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Pokémon A New Path

Chapter 1

TheCouchEffect

Bug Catcher
Pronouns
He/His
Summary: Ash has finally achieved what he's attempted for so many years. He has become the champion of a Pokemon league. Despite this victory, he feels lost with no sense of what he is supposed to do now. Days after his victory, he is framed for a crime he didn't commit. He will be drawn into a battle to clear his name and bring Team Rocket to justice before they can become unstoppable.

Rating: T (For themes of crime, violence, minor adult language, and a brief description of blood/gore.

Note: This story was initially posted on FF.net and AO3 as multiple chapters.

What was it that made a Pokémon Master?

It was a question that Ash had been asking himself a lot lately. Was it the close bond between the trainer and their Pokémon? The strength they had after years of careful training? Did they hold the title of Champion in every region? Or was it something as unattainable as capturing every Pokemon?

Ever since his victory in the Alolan league, Ash had been doing some thinking about his dream. The dream that he had pursued ever since he was a child. Seven years of traveling, beating gyms, capturing Pokémon, and entering Leagues in what seemed like a never-ending cycle. Getting so close to victory and taking a momentous step towards achieving his dream at last... only to have it snatched away from him in the end was frustrating. First due to his own incompetence as a trainer. Later by trainers more skilled or experienced than him. Once it had even been against a trainer who used legendaries. In that instance, he had been proud of how far he had made it and the accomplishment of being the only one to defeat two of that trainers Pokémon.

Finally, however, he had won a league. He had battled against numerous skilled trainers who could all have gone on to potentially win the tournament and come out on top. Yet after finally winning, he felt… empty.

What was he supposed to do now? Journey to another region to participate in their league? Did he really want to go through same cycle again? Wasn't there something better he could do?

Ash blinked when he felt a small, furry paw poke his cheek. "Pi?"

He smiled at the small yellow rodent on his shoulder. "I'm alright, Pikachu. Just thinking."

Pikachu tilted its head in confusion. "Pika?"

He reached up and scratched his partner behind the ears. "Just about what I want to do with my life is all. Don't worry, it's nothing you need to worry about."

Pikachu eyed him warily for a moment, then sighed in acceptance.

"What about you, Pikachu? Anything on your mind?"

Pikachu tapped his paw against his chin. Then he nodded and shot Ash a smile. "Cha! Pi pika Pikachu!"

"You want ketchup when we get back home?"

Pikachu nodded. "Pikachu!"

Ash chuckled and stroked his partner's head. Pikachu had a one-track mind whenever it came to food, just like his trainer. Unlike him, Pikachu had an unhealthy love of ketchup though. All these years and he had never once come close to learning why.

The two traveled in comfortable silence after a bit more mindless banter. Or as much as a Human and Pokémon could have anyway. He may not have able to completely understand his partner, but Ash and Pikachu had been together so long that he could understand the meaning behind Pikachu's words from his body language.

Ash looked towards the sun. It wasn't noon yet, so there was no reason to stop. Besides, he was close enough to Pallet Town that he could skip lunch for an early dinner. Though why his mom had told him to be out of the house for most of the day had been strange. More so because of the reason than her not doing it. She'd said that she was busy prepping the house for some reason and that she couldn't have him around, even when he offered to help.

His mom could be so weird sometimes.


His trainer could be so weird sometimes.

For the last few days, Ash had been trying to hide the conflict raging inside his mind. To Pikachu, it was as clear as day what was going on though. He did this every time they lost at the League. He was always doubting himself when they lost, no matter how much he tried to hide it. It usually only lasted a week or so before he bounced back to his usual, charmingly oblivious self.

This was different though.

Not just because they had won the last league. Not just because it had lasted longer. Ash seemed to be thinking more than usual and every time Pikachu looked at him, he could see these forlorn looks on his face. At night – when everyone else had gone asleep – he'd seen Ash leaving the house to go do… something. He never came back until early in the morning before everyone was awake. It showed too – his eyes were bloodshot and baggy. He moved sluggishly most of the day and missed things he normally never would. He'd nearly seen him walk into a tree multiple times today alone!

The rest of the team hadn't noticed yet, and he was determined not to tell them. He'd enlist their help if he needed them, but Pikachu was determined to help Ash himself for the time being. Now he just needed a strategy beyond giving his trainer space since that hadn't worked so far.

Now that he thought about it... the team might be the perfect way to lighten Ash's mood. Spending time with all their old friends was always fun. It always seemed to cheer Ash up when he saw everyone getting along. Perhaps Ash's mom could even help. She no doubt saw the change in Ash as well and would be doing everything she could to lighten his mood. Together, Pikachu was certain they could help his trainer.

"There it is Pikachu. Pallet Town." His best friend declared. "Beautiful, isn't it? Every time we're home, I just can't help but smile. I think we'll stay a while before we leave again."

Pikachu smiled. It was as if the legendaries who controlled the skies had decided to offer them a nice, clear day. He knew it was only going to get better after that when he went to see the other Pokémon at the ranch. He wondered what kind of surprise they'd have for Ash and him when they arrived.


When people thought of the police, the images that came to mind were rarely flattering for those that swore to serve and protect. After the numerous eras in policing of corruption and incompetence - all of which ended in the suffering of the average folk - it was understandable they weren't held in the highest regard. Even with years of trying to make up for that at this point, the police just didn't have the trusting relationship they needed with those they were supposed to serve. Of course, given that the latest string of criminal gangs in recent years had all been felled by children or Champions, it didn't help to refute the belief that the police were incompetent.

It was a hard truth to swallow.

Officer Jenny let out a tired sigh and leaned over her desk, a pitcher of steaming hot coffee on the desk to her right. Arrayed on the desk in front of her was a mountain of photos, documents, and reports from the last few weeks in and around Mauville city.

A prominent advocate for harsher sentencing for Pokemon thieves had recently been exposed accepting bribes from criminal syndicates. The head of a local crime family and all those with the potential to inherit it had been found dead at one of their front businesses. One of the local Pokemon Centers within the city had been broken into in the dead of night and stolen all the Pokemon held within it.

The list of crimes went on and their consequences were beginning to become too much for the police to handle. With strong evidence of corruption, everything the politician had advocated for was deemed just as tainted as he was regardless of how much good it could have done. After the crippling of the local crime family, the criminal underworld was left in a state of chaos, and everyone was scrambling to claim as much power or territory as they could. After the blatant theft of an entire Pokemon Center, the Pokemon League and all the trainers associated with it were up in arms.

The only people benefitting from any of these events was Team Rocket.

Officer Jenny bit back a snarl and forced coffee down her throat straight from the pitcher to keep herself focused. Even thinking of Team Rocket was enough to have her seeing red.

With their largest opponents in the city either disarmed or dead, Team Rocket had free reign to expand their influence within the city. She suspected that by the end of the month, Team Rocket would have either completely supplanted the once powerful crime family or taken over enough of the business that it would only be a matter of time.

At the moment, however, the ultimate fate of the city and who controlled the underworld wasn't on her mind. At the top of the pile of photos was a picture of a child in a hospital bed. Based on what they knew from the League and his parents, he had only just started his journey this year. Not a particularly skilled trainer by any means, his parents had claimed that the boy was on a journey to become the best baker in the world.

It was a wonderful reason to go on a journey. He should have been learning the best techniques and sampling the best food from culinary masters across the world. Instead, his ambitions were rewarded with pain and suffering that no child should have to endure.

The boy had been found just outside the gates to the city on the back of his Mightyena. The boy had been badly poisoned and suffered from numerous broken bones. His Pokemon had all been the same but to an even more severe degree. Last she had heard, they were in critical condition at one of the Pokemon Centers that hadn't been robbed yet.

Fortunately, the boy was in better shape and would be fine with enough continued treatment. Once he had woken up, officers had able to find out that he had been ambushed a few miles outside of the city by a pair of unknown men. While the boy may have thought that it was a simple case of bandits on the road, Officer Jenny knew better.

While Team Rocket had been ditching the old black uniforms their agents were known for wearing, identifying when they were involved was easy. For the last two years, that band of scum had been targeting Psychic Pokemon specifically. Whether they were in the wild or under the control of powerful trainers, there were scattered reports all over the region about their attacks.

This poor boy had been unfortunate enough to own a Kirlia and become a target. Officer Jenny thanked whatever gods were out there that they hadn't killed the kid. For all their flaws, that seemed to be the one line those criminals weren't willing to cross.

He had at least been more fortunate than the older trainers that had been in Team Rocket's sight the past few weeks. While Jenny hadn't been involved in most of the cases, from she had heard the attacks were brutal. Far too brutal for what should have been a band of incompetent fools from Kanto.

Not for the first time, she wished that Kanto had been capable of handling their criminals like the rest of them. Now because of their incompetency, Team Rocket had spread far beyond that backwater regions borders and was becoming a blight on the world.

There was nothing she could do about it though. Nothing anyone in Hoenn could do. The police were stretched thin and underfunded. The Rangers were focused more on the Pokemon and environment than the human element. And the League? They only ever seemed to step in when they could make a show of it for the public.

Officer Jenny set the pitcher down on the desk and clenched her fist. If something wasn't done soon, Team Rocket would turn the beautiful Hoenn region into a hotbed of criminal activity.

The world needed a champion against the darkness.


"Mom, I'm home!"

"I'm out back, Ash! Come here, there's something I want you to see!"

He blinked. What was so important he had to go see it right now? "I wonder what's going on. You know anything about this, Pikachu?"

"Pika." The shake of his partners head confirmed that he didn't know either. Well, it couldn't be a bad surprise, right?

When he pushed open the door, Ash expected to find his mom out back with Mr. Mime preparing lunch or gardening. Maybe even Professor Oak and Gary out back too if they were both in town.

"SURPRISE!"

He hadn't expected to find a crowd of nearly all his friends here in his backyard alongside nearly all the Pokémon he had ever captured. Picnic tables had been stacked full of food from all kinds of regions, streamers and various other party ornaments were decorating the trees and garden, and his friends were all holding up a large banner to congratulate him. Confetti and party blowers were even in the mouths of his Pokémon.

The only ones not there were his friends from Alola.

He waved the confetti out of his face and smiled. Pikachu hopped off his shoulder and dashed towards the other Pokémon in the back. His friends almost immediately swarmed him to offer him their congratulations and bury him with questions. He laughed. "It's great to see you guys again!"

It was honestly a little much to keep up with since they were all talking at the same time. Seeing them all again had filled him with… warmth? Joy? Excitement/ It was hard to describe. Regardless of what exactly he was feeling, seeing all of his friends again was overwhelming. He tried to answer all the questions that he could, but it all blended together. Say what you would about his friends, but they were always the kind of people who wanted to know how he was doing.

Mercifully, he felt two pairs of hands grab his arms and pull him from the crowd of people. He smiled at the sight of Dawn and May. Out of all his traveling companions, they had to be the two he was closest to… not that he would ever tell the others. He wasn't prepared to see their hurt faces.

"Thanks for that. I was getting a little overwhelmed before." Ash laughed and rubbed the back of his head. "What are you all doing here? Shouldn't you all be on your own journeys?"

Not that he didn't appreciate them coming to see him. If anything, seeing everyone here made him forget all his troubles, even if only for a moment.

"Your mom called us all after you won the league. She arranged for us to come visit you." May pulled him towards the table of food. His mouth was already watering from the smell and sight of it all.

May looked different than the last time he'd seen her. While she was still sporting her orange vest and tight black shorts as he'd last seen her, he had a green bow in her hair instead of her old bandana. Even then, she had an air of confidence about her that she hadn't had before. Like she was more confident in herself and what she was capable of.

"We all came as soon as we heard to celebrate you winning the League!" Dawn laughed and pulled him into a tight hug, disrupting his musings. "You were so great this year, Ash. I knew you'd win from the beginning."

He smiled at her confidence in him and wrapped his arms around his friend. "Thanks. It's great to see you again, Dawn. You too, May. I've missed you both. How've you been doing recently?"

Dawn for her part was different as well. Unlike the last time he'd seen her, she'd added a nice ruby red winter coat and a long, winding white scarf to her attire. It actually made a lot of sense now that he was looking at it. Sinnoh was the coldest region in the world. It was pretty strange looking back that she hadn't been wearing that stuff when they travelled together. The magic of hindsight and all that….

May smiled. "It's been going good. Me and Dawn got to have a rematch in our last contest. Now we're tied for wins after I won this time."

Dawn rolled her eyes and disentangled herself from him. "Maybe this time, but don't think I'll let it happen again. I plan on winning the next time we compete against each other."

"I'd be disappointed if you didn't, Dawn."

Ash snickered at their behavior and piled food onto his plate. The rivalry between May and Dawn had been something he hadn't expected. In a way, it was like seeing two of his students facing off to prove who was better. Not that he'd ever call them his students. All he'd taught them was the basics of being a trainer. At least their rivalry was better than his and Gary's had been – or worse, his and Paul's.

He looked up and smiled when he saw his mom and the others all approaching him. He set his plate down and pulled her into a warm hug. She'd gone through all the trouble of getting his friends to come visit. She truly was the perfect mom.

