount of pain."

    "You'd reject her because she's not a combatant?" Oak asked curiously.

    "No," Red seemed a little depressed. "I'd reject her because she would agree to be a combatant. I know Mia. If she saw my team training hard for me and winning battles, she'd strive to do the same, regardless of how much she abhors it. I don't want Mia to get hurt."

    "I see."

    Red sighed. "I've been conflicted about it." He looked up at the man in front of him, the man he looked up to. "What do you think I should do?"

    "Sometimes, if you don't want to lose someone, you may need to keep your distance " The professor murmured, almost to himself. "I know it hurts, but it is the right approach."

    "Is that… from experience?" Red could not help but picture the professor's oddly formal behavior when it came to Gary and his own family.

    "No," The man replied with a soft smile. "It's a way of life."




    An hour later

    "KIRL!"

    Like any other sensible person facing an overwhelming force, Red buckled up in surrender, raising his hands, and pulled himself away. That, however, did not save him from being pummelled. Bringing his hands to his face to stop the accidental smack, he groaned, "Yes, yes, I know, I'm late, but that's only because the old man's tauros herd went all crazy and began racing all over town."

    A neutral observer would have commented that such a lame excuse was useless. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on what angle you were looking for, it worked. Or rather, every excuse worked. As far as Red was concerned, everything that he spoke was taken with absolute seriousness by his adorable little sister.

    Which would probably explain why the kirlia had dropped all traces of anger, and was channeling pure anxiety that she was feeling right now from imagining the aftermath of a tauros rampage.

    It took a significant amount of will to keep himself from facepalming. Sighing, he went on. "and then those tauros triggered a huge earthquake in the shopping district, right when I was shopping for some pastries for my cute little Mia."

    "Kirl!" She almost seized up at that, staring at him wide-eyed.

    Red almost felt sorry for her, nay, for himself. How the hell had he managed to raise up something so adorably naive?

    "—and the takeout fell out of my hands because of the tremors, and I had to wait for the shopkeeper to make something else for me."

    Mia sighed. At least nothing too extravagant happened. Getting up, she slowly ruffled up Red's hair. It was her way of soothing him, telling him that everything was okay, since he was safe and sound.

    "Oh no, that wasn't all," He continued with a fake grimace. Had Mia been a little more observant, she'd have noticed his left eye twitch madly as she swallowed his bullshit so seriously. Really, what would it take for the little thing to develop a teeny tiny bit of skepticism?

    I'll get her to see through my act today.

    "Li?" Mia asked, surprised at the fact that there was more. She quickly glanced at Red's form to reaffirm her theory about his sound physical state.

    "You see, that earthquake had woken up a wild snorlax in the forest west of the district,"—come on, even she should know that there are no forests on that side—"and it went berserk, and started rampaging all over the place. The shopping district was completely devoid of people after that."

    Mia, it must be noted, was hanging on every single word that came out of his mouth, and constantly cursing herself for choosing to take an afternoon nap when Red had been escaping what had obviously been a major catastrophe. She hadn't realized she was such a heavy sleeper, to have slept through something like that—but it had been so warm and cozy and she had danced earlier in the morning and—

    "Mia, you are biting your nails again."

    Mia had the decency to look sheepish. She had a habit of biting into her nails when tensed about something. Though knowing her, Mia could go from serenity to hysteria in a matter of seconds, as far as Red was concerned. Clearly, she had a primeape ancestor somewhere up in the line.

    Red went on. "And then they apparently started throwing Hyper Beams everywhere, destroying the entire place. One of those beams hit an alakazam who was wandering down the road. Irritated, the alakazam teleported the snorlax all the way to Sevii."

    He paused for a moment, his left eye madly twitching now. "I waited and looked around to see if there were any human habitation left, but the entire district was destroyed. I had no choice but to walk all the way to Pineco's to get a standard lunch," he paused again and let out a deep, apologetic sigh. "I'm sorry, I couldn't bring you your pastries, Mia."

    Mia wouldn't have cared if a real snorlax had entered the room and began singing a nursery rhyme. Her face had been flooded with utter horror, her eyes blank, her hands shaking, and her mind unable to comprehend just how close she had been from losing Red. All of that because she had wanted him to get her pastries for lunch.

    Mia started crying. Loudly.

    Oh, come on. Red inwardly groaned. At this rate, she'll be fifty before she finally gets sarcasm. How's she gonna survive out there?

    He sighed. "All right, come on now. I'm here, and unhurt, right? Just come—" The rest of his words died down in his throat as the little Mia dug into his chest, sobbing without restraint. Red chuckled, caressing her head with his right hand. "Cheer up, I was just kidding. Just kidding. None of that happened in the first place."

    "Li?" The little fairy looked up in bewilderment.

    "I give up!" He sighed, "here, I got you your pastries."

    Mia crooked her head.

    The possibility of Red lying about it didn't even register in her mind. After all, speaking the unvarnished truth was simply a matter of common sense. Why would anyone say anything but the truth?

    How can someone be so naive and yet so damned cute? Red mused. No, bringing her along would be a very bad idea. Perhaps when she's older... and has matured a bit?

    "I'm not lying. See?" He pulled out a food packet from the cloth bag lying on the floor. "See? I even got you the puffed rice dumplings you like so much and—"

    Mia had already snatched the bag of pastries from his fingers and was biting into them, with the expression of someone tasting water after spending months lost in a desert. Even he had to chuckle at the sight. It wasn't unusual, since Mia loved pastries. Scratch that, the tiny little thing could turn into a monster with a bottomless stomach when it comes to pastries. It was moments like these that made him wonder if owning a fast-food restaurant was what had kept Red and his mom from being rendered outright broke.

    Perhaps I should thank the working staff next time I see them.

    "Like it?"

    "Liiiiiiiiiii!"

    "I'll take that as a yes."

    Red watched her with a thin smile. It would not last long. Soon, he'd be gone and would only see Mia from time to time when he called from a city or two. He could only hope that she'd make it through alright.

    "Mia?"

    "Mmmmm..."

    "There is… something I wanted to tell you about.

    "Li?" The kirlia crooked her head, instantly tuning herself to Red, her burst of absolute happiness vanishing in an instant as she felt herself getting lashed by the myriad of emotions that Red was feeling that very moment. Happiness, sadness, tranquility, doubt, melancholy, acceptance… Fear?

    Right. Knew she'd sense it.

    Red sighed. Honestly, he didn't have the heart to tell her about it. He really didn't want to deal with another Mia-tantrum too, knowing just how emotionally-manipulative the little fairy could be. First would come that sullen gaze and teary eyes that would guilt him into giving her whatever she wanted. If that didn't work then she'd ignore him, while giving him little glances when she thought he wasn't looking, all the while pretending that Red kicked puppies for fun.

    Maybe… Maybe I'll tell her tomorrow.

    "Lia?" The kirlia asked out loud.

    Oh well. He came to a decision. "Well, it's like this. The old man told me about my test results. I aced the theory, though Gary beat me by two points in the practicals."

    Mia leaped off the floor and gave an excited little twirl. Seriously, it seemed like she was overcompensating for his own lack of reaction to things.

    "The results will be due on Monday, and post that, I'll be heading for my trainer journey."

    He took a deep breath.

    "And I decided not to take you with me."

    Mia stopped mid-waltz, almost as if she had been petrified by some unseen power. Slowly, she turned her gaze at her favorite human, staring into his eyes, as if trying to gaze into his soul for a reaffirmation.

    Red met her gaze.

    "Li." The kirlia muttered, drooping her shoulders, and caused a harsh, silvery wind to blow around her. Red instantly brought his hands before his face to keep the wind off, but by the time he looked up in front, Mia had vanished.

    I suppose… that could have been dealt with better.


    Red stood atop Mt. Hideaway, staring at the lush green hill station that was Pallet Town. The mountain wasn't even that tall— a little over an hour and one could get to the top and stare down at the entire town that delved on its slopes. The results had finally arrived, and the professor had claimed that they'd all be getting their starters the next day.​

    Just one more day between me and my journey.

    Come to think of it, this entire time he had been thinking about how it'd be, leaving Pallet Town, leaving the ranch, leaving Mia and… leaving his mom to journey across the Kanto mainland by himself. Now, as the event was merely a day away, he found himself looking at the other side of the equation.

    For Red Ketchum, the world was pretty much divided into two types of individuals— those who mattered, and those who didn't. The ones who really mattered were the old man himself (regardless of how crass he behaved with the professor) and Mia. Everyone else had been, just there. Kaz had been there, and he had often helped him out of a number of tough situations, but his aloof attitude had prevented Red from establishing a closer relationship with the psychic. Then again, children would often emulate their parents, and Delia had practically been a mother to Kaz, teaching him ever since he had been a little abra. Now a strong alakazam, Kaz was Delia's assistant, helping her with her personal research on psychic pokémon. On the days he'd be free, he'd be somewhere around the town, levitating and pondering over the mysteries of the universe. As for his mom…

    I wonder… what mom would think about it. Knowing her, she'd probably be disappointed that I rejected Oak's proposal.

    To say that his relations with his mother were complicated was something of an understatement. Delia loved him, no doubt about it. She'd do anything and everything to ensure that he was happy, and gave him a healthy bout of freedom along with enough pocket change to make an impulsive buy or two. The Ketchums weren't exactly wealthy, but they weren't poor either. The old man funded Delia enough to not really bother about money in the first place and the restaurant was a prime asset too. On top of that, her acting as a delegate between Oak, and Professor Felina Ivy of the Seafoam Islands helped put more in the bank

    What she could never give Red, was time. He liked to think that his mom wholeheartedly dedicated every inch of her free time to him but considering that she was juggling what was technically three jobs at the same time, the allotted free time was mostly limited to a couple of days a month. At times, Delia would be away to the Seafoam Islands for weeks on stretch, and there was a time when she had to leave Kanto for the better part of two months, leaving Red and Mia alone.

    And then Gary thinks that... He chuckled mirthlessly, staring down at the peaceful town beneath. The grass is always greener on the other side, I suppose.

    "Feeling an impulse to jump?"

    Almost out of instinct, Red pushed himself backward, away from the precipice. No matter how many times it happened, it was always startling to feel a voice enter your mind.

    "Looking from above disrupts one's mental image of reality. It makes you want to get back into the sense of normalcy that existed back when you were on the ground. It is actually a studied phenomenon."

    Red let out a sigh. "Is there any reason why you're here all of a sudden, Kaz?"

    The alakazam did not bother to reply. Instead, it released the two spoons from either hand, allowing the silver instruments to levitate at shoulder level, while he himself floated in a cross-legged posture.

    "Well?"

    "I was here first."

    "Of course you were." Red gave him a wry grin. "I'm surprised you are goofing around at this place, and not doing… whatever it is, that you do with mom."

    "Mother only asks for my aid when she is in need of it. Perhaps that is why I find myself playing babysitter to organisms of questionable mental capacity from time to time."

    Kaz referred to Delia as 'Mother'. She had told him endlessly to call her by her name, but it had fallen on deaf ears. As mentioned, psychics were funny like that.

    "Also, considering that the little energy-ball's emotions are all over the place, I thought it might be better to speak with you, seeing that you are the only one with any semblance of control on that hyper-excited little thing."

    Red rolled his eyes. "Mia's being a complete mess about it, isn't she?"

    "She is like you. What do you expect?"

    Unsure if it had been a backhanded compliment, or a straight insult, he decided to ignore it. "You know I cannot take her with me, and I don't really want to stay here and become an apprentice."

    "I will inform Mother that you have made your decision, though I had, of course, seen it coming."

    "What about it? Was mom interested in me becoming a trainer?"

    "She was expecting that you'd agree to the professor's offer. She had a contract with Ivy, about sending you to a master-breeder in Johto for studies, followed by a Journeyman of three years under apprenticeship of Professor Ivy and Oak," Kaz paused, "she was hoping to spend some more time with you if you could accept the offer."

    "Nah… It's a trainer's journey for me. I only hope that I could take Mia with me, but she'd be in danger. Perhaps when I'm a little experienced and she's a little older, I can…"

    "I presume the energy-ball isn't listening."

    "She never does."

    "Well, you are not of her kind. They say blood is thicker than water, but you and Mother still agree to disagree. The energy-ball is, after all, just a—"

    "My sister." Red interrupted the psychic, stressing over the last word. "If there is anyone I care about—"

    The alakazam raised his hands upwards, and the spoons re-entered his palms. "And this is why I do not pretend to enjoy discoursing with you"

    "Whatever…" The teen muttered, looking away. "Anyway, I still have a day, right? Tomorrow I'll get my starter, and I'll convince Mia to understand. It's going to work out. Somehow."

    The alakazam darted a furtive glance at him but never said anything.




    The next day

    "Really Red, for someone who knows this place inside out, you're practically tip-toeing. You need to strut."

    Red rolled his eyes at his companion's words. Walking beside him were Leaf and Ethan, and all three of them were supposed to get their starters from the old man together. Gary, true to his moniker, had flown all the way to Kalos the other day so that he could have a rare starter to show off. He was yet to return, so his starter's identity was somewhat of a mystery. Truth be told, Red was slightly envious about it.

    "I work here, Ethan. I don't own this place." He replied quietly, watching the professor's staff perform their daily errands. Becky managed most of the menial tasks, though the more… unpleasant ones were taken care of by Tim, who normally stayed close to the tauros herd.

    I should be helping out there. I wonder where Arcanine is. I haven't seen that big baby since last week.

    Ethan wasn't wrong. Red knew this place inside out. Despite being the youngest person working in what was possibly the largest private ranch in the entire Kanto-Johto mainland, he knew almost everything there was to know about this place. He knew where the nesting mothers of the Nidoran herd usually stayed, where the water-types usually rested and how to get the attention of the large Tauros herd— one of the ranch's more interesting groups.

    Apparently, several years ago, a trainer had been to the Fuchsia Safari and managed to capture a tauros every time he threw a pokéball. Said trainer had proved incapable of taking care of more than a single one of the herd, which resulted in the ranch being gifted some thirty prime specimens.

    And people say that money can't solve your problems. Red mused wryly.

    Red looked around. Further south towards the edge of the forest, was the nidoran herd. He thought back to Oak's gigantic specimen of an arcanine who could scatter the rampaging herd with a single Fire Blast. In fact, most of Oak's pokémon acted as leaders and protectors for the ranch creating their own micro-environment and hierarchy. The caves high up near Mt. Hideaway was home to the professor's colossal dragonite and smaller, but no less deadly charizard with the latter often coming down to spar with some of the more healthy rhydon that lived in the lower slopes.

    They were monstrously powerful and utterly terrifying.

    "Rethinking your decision, Red-eyes?"

    Red was shaken out of his reminiscence, though this time, it was Leaf who had initiated the conversation. Leaf's father owned a greenhouse on the hill adjacent to Mt. Hideaway and was a business associate of Erika, the Celadon City gym leader. She had taken after her father, and wanted to become a grass-type breeder, but before all that, she wanted to score some experience, and become a trainer for a single year. It didn't really make a lot of sense, but quarreling with Leaf was a bothersome activity.

    "In your dreams." Red retorted.

    "I assure you, you aren't part of my dreams." Leaf quipped.

    Red decided to reply back in the most dignified way possible. By sticking out his tongue at her.

    Leaf laughed.

    "Well, I want something that grows into an epic beast, like a charmander or a squirtle. It doesn't really matter which." Ethan declared pompously.

    "As long as you stay away from my charmander, you'll be fine. Or else, I'll send the tauros herd after you the next time I find you sneaking around here." Red warned though it was obvious that he was teasing. It wasn't like the league sent the professor just a single specimen of the starters or anything. After all, choosing a starter was one of the most magical experiences of a trainer's life, and forcing them to choose one on a first come first served basis was ridiculous.

    Laughing at each other's antics, the three prospective trainers entered through the old professor's office.



    He should have seen this coming.​

    Red had sensed something different in the professor's tone and movement. The man was being all wordy and spending too much time asking all the irrelevant questions when it was clear that the trainers would like nothing better than to meet their starters. If nothing else, the fact that the old man refused to meet his eye should have been a sure give-away.

    And yet, he hadn't really seen it coming.

    "...tell me again why I can't have a charmander?"

    The old professor stared at him with crinkled eyes and a half-hearted smile. "Because of an international mass-research experiment going on in Kalos right now. The League has sent all the approved Kanto-starters— bulbasaur, squirtle, and charmander —off to Kalos a fortnight ago. It's on a… need-to-know basis, and I wasn't made aware of it beforehand."

    "But you are Samuel Oak," Red answered hotly.

    "And I am not part of the Kalos experiments or the Aether Foundation."

    "Your son is, and that's probably why Gary's off there to get a real starter, while the rest of us will end up with a stupid nidoran or a zubat or something."

    "I can assure you, that if going to Kalos would have gotten you a charmander for a starter, I'd have gotten you one. And while Gary is getting a rare starter, acquiring one of the Kanto-trio is out of the question, even for him."

    "If you say so," Red muttered.

    "I have a suggestion. Why don't you just accept one of the starters that arrived this morning? Be assured that the League only picks capable pokémon for starters. Meanwhile, I'll send you a charmander from the litter at the ranch, as soon as it grows strong enough. You may even catch a wild one on your own."

    "They are charmander, not growlithe." Red growled, before stepping back. As enraged as he was, he wasn't about to blame the old man for it, no matter how much he wanted to yell and curse about the unfairness of it all.

    "Either way, I think I'll take this moment to introduce the starters for this season. So, here they are." He proceeded to drag a table towards him and picked up a tray containing three pokéballs on them. "Now I have three starters that were sent here by the League for the current trainer candidates. They're… different from the usual, so I'll just introduce them on the go."

    He picked up the first pokéball and released the pokémon within. It looked like a meshwork of vines coiled around each other, with a pair of padded feet protruding out from the bottom, and two white eyes blinking through the vine lattice. Some of the vines were even moving around on their own as if amused for some reason.

    "This is Tangela, a grass-type. It evolves into tangrowth, and is regarded as one of the most efficient grass-types in the Kanto region. Surprisingly powerful when evolved, they can inflict tremendous damage in combat. Their vines are quick to regenerate so you can use a tangela to experiment when you are faced with an unknown opponent."

    Leaf cooed at the little thing and crouched down to her knees, touching the tangela on the vines above its eyes. The little thing gurgled and lifted a single vine, before gently poking at the girl's forehead in return. She was obviously not paying attention to the professor.

    Ethan rolled his eyes at the gesture.

    "Hehe!" The girl laughed. "It's so cute. I'll take it, professor."

    "You haven't even met the others," Oak replied with an amused exasperation.

    "Doesn't matter. Tangela is the one for me. Please professor, can I keep her?" Leaf begged, giving out the impression of a child asking her parents to allow her to keep a stray growlithe.

    "Sure." The old man drawled. "It is your right to choose your starter after all."

    The tangela in question gurgled again, as the professor returned it back to the pokéball before handing it over to her. "Remember to collect your pokédex from me before you leave."

    Leaf gratefully accepted the pokéball from the esteemed professor, before taking a step backward, allowing the older man stage to continue with his demonstration.

    "The next one, is the water-type, staryu." Oak released the pokémon, who looked like a starfish, with a single gem in the center. "It's fairly uncommon unless you are used to deep sea-diving. Very mobile on land and it can leap up to five meters at a stretch. Its evolution, starmie, has a dual water/psychic typing and is an excellent strategic battler."

    "But we've never seen one of those here on the ranch, professor." Ethan pointed out, staring at the water-type with acute interest."

    "That's because I don't have one at my ranch. Staryu are almost exclusively reared in the private ranches in Cerulean— A city famous for its water pokémon reserves. "

    "Then what exactly does this ranch produce?" Ethan asked curiously.

    Red muttered something that sounded suspiciously like nidoran before coughing and looking away.

    The old professor chuckled. "This ranch does not produce anything per se. We receive pokémon from all over Kanto and the neighboring regions to collect data and update it to the pokédex in general."

    "Ah… I think I understand." Ethan tried.

    "No, you don't. You really don't." Red muttered.

    "Stop confusing him, Red," Oak tried half-heartedly, ignoring the heated glare the teen gave him. "Now the last one of the lot is this little tyke over here." He clicked on the last pokéball, releasing the creature within.

    "Magby, a fire-type pokémon." He introduced the bipedal pokémon with two large lumps on the head. Its entire body was bright orange and it looked like it would start crying any second. "Anyone recognize this one?"

    "Nope," Red said staring at the small red creature.

    The old professor looked a little more excited here. "It's a magby. Magby are generally not found in the wild since they live inside volcanoes, or in the forests surrounding them. You might have heard about their evolved forms, magmar?"

    That brought Red's thoughts to a halt. This little thing evolves into a magmar?

    As if by instinct, he glanced back to the creature. Magmar were among the strongest fire-types, and that was even before their third evolution. Their evolutionary procedure was known to be incredibly expensive, and barely had a fifty percent success rate, but the higher form of magmar— Magmortar —were known to be terrifying.

    But it's not a charizard.

    "As I was saying, their higher forms can boast some of the most dangerous flames on the planet and are scarily powerful though they can easily go rogue if they do not feel comfortable around their trainer. They are nothing spectacular defensively, but few fire-types are, so that's a moot point. Offensively, very few are able to challenge a fully-trained magmortar.

    Red inwardly agreed with the man. A fully-trained magmortar was scary. Very, very scary.

    "I was actually hoping for a psychic-type, professor." Ethan grinned. "Like an abra or something. Having an alakazam would be super-cool, but between staryu and magby, I think I'll go with the latter. A magmar would be useful against almost everything."

    But magmar cannot fly. Red mused. Not like a charizard. And having a magmar and a charizard would be overkill.

    It reminded him of the type-masters out there— people who had been able to claim complete mastery in breeding, raising and creating extremely powerful battlers among a single type. Of course, the most prominent among them was Lance Wataru, the dragon-master and the current Champion, who ruled over the Kanto and Johto mainland with an iron fist. The Elite Four were type-masters as well.

    He watched as Ethan accepted the magby's pokéball and stepped back, before feeling the old man's gaze. He knew that the old man wanted him to speak out first. Patience was the name of the game, and the one that spoke first, lost. After what seemed like eons, the old man finally broke the silent competition and spoke first.

    "Is there anything that catches your fancy, Red?"

    Red looked up, glancing at the single pokéball— the one that held the staryu. He cast a quick glance at Ethan and the pokéball that held a magby as well. Magmar were powerful, and he knew it, but part of him, or rather, his ego wouldn't allow him to let Charmander be substituted by another fire-type. He had always wanted a charmander, one that would evolve into a ferocious charizard, and having to choose an alternate fire-type just felt wrong.

    "I... not at all," he answered. "If it's not a charmander, then I don't want a starter."

    Red turned around, and walked off, leaving a baffled old man behind.




    Samuel watched the teen leave with a rigid expression on his face, wondering if he was doing the right thing. As a former champion that ruled over the entirety of Kanto, he knew that he had more than enough pull to procure a single charmander for the boy walking away from him. The question was— would it be the correct thing to do?

    He had not lied when he had stated his ignorance about Kalos experiments. Everything about it had been kept on a need-to-know basis, and as someone not invested in pokémon evolution with a research point-of-view. Like every other person on the planet, Samuel was very interested in evolution, but not enough to make it his life's passion. Instead, he had followed the path of the statistician, creating the world's first pokémon database, one that was considered the greatest invention in the world, on a par with the discovery of the pokéball itself.

    Maybe if I had been a little less… reclusive, I would have known about it earlier. But that's neither here nor there.

    From what he understood from the missive sent from the League, the Kalosian experiments had begun on a gargantuan basis. Initially, it had been classified as an international secret— he knew that much since the Aether Foundation was involved in it as well. Something about evening the scales —Evan had informed him, limiting to as much as he could without breaking his confidentiality contracts. The experiments must have come to fruition, to authorize large-scale tests like the ones that had been going on. Initially, they started out with the Kalos starters, followed by the Hoenn and Sinnoh, and finally, it was Kanto's turn. Obviously, the results must have been significant enough that entire nations were actively pledging their assistance in such a manner. It almost made him feel jealous not to be a part of it.

    But that brought him to the crux of the issue—a charmander fit to be a starter. He had already called up the Charicific Valley in west Johto to inquire about any remaining charmander fit to be an adequate starter, and checked in— through private channels and associates —if someone was willing to sell a baby charmander that fitted the bill.

    He had found none.

    He knew about the boy's obsession with dragons, and knew that his decision to start out with a charmander was influenced by the fact that it evolved into a charizard, which were as draconic as they came, at least as far as appearance and body physiology were concerned. However, because of their unusually small capacity to generate draconic energy and their large affinity for the fire element, charizard were classified as fire/flying types, while other pokémon like flygon and altaria were considered dragons because of their large reservoirs of draconic energy. Whether charizard should be classified into the dragon category was still an active subject for debate, but that did not stop young Red from classifying them as one. In his own words— If it looks like a dragon and flies like a dragon, chances are, it's not a fairy.

    The alternative was to get the boy a real dragon, but aside from the fact that dragons were notoriously difficult to raise, their earlier forms tended to be too weak and demanded too much attention— something that even someone like Red would be hard-pressed to provide. There also remained the fact that the baby dragons lacked the necessary power and strength that Red needed to grow from a rookie to an intermediate level, so giving him a baby dragon was not an option. If there was one thing a dragon needed to grow, it was time.

    Perhaps when he's grown as a trainer for a while...


    Oak shook his head. This was no time to let his mind fly along tangents. He had presumed that the boy would probably pick the magby as an alternative—however temporarily. but it had not worked out in his favor. Instead, the kid had walked out on him, furious at being asked to choose like that. As for other alternatives, there was no way that Red would accept a pidgey, and Red could probably catch one in Pallet forest anyway. Something like a nidoran or a rattata wouldn't fit either, and Red didn't look like someone who'd want to take in a fighting-type like a machop. That left…

    Oak widened his eyes. Of course!

    There was a single specimen that did fit the bill. An annoyance of a Pichu had recently evolved into a Pikachu a week or so earlier, and contrary to the species's usual behaviour, evolution seemed to have made it wild, instead of bringing a sense of composure. Ever since its evolution, the little rodent had caused several power outages in his lab, and he had to keep the little brat isolated in a compartment to keep it from causing any further property damage. And while it was a second-stage pokémon, it had only just evolved, so its power levels were close enough to be classified as starter-level.

    And electric-types are quick, and efficient against most types. it would be a considerable asset, if Red's able to tame it down properly.

    For a brief moment, he pictured Red standing with his cap on, and the pikachu lounging on his shoulders. He rather liked the picture, and mentally added a fearsome charizard beside the boy's image as well. There were a dozen other shadows around the boy— pokémon that he had yet to catch.

    That doesn't look so bad. Now all I have to do is convince him to take it.



    Sometime later

    "This is just a waste of time." Red muttered, as he was pulled along by the elderly professor. He might have been slightly infuriated about not getting his expected starter, but he wasn't stupid enough to start yelling about it to the man. Thus, he had been content to get out into the ranch and sulk.

    "Oh stop being a baby," Oak admonished. "Besides, I did promise you a charmander as soon as the babies from the ranch are old enough, so just take this starter I have in mind and start your journey. Trust me, you won't regret it."

    "Whatever you say, old man."

    "And besides, you can always catch a wild charmander out there during your travels. Are you simply going to miss out on that possibility because you decided to be grumpy?"

    The teen scowled. "Stop trying to force words out of my mouth. Besides, this is a charmander we're talking about, not rattata. What do you expect will happen? A lone, half-dead charmander will fall upon my path, and I'll save it and become best buddies?"

    Oak arched an eyebrow.

    The teen shrugged. "I was hypothesizing. I can do that."

    The professor sighed at his silly antics. "You'll find that the world is much crazier than you think it is. Though I must consider," he paused with a smirk, "if you really dislike having an alternative starter so much, you can always wait for a couple months, sitting here in Pallet Town, while someone else… like Gary perhaps, may end up winning several badges."

    Red scowled at the implication."That's underhanded and manipulative."

    "Thank you. Your compliment is noted." Oak chortled. "Now come along, and meet your new starter."

    Red sighed. He knew better than to quarrel with the professor, The man was wily enough to get what he wanted. Besides, there was no alternative so far.

    Maybe the professor has something cool. It's not like taking a look can hurt.

    "Fine old man," He said, gritting his teeth in frustration, "let's go and meet this undeniably awesome starter of yours."

    A pikachu?

    Red stared blankly at the electric rodent doing its best in its attempts to demolish the little room it was trapped in. The switchboard on the left wall had been torn apart, barely hanging by a single screw. The remaining switches had been gnawed out, and the wiring was completely ruined. The longer copper strands had been pulled out and were currently being chewed upon by the electric type on the ground. Looking at the way its pink cheeks were flaring with tiny electrical discharges, it was probably having a really good meal.

    Not quite what I was expecting.

    "This is… your grand suggestion? A pikachu?" He asked with a deadpan.

    "Yes." The professor replied, his tone almost ethereal. "What do you think?"

    "What do you mean what do I…?" He paused, not allowing his anger to get the best of him. He gave the pokémon a second look. This was no magmar, but it was quick, and electric-types were extremely beneficial in the wild. Also, being a different type, it would not be a replacement for his eventual charmander. Pikachu were surprisingly agile, and could use both physical and long-ranged attacks. Further, as an electric type, they were extremely useful against both flying and water types, negating the benefits of most terrains.

    Come to think of it, having a pikachu might not be… that bad. But…

    "This is a stage-two pokémon."

    "What of it?" The professor asked.

    Red stared at the elderly man, wondering if the man was taking him to be a fool. "Starters are stage-one pokémon."

    "That's incorrect, or rather imprecise. Starters are pokémon that are chosen when they fit a certain requirement standard, usually based on their general age, physical development and number of basic-tier moves known. Usually, it is stage-one pokémon that fit the bill. Since this pikachu evolved a week ago, it's abilities are not significantly higher than the pichu stage, so it qualifies as one."

    "On a technicality."

    "On a technicality." The professor agreed. "Also, that nuisance has been causing me a constant headache, so I'd really love for you to help me out with this one."

    "Real subtle there, old man." The teen grumbled, "fine, I'll take it. Let's go meet it."

    "I knew you'd see it my way." Oak replied with fake superiority, pressing his palm on the biometric scanner on the wall. With a hiss, the doors flew open.

    Red walked into the insulated room, right past the broken switchboard and crouched in front of the electric rodent, who didn't seem to register his presence. Yet. He turned around to find the old professor still standing at the doorway.

    "Aren't you going to come in?" He asked. "I didn't know that you were afraid of electric types."

    "Heh!" The old professor chuckled. "I like them fine." Then as if to make a point, he put a foot inside the room, and Pikachu's cheeks began to flicker with electricity. "Though clearly, the attraction isn't mutual."

    "He seems fine to me," Red muttered, extending a finger towards the pikachu. "Hey little guy, I know that the old man put you here, but it was only to keep you from damaging his equipment."

    The pikachu's ears perked up, but he continued to chew obliviously.

    "I'm Red, and I'm going to start my journey today. I'm planning on becoming a pokémon trainer, perhaps even as good as the old man over there." He casually pointed at said individual with a thumb. "—and I need a starter, someone I can believe in, and someone with whom I can accomplish my goals. Would you like to help me?"

    The rodent continued nipping at the torn wires. Red could see its electric pouches glowing slightly as the electric-type sucked in electricity, possibly to fuel its own reserves.

    This doesn't seem to work. Perhaps the tried and tested conversation technique will do?

    "I can help you grow stronger." He offered his palm towards the rodent. Said technique had worked in Tales of the Gutsy Trainer, but he hadn't been sure if it would work in real life. Then again, the little thing seemed more inclined towards solving its hunger issues than any real desire to gain strength.

    The pikachu blurped again and continued to chew happily.

    Point proven.

    He glanced back at the professor, who shrugged back.

    Thanks for the help.

    "Tell you what?" Red tried a different approach. "How about you travel with me, free from this shackled cage? I will be traveling to different places, and there are power stations and electric supply stations specially for electric-types. Think about it, it's almost like an eat-all-you-want buffet for you there."

    "Pika? pikachu?"

    I can only hope it's a confirmation.

    "Yes, exactly. I'm totally okay with it."

    The rodent looked at him with a strange gaze, as if surprised or stupefied with his answer. "Chu?" It asked again, as if in reaffirmation.

    Red bobbed his head. "We have a deal."

    His initial wariness slowly leaving him, Red extended out his left arm towards the electric rodent, caressing its head gently. The pikachu even let out a moan out of pleasure. He was already liking the idea of having this pokémon for a starter. They were probably going to get along just fine.

    A powerful bond between trainer and pokémon was integral for their survival in the wild, as well as to reach the pinnacle of strength. It would start with an initially weak bond between the human and his starter, growing through mutual admiration developing through both peace and conflict, before finally blooming into true trust and friendship. At least, that was what the book said.

    The rodent let out another moan, as the human's fingers reached out to gently rub the pouches on his cheeks. Instinct flooded through it, as the little rodent let out a mischievous grin. Not for a single moment did Red even believe that this mischief could turn into malevolence.

    "Chuuuuuu!"



    Present Day

    I'm sorry. He is currently comatose. His mind is barely functioning and his vitals are unstable. You cannot see him."

    Delia was hysterical. She had been part of a delegation to a research convention, as Oak's representative, and had been accompanied by Ivy. The news about Red's electrocution had sent her reeling, and she had teleported home as soon as possible. Red had already been transferred to the ICU, by then.

    "But I just want to see him once and—"

    "I'm sorry." The patient voice continued. "You will have to wait. This therapy is still in its experimental stage, and without proper consent, we would never have proceeded with that. So, we really cannot allow you to get there, and I suggest you wait and—"

    "Experimental therapy?" Delia widened her eyes. "What's that about? I signed no papers allowing my son as subject to—"

    "Professor Samuel Oak had been acting as de facto guardian and signed the papers.

    "Now if you will allow me, I need to check on my patient." He quickly excused himself from the anxious woman and—

    "But I had no knowledge of this. I just flew back here to see my son and certainly—"

    "Mrs. Ketchum!" The man snapped. "Your son has just bore the brunt of a Level-3 electrocution. Half of the nerves on his arms have been shredded and he has suffered massive damage to his spinal cord. I suggest you speak with your benefactor over this since he is the one who's taken charge of the situation."

    Delia palmed her mouth in horror. "He's… he's going to survive, right?"

    The doctor sighed. "He's covered in third-degree electrical burns. and his heart rate is plummeting. If the heavy discharge hadn't fried his pain receptors he may have died from the pain alone."

    Delia suppressed a sob. It didn't help. "Please… please save my son."

    "We are trying our best." The man replied empathically. "Under Oak's approval, we have proceeded with this experimental, albeit… successful therapy, involving ditto-cell surgery and psychic grafting. Professor Oak has had surgeons traveling from Johto for your son's case. However, we need to act quickly. If all goes well, you should be able to see your son tomorrow at the earliest."


    Three weeks later

    Red sat ramrod straight, resting his back against the wall before he pushed the sheets off the lower part of his body. The zapping, as he had begun to call it, had torn through his muscles, and damaged his spine. They had been forced to reconstruct most of the nerves in his right hand as well as a significant number on his left. Apparently, he had been driven into a violent spasm and lost voluntary control over all body functions. In short, the fact that he was still sitting on his bed, capable of rational thought and movement instead of being stuck in a persistent vegetative state was a miracle of modern medicine.

    From what he had been told, it was only because the professor had managed to stop Pikachu, that he was still alive and breathing. The man instantly summoned his alakazam who immediately took charge of the situation, creating an insulation barrier between Red and the pikachu, before sending the electric rodent to sleep. After that, Alakazam had directly teleported Red to the nearest hospital, and Oak had thrown his entire influence to ensure that he had gotten the best possible treatment.

    He had been comatose for the next six days.

    Apparently, the doctors had employed an experimental therapy to heal the severe nerve-damage and used 'constructive ditto-cell implantation' to grow the destroyed nerves back into place. He still had mixed feelings— the doctors had used his nearly-dead self as a lab rat for an experimental protocol —but he was alive and he supposed that was what really mattered. It had taken a little over a week after he regained consciousness for the hospital to discharge him, placing him under Mia's tender mercies.

    An entire week.

    More than enough time for the reality of the situation to dawn upon him. He had missed out on getting his chosen starter. He had failed in convincing another starter to join him—his very first act as a pokémon trainer. He had been nearly killed by said starter, which spoke volumes about his skill, or lack thereof, at survival. Ultimately it made him feel pathetic. And he hadn't even started.

    Leaf and Ethan had apparently left for their journeys the very day they had gotten their starters. With news of Red's hospitalization hushed, Leaf hadn't come to know anything about it and had left for Pallet Forest to start her journey. Ethan had instead taken the sea route towards the West Coast, from where he would travel to his family home in Mahogany Town, wanting to start out with the gyms in Johto.

    That left Red alone, sitting on his bed, and evaluating his current position—Fourteen, with a trainer's license, and an absolute failure.

    Needless to say, his mind tormented him, painting vivid images of both himself as a failure and of the electrocution in the form of recurring nightmares. From what he had heard, Gary had returned to Pallet, and driven off to Viridian City to start his journey. Knowing him, he'd probably be catching tons of pokémon.

    And here I am, tied to my bed for no good reason. Helpless. He's probably already cleared Viridian and Pewter, and moving towards Cerulean, if he hasn't beaten that already.

    He completely ignored the fact that he had been electrocuted and had been on the verge of death. As far as he was concerned, he was alive and his limbs were in working order. Thus, Delia and Mia's concerns were insubstantial.

    Apparently, a post-electrocuted mind didn't need things like common sense and logic.

    And all that because of the rodent.

    Thoughts of the rodent gave way to thoughts about his favorite professor. He momentarily wondered what the old man thought about the entire chain of events. First, he had failed to get a charmander as promised, and then he had been coerced into trying to make do with that malicious little devil. Red had been nearly killed because of it, though from what he had heard, Oak had left no stone unturned to ensure that he received the best quality treatment at the hospital.

    It isn't supposed to be this complicated. Is it?

    He wanted to blame someone. Anyone. He wanted to shout out at the unfairness of it all. The tangela had happily accepted Leaf as her trainer, and so had the magby. The pikachu, on the other hand, had tried to kill him. How was this fair?

    Perhaps mom had the right idea. Maybe I'm not cut out to be a trainer.

    "Red?"

    A very familiar voice shook him out of his reverie. Ironically, the person associated with the voice was also the source of said reveries. Standing at the doorway, was Professor Oak.

    "Professor?" Red wished in a rather uncertain voice. He didn't really know how to feel about the incident.

    "May I… Can I come in?"

    Red pushed himself up against a bed a little more to sit up straighter. "Sure."

    "I… wasn't sure if you'd want to talk to me after everything that happened, and Mia wouldn't talk to me about anything. Delia has been mostly silent for weeks, and Kaz is… Kaz."

    "Mom is… home?"

    Oak arched an eyebrow. "You didn't meet— ah, I see. Delia blames herself for not being there for you. She was supposed to leave for the convention in Goldenrod, but I have arranged someone to replace her. I thought she'd be here, with you."

    "Old man, I know that I was an unwanted child. She was not prepared for it, and my father was an ass who didn't take responsibility. My mom thinks of herself as a researcher and I understand that. She still did her best to be there whenever she could."

    Oak opened his mouth but shut it. There was nothing he could say about that anyway.

    "Was there anything you wanted to talk to me about, old man? I'm pretty sure Mia will be back, and she's not exactly very accepting of you."

    "Don't I know it?" The professor sighed.

    "I don't blame you, professor," Red spoke up again, his voice filled with self-deprecation. "I'm told that you spent an awful lot to save me. I'm grateful for that."

    "Red Ketchum, being polite. It seems like the end of the world."

    "You were saying, old codger?"

    Oak chuckled at that. "How are things turning out for you here?"

    "Oh not bad at all. Mia's become constantly monitoring my emotional state. She flips out whenever I get depressed, Even Kaz keeps an eye on me from time to time. Mom… has shown up, at times, though the last time I saw her was yesterday afternoon, before going off to sleep. Whatever this treatment was, it's making me sleep a hell of a lot more than I'm used to."

    "Your nerves have practically been regrown. It will take a while before you are in peak form. I suggest you don't fight it."

    "It's not like I have an option. Personally, I think Mia's secretly happy that I'm bound to the bed. Under her direct surveillance."

    "There might be some truth to that. I'm told she hasn't left your side since you've been discharged."

    "You realize that this doesn't change things? I'm still gonna be a trainer. "

    "Red, you've seen for yourself just how dangerous—"

    "It's not like being a researcher will be less dangerous. Look at what happened in the lab."

    Oak blinked. "..."

    The teen sighed. "Sorry, staying tied up like this does scary things to my mind. The point is, trying to convince me like that makes me wonder if this is some conspiracy hatched to deviate me from my dream of being Champion."

    The old man arched an eyebrow. "And… why would I do that?"

    "To stop a future Champion from stealing your glory of course!" Red replied exuberantly. "Who knows? Maybe I'll become a kickass Champion, and then turn to research and leave your inventions in the dust, and maybe you realize that and want to keep me under your thumb."

    "..."

    "What?"

    "I… cannot believe you put all of that in a regular-sized sentence."

    Red gave him a winning smile. "I'm awesome, right?"

    "It wasn't a compliment."

    "Either way," Red countered, channeling a little bit of hope in his voice, "do you think you can get me a charmander by the time I'm… well, back in form?"

    Oak bit his lip. "The doctors told me that you should be fit to start your journey in roughly two weeks. You have already regained basic mobility, correct?"

    "Yeah, though I do need help. My legs aren't… strong enough, yet."

    "They will be. Don't worry. It might take a while to get used to, but ditto-cell therapy is the most cutting edge procedure to date. I don't think you'll be meeting anyone who's gone through the procedure."

    "Just how costly was it?"

    "Why do you ask?"

    "Humour me."

    Oak chuckled. "Let's not go into that. It was my mistake to let you handle that pikachu by yourself. Doubly so, because I knew that it wasn't exactly docile," He paused, "and don't worry, the pikachu has been… dealt with."

    Red widened his eyes but kept silent.

    "That reminds me," the old man went on, "I have a starter for you."

    Red's countenance glowed. "Is it a charmander?"

    "No." The professor deadpanned.

    He looked up. "What do you have in mind for me then? Is it something interesting? I bet Gary's starter is unique."

    "Funny you mentioned Gary," Oak gave a half-grin, "and yes, he has a… rather interesting choice for a starter. A Riolu, to be exact."

    "A… riolu?" Red wasn't sure he had heard about that one before this.

    "Oh right, you wouldn't have possibly heard about it. Perhaps I should mention its evolved form—Lucario."

    "..."

    "..."

    "...a lucario? Like a lucario? Gary has a fuc—I mean, a lucario?"

    "Ahem!"Oak cleared his voice. "As much as I understand your appreciation for Gary's choices, please limit your profanity to your personal thoughts."

    "But a lucario—"

    "Is interesting, and Gary has a riolu. Get over it." He paused, "unless you want him to know about how jealous you were."

    That shut Red up.

    "As I was saying, it was interesting that you happened to mention Gary, who got his lucario from Kalos. I also happened to receive a rather interesting phone call from an old… friend of mine, requesting my aid for something, or rather someone."

    "A pokémon?"

    "Correct. My friend Mabel lives on Pomace mountain, in Kalos. She has a pokémon who's… for lack of a better word, bored of living there, and wants to see the world. Mabel has finally agreed to her requests, and asked me to provide for a suitable trainer who would not mistreat her."

    "And you thought of me?" Red choked. "Old man, I need a starter, something strong and capable of growth. I don't want to become a chaperone for some spoiled pokémon. I want someone who can battle not someone I'd have to treat like a porcelain doll."

    Oak chuckled at that description. "Mawile would eat you if you tried to treat her like she was made of porcelain."

    "Mawile?" Red squinted his eyes. "Never heard of such a pokémon."

    "I didn't expect you to. Mawile are rather… rare, and are mostly found in the mountains of Hoenn. This particular mawile was born to Mabel's own mawile, and thus, is somewhat different from the natives of Hoenn. Also, she's… uniquely suited to fighting dragons, so I thought it might help you in your journey."

    "Uniquely suited…" Red paused his reply, sending his mind in overdrive. "She's from Pomace mountain so… an ice-type?"

    "Heh!" The old man laughed. "Mawile's pretty good at handling ice, but no, she's a fairy, or rather, part-fairy and part-steel."

    "A steel/fairy hybrid?" Red wondered. "I have never heard of such a combination before."

    Oak laughed. "Probably not. Mawile is the only fairy/steel type in the world."

    "The only—"

    "Yep."

    "You mean the only species—"

    "Yep."

    "So like there's no other—"

    "Nope."

    Red opened his mouth, then decided better, and closed it. Finally, he let out a sigh. "A fairy/steel, that is… interesting."

    "Though now that I think about it, there is one other. I believe Klefki is the name, though it's not exactly a battler or anything, and its status as a fairy-type is still under consideration. So, there you have it."

    Red arched an eyebrow. "That's good to know, though, it is your choice, so forgive me if I am cynical enough to fear her trying to kill me at first sight."

    "Come now Red, I'm Samuel Oak. Show me some respect."


    When Red had first heard that the mawile was part-fairy, his thoughts had naturally flown towards Mia, expecting something dainty and cute and full of innate fairy-goodness inside it. Something that would dance all day, and make puppy-faces when you didn't agree to its wishes and if not, would vanish in a mini gale of grassy petals.​

    He hadn't expected, well… this.

    "Wile?" The creature in front of him tilted her tiny head in confusion, as Red stared at her tiny figure. It was at best, two feet tall, and was coated with yellow and ivory fur, though it looked as smooth as skin. Bipedal, with two black limbs for hands on either side, it had an outgrowth near its waist that gave the impression of a skirt. It's most notable feature though, was the large, black protrusion extending off the back of its head. It looked somewhat like an overgrown leaf.

    And it looked so damned cute.

    "Maww… wile?" It cooed again.

    Yep, it was official. This little thing was so damned cute. Wait, was it really that cute, or was he being induced to consider it cute because of some supernatural phenomenon? Any normal individual would not have thought of such a dire possibility, but for someone who had grown up with a fairy for a sister, Red was anything but normal. He returned back to his senses soon enough, but in the meantime, one of his hands had darted dangerously close to the creature's delightful cheeks and that black flap that was opening up to reveal a massive jaw with lethal teeth within and—

    SNAP!

    Luckily, it wasn't actually trying to maim him or he would have lost his entire hand to this not-so-innocent fairy. Seriously, what was it with cute, yellowish, little things trying to murder him? His eyes narrowed, his countenance filled with accusal, he gazed at Samuel Oak.

    "You were saying?"

    "Mawile!" Oak snapped, causing the little fairy to flinch momentarily and step back, before meeting the man's eyes. "I thought I made it extremely clear."

    The mawile simply rolled her eyes.

    I'm doomed. Red admitted with a pronounced sigh.

    "I apologize for that, Red. It seems that once again, I made a bad choice for a starter. Clearly she is unfit to be a starter and I'll send her back to Mabel first thing tomorrow and—"

    "Mawwwww!" Mawile had magically teleported to Red's left side and was rubbing her face on his shirt in affection, making the teen to roll his eyes at her obvious ploy. Chuckling, he rubbed the top of her head softly, causing the creature to actually mewl in pleasure, push herself into his hand.

    "I guess we can agree that she really doesn't want to go back, does she?" Red asked, smiling softly at her shenanigans.

    The mawile in question rubbed against his hand a little harder, before purring again.

    Cute.

    Oak chuckled at her antics. "Well, now that both of you are getting along, I suppose I should introduce you to each other. Mawile, meet Red— one of my best and brightest. Red, meet Mawile— a real handful."

    Mawile threw the older man a doleful glare before returning to purr.

    Oak winked at Red, who laughed in return. "As I was saying, Red's my student, and he went through a rather… terrifying episode with a pikachu, which turned out to be quite… well, lethal, which is why he is currently bedridden."

    Mawile had stopped purring and was gazing at Red, her eyes filled with a strange emotion in them.

    "Uhm, old man, I don't think she—" Red began, but Mawile beat him to it. The creature turned towards the elderly man and barked out something.

    "Yes, just like Mabel." Upon Red's questioning stare, he explained. "My friend Mabel cannot walk. She suffers from paralysis, brought upon her by a wild raichu back there. Mawile has an almost instinctive hatred for that line."

    The mawile glanced at his bandaged hands momentarily, but did nothing.

    "Mawile… used to help Mabel treat the other baby pokémon. Mabel owns a private clinic out there, and she helps her."

    Red glanced back at the lithe little thing that had almost chewed his arm off. He tried to conjure the same image and connect it to someone that liked to heal babies.

    He failed.

    Dismally.

    The fact that said creature was looking at him like he was a stuffed toy inside a glass box made it all the more difficult.

    Finally, he managed to gather some courage and opened his mouth, praying to whatever deity that was listening to not make this a reboot of his previous experience. "Well, there is no sugar-coating it. I want to be a trainer, and I wanted a charmander, but the old man here, he didn't have one, so he suggested a pikachu." He paused for a moment, "Turns out that the little rodent didn't really like my offer very much."

    Oak snorted.

    "I know I'm not in the best position yet, but we can start off on a journey together, if you want to join me… well, maybe we could even become friends on the way."

    The mawile said nothing.

    Red glanced at the Oak one last time, feeling a certain fear rise deep within his heart. This was eerily similar to his previous experience. "So… what do you think?"

    The mawile gazed at him for a moment, before she finally let out a little smile. "Wile!" She nodded.

    Mawile, the deceiver pokémon. Mawile's huge jaws are actually steel horns that have been transformed. Its docile-looking face serves to lull its foe into letting down its guard. When the foe least expects it, Mawile chomps it with its gaping jaws.

    The device in his hands was Professor Oak's ingenious invention—the pokédex, a device that used information generated across several regions and landmasses to create a universal database for pokémon, listing their names, features, abilities, common locations, food habits and the like. Furthermore, it also had the ability to scan a pokémon in front of it comparing it to its ever-updating database before providing the relevant information, thus providing efficient means to identify a pokémon on sight. Trainers were given out the pokédex as proof of their coming of age and becoming a licensed pokémon trainer. Since he was from Kanto, the pokédex in question would allow him access to the pokémon found in Kanto and probably the adjoining Johto regions, though only because of the common biodiversity between the two regions.

    "The pokédex give more detailed information about owned pokémon, by scanning them through their pokéballs. Scanning Mawile now,"—Oak demonstrated, "you can check out her existing move sets. Once you scan a pokémon with the pokédex, its entire subject data is downloaded from the League database and saved locally on the pokédex, enabling you to view it even if you aren't connected to the network."

    "Uhuh," Red murmured, mimicking the professor's motions and checking on Mawile's present data. Once again, the electronic device spoke up.

    This Mawile is female. Typing: Steel/ Fairy. Known move set: Astonish, Fairy Wind, Iron Head, and Icy Wind. Ability: Hyper Cutter and Snow Cloak.

    "That's… a rather diverse move pool." Red admitted, impressed.

    "Well, that's Mawile for you," Oak answered, gently rubbing the mawile's head. "Mawile has a rather high affinity to ice because of her parentage, which also shows in her rather… unusual second ability."

    "Snow Cloak," Red muttered. "Never heard of something like that."

    "It's not very common either " Oak explained. "Check this out." He clicked on the pokédex, and the mechanical voice went on.

    Snow Cloak— an ability commonly found in pokémon living in Tundra regions. Snow Cloak allows the user to surround itself with tiny particulates of snow and ice, providing a form of camouflage in the middle of a snowstorm or any terrain-based ice attacks, thus increasing evasion.

    "That's interesting," Red commented, "and Icy Wind too. Fairly unusual for a non-ice-type"

    Oak nodded.

    "Wicked."

    Mawile gave him a prideful smile.

    "But why would a fairy/steel— ah, an ice-type parent, I get it." Red murmured to himself, before clicking on the other ability on the screen.

    Hyper Cutter— an ability commonly found in pokémon with physical body parts tuned to cutting or slashing, such as scythes or claws. It utilizes every component involved in the attack in perfect unity allowing every move to bear the weight of the entirety of the pokémons strength. The damage output of a pokémon with this ability can reach nearly twice that of those without it.

    "This is mind-blowing. You are a terrific little thing, aren't you?"

    Mawile blushed at that.

    "Also professor, this thing is rather cool." He looked up at the elderly man. "Are all pokédex like this?"

    "Not… exactly." The professor explained. "You see this one isn't limited to Kanto and Johto pokemon. It's called the National Dex," He allowed himself a moment to bask in his achievement. "It is connected to the Oceanos Data Center, a centralized database that keeps information of pokémon species in almost all the regions of the world. Most pokédexes are usually connected to their regional databases. It will update whenever in range of a pokémon center."

    Red blinked.

    "Well, Mawile isn't exactly a Kanto native, and considering the influx of foreign trainers into Kanto over the years, I decided to give you a National Dex instead of a standard one. Consider it my way of apologizing for whatever happened."

    Red opened his mouth, then closed it. Finally, after a moment, he replied. "Thanks a lot, old man."

    "Well then, introductions are over. I suppose I should just complete the formalities. Red, are you happy to have Mawile as your starter?"

    "I am," Red answered without hesitation, before something flashed in his mind, "Old man, you said that I am ready to travel. Mom… is manageable, but what about Mia? Did you get her consent as well?"

    Samuel Oak, Champion extraordinaire and Pokémon Professor, looked distinctly shifty.


    Two weeks later

    "KIRLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!"

    Mawile arched an eyebrow towards the esteemed professor as if to ask-Do you think he's gonna make it?

    To be honest, Oak was wondering the same thing. Mawile's current trainer, Red Ketchum—self-proclaimed future Champion, had attempted to stealthily escape his house through the bathroom window, a determined expression on his face. Unfortunately for him, Mia was equally determined that he would never leave. She had somehow, instantly found out about his escape plan and was currently using all her strength to drag him back inside.

    "I'm… pretty sure he'll survive. I wish I could say so for that poor window though."

    Mawile looked at him inquisitively.

    "Oh yes." Oak had a misty, almost nostalgic look in his eyes "That window, it's the same one that Kaz broke while practicing his Psycho Cut. And Poliwag broke with Water Gun. And Red broke when he was playing catch with some pokémon. I'm pretty sure Mia broke it a few times as well. Oak frowned. "Come to think of it, that window has been broken way too many times. In fact, I think they got a stronger frame last time. One more resistant to breaking. So Red may be fine this time—"

    CREAAAAAAAK!

    A large creaking sound interrupted Oak's monologue. "Or not," He finished sheepishly.

    "Wile?" Mawile blinked, her eyes instantly zooming in on the now cracked hinges, the frame tilting forward slightly. With a shrill snapping noise, the window gave way, causing Red, Mia and part of the shelf she was trying to tie him too literally fall outside. Mia's psychic abilities were enough for her to break momentum midway and float away, but her favorite human wasn't so lucky.

    "Oww."

    Mawile winced. That must have hurt. Her trainer was lucky that the window wasn't too high. Or maybe he had plenty of practice falling through it?

    "I… I hadn't realized fairy types could be so brutal," Oak muttered to no one in particular, before glancing down at Red's newest companion. "Nothing personal."

    Mawile was hardly in any position to refute back. In fact, a certain pair of steel jaws glinted malevolently in contrast to her tiny figure. Over the past two weeks, she had only seen the other fairy refrain from any and all offensive gestures. Mawile had initially thought that perhaps this was how most fairies behaved and had suppressed her excitation. Now though, she was beginning to feel more at home.

    Perhaps traveling with Red might not be that bad of an idea after all.

    Meanwhile Red had managed to pull himself off the floor, only to find an inconsolable Mia land upon him. He had certainly not expected things to go this way.

    Back when Oak had introduced him to Mawile and admitted that he hadn't, in fact, shared the news with Mia, Red had come up with an ingenious master plan. It had been pretty simple. Keep things slow and silent. He had introduced Mawile as Professor Oak's pokémon, whom Red was supposed to take care of. Mia, being the sweet little thing, had instantly fallen for it, and accepted his words at face value. The big idea was to keep everything quiet, and then vanish. He'd call back the instant he reached Viridian City, and explain everything.

    It being easier to ask for forgiveness than permission and all that. Unfortunately, no plan is perfect and his had a not so small flaw

    Mia was a kirlia, and kirlia were empathetic. She had easily sensed his heightened emotions, and understood that something… big was about to happen.

    "Come on Mia, just let it go already."

    "KIRLLLLLLL!"

    "You know why I cannot take you with me, Mia. Traveling with me will involve staying in the wild, which means no more comfy beds to sleep on, no more waking up like always. No more breakfast from Mom every morning, or meeting your friends at the ranch. It will be endless traveling all day followed by battling, and this can go on for weeks on end."

    Mia looked slightly troubled by that, before hugging Red again, sobbing into his shirt.

    "Come now Mia," He consoled. "You know I cannot subject you to harsh training, and that is what being a trained pokémon is. Mawile knows it, and so will the rest of my future team. We'd have to survive dangerous environments and face other people with teams stronger than us. You wouldn't be able to do that."

    No change.

    "Mia, I know you want to go with me, but out there, there are violent pokémon in the wild. As you are now, you won't be able to stand against it. They'd harm you, Mia. You'd… You'd be injured or worse. Not all pokémon make it through their journey. I just want you to be safe."

    Mia shook her head. She didn't care.

    "Mia," Red went on, his face devoid of emotion. "Why don't you understand? Pokémon die when they are killed."

    Mia did not move an inch.

    Red sighed and went in for the kill. "You won't be able to dance either, Mia."

    That produced a reaction in her. Pushing herself away by an inch, Mia stared into Red's eyes. He was telling the truth, or at least, what Red thought was the truth. Dancing was to her like breathing was to humans. Being forced away from it was kind of…. blasphemous to an empathic species like herself.

    At least that is something. He mused. Time for the carrot.

    "How about this? Let me go out there for a month or two, okay? I'll get an idea about how it is, and will know how to handle things better than I do now. I'll also have a team to keep away wild pokémon."

    Mia nodded slowly. The idea did seem slightly better than the previous one.

    "Meanwhile, you can stay here, dance to your heart's content, and practice your psychic techniques. Grow stronger. Strong enough to survive out there. That way, the next time we meet, I'll have no problem taking you with me. Fair enough?"

    Mia had a sneaking suspicion that Red was forcing words in her mouth, but somehow, she couldn't help but go along with the flow.

    "Fair deal, right?" Red repeated.

    "Liii…."

    "Great." He hugged the kirlia tightly for a moment. Mia's mind tuned into the sudden happiness Red was feeling, smiled and hugged him back.

    "So… everything at hand?" Oak asked.

    "Yep. Got my backpack ready, extra food, supplements, meds, a knife, and ropes. A spare tent and an extra bag. I'm all set."

    "Your Dex?"

    Red patted his pokébelt softly, pointing towards the contraption attached to the belt in which the pokédex was currently stored. Besides the contraption, there were eight empty pokéballs, shrunk and fit into their respective slots.

    "I have registered it to your name and Trainer ID. It will also reveal me as your Ranch Sponsor. In case you run into some trouble, feel free to use my name. I'd like to think it still means something out there. I'd request you to not overdo it though."

    "Come on, old man. Who do you think I am?"

    Oak didn't reply to that taunt. "Anyway, when you get to Viridian City, the first thing you need to do is register for the Indigo Circuit. You can get most of the Indigo Conference data from there. And please, do not go crazy and catch everything that comes in front of you. Catching them is important, but building and maintaining a team even more so."

    "Don't worry, professor. I will."

    "Then goodbye." Oak smiled. "And take care of each other. You too Mawile."

    "Thanks, professor. And you tell mom to take care as well." Red waved, as he and Mawile began walking down the grassy path that led to the outskirts of the little valley that was Pallet Town. It would be a start to a new and exciting journey, one where he would capture the strongest pokémon and fell the strongest champions, one where he would stand at the top and Gary would look up to him in admiration, where he was as famous as Oak and as respected, he would—

    "Look out for that—"

    "Oww!"

    "...tree." The old professor winced, staring at his pupil with sad eyes.

    "Ehhh, sorry Mawile, didn't see that coming. Anyway, let's get going." Red apologized, with a bright smile before continuing to walk off.

    Oak watched them go. Seeing his student and his newest starter vanish past the end of the road, he glanced back towards Mia who was forlornly gazing at the road Red had just crossed.

    "Don't worry," he told the kirlia, "He is going to do great."

    Mia didn't respond. She just continued to stare at the empty road in front of her.
     
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2020
  3. Threadmarks: Act 1 | Chapter 2 - First Blood
    TheBlackStaffAndNightMarE

    TheBlackStaffAndNightMarE I see. I write. I conquer.

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2020
    Messages:
    33
    Likes Received:
    127
    ACT 1 - IMMOLATION

    Chapter 2 - First Blood

    The grassy path had finally ended. On crossing the main valley, he found himself at a crossroads of sorts. From there onwards, there were two choices ahead —the longer, windier, albeit neater route, and the shorter, but infinitely more dangerous path through the forests that grew abound, surrounding the valley. Now if he had been the pompous grandson of a certain professor, he could have easily covered the distance in a convertible in less than a day, reaching Viridian City the following afternoon. However, that wasn't the case, and he didn't want to waste four days walking to the city.

    He had chosen the grassy path amidst the forest. It was short, and it cut the time required to reach Viridian in half. He conveniently ignored the stories of rookie trainers getting lost in the woods and going around in circles over and over again. Fortunately, Red had some prior experience with forests, and therefore, his chances of getting lost were fairly low.

    Well, according to him anyway.

    The real problem was the abundance of wild creatures in the Pallet Forest. With the old man's overindulgence towards them, the Pallet Town forest played host to several dozen species of grass, bug and flying-type pokémon. While this made it easier for a rookie trainer to catch a decent baby pokémon, or perhaps, a rarer second-staged one, it didn't erase the dangers that came with essentially walking into a forest filled with wild creatures.

    A year ago, he'd have called the plan stupid. Tales of young trainers getting maimed by a flock of rogue spearow was more than enough to carve such an impression on him. Things had gotten so bad that Samuel Oak was forced to take matters into his own hands.

    Dragonite had been rather forlorn after being assigned to what was essentially pest control and had ended up moping about it for weeks.

    The spearow flock was still probably somewhere in the forest, albeit with a much-reduced population. Come to think of it, while wild spearow were known to be quite hostile, they did make good battlers. Perhaps he could try his hand at catching one.

    "I'm so glad you decided to join me. You're even immune to dragon-type moves! I'm gonna use you exclusively whenever I find dragons." Red beamed at his starter.

    Mawile flinched. Of course, she would deny it later, but she was slightly wary of her trainer, and his ridiculous obsession with those giant, angry, fire-breathing monstrosities. The human had even shown her videos of those beasts killing little creatures with scorching flames and superheated dragon breath. True, her fairy nature made her immune to dragon-type moves, but they were so big and she wasn't keen on fighting them. One single slam with their enormous legs and she'd be squashed, type advantage be damned.

    "We'll defeat the eight gyms, catch dozens of pokémon, and build the strongest team ever. You'd be the leader."

    That did feel good. Having lots of powerful servants do her bidding all day long certainly felt nice. It would be a nice transition compared to her time with Mabel. The fact that Red had meant leader and not queen, didn't make a difference in her mind. It wouldn't do for someone like her to get stuck on such unimportant details.

    Mawile nodded to herself, her mind racing ahead in her dreams of grandeur. Unfortunately, Red noticed her nods and arrived at the most unfortunate conclusion.

    "I knew you'd be excited. I'm sure you can't wait to grow stronger, rising until you crush Lance's army."

    Mawile flinched. Why was her trainer so hell-bent on throwing her at those monsters? Couldn't he catch other pokémon to do that? What part of her looked like it was built to deal with those huge things? She had the misfortune of watching an ongoing battle between the dragon-raising human her trainer wanted to beat, and some gigantic, bare-bodied beast named Bruno or something equally ridiculous on the telly thing in Red's room. Mawile refused to believe that the muscular creature was human no matter what Red told her. Of course, she was quite inexperienced and knew that in the course of time, she too would probably get stronger, but those dragons were scary.

    "Come to think of it, though," Red frowned as he walked on, glancing down at her. "You are rather tiny and lacking in moves at the moment. It will take some time before you grow strong enough for that."

    Mawile looked up and gave him her version of a cute smile.

    Yes, Red was smiling too, he finally understood that his desires were impractical. He wouldn't make her fight those scary monstrosities and she'd get to live a long and happy life. More importantly, she was going to live.


    "— But I guess you are too enthusiastic to wait, aren't you? I'm sure you can't wait to face a real dragon. I'll try to find one for you to battle as soon as I can. Maybe the professor's Dragonite can spar with you if I ask nicely."

    She was going to DIE.

    "Maw… wile." It should have sounded painful. It should have revealed her untold suffering to him, but it didn't. He should have been rendered to tears even thinking about the trauma that she would go through if forced to face such a beast. Unfortunately, it just sounded horribly cute and optimistic. Sometimes Mawile hated just how adorable she sounded.

    "I know, I know." Red chuckled. "That reminds me, you aren't getting tired from all the walking, are you?"

    Mawile let out a soft moan, before shaking her head. Truth be told, she was a little exhausted, especially after walking such a long way from the ranch. They were already inside the forest, and it was shadier here. Pallet was warmer than Pomace Mountain, and she was feeling it.

    "We can take a little break if you need to. Or you can just return to your pokéball for now. I'll get you out when I call it a day."

    Mawile shook her head again. This was her first day out as a starter, and she refused to be defeated by something as pathetic as lethargy. Besides, her trainer was pretty interesting to talk to, though it would have been better if she had something to eat.

    Her stomach groaned loudly, in reaffirmation of her earlier thought.

    Mawile blushed.

    "Heh!" Red laughed, glancing at his watch. "We've walked quite a bit. Let's put up a tent and make some lunch. It looks like it's past noon, anyway."

    Mawile looked up at the sun, or rather, at the beams of sunlight trickling down the thick canopy above them. The rays were pretty much slanted. Perhaps her trainer had a point.

    "Well, let's get started. After all, we can't hope to win our battles on an empty stomach."Red cheered. "Hunger is the enemy."

    Mawile disagreed. If anything, the feeling of hunger increased her desire to hunt. As she was now, she could probably feast on a bug or a grass-type with ease. Perhaps she could hunt for a quick snack while Red prepared his meal. From the way the bushes on the right were rustling in the wind—

    Wait. There was no wind. The bushes were rustling. That had only one implication.

    FOOD.

    Mawile rushed ahead towards the swaying bushes, the large protrusion on the back of her head already imagining delicacies. Grass-types were rather juicy, with warm meat and tender fat on their bodies.

    With a decently loud declaration of 'Maw…', she opened her maw, the sharp steel fangs snapped into the bush, her eyes beaming as she recognized wet flesh within her jaws. There was nothing like a good meal, and by the looks of it, it was a short, tapering organ, possibly like a tail, only with a distinct charring sensation that she wasn't sure that she liked or not but—

    "CHAAR!"

    With a shriek, the steel fangs shot outwards, letting the prey go, as Mawile sensed a fire of all things within her fangs, followed by a confirmation that yes, out of all things in the evil, cut-throat world, she had been unfortunate to bite right into a charmander's tail. The moment the fire-lizard had registered the pain, its tail flared up, nearly charring the top of her steel jaws.

    Mawile leaped back, her large black jaw still smoking slightly, as digestive juices cooled down the remnants of the sudden inflammation. The tissue at the apex would be rejuvenated in a couple of hours, but it would leave a scorched taste in her mind until she got herself something really juicy. And currently, the head of the squeamish charmander— who was presently glaring daggers at her —seemed just fine as a replacement meal.

    "Mawile? What happened?" Red rushed up to her, wide-eyed, staring at her still-smoking jaws.

    Mawile clenched her teeth fiercely, glaring at her new challenger.

    "Who did this to— A charmander?" Red was hit by several thoughts right at that same time. He wanted to express surprise at seeing a Charmander in the wild. He wanted to express his feelings on Mawile having hurt herself. He wanted to express his exhilaration at finding a wild Charmander to add to his team. He wanted to express his curiosity at what caused Mawile's jaws to smoke in the first place. His rapidly fleeting thoughts left him slightly disoriented, and he tried to express them all at once. So, it wasn't surprising that what came out was something like—

    "Mawile, why are you... smoking … charmander?"

    Mawile gave him a dead stare, telling him exactly what she thought of his contribution.

    The charmander in question barked furiously, incensed at nearly having his precious tail amputated. Here he was minding his own business when this tiny monster came out of nowhere and promptly chomped on his tail. He protectively held his half-mutilated tail close to his chest, wincing at the throbbing pain its movement induced, while angrily glaring at Mawile.

    Red was still stuck in an inter-mental loop regarding how he had been given a divine opportunity to capture a charmander. The Pallet Forest was a true haven, a place where he had found true happiness. If that wasn't a sign that some deity was watching over him, then what was?

    "Zippo…what's wrong? Why are you— ?" A new, but positively human voice resounded from within the bushes. Two seconds later a face erupted from within. He was a young boy about Red's age, wore a maroon hat on his head, and seemed to be a trainer by the looks of it. "Your tail's bleeding. How— what happened?"

    The charmander— Zippo, Red registered —only glared at Mawile.

    "Is… Is that charmander yours?" Red croaked in despair, his dreams shattered. It was almost him reliving a moment in his childhood when he dreamt of beating the pokémon league and becoming Champion, only to be woken up by Kaz who so happened to be in a particularly sadistic mood. Though there was no bucket of water involved this time, he still felt as though someone had doused him in ice. He had wanted a charmander so badly for so long and to come across one in the wild, only to find out it was owned was heartbreaking.

    "Yeah, and what of it?" The boy snapped, charmander's tail wound clearly agitating him. "You don't seem to give your pokémon— whatever it is —enough food, or else it wouldn't need to eat—"

    SNAP!

    The boy yelped, falling down onto the ground, narrowly avoiding becoming a replacement meal for a clearly agitated Mawile. "It… it bites?"

    "It also chews and swallows. And Mawile gets angry if you talk about her that way." Red replied in a casual tone, which combined with the innocent expression on Mawile's face, only managed to make the words sound more sinister.

    The charmander barked again.

    "Oh well…" The boy uneasily got up, the charmander rushing towards him, never allowing the mawile to leave his sight. He continued in a softer tone. "Why did you send your…?"

    "Mawile." Red supplied helpfully.

    "Mawile." The teen continued. "—to attack Zippo?"

    Red glanced at Mawile, awaiting an explanation.

    Mawile only raised her tiny hands and shrugged.

    Zippo complained bitterly.

    "I think Mawile just mistook your charmander for food," Red suggested. A part of his mind supplied that she was still considering the charmander as potential food, but he ruthlessly suppressed it.

    "Oh well, I suppose it was just an honest mistake." The boy chuckled uneasily, clearly hesitating for a moment before he slowly extended his hand towards Red. "I'm Ritchie."

    "Red."

    "I haven't seen a… mawile, prior to this. Are you from some other region?"

    "Nah! I'm from Pallet." Red indicated his starter "Mawile though… she's not from around here"

    "I see." Ritchie gave the fairy another wary glance. "I'm from Frodomar City. I suppose that means you are a trainer registered for the Indigo Circuit?"

    "Not exactly." Red rubbed the back of his head in embarrassment. "I actually started my journey today."

    Ritchie arched an eyebrow.

    "Mawile is my first pokémon."

    "…"

    "…"

    "Don't you think you're a bit late?"

    "You figure that out by yourself?" Red muttered sarcastically, before his grim expression cleared up. "No worries." He sighed, "I'm pretty good at catching up."

    "I hope so, for your own sake" Ritchie remarked, in an almost condescending fashion. "And this mawile is your only pokémon, so far?"

    "So far," Red admitted. He casually wondered if Ritchie had been one to capture half a dozen on his first day out.

    "I have six. Let me introduce you to the rest of my team. Come out, everyone." He quickly flicked his pokéballs off his belt, releasing his team.

    Red didn't need a pokédex to identify the pokémon. Other than the dark blue avian that looked like a more streamlined pidgey, they were all Kanto-natives except for one, and rather common ones at that. There was a tentacool, a metapod, a nidorino and a—

    Pikachu.

    Red repressed the urge to take a step back. He would not show weakness to that creature. Not again.

    Ritchie seemed oblivious to his reaction, as he went ahead and introduced his team. "That's my taillow, Chirpy, my metapod, Happy—"

    He doesn't really look all that happy to me. Red mused.

    "My tentacool, Squishy," he paused, "my nidorino, Princess, and my starter, Sparky." He indicated at the pikachu.

    Squishy? Princess? Red suppressed a snicker.

    "That's… nice." Red didn't know what else to say. He was hardly an expert on social behavior, but publicly trashing one's naming sense did not seem like an appropriate thing to do. He knew for a fact that most pokémon disregarded human naming conventions outright.

    Not that I can blame them. I can totally see him naming an alakazam 'Teaspoon' or something. I wonder how Kaz would react?

    "So," Red asked, wanting to change the subject, and ignoring the fact that the pikachu was now on top of Ritchie's shoulder. "What are you doing here in Pallet Forest?"

    "I'm on my way to the Orange Archipelago. They have a local league as well as several unique species of pokémon. I was thinking of trying my luck there before attempting the more… difficult gyms in Kanto."

    Ah, so that's how it is. "Why not go to Johto?"

    Ritchie frowned. "Because I don't want to."

    Red got a feeling that he was treading on unwelcome grounds and quickly aborted that line of questioning. "Well, I'm on my way to Viridian City. After that, I'm planning to get to Pewter and challenge the gym over there."

    "Isn't that like… one of the easiest gyms in Kanto?" Ritchie snorted. "I tried Celadon myself. Erica's not as great as she seems. It took me a while, but I beat her. Fuchsia was the same. Lt. Surge of Vermillion though…" He shuddered, remembering his horrific experience at the hands of the electric-type gym leader.

    Red rolled his eyes.

    "What? You think differently?"

    "Yeah. Erica was your first gym battle. Of course, it was easy. You'd have won it with a rattata."

    "Huh!? What makes you say that?" Ritchie countered in indignation.

    "Uhm, the Trainer and Gym regulations? Am I the only one that did any reading?"

    "That's just legalese bullshit. Why should I read that?" Ritchie went on the defensive.

    "Oh, no reason. It's just the list of rules that can get your license suspended if you break. It also happens to talk about the gym battle regulations."

    Ritchie's ears had a slight reddish tinge. "What about them?"

    Red sighed, giving up on the world. "The gym battles are supposed to get increasingly difficult with every win on your part. Obviously, you found Celadon and Fuchsia easy, they were your first two gyms."

    "Big words for someone who's yet to win a badge." Ritchie taunted back, not willing to keep being the subject of a less-than-savory commentary. "Let's see how you face against one of mine."

    Red arched an eyebrow. Apparently, Ritchie wasn't a big believer of the 'don't kill the messenger' ideal. "I've just started out. I don't even have the required number of pokémon for an official battle."

    "Of course, you don't." Ritchie snorted contemptuously. "It doesn't need to be an official one. One of mine, versus that… mawile was it? Let's see what we can make of your starter."

    Mawile perked up at that.

    Red considered the proposal for a moment, before clarifying. "My mawile versus what?"

    "Zippo." Ritchie waved at his charmander. "He's been with me for quite some time, but hasn't evolved yet. Maybe this win will do some good to him."

    Red was no expert, but he didn't think that Zippo shared Ritchie's confidence over the subject. Not especially since the charmander seemed clearly uncomfortable with the gleaming expression floating on Mawile's face.

    Mawile versus charmander. Who would have thought?

    "All right. No bets. One on one. No items allowed. First one to forfeit or lose consciousness loses." Red intoned.

    Ritchie waved him off. "Just get started already."

    The teen's words seemed to inject some confidence into the charmander, who stepped forward, his tail flame blazing brightly.

    Quite close to evolution, Red noted.

    Ritchie flipped his cap backward as if to make a statement, before pointing his fingers outward like Red had seen being done in some trashy TV soaps. "Hope you and your mawile are ready then, 'cause your in for the fight of your life! Go Zippo, I choose you."

    Mawile and her trainer sweatdropped at the overly exaggerated gesture.

    ~~X~~

    Red had to give it to the other trainer. The charmander was nimble and had an adequate array of moves. So far, he had seen it use both Fury Swipes and Headbutt, and it had now progressed to Ember. None of them had been remotely lethal since Mawile could easily brace through the impact with her metallic jaw. It was actually her vulnerability to fire-based attacks that was forcing this kind of caution.

    "Leap up and bite it."

    Mawile extended her jaws outward like a large scythe, deflecting stray Ember particles that she couldn't dodge before they got close to her skin. She leaped into the air, her fangs spread out wide almost as if she intended to swallow the charmander whole.

    "Use Metal Claw," Ritchie commanded.

    Now he uses Metal Claw?

    Red felt slightly unimpressed. Metal Claw was a barely-intermediate level technique used by pokémon with claws (or other, similar appendages), by coating them with steel energy. It could be performed within a second by any barely competent ground or steel-type pokémon. Charmander on the other hand, was a pure fire-type, and thus, not only would Metal Claw take a considerably longer time to activate, it would also be inferior to a standard Metal Claw execution.

    And that was ignoring the fact that Mawile was partly a steel-type. Charmander might as well be a sitting duck.

    He had never been an exemplary student, but he did understand pokémon battling. And currently, Ritchie was up for a serious surprise.

    "Use Astonish."

    And everything changed from Charmander's perspective. One moment, he had the ivory pokémon with those gaping jaws in the air above him, and the next, his entire body seemed to be gripped with a preternatural uneasiness, bringing premonitions about an inevitable misfortune that was about to strike him. He shivered, feeling the air turn cold around him, as if trying to suffocate him. The image of Mawile rushing towards him flickered, replaced by enormous, gaping jaws that were coming down at him in all directions. His own psyche was screaming that his attack was going to be inadequate.

    Zippo flinched.

    The layer of steel-energy slowly congregating on his claws flickered, and the Metal Claw failed.

    "Zippo, lookout," Ritchie yelled.

    "Maw…wile!" Her gargantuan jaws stabbed into the charmander's abdomen, crushing his arms, causing the fire-lizard to scream in agony.

    "Pull yourself together Zippo!" Ritchie yelled. "Use Ember. It is a direct shot."

    And it was. With her fangs around the charmander, Mawile was practically a sitting duck for a head-on Ember attack. The fire-lizard opened his maw vengefully, ready to belch out scorching flames at her.

    If only it was that easy.

    "Mawile, bite its tail."

    Mawile was only too happy to follow. Relinquishing her hold on the fire lizard's abdomen, she quickly maneuvered behind the charmander and latched on to its tail. Making sure to avoid the fiery tip! Whatever Ember attack might have begun to form, it was quickly extinguished as the charmander screeched out in pain.

    What followed was perhaps the most surreal thing that Red (and presumably Ritchie) had ever witnessed. Mawile lifted the lizard by its tail, up into the air and violently slammed the creature upon the ground.

    Repeatedly.

    "Zippo, escape. Use Ember, ignite your tail, DO SOMETHING" Ritchie screamed, as his features grew increasingly desperate with every passing second. Unfortunately, Zippo, who was looking more and more like a rag, wasn't really able to respond.

    Red was so shocked that he actually let this go on for a while before he finally told Mawile to stop. "Umm… good job." Red said lamely, still caught up in her fascinating display.

    Mawile lit up at the praise. This way of fighting was unconventional for her since anything within her jaws basically translated to food. Using her primary weapon in this way was new to her, but nonetheless interesting. Perhaps this was an outcome of fighting new pokémon? With an exuberant cheer, she let go of the tail, allowing the charmander to land on the ground, his entire body bruised and swollen.

    Zippo did not move again.

    "Zippo!" Ritchie yelled, running up to him, before picking him up from the ground. The charmander was bleeding and had multiple contusions all over his form. He was no medic, but even he could say that Zippo needed intensive treatment before it could be considered fit for further battling. Not even Lt. Surge of Vermillion city had been this barbaric!

    How… how can this be? I've trained and traveled so much. I grew my team from nothing and defeated so many trainers. How could I… How could this 'nobody' just defeat me like that?

    Rage erupted in his mind as he glanced at the bruises and the openly bleeding wounds on his first pokémon. This… a starter did this? A side-glance at the creature only confirmed that while Mawile was tired, she was far from reaching the point of exhaustion. It was unreal. Silently, Ritchie returned the charmander into his pokéball, before glaring at Red.

    "What kind of savagery is that? How can you just stand there like that? Look at what that monster did to my Zippo!"

    "What happened is that Mawile defeated your charmander fair and square." He raised a finger to prevent Ritchie from exploding again. "I get that she might have gone slightly… overboard." He carefully avoided looking at Mawile as he continued. "And trust me, I will talk to her about it. But more importantly, though, why didn't you forfeit the match?"

    Ritchie sent a withering glare at him.

    "You didn't." Red continued. "Because your pride didn't allow you to forfeit in front of a… badge-less rookie, was it? If I had told Mawile to let go earlier, wouldn't your charmander have attacked? If you forfeited, I could have had her stop immediately, without fearing that she may get hurt. You allowed your charmander to sustain the damage, and now you call my mawile's actions savagery. How pathetic."

    And that did it. Somewhere between Red's harsh words, Zippo's condition and his unpalatable defeat, Ritchie snapped.

    "I'll show you who's pathetic." he sneered, "Chirpy, use gust."

    The taillow shot off like a rocket into the air, screeching madly at Mawile, before beating its wings furiously, easily manipulating air currents into a miniature gale of dry wind, which lashed down towards Mawile on the ground.

    "Hide behind your jaws!" Red yelled, before glaring at the other teen. "That was uncalled for. You cannot just randomly attack my pokémon out of battle."

    His words fell on deaf ears.

    "Use Double Team."

    The taillow's eyes glowed with an eldritch power, as the air around it seemed to flicker for a moment. Almost instantly, three more taillow appeared around the original. All four of them screeched in unison, circling the hapless creature on the ground, before swooping down towards their prey.

    Mawile watched the four avians swoop down at her from the skies, and raised her steel jaw upward to shield herself from damage. The first avian hit the jaw, before dissipating, followed by another, and then another, each coming from a different direction with the last hitting her perpendicularly from above. Every single time those optical illusions dispersed, Mawile felt a sudden elation, and at the same time, her instincts screamed to her that her next time might not be that lucky.

    "Low!" A sudden screech rang in her ears, as the real taillow tore into her from behind, slashing against her left arm, bruising it.

    Mawile cursed.

    "Ritchie, stop that," Red growled. "This is enough."

    "Why? Don't like it when your pokémon is the one being played with?" Ritchie taunted. "Use Double Team again, and go ahead with Wing Attack."

    Red widened his eyes in recognition. Double Team employed the creation of optical illusions using meager amounts of psychic energy. Originally, the idea wasn't to utilize the mirror images of the pokémon to trick the opponent into using techniques on its doppelgangers, but with trainers usually yelling out their commands, Double Team had been renditioned into an evasive maneuver at best.

    Mawile's anatomy didn't really allow her the advantage of speed, thus putting her in an extremely disadvantageous position as long as Taillow continued its assault from the air. What Ritchie was doing was illegal and immoral, but it did a wonderful job of shattering all illusions of Mawile's invincibility.

    And here I was planning to make her battle dragons. Was I really that naive?

    Mawile screamed as the taillow landed a hit for the second time. A gash appeared on her right shoulder, blood slowly oozing out. She hissed in pain before taking up an offensive stance. Red could almost see the air around her jaws slowly simmering.

    What is she ...? "Mawile, use Icy Wind."

    Mawile stopped in her tracks, listening to the strange command her trainer had just suggested. She was almost about to use her Iron Head, in the hope that she might hit the real taillow, and if not, then at least deflect the incoming attack away. But what Red was suggesting was… odd.

    "Mawile," Red repeated, his voice slightly hoarse. "Use Icy Wind. Spread it out."

    Ah. So that's how it is. Mawile let out a squeak in elation, before closing her eyes. For that one moment, she wasn't in the middle of the forest, defending against the vicious taillow. Instead, she was back on Pomace Mountain, in the middle of ice and snow. She wasn't the one bleeding, she was the predator.

    Mawile's lips twisted, as she gazed back at the taillow, smiling peacefully through her eyes.

    As a fairy-type, the ability to mutate the more esoteric elements, namely psychic, ghost, and dark, came pretty easily to her. One of her parents had been a beartic, from whom she had gotten her affinity for manipulating ice and snow. Living on Pomace Mountain had given her a prime environment to develop her skills.

    Back there, she had no use for Icy Wind. It had been something she had simply been developing on her own. with the entire land enveloped in glaciers and snow, her deception and her steel jaws had been more than enough to prey on whatever she required. This was the first time in her life that she was using the skill in battle, and ironically, it was to keep herself from becoming prey.

    Such is the life of the deceiver.
    Mawile almost chuckled at the irony. Her fairy energies swirled around herself before she relinquished her hold on the ice.

    The poor thing never saw it coming.

    It wasn't just a gale of chilling wind and powdery snow. It was hoarfrost, shattered into tiny fragments by the force of the howling wind, shot brazenly in the taillow's general direction. The tiny avian was swift, there was no doubt about it. However, there was only so much one could dodge if the very air around it had turned cold. Several fragments of sharp ice hit it talons, causing the avian to screech in fury.

    "Use Double Team, again. Finish her." Ritchie snarled.

    Taillow screeched again, but this time, only a single optical clone appeared, before flickering out of existence.

    "What?" Ritchie murmured, taken aback. Double Team was one of the most basic moves that were sold as TMs. As long as the pokémon in question wasn't a pure dark-type, it was able to use it with considerable efficiency. For a flying-type, the idea of losing control over Double Team was almost laughable.

    "You cannot maintain a psychic illusion if you cannot focus. Your taillow is shivering too much for that." Red pointed out in a half-condescending tone.

    "Worry about your own pokémon first!" Ritchie shot back. "Finish it with Wing Attack, Chirpy."

    The taillow squawked angrily, beating its wings to drive away the cold, before swooping down towards Mawile, its sharp beak ready to spear through her delicate flesh.

    "Mawile, get ready," Red instructed.

    "Wile!" Mawile acknowledged, steel energy flickering all around her jaw. Mawile moved forward, her metal flap revolving in a quick circle, gathering momentum before—

    SLAM!

    Taillow's beak met raw, energized steel.

    It began with a slight creak, before the overwhelming force fractured the taillow's beak, actually pushing the shattered parts into its skull. The poor bird was in just enough pain to realize that something went wrong before the momentum of the swing sent it flying back into a tree trunk. After a second, it slowly slid down to the ground.

    Red winced. That's not getting up for a while.

    Ritchie blanched as he saw the taillow slide down to the ground, his shoulders shaking in shock, rage, embarrassment and untold amounts of frustration. His features became more and more hysterical with every passing second, as he watched his team get taken apart, his eyes now close to being flooded with tears. "You… I will… Sparky, Princess, attack it. Kill the damn thing."

