The false door slammed open, vibrating the inner-metal and breaking the outer-rock of its design.
A ball of mawiles rolled out of the open doorway and smashed into a tree.
Smoke fizzledout into the open air. And a figure stomped through the darkness.
It scanned the area and found what it had been looking for.
“YOU JERK!!!” Angie charged at Ash. “You ditched us and took the rod with you!! Do you have any id–”
She was picked off the ground and pulled back by Maylene.
The pink-haired fighter looked over the tomboy’s shoulder and glanced at Liza. “Man, Ash, what’s with you and always picking up new chicks?” She laughed heartily.
Tracey wandered out of the smoke and coughed. “Well, that’s certainly one way to get through security.”
“I sure wish I could’ve gotten a shot of that.” Todd casually walked out of the tunnel and immediately started taking snapshots of the forest around them.
“Keep an eye out for any ambushes.” Ritchie, with his faithful pikachu Sparky on his shoulder, exited with careful suspicion. “We might not be out in the clear yet.”
“No need. There are no more threats.” Sabrina walked out confidently and nodded in Ash’s direction with a smile.
“Well, if there were any more… me and Electabuzz could handle ‘em!” Casey boasted as she marched out, with her electabuzz in tow.
Dawn shuffled out shyly. She knew who would be on the other end of the tunnel. When she saw him, she blushed and waved lightly.
Ash waved back, feeling her timid greeting.
…and that was all.
Before any of the others could give their own personal greeting to Ash, he walked passed them and into the tunnel.
He ran out seconds later. “Where’s Misty?! Pikachu?!”
Each of the recently freed prisoners looked down in self-disappointment.
The sketch-artist was the one to answer, “Misty took Pikachu with her to keep looking for Anabel.”
Ash grabbed him by the collar and yanked him down to his height. “I thought I told you that Anabel wasn’t there! Why didn’t you stop them?!”
“Ash, we tried…” Ritchie defended. He tilted his cap down, hiding his eyes to respectfully show disgrace.
“…she and Pikachu felt guilty…” Casey looked away in shame. “…for all the information we gave to Team Rocket. Anabel didn’t give up anything… so… the two of them wanted to save her. It’s the least they could do for her… and you…”
“Where did they go?” Ash turned and faced down the tunnel. “I’ll find them.”
“I wouldn’t go back there, if I were you…” Todd placed his hand on the young man’s shoulder. “Our cover was blown an hour back. Now the entire place is swarming with armed patrols.”
“Even more reason why I should go back there.”
The false door slammed shut, its illusionary wall of stones and boulders reappearing, albeit crookedly due to the damage it had taken. An invisible force had been the one to seal it away. The same force thrown Ash off his feet and yanked him to the ground.
A hint of purple and blue aura faded off his body.
Ash, calm yourself.
Let go of me, Sabrina.
Let go of them, Ash.
They’re in danger!
And so are we. And we must keep moving.
“Ash, they’ll be fine.” It was Dawn.
“Misty and Pikachu have gotten really strong since you last saw them. If it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t have ever escaped.” She helped him to his feet. “If any of us would be safe on our own, it would be the two of them.”
She was being sincere. And while he didn’t want to believe her…
I don’t really have a choice… do I? he thought to himself depressingly, finding himself completely outnumbered by those who would stop him at all costs.
You always have a choice. But so do we. Sabrina responded.
She walked over and straightened his jacket. “I am glad you are okay.” she said softly.
Though Ash still yearned to get his two oldest friends back… the closeness of Sabrina gave him a sense of calm. The bond they had formed would often make him feel far more stable. And that stability comforted him greatly in this time of loss.
The Psychic shared this comfort, as she seemed to relax greatly in being able to talk to him again. With her emotions open for him once again, she let him know that Misty and Pikachu were well. A message that helped bring a smile to his face.
Ash trusted Sabrina’s experience and knowledge. If anyone knew the two would be safe, it was her. And though he knew he wouldn’t be able to be with them for a while, he knew it would only be for a while. He looked forward to the day when that ‘while’ ended.
For now, he felt an immense relief knowing that all of his friends and his mother were no longer in Team Rocket’s grip… and gladdened to be reunited with so many of them again.
“I’m glad you’re okay, too. I’m glad you’re all okay.” He grinned. “I missed you guys.”
“Me too!” Dawn hugged him tightly, her cheeks rosy with happiness.
“Me three!” Tracey sniffled as he wrapped his arms around the two.
“I guess me four, you jerk.” Angie stood awkwardly by him and kicked at his foot.
“Oh what the heck, group hug everyone!” Ritchie exclaimed, encouraging Casey and Maylene to join in.
The Psychic shifted out of reality before she could be dragged in.
Todd stood in front of the group and readied his camera. “Say hitmonlee!”
“And what am I? A zubat in a cave?” May pouted.
Sabrina appeared by her side. “Good to see you again, May…”
“Hey Sabrina!” She smiled and gave a slight wave.
