Well, I've been working on rewriting this for a while, so I figure I should start posting...I wrote this for the first time four years ago, rewrote it in 2001, and now am rewriting it again.
It begins about two weeks after Pokémon : The Power of One (the second movie) which itself I consider happened shortly after the end of the second season (Charizard Chills).
So, for the duration of the ride, please forget - if you can - that ANYTHING after Charizard Chills ever existed in this world. Ash did not win the Orange Island, still has pretty much his most famous lineup, May never began her pokémon journey (and her name in fact belong to another character of another family...) Giovanni never assigned Domino to finding Mewtwo, the Unown were never unleashed, and Groudon, Kyogre and Rayquaza (which I'm actually retrofitting in this story) have a much different role...
Also, a note on ages - I never liked the notion of trainers starting at 10 on the one hand, and on the other hand, Ash has been on the road for a long while by then (much over a year as per the Earth badge epi), I'm adding 2 years to his age on each count, making him 14. Of course, this does not alter in any way the character himself : any differences between OI-Ash and Fic-Ash are just the result of me not having seen the OI episodes in forever and have nothing to do with this age change.
Chapter 1 : Paths
Blazing like a thousand fires, the sun rose above the sea of the Orange archipelago. In itself, that was not unusual, and the presence on the slopes of the massive Mt. Leman of swarms of pidgey in search of their sustenance was much the same. The laws of nature, which they had always obeyed, were clear : eat, or be eaten, and the pidgey knew it just as surely as did the bugs they preyed on.
Needless to say, the bugs showed little interest in going down without a fight, and most of them had gone in hiding upon hearing the flutter of the pidgey's wing. Still, some of them would be lured in the open by the promise of a particularly appetizing blade of grass, deliberately not considering the risk.
Most of the pidgey remained in forests clearing, far from any risk of being caught by wandering trainers. But for a few of them, the chieftain of the local clan included, the trail was simply too tempting. Trainers, for all that they could be a menace, also had a tendency to let crumbs of their lunches fall to the ground, and these crumbs made for a perfectly tasty snack when – as it was too often the case – the bugs became rare.
Still, none of them were insane, and certainly not willing to take risks. They hoped that no humans would show up, but to the last one they knew better than to stay on the trail if any of the two-legged hunters showed up with the dreadful orbs they called pokéball, but which most pokémon simply thought of as cages.
Which was why the appearance of two humans on the trail in the early morning was met with cries of dismay – and great flapping of wings. They should have known humans would known – humans had been coming and going in unusual numbers for the past few days – but of course they had hoped otherwise.
The chieftain did have time to note as he took flight that these humans were definitely not like the other ones. They seemed younger, for one thing, and nowhere near as dangerous for another. After eight years leading the tribe, Sun-talons could pride himself of a keen sense of observation, and he knew a beast that would kill for pleasure when he saw one.
The men who had been going up and down the mountain in the last few days were just such beasts. The two younglings were not.
He barely had time to notice as he wheeled away the pokémon each of them carried, pokémon which he knew only by the names the pidgey gave them, Thunder-Eyes and Unhatched-Kin.
To the humans, who had taken more time to devise names for the creatures they shared their world with, the two pokémon were known as a pikachu and a togepi.
"I thought," Misty Waterflower insinuated, her lips curled, "that there were rare pokémon here?"
She was angry. Of course, there was nothing new there, and some days it seemed to Ash Ketchum as if she had been in a state of perpetual anger since the day they had met – the day he had wrecked her bike. Of course, if you considered things that way, she probably even had some fair amount of justification for her anger.
He shook his head, strands of black hair shifting under his official pokémon league hat.
"That's what nurse Joy said!" he defended himself, raising a hand in pathetic defense. "She said…"
"I know what she said," Misty hissed, making as if to say something more – then withdrawing into an offended silence.
Things were definitely going downhill.
The idea of a pokémon catching trip in the mountain had seemed natural enough, back at the pokémon center when nurse Joy had mentioned in passing that the island's mountain was renowned for its many varieties of rare pokémon.