"Thanks for doing this, mom. It's so great to see everyone again."

His mom nodded and rubbed his back. "I thought you'd enjoy the chance to see all your friends again after your victory. Your friends from Alola couldn't come though. They were all busy, but they said you should call them soon. They want to make sure you're settling in back home."

"It's alright. I'll call them as soon as I get a chance." His eyes slipped past her and to the group of people behind her. At least they had decided to leave his Pokémon alone for the moment.

Almost everyone being here like this and putting their own journeys on hold to come here and celebrate with him warmed his heart. People that he hadn't seen or spoken to in years were here and now he had to chance to reconnect with them. He could even see his Pokémon all getting along and welcoming Pikachu back. It was a shame that he'd left his Alolan Pokemon back in Alola, but he was certain he'd get them all to meet one day.

All he had to do was figure out what he was going to do next.


The criminal underworld wasn't nearly as unorganized or violent as many liked to believe it to be. People liked to believe that it was chaotic and primal. That anyone involved in it was giving into their base instincts and killing over simple desire. The reality was that it was all business. Supply and demand; real estate; pest control; every service provided in normal society was provided in one way or another by the criminal underworld as well.

It was this same principle that made manipulating criminals so easy.

The sound of shuffling papers drew Domino's attention to a man - a sniveling, overweight man in a suit two sizes too small for him with a greedy look in his eyes - sitting across from her.

"It was a pleasure doing business with you, Ms. Domino." The perverse grin on the man's face made her skin crawl. "I can already tell the partnership between my family and Team Rocket will benefit us all."

Domino had never failed any task that Giovanni had given her. As one of his personal agents, she was considered the best of the best within Team Rocket. She had the best training, the best equipment, and the best assignments. In return, he expected the best results. More importantly, however, he deserved the best results.

She forced a smile onto her face. "You've made a wise decision, Mr. Algilani. Team Rocket always makes sure its friends are well taken care of." Her voice was filled with such false, saccharine kindness that she almost worried he'd call her out on it.

Luckily, he was dense enough to think it was genuine.

"Now about what you owe us..."

Mr. Algilani nodded. "Of course, Ms. Domino. We can't be partners if we aren't both fulfilling our duties." He slid a thin yellow folder across the table towards her. "Mrs. Burk will be staying in room 314 of The Bisharp and The Gardevoir for the entire weekend. She should be arriving in Viridian City within the next few hours. I don't know why you're interested in a philanthropist of all people, but I'll ask that whatever it is doesn't trace back to us."

Domino only half listened to him as her eyes scanned the contents of the folder. Everything was here. Up to date photos of what the woman looked like, her usual habits, her schedule, even the layout of the event she would be attending.

Despite being in a room with people she detested, a genuine smile spread across her face. Giovanni would be pleased to hear that their new allies were more than incompetent mobsters clinging to the past. Even if their leader was a fool, they knew how to get the job done. They'd make excellent cannon fodder for taking over Saffron.

"I take it you're pleased?"

Domino nodded and closed the folder. "Very. The Boss will be pleased to see he made the right choice. I'll be sure to contact our people and have the money transferred to your accounts."

Mr. Algilani's grin seemed to split his face in half with a set of pearly white teeth. "Wonderful. Before you go, Ms. Domino, would you like something to drink? I have a fine selection of wines straight from the vineyards of Kalos."

Domino chuckled. "Well, I guess since the Boss isn't here, I should celebrate our alliance. Alright, pour me a glass. Red wine, please."

Mr. Algilani snapped his fingers. "Get to it, boys! Let's show Ms. Domino that her boss made the best choice allying with us instead of the other fools in this city!"

Domino rolled her eyes. Truly, mob bosses were such easy people to fool. They were either overly cautious patriarchs or narcissistic fools waiting for a knife in the back. Both were so predictable and easily manipulated, if in different ways. They were fools for believing they were partners with Team Rocket.

Domino looked forward to the day they could do away with them all.


"You were so cool this last tournament, Ash! That battle with Pikachu and Tapu Koko was amazing!"

Hearing Max's excitement at his battle was enough to warm Ash's heart. It'd been too long since he'd seen Max and his enthusiasm when it came to Pokémon was infectious. His pure joy for battling and raising Pokémon was almost enough to make him forget about his troubles.

Was this what it was like to be around him when he was excited?

"I would have had Pikachu focus on dodging instead of trying to meet Tapu Koko's attack head on, but that's just me." Max boasted.

Ash couldn't help but laugh and ruffle his smaller friends' hair. Max never meant anything when he said he could do things better. It was his way of helping you improve, even if it wasn't always so obvious.

Max had grown in the years they had been apart. While he still wore the same kinds of clothes, he was much taller now, almost as tall as Ash himself. He wore a large backpack no doubt filled with all the survival supplies one could ever need and had a pair of fingerless white gloves.

"Pikachu didn't have enough energy to dodge it, Max. Its battle with Tapu Koko had tired it out and I thought the best way to end it would be with one full power attack." He laughed sheepishly. "And in the end it worked."

"Speaking of your battle, Ash, where are the other Pokemon you used?" Brock inquired.

To his credit, Ash thought he managed to hide the surge of bittersweet emotions he got when he thought about his Alolan Pokemon. "They're back in Alola with the Professor. I thought it'd be best to leave them there. They deserved a break after everything they did."

"Speaking of Alola, we heard that you spent a lot of time there helping people. Always the selfless trainer, huh?" Misty complimented.

Serena giggled. "He's always rushing off to help people. It's his first instinct. He can't help it."

"Yeah. If he weren't such a kid, he'd be a genuine superhero with how often he rushes off to help others." Iris teased.

Everyone - Ash included - laughed. "Well, it is one of his best qualities. If someone needs help, Ash will always be the first person there to help them. It's what makes him so endearing." Cilan added.

Ash blinked as an idea came to him. "Hey Max, you've started your journey now, right?"

Max nodded, bobbing his head up and down curiously. "Yeah, I have. I decided to start my journey here in the Kanto region before I tried to compete in the Hoenn League. Why?"

Ash smiled. "Well, I promised to battle you when you became a trainer, didn't I?"

Max's eyes widened. "You did! I can't believe I forgot that." Max groaned and pulled on his hair, shaking his head. Ash just smiled at the childish display of frustration. "Alright then! Can we battle now?"

Ash glanced at his mother. He didn't want to ruin any plans she had.

She just giggled and waved off his worries. "It's fine, sweetie. Just don't damage the house or the garden."

Ash moved towards his crowd of Pokemon and spread his arms out theatrically in front of him. "Who do you wanna battle against, Max?"

The answer was immediate and unsurprising. "Pikachu!"

"Alright then, let's get started!"


Ash couldn't suppress the wild grin on his face as he prepared for the battle ahead of him. Max had been a student of his - someone that he had taught just as much as Brock had. The ability to not just see Max begin his journey but be the one he had his first official battle as a Pokémon trainer with was enough to make him almost more excited than a battle with a rival would have.

"Pikachu, you ready? Let's give Max a battle to remember!"

Pikachu nodded and pumped his tiny fist in the air. "Pika!" He hopped off his shoulder and towards the battlefield. Static electricity was dancing in his round red cheeks, and the fierce determination that always lingered in his body language was shown off the everyone.

Max raised a miniature Poké ball, enlarging it in his palm. "Alright! Ralts, come on out!"

Before everyone's eyes materialized a small, white humanoid a white gown with two large red horns protruding from its green head. It looked around the battlefield for moment, exuding an aura of curiosity. When its gaze landed on Ash and Pikachu, though, that curiosity changed to fierce determination. It looked back at Max and nodded.

Well, at least Ash knew that Max had been talking about him to his Pokémon now. It was flattering to know he thought so highly of him.

"This is that same Ralts that you helped out back when we were traveling together, isn't it?"

Max nodded. "I promised her that she'd be my partner when I became a trainer."

"I hope you and Ralts are ready!" Ash tipped his hat to his beginner friend. "I'll give you the first move. Make it count."

Max flashed a smile his way. "Thanks. Ralts, use Hypnosis!"

Ralts nodded in compliance with her trainer's orders. Though her eyes were unseen, she glowed as the latent psychic energy her kind possessed engulfed her body and focused her attention squarely on Pikachu with the hopes of sending Ash's partner into a forced sleep.

Ash felt a smile stretch across his face. Most beginning trainers focused entirely on offense. To rookies, the concept of more defensive styles were dull and ineffective. They only learned to be more diverse and less direct once the learned the hard way.

He was glad that Max didn't need that lesson.

"Pikachu, Quick Attack into Iron Tail."

Not a moment passed between the end of Ash's command and Pikachu's execution. One moment Pikachu stood there while the psychic energy of Ralts closed in on him, the next he was a flurry of motion too fast for the eye to see. He zigzagged around the battlefield with such speed that the inexperienced Ralts couldn't keep track of him. He then leapt into the air and his tail glowed brightly as it took on a metallic, silver coating. With a battle cry, he spun down towards the earth with the intent of slamming into Ralts.

"Ralts, use Teleport!"

On que, Ralts dematerialized before everyone's eyes mere moments before Pikachu slammed his tail into where she used to be, kicking up a cloud of dust and debris. For most trainers, a cloud of dust like this would have left them panicking. In battle, a trainer relied on their sight to determine the best course of action. Without it, they were less than useless.

It took a truly gifted trainer to not give in to panic and think critically. Ash was willing to give Max the chance to show his skills.

Across the battlefield, Ash could see a hint of fear flash through Max's eyes. It was gone before he could say anything and replaced with fierce determination. "Ralts, try and sense where it is psychically and then use Psychic!"

It wasn't a bad plan, all things considered. While the obvious plan would have been to disperse the dust cloud, that would have given them both their sight back. By using Ralts psychic powers as a substitute, Max had turned a bad situation to his advantage. Against any normal trainer, it would have been a crippling blow.

Unfortunately for his young friend, Pikachu's hearing and sense of smell were strong enough on their own that he didn't need to see his enemy to hit them.

"Pikachu, use Quick Attack."

A white blur sped out of the dust cloud towards Ralts. Despite her best efforts, Ralts couldn't get a bead on Pikachu and suffered for it when he slammed into her headfirst. Ralts was sent flying backwards, tumbling along the ground before rolling to a stop in front of Max.

"Ralts!" Max cried out in alarm. "Are you alright? Can you keep going?"

Slowly, Ralts struggled to push herself to her feet. Once she managed to stand at her full height, she looked back towards Max and nodded reassuringly at him. Despite her reassurances, she was drenched in sweat and letting out ragged breaths.

Ash and Pikachu shared a brief glance with each other. While Ralts may have been putting on a strong face, neither of them was fooled. Even with Pikachu holding back, it was clear to them how exhausted she was.

A good trainer would know when they were fighting a losing battle and call off a pointless battle. From the looks of them though, Max and Ralts were determined to fight no matter the outcome.

He would respect their desire to compete.

"Pikachu, use Thunderbolt!"

For a brief moment, Ash saw panic shoot through Max's eyes before it was replaced by realization. "Ralts, teleport around the battlefield randomly! Don't stop until I tell you to!"

Lighting surged across Pikachu's body, and he was enveloped in an all-too-familiar golden glow. With a powerful battle cry, the Thunderbolt surged from Pikachu towards the Ralts on the opposite side of the battlefield. Before it could strike, though, Ralts teleported out of the way.

Ash frowned and crossed his arms behind his back. There was no real plan here. Max had allowed the fear of Ralts being beaten to take over and was focusing too much on avoiding the attack. If it had been to put her in position to counterattack, he wouldn't have thought anything of it. Avoidance without a plan, however, would only delay the inevitable.

"Pikachu, keep using Thunderbolt."

What followed was a battle to see who could outsmart the other. Ralts would always rematerialize in the most unexpected of places but would only have a fraction of a second to teleport away again before Pikachu would launch off another powerful Thunderbolt. There was never enough time for her or Max to even think about launching an attack of their own. Every time, dust was kicked up and new, small patches of scorched earth were left in the previously serene grassy field.

It had turned from a standard battle into a competition of endurance. Unfortunately for the Ralts, her inexperience as a battler was what led to her downfall as she rematerialized behind Pikachu - noticeably exhausted with a flushed face and gasping for breath. She couldn't teleport away anymore. Pikachu noticed her exhaustion and took pity on her, zapping her with just enough electricity to end the fight quickly.

With a cry of pain, Ralts collapsed when the Thunderbolt ended and fell backwards into unconsciousness.

"Ralts!" Max rushed towards his fainted Pokémon and scooped her off of the ground, cradling her in his arms like one would a baby.

Ash approached him with a smile plastered across his face and a purple bottle of medicine in one hand. He tossed it towards his young friend. "You did great for a first battle, Max! You're definitely better than I was when I first started out."

Granted, that wasn't exactly hard to accomplish. Pikachu wouldn't even listen to him in the beginning. To think that they'd come so far from the rookie trainer and his arrogant Pikachu that they used to be.

Max graciously accepted the bottle of medicine and sprayed his fallen partner. "You really think so, Ash?"