“I see Ash had done something to you that he shouldn’t have…”
Her face turned red. “Wh-What??!”
“The Empathy.” the Psychic clarified, holding back an immature laugh.
“O-Oh!Right… that! Yeah!” She shook her head and grinned widely. “I’m not that good with it yet, but it’s really awesome!”
“Your mind seems much clearer because of it. I am glad for that.”
“Really? Thanks!” Her grin widened.
The smile disappeared when she noticed Sabrina’s narrowed eyes.
“Do not allow him to try anymore forbidden techniques. Clear?”
“C-Clear!” She waved her hands in surrender.
May searched for a new topic to switch to, in order to avoid the continuing evil glare. “O-Oh! H-Have you met Liza??”
She hopped out of the way and gestured towards the woman in red. “Sabrina, this is Liza. Liza, Sabrina.”
The Valley Guardian held out her hand. “A pleasure. I know you by reputation.”
“Similar.” The Psychic simply nodded towards her and moved her attention to the crowd of friends that surrounded Ash.
Liza didn’t take offense to her coldness. Working with charizards all day, it’s nice to run into cooler tempers.
She followed the Psychic’s example and looked back at the chatting group.
“Quite an interesting team we’ve got in the works here.”
Sabrina nodded, having nothing to add to any friendly chatter.
Phew that was a nice save. May prided in her escape.
I meant it, May.
“Alto Mare’s our next destination.”
“Are you trying to meet up with your mom and Brock?”
“No, I was planning on going there even before I was told that was their destination.”
Ash and company gathered around a campfire within the thick forest of Route 32. To their south, their pokémon rested within a lone Pokémon Center that sat outside Union Cave. All except for the Charicific Charizards, who stood guard in different sections of the forest.
“What’s at Alto Mare?” Ritchie sat closer to the inner-circle and adjusted the backpack he was using as a seat. He had asked Tracey, who shrugged, then moved his attention to May, who also shrugged.
“Er… Neither of us were there with him.” May responded to his glance.
“What’s wrong with me saying it?” Ash titled his head.
“Well, what I’m wondering isn’t what exactly happened at Alto Mare…” Ritchie scratched his chin, figuring a way to word it correctly. “…but more of why Misty suggested for Brock and Ms. Ketchum to go there. The Team Rocket ports could have sent them anywhere. Why that island specifically?”
“Because it’s the only place they never asked about.” Tracey answered, wincing at the memories of the interrogations.
“With how…” Todd entered the conversation. “…thorough they were with their questions, I’d wonder why they never mentioned Alto Mare.”
“What does it matter? Why don’t we just attack Team Rocket now and bash their brains in?” Casey punched a nearby tree. Her reaction partially out of the immature need to prove herself, and partially out of anger for what she had to go through within those dark cells.
Liza looked towards Maylene. “Do we even know where their main base is?”
“No… we don’t.” The fighter didn’t meet her eyes.
Since their reunion and story-telling within the campsite, Maylene had felt slightly alienated from the rest of the group. The necessary inclusion of her history as a Rocket girl to tell the progress made in their journeys had made several of them uncomfortable or suspicious towards her.
“Lower ranking Rockets never meet within the main base.” she continued. “They just got orders from indirect sources.”
Jiiigullyyy~ Puff~ Jiguulllyyy~yyy Puuufff~♪
Ash and Tracey instinctively covered their ears.
“Cover your ears! It’s jigglypuff!” Ash dove down, as if being closer to the ground would buffer the sound.
Ash sensed the bewildered emotions of the group.
May laughed nervously and pulled the pokétab out of her bag. “Oh sorry, that’s just the ringtone I chose… I thought it was cute.”
“Choose a different one!” Ash grumbled loudly as he stood from his embarrassing position.
The group laughed together. Released tension.
“Oh hey Bill!” She turned the device’s screen towards the others. “Guys! It’s Bill!”
Each of them gave their own form of hello.
“It seems you’ve got quite a formidable group forming.”
The Coordinator placed the pokétab on a log, allowing the others to gather and hover around it.
“I’m glad.” The Pokémon Researcher adjusted the screen from his side. “The more we have on our side, the better.”
Ash squeezed between Maylene and Todd. “Bill. How are you and Dana doing?”
The blond-haired woman appeared beside the Researcher. “We are doing fine. Thank you for asking.” She smiled and left the screen, going back to her business.
“We successfully moved to another research facility. Far more private and secluded.” Bill explained.
“The lighthouse wasn’t?” Ash joked.
“Well, indeed, the lighthouse was also isolated… but this one has no Rocket Tunnels! Definitely an improvement.”
“Nice. Where is it?”
“Now now, Mr. Ketchum. If I told you, it wouldn’t be so private, now would it?”
Dana’s voice could be heard from the background, “Don’t tell them where it is! This place is still a mess!”
The crowded friends shared a few giggles.