Even if he was presently taking a break from his quest to vanquish the gyms of the Orange archipelago (which Misty had argued for on the ground that they had all needed a break after the events at Shamuti), he couldn't really pass up that kind of occasion , could he? He was a pokémon trainer after all, and catching rare pokémon had to be second nature to a trainer.
"Don't you enjoy the scenery?" he asked without much hope. He dimly remembered Misty mentioning once or twice how certain landscapes had awed her, but whether or not the mountain scenery would have that kind of effect on her, he couldn't possibly begin to guess. Misty was a girl, and girls were for the most part much stranger creatures than the average pokémon.
"Don't change topic like that," she replied, her eyes never once turning to him. They remained on the trees, peering intently. Perhaps she did enjoy the scenery, and that was why she wouldn't answer his question. "The point is that we're wasting our vacation time hunting pidgey and caterpie," she shuddered at the last, "when we could be going to the beach instead!"
Ash groaned. About the only positive thing about her accusations were that this time – for once – he felt fairly certain that she wouldn't be able to accuse him of getting them both lost again – a certitude that was due in great part to the fact that there was only one trail up the mountain, and that they had been following it so far.
The trip had started badly, and it didn't go better as they made their way further up the forested slopes.
Taking a deep breath, Ash made the best effort he could to ignore her. It didn't work all that well, but at least it allowed him to drown out her yells for a moment.
And in that moment, the question came to him again, why did she insist always on traveling by his side? And why couldn't he, despite all her yelling, even think of going on with his journey if she left?
The answer, he already knew. For all her laughter, for all her yells, she had been his friend longer than anyone else he could name. She knew him in ways no one except his mother did, had shared more of his last two years of life than anyone else. None of his other friend, not even Brock, had spent as much time by his side, and none were as close as she was. To say anyone but her was Ash's best friend would have been, he knew, a plain lie.
"Aren't you tired?" she asked sometime later, having apparently grown herself tired of yelling about how bad an idea the trip up the mountain had been. "This looks like a good place for a break."
He paused before answering. Now that she mentioned it, he was, in fact, beginning to feel a bit weary. "I guess we could use one," he conceded.
"Good idea," she nodded, her eyes somewhat softer than they had been earlier. Then, a malicious flash crossed through them…"Can't have you too tired to walk later, can we?"
Ash groaned. He didn't reply, though.
Elsewhere, it was fear rather than anger which ruled.
Even when they had still enjoyed success, Jessie and James had rarely received their orders directly from the master of Team Rocket – but it had still been a troubling experience. Now that they had fallen out of favor, to receive orders directly from him was far worse, the hint of blood and death in his eyes – a promise for failure – unmistakable.
"The plan is proceeding as we thought," the Boss hissed from the shadow. "The target is on his way to you."
A shiver went down James's spine. He couldn't deny that part of him had been so far hoping that it would all come apart before things came to him. But now…
"Do we really need to go that far?" he half-whined. It wasn't the thing to say, not to the boss, but the orders he had been given were simply too much.
"Do you perhaps have a better plan to put forward?" the Boss asked, his voice carrying only the slightest edge to it. The slightest edge, and enough to tell James he had spoken out of turn. He had heard Giovanni order traitors to their death in a calmer voice. "One that, perhaps, does not involve disguises or digging a trap?"
At his side, James felt Jessie tensing. The remonstrance was, of course, deserved – their repeated failures of the last few years had made sure of that. But still…
He shook his head. Try though he might – wish though he did – he could not begin to conjure up a better plan to remove Ash Ketchum from the way of Team Rocket. And he could certainly not think of a reason why the young trainer should not be taken out : he had foiled Team Rocket's plans too often in the past.
"Shall I send for more qualified agents for this mission?" Giovanni questioned. His eyes blazed, and James knew that if better agents were sent in to handle the mission – if that ever happened – then his and Jessie's next mission would be to the bottom of Vermillion harbor, involving concrete shoes.