He nodded. "I know so. You're just inexperienced. Once you get a bit more experience, I know that you'll be a fantastic trainer. Far better than I was sat your age."

Max blushed and scratched the back of his head. "Thanks, Ash. It was really fun battling you. I learned a lot from this. Next time we battle, I'll have a strategy to help me and Ralts win!"

Despite being sore from her recent battle, Ralts let out a little cheer and raised her fist in agreement. The gesture threw Max into a fit of laughter.

Ash reached out to ruffle Max's hair. Much to his amusement, the boy recoiled and audibly complained about him messing up his hair. Ash couldn't help but roll his eyes. He'd been the same as a kid, but was it really such a big deal? How else was he supposed to show how proud he was of his friend?

Ash chuckled and turned to his own partner. "You did great, Pikachu. Why don't you go enjoy the ketchup over-"?

"Buneary!"

"Glaceon!"

"Pika-!"

Sadly, the cries of two Pokémon desperate for a reunion with his starter and two blindingly fast forms tackling Pikachu to the ground interrupted Ash. The result though... that was anything but sad.

Pikachu - deathly pale and stiff as a board - was pinned to the ground beneath two Pokémon. Buneary, the small bunny Pokémon that Dawn had captured and was known to have a crush on his partner had wrapped her arms around his sides and was nuzzling his cheek with her own. Glaceon meanwhile - the Eevee that they had once travelled with and helped May raise - had pinned him beneath her and was staring down at him with a teasing glint in her eyes.

The look Pikachu sent him was pleading and had a message clear as day. A moment of silence passed as the two partners shared a silent message with only their eyes. Only partners who trusted each other completely could do that successfully, and Ash was certain he had gotten the message.

If that was what his little buddy wanted, that's what he'd do.

"Alright, Pikachu, I'll leave you three alone."

Ash had thankfully already turned around, otherwise he would have seen the look of utter betrayal on Pikachu's face as he was condemned to his fate.

He had no idea why everyone else was laughing though.


"That's him? The kid in the hat is our target?"

"Yeah. Boss says the kid can't be allowed to keep going as he is. Thinks he's a threat."

"That kid? He's barely even seventeen!"

"That kid took down all of our major competition. Don't underestimate him."

"Jessie and James were at least told to stay away, right? We can't have them screwing this up."

"Ha! Don't worry, the boss made sure they knew what would happen if they went anywhere near the kid in the next few days. Now it's all on us whether we succeed or fail."

"No pressure, then."

"Hey, he's just a kid like you said. He won't even know what's going on until it's too late."


The sun was finally setting. After hours of catching up with everyone, the party had finally started to wind down. By now, everyone had wandered off to talk with each other and either meet for the first time or catch up their adventures. Even their Pokemon had all wandered off to test themselves and play together with everyone else.

It was the perfect chance for Ash to sit back and relax.

Ash let out a sigh and collapsed backwards into his seat at the table. He grasped his hat in his hands and set it on the table beside a plate of food. He looked up to see everyone laughing and having fun each other. With everyone distracted, it gave him time to think about what the future held for him.

A chair scraped against the ground to his right as it was drawn out beside him. He glanced to the side to see May plop down and regard him with a bright smile.

She reached forward to place her hand on his shoulder. "Tired?"

A short laugh escaped his lips. "How could you tell?"

May leaned against the table, propping herself up with her elbow. "Your eyes and voice gave it away. It was obvious that something was wrong."

He clenched his eyes shut and frowned. "Oh… I'm sorry. I didn't mean to ruin anything."

His eyes blinked open as he felt May flick him on the nose and scoff in amusement. She looked at him sadly for a moment before scooching her chair closer to his own.

"You didn't ruin anything, Ash. No one else even noticed." She promised. "Not that it should be a problem if they did. We're your friends. You shouldn't feel like you have to hide stuff from us."

He shook his head and did his best to smile for her. "I'm not hiding anything. This is just something I need to figure out on my own." He promised. "How was it so obvious to you? I thought I did a good job hiding it."

May rolled her eyes and gently punched him on the shoulder. "You're my best friend, Ash." His confusion at such a simple answer must have shown because she let out an exasperated sigh. "Just because we haven't seen each other in a few years means that I've forgotten about you. I'll bet I know your tells better than anyone else."

She must have if she was able to notice his mood when no one else had. He hung his head and hunched over the table. "Can you not tell anyone? I just need some time."

She nodded and gave his shoulder a firm, friendly squeeze. "My lips are sealed." She promised. "Do you want to tell me what's on your mind? Maybe some perspective would help."

He glanced towards her blue eyes. "Perspective?"

She shrugged. "Sometimes it helps to tell other people your problems." She glanced away. "It's just an offer. I can't promise I'll have an answer to what's on your mind, but it can't hurt to trust me with this, right?"

Ash hid his hesitation behind a sip of his drink. As much as he would have liked to keep it to himself, maybe she was right. He hadn't been able to come up with an answer on his own despite how hard he tried. He trusted May to keep her word and stay quiet, so there was no harm in hearing her opinion.

"I'm lost."

May frowned. "What do you mean?"

He swirled his drink in his cup and glanced up at setting sun. It illuminated the evening sky in a beautiful shade of crimson. "Ever since I won the Alolan league, I've felt like I don't have a purpose anymore."

Her face scrunched up in concern. "I thought winning a League was your dream?"

It had been. Ever since he was a kid, all he had ever wanted to do was travel the world and become the champion. Every morning, he would wake up knowing exactly what he wanted to do and had the determination to see it through. He had a clear goal and a clear path to follow. He knew who he was: Ash Ketchum of Pallet Town – a travelling trainer and aspirant Pokemon Master.

Now he was Ash Ketchum the Champion of Alola.

"It was," He admitted. "Now that I've won, I don't know what to do. Should I go back to Alola to run the League? Do I just ignore my title and keep travelling to different regions to repeat the cycle? It all just seems so… pointless. I've reached my goal. This is as high as I can go and now there's nothing left."

May shifted in her seat uncomfortably. "Are you not happy? You should be proud of what you've done."

"I am." He didn't want her to think otherwise. No matter his doubts, he was proud of all he'd accomplished. "It's just the uncertainty of the future. I don't know what to do."

May let out a sigh of relief once she understood what he meant. "I see… I think I understand then." She offered him a small, reassuring smile. "It's normal to feel like this, Ash. I felt the same way when I won the Grand Festival."

She had? He hadn't realized at the time. May must have been good at hiding it. "How did you handle it?"

A sad smile split her face. "I asked myself what I wanted." She looked out towards the setting sun and leaned forward, cupping her hands under her chin. "I could have stopped competing altogether and done something else. With my fame and skill, I could have had my pick of paths to follow. But I love coordinating. It's not just a job or a hobby for me, it's part of who I am. In the end, I decided to keep being a coordinator and I can't imagine doing anything else."

He couldn't either. May was always in her element in contests. He envied having that much certainty and joy about her life.

"You think I should stick to being a trainer then?"

May narrowed her eyes and poked him in the cheek. "Oh no! You're not outsourcing this decision to me!" She growled playfully. "If you want to travel, then travel. If you want to be the Champion or do something else with your life, then do it. All I'm saying is that you need to decide what you want to do, not what you think you have to or what others expect you to."

He let out a quiet laugh. Just do what he wanted? It seemed like such an obvious answer. The problem was he didn't have a clue what it was he wanted to do. Battling was fun but… battling just for the sake of competition? The thought of doing that for the rest of his life filled him with a sense of unease.

He'd need to think about this. What was it that made him happy – truly happy?

He sighed. "Thanks for the advice. I'll think on it. Maybe all I need is time."

She smiled and gripped his arm, pulling him up for his chair. "Glad to be of service. Now come on!" She began to drag him off towards the clearing where their Pokemon had all gathered, a mischievous glint in her eyes. "You owe me a battle! I've been itching to show you the new strategies I've developed for my contests!"

Despite the heavy thoughts on his mind, Ash felt himself smile. Even if he had doubts about continuing his path as a trainer, a battle with a close friend was always something he could enjoy.

If nothing else, it would help distract him from his thoughts.


Viridian City was the great green gem of the Kanto region. While Saffron may have been the capital and connection between Kanto and Johto, and Celadon was the economic heart of the entire region, Viridian City simply had a natural charm to it. Its streets were filled with people from all over the world who had come to visit the lush green forests of Kanto.

It was also the nerve center of a multi-regional threat that had grown exponentially in a period of only a few years. While the average citizen or tourist went about their day with smiles and Pokémon battles, Team Rocket grew in strength in the shadows.

No one noticed. No one cared so long as the world kept spinning.

Well... except for the International Police anyway.

For Anabel, it was an honor to be selected to accompany a veteran agent on an important operation. While she had gone on a few missions before, they were typically the low-risk kind. Nothing to truly test herself or employ the skills the International Police had taught her. With how dangerous Team Rocket was, however, this was all but guaranteed to put her to the test. If she proved herself here, she had a chance to get even better assignments in the future.

She would not fail.

"Uhm... sir? Could you remind me where we're going?"

Looker hadn't been what she'd expected when she heard she'd be getting on the job training with one of the agency's most infamous members. She'd expected a dark, brooding man with a past shrouded in black ink. Or a woman who could beguile anyone with her charm and had the resourcefulness to take out any enemy. When she'd met Looker, he'd completely defied every expectation she had.

To think that she'd spent sleepless nights worrying about making a fool of herself.

When Looker glanced at her, it was with the patience of a teacher. "The Bisharp and The Gardevoir hotel. You remember why we're here, Anabel?"

Anabel nodded sharply. "To investigate the rumors of corruption within Viridian city, root out Team Rockets agents, and establish a foothold within the city. To do that, we're meeting one of our largest supporters in the city, sir."

She'd stayed up reviewing the parameters of their mission for the past few nights. Any agent worth their salt knew that the better you understood what it was you had to do, the better you could prepare. Only a fool went into battle with nothing more than a hope and a prayer.

"Good. Just remember to act naturally so you don't alert Team Rocket to our presence in the city. Don't forget your training and everything should go smoothly." Looker gave her a mock glare. "And I told you not to call me sir! Looker will do just fine. 'Sir' makes me feel old."

She'd never understand his aversion to being called sir. It was a sign of respect that he had earned the right to lead others. "Of course, sir."

Calling him Looker just didn't feel right to her, but she wasn't going to argue. Maybe once they were more comfortable around each other she'd be better at being less formal.

She shifted anxiously in her seat and stared out the window of the cab. For all the strangeness of Kanto, no one could deny that it had a natural beauty that you just couldn't find anywhere else in the world. "Sir… are you sure we can trust our contact in the city?"

Looker gave her a reassuring smile. "I'm positive. Our contact is someone we've worked with before. He's helped us apprehend dozens of criminals and corrupt officials before. Not too long ago he helped us catch an entire Team Rocket cell here in the city."

Anabel gained a hesitant look on her face. "If you say so, sir. If he's supported us and disrupted Team Rockets operations before though, doesn't that mean he's a target?"

Team Rocket never had tolerated those who interfered in their business. While each instance of retaliation was different, the reality was that they always retaliated. If you made the mistake of crossing them, they would strike back twice as hard. Within reason, of course. If you only caused minor disruptions to their operations or arrested simple Grunts, they wouldn't be too brutal. If you made yourself into an actual problem though?

Even as a rookie, she had access to files and reports of their crimes. She'd read far too many about young trainers thinking they could be heroes and ending up dead or broken for their troubles. It was what made their smoke and mirrors routine so infuriating. All the public ever thought of when it came to them was morons dressed in black who flew around in balloons and shouted horrible mottos.

If only the truth about them was more widespread… maybe then the methods the International Police used wouldn't be necessary.

Looker's laughter broke Anabel from her thoughts. "Most likely, but he's more than capable of defending himself against whoever they send against him."

She tilted her head to the side. "You seem to have a high opinion of him. Have you met him before?"

"I have. We may not agree on some things, but he's a skilled trainer. He's taught many young, inexperienced trainers important lessons. When we meet him, I'm sure you'll understand right away why I do." He eyed her for a moment. "You're asking a lot of questions."

Anabel blushed and attempted to hide her face in her shoulder. This was so embarrassing! She couldn't afford to make him think she was second-guessing him. "I-I'm sorry, sir!"

Looker held up a hand. "No need to apologize." He assured her with a kind smile. "It's good that you're asking questions. The more you ask and talk to people, the more you'll learn. In our line of work, knowing even the most inconsequential of details could end up saving your life."

Feeling much less embarrassed now that she hadn't made herself look like a fool in front of her superior, Anabel nodded. "Of course, sir. I'll be sure to remember that." She leaned back to rest her head against the seat. "Then if it's alright, can I ask what the plan is? How are we supposed to even start our investigation?"

"That's what our contact is going to help us with. The general plan though is to start from the most likely to have been turned and work our way up. Without him giving us a list of suspects to start with, we wouldn't be able to establish a safe-house here at the same time."

The cab came to a stop. "Alright you two, we're here. Enjoy your stay in Viridian City."

Looker nodded and pushed open the door. "Thank you. Anabel, pay the man and grab our bags."

Anabel sent him the most confused look she could. "What?"