“What news do you have for us?” Sabrina inquired loudly, standing several feet away from the pokétab.
“Ah yes. Now that we’ve relocated successfully, you can now contact us at anytime you wish. We can provide any and all information you may or may not need.”
“Would you have any info on where the Team Rocket headquarters is located?” Liza asked as she tried to find a comfortable spot to look over the pokétab.
“Ah… well… maybe not all the information you may need.” Bill scratched his nose. “I can definitely do some research for that, but I can’t guarantee getting you the location anytime soon.”
“How about recent Team Rocket activities in Alto Mare?” Ritchie asked this time.
“Hm… from what I know…” Bill began pressing unseen icons on the screen. “From my recent notes, there haven’t been any obvious activities there. White collar crimes at best.”
“Then we should be safe. Thank you, Professor Bill.” Ritchie gave a thumbs-up.
“Please, just call me Bill. Is there anything else?”
Ash reached into his pocket and felt around. The meteorite piece rolled in his fingertips.
“The location of Pokémon Ranger Solana.”
“Hm…” The Researcher scrolled through a window invisible to them. “Reports dating back two days show that she was still active in the Hoenn region. Last seen… entering the Forbidden Forest.”
The Forbidden Forest. The two Empathics shared the same worry.
“Any reason why she’d head in there?” Ash questioned.
“A young couple had accidentally wandered in there through a broken wall. It seems the Ranger went in there to rescue them.”
Kinda’ like us. May felt towards Ash with a blush.
Eheh… yeah. Ash shared the blush. Except they probably didn’t befriend any of the pokémon in there.
Solana will save them. They’ll be fine.
“Hm… now this is disturbing.”
“What is it?” Ash and May asked in unison, their attention returned back to Bill.
Bill leaned out of screen and returned with a collection of printed documents. “It seems there’s been a mysterious group of men and women in dark uniforms spotted in a nearby town.” He shuffled through the pages. “And their daily movements seem to reflect that of the Pokémon Ranger’s. They might be trailing her.”
“It’s Team Rocket.” Ash growled.
“That is highly possible… Is there anything else you need?”
“That’s all for now, Bill.” May responded, feeling Ash’s need to leave soon. “We’ll cal–”
“Wait wait wait! Mr. Bill!” Casey crawled between the Coordinator’s legs and popped up in front of her.
“Do you have any more of these things?” She picked up the pokétab and shook it. “These things are so awesome!”
“I’m afraid that’s my only other working copy other than the one I’m using.” Bill laughed. “But once I get someone to mass-produce them, I’ll be sure to give each of you your own copy.”
The baseball fanatic hugged the screen and squealed. “Be sure to give me one with stripes!”
“I’ll try to remember that.” He snickered.
May pulled the device away from Casey’s hands. “So we’ll be seeing you, Bill.”
“Very well. It was a pleasure speaking with all of you.” He reached to one corner of the screen. “Farewell. And… good luck.”
The screen went blank… and slowly faded back to a May’s background.
With a clumsy fumble, the Coordinator hid the device behind her back and laughed awkwardly. “W-Well now, you weren’t supposed to see that.” She whistled nonchalantly and hid behind a tree.
“Was that a picture of Ash sleeping?” Maylene followed. “It’s so cute! Show it!”
“Where’s everyone getting these photos of Ash?!” Angie shoved Casey aside and trailed them.
Dawn shyly tagged along with her purse. “I-I have some.”
Todd waved his camera and grabbed a binder. “Are we comparing photographs? I’ve got tons!”
The mood had changed, and everyone went on with their casual and excited conversations…
Except for Ash and Sabrina.
I assume we have a change of plans.
The male Empathic sighed. Yes…
Then I must apologize, for I have news that I have withheld until I could speak to you in private.
He shrugged. At least we can think up new plans now, instead of making up for it later.
My thoughts exactly.
So what did you find out?
The last known location of Anabel…
In an area of pitch-black trees and frosting winds, a blind Empathic and a silent Psychic sat in complete stillness. The two had separated themselves from the fireplace, finding an area where only the nocturnal could see – an area selected for its distance and privacy from the rest of their team.
Chosen to guard over them, a pokémon of impossible intelligence sat amongst the branches.
Taking advantage of its talent for trickery, it misguiding all those that would near the area – sending the intruders back to where they came by removing their most recent memories and recollections. No victim would remember why they had travelled to these parts of the woods in the first place.
It did, however, find irritation in a certain tomboy who persisted on returning to the spot no matter how many times he would send her back. Yet it had to endure its duty.
Silence and seclusion were of the utmost importance, as the two preferred to hold their meeting in secret due to the difficult decisions made and the sensitive information shared.
Within this personal darkness, Ash and Sabrina sat in quiet. A psychic link being the only voice they had.
Why didn’t you tell me about Anabel earlier?!
Why did you not mention May’s Empathic ability? Why did you deem using a technique I forbade you to use, more than one technique – might I add, unimportant to my knowledge?