    "Enough!" Red snarled, raising his pokéball. Without further ado, he clicked upon the red button, sending out a jet of red light, towards his starter, hoping to get her back before things took a nastier turn. Unfortunately, Sparky had something else in mind. The pikachu leaped off Ritchie's shoulder, and intercepted the red light with its own body, before firing an arc of electricity towards Red.

    Red screamed.

    For that one moment, he was back to Oak's lab, extending his hands out to the pokémon he had wanted to be his starter, his future best friend, his new family. Instead, all he got was a malevolent grin and agonizing pain. Right there, in the forest, as he saw the arc of lightning drag its path through the air streaking towards his person, Red lost his hold on reality and fell down to the ground.

    And then he screamed.

    At that moment, several things happened.

    Something around his person changed. Princess— Ritchie's nidorino, and Sparky the pikachu, felt an unnatural shift in the space around them, the surrounding world itself seemed to freeze. Sparky tried to leap off into the air, pushing his tail into the ground, but it felt like his entire body had been frozen in space. A strained glance at Ritchie told him that like him, the teen had also frozen, just like that.

    The problem was, not everyone had been the subject of this apparent spatial paralysis.

    Mawile didn't sense the sudden change in the air. She didn't care that both the pikachu and the nidorino were somewhat… frozen in space. All that mattered was that Red was screaming, and this little rodent had tried to kill him. Just like that damned raichu had tried to kill Mabel.

    She was going to make it suffer.

    Steel energy washed over her black jaw, as Mawile snarled, smashing the nidorino away with a single hit on the back of its head. Princess bawled over in pain, as it tumbled over the ground, bruising one of its hind legs. From the way it limped unsteadily, it had probably fractured the leg.

    Mawile continued undaunted. The nidorino was simply an obstacle impeding her path. Her steel jaw snapped menacingly, as she got closer to the rodent. Crossing the last bit of distance towards the unresisting pikachu, she bit into its tail with extreme prejudice. Gathering momentum as she pulled the pikachu in her jaws, she tossed the electric-type into the air, not caring that over half of its tail had been torn through leaking profuse amounts of blood.

    And Mawile still wasn't done. She let out a war cry before stomping towards the fallen body and slammed her jaw into the pikachu's cheek, straight into its electric pouch. The sheer force of the blow sent the rodent spinning in the air, before falling face-first into the ground. It appeared comatose, its body spasmed gently as stray electric sparks jumped out of its ruined electric pouch and trailed down its body.

    "Mawile?"

    Mawile shot a feral look in the direction of the sound, only to recognize the source. Red seemed to be slightly disoriented and was weakly staring in her general direction. For a brief moment, Mawile wondered if Red would leave her, having seen her feral brutality upfront. It wasn't unprecedented since many on Pomace Mountain had shied away from her over the same.

    Mawile breathed out. "Wile!" She had prepared herself to be treated with wariness and caution, but instead, she felt his hands entwine around her abdomen as he pulled her up. Before she realized what was happening, Red had grabbed her, held her close to his chest, and fled into the forest.

    ~~X~~

    At first, it was the start of a grand and momentous journey, and then, in an instant, everything changed. Ritchie, the young teen had seemed like an ordinary trainer like himself. A tad dumb in certain things, but an ordinary trainer nonetheless. The initial fight with the charmander had been slightly trifling but had morphed into an ugly manifestation of madness. This ordinary trainer had been actively trying to murder his Mawile, and yet another pikachu had tried to kill him. He was really suspecting that the pikachu-line had something against him.

    Was it so surprising that he had grabbed Mawile and ran?

    Red wasn't sure how the arc of lightning had missed him, not that he was complaining. One moment he was screaming, his mind torn between trying to survive and acknowledging, perhaps even accepting the possibility of death. The next moment, he had seen Mawile leap off, and slam into the electric rodent, almost tearing its tail in half. For someone who had worked as an assistant in a ranch, seeing a pokémon (even if it was a pikachu) get mutilated like that felt… horrible, but he was way too involved to care. His mind was preoccupied with a single thought.

    Ritchie has six pokémon. Two are gone, and one tried to kill me. He still has three pokémon left.

    Nothing else mattered. He had taken up Mawile in his arms, ignoring the fairy's surprised squeak, and sprinted off into the darkness of the forest.

    That was two hours ago.

    If this was the kind of excitement and adventure found in a trainer's journey, Red would rather have less of it. He found himself a comfortably large trunk to lean against, dropping his backpack on the grassy floor.

    "Wile!" Mawile angrily kicked a tuft of wildflowers blooming on the ground, exterminating it with extreme prejudice.

    Apparently, she doesn't agree with me. Red mused. Mawile had been somewhat… disgruntled, ever since they had deserted from the fight against Ritchie and his horribly-named pokémon.

    "Something got you into a horrible mood?"

    Mawile glared at her trainer.

    YES!

    She was terribly infuriated that Red had taken her away from what was essentially a win, and made her look like a fleeing coward instead.

    "Mawile, you aren't saying anything."

    "Maw… Mawile!"

    "You are angry about Rit— that guy attacking us like that, right?" Red guessed.

    Mawile let out a long-suffering sigh. Pokémon understood other pokémon. Pokémon understood the human tongue. Humans did not understand pokémon. Yet, humans were the supreme species on the planet. Either she was missing something, or the world was hopelessly wrong.

    Or perhaps simply ignoring the rules.

    She sighed again. "Wile!"

    "I'm sorry you had to deal with that jerk," Red muttered, stretching his hands and feet, pushing his back against the large Oran berry tree. He had plucked several sweet berries from the lower branches, not an inordinate amount but enough to fill their stomachs until they decided to call it a day. Oran berries were pretty much the pokémon version of health supplements, and even humans could eat them without any repercussions, provided the intake stayed with limits. The average human would easily declare a single berry enough for the replacement of a homely meal, while most pokémon would easily munch three to five. It probably had something to do with their innately high metabolism rate when compared to their trainers.

    Oran berries, like the Pecha and the Chilan berry trees, were native to Kanto. That being said, there had been intensive cultivation of the Sitrus berry— a plant from Sinnoh-in the greenhouses of Kanto. The major reason for that was that the Sitrus berries provided nearly three times the amount of health supplements than an average Oran berry, but the trees required extreme cold and mountain soil to survive, making the mountainous and snowy land of Sinnoh the ideal habitat for them. In fact, nearly half of Sinnoh's revenue was from the mass export of Sitrus and Rowap berries. Some eleven years ago, the Kanto government had gone ahead with the construction of greenhouses to cultivate Sitrus berries— which hadn't aided in the already increasing hostilities between Kanto and Sinnoh back then. The Rubeus Plantation, located north-west of Pallet Town, was the brainchild of Erica Flores, Celadon City Gym Leader, and Grass Mistress. It was one of the largest glasshouses in all of Kanto, built to provide a pseudo-natural environment identical to Mt. Coronet of Sinnoh, and was the leading producer of Sitrus berry in the region.

    "Come on, try this one out. These berries are sweeter." Red gently coaxed.

    Reluctantly enough, Mawile let go of her inner conflict and accepted it with her tiny hands. A few little nibbles and Mawile was cooing softly, munching the red berries in her hands. Mawile, Red realized, had an innate talent for choosing the sweeter berries from the comparatively sour ones. He had studied that certain pokémon were able to do this, sometimes by vibrations and mostly by smell, this was, however, the first time he was seeing it happen in front of his own eyes. Once the sweetened ones were dealt with, her terrifying jaw came out and snagged the rest in one go. The mechanism was clear-the frontal mouth was for things she could savor and taste. Everything else was taken care of by her gigantic maw on the posterior end of her head.

    "You must have been really hungry." He chuckled.

    "Maw…" the deceiver pokémon moaned in contentment.

    "Heh!" Red chuckled. "It's barely a day and yet it feels like we've been journeying for weeks. Is this what everyone else feels on their journey?"

    Mawile shrugged. She didn't care about others. Others were supposed to care about her. Well, her trainer might be an exception to the former, by a little bit. And then there was Mabel, but that was neither here nor there. A part of her did feel slightly nostalgic about Mabel, and her own mother, but she had chosen to see the world, and she would achieve her objective without reservation.

    "Hey, Mawile…"

    Said pokémon tilted her head in his direction.

    "I was thinking of our battle with that charmander." He caressed her head, making her moan in delight. "You did excellently, of course." He paused. "That said, Ritchie also lost because of improper planning."

    Mawile arched an eyebrow in curiosity.

    "Charmander is a fire-type. It would take at least a couple of seconds to generate the necessary steel-type energy to procure an efficient Metal Claw. Besides, it was on the ground and was only moving its claw upward. You, on the other hand, were up in the air, and had the advantage of both momentum and gravity to score a powerful hit. Furthermore, he used a steel-type attack as well, which don't come naturally to them. There was little chance of it winning the exchange."

    Mawile took a moment to bask in her victory.

    "That said, if Ritchie had ordered a long-range attack like Ember, or perhaps, if Charmander had known Flamethrower, you'd be at a massive disadvantage. A fire attack to your jaw could cause significant damage to the metal, allowing Charmander the time to use a fully formed Metal Claw in that interval. Which would result in your defeat, and more importantly, potential injury."

    The smile on her face vanished instantly.

    "What I want to say is, the same trick won't work every time. You need to be prepared in case the opponent uses a long-ranged technique, like a Flamethrower or some sort of beam."

    Mawile bobbed her head, inwardly wondering just how speculative her trainer was, as far as battling was concerned. For her, it was all about the adrenaline rush as well as the feeling of domination over creatures larger than herself. Red's… logical and speculative approach seemed alien to her.

    "There's also this thing."

    Mawile looked up.

    "You were conflicted during the fight against that taillow of his. I asked you to use Icy Wind, but you were working on Iron head instead."

    Mawile didn't shirk off from that statement. She knew for a fact that humans preferred their pokémon to obey their every command in battle. In fact, most trained pokémon out there were little more than versatile puppets, in the absence of their trainer's orders. Being the independent little thing that she was, Mawile wondered how the human—how Red —would take it.

    Red's blue eyes met Mawile's black ones. He could almost see the answer in her eyes.

    I did. And what of it?

    "I'm…" Red spoke after a moment, "not angry with you or anything. Just curious. Did you really believe that Iron Head would be a better alternative than Icy Wind?"

    Mawile shook her head vigorously. As a remarkably free pokémon all her life, Mawile had never been subjected to the Double Team experience. If not for the fact that the images shattered when she hit them, she'd have never believed that the other three were illusions.

    "I suppose I cannot fault you for that." Red bit into his lip. "Taillow was in her domain and had the advantage of speed as well. If Iron Head had hit it successfully, she might have been defeated."

    He paused. "But Icy Wind stopped it from using Double Team, which is why I suggested it in the first place. By the way, that was an awesome demonstration. You're really good with that move."

    Mawile couldn't help it. She raised her head high, and crossed her arms in front of her chest as if to say-'praise me more'.

    Red chuckled at that before his expression turned speculative once again. "But that said, it was also because of Ritchie's fault that the taillow was defeated. After Icy Wind, Double Team wouldn't work, but what would you do if it remained in the air and spammed Gust. Or even worse, if it knew something like Air Cutter."

    That dropped the smile right of Mawile's face.

    "Your moveset can't really deal with a pokémon that abuses its aerial supremacy, to simply stay out of your range and bombard you with long-range maneuvers. Next time we might not be so lucky against a flying-type. We need something to cover this—" Red paused before he finally came up with an alternative for 'weakness'" —this disadvantage. A way for you to deal with pokémon who abuse the effects of terrain."

    Only one answer popped up in his mind at the moment. He'd need to purchase it after reaching Viridian City. And probably Double Team as well. If used with Astonish, the combination was a far better deceptive tactic than most. It would also fit into Mawile's strategy.

    "I have something in mind. We can address this issue when we get to Viridian." He promised. "Let's set up camp and call it a day."

    Mawile yawned cutely, before walking up to him. Allowing her steel jaw to lean into the tree trunk, Mawile pushed herself down beside her trainer and sunk her head into his shirt. A couple of mewls later and she was fast asleep.

    ~~X~~

    The next day

    The Pallet forest had its own share of creeping, crawling pokémon along with a few more mobile ones. Occasionally, Red would even spot a diglett peeping out from its hole in the ground, or a rattata running around, perhaps trying to find a rare weedle on the forest floor. He had set up camp in the early hours of the evening, and after a few attempts, managed to create something edible for himself and his starter. The food had been subpar compared to his mom's legendary culinary skills, but they had to make do with it.

    Thankfully, his first two attempts hadn't been bad enough for Mawile to lose all hope on her trainer and abandon him in the brutal wilderness. He had pampered the little fairy quite a bit to get her to forgive him for his first attempt. Which involved cuddles. Lots of cuddles.

    Yes, it was official. Mawile really liked cuddles. This was unless she was trying to seduce her prey with her impish charm and cute stature, drawing them closer and closer until, with an adorable smile, she swallowed them whole.

    They were still several miles away from the outskirts of Viridian city and in all probability, would have to sleep in a tent once again, before getting access to the divine comforts of a proper bed at the Viridian Pokémon Center.

    "Squawk!"

    The sudden noise shook Red out of his reverie. A couple of yards to his left, he could see something spiky and brown. As he moved a step closer, he was able to make out wings on its back and a beak. Of course, if he was right, he'd need to approach it with extreme caution and—

    "Maw… wile!"

    Red nearly lost it for a second. While he had been lost in his thoughts, Mawile had decided to go ahead and introduce herself to her new acquaintance, and by the way, the avian was looking at her, it seemed like her charm was working perfectly. Maybe all that philosophical bullshit about love at first sight had something to it after all.

    He reached into his belt pocket and pulled out his pokédex. He was a little excited as he pressed the button. Something about using the dex to scan a pokémon he encountered made him feel like a real trainer. He pointed the pokédex at the creature in front of him and with a quick beep it provided him with information about the target.

    Spearow, the tiny bird pokémon. Spearow have loud cries that can be heard over half a mile away. If its high, keening cry is heard echoing all around, it is a sign that they are warning each other of danger.

    Whoa. Red mused for a second. This thing worked perfectly. The scanning ability was faster than he had anticipated. He had played with the pokédex's functions before starting his journey. It could scan things almost instantly in the right conditions, though it could take longer depending upon factors such as light sensitivity and distance from the object. Also, according to Oak, it held information about pokémon non-native to Kanto, but he wasn't sure how helpful that would be.

    He reluctantly took a step closer, his fingers releasing an empty pokéball from his belt, as he proceeded to throw it at the unsuspecting pokémon.

    Just a little closer now. Red focused intensely as he inched forward.

    Keep on doing that Mawile! You're perfect. Keep it focussed on you while I throw this ball at it. I'll capture it in one go.

    Red threw the pokéball. It formed a perfect arc as it traveled through the air, rotating all the way. He could almost see how the spearow would see the pokéball coming at it, feel a surge of panic in its heart, but it would be useless. Oh, so, so useless. Then the pokéball would hit it directly in the head, and spearow would get sucked into—

    CRUNCH!

    His jaws did not really drop down to the floor, but the sentiment did match it. Before the pokéball had gotten remotely close to the avian, Mawile's strangely clairvoyant jaws had reached into the air, snapped the unfortunate pokéball out of its trajectory, and crushed it with extreme prejudice, before swallowing it whole.

    ….

    It felt bad. It felt really bad. In fact, it felt so bad that Red indignantly raised his head upwards and opened his mouth to scream at his irresponsible and fundamentally-irritating starter about its utter lack of—

    "Maw…wile?"

    It must be noted that with an entire week's exposure to Mawile and her charms, Red did not instantly give in to her adorable face. No, he resisted for four whole seconds before folding like a pack of cards.

    "I was waiting to catch the spearow, Mawile. I didn't want you to eat the pokéball."

    "…Wile?" Mawile tilted her head in confusion before she lit up with comprehension and cooed back in acknowledgment.

    She had finally understood, Red presumed, and hopefully, she knew that with the clandestine approach wasted, she would have to fight for her trainer and defeat the spearow and—

    "SQUAWK!"

    Mawile's large jaws gobbled Spearow up, engulfing over eighty percent of said avian inside her steel fangs. The poor spearow in question had simply come down from its nest in search of food and had now become prey to this ridiculous, little yellow thing. Such are the ironies of life.

    Then the pain started, and with that, the squawking began in earnest.

    "Mawile!" Red exclaimed, literally crouching down on the forest floor next to her "Don't eat that. I need to catch it for God's sake, so please do not eat it."

    Mawile tilted her head slightly, before nodding in comprehension.

    Red sighed with little elation. Yes, he would finally have his second pokémon, even if it was a spearow, and a baby one at that. He'd grow his little spearow into a powerful and fearsome fearow exactly like the one right next to him and would use him to defeat all kinds of powerful pokémon and—

    …..

    Wait.

    There was something wrong with the statement.

    Red considered it again. And paled.

    An immense, fearsome, and obviously enraged fearow had just perched right next to him. Close enough that it could drive its beak through his neck and back before he even registered its presence. Logic shut down, and instinct rose. Or perhaps it was just his sense of coordination failing, as he stumbled to the ground, tumbling over until he ended up on the ground beside Mawile, who still had the spearow in her jaws.

    "…row!" The fearow threatened them.

    Red instantly prepared to escape, ready for a fight for his life. Mawile made no movement but the spearow let out another squawk.

    The fearow raised its wings, its threatening eyes making Red wonder why he wasn't already dead. As the wings extended outwards, a tinge of blue began to appear on them. Evidently it was forming an attack.

    We're screwed.

    "Wait, wait, wait," Red interrupted, gaining a little of his courage back. "Look, we're sorry. Mawile didn't mean to do it, and it was a mistake. If we let the spearow go, will you please let us leave?"

    The fearow continued to power up its move.

    "Squawk!" The unfortunate victimized spearow cried out.

    "…"

    "…"

    That seemed to generate a reaction out of the fearow, who stopped midway, her wings returning back to their normal shades, before letting out an angry screech. The vibrations stemming from such a high-pitched sound threatened to tear Red's eardrums. He gritted his teeth, trying to ignore the pain as he attempted to reorient himself and face what was looking to be the most dangerous challenge he had ever experienced. The fearow's eyes softened as it glanced at its captured child before it nodded begrudgingly. It spread its wings to the side, indicating a small area near it. It was an area where he could get back to the road fairly easily, Red realized. Apparently the fearow was trying to guarantee Red's safety after he released the spearow to ensure he didn't renege on the deal.

    We're actually going to survive. Red rejoiced mentally.

    "Alright let's walk to the road. Mawile, you can release the spearow once we get near the main road."

    Said spearow in question let out a loud squawk in elation. He would finally be freed from this monster's clutches, free to spread his wings out, and then exact an unholy and terrible vengeance on this monster that had tried to charm it before making it its prey. He would carve entire tree trunks with this yellow creature's treacherous blood.

    In short, he got excited, a little too much in fact, and in doing so, he unknowingly scratched the innards of Mawile's jaw with his claws.

    In hindsight, that was a mistake.

    Apparently, despite being made of pure, unadulterated steel, her menacing jaws did, in fact, happen to be ticklish. The moment the claws scraped over the hardened innards of her jaws, Mawile let out a short giggle.

    Loudly.

    As it turned out, the loud noise was actually the sound of a helpless spearow being gobbled up into Mawile's mouth and instantly digested by the highly corrosive, digestive juices within her steel jaws.

    Mawile burped.

    She looked at Red in confusion, then back to the fearow, and then back to Red again. Glancing at the fearow out of the corner of her eyes, she subtly shook her jaws, trying to eject the unfortunate spearow out.

    Nothing happened.

    Mawile turned to her human. "Maw…wile?"

    Red gave his starter a blank stare, before turning towards the fearow.

    The fearow was looking at Mawile in stunned silence, almost in disbelief, before it shifted its gaze to her lethal jaws which had just swallowed her baby spearow, and then back to Red.

    Mawile burped. Again.

    We're dead. Red reaffirmed. "Uh… Mawile, get ready to run."

    "…wile?" Mawile looked at him in incomprehension, before glancing at the fearow, as the realization of what she had done began to dawn on her.

    Oh.

    "Maw...wile." She confirmed and began to sprint towards whichever direction came to mind. Yes, any direction that led away from the angry predator seemed good enough.

    "Yes," Red confirmed, more to himself than to her, as he turned to face the fearow again, who looked all but ready to imitate his starter and swallow him whole. Considering the sharp beak and those lethal claws, Red had no doubt that death by mutilation wasn't something he really wanted. But there was also Mawile to consider. There was no way that he'd allow anything to happen to mawile, even if he had to stand and fight against the entire flock of spearow and their ferocious leader.

    "Get ready, Mawile… We need to—"

    The rest of the words died down his throat, as he felt something extremely horrible happen. It was one of those premonitions that came before death when one was on the verge of doing something terribly heroic and suicidal.

    "...Mawile?"

    Nothing at all.

    Red turned around, noticing the sudden emptiness in the space where Mawile once stood. Even from his point, he could still see the little yellow thing trying to run her way out of the situation.

    Did she just abandon me when I was trying to save her? I cannot believe—

    "Wile!" Mawile yelled from her vantage point, several yards away, raising her large jaws upwards in the air, in the hope that her somewhat goofy trainer would spot it.

    Oh. Red confirmed. Well, that's hardly any better.

    Fearow let out a loud screech.

    "GAAH!" Red yelled, before turning around and sprinting his way, right behind his starter's tracks.

    And that was how the Great Fearow Chase of the Pallet Forest began.

    ~~X~~

    Kaz had been Delia's pokémon for as long as he could remember, starting from when he had hatched into a tiny abra from an egg 15 years ago, doing nothing but sleeping all day accumulating enough energy to evolve, to the Alakazam he was today. Delia being a researcher had never really focussed on the training aspect of Abra's growth, allowing him to grow at his own comfortable pace. It had taken a little over a year, for him to develop the will and power requirements required for his evolution.

    Abra had become Kadabra. It had been more than an evolution. Unlike his earlier self, Kaz had become a self-valuing psychic. Kaz was inquisitive, even when compared to psychic standards. Where Abra preferred to sleep and store power, Kaz had gained a fetish for knowledge. Abra had been a baby psychic pokémon, but Kaz was a researcher. Further evolution into Alakazam some seven years later had only made him more obsessive.

    Just like his trainer, or as he liked to address her, his mother.

    Over the better part of the last two decades, Kaz had been a part of Delia's life as a researcher, and in a manner of speaking, reinforced her desire to study the psychic-type in addition to her duties as Oak's assistant. Between the mass availability of knowledge at the Oak Laboratory, access to inter-regional Database, and most importantly, Oak's alakazam's tutelage, he had grown, taking it upon himself to meticulously study, experiment and develop all possible abilities that he might be able to develop in his current state. The more he studied, the more his mind elevated, and the more he was able to comprehend the existence that was psychic energy. Of course, Kaz was at most, an expert connoisseur of the subject, his interests being mainly of the intellectual variety, rather than the physical aspect of it, unlike the senior and infinitely more battle-hardened alakazam.

    And that brought him to the present situation.

    He wasn't too fond of Red, that much was clear. However, Delia loved her son, and so, Kaz tolerated him, or at least that was what he told himself. He liked to think that the boy would sooner or later, develop bits of his mother's genes, and perhaps in time, would become someone worthy of a tiny bit of acknowledgment from him.

    And then, around a month ago, the midget had gotten himself electrocuted by an electric rodent. One would think that the klutz would know better than to directly interact with an unknown electric-type like that, but Red was funny like that. If not for the fact that Delia was worried to tears, Kaz might have even laughed at the boy's misfortune.

    The fact that Kaz had slammed said electric rodent with a sepulcher-lock, slamming powerful psychic energies from six directions at the same time was not at all related to the fact that the Pikachu had hurt Red. No, he simply disliked the electric-type in general, because it was damaging the wires of the lab. Nothing else. It was merely a coincidence that his judgment had befallen the unfortunate rodent merely an hour post-Red's accident.

    However, it seemed that even electrocution hadn't been enough to activate common-sense in the boy, who had then proceeded to accept that ridiculously annoying little creature as his starter, one that seemed to differentiate the world into things she could eat and things she couldn't. The little monster had gone for Kaz as well, but a psychic barrier had kept him safe. He liked his tail un-mutilated and in order, thank you very much.

    And that brought him to the current situation.

    "I fear that Red might have problems dealing with Mawile in the beginning. I think Delia would feel better knowing that there's someone out there, ensuring that her son stays safe until he's gotten ahold of being a trainer in the wild. If only there was a way to ensure a silent watch on his person without his knowledge…(sigh)"

    Never let it be said that Samuel Oak was above emotionally blackmailing pokémon species. The fact that the target of his blackmail happened to be a psychic, only added to the grim nature of the situation. Kaz didn't know what that said about the man.

    He had sensed his baby brother choose the forest path instead of the proper, established, and more importantly, safer route. Trust him to literally walk towards danger. It was official, the boy was suicidal.

    He had teleported in the middle of the forest, and calmly observed the ongoing duel between the midget and the arrogant midget-lookalike. The lookalike even had a pikachu on his person. Maybe in another world, Red would have been moronic enough to accept the rat as his starter despite his electrocution. In fact, it was probably Kaz's own magnificent presence that prevented such an outcome. It was probably for the best that the teen and the rodent weren't together. The world and nature were indebted to Kaz for his silent role in ensuring that. Or at least, they should be.

    As the battles continued, Kaz grudgingly admitting that Red did have a good head on his shoulders. At the very least he seemed to temporarily acquire a certain modicum of common sense, preventing him from influencing his pokémon into making mindless moves. Or was it his own presence that was keeping the boy's unusually low IQ at bay?

    Then, the other midget, the one who had the audacity to name his metapod Happy, completely flipped out and commanded his pokémon to outright attack Mawile. That pikachu had the gall to throw a lightning attack on his baby brother. Trust the electric rodent to try and finish the other pikachu's unfinished business with Red.

    Seriously? Why are all these pikachu after Red's life?

    It demanded some serious thought. Perhaps his teacher might have some knowledge on the subject.

    Either way, he had not taken the brazen attack on Delia's boy too well and had frozen the space around the pikachu and the nidorino. He had almost smirked at their pitiful attempts at trying to break out of his Psychic.

    Like the little electric-type had any business trying to overpower a psychic ward. It was so pitiful; it probably didn't even realize what was going on.

    The psychic lock had given the gluttonous fairy enough time to return to her senses and ferociously retaliate. Kaz had to give it to her. The mawile had admirable levels of bloodlust in her system. The nidorino was superficially bruised, but the pikachu's wounds were far more serious. Wounds like that did not heal easily, not even through the use of the latest technology. Such injuries would persist, and even should the fool use a Thunder Stone to evolve the rodent, it was quite possible that some of the wounds would carry. Kaz wouldn't, of course, be there to see it, but the results would surely be beautiful.

    The little tyke sure had some baggage of her own, but it seemed like Red had found himself a rather fitting starter and companion in the mawile. He was sure of it.







    On second thought, he might have spoken too soon. The fairy monster seemed to have a fetish for trying to swallowing things not meant to be swallowed in the first place. A part of him wondered if his little step-brother would forever remain a rookie because she kept ruining his attempts to capture pokémon.

    At least Red had some talent in diplomacy. He'd give him that. Not many humans in his position could adequately negotiate with an angry fearow of all things while holding its baby spearow hostage.

    Then again, he should have expected this. It was natural that even an instinctual brute would gain some amount of adroitness, in the presence of a consummate scientist and philosopher like himself.

    He saw Red stand true and hold his ground, despite the fearow's attempt at intimidation and mentally gave the brat a few more points. By the looks of it, the large bird of prey seemed to be considering the deal if nothing else.

    But just in case… Kaz raised his spoons in their direction.

    The captured Spearow let out another squawk, and the Fearow slowly voiced his agreement, albeit with extreme reluctance.

    It would do, Kaz mused. Good job, brat. Keep this going and in a few years, you might call yourself intelligent enough to hold an intellectual conversation with me.

    BLURP!

    Wait a second. That didn't just happen, did it? Kaz ruthlessly suppressed his urge to gawk, his eyes trying to comprehend what had just happened. He could see Mawile look at Red blankly, then back at the fearow, and then hopelessly try to throw back the Spearow that she had gobbled up in one go.

    Kaz sighed.

    I almost feel sorry for him now.

    Red and Mawile raced their way through the forest, with a furious spearow flock, and a vindictive fearow right behind them, vying for blood. Kaz raised his spoons, his eyes flickered an iridescent blue, as a psychic shield erected between Red and the flock, the latter slamming hard against the psychic barrier. The alakazam winced, feeling the entire momentum of the flock ram against his psychic power. The fearow seemed slightly disoriented, but that would do for now.

    This will be easy.

    His pupils glowed again, before he teleported, appearing directly behind his barrier. Calling upon his entire reserves, Kaz created an enormous blanket of psychic energy, enough to envelop the entire spearow flock within it, before unleashing it towards the flying-types. The moment he felt the flying-types fall under his mental power, he induced confusion in their minds. For pokémon of that speed and dexterity, the spearow-line was rather easy to confound.

    Yes, he was speaking from experience.

    Bah! I'm too old for this. Kaz sighed. His job was done, now the only thing left here would be to inform those two retards that they didn't need to keep running and— wait, that's not the direction you need to go, that's the —

    SPLASH!

    The river.

    Apparently, Red and the little monster had jumped off the precipice, right into the river that flowed beneath.

    For a moment, a little frown appeared on his face, silently pondering over whether he should intervene before the boy sunk beneath the water. Then, to his elation, he saw two tiny heads appear in the current, with Mawile's large maw biting into Red's backpack, holding onto him firmly as she tried to swim her way against the current. Kaz created a small psychic shield around the duo to ensure they wouldn't hit a rock and die. The current wasn't very strong and the surrounding mud was soft, but he wouldn't put it past the kid to find a way to kill himself regardless.

    Well, at least this way they will reach Viridian faster. Kaz winced, as he felt the aftereffects of using all that psychic power in one go take its effect on him. Maybe he'd come back after a couple of hours and see what the unfortunate duo was doing.

    Yeah, that seemed like a good idea.
     
  4. Threadmarks: Act 1 | Chapter 3 - Shel-fishness
    TheBlackStaffAndNightMarE

    TheBlackStaffAndNightMarE I see. I write. I conquer.

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2020
    Messages:
    33
    Likes Received:
    127
    ACT 1 - IMMOLATION

    Chapter 3 - Shel-fishness

    Two months ago

    "I can't understand this ridiculous obsession of yours, Mawile. What is it about this mountain that disappoints you so much?"

    Mawile grit her teeth. Ever since her birth, the Pomace Mountain had been her world. Her childhood had been spent between Mabel's beautiful garden and the snow-laden peaks. Mawile as a species weren't exactly big on parent-child affection, and it was natural for adult mawile to let their young ones fend for themselves, leaving them to hunt and survive on their own. In fact, it was almost a characteristic trait for young mawile to go out and learn to employ deception and charm to gather food, and in turn, become a predator when their entire body physiology was built to be the ideal prey.

    Mabel just didn't understand. She seemed to think that Mawile would be happy, having all her food brought to her, and lazing around in the safety of the mountain. Of course, being a human, she wasn't the one to blame in all of this. She had been a trainer back in her youth, and her Mawile, Elize, had been subjected to the difficulties that came with being a trained pokémon before Mabel had finally resigned to a life of solitude amidst the beautiful valley on Pomace Mountain. A couple of years into their stay, Elize had given birth to a little one, who had thus been limited all her life by the beautiful mountainous valley all around her. All her life she had been treated like she was made of porcelain and her more predatory tendencies were simply treated as tantrums.

    That was Mawile's story. She was trapped in a gilded cage. It was ironic, but that didn't make it any less true. It wasn't like she had gained nothing from her stay, becoming strongly resistant to the ice element, and growing into a decent predator, but the main issue still remained.


    "…wile!" Mawile looked away. No, there was no point. Even Elize, her own mother, did not seem to understand it. She simply thought that Mawile was being a rebel, courtesy of her innocence and youth.

    "Fine!" Mabel sighed. "If that is what you really want, I will arrange something for you."

    Mawile looked up in astonishment.


    "Samuel Oak is an old acquaintance of mine. I'll ask him if he can arrange something for you."

    Mawile stared wide-eyed. This wasn't real, was it?


    "—but only if you promise to put a curb on your gluttony. The world isn't divided into things that are food and things that aren't."

    Mawile mentally shrugged her off. Mabel wasn't a mawile, so it was natural that she wouldn't understand.

    Mabel rolled her eyes at Mawile's facial expressions. "I'll tell you now. It is this stubborn streak of yours that has kept me from letting you go. If you disappoint Samuel or the trainer he gives you, then I'm afraid he'll send you back here right away."

    That attracted Mawile's attention. So, she wasn't being set free, but only on a leash. Well that she could manage. Worst comes to worst, if the human turned out to be an imbecile, she'd just swallow him whole, and then walk her happy way out into the world. She could imagine that happening perfectly, but with that being said, she'd make it a point to try and compromise with this 'human trainer'. She owed this Oak human that much for being the ticket to her freedom.


    ~~X~~

    Present day

    Mawile clenched her trainer's shirt with her powerful jaws, holding him to herself as they were pushed down the river by the surprisingly gentle current. From what she had understood from her trainer's ramblings over the past day, Viridian City was located somewhere downstream, which meant that they were still on track, albeit in a more unconventional manner. Her trainer had given up trying to fight back against the current, and they were now trying to get closer to the river bank on the left. So far, their attempts had been futile, but at least they were drifting closer to the sides than being dragged down by the rushing water.

    "Just a little more," Red gasped, before coughing loudly. "The currents are slower here. We should try again."

    "…wile!" Mawile muttered, revaluating her approach to her situation. The last two weeks had been invested in getting to know her trainer and he was as mad as they came, what with his ridiculous obsession towards those large, fire-breathing, winged beasts. He was her ticket to freedom, however, and before the time they spent together, she planned to ditch this human the moment they set out of town.

    Now though…

    Red might be a tad overzealous for her tastes, but there was no doubt that the human deeply cared for her. From the interactions between him and the other fairy, it was fairly obvious that her trainer was someone who instinctively cared for those he considered his own. Over the time he had spent with her—first at the ranch, and then during their trip, he had always ensured that Mawile got her share of food, rest and other needs even before considering his own. It almost felt… nice. Of course, Mawile knew that as a trainer, Red was supposed to capture pokémon, but that hadn't stopped her from going ahead with her own consumption ritual, every time she saw something edible. She understood that her behavior back with the other human and the fire-lizard was suboptimal; the incident with the avian even less so.

    But Red hadn't deserted her. He had stood against that scary specimen of a fearow to protect her, even though Mawile knew that her chances of survival were infinitely greater than his own. She had expected him to order her to attack, and use the diversion to escape. Not wanting to become Red's scapegoat, Mawile had instead sprinted off.

    Imagine her surprise when she stopped after a couple of yards, and turned back, only to find Red making a stand to protect her, only to realize that his protectorate had ditched him. It would have been funny if it hadn't been so cruel.

    Mawile half-expected Red to run the other way, uncaring of the fact that her short feet weren't optimal for sprinting, and that she'd be preyed upon by the spearow flock. The sad thing was, Mawile couldn't even blame him. After all, she was the one that got them into the mess in the first place.

    Instead, Red had run towards her, held her up in his arms, and sprinted off as fast as he could, regardless of the fact that he had the vicious flock chasing behind him. The proper thing to do was to drop Mawile and save his own life, yet instead, Red had chosen the opposite.

    He had thrown caution to the wind and leaped straight off the cliff, directly into the fast-flowing river beneath.

    It felt odd, to be treated like that. Even back at home, Mawile was a rebel. She was used to fighting against authority. She was used to not getting what she wanted. She was used to utilizing deception and charm to get things done her way, which often translated to prioritizing herself over others.

    Which was why it was natural that Mawile was caught off-guard on finding a human putting more importance on her life than his own. It felt odd, but a good kind of odd. And Mawile didn't know how to deal with it.

    "Are you okay?" Red breathed, one hand holding a firm grasp on Mawile's lithe form while using the other to navigate his way through the currents. It was ironic, since Mawile looked completely safe, albeit wet, while Red looked like he had been through the grinder.

    See? This kind of contradictory behavior was exactly what she was talking about.

    Stupid human trainer.

    She nodded her head in acknowledgment. Red might not know this, but Mawile was an expert swimmer. More importantly, she was used to the fast-flowing streams in the icy mountains, where the waters were bitterly cold, and the currents almost cut through skin. If Mawile didn't have to drag her deadweight trainer, who to be honest was doing more to sink them with all his flailing about, she would have gotten out long ago.

    The duo slowly drifted towards the riverbank, before Mawile grabbed one of the thicker roots of the Occa berry tree on the bank. A while later and they ended up collapsed on the bank completely drenched in water and exhausted, Red more so than her.

    "Heh!" Red laughed awkwardly, rubbing his wet hair with his equally wet hand. "At least our stuff's safe. Thankfully the bag is waterproof." He shook his head wildly in a futile attempt to get rid of the excess water and the—

    Mawile arched an eyebrow.

    "We should probably head up to the Pokémon Center." Red went on. "I know they provide rooms for trainers, and a warm bed sounds amazing right now. We can get you a quick check-up there as well, just to make sure everything's all right."

    Mawile kept staring at Red's head, specifically at the strange object that sat there inconspicuously, at least, as far as her dopey trainer was concerned. That or Red was way too exhausted to even notice the thing attached to his head.

    "Uh… is there something on my face? Why are you staring at me like that?"

    Yep, definitely dopey. Mawile decided. Taking pity on her trainer, she slowly extended her steel jaws and plucked the object off his head, uncaring that said object pulled out several of Red's hairs causing him to yelp out in pain.

    "What are you doing, why did you—?" Red stopped midway, noticing that she had something between her jaws. It seemed like two pieces of darkish purple shell clammed together, with a pale crimson tongue hanging out of it. Mawile deposited the object into Red's hand, who instantly realized what it was he was looking at.

    "A shellder." He exclaimed. "This little thing was on my head? Hell, I didn't even notice it." He pulled out the pokédex from his belt, scanning the creature with it.

    "Shellder, the bivalve pokémon. It is encased in a shell that is harder than diamond. Inside, however, it is surprisingly tender."

    Red pressed for more information just like the professor had demonstrated several times for him earlier.

    "Once a shellder latches onto something, its entire body seems to become as light as air, despite maintaining the steel-like strength of the shell. In most cases, the victim doesn't even realize a shellder is biting it. Shellder's tongue secretes an anesthetic that prevents its victim from registering its presence."

    "Well, that explains it," Red muttered, as he stared at the shellder in his hands. "This little guy must have latched onto my hair when we were swimming. I didn't even feel it on my head."

    The little guy in question, let out a muffled 'shill', two tiny eyes poking out from the inky darkness within its shell.

    "Now what to do with you. Do you want to go back into the river?"

    The shellder just stared back at him.

    "...or not, perhaps?"

    More staring.

    "I… suppose I can take you to the Pokémon Center as well." Red finally decided, one of his fingers going dangerously close to the bivalve pokémon. With frightening speed, the shellder latched onto the tip of his ring finger, the two cusps of his shell applying a suction force, literally zipping his finger into the shell.

    Red raised his finger in the air, curiously admiring the near weightlessness of its presence before he tried to pull it off from his finger.

    "Strange. I don't even feel it at all." He muttered before going ahead to experiment with it even more. He tried pushing it away, tried pulling it back, and at some point, even Mawile bit into its shell, trying to pull it out.

    It was all in vain.

    "Okay, Okay, I think we can stop it at that," Red exclaimed warily, seeing Mawile prepare an Iron Head attack. He wasn't sure what it would do to the little water-type, but the force behind the attack could easily shatter a finger bone or two.

    Mawile paused midway, and cocked her head to one side, as if in confusion at her trainer's sudden reaction.

    "I guess we'll simply take it with us. As a souvenir if nothing else. What do you say? Besides, it's a shellder, right? Their evolutions are rather powerful from what I remember. Let's get to the Center first. We'll find a way to get…" He glanced at the silent water-type again. "—get it off."

    Mawile shrugged her shoulders, as if to say 'Whatever'.

    ~~X~~

    Pokémon Centers were one of the many services that the league maintained for the benefit of traveling trainers. In Kanto, the Indigo League made it a point to install at least one Center in every single city and town as well as in every route that required more than two weeks of travel time. These service points were in effect, a hotel, a medical clinic, and a ration store combined. Lead by a head nurse and several other medics, the Pokémon Centers were provided with advanced and up-to-date medical equipment, enabling them to restore a pokémon from most injuries.

    At first sight, the service point appeared quite bland. A triple-storeyed building with whitewashed walls both in and out, and a large pokéball around six feet in diameter on top of the building. There was a larger lush, green, walled area to the left, which was probably the miniature ranch for still-recovering pokémon to relax before their eventual release. He could even see some trainers sitting and interacting with their pokémon.

    Mawile pulled at his jeans.

    "Yeah, right. Let's move on." Red murmured, walking into the Center.

    The insides were pretty much the same as the outside—little to no decoration and bland, whitewashed walls. There was a large helpdesk in the front, with the receptionist—dressed in a nurse uniform with a chansey for companion. It was pretty much the common design for these Centers—a nurse and a chansey, and in some uncommon cases like in Celadon—a wigglytuff, though they were rather rare—standing at the reception, taking in requests for healing pokémon, or directing trainers to the other end of the Center, should they wish to purchase rations and ingredients. Apart from the plain white reception table, there were two cherry blossom plants potted on either side of the entrance.

    "Welcome to Viridian City Pokémon Center." The nurse replied in a calm, practiced tone, accompanied by a soft smile. "How may we assist you?"

    "Uh well…" He knew that he could acquire certain services from Pokémon Centers, a benefit of being a trainer, but the finer details escaped him. "What do I— Uhm—?"

    The nurse smiled softly. "I take it this is your first time visiting a Pokémon Center?"

    Red nodded.

    "In that case, allow me to get you up to speed in that subject. I presume you have your Trainer ID?"

    Red plucked his Pokédex out and placed it on the desk.

    "Ah. That will do," The nurse went on animatedly. "You can get a room for up to two days at any of our Centers for a subsidized fee of 200 pokédollars per day. You are also allowed free medical check-ups and treatment for your pokémon, to a certain extent. If your pokémon sustain third-degree injuries or higher, your pokémon will need to be transferred to our local medic unit, at your expense."

    "What about food?" Red asked.

    "It is included in the price for the room. Even If you are not interested in lodging, you can get the standard meals at the cafeteria for twenty pokédollars. Food for pokémon is free."

    "Free?" Red choked. A major issue with catching several pokémon was food. Even though there was no limit on caught pokémon, malnutrition or starvation of captured pokémon was strongly condemned, and subject to a hefty fine and the possible suspension of a trainer's license. This key reason forced trainers to limit their teams to pokémon they could afford to feed properly.

    "I was told that I could purchase food packs and first aid from the Center," Red continued.

    "That is partly correct," The nurse interjected. "Trainers are allowed to purchase rations at low costs from the Centers. However, if you need to purchase restore packs and medicines, you'll need to visit a Departmental store or a Pokémart, depending upon the town or city you are in."

    Red blinked at the rather mechanical tone; the woman seemed to prefer. He assumed it was simply a case of repeating the same things over and over from behind the desk for years.

    "I… my pokémon need treatment."

    The nurse casually glanced at the shellder hanging on Red's left arm. "Does that too count as your pokémon?"

    "It's not actually mine. It kind of… latched onto me, while we were being swept down the river," Red admitted sheepishly, before curiously observing the water-type again. "It didn't seem to want to get off, so I kind of carried it here."

    The Nurse pressed her lips in slight amusement. "You certainly know how to make an entrance."

    Red looked down in embarrassment.

    "The Presbyterian river has shown a large increase of shellder in recent months, so this is not the first case of someone coming in with a shellder stuck to their body. I can arrange for it to be returned to the river if you wish?"

    "Ummm, no. I was thinking if I could keep it?" He answered unsurely. "It's the first pokémon I have apart from my starter."

    "Sentiments," The woman muttered. "They come in all forms." Taking another glance at the bivalve pokémon, she continued. "You should pull its tongue softly. That will release its hold on you without injuring it," She paused. "I'd request you do it after reaching your room."

    "Oh, umm, sure," Red wasn't sure what to reply. "Well, thanks for that, and," he looked down at his starter, "Mawile needs treatment."

    "…wile?" Mawile demanded accusingly. Her human had better not portray her as some weakling. Sure she had made some mistakes, and very recently as well, but that did not mean that she was out of commission in any shape or form.

    "Come on now, we both know that you got a little injured in that fight against Ritchie and swimming in the river must have exhausted you. The nurse will get you to perfect condition in no time."

    Mawile arched an eyebrow. So that was what it's about. Instantly her expressions shifted back to her casual charms.

    "Maaaaw…" She cooed at the woman. The nurse didn't stand a chance.

    "What a cute little pokémon you have." The nurse literally walked out of her desk, and picked Mawile up, suppressing her urge to cuddle it. "She's not from around here, is she? I have never seen anything like her."

    Mawile cooed again. Obviously, that did nothing to decrease the potency of her charm.

    "Yeah, Mawile's not from around here and—"

    The nurse was busy codling Mawile. "Oh, aren't you the cutest? Here have this." She lifted a rather large jar that looked overwhelmingly heavy for someone of her physical stature and took out what looked like a tiny cake of sorts. "These are called poképuffs. Try it."

    Mawile hesitated for a moment, before sniffing the little cake. Looking almost intoxicated with its sweet scent, she grabbed the poképuff from her hand before retreating behind Red, almost as if she was afraid it would be taken away. Then she carefully bit into it.

    Mawile's face instantly took on a blissful expression. It was soooo yummy! Mawile could nibble on these poképuffs all day, and never get tired of them.

    "Hehe!" The nurse laughed. "Do you want another?"

    Nod. Another nod. And then another. And never once during the nods, did Mawile lose her sight of the large jar that contained the most delightful delicacies in all the world.

    That made the nurse laugh harder.

    Red coughed.

    "Excuse me?" The nurse asked as if Red was the one interrupting a private moment. For all she cared, it might as well be. "Is there anything else you need?"

    "—some food and board for the day," Red muttered, in a slightly forced tone.

    "Ah, right." The Nurse looked embarrassed. "Sorry, I got side-tracked a bit, you know… ehehehe!"

    "Right." Red sighed, just wanting to get it over with.

    "Anyway," The nurse glanced at the pokédex from the desk. "I'll need your identification, please."

    The trainer pushed his pokédex towards the nurse, who slotted it into her terminal, bringing up his details on the monitor.

    "Red Ketchum from Pallet Town. Everything seems proper, though I wasn't expecting a rookie. Aren't you, a little late?"

    "Wow. Did you figure that out all by yourself?" Red muttered.

    "What?"

    "…nothing."

    The nurse almost rolled her eyes, before giving him a key. "Room 105, second floor to the left. Second last room on the corridor. Meals will be delivered to your room on time."

    "Right, thanks." Red gratefully accepted the key. His expenses would be automatically deducted from the bank account connected to his license and Pokédex, a boon from a near cashless economy. He turned towards Mawile.

    "I'm going to put you in your pokéball and give it to the nurse."

    Mawile glared at him, before throwing a longing look at the jars. Then she glanced back at Red, and then back at the nurse. Her mind made, she put on her best charms and walked up to the nurse, before rubbing her face against her skirt.

    The nurse swooned.

    "Mawile…" Red called with some hesitation. 'It is time to return to your pokéball so that the nurse can take you for treatment."

    "Oh no, it's okay. I'll just carry her." Mawile made cute noises as the nurse picked her up. Unseen by both Red and the nurse, however, her eyes flickered to the poképuff jar in a decidedly sinister fashion.

    Red forwarded Mawile's empty pokéball to the nurse, who placed it on the tray.

    "We'll send someone with Mawile's pokéball to your room, even if you are not there. A PC terminal is available in the room for any imports. Please note that usage of the PC terminal comes with extra charges. Have a happy stay, Mr. Ketchum."

    Red nodded, before turning around to leave. Remembering something, he paused at his second step and looked back. "About the registration for the gym circuit…"

    ~~X~~

    If not for the Aiden Mountain Range on the south-western border, Kanto and Johto could have been one great land. Ancient historical sources indicated that Kanto and Johto were two adjacent kingdoms constantly at war. In fact, some four hundred years ago, the House of Cameran of Kanto, and the House of Blackthorne of Johto had been bitter rivals, facing each other at numerous fronts feuding for territory and resources.

    This went on for generations until a forced peace was rendered due to the entry of a third party into the war. A certain tribe of draconids from the Meteor Village of Hoenn, who called themselves the Wataru Clan. The Wataru and their army of dragonite had faced off the Blackthorne and their army of haxorus. Unfortunately, the cost of this "peace" had been the massacre of over half the population of both regions. The Blackthorne clan had been forced to flee back to their original homeland in the Nordic Mountains of Unova while close ties developed between the House of Cameran and the Wataru clan.

    With the relations thriving, future generations witnessed an amalgamation of the two regions, which ultimately came to be known as the Kanto-Johto mainland. This was emphasized by the fact that both Kanto and Johto were led by a single Champion and Elite Four group. Further, both Kanto and Johto each had exactly eight gyms, thus offering a total of sixteen badges. Any eight badges from the above sixteen was enough to allow a trainer to qualify for both the Indigo Conference of Kanto and the Silver Conference of Johto. While the Indigo Conference was held in mid-August, the Silver Conference took place in early-February, providing two chances for a participant to try his luck at the Leagues. Signing up for the Indigo Circuit made one eligible to try for the Silver circuit as well, and vice versa.

    A little after Red had stepped into Room 105, he had his first visitor, a chansey holding a parcel in her tiny hands. The balloon pokémon had handed him the parcel, before cutely bowing and leaving the room. Bemused and curious, Red postponed his initial plans of taking a shower and unfolded the package.

    The package contained several pages of official documentation, validated by his ID, which proved that he was registered and qualified to participate in the Gym circuits spanning over the Kanto-Johto mainland. There were also letters of sponsorship from Professor Oak, which indicated that he was registered to a legitimate ranch, and was not engaged in any kind of poaching or illegal activity over the last thirty-six months as well as three sets of maps. The first two of them explored the geography of Kanto and Johto respectively, revealing the most direct and alternative paths between cities, along with the important landmarks and other minutiae while the third map charted out the different gyms in each region and also provided helpful information on the gym leaders.

    "Damn, the league doesn't do things by halves, eh?" He muttered, running his free hand through his hair. "This is some pretty serious stuff. It's gonna take me ages to go over all of this. Why don't they teach any of this in school? It would probably be more useful than the endless history lessons."

    Taking a marker, he circled the locations that caught his eye. "I have Viridian, Pewter, Cerulean, Vermillion, Saffron, Celadon, Fuchsia and Cinnabar on this end," Red mused to himself, analyzing the map in front of him. "Out of this, Viridian, Saffron, Vermilion and Cinnabar have the lowest success rate." He casually observed that the Viridian and Cinnabar gym had the same value for successful winners over the past year.

    Zero.

    He mentally shivered at that. "I'm definitely not gunning for Viridian at the moment. Maybe Pewter is a better option." He traced a finger through the map and found that the only route between Viridian and Pewter City was through the famous (or infamous, depending upon the context) Viridian Forest. The alternative was to take a ferry to Cremini Town and then travel along the road to Cerulean city. However, Pewter City had a gym based on the rock-type, and Mawile would hold an advantage against rock-types, courtesy of her steel nature and her control over ice attacks. Cerulean, for the same reasons, would be nothing short of a nightmare for Mawile as she was at the moment.

    Water. Another type that uses its terrain to its advantage.

    He glanced at the map again. Viridian Forest was a community of bug and grass-type pokémon, and one of the largest in the world. Chances were high that he'd be able to catch one there.

    Provided Mawile doesn't eat it first.

    He shuddered, remembering his experience with the Fearow flock. No, if anything, he needed to train Mawile before they left for the forest. They had been lucky once before. He really didn't want to test his luck a second time.

    Speaking of which, he was wondering about Mawile's latest hobby. She had acquired a potted plant, from god knows where and was storing it in his room. This was odd for two reasons— firstly because Mawile had never really showed the slightest interest towards gardening in general. In fact, she hadn't even glanced at Kaz's flower garden. The second was that he had no idea where on earth she had gotten the damned plant in the first place.

    And that was not to mention just how dangerously protective she was of her plant. She had even made it clear that she wasn't above snapping at him with her jaws. The first time had been enough to leave an impression in his mind.

    That said, it was probably for the best that he let it go for now. Who knew, perhaps this was the same side of her that liked healing other baby pokémon and taking care of them. Besides, it was a good habit, so why bother? Right?

    Deserting that line of thought, he glanced down at the map again. He drew a blue line connecting Viridian, Pewter and Cerulean cities, with Viridian Forest and Mt. Moon being intermediary points between them. Both locations were famous for wild pokémon, and if everything went according to plan, securing the first two badges shouldn't be any trouble.

    That was the plan, anyway.

    He glanced at the third map again, spotting the details about the Viridian City gym.

    Giovanni. Earth Master. Success rate: Abyssal. Open only to Mid-Intermediate trainers and above.

    It was almost ironic that Pallet Town was the only place closest to three of the four top gyms in Kanto, Red mused. Viridian was the closest city to his hometown, with Pallet Forest bridging in between. Cinnabar Island was a direct passage through the ocean, should one take the ferry from Pallet. Vermillion was directly accessible from the west coast, right past Mt. Hideaway. The only one far away was Saffron City, unless he considered paying for psychic transportation.

    "Hmmm, enough about that." Red sighed, before lifting his other hand and observing the shellder, who was still attached to his person. "You know," he addressed the silent water-type. "I have no idea what to do with you, little buddy." He gently poked into the utter blackness that was the innards of the shellder's shell, watching it's pale crimson tongue slowly roll out. Remembering the nurse's words, he grabbed its tongue and pulled it softly.

    Shellder squeaked, and instantly the valves opened, letting his finger free. The bivalve pokémon dropped down onto the bed beside him and began to make odd, shrill noises.

    "So that's the trick to get you off," Red observed. Shellder, much like slowpoke and magikarp, were considered to be the lowlifes of the Pokémon world. The only reason they were bred in large scales was that slowpoke tails were considered a delicacy, and magikarp made for a good meal. To his knowledge, shellder were actively bred by several jewelry brands, owing to their ability to produce pearls inside their valves. As far as fighting potential was considered, however, shellder had none. Period.

    That said, there was another side to shellder's story, something that had kept Red from throwing it away into the water from the very start.

    He checked in with his Pokédex, and soon enough, he found the requested data.

    Cloyster. The bivalve pokémon. It is the evolved form of shellder. Cloyster are capable of swimming in the sea. They do so by swallowing water, then jetting it out toward the rear. This pokémon shoots spikes from its shell using the same system. The shell is extremely hard. It is almost impossible to break through blunt force. The shell opens only when it is attacking.

    Red checked in into the research entries section, made on Cloyster and added to the Pokédex by other researchers. It was apparently one of the extra features that made the National Dex so sought after by elite-level trainers.

    Shellder can take from decades to centuries to naturally evolve into a cloyster. However, forceful evolution is possible through the usage of a Water Stone. Considering cloyster's potential as a battler, shellder are often captured and evolved into cloyster forcibly. Cloyster are extremely intelligent and forcefully-evolved cloyster tend to be extremely distrustful of their trainers and have contributed to several deaths in the past decades. Synthetically-evolved cloyster are reported to be significantly weaker than naturally evolved ones, although the population of the latter ones are extremely rare.

    "That's… interesting." Red mused aloud, poking at the little guy's shell. "Evolving you earlier may kill me but you can't really fight as you are now. That doesn't sound fair to me." He paused for a moment. "Then again, you are my first capture, and I don't really want to let you go."

    Shellder didn't react to his ongoing monologue.

    "Damn it." Red cursed softly. "I'm keeping you. I might regret this a few years down the line, but I'm keeping you." He plucked out an empty pokéball and softly pressed the button against its outer layer. The device opened up, and in a burst of red light, the shellder was sucked inside it.

    'Ding!'

    "Congratulations, Red Ketchum, you've just captured your first pokémon." Red congratulated himself bitterly. "And now, let's get you checked." He scanned his new capture with the Pokédex, and just as expected, new information came flowing in.

    Shellder, the bivalve pokémon. The shell can withstand any attack. However, when it is open, the tender body is exposed. Shellder swims facing backward by opening and closing its shell. It is surprisingly fast.

    More information flooded in.

    This shellder is male. It knows Water Gun, Clamp and Withdraw.

    "So it can open and close its shell," Red muttered, cupping his chin with his left palm. "Um, Shellder, I'd like you to use Water Gun, though preferably not—"

    Shellder let out another shill like sound before it sneezed.

    "—on me." Red finished lamely.

    Dozens of water droplets shot out of its valves, smearing Red's face. Mission accomplished, Shellder let out a squeak, before relaxing its shell. The moment it did that, almost half a liter of water came bubbling out of its valves, seeping down to the floor.

    "I get fonder of this baby by the second," Red declared sardonically. "Never you mind, we are done and now I'll get back to my shower. Stay there and don't—"

    Almost magnetically, Shellder leaped off from its position and affixed itself onto the thickest mop of his hair.

    At least this one has its priorities straight.

    He glanced at the dex again.

    A water-type that's confused about when to release pressure for Water Gun. Never thought I'd see something like that.

    Most water-types, even baby ones, were naturally attuned to the concept of pressure. Water Gun, in essence, was the act of drawing enough water, building up the pressure to the necessary amount, and then releasing the water in the desired fashion and direction. From what he could see, Shellder had built the pressure, and let it go, before the necessary water had even begun accumulating within it. As a result, the entire pressure had come out like a sneeze, firing out whatever little water has built up inside its valves.

    It didn't feel nice. At all.

    As soon as the shellder had relaxed after that, it accumulated the necessary water, and then let it out, without any pressure, through its mouth. So, it wasn't so much as getting the steps wrong but the order.

    Another thing to think about.

    "It doesn't matter." He finally declared, addressing the oblivious water-type on his head. "Shellder are definitely capable of basic moves at the very least. It's because of their low learning potential that they are treated like scraps, rejected, or forcefully evolved. Well, that's not going to happen here, little guy. You are on Red's team, which means you earn your keep."

    Shellder continued his imitation of a half-decent stalagmite.

    "Just you wait." Red pronounced. "I'll have you learn at least one basic attack before we leave Viridian City."

    ~~X~~

    Meanwhile in Pallet Town

    "I presume that the evidence supplied should suffice." Samuel Oak spoke with a voice that allowed no argument, as he stared at the League official in front of him. The other man, a somewhat timid blonde-haired fellow in his late thirties, nodded earnestly.

    "It will do, sir." The official stood up, "Though I'm somewhat surprised that it was you who filed this complaint. Surely the victim could have sought out justice from one of our Police Squads in Viridian city?"

    "The victim in question is my assistant, and he has just started out on his journey." He sighed. "An Alakazam, whom I had sent to look out for the child, witnessed the entire incident. As you will find out, it was forced to intervene to prevent potentially fatal harm to the victim. "

    "Ritchie Kent, from Frodomar City." The official surmised. "Standard protocol dictates an immediate suspension Trainer ID, effective until the case is closed, followed by an open testimony in the Police Station of whichever city he is found in. Further punishment is decided depending on how the case is ruled. Given the nature of the offense, and because the victim was not actually injured, punishment could range from a three-month suspension with monetary fines, to putting him in custody, and sending him to court." He paused. "Our department actually acted a little differently this time and sent me to verify it. It's not every day you get contacted by an ex-Champion."

    "I do hope that your department will be a little lenient on the boy. From what I understand, he acted in a fit of rage, both at his own defeat and at his pokémon's impairment. While some form of punishment is necessary, I'd request a minimal sentence. Some of his pokémon suffered permanent damage and that is a punishment in itself. To be frank I'd have preferred it if Red had lodged the complaint on his own, but…"

    "Either way, I'm glad for it, sir." The official replied. "At the very least, it brought the reclusive Champion Oak back into the political sphere."

    "Please don't call me that." The old man waved off. "I am a scientist. And I'm not re-entering the political world, just lodging a complaint. Treat it like a damned complaint, not an announcement for a ministry ball."

    He blinked at that. The fifty-year-old man hadn't realized that he had used a cuss-word while dealing with a diplomat.

    Looks like Red had been brushing off on me more than I realized.

    "Forgive me, but I cannot help but feel curious about this… trainer. Red Ketchum. Only son of your assistant, and one of the highest scorers in this year's examinations. We had actually thought that your grandson might be the victim, but it turned out to be…"

    Personally, Samuel wished the man would grow a backbone and speak freely. Then again, this was a bureaucrat. What else did he expect? They'd bend over to display formality even if it cost them their heads.

    "Red is one of my best students, and I know his potential. I'm just looking out for one of my own. That's all."

    "Samuel Oak using his own power to enforce justice, and on his own initiative? I'd claim it's more than just someone you care for." The man countered. "Even Champion Lance has taken note of the issue."

    Samuel felt an irresistible urge to groan out loud. "I didn't know that the Champion keeps track of the Trainer Complaints and Regulations Department."

    "He doesn't, but my boss does. Divan thought that someone on the Plateau might be interested, and forwarded it."

    "And it reached Lance's office?" Oak asked incredulously.

    "Forgive me, sir, but you must understand the situation. Surely someone from the Plateau told you about Lady Agatha?"

    "I… heard about her decision to retire. I thought they'd put Koga in her place should she withdraw from her duties."

    "Sir Koga is currently being considered for the newly created Johto Elite Four, along with Sir Will and Lady Claire. The Kanto Elite Four has been stretched far too tight over the past few years. Not to put things indelicately, but the Johto Elite will basically be assistants to the main Elite Four, and responsible for taking over the responsibilities of the Johto region. Even Lady Sabrina will probably be invited for a possible Elite Four trainee in the future, but…"

    "Sabrina is too flighty." Oak surmised.

    The bureaucrat cringed at the ex-Champion's overtly crude description. "Yes, Lady Sabrina is too… high-spirited, to hold the seat of an Elite. Maybe in the future, if her overall outlook towards things changes a little… regardless, she has made it clear that she has no intention of leaving Saffron city for the forseeable future."

    Oak nodded.

    "If it is not too bold to say, perhaps you might be interested to take up the position of the First?" The man all but whispered. "It is for good reason that even today, people revere Samuel Oak, even without your grand achievements in the field of pokédex technology."

    Oak rubbed the apex of his nose. He had no idea how this conversation had morphed from a simple complaint to a bureaucratic proposal for a government position. "No, I have made my position pretty clear. I'll not become the First."

    "But sir—"

    "I said NO!"

    The official wisely kept silent.

    Oak sighed. The Elite Four members were in effect, the four pillars that upheld the military government in Kanto and Johto. The Champion usually held his position for a period of five years, before a re-election occurred through a traditional trial by combat, in which the challenger had to defeat the Champion. People like Lance had occupied the position for over 15 years simply by staying unparalleled. Oak had only stepped down because of his own desire to, not because he was defeated. The Elite Four, however, were very different.

    Unlike the position of Champion, an Elite Four was someone who kept his title until he voluntarily retired from that position, usually handing it down to a suitable successor said Elite had specifically trained and molded to take his place in the future. Agatha, the oldest of the Elite Four, held her post for over thirty years now. Even though a Champion was the political face of the nation, the Elite Four were the strongholds that kept the entire structure stable. They defended the entire region in times of strife and tended to be even more powerful than the Champions themselves.

    For one, only a gym leader could ascend to the position of an Elite Four, with the exception of prior Champions such as Oak. Unlike a Champion who was required to hold a single Champion-tier pokémon, gain approval from the Elite Four, and defeat the current reigning Champion, a gym leader had to attain a Champion-level team of 4 or greater, and display the strength to at least survive against a Legendary, to take up the Elite Four position. Lady Agatha had fought against the legendary beast of the north, Suicune, cementing her position in the Elite Four. That said, even amongst the four generals, they held their own ranks. Presently, Agatha had the position of the First, with Bruno, Lorelei, and Karen holding the subsequent positions of Second, Third and Fourth.

    "Lady Agatha mentioned that you might not." The official muttered.

    "And yet you could not help yourself from trying?" Oak replied sardonically. "For goodness's sake, ask old Blaine. He'd do a fine job."

    "Sir Blaine has refused to leave his research for, in his own words, political bullshit."

    "And Giovanni will not leave Viridian." Oak sighed.

    "That too." The man muttered.

    "Tell you what." the ex-Champion groaned, "Be a little lenient on the lad when you deal with him. He might have acted rashly, but I don't want that one mistake to shatter his dreams as a trainer. Do that, and I'll see what I can do about your Elite Four problem."

    The official looked at him with a disgruntled expression. "All right, sir. I'll see what I can do."

    ~~X~~

    Pokémarts were, in general, a shopping mall for all things related to pokémon. Need a full restore, a potion or even a basic healing paste? Need to check on the latest influx of pokéteches or traveling equipment? Hell, even if you wanted to get yourself a cool T-shirt, you'd likely find it in a pokémart. Besides, with Silph Co. and Devon Corp., the two companies invested in pokéball production being active investors in the Pokémart business model, any new Silph or Devon product would be on the pokémart shelves before it appeared anywhere else in the market. This in part was why the Pokémart held such a large monopoly over the sale of trainer products.

    And then, there was the crown jewel to consider, TMs.

    TM, an acronym for Technical Machine was a rather new invention that had been patented a little over three decades ago. TM's had become every trainer's top purchase. An electromagnetic canister, in which a particular pokémon's memories could be recorded, by virtue of advanced psychic manipulation of memories. Once done, the instrument could be used to transplant the copied memories into another pokémon. For instance, the move Aqua Jet could be taught to a pokémon that was technically capable of learning it naturally but had yet to do so. The implications of the discovery were nothing short of mind-boggling.

    Back in the old days, a charmander needed to work its way through Ember, learning how to slowly coalesce its flames into a singular, more potent version, commonly known as Flame Burst. Further manipulation of the fire element, as well as higher temperature and volume, was necessary to progress into Flamethrower, something that could take months. Acquiring the above was remarkably simple, though it took several months, if not over a year of constant training to reach an adequate level of competency over Flamethrower. More often than not, said charmander would have already evolved into a charmeleon or even its final form, charizard before that happened.

    The problems usually began after that.

    The next step down the line was Fire Blast. It involved incorporating the tremendous volume of Flamethrower, into an extremely pressured, controlled, potent, and most importantly, a singular congregation of flames, followed by swift and decisive redirection of the attack towards the enemy.

    It took years, and at times, decades to master something like that. In fact, Fire Master Blaine actually held the record for having his magmar learn Fire Blast within three years— the fastest for any fire-type in history.

    The invention of TMs changed this facet of the pokémon world.

    With TMs, it was possible to copy the muscle memory of Fire Blast from a magmar and transfer it into all other magmar that didn't know it. Of course, learning something like Fire Blast has certain prerequisites in terms of energy usage and manipulation, but both Ember and Flamethrower were also sold as TMs and pokémon would usually work their way through the lower ones before they reached the higher ones. The discovery had met with several negative responses by the traditionalist section of the society, who felt that the mass-production of TMs would cheapen the growth and development process as a whole. Despite the tough resistance, the intervention and support of the newly crowned Champion Lance resulted in TMs surviving and becoming an integral part of the Pokémon world.

    Over the course of the next five years, the pokémon world was flooded with Technical Machines, copying more and more moves, and making it commercial in the market. By the end of the fourth year after it's release, Silph Co. funded the creation of special counters all over Kanto and Johto, one that allowed experienced trainers that had developed their original moves, to patent and sell. These special TMs were branded as Move Tutors, and were incredibly high-priced, compared to the normal, mass-produced general ones. That said, Move Tutors were moves of extremely high versatility or damage potential, and were only sold to those that had the penny to purchase it.

    The industry grew by leaps and bounds, until the next generation of TMs, the second generation Technical Machines were released some fifteen years ago. Before this, TMs created from a magmar's memory could only be transplanted into a magmar. Moves learned by a blastoise could only be transplanted into a blastoise and so on.

    The second generation changed everything.

    Now, it was possible for a Hydro Pump move, recorded from a blastoise, to be implanted into a poliwrath. It was now possible to transfer a Focus Blast, learned from a machamp, to be transplanted into a hitmonchan.

    The pokémon world was never the same. It also brought another revolutionary addition to the world of move-sets. Now, it was possible for a psychic-type, such as a kadabra, to be able to learn and successfully perform Shadow Ball, a ghost-type move. At the same time, it is quite possible for a ghost-type, like the haunter line, to learn psychic attacks like Psychic or Hypnosis. Such freedom of transferring moves amongst the different types increased the diversity of pokémon moves which massively increased the complexity of battles.

    Of course, it was still far from perfect. For instance, it was almost impossible, for say a charizard, to learn something like Water Gun, or for a blastoise to learn Flamethrower. That was why, researchers at Silph Co. and Devon Corp. were presently studying the physiology of the dragon and the fairy-types, the former because of its versatility and affinity towards all elemental typings and the later due to its affinity with the ghost and psychic typings.

    Nowadays, all trainers used TMs to accelerate their pokémons growth. And Red was no exception.

    Red stood in front of the rows of shelves, trying to keep himself from salivating like a thirsty dog. In front of him were the latest section of TMs, and more importantly, rows of Move Tutors. His fingers twitched as he regarded the item sitting right in front of him, as if taunting him.

    MOVE TUTOR: STEALTH ROCK. OWNER: BROCK PEBBLEMAN.

    How exactly was he supposed to keep his mind calm, walk through these endless rows of powerful moves, and be content with the single choice he could afford?

    Never thought I'd curse myself for my stubbornness. Here I could probably buy it all if not for…

    He sighed. When he had started out on his journey, Delia had transferred a total of eight thousand pokédollars to his account and opened an extra credit line of fifty thousand— regardless of his refusal—so that he might be able to take care of himself first without any worries. But with the way he had grown up, Red had developed an independent streak that kept him from depending upon his mother for anything.

    Especially since I'm ignoring her suggestions.

    Suppressing his urges, he calmly walked to the counter at the end, ignoring the part of his mind that wanted to rob the pokémart then and there. He idly noticed the section near the door, the one that held items under the banner 'Standard TMs for trainers. Special discount on choice products!'

    Finally done with browsing, he picked out a single cylindrical contraption with the words THUNDER WAVE printed over it in large, bold letters. He paused for a moment, before his gaze shifted to the DOUBLE TEAM section, and after another few seconds, he pulled out two of those as well. Double Team, being a beginner-level evasion technique, was one of the cheapest TMs in the market, and often sold at high discounts when purchased in bulk. Without further delay, he walked up with three canisters, and stood in front of the main check-in counter, looking slightly peaky at having to walk away from the treasures behind him.

    "Yes?" The receptionist asked.

    "One Stealth— I mean, one Thunder Wave, and two Double Team Standards, please." He placed the three canisters on the desk and took out his pokédex in advance.

    "May I see your ID please?"

    Red forwarded the pokédex to her. The receptionist, a woman in her late forties, smiled and inserted the pokédex into one of the slots, the electronic transaction process completing successfully. A tiny strand of paper slowly printed out from the printer on the table. The receptionist tore it off, and handed it to Red, along with his pokédex. "Thank you for visiting Viridian Pokémart. Please visit the counter on your way downstairs to the right. You can get the TMs inculcated there."

    Red nodded, and took up the three contraptions, stuffing his Pokédex back into his belt pocket. It was time to visit the Counter on the ground floor.

    Soon, he told himself. Soon Mawile would have an ace up her sleeve, and the next time she faced an avian, it would turn out very, very differently.

    ~~X~~

    "So, guys, do you feel… any different?"

    Mawile cocked her head to the left with a quizzical expression. Shellder did a remarkable imitation of a fallen pebble.

    Red sweatdropped. He had heard of TMs not working because of their incompatibility with the recipient or the recipient's lack of power or other weird esoteric requirements. He dearly hoped that wasn't the case here.

    "Okay, let's try this the other way." He calmed himself, taking a deep breath. "Mawile, do you remember that move used by the taillow? Double Team?"

    Mawile nodded. Of course, she remembered the avian perform it. Come to think of it, it wasn't as spectacular as it had appeared back then. It barely required any psychic energy to create illusory images of oneself. Maintaining them after projection was slightly difficult, while in motion, but a slightly greater investment of psychic energy allowed a greater level of connection between the host-mind and the illusions. As a fairy-type herself, she had more than enough ability to overshadow the bare modicum of talent displaced by that good-for-nothing avian. All she had to do was infuse her psychic energy—

    Wait. How did she know all that?

    Mawile cocked her head again. No, it was no fluke. She knew how to perform Double Team. Not just that, it was almost like she had performed it earlier, despite having never performed it earlier. What sorcery was this?

    "Mawile?" Red repeated, his voice a little wary. "Can you perform Double Team?"

    Mawile considered mentioning the strange anomaly she was going through to her trainer. Then, she briefly reminded herself that her trainer, despite being quite intelligent by human standards, was human. He didn't understand the pokémon-tongue.

    With a long-suffering sigh, she nodded again. Closing her eyes for an instant, she allowed her innate fairy energy to invade her— she could feel it invade into her every cell, every tissue as if innately scanning everything that made her Mawile. She could feel her power flare out a little, not dissimilar to how she used Icy Wind, but much tamer in comparison. She felt herself generating psychic energy, silently wondering how she had learned to use it like that in the first place, and if she'd retain this knowledge or not. She felt her energies slowly diffuse out of her, while her own awareness expanded, as if her view was now magnified several times over. It felt like she was standing in her original position, and yet, she was in several other places, though only momentarily.

    It was… confusing.

    Mawile felt her body finally gain a definite control over her psychic energy. Yes, the constant shifts in awareness were now getting slower and more focussed by the second. She could feel that she'd be able to create illusions just like the taillow had done, and in greater number than it too. She would—

    "Whoa, that's so amazing! Four illusions so fast? Do it again, Shellder!"

    Wait, WHAT?

    Mawile blanched, her expression perturbed. Right beside her, was the strange little mute creature. Only, instead of a singular entity, there were four illusory forms of itself around it. The stupid little thing was trying to lick and clamp its shell over the illusions, and even then, the illusions did not seem to waver.

    Was there no end to her sufferings?

    "Come on, Mawile! I know you can do it. See even Shellder is doing it. Try again." Red cheered her.

    Mawile rolled her eyes. Of course, she could do it. Who did Red think she was? This mute, little, water-type could probably create a maximum of four illusions anyway. It was always better to know one's limits after all. She wondered if she should snicker at Shellder's incompetence, but then decided to display her magnanimity. There was no grandeur in establishing dominion over the ones already proven weak after all.

    "Mawile?"

    And just like that, her eyes were shut once again. It had nothing to do with the fact that Red might be feeling that she was having problems with it.

    Mawile felt the psychic energy reform just as easily as the first time, and with a deep sigh, let it out. Her awareness flickered for a second, before they stabilized.

    She opened her eyes.

    There was an illusion to her left. Another one to her right. The two illusions in front of her looked a little shaky, but they held.

    Mawile's eye twitched.

    "Whoa, four illusions on your first try. That's just as many as Shellder did. Well done, Mawile!"

    "..."

    "...wile!"

    She gave a feeble yelp, that her trainer thought was a cry of victory. Practice, she decided. She would get this move down until the silly little shell couldn't even count the number of illusions she made. Which, Mawile reflected, was probably not very much anyhow.

    ~~X~~

    "Mr. Kent?"



    "Mr. Ritchie Kent!"

    "...whaddaya—"

    "Mr. Ritchie Kent, you are currently in the medical wing. Please wake up! It is about your pokémon."

    That broke all remnants of sleep from the Frodomar City trainer. He squinted as he tried to reorient himself, tiredness vivid in his expression, before he unceremoniously picked himself up from the bench, almost slipping over his half-open boots. Gathering himself, he dusted imaginary lint from his trousers. "I'm sorry, what were you saying?"

    The nurse pursed her lips slightly "It is about your pokémon. The medic wishes to talk to you about them."

    "Are they—" Ritchie felt his throat go dry. "Are they going to be alright?"

    "I… I really couldn't say." The Nurse responded. Dr. Pym is the one in charge of that particular ward, and I am on reception duty this week. You'll have to ask him."

    Right. Dr. Pym. The medic he had talked to the previous night, before falling asleep while waiting on the bench. For a town associated with the famous Samuel Oak, the Pallet Town Clinic was a rather small one, with limited services to trainers. Back in Frodomar, he could have easily gotten a room and board at the hospital premises itself. This… boony didn't even have a proper Pokémon Center, and most injured pokémon were sent to Oak's coral for treatment. He had been in a hurry and did not have the mental fortitude to hang on till he reached the general hospital, not when he had found a clinic near the entrance of the town.

    Pallet Town PokéCare.

    Thoughts about his present location gave in to thoughts about his prior experience with the trainer from Pallet. Red Ketchup or something, the name was— it didn't matter. Red— he would remember that part. Remember the trainer who had inflicted a crushing and humiliating defeat on his person, on his experience, on his team and their dedication. The trainer with that ruthless, immoral, deceptively cruel creature he called a starter.

    Mawile.

    "Someday I will encounter him again, and that time, it will be the end for that mawile. I'll see to it." He muttered under his breath.

    The nurse shuddered at his ominous tone, though she couldn't really decipher the words used. She fell into steps with the Frodomar City trainer with the injured team. Truth be told, she had yet to see a pokémon with that degree of mutilation in her years as an upcoming medic. Pallet Forest, after all, was a remarkably safe place compared to the wilderness of Viridian Forest and the like. The fact that this trainer had come in barging with his nearly-dying pokémon, and mentioned something about an encounter in Pallet Forest did not seem auspicious to her ears.

    "This way." She indicated, turning to the right. "Dr. Pym is in his office. Please follow me."

    The trainer quickly followed the nurse as she stepped into a brightly-lit room that looked like a cross between a laboratory and an operation theatre, with a chair and desk on one end. Behind the dozen books on the table, and a magnifying glass of all things was a bespectacled man immersed something closely reminiscent of a lab manual.

    "Uhm…" Ritchie cleared his throat. Fortunately, that seemed to do the trick.

    The man looked up from his desk, his blue eyes sparking of raw intelligence. The Nurse flinched imperceptibly as she met the man's eyes. "Ah," He registered the new presence in his office. He got off his chair, pushing it back as he walked out. "Mr. Ritchie, I imagine. Would you care for a cup of coffee?"

    "How's— how're my pokémon?" Ritchie demanded.

    "To the point then." The medic sighed. "Well, it is precisely for that reason why I suggested a cup of coffee. We need to have a discussion over how your pokémon happened to get… mutilated to such a level, and what are the questions that you are likely to be put through by the police when they get here."

    Ritchie felt his mouth go dry. "Police?" He croaked.

    The medic arched an eyebrow. "Mr. Kent, your pikachu's tail is severely mutilated. Three nerves from its tail along with a significant portion of its flesh has been completely torn apart, causing severe damage. As it is right now, your pikachu will likely never be able to use its tail for any attack whatsoever."

    Ritchie felt a sudden feeling of vertigo overwhelm him. Sparky would never be able to use its tail? What about its training on Iron Tail? Would that be lost forever? What about its habit of hanging around his shoulder with his tail holding it steady? What about—?

    "Mr. Kent."

    "Uhm, sorry," Ritchie shook his head, ignoring the tears trying to overwhelm him. "You were saying?"

    The medic felt sorry for the young man in front of him. For a pikachu, losing its tail was practically having a serious handicap for the rest of its natural life. "Not only is its sense of balance ruined, damage to the nerves in a pikachu's tail can permanently cripple the pokémon. If I may offer a suggestion, you should try evolving your pikachu into raichu using a Thunder Stone. It is quite possible that the evolutionary process might heal it significantly. Besides, it would also somewhat… recover from the damage done to one of its pouches."

    Ritchie felt a growing urge to find a certain trainer and pummel him to death.

    "Mr. Kent."

    "...Yeah?"

    "Did you listen to what I just said? You need to come to a decision. Using a Thunder Stone to evolve it now could significantly help your pikachu. The more you wait, the more its… injuries would become permanent. In fact, I'd suggest performing the evolution by today itself, if possible. The medication can delay the inevitable for only so long."

    "I… But a Thunder Stone? How am I supposed to even find one? Those are only available at pokémarts, and need to be ordered beforehand to get one." Ritchie cursed.

    "Well, not to sound too forward, but I do have a connection that might be able to get you a Thunder Stone, for the right price." The medic replied cautiously. From his words, it was obvious that said connection was not exactly legal, but Ritchie didn't exactly have the time to go through the legal procedure.

    "How much?" He croaked. "How much is it going to cost?"

    "Around… Sixteen thousand pokédollars. And you might have to pay a little more, for speed and discretion."

    "Sixteen… thousand?" Ritchie paled at the figure.

    "There's also the costs for your other pokémon's treatment to consider."

    Ritchie took a step back in horror.

    "Surely it would not matter, would it?" The medic asked. "This is clearly a criminal case, and the police will want to take a statement. It should be child's play to get the offender to pay for your pokémon's treatment. As a trainer, you should be knowledgeable about the norms, correct?"

    "...correct." Ritchie gulped. Come to think of it, it had been an unofficial battle, so it wasn't likely to be registered in the database. Also, there had been no witnesses to their battle, so it was likely that they'd believe the word of a league-registered trainer over some nobody from the boonies. And knowing that little monster, it was unlikely that this was the first time it had resorted to such gruesome violence.

    But what if he's… he's someone from a well-known family here? Obviously they'd believe his word over mine.

    "I… I would prefer not to bring this matter to the police. It was just another trainer and I-I don't know his name or anything— and it was a dark and everything and—"

    The medic looked at him like he had just failed to answer and exceedingly simple question. "You claim that these injuries were done by some unknown perpetrator, who took advantage of the dark and caused all of this?" He lifted the reports of his three patients. "Your taillow has a comminuted fracture on its bone, as well as three broken bones on its back. Your charmander," he made an odd sound from his throat, "has several spiral fractures on his tail and a total of eight contusions all over its body. There are clear indications of gnawing on its tail, several times over, something that I can associate with the Vice Grip attack, as well as three broken ribs. It is almost a surprise that it isn't dead by now."

    "I… I…." Ritchie gripped the hairs on his head tightly, stepping back against the wall, and slowly crouching down towards the ground. "I cannot… It is not my fault but I cannot…"

    "I assume that this is a rather… personal matter, Mr. Kent. Nurse, if you please?" The medic arched an eyebrow, at which the nurse nodded briskly before walking out. "Mr. Kent, would I be correct in believing that you were not the person that caused this level of mutilation to your team?"

    Ritchie glanced up, fear vivid in his features. "No, I didn't, I wouldn't. They are my team. Sparky's my starter."

    The medic ignored the odd name, and went on. "Then what is it that stops you from naming the exact reason behind that caused all this?"

    "I…" Ritchie felt like his head was going to burst. Unable to restrain himself, he bawled out "It wasn't my fault alright? I challenged this unregistered rookie trainer— Red something, with a strange creature he called a mawile. Non-native."

    Dr. Pym nodded.

    "I… He got me angry and I challenged him to a battle, and that monster did this to Zippo— my charmander."

    The medic cast a second glance at the reports on his desk. "I cannot see how that might stop you from reporting it to the police. Lethal attacks such as this are frowned upon, as you might know and—"

    "That's not the point." Ritchie snapped.

    "Alright," the medic kept his calm. "Please arrive at the point."

    "He was a rookie trainer all right?" Ritchie half-yelled. "I challenged a rookie trainer to a 1-on-1 battle, and that rookie trainer did this to my Zippo. I got… I got mad at what happened, and I ordered my team to attack his mawile. It attacked him too!"

    "I presume the pikachu was the one, considering his—"

    Ritchie shook his head. "All of them."

    "..."

    "..."

    "I need a cigarette." The medic sighed, before opening a drawer beneath the table and taking out a pack of cigarettes. Lighting one, he drew it on, and let out a long puff of smoke. "Let me get this straight. You challenged an unregistered trainer to a battle, breaking at least two laws of the Trainer Legislation Accord, and then, after getting defeated, ordered the rest of your team to attack his pokémon. Not only that, but it attacked the actual trainer himself?

    Ritchie did not move. Or speak whatsoever.

    "Did this trainer get injured?"



    "Mr. Kent!" The medic barked.

    "No." Ritchie blurted. "I didn't think— I just— Can't you see what it did to my Zippo?"

    "I can see it, yes." The medic replied. "It is also extremely unnatural that a trainer might have access to a pokémon powerful enough to defeat a charmander, pikachu and a taillow in tandem. I know of this pokémon you speak off, a mawile, and while they are deceptive little things, they are not of the threat level you speak of. Even if what you say is true, Mr. Kent, I'm afraid the law will support the other trainer, should he be brought in court. Where was this trainer from?"

    "..." Ritchie muttered.

    The medic felt his phone vibrate for a moment, as he checked the new notification with a long sigh. "A little louder, please? My ears are failing me in old age."

    "Pallet Town. Here. Damn it. From here."

    "Pallet Town." The medic closed his eyes. As a healer, it was his duty to keep copies of records from the Trainer Examinations-details of trainers, family history and any genetic diseases in the family line. However, there was another thing that separated the trainers here from the rest of the world.

    Sponsorship: Professor Samuel Oak.

    "It is rather unfortunate, and I cannot believe that I'm saying this, but you really do not have a chance at this. Even if you name the trainer responsible, he can use his position as an unregistered trainer, and point fingers at you. After all, you are the league-registered trainer with a team of six, and two badges to count. Of course, that is not counting the fact that we are assuming that this trainer did nothing after encountering you."

    "What do you mean?" Ritchie asked, his throat now completely dry.

    "Our machines got a new notification from the league servers about your Trainer ID. Before you ask how, I should remind you that it is from the pokédex that you submitted when you admitted your team to the hospital. It seems like there has been a new complaint registered by Professor Samuel Oak, to the Indigo League, reporting a certain Ritchie Kent from Frodomar City, Trainer ID ABSP2043RK." He read out from the notification on his cell phone. "Your Trainer ID has been temporarily suspended and you are required to submit yourself to any official Police Station, and testify in open court against what is classified as legal evidence."

    "You mean?"

    "Memories, ones cleared by a psychic. Either there has been a third witness, or, this trainer has indeed taken action against you. A pitiable condition really, considering your charmander and your pikachu. Not to mention your taillow and—"

    "Please." Ritchie looked up at him in despair "Help me."

    Dr. Pym smiled.
     
  5. Threadmarks: Act 1 | Chapter 4 - Trainer Square
    TheBlackStaffAndNightMarE

    TheBlackStaffAndNightMarE I see. I write. I conquer.