"Rookies always carry the bags and pay the bills. Don't worry, you'll get to do it to when you mentor a rookie. No complaining."

Lazy bastard. "Of course, sir. Right away, sir."

With a resigned sigh, she grabbed the bags from the trunk. Despite their deceptively large size, they were actually fairly light. With a frown, she walked towards the cab driver and handed him a roll of cash. Far more than the drive to the hotel should have cost.

"We were never in your car."

The driver grinned. "I'm sorry, who are you?"

With an accepting nod, she walked onto the sidewalk next to Looker and took her first look at 'The Bisharp and The Gardevoir' and it… was a sight to behold. A statue out front of a Bisharp and Gardevoir crossing arms above the entrance with stylish gardens tended to constantly by gardeners and their Pokémon.

"This place looks nice." Anabel had only the barest traces of awe in her voice. For a strange region like Kanto, it sure did know how to build some impressive buildings. "When will we be meeting our contact?"

Looker glanced towards the lobby doors and saw them slide open. "Right now. Here he comes."

Out stepped a tall, older man in a stylish black suit and tie that must have been one of a kind and worth more than all the money she'd earn in a lifetime. Despite his age, he had a soft facial expression and a confident, commanding aura around himself that made him seem far younger than he really was. Perhaps most impressively, a regal looking Persian walked at his side.

"Giovanni. So good to see you again." Looker plastered a smile on his face and stuck his hand out towards him. Seeing Looker smile was nothing new, but this one was genuine. Not like all of the other half-hearted ones he gave out on a daily basis.

Giovanni returned the smile and his handshake. "You as well, Looker. I see the agency decided to finally give you a protege after all these years. Tell me, what's your name, young lady?"

"Anabel, sir." She curtly responded. She could feel Looker rolling his eyes behind her back, but she didn't look. That would be disrespectful.

"Charmed. Come then, let me and Persian show you inside. I've set up your temporary headquarters on the 20th floor. Once we're there, I'll fill you in on everything you need to know about the city."

"Thank you, Giovanni. If it wasn't for you, we wouldn't even have any information to go off of." Looker told him.

Giovanni's grin turned oddly predatory. It was… unsettling. "Believe me. It's my pleasure to help you."


The next day, Ash found himself in Viridian City with the others. Despite wanting to stay home, they had insisted that he come to the city for a big celebration. His friends had planned an elaborate number of celebrations for the whole week.

What followed was a hectic trip to the city. His friends took him to see rare Pokemon from far off regions. They'd entered him in a local tournament – which he'd won, much to his joy. Clemont had even shown some of his new inventions and allowed Ash to test them out for him. All of it had been fun. He'd been able to spend more time with friends he hadn't seen in so long.

Unfortunately, it also left him drained. Staring up at the night sky, he frowned. The day had been good, but with nothing left to occupy him until tomorrow, his mind wandered back to thoughts of the future.

Maybe a late night stroll would help clear his head and give him some clue about what to do. He told his group that he'd be going for a walk for a few minutes before returning.

The walk… didn't help. All it did was make him more uncertain about what he was supposed to do now. To continue on the path laid out before him was one that promised an adventure to exotic places, meetings with new people, and battles with exotic Pokemon. To choose a different one, though… he'd need to give some thought to what he would even do instead of continuing his journey.

"Sir? Sir, can you help me?"

Ash was distracted from his thoughts by a blonde girl. Something about her seemed familiar, but he couldn't figure out why. She looked distressed. "Is something wrong?"

The girl nodded quickly. "My Pokemon was hurt from a battle recently. Please, can you help? It's too heavy for me to move on its own and it hates going in its Poke ball."

His nodded, eyes filling with determination. "Of course! Lead the way!" As it turned out, it wasn't far at all. She led him to a small alley near a large hotel. He glanced around the alley. "Where's your Pokemon?"

The sound of a Poke ball opening drew his attention behind him. "Right here."

Before he could say or do anything, his eyes were drawn to the small pendulum the Pokemon was carrying. His eyes glazed over, and his posture went slack. The last thing he heard was the mysterious girl giving orders to her Pokemon.

"Nice work, Hypno. Now, let's have Ash here pay a visit to poor Mrs. Burk."

Hello Thousand Roads! I've finally gotten around to posting here after a long 2 weeks of juggling work and writing! This will be the first time I've posted a story on a forum before, so if anything looks wrong please let me know and I will do my best to fix it. Otherwise, I will do my best to get the next chapter up in another week or two.
 
Last edited:

Negrek

Event Horizon
Staff
Hey, CouchEffect! I saw you were checking out some of the other stories in the community, so I thought I’d take a look at yours! I haven’t read a great many stories centering on Ash, but it’s always good to try something new.

And I like your Ash here! I think you do a good job of capturing his generally cheerful and good-hearted personality without it feeling cheesy or out of touch with the tone of the rest of the fic. It makes sense that he’d be reassessing things after his League win and trying to figure out whether it still makes sense for him to be a wandering trainer. This is a natural place to take his character in a different direction, and it’ll be fun getting to see how he handles being part of the International Police. One way or another I’m expecting he’ll end up in Alto Mare, probably for another encounter with Latias—you seem to be featuring a bit of a who’s who of the most fun characters in the anime.

I’m also curious to see how the Rocket half of the plot plays out. I definitely don’t have as good of a sense of Domino’s character as I do Ash’s, but I’m excited that she’s going to be getting more of the spotlight here. So far she and Giovanni have been seen planning events or reacting in their aftermath, but I’m hoping we’ll get to see some of her actually out in the field, doing crime and interacting with Ash. Similarly, I look forward to seeing how Ash gets along with Anabel and Looker. I think a lot of the fun of this fic will be watching how the star-studded cast that you’ve plucked from different locations and eras bounce off each other.

Unfortunately it was at times difficult for me to buy what was going on in the story. I realize that for your premise to work you need people to think Ash is a murderer and for most of his friends to reject him, but the way that played out here didn’t feel convincing to me. I’m left wondering things like, if psychic manipulation is a known thing and has even been used t commit crimes before, and the police have even noticed that TR has specifically been stealing psychic-types recently, how does it never come up as a possible alternative to this kid with no record suddenly murdering a random woman? Why didn’t Anabel leave an anonymous note for the police and/or Ash’s friends pointing out that psychic manipulation was a possible explanation? If TR’s entire goal was to manipulate Ash into committing suicide, why not just do that instead of framing him for murder first? Why are people rioting in the streets/the entire city going into lockdown after a maybe-murderer escaped from custody? I think you have an interesting premise, putting Ash out of his element and going for a more crime and punishment sort of story, but so far the way you’ve chosen to get there from Ash’s win in Alola hasn’t totally convinced me.

I was also a bit confused about Ash’s age here. If he’s just won the Alola League, I’d expect him to be 15, tops. But that would make the way people have been treating him, as well as Anabel’s comment that she had a crush on him a few years ago, pretty strange. I’m guessing you aged him up a bit and either didn’t mention it, or I missed it?

I think you had the right idea breaking this into multiple chapters for FFN. A 30k chapter is a lot to swallow, and posting one at a time over weeks, the way I’m assuming you have been for FFN (and will here in the future?) lets people follow along with the story more easily. Starting off with a huge chapter will probably intimidate some of your potential readers.

Overall you’ve done a nice job with your writing; it’s clean and easy to follow, and it looks like you’ve taken the time to give it some extra polish. One thing to watch out for are your contractions and possessives. A common error that I noticed was the use of “one’s” where you wanted “ones.” You only use “one’s” to indicate possession, like “one’s fortunes might improve,” or as a contraction of “one is,” as in “one’s sneaking up on him.” Otherwise you want to use “ones,” e.g. for a case like “ the ones we’re looking for.” Similarly, you often used “admin’s” where you meant “admins.” “Admin’s” is either going to be a possessive or a contraction of “admin is,” so when you’re just talking about a group of admins, it’s not what you want. In general, might be a good idea to review the rules for apostrophes if you need to and take special care when using them.

I think you’ve set up a fun (not for Ash!) scenario that’s going to push Ash out of his element and force him to develop in new ways. It’ll be fun watching Domino work to get the upper hand on him, too. I’d just pay attention to whether all the characters in your stories are behaving in ways that make sense and are consistent with their personalities. I hope your writing’s been going well, and good luck with the rest of the story!
 

TheCouchEffect

Bug Catcher
Pronouns
He/His
@Negrek Thank you for the review! I appreciate it! Mainly I've been going through the stories since I know authors always love getting feedback. And since I always have downtime to read inbetween shifts at work, I have plenty of time to work through stories.

I'm glad that you like the characterization of Ash! I wanted to make sure that he was as in character as possible so that any character development he goes through later as he works with the International Police feels natural. As far as Team Rocket goes, I definitely plan to show them doing more than just planning or reacting to things in future chapters. I have a few ideas about what it is they'll be doing as time goes on to make them seem like the credible threat I've been alluding to. As far as the other characters go, I do have plans for other characters to make an appearance. With luck, I'll be able to do some interesting things with them.

As for your criticisms, I can completely understand how you feel. Overall, I do think looking back that I could have handled the actual scenario itself better had I taken just a bit more time with it and not been so worried about an arbitrary deadline. Throughout the story - mainly the parts with Looker and Anabel - I tried to give some explanations about why the police wouldn't be so willing to jump to the conclusion that Ash was controlled. I did this by trying to explain that the brain can sometimes repress traumatic memories like murder or how rare confirmed psychic manipulation was. I'd even attempt to explain even more of why the police weren't digging deeper by alluding to the fact that Team Rocket essentially controlled the police. But as you pointed out, it could seem unbelievable at times and Anabel could have tried leaving notes. That was overlooked on my part for sure.

As for Team Rocket manipulating Ash into suicide, that wasn't really their plan. Their plan was to frame Ash for murder, then murder him and hide it as a suicide so no one would look at it any closer. And the people rioting and the city in lockdown, I don't think I ever wrote that? If I gave off that impression through my writing then I'll definitely need to go back and edit it, but I'm pretty sure I only wrote that people were either protesting about police incompetence or were searching for Ash themselves. The latter of which is something we see people do in the Pokemon world all the time with criminals.

I think I wrote that his age was around 17/18 in one of the earlier chapters? If I didn't, then I'll need to go back and correct that mistake since yeah, I did end up aging Ash up a bit. Mainly because having 15 year old be the center of a story with a heavy emphasis on crime would be... a bit weird.

Yeah, I definitely wish that I had posted the initial 4 chapters seperately instead of merging them all into this monster. Sadly at the time, it didn't occur to me that I could make multiple posts. Hopefully people will be able to get past the initial length in the future, since any chapters that I do post will all be much smaller in length.

Thank you for the advice on the contractions and possessives! I was so worried about whether or not I was making mistakes there, but when nothing came up in spelling or grammar checks, I assumed things were good. I'll definitely be keeping this in mind for the future.

Once again, thank you so much for the review! I appreciate it - especially the criticisms! Now I know where I need to improve and can work on making sure that the story is even better in the future! I hope that I can continue to make this a fun and entertaining story!
 

K_S

Pokémon Trainer
Alright, I'm here for catnip and since this piece is impressively long I'm going to have to cut some corners I wound up skipping my usual line by line and doing a bulk summation instead.

Hopefully, it works.

(770 words)

This fic very much feels like a “and now what” tale. Where Ash has pursued his route of challenging leagues as far as it logically can go and hit a brick wall once he won. This feels very true to how you can see a sports career wrapping up. The athlete makes it to the top of their field, does their “perfect season” and then is left at the top with either nowhere to go. Down, or some adjacent project, or something utterly left-field tends to be the three tangents. Considering Ash’s social network I’m leaning towards probably “adjacent” and “left” more than anything else….

There’s a future out there, outside of what Ash was doing, obviously, but that question seems unanswered and it’s done so in a good way.



Panning through the companions, recapping his journeys through little bits and bobs, made for a good introduction to Ash and his journey for anyone unfamiliar with the anime. So kudos for addressing accessibility. However, how it was handled, in on giant chunk, seemed to drag.

I’d almost protest the sheer amount of characters Ash has to juggle time with during his “welcome home” party. Characters and regions started to blur but I think that a mix match of how long the series went has gone on and the formatting more than anything else. You said you’ve addressed it in other forums (ao3 ect) so I’m sure how you broke it down made it more manageable there but reading it off of the form was hard to slog through and I was left wishing that Ash’d only focus on the characters he was going to be dealing with directly going forward or each region’s “traveling companions” given their own chapter to make everything easier to digest.

Having the view switch from Pika to Ash, livened up the narrative, and helped the tale keep from getting a bit overwhelming at sections.

The battle section felt very true to the anime, but I almost think that Ash should be leaving out the whys behind his motions (at least spoken aloud) because he’s been doing this for ages and his team either trust him or they don’t, and by talking too much he tips off the opposing side of his plans. This is also a golden opportunity to apply show don’t tell, where it could be shown, Pikachu continually quick attacking, and ralt’s wearing down, rather than said. Also on the pragmatic side, the shorter the command the faster to say and the faster it kicks in.