Anabel’s life is in danger!
And your life is as well! Those techniques could have killed you, Ash! Yet you use them with little care or remorse!
“But they didn’t kill me. I used them when I thought I needed to, and not one second before. And I’m still not dead.” So I don’t know what the big deal is.
Then you’ll be happy to know that Anabel is also safe. So I do not understand your panic either.
Ash stood.“She is?!” Where is she?! Did she escape?!
Calm yourself. Sabrina waited for him to sit before continuing. She is still in the hands of Team Rocket… they want her alive.
What are they doing to her? “Where is she?”
The Psychic’s mind went quiet. Her heart in hesitation. This was unlike her, Ash noticed and she admitted to herself.
Just as their formed bond had affected Ash to become cold and heartlessly logical at times, Sabrina had become at times irrational and too caring. It was a side-effect that she dreaded, as many depended on her intellectual guidance… which required her to be distant and disconnected.
Tell me, please. he pushed.
Sigh. … When they couldn’t have you, Ash. They took her.
“…what do you mean…?”
Their original plan was to locate you, capture you, and use you. For what, we are not yet fully certain. But we assume it has something to do with Empathy. Though I would assume they wanted more than just Empathy… but they settled with her.
“Why do you keep saying ‘we’?” Who’s ‘we’?
Misty was the one who gave me this information.
What?! She knew where Anabel was?! “…I thought they said they were only searching for her! I didn’t know they actually knew!”
Ash continued to switch between voice and thought, each to express two differing opinions and conversations. A social technique he had gained from Sabrina herself – ‘the mind acts as the sword, while one’s words acts as the shield’.
He practiced it rarely, treating it closer to a habit than an actual lesson to keep. However, at this moment, it only felt natural to speak to the Psychic in this way, as it conveyed exactly what he wanted her to understand from his perspective.
Quiet. Others may still overhear us.
Though she was well aware of his intentions, Sabrina decided to prevent him from continuing, for the sake of privacy more than anything else. In her eyes, if the meeting were public it would have caused the other members to see a negative dichotomy between her and Ash – which would only cause them to choose sides.
The Psychic knew there was no real conflict between her and the Empathic, only a strained form of communication caused by their cultural and age differences. It was a gap they had seen bridged with their bond, and she only sought to bridge things between them in every other manner and matter – as to increase their effectiveness as the unofficial heads of the group.
Understanding her need for his silence, Ashexhaled slowly.
So they knew all along?
No, only Misty. The search for Anabel was fruitless, but it did give her the information for where they moved her and for what purpose.
Why didn’t she tell the others?
She had planned to… until we met. Misty had not expected that our groups would ever run into each other until the end.
Sabrina paused, choosing her next words carefully as to not offend or hurt the Empathic. Their bond was her main translator, as she had to be sensitive to how he saw the world in order to communicate everything she had meant without him ignoring what mattered in her words.
The plan you had given Tracey for the meet up in Violet City had excited everyone. If she had given them the information about Anabel, it would have depressed the rest of the group – as they would have had to cancel the meeting with you in order to rescue her.
So she went by herself…
And Pikachu as well, as he had been there when she originally found the intelligence.
Ash adjusted his posture, feeling the bark of the fallen tree he was sitting on. He felt the cold night air sting his skin, and listened to the soft hoots and caws echo throughout the woods. His physical senses meant to take his attention away from his emotions and thoughts.
He felt alone. Unsure. And confused.
No matter what he did, he always felt like he was one step behind. No matter what he accomplished, he felt like he was always wasting time.
Team Rocket had snuck up on his life because he refused to listen to the warnings. Team Rocket had already infiltrated Saffron City by the time he got there. May had been attacked twice during her travel to him. Bill’s lighthouse was already surrounded before his arrival. More of his friends were captured and tortured because of his illusiveness. They escaped on their own without his help. Misty already knew where Anabel was. And he still had no idea what Team Rocket wanted from him.
…or where he fit in any of this.
What am I supposed to do…
Sabrina walked over and sat next to him. Wrapping her arm around his shoulder and warming his arm with a gentle massage.
“You’re doing fine…” Sabrina’s voice returned to its far more youthful tone. Light, soft, warm, and absolutely attentive. “You’re facing an entire organization. An organization that has existed longer than you. And you’re still giving them trouble. Being one step behind isn’t a bad thing, when this group’s always been known to be a hundred steps ahead of everyone else. You shouldn’t be worried at all, Ash. They’re worried about themselves – because of you.”
Ash leaned his head against her shoulder and relaxed. “Thanks, Sabrina…”
The Psychic’s words were comforting, caring, and kind. It was her way of speaking to him, when no one else was around. She guided him, protected him, and watched over him. Ash wasn’t sure if it was because of their bond, their time shared with one another, or simply who she was when she wasn’t judged by others. Whoever she was, she acted as his guardian.