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2020
    Messages:
    33
    Likes Received:
    127
    ACT 1 - IMMOLATION

    Chapter 4 - Trainer Square

    Viridian City, despite all its grandeur, was fairly isolated in terms of location. With the Viridian Forest directly above it and Pallet Forest gating it from further south-east, Viridian City had three major entry points. The first was usually through Pallet Town, which paved the southern entrance into the city's gates. The second was by ship on the western coast, an option that was discouraged because of the acute Carvanha population in the waters. The third was usually through Viridian Forest, though the chances for that were fairly low, considering Pewter City's own geographical position and the great Viridian Forest. A fourth option existed, which was through sustained flight using a flying-type, or through a psychic-based teleportation service from another city.

    Even so, it did not present a challenge to the city's potential as a prospective tourist spot. The Equestrian Grounds were a source of adult entertainment and crowded with prospective players who wanted to bet on the rapidash races, while others came in for the thrill of riding in general. The casinos were just as popular, as was the Viridian Institute of Sciences— a regular visit for most students engaged in research. However, no place gathered more attention than the Trainer Square— one of Kanto's largest private battlegrounds.

    Not only did it provided a state-of-the-art battle arena but it also gave complimentary first aid allowing continuous battles against their peers without much risk of permanent injury. Here, a trainer could challenge others of his skill level, over a standard sum of money which varied based on the skill level of the trainers. That being said, Trainer Square wasn't run as a charity. Other than the viewing charges levied to the spectators, ten percent of a trainer's profits were to be paid to the institution as commission for its services. More than this, the faculty was essentially a betting ground for the affluent where ludicrous sums of money changed hands every day. While it had essentially started as watching a sport, pokémon betting had essentially become a favored pastime for the rich. Having a sponsored trainer reach the elite-level had essentially become a status symbol and therefore several young trainers flocked to Trainers Square hoping to attract a wealthy sponsor with their potential.

    Even if you weren't looking for a patron, the Square was still attractive as the facility literally took away the problems associated with finding trainers in the wild and having to wrangle money from them. Furthermore, the institute offered a degree of protection through the separation of trainers by their trainer rankings which made it impossible for experienced trainers to take undue advantage from rookies.

    Like any other teen from Pallet, visiting this place was like a dream come true for him. They'd hear tales from older trainers about people going in, and coming out filthy rich. There were also stories of rich twats arriving in fancy cars, only to sell those cars to pay off all the debt they owed after losing to those with actual skill. In fact, there were several trainers who chose to make the Trainer Square their permanent source of income, instead of trying their luck at the League Conferences. So, it was natural that Red's mind and feet came to a screeching halt when he reached the outer gates of his destination.

    Is this… really the right place?

    The entire edifice was surprisingly small compared to what Viridian City boasted. It was only slightly bigger than the average two-story restaurant at best. For one moment, Red wondered if he had arrived at the correct destination, but the words TRAINER SQUARE sprawled all over the frontage in large, capital neon signs, wiped away his doubts.

    Mawile pulled at his jeans.

    "What is it, Mawile?" He asked absently, staring at the building in front of him, still somewhat confused at the contrast between expectation and reality. He had expected it to be much grander, much livelier, not this undersized mall.

    Mawile pulled again.

    "All right, all right." He consented. "What's got you so worked up?"

    Mawile pulled again.

    Red sighed. "I'm going, I'm going. You're supposed to be a deceiver and a hunter. Shouldn't you have a little more patience?" Before Mawile could show him exactly what she thought about his statement, he walked up ahead, causing Mawile to quickly follow behind.

    "Look at this place, Mawile," Red muttered, more to himself than to others. "Well, assuming this the correct place, this is what has made the lives of so many trainers out there. The better the trainer you are, the more your wins, and the better your 'street-cred'." He carefully ignored the traitorous part of his mind that whispered about how those stories might well have been fake to begin with.

    Mawile tilted her head at the last part, confusion filling her face.

    "Um, you become more popular."

    The expression deepened. Popular wasn't a word found in the language of pokémon. For one, the wild world had predators and prey. The idea of something being popular and yet, not prey, seemed alien to the deceiver pokémon. Why would she be interested in someone, if she couldn't eat it?

    "Ugh, now how do I—? Put it this way, the more popular you are, the more money you can make, and that means more poképuffs."

    Mawile blinked. Okay, that made sense. Seriously, what was it with humans and making things so overly-complicated? Couldn't he just say that winning more battles meant more poképuffs? It would have been so simpler.

    She shook her head in slight exasperation. Being a human-tamer was difficult. They didn't understand pokémon, were somewhat dull to begin with, and to add to that, they had this tendency to overcomplicate even the simplest of things. Whoever said being a trained pokémon was easy business again?

    "But I only have you to battle for me. So, do you feel like you are ready to go defeat the ones in there?"

    Mawile shrugged. So far, she had stood her ground against most pokémon out there. Considering that she was still in one piece, it probably meant her chances were pretty high. Besides, it was all in the name of poképuffs. Maybe Red would even get his chance at being popular.

    Past the outer gates, there were three windows to fetch tickets to go in, all for a minimal price of twenty pokédollars. With a majority of his money spent on TMs, and rations, Red had little more than three thousand to carry on. This meant that he'd have to either battle a trainer (and win) to get more money or use his emergency credit, something that would obviously not be a happy thought. He knew for a fact that Gary started out with roughly seventy thousand in his account, not to mention the near-limitless credit line he had for backing.

    The bottom line was that he'd need to win his first few matches, to actually walk out a winner. Both in name and fortune.

    He stood in front of the second window, and passed in a hundred dollar note. "One ticket, please."

    "Trainer ID?" The man on the other side looked in his late forties, and wore a cowboy hat, tilted to the left, doing very little to hide his bald head.

    "AVSPN810H" Red answered, "Red Ketchum from Pallet Town."

    "So, it seems," the man replied in a gruff tone. "Newly registered rookie. No badges. Even babies want to be taken seriously these days." He guffawed.

    Red frowned, but did not react any further. With a stiff nod, he accepted the electronically printed ticket that the man passed back to him.

    "Arena 3. You'll probably find someone of your size over there. "He paused momentarily, "If you lose everything, don't make a scene. We want the tourists to think good of us."

    Red glanced down at Mawile again. "Let's go."

    Mawile cooed in return and quickly fell in steps with him.

    ~~X~~

    The first thing Red witnessed on walking into the Trainer Square were three enormous, metallic squares, giving him the feeling like he was standing in some airship hangar. Each square was at least a hundred feet in height, and had a single squarish door at the base, giving out the impression of being an elevator. They were further adorned with a large neon sign, with ARENA engraved on it, along with a number. Remembering that he was supposed to go to the third one, Red and Mawile walked up to the appropriate square and walked in. The door closed with a soft ding, but instead of the familiar pull of gravity that came with going up on an elevator, he felt nothing. A few moments later, the door reopened, leading to….

    This is… impossible.

    He was almost in a different world. In front of him was what seemed like endless terrain, infused with technology and filled with people. There were large cubicles on either side of the main roadway, each having a battle arena of over a hundred square yards, and two podiums on opposite ends for the trainers to stand on. Each battleground was enveloped by some form of nigh transparent, psychic bounded fields, keeping the battles held within private, while still allowing the public to witness them. The sheer immensity of the entire structure made no sense, considering the initial size of the metallic squares, and the building in the first place unless…

    Is this… Am I in folded space?

    Folded space technology could be regarded as the new cornerstone of the pokémon world. Ever since its humble beginnings some eighty years ago, the concept of folded space had changed the world into a less dangerous and more civilized place, especially when compared to the situation before it. In fact, before the advent of the pokéball, the world was far more barbaric, and the occupation of a pokémon trainer was something that would only suit an adrenaline junkie. In fact, it wouldn't be wrong to say that a hundred years back, pokémon matches were nothing short of deathmatches. Trainers were strong humans, who showered coins of gold and silver to get their pokémon-their gladiators well fed, well trained, and then forced into mortal combat. It was good business back then, and it fetched trainers a great deal of cash as well. This was well reflected within modern culture, only far more refined.

    Today's trainers took folded space technology for granted. A tiny pokéball, barely fifty grams in weight, could hold enough space to host a seven-foot-tall machamp with ease. For creatures greater than ten feet in length, a trainer needed to purchase a greatball, which was three times as expensive as a regular pokéball and could host pokémon up to twenty-five feet in height. The modern generation did not need to treat their pokémon like the dangerous creatures that they were. They did not need to keep the monsters chained and bound. They did not need to employ crude collars or employ painful shocks to ensure that the brutes followed their every command. Today's trainers trained and loved their team like pets, and in some cases, their babies. Poképhilia was on a growing rise.

    Folded space technology had changed everything, and had become an irreversible part of the pokémon world. A trainer's backpack could hold a volume comparable to a small water tank, divided into several compartments that enabled him to stay out in the wild for months. Weight Reduction Technology prevented these backpacks from weighing more than a couple hundred grams at most. It was so common, that this technology was often taken for granted. But constructing an entire battle facility within folded space? That was enough to unsettle most people, including Red.

    "An area so huge, inside folded space?" Red muttered to himself.

    "It boggles the mind, doesn't it? But that is the grandeur of Trainer Square." A male voice interrupted his musings. Turning to his left, Red was met with a tall, lanky guy, easily six-feet tall, around seventeen years old by the looks of it, with trimmed, chestnut hair.

    The teen continued. "It's always like that for the first-timers." He chuckled.

    "It is my first time," Red admitted. "They told me to go to ARENA 3."

    "A Rookie then." The teen replied. "I'm Cory, by the way. Nice to meetcha! How many badges do ya have?"

    "Red." He replied, "I don't have any yet."

    "A squirt." Cory laughed. "Heh, that's the word for badge-less people around here. I'm sure I saw a couple more around here somewhere. So kid, that cutie's yours, I presume?"

    Mawile growled angrily, apparently feeling like she was being looked down at. Unfortunately, her growl came out as an adorable mewl.

    "Ah, a real charmer," Cory laughed. "So, Red was it? Lookin' for a battle? The standard bet is five hundred bucks. Wanna try your luck?"

    Red blinked twice. "Why do you care?"

    That took Cory aback, who answered with a bark. "I work for the Square, squirt. It's my job to ensure that we have more battles. The more money the Square gets, the more commission for me. That reminds me, what's your ID?"

    Without hesitation, Red filled him with the details. Cory entered them in what seemed like a thin card-like device silently. "Red Ketchum, Rookie. All right, you're set. Here's your Battle Card. Don't lose it." He handed over the card to him.

    "Battle Card?" Red questioned, staring at the thin plate-like device in his hand. He wanted to ask what it did but felt that Cory would answer it anyway.

    "Yup. It tracks every match you've had at the Trainer Square. You've got no badges so we don't know what skill level you're at. Not that some of those one or two badgers are any better, ay?"

    Red shrugged. He didn't want to comment, but his recent experience with Ritchie who claimed to have 3 badges, didn't give him the highest opinion of the badge system.

    "You also get Battle Points."

    "Huh?"

    "Battle Points," Corry continued, with the air of someone who had explained this several times, "are awarded by the Trainer Square on victories. The number awarded depends on the profile of the match. Think of them as an incentive to battle in Trainer Square. You can redeem them for exciting prizes like TMs and even pokémon, once you've collected enough!"

    "You sound like a creepy old guy trying to trick children with candy." Red deadpanned, "So Trainer Square does this out of the goodness of their hearts?"

    "As if," Corry gave a little bark of laughter. "Lem'me tell you a secret, squirt. Nothing in life is ever free. We get lots of bets on high profile matches. Makes us tons of cash. Trainer Points are a way of encouragement, so to say. Win continuous streaks and give us exciting battles. We'll treat ya well enough."

    Red stared at him contemplatively. It did seem like a win-win situation. After all, trainers benefited massively from the Square as well.

    "So, how many pokémon do you have?"

    "Just one." Red tilted his head towards Mawile. Technically, he had Shellder in his team, but it didn't count for obvious reasons.

    "That cute little thing? You sure you wanna force it through the grinder? Things can get bitter over here." The boy advised.

    Mawile growled again, her large jaw biting into the air with a snap. Just what did this fellow think she was?

    "Feisty little thing, aren't ya?" Cory chuckled. "Well, enough dallying around. Let's see what you make of Neesha over there."

    Red looked in the direction Cory's hands were pointing. It was the fourth cubicle on the left. Even from a distance, he could see the brown-hair curled into twin-tails, fighting against another brown-haired boy, whose face was hidden from him.

    "Neesha?"

    "She's another rookie like you. Cute little lass, though she's as stubborn as a tauros, I tell you. Lost all her money the first day, and then kept coming back for more. Says she's gonna keep coming until she's won thrice her money back."

    "How much has she won yet?" Red asked, completely out of plain curiosity.

    "Still scratching three's surface. She lost all seven thousand the first day. It was horrible ya know? But that's Neesha for you."

    Interesting. "Five hundred is the standard, right?"

    "Yep. And ten percent of your winnings— yours or hers, go to the Square. So not to worry, win or lose, my winning personality and aid is free." He gave a cheeky smile, causing Red to chuckle.

    "Let's get started."

    ~~X~~

    "Let me get this straight. You are a rookie. You got yourself registered for the Indigo Circuit yesterday. You have a single pokémon." Neesha noted. "Are you sure you're in the right place?"

    Red arched an eyebrow.

    "Hello Pot, this is Kettle. Did you know that I'm black?" Cory interjected from the side-lines, smirking as he casually leaned against the wall.

    "I'm not being hypocritical, here." Neesha clarified, rolling her eyes. "I was an idiot when I first came in, but even then, I had two pokémon with me. And you know that I'm not going to go get my badges until I win my money back."

    "Three times over." Cory supplied.

    "Yes."

    "One on one, will that do?" Red asked. "I only have Mawile with me now. Five hundred, that's the bet, right?"

    Neesha blinked. "You wanna lose your money that badly?"

    "Pot, Kettle." Cory sang.

    "Let's just start." Red offered.

    "Whatever. Raticate, end this quickly." Neesha sighed, releasing the pokéball in her hands. Red light burst out of the pokéball, releasing the pokémon within. It was not exactly clear how pokéballs captured pokémon within them and released them back without any form of physiological changes to their form. There was a rather nefarious rumor about pokéballs using alien technology to forcefully convert pokémon into mysterious, red-colored poké-energy, and sucked them into the device, before keeping them in some form of suspended animation. Another rumor talked about how pokéballs had some form of restraining abilities, that allowed a trainer to tame wild pokémon captured by these spheres. Whatever the real technology might have been, it was viciously guarded by Silph Co. and Devon Corp. After all, this was the very same technology that allowed them to become corporate giants, crushing all the competition in the process.

    The pokémon leaped out of the pokéball, before hitting the ground with its forelimbs, allowing its thin tail to sweep across the ground sweeping dust into the air around it. It then sniffed the air around it, its large frontal-fangs gnawing into each other, as the creature regarded Red and his partner.

    "Mawile, you're up," Red muttered softly. "Show 'em what you've got."

    Mawile deliberately ignored the other girl's presence, only staring at the raticate in front of her, as she stepped into the arena, her large jaw deceptively motionless and withdrawn. If Red were anybody else, he'd have thought the large, black protrusion to be some kind of body ornament at best.

    "Quick Attack and then use Bite," Neesha ordered.

    Raticate let out a war cry of sorts, before sniffing the air a second time, as it raised its hindlimbs slightly, before shooting towards Mawile, its fangs bared. Mawile, who had obviously expected it to launch a direct, frontal attack, tensed slightly and pushed her jaw backward, poised and ready to sweep at a moment's notice.

    It ranged within ten inches of Mawile before it leaped into the air, its fangs poised to strike.

    Mawile smirked, and flipped its jaw to the front, raising a barrier of impregnable steel. Raticate slammed its fangs against the jaw, bone against steel, and was repulsed back with a powerful reactionary force. With its natural agility, it easily weaved its way mid-air to fall in line with the momentum, allowing it to land deftly with little to no damage.

    "A steel jaw," Neesha observed. "Good reaction time. But can it handle it if Raticate ups his speed?" She smirked. "Quick Attack, then use Hyper Fang."

    Hyper Fang? Red wondered, as his tranquil expression shattered. He was never good at dealing with sudden surprises. He preferred having information before the fight, and analyze an opponent first before he battled him, compared to rushing blindly to face the opponent and winging it mid-battle. It was one of the reasons why he had spent an inordinate amount of time studying the standard moves used by most pokémon out there. Then again, considering the vast array of moves, having to face an unknown should almost be a run-of-the-mill event.

    "Mawile, be wary of it."

    "Wile!" The deceiver pokémon took a poised stance, ready to wave its jaw.

    Raticate let out another cry, before leaping towards the fairy. The moment its feet hit the ground, a brownish shade enveloped its limbs, increasing the length of its stride significantly. Before Mawile could process the order, the raticate was in front of it, biting into Mawile's fur from the left. It was only her keen instincts that made her bring the jaw down, preventing the rodent from gouging into her with a single strike.

    The steel jaw slammed against the raticate's fang, causing the mouse to leap away, and ready a second strike.

    "First blood to me," Neesha smirked.

    Red gritted his teeth. Developing strategies mid-battle was never his cup of tea. This was Gary's domain. He had always been the one to study everything beforehand, and use the knowledge to create a strategy that would work without fail. The lack of information about 'Hyper Fang' put the situation into uncharted territory.

    Red did not know what to do. For someone like him, information was everything. To deal with a situation in the absence of information was not something he was acquainted with.

    Focus. He told himself. Focus on what you know. Raticate's plus point is his speed. Need to take it away from him. What can you do?

    "Mawile," He called out. " Raticate is too fast. Slow it down. Icy Wind."

    "Wile!" The fairy accepted his logic, closing her eyes. In less than a second, she took control over the element, before she let go. A gale of biting, cold winds weaved around her, before fiercely blowing all over the arena. Even Red had to pull his shirt tighter to keep himself from shivering.

    Raticate though was a completely different picture. Its dirty brown fur, was now laden with white streaks of snow, its whiskers heavy and sticking to its face, and its feet now shivering against the biting cold that had just inundated him. Even the floor was frosted over, with flakes of snow here and there.

    "That's not gonna stop Raticate." Neesha challenged. "Leap into the air, and use Hyper Fang."

    "Arial countermeasures, Mawile," Red instructed.

    Mawile nodded in acknowledgment, as she spun her steel jaw into the air, and in less than a second, liberated out a wave of electricity into the atmosphere. The power behind it was barely enough to cause any lasting, direct damage in a standard fight, and certainly not when cast by Mawile, who wasn't tuned to electricity in the first place.

    Fortunately, Thunder Wave was not meant to cause direct damage. Instead, it was an area-of-effect technique, employing a succession of weak electric waves into the terrain, which in this case, happened to be air. Had Raticate been grounded, it would have been able to shake it off, with the earth absorbing the majority of the current. In the air, however, it was a sitting duck, equally vulnerable to electricity as any flying pokémon was.

    The Thunder Wave traversed through its body, inducing spasms in its muscles and nerves. One moment, it was up there, its trajectory positioned to take maximum advantage of its momentum. Now, it was spasming in the air, falling down to the ground head first.

    Directly at Mawile.

    This is probably gonna hurt.

    The jaw pushed back slightly, before it came swinging in a half-circle, and slammed into Raticate's sides, sending it towards the periphery of the arena, bruising and tumbling through the ground.

    Raticate did not move after that, its half-shut eyes indicative of its complete incapacitation.

    "Raticate is unable to battle." Cory declared with a strange grin on his lips. "Mawile is the winner."

    "I don't believe this. I've fought against stronger opponents. How did I lose to this—?" Neesha began.

    "Stop right there." Red interrupted comically. "If you are really going to go on with the 'how did I lose to this nobody who started a week ago?', please don't."

    Neesha blinked, settling on a blank stare at him. Cory copied her expression.

    "Sorry. It's a 'been there, done that' scenario for me."

    More staring.

    "Uhm, don't you have any more battles for me?" Red asked Cory pleadingly.

    "Huh?" Cory blinked again. "I mean yeah, I do. Your battles have been lodged in the books. You can collect your winnings when you leave today."

    "Wait a minute," Neesha butted in. "I may have lost this battle, but I will win the war. My next pokémon will surely defeat you."

    Mawile sighed.

    ~~X~~

    An hour and three battles later, Red was completely exhausted. The Trainer Square provided its occupants with Heal Spray, an herbal medicine that numbed pain, reduced fatigue, and increased regeneration when applied to pokémon. After Raticate's defeat, he had applied some on Mawile to shake off the lasting effects of the battle. Of course, she wasn't in perfect condition, but she was no longer exhausted. Mawile had fought Neesha's wartortle after that, totally intoxicated in her glory over her previous victory.

    It had been a bad idea, and she ended up being thrashed by the wartortle.

    That had been the start. Ignoring her injuries and her slowly decreasing stamina, Mawile had decisively gone ahead with succeeding battles, before Red could even decide if he wanted to fight in the first place. Her succeeding opponent had been an unfortunate furret, and the entire room had been privy to the disposition of a gravely-irritated mawile. Next, a vicious arbok had nearly gotten her crushed, but that had ended in a veritable disaster, where Mawile had nearly bitten its tail off.

    However, in all of that blood and gore, Red had discovered an important fact: The Trainer Square loved violence. The more bloodshed, the more the videos of these battles sold, and the more money they made. Also, depending upon a trainer's winning streak, he or she might be invited to special challenges held on weekends. Winners of such challenges were often rewarded with high amounts of battle points, which could be used to redeem fairly rare pokémon. These weekend prizes were mostly funded by the betting crowd, and often, a high-performing trainer would find himself someone intending to sponsor his growth.

    After every battle, Mawile would demand to be sprayed with the herbal product, and keep on fighting with a prejudice Red hadn't witnessed before. He could sense that she was literally running on fumes, but Mawile would just not stop.

    "Mawile, that is enough. We can just call it a day today. You need to rest before you can continue any further battles."

    Mawile shook her head, patiently waiting for the Heal Spray.

    What has gotten into her? Why's she being all stubborn like this?

    Mawile, Red was learning, was quite different from the other pokémon he had interacted with at the ranch. For one, Mawile guarded her independence ferociously. Instead of waiting for his commands, Mawile would actually listen to his logic and then weigh them against her own choices. If she felt that he had a better answer, she had no qualms about following Red's advice— something that demonstrated her lack of personal arrogance in such matters. On the other hand, should Red's idea fall short of her own approach, she had no qualms about ignoring him either. Add that to her extreme stubbornness, and you had a dangerous mixture.

    Whether the mixture was a boon or a hindrance was still up for debate.

    That being said, Red was someone who knew his own limitations. Creating strategies on spot was Gary's thing, not his own. He was more along the lines of 'observe, analyze and then reverse engineer it from scratch' kind of guy. After the impromptu battle with Ritchie, Red had come up with several strategies over countering the effect of terrain and getting past Mawile's own lack of speed. But to do so during a battle? Not a chance.

    All in all, it was a pretty disastrous combination. He was not used to thinking out of the box mid-battle, and Mawile waited for him to issue orders, out of some kind of affection if nothing else. Which resulted in her attacks being delayed every single time. Against the opponents he had faced so far, it might not have meant a lot. But against a skilled opponent, Mawile was as good as a sitting duck.

    The battle against the wartortle had vividly pointed that out.

    I need to figure out a way to come up with strategies against everything that Mawile can possibly face. The effect of terrain, her own vulnerabilities, her strengths and creating better move pools. All of that. It will require an extensive study, but it could work. If I can figure out all the combinations of the effect of terrain, coupled with how it affected her vulnerabilities then…

    Pause.

    And now I'm acting like an idiot. There is no way I can possibly think of every single combination out there like that. Even if I do manage that, which will likely take years of extensive research, it would still fall short when facing an original move or tactic from an elite-trainer. No, I need to figure out some other way.

    He glanced at Mawile again. The little fairy was doing her best to keep fighting as if to prove her strength to everyone out there. Mawile hated it when people looked down at her, and the defeat against the wartortle had certainly not scored any points in that category.

    What if Mawile is the one that takes all the decisions during battle? That would significantly cut down the time required t develop this strategy. Trainers depend upon their opponents to say their commands out loud. With Mawile choosing her own moves, it would not only solve our problems but would also serve to confuse others and make her unpredictable.

    The worst thing a trainer can be in a battle is predictable. It was one of Lance's most iconic quotes. Red even had a T-shirt with that printed on it. And what could be more unpredictable than the trainer staying all silent and the pokémon battling all by themselves?

    He tried very hard to suppress the maniacal grin trying to tear his face. The idea was good, but the execution would be hellishly difficult. For Mawile to take care of everything on the battlefield, she would need to be prepared for everything. Red had no idea how he would make that happen, but by God, he loved the idea.

    "Mawile, let's call it a day. I've got something in mind for you, and you're gonna love it."

    Mawile shook her head. She still had to avenge her defeat at the hands of that turtle. It was bad enough that her Double Team wasn't better than Shellder's. Another water-type showing her up was simply more than she could stand.

    "Mawile, I know you want to show everyone just how strong you are, but you cannot do that if you are already spent and exhausted. I have something in mind, something really good that is only going to help you. I promise."

    Mawile sighed. She knew a losing argument when she saw one. Besides, alongside her stamina, the adrenaline rush was slowly leaving her. The herbal medicine was good, but even that could only keep up so far. Perhaps it was for the better that she would get herself a bit of rest. A long, comfortable sleep did feel rather inviting to her right now.

    "Mawile…" Red caressed her left cheek softly.

    "Maw…" she moaned, the rush leaving her, as her body finally gave way. She cuddled into Red, her head rubbing him gently before she slowly fell asleep.

    ~~X~~

    Somewhere near the west coast of Pallet Town

    "I'm… not exactly sure about all of this," Ritchie muttered, starting at the canister in his hand. He had met with a certain man, as recommended by Dr. Pym, the one man on earth who had chosen to believe in his innocence and not blindly follow the League's orders and relinquish him off to the nearest Police Station. As instructed, he had taken the local transport to arrive at the West Coast, to this desolate building named 'The Climbers'. The name did sound somewhat odd, but who was he to judge?

    That was where he had met this man, who went by the name Mickey. Clearly a pseudonym, but Ritchie wasn't going to question him on it. He had more important things to think about at the moment. Like his suspended Trainer License, and his team's deteriorating condition.

    "Mickey is probably the one person who can provide you a Thunderstone at the moment. You need to understand though, that those things don't come cheap."

    "But I don't have that much money at hand. I could get a loan from the bank for such a transaction but— "

    "Don't be stupid. The moment you do that, they'd instantly pinpoint your location to the local police. Might as well just visit them directly."

    "But then…"

    "Talk to Mickey. Explain your situation. He might be able to come to a solution. If not… I suppose you'll have to try fighting against the word of The Samuel Oak."

    Needless to say, there had been no second thoughts about the matter. He might have been from Frodomar City, but Samuel Oak was practically legendary in this world. For such a man to file a complaint against him for that Red… Ritchie bristled at that. Then again, he should have seen that coming. How else would that Red have such an exotic and bloodthirsty monster as a starter? Clearly it was a case of blatant favoritism from that man.

    Which led to the present situation.

    "I get your situation, kid." The man Mickey, a bald-headed man in his early thirties, replied in a somewhat gruff tone. "But a Thunderstone's no joke. Say what? Seventeen and a half, and you've got a deal, and that's because Pym's an old friend of mine."

    "But I don't have that kind of money at hand. I had around seven thousand at best when I came to Pallet, and more than half of that was spent on my pokémon's treatment. I can give you all my documents as proof. I'll sign in a legal contract to pay you back in a few months, with interest. Just let me have the Thunderstone now, and save my pikachu. I'll go to the police and clear everything up. Hell, I'll go and beg to that monster and his trainer for forgiveness and then clean my license. I've got a strong team; I can fight battles all day long. I'd pay you back in 2 months. Please, please I beg you, help me out. "

    " Do you even hear yourself speak? Ya think I got where I am listening to every little runt's piddly ass problems" Mickey mocked.

    "..."

    Mickey let out a laugh." I wasn't born yesterday, kid. You got your license suspended. Even if you think you can receive a get-out-of-jail-free card by appealing to Oak and his little fella, it still means three months of abstinence from being a trainer, since your License will take time to be renewed. Then, you have the crime of attacking a rookie, not just his pokémon. Think of the black spot that got you. Two months, eh? I probably won't see a single pokédollar 'fore the year's up."

    "But I…"

    "Nah, kid. I don't make loosin' deals. If you got something worth trading for we can talk. Otherwise, get lost."

    "But what else can I give you?" Ritchie asked desperately, clenching his pokéballs in his fist. "I don't have money. My license is suspended, and not even my— not even my pokémon are worth anything, in their current condition." He cursed himself as soon those words left his lips, knowing that selling his team— his friends— wasn't something he'd ever consider.

    But he was out of time. He was barely able to afford the constant life support required to keep his pikachu alive. Desperation was his new anthem.

    "You tell me, what can I possibly give you in return?" He asked with a sense of finality.

    Mickey gave a sharp gaze at him. "Tell me, kid, just why is that pikachu so fuckin' important to you? Let it die. Go get yourself another one. Much cheaper than a thunderstone." He paused. "Oops, sorry. Ya don't have a trainer's license. Forgot 'bout that."

    Ritchie's fingers drew blood, as his nails dug deeply into his own flesh.

    "Because they are my team. Because I want to be the greatest pokémon trainer ever! I want to… I don't trade my team. I…"

    "Excuses!" The man looked like he had just tasted a bad egg. "Tell you what kid, you seem like someone with some backbone. I've always thought that the League were pussies anyway. I think I know a man who'd actually hire people like you, Trainer License or not. Got his own independent organization and everything, and gets his workers all kinds of powerful pokémon. Team Rocket, heard of them?"

    Ritchie took a step back in caution. Of course, he had heard of them. The official take on them was that they were a band of thugs, and the police were directed to arrest them on sight.

    "They're criminals."

    "So are you."

    Ritchie felt himself take a step back at the man's ruthlessly honest reply. It hadn't dawned on him just how he appeared in the eyes of the law, but the casual statement made the severity of the situation crashing down on him hard. It was true. He was now a criminal. Even if he was able to get a pardon, the black mark on his license would remain forever.

    "But I'm not… I'm not a…"

    Mickey leveled him a cold stare. "You are not what? I met with ya, cause ole Pym recommended you. This doesn't mean ya get to waste my time. Time is money, squirt. Either get me the money or fuck off."

    "I didn't mean that. You get what…"

    "I don't have time for snobs like you. I gave ya a way out. Take it or find a better way yourself. My contact, the name's Butch. People mistake that for Bitch. You don't wanna do that." He let out a laugh. "I get you in, and Butch pays me money for the thunderstone. Whaddaya say?"

    "You mean… you'll sell me?"

    "Do I look like the one with the fetish?" The man barked. "Team Rocket's no band of thugs. They've bigger things happening there. Things your piss-poor League has no business poking their noses in. I get you in, and he gives me two months of your salary— after ya pass from the trainee to the grunt stage, that is. After that, your free to make your own money. You'll never hear from me again."

    "They pay nine thousand a month?" Ritchie asked, gobsmacked.

    "Of course, they do. Whaddaya think? The grunts are morons just like those… never mind. Decide now, kid. Or get lost. "

    Ritchie paused at that. He was a registered trainer, but now that life was seemingly at an end. Team Rocket provided a handsome salary, even to its grunts. If he had no future with the League, could he build a new one within Team Rocket? The moral side of his mind told out that he'd be joining an illegal organization, while the pragmatic side wisely pointed out that he was already on the run from the law. What did it matter anymore if he walked one step or a hundred? He had crossed the line anyway.

    He thought of his pikachu, suffering in the hospital room. Without a Thunderstone to repair its electric pouches and tail, it probably wouldn't live much longer. He remembered his Taillow, its beak fractured. He remembered Princess, his dear Zippo, and Happy. They deserved better. All of them deserved to live and grow strong.

    "I've got a counteroffer."

    Mickey glared at him. "Look brat, I'm in no mood to banter. Just decide or get the fuck outta—"

    "I'll sign up with Team Rocket, but not just for the Thunderstone. I want you to get me fifty thousand pokédollars, and for that, you can have an entire years' salary I get there. You're making at least a hundred percent on that deal."

    Mickey arched an eyebrow, but Ritchie's determined stance did not waver.

    C'mon, agree. I can start over with fifty grand. My entire team will be healed with that much, with more to spare. Agree, damn it.

    "If ya think ya can just take the money and run, you'll be in for a surprise. Butch's a bitch over money. He'd catch you, and make you squeal. And I know a squealer when I see one." He gave a nasty grin. "He'd kill your fuckin' pikachu right in front of your eyes, and drench you in its blood."

    Ritchie visibly shuddered at that. "I'm not going to take your money and run. It's for my team's treatment. You don't trust me. Fine. But you trust Dr. Pym, right? Give it to him. I want to use it to heal my team. If anything's left, I'll… I'll use it on TMs. I'll not take a single penny for myself. I swear. Now do we have a deal or not?"

    "You realize what ya say, right?" Mickey spoke in a no-nonsense tone. "Whether you live or die, no matter what shit falls on your head, you keep working for Butch for one year. That's twelve whole months. And a permanent criminal record. There ain't no goin' back to the league after Team Rocket. A word of advice kid. Throw away those pokémon of yours, and start afresh. This ain't worth it."

    "I thought you didn't have time for meaningless banter." Ritchie threw Mickey's own words back at him. "Take it or leave it. Fifty grand, for a year's salary, and I'm no slacker."

    Mickey stared at the teen for several seconds before letting out a bark of laughter. "I like ya kid." He extended his hand out. "We've got a deal."

    Ritchie stared at the man 's hand for a moment, an uncomfortable feeling spreading out through him. He could feel it, a turning point of sorts.

    A deal with a devil.

    Ritchie tried to hide the tremor in his palm as he grasped the outstretched hand. He was somewhat proud that he managed to hide the shakiness in his voice as he replied.

    "We have a deal."

    ~~X~~

    Back in Viridian City


    After leaving the Trainer Square for the day, Red trudged his way back to the Pokémon Center. Submitting Mawile's pokéball to the helpful Nurse, he walked to his room in silence, his mind inundated by a hundred different thoughts. He had finally become a trainer, and his current predicament would either make or break him in the future, especially considering that what he wanted to do was purely theoretical so far, and utterly unconventional. Not even the pokémon that participated in Conferences demonstrated what he was expecting Mawile to perform.

    He wasn't arrogant enough to bet everything on himself. That meant that he needed help. And there was only one person he could trust in this situation.

    Ring.

    Ring.

    Ring— "Oh hello, Red. What a surprise. You finally worked up the courage to call, hmm?"

    Red opened his mouth in confusion at the odd comment, before meeting the man's eyes. For a moment, he felt something akin to anger in those gray eyes, before the emotion was extinguished and replaced with pity. Realizing that his lips had shut again, he opened them the second time, ready to declare his confusion at the oddity of the situation.

    Don't. It's a bad idea. Forget it.

    "Hey, old man. Didn't expect you to be so…"

    "To the point?" Oak supplied.

    "I was going to say frisky," Red responded. "You are usually more laid back in the afternoon, what with your siesta and everything."

    "Hm. I'd have, normally." The man replied with fake affability, "but then an idiot had to run into a criminal incident, and then forgot to tell me about it. Unfortunately, other people are not so forgetful as this idiot, which is why I had to spend an entire evening with a League official." His expressions turned sour at that, "And that is probably why I had to choose to work now, instead of having that siesta you mentioned."

    Shit. How did he—?— never mind. "Wonder who that idiot is?" Red supplied, knowing very well that he was flirting with disaster. Inwardly, he couldn't help but wonder how the older man had come to know about it. Had Ritchie made a complaint against him or something?

    Oak stared at him.

    Red kept up his vacant expression.



    ...

    Oak sighed, his tone returning to his usual exasperated state when dealing with Red. "Could you have a lousier poker face?"

    "What are you talking about?" The teen questioned, his expression the epitome of confusion.

    "Never mind." Oak waved it away. "Tell me, Red Ketchum, what prompted you to accept a battle with another trainer without being registered in the first place? Especially knowing that should Mawile be hurt, you'd be all by yourself till you reached Viridian city?"

    "It's kind of a long story. Wait a minute, how did you find out about it?"

    "That's what you are worried about?" Oak asked in disbelief.

    "Yeah," Red went on, forcing courage into his words. "I was there, Ritchie was there, and we were in a forest. How did you find out? Did you have someone follow me? Old man, I thought we were clear about me being ready to go on a journey by myself, without others looking out for me."

    "Yes, and now I am reconsidering my judgment." Oak finally responded. "And stop trying to change the subject, that's not going to work this time."

    Damn. Red mentally cursed. "But still, how did you find out?"

    Oak sighed. He knew how stubborn Red could be. "From Kaz. I had him look out for you after you left."

    "So he was there? And he did nothing?"

    "Seriously? You were angry a moment ago that you were being followed, and now you are angry because he didn't show up and help you? He wasn't supposed to be there in the first place." Oak retorted incredulously.

    "Yeah, but if he was there, might as well help us out." Red insisted

    "So you do accept that it was a dangerous situation and you needed help."

    "Well, I never expected him to go all crazy and start attacking us like that. I mean, we were supposed to have a match, and then win or lose, we would never see each other again. Maybe we'd meet up a few years later and talk about old battles."

    Oak blinked.

    "...That's what happens in stories." Red offered.

    The old professor resisted the sudden urge to facepalm. "Red, you were in actual danger there. And you should know, Kaz did help you. Without his aid, Mawile wouldn't have been able to keep you safe. He stopped the other pikachu from zapping you."

    Oh right. He remembered. The pikachu had tried to zap him, but there had been no attack. He had been too terrified back then to consider the abnormality. Had that been Kaz?

    "So… Kaz saved me?"

    "Yes, and he'd like a little thanks the next time you meet him."

    "Wait, you mean he's gonna be following me around? How am I going to have MY trainer journey if Kaz keeps following me around like that?"

    "No, he is not. He wanted to ensure that you reached Viridian City safely. So far, you have managed to… how did Kaz put it? Oh yeah, 'manage to keep your head on your shoulders', so I am willing to accept that you can be on your own without guidance. For now."

    "Not forever?"

    Oak did not deign to give him a response.

    "You mean he's going to follow me around again? Seriously old man, you don't know Kaz. He'll make my life a living hell."

    "Then I will know that you deserve it. Your training journey will probably carve a bloody path if the Pallet Forest is of any indication."

    "Come now, you are overreacting. That's all."

    "We will see about that later. For now, you are allowed to travel freely by yourself, but should you pull another dangerous stunt again…"

    "I promise, I promise," Red begged.

    Oak sighed. "Now why don't you tell me what happened with this Ritchie Kent."

    "Um, Ritchie was being an ass, and.. Wait. Wait, that wasn't the first reason. He was the one who asked for an unofficial battle, and Mawile wanted to show that Charmander Zippo— seriously, who names a Charmander after a lighter? And did I mention that Ritchie was being a complete ass?"

    "You did." Oak rolled his eyes.

    Red sighed, his shoulders drooping. "I know, I screwed up. I shouldn't have agreed to it in the first place, but one thing led to another, and Mawile and Charmander had a big fight, and Mawile… well, she can be a bit enthusiastic, you know." He finished lamely, remembering the spectacular yet, brutal tactics that Mawile had utilized during that battle. A part of him couldn't wait before Mawile could replicate the technique on a larger pokémon like a charizard and—

    Wait. On second thought, it better be something other than a charizard. Charizard were awesome. Ritchie was the lacking one.

    "Enthusiastic," Oak repeated.

    "She… kinda almost bit its tail off. Twice."

    Oak rubbed his nose, feeling a headache coming. "And here I was thinking that she'd get over it."

    "What do you mean, old man?"

    Oak sighed. If Red was going to hold custody of Mawile for the foreseeable future, he did have the right to know. "Listen, Red. There's something you should know about. Mawile… well, she is quite strong, stronger actually, even compared to most Mawile's her age. And unlike most starters, Mawile isn't actually a baby, she's almost five years old."

    "That's… long?" Red asked, not knowing how large a mawile's general lifespan generally were.

    "The mawile species, have fairly long life spans. While they cannot live for hundreds of years like a pure steel-type such as an agron or a steelix can, they can still survive well over a hundred years. Then again, most mawile never make it past their first decade— having become prey long before that."

    Red didn't know what to feel about that.

    "Mawile… are rather bloodthirsty by nature, mostly because of their instincts and way of life. Being small and easily preyed upon, wild mawile tend to go to extreme levels to hunt down prey and feast on it, since they are never sure when they'd get their next meal, or which moment might be their last."

    "So… Mawile is?" Red didn't know how to phrase it. Come to think of it, he was unsure what he was supposed to think about it all, or how it changed things in regards to his knowledge of Mawile.

    Your mawile… she's a bit more bloodthirsty than most, though that might be because of her own genetics. Mabel tells me that Mawile had a wild beartic as a parent, and beartic are rather vicious to begin with. In fact, in her initial two years, Mawile caused a lot of problems for Mabel's little ranch in Kalos. She retired to the higher reaches of Pomace Mountain to give Mawile a more restricted environment."

    "I don't understand." Red refuted. "I know Mawile's not big on compassion and non-violence, but you're making her out to be some kind of inhuman monster."

    "Pokémon are not human, Red." Oak retorted back. "I can see why you fail to grasp that point, considering your own childhood, but they aren't human. They are powerful creatures who are able to function alongside human society simply because humans have the technology and the power to keep them restrained."

    "Sure," Red retorted back, "The next time I meet Mia and Kaz, I'll be sure to keep my distance in case they eat me for dinner. Wonder why your vicious Dragonite doesn't go off on a rampage and massacre Pallet Town. He's a monster, after all."

    "That's not what I was talking about and you know it." Oak snapped. "And just so you know, Mia could cause an extreme imbalance in people's emotions should she so much as dip into her powers. Kaz can single-handedly massacre the entirety of Pallet Town before you knew it. Not I, not you, nor even the great Lance would be able to do anything about it."

    "But they don't." Red was getting angrier by the second.

    "Exactly, because they choose not to do that, not because they cannot. A knife has a sharp edge and it will draw blood should my palm fall on it. The fact that the knife is hence, kept sideways to avoid the sharp edge doesn't mean it is blunt." Oak answered." Red, I'm not trying to make you angry, nor convince you to see pokémon differently. God knows that understanding pokémon has been my lifelong dream. I just… I just want to point it out, that your way of seeing things might not match with Mawile's own perspective at all times."

    "Don't worry, Professor. I know they aren't. Unlike humans, pokémon do not make other's lives a living hell because of pettiness."

    Oak chose not to comment on that.

    "Besides, if you were so… concerned about Mawile's bloodlust, why did you give her to me in the first place?" Red's voice had gotten harsher, and an odd gleam had come over his countenance. "I don't see how a bloodthirsty pokémon might seem like a good alternative to that pikachu, though I can see what's common between—"

    "Enough!" Oak raised his voice.

    "I know that you are still angry about the pikachu incident, but I will thank you not to link it with every single thing. I am sorry that I didn't take precautions for handling pikachu, but Mawile is a different matter altogether. I admit that she's got issues in the past, but Mawile has been slowly getting over them."

    That shut Red up.

    "Mabel told me how Mawile had become more… composed, and wanted to see the world beyond the mountain. Yes, I know she has had her issues with… occasionally biting others, but that is an instinctive response in her genetic makeup. However, I do wonder if Mawile had really gained control over her bloodlust, or if it was simply another example of deceit played by her on Mabel."

    "I don't see how that matters anyway. Mawile and I… we are pretty good friends."

    Oak smiled softly. "Yes, you might be, but you are new to this partnership. The bond between you is slowly forming, and it hasn't been tested yet. I am only concerned that things might fall into disarray, and should you have serious disagreements, then Mawile could possibly—"

    "Attack me? Is that what you are saying?" A part of him pointed out that the Professor did make sense.

    "It is a possibility. I'd suggest that you start catching other pokémon. Just to be sure. If I had known about this earlier, perhaps I might have gotten you something else and-"

    "That's not necessary, old man." Red interrupted. "I have accepted Mawile as my starter and will continue with her. You don't have to worry about it. Speaking of which, is there anything else I should know about Mawile's terrible bloodlust? Maiming perhaps?"

    "Don't get cocky with me," Oak warned. "Just keep in mind that she's pretty strong for her species, and has a tendency to go overboard during fights. As her trainer, it will be your responsibility to oversee that it never happens. I'd hate to see Mawile being taken away because you were lackadaisical about it, and believed that everything she did was fair game."

    "Old man—"

    "Let me finish," The professor replied sternly. "You may not have taken the Ritchie Kent incident sternly, but I did. Mr. Kent has been charged with the assault of an unregistered pokémon trainer. But while he was definitely at fault, you need to put a reign on Mawile's more vicious tendencies. Maiming another pokémon might be tolerated, but what if she attacked another trainer in rage? What happens then?"

    For a moment, Red remembered the pikachu, fallen on the ground, and the taillow whom Mawile had inflicted with a crushing defeat. He had just taken Mawile and ran, but perhaps she had already taken care of the attackers before that.

    "I… realize that bit. I'm working on that, but it will take time. Mawile and I… we don't know each other very well, and so far in this journey, she has been rather well-behaved for most of it. I am not putting our partnership at risk by bringing in complications about human prejudices and perspectives."

    "But Red—"

    "Besides, it's not like Mawile is all that bad. You yourself told me that Mawile used to help heal the pokémon babies, right? Well, I think that side of her is slowly showing up."

    "Huh?" The professor tilted his head. "What do you mean?"

    Red grinned. "Mawile's got a new hobby. Gardening."

    Oak arched an eyebrow in disbelief.

    "Yeah," Red went on animatedly. "Though I still wonder where she got that cherry-blossom from, she's scarily overprotective of it. She threatened me, quite viciously, should I ever come within two feet of the tree."

    Oak blinked.

    "Don't ask." Red deadpanned.

    "Well… I suppose they come in all forms. Either way, I do not remember Mabel talking about Mawile's love for gardening. Must have slipped her mind."

    "Give her a break, professor. She's still growing." Red replied, as if speaking to a petulant child who had been caught in wrongdoing.

    "...right." Oak retorted, unsure what to feel at being treated like a five-year-old. "Anything else you can trouble me with?"

    "There is something actually," Red answered, remembering what he wanted to bring up in the first place. Here was the old man, warning him against Mawile's behavior, and his plan was to let her battle independently. Polar opposites.

    But that wasn't the only thought in his head. Something else had clicked. A random observation, one seen nearly every day, throughout his life, but only now it began to make sense.

    "Professor," he began slowly, "tell me something honestly. Kaz is a psychic, so it's brainpower is at least several dozens of times higher than a human, right? Then why do human Trainers need to direct a psychic pokémon all through the course of a battle? Why would a nidoking need to wait for its trainer's orders, when it knows its own body and moves better? Why would a kadabra—?"

    Oak looked up as if taken aback "Red, it is better if you understand that—"

    But Red's mind was racing far too ahead to listen. Observation, analysis and developing strategy were his strong points, and currently, he could feel a single chain of thought link together...

    "They are powerful creatures who are functioning alongside human society. "

    "We have the technology to keep them restrained. "

    "They are not human."

    "Keeping a knife sideways doesn't mean it's blunt."

    "Because allowing them to be their own masters would make them independent," Red spoke up, his mind ignoring whatever the man might have stated in the meanwhile. "Pokémon are powerful, and so we maintain the illusion that working for us, following our commands, will make them more powerful. If this illusion falls, then pokémon would be the dominant force on the planet. We'd be the hunted instead of the hunter. You fear Mawile hurting another pokémon, but is independent, it would be humans-us, that would be the prey."

    Silence pervaded for several seconds.

    Oak spoke first. "I always knew that your demonstrations of frightful intelligence were never a fluke. It is why I thought you'd make a wonderful scientist." He chuckled. "Coincidence or not, you seem to have grasped a truth of our world, and quite early at that. Most trainers never seem to realize it, and those that do, are already past elite-level, and raised teams through force, hardship, and attrition. At best, they try to be friendly and caring towards their team, if nothing else. Besides, trained pokémon, nine out of ten, are much stronger than wild ones. Peace is, after all is said and done, the art of holding the bigger stick than your opponent."

    "A fancy line considering we are the ones selling the sticks."

    "Don't be idealistic. Look at the world around us. Why do you think we live in congregated areas and bind our entire population with large-walled, enclosed cities? Why the Kanto mainland… despite being so large, has just thirty percent of it colonized for human habitation?" Oak paused. "Our world is not a human world. It is a world where we coexist with several other species of creatures, stronger than us, and in some cases, smarter. You are simply being too idealistic and not considering the data at hand. There is a reason that Forbidden Zones still exist. Why do you think that despite us humans having been there for millennia, our oldest surviving records barely go further than six hundred years?"

    That shut Red up.

    "You must understand," Oak sighed. "Humans were not always on top of the food chain. We don't have strong physical bodies. We can't fly. We have no control over the elements. We barely have any records that date beyond some four hundred years ago and that's probably because our species only role was being food. Our path to the top has always been through several skills, weapons, and until most recently, technology. In time pokémon themselves became our power. Pokémon were treated quite cruelly, or at least they were, before the world became a bit more civilized. We seem to have outgrown our ancestral systems of mass suppression of pokémon, become more gentle with time, and gained a frightening nemesis in return."

    Red looked confused " Which is? "

    " Paperwork. " Oak sighed. He bloody well meant it too.

    ~~X~~

    "You can stay here, dance to your heart's content, and practice your psychic techniques. Grow stronger. Strong enough to survive out there. That way, the next time we meet, I'll have no problem taking you with me. Deal?"

    That was what Mia had accepted, in exchange for allowing her precious Red to leave on his trainer journey by himself. She had sworn to herself, that she'd practice the psychic arts every day from dawn to dusk, exhausting herself so bad that even Kaz would shed tears at her dedication. She'd use her limited talents and take them to a level that even Kaz would feel proud, and to a certain extent, jealous of her. That did seem to be the best plan. Red would be so surprised when he met her next. He'd be oh-so-sorry that he'd chosen to trust in some random fairy over his precious Mia. Constant diligence did seem to be the key ingredient in making that happen. Her days would be filled with diligent training, learning to better wield psychic energy and—





    And maybe a dance or two.

    Mia blushed at that.



    Or perhaps six or seven.

    Or perhaps one every hour?

    Or two?

    Damn it, diligence was hard. Why couldn't she just develop her talents while dancing? That would have been amazing. Surely there was something she could improve at even while twirling around?

    It had been nearly a week since Red left Pallet Town with the other fairy. She wasn't sure what it was, but there had been something that had distressed the kind, old professor in the last two days. Mia hoped that it didn't really have anything to do with Red. She had always been able to sense Red's emotions from afar, even if he was away at the Ranch. From what Kaz had told her, Red was going to Viridian city, that place with lots of buildings, and barely any greenery. Mia wasn't sure she liked Viridian City all that much.

    If only I could sense him from here.

    A meager desire it was not, since Mia's entire life revolved around Red and Red alone. Delia, she was another human that took up a mother's position in her life, but Red was the one it was based on. Red fed her, talked to her, taught her and told her stories about so many things. In fact, half of her day was centered around processing Red's emotions and trying to construct his thoughts from them.

    And now, Red was away, and Mia was alone. And there was nothing she could do about it.

    Or could she?

    She was a fairy, right? Psychic power was one thing, but Mia was a kirlia, and kirlia was a fairy first and foremost. She grew beautiful when surrounded by happy thoughts and feelings. She felt stronger when Red's spirits were boundless. She grew sad and decayed when Red was hurt. Dancing not only brought her pleasure but also filled her with joy. And wasn't joy, and love, the most powerful emotion of all?

    Mia smiled to herself. Perhaps there was something— some technique that she could master, even without sacrificing her dancing time, after all. She'd finally have something to show—

    RED!

    Her awareness screamed in delight. The professor was talking to Red. She could feel it. The emotional changes she sensed around the professor were similar to the ones that happened when Red chatted with him. And that meant—

    Mia gave a happy little spin, before shooting towards the Ranch.

    ~~X~~

    "What you are suggesting is quite… bold." Oak suggested. "To try and make your team make their own decisions during battle. It is practically unheard of, for anyone to do it successfully."

    "But why?" Red challenged. "I don' t understand the issue. Mawile understands her body physiology better than I ever could. I say Icy Wind, but it is her that actually gives it form and not just that. She does it in a matter of seconds, and that too, mid-battle. Pokémon do not have poor memories, as far as their attacks are concerned, and they do survive in the wild. Then why do they need to wait for the trainer to issue commands during a match?"

    Oak remained quiet, suspiciously so.

    " I have seen Mawile display all of her abilities perfectly by herself, and she is also able to make logical decisions mid-battle as well." Red's face scrunched up."I remember her facing Ritchie's taillow when it used Double Team. Mawile hadn't realized they were illusions and chose to go forward with an Iron Head attack, a decent strategy had they been real. When I suggested Icy Wind instead, she looked at me like I'd grown a new head."

    Oak chuckled at that." Bet she was surprised when it worked."

    "She was, but it got me thinking. If I could teach her about the different forms of attacks, the effect of terrain and illusion, about type advantages and disadvantages, then she'd be able to make better decisions mid-battle."

    "That is what a trainer is for, Red. To make the better decision during battle."

    "Seems more like a liability than a trainer." Red refuted. "I offered Mawile to make her strong, not be her crutch."

    Oak sighed. "Do you realize just how utterly exhaustive that is? Teaching a pokémon all of that? Besides, even if a psychic could even learn all of it, you cannot expect all pokémon to be the same. A rhyhorn forgets the cause of its movement as soon as it starts running."

    "Yes, but it sure doesn't forget that being in rain saps its strength." Came the retort. "Stimulated responses, old man." Red appeared way too excited at the possibility. "Though enough simulated practice of the effect of different terrain, my pokémon can judge which moves would be effective, and which wouldn't. It will be a time-consuming task, but the end result will be worth it."

    "I highly doubt that such a course of action would be viable while being on a journey, Red," Oak answered. "You have just started your journey, and have yet to acquire a badge, let alone all eight. There is also the question of the league conferences."

    Red scrunched his face again. The old man had a point. A very serious point. "I… hadn't taken that into account."

    "See that you do." The professor advised. "Also, do not be so naive to think that you are the first person in history to even think of such an approach. Several trainers, mostly elites and champion-level trainers out there, have tried and failed in this venture. Besides, there are other reasons why I'd, and not just me, every human would discourage you from undertaking this venture."

    "Which is?"

    "Pride, and pragmatism," Oak explained. "If your team is the one making all decisions by themselves, then what remains of your role in the team? Acting as a caretaker for the baby additions? Why would a charizard obey you, if it is perfectly capable of making its own decisions in and out of battle?"

    " Doesn't the fact that I taught them everything count?"

    " Hardly." Red was shocked at the man's dry tone. "If you are good at something, never do it for free. Mawile might be willing to follow your orders now, but as you said, she listens to your commands because they make sense. When your commands aren't needed, what good are you?"

    "You think that pokémon follow a utilitarian policy?"

    "Don't we all?" Oak challenged. "Why exactly did you want a charmander? Wasn't it because you wanted a dragon? Because dragons were superior? Weren't you being utilitarian as well?"

    "I was." Red accepted. "But that means that I'd have to intentionally keep my team from being the best they can be."

    "And here I thought it was about you becoming a Champion. Was it not? Isn't that what being a trainer is all about? To capture them all, train them and use them to achieve your ambitions. Wasn't that why you wanted to keep Mia away? Because you treat her like family, and would, therefore, hesitate to use her as a tool?"

    Red stayed silent, his mind and heart in conflict over what the professor was presenting to him.

    "Then I… I…"

    "Don't act impulsively, Red," Oak replied in a softer tone. 'You have one of the brightest minds I've ever seen, and I know that you do not give up so easily. Just… whatever you do, make sure you think it through."

    Red let out a mirthless chuckle at that. "Don't worry about that, old man. I'll be perfectly—"

    "KIRRLLLLLLLLL!"

    Mia dashed into the room, half afloat and half on the ground. Red estimated that the Kirlia had used a form of psychic agility to accelerate her locomotion, and got overwhelmed, losing her coordination in the process. She nearly slammed herself against one of the larger glass canisters, before swiftly turning to her right, and facing the main screen.

    "KIRRLLLL!" She yelled in excitement.

    "MIA!" Red yelled back, excited to see his little sister.. "I didn't think you'd be awake. What's wrong with Pallet Town? First, the old man misses his nap, and now you're here instead of dancing?"

    The kirlia scowled at that and began to explain, rather colorfully, how she was not in fact, dancing, and how she was actually working on developing her own skills. She might have conveniently forgotten to mention that she had not put a pause to her dancing activities, but that was neither here nor there.

    Red raised his hands in surrender. As a kirlia, Mia still did not have the skill to use Telepathy. Out of all psychics in Kanto, only the abra-line showed tremendous potential in that field. However, upon further evolution into a gardevoir, if and when that happened, Mia would gain the ability. Honing the skill though, was a completely different matter.

    That said, Red had learned to recognize nearly everything Mia said from her animated gestures, and while he might not understand every single thing, he still got the gist of it. "Well, I'm sure you've been practicing really hard, haven't you?"

    BOUNCE!

    "Kirrllll!" Mia sang, allowing her powers to defy gravity to bounce up into the air, before slowly returning to the floor. Red was right, of course. There were so many things that she had practiced. Kaz had taught her a little bit of Telekinesis, and she had just progressed from levitating a rubber ball to a wooden box the other day. She had also been working on her own Fairy Wind though it needed a lot more practice to get it in a passable range. She'd demonstrate all of that in front of Red, and he'd be so happy.

    Red laughed. "I'm very happy for you."

    BOUNCE!

    "And I can't wait to see you when I get back to Pallet Town."

    BOUNCE!

    "I'm in Viridian now, and from here, I'll be visiting Pewter, and then through Mt. Moon, get to Cerulean."

    BOUNCE!

    Mia frowned. Wasn't Red supposed to come home as quickly as possible? Why would he make such a—?

    "From there, I'd probably visit Celadon City, and then take the water-route back to Pallet Town."

    Mia stopped bouncing, a teary-eyed expression on her face. Red was going to take a very, very long time before he came home. Mia didn't like that. She wanted him there. She wanted him back home right now.

    "But don't worry," Red replied. "I have Mawile with me, and I'll call you whenever I get to a new city."

    Mia did not like it at all. All those thoughts about demonstrating her new moves flew out of the window.

    "Llia?" She asked weakly. Was she being replaced? Was the other fairy better than her because she was stronger? Had Red already started forgetting about her?

    Please give me an indication that I am still important to you, as you are to me. Mia wished. Please show me that you can read me just as well as you could before.

    Red seemed to understand her problem, as his expression further softened. "Don't worry, Mia. I'll be okay. Don't worry too much."

    No. No, he doesn't.

    "Kirl," She murmured, and with that, Mia let out her first fake smile.
     
  6. Threadmarks: Act 1 | Chapter 5 - The Pokemon Master
    TheBlackStaffAndNightMarE

    TheBlackStaffAndNightMarE I see. I write. I conquer.

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2020
    Messages:
    33
    Likes Received:
    127
    ACT 1 - IMMOLATION

    Chapter 5 - The Pokémon Master

    "Day six. Trial forty-seven." Red noted, the pokédex in his hand recording his voice. "Mawile will attempt to produce and maintain Mist while using a second move. Shellder, look alive. Perhaps you can pick up a hint or two from this?"

    Shellder squeaked, letting out a tiny bucket worth of water which leaked out from his shell onto the grass below.

    Red rolled his eyes, before turning to the real object of the experiment. "Right, Mawile, try to get it right this time. Use Mist, and without losing your hold on it, employ exactly one clone. Can you do it?"

    Mawile shook her head. Ever since her first day at Trainers Square, her life and training had been irrevocably changed. For one, Red was allowing her to fight completely by herself, and to make decisions on whatever she thought was best. If it worked, so be it. If it didn't, she had to suffer the consequences. A correct approach to an incoming attack meant a victory, which translated to more poképuffs before going to bed. An incorrect decision meant that her opponent would get in a solid hit, leaving a bruise behind. That meant the application of Heal Sprays and Full Restores on her person, along with a detailed analysis of what went wrong, and how to deal with that particular attack better. And that didn't include Red's own training sessions, in which he'd explain what a particular move did and the most common ways it was applied. After this, he would ask her to react accordingly. That, along with constant practice of her move sets, made it an incredibly hectic schedule for her.

    On one hand, she could feel herself getting stronger with every session. Red was holding nothing back and was constantly pushing her which lead to a noticeable refinement in her ability to react to situations and battle efficiently in addition to allowing her to utilize her increasingly polished skills efficiently. On the other hand, it was an incredibly punishing schedule, pushing her to her limits. She always went to bed exhausted and would sometimes wake up a little sore. She wouldn't have it any other way though. She was often underestimated because of her adorable appearance and her inherently tiny physique did not help. Bringing bigger and more brutish pokémon to their knees was one of the few pleasures in her life and anything that helped enable that was a good thing in her book.

    She let out a deep breath, and slowly released her hold on the element. Unlike Icy Wind, which involved compressing some of the surrounding air, using the Ice element to supercool it, and then guide it to the opponent in a concentrated burst of wind, Mist was based on a completely different technique. Mawile slowly allowed her ice to saturate into the atmosphere around her, feeling a dull-white fog engulf her surroundings.

    Nicely done, she told herself. Now to create a clone. This would be easy. She got this. The misty air to her left flickered, as an optical image resembling herself, came into focus.

    Yes. Mawile inwardly squealed—

    Only for the atmosphere to condense a little, before flakes of snow began to precipitate on her head.

    Red drooped his shoulders. "I guess this didn't work out either. At ease."

    Mawile sighed, before letting out a tiny scream in frustration.

    "I know, I know, you're trying your best. But, Mist is not the same as Icy Wind. You cannot control it the same way as you do the wind."

    Mawile arched an eyebrow. Did Red really just claim that he knew more about ice and snow than herself? She was practically raised in it.

    "Just try and listen okay, before jumping to conclusions." Red returned, recognizing the dry stare in her expression. "Mist is not related to Icy Wind in any fashion other than them both being of the ice-type. If it did, then I wouldn't have gotten you this TM. I'd have allowed you to perfect Icy Wind and Hail, and move to it through natural progression."

    Which come to think of it, Mawile decided, did kind of make sense. Besides, her Icy Wind was getting closer to Hail with every single day of the new training regimen. She could almost focus on creating tiny shards of ice, instead of the usual super-chilled air that she sent out every single time. It still wasn't anywhere perfect, but she estimated that another week's practice should get it done.

    "Increase in concentration and compression of ice while keeping the spread even, leads to progression from Icy Wind to Hail, or perhaps even Blizzard with enough exposure and experience. Canceling out the spread while increasing concentration and compression results in Ice Shard, which can be honed into an Icicle Spear with better shape manipulation. If both the ice concentration and the pressure are increased in the absence of wind while simultaneously not allowing the ice element to solidify until it hits a target, you get Ice Beam." Red pointed out."Do you find Mist in any of that?"

    Mawile shook her head.

    "To be frank, even though most of those moves can be built up from Icy Wind, I'd still get you TMs to save time and energy. You wouldn't have to waste time figuring out the perfect pressure or concentration conditions required for each move. Why reinvent the wheel right?"

    Mawile sighed. Her trainer was full of silly little sayings like this. Why would she want to make a wheel? He reminded her of Mabel. Come to think about it, that Oak man she was with was like that too. Maybe Red picked it up from him? She'd have to keep a close eye on who her trainer associated with to ensure he didn't pick up any more bad habits.

    "Focus, Mawile" Red groaned."Getting back on topic, to use Mist, you need to disperse the ice in all directions, and maintain a constant saturation at all points within a certain zone. You need to make the air heavy with water and ice, making it so thick that your opponent can't see past it."

    Too right, and neither would she. As if she needed a vision impairment in addition to her ludicrously small size.

    Red sighed. "Mawile, I know that creating mist will also affect your own vision, but you are small, and thus, easily able to hide and attack in the mist with enough practice. A large, bulky opponent is a walking target regardless of the Mist."

    And once again he made sense. Mawile shook her head. She might as well give up trying to comprehend Red's sense of strategy. It only ever made sense after he explained it.

    "Double Team is a move used to confuse the opponent. If they cannot find the real you, they have to use an area-of-effect attack to try to target all illusions simultaneously. If they don't have such a move they can end up wasting a lot of energy going through your illusions. Time you can use to end the fight."

    Mawile nodded. She knew this. Why were they going over it again?

    "So why am I asking you to make a single illusion alone?"

    And there he went with the questions. These conversations would go much faster if he just gave her the answers.

    "The reason is," Red continued, "because I want to use it in an unconventional way. A move is most effective if the opponent does not know it is being used. If the opponent sees multiple illusions in the mist they will automatically realize Double Team is being used and use an Area of Effect attack to disperse it. Further, they will be on guard for a sneak attack from the real one"

    Mawile nodded. That made sense. Though she failed to see what was wrong with that. Making the opponent split their attention and wasting their energy on illusions was a good thing right?

    "However if you make a single illusion and then hide your real body in the mist, they will assume the single illusion is the real you. As there are no other illusions they will not realize that Double Team is being used. As they believe they have located you in the mist they will not be on guard for a sneak attack. And then… then is when you will strike."

    Mawile's steel jaw shook with an unnatural eagerness, surprising her. Lately, her jaw seemed to be developing a mind of its own.

    "So, do you get why are we doing this?"

    Mawile nodded excitedly. Now that Red explained it she couldn't wait to get started. She hadn't realized how important these tactics were until her trainer explained them. With another nod, she began her next attempt.

    If she can master the Mist, then with her Snow Cloak ability, she will be practically invisible. And with a Double Team clone present…

    Red gazed at her. "Let's begin then."

    Mawile chirped agreeably.

    "Alright, Day 6, Trial 48," He spoke into the pokédex. "Let's give it another try and do your best not to let the Mist disperse. Remember, concentrate on spreading it out evenly." He switched off the recorder. "If you get it right this time, there are two extra poképuffs for you at lunch."
    ~~X~~

    Ever since his initial conversation with Oak regarding pokémon psychology as well as the merits and demerits of independent battling, Red seemed to have acquired a change in his short-term goals. The unfortunate incident with the pikachu had set him back by at least a month, so the obvious plan had been to move from city to city, acquiring badges as quickly as possible. However, on second thoughts regarding the subject, especially after a detailed study of the gyms and the Kanto-Johto region in general, he had concluded that a period of four to five months was easily enough to acquire eight gym badges and apply for the next conference. The next Indigo Conference was roughly three months away. The conferences being spaced roughly eight months apart meant that he could only participate in the Silver Conference, nearly a year later.

    More than enough time in his hands to train at his own pace.

    Which was why he had given up on his previous plan of leaving for Pewter City, and instead focussed on the immediately available option— the Trainer Square. For the past week, he would wake up early in the morning, and after a quick breakfast, take Mawile to the Square to fight other rookie trainers with increasing difficulty after every successive match. Considering her semi-average reserves and stamina, Mawile didn't have the ability to drag out a fight. In fact, a lot of Reds training involved using small openings to end the fight as quickly as possible. Mawile was very vulnerable to simply losing through exhaustion if the opponent tried to drag the fight which was why, most matches she won were incredibly fast-paced, usually finishing in a matter of seconds. In most cases, either Mawile came out with a decisive victory, or she'd display signs of fatigue, and Red would forfeit— the latter being a much rarer occurrence compared to the former. After spending an hour so at the Square, Red would take an exhausted Mawile to the Pokémon Center, and after a quick check-up they would enjoy a happy lunch by the side of the river. After a couple of hours of rest, they would start training. Over the past few days, they had been studying type advantages and disadvantages, as well as perfecting Thunder Wave and Mist.

    On his fifth day at the Square, Red had been selected by Cory for one of the local challenges offered by the spectators, or should one say, speculators and risk-takers who would bet on the trainers while enjoying popcorn and drinks from their seats. Mawile had fought a difficult match against a rather dangerous doduo, where she had been entirely too focused on its number of heads. Once she managed to focus though, she had managed to interrupt its continuous attacks with an Icy Wind to the face after which she rendered it immobile before ending the fight with Iron Head. Though she managed to win, she had used entirely too much energy and had lost pitifully to the next pokémon, a fairly large pidgeotto. Of course, Mawile being Mawile, she had made several attempts to use Thunder Wave, but her reserves had died down much before her determination, resulting in what she considered, a humiliating defeat. Red had been hoping that Mawile would realize she couldn't win while she was exhausted and would give up on her own, but Mawile had been drunk on her victory and far too excited to stop. At least, he supposed, she was starting to be more efficient with her moves. That was something at least.

    Red had redeemed his Battle Points for two low-tier TM vouchers, using one to acquire a TM for Mist, while keeping the other on hold for the future. Perhaps in Pewter, when Mawile had mastered her present move set.

    She has a strong grasp on Icy Wind, Iron Head, and Fairy Wind. Her Astonish is fairly good, but she takes too long to prepare for it. Red mused. She uses her fangs quite effectively but needs to learn how to employ Dark energy with it to use Bite properly. Perhaps in time, she can even acquire enough familiarity with it to utilize its higher form-Crunch.

    He couldn't wait for it to happen. After all, Crunch was one of the most effective fanged attacks in the Pokémon world. Being a dark-type move only added to its appeal. For someone like Mawile, whose main weapon was her set of vicious jaws, Crunch was the perfect move to use. Her Fairy nature allowed enough leniency to use it effectively, even if it wouldn't be with the ease and perfection of an actual dark-type.

    Icy Wind was next. Because of her parentage and her habitat, Mawile was extremely familiar with the Ice Element. Every demonstration of the move only reinforced the idea in his mind. Her Icy Wind was already close to reaching a low-level Hail. Red could easily see Mawile mastering Hail by the next two months, perhaps less if she was being diligent. And as a Fairy, Mawile's affinity to moves like Fairy Wind was extremely high and her mastery grew quickly.

    Unfortunately developing these moves into their strongest forms like Blizzard or Moonblast was… close to impossible. Blizzard tended to tire out even the more powerful dewgong. A powerful Moonblast could send a trained clefable, rare as they were, almost out of commission, unless it had enough stamina to overcome the sheer exhaustion that accompanied it. Such moves were highly energy-intensive, and significant reserves were needed to utilize them efficiently.

    And Mawile had neither the reserves nor the stamina to perform such moves. This was a huge limiting factor that impeded her use of several attacks. Mawile's fairy-steel nature made her highly resistant to most typings, but once again, her lack of stamina and reserves prevented her from the complete utilization of her techniques even though her execution was superlative. One thing that she was doing was reducing the effective area of the move. Mawile maintained most of Icy Wind's strength by releasing it in short targeted bursts rather than allowing it to cover the entire field. Of course, this had the disadvantage of being less accurate, as well as the limitation of impacting a smaller area but it at the very least allowed it to be threatening in battle without draining her entire reserves for a single move.

    On the other hand, Red couldn't think of a single thing that he could be improved on Iron Head. Mawile had it down, period. What mattered now was to use the offensive move in defense, and develop a familiarity with one of the ultimate steel-type defensive techniques.

    Iron Defense.

    Unlike Iron Head, Iron Defense did not simply converge steel-energy over her head to increase the effectiveness of the attack. Instead, it spread it out, creating a layer of woven steel-energy over itself to create a powerful barrier. Furthermore, Iron Defence could be continuously layered on top of itself depending on how much steel energy was used. This made it one of the strongest defenses possible, one that was capable of holding back almost any attack in the right conditions. He hadn't started out on her training Iron Defense yet, but given her partly-steel nature, he hypothesized that it wouldn't be too difficult.

    Perhaps I should start looking into it after she's had Mist down.

    Speaking of Mist, Red glanced at Mawile. Though she could be lazy at times, she was actually putting in a lot of effort to master her new move. He recognized the sheen in her eyes. It was exactly the same look that she had before she had made significant progress with Thunder Wave and Double Team.





    Make that just Thunder Wave. Mawile seems completely unable to create more than four clones for some reason.

    It was almost surreal. As a Fairy, Mawile had enough intrinsic energy to use something so simple like Double Team very easily. However, no matter what she did, the number of clones did not rise beyond four. There were rare moments when it hit five, but then one of them would pop like a bubble.

    It would have been incredibly funny since even Shellder was now creating six or seven with ease, but Mawile was a prideful little thing and him pointing it out would probably be too much for her to bear. Speaking of which….

    He cast a glance at the bivalve pokémon, who was engrossed in his own experiment with Double Team and experimenting with said clones.





    Wait, what?
    ~~X~~

    Shellder had lived its entire life in water, chewing on underwater plants and occasionally sucking in some sap. Sometimes, it would even get lucky and come across a magikarp egg— well, the smaller ones anyway, since those were the ones that could even fit into Shellder's mouth. Not that it mattered much since Shellder rarely got hungry.

    Then, he got himself a new thing to chew on. Or well, a new human who allowed him to chew on him anyway. Shellder wasn't a genius, but from what he saw, Red didn't chew on plants like Shellder did, which was strange considering the perfectly good supply that grew out of his own head. Perhaps humans did not know how to chew on their own hair? Or maybe he didn't like how it tasted. Regardless, humans couldn't understand pokémon so he wouldn't be able to ask.

    Maybe that's why Red let Shellder chew on his head and fingers? Because there were too many humans and no one to chew on their hair? Shellder wondered what the shellder population on the river bed would think of that news. Humans did talk a lot and liked to hear their own voice, or at least, Red did. He spent an awful lot of time talking about Shellder like he was more shellder than Shellder was shellder.

    How odd. Red didn't even have a shell. Shellder had two of them. Red did have two eyeballs and a tongue though. Perhaps Red kept talking all that much because he hoped that doing that would get him a shell?

    It was a possibility. Shellder didn't exactly know much about Humans anyway.

    He considered the present situation carefully. The present experiment. Shellder corrected.

    He focused his energy according to the strange memories that had popped into it the other day and the Double Team clone slowly gained form in front of it.

    Shellder paused as it observed the illusion take form. He didn't know exactly how he did it, but that was not the point. Why bother knowing the hows when he could just wish things into existence? Shellder wanted the clone, and it came. That was all to it. There was no reason to waste precious time on meaningless questions.

    It carefully extended its tongue outwards, attempting to lick the illusion in front of it, before it felt its tongue hit something like air, which flickered momentarily, before reforming back the moment it retracted its tongue. Interesting. Did that mean Shellder was able to create more Shellder out of air by simply wishing for it?

    No. more experimentation was needed before Shellder could determine the Shellder-ness of these… illusory prototypes. It would not do to have a Shellder that was less Shellder-y than Shellder himself. Yes, this one was a waste. Perhaps Shellder needed to try again.

    Poising up all of a sudden, Shellder leaped onto its illusion, clamping it with its fearsome valves. For a moment, Shellder thought that it would be able to find out how these air-made shellder tasted. Maybe if they were good enough, Shellder could make more of them just to keep eating them. It did sound like a good hobby.

    CLAMP!

    Unfortunately, the airy Shellder dissipated instantly. Strange. Were these airy shellder so un-shellder-y that they broke away so easily? What about the taste? Or would they taste like air because they were made from air? This would require further thinking upon.

    Shellder blinked. Research was an exhaustive process. Perhaps Shellder wasn't cut out to be a scientist. Only time would tell.
    ~~X~~

    Another hour had passed since Mawile had started practicing her newest move, Mist, with extreme diligence. Unlike Icy Wind, Mist did not require large quantities of the Ice Element to be conjured. Almost one-eighth of the amount of Ice summoned for the Icy Wind attack was enough to create a passable Mist. All she had to do was to saturate the air to superlative degrees. And she was finally getting a hang out of it.

    That did not stop it from being tiresome. Especially considering the fact that Red had asked her to hold and maintain a clone, all the while maintaining the Mist in place. Seven attempts and forty-eight minutes later, Mawile stood on the now completely drenched grass, happy in her belief at having conquered her newest challenge.

    Do you think you can do it this time? Red's voice whispered in her mind. Of course, he wasn't truly whispering, but after hearing the same words over and over for nearly a week, her mind had begun to conjure images and words related to her trainer's more… common habits.

    All right.

    She closed her eyes, nearly crouching on the ground, taking a little support from the earth beneath her feet, as she gathered up the Ice element conjured by her powers. She felt the atmosphere around her churn a little, felt the Ice slowly leaving, dissipating, filtering into the environment. Saturating into the air molecules, making them heavy, decreasing the visibility all around her.

    Mist had taken effect, and in the middle of it all, Mawile was invisible.

    And now the second part.


    She opened her eyes and allowed her awareness to spread out. All this time she had done so with her eyes closed, almost in fear of seeing a fuzzy clone that would fade away immediately. It had taken her nearly a week to get used to it. It still felt bad, but she had learned to face it. Embrace it. Learn from it. Get past it.

    A hazy figure manifested in front of her before flickering and started to fade. She took a deep breath and concentrated. The still deformed illusory form began to churn a second time, before coming back together—

    Mawile's eyes widened.

    It looked perfect! It even moved. RED! RED! ARE YOU SEEING THIS?

    How was she doing it?
    She was holding onto Mist quite easily and not only had the illusion formed, but she was able to manipulate it. It was moving around! What sorcery was this?

    I finally did it! Praise me! Mawile squealed, turning to look at Red. Surely he noticed her remarkable progress by now, and there would be a higher number of poképuffs for dinner. So what if the mute could make more clones than her? She was the more agile one among them, and she was the one who was winning matches for him. Obviously, her own progress should be three times more significant than the mute and—

    Her expectations came down to a screaming halt.

    "...wile." She croaked, heart-broken.

    Why is he-he-why is he staring at that dumb thing?

    It was true. At some point during their training, Red had shifted his glances from Mawile's spectacular efforts to watching the bivalve pokémon amuse itself with its pathetic clones. That thing didn't speak, didn't contribute, didn't do anything except hanging around like a nuisance, preying upon Red's unquestionable naivety and generosity. She would not stand it for a moment longer.

    Mawile didn't think. She took long steps until she was right in front of her trainer. Without waiting for her human to speak, she met his gaze and released Mist in full power. Taking advantage of the visual impairment, she slammed her jaw at Shellder's side with extreme prejudice, sending the water-type flying high up into the sky.

    Good riddance. Mawile thought smugly.

    Had Mawile been slightly less hasty about it, she would have realized that she had, in her haste, slammed Shellder at the base of its shell, sending it flying straight up. The water-type zoomed all the way, past ten feet, then thirteen feet, and then slowly lost its velocity before the power of gravity pulled it downward, landing on the wet grass with a soft thud.

    Right where it was sitting before the above happened. Directly behind Mawile.

    "That was really good progress, Mawile. It was almost instantaneous, wasn't it?" Red exclaimed as the Mist cleared up.

    Mawile preened. Yes, the mute was gone, and now she could bask in her trainer's undivided attention to the fullest.

    "See, even Shellder thinks you did well."

    "..."

    "..."

    Mawile had never really been exposed to ghost-types in her life so far. She had heard of a froslass residing in the higher reaches of Pomace Mountain but had never made any attempt to see it in person. Besides, froslass were scarily vindictive and even more sadistic. Mawile liked living, thank you very much.

    That said, the way her face paled on seeing Shellder sitting right where it had been, almost as if she had not slammed it away in the first place, made it seem like she had been hit by an Astonish or even worse.

    Shellder slowly extended its tongue, and licked her face.

    Mawile blinked.



    This… This evil little creature was mocking her. She was being shown down, was being ignored, and it was all because of this bivalved little… And not even her ever-precise Iron Head seemed to make it disappear.

    Shellder licked her again.

    A slow, desperate sob somehow escaped her throat. No, she wouldn't. She wouldn't give up. She won't show her weakness in front of this… this…

    Mawile started to cry.
    ~~X~~

    The next day

    "I'm not exactly sure I understand what this is about," admitted a wary Red to an overly-enthusiastic Cory. The chestnut-haired guy had grown to become a friendly acquaintance, with his contagious excitement pouring off him, and his way of ensuring that one didn't feel overly out of place in the arena. Ever since he and Mawile had defeated Neesha, and started his first winning streak, Cory had been only too happy to introduce him to more challenging trainers with every passing day.

    "Think of the glory, my man." Cory put his left hand on Red's shoulder. "You've got a nice little streak going on, ever since you entered this place."

    "What's so special about that? Dozens of other trainers probably do that every day." Red refuted.

    "That may be, Mr. Insufferable," Cory chuckled, "but dozens of those trainers don't fight over and over with a single pokémon. Especially not with a cutie like that." He waggled his eyebrows at Mawile. "Speaking of which," he snuck out a packet of poképuffs from his back pocket and handed it to her. "Come on, take it. I know how much you love 'em."

    "Mawwwww…." Mawile replied cutely, her charm active in full force.

    Red rolled his eyes.

    "So what do you say, do you think you have what it takes?"

    Mawile puffed up her chest at that.

    Red sighed. "Fine. Tell me what this 'once-in-a-month-holy-shit' challenge is all about."

    Cory grinned. "Well, if you're asking me that much, I might as well..." He ignored the eye roll directed at him. "See, there's this trainer named Ashley in Arena 2, and from what I'm told, she's been to the League Conferences twice." Confident that he held Red's attention, Cory continued. "However, she has this habit of only bringing her starter with her every time she comes to a new region, while the rest of her team is caught and trained after that."

    "Huh? Why would anyone do that? Wouldn't training her original team be more effective?"

    Cory shrugged. "Beats me. The point is, only her starter is a high-level pokémon. Everyone else is fresh."

    Red wasn't sure if he liked the adjective, but ignored the point. "So why are you telling me all this?"

    Cory groaned. "Use your head. She's been to several conferences. The speculators are going crazy over her trainer level and experience, especially since her team is brand new. She hasn't earned a single badge in Kanto, just like you. A battle between someone like her, and someone like you, will create odds like you've never seen before. "

    "Wait a second!" Red replied, slightly flustered. "You want me, a zero-badge rookie, to fight someone who's been to Conferences? And you even imagine that I'd win?"

    "Yea?"

    "Why don't you go home and get some sleep. All this betting is screwing with your head."

    "Bah! Sleep is for the weak. The money, man, the money. If you agree to this and win, I'll be rich enough to set up a tiny betting pool by myself!"

    Red arched an eyebrow. "So I gotta put my pokémon at risk, simply because you think that I can somehow manage to defeat her?"

    "Why not? It's not like she uses her old pokémon. They aren't very experienced."

    "She's been to Conferences. Multiple Times. Her pokémon's experience doesn't matter."

    "Come on," Cory begged, "What do you have to lose?"

    "Of course I do, I—" Red stopped midway. It was a sound question. What did he have to lose? Losing would be the obvious result, no harm there. But if he won….

    "How much are the odds?"

    "Three to One, if you win."

    "I want part of your winnings."

    "Ah, now we're talking. How much?"

    "...Half!"

    "..."

    Red matched his stupor with a deadpan stare.

    "..."

    "I can always just walk out."

    "Wait," Cory interrupted. "Twenty percent. I'm also taking the risk of you losing."

    " Forty." Red bartered. "And my team is whats taking the damage."

    "Twenty-five." Cory countered. "And you're forgetting something else. There's the Battle Points to count."

    Red arched an eyebrow. "How many?"

    "Four hundred and fifty. You have what? Ninety on hand? If you win, you could grab the—"

    "The weekend jackpot." Red breathed hard.

    The weekend jackpot was yet another incentive offered by the Square. For rookies, one had to acquire five hundred points to qualify for it, and on an average, there was a single winner every two or three months who passed that barrier. The winner was supposed to receive a rare, non-Kanto native pokémon from the square.

    "So… what do you think?"

    "I think…" Red let out a tiny smirk. "That I might as well see how good a conference trainer is, first-hand."

    "Now you're speaking my language." Cory grinned shamelessly.

    ~~X~~

    Unlike the constantly frequented Arena 3, Arena 2 was still a bit of uncharted ground for Red. Most battles amongst Rookie trainers, which tended to be limited to zero-badgers to three-badgers at the most, were held in Arena 3, where he fought daily. In a similar fashion, the intermediate and elite-level trainers frequented the Arena 1 for the same purpose. Arena 2, the giant one in the middle, was used for the exclusive purpose of speculating and betting. Unlike the other three arenas, it had a single battleground in it and was surrounded by a richly furnished seating area for people to sit and speculate over the ongoing battle.

    And this was where he was going to fight his first public battle. At the very least, his first battle in an arena with large crowds surrounding him. He felt like he was surrounded by invisible eyes, staring at him, judging him, trying to measure his value. Almost as if he was an object.

    He glanced at the people seated up there. There were people to the left, and even more to the right. From the endless whispers, he presumed that there were several behind him as well. And all of them were cheering.

    Not for him, but for the conference-returned trainer.

    He had fallen into the temptation to get his hands on a rare, non-Kanto native, never seeing the trap he had fallen into. This wasn't an opportunity. This was… a show. A show where an experienced trainer would triumph as expected, while the rookie 'braggart', would suffer a humiliating defeat. And these people were here to enjoy that humiliation. The 'prize' as Cory put it, was merely the carrot dangled before him— not because he deserved it, but because he had been the one who succumbed to it in the end.

    He felt like slapping himself.

    Forgive me… He thought sadly. Mawile did not deserve this. But stepping back was not an option. Stepping back would only prove their assumptions right. Prove that he was an over-ambitious rookie who'd bitten off more than he could chew. Prove that he was the very person they expected him to be. And this… trainer, she'd show off her power as an experienced trainer by demolishing him.

    'One of the easiest expressions of power is to crush the powerless." Oak used to say. Red had heard it several times, but the true horror of the statement only dawned on him now.

    Well, so be it.

    The battleground in front of him was easily a dozen yards in diameter, if not more, and he was talking about the inner circle where the two battlers would be standing. There were two elevated podiums on either end for the two trainers to stand on, a significant distance away from their respective pokémon. He was provided with a headset, which would allow him to both communicate with his pokémon, and allow the crowds to hear his every command— or my hysteria —he mused. There was also a large screen on the left that showcased the still-empty battleground.

    A redheaded girl, possibly taller than him, walked up and stood on the podium on the other side. She wore a kind of crimson robe, or something along those lines. Either way, it was clearly not a style of dressing native to Kanto, so he assumed that it would be something related to her homeland's fashion styles.

    This is Ashley Meyers. Red mused. He had been told about the other trainer's name, and nothing else, apart from what Cory had informed him earlier. This is a trainer who's fought at a Conference.

    "This will be one on one battle. No items allowed. The last pokémon standing will be declared the winner." A formally-dressed man, whom Red presumed was the referee, declared in a monotone. "Challengers, release your pokémon."

    Ashley smirked, before plucking out her pokéball from the depths of her robe. Throwing it out in a rather extravagant display, she yelled, "Ursaring, I choose you."