Once the introduction wrapped up we got to the main plot (or rather the start of the main plot) Rocket making its moves, from the perspective of its feelers and agents seeded about making ominous statements of getting ready eetera. Looker’s arch kicking in, him bantering with his “rookie” and heading out to his source in Viridian, and their goal of “cleaning out Rocket’s corruption”. I cracked a grin when I realized it was Gio. Of course, the Viridian Fat Cat had his claws into everything and in turn playing everyone and everything to forward his end game. From the whole Looker introduction arch, I think I found that the most was the quiet realization as a reader as to who he was, and was snickering a bit at the police’s utter obliviousness.

You know I think I like Gio’s motivations most of all, and also his sneakiness, (though a bit over the top, if he could psychically control someone to commit murder it’d of been easier to just off him via a psychic command, or do a total past wipe and have a new loyal champion under his belt, granted anime’ verse Gio tends to be over the top as a rule of thumb, so the methodology is understandable). I’d say my quibbles were the police not having enough control to contain the evidence etcetera (though with Rocket seeding everything a leak would be somewhat understandable) but also the fact that they aren’t immediately running to offer the counter-evidence, to avoid unlawful accusations… etcetera… the Police procedure just seems a bit shaky but that might be an aspect of your version and the general incompetency of the Government that’s hinted at throughout the anime (I mean every region has a team and whatnot, after a while you have to admit it’s looking bad for the powers that be that they have so little control/resources to deal with things..).

And by not dealing with things in the most direct way possible Giovanni’s just herded Ash into the International’s hands, outed himself via Ash living, and basically pulled a Macbeth on himself.
 
Chapter 2

TheCouchEffect

Bug Catcher
Pronouns
He/His
Chapter 2: Identity

May had gotten used to sleeping in whenever she stayed in a hotel. While she spent most of her time waking up early on her journey - a remnant of her days travelling with Ash, Brock, and her little brother - she would confess that whenever she stayed in the city, she always took her time to enjoy the luxuries of civilization. Enjoying a good night's sleep wasn't something she got to do every day, after all. If she had it her way, she'd sleep forever.

Sadly, she rarely got her way.

The universe made that abundantly clear when a wave of ice-cold water splashed down on her. She shot upright, eyes wide and her hair clinging to her face. Her eyes darted around the room looking for the soon to be sorry fool who was responsible for this. It didn't take her long to spot her brother standing in the doorway, failing to smother his laughter with his Ralts stood beside him.

Her eye twitched. "Max... you're going to pay for this." She growled. "I hope you enjoy this joke while it lasts."

Max smirked. "Look at the bright side, May. At least now you don't need to take a shower."

She tossed a pillow at him. Would it hurt? No. Would it wipe that smirk off his face and make her feel better? Yes. Did it work? It would have if it weren't for that Ralts catching the pillow and throwing it back at her. She collapsed back on the bad when she heard them go, groaning into the pillow. It was no use trying to get anymore sleep. Not after her brother's lovely little prank.

She forced herself to her feet and through her usual morning routine. When she was dressed and ready, she trudged out into the common area of the suite they had all decided to share. Most of the others were up now and milling about the room. The only one who hadn't woken up yet was Ash. She wasn't surprised. She'd seen how tired he looked yesterday, and she was sure the others had as well. If he needed sleep, then he deserved to get as much of it as possible.

"Max actually went through with his prank? I swear, he's even more of a kid than Ash was when I travelled with him." Despite her words, it was clear Iris found the whole thing funny. Maybe if May hadn't been the one on the receiving end of an ice-cold awakening, she would as well. "Sleep well?"

May nodded. "I was until Max pulled his little prank." She sighed. "Sometimes I wonder what I did to deserve a brother like him."

Serena rolled her eyes. "He's not so bad. He's charming, in an overexcited child sort of way."

Iris frowned. "Speaking of overexcited kids, you've all noticed how down Ash seemed yesterday, right?"

Misty nodded, brows furrowed in worry. "I did. I didn't want to bring it up when he was around, but it looked like he had a lot on his mind. He looked like he was thinking about something whenever he thought no one was looking."

Delia let out a sigh. Her hands tightened around the coffee mug in her lap. "He's been like this since Alola. Ever since he won the league."

"Why would he be so... sad after winning though? It's all Ash has ever wanted. It's what he worked so hard to achieve. He should be happy, not like this." Dawn mumbled.

Brock hummed in thought. "Maybe he doesn't know what he's supposed to do now. He may think that now he's won a league that he has no clear purpose anymore."

May hid her frown behind a sip of her coffee. She wasn't surprised that the others had noticed something wrong with Ash. Despite what she'd told him yesterday, he hadn't been able to hide his emotions well. Just like her, they were all worried about their friend. She was tempted to reveal to them what Ash had told her.

Only tempted though. She had given him her word and she wouldn't break her promise. He deserved that much. If the others had noticed and decided to try to help him, however, she'd do the same. Ash had been an inspiration for her during her journey. His unflinching determination and fire had always given her hope when she struggled. Whenever she thought something was impossible, she imagined how he wouldn't let any hurdle stop him and use it as inspiration to succeed.

She would do everything in her power to reignite that fire in him.

Cilan shook his head. "If that's true, then we need to do everything we can to help get him through this slump. Just because he's won one league doesn't mean he has to give up on his journey." He crossed his arms. "I know we all came here to celebrate with Ash, but now we have to help get him through this. All agreed?"

May and the others all nodded their agreement. Once Ash was up, they would help him as best they could. Chances were they'd all have to stay longer than they'd initially planned, but they'd do whatever it took to help Ash. He'd do the same for them if the situation were reversed. Until he woke up, they'd need to brainstorm some ideas about how to help.

Or so they'd thought. Once again, fate was unwilling to let things go so easy for May.

"Guys!" Gary shouted. He was deathly pale, clutching his Pokegear in his hand so tightly it might crack. "Someone turn on the news now! Get Max and Bonnie out of the room!"

Clemont didn't hesitate to do as Gary said and forced the two young children out of the room despite their protests. May felt a pit form in her stomach. Whatever had Gary worried must have been serious. What could have happened to put him in such a state? Had some Legendary been sent into a frenzy by another crazy team of criminals? Had there been an attack in the city from a herd of rampaging wild Pokémon? Was there some sort of natural disaster occurring in the world creating chaos among the people?

As it turned out, she would have preferred any of the others.

"We're getting confirmed reports that late last night, there was an attack at The Bisharp and The Gardevoir. It is with a heavy heart that I report that the victim of the attack was Elizabeth Burk, a philanthropist beloved by all for sponsoring young trainers' journeys and endeavors to help the homeless." The reporter intoned. "The police apprehended the assailant during the assault and identified him as Ash Ketchum, the 17-year-old victor and first Champion of the Alolan League."

It was said that a mother's love for their child was stronger than anything. Mothers were meant to support their children and any dreams they had. There were stories about mothers committing unbelievable feats of strength to save their children from beneath mountains of rubble. Every now and then, there were even the occasional tragedies where a mother would sacrifice their life to save their child from a rampaging Pokémon's blinding rage. Mothers were willing to do anything for their children. They would always support them, no matter what happened.

Delia was the perfect example of this. She had supported Ash in everything he set out to do. When he began his journey, she was there supporting him every step of the way and willing to offer advice if he ever needed it. When he participated in the League and fought against the best of the best, she was always there cheering him on. When he suffered doubts or felt the weight of the world on his shoulders, she was there to comfort him. When he was in danger, she was always the first one willing to do anything to protect him. Even when the odds were stacked against her, she wouldn't let anything stop her from supporting her son.

As far as May was concerned, Delia was the epitome of what a single mother could and should be. The love she had for Ash was obvious to everyone who knew the two.

Which was why the news that Ash had committed a murder must have shaken Delia to her core. May rushed to catch the woman before she fell and hurt herself. It gave her an up-close look at the sheer anguish on the Ketchum matriarch's face. Behind Delia's eyes lay nothing but shock, pain, and disbelief.

May wasn't much better. This... this couldn't be true. The Ash that she knew would never have done something like this! He was kind to a fault. He risked his life to save anyone who was in danger - whether they were a saint or a monster. She remembered how he had put her life before his own years ago when they'd nearly drowned in the temple of Samiya. He always strived to help others, no matter the cost. He could bring a smile to anyone's face and light a fire in them with just a simple conversation. That wasn't the sort of person who could kill another human being.

Let alone one that she would bet her life he had never met.

"We need to get to the police station. We need to find out what happened. There has to have been a mistake."


Ash didn't know how things had gone so wrong. One moment he was helping a girl save her injured Pokémon, the next...

"I'm only going to give you one more chance, kid. Confess. Make this easier on all of us and spare yourself the pain of going to trial."

The next he was in a police interrogation room, covered in blood sat across from an unhappy looking member of the police. Worse, he was being accused of... of having murdered someone. He didn't want to believe it. He would never hurt someone! He couldn't. But... he was covered in blood. He could feel scratches and bruises across his body. With no memory of the last eight hours either, he was beginning to doubt himself.

"I... can't." He whimpered.

The officer narrowed his eyes. It was clear he was losing his patience. "You sit here for hours not saying a word to anyone since we bring you in, ignore any offer to get an attorney or present the barest form of defense for yourself, and the first thing you have to say is that you can't confess."

The officer let out a tired sigh and slid a small stack of photos towards him. He flinched at the sound of them scraping against the surface of the table and reflexively slammed his hand on them so they wouldn't fall off the table. "Open your eyes, kid. If you want to say that you can't confess, that's fine. We'll take this to trial. But you should know that you will lose because we already have everything we need." The officer scoffed. "Don't believe me? Look at the photos."

He didn't want to do what the officer said. The last thing Ash wanted to do was force himself to see a crime that he had no memory of committing. But he had to see. Something inside was telling him that he needed to see what he was accused of doing. And what he saw horrified him. They were pictures of the crime scene and each of them showed a horrific amount of blood and damage. The walls had been smashed and smeared with blood. A table had been shattered and the glass of the window fractured almost completely.

The worst was the victim though. The woman was... he couldn't believe it. Whoever this woman had been before, it was clear she would be unrecognizable to anyone she knew. Her face was swollen and bloody to such a degree it disgusted him to look at the photo. Just looking at it made him want to puke.

He forced himself to look away. That only seemed to annoy the officer even more. "You sure you don't want to confess? Maybe get why you did this off your chest? Any jury will look at these and know that you're guilty. That's without even thinking about the eyewitnesses or the footage of you breaking into Mrs. Burk's hotel room."

Ash's eyes hesitantly slid to the officers. "I can't confess. I don't remember doing this. I... I couldn't have done this."

The officer scoffed. "Couldn't have done this? Kid, the arresting officers found you knee deep in her blood. There is not a shadow of a doubt that you're responsible for this." He slammed his hands on the table, forcing Ash to jump back in surprise. "The only reason we want a confession is to make things easier on ourselves. Not give you the time of day in court to inflict anymore pain on this woman's family."

"I can't confess to something I don't remember doing!" His eyes widened. "What if I was forced to do this? Controlled!"

It made sense! He would never hurt someone as long as he had any control of himself! If he couldn't control himself, though, then there was no telling what he would do. Surely the officer would understand-

"I'm not falling for that old trick. Nice try though."

Just like that, Ash felt all his hopes turn to dust. "Trick?"

The officer snorted in contempt. "The old Puppet Defense." The sneer made it clear he despised it. "You scum always like to blame others for your actions. You're hardly the first one to claim he was controlled by a Psychic and forced to commit crime."

He frowned. "But I could have been…."

The officer's eyes narrowed. "Kid, were you anywhere near a Psychic type or their trainer at all in the past few days?"

"No… they could have wiped my memory though!" He cried. "They must have! I don't even remember going anywhere near this woman."

"Excuses." The officer growled. "Kid, if there was a Psychic that powerful in the city, we'd know about it. There isn't a single Psychic type powerful enough to wipe away memories and control others that isn't owned by a trainer. And all of them can attest that they didn't go anywhere near you last night."

That… that wasn't right. If he wasn't controlled by a Psychic, then that would mean he really had killed this woman. He couldn't have. He had no memory of it, and he didn't have a murderous bone in his body. He couldn't have done this!

He couldn't have….

His silence must have shown his thoughts because the officer scowled and scooped the photos off of the table.. "Fine. Be that way. But I want you to remember that I gave you an easy way out with the confession. When you're convicted, I want you to watch the faces of your loved one's experience disgust and agony. You may not show any remorse or regret now, but I guarantee you will when your own mother looks at you like a monster."

The thought of what his mother and friends would say terrified him. He hadn't even thought about how they must have been taking this. The news would have reported this by now. It would be broadcast across the entire city, potentially the entire region. Who knew how long until it was spread across the rest of the world? He didn't want to face them. Not yet. They'd want answers that he couldn't give. If the evidence was enough to make even him doubt himself, he couldn't imagine it not being enough for his friends and family.

He was drowning at sea without a life vest or any help in sight.


"It's still hard to believe that he did this."

Looker glanced her way. "You and I pulled him off of her, Anabel. This shouldn't be difficult for you."