With encouraging words, logical explanations, and hesitant warnings, she would help him move forward whenever he found himself stalled. She would give him confidence and strength in a way that made him feel useful and important. And more than once, she had pushed him to become more authoritative and demanding in order for him to take over as the team’s leader.
And though he was never sure why she had wanted him to be, with her only explanation being ‘something is calling you and no one else’, he tried hard for her. She saw potential in him, and he wanted to prove her right. Proving her right, however, was difficult.
Ash always needed her help in making the first step…
“Here.” Sabrina sat up and pressed her forehead against his. “We’ll come up with a plan together, okay? We’ll make it simple and easy. One that’ll blow Team Rocket away! Got it?”
He smiled and breathed a small laugh. “Yeah. Got it.”
Close your eyes and focus.
“Look! She’s coming back!” Maylene exclaimed as she took another bite of her fire-toasted sandwich.
Angie walked out of the darkness and into the campfire’s light. “I swear! I keep forgetting what I was going in there for!”
The group laughed loudly.
“You were looking for Ash!” Casey shouted with a snort.
“Right! Thanks Casey!” The tomboy turned and marched back into the woods.
“How much you bet she’ll be back in two minutes?” Ritchie half-joked.
Liza pointed her drink in the girl’s direction. “I still say she’s faking it.”
“But didn’t you forget too when you went in there?” May nudged her with her foot.
“I didn’t keep going back in though!”
“She’s coming back already? New record!” Tracey raised his arms in joking celebration.
“I win the bet!” Ritchie exclaimed.
“No one even bet against you, idiot.” Casey pointed out with another snort.
Angie appeared from the shadows again. This time, with two in tow.
“Look who I found!” She grinned with pride.
Ash and Sabrina walked towards the campfire.
“And where have you two been?” Maylene teased.
The group found themselves laughing again. Except for Dawn; the joke flying over her head completely.
A psychic spike shot through each of their heads.
Each of them moaned, groaned, cursed, or went silent.
“Listen up.” Sabrina commanded, not so much encouraged. “Mr. Ketchum would like to speak about the renewed plans.”
“Can’t we talk about it tomorrow?” whined Casey.
“Would you rather wake early tomorrow for a meeting?”
“No way.” “Nuh-uh.” “I’m sleeping late tonight!” “Yeah right.” “Noo! Let’s do it now!” they individually exclaimed their distaste for the early morning meeting.
“Then we shall commence the meeting now.” Sabrina sat and nodded towards Ash. Go ahead.
Ash stepped forward. “Tomorrow, we’re splitting into three groups.”
Complaints were heard all around, but were immediately quieted by a single glare from the Psychic.
“May, you’ll take Ritchie and Maylene to the Forbidden Forest in the Hoenn region. The Grass Pokémon shouldn’t attack you as long as you stay close to May, so keep close.”
The three nodded.
“Angie, Liza, Todd, and Tracey… you’ll be leaving with Sabrina to the Orange Isles.”
The four looked at one another in curiosity.
“Casey, Dawn? You two will be coming with me to Alto Mare.”
Casey silently cheered, hoping for a vacation. Dawn tilted her head.
“We’ll each split up and take a charizard for flight. Any pokémon that has one, should be put into their poké balls to make the flight easier. We leave tomorrow afternoon.”
Casey raised her hand.
May nudged her with her elbow and waved her hand in front of her eyes.
Casey raised her brow.
“Ash can’t see!” the Coordinator hissed.
“OH! OH right. I mean. Er. Teacher – I mean, Mr. Ketchum – er, Ash! Yeah, Ash!”
Ritchie and Tracey covered their face in their palms in embarrassment for her.
“What is it, Casey?”
“Well… thing is… I understand why May and the rest are going to the Forbidden Forest… it’s to save the Pokémon Ranger, right?”
“And get her to join us.” he added.
“Right. That. And well… why is Sabrina’s group so huge? And what exactly are they doing? And what exactly are we doing?”
“What I’m doing, and what you two will be helping me with, is trying to find someone named Bianca in Alto Mare.”
“And she is…?”
“Seriously Ash, don’t you know any men?” Angie sighed.
“HEY!” Todd, Tracey, and Ritchie barked at the same time.
“She meant REAL men!” Maylene laughed, much to their ire.
“Anyways!” Casey took back the conversation. “So why are Dawn and me specifically for this group if neither of us have ever been to Alto Mare?”
“No one here’s been to Alto Mare other than me. Right?”
“Actually, I vacationed there once!” Liza admitted with a smile. “It’s a beautiful place.”
The group started to chat about the rumors and stories of the island’s wonderful scenery.
Ash coughed to regain their notice. “You have to stick with Sabrina’s group, Liza.”
Casey continued with her questions, “Why is that? Why is Sabrina’s group specific? And like I said – fricken’ huge?”
The Psychic answered for him. “My team will be heading to a secluded isle in the Orange region… where Anabel is being kept.”
“WHAT?!” Shouts, questions, and argumentswere thrown at Ash and Sabrina. The main one being “You knew where she was?!”