    The pokémon that appeared on stage looked like a massive bear, with several interwoven layers of fur on its shoulders, giving the appearance of thick plates of armor. From the large, pointed claws protruding from its palms, Red mused that getting into close-combat with this pokémon would be certain death unless you were fast enough. Ursaring weren't very common in Kanto, which made him wonder if this was actually one of her older ones.

    "Don't panic, challenger. This is not one of my earlier ones." Ashley spoke up as if reading his mind. "I want to be a pokémon master and cheating my way through rookies will not help me with that goal."

    Red arched an eyebrow. And yet here we are. Is pokémon master a position one gets by crushing rookies?

    Ashley however, was still on her monologue. "I caught him as a Tediursa on the Seafoam Islands. He was close to evolution, which is why you get to face him in all his glory. I wouldn't make the mistake of underestimating him."

    Oh, he wouldn't. Red inwardly promised. Ursaring had massive physical strength, and one good attack could cause Mawile some serious damage. It was their somewhat slow speed that kept them from demolishing opponents with brute force alone. That being said, this was an ursaring trained by a conference participant.

    And it's long arms give it a huge reach. It will be difficult for Mawile to outrun it.

    Red stared at the creature in front of him. It was larger than Mawile. It had bigger reserves than her. It its long arms ensured it a longer reach. And it was trained by a more experienced trainer. How did you defeat such a thing?

    He plucked out Mawile's pokéball, and without any extravaganza, simply released her. Mawile appeared on the ground, shaking her head to throw off the effects of the suppressive forces within the device. She wasn't a fan of those ball thingies and would likely never be.

    Then her eyes met Ursaring's enormous form.

    ...shit.

    Never in her life had Mawile thought she'd curse her weakness to poképuffs. That clever imp had gotten better of her by waving them like a carrot, and she had fallen for it.

    Bad mistake.

    "Mawile," Red replied, "do what you do best."

    The audience translated his words as telling the deceiver pokémon to play to her strengths and do her best. For Mawile, it meant something entirely different.

    Red was telling her to cheat.

    "Wile!" She nodded briskly, before meeting Ursaring's eyes.

    Without any preamble, Ursaring let out a roar and stomped its way towards Mawile, who looked like she wanted to be anywhere but in this tournament. Had she really just sacrificed her life for a packet of poképuffs? What was she thinking?

    "Mawile, focus," Red spoke from his podium, his voice loud and clear.

    "The moment Mawile met his eyes, the match was over," Ashley said with a tone of finality. "Ursaring are notorious for their pride. Looking at them in the eye is enough to signal a challenge to their authority and power." She paused. "They respond to it through open confrontation."

    Right. Red almost paled. Focus. He told himself, glancing at Mawile. He only hoped that her inexperience wouldn't stop her from making the correct decisions during battle. 'Mawile, evasion."

    That last bit was enough to bring Mawile back into the battle. Red was issuing orders, but he wasn't supposed to do so. It was her job. Did he think that she couldn't even deal with this uncouth beast by herself?

    I'll show him.

    Ursaring rushed towards her, its claws bared and ready to strike. It quickly crossed the distance between them, half-crouched and slashed its vicious claws right through Mawile's body.

    Mawile stood still.

    For a moment, it felt like the little fairy would die an agonizing death, but instead of droplets of blood that should have slowly oozed out of the wound, the ivory fur flickered, before her entire form dissipated out of existence. And just two steps away, the real Mawile stood, smirking at the perfect execution of her deceptive technique.

    Brilliantly done. Red mused from where he stood. She formed a clone in less than half a second and leapt back seamlessly allowing the ursaring to think that Mawile was her illusion. Somehow the initial fear of humiliation was slowly losing its hold on him, and Mawile's ability to get the better of her opponent was sending jolts of adrenaline down his spine.

    Yes, we can do it.

    Ursaring looked up, slightly confused, before spotting the real Mawile. A part of its mind pointed out that it had been deceived, causing it to howl in greater fury.

    "Get in close and use Fury Swipes. We'll see just how long it can evade your claws." Ashley commanded, her jaw clenched at the semi-casual way in which the Mawile had gained an edge over the battle. Double-Team was something that was commonly used as a trick to hide the real attack, but using it like this…

    It was both interesting, and troubling, at the same time.

    Ursaring let out another roar, but before it could do anything, a near-impenetrable mist diffused all over the battleground, enveloping everything inside it. Ursaring as a species, never really boasted perfect vision, since they were first and foremost, direct combatants, and had no use of long-ranged techniques, except for the older and more powerful members of their species which could learn the overly destructive and incredibly taxing Hyper Beam. The mist had created a zone of extreme translucence, which for Ursaring, might as well be pure white.

    Finally. Red watched through gritted teeth. At least this would give Mawile some breathing room.

    Ursaring kept swinging its massive blows all around itself, charging blindly into the mist. As a species, ursaring had a strong sense of smell, but at such close proximity, olfactory senses weren't that effective. With Mawile's small stature and the Mist enveloping the ground, she might as well be invisible.

    SLAM!

    A chunk of impenetrable steel slammed into its right thigh from the rear, causing Ursaring to double down in pain, as its knee gave away. It tried to slice the attacker with its claws with a sharp, right swing, but Mawile had moved out of its reach.

    Why doesn't he say anything? Is he somehow communicating with her through his mind? Ashley wondered in frustration. As a veteran, she was used to listening to the opponent's commands, analyzing their effects and then changing tactics appropriately. This trainer— Red something, seemed perfectly fine to stand still and allow this pokémon— a Mawile, she had recognized, to battle by itself. Perhaps this Mawile had a psychic parent or something? Was that how it developed enough of a psychic constitution to accept orders mentally? What the HELL was going on?

    "Aren't you going to issue commands?" She goaded. "Or do you somehow think that your pokémon can just win by itself? Are you just that lacking in skill?"

    "You seem to have trouble dealing with my pokémon's… instincts. What do you have to complain about?" Red fired back, before shifting his gaze back to the ongoing battle. This kind of aggression technique might have triggered a response in other rookie trainers, He had too much experience with Gary Oak for this to affect him.

    Maybe I can send him a greetings card for that. He wondered in amusement.

    "Fine. So be it. Ursaring, use Stomping Tantrum."

    Red blinked. He had never really heard of that move before this. Then again, considering the vast number of moves available, it was not expected of him to know each and every one of them. And even if he did know them all, there was always the possibility that a trainer might use a Move Tutor or something original that he created from scratch. Therefore, the correct idea was to analyze what it did and then try to create a counter for it.

    Let's see if Mawile can find her way through this. Worst comes to worst, she'd need help, and if I am unable to find a solution, we'll accept defeat.

    Ursaring let out a growl, as its body seemed to undergo some kind of inner restructuring. It looked larger, wilder, and more and more like a thrashing primeape in the middle of one of its classic rages. Its eyes had gone all wild, its pupils dilated, and its entire body shaking with frenzy. It retracted its claws, before slamming its palms and its left knee onto the ground, raising dust and debris from its constant hammering.

    Then its hands began going all crazy, and so did its legs.

    It looks like the use of forced, periodic vibrations to develop a form of resonance with the ground. Red mused. Almost like Magnitude, but the vibrations are controlled and limited to the surface of the surrounding land. Reminds me of a nidoking's Rampage, only the effects are limited to the surface. And it seems to be combined with ..Thrash.

    He almost chuckled, what with the way Ursaring reminded him of a magikarp. A large, furry, overgrown magikarp, and yet, it was working. As long as this… Stomping Tantrum continued, Mawile couldn't get near Ursaring, and thus, brought the situation to a stalemate. What an interesting Move Tutor.

    He had to admit, it was a perfect counter to its present situation. It was down on the ground, and the Mist was the perfect cover for now, in a completely different fashion, Ursaring was using the vibrating ground as a cover for itself. If the Mist died down, Mawile would be a sitting duck, and if Ursaring ran out of stamina, he'd be brought down to a humiliating defeat.

    The problem was, Ursaring had larger reserves than Mawile.

    And just like that, Red frowned, Ashley's got me. This is what it means to fight an experienced trainer.

    It was difficult, but it was brilliant. So this was what it felt to have a real battle. But even so, despite the thrill, Red couldn't help but feel that it was too easy. He was a rookie, he should have been taken out easily. And yet, he had gained some measure of dominance against the other trainer. For as long as that lasted anyway.

    "Your mawile won't be able to fight her way out of this one. No plan survives the enemy." Ashley remarked.

    True. Red nodded. But I didn't make one.
    ~~X~~

    Mawile considered the scenario. From the very start, she had taken command of the situation, using deception to lure her opponent into the position she wanted it to be, before tricking her way out. Just like Red had taught her, she had utilized the Mist to create a perfect cover, before striking at the most effective position.

    "When facing a large bulky opponent, always aim for the legs. Bring it down to your size."

    She had done exactly the same. The hit on the thigh had brought it down, and the ideal thing would have been to repeatedly hit again before the Ursaring could manage to retaliate. But Mawile had started to enjoy it. The thrill of bringing down something so massive had filled her with a sense of animalistic pride. Unfortunately, she got a bit too lost in the electrifying feeling of being the hunter and her battle-lust had superseded her pragmatism. Instead of falling back and using blitz tactics along with area-of-effect techniques like Thunder Wave and Icy Wind like they had gone over, she had repeatedly gone forward and then slipped back into the mist, to intimidate her opponent.

    It was a stupid thing to do. But Mawile was enjoying it too much. A little too much.

    That, as it turned out, had been her mistake. Both Ursaring and her trainer had already seen the move and were prepared to counter it.

    Never be predictable. Red's voice rang in her head. Since I'm not issuing orders, as long as you cycle through your move pool, it's very hard for the other trainers to figure out what you'll do next. Take advantage of this.

    And now, Ursaring had her in a stalemate. Of course, he was still grounded, but he was just as safe from her. Even attempting to get close enough for a strike would leave her open to multiple strikes.

    Fairy Wind? Not powerful enough. The rising debris would deflect it away.

    Icy Wind…
    Mawile looked at the interwoven fur. Hardly.

    Iron Head would be effective, but one hit from those rocks-wait, rocks?


    It was true. The consistent hammering on the ground had begun to cause forced vibrations on the surface, causing rocks and tiny boulders to jump out of the crest and fall all over the place, away from Ursaring, who still lay safe at the epicenter. Any attacker coming in for close-combat would have to face them first.

    Mawile smirked. She could work with this.

    ~~X~~

    Ashley had been in two conferences ever since she had started our journey from Hoenn. With her starter-a rhyhorn whom she had christened Jerry, she had started out to become a Pokémon Master. With a team of six, as well as her starter, she had been placed 64th in the Ever-Grande Conference, a decent performance for someone in their first year as a trainer. After some weeks of rest back in her home in Little Root Town, she had decided to go for her next region-the snowy lands of Sinnoh. Wanting to have a fresh start, she had left behind her team, and started on her next journey, with just her starter. It took her another year, catching new pokémon and training them from scratch, and finally, she had gotten all eight badges, and this time, she had placed 31st.

    Not losing hope, she had set out once again, this time to the forestlands of Kanto, to try her hand at the Indigo Circuit, once again with just her Jerry at her side. A visit to the Seafoam Islands had gotten her a rather mean tediursa, who had quickly evolved into a ferocious ursaring. She had expected that Trainer Square would be a good place to get her team into shape. Perhaps let it fight against some of the rookies and let it amass strength and confidence before she could pit it against her Rhydon.

    She hadn't however, expected… this.

    Why doesn't he speak? He's not commanding his pokémon at all. How am I going to counter his strategy, when I don't even know what his next move is?

    Ashley glanced at Red's face and scowled again. The boy seemed relaxed and maintained a constant gaze at his mawile. What was happening? Just HOW many move combinations had he taught her? He was a rookie, from what she knew. It was not possible for him to have taught a mawile of all things, every possible move combination. She suppressed an urge to walk up to the trainer and smack him in the face.

    Focus. She told herself. He's just a rookie. How much could he have taught the little beast anyway?

    Stomping Tantrum might have changed the course of the battle, but it was a stalling tactic at best. If Mawile kept her distance, Stomping Tantrum would not affect her, especially with Ursaring being on the ground. And yet, it was also taking a lot out of Ursaring.

    Ashley grit her teeth. How could she had even imagined that the little fairy knew Mist of all things? No one even uses the damn move anymore.

    If this continues, that mawile just has to wait for Ursaring to exhaust himself. I need to figure out.
    She glared at Red as if he were somehow to blame for it If I use Rest, Mawile will simply attack head-on. If I continue, Mawile will stay away. The longer this goes on the more my disadvantage. I need to end this now.

    "That Mawile can't hold Mist forever. The minute you see it, end it with Hammer Arm. "

    That was when the surprise kicked in.

    Out of the somewhat fading Mist, Mawile appeared, who let loose of her Fairy powers, whipping up a circular wind stream around herself. It took a while, but the fallen rocks and debris were lifted up by the Fairy Wind and were circling the Ursaring.

    Ashley's eyes widened "No. Ursaring, get out of there."

    It was easier said than done. With one thigh nearly squashed from the iron heads he had taken at the start of the fight, Ursaring was a sitting duck. The rocks and debris, no longer held up by the Fairy wind, came storming down onto the large bear, who tried to use his limbs to shield the rocks from hitting his face. The thick layers of fur prevented deep lacerations, but it was sure to have caused some superficial injuries.

    Mawile sighed in exhaustion. Performing Fairy Wind on such a large scale had taken a toll on her. Energy attacks were always way too taxing for her. Luckily, because of her fairy nature, her affinity to fairy techniques was extremely high and her underpowered wind was still enough to do what she wanted it to. And now, Ursaring was injured, curled up on the ground, ready for her final attack.

    And Mawile pounced, right beneath Ursaring's neck.

    Avoid what is strong, and strike at what is weak. That was the strategy she had been trained in.

    Her jaws, vicious as ever, bit into the soft flesh, past the multiple layers of fur. Steel would not be denied. Not by fur.

    Steel would have its prey.

    Ursaring let out a roar, but this time, in pain.

    "Ashley," Red spoke for the first time, "I believe you should return your pokémon before Mawile injures it even further."

    "Return? You mean forfeit? Never. Ursaring, get up. I believe in you. You can do it."

    Mawile raised her jaw, and dug into Ursaring's back the second time, relishing in her own viciousness. It had been a taxing battle, and now she would not be denied her prey.

    Ursaring groaned again.

    "Mawile enough, it has lost. Let it go." Red instructed calmly, though there was an undercurrent of sternness in his voice. This was what the old professor had warned him about. If he did not put a halt to this now, it would cause him several complications later.

    But Mawile would not let go. She would not be denied. Not after all this. All that training, all those hours of constant attrition, all of them led to this. She had won, and now she would consume her prey. She raised her jaw for the third time.

    "Ursaring, return!" A shaky voice muttered, as Ursaring was enveloped in pale, red light before it was sucked into Ashley's pokéball— just in time, as Mawile's jaw hit solid ground. A single second of disorientation past before Mawile realized that her prey had been stolen from her, right in front of her eyes.

    She glared at the podium and found the one creature that had done her wrong.

    And Mawile let out a roar.

    "Mawile, return." Red sighed. Mawile was terribly small for a battler and in a world where a single attack from a larger opponent could cause her great injury, she couldn't afford to show mercy. However, there was a difference between being vicious in battle and attacking a fallen and helpless opponent. They would have to have words.

    "It's over," Red muttered, before turning around and leaving the podium.
    ~~X~~

    "I knew you could do it, my man. I just knew it." Cory exclaimed, hugging Red by the shoulder. "I could kiss you, you know."

    "Spare me your excitement," Red muttered. Inwardly, he was confused at his quickly changing circumstances as well as towards his relation with Cory. The affable elder teen had always been someone he had taken for granted since he had been pretty clear with his situation from the start. I help you to win, and I get paid for doing it. It had been simple.

    Now, it was not. Cory had deceived him into entering, what was practically a wolves' den. Though, Red mused that he was equally at fault for letting him get through to himself. He had been carried away at the prospect of winning the weekend jackpot, which reminded him—

    "What about my money? How much did you win?"

    Cory grinned shamelessly. "Thirty thousand for a ten-thousand bet."

    "You were confident enough to bet ten-thousand on a rookie?" Red arched an eyebrow.

    "Impressive, right?" Cory winked.

    Red shook his head. Maybe he'd never understand what went through the other teen's mind. "So… I make seven and a half. That's what I get, right?"

    "Of course." Cory gave him a wolfish grin, before pointing at the little device he always carried around with him. "Check your pokédex. I transferred the money as soon as you won."

    Is he just that insane, or— never mind. "So… the jackpot...?"

    "Yeah, but for that, you need to get down with me. The higher-ups told me that you can collect it from the basement."

    "I didn't know this place had a basement," Red muttered while checking his pokédex. Just like Cory said, seven and a half thousand pokédollars had been transferred to his account. It almost made him forget how he had been manipulated earlier.

    "Few do." Cory shrugged. "Anyway, I must say, that mawile of yours is a real deal. She'll grow up to be an awesome battler." He turned towards Red. "There is always the Weekend Prize next week. You are coming back, right?"

    "Yes." Red lied.

    "Good. Anyway, as I was saying. That mawile of yours is awesome. You're getting noticed, Red Ketchum. Usually, that's not a very good thing."

    "What do you mean?" Red asked, inquisitive.

    "Well, people who tend to get noticed either catch the tide and move up in our world. Or else, they are dragged down by rich and petty people who want to bend them to their wishes." He paused for a moment. "Your mawile for instance. She's a cutie, and a damn good battler. But she's vicious. If she ends up hurting the wrong person's pokémon... things could get bad kid. Take it from someone who's seen the world. There's only so long you can flirt with danger, before it starts to flirt back."

    For a moment Red thought back about his experiences with Mawile at the forest— first with Ritchie, and then with the fearow. Then, he chuckled. "Mawile doesn't flirt with danger. She meets it head-on. And then swallows it whole."

    Cory chortled at that. "Good answer, squirt. My bad, I meant to say Weekend Champion. I suppose it's time to collect your prize."
    ~~X~~

    Once they traveled down to the ground floor, Cory pointed towards a set of stairs that went down into what he presumed was the basement. The Trainers Square had been a significant part of his journey here in Viridian, and while he had expected it to mold it into a better trainer, it had also taught him some of the harsh realities of life. He wondered which one had a deeper impact on him.

    "What's happened to kids nowadays? Seriously, it's like talking with an old man. I thought that children were supposed to be little balls of energy, zipping around."

    Red chuckled. He did know a little ball of energy. Her name was Mia and she was back at home. Probably dancing too now that he thought of it.

    "Never mind me, I've always been the boring guy around the block."

    "Better you than me." Cory shrugged. "Anyway, we are here. Just the left."

    They deserted the stairs and turned towards the right, before finding himself at a dead-end. In front of him, there was a pedestal, with a single pokéball— greatball, he corrected —inside a glass case.

    "A greatball? The pokémon is inside a greatball?"

    "Obviously," Cory drawled. "You didn't think Trainer Square would give you a Caterpie, did you?"

    Red ignored that, his mind reeling at the revelation. Greatballs were primarily used for capturing and storing large pokémon, who were either larger than ten feet in height, or were too strong to be kept in an ordinary pokéball. The mysteries of the technology eluded him, but the significance was pretty clear.

    "A Pokémon fit for a greatball, unless…" His lips twisted in amusement, "It's actually a caterpie."

    Cory arched an eyebrow in amusement. "Do you have any more theories you'd like to share or do you want to look at what's inside?"

    "Here?"

    "...right! Knew I was forgetting something." Cory pressed a button on the side.

    "What the—?"

    A steel door sprung behind Cory, trapping both of them inside a cubicle like zone, with the pedestal still being in its position. The ceiling spread open, as Red felt himself shoot upwards. Before he could get used to the sudden movement, it came to a stop, before the steel door dropped down, revealing—

    "Welcome to the top floor. An awesome spot to reveal your newest addition. Isn't it?"

    From what Red had seen, the Trainers Square wasn't that tall, but this elevator ride changed everything. It had to be some kind of skyscraper with a minimum of fifteen floors.

    "We—where the hell are we?"

    Cory grinned. "Never mind that. Just release it."

    Red shook his head, not bothering to ask his insane companion any further questions. Besides, he too was growing impatient of waiting for it. Without further ado, he lifted up the greatball, and clicked on the button in the front, releasing the beast within.

    The light expanded outward, giving the appearance of slender yet sharp wings with pointy edges, spread out in a ruffed-up fashion. The body expanded into two claws at the base and a long, slender neck that ended up with a long, pointed beak. The moment the light dissipated he witnessed the silver-grey form, the long, metallic neck with the characteristic red in the wings, and the triangular crest on the head. A loud squawk made its presence known, making Red step back, awestruck at the specimen in front of him, before raising its wings imperiously.

    And then the beast let out a fearsome screech.

    "A… skarmory?" Red breathed, his tone etched with disbelief. His mind, rendered blank for two seconds as he processed the grandeur of the terrifying creature in front of him before his excitement shook him awake. Almost on instinct, he raised his pokédex— ignoring the arched look that Skarmory gave him, and scanned it.

    Skarmory, the armor bird pokémon. Skarmory is entirely encased in hard, protective armor. This Pokémon flies at close to 190 mph. It slashes foes with its wings that possess swordlike cutting edges. Skarmory's steel wings become tattered and bashed in from repeated battles. Over time, the battered wings grow back completely, restoring the edges to their pristine state.

    "...Skar?"

    Had it been any other pokémon, Red would probably have been more alert. However, there was something about the avian's expression that told him that it was more amused than anything. He calmly pocketed the Dex, before giving the avian his undivided attention.

    "For a rookie, you seem to know quite a lot of pokémon." Cory observed. "And don't worry, pokémon bred and trained at our Ranches are pretty docile."

    "I know—" he paused, before gazing at Skarmory a second time, "—she won't attack. Else, the moment I first looked in her eyes would have been my last. Trust me, I know from experience."

    "...mor…" Skarmory was even folding back her wings into place.

    "Really." Cory arched an eyebrow.

    "Yeah." Red breathed. "Skarmory are Johto natives, and they are very, very fast. Their bodies are literally encased in steel. Its skin produces an organo-metallic alloy that holds within it, all the properties of steel, without its immense weight, allowing Skarmory to be quite light despite their rather heavy appearance. With its aerodynamic form and the sharp edges of its steel wings, skarmory are efficient aerial combatants and terrifying predators."

    Even Skarmory tilted her head at that.

    "Point taken," Cory muttered, blinking at the information he had just been fed with. "I'll just… allow you to mingle with each other, eh?"

    "Yeah, back at the ranch, the old man worked with a skarmory once. But this one is really magnificent" Red swallowed, before turning towards the Skarmory.

    "Uhm, hi. I'm Red."

    "Skar!"

    "Right, Skar. Well, nice to meet you."

    "Skar!"

    "So, I'm a trainer, and well, the Trainer Square gave me your greatball. I guess what I want to say is…"—Well, it might be dangerous to tell Skarmory that I'm essentially its new owner. Having Mawile out would be the safer option.

    "Mor?" Skarmory continued to watch as Red plucked out another pokéball, wondering where this was going.

    "Excuse me. Wait a second." He stepped back, before pressing the release button, allowing her out and—

    "OH FUCK IT! MAWILE! DON'T BITE!"

    But Mawile would not listen. She had been refused her prey, first by that other human, and then by Red. Obviously, using her steel jaw was out of the picture, but her frontal teeth were more than enough for the message to sink in.

    Skarmory watched the entire thing with an amused expression. So this was her hoard. That was her master, and the little one was probably his companion so far. It seemed cute, which was probably why her master kept it along. Nevertheless, her master was part of her hoard, so the little creature was probably in it as well.

    It would definitely be interesting.

    Meanwhile, unaware of her thoughts, Red was finally able to get Mawile to stop biting into him. "Come on, we have a bigger issue at hand. Just look to your right."

    Mawile did not care. Even if she'd be gifted with a basket of poképuffs, she'd have her revenge over her— No wait, she'd get the poképuffs and then return back to —and what the hell was screeching over—

    "WILEMAWILE!" She yelped, rushing behind Red's jeans to save itself from the vicious avian.

    Red sweatdropped.

    "Skarmory is going to be our newest friend… probably. She might have some questions, probably about me. I guess you'd be the best to answer them." The cynical part of him casually commented that Mawile was probably irritated, and could easily just say something wrong intentionally, just to spite him, but he ruthlessly ignored that.

    Skarmory screeched again, this time with an interrogative tone, her eyes meeting Mawile's.

    "...wile!" Mawile muttered under her breath, before picking up some courage, and leaving the protective sheath that was her trainer's jeans, and bravely stepped out. Perhaps they could come to an arrangement that would end in her not being cut open and eaten?

    The avian screeched again.

    "...wile!" Mawile replied, this time letting out a sigh, before describing something rather animatedly. Red didn't exactly understand what it was, but it involved a lot of hand-signs, a lot of sighs and a lot of bright wide-eyed expressions. There were also several smirks thrown in, with a lot of dreamy-eyed looks. From what he could ascertain, nothing had yet gotten Skarmory to become aggressive.

    I wonder what they are talking about.

    Skarmory squawked, and for a moment, Red felt that she was amused by something. Considering the frown on Mawile's face, they were probably disagreeing over something. He wondered if bringing Mawile out was a good idea or a bad one.

    "WILE!" Mawile retorted at something with surprising aggression, causing Red to start worrying about their mutual safety. Then, Skarmory pushed herself into Red's personal space and clicked the greatball with her beak. With another flash of red light, Skarmory was back inside it.

    "Well, that was anticlimactic," Red muttered. "What was that about, Mawile?"

    Mawile shrugged, putting up her best 'I have no idea what you are talking about' expression.

    "Of course you don't," Red muttered.
    ~~X~~

    Crisis averted, and no blood spilled, Red had graciously thanked Cory for the gift and hadn't wasted a moment to get down from the building. Not trusting his feet, he had taken a quick taxi to the Pokémon Center, while Mawile, being remarkably uninjured from her battle, had returned to caring for her cherry-blossom tree, which was currently lying upside-down along the windowpane.

    Wait. There was something wrong with that.

    "Mawile? Why is the cherry-blossom out of the pot? I thought you were taking care of the tree."

    The piece of mud that came flying towards him in answer was enough to stop him from asking further questions. Besides, all she was doing was dropping all the mud on the floor. Perhaps she had a change in mind or something? Well as long as she cleaned up afterward, it would probably be fine. He was far too excited with his new pokémon to worry about what she was doing at the moment

    He ignored Mawile's eccentricities and returned to gaze at the greatball in his hand. Then, as if struck with a touch of inspiration, he instantly scanned it using the Dex, allowing the monotonous, mechanical voice to reveal its findings.

    This Skarmory is female. Known Move set: Peck, Flash, Wing Attack, Iron Head and Steel Wing. Abilities: Keen Eye and Sturdy.

    This was getting better and better. Two abilities? Having the potential for two abilities wasn't uncommon in the pokémon world, but this usually translated to having a single ability and a hidden ability that manifested under certain conditions. Having two abilities from the very start, though— that was a rather uncommon thing. This Skarmory must have had powerful parents.

    He checked in for more information.

    Keen Eye. Increases visual perception significantly. Allows accurate vision through terrain changes that impair sight such as sandstorms or hail.

    Sturdy. A byproduct of Skarmory's body physiology. The layer of metal on the body surface is constantly regenerated from the inside, keeping Skarmory in shape despite the constant erosion on the surface. It significantly decreases the possibility of death, which is why most Skarmory live for several centuries.


    This Skarmory was Gold with a capital G. With its abilities, even a low-powered Wing Attack would cause significant damage. Add that to Skarmory's own speed and her natural steel-typing, a Steel Wing attack from a significantly high dive would possibly cause more damage than a head-on Hyper Beam. He could see the implications in front of his very eyes. With Mawile and her versatility and deceit, and Skarmory's speed, defense, and offense, the whole world would tremble and fall down to their knees as Red Ketchum would tower above them. Especially if Ashley was the kind of trainer who participated in Conferences.

    Fear me, Indigo League. I'm coming to violate you.

    During all this while, Mawile, who had turned to glance at her trainer, seemed to be edging away slightly further and further as her trainer's face seemed to turn all maniacal before he literally began to salivate. Seriously, wasn't hyper-salivation indicative of mental illness? Perhaps Red had been a little too damaged from the electrocution back then. Maybe that's why he insisted on keeping that useless mute and allowed it to tag along.

    She looked at Skarmory's greatball in Red's hand. From what she had guessed, the avian was a fine battler. Perhaps between her and Skarmory, Red would be too engrossed to notice the useless Shellder? If that was the case, then it would be really easy to get rid of it.

    Yes, fighting at the Square did come with its own share of advantages.

    Her jaw shook slightly.

    Mawile widened her eyes. Even her jaw seemed to agree with her now.

    This was getting beyond ridiculous.
    ~~X~~

    Meanwhile in Pallet Town.

    "Defarge, I didn't hope to encounter the bureaucrat twice in the same week." Oak started the impending conversation, stepping into the parlor. He had heard the bell ring, and Delia, who had returned just a day ago, had mentioned that there was someone from the League there to visit him, but he had likely thought that it was probably one of Lance's henchmen, trying to sell him the job of the First of the Elite Four.

    "We got some leads on your complaint. Divan thought it would be best if I gave you the message personally, since well… it came from you."

    Oak ignored the slight headache that was just beginning to form. And people thought he was being childish when he gave up his throne. Anything was more bearable than having to make endless conversations with politicians who couldn't touch their nose without twisting their hands around their necks. Maybe there was some kind of curse involved. Possibly mind-manipulation, he'd have to look into it.

    "What about it? I thought it was a simple issue. Has the boy testified?"

    "Mr. Kent has been unavailable from the very day you registered the complaint. In fact, his last presence was at Pallet Town Pokécare, the very evening you made the complaint."

    "Healing his pokémon, I believe?"

    "Exactly. The details weren't clear, but from what the nurses were able to reveal, his pokémon were in a state of extreme injury. There had also been a submission of four thousand pokédollars at that institution by Kent for healing his pokémon."

    "Were they treated?"

    Defarge scowled at that. "So far the records are fairly straight. It is after this point that things become slightly… odd."

    Oak tilted his head slightly. "How?"

    "From what the nurses and other medical staff told us, his team had been placed under the care of a certain Dr. Pym. But when our warrant officer reached there for inquiry, there was no trace of him whatsoever. Every single staff member swore up and down that they not only knew Pym, but that they had worked with him for years, and knew him to be a very good man, but none of the records show any mention of a Doctor Pym at all."

    "What do you mean there was no mention of—?"

    "Exactly what I said," Defarge muttered with a scowl. "The situation is odd, which is probably why Divan asked me to bring you up to date in person. Everyone in the staff apparently trusted Pym like hell, but when asked, they could not provide even a general picture of the man. It was almost like their memories had been—"

    "Manipulated?" Oak finished. "But where does Ritchie Kent come in all of this?"

    Defarge shook his head. "I haven't the slightest idea. Whoever this Dr. Pym is, it is presumably correct that Ritchie Kent was last seen with him. Sometime during the early hours of the morning, Mr. Kent's pokémon had been transferred to another facility, on Pym's orders, for better treatment. Ritchie Kent had been spotted leaving the clinic sometime before that."

    "I hardly think someone would go through something so diabolical as memory-manipulation to simply kidnap a rookie trainer and his pokémon, if that is indeed the case." Oak frowned. "There is something more than this. Something that is not clear."

    Defarge agreed. "We ran a check on the official database. There is no mention of a Doctor Pym anywhere. He did not ever exist. The closest we found was a Dr. Hank Pym serving as Administrator at the Harvey Medical Institute in north Johto some hundred and seventy years ago."

    "Put me through to Lance. If I give him a direct request, he might sanction a memory check on the medics. That might get us somewhere." Oak suggested. The idea of someone performing sinister activities so close to home deeply perturbed the old man.

    Have I gotten so feeble-minded that I miss what is right under my nose?

    "We already did that. Davin acquired permission for that. Lady Sabrina's alakazam performed the scans. There was nothing. Their minds retain traces of information about how well they know Dr. Pym. I believe Lady Sabrina's exact words were— 'it is like watching a disc replay over and over for a year. A little information repeated over and over so much that it occupies a significant part of their memory.'

    "And now Ritchie Kent is with him," Oak muttered, wondering if his report had pushed the young man into taking a decision he'd come to regret.

    "Whatever Mr. Kent's dealings are with this Pym character, the Trainer ID suspension charge on him has been suspended temporarily. Davin thinks it might make Kent show up, and answer a couple of our questions."

    "Let me know if there is any information on that. I'll… work on the increased safety of Pallet Town." Oak sighed. He'd been doing that a lot lately.

    "Davin suspected you would. Nevertheless, I'm told that we have a standing order for two Ace trainers to be transferred to Pallet by the end of the week. You are requested to work alongside them."

    Oak nodded. For some reason, the word Pym kept repeating itself over and over in his mind. It was almost as if it was something he had once known but chosen to forget. But that was certainly not possible. After all, nothing in the database even mentioned a man called Pym, and Oak himself had a near-photographic memory.

    Don't worry about it. Oak told himself. He's just another criminal. Bit strange, but you've dealt with plenty of his type.

    Everything is going to be just fine.
     
    Frank992, Opholion and Rikallyn like this.
  7. Threadmarks: Act 1 | Chapter 6 - Shellder's Showdown
    TheBlackStaffAndNightMarE

    TheBlackStaffAndNightMarE I see. I write. I conquer.

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2020
    Messages:
    33
    Likes Received:
    127
    ACT 1 - IMMOLATION


    Chapter 6 - Shellder's Showdown


    "Come on, Mawile. Don't be so bitter. Just eat it. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day after all."

    Mawile huffed, pushing the bowl of pokémon food away. Seriously, she was beginning to hate this city. Back when they were in Pallet, she had Red's undivided attention and could bask in it as much as she wanted. But ever since they had gotten out of the river, every single incident had only caused issues between them. It had started with that inconspicuous, but useless mute Shellder. Come to think of it, she should have just thrown it back into the water when she had the chance. But she hadn't.

    And it had grown to be a pain in the jaw, of epic proportions— it was so clingy, always being attached to some part of his body. Not only that, when it came to training it always stole away Red's attention when creating illusory forms. Mawile had heard enough from Red about how shellder had almost zero learning potential, so of all the shellder in the world, why did Red have to catch some kind of Double Team savant? Mawile felt like Shellder was trying to undermine the rest of its species just by doing that.

    "At least try the others. I even added figs and nuts this time. You know, your favorite."

    DON'T CARE! Mawile yelled furiously within her mind, still sticking to her scowl. She'd thought that after a spectacular victory against that vicious ursaring, she'd get back to the Pokémon Center, and more importantly, to her secret stash. She had been happy gobbling up the poképuffs she had rescued from that mean, old nurse at the reception, only to find that they tasted a little like… dirt.

    Come to think of it, storing all those poképuffs inside a tree pot might not have been the best idea after all. Though, it wasn't like she had any alternatives. She was improvising.

    That was why she had emptied the entire pot, and lifted up one of tile plates on the room's floor, finding a tiny contraption beneath it. It wasn't too big, but enough to hold the poképuffs for the time being, until she was able to improvise some more.

    And then the very next morning, Red had told her— AFTER getting out of the Center —that they had overstayed, and thus, had to leave the room for the other trainers. Obviously, it was of no difference, since he had a perfectly fine tent for himself.

    Mawile had not cried. Mawile had not sobbed.

    For the next ten seconds.

    And then, she had broken down into heart-wrenching misery. All her deception, all her sacrifices, had yielded nothing. Nothing.

    Every single day she had used her cuteness to go with the nurse and steal a few poképuffs, making sure to take only a little at a time so she would be unnoticed, and put them back into her secret stash. It wasn't like any good would come out of keeping those delicacies trapped inside that large jar. Those poképuffs were splendid and deserved to be eaten. In fact, trapping them away inside large jars were pretty much a crime when they would better serve as food for others— pokémon like herself. So, in her eyes, she had only delivered judgment, upon the nurse for being inattentive towards her charges.

    Over the duration of their ten-day stay at the Center, her stash had grown bigger, larger. Of course, you could never have enough poképuffs, but there were certainly more than the previous days. But still, perhaps all hope hadn't been lost, and perhaps they could reclaim that room, and she could reclaim her stash.

    Unfortunately, despite Mawile's all-encompassing knowledge of the world, she had yet to learn about Murphy's Law.

    One day after she had been forced to abandon the poképuffs at the Center, Red had received a text from the Viridian Pokémon Center, asking him to pay a visit within the next three days. Flummoxed by the odd text, Red had taken a stupidly-happy Mawile back to the Center. And that was when things had started to go all wrong.

    That was two days ago.

    "You know that pouting won't change the fact that you did steal them in the first place. You should be happy that I'm not as angry with you as I should be."

    Mawile glared at her trainer. Truly Red had a poor grasp of the concept of belongings. If she found a den, it became hers. She wouldn't be giving it out to someone who had perhaps found it first. After all, the former must have been uncaring, or else, they would not have left the den free for others to find.

    It was the same for the poképuffs. If the Nurse really wanted them all to herself, then she should have buried them underground, away from prying eyes, like Mawile had so effectively demonstrated. To openly display such a treasure was equivalent to inviting others to rob her.

    "Making faces will not help your case. Not only did you steal the poképuffs, you even stole the potted tree at the entrance."

    Mawile frowned. How else was she supposed to sneak out the poképuffs? The tree was a splendid distraction. Red should have been praising her. Wasn't this an example of the distractionary and deceptive tactics that Red went on and on about?

    " Then you made a hole underneath the room floor and buried the poképuffs. In the ground. What were you thinking?" Red whispered furiously.

    She was, from what she remembered, thinking that hiding the puffs in the plant's pot was too suspicious. After all, she had never shown any interest in gardening before. Most plants tasted yucky. But even so, it was an outrageous accusation. Mawile didn't make any holes. The hole existed beneath the floor. She just lifted up one of the tiles and found it.

    "You should be glad that the nurse was nice enough to just give us a scolding and let us leave. If she had fined us, we'd have been in a lot of trouble. Three thousand isn't a joke."

    "Skar?"

    Oh yes. We were waiting for your highness to voice your opinion. Mawile thought ruefully, scowling as she pushed herself towards the extreme right, and sat with Red and Skarmory now behind her. At least looking at the blank canvas of the tent was a better option than trying to convince her dopey—

    "Shill!"

    Mawile blinked, finding the mute right in front of her. Apparently it was sitting behind her all this time. Almost cautiously, she stared into the mute, wondering for one second what existed in the eternal darkness that lay within Shellder's shell.

    SWURRRRP!

    Shellder extended out his long, crimson tongue and licked Mawile. Well, one could argue it was less of a licking and more of a sweeping-her-face with its salivary juices.

    "MAAAAWAAAA!" Mawile yelled in agonizing frustration, screaming her way out of the tent.

    Shellder squeaked, silently wondering what had gotten into its companion. Perhaps she had realized that her chances of becoming 'Shellder' were not very good? She'd didn't exactly have a long tongue after all.


    Five years ago

    Skarmory crouched, her instincts warning her from going out amidst the powerful hurricane that raged outside the safety of her cave. As someone who lived above the rest of the populace below, she couldn't help but feel disappointment surging through her veins. It was both hilarious and insulting how a weather phenomenon managed to tear down every illusion of hierarchy and power the creatures on Earth had. At any other time, she'd have claimed all of this as her own. The vast greenness of the grasslands spanning for several hectares, the forests that ran abound on the slopes of Vortigern, before disappearing into the hillocks along the lower ranges. She and her grandfather lived atop the tallest cliff of the Vortigern Range, a seat above anyone else.

    Standing at nine and a half feet tall her grandfather was the largest predator in the sky. Neither the rebel rhydon of the bohemian packs nor the plebeian fighting-types of the forest or even the chieftain nidoking of the nidoran herd could challenge him. Even the mighty onix inside the mountain, who had survived several centuries in silent dormancy, respected her grandfather's might. This was the Vortigern Range, known by the humans as the Fuchsia Reserve, but for her, this was the place where she lived, under the rule of her grandfather. The King of Vortigern.

    Another flash of bright blue light as electricity streaked through the night sky, and amidst the roaring gale, Skarmory recognized the flash of silver-large wings spanning over eight feet on either side, casting an imposing figure, enough for the Chieftains of other herds to look up to him with awe and respect. They called him Vortigern, after the very mountain itself.


    'Someday, they'll respect me just like him.' Skarmory told herself.

    The streaks of silver appeared over and over, as if the very winds were trying to illuminate her grandfather's presence. Skarmory pushed her long neck outside, just in time to feel the gust that accompanied with every single flap of his wings. With a mighty screech, Vortigern descended down at the precipice, right in front of her cave.


    "Youngling, I thought you hated storms. Why are you outside in such perilous weather?"

    Skarmory lifted her head. She had seen seven monsoons as far as she could remember, and hated every one of them. Her tiny, metal body experienced difficulties in trying to maneuver against the powerful gales during the thunderstorms, and her coating wasn't durable enough to resist. Pellets of rain hit her body at incredible speeds, which was why the royal grand-daughter of the king stayed within the confines of her cave for most of the season.


    "If the rain scares me, then how will I ever become king?"

    Her grandfather laughed. "You have several, several monsoons before that can happen. You have to grow strong, and fight your way from the populace below to assert your authority over them."


    "But I already have authority over them. They know you are the king."

    The older avian laughed. Perhaps it wasn't time yet. "In time, you'll have to assert your own power over them. Independent of my own. You'll have to learn how to lose and stand up again and again, until you achieve victory. Though you have many monsoons ahead of you before that happens, and who knows, you might choose the path of your father— choosing to travel the world with humans, and carve out his own path of conquest. You have a great destiny, bigger than the Vortigern. And to achieve it, you might have to travel past Vortigern itself."


    "I'll never do that." Skarmory refuted. She had grown up watching her grandfather rule the world that was the Vortigern range. In her mind, choosing to step down from that position to travel around the world with humans was lowly, and not something worthy of her pedigree. Perhaps those humans had done something nasty to her father, or perhaps he had simply been that naive and gullible, but Skarmory was not.

    Skarmory was strong. She was dedicated and determined. She'd rise in the shadow of Vortigern himself, and then someday, take his place.

    And no human would ever deviate her from her destiny.



    Present Day

    Skarmory witnessed the interaction between her trainer (retainer according to her) and that amusing creature known as a Mawile with a mixture of amusement and interest. From her own experience with the humans taking care of the Vortigern population, humans weren't that bad— well not all of them anyway. The medics often came along with the other caretakers, checking the population for injuries or illnesses, and then injecting them with the proper remedies. Besides, she had taken the decision to travel with a human for a reason, and she wasn't someone who went back on her word.

    She dug into the raw steak with relish, consuming it without further delay. At the very least, Red wasn't one of those humans that forced their pokémon to feed on food-supplements or whatever they were called— tiny morsels of half-baked vegetables that tasted mostly edible on a good day and were all-around awful unless someone knew how to make them tastier. Skarmory had often chosen to decline the food offered by the humans, preferring to hunt for tastier prey in the wild. The years had been good to her. She had grown from her tiny, frail self into a sturdy avian with a thick sheet of metal coating every inch of her body. No longer did she fear the rains, or thunderstorms. Of course, she was far from growing out of her grandfather's imposing shadow, but she was her own person. Her wings had grown over five feet on each side, and she stood at a whopping seven feet at present. There was no hurry. She was certain that in time, she'd surpass her grandfather in height and power.

    Time itself would be her witness.

    From what she understood about her company, Red traveled the path of the king. He was a human who had grown in the shadow of a great man and was aspiring for greatness himself, in hopes of surpassing his mentor in due time. Skarmory could empathize with that, having experienced the same, quite intimately one might say. That left the little water-type, that mostly seemed content to chew Red's hair or fingers from time to time— an amusing if somewhat concerning behavior in her eyes —or experimenting with those illusory forms of itself. She had been surprised and downright envious at the obvious level of control the Shellder had on the technique.

    It should not come as a surprise that she bullied Red into getting her the TM as well.

    Of course, she had yet to determine the strength and fortitude of her trainer and her subordinates (the mawile creature and the water-type— Shellder, she remembered). She wanted to see where they stood compared to her, and if her personal strength would suffer against any challenges in this… humanized world. Though she had yet to fight a creature of strength and skill superior to herself since Red hadn't put her through dangerous battles.

    It was surprising. She'd thought that humans liked nothing better than to run their captured pokémon through the grinder. Skarmory would have had problems with that, if not for the fact that she knew it produced results. She had left the mountains to grow strong and now she was worried that they weren't training enough.

    As for the mawile creature, Skarmory had found her to be a deceitful, little thing. Her powers at sensing the elements or the esoteric were hardly on the level of her grandfather, but she knew a fairy when she saw one. Humans were pretty easy to charm, and Red was quite captivated by the mawile creature's demeanor. Obviously, there was no wrong in that. The mawile creature was tiny, and from what Skarmory understood, her sole weapon was the large jaw protruding out of its head. It also served as a mouth for digesting larger prey. The mawile creature was a perfect example of an underdog trying to survive in a world of ferocious and powerful behemoths, much like she was, back in her adolescence. Only, she herself had been a naive little idiot, and this mawile creature was very good at deception.

    Either way, Skarmory decided to make it clear with the mawile creature. She was on the team now, and one of Skarmory's subordinates, which meant that she'd no longer require to employ deception to survive. With Skarmory beside her, the .awile creature would need to learn to snatch whatever she wanted directly. Such was the way of the king after all.

    With that thought in her mind, Skarmory let out a soft screech, flapping her wings as she went after Mawile.

    Red watched her leave with a soft smile. It was good to see some bonding between his pokémon.

    Perhaps Skarmory will be able to explain to her why stealing is wrong,


    An automatic scowl appeared on Mawile's face as she sensed the flapping of wings nearby. The blasted avian was here. Shellder could handle— one slap of her jaw, and it'd be sent flying. The huge, metallic avian was a different matter altogether. A sharp slap, hell a full-fledged Iron Head would barely cause a dent on her body, while a single slash from those sword-barrels she called wings, and Mawile would be a goner. While she acknowledged the tremendous development humans made in the field of healing, no amount of medicine could cure death. Or stupidity for that matter come to think of it.

    Mawile might have been Red's starter, and she might have been responsible for winning him everything he had so far while on his journey. Hell, it was Mawile's precious victory over the Ursaring that had caused Red to even get Skarmory in the first place, but that didn't change the fact that Skarmory was larger. Skarmory was faster. She could fly, and Mawile could not. Skarmory had a vastly superior and durable body while Mawile had to make sure to avoid getting so much as a scratch. Skarmory had incredible stamina, while Mawile had to make every single attack count. At the very least, Mawile wished she could have boasted on the power and strength of her steel jaw. But Skarmory was practically an avatar of steel— what with the way the thick layers of the metal seemed to be wrapped around her, like a protective enchantment to keep her from harm.

    Is this how it feels to be outclassed? With Skarmory, Red would be able to achieve victories against powerful creatures. My win against that bear wouldn't even count. Will I be…?

    For one moment, she felt a growing emptiness all around her. It was like the tent had vanished. Red too, had vanished. Everyone had vanished. There was only Mawile, sitting at the edge of the river. Or a precipice atop a steep cliff.

    Will I be… be left behind now?

    The sound of the wings beating grew closer and Mawile felt her scowl deepen further. Truth be told, while she was bitter about losing her poképuffs, what she feared even more was that she'd be losing Red's attention as well. It was one of the reasons she threw up temper tantrums, just so that Red would tend to her, and give her the attention she deserved. Gods, she felt so clingy at times.

    The loud, boisterous screech immediately alerted her to the presence of the avian behind her. Her scowl disappearing, she turned out, replying back in her own tongue. "Yes, I'm the mawile creature. What do you want?"

    Skarmory flapped her wings a few times, before settling on a good, solid spot on the ground. Folding her wings, she crooked her long neck downward at the fairy, crooning in a soft tone, or at least, as soft as her vocal cords allowed, "You seem to feel… out of place. Being my subordinate, this is unacceptable. It is my duty to help her realize the unvarnished truth of her situation."

    Mawile felt a violent urge to ignore all of the self-preservation instincts that were screaming at her to maintain her calm. There was no way, absolutely no way to win against this arrogant beast. She'd simply need to digest whatever insults she threw at her, and keep herself alive.

    Dying would be counterproductive. Don't get angry. Don't get angry.

    "What do you mean.. Help me realize the… unvarn... The truth?"

    "Unvarnished truth. The utter and complete truth. You are tiny, so of course you're a plebeian. I forgive you."

    Mawile felt her left eye twitch.

    "And that is?"

    Skarmory had a pleasant expression on her face. "You are approaching things in the wrong way. You employed deception and failed in the act. Of course, your being tiny and helpless might have led to this method of survival, but now you are my subordinate, and hence, I believe you should instead… take what you want."

    Mawile blinked. Several times. "Come again?"

    Skarmory almost frowned. "Take. Whatever. You. Want. " She spoke as if talking to a small child. Then again, tact for was plebeians, and as befitting a future ruler, it was her duty to always speak the complete truth at all times for her subordinates. Also, Mawile was tiny, so she counted as a child anyway.

    Mawile considered her opinion. Despite the overly arrogant tone, the Skarmory had come to offer her advice. Yes, it was in a round-about, overly boisterous and self-serving fashion, but it was advice nonetheless. "And how do you… I mean, I… do that?"

    Skarmory smiled lethally. "I knew you showed promise. The art of snatching involves using your power to take from others. This nurse, for example, the one that kept you from your poképuffs, she is a human and is therefore weak. You have my support. You should fight and get them back, just like you deserve."

    Mawile pondered over the matter. She liked the idea of taking whatever she wanted, but she wasn't Skarmory, with her giant steel body. Maybe she'd have to start small first. Shellder did seem like a weakling and probably couldn't retaliate even if she did steal its food. And serves it right for always stealing Red's attention while doing basically nothing. The idea of snatching away Shellder's food away did feel good.

    Her jaw shook agreeably.

    Oh, come on. Mawile groaned inwardly. Perhaps Skarmory was a bad influence on her jaw? She'd need to get to the depth of the matter. But that was for later.

    Snatching Shellder's food was of higher importance. Yes, she could totally see Shellder squeaking and wailing as she munched upon the delicious meal that could have been Shellder's but his attitude had gotten him what he deserved and—

    "Mawile, Skarmory!" Red's voice tore through her reverie. "It's getting late. We should try to get in a couple of hours of training before lunch."

    Mawile scoffed. Really now, one shouldn't interrupt her like that. She could lose some really fantastic ideas in the process.


    "I've been thinking… we've been in Viridian City for quite some time and…" he glanced at Skarmory, "It is time we progress further. Pewter City is closest, roughly a week's journey from here. Also, Pewter is rich in iron ore."

    Mawile's jaw shook… agreeably, one might say. Skarmory hollered at that. Iron ore was always welcome. They could use it to purify, strengthen and repair their steel parts. While they were not required to consume inordinate amounts of steel like Steelix or Aggron, it was still welcome since the metal directly enhanced existing layers, making them stronger.

    "Yes, yes, we are heading for an eat-all-you-want buffet in Pewter, but there's the Viridian Forest before that to consider. The road travels along the periphery, and that's why it takes so much time— a week and a half even if I were to rent a cycle or something. And I'm not sure if flying over the forest is an option."

    He glanced at Skarmory cautiously, waiting for a reaction, who shook her head.

    "...right. Well then, we can always travel through the forest. I mean, there's always a chance of getting lost, but Skarmory can probably help there"— Skarmory screeched in agreement —" and there are hordes of bug pokémon around. I'm not talking about just caterpie. The old man told me there are groups of pinsir deep inside the forest grounds, and anything pokémon that can survive in that kind of environment is bound to be dangerous as well." He paused. "Taking the long path would safer, but it'd be a boring week, and I really want to try our power against some of the wild pokémon in the deeper sections of the forest. Obviously we wouldn't go in too deep, and nothing short of a Pinsir should even be able to get through Skarmory's armor. Also, most of the predators there tend to feed on the smaller bugs, so unless we do something really stupid, we should be fine."

    He paused looking at his team. "So… what do you think?"

    "Maw..wile!" Mawile nodded eagerly. The prospect of feasting on the bugs of the forest sounded wonderful to her. Besides, as Red said, the other alternative was a dull week. She hadn't traveled so far from Pomace to be bored out of her mind. The thirst for victory and the adrenaline rush had awakened something primal within her soul. Something that wouldn't go back into its shadowed cave now that it was out.

    "Skar!" Skarmory proclaimed. Red's desire to establish dominion by defeating the wild creatures of the forest sounded like a kingly challenge to her. To enter the enemy's domain, crushing all opposition and conquering their territory— truly, the pinnacle of ambition. With another loud screech, she confirmed her acceptance.

    "What do you think, Shellder?" Red asked, happy with everyone's consent.

    Shellder did not voice his opinion. Instead, water gurgled out of its valves, wetting the ground beneath.

    "Well, I'll take that as a yes." He sweatdropped. "Now then, time to get some training done. What do you say?"

    Mawile nodded her head with vigor. Training was always welcome, and with a capable team member finally on board, she couldn't wait to show off.

    Unzipping his backpack, Red casually took out a fairly thick dairy with a jet black cover, with the words NOTEBOOK sprawled on it in beautiful penmanship.

    Mawile groaned.


    For Team 'Red', there were three kinds of training regimens. The first, or the Introduction Method as Mawile called it, was when Red would get the trainee (or lab rat, depending upon the perspective) inculcated with a specific TM. So far, Mawile had the maximum exposure to this, what with her recent gain of several skills over the past couple of weeks. Shellder had only been exposed to it once for Double Team and never again since Red wanted it to perfect Water Gun before he moved ahead to the next technique. After a TM was inculcated, Red would proceed to explain what the move was, liberally using the Dex to show videos of the move performed by other Mawile. That would be accompanied by long explanations on the move after which he'd deem her ready to practice it. Usually, this regimen lasted for several hours and ended up with the trainee being severely exhausted (and irritated because of the impudent water-type in the background).

    The second method was what Mawile called the Normal Method. This was by far the most common method in practice over her time spent with Red, and it was something she was most comfortable with. This method was applicable for all those moves that Mawile knew but was not very good with. Thunder Wave, Double Team and Mist fell under this regimen.

    The third, and what Mawile dreaded the most, was the Notebook Method. In this, Red would take out that sinister-looking notebook of his— his logbook, where he had meticulously and painstakingly jotted down every single fault Mawile had made while learning a particular move. This method was applicable for moves she knew and was close to mastering but was making stupid mistakes on the way. Whenever she'd make a mistake, Red would sit her down and make her undergo a humiliating episode where he'd loudly state each and every one of her mistakes so far, after which he'd take her through a most uninspiring lecture related to the move and its effects in excruciating detail.

    What was worse, that Mawile had once fallen asleep in the middle of a lecture, giving in to her tiredness. Poor Red had been inconsolable.

    Ever since that day, he meticulously kept repeating 'Mawile, are you awake? Are you listening?' every fifteen minutes, whenever he used the Notebook Method. She even had to stay awake on occasions when Red was trying to teach the mute bastard.

    "As I was saying," Red smiled disarmingly, much to Mawile's consternation, "this is our last training session before we enter the Viridian Forest. Inside, there might not be several chances for further training. However, the bug pokémon found inside should provide enough to keep yourself challenged."

    Skarmory screeched loudly in agreement.

    Red inwardly smiled. With someone like Skarmory in his group, his opinion about his chances of them surviving in the wild had gone up several notches. This would be the second time he'd be in a wild environment after Pallet Forest. The last time he and Mawile had just started and had been taken by wouldn't be the same this time. Mawile had an area-of-effect move in the form of Thunder Wave to take care of aerial nuisances, though Skarmory herself would be enough to deal with those in kind. Also, Mist would be effective to get out of dangerous situations or to deliver a swift attack on an unsuspecting attacker. Further, Mawile's ability with Iron Head was superlative as usual, and her hold on Icy Wind was nearing Hail.

    It had been an unexpected surprise, but a welcome one. He had pitted Mawile against Skarmory and asked her to try force the avian down to the ground through Icy Wind alone. It had taken over seven attempts, but the final one had ice shrapnel instead of powdery snow, causing the avian to falter.

    Next time I face that bastard Ritchie and his charmander, Mawile will be able to deal with his whole team alone. Red thought ruefully.

    "Skarmory, perhaps you could circle through your current moves once, before continuing your practice with Double Team with Shellder? I should tell you that Shellder is a master at it."

    Shellder squealed happily.

    "—and nothing else."

    Shellder squealed again, regardless.

    Rolling his eyes, he turned to Mawile, tipping the Notebook's apex with a finger. "So, where were we?"

    Mawile swallowed, before putting forth her best fake smile.

    Don't worry, she told herself. You've survived worse.


    With Skarmory in the air, and Shellder happy with his own... eccentricities, Red turned to Mawile, who looked like she wanted to be anywhere but there.

    "Maw… mawa?" She asked cutely, though the undercurrent of desperation was visible to anyone who had spent a considerable amount of time with her.

    "Do you really think I'm going to fall for that? You should have seen this coming."

    "Mawwf!" Mawile scoffed, crossing her hands and looking away.

    "Don't take that tone with me, little lady, we need to discuss what happened in the battle against the ursaring. I let you have your sulking for the past two days, while we got Skarmory acclimatized to the team, but you cannot delay this any longer."

    Mawile scoffed again, closing her eyes and looking away. So this must be about her behavior at the end of the match. Seriously, what did Red think she did at the end of a fight back at Pomace? Shake hands with her prey and wish them goodnight?

    "I'm not angry with you for attacking the ursaring."

    Mawile opened one eye to glance at her trainer from one corner. Red really did know how to get her to listen. Curiosity was, and would forever be, her sin.

    "This is about your dangerous arrogance in battles."

    Mawile blinked.

    Red sighed. "Look, I know you've had several victories as of late, some of them being pretty impressive too. But during the fight with the ursaring, it almost looked like you were ignoring every rule in the book, and just having too much fun. Did you forget what would happen if one of those rocks deflected and hit you instead? And when you played with it by darting in and out of the mist. For something that big, all it needs to connect is a single swing, and that's game over."

    That paused Mawile in her tracks.

    "You are letting your victories go to your head. They were impressive, and you're growing stronger, but that doesn't change things. You cheat, you employ deception, and you land surprise yet solid hits on the opponent. That is how you survive and get to fight another day. Your behavior back during the match was… outright berserk. Your steel jaw is strong and can take hit after hit, but your body cannot."

    A small frown appeared on Mawile's face. Her small stature and her natural fragility were not something she was ignorant about, but she was used to getting past that using her charm and deceit. Here, after facing other pokémon in battles, she had seen a different part of her emerge—a predator, a being who wanted to relish in the joy of a successful hunt and then feast on its prey. Initially, it had only been an instinctual drive, but battle after battle had created an addict out of her. Back on Pomace, it had only served a single goal—food. Now, she loved the rush. She embraced the feeling that hunting larger prey gave her. It energized her, to bring down such behemoths to her mercy, seeing the fear in their eyes before she landed the final blow.

    But Red was calling her fragile.

    In any other circumstances, she'd have taken offense to that statement. But this was different. Red's statement had not come across as a challenge. He had not said it to make her feel inferior. Instead, he only wanted to point out her fragility, because he cared for her, cared for her continued health and survival. It was… endearing, in a way.

    Mawile huffed, looking away again. What was the point behind all of this anyway? She'd show him. She'd grow stronger, learn faster and gain more experience. She'd defeat larger and bulkier pokémon, and soon climb on the very apex of the food chain. Once she'd claimed it, Red would no longer have to worry about such silly things.

    Yup, that was all there was to it. But of course, Red didn't need to know that.

    "Maw...wile!" She nodded graciously, adopting an expression of deep understanding and self reflection..

    Red rolled his eyes, knowing an act when he saw one. "Anyway, I also need to tell you that what you did at the end, was something… frowned upon."

    "Wile?" Mawile narrowed her eyes. Was Red telling her that attacking that hulking beast was wrong? Did he not see how the ursaring had tried to kill her earlier?

    "Wile… mawamawile!"

    "I am not finished!" Red spoke, his voice a little louder with a tone of finality.

    That shut Mawile up. This was the first time Red had raised his voice at her. She decided that she definitely didn't like it.

    "I was referring to your reaction against that girl, Ashley." He continued in a softer tone. "Ursaring was free game, but if the opponent forfeits, then you have to stop. If you don't, it will cause problems. Problems for you, and problems for me. The League has an eye out for rogue pokémon, and takes them away from their trainers."

    Mawile's eyes widened like saucers at that comment. They'd take her from Red? And he'd allow that?

    "It's not something that I can stop. They have rules and we have to follow them. Hunting in the wild is fair game, but not during an official battle. You go in, you fight and defeat the opponent. Hell, you can injure it if it is particularly vicious. If it's dangerous, I don't expect you to think of the opponent's safety and hold back in fear of injuring it or worse. But don't do anything against the trainer. Do you understand?"

    For one second, Mawile looked like an angry Houndour, what with the way her teeth gnashed against themselves, her tiny fists clenched, unhappy at the chains put around her. In that instant Red remembered Oak warning him against the very same.

    "The bond between you is slowly forming, and it hasn't been tested yet. I am only concerned that things might fall into disarray, and should you have serious disagreements, then Mawile could possibly—"

    "Wile!" Mawile shook her head, sighing in disappointment. Then, she looked up at him and gave a tentative nod.

    Good.

    Slowly, Red let out a breath that he didn't know he had been holding as he sighed in relief. He had successfully tested the limits of his relationship with Mawile, and come out unhurt. Mawile had understood, and now, he needed to see if she was amenable to his newest suggestions.

    Only time will tell.

    "Well… with that out of the way, let us talk about everything you did wrong in that battle." Red commented with a sinister grin as he opened the notebook.

    For the second time that day, Mawile groaned.


    Meanwhile in Pewter City

    When he had first made the decision to join Team Rocket, Ritchie's mind had built up mental images of darkened rooms filled with swarms of uninformed people committing evil atrocities without hesitation. He had imagined a masked leader with glowing red eyes, standing amidst nameless and faceless grunts, ordering them to spread chaos and disarray into the hearts of man and pokémon alike. There would probably be a large graveyard or something, beneath which was an underground basement that spread out dozens of miles penetrating into the city's territory without the League knowing about it, ensuring that these terrorists had access to almost every inch of the city's premises. He hadn't quite expected well… this.

    "Am I really at the right place?" Ritchie murmured, flabbergasted, as he stared at what appeared to be his destination. Blinking twice, he gazed down at the address on the card again. Yes, he was exactly on the right lane of the right street, in Pewter City, and this was the exact location he was headed for.

    He wondered if Mickey had been playing some kind of joke on him, as he read off the name on the sign in front of him.

    GROSS CONVENIENT STORE

    Liquor and Cigarettes at High Discounts


    The private teleportation from the West Coast to Pewter City was over before he knew it. He remembered the Alakazam staring at him for a moment before he felt a sharp tug around his navel and a mild sense of disorientation. When he opened his eyes again, the scenery had changed. He was now standing on the side of a bi-lane roadway right next to what seemed to be an ordinary dispensary store. From there, he had figured out that he was in Pewter City, and his destination was a few miles north of his current location.

    "A convenient store? First Hospitals and then stores? Does Team Rocket handle the economy of this country?" He mused, remembering his experience back at the private clinic in Pallet Town. The Nurse had been nothing but professional, and while Dr. Pym had shady connections, all he did was offer him aid. It was Mickey who was associated with Team Rocket.

    A recruit consultant perhaps? Do evil organizations have recruitment consultancies?

    Regardless, that was in the past. The deal had been struck, and he was the one who had offered. He had made his choice, and now he'd have to keep up his end of the bargain.

    "Chu?"

    The somewhat unfamiliar but no less welcome sound of his pokémon rang in his ears. He dropped his gaze to his side, towards the electric rodent beside him. There, right there, was all the proof that he had made the right decision.

    Sparky is safe.

    Of course, Sparky looked different. Very different. The yellowish fur had been replaced with a golden sheen, with two scale-like ears on his head and little claws on his fingertips. The original yellow, jagged tail was gone, replaced with a black, cord-like frame ending with what seemed like a shard of metal fashioned in the shape of a lightning bolt. This was what would allow Sparky to leech away unnecessary voltage whenever things went a little out of order. He was larger too, and heavier. As a pikachu, he had always found his cozy place between Ritchie's shoulders, but Raichu would have to walk alongside him, having grown past Ritchie's ability to carry him.

    "We're lucky we got our hands on a Thunder Stone, didn't we? Who knows what might have happened if we didn't." Ritchie mumbled, softly caressing Raichu's ears, causing the rodent to purr with pleasure.

    Contrary to what he believed, evolution via stone wasn't a drastic phenomenon, but a gradual, time consuming one. Under natural conditions, a pikachu would need to absorb the power of a lightning-bolt without grounding itself. It was almost like a ritual amongst Pikachu colonies where the leader of the group would conduct the ritual and try to ascend into the evolved state and become a Raichu. Not only were the requirements requiring control incredibly high, to even be able to attract said lightning bolt, but the chances of survival were abyssal. However, on successful evolution, the pokémon's electric capacity would increase tremendously. Further, the electric output of the Raichu would undergo a qualitative increase, with each attack comparable to a natural lightning strike.

    Of course, that was when the ritual succeeded. Nine out of ten times, it resulted in the pikachu exploding, its body unable to tolerate the high voltages covering its body.

    As a result, most trainers in the past kept their pikachu from evolving unless it managed to cross an elite-tier pokémon standards, something that was consistently checked with a device known as a Light Ball. The moment a pikachu was strong enough to require a Light Ball, it was deemed ready to try for a natural evolution, although even so, the chances were seventy-thirty at best.

    The wrath of a lightning strike was just that dangerous.

    This problem was finally solved by the creation of the Thunder Stone— a technological wonder that employed a specific superconductor to store a prodigious amount of electrical energy within it. It wasn't comparable to the sheer power of lightning, but was enough to trigger an evolutionary reaction in Pikachu. Unlike its natural counterpart, this method would take several days to weeks, but the results were successful. Such Raichu weren't as powerful as the natural variants, but the sacrifice of a portion of strength for an assured rate of survival seemed like a reasonable deal.

    Sparky had been fortunate that evolution had triggered a mass growth and mutation of cells on his posterior end, amongst several other things. The majority of his injuries had been dealt with, though it was obvious that he'd need to keep away from using tail-based attacks for a month or so. The one injury that still remained was on its left electricity pouch. It had been severely damaged by the Mawile, and not even Evolution had been able to cure it. For the remainder of his life, Raichu would have to depend on the remaining pouch to generate and store the majority of his electricity.

    "Raiii?"

    Ritchie dropped his musings at Raichu's call. "Nothing, just wondering how things have changed for us."

    The rodent growled softly at that. Ever since that unfortunate encounter with that other human and that strange little creature, things had gone downhill for them. Raichu remembered sensing his trainer's frustration over the fire-lizard's defeat, followed by a sense of overwhelming fear at the brutish way in which that creature they had called a Mawile had tortured his fellow teammates. It was no stranger to the cruelty of humans and knew that behind the savagery of a beast, there was always a human pulling the chains. It had thought the same for Mawile's barbaric display and attacked the main source of Ritchie's troubles.

    The human trainer.

    Things after that hadn't really been all that clear, but Raichu remembered a sudden paralysis, as if something was holding every single muscle of its body in a powerful bind. It had tried to use electricity as a long-ranged attack, but the Mawile had been faster, and slammed that large, gaping jaw into its left pouch, tearing right through the tissue. What followed was something that Raichu preferred to not think about.

    " I know you're angry. I am too. We will have our revenge against them in due time, for what they did to us." Ritchie swore softly. Chirpy had been subjected to expensive treatment, but she had recovered. She'd need to take it lightly for the next few weeks but she'd be fine. Princess was practically untouched considering everything. And Happy and Squishy hadn't participated in the first place.

    The only other one who had pulled the short end of the straw was Zippo.

    The charmander's tail had been mauled and mutilated to a severe degree. As a charmander his tail was made of soft tissue, which would expand and grow out through its charmeleon-phase. It would only be as a charizard that it would gain an armor of high tensile strength over it. The vicious attack that the Mawile had inflicted upon him, had dire results. The treatment had saved Zippo's life but had ensured that it would take a long time before his tail was in peak condition, if at all. Dr. Pym had suggested not to employ Charmander in any form of close-combat, and instead try working on his reserves to evolve him instead.

    "Chu!" The Raichu raised its hands, electricity sparkling out of its pouches— most of them being the right one, with extremely thin sparks from the left.

    Ritchie smiled at his starter's attempts at cheering him up. "Don't worry. Let's get back to where we were. You think we're at the right place?"

    Raichu shrugged. Humans and their need to over complicate things always confused the poor creature. It never saw the need behind those fancy names Ritchie kept giving the entire team and had always presumed it to be another 'human' thing.

    "Things have certainly changed, haven't they? Guess we won't be traveling from city to city anymore. Visiting gyms, catching wild pokémon, and winning badges, it's a thing of the past now. We're gonna work for Team Rocket now."

    Raichu shrugged again. It honestly didn't matter. As far as it was concerned, it had battled in the past, and would probably do so for the foreseeable future. Getting food, battling, learning new moves and growing stronger— that was the life of a trained pokémon. It was a known thing. At least Ritchie was one of the good ones, as far as humans were concerned.

    "Don't worry," Ritchie spoke, wrongly guessing his lackadaisical approach towards the change to be confusion, "We'll grow stronger here, and probably do it faster than we would have. Only the best move into the higher echelons of Team Rocket. Mickey told me so." His mind set, he let out a deep breath and took a step ahead, and then another, up towards the reception hall of the clinic.

    And with that, Ritchie Kent's future took a new turn.


    Back in Viridian

    "Fly up!"

    Skarmory soared upward, gliding with the air currents. Under her grandfather's tutelage, she had learned how to effectively tune into the power of the wind and use the currents to glide with it, instead of rapidly beating her wings to stay airborne. Apparently, her grandfather could stay afloat with a single beat. We don't fly, we glide-was his favorite saying. She turned her body and weaved through at her fastest speed.

    "Double Team. Six clones. Spread them as far away from yourself as possible."

    Six clones formed around her, each of them spread out in all directions and flying upward. The illusory birds beat their wings once, before splitting away from the original. There were moments when the clones began to fade at places before regaining opaqueness.

    "Reverse direction. Steel Wing."

    Skarmory wondered if this was some kind of drill. Red was giving her orders that contradicted his previous ones. She wondered if this was some human way of checking one's competency.

    "Full speed. Iron Head. Swoop down and pull up whenever you feel safe."

    Skarmory screeched. This was fun. She felt the surreal powers of gravity pull her down, and she dived faster, wanting to surpass her maximum speed. As a child, she had often done this, diving as low as she could before swooping up at the last possible moment. Being a Skarmory she had a huge advantage over other birds in how much momentum she could use in every attack without taking recoil damage from the impact, her thick steel coat protecting her from collisions with other pokémon or even when she lost control and crashed into the ground. She concentrated steel energy on her head and beak and shot downwards towards the ground, performing a steep, parabolic dive.

    "Pull up whenever you feel uncomfortable and fly horizontally." Red was glad he had invested in a good pair of speakers, allowing Skarmory to hear his commands, without him yelling himself hoarse. It was important that he knew what his newest pokémon's limits were. Once he got to know them better, he could work on developing them further.

    Skarmory dived down further, feeling the layer of steel-energy coating her helm. The knowledge of Double Team and its execution had been pretty easy, and she had been able to create six to eight clones depending on the situation and her control. Even the clones had Steel Wing activated on them. This was fun.

    Ten feet, nine feet… eight feet.

    "Remember to pull up. Pull up… up!"

    Seven… six…

    Skarmory remembered her grandfather performing steep, nigh vertical dives before pulling off mere inches above the ground. Of course, he was a master of air manipulation, but she was confident that she could pull off a dive such as this as well. Skarmory felt another layer of steel reinforce her body. She could almost feel herself getting heavier as the steel concentrated over her form.

    Five feet…

    It is time.
    She told herself. If Grandfather could do this, I can as well. One square meter of drag was enough to slow down a falling body by approximately twenty percent. It was one of the many things her grandfather had taught her about flight manipulation. Slowly tilting her wings in a slightly upward slope, she felt the sheer pressure of air slam into her wings. Any other avian would have probably gotten a contusion or at least a sprain around their winged regions, but the might of steel was not so easily overcome. Her bladed wings tilted a little higher…

    Four feet…. Three feet…

    She ignored the shocked yell Red gave out. She ignored the gasp Mawile made. She ignored everything else in the universe, save the tiniest distance between herself and a world of pain. Even the drag wasn't helping her lift, and now a crash was inevitable. Come to think of it, she had survived worse crashes than this back at the Reserve, so she probably wouldn't be too injured.

    But.

    Red was watching, and the mawile creature— Mawile, was watching. While the crash wouldn't be lethal, it would cause a dent in their first impression. That would not bode well for the young King. Skarmory changed her mind.

    Two feet…

    She raised her wings upward, flapping them with great vigor. She ignored the backlash of the loss in momentum. Her body could deal with that. Making a choice, she raised the frequency, feeling the shards of her feathers grate against each other over and over, several times a second. A part of her could feel fatigue close by, the constant effort required for maintaining it clouding her senses.

    Instead, she kept beating her wings over and over again.

    It did not feel good. An immense discomfort began to spread through every nerve of her body, as her inner tissues were stretched to the utmost, keeping the thick armor of steel around them together. But falling down was not an option.

    One foot…

    The discomfort grew, as her wings grated against each other. Not once, but several times every second. And in every single part of her wingspan. The friction reached gigantic proportions, and a searing heat began to spread through them. She almost heard some sort of hissing sound in her ears, but the frequency of the flaps only grew. Fatigue was round the corner, but failing was not an option. She'd win, she'd manage it perfectly. A little pain was nothing compared to that. Metal clashed against metal, and Skarmory spread her wings a little to gain a little more area, dissipating the heat downwards.

    The ground, once a grassy floor, was now covered in flames.

    At least one good thing came out of it. Skarmory thought in elation, escaping the pull of gravity before gliding parallel to the ground. She took a sharp turn, and dug some of her steel feathers into the grass, hurling out dry earth at the site that had caught fire.

    "Mawile, put it out," Red yelled, panting, as he rushed towards the site. Behind him, Mawile sprinted at her own pace, before a shower of icy cold wind blew out the flames. Once they were attended to, Mawile turned towards Skarmory and doused her with the same as well.

    Skarmory screeched in defiance. She might have grown, but she still hated water with a passion.

    "Don't be a baby. It's just Icy wind. Besides, look at what you've done to yourself." Red pointed out.

    "Skar?"

    It was true. Where there had been pristine metal, now there existed slight gashes on the surface. At first glance, it looked like someone had scratched it with a stronger substance repeatedly, but Red knew better. "This was caused by superheated air rushing past your wings."

    Skarmory tilted her head. What was Red talking about? Sure she had felt some discomfort because of the heat, but she'd have sensed certainly sensed it if something had affected her wings. Right?

    "You should not have done that," Red muttered, slowly rubbing a hand through the bruised portions, feeling the thin layer of ice deposited on them. Mawile's ability with Ice ran deep, especially for a non-ice-type pokémon.

    "You tried to lift yourself up with a Gust attack, didn't you? Don't you know that skarmory cannot learn Gust?" He chastised her softly.

    Skarmory screeched defiantly. She wouldn't stand him— trainer or not —to deny her potential. She was a King, of course, she was capable of—

    "It's not about you. Skarmory as a species do not Gust." Red explained, silencing her displeasure. "I've had previous experience with an injured Skarmory back at the old man's ranch. Your wings are made of metal, and thus, not ideal for a gust attack. If you try very hard, it might severely injure the tendons in your wing. That was how the other Skarmory had gotten injured."

    Skarmory crooked her head. This was… interesting. She hadn't really thought about her own body physiology. It hadn't mattered back then. Her steel armor had been enough to prevent most damages to her person, and that was enough for her. But knowing about her own physiology from a human was… odd.

    She hadn't expected this.

    "Also, rubbing all those shards of metal against each other is bound to produce a lot of friction, which is probably what started the fire in the first case. And then you began to fan it more and more, and produce more heat. That's basically a variant of Heat Wave. Unfortunately, using it will do you more harm than good.

    Skarmory hissed out, muttering an expletive in her native tongue.

    "Do you get a sensation from the inflamed metal tissue?" He removed his finger.

    Skarmory shook her head. While her metal coat was actively synthesized by her tissues, the nerves didn't extend into her armor. Beyond her flesh, there were several layers of organo-metallic layers stacked against each other. Unless the attack was significant enough to penetrate that, she generally did not feel pain from attacks. It was one of the reasons why Skarmory wasn't fully aware of the limits of her own body, and was prone to reckless maneuvers.

    "Then?"

    Skarmory raised her right wing. There, he could see a single, metallic feather that had broken off at the tip, and had gotten stuck among the interweaved matrix that was Skarmory's wing. The tiny metal shard was obstructing the other feathers from moving around with ease, causing additional strain to her wing muscles.

    "Ah, wait let me take care of that." Red offered, pushing his arm into Skarmory's wing. Gently, he reached down to the broken metal shard and tried to pull it out.

    Nothing happened.

    "This will need a bit more force," Red muttered, glancing back at Skarmory. "Can you handle a bit of extra pain?"

    Skarmory gave him a look of disbelief.

    "...right." Without delay, he tightened his hold on the metal shard with both hands, and pulled—"SKAAAAR!" —it out! The metal shrapnel slashed against his wrist, drawing blood.

    "Mawa-wile?" Mawile rushed, sensing his wound.

    "Oh don't worry." Red brushed it off, as Mawile blew a little amount of icy wind on it as well. He hissed as he felt the cold brush against the injured tissue, before taking out a handkerchief to keep the wound from getting worse. "I have some ointments in the tent. With a little luck, it'll be back to normal in a minute."

    Had he been a little more observant, he'd have noticed that the pain from such a deep wound was conspicuously missing.


    There were several kinds of trainers. The most common ones were the wandering kind, who tried their luck at the gym circuits, and if they got the chance, the conference. After their defeat, they spent their time participating in numerous tournaments and battles, perhaps trying their hand at other regions, before it was time to participate in a conference once again. This was a conventional strategy, and it did give them a steady amount of money, the amounts increasing as they progressed as a trainer and developed a strong team. Usually, a trainer that followed this strategy diligently for a few years ended up being financially comfortable if not more than that.

    There were also those trainers who preferred to live and train in the wilderness, embracing the harshness of nature and trying to use the adversity to push past their limits. These tended to be elite-level trainers, who had gained considerable proficiency in battle and were mostly of the freelancer variety— a hired hand of sorts. While some of these trainers did manage to surpass their previous limits and perhaps develop a champion-tier pokémon, most of them ended up as recluses, spending most of their life training before eventually becoming a part of some organization either through agreement or coercion.

    The third kind of trainers were the campers. Campers were in general, trainers who couldn't be bothered with— or were too lazy —to travel and follow the life of a conventional trainer. Instead, after gaining a certain level of proficiency in training, a camper would settle down in a particular location and then challenge trainers who passed said location. Viridian City, in particular, had one of the largest camper concentrations in the Kanto-Johto mainland. This was primarily because of the Trainer Square, which provided campers a way to make money in droves, and yet, not have to travel across towns and cities. Needless to say, it was the prospect of making money that drove a camper, not the prospect of building a solid team or winning a conference.

    Ken, was not such a Camper. Having long since deserted his family name and title, he had become just himself, a Samurai who had chosen to walk the path of a trainer, leaving his family home in Chrysanthemum Island for good. Along with his starter cubone, he had decided to travel all over the Kanto mainland, challenging other trainers to hone himself. Unlike his father, who had trashed on his beliefs, Ken wanted to show the whole world that he was better. That he was the best trainer amongst them all.

    At least that was the plan.

    Over time, he accumulated a decent team for himself— a spearow and a pinsir from the forests around Saffron city, and a rhyhorn wandering around Mt. Moon. Ken believed in absolute obedience, and demanded the same from his pokémon. To follow his every command, no matter the cost— That was the law for his team. Things continued according to plan, and soon enough, his spearow evolved into a fearow, and his cubone into a powerful marowak.

    Then, he met Gary Oak.

    Ken had been happily traveling through Pewter City when he had spotted a trainer with an exotic pokémon. On further inspection, it turned out that the pokémon in question was a Lairon, a steel-type with deep ties with the rhyhorn line. Apparently, Lairon only resided in mountainous areas, and thus, were pretty rare. Finding an opportunity to battle against something like that, Ken challenged Gary to a battle.

    The results hadn't been pretty.

    It turned out that Gary's exuberant displays of confidence were not in fact, hollow. The teen's lairon and machoke shattered Ken's confidence, inflicting a crushing defeat on his rhyhorn and pinsir. The lairon in question had been extraordinarily vicious and had shattered several of Rhyhorn's bones, while Pinsir had ended up suffering from several contusions.

    Rhyhorn and Pinsir had been in the Pewter hospital ever since, and the medical charges for their treatment were massive, especially for someone not actively trying for the gym circuit. Ken had heard about the famous Trainers Square in Viridian, and decided to try his luck there, and gather money to pay for the treatment. Fortunately, the medical staff at the hospital were sympathetic to his situation and allowed him to slowly pay in installments.

    Ken had traveled through Viridian Forest after that, catching a rather unruly Pidgeotto for himself, hoping it would provide aid at the Square. Fortunately for him, a second method opened up that allowed him to quickly gather money.

    Apparently, most trainers that crossed the Viridian Forest tended to be fairly inexperienced. Being badge-less himself, Ken found it remarkably easy to pose as a rookie and challenge them. It was a rather cheap trick, truth be told, especially considering that he was specifically targeting trainers much less powerful than himself, and therefore, taking undue advantage of their lack of experience. In less than three days, he had already challenged seven people and won over four thousand pokédollars. That was when… he realized that this was his means to acquire quick money.

    For his team, of course. He told himself over and over.

    That was how, Ken found himself staring at the lone tent along the riverbank, and the inconspicuous shellder lying on the doorstep, with tiny bubbles frothing from its mouth from time to time, and a certain tiny ivory creature with a large black flap, sitting at the edge of the river bank.

    Yes, this would adequately do for his next prey.



    Red Ketchum soon found out that the injury would not soon be... back to normal very soon.. Apparently, the organo-metallic alloy that formed the basis of Skarmory's armor also had an adverse reaction against coagulants, and thus, Red had only been able to stop the blood loss after a while.

    Mawile had been a complete mess, conflicted between trying to help Red with his wound, trying to get him to a proper medic, and blaming Skarmory for the entire thing. The teen in question had been remarkably level-headed about the entire incident, and once the bleeding finally stopped, Red had asked Mawile to stop worrying, since he'd be fine with some rest. Soon enough, exhaustion and mild disorientation from the bloodloss had kicked in.

    Assured that her trainer was properly resting, Mawile had walked out of the tent, but not before instructing Skarmory to guard her trainer while she was out doing… whatever she was doing. Skarmory had agreed easily enough, both in looking after Red and making sure nothing happened to Shellder. The latter was mostly a formality because, after Mawile's recent experiences involving Shellder and her own ill-placed Iron Head attack, she was reliably confident that Shellder's shell was pretty much unbreakable. Besides, Skarmory did seem somewhat guilty at the turn of events and had gladly agreed to play watchdog while Mawile was gone.

    For ten minutes, it had been bearable, but Skarmory was an avian, and she found her comfort in being airborne. With a quick glance at Shellder, who had fallen near the doorstep and was busy with… something, Skarmory flew out of the tent, circling high above it, the breeze doing wonders to her mental constitution.

    Besides, they were on an empty, grassy ground beside the river. Mawile was out there, sitting and sulking a little far away, and Skarmory, with her remarkably powerful eyesight, was there to ensure nothing would go wrong. What was the worst that could happen?



    Samurai Ken spread the bush apart, observing his latest prey. He did not recognize the ivory-ish creature, though in his defense, he didn't really know a lot about pokémon except the common ones found all over the Kanto mainland, and this strange, tiny creature was anything but that. However, the most important thing was the shellder, and he knew for a fact that shellder evolved into cloyster, which were terrifying. Also, said evolution required the use of an extremely expensive Water Stone, or so he remembered hearing. Therefore, a trainer with a Shellder was a trainer with the means to purchase a Water Stone. In short, a trainer that came from money.

    More than adequate prey...

    That would also explain the non-native creature sitting at the edge of the river bank. From what he could see, it was a cute and cuddly little thing, the sort of pokémon owned by spoilt brats who had more money than they knew what to do with.

    It is my lucky day.

    He grabbed the hilt of his wooden bokken, keeping the real metal sword affixed to his back. Yes, this rich little fuck had entered his hallowed hunting grounds and would pay the price for it. Ken could estimate an easy fifteen hundred if not more, given how he wanted it to play it out.

    He stepped out of the bush, his bokken in his right hand, and his pokéball ready in his left, should he encounter unexpected problems. A part of him wanted to capture the ivorish creature, if only to sell it at a higher price in Viridian City, but that wasn't something his fraying sense of morality was able to stomach at the moment. So a battle it would have to be.

    He raised his bokken and stepped in front of the tent, uncaring of his surroundings. "I am Ken, the Samurai, and I'm here to challenge you for your transgressions." He declared in a loud, slightly exaggerated voice- Something that tended to trigger newbie trainers and get them to accept battles more easily "Come out and challenge me, or lose your life-"

    Ironically so, that was the exact moment when Ken the Samurai came inches close to losing his own.


    The sounds from the commotion outside shook Red out of his disturbed sleep. As he tried to open his eyes, he felt an overwhelming pressure on his eyelids, causing him to shut them again. The disorientation took another couple of seconds to pass before he managed to push himself up, distracted by the sounds of— SLAM! SCREECH! "SAVE ME!"—

    "What the...?"

    "WAK! SCREECH! MAAWA-MAWILE!"

    "I try to get an hour of sleep and now this?" Red cursed, before pushing himself to his feet, and running out of the tent.


    The entire place looked like a war zone.

    A couple of yards away, there was a fallen teen around his own age, with incredibly long hair that went all the way past his waist, tied into a long, elaborate ponytail. From his attire, he appeared to be someone belonging to one of several traditionalist clans in Kanto and was most likely a trainer himself— or something along those lines. More importantly, he could see Mawile going all feral on the teen, while another tiny pokémon wielding a bone club— a marowak, he realized —was trying to defend against her and Skarmory who was screeching madly and doing her best to pin him to the ground. Shellder was… frothing.

    The only reason the teen was still alive was likely because Red's pokémon were not trying to kill him. Thankfully his earlier talk with Mawile seemed to have some effect. Red actually crooked his neck in abrupt fascination for a second, before the impromptu war seized his attention. He glanced at the terrified demeanor of the intruder, and the wooden sword-like thing fallen a little away from his own feet, and bellowed, "WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?"