Anabel sighed. As she looked through the one-way mirror into the interrogation room at Ash, her mind wandered back to when they'd first met years ago. Back then, she had still been a Frontier Brain and Ash was one of her challengers. He'd been strong, kind, brave, cunning, and charismatic. She would admit... she'd had a small crush on him back then. One that had eventually faded in time. Even so, it was still hard to reconcile her memories of Ash with the monster she had seen in that hotel room.

She shook her head. "He's just not how I remember him being."

Looker frowned. "I know what you mean. I've met him before as well. He was a good kid then. He helped me in my operations against teams Galactic and Plasma. It's a shame to see that he became someone capable of murder."

She could feel the disappointment radiating off of the man. Literally. Her abilities allowed her to feel the emotion of other living beings, human or Pokémon. It also allowed her to communicate with them telepathically. A useful skill when she'd been a Frontier Brain since most trainers couldn't handle the uncertainty of what her Pokemon would do next. As a member of the International Police? It was invaluable. She could feel the emotions of victims and potential suspects, question Pokemon for clues, and communicate with any teammates without having to worry about an enemy listening in. It was the entire reason she had been recruited in the first place.

It was also the source of her doubt about Ash.

"Sir, if I can speak freely for a moment?"

"Go for it."

"Didn't something seem off about Ash?" She began. "When we intervened, he didn't react to us at all. Didn't say a word when we pulled him off, didn't try to resist us at all, didn't try to escape or hide from the press that had gathered outside. Then he spends the night here not saying a word or moving at all. Now he's acting as though he has no idea what's going on at all. It doesn't make sense."

Looker narrowed his eyes. "Some men lose themselves when they commit murder. Stop reacting to the world around them once it's over. Others can't handle the reality that they've taken a life and the guilt that comes with it. Their minds repress the memory to help them survive. It could be Ash is one of those people. It doesn't stop him from being guilty."

"I know. But... here's the thing, Looker. I couldn't feel anything coming from him at all."

Now she had his full attention. He turned to her and lowered his voice. "What do you mean?"

"Exactly what I said. There were no emotions coming from him whatsoever. Not hate, anger, sorrow, or boredom... nothing. In the hours that we've had him, not a single emotion has come from him." She narrowed her eyes. She reached out to Ash and was bombarded by a sea of emotions. The shame and guilt Ash was feeling was almost enough to overwhelm her. But the emotion that caught her most off guard was confusion. He genuinely didn't believe he'd done this. "Now, though, he's swimming in a ocean of strong emotions. This may sound crazy but... I need to speak with Ash."

Looker's expression hardened. "Why?"

"Because if my suspicions are right then he may not be responsible for this." She glanced up at the camera in the interrogation room. "I need you to get me five minutes alone with him. Without any eyes or ears on us."

Looker scoffed. "Is that all? The police won't just do nothing if their system goes down. They'll want eyes on him at all times after what he's done."

Anabel laughed. "You're resourceful, Looker. You'll figure something out." She patted him on the shoulder as she passed by. "Message me when it's done."

She made her way through the police station towards the interrogation chamber. The police cleared out of her way, offering her respectful smiles as she did. It was better than the usual reception she received. The International Police didn't mix well with other branches of law enforcement. Other groups despised the authority of the International Police to take control of any local force or operation without so much as an explanation. Add in the tendency of her group to bend the law when it was necessary, and it was little wonder that agents like her were viewed with suspicion.

She didn't let it bother her. Strict adherence to the law hadn't made a dent in Team Rocket's forces. If they wanted to win this war, they needed to be more flexible.

The spirit of the law was always more important than the letter, after all.

Anabel took a breath and steeled herself. This would be difficult. Ash was scared and alone. He was doubting himself for good reason. She couldn't let him panic. Not when they'd have so little time to get her answer. Once she received the signal from Looker, she made her way into the room. Her five minutes were already ticking away.

Ash's eyes shot to her when she entered the room. "Who are you?"

Despite the situation, Anabel allowed a small smile to grace her face and flipped her hair over her shoulder. "Don't recognize me? I know I've changed a bit, but I thought you'd remember me." She sat down across from him and leaned forward, cupping her hands in front of her. "Anabel. The one you thought was a boy when you first met."

Recognition flashed through his eyes. "I remember you now..." He looked away. "You're a police officer now? Were you there when I-"

"Ash. Listen to me." She reached forward and grasped his head between her hands, forcing him to look into her eyes. "We don't have much time. I know you have questions, but you need to trust me. Okay?"

He stilled. "Okay... I'll trust you."

"Good. Now be still."

Being one of the rare Human Psychics was a boon to her life. Empathy and telepathy were useful abilities. Much rarer than the abilities other Psychics had - like telekinesis. That was sadly outside of her abilities no matter how hard she tried. Beyond that, though, she was able to... detect the presence of other Psychics. When Psychics tampered with the minds of others, they left a noticeable mark for anyone who knew where to look. Psychic Pokemon did the same, albeit in a different manner. The marks they left were more... wild and potentially damaging. The downside of using their powers on a completely foreign mind.

When she found the Psychic mark in Ash's head - the void where a memory should have been - it confirmed her fears. Memories were fickle things. Two people who saw the same event would remember it two entirely separate ways. As time went on, they would forget or change things about the memory. Even when memories were supposedly forgotten, they were more dormant than anything. At any moment, they could be remembered by certain triggers. All were cases of memories being unreliable. For one to be completely gone, though, was all but impossible. It only happened in cases of severe brain damage.

As far as she knew, Ash hadn't suffered any head trauma. The only trace that there had once been something in the void of memories was the latent psychic marks left behind. Which meant only one thing: Ash had been controlled by a Pokemon and used as a tool to commit murder. He was just as much of a victim as Mrs. Burk had been.

Anabel retreated from his mind and leaned back. She winced in pain. Diving into another person's head was never something she enjoyed. The pain that came afterwards always endured for days. In this case, though, the pain was worth it. Now she knew her suspicions were right.

"Thank you for trusting me, Ash." She forced herself to her feet. If her estimates were right, she had less than a minute until the cameras came back on. "I have to go now but know this: You are not responsible for her death."

Shock and relief flowed from him. Even without her abilities, it was obvious in his posture. It was as though a weight had been lifted from his shoulders and he could finally breathe easy. "I knew it! But the pictures-"

"Don't tell the full story." She made her way to the door. She glanced back at him. "I'm on your side. Just stay calm and everything will be fine."

She didn't stick around to hear his response. She didn't have the time. She needed to talk to Looker as soon as possible. The real culprits behind the murder were still at large and if things continued as they were, they'd get away with this while Ash took the fall. She and Looker may have been here to combat Team Rocket, but she would help Ash. After everything he'd done, he deserved that much.


"Excellent work as usual, Domino. I can always count on you."

Earning praise from Giovanni was a rare occurrence for most agents within Team Rocket. Most did work that was inconsequential. Routine thefts and other grunt work that hardly advanced any of their interests. Then there were the fools like Jessie and James - agents that could have become great if they weren't so single-minded. For grunts like them, they were only useful in fooling the public about Team Rocket's true nature. Still useful tools, but they were hardly reliable. The real work - the important work - was conducted by the Admins and personal agents of Giovanni.

The Admins oversaw the large-scale operations. When Team Rocket needed to establish themselves in a new region and stomp out potential rivals, the Admins were at the forefront. They oversaw important research into new fields of science that would help their business and ensure they remained a step ahead of their enemies. In the absence of Giovanni himself, they were the leaders of the organization and had the freedom to make decisions with the implicit support of the boss. So long as they served the organizations interests, they could do whatever they desired.

Then there were the Specters. The personal agents of Giovanni. While they had the authority to command the grunts of the organization when necessary, they typically worked alone. They recruited valuable allies and potential operatives to the organization. When someone was foolish enough to become their enemy, Specters were the guiding hand of their doom. If any valuable tech or Pokemon interested the boss, it was the Specters that stole them.

When things got truly dire, they would even be sent in to clean up the mess when the grunts failed, or the Admins were dealing with more than they could handle. Their arrival was a sign that heads would roll.

Domino herself had been part of numerous highly important operations. Operations that had secured Team Rocket's dominance and ensured Giovanni remained the titan of the underworld. Each of them could have ended with her imprisoned or killed for her work. The praise she received from Giovanni made all the hard work and danger worth it.

This was no exception.

She smiled and tipped her cap at Giovanni. "Thank you, sir. May I ask you something?"

Giovanni smiled. Sat behind his desk with his Persian in his lap, he looked like an ancient king. The man certainly had the commanding aura and resources to have been one. "You may. Can I assume it's about your most recent mission?"

Was she that obvious? "Yes, sir. This kid you had us frame… I understand that he's gotten in our way before, but was he really so much of a threat that we had to frame him for murder? He's an above average trainer at best with no experience outside of the league. It seems excessive."

Giovanni laughed. "I can see why you'd think that. What you know of Ash Ketchum is limited to his victories and defeats in the various leagues that he's participated in. He did exceptionally well in each one, always scoring within the top percentile of the competitors. Like you've said, he's even occasionally gotten in the way of our operatives during sensitive missions." He stood and walked towards the window of his office to look out at the city below. "Were he anyone else, I'd have found leverage against him and forced him to stay out of our way. But he's not just anyone."

What was Giovanni talking about? "Is he the kid of a rival? I know his mother's no one special, but the file I was given didn't mention who his father was."

Giovanni scoffed. "Hardly. His father is no one important. No, what makes him so dangerous is all because of his own actions." He glanced back at her. "You remember the old rivals, yes? Plasma, Magma, Aqua, Galactic, and Flare?"

She nodded. She'd had to deal with more than a few of their operatives on missions of her own. Those operatives were usually all well trained. It was a shame that they'd decided to dedicate themselves to working for megalomaniacs with plans of world domination - or worse, plans to forcibly change the world. Luckily, all of them failed miserably thanks to Team Rockets own efforts, the efforts of the League, and the efforts of various law enforcement agencies across the world. She told him exactly that.

"Indeed. Powerful rivals with delusions of grandeur. Each of them was powerful enough to bring their collective regions to their knees if they so wanted. Some even threatened the world. In time, it's possible they could have become a threat beyond their own borders." He chuckled. "And all of them were beaten by that boy. Or at least, he played a large part in their destruction."

Her shock must have shown because there was a flicker of amusement in Giovanni's eyes. But could she be blamed? One League obsessed brat had played enough of a role in the defeat of their rivals that Giovanni considered him more of a threat than any champion or law enforcement agency? She found it hard to believe. The kid wasn't that impressive as far as she was concerned. He was too naïve.

"If he's really responsible for what you say he is, then I understand why you want him off the board, sir." She frowned. "Are we sure this was the best move though? He's got friends in high places from what I can tell. Champions, League officials, professors. They could-"

"They will do nothing." He interrupted. "Calling them friends is a stretch. Acquaintances and mentors would be the more apt term. Most haven't seen him in years. None of them will be willing to stick their neck out for him when they see the evidence against him. Especially since he doesn't even have any memory of being controlled. Besides, he won't live past the weekend. An unfortunate suicide caused by the guilt over taking an innocent woman's life. No one will look closer."

If the boss felt the kid was dealt with, then she wouldn't press the issue anymore. Giovanni knew what he was doing. "If you say so, sir. Can I ask what my next assignment is?"

"You don't want to take any time to relax? You've worked nonstop recently - bouncing from one mission to the next without any time for yourself." He laughed. "Team Rocket will survive without you for a short while, Domino."

The thought of taking a vacation made her ill. She wasn't built to relax like some of the other fools their organization employed. She couldn't sit around on a beach drinking or wandering around the city aimlessly. She needed to work. She needed to do something valuable with her time. With how much effort she put into acquiring her skills, letting them atrophy to satisfy herself didn't sit right with her. Not when she'd get far more satisfaction from a job well done.

"If it's all the same, I'd prefer to keep working."

"Very well. Tell me what you know about the city of Alto Mare."


"Are you sure about this, Anabel? If you're wrong-"

"I'm certain, Looker." Anabel sighed. "Ash has all signs of having been under the control of a Psychic type. I'd bet my life that someone used him as a tool and an easy scape goat to commit their murder."

Looker took a deep breath as though to calm himself. She didn't blame him. Crimes involving Pokemon were nothing new. People used them for routine thefts all the time. Some used them for smuggling or fraud. Others solely relied on Pokemon such as the black-market trade of rare and highly valuable ones. They were even used to harm others. Criminals like Team Rocket or any of their now defunct regional rivals used them for all of these purposes - sometimes even more unique, esoteric crimes. The problem in this case was that this was a crime that couldn't be solved.

Psychic Pokemon posed a unique threat to humans. The ability to turn someone into a mindless puppet - to turn them into monsters that would kill their own friends or family without a second thought - was one of the unique dangers of psychics. It made identifying the true culprits in crimes difficult since those they controlled were usually the one's accused and convicted due to all the evidence that pointed to them. Most usually had their memories wiped as well. The only way to even identify when someone had been controlled was to have another Psychic enter the mind and specifically look for the signs. With how few Human Psychics went into law enforcement and the communication barrier between Humans and Pokemon, these types of cases usually ended with gross miscarriages of justice.