Another psychic spike subdued them.
“I had received this information from Misty herself. She did not hand it to anyone else so we could all meet first while she went ahead.” Sabrina knew she wasn’t being entirely true… Misty didn’t want anyone to follow. But this was the only way to calm them.
“But why us?” Todd asked honestly. “Wouldn’t it be smarter to take Ritchie or Maylene for this mission instead of…” he trailed off, not wanting to admit any weaknesses.
“A sketch-artist and photographer?” Tracey finished for him, choosing their profession as a label.
“No, it wouldn’t.” Ash answered. “If a group of Rockets are after Solana, she’ll need the most experienced fighters with her. And since Ritchie and Maylene have more battle experience than the rest of us –”
“Other than Ash and myself.” Sabrina added with no note of arrogance.
“– then they have to stick with May, who the Grass Pokémon will respect in the Forbidden Forest.”
“Then couldn’t Todd and I just tag along with you?” the sketch-artist suggested in nervousness. “I mean, wherever Anabel must be kept must be heavily guarded. We’re not exactly the best trainers.”
The photographer nodded with slight shame.
“Sabrina will be the main one handling any battles in your group. However, your main goal there isn’t to fight, it’s to rescue. Both you and Todd have sharp eyes and probably have more experience than the rest of us when it comes to staying unseen by pokémon… so you’ll both be needed there.”
Angie cleared her throat.
Ash smiled. “And Angie will be there because she knows Anabel the most.”
“Hey! I can fight too!” the tomboy stepped on his foot.
He held back a shout of pain. “I – I know. But Anabel needs a friend more than a fighter right now.”
She sighed, walking off to her own corner. “Man, I don’t even like her that much…” she mumbled to herself.
Angie turned back. “Can’t we at least take Espeon or something?? Have her talk to Anabel!”
“I might need Espeon in case anything goes wrong.” Ash shrugged.
“Gah! Fine fine fine…” The tomboy rolled onto her sleeping bag. “But don’t expect me to handle all her mushy stuff.”
“And me?” Liza spoke up.
“In case there’s any other prisoners there, or in case you run into Misty – they’ll more than likely need their own charizards to make it safely off the island. And you’ll need to be there to direct them.”
“…does that answer everything?” Ash turned towards Casey.
The male Empathic sighed. He was getting tired of all the questions, and tired of acting like the one with all the answers. He missed it when Sabrina or Maylene would lead these kinds of meetings…
They need to trust you and listen to you. Sabrina reminded.
I know I know…
“Where do we meet after all this?”
“Angie? Maylene?” He nodded to the two of them. “You remember how to get to my hiding place in Pallet?”
“Still do!” Maylene smiled.
“Yeah. I think I can find my way back.” Angie said with a wave.
“Then we’ll meet there when we’re finished. Anyone who gets there early, just camp and wait for the rest. Are we clear?”
Nods and agreements were felt and heard all around.
“Then meeting dismissed.”
“I’ll go print off maps!” May stood and ran towards the Pokémon Center.
“I’ll make a quick trip to Violet City to buy medicine and Potions.” Dawn put her purse around her shoulder and started jogging. “Let’s hope their store’s still open!”
“I’ll write notes, just to outline what everyone has to do in case they forget.” Tracey eagerly pulled out his pencil and notebook.
Ritchie got up and rummaged through his backpack. “I can make everyone small meals they can take with them for the trip.”
“And I’m going to sleep!” Angie slipped into her sleeping bag and rolled over. “Night, all!”
The rest laughed.
“No way am I going to get any sleep. I’m way too pumped!” Maylene grinned with excitement. She began working punches and kicks into a nearby tree, wondering what kind of opponents she’d face.
“Same here! I’m gonna’ go tell Electabuzz about it!” Casey ran towards the Pokémon Center, catching up with May.
“Well I guess I better buy some new photo rolls at the shop then.” Todd stood up and stretched. “Wait up, Dawn!”
“I’ll inform the charizards what the plan is.” Liza walked into the woods. “See everyone in the morning then.”
“Night, Liza!” the ones remaining by the campfire shouted.
“Oh sure, no one says goodnight to me!” the tomboy complained.
“Thank you! Night, Ash.”
Seconds passed and the campsite was quiet. Everyone busied themselves for tomorrow. And for that, Ash was relieved…
He let out a long sigh.
You did well, Ash.
Thanks. Still not sure why I had to explain everything, but I’m glad I did that.
If I had done it, everyone would just be in an irritated or depressed mood.
No, they wouldn’t.
They wouldn’t. But it’s a shorter answer than the one I would’ve given you if I had told the truth.
The two laughed quietly.
“Thanks again, Sabrina.”
“I’m sure I’ll be thanking you by the end of all this.”
She smiled and walked to her tent.
Pausing, she turned towards him.
Get some rest. You’ll need all your energy by tomorrow.