"No sir," Jessie replied firmly. Her eyes met James's for the briefest of moment, and he knew she had understood the boss's words just as well as he.
"Good," a thin smile crossed Giovanni's lips. "I shall expect reports of your success by tomorrow, then."
"You'll have them!" Jessie saluted sharply.
The screen almost went dark – then turned on again. Giovanni's eyes flashed darkly for a moment.
"One last thing," he hissed. "Do whatever you will once you have them, but whatever you do, I will have the Ketchum kid alive. It is imperative you do not kill him. Is that clear enough?"
For a fleeting moment, James wondered what sense it made not to permanently dispose of an enemy after they had gone to such great lengths to capture him. But the moment was only fleeting, and since he had been uneasy about the notion of killing the twerp from the very start, he did not ask for explanations.
Somewhere in the hotel lobby, someone coughed.
Damien Blake half-turned toward the source of the noise before straightening. People coughing in the lobby were no business of his. Still, sometime, it was hard to suppress his natural curiosity.
He turned back to the report in his hand, artfully disguised as a newspaper, and went back to reading. It had taken four years to find the target of his newest mission, and he didn't intend to let any of the intelligence gathered along the way go to waste.
People went back and forth throughout the lobby, some just walking in circles, other moving swiftly from the main doors to the elevators or the other way. Thus, when a young woman came to sit on the chair next to his, it was a perfectly unremarkable thing.
The only remarkable thing, really, was the tulip petal that fell out of her hand to land in front of his eyes, as black as any midnight sky.
"You're late, Domino," he observed quietly, his eyes never once leaving the report.
"The order was delayed," the young woman replied, her lips barely moving as she turned to face him. Carefully, Damien set the report down, and looked at her.
If it had not been for her gaudy hairstyle, Damien would not have hesitated to call her beautiful. As it was, their blonde curl falling to her shoulder were simply too much, but it didn't stop her from being a rather pretty woman. Dark sunglasses covered her eyes, and for that Damien was thankful ; he has seen them before, and they were the eyes of a killer.
"Whatever," he brushed the distinction away. Most of Team Rocket thrived on hierarchy, but once one made it to the Executive Force – Giovanni's personal agents – ranks was a thing quickly forgotten ; at best you could be first among equals. "I'm Damien Blake," he said.
She smiled thinly. "Did you really think I didn't know that?" There was a mocking edge to her voice.
Damien nodded. Of course, she would have known that from reading her mission orders, and even beyond that, his own reputation nothing to sneeze at, even if it was partly built on genetics rather than talent.
She lowered her sunglasses, gazing at him intently. Somehow, her lavender eyes did not look as bad in person as they had on pictures.
"They say you are Giovanni's son," she whispered. "Is it true?"
He shrugged uncomfortably. "As far as I know," he replied. He didn't like the topic, and didn't think he would ever get used to it no matter how often it came up. "At least that's what he says."
"You don't sound too sure." She raised an eyebrow. A thirst for information was one of the first requirement for Executives ; more often than not a secret was too good a weapon to pass up.
"That's probably because I'm not," he pointed out. "He took me in and claimed to be my father after I ran away from home some years back. Actual evidence he is? He didn't show any."
She nodded. "It sounds like an interesting story." There was a strange edge to her voice, one that made Damien feel distinctly uneasy. Why did it interest her that much?
"Maybe, but it's a story for later," he decided. "We have more important business to take care of," he pointed at the mission report.
"Right," she nodded. If she was disappointed, she didn't show it. "What are we supposed to go after?"
He turned the pages of the fake newspaper until he found a picture, purportedly representing items for sales in a local antiquities shop.
He pointed at one of them, a book with strange designs on the cover.
"That's what we're going after."
Noon was now long past, and to the west the sun was beginning to fade away beneath the waves. Overhead, no stars glinted ; clouds had risen steadily over the day, and it was obvious that before long it would be raining.