    That seemed to do the trick. Red's enraged voice seemed to distract both Skarmory and Mawile, both giving higher precedence to his presence than to their unpremeditated battle, and rushed towards him. Mawile was closer, and she leaped in front of him, her jaw raised and facing the marowak, the steel teeth in her jaws still emanating a lethal aura. Skarmory flew above Red and balanced herself above him, occasionally beating her wings to keep herself airborne.

    "Keep those monsters away from me!" Ken yelped, standing up and rushing behind Marowak for protection. He glanced at the bokken fallen near Red's feet. "And return my bokken to me."

    Red's left eye twitched. "All right, who are you and why were you trying to get into my tent?"

    "I am Ken the samurai. I am here to challenge you for your transgressions."

    "Don't care," Red responded coldly. "Why did you barge into my tent like a freaking thief?"

    "I am a Samurai and it is beneath me to even think of what you suggest," Ken answered defiantly. "You are in my hunting grounds and that gives me the right to challenge you for your transgressions."

    Did I get cursed or something? Or is there something special about me that attracts every moron in the immediate vicinity? Knowing my luck, it's probably the latter.

    "Well, this area belongs to Viridian City, and the last time I checked, there are no hunting grounds in or around here. That is the law."

    "A Samurai does not bother himself with such meaningless minutia."

    Red suppressed his rising urge to smack the teen on the head. For a second he was sorely tempted to let Skarmory and Mawile have their way with him and his equally stupid-looking marowak, before he forcefully calmed himself. "Well obviously, laws are for the civilized. That might be a strange concept from… wherever you're from, but..."

    "On my honor as a—"

    "Zip it." Red snarled. "You trespassed into my property, carrying a bladed weapon and with possible malicious intent. My pokémon were well within their rights to defend me by any means they deemed necessary. So give me one good reason why I shouldn't call the police right now."

    "I wasn't trespassing." The other teen refuted hotly. "I was only trying to judge your competence as a trainer. A true warrior always maintains constant vigilance."

    "And you look around for… 'true warriors'," Red emphasized using air-quotes, glancing down at the wooden sword-like thing, "with a… stick?"

    "It's not a stick, it's a bokken. I'm a samurai, and that's my bokken."

    "Good to know," Red replied, rolling his eyes. Trust his luck to encounter just another hot-headed fool. Was this going to be a repetition whenever he came within the periphery of a forest?

    "And if that vicious bird had not attacked me out of nowhere like that, I'd make sure to go through with my words as well. Speaking of which, me and my pokémon could just as easily defeat that birdie of yours if we knew about it in advance."

    "Of course you would." Red didn't even want to continue the conversation.

    "Yes, and you'd better remember that."

    Really now? A smug feeling of pettiness washed over Red. Perhaps it was the blood loss, or nausea, or maybe even a hidden desire to simply cause some pain to this… overexcited, bothersome idiot. "I have a grand idea, through which you can regain your honor as a Samurai, and I don't report you to the police."

    "Which is?"

    "We battle. Three on three. Five hundred's the usual standard per battle. So a total of fifteen hundred if you win all battles. What does your honor say?"

    For the first time in his journey, Ken hesitated. It was ironic, since it was he who had rushed into the situation, asking for a fight. Now, he was being given a fight, at a high price that too, just as he had wanted in the first place. The question was— would he do it?

    From his estimation, that beast of an avian was a steel-type, which meant that it would probably take five strikes from Marowak's bone to cause damage equivalent to a single one. Of course, he was not without pokémon himself. The other, tiny yellow creature was vicious, but her body was soft. Between his fearow and pidgeotto, he was reliably certain he could best the steel-type. Besides, this was a spoilt brat. How good could he be?

    "Fine." Ken consented. "A three on three standard battle. You do have three pokémon on you, right?"

    Why is he— oh. OH. Red realized. "Yes, I do. They are in front of you."

    So he is including the shellder then. Definitely a newbie.

    "Then we have an accord."

    I got you. Red mentally sneered.

    This day's shaping out to be better and better. Ken interred.

    "Your ID?"

    "BWTQ099G," Ken answered. Getting himself registered as a trainer was the last thing he had done before rejecting the Gym route. After his defeat at the hands of Gary Oak, the same ID had been instrumental in providing him legitimacy in pick-up battles.

    "That should do." He set up a transaction accord for the upcoming battle, and activated the record function, placing his pokédex on one of the rocks beside the tent. The video record would act as proof in case Ken reneged on the deal after the battle.

    Mawile grinned. After the entire experience over the last two days, getting rid of her insecurities, her experience with the Notebook and Red getting hurt, she was itching for a fight. Correction. She was itching to beat somebody up.

    "Shellder, you are up." Red proclaimed, and almost instantly, felt two confused stares on his person.

    "..."

    "Maw!" Mawile yelled in outrage.

    "Mor?" Skarmory asked, surprised.

    "Well…" Red laughed embarrassed. "Shellder's not showing any improvement with normal training, so perhaps a battle would do him good. I don't even want him to win, just perhaps manage to fire a water gun. Desperation makes us do wonders, the old man used to say."

    Shellder squeaked, drenching the grass beneath it with water.

    Mawile rolled her eyes. Well, it was not like Shellder knew any battle-worthy moves. It would be a matter of seconds and then the real battler-that is herself, would enter the stage.

    Well, I am desperate, so that must count for something. Red prayed inwardly. "Come on, Shellder. This is a real battle, your first one."

    Shellder squeaked.

    "Yeah, that's the spirit."

    Ken watched the proceedings with fascination mixed with disbelief. Perhaps he was right after all. This was a spoilt brat if he was expecting a shellder to win in a battle. Well then, it would be an easy fifteen. With a smirk, he tossed a pokéball into the air. "Time to fight, Pidgeotto!"

    For a Kanto-native like Red, pidgeotto needed no introduction. All you needed was to look up, and chances are high you'd spot a pidgey, if not one of their evolved forms. Back when he was a kid and still tentative friends with Gary, they had made a sport out of throwing pebbles at pidgey in attempts to hit them.

    Pidgeotto, in general, weren't that big. Even the largest ones maxed out at about four feet in height. The one Red saw in front of him was barely crossing three, and considering the hint of green on its brown back, it was clear that this was a newly evolved one.

    "Shellder, get ready. That pidgeotto is your own opponent." Red claimed, inwardly realizing just how stupid all of this might seem.

    Shellder squeaked, but did nothing. The pidgeotto flew in a circle around it, trying to figure out her new opponent. Once convinced that Shellder wasn't about to use some kind of long-range attack, she dropped down to the ground.

    "Jo?" The avian chirped in confusion, staring at the silent water-type in front of her. Almost out of curiosity, it pecked it slightly.

    Nothing happened.

    "Jo?" Pidgeotto barked again. This time, she grabbed Shellder's valve with her beak and rolled it over.

    Shellder continued to play dead.

    Red sweatdropped. "Shellder use Water Gun."

    Said water-type let out a squeak, gurgling as water seeped out of its valves like a broken water bottle, seeping into the ground.

    Pidgeotto blinked. Was this for real? Without further ado, it let out a screech and began to furiously peck at Shellder's shell.

    WUT! WUT! WUT! WUT!

    "Shellder," Red yelled at the water-type, ready to return it back to its ball at the slightest sign of danger "use Water Gun. Now."

    Nothing happened. Pidgeotto kept going on and on like a lunatic woodchipper.

    "It is not going to do anything. Pick it up and throw it at its owner." Ken laughed.

    Pidgeotto was quick to follow suit and dropped its constant pecking. Upon second thought, it should have been alarmed at the sudden tensing of Shellder's valves, but easily obtained victory had a way of silencing one's instincts.


    Shellder in general, never really cared about silly things like fighting and winning. No, it had bigger dreams, like trying to create new specimens of Shellder, and filling the world up with Shellder. The bird with obvious anger issues had screeched out and started pecking at him. It was… interesting. Perhaps this bird wanted to know Shellder's secret with Double Team and was being annoyingly persuasive about it? Shellder did not know. So, it did the only thing it could-push itself into the familiar darkness and wait out whatever the bird wanted to do.

    The method did have a reasonable degree of success when used against obstinate acolytes.

    Shellder ignored Red's asking him to perform Water Gun. It was too engaged in experiencing the reverberating vibrations inside the shell. It made it feel like the world was going in circles. Wasn't this just fascinating?

    The vibrations grew louder. Perhaps hiding in the shell wouldn't work. Would this stubborn bird go away if Shellder showed her a little of its magnificence? Yes, that should do.

    Shellder gurgled, gathering water inside its valves. Initially, it had decided on frothing out a bit, but the consistent vibrations would not allow that to happen. So it would have to be water. Shellder tried to squeal, but the vibrations stopped him. The pressure kept building, but its closed valves kept the water from going out.

    Huh? Shellder was astounded at the rise in pressure. It made its head go all fuzzy and wuzzy. Wait, was wuzzy a word? Shellder wished the bird would stop pecking at him so that he could ask Red about it. But wait, Red did not speak Shellder-tongue. He was not yet evolved enough to be able to do that. Perhaps Mawile then?

    The pecking stopped suddenly, and Shellder felt the incredible pressure inside itself find a slope. Whoa! It thought. This was cool. It had never reached this conclusion during its experiments prior to this. Perhaps Shellder could ask Skarmory to—

    Pidgeotto lifted Shellder by the valves, which automatically sprung open, and that came out.

    It wasn't a Water Gun. The volume and water content was much too little. It wasn't a Water Pulse. The pressure was way, way too high for that. What came out were globules of water, shooting under incredibly high pressure and higher speeds, and slammed into Pidgeotto's front, like a wall of bullets. The sheer force was so high that the resulting impact threw the bird pokémon backward, and caused several hairline fractures at the site of injury.

    So that's… Shellder realized with abrupt fascination, that's how it's done.

    Experiment successful.





    "HOLY SHIT!" Red murmured, "did that really happen?" Had Shellder, in an epic attack, sent a barrel of tiny water globules at Pidgeotto? In his excitement, he actually edged closer to Mawile and pinched her in the arm. "Mawile, Mawile. Tell me this isn't a dream."

    This isn't a dream! Mawile scoffed inwardly, yelling back in her own tongue. "But what the hell did you pinch me for?"




    Samurai couldn't believe his eyes. A shellder had just injured his pidgeotto, in some kind of swift water-based attack that seemed like a water pulse, only miniature in shape and dozens in number. Even for someone with limited experience in pokémon physiology, such as himself was able to come up with several ways in which such an attack could be deemed useful. If only he could get his hands on…

    "Choose your next pokémon, Samurai Ken." Red drawled. "By the looks of it, your pidgeotto isn't in battle-worthy condition. I'd suggest returning it."

    Ken gnashed his teeth. As much as he'd like to refute the other boy's statement, he was right. Pidgeotto had hit the ground as soon as that sudden attack had hit it. It had probably broken a few ribs as well.

    "Return Pidgeotto." He replied, at last, returning the avian. Such a fluke wouldn't happen a second time. "Marowak, show them what you've got. Flukes like that won't save your team from Marowak."

    Red grinned. "I know." Without any preamble, he raised his pokéball and returned Shellder.

    Ken looked as though he had just been slapped "...what? But Shellder hadn't lost."

    "I know. But Shellder forfeits." Red grinned maliciously. "Mawile, you're next."

    And Mawile smiled, as she gazed at Marowak, her demeanor feral, ready to enter the battle at last.
     
    ComradeKremer, meri and Opholion like this.
  8. Threadmarks: Act 1 | Chapter 7 - Miss Tea
    TheBlackStaffAndNightMarE

    TheBlackStaffAndNightMarE I see. I write. I conquer.

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2020
    Messages:
    33
    Likes Received:
    127
    ACT ONE - IMMOLATION



    Chapter 7 - Miss Tea


    Misty Waterflower had always been different. That much was certain, and her brash nature and tendency to act before thinking only served to emphasize that fact. The Waterflower family was by no means ancient, having existed for little under a hundred years. Misty's grandfather had been a successful businessman and engaged in the breeding of rare pokémon and selling them at exorbitant prices, making a substantial fortune for himself and his future generations. Her father, Michael Waterflower, had continued the family tradition, but limited the breeding to water-types, being an old student of a former water master named Gregory, the former gym leader of Cerulean City. After spending years under Gregory's tutelage, Michael had taken over the reins of the Cerulean Gym from Gregory, after he died at the early age of forty-one. The years that followed depicted a steady growth of the Waterflower family's power and reach throughout Cerulean, establishing private ranches, aquariums, private beaches, and resorts.

    Being the youngest of four sisters, Misty had experienced the positives and negatives that came with the position. On one hand, her elder sisters coddled her, and she tended to end up getting whatever she wanted. On the other hand, it was the constant reinforcement of the fact that she needed to live up to her family name and her elder sisters.

    The two eldest siblings, Daisy and Violet, were part of the entertainment industry and made a name for themselves in the show business. Daisy had claimed the position of Kanto Queen twice, while Violet was a leading pokémon coordinator. Her third sister, Lily, was practically a carbon copy of her father and strived to further the Waterflower's traditional business, and at the same time, trained to become the next gym leader. Between the gym, the breeding grounds and trade, and the show business, the Waterflower name was maintained as the most influential name in the entire city.

    Misty was different though. She wasn't interested in show-business like her eldest sister, and the prospect of running the family business, or taking over the gym, failed to excite her. Her father had thought that she'd perhaps want to become a trainer and travel or perhaps assist him in the family business, but Misty had shaken those ideas off. She liked pokémon, or rather, water-type pokémon. Scratch that, she adored them. She wasn't too interested in becoming a trainer and putting her pokémon through intense training or bringing them to ridiculously high levels. Instead, she wanted to become a breeder, more specifically a water-type specialist. Someone who instinctively understood water-types, and knew how to breed them, treat them, and take care of them in the most optimal way.

    Amused by her decision, her father had sent her to the prestigious Pokémon Tech Academy in Saffron City— an institution that, in crude terms, catered to the needs of the wealthy. She had studied there for three years, and in less than another year, she'd be a graduate, ready to start with her next degree at the medical school, unless she got any other substantial offers.

    According to the university, certain water types held significant similarities to bug pokémon such as the exoskeleton of a krabby or a kakuna. Taking great offense to this, Misty had made her displeasure known to her teachers. Vehemently.

    Which led her to her current project.

    While Misty was sure that this project was created just to spite her, this didn't change the unfortunate fact that their group project now required certain bug species as samples for comparison. For some inane reason, the project leader had delegated the job of capturing the bug-types to her of all people, and so she had been sent off to Viridian City.



    One of the oddities of Viridian Forest was that pokémon above stage two tended to not be seen there, making it far safer than the more uncharted forested regions. Of course, if you strayed off the beaten track, there was always the chance of running into a beedrill nest or if you were really unlucky, some pinsir, but Misty was planning to be careful.

    There was only a little problem.

    Misty Waterflower hated bugs with a passion. Especially the ones that crawled. She could stare a gyarados right in the eye and not lose her cool, but a caterpie would send her screaming and running, hands waving in whatever direction her feet took her. Of course, any other person in her place would probably have chosen the sane option and purchased some bug-types from a legitimate breeding center.

    Not her.

    Apparently one of her big-mouthed friends at the institution had blabbed about it to Violet, who had, in turn, teased her over her fear of bugs. In a fit of anger and a complete lack of rational judgment on her part, Misty had sworn that she'd travel through Viridian Forest by foot, and complete her project. Of course, Violet hadn't really cared, and wouldn't have really noticed even if Misty happened to renege on her promise and choose the saner option, but Misty had made up her mind. She had put it off till the last possible moment, well after the rest of her classmates had finished the project and returned, but she had finally worked up the nerve to enter the forest.

    That was how sixteen-year-old Misty found herself walking with her croconaw along the edges of the Viridian Forest, trying to muster up the courage for the seventh time, to walk into the forest, catch those creepy-crawling-hair raising-obnoxious-yucky bugs and complete her project. Every time she had mustered up a little courage and walked forward, she had encountered a caterpie, a weedle or a metapod. Her sudden bout of boldness deserted her, the little courage she had managed to gather vanished and she had run back, screaming like a banshee. Even poor Croconaw was getting tired of it all.

    "Damn it, Damn it." The orange-haired girl cursed. "I need to finish this project, and I need to do it now. I can do it. I'll show those bugs that Misty Waterflower can't be frightened away so easily."

    "Naw!" Croconaw grunted half-heartedly. He had loudly exclaimed his support the first few times she made this proclamation, but he was getting tired. It would be as doomed to failure as every single one of her earlier attempts, and at this point watching his trainer tiptoe over the forest lining before running back screaming was no longer funny.

    "Don't be like that Croconaw. You know I can do this."

    Croconaw sighed. He knew she couldn't do this.

    "Pfft! Traitor. I'll do it. Just you wait. I'll figure something out."

    She probably didn't think she could do it either, Croconaw mused. His trainer likely knew that she had been caught bluffing and was now trying to save face. Her attempts at being subtle about it were worse than a Snorlax. Still, he supposed he might as well support her through her latest delusion— or should that be venture?

    "Naw?" He asked, casually wondering if she was going to carry out her next attempt right then. He hoped she'd get done quickly, it was hot and sticky here and he was itching to go for a long swim in the river. It had been almost a week since their arrival in Viridian, and Croconaw was bored out of his mind. He had been showing a hardening of scales and an elongation of his jaws as well as an increase in height. These signs indicated that he was close to evolving. They were however uncomfortable and hard to get used to and this long monotonous period of doing nothing did not help. Crocanaw just wanted to get it over with and quickly evolve into a feraligatr. Feraligatr were huge, spanning over seven feet in height, and could tear through nearly anything. More importantly, evolving would get rid of what his trainer called growing pains. Apparently humans went through them too, though personally Crocanaw through them quite primitive and slow, taking well over 20 years for their evolution to settle in.

    "You know what I think? I think we should—"

    SLAM!

    Something slammed into the back of his head with all the force of a Machoke smashing a rock, hurling him face-first into the ground. The black projectile had bounced off his head, and having lost the majority of its momentum, rolled on the ground beside him. Even so, the resulting impact has knocked out two of his teeth, from what he could ascertain, and bruised his right cheek. This wasn't anything permanent, with the totodile line constantly replacing their teeth on a near-weekly basis, but that didn't stop the pain.

    "Croconaw! Croconaw, are you alright?" Misty raced up to him, knelt down and tried to pull him up, at the time trying to measure the damage done. "Are you okay?" Then her expression shifted from concern to vexation. "What the hell was that?" She tried to check out at the odd purple thing on the grass beside them from her position.

    "Naw!" Croconaw grunted, pulling himself up. Moving around was easier back when he was a silly little totodile, but with evolution came a substantial increase in mass. Over the course of the last year, he had gained a lot of mass, and from what Misty told him, the closer he got to evolution, the bulkier he would get.

    At least when I evolve my strength and endurance will rise in proportion to the gain in mass. This present form is slow and considerably weaker. Being a totodile was much better.

    He steadily pushed himself off the ground, with Misty supporting his neck. Grunting twice, he allowed his hands to support him as he moved to a seated posture. His body was heavier than what he presumed, which meant that his body mass must have rapidly increased again. Because his body structure as a croconaw was clearly not meant to carry this much weight, walking was difficult, and the constant changes in size was messing with his balance. For all the power a feraligatr would have, being a croconaw sucked.

    At least I could swim through those water bodies back at the school. Why must she make me walk so much?

    "Are you okay?" The orangette asked, the concern vivid in her voice. "Do you want to return to your pokéball?"

    Croconaw shook his head. He wanted to get out of this horrible form. He wanted to swim. But more importantly, he wanted to know what hit him, and who was responsible for the entire mess. He pushed himself up and turned to inspect the projectile.

    Misty herself got up, and narrowed her eyes, as she realized what she was seeing. For confirmation's sake, she gently kicked the purple thing over, which rolled over and continued to play dead.

    "A shellder?" Misty wondered aloud, staring at the water-type before her attention shifted towards the river. She could make a pretty good guess as to what had happened. Someone must have fished the shellder out of the river, and realizing what it was, had decided to throw it away, like a disposable thing.

    Somewhere deep, a cold fire burned.

    Misty picked the shellder up, and in what appeared to be a knee-jerk reaction, the shellder instantly clamped two of her fingers into its shell.

    Had Misty been anyone else, she'd have either pitched a fit or tried to push it away and throw it back into the river. But being a daughter of the Waterflower family— who were active participants in the jewelry industry and actively bred shellder —she recognized it for it was.

    This shellder is used to biting someone's finger. Otherwise, it would have gone for the hair. After all, the thin long strands are quite similar to some of the aquatic plants that shellder tend to chew on.

    What had happened? Had someone fished a shellder out of the river, and decided to hold on to it and use it to evolve a slowbro? Slowpoke were rather uncommon, unless you know someone from Azalea Town in west Johto.

    Furthermore, Water Stones were expensive and most trainers did not think that the payoff of raising a cloyster proportional to the risk. On evolving, not only would their instincts sharpen dramatically, but their intellect would rise as well. Synthetically-evolved cloyster understood just how much their shells would lack compared to their natural counterparts as well as their size and power and this realization tended to result in an attack on the trainer. The problem was that even if some trainers managed to protect themselves from the raging cloyster, they had no way to ensure its obedience. It could simply hide in its shell and refuse to battle. Of course, even though a synthetically-evolved cloyster lacked the power of a natural evolved one, it was by no means something to wave off. They could quite easily match a charizard or a blastoise, which was why many trainers tried to evolve one despite the inherent dangers.

    Perhaps this trainer had held onto the shellder for a day or two, and then decided to throw it away on realizing that neither evolutionary option was viable? Was that it? Was that why this innocent water-type had been thrown away like a disposable item?

    That would not do. Not only had this unknown trainer thrown the shellder away without the slightest bit of caution, something that could have seriously injured Croconaw, but he had also committed a crime against a water-type. As far as Misty was concerned, that was equivalent to murder.

    "Croconaw," Misty intoned softly, steel shining in her eyes. "We have a trainer to hunt."

    Croconaw blinked.



    Meanwhile…

    "I seriously do not understand what your problem is, Mawile. Shellder is just as much as part of the team as you and Skarmory."

    Mawile thought otherwise. She was his starter. She fought off the bratty human and his worthless lizard in the forest, and she was the one that made him… popular… was it? Whoever decided to come up with such stupid ideas like fighting without getting food in return anyway? Besides, she fought for him at that Square place, several times she might add— and got him Skarmory. Why her dopey trainer still cared about that stupid thing that wrangled a place by being a mute bastard, she'd never understand.

    After the battle with that Samurai fellow, Red had taken some food out of his backpack so they could have a snack before they started out on the journey through the forest ahead. He had even forced Mawile to eat those yucky restore pack thingies to heal the tiny bruises she had gotten from her fight against that marowak, though it didn't even matter, considering that she nearly beat the old crybaby to death with its own bone to boot. Not that the others had any problems with it— Skarmory was predisposed to agree with every word that left Red's lips, and the mute was practically freeloading off Red from the start.

    Unluckily for her, no one except Mawile noted this glaring fact. Not Skarmory, and certainly not Red. And therein laid the entire problem.

    "You saw how Shellder fought back against that pidgeotto, defeating her. I know you thought he was useless but even you must have noticed that he's improving?"

    Yes, Mawile did notice. The mute was only good at one thing, and that was at creating illusions of itself for no reason at all. As if one was not enough. Mawile shuddered at the thought of those illusions ever turned real. The world becoming home to such dumb mutes was practically a nightmare in itself. But yes, she remembered that devastating technique the mute had called upon, sending hundreds of globules of water at alarming speed at the pidgeotto. The avian had been incapacitated before its body hit the ground. Mawile was sure that the bird had suffered multiple bodily fractures if not something worse.

    But that wasn't the point. The point was that it was all a fluke.

    Mawile knew it, Skarmory knew it, hell even Shellder knew it, given how it had been unable to replicate the technique a second time, despite hours of vain attempts from her hopelessly naive trainer. Only her dopey trainer had some kind of evergreen giddy optimism that Shellder would become better in the future. Was this some human-made law that she didn't know about? Perhaps she should have spent some more time with that Oak human when she'd gotten the chance earlier.

    After the battle with the lanky human and his pokémon, Red had been praising Shellder for hours. Okay, it wasn't exactly hours, but everything went exponential as far as Shellder was considered in Mawile's eyes. It was 'Shellder this, Shellder that'.

    Irritating.

    She remembered Shellder's lame performance, being tossed around like a pebble, and then somehow winning at the last moment.

    This whole mess started when Mawile had lost her patience with Shellder's uselessness and whacked it on its shell. Shellder had vibrated for a second, before lifting its valves, and sneezing in her face. What was worse, was that the mute had the audacity to lick her after its degenerate behavior.

    Obviously, Mawile had not let it go. Angered, she had gathered steel-energy and slammed Shellder with her best Iron Head attack, sending it flying several yards away. The very next second, Mawile had found herself facing an annoyed Red, who demanded that she help him get Shellder back.

    Which brought her to her current situation.

    "Wile!" Mawile scoffed, furiously turning over a random rock to see if Shellder was hiding underneath it. Knowing Shellder, it'd probably think it was playing hide-and-seek and had been thrown away to hide from everyone. The sad thing was, it'd probably be good at it, what with its annoying proclivity of acting out it's usual 'look at me happily ignoring that I'm being thrown around.'

    Mawile sighed.

    Come to think of it, her latest stunt had gotten her into trouble, and the sad thing was, she hadn't even employed deception this time around. Instead, she'd followed the human way, and given in to her urges. It wasn't even like she was being cruel or anything. Mabel had always gone on and on about how one should always listen to their heart.

    "Shellder! Can you hear me?" Red yelled, searching through the long grass with a twig, as he kept looking, a shade of controlled hysteria in his eyes. Being a reclusive kid, Red had issues with losing things. Kaz had once teleported a dragonite plush toy away to tease a seven-year-old Red, who had then searched for the toy for four days straight, throughout the house, over and over, until Kaz had gotten it back.

    "Mawa...wile?" Mawile kept calling as well, though unknown to Red, she was giving out a significantly different message. Her words could be translated along the lines of — 'hide properly. We are coming to find you!'

    She had apparently done something wrong thing (at least in Red's eyes), and he had punished her by prohibiting her from having poképuffs for the next three days. From her understanding, she couldn't be punished twice for the same incident and therefore Red's reaction on the matter was over. Thus, Mawile had no qualms over going back to her plan and ensuring that Shellder was out of their life for good. She only hoped that Skarmory, who was searching from the sky, would not manage to locate Shellder in time. Either way, perhaps her worry would be for naught. If she was lucky, it was entirely possible that Shellder had fallen into the river and got washed away. Yes, everything would work out exactly the way it should.

    And just like that, Mawile challenged the Gods of Irony.



    Misty and Croconaw had traveled for around ten minutes along the riverbank, working on the assumption that the shellder's owner hadn't moved, and was still at the same spot from which he had thrown away Shellder. The tall grass in the immediate vicinity made it a little difficult to see very far, but Misty thought that it was as good an assumption as any.

    "SHELLDER! SHELLDER, WHERE ARE YOU?"

    Misty's ears perked up at that. She had been keeping her ears open for any human voices around, expecting to catch the unsuspecting trainer off-guard. Hearing someone actively searching for Shellder caught her off guard. Was it possible that this trainer had actually lost Shellder— probably during some training regimen and was now looking for it? She hadn't really expected to see a trainer with a shellder though, and cloyster were notorious for their rarity and cruel disposition. Perhaps the truth lay somewhere in the middle of it all, but she'd need to get to the bottom of it.

    The water-type deserved that much at least.

    "Excuse me?" Misty called out, raising her voice to attract Red's attention. "Are you looking for a shellder?"

    "Mawaa...mawawile!" Mawile came in through the thick bushes, still yelling for Shellder to keep hiding, wherever it was. She used her jaw to sweep the tall grasses away, clearing her line of sight, and came face to face with Croconaw, who was staring at her blankly.

    "Wile?"

    "Naw?" Croconaw questioned sternly, directly getting to the point. He had heard Mawile's constant yelling, telling Shellder that the human was coming for him and that he should hide, and had assumed the worst.

    This human must have been tormenting the shellder. Croconaw mused. How a human could possibly torment a shellder was an entirely different question, but no one ever accused Croconaw of being a deep and diligent thinker. Obviously, that is the reason that this… strange creature is asking it to stay hidden.

    "Naw? Croco?"

    Mawile blinked. Then she glanced at the shellder innocently hanging onto Misty's fingers.

    Traitor, she decided, shifting loyalties so soon. Throwing Shellder away was probably the right thing to do after all. Red was silly and dopey, and so he obviously wasn't able to see how the mute was practically freeloading off him.

    She glanced at the orangette again, who was now trying to make conversation with her trainer.

    "So, is this shellder yours?" Misty asked as Red rushed up to her, happy to see Shellder safe and sound.

    He inspected it for a moment, before nodding in answer. "Yeah, we were training, and had a little… accident."

    That confirmed Croconaw's worst fears. As someone who had been a close companion to Misty, he had slowly become influenced by Misty's ideology and truly believed in her goal of getting 'water-types their due from the world'. Mawile's initial proclamation had been a hint, but this… this was practically evidence.

    "Training? You were training a shellder?" Misty asked disbelievingly.

    "What's so surprising about that? Shellder is part of my team."

    Croconaw barked in suspicion, glaring at Red for a moment, before glancing at Mawile again for confirmation.

    Mawile, being the deceptive little thing that she was, shared a meaningful gaze with the angry croconaw, before meeting Red's eyes, and shying away, as if afraid to talk to Red directly.

    Shellder squeaked.

    Croconaw lifted a paw and began loudly accusing Red of being an evil human that tortured Shellder for fun. He hobbled over to Misty and began shaking his head furiously, pointing at Red all the while.

    "Huh?" Misty asked, confused by Croconaw's reaction. "What's wrong? You don't like him?"

    Croconaw hysterically pointed at Shellder and then back to Red, still shaking his head and grunting offensively. He passed a singular glance at Mawile, who was still being a mortified little thing and would not look at Red at any cost.

    "You don't think I should give Shellder back?"

    Finally.

    Croconaw felt elated, barking in affirmation, glancing at Mawile who just would not look at him either. What was wrong with that pokémon? Did her trainer treat her so badly that she wasn't able to speak properly when he was around?

    "Uhm, is something wrong?" Red asked, a little wary of the water type's behavior. Almost by reflex, he took out his pokédex and scanned the creature in front of him.

    Croconaw. The big jaw pokémon. It is the evolved form of totodile. Once its jaws clamp down on its foe, it will absolutely not let go. Because the tips of its fangs are forked back like fishhooks, they become irremovable once embedded.

    "Totodile," Red mused, "Doesn't sound like a Kanto pokémon."

    'Johto." Misty answered, maintaining a wary eye on Red, after her starter's reaction. "Why is Croconaw so wary of you? Have you been mistreating your pokémon?"

    "Mistreat— what the hell are you talking about?" Red retorted indignantly. "Listen, whoever you are, just give me back my shellder."

    Misty fumed at that. "My name is Misty. And no, I'm not giving you this water-type just so that you can abuse it again."

    "Listen Tea," Red countered, "I have no idea why your… croconaw," he remembered the name after a second, "dislikes me, but Shellder is my pokémon. Where on earth did you get the idea that I was abusing him? We were just training."

    "Prove it. And my name is Misty. Are you deaf as well as stupid?"

    Red stared at the girl. Was she for real? Did she insist that everyone she met prefixed her name with Miss? First the Samurai and now this, it was almost as if these weirdos went out of their way to seek him.

    "Fine. Miss Tea, then. How do you want me to prove it? That I wasn't torturing the poor innocent little shellder?" Red challenged. Finding Misty unable to come back with an answer, he continued, "And more importantly, why do I need to prove myself to you? That's my Shellder, and I can take it back anytime."

    He was done trying to explain himself to this orangette, and her distempered croconaw. Without further delay, he plucked out Shellder's pokéball from his belt and held it in front of his hands—

    "BLUH BLUH BLUH BLUH!"

    "What the hell?" Red yelled, finding himself completely drenched after receiving a small jet of water to the face. This was the second time he had been soaked in the past week alone. Really, first electric-types and their desire to zap him, and now water-types and their obsession with drenching him. He really didn't want to know how steel-types would behave with him. So far Mawile and Skarmory had been good, but no one knew the future.

    "Why did it do that? What kind of trainer are you, unable to control your own pokémon?" He accused.

    "Don't speak like that about my croconaw!" Misty retorted, taking offense at his comment. "Croconaw has done nothing but consider a fellow water type's plight. Obviously you have been mistreating Shellder to make him react like that!"

    "Mistreating a— How do you even mistreat a shellder?" Red asked, half-bemused, and half-irritated. He was getting tired of trying to explain himself to this dim-witted girl and her crazy pokémon. "Listen, I'm willing to forgive and forget that attack from your croconaw, but even you should know that a pokémon attacking a trainer is against the law in Kanto. Now return my shellder to me. Right now"

    Misty hesitated a little, knowing that there was some truth behind his words. While it had been a mild Water Gun, the right person could blow it out of proportion. While there was little to no chance of winning such a case against a family as influential as the Waterflowers, it could spread rumors about them bullying rookie trainers.

    "Croconaw might have been a little over-eager," she began with a diplomatic tone, "but his concerns are no less true. I cannot, in all honesty, return this shellder to you, knowing that Croconaw practically called you an abusive trainer."

    Red blinked. Then blinked again.

    "...what?" she asked.

    "Nothing." He replied after a moment, "just considering the ludicrousness of the situation. You, Miss Tea or whatever, are voluntarily preventing my pokémon from returning to me?"

    "..." For once, Misty had no words to say. Perhaps, she hadn't thought this entire thing through?

    He held out his hand. "My shellder please, or else I'll have to report you, and trust me, I've dealt with… hyper-excited trainers before. It didn't exactly turn out well."

    Mawile was now beginning to feel slightly aggravated now. As much as she wanted to get rid of Shellder, it seemed that destiny was against her in this particular endeavor. She had tried to throw it away when it had first clamped into Red's hair by the river. She had tried to show it up when mastering Double Team, but apparently Shellder was some kind of freaky savant at it. She had fought, given her sweat, blood and tears (mostly due to Shellder), and yet the little mute managed to hang to its position on the team. Now, even after that powerful Iron Head attack, Shellder was almost… magically being given back to Red. If someone was trying to teach her a lesson on trying to be less stubborn, it was probably working.

    And now this croconaw had used an attack on Red. It had been a harmless Water-gun, but it had been an attack. Mawile had ignored it because of its comedic timing but the matter was slowly getting out of hand and if she didn't do anything, perhaps Red would be involved in another needless fight. Or worse, Shellder would show off again, and become Red's favorite.

    Mawile didn't think she'd be able to stomach that.

    Croconaw, it seemed, had something different in mind. Supremely confident in his observations gathered from Mawile's behavior, and considering how this human was speaking rashly with his own trainer, he was quite certain that he knew the truth of the situation. Mawile was being treated badly. Shellder was being treated badly. This trainer was abusive. And abusive humans were bad. Period.

    Croconaw leaped in front of Misty, for once ignoring his weight. "Croc!" He grunted angrily.

    "Return your croconaw, or else I'll be forced to hurt it. My pokémon are not so forgiving."

    "As if someone like you could even stand a chance against my croconaw." Misty fumed, inwardly wondering if this situation had turned into something unpleasant.

    "You want to find out?" Red asked dangerously "Skarmory!"

    There was a loud screech above them, as the massive avian swooped down towards Red, causing Misty to shriek in fear. Skarmory flew over to Red's side and screeched loudly, beating her wings every now and then to keep herself airborne.

    "This psycho just stole Shellder." Red declared.

    "How dare you call me that! I'm Misty Waterflower, and a future water-specialist to boot."

    "Croco!" The water-type guarded her with his body, ready to fight off against the avian if need be. He was sure of it— the mawile was being abused, and so was the shellder. Perhaps this human was using this large, cruel-looking bird to do his bidding?

    Conflict seemed imminent.

    "Mawa… mawile!" Mawile yelled, raising her hands in a rush, her tone aggravated, and her jaw raised upward. So far it had been funny, but Red's health was at stake. Besides, she had no qualms about throwing this croconaw to the wolves. It was hardly Mawile's fault that the stupid thing had decided to act on her words without further confirmation. She didn't even know him. It was probably for his own good that he was a trained pokémon. Things that dumb didn't last long in the wild.

    "Naw?" The big-jaw pokémon asked in confusion. He had seen the creature— Mawile, he presumed from her words —indirectly admit that the human with her was rash and had mistreated Shellder, and possibly even herself. Then why was she trying to save her trainer now?

    "Naw! Croconaw!" He grunted back, as if to confirm his suspicions. Was she really supporting her trainer? Or was she perhaps under duress? Regardless he'd have to fight, even against her if needed, but throwing the poor shellder into the hands of an abusive human was not an option.

    Mawile didn't care. It didn't matter that she had hoodwinked the croconaw in the first place. Anyone that stupid should be taken advantage of. That was practically a rule in her book.

    Shellder squeaked, and all of a sudden, loosened its grasp on Misty's fingers, before dropping on the ground. A few seconds later and it was attached to Red's fingers.

    "..."

    "..."

    Red sweatdropped.

    "...Uhm, could we start over?" Misty asked.

    Mawile groaned.



    Somewhere in Pewter

    "Get up and try again. I've no time for wimps who can't even stand two punches." The gritty coach spoke, his voice filled with casual disdain. "And you say you've filled in for a year of service? You'll be dead before the week is over."

    Ritchie coughed, before spitting out some blood. Again.

    His stomach felt like one big bruise and the first punch to the chest had nearly sent him reeling over, coughing up a bit of blood. The second punch landed on his cheek, throwing him to the ground and disorienting him. When Mickey had told him how hard it was for a trainee to become a grunt, Ritchie had been sure the man was exaggerating. After all, how difficult could a month of training be? He was a three-badge trainer, with a full team of six, and on top of that, he had a powerhouse of a Raichu. He had expected to be practically awarded a grunt position the moment he stepped in.

    He couldn't have been more wrong.

    Apparently, the trainees were sent to a particular location in Pewter City, simply known as the 'Quarters'. There were a total of forty of such trainees, himself included, who were expected to stay there for the next three to four weeks while trying to become a grunt. The moment Ritchie stepped in, he felt like he was entering a whole new league, with a new set of trainees to beat, only instead of trying to become champion, they were competing for the grunt position, and perhaps other more senior positions. Information was practically on a 'need-to-know' basis, but Ritchie did manage to infer a few things about Team Rocket's hierarchy.

    These 'Quarters as they were called, were sprawled all across Kanto. These were used as places of recruitment and training, where Team Rocket gathered aspiring groups of potential grunts in groups of forty. Every such group had a coach assigned to them, who ensured hellish training on the trainees until they qualified as a grunt. Ten people would be chosen out of them, and made into grunt captains, with each captain leading a team of three. Until that happened, every trainee was on his own, living, and healing his pokémon with his own money. Once someone made it to the grunt stage, they'd be sent for what their teachers referred to as 'The Inauguration', whatever that was. Ritchie didn't quite know the details, but he was sure that it was a pretty big secret. Also, a trainee had at most one month to become a grunt. If the trainee failed to make the cut, he would be subject to a powerful psychic and have his memories of the entire month removed. After that, the trainee usually found themselves in a government hospital or something. At least, that's what he was told.

    Another surprising aspect of the training was the diversity of trainers amongst the group. There were two Unovan, and five Hoenn natives living and training with him. Ritchie was unfortunate enough to be pitted against one of the Unovans, who had a strange ground-type that eerily reminded him of a Totodile, only thinner, browner and uglier.

    Over the last three days, each of the trainers had been matched with every single one of the other trainers at least once. Ritchie had only been able to win around twenty percent of his battles. His taillow wasn't able to use any version of Peck, and thus, had been defeated several times. Even Sparky had suffered a humiliating defeat against the Unovan's ground-type, a krokorok or something from what he could understand. Zippo was clearly not healed enough to be battling, and thus, Princess had to take over most of the battles. Ritchie had thanked whatever deities were watching him that Princess had been the least injured back in Pallet Forest. Else, there was no way he'd have managed his current, admittedly pitiful performance.

    That was when they were told about the second part of their training.

    Hand to hand combat.

    Ritchie had paled at that.

    As it turned out, the trainees weren't actually supposed to fight each other per se, but demonstrate a bare minimum affinity for combat, as well as a minimum endurance factor. They weren't supposed to fight each other either. Instead, they needed to survive for a single minute against their coach. If they remained standing they passed. If not, they could return to practicing by themselves, or leave the arena.

    And that was how he had arrived at his present situation.

    The coach (or demon in human skin, if you asked him) allowed his prey to stand up again, smirking as Ritchie tried to balance his wiry frame, ignoring the punch to the stomach that had caused him to double down in pain. He loved his job, since it allowed him to beat the shit out of these grunt-wannabes until they either developed enough skill to either fight back or enough resistance to stay awake until the one-minute duration was over.

    "I'm not giving up." Ritchie frothed, trying to remain balanced. He somehow managed to pull himself up, trying to keep away the disorientation that threatened to envelop his mind. Shaking his head like a Growlithe, Ritchie kept his eyes on the coach, before yelling out and driving a fist into the man's face.

    Or so he attempted.

    "Huh!" The coach grinned. "Got some juice still left in you."

    He casually clenched Ritchie's fist with one palm, before slamming another punch, this one to the abdomen, causing the boy to spit out some more blood, splattering it upon the man's face.

    Unfortunately, this only managed to make him angrier. And the coach was not a good man to meet when angry.

    He kicked Ritchie again in the chest, causing the boy to flail in pain, uncaring about his condition. "Listen brat," He grabbed Ritchie by his collar, glaring at his half-closed eyes, "I'm only good at one thing, and what I'm good at is not very good. So either you learn to face me, or you learn to endure it. You," He shook the boy, "are failing at both, and your performance in battle is abyssal. You either get better fast or you die trying. And remember, one month is all you have."

    Without any further consideration, he threw the bleeding and frothing boy to the side, allowing the pair of medics standing ready to drop him on a stretcher and take him away.

    "Now, who's next?" The coach grinned.



    Back in Viridian

    "Let me get this straight. You are from Cerulean City, and you are here in Viridian to catch bug pokémon?"

    Nod.

    "And you need these… bugs, because of a project from your school?"

    Another nod.

    "And you don't want to… I don't know, just buy them from some ranch or something?"

    More nods.

    "Because of some ridiculous incident that you cannot share?"

    The nods continued for the fourth time.

    "Then what stops you from going into the forest? You even have a remarkably obedient pokémon," Red slurred at the end, "well, one with obvious anger issues, but obedient nevertheless."

    "Because I. Hate. Bugs."

    "Right," Red muttered, once again wondering just how his luck kept on making him encounter all these strange people. Or was it perhaps the world itself was strange? Then again, he had started out by getting electrocuted, and then barely survived negotiating with a fearow in Pallet Forest, so perhaps a certain amount of insanity was required to become a trainer in the first place.

    "Right," Red continued, trying to think of less depressing topics." so why exactly are you telling me all of this?"

    "Because…" Misty started, wondering how to approach the issue. It was obvious that their mutual first impression couldn't have been worse, something that had her embarrassed. Doubly so, since she had been the one in the wrong the whole time, carried away in her self-righteous dogma. Come to think of it, Croconaw could've gotten into some serious trouble had Red actually taken it to the police. The Waterflowers were a big influence back in Cerulean, but this was Viridian, and more importantly—

    Samuel Oak was his sponsor. Samuel fucking Oak.

    Strangely enough, the boy seemed to not have attached much importance to this fact. If anything, he seemed to wear his connection to Oak rather lightly and had only mentioned it in passing during their conversation. If she didn't know any better, she'd have called him a master politician, inconspicuously backing down, only to reveal an ace at the last moment to turn the tables over.

    And a direct connection to Samuel Oak was pretty much the ultimate ace anyone could pull, as far as Misty was concerned. No gym leader, type-master, police officer, or even Elite Four member would take her case if he decided to take Red's side in a legal argument. She wasn't even sure if her own father would be able to balance the scales should someone like that entered the equation. Diplomacy had never really been her strong suit, which was probably why Michael had never pushed her into the family business, but this situation, as unfortunate as it was, required a little tact.

    "Firstly," she lifted her head and regarded him with an imperious expression. "My name is Misty Waterflower."

    "Yes, Tea, I know that," Red muttered offhandedly.

    Just how dense are you, man! Misty suppressed her irritation from seeping through her tone. "It's not Miss Tea, it is Misty. Like, M-I-S-T-Y, Misty. Misty Waterflower. Got it now?"

    "...err, yeah, got it," Red muttered. "I thought you are one of those overbearing— I mean, people who prefer to have an extra honorific prefixed to their names."

    Right. "No, I'm not."

    "So now that we have provisionally gotten past the misunderstanding over your name, can we get back to the issue at hand?"

    Misty blinked. "..."

    "I meant, why are you telling me about your sad life history as a bug-catcher."

    Misty suppressed a primal urge to slam a punch at his atrocious behavior, but suppressed it. It would not do. This was someone with a connection with Samuel Oak, and considering that he was able to tame a powerful skarmory of all things, this was exactly the person she needed for the job.

    She took a deep breath. "I want you— I mean, I need you to catch those bugs for my project, and I'm scared of them, so I was wondering if you could catch them for me."

    Red blinked. "You want… me to catch bugs for you?"

    "Yes."

    "Bugs from the inside of Viridian Forest?"

    "Yes." Misty wondered if Red would just get to the point.

    "And then come all the way back to hand over my freshly caught bug pokémon?"

    "Huh?" Misty muttered, "Wait, you've got that wrong. You don't have to get back to me. I'll travel with you."

    Red tilted his head to rest it on his left shoulder. This was the same girl who, not very long ago, had no qualms over setting her croconaw over him, blinded in her zeal for Shellder's safety. And now she wanted to travel with him— alone, through Viridian Forest of all places.

    "Not worried I'd try to abuse you like Shellder?"

    Misty blinked.

    "Wait, that came out wrong. I mean, you just accused me of a pokémon abuser, and now you want to travel with me through Viridian Forest, which can take weeks to cover by the way, all by yourself? Knowing that you hate bugs?"

    Misty looked at him sheepishly. "I did apologize for that, didn't I?"

    'No, you said you wanted to start over." Red replied, knowing full well that he was being more than a little petty here. "Anyway, what kind of bugs do you need?"

    Misty blinked again before comprehending his words. Her face lit up brightly, making Red wonder how a girl— around seventeen years of age, Red guessed—could be so… impulsive. Then again, apart from his mom, Felina Ivy, and Daisy, Red's experience with females older than himself was practically zero.

    "Of course!" Misty replied exuberantly, taking out a notebook from her bag, that was tied across her waist like a belt. Shifting through the pages, she quickly found what she was searching for. "I need… a ledyba—"

    "Those will be difficult. They aren't that common. I doubt we can even see those in the outer regions of the forest."

    "A spinarak."

    "Not making it easy, are you?" Red went on with his commentary.

    "A pineco,"

    "—without them exploding." Red sighed.

    "And finally a venonat." Misty finished.

    "Why don't we try to catch a scyther or a pinsir too for good measure?"

    Misty frowned at his sarcastic comment but kept to herself. Showing indignation while trying to ask for help wasn't a good idea. Besides, even she knew just how difficult acquiring them would be. Not in terms of strength, but because bugs were good at hiding, and the forest was practically their domain, and none of the four she specified would be found loitering around on the outskirts of the forest. With a sigh, she replied, "Well, that is all. Those four bugs are all I need. So, does that mean you'll help me?"

    "Well, since you asked so nicely…."

    Misty beamed at that. To be honest with herself, she had no clue if Red was even a trainer strong enough for the job. Then again, none of the bugs were very strong by themselves, just hard to catch, and more importantly, her own team was there to aid as well. All he needed to do was to be with her and act as a wall to those creepy, crawling bugs.

    "So you mean you'll help?" She exclaimed.

    "Of course not" Red beamed at her.

    Misty almost felt her jaw drop to the floor. "What? Why?"

    "You want a reason?" Red asked, his displeasure open on his countenance. "Let me see, you try to keep my own pokémon from me without reason, and then your pokémon attacks me and you defend its actions. And now, you want me to travel into the deeper parts of the Viridian Forest to get you bugs— mind you, the same Viridian Forest that takes over a week to cross by taking the straight road along the edges? We'd be lost in there for weeks, and neither me nor my pokémon are up for that kind of magnanimity, so… Sorry!" He shrugged his shoulders in apathy.

    Misty scowled at that. "You're just too scared to travel into the forest?"

    Red narrowed her eyes. Did she really think he'd fall for that? "With good reason. I have no reason to travel into the deeper stretches of the forest filled with hordes of beedrill and other aggressive bug types."

    Two can play this game. He mused inwardly.

    "No," he replied with an exuberant shake of his head. "There is no reason for me to do so. I think I'll start out from the edges of the forest."

    Now, this was not quite what Red had in mind. In truth, he wanted to explore the deeper expanses of the forest, and perhaps catch a bug-type pokémon. Despite their notoriety as poor performers in competitive battling and leagues, bug-types did have a vast array of moves that could be used in all sorts of unconventional ways. Pinsir, for example, were overwhelmingly strong, and their powerful horns were known to be able to crush golem. Beedrill were frail, but they were venomous and fast. Furthermore, any competent rookie could evolve a weedle to a beedrill within a month, their ridiculously fast evolutionary cycles being another benefit of the bug typing. And that was not considering the other, more dangerous bug-types that were rumored to run abound in Viridian Forest.

    "Well, see you then." He jerked his head in casual acknowledgment, before turning to Mawile, who had a snobbish smile plastered all over her face. "Let's go Mawile."

    "Mawa…"

    "Wait, wait," Misty yelled, her mind running into overdrive. " I'm not asking you to do it for free. I'm willing to pay you."

    Red paused at that. "How much?"

    Misty quickly did a mental calculation. "Eight thousand." It was a decent bargain, and besides, the ranch would charge her more than that. Even a Magikarp cost three hundred at a Ranch. The uncommon bugs would cost a hell lot more, and besides, Lily would probably demand a psychic-verification of the events. Also, she couldn't help but agree with his claims as well. There was simply no point in wasting weeks catching bugs for someone.

    Still… couldn't he have been like those brawny, enthusiastic trainers at the academy. They would practically be tripping over each other for a chance to help?

    Red thought it over. Eight thousand was a lot of money. He still had a little over fifteen thousand saved from the Square, even including the fact that he had paid for the drain on his mom's investment of eight thousand. That, and he had gotten himself some impulse purchases after winning the battle against Ashley. Of course, that was excluding the roadside battles. Those weren't interesting, but they did guarantee a constant influx of cash. As he stood now, he could easily capture another pokémon, and still not have to worry about expenses till he was at least at Cerulean City. In all probability, he'd likely make even more from the battles on the road.

    But, accepting this girl's offer would mean something else. Sure, it would set him back a week or two, but the Indigo League was less than three months away, and winning eight badges before then would be a pipe dream. The next conference was eleven months away— more than enough time for him to catch up. And more importantly, the extra cash could be spent in getting Mawile and Skarmory an intermediate-tier move, something to boost their skills.

    Besides, given the way the girl spoke about Shellder and the fact that she had a croconaw, implied that she was somewhat knowledgeable in raising water-type pokémon. Perhaps he could use some of that to help with Shellder.

    "Misty…" Red spoke carefully, "You seem to pretend to know a lot about water-types."

    Apparently that was a wrong thing to say.

    "Pretend?" Misty blew up again, "I am not pretending. I do know a lot about water-types in general, and have been studying them for years."

    Yup, she can be goaded pretty easily, though this was a bit crude. I need to get better at this. Red mused. So, she's training to be a type-master specializing in water. I might be able to use that to help Shellder. Besides, I was going to go in either way, and this serves her right for letting that croconaw attack me like that.

    He conveniently ignored the traitorous part of him whispering that he was simply being petty. Perhaps Mawile had been a bad influence on him?

    Meanwhile, Mawile was observing the ongoing conversion with a vacant expression on her face. Red was hardly one for subtlety, but it seemed that even a dopey human like him could learn new tricks. Perhaps he had been observing her and trying to copy her mannerisms and deceitful charms?

    Mawile took a moment to bask in that realization.

    "You do?"

    "Yes," The orangette snapped back. "I am studying to be a water-specialist, so keep your baseless accusations to yourself. Now I'll ask you again. Will you help me or not?"

    Red's eyes shone with triumph. "Alright, I'll do it."

    Mawile rolled her eyes. Amateur. She thought. Seriously though, how dopey could Red be? Nobody accepted the first price. If she was the one bargaining, she would have gotten triple that. She couldn't even count the number of poképuffs she had scammed off Red. He should have learned better by now. From what it seemed, even Shellder was a better student than Red would ever be.

    "Eight thousand to accompany you and hunt for those bugs AND you'll help me teach Shellder Water Gun."

    Misty was almost about to hurl expletives, but his words screeched her thoughts to a halt. "You want to teach a shellder... Water Gun?"

    "He's almost got the hang of building up the pressure, but he lacks precision. His water content is also awfully low." Red admitted.

    And that's how it's supposed to be. Misty mused. It's a shellder, not a freaking squirtle. They are supposed to lay low until they evolve, or are forced to evolve.

    She would know. Her family had an entire jewelry business based on those bivalve pokémon. But it seemed, Red didn't know about it, possibly from his own lack of knowledge about the shellder species. Was he trying to teach it moves out of ignorance? Perhaps he was thinking it would randomly evolve mid-battle once it was strong enough?

    "It's a shellder, you know," Misty said, deciding to speak with a lower tone. "It doesn't exactly have the predisposition or the proper affinity to learn those moves very well."

    "I know exactly what it is," Red murmured, before looking up at her. "But I want to help it grow stronger. I know what I'm doing. Besides, I think I have a way to deal with his lack of water reserves. It's something Shellder did as a result of its training so far."

    "Fine, I'll see what I can do to help." She sighed, inwardly wondering if she was making a good deal or an extremely bad one. Besides, he was thinking about the water type's benefit and wanted to make it stronger. It was adorably naive, and not very practical, but she could deal with it.

    "Alright then, Misty, I believe we have a deal"

    Misty frowned at the hand stretched out in front of her.

    "Well then, I was planning on leaving immediately, after purchasing some rations and ingredients from the stores on the way. I'm told there's an outlet at the end of the route?"

    "There is," Misty answered. "I've been to it during my… previous attempts into the forest. We should get some bug spray. A lot of bug spray. And repellants and lots of extra food too, because the forest is larger on the inside than on the outside— don't know what that means but it has to be something because of the bugs, and oh, what else am I forgetting?"

    Red stared at his newest travel-partner and accomplice. Though, come to think of it, the word 'employer' would probably fit better than accomplice, even though she was going to travel with him and aid him whenever needed.

    "Guess we never run out of odd people crossing our path, do we?"

    Mawile sighed.



    Meanwhile in Pallet Town

    Delia Ketchum turned off the stove, allowing the newest addition to their family— a Mr. Mime, to raise the frying pan off, before psychically raising the pancakes and putting them on the plates with perfect precision. Delia had initially been somewhat wary of having a new psychic in the house, but Mr. Mime's culinary abilities and its causal command over the kitchen had gone a long way to settle her doubts. The psychic had been working for Felina for over four years now and had occupied the position of a housekeeper for Felina and her assistants. With Felina suddenly leaving for a research convention in Saffron City, she had asked him to hire Mr. Mime for her instead. Apparently, Mr. Mime had issues over being 'unemployed', whatever that meant.

    "Mia!" She yelled, "Breakfast is ready. Come down before it gets cold."

    Usually, her proclamation would cause Mia to leave whatever work she had at hand— that being dancing nine times out of ten —and race to the tiny dining room that they had for themselves. Back when Red was home, it was almost a competition between the two of them, trying to beat each other to lunch. Now though…

    "Mia?" Delia yelled again, louder this time.

    Still no response.

    "What the hell?" Delia wondered. Ever since she had returned from the Seafoam Islands, she had noticed a subtle change in Mia's demeanor. As a psychic-type researcher, Delia was no stranger to the mood-shifts and eccentricities of the so-called 'all-knowing-ones', as Kaz liked to put it. But this was different. Mia was sad because Red had left on his journey, that much was obvious, but happy emotions around her tended to displace any lingering negative thoughts or emotion from her. In a way, the Ralts line was literally programmed to thrive amidst positive emotions. Even the slightest positive vibe could drown out a week's worth of sorrow from them. And Mia was no exception.

    That said, something had shifted within her. While she had initially appeared to be happy most of the time, only showing the occasional bout of sorrow whenever she happened to enter Red's room, Delia had noticed the undercurrent of a strong, lingering melancholy in her. It was almost like Mia had begun to love whatever tinge of sadness she had kept within herself, and was unwilling to let it go no matter what. She would still sing and dance around, and yet, when she thought that no one was watching, she'd stop her movements and just gaze at the ground, or frown at the sun, almost as if displeased by them. She still appeared as happy-go-lucky as ever, but unlike before, her happiness dissolved into a silent, emotionless smile.

    The kirlia had learned to fake happiness.

    It hadn't been this serious when Red had initially left for his journey, but something had changed over the last couple of days, that had made the kirlia into this… ironic caricature of her true self. When she asked Kaz what he thought about it, Delia had been shocked by Kaz's answer.

    'Her smile reminds me of the silver plate on a coffin.'

    "Mia it is then," Delia paused, before deciding to walk out of the kitchen, and walked past the main door. Glancing towards her extreme left, she found Mia sitting down in front of the broken window— a rather nostalgic part of her home, and the one that Red and Mia had apparently broken again when he was trying to leave without her knowing. Delia had tried to repair it several times since then, but it always broke off before the day was over.

    Delia had a sneaking suspicion about who was behind it.

    Red wasn't there, and Mia wanted everyone to know it. Things weren't the same, and Mia, wanted everyone to acknowledge it.

    Delia calmly walked up to the silent fairy, before sitting beside her, her legs folded in front, mimicking Mia's own posture. "Everything okay?"

    "Liii." She sounded, her answer sounding more like a careless grunt than an acknowledgment.

    'I know this must be hard on you, with Red being away on his jour— " Delia paused, her words dying in her throat, as Mia twisted her neck, and gave her a hard stare. It was unlike the soft and cheerful gaze that practically emanated brightness. Instead, it was cold and calculating, a look that Delia had never seen on her face before.

    And then she felt crippling sorrow. She remembered Red staying back at home, all by himself while she was away working at the lab. She saw Red sitting in his room, or working at the Ranch because the other kids preferred Gary to him, while Delia was away, collaborating with Ivy over some research problem. She saw Red feeding Mia with his own hands, and Mia twirling and dancing in between. She saw Mia peeping on Red as he got himself cut while out on some errand, before bending down to try to stop the bleeding, fail to do so, and then casually return to work ignoring it all. She saw Mia just sit there in the dark corridor as Red stayed comatose inside the hospital ward. She felt the sheer, agonizing, mind-bending horror as the yellow electric rodent sent thousands of volts of electricity into—

    Mia looked away.

    Delia blinked, as her eyes filled with tears. It took her a few seconds to reorient herself and to get ahold of these… emotions. A part of her that she was desperately trying to ignore knew what Mia had just done, and could vaguely guess at what her intentions might have been. It knew the underlying message Mia had sent without her even saying a single word. It knew that whatever Mia was feeling, it all stemmed from Red, and partly, from whatever happened after that. It knew that kirlia were creatures of joy, and being in a state of constant sorrow was anathema to them. It knew that Kirlia screamed anything but normal.

    But Delia didn't react to that part of her. The memories, the pain, the emotions, the constant absences, and the raw pain— It made her want to run away in fear from Mia. It made her want to curl up and cry. Some part of her wanted to admit her own faults and repent. But she did none of that.

    "Mia…" Delia started gently as she reached out towards the kirlia.

    "Li," Mia grunted again, before a gale of silvery winds blew around them, causing Delia to momentarily duck her face behind her arms. By the time she opened her eyes, Mia was gone.
     
  9. Threadmarks: Act 1 | Chapter 8 - Red and Misty's Bug-Catching Adventure
    TheBlackStaffAndNightMarE

    TheBlackStaffAndNightMarE I see. I write. I conquer.

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2020
    Messages:
    33
    Likes Received:
    127
    ACT 1 - IMMOLATION


    Chapter 8 - Red and Misty's Bug-Catching Adventure


    "You're doing it wrong. If you keep waving that pen around like that, you'll probably gouge someone's eye out."

    Red felt his left eye twitch. It was a rather familiar feeling, considering the number of times he had felt it twitch, irritated at his compatriot's comments. Apparently, while Misty was afraid to step into a forest full of bugs, she had absolutely no problem in proclaiming herself captain the moment she got anyone to follow her lead.

    Not that Red had any wish of becoming the girl's minion or whatever. The money had changed hands before they had stepped into the shadowed expanses that was Viridian Forest since it was pretty much given that even a caterpie could send the great Misty running for her life. In return for fifteen hundred pokédollars, he had practically sold off his happiness for the next week or possibly more. Mawile was inordinately displeased with the fact if the scowls she sent his way were of any indication.

    "I'm just trying to plot our way through the entire area. Surely, you aren't expecting me to just keep traveling like some incompetent idiot, and hope that these…" he pointed at her diary, "pokémon will magically show themselves to us?

    "Of course not," Misty defended her position. "But this forest is filled with bugs, and it is clearly given that pineco hang on trees. There are… " she waved her hands around, "lots of trees around. Trying to find this apparent pineco colony just because some bumbling fool pointed it out on a map, is not reason enough to travel to the insides."

    "Oh, so you'd rather make us walk along the periphery of the forest in the vain hopes of catching your beloved bugs—"

    "They are not my beloved bugs!" Misty retorted, her face scrunched in horror by the mere accusation.

    "Don't care!" Red barked. "The map clearly shows that this section is rich in Elder berry trees, and Elder berry has the sweetest sap. Pineco hang on trees rich in sweet sap. Inference— We'll find pineco there."

    "You made that up."

    Red's right eye twitched. "Did I now? I suppose you'd know, what with being a bug-type specialist and everything."

    "No, I'm not." Misty snapped, "and neither are you. How can you be so sure that-?"

    "I've practically lived in Professor Oak's ranch all my life. I know the pokémon in there, and their habits and habitats. You paid me to help you catch these pokémon, not be your bodyguard."

    Misty sneered back at him. "I didn't ask you to be my bodyguard either. I've got Croconaw for that."

    Red sent a fleeting glance at the actively snoring creature less than one yard away from him. Considering that they had their lunch over two hours ago, he'd have to assume that it was a heavy sleeper.

    "And he is obviously doing a marvelous job at that."

    Misty let out an incomprehensible 'buh!' but left it at that.

    "Well," Red replied sagely, "now that we have provisionally agreed on the fact that my job is in fact, limited to catching those four bugs, it is up to me to decide on our path"

    Misty blinked.

    "Right, back to planning." He spread out the map over the canvas floor. "We've been traveling all day, and it got us nowhere. So from now on, we'll start locating areas where we have a higher probability of finding your bugs and travel accordingly. These sections," he pointed out, "have a dense growth of Elder berry trees—"

    "According to a year-old estimate," Misty muttered under her breath. "But ignore me, I'm just a novice and you're the arborist."

    Red ignored that. "We'll start looking for pineco, and I'll thank you not to scream when we're there." Ignoring Misty's shift in demeanor at the statement, he continued, "It's possible that there are beedrill nearby, and loud noises can attract their attention"— Misty shivered at that —"not to mention that pineco responds to movement by exploding."

    "How do you catch something that explodes when you get close to it?"

    "With great difficulty," Red muttered, remembering the pineco swarm back at the Ranch. Back when he was eight, a Pineco had fallen on his head before it exploded, throwing shrapnel all around. He had been fortunate that the pineco in question was a rather young one, so its shrapnel were soft and felt like bark. In desperation and fright, Red had raced back to the professor, knowing that Explosion, in general, caused immense damage to a pokémon. Unfortunately for him, the poor pineco kept on exploding over and over every two minutes or so. By the time Red had returned to the lab, he was drenched in sap and covered in little bruises, with pineco bark all over him. It hadn't been a good sight.

    "What do you mean?"

    Red sighed. "Pineco hang themselves to elderberry branches, by secreting a combustible adhesive and bind themselves to the tree. They also start producing layers or shells around themselves. The greater the number of layers, the closer to evolving the pineco is. Usually, a new bark coating is produced every two weeks or so."

    He drew a line connecting their present location to their next destination. "When threatened or surprised, pineco respond by exploding, allowing their outermost shell to fragment outwards. A two-month-old pineco's shell will be flakes of soft bark, as if getting hit by balls of paper. A six-month-old pineco's shell shrapnel feels like tiny pieces of blunt wood, enough to hurt but not enough to cause cuts. A year-old pineco's shell is made of solid shrapnel, able to pierce through human skin easily." He subconsciously pulled his shirt tighter, covering up to his wrists. "This is because the layers are a combination of wood and some sort of metal-based compound, with the metal concentration increasing with the age of the pineco. A pineco with twenty layers or more is nearly 80% metal and will begin to evolve into a forretress. Most pineco end up shedding their layers quite often because of their hypersensitivity to motion. That's why forretress are so rare. It can take several years for one to appear in a pineco colony."

    There was also the fact that certain pineco had a high proclivity to explode at random, but that was neither here nor there. He looked up to his compatriot. "That is why catching a pineco single-handed is a difficult business. You'd have better luck catching a forretress instead. Evolved they may be, but at least they won't explode in your face."

    "Well, I'm sure there are other trees with sweet sap that don't require us to go so deep into the forest. What if there are pineco there?"

    "Because," Red said patiently "with every layer a pineco grows, its weight increases significantly. A pineco nearing evolution can weigh 300 kilograms or more. Most trees cannot support their weight. Elderberry trees not only provide food that a pineco can consume, but also branches that can bear their weight."

    "..."

    Misty stayed silent for a moment, staring at him as if re-evaluating his opinion. "You really know what you're talking about."

    "Huh?"

    "When you said that you practically lived at the ranch, I thought you're exaggerating."

    Red blinked at her, before shrugging it off. "It's not a big deal. Professor Oak's my mentor, and he showed me how to take care of the occupants of the ranch. Compared to some of the other residents, pineco are practically tame."

    Misty arched an eyebrow. "Tamer than something that explodes at the slightest movement?"

    Red laughed at her show of disbelief. "There's a large nidoran herd, though half of it is actually from the Pallet Forest. The old man brought them into the ranch 'cause they were being poached for their horns and hide. His nidoking leads the herd."

    "His nidoking takes care of the entire nidoran herd?"

    Red shook his head. "The herd has a few of nidoking and nidoqueen to lead them. Oak's nidoking leads the leaders, and keeps them from rampaging about." He smiled nostalgically, as if it had been ages since he had seen them. "Then, there's his arcanine, and trust me, it's a beast. Once you've watched it run, you'd be convinced that it's teleporting."

    Misty chuckled.

    "Then there's the tauros herd. Some irresponsible fellow caught an entire bunch of them and then donated it to the Oak Trust."

    "Seems like the Professor spends a lot of time on the ranch, taking care of the occupants."

    "Oh no, he has assistants for that. And well, he had me for that, but now I'm on my journey."

    "Oh." Misty wondered what to say to that. "So… you want to try for the Indigo Conference, correct?"

    "No, I want to win the conference, and then challenge Lance for his position." came the direct reply.

    Misty would have scoffed at such hubris, but something about the trainer made her pause in her tracks. "Champion huh? That's rather ambitious of you. How many pokémon do you have?"

    "Three," Red replied without hesitation. "Apart from Mawile and Shellder, there's Skarmory. I'd have allowed her to fly ahead, but the forest won't let her."

    So he doesn't have anything else. Come to think of it though, where on earth did he get a skarmory? You usually need to be an elite-trainer to try and catch one.

    "Where did you catch a wild skarmory?"

    "Me? Catch a wild skarmory?" Red laughed. "Out of my pay grade here. Me and Mawile would be hard-pressed to survive."

    "Then?"

    "I won her at the Trainer Square."

    Ah. That explains it.

    "I didn't know that the Trainer's Square had uncommon pokémon like Skarmory as well."

    Red shrugged. "I won enough battle points to hit the weekend jackpot, which turned out to be a greatball. Luckily enough, it turned out to be a skarmory."

    "And it didn't attack you? Skarmory are known to be dangerous predators. Well, the wild ones out there anyway."

    "Dunno. Skarmory's been as mushy as an eevee. Even Shellder adores her."

    Shellder squeaked, while Mawile frowned slightly at the fact.

    Misty gaped at him, flustered. "So… a mawile, a shellder, and a skarmory. I can see a growing pattern there since none of them can evolve further. Well, Shellder can. Are you planning on using a Water Stone."

    "And getting myself maimed or possibly killed?"

    "So… you know." She muttered. "Then why?" She considered his team. "Sentiment?"

    "Initially," Red admitted, "Shellder is my first capture, so I just… wanted to keep it along, maybe train it to move around and throw in a few moves. Obviously it wouldn't grow very much compared to the others, but it could learn, well, something. Perhaps in a year or so when I have the money to spare, I could try a hand at evolving it through a Water Stone. At the very least, I'd already have a strong team to fend it away should Shellder...I mean, Cloyster, attack me."

    "...I see." The girl stared at the teen in front of him.

    Even Mawile was listening to his words carefully. Of course, the deceiver still thought that Red was wasting his time on the mute, but at least she assumed there was some thought behind it.

    Red's expression brightened up. "But the important thing is that my trust hasn't been misplaced. I'm working on a special technique for him, though it's more of a mix between a fluke and a half-assed job right now."

    "You mentioned that it managed to perform some form of Water Gun."

    Red laughed. "Initially it was an attempt to teach him Water Gun, but Shellder's control over pressure is abysmal, and the volume of water he can produce is very small as well."

    "That's not unusual. Shellder do not learn Water Gun. They do not have the reserves for it." Misty interjected. It was a known fact.

    "I know," Red nearly snapped. "Shellder doesn't produce enough water to perform Water Gun, but he did manage to do something. You see, the shellder-line has a single advantage over most other water-types. And that is their ability to build up pressure. They actually move by ejecting air from the back of its shell. They can clearly generate extremely high pressures, so I decided to work on a modified form of Water Gun that holds less water at higher pressure."

    "Like a Water Pulse?" Misty felt her interest rise in the conversation.

    That's kind of strange, hearing him talk like that. Does he not know that move-creation is something that an elite-trainer does? A pokémon needs to gain superlative control on its natural moveset first, to be even considered for further development in something new.

    "Not a pulse. Shellder's control is too poor to maintain that kind of structure. What Shellder can do… is throw droplets of water, propelled by extreme pressure, at its opponent. That's how Shellder one-shotted a pidgeotto the other day. I'm thinking of calling it Water Bullet".

    The fuck? Misty felt her jaw drop, as her mind went into overdrive. A single globule of water shot at the target using high pressure . Only, instead of manipulating the pressure to give the water shape like in Water Pulse, it was used to add to its velocity. And there would be several of these globules flying at the opponent.

    "And you think—" Misty's tone shifted into something else. The easily-irritated water-type defender took a back seat, and the apprenticing water-type specialist came to the surface. "You think that a shellder can do that?"

    "I… think so."

    "How much progress have you made?"

    "...Some." Red felt a little discomfort at Misty's changed attitude. "Why?"

    Misty blinked. "Why? You, a rookie, have apparently been working a damned new move, and you ask why? Because I want to see it while it is being created. That's why!"

    "And what good will it do you?"

    "I've been studying water-types ever since I was little, and I gave up on the shellder line. To see some real development for a shellder is something I won't miss. I can help you create this new move. I can help you even register it, though you wouldn't really need my help, Oak's little prodigy and all that."

    "I'm not the old man's prodigy."

    "Sure." Misty drawled. "Any other earth-shaking revelations you have regarding shellder?"

    "Oh yeah," Red beamed. "Shellder can use Double Team like you wouldn't believe."

    "Sure." Her dry tone gave away what she thought about that.

    Mawile shook her head. She's in her denial phase. She'll learn. I know I have.

    "Huh, your funeral. Shellder, time to show off. Use Double Team."

    Shellder squeaked, before letting out a 'Shill' sound, activating his skill, as several illusory forms of Shellder began appearing all around itself, covering the entire canvas floor inside the tent. It appeared all around Red, all around Mawile, and all around Misty and finally the last one on Misty's lap, before it shot out its dark, crimson tongue.

    And licked her face.

    Misty screamed.

    "Shhhh! What did I tell you about not screaming?" Red hissed.



    Two days later

    As the two bug-catchers soon found out, traversing through Viridian forest to reach exact locations was easier said than done. For one, the trees were tropical ones, with leaf-laden branches spread out on all sides, creating a multi-layered canopy. Even during the day, the light they had was limited to the beams that managed to pass through the overlapping leafy layers, giving the illusion of an eternal twilight zone.

    Luckily, the trees had enough spaces between them to allow Skarmory flight, albeit a severely hindered one. Of course Red being Red, had used this as a chance to train her aerial maneuverability, instructing her to fly as fast as she could while avoiding any branches or trunks.

    He had thought that it would probably take them a day at the most if they kept on traveling towards their desired direction. Learning to deal with maps and directions was something of an essential skill for trainers and was stressed upon at school. That and the rare night spent with his mom learning to determine directions using the stars made up his navigation skills. Who would have thought that Delia, Professor Oak's assistant, and psychic researcher, had originally been an explorer?

    The first time Red had come to know about it, it had shocked the hell out of him. Explorers were pokémon trainers, usually elite-level ones, who worked as freelancers in service to research organizations. They usually accompanied a scientist to unexplored, dangerous zones where they would act as bodyguards and assist scientists with their research.

    His mother had been part of an expedition to a forbidden zone known as Galar, as part of a support team sent with a Head Researcher— Samuel Oak. Delia had been a young trainer making her name in the gym circuit and had jumped at the chance to work alongside the legendary Samuel Oak. Apparently, her sharp wit and her unique thought processes had impressed Oak enough to send her an offer of apprenticeship. Delia had never looked back.

    Either way, Red hadn't really expected the forest to turn out the way it did. The forest allowed no light to enter at night which meant that the two travelers had to do most of their walking during the day. Sure, they had torches and other equipment for providing light, but traveling like that in the dark, while surrounded by poison-types was something only an idiot would do.

    "I cannot believe that you talked me into this… this stupid idea. I mean, what was I thinking when I agreed? No seriously, what was I thinking?"

    Red sighed at Misty's explosive reactions. Come to think of it, it probably wasn't too surprising. Misty suffered from acute entomophobia, and Red had made her walk through an entire forest of bugs for three days now. Frankly, he was surprised that she hadn't already run off somewhere screaming all the while. He casually wondered if the resident bugs would consider her screams to be an attack on their territory, or hide themselves fearing a powerful predator.

    He glanced at Misty, meeting her bulging eyes. Her jaw was half-clenched, with her lips firmly pressed together. Also, Red noticed, Misty had her hands almost sticking to her body, as if afraid that some bug would tear it off if she allowed her hands to go free.

    "Are… you okay?"

    A vein pulsed on Misty's temples. "Do I look like I'm… okay, Red Ketchum?"

    "We are nearing the Pineco site… I think." Red replied, glancing at his watch. "We have around three hours or so before the day ends, and the trees are different. The bark is…" he glanced at the trees, inwardly cursing himself for not teaching Mawile Flash. While Skarmory did know Flash, she wasn't suited to walking.

    "The bark is darker here, which means that these trees are quite old. I remember spotting a thick growth of Pecca berry trees near the Elder berry plantation. That probably means…"

    "That we are very close?" Misty asked hopefully.

    Red shook his head. "It means that there are beedrill nests nearby, so for God's sake, make sure you don't scream!"

    Misty had an agonized expression on her face. Gulping, she nodded. "I'll try."

    "That goes for you as well, Mawile. You have to keep a lid on your urges to eat a weedle or something, should they show up here. We cannot fight off a horde of beedrill at this point." Red emphasized. "Do you understand? Mawile?"

    There was no response, something that triggered an immediate reaction in him.

    "Mawile? Mawile, what are you—" He paused, as his eyes registered on the issue that had caused his exuberant starter to become deathly silent.

    What the—?



    It was a caterpie.

    Well, it wasn't just a caterpie. They were stage-one bugs, squashable by the slightest movement of Mawile's jaw. But more importantly, this was a caterpie, and yet…

    And yet…

    This is wrong. This is fundamentally wrong on so many levels.

    Mawile blinked, as she stared at the three-foot-tall caterpie, which blinked back at her in return. Those creepy eyes were almost as big as her own face, not to mention that it clearly had a longer body dragging behind it.

    A caterpie, taller than me.

    Mawile blinked again.

    Mawile knew she wasn't blessed when it came to height. None of her species were. It was a physiological thing, with the exception of the rare giant that possibly grew another foot or two taller, gaining a net height of around four feet. Of course, the smaller runts tended to be a little less than one and a half feet, but that was neither here nor there. Mawile, with her tiny two-foot-tall frame, had accepted that she was never really going to win points for her height. The fact that Shellder was less than half her height had been an incredibly satisfying factor for her, which was probably why she had been slightly… appreciative of its position, despite it freeloading over Red's resources.

    But this…

    "Ewww!" Misty screeched. " That's a giant caterpie. Do Something! Send it away! Get rid of it!"

    Mawile felt a single vein pulse on her forehead. Here she was in the middle of an existential crisis, in which even a first-stage squashable bug was taller than her, and this orangette was screeching her head off. This wasn't the first time that Mawile had to suppress her urge to swallow the annoying orangette whole. Even Shellder seemed comparatively bearable compared to this wild, orange thing.

    "Send it away! EEEEWE! It's so creepy!" Misty was essentially throwing her hands and legs all over the place.

    "Shhh!" Red hissed, "Can't you stay for a moment without freaking out at every bug we encounter? This is the Viridian Forest for god's sake."

    The caterpie tilted its head inquisitively, staring at the orangette's antics.

    "But that's a giant caterpie."Misty wailed, rushing behind Red to use him as a shield against the string-shotting monster that she seemed to believe would swallow her whole.

    "Yeah, so what?" Red hissed back. "Mawile, get rid of it."

    Mawile was only too happy to do so. Her jaw practically jiggled with excitement, as she brought it down upon the bug that was the bane of her existence, however temporary that might be. A loud 'slurrrp' later and the Viridian Forest was lacking one giant caterpie.

    "She… she ate it?" Misty blinked. One part of her seemed to be.. happy that the caterpie had vanished.

    But she ate it! The other part of Misty's mind, the part that had taken the backseat until now, rose up. "She... she swallowed it whole!"

    "Yeah? So what's the big deal." Red asked.

    Yeah, what's the big deal? Mawile thought in irritation. Seriously, she should have gotten rid of this orangette on the very first day. Does she think I eat grass or something?

    It must be noted that Misty Waterflower had been somewhat hysterical because of her constant exposure to the surrounding bugs. The presence of the giant caterpie had only exacerbated the situation. The revelation that the cute little thing she knew to be Mawile, had just casually swallowed another creature was enough to push her past the boundaries of hysteria. Thus, it was not irrational to expect that her next words would be less of a question and more of a—

    "BUT SHE ATE IT!"

    —a wild screech.

    In what could be termed as a dramatic entry, something erupted from out of the bushes, causing the leaves and fly all over in a miniature gale of wind.

    And right there, buzzing in front of them, was a beedrill— its stingers ready to impale the invader, and wings vibrating at high speeds, creating miniature winds all around them.

    "And this is why I told you" Red sighed "not to scream."

    Misty gulped.

    "Mawile." Red motioned.

    Mawile shook her head subtly, raising her jaw with exaggerated slowness, as she summoned the ice, feeling the cold wind empowering her.

    "Misty, get ready to release Croconaw."

    Misty had no qualms about following the command. The only problem was, there was a large BUG in the air, buzzing in front of her, ready to pounce upon her with its stingers, tear her into pieces and then feed on her before—

    "Misty." Red hissed.

    Mawile rolled her eyes before she gazed at the beedrill.

    "Maw!"

    The bug looked at its newest distraction, wondering what was wrong before—

    Astonish!

    A mild jolt sent the beedrill into slight disorientation, and everything changed. The cute, little, ivorish creature was gone, and in its stead, stood a large black jaw that threatened to devour her. Beedrill would have attacked, but its body seemed to be temporarily paralyzed by the sudden fear that seemed to consume it, that menacing jaw was leaking and—

    "Icy Wind!" Red yelled.

    Mawile raised her jaw and released a gale of biting, cold winds with tiny ice pieces within them. It was proof that she was getting closer and closer to Hail, where the little shrapnels would be shards of ice. The tiny ice shards slammed into the bug in the face, sending it tumbling down into the bush. Injured from the attack, the beedrill soared up, before flying away.

    "Yeah!" Misty cheered, the adrenaline rush of the situation getting the better of her. "We sent it flying, didn't we?" Her initial hysteria lost as she gazed at Mawile fondly.

    "... Maw?" Mawile tilted her head in confusion.

    "Yeah, we sent it flying alright. Seriously, is that the best you can do?" Misty yelled after the already-departed beedrill.

    She really doesn't learn, does she? Red wondered, glancing down at Mawile.

    It is your fault you brought her along. Mawile thought, glancing back up at Red.

    As one the trainer and pokémon sighed, looking at Misty with something akin to sadness.

    "...what?" Misty asked, creeped out by their gaze.

    As if in answer to her implied question, the bushes exploded, as half a dozen Beedrill zoomed out of it, buzzing loudly, their stingers leaking deadly poison.

    "You just had to ask, didn't you." Red retorted.

    "I'm— I'm sorry." Misty yelped.

    "Save it for later. Mawile now!"

    This is all her fault. Mawile decided, letting out a burst of Icy Wind again. Obviously, given her tiny reserves, it was hardly enough to cause damage to the horde in front of them, but it was enough for a distraction. Taking advantage of the situation, Red took out his other pokémon, the one member who actually had the strength and ability to deal with the horde.

    "Skarmory, attack!."

    With a wild screech, Skarmory shot out of her greatball, her wings spread out, already gathering layers of steel over the surfaces. She shot through the Beedrill horde, fracturing one of the stingers that tried to resist her wings, as she soared into the air, the enraged Beedrill swift behind her tracks.

    "At the very least, I stand right about the forest being a good test for our strengths." Red chuckled. "Mawile gets to eat bugs. Skarmory gets to fight, and Shellder gets to..."

    Shellder, who had been hanging on his finger all this time, let out a shrill squeak, registering its presence. Unfortunately, that caused it to let go of its hold, leading to an unceremonious fall to the ground.

    "...And Shellder too." he finished lamely.

    Poor Mawile could only sigh at that.



    After what seemed like an eternity, the bug-catching expedition had finally arrived at a meager position that could almost tentatively be called a success. In simple terms, they had finally been able to spot a massive growth of Elder berry trees, and to a certain black-haired trainer's elation, there were hordes of pineco latching on the branches. In fact, there were several dozen per branch, with the heavier and larger ones latched on to the tree trunks with several thick strands of resin acting as adhesives.

    "That's… a lot of pineco." Misty muttered, "and can you stop looking so smug about it?"

    "Well, what can I say? I did tell you that I had previous experience."

    "Forgive me for being skeptical about someone who didn't have a single badge to defend his claim." Misty shot back.

    "You do realize that this no-badger can simply call it quits and leave you here all alone?"

    "What? You promised me!"

    "Shhh!|" Red hissed. "Don't shout!"

    "Sorry!" Misty replied in hushed tones. She didn't need another beedrill experience, thank you very much. "You promised to help me in return for money."

    "Promised to catch the bugs, yes." Red shot back. "Not to deal with your tantrums. I can just as well get the bugs and mail them to wherever you come from."

    "Fine!" Misty receded. "Now how about you show me how to catch one of them, oh wise one?"

    Red arched an eyebrow at the obvious implication of a challenge. "I can think of a few ways to capture a pineco, without them exploding all over us."

    "Really?" Misty challenged. "You told me that they respond to close movement by exploding. Your skarmory is too large, and considering how closely the pineco are huddled together, if even one of them explodes, it will likely trigger the others as well."

    "Point."

    "And your Mawile has mostly been a physical attacker too, and it's not like Fairy Wind or Icy Wind will help matters either. It would be enough to drop the pineco, but not enough to keep it from exploding once it falls on the ground."

    "You are really thinking it out, aren't you?" Red asked, a little amused.

    "Of course I am. Shellder Isn't an option, for obvious reasons. Double Team will creep them out and may cause them to explode. So we're out of options unless you have a fourth pokémon hidden somewhere."

    Red shrugged. "Nope. Those are all I have. Perhaps… Some of your own pokémon?"

    Misty hesitated for a moment. "Croconaw can use Water Gun and Bubble Beam, but both will probably cause the pineco to explode. My starmie can be more… accurate in her hits. She knows Ice Beam, but I doubt it would help, since we still need to bring the pineco down."

    "Perhaps she can hit one on the resin, and then catch the pineco mid-fall with Psychic?" Red offered.

    "She's… not that capable. Yet."

    A young starmie then. Since staryu only develop their psychic affinity after evolution, it's probably been less than a few months since it evolved. Red mused.

    "All right, well that sums up our current situation."

    "Yes, and we have no plan to successfully catch one. Seriously, catching a pineco shouldn't be this hard. It's a first-level bug, after all." Misty hissed in frustration.

    "You're right. It shouldn't." Red replied after a moment, pulling out an empty pokéball from his belt."

    Misty blinked." What… are you doing?"

    "Catching it, of course! "

    "Of all the presumptuous brashness you could come up with." Misty paused midway, keeping her tone in check, "you cannot possibly think that you'll catch a pineco with just a pokéball."

    "It's worth a try."

    Misty glared at him, as if trying to figure out if he was being serious or simply messing with her. Finally, she gave up and crossed her arms across her chest. "Fine. Impress me with your skill."

    Red rolled his eyes. "Here goes nothing." He held the pokéball in his hand, aiming for the pineco horde on the third branch. Even if his aim wasn't great, chances of him missing all of them were fairly low."

    And then, he clicked on the capture button of the pokéball.

    The familiar red light shot out of the capture device, hitting one of the pineco latched to the branch. It took a second-worth of wait before the pineco felt itself surrounded with a red aura that forcibly pulled it into the pokéball before it could even react. The top of the device lifted up, securing the capture, before shutting down with a 'ding'.

    "And that's how," Red declared smugly, "you catch a pineco."

    "What-but-how?"

    "Why so surprised? It is a stage-one bug after all."

    "But-how-buh!"

    "What? Did you think that hitting the pokémon in the head with the pokéball was necessary to capture them or something? Why would any sensible manufacturer add such a silly clause to a capture device? You don't want to lose a pair trying to capture a running pokémon or something."

    Misty just continued to gape at him, wide-eyed.

    "...what?" Red asked, stepping back warily. After all, Misty was prone to violent behavior at the best of times.