She finished looping the last rope around the charizard’s chest and pulled tight. It tied perfectly.
“What are you doing to your charizard, Maylene?” Angie curiously studied the fastened lines around the dragon-like pokémon.
The pink-haired fighter turned towards her.
Angie jumped back and nearly screamed. “M-Maylene! What happened to you?!”
Large bags and red splotches decorated her eyes. “…didn’t……. sleep…. Tiiired.”
She pointed towards her sleeping bag – tied to the back of the charizard. “I sleep on flight.” she moaned.
“That’s actually pretty smart.” the tomboy honestly complimented, though still slightlyspooked by Maylene’s face.
“Hey Anj! Hey Lene!” Ash walked towards them. “Just thought I’d get say goodbye before we left.”
“Hi Ash!” Maylene faced him with a perfect smile.
That didn’t take much. Angie’s brow twitched.
Ash winced in pain – the sudden surge of loud cheerfulness knocking his senses off balance.
“Whoops. Sorry about that.” Maylene scratched her nose in embarrassment. “So what did you want to talk to us about?”
He rebalanced himself. “Just wanted to say ‘bye’ for now.”
“What do you mean ‘bye’??” She struckhis shoulder with a punch. “You mean ‘see you later’!”
He struck back. “See you later, OK?”
She grinned. “OK!”
Her emotions dimmed down drastically. She turned and pathetically tried climbing into her sleeping bag. All her remaining energy being spent on the merry reaction for Ash.
Angie stepped towards Ash.
“So how do we do this?” She crossed her arms, waiting for his response.
“I mean, do we handshake? High-five? I punch you, you punch me? Or do you just disappear and run off without saying a single thing to me?”
An emotion he hadn’t ever felt from Angie stood in front of him. Hurt.
“You’re a jerk, you know that?” She stared at him, keeping her face serious despite what her lips and eyes wanted. “You didn’t even apologize last night! Instead you had to have your little private talks with Sabrina. Keeping me out of your business and plans.”
“I didn’t mean it that way.”
“I have to keep up a neutral face, you know? As long as there are all these friends of yours here, I can’t make a big fuss.” Angie glanced around her, watching everyone pack their bags and belongings, getting to know their charizards, and sharing final conversations with one another. “I want to. I really want to make a big deal about this. But I can’t.”
Tears formed on the corner of her eyes. She blinked them away instantly. “May could probably cry and no one would mind. But me? I might as well have the whole world stare at me if I even dared to. They’d probably side with me just cuz I’m a girl. They’d probably yell at you, thinking you were some horrible person.
“But it’s none of their business. This is between you and me.” Her eyes locked onto his. “I know you can count on me on taking things like a man. I know you can count on me understanding your position and choices. But Ash? I’m not perfect. You have to talk to me for me to really get what you’re doing or saying. You have to communicate with me, like you do with everyone else.
“Now I don’t have any fancy powers to talk to you secretly, and you definitely have had bigger things to worry about to even consider having another private chat reserved for me. But don’t go talking to me normally as if nothing happened.”
Ash tilted his head towards the forest, gesturing for them to walk.
The two of them travelled quietly into the trees.
Something wrong, Ash? May poked with her Empathy.
He blocked her emotions out.
Sabrina’s mind curiously looked in his direction, but backed away when she realized he was in no mood.
The male Empathic leaned against a tree facing the opposite direction of the camp.
The tomboy did the same to a tree next to his.
“You left without saying a thing, Ash…”
“I didn’t think it would be a big deal. You seemed… fine without me. Just happy to be a part of the team.”
“Is that how you really see me?”
“I… I’m not really sure…”
“… look… I know all this is crazy… and you have to take care of how many people now, so now it’s getting harder and harder to know each and every person on this ‘team’. But Ash, I’m not just a teammate. And I’m… not just a friend.”
She sniffed away a few tears and wiped her face in her sleeves. “I was worried about you, Ash! I thought Team Rocket got you while we were asleep… I spent the first two hours freaking out and panicking. And I only found out where you went after little Ms. Psychic-know-it-all told us. I mean, you realize how hard it is to get anything out of her?? It’s like talking to a rock! She doesn’t talk back, she just talks when she feels like it.”
“Sabrina didn’t know. Only her alakazam knew. She probably didn’t mention it until he told her.”
“Well I’m glad she has an excuse!” Angie growled in irritation. “But what does a girl who supposedly knows everything there is about you, have as an explanation as to why the boy she followed on this crazy trip because she cares about him – didn’t say a single thing to her before he decided to run into a Team Rocket tunnel just to save an emotional wreck of a girl who keeps irrationally trying to prove herself to him?!”
She ended with a deep breath… and continued, “Look… I’m sorry if I insulted May in any way, but fact is, you keep giving every needy girl your undivided attention… when the one who keeps you as you, and likes you for you, is standing off to the side with barely even a fraction of the attention you’ve given everyone else…”
“I’m sorry…” was all Ash could find as the right response.