And, unless they found some refuge for the night, that would mean being very wet by tomorrow morning, not something Misty was much in favor of. She did like water, but not water falling all over her while she was trying to sleep.
"Ash…" she began, hesitating between merely asking if he had any idea or simply biting his head off over the very wet night they were about to spend.
He frowned, his eyes turning just a little defensive. He often did that when she started talking to him. Privately, Misty had to admit she had given him plenty of good reason to feel wary whenever she started talking to him. She had plenty of justification for yelling at him, but even then…
She tried not to sigh. "It's going to rain tonight," she said, as nicely as she could manage. "We should find some place to spend the night in.
Ash looked surprised for a moment, then relieved. "You're right," he nodded quickly.
A few nasty comments came to mind, but Misty bit them back. She had been traveling with Ash for two years already, and she knew very well that he was nowhere near as bad as most people would think from her yells and snide comments.
Most of the time, though, she couldn't hold herself back no matter how hard she tried.
"Do you have any idea?" she asked, ignoring the inner voice that wanted nothing more than to turn him to a crying wreck. It was no easy feat.
He shook his head. Of course, he would have no idea. He never had any idea. He…
She cut the line of thought before it got any further, instead reaching for her pack. There were better way to deal with the current problems than to complain at Ash. She had taken a glance or two at the large wall map back at the pokémon center, and she was almost sure there had been something…
There! She remembered it now.
"I think there's an abandoned summer camp somewhere nearby," she told Ash. "A bit to the south of the main trail, where it crosses another trail."
She closed her eyes, trying to recall in greater detail the actual map. Yes, that had been it.
"We haven't seen another trail," Ash pointed out, and for a moment Misty had to struggle to hold back her hand, now moving of its own accord to hit Ash.
If she was going to try to be nice to him, why did he have to go out of his way to make it so difficult?
"I know that Ash," she growled irritably, looking ahead. "Do you think I'm blind?" the last was almost yelled.
It took them nearly an hour, and throughout it all Misty had to refrain herself any number of times from yelling at Ash too much. By the time an inky-black shroud had begun covering the sky however, they had found the old camp.
A first glance at the old summer camp told her one thing : it was quite large. A second glance added a less than happy note : most of the old cabins were ruined, which meant they'd have to actually look for a habitable one out of the whole lot.
"Are we supposed to sleep there?" Ash frowned, pointing at the ruined walls of one of the cabin.
"Of course not!" Misty protested, her patience now wearing very thin. "There has to be a cabin that's in a better state than that one, though. We just have to find it."
"But that's going to take hours…" Ash protested, then looked up at the rain clouds. Somewhere off toward the sea, thunder rumbled. "There's no other choice?" he asked lamely.
Misty shook her head. "Let's split. We'll look faster that way."
Ash headed off almost as soon as she told him to. Was he in that much of a hurry to be away from her?
She shook her head, trying to focus on the matter at hand, not the conflicting emotion Ash brought out of her. They had to find a refuge for the night, and that meant, actually looking at the various cabins.
Most of them were already in ruin, and few of those which still had their roof were suitable for spending a whole night in. There were some that had been flooded long ago, others that were covered in the shattered glass from their own broken windows, and yet more that reeked of wild animals. Then there were those which Misty didn't even dare approach, covered in spider webs so thick as to hide the walls altogether.
Finally, she did find one which looked habitable enough from outside. It was smaller than most of the others, but at least the webs weren't too thick, the smell not too terrible, and the windows more or less intact.
She reached for the light switch without even thinking. Even as she flicked it on, she realized her mistake : there was simply no way the electric system, let alone the individual lights, would have survived all the years of ruins.
The second the light did come on, she knew there was something wrong. Her hand instinctively went to Staryu's pokéball, and she began looking around.
She did not have the time to finish her turn. She did not have the time to call out Staryu, either, or even to see her aggressor.
She did, however, have the time to let out a single scream before something struck the back of her head, sending her spinning into darkness.