    "But, I mean— it is supposed to be thrown, the pokéball I mean, right?"

    Red rolled his eyes. "Seriously? Why do you think it's thrown?"

    Misty thought about it. "Because— because it would be dangerous to do so, otherwise?"

    The teen sighed. "Most wild pokémon out there are dangerous, so it is advisable to throw the pokéball at them after they are disoriented, since they can always fight off the pokéball's suppression, and break out. Of course, you would have a problem if the pokéball was in your hand when that happened. Pineco however, are too docile to do so and therefore, this works just fine."

    Misty just nodded back in befuddlement.



    Meanwhile in Pewter City

    "He certainly has a stubborn streak," Cassidy observed, staring at the ongoing battle from the command room. "This is what… the thirteenth match for the day? My word, he's practically a machine. I'd be impressed if not for the fact that he keeps losing them."

    Butch sighed. "Don't I know it."

    Cassidy smirked. "I never asked, but what made you pay all that money on this scrawny kid again? You don't seem the kind to blow cash on charity."

    Butch chortled at that. "See that kid fighting? Watch him." He raised the remote towards the screen, increasing the volume. "What do you think will happen?"

    Cassidy snickered but didn't say anything, as the sounds on the battlefield became audible.

    "Raichu, evade and use Thunder Punch." Ritchie was saying.

    The electric rodent leaped off the ground, just in time to avoid the Dark Pulse aimed at him, using his speed to maximum effect. The opponent, a Houndoom belonging to a Johto-native, growled at its missed prey, before it sent out a shower of flames, causing the Raichu to drop his attack and shift to the right.

    "Damn!" Ritchie cursed. "I cannot win like this." He observed how the Houndoom had its claws clenched into the ground, ensuring that a significant amount of any electrical attack that hit would be channeled into the earth, losing a lot of potency in the process.

    "Don't let it get closer. Use flamethrower again." The other trainee ordered his pokémon.

    "Raichu, leap into the air and use Thunder Shock."

    "Gotcha!" The opponent smirked. "Take the hit, and use Smog."

    The Houndoom barked maliciously, before belching out poisonous, dark purple smog from its mouth into the air, aimed in Raichu's general direction. Meanwhile, the thunder attack hit Houndoom, causing him to shriek in pain as he felt his nerves get inflamed. As expected, most of the Thunder was channeled into the ground, leaving the Houndoom somewhat fatigued and disoriented, but still in the battle.

    The same could not be said about Raichu.

    The Smog had taken effect and poisoned the electric rodent, rendering him paralyzed and nearly incapacitated, leaving him to fall down to the ground. The Houndoom, somewhat able to still move, leaped towards the Raichu and bit it in the neck, before bodily pulling it up and slamming it down.

    Raichu didn't move.

    "Ha! Told ya, your piss poor rodent ain't good enough for my Houndoom, buddy!" The Johto-native chortled, before walking off, leaving Ritchie to stare at his fallen pokémon, clenching his jaw.

    "Fourteenth loss, eh?" Cassidy chortled at the screen. "This little guy seems to have made up his mind to achieve some sort of record for losing. I don't think I've heard anyone to lose that many times in one day."

    Butch smiled. "There is one, actually. Seventeen losses in a day. Check the stats for the trainees that came up nine years ago."

    "Nine—" Cassidy stopped short, realizing something. "You've been here for nine years too, haven't you? Don't tell me that—"

    "That record belongs to me," Butch answered with a smile floating on his lips. "At one time, I was in that guy's shoes," he nodded at the screen. "Nothing spectacular. Not a genius, not an instinctive battler, and pretty terrible at all-round battle strategy. I had none of it. It was just me, my Magmar, and an arrest warrant in my name."

    "You are the only executive in Team Rocket with a champion-level pokemon, Butch. I cannot believe that you were once a nobody like that little kid over there."

    Butch chuckled. "It's been a difficult path for me and Magmar, and it'll be difficult for those two as well. You know why I paid in advance for the kid? He wanted the money to get a Thunder Stone for that raichu. My agent told me that he offered him a deal for a Thunder stone in return for two months of grunt-salary. That little loser over there, he bargained for a years' salary upfront to get his team in working order and bought TMs with whatever remained. He cared about nothing except his pokémon and was willing to sacrifice everything, himself included. That's conviction, and the one thing I respect more than anything else in the world."

    Cassidy smiled at that. "A years' salary? My word, I'm not sure what to call that, bravery or stupidity."

    "Call it whatever you will. I believe the kid has it within him to grow within our ranks. That over there is a future executive, carved out of continuous, non-stop effort. Not talent, not technique, but sheer diligence."

    "Is that why you went double for him during training?" Cassidy mocked. "I must admit, I was shocked to hear the great Butch turn coach for a group of trainees."

    Butch chuckled. "What did you think I did that for?"

    "That you were angry that you paid for a loser, and tried to get some satisfaction by beating the shit outta him?" She quipped.

    Butch shook his head in amusement.



    Back in Viridian Forest

    "I'm so beat," Misty muttered.

    "You have been beat after every two hours, ever since we started on this trip. How exactly did you travel from your school to Viridian again?" Red questioned idly. It had been another two days of constant traveling, searching for the next location to catch the next pokémon on the list. The mission had been a major success, and now they were traveling for the third item on Misty's list.

    "I teleported. How else? " Misty answered offhandedly.

    Red stopped in his tracks.

    "...What?" Misty asked, wondering what was wrong with her acquaintance, or, dare she called it, extremely annoying but interesting friend.

    "You teleported all the way from Saffron City to Viridian?"

    "Well, I stopped at Cerulean for a few days first."

    "But that— that," Red did a mental calculation. "That must have cost you nearly thirty thousand."

    "Twenty-six grand to be precise," Misty replied. "I get discounts for using Teleportation services so often."

    Red didn't know whether to be shocked at her casual way of mentioning such a high figure, or the fact that she seemed to spend such an outrageous amount for teleportation every now and then.

    "You spend that much on teleportation?" He asked, his throat dry. Despite being pretty comfortable in terms of economic wealth, Red had lived a rather frugal life. After all, one did not stay poor when working for Samuel Oak. Misty's expenses seemed a little too outrageous for his tastes. Hell, his mother earned around fifteen thousand a month, working for Oak, less than this girl spent on teleportation."

    "How else am I supposed to travel home and back from school? Traveling by train would take over two days, and walking is certainly not an option. I'm not a fan of the paid flight services, which leaves teleportation as the most convenient."

    Red blinked. "On second thoughts, I should have asked for more when you hired me."

    "You sore loser." Misty taunted. "I was prepared to go upto twelve thousand while asking you to agree with my request. It's not my fault that you caved at the first offer."

    Red face-palmed. With that much money, he could have gotten himself four intermediate-tier TMs for his team. Hell, he could have gotten himself another low-intermediate Move Tutor and have some money left over.

    Misty chortled at that. "Either way, it seems that it'll probably be another week or something before we managed to complete our mission, so it's possible that I'll reconsider. Depending on the result of course." She gloated in a smug voice. "Either way, leaving me alone in this forest ain't an option on the table."

    "Fine then. I'll be training my team here for a while. While ledyba was an easy capture, capturing a venonat is going to be tricky as hell."

    "I'm still surprised that ledyba are that… dumb." Misty muttered.

    "They are not dumb." Red retorted. "There are just… unused to combat. They group and fight together as part of a swarm. Also, ledyba are practically babies. It's usually the ledian population that fight any predators."

    "It got taken down with a stone." Misty accused.

    "Well not entirely. Mawile sent out a gust of Icy Wind. Ledyba do not like the cold, and they flew away. I simply aimed for the ones at the back of the swarm. If you aren't attacking the swarm as a whole, ledyba tend to avoid combat. The stone was enough to disorient one of them and it was easy enough to catch once it got separated from the swarm."

    "Sometimes I wonder if you are an actual bug-specialist disguised as a rookie," Misty muttered.

    Red chuckled. "Believe me I'm not. Some of it is from my years of serving at the ranch. The rest is from reading the research material from the pokédex every night. I like reading about pokémon in detail, and the National Dex has access to the global pokémon database."

    "I'd never have figured you to be a nerd."

    Red shrugged. Knowing about a pokémon was instrumental in taking care of it. Unlike humans, a pokémon did not come with an off-switch for their rampages, especially when their caretaker did something they found terribly resentful. The league and the general population commonly turned a blind eye to it, but death at the hands of one's own pokémon was one of the biggest reasons for trainer deaths every year.

    "I have a mawile as my starter, as well as a skarmory on my team. Lack of information can get me killed.."

    "I'd have thought that a cute—" Misty hesitated over the word for a moment, probably remembering Mawile's casual consumption of the large caterpie, "— cute thing like Mawile would be a terrible choice for a starter."

    Red winced, thanking whatever deity was listening that Mawile for once, had decided to rest in her pokéball. Apparently, she had gotten tired of walking through the forest, and wanted a break. The trees were thicker so Skarmory wasn't out either, and Shellder… didn't count. So it was just him and Misty for a change, chatting amiably as they traveled through the forest.

    "Well?" Misty demanded.

    "To be honest, I wanted a charmander for my starter," Red admitted, inwardly surprised at how… indifferent he felt about it now. Back at the beginning, he had been completely adamant about getting a charmander, and no other pokémon could really substitute its place in his heart. But after spending all this time in Viridian with Mawile and her antics, Shellder and its experiments, and more recently, Skarmory and her preening, he had gotten used to thinking of them as parts of his life. He casually wondered if he'd have chosen a charmander as a starter if he had the chance to repick his starter.

    Probably not.

    "So what happened?"

    "Well, to make a long story short, the old man ended up giving away the starters for some ongoing research in Kalos and—" Red paused, "come to think of it, I never got to know what the research was about. I'll need to ask the old man next time when I call him."

    Misty arched an eyebrow. It was obvious that she had heard Samuel Oak described in venerated terms, but his casual description of the centennial legend in such crass tones seemed… almost off-putting to her.

    At Misty's nod, Red went on. "Anyway, after some discussion with him, I decided on a pikachu. Yeah I know, I was surprised too, but the old man told me that pikachu would be a good substitute until he got me a charmander."

    "I didn't know you had a pikachu."

    "I'm glad I don't. That little shit tricked me and nearly electrocuted me to death. Fried half the nerves of my arm. The old man threw money like candy, from what I'm told, to get me all functional."

    From her frown, Red mused that she didn't like his self-deprecating humor. "Either way," he began, "Can you imagine me with a pikachu? I'd have gotten nowhere with it, with that nasty brat electrocuting everything in sight."

    "As long as it didn't zap anything of mine we'd be fine." Misty answered, "Anyway, what happened next?"

    "Well when I was somewhat capable of movement, he came to see me and gave me Mawile. We had a somewhat rough start," Red chuckled, remembering some of Mawile's initial antics, "but I'd like to think we've grown on each other since then."

    Misty did not doubt that statement. All three of his team seemed to hold Red in high esteem. "That's… interesting."

    Red shrugged. "Sometimes life throws you curve-balls. I'm happy that I got Mawile out of it, no matter what it took me, and I wouldn't change a thing now."

    "So… you don't want a charmander?"

    "I… wouldn't say that I don't want one. But if I get one, I think I'd like to catch it in the wild, as rare as they are. I don't think it'll be the same to simply get one from the old man."

    "I see," Misty replied. "So… about this venonat."

    "Oh yeah, this one's gonna be tricky. Are you sure you can't substitute anything else for it?"

    Misty shook her head. "We can always look for spinarak yet." She shuddered, probably imagining one of the spidery-monstrosities.

    "Spinarak are generally found on dense forest floors. We're pretty much close to that anyway. Chances are we might encounter a spinarak while waiting for a venonat."

    "Waiting?"

    "Venonat have highly reactive compound vision. They are hypersensitive to motion and can see things coming from nearly half a mile away. Any movement around it is probably going to send it running."

    "Then how do we find it?"

    "We put up a tent and start a fire. Venonat tend to get attracted by bright light. And we could use a little rest too, though I should tell you, it might take some days before we manage to catch one."

    "..."

    "Misty?"

    "Yeah?" She asked, looking slightly off-guard at being broken out of her reverie. "What?"

    "I asked you if you were okay with that."

    "Yeah, I guess some days of resting doesn't sound like a bad idea. It will also give me the opportunity to see Shellder's special move. Besides it's not like YEAAAAK—"

    Red had pulled her towards himself without preamble, and in reaction, she had jerked back, causing both of them to fall down on the ground with Red above her, pinning her down to the ground with his body. Her arm was still clenched in his fist, causing one of his hands to get buried beneath her body.

    "Excuse me," she asked, keeping her voice as low and controlled as possible, "What are you doing?"

    "Shhh!" Red hissed softly, stopping her from getting up. "Don't fight. Stay low."

    "Why?" Misty hissed.

    "'Cause we unknowingly entered pinsir territory."

    Misty flinched. "Pinsir are dangerous."

    "You really have a gift for stating the obvious," Red replied in an offhand tone, trying to listen to whatever was near them.

    Is it close?" She whispered.

    "Not it," Red whispered back, raising his head slightly to look to his right. The bushes beside him provided enough cover for them to hide for the moment. However, should the pinsir discover them, no amount of bush cover could save their asses. He slowly pushed his head upward, from where they were sprawled over the ground.

    Four pinsir. One pinsir was too much a challenge for Mawile to deal with. Perhaps Skarmory could take on one and probably win. But four? From what he knew, Misty's croconaw was extremely sluggish, being near evolution and he had no idea if her starmie would be of any help at the moment. For a moment, he cursed himself for not trying to acquire a fire-type before setting off for the forest. Fire was excellent in combating bugs after all.

    Lay low for the moment, but get ready to fight. That seems like an optimum solution. Even better, set up a distraction and run away. Pinsir are terrifyingly strong but they aren't fast.

    Red turned to face Misty, a part of him slightly… unnerved by their close proximity. He wasn't really comfortable grabbing her like this but dire circumstances necessitate action. Knowing Misty, she'd have probably screamed on seeing the pinsir and made their situation even worse.

    "Can you get to your pokéballs?" He whispered. "I need you to get ready to release starmie at a moment's notice." He slowly released his hold on Misty's other arm and plucked out Skarmory's pokéball. As much as he liked Mawile, this battle was too risky for her. He needed someone strong, durable and speedy. Skarmory fitted the bill.

    Misty nodded quietly, arching to reach Starmie's pokéball.

    There was just one problem.

    A weedle, nothing fancy, just short of a foot in height, poked its head out of a tiny perforation on the ground, just inches above Misty's face. And as luck would have it, Misty tried to look towards her left, trying to see if there was some way to crawl out from their present uncomfortable situation. Her eyes scanned the pokémon in front of her, and after two long seconds began to dilate. It was slow at first, but then her phobia came in full effect. Before she could give in and scream her lungs out, Red clamped her mouth tightly with his other hand, while pushing the one hand beneath her further left, pulling her towards himself until his face was inches far away from hers, and clenched the weedle in his fist.

    Misty kept trying to scream over and over, but Red forced her to stay quiet. It would not do to let her be and get killed by the pinsir herd. He had too much to accomplish to end his life like that. Instead, he forced his fingers to clench around the weedle, containing it. The weedle, realizing an obvious trap by a predator, pushed its needle out into Red's palm, right below the thumb.

    "Shut up!" He hissed.

    Red shut his eyes as he felt the toxin take effect, but more importantly, felt Misty relax beneath his palm, and let her mouth go free. The moment his hand was free, he pulled the weedle out and sent it flying.

    "Ouch." Misty whispered, looking at his other hand from the corner of her eye. The slight purplish tinge was distinct, even from her position. "Does that hurt much?"

    "No clue."



    It took around half an hour for the pinsir herd to be distracted, though it had less to do with Red and Misty staying silent, and more with a strange cry resonating through the forest. From what Red inferred, it was a dull, throaty shriek over a hundred yards away, causing the pinsir to grunt wildly and rush towards it. A few moments later and they were gone.

    "I can't feel my legs," Misty muttered, still pinned down by Red's weight. "Any longer and you'll have to carry me.."

    "I think we are fine now," Red whispered back. "They seem to be attracted to something else. I think it's another pokémon."

    "More pinsir?" Misty breathed.

    "I… don't think so." He answered in the same tone. "It screeched, and Pinsir don't screech. Wait a second," He pushed his head upwards before crouching again.

    "Did you see anything?"

    "No. But I think they're gone now."

    Misty sighed. This was not what she had in mind when starting out on her bug-catching adventure.

    "Okay, here goes," Red whispered, slowly raising his head before he glanced towards the right again. The pinsir seemed to have vanished, and he couldn't hear them grunt anymore. Taking one last tentative look around, he slowly started moving from his position. "Alright, I think we can try to escape now, but don't scream at anything or panic."

    Misty nodded. "I'll try."

    "Good." Without further ado, he pushed himself up, pulling her off the ground. His hand, he idly noted, felt numb. Though, some of that might have been from the weedle's toxins. The site of the puncture was now an angry purple, though he surprisingly didn't feel much pain.

    "That doesn't look like something you should ignore," Misty whispered, seeing him curiously observe his hand.

    "This is not the time. Let's get out of here first." Red answered, "Can you walk?"

    Misty took a step away, and let go of Red's hand. She faltered for a second, feeling her knees go weak, but Red caught her before she actually fell down.

    "Put your weight on my shoulder, and we can walk."

    "Thanks."

    "Don't mention it."



    A few hours later

    "Do you think that this place will be safe?" Misty asked, rubbing themselves gently.

    After over an hour of walking, they had finally gotten themselves into a location that had a lower density of tree growth. The land was mostly filled with dry grass, with a few berry trees growing some distance away. In other words, a perfect place to set up camp.

    "Well, this is probably as good as it's going to get," Red muttered, cautiously observing the purplish shade on his palm. He extended his thumb away from his hand experimentally, before slowly retracting it.

    "Strange, I'd have thought that the weedle's poison would be more effective than this. I mean, I did use an Antidote and everything, but it didn't even hurt like I expected it to."

    "Huh? Are you actually disappointed that it isn't hurting as much as you expected it too?" Misty exclaimed, "You did apply the antidote properly, right?"

    "Yep," Red answered offhandedly. This wasn't the first time he had encountered bug poison, and while they did sting a lot, a timely antidote usually took care of it. He had expected the bugs of Viridian forest to be even more toxic than the ones on the ranch. "The swelling and discoloration should be gone in a couple of hours. It still stings a little bit, but the pain is nothing like it could have been."

    "If you say so." Misty drawled, "or you might have built up a good pain tolerance over time."

    Red shrugged. Truth be told, he hadn't really been hurt ever since… well, ever since the pikachu incident. There had been that time when Mawile had pulled Shellder off him, and the numerous times she had bitten him— with her frontal teeth, not her sinister black jaw. Then there was Shellder who had the habit of clamping into his hands but that was different. The only other injury he had taken since the incident was the one involving Skarmory.

    Come to think of it, he had felt bloodloss and nausea, but pain? Not very much, to be honest.

    "Yeah, I guess I do have a lot of pain tolerance," Red answered, inwardly flinching as he remembered being nearly shocked to death. From what he had heard, the electrocution had damaged nearly half the nerves on his arm. Did that have something to do with this?

    "I suppose now would be a good time to release our pokémon," Misty suggested. She looked exhausted by the day's events, and the uncomfortable situation earlier had certainly not helped. "Do you want me to put up the other tent?"

    Red thought about it. "Well, if you wish, you can sleep in here with me and Mawile. It's not exactly safe around here and you… have a problem.," Red explained."Worst comes to worst and we get attacked, we may need to leave the tent behind. That way at least we have one tent for future use, even if this one gets destroyed."

    Misty seemed to consider it for a moment "You have really thought this through, haven't you?"

    "I like to be prepared." He answered. "Working with the old man has taught me just how dangerous it is to be a trainer. The professor wanted me to help him in research, you know. He's still probably sulking that I choose to be a trainer instead."

    He would probably be a good researcher too. Misty mused. Extremely pragmatic when needed, and good at analysis. Hell, he's already working on creating an original move. It's almost like…

    Misty glanced at him again.

    "About your Shellder…" She began abruptly.

    "Huh? What about it?"

    "Well, I'm studying to be a water-specialist, so perhaps I can help you with the theory behind the moves. You do know that basic moves lead to high-tier moves in time, right?"

    "Yeah well, I did look into that a bit for Icy Wind since Mawile knows it, and we are working to progress that into Hail. I think she is close, but it will still be a while before she gets the hang of it. I know a few move chains, but that's all. It's a study in progress."

    Why am I not surprised? Misty mused. "Well, what about water-types? Do you know much about them?"

    "Not a lot," Red admitted. "I was more interested in teaching Shellder Water Gun since that's a basic-tier move. We also spent most of our time in Viridian City battling at the trainer square and Mawile's progress took priority there. Skarmory's pretty recent, so there's not very much I have been able to do for her."

    "Well, I wouldn't know about Skarmory or Mawile, but water-types are my specialty," Misty replied with a smile on her face. "I've literally grown up among them. If you want, I can help you with water-types— taking care of them, understanding their move chains —stuff like that."

    Red blinked. "Is this about… what happened earlier?" he mused for a moment, awaiting a reaction. Finding none, he continued, "Listen, I didn't try to save your life there so that you'll owe me or anything."

    "No it's certainly not—", Misty almost exploded, "I mean, it has nothing to do with it. I just wanted to help you with Shellder because… because I like helping. Yeah, that's why."

    "...sure."

    Misty blinked. "So, we're good, right?"

    Red shrugged.

    "Well sure. Unless..." Red glanced at her suspiciously. She had promised to help Shellder with Water Gun, but this offer included quite a bit more." you're not gonna charge me for it, are you?"

    "Nah, I mean, no," Misty replied, shaking her hands hurriedly, "not gonna charge."

    "Cool."

    "..."

    "Aren't you gonna say anything else?"

    "...nope." Red stood up. "Guess I'll just start up the fire. It's been a while since I've cooked."

    "You know how to cook?" Misty arched an eyebrow.

    "I'm a trainer, planning to travel all over the Kanto mainland. By foot. Of course, I know how to cook." Red retorted. "Unless of course, you know some ex-gym leader wanting to travel with me and act as my chaperone and cook."

    "...That was oddly specific."

    Red shrugged, before turning to leave the tent.



    In an undisclosed location

    "Bishop, to E5."

    The automated chess piece moved forward, gently sliding into the designated location. Almost immediately, the pawn sitting on D4 swerved diagonally, hitting the bishop, sending it flying out of the chessboard.

    "I forgot mental orders were a thing," The man seated in the shadows smirked. "That little pawn of yours is really tough. Sent my poor bishop flying."

    "I am extremely careful with my pawns." The other man laughed. "How is the consignment coming along?"

    "Badly." The man in the shadows frowned. "It seems my entire presence in Pallet was for nothing. Oak wasn't involved in the transfer. Instead, the handling was shifted to someone else."

    "Who?"

    "Brock Pebbleman."

    The other man chuckled. "The old boy's grown bolder from what I've seen. All this time here patiently waiting, and that overgrown child snatches the prize when I'm distracted. Queen to A3."

    "I thought stealing was my job."

    "You have done your job well, my friend, but this will require a joint venture. Project Apotheosis depends on its successful completion."

    "Yeah, you and your projects. Speaking of which, I believe this will require... a personal investment?"

    "It might. Lance is many things, but a fool he is not. There's a reason he gave the transport job to Pebbleman. You know the security risks, and you know just how difficult Pebbleman can be." He casually shifted his Rook between his King and the rival Queen.

    The man in the shadows laughed. "Well, it's not like I can't do it. It's been a long time since I've performed my art on such a grand scale."

    "Only you'd label your skillset... art. Personally, I'd prefer to pick your conniving brain for my research. The Admin job is still open should you choose to accept it."

    The man in the shadows chuckled, bringing his own rook forward, "I'd rather be Pym. It's the least irritating mask I've adorned in decades. You'll get your consignment in time, no matter how skilled Pebbleman might be. I'd need some aid though."

    "Must be my lucky day. The wolf is willing to hunt outside of his pack." The other man laughed. "What do you need?"

    "A good executive team, and some lambs. Oh, and a Salazzle. I'm told the ones in Pewter base are rather vicious."

    "Easily arranged."

    "Though the League's aces may be a problem."

    "That's a given, which is why I wanted you in particular. This mission too important to screw up."

    Pym smirked. "Understood. That reminds me, how did you acquire the transport information? I can't imagine Lance sharing it with anyone before the moving date, even Pebbleman."

    "What can I say? All the world's a game, you just have to know how to move the pieces right. Oh, and one last thing."

    "What?"

    "Checkmate."
     
    ComradeKremer, Frank992 and Opholion like this.
  10. Threadmarks: Act 1 | Chapter 9 - Mawile, the Kidnapper
    TheBlackStaffAndNightMarE

    TheBlackStaffAndNightMarE I see. I write. I conquer.

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2020
    Messages:
    33
    Likes Received:
    127
    ACT 1 - IMMOLATION


    Chapter 9 - Mawile, the Kidnapper

    Somewhere in Viridian Forest

    Growlithe crouched down on the floor, his deep crimson eyes staring past the shackles of his cage. Just like every other time in the past, the procedure incited an uncomfortable feeling of vertigo in him. The rock-cut contraption that was his cage was slowly taken out of the underground basement and lifted to the upper floors. The discomfort finally stopped, as his cage came to a screeching halt. A few moments later, the door to his cage slowly started rising, allowing him to exit. Just like always.

    Any other creature would have taken the opportunity to flee, to escape the torturous solitude of this prison. But Growlithe knew better now. He had already tried to escape when he was younger, foolishly thinking that his captors had perhaps forgotten to lock him in and left the gate open. Growlithe preferred not to think about what happened next. Needless to say, he had not tried to flee in this manner again.

    This was not an outlet for his freedom. This was a death-match and his ticket to survival. Then again, when survival simply meant staying locked in the basement, it didn't sound very enticing. Nevertheless, Growlithe slowly pushed himself out of it, leaping into the large rock arena spanning several yards in radius. He felt his legs hit the floor and hissed in pain.

    Growlithe were creatures that were naturally used to running around, and the development of their hind limbs was dependent upon their physical exercise. Down in the basement, all Growlithe had was a large chamber, a place where he lived with a few others of his kind. It provided just enough space to lie down or walk around, but definitely not enough to run. As a result, his limbs had grown weaker with time, forcing him to develop other modes of combat. It was imperative for his continued survival, and staying alive required him to get through constant battles to the death with these… creatures that those men-in-white threw at him.

    Growlithe didn't blame them. After all, those creatures were captives, just like himself. They were slaves— pokémon who were bred in captivity, and would most likely die in captivity as well.

    Growlithe, would not.

    It was something of an instinctual drive in him. To escape, to be free, to get out of this white-walled maze, and run out into the warm world outside. Growlithe often dreamt of the world outside. What would it be like? Was it filled with men-in-white, experimenting on creatures for their sick amusement? It did not matter. Even if it was the last thing he did, he would be free. And to achieve freedom, Growlithe needed two things— to stay alive, no matter the cost, and to gain strength.

    A sharp throb in his leg drew him out of his thoughts.

    Right, the deathmatch.

    He had been in several other of these matches, and he'd won every single time. His continued survival was proof of that. Several of his opponents were houndour. For some reason, the men-in-white loved making him fight houndour. He remembered facing a sandshrew once, and then there was a cruel-looking poliwhirl who had nearly beaten him to death. Most death-matches were difficult, and more often than not, Growlithe had been injured, but he had preserved. He had won. And he would win again. Right until he got strong enough to rip his way out of this prison. But now he was weak. He would have to comply if he wanted to survive. He would have to—

    "Subject X-13," Growlithe heard a man-in-white speaking from behind the glass-protected balcony on the edge of the battleground. Nothing to be surprised about. It was part of the usual procedure.

    "Natural move set, Fire Fang, Acid and Flame Burst. Lack of Poison moves so far. Inculcation of Smog TM has resulted in a mutated acid version, codenamed Acid Smog. Acid Smog is the only synthetic move recorded so far."

    Pause.

    "Observation— consistent victories against poison-types without getting poisoned. Inference— immunity to poison. Observation— energy reserves increase when exposed to flames. Inference— Flash Fire ability active. Observation— the subject has shown muscular and surface-level regeneration, far beyond the natural capabilities of its species. Complete regeneration from a Level-4 injury in less than five hours. Inference— Ability, Regenerator."

    Another pause.

    "Out of all other subjects in Basement 105, Subject X-13 has shown positive reports upon the inculcation of B-17 DNA, and consequent adaptation to it. Skin color— minor discoloration. Light purple fur. "

    Growlithe was beginning to get irritated. Why did they list this every single time he had to fight?

    "Physical stamina lower than a standard growlithe. Observation— signs of physical weakening of limb muscles from lack of exertion. Recommendation— physical exercise and observe if it impacts behavioral and physiological changes."

    Well, of course, he would have lower stamina than a normal growlithe. He was barely allowed to leave his cage, forget about exercise.

    "Significant reserves. High affinity for both fire and acid-based attacks. Mutation of natural Smog into Acid Smog supports this hypothesis. Further testing with intermediate-tier moves to test reserve-limit and efficiency is recommended. Observation— psychologically submissive to orders. Observation— no reaction to poison-type TMs. Inference— lack of poison ability, though subject demonstrates extreme immunity from it, possibly a byproduct of regenerator. No reaction to dragon-type TMs suggests that the previous hypothesis of all traits carrying over is false. Continued survival from mutations indicates that adaptability is active."

    The man in the white coat gave one last look at the growlithe before speaking up again.

    "Qualified for the final test before transport."

    There was a sound of something metallic being dragged from somewhere, and soon enough, a second contraption arrived on the other side of the rocky battleground. Growlithe squinted warily as the cage swung open, trying to analyze his opponent for the next battle. It was a large red crustacean with two large pincers on either of its forelimbs. More importantly, however, it reeked of the sea.

    A water type then. Growlithe cursed internally. Not built for speed though judging from its legs. Considering the pincers and the obvious exoskeleton, he inferred that it was probably some kind of water-bug.

    This was a deathmatch, but more importantly, this was his final test. Should he win, he'd be sent to another location, which meant getting out of this white-walled prison. He knew this because several other creatures from the other cells of the basement were also transferred from time to time. It was fascinating to think of how much one could learn simply by keeping their ears open. And for all the cruelty these men-in-white and their workers demonstrated, they weren't exceptionally sharp. That, or perhaps they didn't consider pokémon intelligent enough to understand what they were saying. Or they just didn't care

    But Growlithe did care. Should this final test come to a successful completion, he would be locked up and kept in custody for two days, away from the rest of the herd down in the basement. A few days later and someone would arrive and take Growlithe away to the Base, as they called it. He didn't know where that was, and if his plan went perfectly, he'd never need to either.

    But first, I need to kill this bug-thing.

    Without further ado, he opened his mouth and released a tiny clump of flame.

    A probing attack.

    The crustacean raised his claws and deflected the incoming barrage without so much as a scratch.

    Strong armor? Is it a steel-type? Growlithe reevaluated. No, there would be some melt from the flame.

    He circled the pokémon cautiously waiting to see what it would do. The beast watched him for a brief moment before it opened one of its pincers and launched a torrent of water at him. If not for his weakened legs, Growlithe could have easily dodged it, but that was not to be. The torrent of water slammed into his abdomen, causing him to whimper as he was thrown against the wall.

    I was right. A water-type with a hard exoskeleton. Growlithe cursed, trying to push himself up. Well, fire attacks were out of consideration. That exoskeleton was probably strong enough to throw off a Flame Burst, and most water-types had an abnormally high moisture content on their surfaces, weakening fire moves even more.

    Need to get in closer.

    Had the pokémon been made of flesh, he could have harmed it with enough fire, typing be damned. But a water-typing with an exoskeleton was a tough nut to crack. Perhaps something along the lines of a Flamethrower could melt through it, but as high as Growlithe's reserves were, he hadn't gained enough control to bring forth something like that. Not yet.

    Acid it is then.

    He pushed himself up on his legs and took a deep breath to steady himself. It always helped, or at least he thought it did. Growlithe leaped ahead and opened his maw, releasing a thick, dark-purple smog outward, propelling it towards the crustacean

    The corphish looked at the purple gas-cloud and pushed itself backward. It evidently recognised the technique. Keeping its eyes on growlithe, the corphish lifted both pincers and launched twin jets of water at the smog, diluting it.

    Had it been poison gas, it would have worked out exactly the way the corphish expected it to. But this was acid, and an extremely corrosive one at that. Over the course of his life, Growlithe had seen his acid melt rock, metal and almost anything else. It was why he had a special collar made up of a special alloy on his neck— everything else had been corroded by his Acid Smog.

    The collar also acted as a means to put him in line, releasing an electric current straight into his body— easily enough to induce temporary paralysis on his person, but not enough to cause severe damage. After all, damaging what was essentially a successful experiment after hundreds of failures would not be treated casually.

    The Acid Smog, despite the mild dilution, fell all over corphish's body, and much to the crustacean's surprise, a tiny hissing sound began to be produced as the corrosive substance began to burn through the outer layers of its shell. It would be a long time before it would eventually corrode through the skeleton, but the shock it felt from watching its outer layer essentially start dissolving was more than enough to throw the corphish's mind into discordance.

    Taking advantage of its distraction, Growlithe slowly moved into Corphish's blind spot. For some reason, he was able to move through the acid with almost no problem. In the next instant, he opened his jaws open as wide as he could, allowing his corrosive acid to fill his mouth before bitting into the corphish's back. Its exoskeleton, while tough, simply melted under his acid, causing the corphish to screech in pain and fury.

    This only made Growlithe bite down harder, inwardly rejoicing as he penetrated its exoskeleton with his fangs.

    And then he ignited them.

    The crustacean swayed and tried to throw him off, but with the acid corroding him from the outside, and the flames now burning him from the inside, Corphish could do nothing. Growlithe continued its latch on its back as its trashes weakened before it finally stilled. He held on for a few more seconds, to make sure that it wasn't playing dead, before tentatively releasing the creature's neck and slowly backed away.

    Growlithe panted, still eyeing the dead pokémon, feeling somewhat tired as the adrenaline faded from his body. He had won and survived. Which meant he would be transferred to the Base. Today might be the last chance he would get to escape. He would have to—

    Hisssssss…

    What is that?
    Growlithe wondered for a moment before looking at a series of sinister-looking perforations along the walls of the battleground. They were releasing a gas, which quickly interacted with Growlithe's own senses.

    Sleep Powder… and Stun Spore? I should have… The thought remained unfinished as the small creature collapsed, unmoving.



    His senses were active. Well, most of them anyway. His sense of touch had gone awry, and the paralytic effect of the stun spore was keeping him from moving. His eyelids flickered— enough to let him know what was happening, but not enough for others to deduce that he was awake. The fact that his entire body was paralyzed probably helped too.

    He'd need to throw it off as soon as possible. It would not do to destroy his sole chance of escape because of a little paralysis. Unknown to the workers in special bodysuits, Growlithe's body began working, producing minute amounts of acid. He needed the paralytic chemicals gone, and while he couldn't work on the chemicals directly, the affected tissues were fair game. Ironically, it was probably for the best that he was paralyzed right now. The corrosion of his inner tissues would likely cause him to spasm otherwise.

    Two more humans— dressed completely in black —entered the room after that, firing those metallic strips from their wrists. He knew how those worked— they would first bind his mouth shut and then clamp his forelimbs and hindlimbs together, preventing any chance of escape. He was used to this treatment. At this point, any attempt at escape would be in vain. The paralysis slowly starting to lose effect but he remained unmoving

    Not yet.

    He knew what was next. First was the needles— they'd poke his body with them multiple times. He had thought they were going to cut him up when it first happened, perhaps as some sick game that humans played but he soon realized that their goal was in the small bottles they kept filling. With his blood.

    Why these humans needed to keep taking baffled him but he healed quickly, so it didn't really matter. Besides...

    If I pull this off, then none of this will matter anymore.

    "Will that be all, Doctor Namba?"

    The man in black, Growlithe noticed, seemed to be talking to the man in the white bodysuit.

    "It should do. This specimen has been a success. The serum we have from this one will now undergo further testing. We need to see if we can use the serum to replicate our results on other growlithe. Regardless, we need to preserve this specimen. It remains incredibly valuable until we replicate the results. It will be sent to Ranch-6 for safekeeping. "

    "And if the serum doesn't work?"

    The doctor scoffed. "If not, it can always be used as breeding stock. Worst comes to worst, we'll have to vivisect it for further study. Though Proton has expressed his interest. He is weirdly interested in these… synthetic creatures.

    "It can hardly move." The man in black spoke up.

    "It hardly needs to," The doctor snorted " It can always undergo rehabilitation in the reserve if necessary. Now take this thing to the warehouse. Move it to Base F9 first thing tomorrow. Along with the eevee and the gligar. Is that clear?"

    "Crystal."

    "Excellent," The doctor stated as he left the lab. "Get this one dealt with."

    Before Growlithe could figure what that meant, a thin needle penetrated his skin, right beneath his neck, sending a searing pain down his spine.

    What was going on? Wasn't he going to survive? Wasn't he supposed to be transported? Wasn't he— Had they known that he was awake all along?

    At this point, it even hurt to think. Growlithe was almost happy to fall back into the gentle darkness.



    ...





    The first thing that Growlithe noticed was his lack of pain.

    Normally, whenever he had been injected with a strange drug, the pain would last for days. It was the sort of thing injected into captives that acted up or tried to escape. When Growlithe had experienced the raw pain back at the white-walled maze, he had thought that he had been caught pretending and had been sentenced to death.

    But, he hadn't, and the pain…

    Oh.

    His acid had worked in a sense. He had literally corroded some of his own tissue to burn out the aced. This was made harder by the fact that he was heavily resistant to his own acid. Regardless, whatever he had been injected with seemed to have dissipated which is why he was awake. From what he could ascertain, most of his wounds seemed to have regenerated, but before he checked any further, something else caught his attention.

    He was not in the white-walled maze anymore.

    It was a dimly lit room of some sort. He wished he could see more, but his cage didn't exactly give him a birdseye view of the situation. The two black-clad humans were sitting in chairs a little away from his new cag, but the white-robed ones were thankfully absent.

    Growlithe did not like the whitecoat humans.

    His current cage looked like it had seen better days, and probably wouldn't be too difficult to break through the main problem though was the large boulder-like creature. It had two large hands protruding out of the central rock, and while Growlithe was reliably certain that his acid could corrode it, it would take time. More than enough time for the rock-type to kill him. He glanced back at the two men, who seemed to be engrossed in some human form of recreation.

    Growlithe thought a bit about his current situation. He smelt something pungent nearby, which was probably a Koffing, but past that, he could smell the earth and tree sap. The inference was clear—he was out of the maze, and probably somewhere in the middle of the forest. Did that mean that this was his chance of escape? Could it be possible?

    He needed to be sure. His limbs still ached, but that was something he was used to. While the cage might be laughably easy to get out of, there was still the added difficulty of doing so without triggering everything else. He wrinkled his nose again.

    It smells disgusting.

    "Hey, Colin," One of the men spoke, "You do have some meatloaves, right? Can't let it starve to death."

    "Yeah" The other man responded. It's in the back.

    "Say," The other human— Colin or something —said as he started making his way to the back of the warehouse, "if the doctor or any of the executives found out that we aren't taking the specimens to the reserve, and instead, giving them off to the… the..."

    "Don't be squeamish about it, Colin." The first man spoke. "We're selling them to the Kanto League. You know that that's the only way out of this dump. It will grant us immunity."

    "But… you know… it's the League. What happens if the whole thing crashes and burns? We're gonna be the ones picking up the pieces if the league decides to bail on us."

    "That's not gonna happen," The man sounded a little less confident this time, "That's why I'm doing this through a mediator. We transfer the gligar first. It's a sickly little thing. Don't know what the crazy bastard finds 'successful' in that one. If the league thinks it good enough, then we can barter for immunity in exchange for information about the base, and get a higher price for the eevee and the growlithe. I know a man in Celadon who'd purchase that little son of a bitch for a high price."

    "Who's this mediator?"

    " He's… a friend. Don't worry"

    "I don't…"

    "Stop being so negative. We should celebrate. Even if this entire deal with the league falls apart, we can just transport the other two to the reserve. They're animals, you know. Accidents happen. We can just say it died somehow. As it is, the doctor barely looks into the basement."

    "You've got a point there," Colin mumbled.

    "Yeah, so why don't you fetch us one of those wine bottles? It's not like we have anything to do unless the customer arrives."

    And so it continued. For one hour. And then the next.

    The movements over the earth had ceased completely. Growlithe didn't really understand how, but he had always been rather… sensitive to such motion— the slightest vibrations enough to give him an indication of another's presence. Of course, his olfactory and auditory senses were sharper and more useful, but given how he had grown up, the third sense had been a boon.

    No movements at all. Not even the rock-type seemed to move. The two people were still there, presumably sleeping. It was time.

    A pair of crimson eyes lit up. The two men were still there, but the graveler wasn't. Had it rolled off in its sleep? Or perhaps it had been returned to its pokéball.

    From what his senses told him, it was dark outside.

    Perfect.

    With exaggerated slowness, he lifted his head, liberating a thick, viscous substance from his mouth. It wasn't the same Acid Smog he had used earlier. This was a concentrated version of it, superheated to extreme temperatures to create a highly corrosive substance. It was the only thing he had been able to keep to himself, and not display during those death-matches.

    The vile stench of the vapor permeated the room, slowly diffusing into the air. The important part was that the metal cage had almost been fully corroded. Just a few seconds more and there would be an open gate for Growlithe to break out of.

    Freedom was near.

    "Eh!" One of the men moved in his sleep. "Such a vile stench. That weezing of yours got out again. Return it, you moron."

    Growlithe felt hysteria coming down on him. If the humans realized what was going on, he would probably be killed. There was no time to waste any longer.

    It was time for action.

    Without further ado, he exhaled again, burning his way through the rest of the rods, leaping out of it, fighting an irrepressible urge to woof in joy of his new-found freedom.

    "Put that weezing away, Colin." The man spoke out, a little louder this time.

    "I don't have it. It's in the other room." Colin mumbled, wrinkling his nose as the smell got to him as well.

    Growlithe didn't stick around. He was finally free. Silently, he leaped out of the chamber and ran out, his paw-pads dampening the sounds his feet made while running. He crossed the outer corridor and reached a second room, with a large metallic gate in the center, and walls all around.

    Dead end. I cannot climb out of this. Burning my way out will take too long. What do I—?

    The answer was right there, floating a few feet above him.

    Koffing and weezing.

    There were two of the former, and one of the latter. All three levitating above the ground, snoring away happily. They seemed to be connected by some sort of tube system. At the very least most of the gas they were releasing was being collected.

    Their vile, stinky, poisonous and more importantly ignitable gas.

    For the first time in a very long while Growlithe smiled.



    Mawile was having a bad week.

    An excruciatingly bad week to be honest. It had all started with her own vexation with Shellder's impudence, something that had led them to encounter the orangette Misty, and things had only spiraled downward from there. Red, like the doofus he was, had agreed to provide his services and catch her those bugs in return for a meager amount of money. Mawile had almost face-palmed when he had agreed without even bargaining over the contracted amount.

    And had lost his, and Mawile's independence and peace of mind in the process.

    It had been slow and subtle in the beginning. The orangette had put on high airs and pretended to lord over Red when it came to decision-making. That had led them through a wild goose-chase for two days before Red had grown a spine and revolted against her, though Mawile liked to think that it was her personal tantrums that had gotten to him and made him realize the truth.

    And look, in less than half a week's time, they had gotten two of the bugs captured. Mawile shuddered to think what would have happened if Red had allowed Misty to lead the way all this time. With the way her luck worked, she'd still be circling the forest. You'd think that the experience would be enough for Red to identify the cause of his troubles— the orangette —and force her to let him do his job and keep her mouth shut. But no, he still kept talking to her, and the orangette kept mincing words back.

    Clever girl!

    Of course, Mawile knew it all. She understood that the orangette had simply changed tactics. It was practically Deception 101. Lording around didn't work since the environment wasn't suitable. Pretending to be high-strung and a snob didn't work as well for similar reasons. That was why the orangette, Misty— a name Mawile had come to hate —had changed tracks and was now trying to woo Red for his affections. It had become so unbearable that Mawile had decided to retire to her pokéball and rest for a while, clinging to the futile possibility that an extended exposure to the girl might point out the truth to him.

    After all, if you pummelled someone in the face enough, sooner or later they understood that you were not to be trifled with. Exposure to the orangette shouldn't have been any different. Any sensible individual would probably understand that.

    Right?

    She couldn't have been more wrong.

    Apparently, over a day had passed since Mawile had returned to her pokéball. Since then, the two humans had nearly been impaled by pinsir— Mawile didn't know what they were, but she supposed that they'd be strong enough to incite such a reaction —and apparently Red had saved her in some peculiar fashion. When he had finally released Mawile and company later in the evening, they even had a tent ready, and what was worse —the orangette would be sleeping in their tent.

    Mawile had a strong suspicion that this orangette had access to the more chaotic energies and was somehow ensnaring Red. What else could explain the fact that Shellder liked her? Both freeloaders, both having the eerie similarity of attracting Red's attention through dubious means, and most importantly, both being sources of headache for her. At least Shellder was good at Double Team and had this weird water-type move under progress. All Misty did was bark.

    It drove her mad. For one moment, she had even considered eating the orange monster up, but Red would be very angry and she didn't want to provoke him. She had the experience of an annoyed Red, and knowing him, he could come up with some pretty innovative ways to punish her.

    Thoughts of the notebook flickered through her mind.

    Shaking off the morbid thoughts of sinister possibilities in the near-future, Mawile considered the more immediate concern that was plaguing her. Well, not just her in general, but the entire group.

    Someone had stolen their food. Their dinner had vanished from right under their noses. Red hadn't painstakingly cooked food for her, Skarmory and 'the freeloaders' just so that someone could prey upon it. Mawile wouldn't have minded if it was only Misty's food that had been stolen. She was just awful and deserved to have her food stolen. In fact, if Mawile was teaching someone how to steal, Misty's food would be the first target.

    After all, every thief needed to grow into their maturity and while it was important to dream big, it was essential to start small. Start with lesser, insignificant things, and steal from those who deserved it. The art of theft was no simple technique and needed to be honed with due diligence. She'd know.

    But to steal from her? That was sacrilege, and Mawile wanted to pronounce judgment on this depraved pervert, whoever it might be. She'd tear their impudent hide off their skin with her jaw for this transgression and—

    "Mawile, stop frowning at your bowl and eat it. I'll make something nicer for you in the morning." Red's voice shook her from her train of thought.

    "Mawa?"

    She spared a moment of her attention on Red to see if he had anything else to say, before the little bowl of standard poké-food and two poképuffs attracted her attention. Without another word, she silently gobbled up the poképuffs before glancing down at the center-provided poké-food with extreme distaste. Red's cooking was far better than this, and while she could always pray on some bugs the following day, Mawile couldn't help but feel cheated.

    "Come on," Red tried pleadingly, using what he perhaps thought was his puppy-dog face. "Even Skarmory's eating it. In the morning, we'll see if we can find whoever stole our food."

    Of course they would, Mawile mused, vindictive thoughts prowling in her mind. She'd find out the identity of this thief and then inflict her displeasure. She'd ensure that the message properly sunk in. Nothing a couple of Iron Heads couldn't achieve. It was almost a mystery just how effective a good slam did when it came to delivering one's opinion on lesser beings. Too bad that Shellder had a near-impervious shell to protect it, and the orangette was lucky enough to be a human. Not that it'd help her in the long run since she'd certainly—

    "Mawile?"

    Oh for goodness sake! Not wanting to displease her trainer, she scrunched up her nose and gobbled the rest. She'd plan later when Red was asleep, and this Misty creature was sleeping as well. Knowing her, she'd probably snore like Mabel, and not allow Mawile any sleep. She felt a particularly strong urge to eat Misty's head before glancing at Red and sighing in resignation.

    The things I do for Red.



    Two days later

    It had been a bad idea. Well, that wasn't totally Red's fault, since Mawile herself was also to blame for it. Come to think of it, it was totally her fault. What had she been thinking, putting Red in charge of dealing with such a situation? Red, who had allowed a dumb mute to latch on to him for days for no good reason, and then had spent money on TMs for it to actually develop talents. Nature itself dictated that it deserved little more than sinking to the bottom of a river and remaining a pebble for eternity.

    This was also the same Red who had allowed that cunning orangette to take heart from Shellder's success, and latch onto Red for her own devious reasons. And Mawile had given him the job of preventing a near-invisible thief from stealing her food.

    Yep, it was totally her fault.

    There had been a repeat of the theft the next day afternoon. The morning had gone well since Red had been wonderful. He had given her two extra poképuffs for breakfast. As she often swore, Red was wonderful. Mawile had then, helped herself to a couple of random bugs that had unfortunately wandered around their tent. Nothing fancy, just a couple of caterpie and a weedle. Come to think of it, she needed to avoid preying on weedle unless there was a lack of alternatives. Those tiny pointed horns were rather sharp and if Mawile hadn't been careful, she could have injured herself.

    Mawile shuddered at the ominous possibility for a second, before returning to her doleful reminiscence.

    Most of the day hours had been spent in her practicing a rather interesting technique Red referred to as Flash. Of course, Red being Red, had described it using large and wordy formats, before Mawile had imperiously turned to Skarmory for some… interpretation. Turned out 'gather energy and blast it' worked pretty well, despite the alarmingly simple description. However, like all of the moves Red had made her learn (not that it had been a bad thing), Flash also had a secondary, albeit much harder derivative.

    Steel energy, much like fire, was extremely luminous, and if molded into a condensed state, could actually serve as a constant source of energy. Once created, the tiny light-ball (as Mawile preferred to call it) would provide light for as long as a constant input of steel-energy was being infused. Red had said something about reflective surfaces and some other jargon, but the point was, the ball made light.

    And it was a big pain in the jaw. For all she cared, she could create a single light-ball, and let it burn for a while, and upon extinguishing, she could procure a second ball in a second. Why that seemed like an outrageous and inapplicable suggestion to Red was anybody's guess. No, he insisted on her being able to maintain a constant and steady connection to the light ball. She was really beginning to hate it.

    Yeah, Red was wonderful on occasion, but he was also a brat. At times. He was lucky that she favored him.

    Either way, it was a completely exhausted and tired Mawile that had turned to a delicious lunch only to find that the large piece of preserved steak that Red had cooked had vanished. Right beneath her nose. Literally. Everything that she had been looking forward too had vanished in a whiff of air, and that was all there was to it.

    Red had settled for a confused look, while the orangette and her pet croconaw had begun to blabber something obviously unhelpful and stupid. Shellder had kept up its best impression of a non-sentient organism and Skarmory… she had been a little more pragmatic and flown into the forest to hunt.

    Slamming her jaw at every single nearby rock, pebble, or flower wasn't particularly helpful in finding the thief but it did make her feel better. That said, it probably made it clear that Mawile was not above impressing her wrath on inanimate objects. Even Misty and her faithful Croconaw had stopped their nonsense blabber after that.

    At least Red had the sense to get her some poképuffs from his considerably depleted collection. Had he mustered a little bit of courage back in Viridian, they might have gotten back Mawile's treasure chest, but that was neither here nor there.

    The next day had been a repeat of the first, and just as she had anticipated, the food had vanished before either of them could have done anything. That said, there had been some progress. From what Mawile understood, the thief was an alarmingly fast creature, who also employed deception (like any self-respecting thief would). A high-pitched noise had flooded her eardrums, inducing extreme discomfort and causing Mawile to clench her teeth in extreme irritation. And before she knew it, the discomforting sound had vanished, as had their food.

    Red had stared at the leftover kitchen equipment for several minutes. Perhaps he had been hoping that staring at it for long would cause food to materialize. Not that she could blame him. Magic happened, right?

    Mawile had helped herself to four weedle that afternoon, furiously crunching their horns with extra emphasis. Just another cast off a little of her ever-growing anger. Either the thief would show itself and claim responsibility for its actions, or Mawile was going to be the reason for weedle's addition on the endangered species list. Of course, the universe had failed to conjure up dark clouds or spark ominous lightning at her proclamation like it rightly should have.

    But enough was enough, and she had forced Red to finally act on it. They had put Croconaw (and the inconspicuous Shellder) in charge of the tent, to look for this insolent thief. It had seemed like a good idea. For all Mawile knew, the thief was probably a few yards away, lounging in peace and helping itself to Red's hard-cooked food. After a lot of convincing on Red's part (and some well-timed glares from Mawile), the orangette had finally settled in releasing her Starmie (a dull thing if any) and set out to look for the thief by herself. Skarmory had simply flown upwards to keep track of everyone while also trying to look around for the thief.



    Three hours later

    The entire hunt had been useless, apart from the two average caterpie that served as an impromptu snack for the evening. After that atrocity committed by that one giant variant, Mawile had been a little too eager to inflict her displeasure on others of its kind. Metapod were quite… hard, and thus, boring, and butterfree lived past her reach.

    The purpose of the above show of frustration was actually quite obvious. There had been no sightings of said thief. Whoever it was, seemed to be made of air, like the mute's clones. Mawile had the sneaking suspicion that Shellder was the actual culprit, and was using his clones for such malice. Knowing Red's gullibility, he'd probably not even consider Shellder's hand in the crime. Misty was obviously too much impressed by Shellder's deception to speak against it.

    "Tough luck I guess," Red muttered, as he walked next to Mawile, "I've got to give it to him. This thief is good. We got no trace of it at all."

    Yes, thank you very much. You have a wonderful talent for stating the obvious. Mawile thought furiously, though keeping her scathing answers to herself. She didn't want to feed on sub-par food for dinner, which was why she had been rather… active during the entire hunt. She'd probably make Red give her a couple of poképuffs before calling it a night. Not that it was too difficult. Just a little bit of her charm and Red folded like a pack of cards. He was wonderful that way.

    "Don't worry." Red tried to placate her. "I have something in mind. Whatever this thief is, it's obviously too fast to be human, and knowing where we are in, it is obviously some kind of pokémon. I'll cook a bigger meal tomorrow, and regardless of whether we get to eat it, we'll catch this thief."

    Mawile couldn't care less about Red's newfound conviction, though she tried to smile encouragingly. Growth should be encouraged, even if it was doomed to failure.

    "Well, at least we got back safely," Red muttered, seeing the bright lantern glowing outside the tent in the darkness. "Want some of the center pokéfood? It really isn't that bad"

    Mawile shook her head.

    "Poképuffs then?" Red sighed. " I do have quite a few left over"

    Nod.

    Finally.

    At least something good would happen to her today. They would be delicious she decided. Good enough that she'd forget about her horrible day and just indulge in their delicious perfection Without further ado, she sprinted past the couple of trees between her and Red's tent, where she was sure lay Red's backpack, and somewhere in or around it, was her favorite packet. Why, she could even forget the entire useless experience of the hunt as long as she had—

    Mawile's thoughts came down to a screeching halt. Her face vivid with pure horror as she stared at the oblivious Croconaw draped all over the floor.

    Wasn't Croconaw supposed to be on guard, while we hunted?

    A single vein crept up her forehead, as an ominous premonition flooded her senses. Without delay, she sprinted into the tent, searching through Red's belongings with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, before she her worst fears came to light.

    Her poképuffs were gone.

    And something inside her shattered.

    With a feral cry, Mawile raised her jaw, literally leaping towards the oblivious Croconaw, her eyes red with rage at the loss of the thing she was currently craving the most. Perhaps on introspecting this event in the future, Mawile would arrive at the conclusion that it wasn't so much as the loss of her poképuffs, but her loss of control on the situation. The experience over the week inside the forest, her growing irritation and the lack of good food, were coming together much like an unstable mixture boiling in a cauldron. The present event, it was simply the last twig dropped into it, and the result was a powerful explosion.

    Three layers of steel-energy wove across the surface of the black jaw, as Mawile leaped towards the sleeping water-type, the energies crackling on the surface of her jaw promising lethal injury if not outright death to the victim. From the other side, Misty yelled in shock and fear, but Mawile paid her no mind. Vengeance would be hers and she'd get it, carved out of—

    "Return." Came a cold voice.

    A thin red light impaled into her body from the right, and Mawile turned, still in mid-air, as she recognized Red standing a little further away from her, his pokéball in hand. For one moment, Mawile was flooded with feelings of utter betrayal and confusion, before it shifted to rage as she tried to ignore the feeling of being sucked into the pokéball. She'd have her vengeance upon Croconaw, and no pokéball would stop her. Mawile let out a feral screech and pushed herself forward, her entire momentum being dragged out of her, as she fought against the suction of the capture device.

    The red light faded, and Mawile dropped down to the ground, a few steps away from the still oblivious Croconaw. Every single muscle ached as if she had just ran a marathon. A part of her over the suction powers of the little device. It was almost like running up a steep hill.

    But that was for later. Revenge was first. She pushed herself up and raised her jaw to bring it down.

    "ENOUGH!" Red yelled. "That's enough of your rage. Calm yourself!"

    Mawile snarled back.

    "Croconaw is not sleeping. He's unconscious." Red barked. "Look for yourself."

    Mawile didn't want to care. Croconaw had failed in his job of keeping guard. The water-type was sprawled upon the ground, with his forelimbs pressed against his large ears. Come to think of it, the clumsy creature had been more than just irritated the last time that discomforting noise had been used by the thief.

    Mawile grunted noncommittally.

    "Whoever's stealing our food has probably used that high-frequency sound on Croconaw, and he's proved more vulnerable to it than anyone else among us. If anything, it was my mistake to leave him alone for guarding." His eyes narrowed. "Are you going to attack me for that?"

    Of course not! Mawile snarled in her own tongue.

    "I'll get you your poképuffs when we get out of the forest. Instead of directing your anger at Croconaw, direct it where it's needed. Catch the thief next time. " Red chastised.

    "Your pokémon is a savage." Misty hissed from her position, running towards the still unconscious Croconaw. "She should be sent to the reserves and detained until she's civilized."

    "And you," Red snarled back, surprising Misty by the venom in his voice, "before you go on about Mawile's shortcomings. What were you doing, screaming around like a dumb idiot? Do you have a pokéball or not? Why didn't you return Croconaw when I was trying to hold Mawile back?"

    "How can you even—?" Misty began, only to be shut up as Red raised a hand.

    "I was not finished."

    "But you can't just—"

    "You can't attack people." Red finished for her, silencing her midway. "That will be made very clear. But, Mawile has been frustrated over weeks over the theft of proper food. For better or worse, you also voted for Croconaw to stand guard over our meals, without realizing how it might have turned up for him. Mawile thought he was being lax. Lax over something that caused her to lose something important to her, and she retaliated."

    "But can't you just see how feral she was?"

    "I didn't see her attacking you, but I remember Croconaw attacking me when we first met," Red retorted cooly, shutting her up. His expression hard, he turned towards Mawile to ask—

    "Mawile?"



    Mawile stormed out of the tent, boiling in rage. Red was an idiot, a blithering idiot to have taken the Orange and her stupid croconaw's side. Why did he try to defend them, if it meant opposing her side? She furiously stomped on the grasses, swinging her massive jaw all around in anger, almost wishing to find something to slam it against. It wouldn't help with anything, but logic was the last thing on her mind.

    Perhaps she could consider quitting her change of plans and return to Plan 1— deserting her human trainer the moment they were far from Pallet Town. It wouldn't even matter. She had been strong earlier, and her recent battles had proved that she had gained even more strength. The Ursaring back in Viridian could swear to that. Stupid Red could stay with the stupid orangette and the stupid annoyance for all she cared. She was free, and that was all that mattered. As far as the forest and its bugs were concerned, anything that displayed aggression towards her would get introduced to her jaws, and would then become her dinner for the night. Come the next morning, she'd probably feast on some poképuffs from Red's bag and then—

    Well, that wasn't quite right. She was walking away, and that meant no more poképuffs. Then again, she could simply eat a bigger bug and feed herself. Red could do whatever he wanted. It wasn't like she cared or anything. Besides, it wasn't like Red did anything for her and—

    The image of Red taking a defensive stand against the Fearow to protect her came to mind. That was swiftly replaced with him trying to swim through the waters of the river, ensuring Mawile's own safety before his own. Then there was the way he got he poképuffs, tended to her wounds, laughed with her and cuddled her. How he would frown good-naturedly when Mawile would shake her head and avoid his cooking, and then he'd give her something delicious as compensation. How he would—

    Mawile shook her head. This was getting complicated. She wasn't supposed to start getting attached to her human trainer. But he was no longer just a 'human trainer'. He had become Red, and she had begun associating his presence as a permanent fixture in her little life and—

    …. Stupid Red.

    Come to think of it, she might have exaggerated her response back then. Red was obviously telling the truth, and Croconaw was a dopey little piece of shit, easily driven to unconsciousness. She'd know. The water-type was exactly the kind of creature that deserved to get deceived.

    But now she had snarled at Red in anger and demonstrated an unpleasant attitude towards him. She didn't like it, but it was no less true.

    She… She couldn't leave him. She didn't want to leave him. He was the first person to accept her fully for what she was. She'd have to make it up to him. Perhaps… perhaps she'd work a little harder on the Flash technique and—

    Mawile looked up and blinked.

    A large lavender face with a big, black nose blinked back.

    Well… this is new!



    Freedom, Growlithe mused, was overhyped.

    For a captive from birth, freedom had been an impossible dream, the guiding star in an otherwise hopeless life. The desire to be out of the white-walled maze, away from those men-in-white, and leap off into the large, ostentatious world outsideë that was essentially all that was driving him. Considering that escaping from the white-walled maze was something he had never succeeded in over the years, he hadn't really given much thought over what he'd do after he acquired said freedom.

    It had been over six hours since he escaped, and given the dramatic ending, it was obvious that the men inside the quarters would be searching for him by now. Knowing the humans, they likely had multiple aces up their sleeves, and could possibly find him despite the distance. Had he been a normal Growlithe, he could have run faster, much faster, and probably been out of the forest by now. Then again, had he been a normal Growlithe, he'd have never been born and bred as a captive in the first place.

    Something shifted around him, and for a moment, Growlithe feared that he had been caught. Had those men-in-black found him? Would they capture him, drag him back to the white-walled prison all over again? Mutiny rose in his heart, as flames inundated within his maw. His crimson eyes blinked in the dark, sensing the body heat of the organism so close to him.

    And stopped.

    This wasn't a human. It was too small to be one. Growlithe sniffed. It smelled of grass and pollen, and a few other scents he didn't recognize. A grass-type then? Come to think of it, he hadn't really eaten anything since the final test, and who knew how long he had been unconscious? Besides, the entire escaping had taken a lot out of him, and he needed some sustenance.

    Killing for sustenance. This will be a first.

    Back at the white-walled maze, he had been fed with quality food. The men-in-white didn't starve him, not in the least. If anything, he got more than enough food, and as such, his only kills had been limited to the death-match arena. But now, he'd have to kill for food. A curious thought, but ultimately, not of importance. He might have been bred in captivity, but some primal senses never left.

    Growlithe opened his mouth and let out a small clump of flames, half-charring the grass-type. It was, he mused, a surprisingly easy win. The little grass-type, which Growlithe now recognized as a tangela, raised several of its vines, trying to keep him off, but Growlithe was in no mood for games.

    These… pokémon are much weaker than the ones in the maze. He thought in contempt. Had they made no effort to improve because there were no captors?

    Freedom has made them complacent. Weak.

    Dodging the haphazardly thrown vines with ease, he released small amounts of his Acid Smog, enveloping the grass-type within it. As expected, the tangela squeaked and hissed in pain, feeling its vines burn as they made contact with the corrosive vapors.

    Time to end it.

    Without further delay, Growlithe leaped right into the smog, and bit into the tangela's head, killing it instantly. He hadn't realized just how hungry he was until now.

    Time is of the essence. They could be nearby.

    He quickly finished his first meal, before continuing to walk through the forest. Running was hard, and his leg muscles were aching from the earlier affairs, so a long walk would have to do. He was still hungry but he couldn't afford to stick around. He had to keep moving.

    This is enough to continue for now. Not enough to be fulfilling.

    A few meters away, a bush rustled.

    Another pokémon? Food?

    Growlithe almost laughed at the sudden shift in world view. It was almost frightening how quickly he was becoming a part of the larger world.

    Is this what it means to be free?

    The bushes rustled a little more.

    Still… it's probably best to be careful.

    For the second time, Growlithe was thankful that the pads beneath his feet subdued most of the sounds from his footsteps. He slowly crept towards the bush, making sure not to alert whatever was inside. The bush was still rustling. He used his paw to slowly push the foliage aside, ready to belch out acid at the slightest provocation—

    And came face to face with a tiny, overwhelmingly cute, ivory-ish creature.

    "Maw?" Said cute creature tilted her head, almost in confusion.

    Growlithe let out a soft bark. He hadn't exactly expected to meet something this… cute, in the middle of a giant forestland. Then again, what did he know about the workings of the world? But, something about this creature seemed… off.

    Growlithe sniffed.

    So that's it.

    The creature in front of him didn't belong to the forest. She smelled of flesh, and human and something sweet. Something… endearing, and yet, there was a lingering smell of grass.

    A traveler perhaps?

    Growlithe was no expert, but even he could guess that someone so… vulnerable would probably perish by herself. But the smell of a human… could it be…?

    "Are you here to kill me?"

    The creature tilted its head in confusion. "Are you the one who stole my poképuffs?"





    "Poképuffs?"

    "You mean you don't know?" The strange pokémon widened its eyes, before looking at him in... pity? "How can you… not know?"

    Not an attacker then. Growlithe inferred. "Who are you?"

    The cute little thing tilted its head to the other side in confusion. It seemed to do that a lot. "I'm Mawile."

    "Growlithe."

    "I know. What's an annoying puppy like you doing in this forest?"

    Growlithe frowned. Annoying puppy?

    "I am… trying to get out of the forest."

    "What happened? Your trainer desert you or something?" The Mawile asked, her voice filled with disinterest. "You do look… a bit dopey.."

    "...Dopey?"

    Mawile sighed. Growlithe assumed that the conversation was going nowhere. A part of him really wanted to get away from the forest as fast as he could, but there was no telling how long it would take. He had no idea how big the forest was, so perhaps this… Mawile could help him? He needed to be sure.

    "Dopey, as in… easy to manipulate. Like my trainer, Red, my trainer. Just so you know, he's wonderful, and gives me poképuffs whenever I want them."

    "Is that a pokémon? Red?"

    "Human." Mawile corrected him. "He's my trainer."

    "What's that?"

    Mawile blinked. "What kind of rock have you been living under?"

    Growlithe though back to his prison for a moment before replying. "A white-walled one."

    More blinking.

    "Though… I was transferred to some dark building with high walls and an iron gate, so I can't really tell you about that one. It was very large." Growlithe paused. "But, what does that have to do with a… tryner?"

    "Trainer." Mawile corrected. Growlithe had a sneaking suspicion that even this Mawile felt that the discussion was going nowhere. "So you escaped or something?"

    Ah. this was familiar ground. Growlithe felt happy. "Yep. Just a few hours ago. Yourself?"

    Mawile blinked again. She sure loved blinking. That, or it was a deeply ingrained habit. "I. Didn't. Escape." She spoke as if she were trying to educate a child. A deplorably, unintelligent child. Then again, Growlithe was pretty much a newbie as far as freedom was concerned, so he didn't mind.

    "Then?"

    "I am here with my trainer, you doofus. My human trainer."

    "Human…. Trainer?" Thoughts of men-in-white injecting him with things that left him burning in agony came to mind. "And what does a human trainer do?"

    "Well, I fight for him."

    Fight…. Memories, recent and old, came to mind. Fighting off a red water-type, getting bound and strangled by a vicious Arbok…

    "And he has all those thingies, they get injected into my mind, and I learn new moves…"

    "..."

    "And training, lots of it. Red's practically obsessed with training, but I don't mind." Mawile chattered on. "I like training. Sometimes I get hurt and everything, but Red has those berries and sprays that get me back to my feet and I continue."

    Growlithe stepped back in horror. From what he could deduce, the mawile creature in front of him had suffered through the same cruel existence as he did. Fighting opponents in deathmatches in return for food, and getting injected with all sorts of things that produced strange reactions in his body. What was worse, was that she was almost happy with her condition, almost like it was nice. Perhaps this poképuff thing was used to modify her thought process?

    Growlithe made up his mind. It would delay him, but he couldn't leave someone to suffer like he did. Though he didn't understand why he wanted to help her so badly. While he empathized with his fellow prisoners, he never felt any great desire to help them.

    "Do you want me to help you escape?"

    And there she went blinking again. "Escape?"

    "Yeah. We can run away together. You don't have to suffer through that painful existence anymore. I ran away, and so can you."

    "So you are a stray?" Mawile asked. "But you don't know about human trainers, so it's obviously not… the usual."

    "What does it matter? We can run, and we can escape? I can protect you, and you can have my back in the strange, dangerous world out there. We don't have to suffer anymore."

    "... Oh, I see. Another strange one. Just my luck." Mawile muttered.

    "Huh?"

    "I'm not trying to escape, you silly doofus. I have a trainer, and he's wonderful. Granted, we don't see eye to eye on a couple of things, but all of that's because of 'Orange', and not Red's fault." Mawile stepped back and looked away, scoffing as she did, before continuing. "And mind you, I'll get my vindication on Orange before she knows it."

    "Orange?"

    "Yeah, a woman, a vile beguiling witch, ensnaring upon my poor human trainer, and making him dance to her will."

    "That sounds ominous."

    "Doesn't it?" Mawile's emotions felt contagious, what with the way she looked at him with bright, spirited eyes and for a moment, Growlithe felt his heart flutter, what with the way those bright eyes seemed to pierce into his soul.

    "So… what are you going to do about it?"

    Mawile scowled, kicking the grass beneath her feet in defiance. Personally, Growlithe thought it was cute. "I'll figure something out… Red is easily pleased, and while he's a bit angry with me right now, I'm sure I can make it up to him. When I do, he'll praise me and forget about Orange."

    "And this Red… human, you want to keep getting abused by him?"

    Mawile blinked again. Must be a deeply-ingrained habit, Growlithe affirmed.

    "Red gets abused, he's not the abuser you dummy. That's why the mute… and the Orange can get so much out of him. Though Skarmory is much better, albeit too boisterous for her own good. But don't worry. I'll catch up to her level soon." Mawile paused. "Anyway, what about you? Where are you from, stray?"

    "I'm not a stray." Growlithe corrected. "I fought for my freedom and escaped. Speaking of which, do you know how to get out of the forest?"

    "Red might know. He's got a map after all."

    "I don't trust humans, and neither should you." Growlithe retorted. "Humans mistreat us, and inflict heinous torture on us. Why would you stand and suffer, when you can embrace freedom like I have?"

    "...Freedom?"

    "Yes. Freedom. It is glorious. I can go wherever I like, eat whatever I want, and no one can bind me." Growlithe went on in what he thought was his most inspirational voice. "You are tiny and vulnerable but I can protect you." He never noticed the sudden, almost eager shaking of the black protrusion on the back of her head.

    "...really? And what if some other humans catch you?"

    "I'll burn them."

    "They have water-types you know."

    "Cruel creatures. Inflicting slavery upon us pokémon. I had thought that I was unnatural and therefore held captive. Now I find the entire world captive."

    Mawile muttered something like 'idealist' and 'go figure', but Growlithe was too engrossed in his spirited speech for freedom against oppression.

    "What do you mean you are unnatural?"

    Growlithe almost grinned, or whatever passed for a grin. "I have some… special abilities." He frowned, his cynicism catching on quickly, realizing that he might just have overspoken, "though that might be because of those humans experimenting on me."

    Mawile seemed to be in serious thought, making him wonder what wheels were turning in her little mind. Finally, she let out a sigh and nodded at him. "My trainer does not experiment on me, and he takes good care of me too. Perhaps you can meet him. He will probably help you."

    "No human can possibly help me. Humans only exploit and torture."

    "But you told me that you'd help me get back against the Orange."

    "I never…." Growlithe denied in hesitation, stepping back a little.

    "You mean you won't?" Mawile stressed, her cute charm returning with full force. That, along with her puppy-dog eyes and the way she pronounced 'mawwww' made it really hard for Growlithe to deny the little creature. He lowered his eyes, looking away for a moment, before slowly turning back in silent resignation. "Okay, I might be… I mean… I'll always protect you."

    Growlithe didn't understand why he was so attracted to the creature. It was almost supernatural. He didn't really know a lot about mating, but perhaps he could see a future with this Mawile. From what he could understand, there was a high probability that her human trainer was being bewitched by this Orange, and Mawile would be left alone, all by herself. Perhaps, then she would see that he was right.

    After how his own life had been, it was rather surprising since he could almost see himself as Mawile's protector, keeping her safe from the evils of the world. Perhaps, he could contribute to a future with her, bonding over their individual pasts. He noticed the black protrusion on her back move upwards and guessed that it might be a sign of her shy acceptance. Gathering a little more courage, he pushed his head towards her, in an attempt to—

    WHAAAAAAAAAAM!

    Growlithe unceremoniously dropped down to the grassy floor, the powerful Iron Head ripping his consciousness from him in a single attack. His paws flat and spread out on all sides, he lay on the grass. Unmoving.





    Mawile let out a soft giggle.

    Finally. She thought to herself. I thought he was never going to shut up. Stupid idealistic thing… but it might suit Red. It looks a little different from normal, but Red probably won't notice.

    She remembered meeting a couple of growlithe back at Pomace Mountain. Mabel had this business of floral decoration going on, and one of the clients had two of those horribly loyal puppies, clinging religiously to every single word their trainer uttered. Back then, Mawile had thought of them as sub-intelligent species in general, but after her recent experiences in traveling with Red, a growlithe seemed like an ideal addition. This one was rather dopey, so perhaps it would take a liking to Red. Fletchinder of the same feather and all that.

    Now all I need to do is get this idiot to Red so that he can capture it. Seriously, I thought humans were supposed to be notorious for capturing and enslaving pokémon. Currently, the only one enslaved is Red, if Shellder and Orange are of any indication. Skarmory was practically my gift to him for being a good human, and so is this growlithe. I'll have to let him catch a pokémon on his own next time.

    She allowed herself a moment to bask at her own sense of magnanimity.

    Mawile sniffed. Hopefully Red would be happy with this. She just made up on her part by getting him this puppy. Reciprocation and all that.

    He better praise me for this. Asking him to let go of Orange and her stupid is probably asking for too much, but maybe I can get some poképuffs when we get out of this stupid forest. I deserve that much at least.

    Mawile thought of her trainer's gentle head paths and warmth. And cuddles. She decided. Nice, soft warm cuddles.

    She looked down at the unconscious puppy. It would be a mess if it woke up before she managed to drag it all the way to Red. She tapped the now unconscious growlithe a few times.

    No movement.

    She punched its nose.

    Still no movement.

    Well, it looks unconscious enough. But just to avoid issues….

    She whacked it on its head two more times, and then after a moment of doubt, hit it a third time for good luck. Satisfied with her temporary solution, she pushed her jaw beneath the furry beast, with Growlithe's face and frontal limbs hanging in front of her face and sides. Confident with her technique, Mawile began to walk.

    Perhaps, she mused, this is what they called returning in triumph.



    Meanwhile, in Pallet Town

    "This seems to be a serious issue."

    Delia sagged down on the chair, lips pinched, staring at the marble floor. Ever since her encounter with Mia's… strangeness, she had been completely distressed. Of course, the Ralts-line were creatures of emotion, so Mia feeling a little empty after Red's leaving was not completely unexpected. That said, she had never imagined it to go this far.

    "Are you… completely sure?" Samuel asked, slowly pacing across the floor "Perhaps it is simply the effect of the recent events taking a toll out of you."

    "It is not that." Delia refuted. "I am a psychic researcher, professor. I know better than to make snap-judgments. I have considered every possibility, every side effect, and even my own… shortcomings as a parent, but nothing adds up. I even went to a psychiatrist to verify my hypothesis and it stands true. Whatever happened, it was caused by her, whatever this is."

    "Can you expound on that? Your theory about it."

    "Mia is faking. She is actively suppressing herself from being happy, and detaching herself from everything around her that brings her happiness." Delia replied, pursing her lips. "I know what you are thinking, I have considered that as well. Kirlia are supposed to actively feed on happiness from their surroundings, so what Mia is ding is literally anathema to her kin. There is a reason that the ralts-line is not used in battle. Causing pain to others literally hurts them. Ordering a gardevoir to harm something is like trying to order a charizard to eat its own arm."

    "And you think that Mia is experiencing that because Red left on his—" Oak began skeptically.

    "It might sound childish if you consider it in that manner, but that's not the way Mia sees it. A Ralts, ninety-five percent of the time, grows up amongst its own kin, amidst derives their happiness from. It is literally the feedback loop that fuels their growth. A trained ralts will usually derive its happiness from the surrounding humans and pokémon. Mia, on the other hand, has spent almost all her formative years with Red. I think she has subconsciously been feeding on Red, exclusively."

    "You mean—"

    "I mean that Red's decision for leaving on a journey, and leaving Mia behind might have had graver consequences that we had anticipated. Especially because in his enthusiasm— from what I understand —Mia has been feeling that she has been deserted, substituted, and left alone. Her source of sustenance in terms of joy is gone."

    "And so..." The elderly professor asked.

    Delia looked uncertain. "Upon my exposure to her… strangeness, and subsequent research into the matter, I came across a certain article, made by a freelance researcher in Johto. The article had a lot of redacted text and mentions related to legendary myths, which is probably why it was rated lower in terms of authenticity. I was able to contact this person over it, and he mentioned something that he called The Shift."

    Oak stopped pacing. "What—what did you say?"

    "The Shift?" Delia repeated, a little surprised at why the senior researcher looked… flustered at the mention. "Have you heard the term before?"

    Oak rubbed the tip of his nose. "Who's this person?"

    "Someone named Eusine. I checked on the International Database, and it seems that he's somewhat… scoffed at, by the majority of the research world, though he gives the impression of being a history buff, from the way his texts talk about destroyed civilizations, ancient myths, and trapped deities." She paused for a breath. "Though, he has also worked on an international scale, and seems to have co-authored several books in the past with prominent figures in our world."

    Oak looked like he was going to have an aneurysm.

    "Something wrong?"

    "No… nothing. Nothing yet, anyway. What did Eusine tell you about Mia's condition?"

    "He couldn't." She admitted, "though he did mention several references about a pokémon, usually of an esoteric type, to embrace 'The Call', and undergo a change. He calls this phenomenon The Shift."

    "And what do you think about it?"

    "I… am not sure. If my knowledge is correct," she spoke in a clinical fashion, "then the Kirlia line thrive and develop proficiency in psychokinetic powers in response to amassing positive emotions from their environment. In fact, one can even say that happiness is their sustenance."

    "Not from their trainer?"

    Delia laughed mirthlessly. "Come now, professor. Surely you jest? Humans, in general, live way too complicated lives to actually experience pure happiness, and even if we do, it is certainly not enough that a creature like Kirlia can feed upon it and grow. That said, they do have powerful bonds with their trainer, and are influenced by them in all sorts of ways."

    Oak nodded, accepting her line of thinking.

    "Also, you need to consider that trainer deaths," she paused at that word, her throat constricting for a moment as she remembered her own son's plight at the hands of a malevolent starter— "are commonplace in our world. If a kirlia's sustenance were to be limited to her trainer, chances are that she'd perish alongside him."

    "But that doesn't happen."

    "Exactly." Delia put in. "What makes Mia different is that she has substituted her source of sustenance from her surroundings to my son. She is still taking in nourishment from the environment, which is why she is still alive."

    "Then her strangeness is—"

    "I have been thinking about it, though my theory seems rather far-fetched, even to myself, if I'm being honest."

    "Humour me then." Oak offered. "I'd still like to hear it."

    "From what Kaz told me, Mia feels… substituted, by the mawile you gifted my son. Emotional creatures that they are, it is entirely possible that she, intentionally or not, had tried to latch on to someone else, to substitute Red, at least for the time being, for her sustenance. The only other human she is close to, besides my son, is me."

    "Go on."

    "But at the same time, Mia feels more strongly about everything, and that amplifies whenever Red is concerned, so it is possible that she mimicked Red's own feelings, and then sent them to me, only significantly amplified."

    "You mean through—"

    "Synchronize," Delia answered. "Seems like she is finally starting to show her ability, though with the way she is using it, and her strangeness, I'm unsure how the ability will manifest itself in her."

    Oak stayed silent for a while, trying to comprehend the implications of whatever his assistant had just claimed. Even though it was merely an educated guess, the implications were… staggering. And then there was the—

    "What about Eusine? What did he say? About Mia faking happiness?"

    "He thought that Mia, in her attempts to substitute Red, which was synonymous to happiness for her, is now imbibing the opposite of it."

    "You mean… sorrow?"

    Delia took a deep breath. "I think she has changed the very source of what she feeds on. She is diverging from her entire species. The Shift."
     
    ComradeKremer, Frank992 and Opholion like this.
  11. Threadmarks: Act 1 | Chapter 10 - How to Train Your Shellder
    TheBlackStaffAndNightMarE

    TheBlackStaffAndNightMarE I see. I write. I conquer.

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2020
    Messages:
    33
    Likes Received:
    127
    ACT 1 - IMMOLATION


    Chapter 10 - How to Train Your Shellder


    He should have seen it coming.

    Mawile's irritation with Misty and her pokémon, or more particularly, her somewhat bossy nature, had been getting on her nerves. The orangette could be extremely stubborn at times, and it took something overwhelming to break through her walls before she could be made to accept something that differed from her own point of view.

    Misty had not made her own dislike of Mawile any less subtle. For some reason, the wannabe water-specialist maintained a rather warped and, to be honest, slightly hypocritical world-view about pokémon.

    On one hand, she made a clear distinction between pokémon and humans and knew that despite all the love and care that she imparted to her pokémon, they were creatures, not humans. They were lovable and she would never mistreat them, but they were not human. One might even say, that she thought of them as… pets, of a sort. It was not surprising, considering that even his mom considered Mia to be one, despite the fact that the little kirlia had practically grown alongside him.

    On the other hand, this clean distinction didn't stop Misty from expecting pokémon to behave according to human standards. Eat normal, cooked food, and follow a civilized way of life like humans did. It wasn't exactly wrong per se, but it wasn't something that could be imposed on them either. Mawile, like most wild pokémon, was a hunter, and hunting prey was second nature to her, regardless of how civilized humans felt about it.

    On second thought, perhaps working at the ranch for all this time had desensitized him to the more common conceptions that people tended to adhere to. Red wasn't always like this. In fact, his initial days at the ranch were probably some of the worst experiences in his life, having to deal with a bunch of rambunctious creatures going awry, simply because he had expected them to behave like he would.

    "Narrowmindedness is the prime cause of stubbornness," the old man used to say, "we do not readily credit that which is beyond our view."

    Red hadn't really understood it back then. He did now though.

    "Are you sure you aren't overreacting?" Misty asked, her voice toned down to almost a whisper.

    "I'm not overreacting," He retorted, stressing the last word. "While I understand that what she did was wrong, I also understand her motivation. And you'd do good to stop giving her those looks when you think I'm not looking."

    "But she's—- I mean, she killed the bugs with— she enjoyed killing them."

    "Since when do you even care about bugs? You literally scream whenever they come near you."

    Misty scoffed at the blithe taunt. "I should inform you that I've had a phobia for bugs ever since I was a child. And even so, I just avoid them. I don't want to see them killed, and I certainly do not enjoy killing. Your mawile is—"

    "A pokémon that grew up by herself." Red finished for her. "A pokémon, not a human. They hunt their prey, they maim and kill. It's what they do."

    "It's certainly not what trained pokémon do." Misty retorted. "My father is practically a water-master and has trained under the famous Master Gregory, the previous Cerulean City gym leader. I might not be a trainer myself, but I do meet trainers on a daily basis at my school, so allow me to tell you, it doesn't work that way. Trained pokémon, are exactly that. Trained. They follow our rules, they become a part of our civilized society. They don't stay… savages."

    "And obviously your croconaw attacking me was a result of being civilized." Red drawled.

    Misty pursed her lips, keeping back a half-scowl. "I admit that was my mistake, and even more so, for allowing my croconaw to behave like that. But his evolution is nearing, and the transition has made him… temperamental. Having to walk so much, instead of swimming has only made him worse."

    "So its crankiness is just not for me."

    "Croconaw is eternally cranky." Misty proclaimed. Her lips split into something that was almost but not quite a smile. "Regardless, I believe you should put down some… limits for your mawile. I understand that you have quite a bond with your starter, and that's a beautiful thing, but—"

    "Keep her in line." Red finished for her with a sigh.

    "...something like that."

    The two kept walking for several minutes, but there was still no sign of the deceiver pokémon.

    "I know…" He muttered.

    "..Huh?"

    Red looked up, a mirthless smile on his face. "I don't admit to being the epitome of what a trainer should be like. Truth be told, I'm kinda figuring things out myself. Life at the ranch might have given me a more… warped view of things. Not right or wrong, mind you— just different."

    "I can understand that," Misty replied.

    "I doubt it," Red chuckled. "Even the old man has some issues with my thoughts on training and being a trainer, but I guess I'm stubborn as they come."

    "No surprise there." The orangette muttered. "Not that you're a bad trainer or anything. In fact, you're rather good from what I've seen. You'd give Drew a run for his money."

    "Who's that?" Red asked, absently staring at the map in front of them. As far as he could see they were going straight, so why did this clearing look so much like the last one? A horrible thought that they had been moving in circles entered his mind for a moment before he quickly shook his head.

    "Just a jerk at school. A natural at battling, mind you, but a complete jerk."

    "So your school does teach people apart from wannabe water-type defenders."

    Misty gently punched him on the arm. "That was mean."

    "Just kidding." Red chuckled. "I never really asked about it, but where's this school of yours anyway?" He remembered her talking about the entire expedition being the result of some elaborate and complicated project for school, but the subject had never really come up.

    "Saffron City. It's called Pokémon Tech Academy. It's like, one of the most prestigious institutions in the—" she paused, realizing that Red had stopped in his tracks. "What?"

    Red gaped at her from his sedentary position. "Pokémon Tech? Like the Pokémon Tech? The ones where the fucking Elite Four are visiting lecturers?"

    Misty giggled. "I didn't know you're a fan."

    "I'm not," He snapped back, "I just read a little bit about it."

    "Of course you did," Misty chortled, tilting her head. "But yeah, it's the same. Kinda unsure if it's as great as it's hyped up to be, but it's pretty good. We have Type-masters from all over the world, but the school only caters to the super-rich. Honestly, sometimes I wonder why my parents waste so much money on my formal education. Apprenticing under a water-master would have been just as good a start."

    Red muttered something about 'casual' and 'teleportation' under his breath.

    "Huh? You say something?"

    "...No. Nothing at all." Red replied, consistently glancing around. "So, you get to learn from the Elite Four, huh?"