“I… love you, Ash. And whether you want that to build into anything important or to keep it as just close friends, I don’t really care.” Angie turned towards him and let herself cry, opening herself completely for him. “I just want to at least know what’s going on in that head of yours. Keep me in the loop. Tell me what’s up before you just up and go away. Because I swear if you somehow end up dead at the end of all of this just because you stupidly didn’t tell me what you planned on doing, and your only excuse would be that you ‘didn’t think it’d be a big deal’…”
She shuffled over to Ash and pressed her head against his chest. “I… I swear I’d… I’d…”
Her voice trailed into a broken sob.
“I’m… I’m sorry.” Tears ran down his eyes as he wrapped his arms around her. “I’m sorry, Angie…”
“You… jerk.” she forced her words to come back. “I… I know I’m not like other girls, but… I’m still a girl, Ash. As much as I don’t like these stupid feelings and weaknesses… it’s who I am. I can work myself to be better than the rest, tougher than the rest, stronger than the rest. But I’m still a girl. A stupid little girl.”
Her fingers gripped onto his shirt. “Even if I’m not, I want you to treat me like your partner… you tell me what’s going on. You tell me what you want. You tell me what you plan on doing. You don’t have to tell me every little detail. You can hide what he said she said. You can have your secrets. But I just want you to know that I didn’t come on this crazy trip for myself… I came here for you, Ash. I wanted to be with you. So…”
She pushed herself away and wiped off her eyes. “Just don’t go running off without saying a thing. And don’t you dare think I don’t care. Because I do. You stupid jerk.”
Ash nodded, his smile trembling.
“Ugh. Don’t look at me like that.” Angie wiped away his tears with her sleeve. “You’re more feminine than I am.”
“Blame the Empathy.” he laughed weakly.
“At least you have an excuse.”
She stepped back and gave him a long-lasting stare.
“You find that Bianca girl and you come back to Pallet safely, okay?”
“And you take care of Anabel and come back to Pallet safely, okay?”
She frazzled her hair with irritated scratches. “Agh! She’s going to get all emotional! I hate that stuff…”
He laughed. She laughed with him soon afterward.
“See you later?” He raised his hand.
Angieslappeda high-five and walked back towards her side of the camp. “We better.”
Ash smiled, feeling satisfaction.
I truly believe she’s the right choice for you.
“Have a safe trip!”
“Take care! And don’t lose your maps or compasses!”
On the backs of their given charizards, each member of the group waved one last goodbye to one another. They had split into their designated teams and prepared for their given missions. Each was given a map, a compass, packed meals, medicine, and a written note of instructions.
…except for Ash, who was only given the packed meals and medicine, for obvious reasons.
Ensure you’re completely secured to the charizard.
And make sure Espeon’s poké ball is in a pocket it can’t fall out of!
I know, May…
Have you already chosen who will be the one to lead you to the island?
Yes, Dawn’s the main one leading us.
Does she know how to read the map? Does she have a compass?
Of course she does! You gave it to her, remember??
Would Casey be able to lead in case of emergency?
What? Uh… I think so…
How will you know how to get back to the meeting spot in Pallet Town if neither of them has ever been there?
In case of an emergency, is it possible for you to contact May through her pokétab?
I dunno, I…
I don’t know what the pokétab’s number is! Did Bill ever tell us what it was??
“Ahh! Stop with the questions!!!” Ash shouted out.
The campsite went quiet as everyone stared at the Pokémon Trainer with confused looks.
“Eheh…” Ash blushed in embarrassment. He adjusted his sitting position and patted on the charizard. “Come on, Dawn! Let’s go.”
“O-Oh! Okay!” Dawn hopped on her charizard and kicked her heels against its sides. “Let’s go, Stacy!”
“Wait up! Wait up!” Casey hopped and skipped as she tied on one of her shoes. “Ben! Get over here!”
Her assigned Flame Pokémon marched towards her and dipped its head. She hopped onto its back and completed the knot for her sneaker. “Alright, let’s do this!”
With a kick of the heel, the Charicific Charizard roaredand shot off the ground.
“Ben?? Stacy??” Ash scratched his chin and patted his ride. “…do you have a name?”
It shrugged. Don’t care.
“Well, when you want one, you tell me, okay? For now, let’s catch up with those two!”
It grunted and began flapping its wings.
“Good luck, Ash!!!” Angie yelled.
“You too, Anj!!!”
I’ll ensure she’s safe. Sabrina nodded towards him.
Make sure Anabel’s safe too. He grinned knowingly.
And I’ll make sure we rescue Solana! You can count on that!
I know you will, May. Just make sure Ritchie and Maylene don’t get lost in there.
Until Pallet! he sent to the Empathic and Psychic.
Until Pallet! May responded as she hopped onto her charizard.
Take care. Sabrina smiled and readied for her flight.
The unnamed charizard growledand took off for the skies.
“Alto Mare, here we come!”