It didn't help that so many criminals liked to use it as an excuse to justify their actions. With how common of an excuse it was, she wouldn't be surprised if the police never bothered to investigate the claim in the first place. Why would they when they had clear evidence to convict? Most investigations showed that the accused were lying about being controlled anyway, so why waste the energy?

It sickened Anabel to her core that someone would use Psychic types for this purpose. It was scum like this that necessitated a registry for any sufficiently powerful Psychic.

She would not allow Ash to be another victim.

"Alright, Anabel. I trust you on this. You're Psychic, after all." He frowned. "You know this will be almost impossible to prove. Even if you're Psychic, the police won't believe you. Not when they have a mountain of proof that points to Ash and the majority of suspects who claim to have been controlled all end up being proven false."

Them being International Police wouldn't help either. To the local police, it would seem like they were trying to obstruct justice to protect a monster. Not a great look when they were already treated like criminals with badges.

"I'm supposed to just do nothing then?" She growled. "Ash was used like a disposable tool to kill a woman and the real culprit is leaving him to take the fall. I can't just let it happen!"

"Peace, Anabel. I'm not suggesting we do nothing." He placated. "I'm suggesting that we find the one responsible for this and get them to confess."

She blinked in confusion. "How are we supposed to do that?"

Looker laughed. "We use your abilities of course." He gestured to the city all around them. "You can communicate with Pokemon. That's an invaluable skill. Use it. Search the area around the hotel. The culprit may have made sure there were no Humans around to witness what they did to Ash, but I can almost guarantee they didn't think to chase away the wild Pokemon."

Realization dawned on her. "And once I find the Pokemon, they'll lead me straight to the one behind this!"

"Or give you an accurate description of the culprit if nothing else." Looker paused. "Do you know that Pikachu, Anabel?"

"Pikachu? What Pika-" She felt a tug on the leg of her pants. She looked down and saw a tiny Pikachu at her feet. She didn't recognize it at first. Pikachu were fairly common Pokemon for a lot of trainers. It wasn't until she heard its voice that she realized who this one belonged to.

'Anabel! Anabel, I need your help!"

Ash's Pikachu. The one that had been at his side since the day his journey began. She'd wondered where he was last night when she and Looker had to intervene. It was interesting to know Pikachu was able to recognize her, even after all these years.

"You're Ash's Pikachu, right? You look and sound worried... this is about Ash, isn't it?"

Pikachu nodded and dashed up her body to her shoulder. He stared her in the eyes. 'I heard about what they're saying Ash did. He wouldn't do that! You know him, Anabel. You have to believe me.'

Her heart broke for Pikachu. The earnest belief and care he showed for Ash was touching. The fact that he now had to listen to these accusations being hurled against Ash must have been terrible. "I don't believe he was responsible for this, Pikachu. My partner and I are going to do everything we can to help. How are his friends and family taking it?"

Pikachu's ears flattened against his head. 'Not well. Delia hasn't said a word since she heard. The others... they're worried about him. But they're also angry. I think some of them are starting to doubt him. They're talking to the police now in the station.'

That wasn't good. If they were talking to the police, chances were high that they were trying to find out why Ash was being accused. She could only imagine the looks on their faces when they were given practically airtight evidence that pointed to Ash as the killer. Whatever emotions they felt at that moment would likely have been enough to overwhelm her. And if they spoke with Ash? He would be crushed even more than he already was.

"I'm sorry, Pikachu. I'll do everything in my power to help." She hummed in thought. Maybe Pikachu could be useful. "Do you want to help us? If you do, we may be able to help Ash before too much damage is done."

'I'll do anything for him. What do you need me to do?'

Pokemon were inherently loyal to their trainers. It was a strange phenomenon that not many understood. Newly caught Pokemon had been recorded going to extreme lengths to protect and please their trainers. Even when their trainers were vile people - even those who treated them with no kindness at all - they would still obey and respect them. It took either extraordinarily harsh treatment or a severe lack of respect for a Pokemon to disobey their trainer. Yet... based on the immense feelings of worry emanating from Pikachu, she could tell their bond was something special. She could only imagine what the two had done together.

"We believe someone used a Psychic type to control Ash and force him to kill that woman. They turned him into a weapon and a scape goat. If you can help me track down where it happened, I can try to find any Pokemon nearby to help us find the one responsible."

Pikachu nodded and hopped off of her shoulder. 'Understood. Follow me.'

Before she followed, Anabel looked back at Looker. "He's going to help me track down where Ash went prior to going to the hotel last night. I may be a while."

Looker nodded. "I understand. Take your time and come back to me when you have answers. In the meantime, I'll get back to our original mission. There's still a lot of work that needs to be done there."


People thought being an agent of the International Police was an exciting career. For an organization like theirs that was shrouded in mystery to ensure they could be most effective, it was only natural that people made up their own minds about what they did. In the eyes of the public, they were elite operatives that infiltrated dangerous criminal organizations and brought them down from the inside. As far as the public knew, they were the best of the best. They lived exciting lives, traveled to exotic places, met interesting people, and did work that protected the world.

Some of that was true. They did have lives and experience things most people could only dream of. Their missions were always important - maybe not always world-changing, but certainly important to the people they helped. What no one who fantasized about the life knew, though, was that there were a lot of downsides. Even as a rookie agent, she knew that there were a lot of aspects of the job that were less than ideal. There was the constant danger that operatives like her put themselves in to protect others. Lots of the work they did went unheard and unseen by the public unless it couldn't be hidden, so they never received thanks for their missions. Then there were the dull aspects of the job - paperwork, surveillance, and - as she was personally experiencing for herself currently - searching for leads.

'-And then those Rattata from across the street tried to steal all of our berries! Can you believe that?'

Some people thought being able to understand Pokemon was a wonderful thing. And it was most of the time. Just not when she was conducting an important investigation to save an old friend from a crime he had no control over.

Anabel sighed. "Listen, as much as the drama between the Rattata families of Viridian City intrigues me... can you just answer my question?"

The tiny Rattata tilted its head to the side. 'What was your question again?"

She felt a flash of annoyance come from the Pikachu on her shoulder. 'Did you see a psychic type around here recently? Did a trainer use one against another human?'

The Rattata shook its head. 'Nope, sorry. Though I did see a bunch of Ekans recently try to-'

"Thank you for your time. Sorry to disturb you."Anabel practically ran out of the alley away from the Rattata. For the last two hours, they had talked to every wild Pokemon they could find. They hadn't been able to find a single one that gave them any clue about who framed Ash. They had been forced to listen to the drama of Pokemon all competing over territory, food, and anything else that could be considered valuable.

Pikachu growled. 'This is starting to aggravate me. Someone must have seen something.'

Anabel patted Pikachu on the cheek. "Have some faith. You said we still have one more spot to check, yes? We'll find one there." They had to. If they failed, then Ash's fate was sealed.

The last area they had to check was a small, decrepit alleyway. It was nothing special. Run down from years without maintenance and trainer battles, but otherwise unremarkable.

She glanced at Pikachu. "Are there any Pokemon nearby?"

Pikachu hopped off of her shoulder. He looked around the alleyway for a moment. 'Hey! Is anyone there? I need some help!'

For a moment, nothing happened. She was prepared to call it a failure. Then a Spinarak crawled out from a crack in the wall. It was big - far bigger than any Anabel had seen before. It looked at her for a moment before settling its eyes on Pikachu.

'Can I help you, young man?'

Pikachu nodded. 'I'm searching for someone. They would have been a human with a Psychic type - a powerful one. They'd have lured another human into this alley and attacked them.'

The Spinarak clicked its mandibles together. 'Now that you mention it, there was a human like that last night. Lured a boy in here and had that Hypno of hers take control. Poor boy seemed to have been trying to help her, but you know what they say about good deeds. Not sure what they did with him after.'

Pikachu and her both perked up at this news. Finally, they had a lead! If this Spinarak was telling the truth, then this could be everything they needed.

Pikachu rushed over to the Spinarak. 'Can you describe her? Please, this is important.'

'Hmmm... she was big - though all Humans are to Pokemon like you and me. Violet eyes and curly yellow hair. She was imposing as well - she tried to hide it, but it was obvious she wasn't some damsel in distress. Whoever the girl was, she was clearly capable. I certainly wouldn't want to follow her into a back alley.'


Pikachu tilted his head. 'Anything else?'

The Spinarak paced back and forth. 'There is one other thing. There was a flower on the girl's hip. Black. Like a rose or...'

Anabel's eyes narrowed. She crouched down in front of the Spinarak. "A tulip?"

The Spinarak blinked at her. Confusion rolled off of it in waves. 'Can she understand us?'

Pikachu nodded. 'She can. She's Psychic and one of those police that the humans have.'

'I see... well, yes. It was a tulip like your Human friend here said. Strange. Most Humans don't give a second thought to nature, let alone carry it around with them.'


Dread grew in the pit of her stomach. No, no, no. This couldn't be happening. This shouldn't have been possible. Of all the people who could have been behind this, why did it have to be Domino? She needed to be sure. Needed to be certain before she told Looker who she believed was behind this.

Anabel pulled out her Pokegear. Connected to the International Police's database, she had access to up-to-date profiles on all the criminals they had catalogued and encountered over the years. A bit like a Pokedex for Humans. An important tool in her line of work. She pulled up the profile on Domino AKA the Black Tulip, one of Team Rocket's most dangerous Specters. There was hardly any information on the woman. Only a few photos and a list of crimes that she had been linked to. Anabel didn't doubt there were far more they didn't know about.

"Is this the woman you saw?"

Spinarak took a moment to look at the picture. 'Hmm... she was a bit older than this one, but otherwise she's the spitting image. She has the same predatory gaze in her eyes. Stay away from her if you know what's good for you.'

Well... this wasn't good. Ash hadn't just been used like a tool to murder a woman. He'd been turned into a mindless weapon by Team Rocket and forced to do something completely against his nature. Why? Because he had gotten in their way in the past? It was the only explanation Anabel could think of that they would dedicate one of their top operatives to frame Ash. He had made powerful enemies and not even known it...

"Thank you, Spinarak. You've been helpful. We'll be able to save an innocent life thanks to you."

Or so she hoped, anyway.

She sped out of the alley, Pikachu hot on her tail. She ignored his cries for answers about who the woman was. There wasn't any time. She quickly dialed Looker's number. He needed to know as soon as possible.

"Anabel? Have found out who controlled Ash?"

"I did. It was Domino, sir. The Team Rocket agent."

"..."

"..."

"Well... that complicates things."

"No, it doesn't." She growled. "We need to save him, Looker. Now more than ever. You and I both know their intent isn't to have him in prison, it's to kill him!"

She heard Looker sigh over the phone. "I know, I know... give me some time. I'll make a few calls. We'll get Ash out of this. One way or another."

She knew they would. She would do everything in her power to ensure it. No one would get in her way.
 
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Chapter 3

TheCouchEffect

Bug Catcher
Pronouns
He/His
Chapter 3: Fight or Flight

"What's the plan, Looker?"

Looker let out a tired sigh. Anabel had put a lot of pressure on him to come up with a plan to save Ash from his impending doom. He was the senior operative between the two, so he was ultimately responsible for devising any strategies and leading them in the middle of operations. She was emotionally invested in this operation though. Whatever her past with Ash was, she was determined to save him once she knew that he was innocent. Chances were good that if Looker didn't come up with a convincing plan to save him, she'd have rushed off to do something stupid.

She was still a rookie. She didn't fully understand the subtleties that their job required yet despite her previous missions. She didn't understand that morals sometimes needed to be bent and emotions had to be ignored. In time, she would learn that emotions were their worst enemy. Especially in a case like this when it was pushing them to risk their original mission in order to save one person. He couldn't blame her, though. He wanted to save the boy as well.

After learning that Ash had been taken control of, Looker had ordered Anabel back to their hotel room. After conducting a sweep for bugs and finding none, they were ready to discuss what they had planned.

"I've spoken with the director. Given Team Rocket's connection to Ash Ketchum and his own involvement in the defeat of other criminal organizations, he's given us the go ahead to conduct a rescue operation." Looker raised a finger to prevent Anabel from interrupting. "However, he's made it clear that if we go through with it that we will have to leave Viridian city for the time being. Team Rocket won't be fooled. They'll know that someone helped him escape and it won't take them long to link it back to us."

Anabel grimaced. "And any plans we had would be ruined. I'm sorry, Looker."

A small laugh escaped past his lips. "Don't be. You may be the one pushing for us to save him, but I want to protect him as well. Any agent of the International Police would want to. It's why the director is allowing us to perform this little rescue."

Anabel nodded. "And after?"

He shrugged. "We'll likely be reassigned. Team Rocket is a problem in multiple regions. Wherever we go, we'll likely be dealing with them somehow."

It was the sad truth, but with how exponentially Team Rocket had grown in size and power the last few years, most law enforcement agencies had to focus entirely on dealing with them. It wasn't that they were the only criminals in the world. Minor crime rings, remnants of other evil teams, and lone offenders still existed. None of them were causing nearly as much damage as Team Rocket though. Like an infection, they had festered and gained power in the shadows while the worlds attention had been on other, more apparent dangers. By the time the International Police had realized the true extent of the threat they'd ignored for years, it was too late. Team Rocket were now the undisputed kings of the underworld.