    Misty shook her head, a wistful expression on her face. "Not all of them. Just Lady Lorelei, though she is very informal and hates that epithet. 'Ma'am' is the best that we have managed to make her accept. She actually prefers to be addressed directly by name. Sir Juan, however, is a completely different story. Address him without the 'sir', and you will have problems. But yeah, I have been there since I was twelve and it's been pretty awesome."

    Some people have all the luck. Red mused. Learning from Elite Four Lorelei, an Ice-master. No wonder she calls herself a water-specialist.

    "So… how long have you been studying there?"

    "Is that a roundabout way of asking me my age?" Misty teased. She had occasionally spotted Red checking her out from time to time. It had almost been amusing. Then again, if she were honest with herself, she had begun to slowly enjoy the other trainer's company. Red was quite easy on the eyes, and the fact that he knew his stuff, and yet lacked the common arrogance that usually came with such knowledge was a plus point too. Also, and she'd be damned before she accepted it, but she was starting to depend upon him.

    "Uhm… no?" Red eased his collar, caught off-guard with that question. "Just a random question."

    "If you say so." Misty rolled her eyes, before glancing around. "Do you think Mawile took a different path? It's kind of… difficult to see in the dark."

    "It is possible, but we already—" Red began, before he paused, raising his hand horizontally to keep her behind him. There was an odd shadow approaching them from a distance. Even with the flashlight, all he could see was a large lavenderish lump, with several smaller lumps growing out of it. It seemed to have claws as well. There was also something yellowish towards what seemed to be the underbelly, which suddenly seemed to throw out a large, metallic flap outside, not unlike a tongue, as if sensing the environment around it for threats. It took odd, and despite all his experience at the ranch, Red couldn't remember seeing or studying something remotely familiar.

    The lump crept closer.

    "EEEEEH!" Misty shrieked, keeping her voice down to a low whisper. "What's that?"

    "No idea," Red muttered, raising his pokédex with his right hand and reaching for Skarmory's pokéball with the left. Without preamble, he turned the device on and scanned the approaching creature.

    No match found. Given the location and the physique, the specimen seems to be some kind of bug. It is possible that this is a novel bug species unspecified in the Inter-regional database.

    "Well that was helpful," Red muttered, preparing to release Skarmory from her pokéball. First, the thief stole their meals, then Mawile ran away and now this. Was there no end to his troubles? Perhaps there was something wrong with him that made the whole universe go crazy.

    "Oh my God, it's a bug. It's a large bug. Right? It's gonna tie me up, hang me upside down and crawl—"

    "Misty," Red hissed, "kindly shut up."

    Misty complied, scooting backward.

    "What are you?" Red called out. "Show yourself. We don't want to hurt you."

    The creature let out a soft rustling sound, as if something below its belly was trying to move out. After two anxious seconds, they found a tiny head poking out of the large, lump. The surprise doubled when they realized who it was they were staring at.

    The familiar face of his favorite deceiver peeked out of the light purple mass and blinked at Red, before barking out in happiness. "Mawa… wile?"


    "I really, really should have seen this coming," Red muttered in half-doleful tones as he slowly rubbed his face. Sparing another glance at the unconscious growlithe, he turned to her bleakly. "Where the hell did you manage to find a growlithe anyway? We're in the middle of a forest."

    "Mawawawa!" Mawile replied seriously, before dropping herself to the ground to rest. Obviously dragging that thing from God knows where had exhausted her.

    "Never mind." Red sighed. Sometimes he really wished he could understand her. With another sigh, he went back to rummaging through his backpack.

    Mawile shrugged with a yawn, though he got the distinct impression that her reply was something along the lines of— 'It's your loss'.

    On seeing his starter drag what looked like an unconscious growlithe on her jaw, he had decided to help her to drag it back to the tent without interrogating her. Knowing Mawile's occasionally finicky behavior, he had decided to leave it on the backburner for now.

    Still, he mused, what on earth did it do to piss her off?

    Carefully dragging the unfortunate fire-type towards the tent, he deposited it near the campfire. Given the strange lumps formed all over the growlithe's head and body, it probably needed some immediate healing.

    Poor thing.

    Currently, said fire-type was spread-eagled upon the grassy floor outside. Having found what he needed, Red quickly walked out of the tent, carrying two injection syringes in his left hand, and a single tray with cotton and ointment. "Misty, can you make sure that it doesn't move about?"

    Mawile happily raised her jaw, volunteering for the job.

    "I didn't mean beat it senseless." Red snapped, making Mawile drop her jaw in disappointment. "This one needs treatment." He looked up at Misty, who seemed to stare at him with a calculating expression. "Can you keep it from moving?"

    "…sure," Misty muttered, releasing Starmie. The starfish pokémon shook its entire body, its jewel reflecting the light of the campfire. "Starmie, I need you to disable it."

    "Shtaar!" Starmie replied in acknowledgment, as the jewel on its center began to glow, and almost instantly, the growlithe's entire body was lit up, with a light bluish aura along the edges.

    "That should do," Red muttered, pushing the syringe into the oblivious fire-type. There was the expected movement of its body muscles contracting as the syringe forced itself through the tissues, but the psychic-lock held.

    "What was that?" Misty asked.

    "Standard anesthesia," Red answered, putting the now-empty syringe away, and picking up the other one. Unlike the former colorless one, this one was tinged pink. With utmost care, he injected it into the still unconscious fire-type. He waited for a moment before he felt the growlithe's body sag down, a proof that the potion was taking effect.

    "Is that?" Misty blinked, realizing what it was. Then she glanced at Red, and back at the syringe. "That wasn't a standard Full Restore, was it?"

    Red shook his head. "I cannot claim to know what's wrong with it, save the obvious injury on the head, and the bruises on the entire body. I'm pretty surprised that this growlithe is even alive in the first case."

    Mawile perked up at that. From what she knew, the growlithe had not only been alive, it had talked to her, and even made promises to protect her from imaginary enemies. Certainly, Red was overexaggerating? ...Right?



    Full Restores were a mandatory item in a trainer's backpack. They were a mix of medicinal herbs, berries, chemicals and several other ingredients in tiny quantities, to be merged together in definite amounts to act as 'first-aid' to the injured pokémon. The potions were meticulously brewed and sold at Pokémarts to the aspiring Trainer population. The effects included detoxification against common poisons, an analgesic to keep the pain down and increase tissue rejuvenation. Pokémon, in general, had higher cellular regeneration than humans, and a standard Full Restore enhanced the process significantly.

    "This is a modified version, used specifically for deeper wounds and injuries. I cannot add an analgesic at the moment so I applied the anesthetic earlier."

    Impressive. Misty mused. "I didn't think that potion-brewing was one of your talents."

    Red chuckled at the compliment. While potion-brewing wasn't exactly difficult, it wasn't terribly easy either. Besides, with Restore packs available as potion-vials at Pokémarts at somewhat reasonable prices, it was no wonder that most trainers purchased the standard sets whenever they visited the town. Potion-brewing might have been the norm some fifty years ago, but very few of today's trainers ever bothered to learn how.

    "Where did you learn to do it? I don't think that potion-brewing is part of the Trainer License Exam?"

    "It isn't, but the standard Full Restore isn't something that works on every pokémon at all times. That goes double when you are dealing with one of the biggest ranches in Kanto."

    "And you cannot add the analgesic because…"

    Red snorted, noticing a test when he saw one. "because painkillers tend to have horrible effects when used alongside regenerative potions."

    Misty opened her mouth and then closed it again.

    "I shouldn't have doubted you," She laughed sardonically. "I must remember to check out the local ranches before applying for medical school. Might save me a year or so."

    Red chuckled at that. "I'm hardly an expert. The old man taught me that pain potions contain flux-weed, and they do not mix with regenerative ones. So, anesthesia is a better choice."

    "Professor Oak taught you how to brew specific versions of the Full Restore," Misty muttered, re-evaluating what she knew about her newest acquaintance and sort-of-friend. Not for the first time, she wondered about the nature of the relationship between the young teen and the legendary former Champion of Kanto.

    "Just the basics," Red replied offhandedly. "I tend not to purchase Full Restores from the Pokémarts. Acquiring the ingredients directly from the Pokémon Center is easier and… more affordable. During my stay at the Center, I was able to prepare enough for my trip through Viridian Forest. Though knowing my luck, it is surprising that this is the first time I'm needing to use one of those."

    "Sure. How long do you think this will take?"

    "Should be a couple of hours or something. I'm… not sure about the extent of its original injuries, and..." he dragged out, before deciding to ask Mawile what he had been ignoring until now.

    "Mawile, are these lumps, because of you?"

    Mawile nodded sagaciously. "Maw… wile!"

    "Err.. right. Next time avoid hitting someone over and over on the head. It can give you a nasty headache when you wake up. Okay?"

    Mawile nodded in acknowledgment. That much she could remember. Besides, it seemed like her plan was working. She might have gone a little overboard, but now Red was stuck with a growlithe, and as such, had something to occupy his mind. It also implied that Mawile would be devoid of his attention too, but she could handle that much. After all, she handled Shellder and Skarmory just fine. It wouldn't take too long to teach the puppy its place in the pecking order.

    Red shook his head, whispering something along the lines of 'doomed'. He ignored Misty's smirk and glanced down at the fallen fire-type.

    That reminded him. If he captured it inside a pokéball, then the growlithe would officially be his pokémon. Wait, his? He hadn't even battled it. It had been Mawile. Come to think of it, Shellder had just tagged along and Red had kept him out of sentimentality. Skarmory… shit, even Skarmory had been gifted to him because Mawile had won the fight against that vicious ursaring.

    Red looked at the pokéball in his hand, half-amused and half-concerned. Some trainer he was, his starter had caught more pokémon than he did. Perhaps he should simply quit his dream of becoming a Champion and devote himself to a life of being Mawile's caretaker? She was certainly doing a better job than him, to be honest.

    Red chuckled sardonically at the amusing thought.

    Mawile, the pokémon trainer. Traveling all around Kanto with her pet human, Red, defeating pokémon large and small, and ultimately becoming Champion.

    "What the hell are you giggling about?" Misty asked, puzzled.

    "Huh?" Red blubbered, caught off-guard. "Just an amusing thought." He lifted the empty pokéball, and pointing it towards the still unconscious growlithe, and clicked the button. A thin beam of red light shot out, sucking the creature into the device. The lid shut, but instead of the usual 'ding', the lid opened again, releasing the growlithe back on the ground.

    That was strange. Red mused. Must be an error.

    He clicked the button to repeat the previous step. Once again, the lid opened back, releasing it outside. It was probably for the best that the growlithe was unconscious, or else it might have pitched a fit by now.

    "Is something wrong?" Misty asked, confused.

    "I don't know. I keep trying to capture him with the pokéball but it keeps ejecting rejecting it. I'd understand if this growlithe was awake and powerful enough to resist capture but that's not it. And I'm pretty that the ball isn't malfunctioning either. The only other explanation is that it's already caught. But it's a wild pokémon. So it doesn't make sense unless it was kidnapped or—"

    His words died in his throat, as he turned towards his starter with a sickly expression, "Mawile… what did you do?"

    Mawile gulped. For the first time since her triumphant return, she began to feel that not everything was going her way.



    Mawile did not like the way things were shaping about. For one, Red seemed to be unusually concerned, frightened even—at the fact that the growlithe might have belonged to someone else. She was confused. Did humans really not understand the concept of belongings? He had reacted oddly over the poképuffs too, so she supposed she shouldn't be too surprised. Really, if she found some prey, she'd keep it for herself— either consuming it then and there, or storing it away in a safe den for later. What did it matter if someone else saw it earlier? If they couldn't make the first strike, they didn't deserve it.

    " What am I going to do?" Red asked, facepalming as he sat on his knees. "If this growlithe has a trainer, then he must be searching for it as well. It'd be like I stole the pokémon. That's not an easy offense to deal with."

    "I did tell you about controlling your mawile's insolent—"

    "Misty, can we please not do this right now?" He requested, his face a caricature filled with despondency. Turning to Mawile, he asked, "Mawile, I'm going to need you to answer this honestly, all right?"

    Mawile nodded.

    "Was this growlithe alone when you found it?"

    Nod.

    "Did you just… attack it out of nowhere?"

    Mawile almost felt insulted. Really now, what did Red think of her? She wasn't some mindless beast that would attack others without reason. Sure, she did that for prey. But the growlithe wasn't prey. The growlithe was a prospective recruit, and it'd be counterproductive to kill a potential recruit before... recruiting it.

    "Mawile?" Red asked, his voice strained.

    Shake.

    Red sighed. Well, the worst didn't happen. "Did the growlithe attack you first then?" He hoped she'd say yes, since then he could spin the entire thing as self-defense.

    Unfortunately, that wasn't going to happen. Mawile shook her head.

    "So, you didn't attack it, and it didn't attack you first. And its trainer was absent. Good so far?"

    Nod.

    "Well someone must have attacked first," Misty suggested, giving an evil glare at the deceiver pokémon. To her, it was pretty easy to understand what had transpired. Mawile had probably deceived the poor thing and attacked it out of pure viciousness.

    "Not now, Misty." Red waved her off, his mind running into overdrive. "But later on, you attacked it, right?"

    Mawile nodded. She wondered if Red would just get to the point. Playing twenty-thousand questions wasn't how she had expected it to go.

    "Did you… talk to the growlithe before attacking it?"

    Ah, now it was turning out to be interesting. Mawile nodded eagerly, adding an animated 'Mawawawa!' at the end of it.

    "Okay, that's better." Red stood up, rubbing his chin. "Did it tell you if it was captured by someone else?"

    Mawile thought about it. Growlithe seemed to be completely ignorant about the concept of a human trainer, so it was going to be a 'no', but come to think of it, it did mention running away for 'freedom' and all of that philosophical bullshit. It didn't think of itself as a stray either, but explaining all of that to Red was a difficult and Mawile was tired of playing this one-way guessing game.

    She shook her head. What did it matter if she twisted the truth a bit? Growlithe did say that he didn't have a trainer.

    "That's… strange." Red cupped his chin with his left hand. "If it isn't a captured pokémon and—wait, are you certain that it isn't a captured pokémon?"

    Another nod.

    "That certainly does not help." Misty frowned "If it doesn't have a trainer, then the pokéball would have accepted the capture."

    "It would, but look at its wounds. Some idiot must have tried to capture it, but then the growlithe proved too strong and broke out. Probably when the trainer wasn't looking."

    "That seems rather far-fetched to me."

    "Do you have a better idea?" Red challenged.

    "As a matter of fact, I do." Misty retorted darkly, "look at its neck."

    "What do you mean look at its— ," he paused midway, as he understood what he was seeing. "Is that a—a—?"

    "A shock collar, yes," Misty replied, scowling in disgust. "Whoever put that on must be a real sonofabitch."

    Red could agree with that.

    The brown collar around its neck, seemed to be made of leather, with a pure metal collar cloaked inside it. Shock collars were a thing of the past, much before the invention of pokéball-technology. Back then, the more dangerous breeds of pokémon were kept under control using shock-collars, and trained to fight in an arena with other brutes. It was not something the present generation would ever consider using.

    "Do you know how to break it?"

    Misty shook her head. Shock-collars were notoriously difficult to break, or any idiot could have broken through one and sent an incredibly dangerous creature free. She didn't exactly know what the material was, but it was known to be extremely resistant to corrosion and were elastic enough to absorb most physical attacks without cracking.

    "But why use a shock-collar on this one? I mean, it's a growlithe, for God's sake." Red muttered, wondering why someone would go to such extents on a growlithe. "Either way, what do we do then?"

    "We should take it to the Pokémon Center in Pewter. They'd probably be able to deal with it. For the time being, it'll have to stay on its neck." She glanced at the poor fire-type with pity in her eyes.

    Red glanced at Misty before his focus shifted to Mawile, who seemed more baleful than he would have liked. Going from the frown on her face, it was possible that Mawile was evaluating the entire concept of a trained pokémon, based on Misty's words. For someone that valued her personal freedom over anything else, listening to such barbaric history was sure to incite a reaction.

    "I think…" He cleared his throat, attracting everyone's attention. "It's getting quite late, and we should all get some sleep. Perhaps by tomorrow, it will be awake and we can find a solution to its problems."

    "Wile!" Mawile muttered softly and pushed herself up. She walked up to Red who knelt down to hold her. Ignoring everything else, Mawile dug herself into his shirt and shut her eyes.

    "Red?" Misty asked, watching them with abrupt fascination.

    "You go get some sleep. I'll be…" He caressed Mawile's head, "I'll be there in a while."

    ~~X~~

    When Growlithe woke up, the first thing he felt was anger. This was surprising because he had long learned the futility of getting angry. Anger led to pain. It was better to keep your head down and do what was told.

    in fact, apart from the ever-consistent and ever-increasing sensation of pain, he could hardly remember any substantial emotion he had displayed.

    Well, other than a sense of helplessness.

    He had calmly watched his fellow kin try their level best to acquire freedom, only to end in utter disappointment or death. Come to think of it, it was almost laughable that despite his cold cynicism, it was he who had ended up being free from the white-walled prison.

    And now, after finally tasting the feeling of freedom, he found it lacking. Life back in the prison was filled with pain and suffering, but he had a reason to survive back there. Every day was a battle, a battle to overcome and survive. To see the next day, even if in hope of a pipe dream like freedom. Though he wasn't quite sure what to do now that he was free. He felt like a rudderless ship, sailing in the sea, without aim or direction.

    Come to think of it, was he still free? From what he could remember he had just been captured by the tiny yellow pokémon he had tried to befriend in the forest. The experience with the mawile, while novel, had left him with a sour taste in his mouth. He had almost empathized with the mawile, and had even developed feelings for her—.on a more personal level —only for them to be squashed like a bug by her cunning and cruelty. All of those slams on his head had been agonizing. Why, he could even feel the mind-boggling pain tear through his—

    Wait. Mind-boggling pain? Without opening his eyes, Growlithe carefully assessed himself. There was practically no sense of pain in his body. Even the consistent ache in his hindlimbs had vanished. The pain on his head from those slams was gone as well, and he felt an incredible lightness in his body.

    He almost felt… younger.

    Why does it feel so good? Am I… am I dreaming?

    Growlithe slowly cracked open his eyes— enough to see the outside, but not enough for anyone to realize that he has regained consciousness. It would not do to fall into that deceptive creature's trap a second time, and Growlithe wasn't going to allow anyone, especially the mawile, to one-up him again.

    Which took him back to his original thought process.

    Yes, Anger. Anger at being deceived. Anger at being tricked when all he had wanted to do was to offer his help. Anger at—

    For the second time after waking up, Growlithe's thoughts screeched to a halt. A few steps away from him, lay the deceptive mawile creature. Only she wasn't on the grassy floor. Instead, she was leaning against a human—a human— 's body without a care in the world. Said human had a cap covering most of his face and was leaning against a tree trunk, asleep. The juxtaposition seemed utterly confusing.

    He could have accepted the mawile sleeping a little away from her human, maintaining a safe distance. He might have even understood her intentions to please the human by getting him another slave so that she might have less work to do. After all, two slaves were better than one. That was common sense. But this?

    Mawile had a tiny smile on her face. For one moment, he felt oddly… jealous. Strange, he didn't know he was capable of experiencing such an emotion.

    He shook his head. Something was wrong with him. Why was he feeling jealous of someone who was imprisoned by a human? Surely there was some sort of sinister bondage at play. Either way, he was awake and it was time to leave. He'd need to be silent though. Just push himself up, and slowly get out of their sight. The sun was up in the sky, and soon enough, he could find his way through the forest and—

    Pause.

    Wait, there was something wrong in that sentence. The sun was up which caused brightness. which meant the men-in-black would be up. And the lack of darkness usually meant that those men-in-black would probably be looking for him. Besides, he had no idea just how large the forest was, or how to traverse it faster than the men-in-black.

    What to do? What to do? What to—?

    "But my trainer does not experiment on me, and he takes good care of me too. Perhaps you can meet him. He will probably help you."

    Mawile had revealed that to him earlier. And judging by the fact that he wasn't in a cage, it was obvious that the human wasn't too interested in capturing him. That, or he was dumb when compared to the rest of his species. Mawile had called him dopey, after all.

    But it also seemed like the human had something to do with the absence of the pain he was accustomed to. Why would he do that? According to his experience, humans weren't ever good to him.

    This is so… confusing.

    He pushed himself up on his four legs, feeling the surprising lack of the dull ache that he had grown accustomed to. The pain on the head was now almost fading away, leaving nothing more than a distant memory. The bruises on his body from the fight the previous day seemed to have healed as well. Could it be that— that the mawile was right, and this human was actually somewhat altruistic? Yes, that was an apt description. He wasn't stupid enough to think of a human as kind though. That would be a little overboard.

    He stretched himself out, feeling his muscles contract and relax.

    He felt good. He felt really good. In fact, it felt so good that he subconsciously let out a happy woof.





    "Eh!" Red yawned, stretching his hands upward, "I see you've woken up!"


    ...

    On second thought, that might have been a mistake.



    If there was one pokémon in Kanto that everyone knew about, it would probably be a growlithe. It was almost hilarious, that despite being a fire-type, and a rather versatile one at that, spotting a growlithe was practically a run-of-the-mill event. In fact, even Pallet Town, one of the smallest towns in Kanto, had several dozens of those puppies, running around in small groups. Even more surprisingly, the people that tamed them were mostly shopkeepers, gardeners, businessmen—essentially non-trainers— to act as watchdogs. Mia hated them with a passion, mostly because of their annoying tendency to dig up large holes in the ground and then urinate in them.

    All in all, Red had never really considered catching a growlithe. At least until a few hours ago after he utilized a Full Restore potion to heal one of them.

    "You're finally awake!" Red yawned, making sure not to drop Mawile as he gently stretched out. Mawile muttered something in her sleep at his movements, before burrowing deeper into his shirt.

    The growlithe let out a soft growl.

    It seems to be somewhat afraid. And possibly confused.

    "Look, I'm not exactly sure what happened," he said softly, "but I know Mawile hurt you." He noticed the puppy glare at the sleeping Mawile. "Yeah, well, she's a feisty one and tends to go a little overboard from time to time and," And now the confusion in puppy's face deepened —

    "I'm making a mess of things, aren't I? Well, this is the first time I've had to do this," he sighed. "Tell you what? I'll be making breakfast now. How about you join us? You aren't feeling any more pain, are you?"

    The growlithe slowly shook his head.

    "Good," Red continued, oblivious to the growing confusion in the former captive, "I suppose you ran off from someone who," he pointed at the collar around the neck, "put that collar on you, right?"



    "I suppose you ran off from someone who put that collar on you, right?"

    Growlithe froze for a moment. The collar had been on his person for as long as he remembered being alive. He had never even considered its presence to date. Come to think of it, it was probably what caused those sudden shocks. And clearly, it wasn't something that a free pokémon would have.

    Hesitantly, he nodded.

    Red looked angry, and for a moment, Growlithe steadied himself to face an attack. Instead, the human spoke again, "that was an extremely bad thing to do. I have no idea how to remove that thing, but if you come with me to the Pokémon Center, maybe I could get it off for you."

    What, just like that?

    "Come to think about it, you do look a little different. I'm sure the mane was supposed to have a cream-ish color, and not bright white. Same for purple tinge. You're most likely a shiny? That's probably why that asshole decided to capture you."

    Growlithe frowned. He was reliably certain that whatever the reason he had been bred in captivity for—the color of his mane was definitely not one of them. Perhaps this trainer was indeed... dopey, was it? Even so, he did feel a little glad that this human was different from the ones he had been exposed to back at the prison.

    "Either way," Red continued, "don't try to run around. You need to get some rest, and we aren't going anywhere soon. Don't worry, worst comes to worst and that asshole returns, we'll protect you."



    Growlithe stared at the human with a vacant expression on his face.

    Protect him?

    Considering everything, he had expected this human—Red, was it? —to be slightly better than those men-in-white, but protect him? He, who could cause this human to die a horrible death by burning him alive. He, who could melt the entire place with his corrosive acid, who could, if all else failed, use his smog to poison the surroundings and flee— this human thought that he could protect him?

    It was new. It was different and weird, and completely unlike anything he had experienced. And yet, it was strangely comforting.

    Growlithe considered the maelstrom of conflicting thoughts he was going through, and decided that he didn't like it. Perhaps the entire concept of freedom was overhyped. Or perhaps it was simply his cursed luck. After another moment of self-introspection, he decided that it was probably the latter.

    Growlithe let out another woof, after what he assumed was an appropriate time to indicate bashful sincerity. He could deal with the Mawile later, and it was true that staying with this human was a good start to getting out of the forest. It was certainly better than being on the run.

    I hope I haven't made a mistake.

    For a second growlithe thought back to the white-walled maze before he shook his head clear of such depressing thoughts. He had made his choice, and now he would have to see it to the end. Regardless, this human couldn't be worse than the men-in-black.

    Growlithe looked at the Mawile still cuddling into his shirt. Truly, she was vicious, especially for something so small and cute looking. And this was her adjuster, or her trainer, as she called it. She couldn't possibly have become so vicious on her own, could she?

    Growlithe narrowed his eyes at the human trainer.

    For now, he would reserve judgment.



    "Somehow I should have known that you would pick up a stray," Misty commented as she walked out of the tent, freshened up and ready for breakfast. "You seem exactly like the kind of person who'd do that."

    Red rolled his eyes as he sat upon a log of wood, cooking what was quite possibly the last piece of meat he had preserved for the trip. After this, they'd need to go vegetarian for a while. That, or survive on canned food. Come to think of it, it had been like three days and there had been absolutely zero signs of a venonat. Perhaps they should have chosen some other place instead?

    "So…" Misty asked, casually observing the growlithe lying on the grass, who was watching Red with utmost attention. "Any plans for the day?"

    "Nothing spectacular. Skarmory's gone for her usual flight, and Mawile's being grumpy since her poképuffs are stolen. I was thinking of working with Shellder. Mawile can train with Skarmory over her Flash technique."

    "Ah, your super-secret technique then. I'm dying to see if it's just as magnificent as you claimed. Perhaps you should show me so that I can bask in the magnificence of your shellder's genius."

    Red arched an eyebrow.

    "Okay, that was probably a little too much, but I'm somewhat interested. It's a water-type after all." Misty grinned at him.

    "And you, of course, are the messiah of all water-types. What would they do without you?" He quipped back.

    "Prat."

    Red chuckled and returned to his cooking. "Yeah, yeah. Either way, our newest companion will probably be hanging around until Pewter City. We're stuck here till we catch a venonat, so you've got ample time to witness Shellder's awesomeness. So, don't get your knickers in a twist over—"

    "Are you implying something?" The voice that interrupted him was definitely Misty's, only unnaturally cold.

    "Huh? Implying wha—?" He answered, before it hit him.

    Oh.

    It must be noted that Misty had a habit of wearing ridiculously short skirts— barely enough to reach her thighs. Red had often run into uncomfortable situations because of this. Especially because of that one time when they were being chased by beedrill and he had commented about how the wind was 'pushing her ridiculously short skirt too far up'.

    The resulting explosion had almost been funny. Almost.

    Red shook himself off his reverie. "Nope. Nothing at all."

    "Good." Misty chagrined.

    Crisis averted, Red returned to his cooking. From what he understood, the girl was rather attached to her sense of fashion, even if she did admit that her skirt was on the short side. Of course, that didn't stop her from blowing up like a volcano whenever someone noticed, or worse, pointed it out at her face.

    "How's your croconaw doing?"

    "He's… okay. It seems like the high-pitched noise had an adverse effect on him. He is close to evolution, so his body is changing faster than he can get used to it. The skin near his ears is softer now since the hide would get replaced with external scales as a feraligatr. But until then, it is a weak spot."

    "Feraligatr, huh?" Red mused. Feraligatr were infamous for their monstrous strength, and were quite frankly, the strongest water-types in the Johto region. Though their monstrous strength usually impacted their speed, and they ended up becoming long-ranged attackers that relied heavily upon their body's powerful defense.

    "Yeah, and once he evolves and gets used to his strength, I'll show Lily what I've got," Misty replied wistfully. "Last time, her crawdaunt soundly defeated my croconaw. This time, we'll turn the tables."

    "Crawdaunt?"Red asked, before pulling out his pokédex. "Let's see..."

    Misty chuckled. "You won't get any information on that. Crawdaunt is a—"

    Crawdaunt, the Rogue pokémon. Crawdaunt has an extremely violent nature that compels it to challenge other living things to battle. Other life-forms refuse to live in ponds inhabited by this Pokémon, making them desolate places.

    "—a Hoenn pokémon and not registered on the Kanto pokédex." She finished wryly. "But I suppose that's not a Kanto dex, is it?"

    "Nope." Red answered, emphasizing the 'p'. "This one's an upgrade. A National Dex, I think it's called. It has access to the Inter-regional Database. The old man gave it to me when I started my journey."

    "Of course, he did, what was I thinking?" Misty muttered sourly. "Some people really have all the luck."

    "Yeah, yeah, keep complaining about luck when you literally burn money, teleporting everywhere."

    "Stop being sore about that, okay?" Misty complained good-naturedly. "Besides, it's not like I cheated on you or anything. You agreed to my offer."

    "Keep reminding me, why don't you," Red grumbled, glancing at the pokédex entry. "Damn, this looks rather menacing."

    "They are," Misty agreed, "Crawdaunt are called the rogues of the sea. Not very good on land, but they can be quite devastating when in water. More so, if you can teach it to master Aqua Jet."

    "Aqua Jet? What is that?"

    Misty blinked before she realized. "Ah right. I guess with you knowing stuff all over the place, I thought you knew about it as well. Aqua Jet's a move created by Master Gregory during his years as the Cerulean Gym Leader. It's something that everyone apprenticing at the Cerulean gym is taught early on."

    "A move tutor then?" Red asked. From what he knew, move-tutors were damn-costly.

    "In a way, but considering the number of people out there who know Aqua Jet and are trying to modify that technique further, it has somewhat lost its status as a move-tutor and is simply a move, or move-ish, I guess." Misty paused, before remembering their actual discussion, "in fact, it is something that would fit your shellder perfectly."

    Red blinked. "Come again?"

    "Yeah, Shellder has the right requirements for it. It has a strong shell, and is capable of generating high amounts of pressure from what you told me, and has yet to learn how to manipulate said pressure at will. Come to think of it, Aqua Jet is exactly what it needs."

    Red blinked again. "So, you're actually serious."

    Misty gave him a vacant look. "Why wouldn't I be serious?"

    "Because I distinctly remember hearing someone commenting at how Shellder was the epitome of uselessness."

    Misty cringed at that. "I know… but, come on. Nobody uses a shellder and that's because it's nearly impossible to teach it anything. However, your Shellder is anything but that. I'm still wondering if it had a psychic-type for a parent. That would certainly explain its affinity for Double Team and… it's slightly above-average intelligence."

    Red opened his mouth, then closed it. Slowly gathering his thoughts, he spoke up, "What is Aqua Jet anyway?"

    Misty grinned. "Body-based pressure manipulation. The pokémon in question gathers a revolving layer of water all around it, and propels itself forward by jetting the water behind it at high pressure."

    "Okay." Red murmured, wondering where this was leading to.

    "So basically, if we are able to teach Shellder how to freely manipulate pressure, it will come closer to controlling its internal pressure. And wasn't that what you were alluding to, back when you told me about Water Bullet?"

    "Yes, but controlling internal pressure like that, and setting up a rotating wall of water around itself— all of that sounds like a rather high-tier move to me," Red answered skeptically. "Shellder is barely able to manipulate the basic pressure required for a Water-gun, and this is well—"

    "I know," Misty answered, still upbeat, "Aqua Jet is a composite move, and I never meant to teach Shellder the complete version. Hell, I'm unsure if Shellder can even produce enough water for a standard Aqua Jet. But it is still pressure-manipulation, and from what you told me, the technique you are devising requires a lot of control over that."

    "Well yes, but in the opposite direction of what Aqua Jet is about." Red refuted back.

    "Semantics," Misty waved it off. "If I can teach a shellder to eject highly pressurized water backward, I can do it for the front as well. Croconaw can easily demonstrate some part of it, and Shellder can learn from it."

    "Uhm, I'm pretty sure that it won't work out the way you think it is."

    "Excuse me, who's the budding Water Specialist here?" Misty challenged. "I'm sure I can teach your shellder how to manipulate pressure." She paused, her tone challenging. "Just watch and learn."

    Red crossed his arms with a smirk. "I'm watching."

    Not one to shrink from a challenge, Misty calmly released her croconaw, uncaring of the fact that even the stray growlithe was observing her every move. She allowed a passing glance towards the deceitful ivory-ish creature who was watching her wolfishly before turning to her starter.



    "Come on Croconaw, we have a point to prove."

    The obviously-unhappy water-type sneered, before looking up at his trainer. What nonsense had she dragged him into now? First all that walk in the city, and then through the forest. The discomforting shriek had certainly not helped matters, and if Misty's words were to be believed, then the mawile had apparently tried to murder him in his sleep. Life in Viridian Forest had become terribly dangerous recently.

    "Oh, don't be a spoilsport." Misty chided.

    Croconaw sighed, deciding that it was best to be done with whatever annoyance his trainer had in mind. The exhaustion from the previous day's events was still clouding his mind, and a little rest inside his pokéball would be preferable. He turned towards his trainer and nodded. "Croc?"

    "Now that's a good boy." Misty beamed. "We only need to teach this little shellder how to manipulate pressure."

    Oh, just that? He thought sarcastically. Why don't I teach him Hydro Pump while I'm at it?

    "Croconaw?" Misty asked. "Any issues?"

    The big-jaw pokémon could only sigh in resignation and trudged all over to the shellder lying inconspicuously on one end. Come to think of it, it was the bane of his existence. Ever since the little tyke had fallen on his head, he had been going through one misfortune after another. From what he had inferred from Misty's conversation with the other human, shellder was practically useless.

    And now I have to teach him to be useful. Is there no end to my sorrows?

    Deciding that there was no point in cursing his luck when he had a job to take care of, he glared at the shellder and barked, "Get over here."

    Instead of squeaking in fear and following his orders as it rightfully should have, Shellder remained in its place, imitating a rock.

    Misty sweatdropped. "Uhm, Shellder. Croconaw is trying to teach you something."

    Shellder squeaked in answer, at which Misty turned to Red and gave him a triumphant smirk. Said trainer in question, didn't bother to reply, preferring to calmly watch. Not too far away, a certain deceiver pokémon was smiling gleefully, happy to see the cause of her woes be subject to Shellder's charms.

    "Right," Misty cleared his voice and spoke up in her best teacher voice, "so Croconaw is going to teach you how to manipulate your body pressure. This will help you to use Water Gun, so it is essential that you listen carefully. Is that okay?"

    Shellder squeaked again.

    Misty looked positively enthralled. Personally, Croconaw felt she was a step away from enveloping the little thing with one of her overwhelming bear hugs. The affection was undeniable, and so was the feeling of suffocation that accompanied them.

    "All right, Croconaw, show him." Misty egged her starter forward.

    What's with you and pushing, woman? The water-type grumbled mentally, taking a step forward. Lifting Shellder with the air of a snorlax lifting a rattata, before putting it down right beside him on the ground. Then, he glared at the little shell pokémon and barked, "Watch carefully."

    Shellder blinked but did not retort.

    Croconaw gave the impudent thing an impassive stare. While shellder were perfectly capable of inner thoughts, their vocal glands were poorly developed, which was why the only sound they managed were shills and squeaks. By the time they evolved to cloyster though, they were perfectly capable of communication. From what he understood, this particular shellder had a high affinity to the psychic-type. So being able to mimic human speech through telepathy as a Cloyster should be within reason.

    Shellder squeaked for a third time.

    "Don't push me, twerp!" Croconaw warned as he closed his mouth, feeling his energy gather into his maw. He slowly compressed it as it began to take on the properties of the water element. Then, he slowly nodded towards Shellder before directing his jaws towards the forest and releasing a torrent of water.

    "Now try to do the same."

    Shellder squeaked, but contrary to his expectations, it closed its valves and shut itself in.



    Confused, Croconaw knelt down and tried to peep into the eternal darkness that was Shellder's shell, wondering where the little brat was hiding. "Croco—"

    SQUEAK!

    Shellder almost roared out, as its eyes glowed in the darkness, before leaping at Croconaw's face, and clamping onto one of his ears. Croconaw grunted in irritation, doing his best to pull Shellder off, something that only seemed to make his ear burn more.

    After what seemed like an eternal struggle, Shellder finally released its hold on Croconaw's ear, allowing the larger water-type to pull it off. Enraged at its shenanigans, he held the shell pokémon in front of his face and growled at it.

    SLURRRRRP!

    A long, crimson, slimy tongue shot out of the darkness and swept all across his face.

    It felt absolutely disgusting.

    For a long moment, Croconaw stood still, almost unbelieving of what had just happened. Then he threw Shellder off as he ran back into the tent, all the while screaming loudly.

    "CROCAAAA!"



    This was it.

    Mawile slowly got up from her position and moved towards Shellder.

    This was the answer.

    Shellder, who had been the bane of her existence, who had competed for Red's affection for days, and who had stolen Red's attention on several occasions.

    This would be her salvation.

    This shellder would be the one to take her vengeance over this orange human. Yes, she could see it now. Shellder was her savior. With short but no less bold steps, she trotted along, crossing the distance between herself and her one-time nemesis, and slowly patted its shell with her tiny hands, muttering words she could have sworn she'd never use for the shell-pokémon. Even her eyes were moist and when she spoke and her words seemed to carry over her heart's true emotions.

    "I'm proud of you."


    Later that afternoon

    "All right, lunch is ready. Come out, everyone." Red declared, placing a semi-large saucepan on the folding table and spreading two plates out beside it. "Hot steak ready to be served." He stretched his hands outwards, before stepping back. "Let's finish this quickly."

    "Steak for the third time," Misty sniffed, "At this point, I'm not sure if you're that confident, or if you're actually looking forward to being robbed."

    "I did tell you I have a plan, didn't I?"

    "You did" Misty grinned. " And I'll be standing right here waiting to mock you when your overcomplicated plan comes crashing down like a house of cards."

    "..."

    Meanwhile, someone was observing this conversation closely. Having been in his presence for a considerable time period, his exuberance felt almost unnatural. Red was many things, but a natural liar he was not. Mawile was going to have to teach Red a thing or two about subtlety.

    Red, was laying a trap, for the thief, and this was practically an open invitation. Mawile had seen him staring at those utensils over the last day, muttering something to himself. He had also given the impression that he had a plan in mind. Though, she had her own suspicions about the entire thing.

    The strange high-pitched noise was detrimental to the senses, and even Mawile had wanted to rip off her own ears. She had encountered several pokémon in the past, but something with such a nature still evaded her. Back in Kalos, there were colonies of noibat— furry little things, but extremely irritable. They had large protrusions coming out of their heads that acted as sound amplifiers and could kill someone with their screams.

    Mawile shuddered. She had been unfortunate to encounter a group of Noibat back on Pomace, and she'd never want to deal with those furry monsters. Thank you very much. But, the thief in question could not be a noibat. The buzzing, if she could call it that, was high-pitched, and wasn't accompanied by the loud cries. It seemed like her opponent was someone she had no knowledge about. From what she figured, neither did Red or the useless orange acquaintance of his.

    Mawile glanced at the fire-type lazing on the ground. Seriously, if not for her prior experience with growlithe and their hyperactive personality, she'd have accused the entire species of being a bunch of lazy good-for-nothing layabouts.

    Until earlier this morning.

    If there was anything Mawile fully trusted about herself, it was her ability to charm her way through almost any situation, and judging others was a crucial element in that technique. Anyone else would have probably dismissed the growlithe as a lazy brat and ignored him, but not Mawile. Ever since he had come to his senses, the growlithe had never once attempted to leave or bothered to display any form of reaction towards its present situation. In fact, the growlithe hadn't even attacked Mawile out of anger for her previous actions, as she had expected.

    Instead, he just sat there, observing.

    The oddity of a fire-type observed Misty's mannerisms and her interaction with Red observed the other pokémon and their interactions as well. It observed how Mawile herself interacted with Red, but most importantly, his eyes never left Red, almost as if studying Red's every movement, trying to decipher something from them. Of course, Mawile was still a little confused at his answers the previous night, especially with the growlithe's lack of knowledge about the world.

    I wonder if I bit in more than I can chew. Speaking of which, that growlithe is trying very hard, pretending he doesn't want to speak to me. Let's see what is it that he doesn't need me for.

    Mawile rolled her eyes in amusement. Ever since morning, the puppy was observing Red's every movement, all the while trying to stay aloof. Speaking of which...

    "Ah, finally." Misty walked out of the tent, with her Croconaw in tow. The bulky water-type moved slowly, unlike his hyperactive human companion, but there was nothing unnatural in that. Mawile wondered if Red had shared information about whatever he had planned to Misty because in case he did, it was bound to be a failure. One look at the orangette was enough to guarantee that.

    Speaking of her trainer, she wondered why Red was being so… callous about the growlithe. Were growlithe so useless? Her trainer had been super-excited about Skarmory, but he seemed to be taking his sweet time with the growlithe. Perhaps they didn't evolve into something good enough? Or perhaps… he was simply feeling guilty over Mawile attacking it?

    She scoffed. Human sensitivities were too complicated for her to comprehend. She liked things simple. And what she was interested in, was catching the thief. The smell of cooked steak was all over the place, so the thief must have noticed it. Now if only it would just happen quickly, then they could get to their meal in patience and—

    A high-pitched buzz permeated the entire forest, just like the previous day.

    Mawile gritted her teeth as she felt herself lose coordination, falling down to the ground in extreme discomfort. The growlithe mewled in irritation, burrowing his head beneath his paws.

    There was a sudden movement of wind, followed with a tiny noise of something tearing, before the entire saucepan—the one that apparently had the steak—blew up in a cloud of translucent, white smoke, as the perpetrator of the wind movement lost its coordination and slammed into the nearest tree trunk. Almost instantly, Red threw what looked like a tiny canister towards the thief, who instantly slashed the incoming object.

    That would go on to prove to be a mistake.

    For the thief.

    The canister exploded with the force of a small bomb, enveloping the thief in another cloud of the translucent gas. The thief began to cough and screech relentlessly as it tried to fight off the effects of the smoke—probably a bug-repel from what Mawile realized. That came with a second realization that the horrible buzzing had finally stopped. Without further preamble, Mawile ran off, raising her jaw, and leaped towards the thief, wanting to bite its head off. Obviously, she'd never get her stolen poképuffs back, but eating the one who ate them would probably grant her spiritual satisfaction.

    Her jaw did not bite into flesh, as expected. Instead, it was met by razor-sharp steel. Her instincts screamed, and she jumped back from the livid creature, who was not only still somehow conscious but also lucid enough to screech out ferociously and shove its large fan-like claws outward.

    Right! Mawile cursed mentally. We knew that this thing might be fast, but it seems Red did not prepare for that possibility. And of course, it's something big and scary. Like there was absolutely no way that it would be a tiny squashable bug.

    "SCYTHRRRR!"

    The fearsome snarl that accompanied the fast attack almost felt like an Astonish, or perhaps it was the creature's sheer intimidation. The pokémon shot up from its position, fangs bared, it's scythes ready to pierce into Mawile's skin and tear her to pieces.

    Mawile almost closed her eyes.

    Something large and powerful appeared in front of her, and Mawile opened her eyes to find Skarmory, her wings raised out like swords, ready to attack at a moment's notice. More importantly, she noticed the lack of attack on her own person. She peeped past Skarmory's larger bulk and found the thief— a scyther —fallen down on the ground, convulsing under the effects of the explosion.

    "Ha!" Red exclaimed, "it worked!" He literally sprinted from his position and found himself standing on the other side of the now incapacitated bug pokémon. The scyther's face was twisted in pain, and it kept sneezing and screeching as the effects of the bug-spray sent its senses into a complete frenzy.

    "A scyther?" Misty recognized in wonder. "It was a scyther?"

    "Yeah, I had a hunch it might be one," Red explained, happy to bask in his little achievement. "The utensils I used the other day were slashed open, so I assumed it must be a bug capable of slashing things aside. Insane speed, and slashes, inside a bug-rich environment. It was very probable that it was a scyther."

    "But what was inside that saucepan?"

    Red grinned impishly. "A little of steak, and a lot of gravy— enough to give off a smell, but not enough to waste our lunch. And nestled inside, a repel can. When the scyther slashed it open, it exploded."

    "And the second one?"

    "The same," Red kept on his impish grin. "Bugs tend to have really strong olfactory senses. Repels overload them, and keep them away. It slashed that canister open, and it exploded all over its face. It won't be moving for quite a while now." He turned towards the fallen bug. "It's time we get some answers from this thief."

    So, what do we do now?" Misty asked.

    "We wait."


    Team Rocket Training Quarters, Pewter City

    It had been three weeks since Ritchie had found himself in a half-dead state, at the hands of his coach, or demon, as he had started calling him inside his mind. He had allowed himself to wallow in self-pity for two days before he forced himself to get himself up and start on a training regimen. After all, the message had been crystal clear—prove yourself to be a capable grunt within the month, or fail and be thrown out into the world, without any memory of the past month.

    The same world in which he had ignored the direct orders of the Kanto Police force, and was a fugitive. And that was without the fact that he owed fifty thousand to this Butch person— and knowing Ritchie's luck, the man was probably high up in the Team Rocket hierarchy as well.

    Train yourself to become a capable grunt within a limited time period, or die pathetically—. Needless to say, Ritchie had embraced the former option and begun to train himself ragged.

    And today…

    Today was judgment day.

    My last chance…

    Failure was not an option. Not for himself, nor for his team.

    The demon stepped forward. "One single battle, one on one, between Examiner Eleven and Recruit 38. No items, no substitutions. "

    "And Eleven," he added, almost as an afterthought. "Try not to kill the recruit's pokémon. Leaves a bad stain on the floor."

    Everyone laughed at that.

    Ritchie didn't think it was funny. Or that he was joking for that matter.

    "Recruit 38, your examiner is going to arrive soon. You do not have to win. All your pokémon has to do is to remain standing. For two minutes. If you succeed, you are a grunt. If not, well, I'm told that someone in Team Rocket has some words for you."

    Ritchie paled. How the hell did— what am I thinking? Of course, he'd know. Like— like seriously, this was a bad idea, a very bad—

    And his mental rant paused just like that, as he felt someone step up in front of him.

    What the—?

    His opponent was a pretty girl, roughly seventeen years of age, with her red hair curled back into a ponytail, a cute smile on her face and a pokéball in her hand. This was probably one of the most striking examples of beauty he had ever seen. But Ritchie was staring at her for an entirely different reason. He recognized her.

    Is that… Ariana?

    Over his stay at the trainee quarters, Ritchie had picked on some of the more interesting names thrown around the place by the more experienced combatants. It was almost like a mirror world, where you strived to become an Admin, instead of a Champion. And Ariana— she was a shining star in the night sky.

    A named genius of the battle circuit, Ariana Ortega had three League Championship Wins under her belt and was notorious at outthinking her opponents. Ritchie had even checked some of her official League battles, and goddamn was that woman scary. It was almost like fighting a clairvoyant battler, like Sabrina of Saffron City.

    And this is the person I have to face? Why don't they just save themselves the trouble and just kill me now?

    "Alright," Ariana spoke up in a brisk, no-nonsense tone. "Time to finish up this nonsense so that I can get back to business. Why someone like you," she glanced at the coach, "would even deign to do this, I'll never understand."

    The coach, Ritchie noticed, did not bother to acknowledge her statement.

    "...Whatever." Ariana flipped her ponytail to the right casually before lobbying her pokéball forward and releasing the beast within.

    And yes, it was a beast.

    At first glance, it appeared to be an enormous spheroid built of solid black rock, though covered with a layer of white. It was also floating above the ground, which lead Ritchie to believe it was psychic. The entire spheroidal thing twisted on itself, revealing its face, and it was a real face— with two sinister-looking blue eyes and a wicked grin peering out from behind the layer of white. To complete the image of horror, two protrusions on the top, giving the impression of horns. The entire thing was at least five feet in diameter, and giving him a malevolent stare.

    "What is— what is that?"

    Ariana scoffed.

    "That," she paused, "is a glalie. You've probably never heard of it. Well, it is an ice-type. Now do you think you can choose a suitable pokémon or do you require more information?"

    Ritchie swallowed. "...it's alright."

    He clenched the pokéball in his hand, hoping against hope that he'd be able to do something— anything, to hold off that monster for two minutes.

    Wait, it's an ice-type, so… but would type-advantage be enough?

    Ritchie glanced at the ice-type again.

    I don't need to win, just last for two minutes. In that case…

    He quickly changed the pokéball in his hand with a different one, and threw it out into the air. "Charmeleon, I choose you!"

    Butch arched an eyebrow. So, the little tyke evolved eh? Perhaps, this won't be over as soon as I thought.

    The charmeleon landed upon the floor, its limbs powerful and turgid, and its claws easily puncturing through the rocky floor, as it stood and gazed up at the magnificent creature that was staring down at it, and let out a snort of flames.

    "A charmeleon. Are you expecting to win because of a type advantage?" Ariana asked, tilting her head to the right."How cute."

    Ritchie had the distinct feeling that he was a bug, and was being stared at hungrily, by a bird of prey. "Charmeleon, be careful. We do not know how it will attack, so tread with caution."

    "Defensive, how pitiful. This isn't even a battle, this is paperwork." She stared at him in the eye. "Headbutt."

    Before Ritchie could even register who it was she was addressing, the glalie shot straight at the charmeleon. Zippo did manage to leap backward but the glalie didn't stop. Instead, it kept shooting ahead, forcing the poor fire-type to crouch, leap and dodge its way backward— all the while nearing the perimeter of the field behind him.

    "Zippo, use Metal Claw to block its next head-butt."

    "Ice Shard," Ariana replied in a monotone.

    A large shard of ice, shaped like a spearhead, materialized in front of the glalie's mouth, before it shot straight at the charmeleon, slamming into its shining claws. The sheer momentum was more than enough to force Zippo's arms out of the way. Without allowing Zippo to regain his bearings, the glalie stormed in and slammed into the fire-type, banishing it all the way to the wall.

    "Congratulations," Ariana replied in a soft tone. If not for the slight twinge of her lips, her tone would have sounded almost sincere. "If this was a real fight, you guys would no longer be breathing. You do your family proud. Well as proud as someone can be of a petty criminal."

    Ritchie gritted his teeth, but a spare glance at his pokémon told him that it was best to allow her to monologue. If nothing else, it would give Zippo some time to get up from the floor.

    "One of the first rules of battling is to never defend in the opening stages." She spoke again, almost like she was trying to teach an unruly student. "You might as well just accept defeat."

    "Fighting someone whose skills I'm not acquainted with, head-on, is stupid." Ritchie fired back. "Zippo, use flamethrower."

    Ariana arched an eyebrow. The glalie in question, simply shifted to the right, dodging the attack before zooming straight at the charmeleon and slammed into its gut. Zippo coughed, as his flamethrower was cut off. The glalie, almost mockingly, floated right in front of it, before giving out a sadistic grin.

    "Charmeleon, use Metal Claw."

    "Again? Are you trying to test the limits of just how futile a move can be?" Ariana asked. "Dodge back. Ice Shard."

    With effortless ease, the ice-type levitated backward and almost instantly shot back twin icicles of ice at the lizard, each of them aimed at either hand. The ice shards dug into Zippo's hide, spilling blood.

    "You are trying to win, aren't you?" Ariana asked. "As soon as you go on to the defensive, you give your opponent an opening, and congratulations, you still don't know her moves. If you know you are stronger than them, defending gives them an opportunity they normally wouldn't have. If you are equal or weaker to them, then defending gives them the initiative, and the opportunity to end the battle in a single move. And even if you scope them out so what? It's entirely possible that your pokémon will be injured in the opening sequence and you cannot utilize your new information advantage. Learn how to gauge your opponents while attacking. Analyze their responses to your moves and understand—"

    "Just shut up!" Ritchie glared. "Use flamethrower again."

    Ariana chuckled, almost completely unoffended, as Glalie shifted again, dodging the flamethrower with amazing dexterity. Like each and every one of its previous attacks, it followed the dodge with a Headbutt, this time choosing to ram into the charmeleon's gut. It was almost like it was casually punishing the lizard whenever it made a stupid mistake.

    Ritchie glanced at the clock. Sixty seconds left.

    Keep talking. Waste time.

    Fifty seconds.

    Zippo was learning. He was spreading his attacks, and he was dodging.

    I'm going to make it. He realized. I'm actually going to succeed.

    "All right," Ariana clapped her hands, almost in exhilaration."And now, forty seconds to go." She turned towards the glalie. "End it."

    Ritchie was floored. This girl… woman, knew he was trying to draw the match out? And she just let it happen? Just what the hell was she think—?

    The glalie opened its maw for the first time, a massive silvery-white orb forming within. It shot forward, freezing the ground around Zippo. And his legs.

    She is trying to get rid of his mobility.

    "Zippo, use flamethrower," Ritchie dictated, shifting completely to offense. The ice on its lower part would not matter. He just needed to last twenty seconds. "Keep firing flamethrowers at the glalie."

    The glalie in question seemed to ignore the torrents of flame shooting towards it and instead shot what seemed like a ball of light towards Zippo. Before Ritchie could even comprehend what was happening, the ball of light slammed into the charmeleon, almost fossilizing its body inside ice. The flames on his tail were now flickering dangerously low, trying to keep on burning, despite the ice trying to crush its spirits down.

    "One of my personal inventions.," Ariana spoke again. " It entraps the opponent inside an ice crystal. It essentially works like an ice beam with one key divergence. It feeds on the opponent's body temperature. Chances of survival plummet with every passing second, especially for a fire type so… tick tock!"

    "What?" Ritchie yelled, "but then my Zippo will die. Let me get him out of there."

    "Sure." Ariana shrugged. "Forfeit the match, and I'll let it free. Or else, keep hanging for the next..." She checked her watch, "thirteen seconds. Thirteen, such an interesting number. Oh, it's twelve now."

    Zippo screamed in defiance, rage and hysteria inside the ice crystal, trying to push its way out to no avail. Its tail flame could be seen flickering even more dangerously, as the lack of oxygen started to affect its brain.

    Ten seconds.

    Ritchie opened his mouth, his heart screaming at him to yell out, and forfeit, to ask Ariana to let his Zippo go, to beg her, if that be necessary. After all, nothing else mattered as long as Zippo's life was spared. Right?

    Nothing was more important to him than his team, and it was a rule that he had always had, and would continue to abide by in the future. His mouth opened, determined to end the fight. Zippo was suffering and that was enough.

    But no words came out.

    Instead, he heard something incredibly selfish speak to him in his own voice.

    Yell out and forfeit? And what comes next? You'll be thrown out of Team Rocket, and then you will be killed. Each and every one of your team will be killed.

    His mouth slowly shut, even as his fists remained clenched. He cast a single glance at his beloved Zippo, who was trying to scream its lungs out, screaming for oxygen, for the ice crystal to shatter, for his life, for his trainer who was standing next to him and yet, doing nothing to save him.

    Ritchie felt his eyes tear up, and turned his head to look—

    "Don't you dare look away. This is your pokémon and your support. This is what fought for you, and something that is now fighting for its last breath because of a decision you made. If you have decided to let it suffer, then look at it in the eye, and watch it suffer because of your own decision to not give up." Ariana yelled. For the first time, she looked almost angry. As though she had been in a similar situation once.

    Eight more seconds.

    "I…" Ritchie tried to speak, but words failed him. It hurt, and for a moment, it felt like killing himself would be more desirable than to stand like— like an emotionless, heartless statue, sentencing his Zippo to a gruesome death so that he could survive. For one moment he could see Mickey standing in front of him.

    "A word of advice kid. Throw away those pokémon of yours, and start afresh. This ain't worth it."

    It had sounded so condescending back then, but he had pestered the man, and thrown in a better deal. It had felt surprisingly good, having the ability to choose his future. Now, it felt like he had just chosen one poison over another. He remembered his own naivety when Mickey had told him about the prospects of joining Team Rocket.

    "They are criminals…"

    "So are you…"

    It had hurt back then, to hear those harsh truths. But it had been out of desperation, since he knew that he had been right, and the other person was to blame. But now…

    Five seconds.

    Ritchie opened his mouth. "Survive," He said, his heart almost breaking with his next words "If you lose here, everyone will die. I can't give up. Just... survive, and everything will be fine."

    A few yards away, Butch smirked.

    Three.

    Two.

    The charmeleon gave out one last breath, its limbs now pale and bluish, inactive and unresponsive…

    One.

    The lizard did not move, though a tiny flame continued to flicker at the end of its tail.

    "That will be enough!" Ariana commanded.

    The glalie's grin widened for a second before the crystal surrounding the charmander shattered. Zippo dropped down to the ground, its body bluish, and mind comatose. The only shred of hope he had was the tiny flame flickering at the end of its tail.

    "You pass," Ariana spoke at last, "and you made a good decision. Your team is important, but your life and Team Rocket holds greater priority. As long as you keep that in mind, you'll progress."

    "My Zippo…" Ritchie breathed, a lone tear escaping his left eye.

    "Is comatose. Might even end up dead." Ariana spoke with indifference, before turning towards the coach, who was staring at Ritchie with a strange gleam in his eyes. "I presume he can be given one of the spare graveler then?"

    "No. I have something else in mind for him".

    Ariana nodded before turning back towards Ritchie. "Your pokémon can always be substituted, but your life, and above all, your association with Team Rocket supersedes everything. Remember, pokémon exist solely for the use of humanity. You can care for them. Teach them. But they should never supersede your loyalty. Not to Team Rocket and certainly not to your own life."

    Having said her piece, she turned around and walked away, leaving a tormented and traumatic Ritchie behind. A moment later the coach followed her.

    Neither of them looked back.
     
    ComradeKremer, meri and Frank992 like this.
  12. Threadmarks: Act 1 | Chapter 11 - The Price of Freedom
    TheBlackStaffAndNightMarE

    TheBlackStaffAndNightMarE I see. I write. I conquer.

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2020
    Messages:
    33
    Likes Received:
    127
    ACT 1 - IMMOLATION


    Chapter 11 - The Price of Freedom


    According to 'Types and Classification - Know Your Pokémon!', the official textbook mandated by the Pokémon Trainer Certification Authority, pokémon are classified into two main categories— those that can be sorted according to physiological differences, and those that are sorted according to elemental affinities. Of the former, there exist five major subdivisions— steel, rock, flying, poison, and bug. Apart from the last one, every single category could be generalized as a modification of the body to include elements of their typing.

    Physiological differences in steel-types were almost always expressed as body armor, granting them incredible defense and bulk which usually came at the expense of speed. Rock-types, on the other hand, covered a whole spectrum of pokémon, with some being entirely made up of rock, to others with external or internal rock-based structures.

    Flying-types were similarly classified because their body morphology allowed flight, most of the time through wings. Poison-types too were easily described— pokémon that secreted poison, toxins, and venom of different kinds, usually through specific glands or organs present in their body.

    It was the fifth archetype— the bug-type —that was considered to be the most interesting, at least from a researcher's point-of-view.

    Unlike the rest, bug-types did not have any form of protrusions, either for offense or defense. Instead, what made bugs unique, was their ability for constant innate metamorphosis as well as their development of an exoskeleton, though there were several viewpoints about the latter.

    If one was to look at the standard bug move-pool, one would find that bugs tended to use their bodies, morphing them constantly, to survive. A bug was able to use its exoskeleton to create weapons to protect its frail body. The more common examples of this would be the use of scythes for scyther, horns for pinsir, and stingers for beedrill.

    Furthermore, bugs were easily able to metamorphose their body parts and convert them into explosive powders and poisons, allowing them to hurt the opponent or provide the needed destruction to flee. This theory also explained why bugs were so easily vulnerable to fire since flames tended to have an adverse effect on their constantly changing physiology, which more often than not, contained inflammable substances.

    Another interesting thing to note was that bugs tended to have faster responses than most other types. Their frail bodies were usually augmented with heightened perceptions which usually expressed itself in the form of a hypersensitive sense of smell, though certain bugs have subcutaneous respiration so their sense of touch is just as perceptive.

    Most bugs, in their infancy, were extremely weakened, and essentially served as prey to other species. A statistical survey showed that only 2 out of every 100 stage-one bugs evolved to stage-2, and 1 out of every 20 of them evolved further to stage-3. It was only their massive reproduction rates that kept the bug-types from being classified as endangered.

    Having to work on a ranch with over one-third of the area covered in forestland had blessed Red with an enormous exposure to bug-types. Come to think of it, it was almost fascinating that while he wanted to become a powerful dragon-tamer, it was his nigh encyclopedic knowledge of bug-types that surpassed any other. It was what had helped him capture the thief— an unruly scyther, who was currently sprawled on the ground, convulsing in pain and fury.

    "What's wrong with it? Is it in pain?" Misty asked, walking up to him. Fun fact— Misty Waterflower had no issues standing up to large predators, even if they were bugs. She could stand and glare at the fallen scyther, no problem. The majority of her phobia seemed to be limited to the tiny, creepy, crawling bugs that roamed the forest floor.

    Bugs like weedle and caterpie.

    Not that he minded. In fact, he was pretty happy that he only had to deal with just the scyther screeching out.

    He looked towards Misty who was thankfully being quite at the moment. Then he looked back to the scyther who was screeching his head off.

    He sighed.

    Now there are two of them.



    Meanwhile, Mawile kept a watchful gaze on her trainer from her comfortable place amidst the tree leaves. The little rucksack of leaves and soft bark made a rather comfy bed for her to slack a little.

    "There is nothing wrong with it, well, in terms of pain," Red went on, in a tone that Mawile had come to associate with his 'teaching voice'. That or when he was feeling particularly condescending.

    "Bugs have incredible sensory perception, especially when it comes to their sense of smell. That's why bug-repellents are so effective. They target the bug's olfactory senses, and trigger a nasty response,"— The teen pointed towards the sneezing scyther —" and keeps them off the grounds. Standard bug-repels contain a hundred and fifty sprays, one spray for every hour. That," he pointed at the scyther again, "is the result of a hundred and fifty sprays, acting all at once, on our unfortunate guest."

    It was official, Mawile decided. Red was scary. Mawile felt like she needed to up her game. Or else, she'd never retain her control over her trainer.

    Her steel jaw shook agreeably.

    "Is it going to be alright?" Misty asked. Mawile looked at her, blinking in surprise. She'd never have pegged the orangette as capable of feeling sorry for anything save her precious water-types and Shellder.



    Which was also a water-type. Never mind.

    The point was, she never pegged Misty as someone that could empathize with a bug of all things. Not with the way she was mortally afraid of—

    "Well, Scyther don't crawl or anything, right?" Misty asked carefully, treading towards the half-conscious Scyther, who had stopped convulsing and was swiftly losing consciousness.

    —Point proven.

    'It won't." Red replied confidently. "Now all we need to do is bind it. I can't allow it to run away, especially after all of this. When it wakes up, we'll get our answers to why it was stealing our food."

    Mawile tilted her head. Wasn't Red going to catch it? She thought trainers were all about catching pokémon.

    "Why don't you just catch it?" Misty asked.

    It was frustrating to admit, but even Misty had her uses. Really, why couldn't humans evolve a little? She wasn't asking for much, just enough for Red to be able to understand her native tongue.

    Perhaps I should try catching a psychic-type next time? Catching pokémon is… fun. I can see why the craze exists.

    "Because catching it means that it will be unbound the moment I release it out of its pokéball Free to escape. And more importantly, free to attack us."

    "Red?" Misty retorted, slightly taken aback at his forceful demeanor. "Don't you think you're being a little… too paranoid about it? It's just one pokémon."

    Red blinked. Then, he blinked again. "Excuse me? Just one pokémon? This is a freaking Scyther. It's literally one of the fastest things you'll ever find in Kanto. You'd have better chances of escaping from a herd of tauros."

    "Now you're just being too—"

    "Misty, this creature can kill me, Mawile and yourself in the blink of an eye. Scyther are just that fast. Do you even understand what's going on? We have a scyther, about to be trapped. The same scyther, whom I might add, we hit with two bug-repels, directly on its face. Either we leave the forest right now, and hope the scyther doesn't ever find us, or—"

    "Or?"

    Red stayed silent for a while. "Or we try and figure out what it wants, and why it was stealing our food. We'll figure out what to do from there."



    Growlithe had arrived at a conclusion. Red was crazy.

    Ever since the moment he had woken up, the human had been throwing curve-balls in his direction, confusing the hell out of him.

    The casual indifference should have been the first sign. There he was, an acid-belching creature that could liquefy all of Red's organs with a single attack. Growlithe's only solace was that Red considered him a normal growlithe, a commonplace creature in the world outside the forest, so much so, that most trainers hardly bothered with ever catching one.

    It made him wonder. Was it because the growlithe line was weak, and if so, did that mean that despite his strange powers, he was weaker than the rest? But then, why would the men-in-white keep him bound like that? Was it only for those… experiments? Were they trying to figure out a way to make him stronger? They kept on calling him a 'success' over and over, so that had to mean that he was special.

    Right?


    Back at the prison, none save him were able to belch out acid, so perhaps he was a success? A success on a comparative basis? He wasn't clear on how much his specialty improved his chances of survival in the world outside of the forest. The warehouse was in the past, and he had gained his freedom. The question was—

    Will I be able to survive on my own, even if I manage to get out?

    Growlithe was pragmatic, but the same pragmatism told him that he was nowhere as fast as the scyther who had tried to steal food from the humans. In fact, Growlithe was sure he hadn't even seen the scyther appearing, and yet, Red had been able to best it with his own cleverness and preparation. Growlithe didn't know how the human knew about the scyther's intentions, so he presumed that he simply did not have enough information.

    Either way, the human was scary as hell. No doubt about that.

    Growlithe considered his situation. The human—Red, was normally docile and simple enough to happily heal an injured pokémon without reservations. Personally, Growlithe would have called it being too naïve, but he really couldn't bring himself to dislike the human for it. Red had promised him that he'd be helping him get rid of the belt around his neck. And that was all there was to it. There had been no words about how growlithe would need to pay him back, or if Red even wanted anything in return. It was like the act of securing Growlithe's freedom didn't even matter to him.

    Growlithe didn't know what to feel about that. A part of him felt his pride hurt, but he was used to that. There was no place for pride in the white-walled maze.

    Perhaps if he knew just how special Growlithe was, the human would show the other side of his personality— the one that had just risen when he had boasted over his capture of the scyther. In fact, growlithe was almost sure that the human would capture the unfortunate bug-type, and enslave it for the rest of its natural life. The scyther's capture had almost made him stand up and run away, in fear that he had simply traded one evil human for another.

    Then, he heard Red speak, and once again, it threw him out of the loop.

    "Or we try and figure out what it wants, and why it was stealing our food. We'll figure out what to do from there."

    See? Crazy. First, the human demonstrated an admirable cunning and preparation to capture his prey, and then, despite his rather… heavy-handed approach, he was completely okay with not catching it. From the way Red had described the scyther, it was powerful, and more importantly lethal, much like himself. A part of him had secretly wanted Red to capture the bug. If nothing else, it would at least give him an answer to Red's indifference, confirming Growlithe's assumption over the lack of interest in him.

    But now? Now he wondered if this Red human suffered from some kind of multiple-personality disorder.

    For the following hour, Growlithe had silently observed Red get nagged by the other orange-haired girl over the training of the little water-type they called a shellder. Growlithe hadn't seen one of those prior to this, so he assumed that was what the species was called, and by the looks of it, shellder were pretty docile. And useless.

    He wondered why the two humans were so… enthusiastic about teaching it how to grow powerful and learn a new move. Perhaps the humans, being physiologically weak as they were, sympathized with other physiologically weak creatures like shellder? It would certainly explain why Red smothered the shellder with all of that attention.

    Shellder was weak. The mawile, for all its deceptions, had a rather frail figure. Perhaps this was why it preferred to associate with the humans? But then, what about the other creature? Why would that giant, vicious metallic avian follow Red so willingly?

    No, nothing really made sense. Perhaps this was all still some bizarre dream and he was still trapped inside the prison?

    Growlithe shuddered at the thought.

    "Trying to figure him out, are you?"

    Growlithe was suddenly taken aback by the sudden intrusion. More importantly, it was the familiar voice that accompanied said intrusion that upped his paranoia by several levels. He managed to allow an acceptable amount of anger into his voice, as he softly growled…

    "You…"

    Mawile grinned. "Me."

    "Why are you here? Have you come to attack me again?"

    Mawile blinked. "Nope. Just casually wondering how long you are going to stare at my trainer."

    "I'm not… staring. I'm observing."

    "I should've known that you'd turn out to be a fascinating one," Mawile replied wistfully. "Though I'm yet to see any of the… special powers you boasted about the other day."

    Growlithe took offense at that. "Why should I reveal my powers to someone who used trickery to catch me off-guard. Had it been a fair fight, I'd have burnt you alive."

    Mawile grinned. "Well, that's hardly an incentive for me to play fair, is it?"

    "But. You. Cheated."

    Mawile pointed towards herself with a deadpan. "Deceiver."

    Growlithe muttered something under his breath, before glancing back at the humans. "Why doesn't your trainer catch the bug? It looks powerful. It is certainly… fast."

    Mawile had a strange smile on her face. "Why? Are you jealous? I'm sure Red will capture you if you ask nicely."

    For the second time, Growlithe suppressed an urge to liquefy the creature by drowning her in acid. "I didn't escape from that prison to get enslaved by another human."

    "Then why are you still here? Red has certainly not bound you in any way. And you are healed by now. I think."

    And wasn't that a damn good question? Why didn't I leave?

    The mawile certainly had a point, however much Growlithe wanted to deny it. There was nothing tying him there, and he was almost confident that Red wouldn't really stop him from leaving. In fact, he was unsure if Red even cared about his presence. All his life, he had lived as a captive, but had never been devoid of attention. And now, he found the lack of attention to his person strangely… humiliating. There was this burning urge to belch out some acid and attract attention back towards himself.

    Instead, he glanced at the large avian who was circling around the humans from the sky. A distant observer would probably consider that a preparation for assault, but he knew better. The avian was maintaining a birds-eye-view on things, ready to swoop down the moment anything… sinister happened.

    "Why does the bird follow him?" He asked, feeling slightly surprised at his own frankness.

    Mawile glanced upwards at Skarmory and sighed. "To be honest, I don't know myself. Red… well, Red and I had a battle against a giant meanie of an ursaring. I crushed him of course."

    "You don't need to lie.." Growlithe muttered, sparing her a side-glance. "Sneaky you may be, but you could hardly bring down an ursaring. I've seen how large and powerful they are."

    "You mean more difficult than it was to put you down?" Mawile replied playfully, her cute charm up to maximum effect. "Yep, it was more difficult than that."

    Growlithe ignored the provocative dig and spoke icely. "I was right. It seems you can only win through deception."

    "Fair play is a privilege of the strong." Mawile retorted back, all signs of her playfulness vanishing at his statement. She turned towards Skarmory with a wistful expression. "As it stands, I defeated that ursaring and Red won her."

    "Won?"

    "Won," Mawile admitted. "Like a trophy."

    Growlithe looked away. "I escaped out of that prison to live in a free world. Now it feels like I exchanged a small prison for a larger one."

    "Pfft!" Mawile scoffed. "An idealist. How boring."

    Growlithe glanced at her, meeting her eyes. "Are you defending what these humans have done to us? Capturing and experimenting upon us? Causing us pain?"

    Mawile opened her mouth to speak, but Growlithe beat her to it, "I can understand that you are weak, and so you need to find other ways to survive. But look at that creature." He glanced at Skarmory who was soaring upwards now. "She's majestic and powerful. Should she decide to do so, she could slaughter us all. None of us, including me, would be able to fight back."

    "And yet she follows a human," Mawile said challengingly. "She could have been given to any other trainer. The other humans might not have been like Red though. I wonder if she'd follow them around like she does with Red."

    "Perhaps she's lost her confidence?"

    Mawile gave him a deadpan stare. "She wants to be revered as king."

    "A captive king?"

    Mawile shrugged. "I'm not very much... acquainted with her past. Either way, I'm just happy she'd with us, even though she can be a bit overbearing."

    Growlithe regarded her. For someone who claimed to be a deceiver, the mawile was being surprisingly honest. Of course, her current truthfulness was still up for debate. "You seem very… affectionate to your human."

    "Red."

    Growlithe grunted in affirmation.

    "Well, Red is dopey, but he cares for me a lot. I told you, remember? He gets me poképuffs, and cuddles me a lot, and helps me get stronger. I'd never be able to beat that ursaring without all the things that Red's been teaching me. He's a bit of a doofus, and goes overboard from time to time, but I like him well enough."

    "Strength in return for slavery." Growlithe scoffed.

    "It is not. Slavery." Mawile gritted her teeth in exasperation. "Why doesn't your stupid dog-brain understand that? We're… we're partners. Red supports me and takes care of me. Even more than my own mother ever did. He gives me a lot more freedom than I had back at home. He makes me stronger, and not just me, but Skarmory, and even that mute little shit he's fussing over right now," she glared at him. "See that orangette? When she accuses me of something, Red defends me. That's not slavery."

    Growlithe shrugged. "Gilded cages are still cages."

    "They might be." Mawile nearly snarled, "but the world around us is a human world. You think you know better? Try surviving out there! You've only seen this forest, and whatever prison you're from. In the world out there, the humans will see you and find whatever makes you special," Mawile sneered at the last word. "And when they find you, they'll catch you. Even I could get the better of you. What makes you think the world outside will be any different?"

    Growlithe growled at her harshness, wanting to shut her up for good. A tiny, vengeful part of him wanted to spit acid on her face. Feeling her vulnerable little face getting melted would probably help her understand her place in the world. It wouldn't make any of her words less true though. In fact, there was probably some shred of truth in them, which was why he didn't reply and instead turned to face the human.

    Red was sitting several yards away, talking to the orange-head, almost oblivious to the shellder clamped on his hair.

    Perhaps a change of approach is in order.

    "Even if what you say might be true, I don't see why you're being this… forward with me. Your human— Red," he sneered the name out, "didn't even try to catch me. Are you here to make up for his shortcomings?"

    Mawile tipped her head to the left, as if in thought. Then, a sly grin spread upon her lips. Naturally, it did nothing to set him at ease.

    "Well, that is a definite possibility. My trainer cares for me, so is it not natural for me to care for him in return? We're partners, remember?"

    Growlithe scoffed, not having anything to refute back in return. "What are you suggesting? That I should happily embrace this gilded cage and dance at his beck and call?"

    "Well," Mawile's tone turned mischievous. "You did say that you escaped from a prison. Did you dance for your captors there?"

    Growlithe growled at her provocation.

    "Red cares for me. I grow stronger. I can see the world. I even get poképuffs."Mawile continued. "And you…."

    Mawile paused and looked him in the eye.

    "What is it that you want most?"



    Meanwhile...

    "Most elemental moves, are actually part of an extended move-chain, and they usually start from basic-tier moves."

    Misty shook her head. "That's incorrect, or rather, inadequate. Firstly, it's not just about elemental moves. In theory, any move out there is a part of a move-chain," She paused for a second, "and before you ask, let me tell you that just because they are called basic-tier, doesn't mean any stage-1 pokémon can master it."

    "On a comparative scale then," Red concluded, seeing his companion nod back. Briefly, he went through his own knowledge about the elemental types out there. By definition, there were six of them— fire, water, ice, electric, grass, and ground. While he made it a regular habit to keep himself updated on movesets in general, he had never really classified them into move-chains prior to this.

    "Can you give me a basic example of this?"

    Misty beamed. It felt good to be appreciated. Over the last two weeks, she had tried several times, unsuccessfully she might add, to gain an upper hand over their working equation. Initially, she had thought him to be just another trainer, but his encyclopedic knowledge about bug-types, in general, had brought her actions to a screeching halt. Finally, she was free to show off a little, and that felt wonderful.

    "Sure," she answered, "take Water Gun for example. A basic-tier move. Any decent water-type is able to learn something that basic by themselves, and often within three to six months of their birth."

    Misty sighed as she saw Red's eyes wander to the water-type currently chewing on his hair.

    "…well, shellder are, to be honest, not considered in that category. Magikarp, psyduck and slowpoke are also similar in that respect. On the contrary, their evolved forms are almost instinctively able to use high-tier water moves.."

    "I see," Red muttered.

    Misty continued. "With practice, the power behind Water Gun can slowly be increased, usually in proportion to the pokémon's own physical development. The actual interesting part though is about the Stadtfeld phenomenon."

    "Stad— what?"

    Misty giggled at that. "Stadtfeld. It is a calculated value describing the factors that determine the move set. It has a scale that sets a value to every move, and makes it easy to identify and distinguish the different move sets, and allows better creation of independent, and mutated moves. Basically, it allows for easy creation of move-tutors."

    Red blinked. "Come again?"

    Misty stared at him with a half-despondent expression. "Basically, it allows you to understand the power requirements associated with a particular move. Something like Water Gun ranges from 10 to 40. In case you are wondering, an Ember attack also has the same range."

    "So, they are equal," Red concluded.

    Misty smiled. Her acquaintance-turned-friend had just made the same presumption that she herself had made back when she had been taught the lesson for the first time. "No. It simply means that the power requirements needed to produce a Water gun, and Ember, are equal. It does not mean that the two attacks are equal in power, nor suggest that they will nullify each other."

    "Oh," Red muttered. "That is interesting."

    Misty gave him a wry grin. "Most people tend to misunderstand it and think that an attack of higher Stadtfeld value should overpower another. Anyway, with enough training, a pokémon is capable of raising the Stadtfeld value of Water Gun past 60, and that is when it gets interesting."

    Red narrowed his eyes. "I thought you said that the range was between—"

    "10 and 40, I know," Misty nearly snapped at the interruption. "40 to 60 can be considered… a transition, if you will."

    "A transition?" He questioned? "So Hydro—"

    "It becomes Hydro Pump." Misty declared, unwilling to let him finish her statement. " And its Stadtfeld range is from 60 to 110. It might go a little higher than that, but a Hydro Pump on that level is enough to submerge an entire stadium. Also, the after-effects of using a Hydro Pump of 120 or higher would be serious, and the user could be damaged for life."

    "You listening?"

    "Huh? Yeah, just thinking about it. So, the range is not just an indicator of the power usage, it also indicates if the pokémon itself is capable of using a particular move or not. Shellder cannot utilize Water Gun, so if it is forced to use, say, a Hydro Pump, through a TM, it might cause serious injuries."

    Misty blinked. She had certainly not expected him to derive that corollary so quickly.

    How… annoying.

    "Misty?"

    "Sorry." Misty shook off her internal musings. "Lady Lorelei tells us, that upon shifting from a lower Stadtfeld range to a higher one— Water Gun to Hydro Pump, for instance, something inherently changes inside the pokémon, causing a subtle yet fundamental change to its body physiology. You'll find that while using Hydro Pump for the first couple of times might be difficult, it will get easier with successive attempts."

    "But couldn't that simply be that the pokémon is trying to figure out how to do it the correct way?" Red questioned. "When I first gave Mawile the TM for Double team, it took a while for her to create four clones. After some practice, she was able to make six to eight clones with ease."

    Seriously, why is he even a trainer? Papa would have put him with the researcher team immediately.

    "Because," Misty said slowly, "unlike learning a basic move through a TM where you simply acquire the muscle memory for the move, learning intermediate or elite-tier moves usually require changes in body physiology. The first couple of attempts take a while because your body is adjusting to the change in its structure. As soon as you get acquainted with your modified form, you can use it at full power," she paused, "but yes, I can see why both look similar to an untrained eye."

    "Is that why one cannot simply learn powerful moves through TMs from the very start?"

    "Yes, that is exactly why. If your body is not… specialized to use a move, and you try to mimic a move based on the TM-muscle memory, you can severely injure, and even cripple yourself."

    "Right."

    "Anyway," Misty sat up a little straighter. "That is exactly how move chains are formed. You might have heard about another basic-tier move called Bubble?"

    "The use of air-filled bubbles in mass droves?"

    "The very same. Bubble has a Stadtfeld range of 10 to 20. Rather short, I know. Most water-types can actually learn Bubble Beam directly, as long as they are able to comprehend the concept behind Bubble first. Bubble Beam has a range of 20 to 60. At its limit, a Bubble Beam is a dangerous move to be used against anything with a fleshy body, especially when used in combination with something like Scald."

    "Never heard of that one," Red muttered. "I'll check it out."

    Misty ignored that, not wanting to digress again. "Several moves are created by manipulating the factor variables, though it is mostly pressure and temperature as far as water-type moves are considered. After mastering Bubble Beam, the next level is performing the exact opposite. Instead of air inside a water-bubble, the objective is to create a sphere of highly compressed water, inside an air bubble. It is called—"

    "Water pulse." Red finished for her. "I know that one. One of the coolest water-type attacks I've ever seen."

    Misty almost chuckled at the child-like excitement in his voice. It was such a shift from the semi-stoic Red that she saw every now and then. It made her a little curious. Why was an average fourteen-year-old like that? She was sixteen, bordering on seventeen, and she still had difficulties not wearing her heart on her sleeve. Red though, it was almost like watching a grown-up individual dealing with things, especially with the efficiency with which he had caught the bugs for her. His methods screaming experienced to anyone with the eyes to see it. Even the ruthless efficiency with which he had taken the scyther down spoke of it, considering the casual manner in which he had employed unconventional approaches to a potentially wild situation. It was almost like watching a—

    "Misty?"

    "Huh? Right, where was I?"

    Red arched an eyebrow. "We were talking about Water Pulse."

    "Uh… yeah, about that. So, conjuring a full-fledged Water Pulse is considered proof of mastery of water-pressure manipulation, since even the slightest disbalance will cause a Water Pulse to go out of control and erupt in the caster's hands. There's a reason it's considered an elite-tier move you know."

    'Bubble, Bubble Beam and then Water Pulse," Red mused, "that makes a complete move-chain then?"

    "In essence yes, though it is not uncommon for elite-trainers to combine two final-tier moves into something greater. In fact, Lady Lorelei tells us that such composite moves often have entire move chains created for them."

    Misty looked distinctly pleased with the slightly lost look on Red's face.



    For the first time in a long while, Red was feeling out of his depth. He was trying to figure out how to teach some basic moves to Shellder, and trying to increase Mawile's versatility. Skarmory was powerful, but he hadn't yet come to a definite conclusion in regards to her abilities, and was still in the experimental phase of her training. The entire experience at the Trainer Square, defeating one opponent after another, had given him a confidence boost. Winning a skarmory of all things had simply been the icing on the cake.

    Now though… Upon hearing about the moves from a technical perspective, he had a sudden realization of just how tiny, how insignificant he and his team truly were. Here he was, a mere rookie, muddling his way through experiments with his limited knowledge. His team was yet to master a single of these move-chains, and yet, there were dozens of elite-tier trainers out there, creating new move-chains out of high-tier natural moves. And sitting there, above all of them, like a shining beacon, untouched by all except the highest of the elite, was the Champion.

    And he had boasted about beating 'the Champion' over and over, back in school. No wonder everyone had laughed at him.

    "Red?"

    His contemplations were subdued down at Misty's curious tone. "Sorry, I was just wondering…" He felt his thoughts get muddy, unsure of what it was he truly wanted to ask the girl. "Can you tell me about some of these… composite moves?"

    "Well, there's Aqua Jet for one, but it is a single composite move with no further derivations. Though I believe there is a move-tutor called Aqua Tail which had similar requirements and follows a similar procedure, though it is concentrated over the tail," she paused, "come to think of it, it should be easier to perform than a full-body Aqua Jet, and much less effective. It doesn't require much pressure manipulation either."

    "Why would you intentionally create a move that is less effective than an existing original?"

    "Good question." Misty nodded in approval. "That's because, at the elite-level and higher, there are several components that need attention while creating a move. Effectiveness and strength are important factors, but powerful moves also come with large power and stamina consumption. A trained wartortle can probably use a Hydro Pump attack twice before getting exhausted, but the same pokémon can throw several dozens of Water Guns and still retain enough stamina to keep going. A one-hit kill-off move that has a one-time-use is cool, but a slightly less effective move that can be used multiple times is cooler."

    "I… think I get it," Red muttered. He was slowly getting the hang of it. "But what about the entire thing about combining two final-tier moves into something else, that you mentioned?"

    "Ah, that one." Misty looked at him wistfully. "There's only one that I can think of, as far as water-type is concerned. It's called Hydro Cannon."

    "Fancy name." Red chuckled. "Let me guess, it sends multiple super-large Hydro Pumps in a single instance or something? Or compress them into a giant Water Pulse?"

    Misty chortled at that. "No dummy. It's something completely different. Did I ever tell you about how my father became the Cerulean City gym leader?"

    "Uhm… not that I remember."

    Misty waved him off. "Did you know that before the establishment of Commerce Citadel, Cerulean was responsible for the production of electricity through its hydel-projects?"

    "Of course," Red nodded. They had gone over that in school. Commerce Citadel was the newest establishment in Kanto. Built around twenty-eight years ago, on the plain land between the ever-busy Saffron, the commercial center Celadon, and within close reach of the Vermillion harbor, it was practically a sprawling estate around thermal and electromagnetic power plants. In fact, over eighty percent of the power requirements of the three cities, and some nearby towns were supplied by Citadel's power plants. It was also an abode for electric-types, which was the main reason trainers visited the place.

    At his cue, Misty continued her story. "Some thirty-two years ago, there was a catastrophic attack on Cerulean City," Misty paused here for effect," More specifically, Zapdos appeared over Cerulean, bringing untold destruction. There are rumors that it was fighting something else, stopping it from hurting Kanto, though dad thinks the opposite might be true. He… doesn't like legendaries very much."

    "Wait, a minute. Zapdos as in the legendary bird of lightning? Zapdos?"

    "No, Zapdos my sister's pet politoed. The one she uses to create rainbows for her shows." Misty deadpanned.

    Red rolled his eyes.

    "Anyway, it was a disaster. Some of the hydel projects exploded, and the fire spread all over the city. One of my grandfather's oil-rigs was lost there too. Water-master Gregory, who was the Gym Leader of Cerulean, and my dad's teacher, made his Blastoise perform the move." Misty spoke almost reverentially.

    "Hydro Cannon?" Red inquired.

    Misty motioned her head. "It's not exactly clear what or how that Blastoise did what it did, but from what my dad told me, it shot a Water Pulse-like orb from its cannon into the sky. And then something amazing happened."

    "And then?" Red asked. Clearly, Misty was enjoying being put in the teaching role, with all this dramatic pausing.

    "And then, the water pulse began to spread out unilaterally until it was over several dozen acres in diameter. It held for a single second, before it erupted, like a giant hole in the sky. And from within, water came gushing down, submerging half the city, and extinguishing the flames. It was like the sky had torn itself had been torn apart, and the clouds wanted the sea to reclaim the land. To sink it beneath like it was once, eons ago."

    Even from the awe in her voice, Red mused that it must have been something otherworldly to watch. His mind though, was running ahead, trying to fathom ways in which something like that could possibly have happened. His years at the ranch— working with the professor —had taught him that everything had a reason. An explanation. Just because one did not know the answer didn't mean that there wasn't one.

    And the problem here was glaringly huge.

    "A water attack that was able to submerge half the city?" He asked, his tone was filled with curiosity and skepticism, "I'm not really trying to call it crazy, but no Blastoise could have done that. I mean, at maximum power, a powerful Blastoise's Hydro Pump can flood a small lake. But to submerge a city?"

    "I'm not making it up." Misty looked affronted, instantly going on the defensive.

    Red raised his palms in surrender. "I'm not accusing you of that either, but from what the old man tells me, pokémon have something inside their body. It is from that… thing, that it is able to create elemental attacks."

    "Huh?" Misty crooked her head. "What do you mean?"

    Red frowned, deciding to use the man's original description. "Like that growlithe over there. It's a fire-type, so it has something called an Inner Flame, inside it. When it uses an Ember attack, it uses the inner-flame to generate fire. The old man told me that inner-flame is almost like the soul or something like that. He told me that the stronger a pokémon got, the larger his inner-flame would grow, and by extension, the more powerful attacks it can use."

    He conveniently ignored the part of his mind whispering about how the professor had used the above example as an analogy because Red had been too young to understand the technical details.

    "That sounds like a rudimentary theory at best, taught to beginners. It's not something I'd expect a man like Oak to believe in."

    Red shrugged. "Either way, from what I understand, the power for an attack comes from within. But no blastoise has that kind of power inside them. What you are describing—"

    "I know what you are trying to say." Misty interrupted. "I asked myself something similar. All my dad told me, was that the energy for such attacks came from somewhere else. Information like that is heavily restricted by the League.."

    "Is your dad—?"

    "Able to use something on that scale?" Misty finished for him. "Not a chance. Dad says that people who get to know anything on that scale get tied to the League and the bureaucracy. Dad loves his personal freedom too much to lose it all to learn a single move, even if it is as mind-boggling as that."

    "What happened to his teacher?"

    "Master Gregory? He died of a... heart attack, I think. That blastoise's still there though, at the gym, though it mostly keeps to itself. Unless something catastrophic happens, it'd probably stay that way."

    "Maybe… I mean, can I see that blastoise when I go to Cerulean City?"

    Misty smirked. "You can with the right connections. As it is, I'm traveling to Cerulean myself. I don't think after all of this, I'll be returning to school directly. We can teleport from Pewter City together. I have some discount coupons saved so feel free to use one then."

    Red looked slightly flustered at the offer. "Thanks, but I kind of wanted to travel through Mt. Moon. So teleporting is not an option. Also, there is the Pewter Gym to be considered, and the growlithe to be freed and everything."

    "I hope you didn't presume that I'd abandon the unfortunate creature just like that." Misty looked affronted. "I meant to take the teleport service after you're done. We've spent weeks inside this forest. An extra day or two doesn't even matter. But Mt. Moon? Why would anyone want to go through that wretched place?"

    Red chuckled at her constipated expression. "First bugs, now mountains. You should really go and live in Hoenn, or Kalos."

    Misty sniffed and returned an imperious stare. "I should inform you that I intend to do that, as soon as I acquire my degree. Hoenn, to be specific. It is really beautiful, and the hot springs are said to be the best in the world. Hoenn is a much better choice than these dire forestlands of Kanto."

    "Hey!" Red snapped good-naturedly. "Kanto is cool. I love the mountains and the forests. Did you know that the passages through Mt. Moon keep changing because of internal factors over twice a month? Every time you cross it, it is a unique experience."

    "Whatever. Floundering my way beneath layers of mud and soil does not suit me." Misty replied snobbishly, though it was clear that she was just teasing. "Ask for me when you get to Cerulean. Perhaps during your stay there, I can try to steal your attraction away form the grasslands you seem to adore and show you a little bit of the modern city life."

    "Sure." Red drawled. While he had traveled to Viridian, he had to admit that it was, after all was said and done, more of a town than a metropolis like Cerulean. In fact, half the population back at Pallet considered Cerulean to be a mix of beach resorts and shopping districts. Almost exotic, compared to the simplicity of Pallet.

    "Either way, it should be some time before I reach there. Pewter is supposed to be huge, and there are all kinds of rock-types in the mountains surrounding it. Even if scyther turns out to be… manageable, it'd be vulnerable to rock-types, and I need something to help me defeat Brock in a 3 on 3 match."

    "A 3 on 3?" Misty asked. "You don't want a rookie handicap?"

    Red shook his head. Rookie handicaps were part of the gym rules and regulations. A rookie trainer with two capable pokémon or less was able to challenge a gym leader to a 1 on 1 match. It allowed the trainer to acquire a gym badge as well as ensure that his pokémon didn't die in the process. But choosing a 3 on 3 simply meant getting past the handicap, and should the trainer be able to win it, he'd be placed at a high-rookie or low-intermediate level, depending upon his performance.

    "I don't think choosing the handicap would be a good idea. It might facilitate my getting the badge, but it'd mean nothing. Not after I've fought so many trainers, and gotten this far."

    Misty sniffed. "Boys."



    When Scyther finally gained consciousness, the first thing he noticed was the scent of cooked meat in the air.

    Not good. My nose burns. This is going to be a pain until it heals. Insufferable creatures these humans.

    He considered his situation. There were three ropes, bound to his form. The first one was on his back, tying his arms together, and high enough to prevent any accidental contact with his scythes. The second one was below his knees, binding his feet together. The third was fastened over his chest, tying his wing blades to his back, preventing all chances of flight. This was hardly his first encounter with humans— Scyther sneered at the thought —but they usually preferred to use those heinous devices called pokéballs to capture instead. This was the first time Scyther had seen someone use a technique so… unconventional, and yet effective.

    ...Troublesome.

    He stayed in that position, unmoving for several minutes. Presently, he was lying face-first on the ground. If he tried to roll over, he'd be in an even more vulnerable position, with the scythes trapped between himself and the ground. At least they were currently between himself and anything that might try to attack him from above. But more importantly, he could see the humans in the corner of his eye, laughing and chattering less than a half a dozen yards away. Movement might attract their attention.

    Not very helpful. But if I manage to roll over, I might be able to cut through one of the bindings. Worth a try?

    Unlike the other bugs, Scyther hadn't been born in the expansive forestland that was the Viridian Forest. Instead, his true home was far, far away. He had been caught as a youngling, trying to learn the ropes from his parents back then. He still remembered that day, and quite vividly too. A nuzleaf had been taunting him, over and over again. Scyther, young and ignorant, had given in to his inhibitions, and leaped after him, trying to tear the grass-type to pieces and feed on it.

    It had been a trap. A trap, devised by a human, to catch him off-guard.

    He had been surrounded by a magmar and the nuzleaf. His rage had gotten the better of him, and he had vehemently attacked, but the magmar had been too powerful. It had charred his wings, and bruised his feet, making it incredibly difficult to move. The human, who had been issuing orders from afar, had laughed and congratulated himself over the effectiveness of his strategy and captured Scyther inside the pokéball.

    That was over a year ago.

    The human, Paul, had been a hard taskmaster. Initially, Scyther had ignored him, but Paul was stubborn. He was concerned with just one thing—to grow stronger than his own brother Reggie, and for some reason, he thought that the best way to do so was to put his team through hellish training. Scyther had resented it at first, though he had gotten used to it when he saw the results when facing other challengers. He had fought off opponents they met during their travels, fought those monstrosities kept by gym-leaders and finally… he had faced the League.

    And that was where he had learned humiliation.

    It had been a powerful blaziken, and despite his speed, prowess, and skill— developed through months of rigorous training —Scyther had been forced down to the ground. His face disfigured, his scythe fractured, and covered in burns, he had been sent reeling into the dust.

    His somewhat normal life had come to a screeching halt after that.

    Scyther shook himself out of his reverie. If Paul were to look at him now, he'd probably sneer and point out that he deserved to be thrown away. All those days and months of diligent training, all those bruises he had acquired, all those battles he had won, and all those humiliating defeats he had suffered…

    And for what?

    Here he was, tied and bound— rendered helpless by yet another human.

    Come to think of it, it wasn't like his skills were inferior. No, his instincts were top-notch, and despite the effect of bug-repel, he had been able to slice through the incoming canister with a single slice. And that had been his undoing.

    From his own experiences, trainers almost never used anything else but their pokéballs to capturing wild pokémon. Scyther had presumed this group of humans was something similar and had acted under that assumption. An entire year of surviving on cooked food had ruined Scyther's ability to appreciate the tasteless insects of the forest, and it was the smell of a cooked meal that had attracted him to the current team of human trainers.

    For the first couple of days, he had simply used his speed to snatch the food when they weren't looking— a habit stemmed out of his love for cooked steak. The humans were simpletons and had simply fallen for his distractions. The buzzing technique that Paul had made him learn— Bug Buzz, it was called —had proved especially useful in that regard. Scyther had simply not thought that the trainer would think of something this… unconventional. Besides, he had enough experience with humans to disdain them. As far as he was concerned, he was stronger, and therefore, it was his right to steal it. Only he who is strong may do what he wishes, uncontested, for he—

    Great. Now I'm quoting him too.

    From what he could see, there were at least four pokémon present with his capturer. He could recognize the croconaw from the distance as well as the growlithe, but the rest were unknown to him. That little ivory-ish creature seemed frail, and if his memory served him well, it used the leaf on the back of its head to attack. Nothing particularly powerful, or to be considered as an immediate threat. There was a tiny purplish shell-thing too, but it seemed just as useless as the ivory-ish creature. That left the steel avian, and the only danger as far as Scyther was concerned.

    He had enough battle experience to recognize steel when he saw it, and that bird was enveloped with it. A metallic avian was the last thing he wanted to fight since his scythes would be damn near useless. He could probably use Metal Claw, but he wasn't sure if it would penetrate the armor of a true steel-type. He had broken his scythes over a larion that Paul made him battle once. Not an experience he was looking forward to repeating.

    Perhaps he could take advantage of his speed and score hits by identifying chinks in its armor. Though, considering his current position, any attempt to try to attack the bird would end up with him becoming a bloody mess upon the ground.

    Challenging it was not an option. In fact, the best possible thing to do in his current scenario was to tear through the bindings and escape. Later, he could catch the humans off-guard and slice through their throats for good. He had heard the male boasting about how he had brought Scyther down using his trap, something that had conjured up images of Paul inside his mind. In fact, he couldn't help but relate the male with Paul on various levels. Just like Paul, he had a group of henchmen at his command. Just like Paul, he had a powerful pokémon to put Scyther down. It had been the magmar back, and now, it was this steel avian. And just like Paul, this trainer would probably call his team incompetent when they lost and then throw them away, like yesterday's trash. As if they didn't even matter.

    And now he was thinking about Paul all over again. Perhaps he really was just as weak as Paul said he was.

    "Mawa— wile!"

    Scyther stilled, hearing the ivory-ish creature call out to its trainer. Apparently, it had seen him moving and had just informed the human about it. Scyther rolled over, doing his best to rub the ropes against the grassy floor. He had to do something, and he had to do it now.



    "So, you're the one who's been stealing from us," Red muttered audibly, as he walked towards the bound scyther. "Trying to get out will be futile. It's a constrictor knot— something that gets tighter every time you try to push your arms out."

    Scyther screeched in defiance, though he didn't exactly try to pull its scythes out. The human maintained a safe distance from him, obviously not willing to test his luck.

    "You don't get to play the victim card, especially considering that you've stolen our food, and forced me and my team to eat subpar meals as a result."

    Scyther looked away. It had just been so tempting. It had been a long time since he had had a cooked meal.

    "Now while I cannot claim to understand what you have to say about it, Mawile or Skarmory certainly can. I will leave it to them to listen to why a wild one such as you were stealing our food. It's not like the forest is devoid of food as it is."

    Despite his disdain, Scyther agreed that the human was correct, no matter how… ruthless he sounded. Despite the massive spread of the Viridian forestland, the most dangerous bug around there were probably pinsir. Beedril were powerful and held strength in numbers, but even their stingers fell short when it came to fighting off the steel horns and monstrous strength boosted by the pinsir population.

    Scyther's unwanted presence had disrupted the status quo of the Viridian forest. Apparently, there were no others of his kind in the entire forestland, and the pinsir had claimed all the best hunting-grounds. The addition of a lone scyther had not been taken nicely and had resulted in short but periodic skirmishes between himself and them. It had been annoying, but at least his speed and his skill from the gruesome training over the past year had prevented him from being overwhelmed by the pinsir herd. They weren't exactly able to chase him should he choose to flee.

    The feelings of disdain, the trauma of being abandoned like that, the hurtful words of the human he had trusted with everything had filled Scyther up with rage. Having to return to the wild, only in a distant land amidst strangers had made it worse. Add to that the smell of nice, cooked food…

    "Mawawa!" Mawile barked.

    "Mawile," Red cut her off in a softer tone, before turning to the scyther. "Look, if it is just cooked food that you want, we'd have no issue sharing it with you. But if you think you can just steal what's ours and think there will be no repercussions, then you're up for something else."

    Scyther sneered. If this trainer was thinking that he'd be able to break his fortitude through trash-talk, he was up for a massive disappointment.

    "I'll let Mawile handle the rest," Red added, "but before that, here is an offer. If cooked food is what you want to eat all day, join me, be my pokémon and work as a part of my team. You'd be taken care of, and I'll teach you how to grow stronger, if that's what interests you."

    Scyther would have rolled his eyes if he could. Sure, humans knew a lot about getting stronger. Paul had been all about strengthening one's strengths, and Scyther had been inculcated with those TMs— thrice. He was already strong, and if not for these ropes, he would—

    "And if I find out that you're intending to cause me and my friends harm because I bound you or any such nonsense, then I'll store you in a pokéball. You might think you're too good for me and my team to handle, but we'll beat you down. And then, I'll hand you over to the Rangers on the other side of the forest and they'll have you transferred to the Reserve with other rogue pokémon."

    He ignored the lethal glare that the scyther sent back to him in return. "That was all, and now is your chance. So, talk."



    In a different part of Viridian Forest...

    "Honestly, I don't even see any point in continuing this pointless search. The forest is huge, and we've been traveling for over a day now. The growlithe has' probably escaped by now."

    Travers shot a dry stare at his compatriot. "That is because if we are unsuccessful, they're going to have our hide. Didn't you hear what the Doc said? The warehouse had the first three successful experiments of Dr. Namba's project, under Admin Proton's direct supervision."

    The other man paled, his lips trembling as he tried to digest the information. "Pr—proton?"

    "Proton," Travers confirmed. For a significant majority of the Rocket grunts, the name Proton was synonymous with the devil. Notorious for his heavy-handed and ruthless approach to situations, Proton was called in as a last resort— not for damage control, but to ensure that the enemy were equally damaged. Like Cassidy loved to say— 'Proton is the equivalent to a rampaging dragon. He is not subtle. He is not nice. He is simply destruction on a primal level.'

    The fact that he had two fucking hydreigon at his command spoke volumes in itself.

    Travers had been present in the attack on Vermillion city some fifteen months ago. It had been a mission over acquiring some really sensitive shipment through the Vermillion harbor. Despite extensive planning and contingencies in place, the squad had found itself facing a group Ace trainers and Lt. Surge, right on the cargo deck, waiting for them to arrive. How the old veteran had found about the entire shipment, Travers would never know, but the situation had quickly devolved into a bloody mess. Over half of their team members had been severely injured, and several of their pokémon lost to Surge and his beast of an electivire. Even thinking about that mammoth made him shiver.

    Then, Proton teleported in with his alakazam and joined the fight— if it could be called that. He had been in service to Team Rocket for two years now, though his skills mainly lay in covert activities than in direct combat. Before Proton's intervention, it had been a losing battle on the cargo ship, with the roof of the ship in tatters because of the high-powered attacks thrown around. By the time Proton and Surge had concluded their fight, the entire ship had detonated in a massive explosion, and several adjacent ships had been rendered unsalvageable. It had resulted in a draw, though it was obvious to any observer that Proton held a significant edge, and it had been his presence that allowed Travers and the rest to gather the cargo and teleport away.

    Ever since that day, every single grunt and Executive went out of their way to avoid Proton if he was found to be in a bad mood. Then again, Proton was almost always in a bad mood. And the scary thing was, the more something angered him, the more focussed he got, and the more lethal he became.

    That was also the day that he had ended up as Proton's student. How that had happened was a mystery, but he had been studying under the man's tender mercies for the last six months. And if there was one thing he learned, it was that being a subject of his interest was never a good thing.

    "Why would he be interested in a fucking growlithe?"

    Travers sent a look of pity at his comrade. Meyers was pretty new, with less than six months of Grunt experience under his belt. Come to think of it, it was pretty surprising that someone so raw, was working for Dr. Namba, but then again, Meyers was pretty good at battling. Unlike Travers who relied extensively on traps and strategy, Meyers was a complete berserker, using raw firepower to bombard his opponent.

    "It is a success from Project Nihilo. Is that good enough for you?"

    Meyers grimaced. "Nihilo? I thought it was just a theoretical thing for the nerds at the Viridian base."

    "It isn't," Travers shot back, "or well, it isn't ever since the doctor has taken over. We've got to capture this growlithe and bring it back alive. The doc clearly told us that under no conditions, can we allow it to go free. Worst case scenario, we put it down for good."

    "Seems like a real special growlithe. I'd have expected something like this for a dragon or somethin'."

    Travers sniffed. "The doctor played it down, but it seems like he wanted to surprise the Admin. He seems to think that the growlithe could become just as dangerous as one of Proton's hydreigon if not more."

    "Bullshit." Meyers scoffed, "Are the both of us talking about the same pokémon? Those puppies need like three firestones at minimum to evolve, you know? Nobody wants an expensive fire-breathing bitch when you've got cooler things like a magmar or a charizard around."

    Travers rolled his eyes. "That's out of our paygrade. Anyway, to answer your first question. I've already sent people out, flying above the forest and looking at the outskirts. As long as they don't see the growlithe leave, we operate under the assumption that it's still in the forest. We just need to keep searching."

    "…sure." Meyers drawled.



    Despite his obvious shortcomings as a human, Paul had been extremely diligent when it came to training and expected everyone to be at their best. In fact, he took it to the absolute extreme, considering that he himself trained beside his team, making the point that he expected nothing short of excellence from them in return. Also, unlike most other trainers, Paul had a singularly unique strategic point-of-view.

    Strengthen your strengths. Use them to cover your weakness. A battle must be fought on your own terms, not another's.

    Paul had encouraged Scyther to fight against opponents where his skill would be of some use. According to him, Scyther was a sharp sword. There was no point in fighting a club-user with a sword. He'd use a club for that. Let the sword be used where it is optimal. Anything else would be retrogressive.

    And so, Scyther had his movepool chosen accordingly. Moves that worked best for him. Moves that he'd be uniquely suited to use. Moves that he'd be able to utilize better than anyone.

    The constriction knots had been good, and had Scyther been a wild pokémon, he'd probably stay bound forever unless the human took pity on him, or he swallowed his pride. But not Scyther. He saw the human standing in front of him, gloating as he made his offer.

    "That was all, and now is your chance. So… talk!"

    I will.
    Scyther mentally sneered, as his wings glowed with a bright, silvery sheen. One moment they were tied to his back, and the next, they were glowing bright silver and not just that.

    The wings began vibrating. At extreme speeds.

    The human widened his eyes and acted immediately, out of instinct.

    "GET AWAY!" He yelled and leaped backward. The creature he had introduced as a mawile, had not stopped to question her trainer's lead and jumped back as well— just in time to watch as the ropes snapped open as the wings were freed. The scyther was in the air, and though his arms were still tied.

    Something to take care of. Scyther mused, lifting his arms upwards. The wings, enveloped in layers of steel energy, sheared through the ropes, bruising the skin around them. Scyther winced in pain, but pain was an old friend. Besides, bugs were quick to regenerate. Their ever-morphing bodies ensured that.

    Without delay, he raised both scythes maliciously, sneering down at the human, who was staring at him from his half-crouched position, his mouth open in horror. Trust these humans to fall back to being the useless cowards that they were. Now that he was free, the human had rescinded to becoming a coward. Perhaps Scyther should have given the same treatment to Paul back then? It wouldn't be pretty, but it'd be strangely cathartic.

    Scyther let out a wild screech and went in for the kill.



    Skarmory had never really been one to sit on the sidelines. As the grandchild of a King ruling an entire mountain, she had always sorted her acquaintances into tiny boxes in her mind, with each box defining a particular form of relationship she shared with said individual. Most of the wild population back at the mountain were usually considered peasants, while the most powerful of each herd had the designation of chieftain in her mind.

    Often, a new leader would arise amongst a herd, and try to overthrow the existing chieftain, in hopes of taking their place. Skarmory, from her exalted position, had always considered them petty amusements. After all, chieftains would come and go, but the Vortigern remained tall and mighty. And just like the gargantuan mountain, so did the Lord Vortigern.

    Then, the foundations of her reality came crumbling down with her grandfather's demise. Sure, Skarmory was strong, very strong compared to most species that ruled the skies, but even so, the shadow of the Vortigern engulfed her. All her life as a youngling, she had been happy to learn from him, knowing that the throne was hers to rule in time. They had a few arguments over the concept of a ruler, but there was no doubt that Lord Vortigern was a great king.

    Even so, it hadn't been enough. Even kings age and grow a little older with every passing day. Sometime prior to her thirteenth monsoon, the Vortigern had faced a fierce invasion from the surrounding mountains. Her grandfather had fiercely defended his home and the rest of the populace, but had found himself facing tribulations of a kind beyond his power to endure.

    That was how the Lord Vortigern had breathed his last, upon a steep precipice, in a devastating battle against a most vicious rhyperior.

    The young descendant to the mighty king had tried to defend her grandfather's authority, only to be met with overwhelming resistance. It had hurt, but the event had taught her something that the decade of grooming under her grandfather's tutelage had been unable to impart.

    Skarmory had finally learned what it meant to lose.

    She was powerful, but not overwhelmingly so. She was a king by right, but not by her power. Certainly not like her grandfather had been. Vortigern was no longer hers to command, and it made her wonder— was this why her father, whom she had disdained for so long, left the mountain with a human. To grow stronger? Perhaps he had realized that staying on the mountain was simply not enough. He had likely seen the truth of the situation and left to grow to greater heights, while Skarmory had chosen to stagnate in the comfort of the shady cave.

    It had been difficult. Very difficult.

    But Skarmory wasn't someone who would allow herself to fail for the sake of false ego. Nay, she would grow stronger and overcome the situation through strength and steel. As it should be. Her grandfather's legacy demanded it.

    "You have a great destiny, bigger than the mountain. And to achieve it, you might have to travel past Vortigern itself…"

    Even today, her grandfather's somewhat prophetic words rang true in her ears. She would leave. She would grow stronger. And she would come back a conqueror.

    Come to think of it, being under the control of a human trainer hadn't exactly been a bad experience. Of course, Skarmory still had trouble trying to see her human as a trainer and not a retainer. It was to be expected. She was a proud king, after all, and what was a king without vanity?

    She might have been defeated, and she might have had to leave her kingdom. She might have had to seek out humans, but if that was what it took to be strong, Skarmory would accept it. The entire experience was probably sweetened by the fact that Red was extremely accommodating, and in time when she'd regain her throne, she'd give Red a nice little cave of his own. Right there, on the lofty heights of Vortigern.

    He deserved that much.

    That brought her to the current situation.

    Her original notions about the Viridian Forest were based on the huge expanses of Vortigern. She had even pictured herself gliding through the forest, slaughtering prey, and perhaps facing the occasional challenge. The chieftains back on Vortigern were powerful, sure, but Skarmory was no slouch herself. As it was, she had yet to face something that had forced her to back off in defeat. So, it was quite obvious that her hopes had been dashed the moment reality sunk in.

    Viridian Forest was massive, true, but it was dense with foliage. It looked like a place for terrestrials to jump around on trees. There was hardly any place for someone like herself to spread out her wings. She was grateful that at the very least, Red was rational enough to stop at prime locations that allowed her to spread her wings and glide about. Yes, she had chosen a worthy trainer, and in time, he'd reap the benefits of helping her.

    Their current location had been the best one in that regard. There was no canopy above, allowing her to spread her wings. She belonged to the sky, and it felt good to be back.

    Her retainer had done a marvelous job in capturing that impudent brat of a scyther through sheer wit.

    Skarmory approved of it.

    Even from her lofty position, her keen eyes allowed her to perceive the ongoing interaction with incredible clarity. Like any other self-respecting creature, Skarmory understood why the scyther might feel antagonistic towards her retainer, but for all intents and purposes, the impudent bug had shown the audacity to steal from her— the King's —food.

    She refused to believe that someone born with natural scythes— even if they weren't cloaked in steel —could have trouble making prey out of the weaklings in the forest. That such a well-endowed creature would sink so low to steal from others made her sneer in disgust. If it was so strong, then it should have simply challenged Red for the food.

    And then, the unexpected happened.

    The scyther's wings began to glow bright silver before they started vibrating. Skarmory widened her eyes and swooped down towards the ground, where her trainer had fallen. The scyther raised one of its scythes ahead and was just about to impale her retainer.

    Not on my watch.

    With incredible ferocity, Skarmory impaled her beak into the scyther from behind, right against its vibrating wings. The scyther screeched in pain as it felt her beak dig into its spine, and fell down to the ground, whimpering in pain. It almost raised a scythe in defiance, but she'd have none of it. She slashed her left wing against the raised scythe, deflecting it off without a care. Mission accomplished, she flew in front of the fallen brute and screeched.

    "You fool! My trainer allowed you an option to grow stronger. To eat the very food, you prize so much. To serve under my own magnanimity, and you dare try and harm him?"

    Scyther looked up, his countenance a picture of defiant rage. "He captured me and wanted to… This human—" His tone became hysterical. "This human is—"

    'My trainer." Skarmory answered, her demeanor filled with pride. She had faith in her retainer, and would not accept anyone treating him with disregard. "My human trainer gave you an offer, more than what filth like you deserves. You steal my food, and then have the audacity to scream about the unfairness? You pathetic weakling—"

    "I'm not weak!" Scyther roared in defiance, his scythes shining brightly, covered in steel energy. Ignoring the pain he must have been feeling from his injuries, he leaped towards Skarmory, slashing his scythe against her neck—

    Only for the scythe to get trapped as Skarmory crooked her head, trapping the scythe in her neck without a care in the world. She grinned maliciously, and forced her hindlimbs forward, literally kicking the scyther in the abdomen. It screeched in pain, but Skarmory was far from done. Her beak glowed, gathering steel-energy, and without any second thoughts, she impaled the scythe trapped in the crook of her neck, causing the aggressive bug-type to screech in pain.

    Scyther dropped down to the ground unceremoniously, but Skarmory was far from satisfied. Her claws sank into the scyther's left leg, and she soared above, taking her prey dangling with her. She heard Red yell out in concern, and allowed herself a grin. Trust her retainer to consider her safety over his own. The caterwauling bug kept squirming around, trying to break out of her grip, causing her claws to clench harder.

    Once she felt she had reached high enough, she threw the scyther upward. Not high enough to kill it, but high enough to teach it a lesson. Instead, the presumptuous bastard shoved both of his scythes into Skarmory's abdomen.

    The screeching sound that emanated after the attack did not belong to Skarmory. Instead, it was caused as the scythes, strong in their own right, slipped against Skarmory's metallic form, and bent in an odd direction, causing a sudden pain at its wrist.

    The scyther cursed, gnashing his teeth, probably at his own ineffectiveness.

    Then it glanced at Skarmory right in the eyes.

    Skarmory grinned. Widely.

    With a primal war cry, Skarmory felt her claws digging into the scyther, before she swooped down to the ground. There was no technique, no attack, no energy gathered. It was simply the power of gravity, and her own streamlined body shooting down towards the very crust itself, with the unfortunate scyther dangled in her claws. Skarmory plunged to the ground—ten feet, nine feet, eight feet— she descended without care. The scyther tried to slash its scythes against her form over and over, trying to escape its fate, trying to break out of her grip, but it was all in vain.

    Skarmory spread her wings wide open, as she sent the scyther sprawling down to the ground, hearing the very satisfying sound of broken bones as it rolled and rumpled through the soil, before collapsing into a familiar and very much acceptable unconsciousness.

    Quality entertainment. Skarmory mused.
     
    ComradeKremer and Frank992 like this.
  13. Threadmarks: Act 1 | Chapter 12 - A Grunt's Life
    TheBlackStaffAndNightMarE

    TheBlackStaffAndNightMarE I see. I write. I conquer.

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2020
    Messages:
    33
    Likes Received:
    127
    ACT 1 - IMMOLATION


    Chapter 12 - A Grunt's Life


    Two days later

    "Are you sure that is safe?" Misty asked in apparent calmness, though it was obvious that she was trying hard to not to freak out. After the disastrous turn of events post the interrogation, scyther had been a giant bruise all over. One of his scythes had been fractured, and both wings had suffered bone damage. The attack on its lower abdomen must have caused some fractures as well. Red had spent several hours creating one of his special Full Restore variants—aided by a not-so-enthusiastic Misty—for the poor brute who lay unconscious, half-buried in the ground.

    After his impromptu treatment, Red had wasted no time in placing the unconscious beast inside his pokéball, which had 'dinged' instantly, verifying a successful capture. Misty had asked him if he was going to keep the scyther around and force him to become a member of his team, but that wasn't Red's way. Instead, he was going to give the pokéball to the Rangers on the other side of the forest.

    That had been the idea, at least up until an hour ago. Said change, was in fact, the reason why Misty was panicking so much.

    "Don't worry," Red answered. "He's not exactly in a position to cause further damage." He glanced at said offender, who was currently sitting on the ground, with a forlorn expression on his face.

    Earlier in the morning, Skarmory and Mawile had requested, in their own way, that they should be allowed to speak to the scyther. The two pokémon had played their own variant of twenty-questions with him until they got the point across. Well, that or they had simply gotten tired of explaining and Skarmory had literally plucked the pokéball out from his waist with a jab, and Mawile, like the precocious little expert that she was, had released the bug from within the confines of the capture device. The scyther immediately tried to flee only to fall, realizing that his wings and his feet were not in any condition to assist him in that endeavor.

    "But you were the one who told me how fast scyther were. Why aren't you worried at all?"

    "Because I trust my team," Red replied without hesitation. "Skarmory has proved— several times now —that she can protect me," He crooked his head in the bug's direction. "They spoke to it, and while Mawile doesn't like scyther, Skarmory seems to have taken his stubbornness a little too personally." He ignored the squawk that Skarmory made to his comment. "They seem to believe that they can perhaps… convince him, I'll act accordingly."

    "And you are happy to be led around by your pokémon's antics?"

    The confused glance that he sent her should have been a signal. "I trust my team."

    Right. Then again, it's not unexpected.

    "What?" The nigh clueless trainer asked.

    "I was just questioning the logic behind keeping an antagonistic, not to mention incredibly fast bug on your person at all times." Misty snapped. "Are all pokémon trainers unhinged, or is it just you?"

    Red shrugged, momentarily glancing at the scyther. "I can see where you're coming from, but something about that scyther… bugs me. I can't put a finger on it, so if Mawile and Skarmory are up to something, I want to see where it goes."

    "Huh?" Misty replied eloquently.

    "Those attacks he used. None of them are standard attacks learned naturally by the scyther line. Believe me, I checked," Red answered, "Most scyther end up abusing their speed and bladed body-physiology to remain uncontested in the wild. Nothing new about that. But a scyther learning Steel Wing? Naturally? Not to mention using that vibration technique to create those high-pitched noises?"

    "What about it?"

    "I checked it out," Red answered, raising his pokédex. "It's called Bug Buzz, and it creates sonic waves through vibration. Though, a scyther using it is remarkably… uncommon." He snorted. "I dare say it was inoculated via TM and train."

    "It isn't someone else's pokémon too, you know. Unlike what happened with the growlithe, it showed a successful capture." Misty refuted.

    "It did, which is why I don't think he's someone else's pokémon. I think…" He looked at his friend. "I think he's been abandoned."

    "Abandoned?" Misty asked, her voice rising. Either her friend was so too good at deduction, or she was missing something. "What the hell are you talking about?"

    "Scyther are apex predators," Red answered. Though his tone made him seem like was talking to himself rather than to her. "And yet, it goes after cooked food? And then those moves, and that… that rage, I felt towards me, almost as if it were angry for me doing something to it, something… unforgivable."

    "But… are you sure you aren't overthinking things?"

    Red blinked. "Why is the concept of an abandoned pokémon so… strange to you?"

    "Because it isn't a caterpie, or a pidgey or anything commonplace." Misty almost exploded. "I'm hardly an expert, but even I can tell you that that pokémon over there, is trained, powerful and dangerous. You'd have to be crazy to abandon something like that."

    "I know…" Red muttered. "He doesn't look like he has been abused, but… it's odd. Logically, I should simply report him to the rangers, but it didn't try to attack until we captured it. It stole food, true, but that's all. Does that sound like a vicious wild animal to you?"

    "I get.." Misty ventured, "I get that you want to take care of it. But this is a scyther. It is dangerous."

    "Yeah, but," Red finally seemed to find words for what he was feeling. "Someone like that doesn't deserve to be abandoned. It's strong and has the potential to become even stronger. The thought that someone can take a pokémon out of its home, push it to acquire such a diverse skill set, and then throw it away like yesterday's trash… It triggers me."

    Misty sighed before giving up on the argument. Clearly a losing battle.

    Neither of the two had any idea that a certain bug had been listening in to their conversation, a frown on his injured face.



    The first three days had been an exercise in futility. It wasn't like Travers had been expecting anything else. As a senior grunt-captain, he had a team of six under his command instead of the usual three, though the doctor had added four more of his own guards to help him accomplish the mission. The grunts with flying-types had been ordered to maintain aerial surveillance over the entire forest. The rest were currently combing through the forest, actively searching for the fugitive.

    It had sounded like a reasonable strategy back then. There was just one tiny problem.

    He had overestimated his own patience and his ability to deal with Meyers.

    For the nth time, Travers cursed his decision to keep the other man with himself instead of letting some other unfortunate sap take up the curse.

    "—But seriously, you'd think that someone like Butch would be a little more high-and-mighty, ya know? It's like he's practically planning his retirement or something."

    And he just. Never. Shut. Up.

    Travers sighed again. He had been doing that a lot lately. "He's an Executive and one of the best. The fact that he's taking interest with the grunts means that something caught his eye. Stop being so obsessed over it."

    "But still…"

    On second thought, Travers noted, he should remember to put up Meyers's annoying tendencies up for review. It was… unprofessional. Unmanly too.

    "Meyers, for the last time. Stop obsessing over Butch. He's not your Squadron leader. You are not under his Executive authority. You answer to Namba. Stop being such a fangirl," He raised a finger to stop the other man from retorting, "and I know how much you want a Magmortar, but no. Unless you manage to catch a wild magmar you might as well forget it. And that's assuming you can afford a magmarizer with your pitiful salary."

    "But you know just how much I—"

    "Shut up!"

    "but I just—"

    "Shut. The. Fuck. Up," Travers hissed, making the other man pause in his shenanigans. "Look," He pointed at the scene in front of him with two fingers, or more specifically, at the oddly colored growlithe sprawled on the ground.

    "Do you think that's the one we're looking for?" Meyers asked, his voice dropping to a whisper. He narrowed his eyes, staring at the clearing in front of him.

    Travers snorted. "Unless purple growlithe are common…"

    Mayers opened his mouth.

    "— Don't answer that. It was rhetorical."

    There were two tents present, with two teens— one male and one female, and a group of pokémon. He could recognize the scyther sitting down on one side —an oddity but it didn't exactly register in his mind. There was a croconaw dozing in the corner, sitting with its back against the tent. A mawile and most importantly, a skarmory. And a little away from both of them, was the growlithe in question—dazzling white manes, the slight lavender-ish fur with dark brown stripes on its body, just like the camera recordings had shown.

    Croconaw and skarmory. Probably a Johto trainer. And a mawile? So the other one is from Hoenn then. That makes it difficult. Trainers from other regions are usually monitored.

    "Engage in direct battle? What are your orders?" Meyers's voice shook him from his thoughts.

    Travers frowned. He wasn't exactly someone who'd run head-first into battle, and preferred to do things covertly. There was simply no point in throwing up a ruckus and messing the entire point up. Perhaps he could have Ariados trap them first and then—

    "I'll deal with them," Meyers stated conclusively. "Let's go. It'll be fun!"

    "Wait we need to— goddammit!" Travers cursed, seeing the other man race ahead.

    "Fuck," He cursed again, before stalking after him.

    There's always somebody about to ruin your day, if not your life.



    Red was reaching his limit. The first week had been pushing, but at least they had progressed to a significant extent, capturing the pineco and the ledyba with ease. They hadn't been noticed by the pinsir herd and had ended up making camp in an open clearing, where they spent their time waiting for a venonat or two to appear.

    A week had passed since then.

    It hadn't gone as planned. Instead, they had been ambushed by a scyther strangely hell-bent on stealing their meals. One thing led to another and he had found himself with this odd-looking growlithe as well. One that was shiny too. And they still hadn't found a venonat.

    Red sighed, his eyes moving across the clearing before settling on the growlithe.

    Strange.

    Growlithe were creatures that were almost perpetually in motion. As annoying as a growlithe was practically an idiom back at home. But this one? It seemed content to lay low and observe him like he was an interesting specimen. Sure, it was injured, but most of its injuries had healed by the first day, and three more had passed since then. The runt should have been jumping around, and not be a brooding, observing, calculating thing. Occasionally it chatted with Mawile of all people, and on others, it sat and watched him with a peculiar expression. The aura of confusion on the creature was almost palpable. Call it instinct, but he almost felt like the growlithe was looking for something, and was getting more and more frustrated by its lack of appearance.

    He had played with the idea of catching the growlithe for his own. Growlithe weren't exactly something one needed to catch, per se. Feed it a few times and it would probably follow you around for the next few months. Hell, it was harder to get rid of a pet growlithe than to catch it.

    Annoyingly loyal, that's what they were.

    Not that growlithe were bad captures. While their power reserves were lower than the average charmander, they were compensated with their high mobility. You'd never see one of them using Flamethrower, but Flame Charge was pretty common among the trained ones. The real problem though, lay in their evolution.

    A charmander-in-training would normally evolve into a charizard by its second year. A ponyta was faster than growlithe would ever be. And plus, most of them evolved into rapidash, taking their speeds to extreme levels. Most growlithe, never really evolved into arcanine. Then again, knowing the beast that an arcanine was, it was almost fair to think that growlithe and arcanine were unrelated.

    Spanning reserves at least thrice that of a charizard, a natural arcanine was an apex fire-type monster. They could outrun a rapidash any day, and their bulk was enough to allow them to utilize most physical attacks with ease. Arcanine were perfect, and just as rare. In fact, there were only three naturally-evolved arcanine in Kanto, as far as the official records— one of them belonged to Oak. Fire-master and ex-Elite Four Blaine had the second one. The third one's trainer had passed away and was now a resident of the Charicific Valley in Johto.

    Nowadays, most arcanine evolutions were forced through a synthetic wonder known as a Fire Stone. It worked on principles similar to the Thunder Stone, and supplied a tremendous amount of fire-power into the growlithe, triggering its evolution. The issue was— not only did the growlithe need to be trained to be powerful enough to withstand the evolutionary process, it also required a minimum of three Fire Stones to evolve. This made them one of the most expensive evolutions known to mankind, and therefore, not economically feasible for the average trainer.

    And therein lay the problem. As much as Red hated allowing a shiny pokémon like that walk away, there was very little he could do about it. He could not afford its evolution. Period.

    Perhaps I can send him to the old man. He'd be happy to study a shiny. And once I earn enough, I can always get him back. If I still have a place on my team for it.

    That brought him to the other point— the scyther. He had to admit, whatever Skarmory and Mawile had told the bug, had worked. The scyther was sitting on the ground with a grumpy face, though it was clear from his body language that had no signs of hostility. In fact, it was almost like the scyther's emotions were dumbed down, replaced with something akin to sorrow. It didn't help but fuel his abandonment theory even more. Not that there was any way to confirm it. He liked his life too much to get himself killed in an attempt to talk with the bug-type.

    But there was something else, something he hadn't really talked to Misty about. Silently, he lifted the Dex from his belt and looked at the log. The details were still there and would stay there until he updated it.

    Scyther, the mantis pokémon. Scyther is blindingly fast. Its blazing speed enhances the effectiveness of the twin scythes on its forearms. This pokémon's scythes are so effective, they can slice through thick logs in one wicked stroke.

    Known moves: Fury Cutter, Bug Buzz, Steel Wing, Metal Claw, Agility and Night Slash.


    Night Slash, Agility and Steel Wing— those three moves stood out the most. Not because of their superiority, but because it was quite impossible for a scyther to learn those naturally. No scyther required those moves in the wild— it practically screamed human intervention. He had played with the idea that perhaps its trainer had perished in some kind of conflict, but if that was the case, scyther would still be listed as a captured pokémon. Which lead some more credit to his theory that it was abandoned and officially struck out from the trainer's roster.

    He didn't know what to think about that.

    The more pragmatic part of him did wish for the scyther to be a part of his team. Such a talented creature living off bugs was an insult to its ability. While the scyther's trainer may have abandoned it, Red was sure that he could turn it into a perfect monstrosity. Into something that would incite fear into the strongest of pokémon. Before that, however, he needed was to ensure its willingness to join his team.

    I wonder what Skarmory and Mawile talked to him about.

    "Hmmm!" He got up, tired of his introspection. By his estimate, they were getting close to the periphery of the forest. They had yet to even see the other two on the list, and this place didn't seem like an ideal location anymore. Perhaps they should start traveling again. Maybe he'd have better luck elsewhere.

    "Hey Misty," he called out at the girl who seemed engrossed in trying to perfect Shellder's pressure manipulation. While her initial attempts had ended up in vain, Red had to admit that she was persistent.

    Between the two of them, Shellder had begun to gain some familiarity with the technique. All that remained now was to develop enough muscle memory to use it at a moment's notice, and Shellder would have an offensive move in its arsenal. Along with Double Team and Shellder's ability to leap, it was actually possible for Shellder to be of some use in battle.

    "Yeah?" Misty responded, her hand still stroking Shellder.

    "I think we should start off tomorrow morning for another spot. I don't think we'll get any venonat here."

    "But then, how will we get one?"

    "Heh!" Red chuckled, rubbing the back of his head, "I meant we can start looking in other places. It seems my idea didn't work out as expected."

    Misty sighed. "This is such a drag."

    "Unless you want to keep waiting inside this bug-filled forest for another week, it is the only available option on the table," Red chuckled again, "though I must say, you've been dealing with this entire bug-catching thing much better than I anticipated."

    "Uh-huh? And what did you expect?"

    Resting his chin over his left palm, he put up a thinking pose. "Oh, I don't know… hmmm, perhaps you'd have a caterpie falling on top of your shoulder, and you'd have sped off to the opposite side of the forest, screaming your lungs out."

    Misty's forehead ticked. "Say that again?"

    "Ah, ignore that," Red backpedaled, not wanting to experience her mood shifts again.

    "Anyway, we should really start packing," He glanced at his watch. "Looks like it'll be evening in an hour. We should start out early tomorrow.."

    "My, my, two little trainers all alone in the forest." An unfamiliar voice called out. "Do your parents know that you're having fun together?"



    Red and Misty instantly turned towards the right and saw two unfamiliar people stepping towards them. Both of them wore military uniforms, similar to the ones used in the police force but lacking any seals or identity badges. The younger of the two, a man with unkempt white hair and black eyes, gave a mocking grin.

    "What are you lovebirds doing in such a dangerous place. Wouldn't a park be a better place to hang out?"

    Misty's face turned an unflattering red."What the hell are you babbling on about? Red and I are just— and who the hell are you anyway?"

    "I'm Meyers," the white-haired man chuckled, "and this is my partner Tra—"

    "I believe we should skip the introductions and get to the point." The other man— short, brown-haired with a forgettable face —interrupted him.

    "Damn right," Meyers chortled. "He's always a bit fussy over covert rules and stuff. Anyway, don't get your panties in a twist, little lady."

    He grinned at Misty, who seemed to get increasingly enraged by the second, "we don't wanna disturb you from whatever you've got going on in here." He paused, wagging his eyebrows at her, before eyeing the Skarmory with greedy eyes, "though I must say, you've got a good choice in pokémon. That Skarmory's worth a great deal. How 'bout a trade eh, kid?" He stared pointedly at Red. "I'll give you a fair price."

    "Not interested." Red waved him off, his stance completely stiff. His instincts were screaming at him that he was in danger, reminding him of the time when Ritchie had attacked him in Pallet Forest. "Unless there's anything else…?"

    "Easily miffed, ain'tcha?" Meyers chortled at his reaction. The other man muttered something back causing him to laugh out again. "Fine, to the point then. You see, we're looking for a growlithe— white manes, lavender-ish fur, a runaway from our… warehouse. Kinda like the one lazing about over there."

    Said growlithe was already pushing itself up from the ground, readying itself to start running at the first chance.

    "See? It recognized us." Meyers spoke again. "We need that back, and we'll leave you happy and free to.. Get back to whatever it is you were doing." Mayers wagged his eyebrows again, almost as if he was worried that they wouldn't get his point.

    Misty blushed in embarrassment at the obvious implication, her expressions quickly flipping between a choleric gaze to open hostility. "What the hell are—?"

    "Misty," Red beckoned in a sharp tone, his eyes never leaving the two men in front of him. Their dress codes reeked of history with the military, effectiveness over style and comfort. Probably some kind of goon-for-hire, from some criminal organization, if their behavior was of any indication.

    "So kid, what do you say?" Meyers asked casually, extending his hand out. "Why don't you toss us the growithe. We may even reward you a bit. Good job finding him and all that"

    "Not happening." Red retorted defiantly. Mawile, who had obviously understood the underlying tension in his voice, hopped up to his side and glared at the two men. Skarmory, on the other hand, was staring at them cooly, her sharp eyes in patient wait for any sudden movement that might count as a threat.

    "Listen, kid," the brown-haired man addressed Red for the first time. "You might have caught this growlithe, but don't get so attached to things. It's just a fucking growlithe. You can find one on the streets. Fill that pokéball of yours with something that can actually earn its keep."

    "Of course," Red replied evenly, his eyes locked on the brown-haired man. "But it's got a shock collar on it. Why did you put one on it?" He arched an eyebrow. "It's just a growlithe, after all."

    "My God, are you fucking retarded?" Meyers took out a pokéball before tossing it in front of him. A humanoid creature wearing a shiny, metallic belt on its belt stood tall, flexing its biceps as a form of intimidation.

    A machoke, huh? Red mused. So negotiations have fallen. And now we turn to violence.

    He casually made a nod towards Mawile who began to prepare an Iron Head.

    The brown-haired man sighed before turning towards the other guy— Meyers, and nodded, before plucking out three pokéballs from his pocket. "Kid, I've been in this business when you were still in diapers. Believe me, this is only going to get worse from here."

    Red considered the man's words. The pragmatic part of his mind did point out that he wouldn't gain anything from making a stand here. He did not owe the growlithe anything. Mawile might have hurt it, but he had healed it in return. He had given it good food, taken care of its problems—

    He stilled.

    "...either way, don't try to run around. You need to get some rest, and we aren't going anywhere soon. Don't worry, worst comes to worst and that asshole returns, we'll protect you."

    He had promised growlithe that he'd help it. And believing in his words, the puppy had stayed with them.

    Fuck Red cursed. If I had just let it leave… If I hadn't seen it.

    It was too late. If he let it go, he would probably be haunted with nightmares of the growlithe looking at him with its big upturned eyes. Steeling himself, he took a good look at the man in front of him. From his looks and words, the man was a veteran in his late twenties— probably more dangerous than anyone he had faced before.

    He had managed face-off Ritchie and his team with just Mawile, even though he had gotten a little bit of unseen aid from Kaz. But back then, he was untrained and had no working relationship with his starter.

    Things were different now.

    Skarmory can take hits with remarkable ease, and Mawile can manipulate the field. Maybe if they work together….

    He cursed himself from not training them to fight in teams. He'd need to look into that in the future. For now, he needed to somehow escape the present dilemma.

    Obviously, relying on the growlithe was not an option. Scyther… was an anomaly, and it'd be better if he simply kept a wary eye at the bug. It had not attacked him so far, but there was no assuming that it wouldn't take advantage, should an opportunity present itself.

    If only the growlithe could be taken into the pokéball, we could make for a run using mist as a distraction. If it escapes on its own, then we can divide their attention, and probably defeat them.

    He did a quick headcount. He had Mawile and Skarmory. Shellder was… effectively useless, unless it could act as bait or something. Misty had a starmie, which could be useful, but her croconaw was too sluggish to make an impact. On the other hand, the two men looked considerably experienced and their pokémon would be overwhelming in both quality and quantity. Giving up and running was the better option.

    He glanced at the tense growlithe from the corner of his eye. Why doesn't it just run away? At least that'd help….

    "Stalling wastes everyone's time, kid. Make a decision, or we'll make one for you." Meyers yelled. The machoke flexed its muscles again.

    Think fast… Red told himself. He needed to stall some more, hoping the puppy would take a hint. "I… I found that growlithe in the wild." He continued looking around hoping to get some inspiration from his surroundings.

    Misty, curse her, looked like she had seen a ghost, or worse, another crawling bug, and was imitating a rock. He allowed himself to take a moment to wonder how the girl had managed to survive so far by herself.

    "What's your point?"

    "It was bleeding, and injured, and I used a lot of my medicine on it." He glanced back, only to find the growlithe staring at him with something akin to shock in his eyes. "More importantly," he went on, "it's a shiny, and growlithe or not, that's rare. You want me to give away something like that for free?"

    The brown-haired man crooked his head. "You want compensation, eh? You got balls, kid. I'll give you that. But consider this a lesson. Don't get attached to things. Forget it, and walk away. Learn to judge when something is worth it. You'll lose much more than just some medicines and a shiny."

    "Damn straight," Meyers interjected supportively, laughing at the teen's attempts to appear strong and in control.

    "You— you're Team Rocket, aren't you?" Misty suddenly spoke out of nowhere. Even Red was surprised at that revelation. This was Team Rocket? He had, of course, heard about the nefarious group of thugs, attacking civilian population from time to time, and robbing factories and industrial equipment.

    "Looks like we're famous, Travers." Meyers laughed, ignoring the other man's scowl. 'Yeah girl, we're the big bad Team Rocket, and if you don't shut up and leave, it will be— actually, don't bother. We'll just take what we came for and leave."

    "Meyers, stop wasting time," Travers said, shaking his head. "This is supposed to be the easy part."

    "Right, just a second. So, what will it be?" Meyers turned towards Red, who seemed almost disappointed at them.

    "Don't give me that creepy stare, kid." The man called out in indignation. "It creeps me out."

    Creepy stares are supposed to creep you out. Red mused. "I'm not really experienced at such 'cloak and daggery' activities, but is there usually this much talk?" He pushed his left leg into the ground, kicking soil at growlithe, who still didn't get the memo—" like what the hell is something like Team Rocket doing with a growlithe? Shouldn't you be… fighting the League or something?"

    "That one's got a big mouth on him, Travers. I'll shut—" Meyers began.

    "Allow me," Travers interjected, gently shushing the other man. "Alright, enough conversation. To business."

    "Good," Red replied agreeably, sending an eye-signal at Mawile, who nodded in acknowledgment. In less than a second, a Mist expanded outward from her surrounding the entire place. Between the dull white camouflage and the lack of sunlight, it was practically impenetrable, even for Skarmory's eyes.

    Twisting his head, he glared at the growlithe and yelled, "and why the fuck aren't you running already?"

    The growlithe blinked twice, before it hit him. It twisted its body around, began to leap off, away into the forest.

    "Yeah," Red answered with a grin, facing the Rocket member, "now let's get down to business."

    Travers sighed.

    "Why doesn't anyone ever do things the easy way?"



    "Capture the growlithe," Meyers commanded the machoke who leaped into the forest right behind the fleeing fire-type, leaving a swirl of dust in his wake.

    The things they make me do. And all for a goddamn growlithe.

    "You've bitten off more than you can chew, kid. My machoke will capture that growlithe. All you've managed to do is waste our time. And we don't like people who waste our time." He grinned savagely.

    "Why do you even think your machoke will catch it?." The teen asked.

    "Feisty little thing, aren't cha?" Meyers clenched his jaw. Machoke were not known for their eyesight, and considering just how large the forest was, there was a high chance that the growlithe would evade him.

    Not on my watch, Meyers cursed, bringing out an electronic device that looked like some kind of remote controller. He pressed one of the buttons and grinned wolfishly.

    Further away, the growlithe let out a painful howl.

    "Found it."

    Smirking, he began to sprint in the approximate direction of the howl, leaving a perplexed Red Ketchum in his wake.



    Red watched the man sprint past him, his mind locked in a deadlock. Knowing Mawile's shenanigans, and his own wretched luck, he had developed some basic eye-signals for Mawile to understand and act appropriately. Most of these were based around distractionary maneuvers. The Mist had served excellently, and for a moment, he thought that he had gained an upper hand.

    And now, he was the one in a mental deadlock. The man had sprinted into the forest, and the machoke was already there. Chances were that the guy had multiple pokémon on his person, while growlithe was alone. His heart told him that he should run after him, but his mind pointed out that it would leave Misty alone with the other guy.

    He glanced at Croconaw, and then at the pokéball in Misty's hands, and then back towards Croconaw. Making a decision, he turned towards the avian in the air, and yelled out, "Skarmory, keep them busy for a while, will you?"

    Skarmory nodded before moving to stand in front of Red. The regal avian crooked her head, staring at the other man, and the ariados next to him calculatingly.

    Misty though, seemed both perplexed and exasperated at his decision. "Red, use your head," she yelled, "those are experienced criminals. That man can kill you!"

    "Only if I die!" Red countered back as he sprinted into the forest, with Mawile following swiftly behind.

    Misty's eye twitched.

    "Yes," She almost roared, "that's what killing you means."



    As someone who had always chosen the coldness of pragmatism over the warmth of blind hope, Growlithe was never a believer in fate. It was simpler for him. What he wanted, and what happened, depended upon several variables, and the result was the solution called life. Most events could be shaped by factors that were mostly susceptible to change when considered the right way. Escaping was a matter of deliberate planning and choice, and it had worked. Sure, he had not considered the mawile's intervention, nor the manner in which it would cause a wrench in his plans, but it was something beyond his control. His interactions with Red and the rest after getting healed were anything but that.

    The restore potions had been a lifesaver. Growlithe had always known about his insane regeneration capacity, and constant exposure to electrical shocks had taught him how to redirect the regeneration to function out of order, depending on what he needed first. It was dangerous, but it had always been his ace in the hole, and something he had kept secret from everyone so far. The restoration potions had substantially boosted his abnormal regenerative powers to new heights healing almost everything about him. Sure, his legs were still frail and he would need a lot of physical activity before he could run like an ordinary growlithe, but it was better than it ever was.

    And that brought him to the current scenario.

    He had instantly recognized the two men from their military uniforms since the ones at the lab wore something similar. The fact they were staring at him kind of made it obvious. Growlithe's original plan was to flee into the forest, but knowing those men, it would probably be an exercise in futility. Speed wasn't his forte, analysis and planning was. That, and his ability to regurgitate acid. And so, he stayed silent and watched the two men banter with Red.

    He had heard Red state out a myriad number of reasons for standing against the two men, but frankly, his reasons weren't in tune with what Growlithe knew about the teen from his personal observations. The teen hadn't made the slightest move towards capturing him. Instead, he had fed him thrice a day, and added more nutrient potions to bolster his regeneration. And not just him, but the scyther as well, despite the unusually disdainful and grumpy nature that the bug displayed.

    Red was strange, but he was a good kind of strange. And if Growlithe had to choose, he'd probably stick to his chances with this human than anything else. At least, it would get him out of this forest, and give him some exposure to the world outside. Worst came to worst; he could always escape. He had escaped the prison, so escaping from the new human should be no different.

    What do I do now?

    Morality would probably indicate that he'd stand on Red's side and fight off against the two men that wanted to capture him, but Growlithe hadn't survived all this time by being moral. The scyther would probably take the opportunity to escape. Mawile… was quick on her feet, but not a runner. There was a time and place for her talents and this was not it. Red was stupidly naive and moral, so he would probably get eaten somewhere. Taking advantage of the situation was the pragmatic thing to do.

    It was hardly personal.

    The real question would be the aftermath of that choice. Should he abandon Red, there was a high chance that Red and his company might drop their defensive stance, and allow the men-in-black to chase after him. Growlithe knew that he couldn't outrun them, and all it would take would be a single hit to render him incapacitated. And when that happened, there would be no one to come and save him.

    And then Red twisted his neck and yelled, "and why the fuck aren't you running already?"

    Had Growlithe been a lesser creature, he'd have probably broken down into tears at such an open display of pure-hearted behavior. Fortunately, he was not, and knew when to take advantage of such emotional responses. He saw the mist envelope the area, and almost woofed in joy. Jumping off the ground, he turned tail and raced into the forest— weak legs be damned.

    I'm going to make it! Finally!

    Growlithe made a silent prayer for the human as he continued to run. Maybe all humans weren't as bad as he tho—

    And then out of nowhere, he felt pain.

    The shock-collar activated, and several hundred volts of electricity penetrated his skin. His muscles spasmed and Growlithe skidded into the ground, bruising his forelimbs as he sagged into the grassy floor. It was fortunate that he was no stranger to pain, or he would be unable to think. It hurt that much.

    He felt his regeneration kick in, numbing the paralytic effect of the electrocution, and dulling the pain.

    I'm no longer mobile, so fleeing is just a slow death. A battle it is then.

    Growlithe knelt in a crouch, allowing his weight to rest on his hindlimbs. From the vibrations on the forest floor, it was obvious that something large and heavy was quickly approaching him. His maw shut and ready with an attack, Growlithe calmly waited for his assailant to arrive.

    He felt the boisterous machoke appear before he even saw it, grunting in its throaty voice, as it jogged towards him. Clearly, any concept of subtlety was lost on this muscle-for-brains. For a moment, Growlithe entertained a silly thought about his own species. Were normal growlithe air-heads too, because they thought with their legs instead of their brains?

    Growlithe's stray thoughts were interrupted by the approaching machoke. It had seemingly located him and was currently aiming a hard punch at Growlithe's abdomen. Considering his own frail self, Growlithe was sure that a single punch would take him down.

    Wait for it.

    Right when the punch was about to land, Growlithe put all his strength into his hindlimbs and leaped. Right onto the hand that was about to pulverize him. For a second he looked up at the obviously confused pokémon. Right in the eye.

    And then Growlithe smiled.

    Eat Acid Smog, bitch.

    He opened his mouth and doused the unfortunate creature with as potent a version of his Acid Smog as he could possibly produce.

    Right in the face.

    The machoke hissed in pain, as the corrosive vapors gnawed at his flesh, eating their way through it. Never one to waste an opportunity, Growlithe bared his fangs and tore through the very hand he was clinging on, his sharp fangs, lined with corrosive acid, tearing and burning their way through flesh. The machoke tried to grapple him, but it had already lost most of the mobility in his arm. And it didn't seem to be able to make its own decisions under pain.

    Stupid thing.

    The last thing it saw was the bared fangs of its prey approach its throat.



    I fucking hate this.

    It was almost funny. One moment he had charged ahead into the dense forest intent on capturing the growlithe. Doctor Namba had been rather insistent that the growlithe must be caught alive, and only in the worst-case scenario was that he was allowed to kill it. Obviously, the worst-case scenario involved coming across a Ranger Squad, and Meyers was sure that encountering a bunch of rookies did not qualify. Besides, with machoke already on the growlithe's trail, he'd probably be back at the base before midnight.

    Now though... He didn't feel as confident as before. The entire place was damp and dark. The mist had certainly not helped, and with the dense outgrowth all around, it was slowly bordering along the lines of discomfort. He couldn't even hear the soft thumping of his machoke's feet.

    Probably gone far away. Did the growlithe really run that far off?

    Doctor Namba had been quite particular. The growlithe was precious. It could spew acid from its mouth, and was quick to regenerate from bruises. There was nothing in the description about its vulnerability, or lack thereof, as far as electrical shocks were concerned. Besides, it wasn't used to constant running, so it would probably try to hide somewhere.

    I'm beginning to hate myself for not bringing the poochyena.

    "CHWO - OKE!"

    Meyers stiffened. That was his machoke's voice. No, that was Machoke screaming. In pain. A shiver ran down Meyer's spine, the eerie silence that dragged on after the sudden scream giving rise to an odd feeling in his stomach.

    Fear.

    "Machoke? Machoke, are you all right?" Meyers yelled.

    Silence.

    "Ma— Machoke did you get it?" He tried again.



    There was no sound of feet stampeding upon the grassy floor. There were throaty grunts, no sound of the branches being pushed by something large walking through them. There were no bugs buzzing in the dark, nor anything else that gave any semblance of life.

    Just the grim darkness, and the silent rustling of the surrounding trees.

    "Shameful!" He muttered, "being afraid of the dark."

    His left hand reached into his waist, and took out a pokéball, releasing the beast within. The white, bipedal feline that stood before him was visible despite the lack of illumination. Then again, zangoose fur contained some kind of phosphorescent compound, that emanated a soft glow in the dark. Something about allowing the offspring to spot their parents in the night.

    The zangoose let out a low growl.

    "It's me," Meyers established his presence with his voice. "Stay sharp. Attack anything that moves. "

    Inwardly, he was wishing that he hadn't entered into such an obscure zone, but returning empty-handed would speak ill of his prowess.

    The zangoose growled a second time.

    "What is it? Do you sense something?"

    The feline wagged its jagged tail upwards, sniffing around like the very growlithe it was there to catch, before signaling towards the right.

    Yes, this will do.

    With soft steps, Meyers walked ahead, taking care not to produce any sudden noises. There, roughly four meters ahead, stood the precocious teen, with his mawile standing right beside him. With the way the creature was glowing in the darkness, he presumed that it had some modicum of control over the Flash technique.

    Mawile are deceptive, and this one looks trained.

    "Zangoose," He whispered, "get close and use Night Slash. Target the abdomen."

    Zangoose shook his head towards the teenager.

    "Incapacitate him if necessary. Try not to kill anything, especially the mawile."

    The feline nodded, before leaping into the darkness. Meyers could feel the rush of adrenaline pumping into his veins, invigorating him. Regardless of whether he might catch the growlithe, he was not letting the teen go without paying for his obstinacy. His eyes shone with a slight hint of malice, as he sensed the zangoose leap from branch to branch in near silence.

    Time to hunt.



    Meanwhile

    Travers stood on the spot patiently, a lackadaisical expression on his face as he waited for the mist to slowly disperse away. This wasn't normal mist and would dissipate with the departure of the caster— in this case, the mawile. Truth be told, he was rather surprised that a mawile of all things, held this level of affinity with ice. The little tricksters were rather devious, and this one's trainer seemed to enhance its capriciousness.

    He glanced at the skarmory maintaining a keen eye over his own movements. Beside him, his faithful ariados stood guard. Should the need arise, the ariados could very well engage the steel avian for a while. More than enough time for him to release his other pokémon. As a grunt captain, it was his duty to keep a team of six on his person at all times, but he had gotten a little… overboard with his recent training, which was why he was currently down to four. But it didn't matter—his other pokémon was more than capable of ending the fight immediately.

    I seriously hope that it doesn't come to that. These are pretty green trainers after all.

    "Aren't you going to attack me?" The orangette asked.

    Travers arched an eyebrow. "Do you want me to?"

    He passed a second glance at the avian in the air and arched his hands over his head. "Meyers has gone in, and he'll be out with the growlithe soon enough. I have no reason to fight you."

    Misty folded her arms over her chest. "Red's gone in there too. He'll stop your…"

    "Meyers," He supplied helpfully. "And I wouldn't be so sure of it. Unlike me, Meyers is a hands-on kind of guy. It's almost ironic, since your boyfriend—"

    "Red's not my boyfriend!"

    "Indeed?" Travers frowned. "Off-putting. You seem like a hands-on kind of girl. Your friend— Red was it? He's more… like me. I noticed his stalling tactic. Too bad that the growlithe lacked the facilities to understand his words and run away. Five more seconds of the Mist could have facilitated his escape better."

    The orangette gritted her teeth in annoyance.

    "Are you…. Are you looking down on me? I have pokémon too, in case you are getting any ideas." Misty replied irately.

    "Do I seem to give that impression? Forgive me. I'm more of a… reconnaissance kinda person. Observing army personnel, deceiving targets and taking them out, that kind of thing. More of the 'cloak and daggery' kind of activities that your friend was talking about. Speaking of which, daggery isn't an actual word."

    "Stop rambling." Misty almost rebuked him, before her expression changed. Probably, the girl had just realized how stupid it was. "Why are you after that growlithe? Even for its shiny-ness, it cannot be worth so much as to send goons after it."

    Travers laughed at that. "Now, now, mind your manners. That is what separates us cultured people from... goons did you say? As for your question, that growlithe is… special. It's unfortunate your boyfriend decided to poké his—"

    "Red's not my boyfriend!" Misty hissed vehemently.

    "You really have quite a pair of lungs on you." He sighed. "I should have left Meyers with you."

    The girl remained in place, as he glanced in the direction his friend had sprinted off. "I really hope he finishes quickly. Speaking of which," he turned towards Misty, "you shouldn't hope for your friend's safe return. More so, if he continues to fight."

    "Just shut your trap." Misty hollered. "I— I'll fight if I have to."

    "No thank you," Travers calmly sat down on the grassy floor. "Fighting a greenie is no fun at all. I'll wait till either of them shows up."



    Back Inside…

    Growlithe pushed himself off the ground, his claws still sunk into the machoke's flesh. He had just bitten into its muscular shoulder, tearing it off from the rest of its body. It felt good. Hunting a strong creature, feasting upon it, even when facing a battle of survival was… exhilarating. It woke up something primal inside him— something had emerged from its shadowy cave, never to return to the shadows.

    His red eyes emanated a sinister glow.

    From the sounds, he knew there were others nearby. The sounds of footsteps and the agitated branches were enough of a clue that there was a tree-dweller around.

    Probably not a water-type. Flames it is, then. I cannot match its speed, but what if it runs out of branches?

    Worst-case scenario—he'd be caught in a forest fire. No big deal. He could absorb flames just fine. The same wasn't true for humans, nor the tree-dweller. Besides, the orangette had two water-types, but he doubted even those two would be powerful enough to bring a forest fire under control. Not to mention Red was—

    Growlithe cursed. Apparently, the first example of nice behavior had woken up some of the growlithe-genes within him. There was simply no other explanation of why he felt beholden to a human of all things. Even from this distance, he could see the mawile glowing like a torch in the darkness. For someone that claimed to be the exemplar of subtlety and trickery, it was uncertain as to why she was glowing like a flashlight in the dark.

    Oh right.

    Red.


    Growlithe sensed the other predator leap off to the next branch. It was quick— he'd give it that much —but Mawile could deal with it. Currently, his senses were drawing him towards a different scent. One that he was familiar with back in the lab. One that was human.

    Though this time would be different. This time, he would be the predator.

    And the human would be his prey.



    The moment they had entered the ever-growing darkness of the forest, Mawile patted herself on the back for allowing Red to get her started on Iron Defense. Similar to Flash, the layer of steel energy emanated a soft glow in the darkness, enough to cover a wider range without the immense luminosity. It was exactly what she needed to give herself visibility in this forest.

    It was also what made her a target.

    "Mawile, do you hear that?" Red asked her, his fingers tightening around a sharp twig. Mawile wondered where he had picked that one.

    She jerked her head. She wasn't a nocturnal creature, and as such, she was at a disadvantage. Whatever was around her, was clearly laying a trap. Neither she nor Red could fight in the darkness.

    This is going to be difficult.

    "Ready your Iron Head, and use diversionary tactic F," Red prompted. Mawile widened her eyes at that. Yep, that one could be of some use, especially with the darkness in the forest. Her present condition would only reinforce it.

    She allowed a small smirk grace her lips.

    The creature in the darkness rushed from the branch to her right into the sky, before leaping into the left. Mawile felt that she saw a reddish glint before a large shadow rose up from her behind. She sensed Red clenched the twig in his hand, ready to wave it over as a defense, and felt the creature draw near her.

    She let go.

    And the world was inundated with blinding light.



    Meyers brought his hands in front of his face, shutting his eyes tight as blinding light exploded in the middle of the darkness. He had been ready to watch the zangoose bring the teen and his mawile down when that little explosion had ruined his plans. Zangoose could function in both daylight and darkness, but it took them a while to get adjusted to either extreme.

    The mawile really couldn't have timed the Flash better. The zangoose hissed, and lost its control, dropping to the forest floor, rubbing its eyes.

    Shit. I need to run damage control. Now.

    His fingers clenched the next pokéball on his waist, ready to throw his next battler out to play. Yes, Arbok was exactly what he needed to control the situation. On second thought, he probably shouldn't have sent the zangoose out in the first place.

    That, and Arbok makes me uncomfortable. He mused to himself, raising the pokéball that contained the vicious serpent—

    And a pair of vicious claws came out of nowhere and slashed at him. Meyers paused for a moment before he slowly turned to look down at the stump that used to be his arm. For a moment, he couldn't understand what had happened.

    Is that… my hand?

    His entire body felt numb. He couldn't think. He couldn't breathe. Meyers moved as if possessed as he slowly bent down moving closer and closer to the arm on the floor. His mind started feeling clearer as the numbness started fading.

    I— I was attacked? What hit m—

    And then Meyers knew pain.



    This is… surprisingly simple. Growlithe mused to himself, his padded paws silencing his movement. His legs were weak, so while he couldn't run fast, he could be stealthy. Here, in the darkness of the forest, it was his stealth that was becoming his weapon.

    Interesting. Every single day of freedom teaches me something new about myself.

    Back at the prison, the only thing he had was pain. Pain meant that he was alive, that he drew breath, and that he had lasted another day. Pain meant that the deathmatch was on, or over. Pain meant the embrace of sweet, dreamless sleep, of freedom, of a world away from these white-walls, a world where he could live a happy life. Pain meant the start of a new struggle that would bring him one step closer to the freedom he demanded.

    That was until he had escaped the prison, and stepped into this eternally-large forest.

    The feeling of soft, raw flesh of the tangela had been… exhilarating. Growlithe was no stranger to meat, but eating warm flesh, with blood trickling out of the tissues while he feasted on it was incomparable. It was nothing like the cold loaves of meat that the prison guards had pushed into his cage two times a day. But while the tangela had been an unsuspecting prey, the machoke had been a predator, and just some moments ago, he had torn into him with a viciousness Growlithe didn't know he had.

    It felt good. Very good. His primal instincts begged for more. And Growlithe was only too happy to oblige.

    The human—Meyers or whatever, seemed afraid. Growlithe could almost sense the fear in him, but he wanted more. He wanted to taste it. Those men-in-black were always the ones with the weapon, whether it be through the damned collar on his neck, or through those steel rods that electrocuted him upon contact.

    Oh, how he hated them.

    He saw the deceiving little trickster explode out into bright light, catching the feline off-guard. Even Red was holding a stick—Growlithe almost chuckled at the sight. To think that the human thought that a stick would keep him alive. Red was naive, but he was a good kind of naive.

    He considered Meyers again.

    He saw the man's fingers reach into his waist, and bring out a second pokéball. Another mindless creature perhaps? Ready to serve its torturer until death took them apart? Mawile he could understand—benefits of a naive and less-heartless master. But them?

    Disgraceful. Perhaps a life of freedom in the world has made freedom seem… less in their eyes. Is that why they are confined to mindless beasts that cannot move without their master's command?

    That would not do. Growlithe wanted to hunt, wanted the prey to fight back.

    He glanced at Meyers again.

    And hunt he would.

    Without preamble, the canine leaped towards the unsuspecting man, claws drenched with corrosive acid, and brought it down on him, ripping off the portion below the elbow. The cut wasn't clean by any means, with broken bones and torn tissue latching against the upper fragment. The rest of it unceremoniously landed into the grass, the pokéball flung away unused.

    Growlithe watched his tormentor stumble around. He seemed to be completely ignoring his own injury.

    Do humans not feel pain?

    Come to think of it, he had never actually seen a human get injured before.

    And then Meyers screamed.

    Growlithe watched in bemusement as his prey let out one howl after another, before collapsing onto the floor, still cradling the injured stump that remained attached to his shoulder.

    His eyes met Meyers's own.

    I can almost smell his fear.

    The retracted claws stretched out, as a single paw dug into the man's chest. For that moment, Meyers was no mere human. Rather, he was a representation of all the humans that had ever hurt him— the ones that imprisoned him and kept him captive. The ones that performed experiments on him regardless of the suffering and torment it caused him. For every broken bone, for every single time Growlithe had to suffer in silence—

    No longer.

    This was his tormentor, and today, he would be his prey.

    I could get used to this.


    Growlithe's eyes glowed in the color of blood, and he tore towards the man's neck, as Meyers released a gut-wrenching scream.



    The feline was already in motion before Mawile's jaw slammed into the ground.

    She was fast. Quite fast, Red noted. But the feline was faster. Using Flash had been a good idea, even if it did blind her momentarily. By the time his eyes had readjusted to the dark, Mawile was already airborne, aiming for the white feline on the floor.

    She ended up missing, by several inches in fact, as the creature latched onto the nearest trunk, before leaping onto the next branch. He couldn't see Meyers, so the pokémon was probably running on instinct.

    If only I could scan it. What are the chances of encountering a non-native here of all places? I really need to look into the non-Kanto natives the next chance I get. For now...

    "Mawile, aerial countermeasures."

    The deceiver pokémon nodded, taking the offensive. The white feline snarled and leaped down towards Mawile again, its long, sharp claws coated with tendrils of darkness. Something feral shone in the feline's eyes as it snarled in fury before pouncing at Mawile from atop a branch.

    That has to be Night Slash. Is this some kind of dark-type?

    He didn't know a lot about dark-types or their move sets other than the common Bite, and its evolved and infinitely more dangerous version— Crunch. He had come across Night Slash while reading about Bite. It had been nothing short of fascinating.

    Despite being a physical attack, a dark-type move didn't rely upon causing maximum damage at first strike. Instead, it focussed on transferring some of those black tendrils into the victim upon impact. That accomplished, the victim would show increasing signs of sluggishness and disorientation. And these attacks could stack over time, with each move draining the targets stamina and reserves. Once the victim had wasted itself away, the dark-type would pounce upon it.

    Night Slash, Bite, Crunch—they came in different variations and methods, but the underlying principle was always the same. An injection of those tendrils— or Dark Energy in layman terms and the rest was history. It was what made Dark-types so utterly dangerous. It was also what gave them the reputation of being evil.

    "Mawile, it is about time!" Red yelled, hoping she'd catch the urgency in his voice, "don't let it hit."

    Thankfully, his starter obliged without a second thought. She instantly dropped the Iron Head she was preparing, and launched her open jaw into the air, liberating a wave of electrified energy.

    The Thunder Wave tore through the space between them, catching the feline off guard. The white creature spasmed mid-air, before unceremoniously dropping to the floor. Even so, one of its sharp claws did manage to scratch past Mawile's jaw and draw blood below her left shoulder. It was a tiny cut, easily treatable, but it had caused her to bleed, and some of the darkness from its claws had passed through.

    Mawile hissed in pain, and answered it in the only way she knew how.

    With Iron Head.

    Which, quite unfortunately for the feline, landed straight on its head.



    Meyers tried to calm himself by breathing in deeply. It did not help. The air almost refused to enter his lungs.

    What is happening?

    A slightly metallic taste filled his mouth as he coughed.

    Blood. He realized. My own.

    Mayers gathered whatever little strength he could and began to edge away from the creature stalking him. This was no growlithe. This was a predator and it was slowly walking towards him, clearly enjoying his suffering. A muted scream left his throat before he felt padded feet land upon his chest.

    Meyers shivered, fully expecting to die.

    Is this how it ends?

    He slowly closed his eyes, not wanting to watch the growlithe deal the final blow. It never came. Instead, something slammed into the beast, leaving a loud hissing sound in its wake. After what seemed like an eternity, he slowly peered his eyes open.

    I'm— I'm not dead?

    His Arbok had somehow released itself from the pokéball during the entire event, and had attacked the monster—he refused to call that thing a growlithe —with extreme prejudice.

    "Arbok!" Meyers breathed fearfully, as his eyes met the malevolent stare of the serpent beside him. Arbok had always been an oddball, and he couldn't really claim to have any control over it. It reeked of killing intent, and for a moment, Meyers wondered if he had simply chosen one torturous death over another.

    A moment later, the arbok lunged forward, Meyers almost let out a scream— for one horrifying moment, he thought the Arbok was charging at him —but to his elation, the vicious serpent simply slithered over his body, impressing its massive weight on his form, before lunging at the canine, who bared his fangs and dodged the attack. Arbok slammed into a tree trunk, smashing the trunk into several pieces, before sweeping it off the ground with a lash of its tail, and bared its fangs.

    Drip.

    The sound of deadly venom dripping off its fangs was distinct. He had seen a taurus die within five minutes of being bitten.

    Meyers felt his vision fade as the sheer agony overpowered his senses. It hurt so goddamn much that he just wanted to fall unconscious. He slapped himself. Hard. He needed to stay awake. He couldn't afford to lose control, not if he wanted to survive.

    "Get him!" The words started out as an order but ended up as a slurred plea. "Wrap that bastard up—" The rest of his words jumbled as a particularly bad jolt of pain ripped through his body. Mayers felt himself fading into the darkness.

    Focus on the pain, he told himself. Pain is good. Means you're still alive.

    The serpent hissed savagely, flaring its hood outwards. The strange patterns on its belly shone in the darkness, and for once, the growlithe seemed transfixed with fear. Meyers could hear it whimpering in the darkness.

    This might be my chance, Meyers thought to himself. Ignoring the jolts of agony that came with the slightest movement. The growlithe was engaged, and he probably wouldn't get another opportunity. He needed to escape. The world could go to hell, but he needed—

    Disorientation gripped his mind before another pang of agony brought him back.

    He needed to escape, and he—

    He froze as he felt something hit his other hand. It was the controller, the one that manipulated the growlithe's shock collar. He had imagined that a single electrocution would render it paralyzed for hours, and as such, had returned it to his pocket.

    Meyers saw the growlithe leap onto his arbok from above.

    A cruel smile etched itself on Meyers' face. He had lost an arm to the canine, and he'd be damned if the growlithe didn't suffer for it.

    Snarling, he pressed the button.



    Zangoose, the cat-ferret pokémon. Zangoose usually stays on all fours, but when angered, it gets up on its hind legs and extends its claws. This pokémon shares a bitter rivalry with seviper that dates back over generations.

    "A zangoose, huh?" Red muttered, scanning the unconscious pokémon on the floor. Mawile was currently inspecting it, and while he had pretended not to notice, she had actually slammed her jaw on its face and back twice after its initial incapacitation. For once, he didn't comment on her violence. This creature had come at them with the intent to maim, if not kill.

    "Does it still hurt?"

    Mawile hissed, almost as if the mere memory of the little wound was causing her pain. Red smiled gently, before pulling her into his arms, causing the little thing to coo into his chest in elation.

    "I doubt we'll be able to find growlithe or that ass—"

    An inhuman scream hit his ears.

    Meyers.

    He seemed to be in danger and Red certainly did not want to get mixed up in it. The forest was filled with monstrous creatures after all. Clutching Mawile tightly in his arms, he ran into the darkness, hoping he was getting closer to the tent—

    And fell on the ground face-first.

    He groaned as his hands slid across the ground.

    Why is it so slippery?

    He rubbed his fingers together, feeling an unusual greasiness.

    "What is this?" He wondered, "Mawile, can you Flash?"

    Mawile did so, without hesitation—

    Red nearly threw up in horror.

    Blood. So much blood. And it was everywhere.

    He stared at his red-stained hands as another wave of nausea washed over him.

    The body— if it could be called that— was barely recognizable. Less than a quarter of the face remained. The rest had been hacked and ripped apart brutally. Turned out that the thing he had slipped over was actually an eye socket that had rolled further away from the body, and was now inches away from his legs, with dark red blood pooling all around it, already blackening.

    Panicking, he threw his legs outward, kicking the eyeball away from him. Pushing himself back into a bush, he lost all control before throwing up.

    Even Mawile looked nauseous.

    He could hardly keep himself from shaking in utter horror. Mawile moved towards him, ignoring the brutality on the floor, and slowly rubbed her head against his chest. A part of him felt a tiny bit of solace in that comfort. Clenching her closer, he slowly backed away, compulsively shutting his eyes in attempts to remove the image from his eyes.

    "What—what could have—?"

    It didn't help. If anything, the image of the mutilated pokémon kept reinforcing itself every time he closed his eyes.

    "What could have done—do you, do you think—" Red's eyes widened in recognition as he went on, "Growlithe? Then… do you think that this is the machoke?"

    Mawile shrugged her head. Growlithe were canines, so it was quite possible for them to hack and rip into their prey. That said, even she agreed that this particular specimen had been rather vicious in its methods.

    "Let's— let's go," Red shook his head vigorously, not wanting to think about the matter for too long. He needed to get out of this forest as quickly as he could.



    Meyers watched the growlithe gnash its teeth in agony, as electricity jolted through its nerves. The canine had just leaped over the serpent to strike from above, only for the timely electrocution to make it lose its coordination and unceremoniously drop to the forest floor.

    Four times! That shit's gonna be deader than dead when I'm fucking done with it.

    "Crush it, Arbok. Make it suffer" Meyers grinned maliciously, before coughing up blood.

    He somehow managed to pull out one of the syringes from his waist pocket, all the while biting into his tongue to keep himself from screaming his lungs out. Pain endurance was a fundamental part of his training regimen, as was knowledge of basic first-aid in an emergency situation. Granted, this took the concept of a first-aid to an extreme, so he'd have to make do with what he had. Tearing off the cap, he plunged the syringe into the remaining stump that was his arm.

    Not wasting time, he pulled out a pair of capsules and swallowed them. These were painkiller-pills, containing potent analgesics as well as nutrients, and were specifically engineered by the League for their Ace Corps. It was a good thing that Team Rocket had its roots deep inside the bureaucracy.

    Mind's going on tangents. I've lost too much blood. Need help.

    Without preamble, he lifted his head and— "ARGH!"

    Something shoved into him from behind, sending him flailing down to the ground. Right onto his injured arm, letting out another grunt of pain. The anesthesia was working, but it wasn't there yet. Somehow he managed to turn over, ignoring the mess that was his arm, to look up.

    The kid?

    "What the fuck do you—?" he screamed another jolt of pain hit him.

    "Sorry," The teen muttered, "I meant to say stop, but I punched you instead."

    He saw the teen momentarily wince at his amputated stump before a furious hiss from Arbok attracted his attention. The mawile had ripped into Arbok's abdomen from behind while it was coiling around the growlithe, and slowly crushing it to death. The growlithe had nearly succumbed to the pain, and he would have thought it dead if not for the slight twitches every now and then.

    The sudden attack had the arbok screeching in agony, and it had instantly released its prey. True to its viciousness, the mawile kept slamming its jaw over the freshly mutilated region, causing Arbok to hiss in pain, before fleeing towards the forest.

    I need to do something.

    Meyers tried to get to the controller, but the teen kicked it out of his reach, towards the mawile who instantly shattered it to pieces. Incomprehensible horror dawned on him.

    "...What have you done?"

    "Saved someone I promised," the teen snarled back, "Growlithe deserves to live, and you're not going to take that away from him."

    The kid rushed towards the fallen canine, lifting him up in a fireman's carry. Once he was sure of his hold, the teen rushed out of the clearing with the mawile tucked into his arms.

    "Dammit!" He cursed, watching the group leave. Even at the cost of his own hand, he'd be damned if he allowed that brat and that growlithe to get away like that.

    With his diminishing strength and one remaining arm, he began to push himself up.



    Travers hated waiting, especially when it came to something so simple.

    This was supposed to be an in and out job. A search and retrieve. The target? A growlithe of all things. Yes, it was an experimental hybrid, but not only was it physically weak, it was even equipped with a shock collar.

    Meyers is more incompetent than I thought.

    "Hey, orange girl?"

    "Don't call me orange girl!"

    Travers winced. Did she have to be so loud?

    "Fine then, what's your name?"

    "Misty Waterflower," the orangette answered pridefully. Then again considering what the name represented, that wasn't very surprising.

    "Waterflower eh? Daughter of Michael Waterflower?"

    "You know my dad?" Misty narrowed his eyes.

    "Anyone in my business would know that fucker," Travers answered with a laugh, ignoring the glowing red of purple on the girl's face, "Anyway, just how competent is your boyfriend? It's not like Meyers to take so long."

    "Shut up. Red won't go down so easily," The girl shot back, "He'll kick your friend's ass."

    "I should tell you he's not really my friend. Worrying about him is more of a professional courtesy," He halted as he heard footsteps near the tent.

    "Ah, here he comes. Well, it's been nice chatting with you, and good luck with your not-boyfriend when he—"

    His words died down his throat, as Travers subconsciously stood up, at the sight before him. It wasn't Meyers. Instead, it was the teen— Red, covered in blood and a dead-looking growlithe on his shoulders. The mawile was trudging close behind, obviously exhausted.

    "Where is Meyers?" Travers asked, his tone sounding like a formal command. The teen almost flinched at his voice before catching himself and glowering back defiantly.

    "Red!" The orangette howled before rushing towards her companion concern clouding her features.

    "Get Inside. Talk later," Red breathed, as he slowly put the growlithe on the ground. The fire-type spasmed a few times at the movement, before shifting to placidity. The teen tilted his head towards the girl and spoke, never leaving Travers's eyes, "We're leaving. NOW. Take what you need."

    "But—"

    "NOW."

    "You're not going anywhere without handing that growlithe to me. Or before Meyers gets back for that matter," Travers refuted sternly.

    "Your friend lost an arm." Red taunted, "If you really care about him, you should try to save him. If you run you might make it. And what the hell are you doing standing like a fucking stone?" The teen snarled his last words, directing them towards the girl, "I told you to take what is necessary. Do it NOW."

    Misty seemed to shake back into motion at the boy's sharp tongue. She ran towards her tent, and began to pack her backpacks, tossing in whatever she could find, before proceeding to do the same with Red's own.

    "Useless," Travers sighed, "None of you are going anywhere."

    He slowly moved out of his relaxed stance, his fingers closing towards his own waist.

    "Skarmory!" The teen yelled at the steel avian, who had taken to the air, "attack anything that is hostile!" The skarmory screeched back, its gaze fixed