It took everything they had - the combined efforts of the International Police, Rangers, local law enforcement, Pokemon League, and anyone else willing to help - to combat the interests of Team Rocket. It was delaying tactics at best, and they all knew it. Unless they could find a way to truly thwart a major Team Rocket operation or capture a high-ranking member of the organization, it was possible they could become unstoppable.

Looker gestured to the map he'd set up while Anabel had been away. It showed the layout of the entire city. "At around 10 tonight, alarms are going to go off across the city. Banks, prisons, museums, the power plant, Pokemon Centers; anywhere of importance. It will seem like there's a city-wide catastrophe striking. The police will be forced to send every single unit they can to try to respond to them all."

Anabel frowned and leaned forward to look closer at the map. "What happens if there's a real emergency? With all first responders being sent to these false alarms, we could be leaving people in genuine danger."

"That would be true, but it won't take long for the authorities to realize that none of these alarms are real. A few minutes at most before they arrive on scene to find confused bystanders or receive calls detailing that it's a false alarm." They would then be free to be sent to any real emergencies that could happen. "This means that by then, you need to have Ash out of his cell and guide him to the north of the city. You'll notice we've left a corridor out of the city for you two free of any police presence. We'll have a vehicle there ready to him to Viridian Forest and then out of Kanto soon after."

Not that it would be so simple. Even if they did manage to get him out of the city and lose the authorities in Viridian Forest, the boy would be a wanted criminal. No matter where he went, he would always have to look over his shoulder worrying about the day someone recognized him. That wasn't even mentioning the difficulty of getting out of the region in the first place.

Anabel nodded. "Understood, sir. What happens if we do run into police though?"

That was not something they could allow to happen. "I'll leave that up to your discretion since you'll be the one escorting him. If you decide to fight them and protect him, though, I ask that you not cause any permanent harm to them." He advised. "Whether Ash is innocent or not, these officers won't know that. They'll only be doing their job to take in a criminal."

"I won't hurt them, sir. No more than I have to." She sighed. "Can I assume that if I'm caught with Ash, I'll be considered a co-conspirator?"

He grimaced. "Unfortunately, yes. If you're caught and arrested, we'll have to treat you like a criminal with him. I may know you're not - the director and anyone else in the loop may know the truth - but the public won't. We can't risk a scandal by officially backing or defending you. I'm sorry."

"It's alright, sir. I'm prepared to accept whatever consequences come with this. It's the risk I take trying to do the right thing." Anabel patted him on the shoulder. "One last question, sir. How are we doing this? From what I understand, we're the only agents in the city. How are we going to pull all of this off?"

He laughed. "We've got friends willing to go the extra mile and help us, even though they may not know what for." He informed her. "With how often we get involved in dangerous situations, we always end up meeting people in need of a hand. Those people may then want to help us later however they can whether it be with a small favor or outright joining us. Giovanni is one of them."

Anabel smiled. "Maybe Ash will be willing to do the same when this is all over."

Perhaps. He certainly wouldn't be opposed to having a strong trainer around he was certain he could trust. "Let's rescue him first before we try the recruitment speech."

"Speaking of Giovanni, though, is he involved in this plan?"

Looker shook his head. "No, I thought it best we keep him in the dark. This way he won't be implicated if we get caught. At least then we'll still have one ally in the city willing to fight Team Rocket." One that had their complete trust. Giovanni wouldn't let Team Rocket take Viridian without a fight. "If you run into him, you have my permission to inform him of everything you know. A battle between you and him would do far more harm than good."


The only sounds that Ash could hear from his cell was water dripping from a leaky pipe above his cell and the indistinct chatter of the police in the station. This late at night, most officers were either at home sleeping or out patrolling the streets. Those few still in the station - officers, desk jockeys, and dispatchers - were uninterested in him. Locked in his cell with no Pokemon to help, he wasn't going anywhere anytime soon.

Not that he would have had anywhere to go even if he did somehow escape his cell. Not after what he'd been accused of. Anabel may have claimed that he hadn't been responsible for the murder of that woman, but that didn't do much besides ease the burden on his mind. The doubt that had plagued him before had been soul crushing. For a moment, he had honestly believed he could have committed the murder. Knowing he was innocent helped assuage his guilt.

That didn't help with anything else though. He was still locked in a cell. The world still wanted him to rot for what he'd been accused of. He still didn't know why Anabel had taken the chance to test his innocence, even if he appreciated it. He might never see Pikachu or any of his other Pokemon ever again. Worst of all though... worst of all was that he had lost the faith of his friends and family.

They'd come to see him not long after his meeting with Anabel. Any relief or joy he might have felt seeing them was dashed the moment he saw the looks on their faces. Nothing but disgust, anger, and mistrust had been in their eyes. They demanded to know why he had killed that woman and accused him of having hidden his true nature. They demanded he tell them just what he'd planned to do if he'd gotten away with it. It had hurt to hear his friends - the people he loved and travelled alongside for years - honestly believe he was capable of this. He could feel his heart breaking in two with every accusation.

Nothing they said could ever have possibly hurt as much as the state his mother was in though. He thought she'd be angry. That she would scream and rage at him for what she believed he'd done. Or maybe that she would be a broken, sobbing mess who could barely look at him. He hadn't expected the blank, soulless look in her eyes or the monotone voice that said the one thing no child ever wanted to hear from their parent.

"I'm disappointed in you."

Those four words were enough to shatter his soul. It didn't matter that Anabel claimed he was innocent. It didn't matter that his friends all believed he was guilty. Knowing that his mother believed he was guilty and that he had disappointed her... it was too much. His mother had raised him on her own and supported him in everything he did. She would have blamed herself for this and believed that she could have prevented it somehow. He could only imagine what was going through her head.

Not that he blamed any of them for believing he was guilty. If the police had told them even a tenth of what he'd been shown, he knew it wouldn't have taken long to convince them. He'd certainly been willing to believe he was responsible for it. Any reasonable person would have.

Mercifully, the group hadn't stayed long. The officers had forced them to leave him in his cell. He was thankful. He couldn't handle being around them. Not when they believed he was a monster, and he didn't have any satisfying answers to any of their questions. That was hours ago, and he still couldn't stop thinking about it.

Shouting drew his attention away from his thoughts. He couldn't tell what it was about, but it sounded serious. Ash could hear people rushing out the doors, shouting over one another to be heard. This continued for a few minutes before it abruptly stopped as everything went silent. He frowned in confusion. What was going on? What had happened to send everyone into a panic and why were they now as silent as a ghost?

He didn't have to wonder for long when an Espeon wandered through the doors and stood in front of his cell. Ash blinked in confusion.

"What are you doing here?"

The Espeon didn't respond. Instead, its eyes glowed a faint purple. The door to his cell began to creak and shake as the same mystical power the Espeon was enveloped in began to overtake the cell. Ash took a step back quickly in fear of its power. This Espeon was using Psychic on his cell, and he wasn't sure why. He didn't have to wonder for long. The door was ripped from its hinges and crushed into a ball before being tossed aside.

The Espeon let out a low growl and gestured with its tail towards him. The message was clear: follow.

For a brief moment, Ash considered staying. He was innocent, or so Anabel had said. If he stayed, he could try to clear his name at trial and get his life back. If he ran, all he'd be doing was confirm to everyone that he was guilty. Only the guilty ran, or so the old saying always went. Staying wasn't an option, though. Not when there was such convincing evidence against him. He didn't doubt that if this went to trial that any jury he got would convict him within seconds of seeing the evidence no matter what kind of defense he made.

After all, who would be willing to believe he had been controlled by a Psychic?

With his mind made up, he gave the Espeon a nod and followed it through the station. As the two of them walked through its halls, Ash saw that it had been practically abandoned. Doors left wide open, papers scattered on the floor, faucets left running, even food left lying around uneaten. He frowned when he saw the crumpled bodies of police on the floor or slumped over their desks. He rushed towards one in worry and checked for a pulse.

It wasn't hard to find it. The officers were unconscious, not dead. He glanced at the Espeon and rushed to catch up to it.

"You're behind whatever happened here, aren't you?" He waited for the Espeon to nod. "I hope nothing bad happens while they're asleep."

The Espeon pushed open the doors to the station. Ash hesitated at the threshold, looking back at the unconscious police station. This was it. The moment of truth. Once he stepped outside, he'd officially be on the run. He took a breath... and stepped outside.

When he wasn't dogpiled by a battalion of police waiting for him outside or a crowd of angry trainers nearby, he felt a rush of relief. At least one thing had gone right today. This late at night, the streets were clear of anyone who could have seen and recognized him. Knowing his luck, that wouldn't last long the farther he got from the station but at least he didn't have to worry about it right away.

The Espeon lead him through the empty streets to an alley not far from the station. A voice in the back of his mind was telling him to steer clear of the alley. The last time he'd gone into a dark alley, he'd woken up hours later covered in blood and accused of cold-blooded murder. He'd already come this far, however, and put his faith in this Espeon. There wasn't much worse that could happen to him at this point by trusting his rescuer.

Thankfully, this time it seemed he didn't have anything to worry about. Instead of an ominous and empty alley, Ash saw Anabel hidden in the shadows. She rushed out when she saw him, stopping not far away with Espeon rushing towards her. At her side was large, black duffle bag. What surprised him most was-

"Pikachu? What are you doing here?"

His oldest friend and most trusted partner raced up his body and seated himself on his shoulder. He nuzzled Ash's cheek, stray sparks of electricity flying from his body. He must have missed him. He understood. He honestly believed he'd never see Pikachu ever again. He looked towards Anabel.

"Anabel? You're the one who helped me escape?"

She offered him a smile. "I did. You're welcome."

All he could do was frown. "But why? Helping me makes you a criminal." He grimaced. "Even if you believe I'm innocent, helping me isn't worth your own freedom."

He appreciated her help. Truly, he did. When everyone else had abandoned him, having someone willing to believe in him and go to these kinds of lengths for him helped. A far as he knew, though, Anabel was a member of the police. By helping him she was risking not just her job, but her freedom. If they were caught then chances were high she'd end up in a cell right alongside him.

"I'm not doing this because you're innocent, Ash. I'm doing this because if I don't, you'll die." His eyes widened in shock. "You may not be willing to believe it, but I have evidence that Team Rocket is behind this. That they framed you. With what we know about how they operate, they'd have killed you long before you saw trial."

"That... that's impossible. Team Rocket wouldn't do that."

They couldn't. Team Rocket were a harmless group of... well, idiots. They showed up to harass him and his friends to steal their Pokemon, tricking them into traps that were obvious in hindsight. They could barely even feed themselves! Even the other members of Team Rocket besides Jessie, James, and Meowth weren't any more threatening. They were regular Pokemon thieves with a flair for the dramatic. Sure, they could be dangerous when they caught you unaware, but they weren't a threat to anyone who knew what they were doing.

They weren't the kind of people to commit murder, least of all frame him for it. They weren't dangerous like the other evil teams he'd met over the years. Not by a long shot.

Anabel sighed. "Maybe not those three clowns you're used to following you everywhere, but they're not the true Team Rocket." She passed him the duffel bag. "The real Team Rocket are a dangerous group of cutthroats. Murdering a woman and pinning the death on someone is the least of what they're capable of. Whatever you've done to earn their attention, you're now suffering the consequences. Put on what's in that bag."

Inside the bag was a leather jacket, a pair of sunglasses, and a plain, brown flat cap. As much as he didn't want to abandon his hat, he knew that it would be too recognizable. As it was his face would be plastered all over the city once those police woke up and realized he was gone. At that point, anyone on the street actively looking for him would find him easily. Donning a disguise was his only option if he wanted to stay free.

He tossed his old hat to the ground and began to put on the disguise. If Team Rocket really did want him dead, then this would be his one shot at survival.

"What's the plan, Anabel?" He had to assume she had one if she'd been willing to break him out.

"We're getting you out of the city. The distraction my associates created won't last long, so we need to make the most of it." Anabel gestured for him to follow her. "Once you're out of the city, there will be a car waiting nearby. It'll take you to the Viridian Forest and a safe house from there. After that, we'll figure out a way to get you out of the region."

Ash frowned. "You mentioned you had friends who helped you. Who are your friends?"

She glanced back at him. "The International Police." She sighed. "We believe that you're innocent and we won't leave you to die. Not when we can help it. Now let's move. I promise you'll get answers to all your questions once you're safe."


It was said that Pokemon would flee before disaster. That they would flee sinking ships or burning buildings long before humans realized what was happening. When floods were about to strike or earthquakes were about to shake the land, people would find Pokemon dens abandoned and hordes of Pokemon migrating away. When hurricanes were imminent, Pokemon would hoard any food nearby and fight to gather materials to strengthen their homes.

In a way, criminals were the same. Whenever danger came around, they would do their best to either flee or stand their ground if they had no choice. Most were self-serving to a fault and wouldn't do a thing unless it benefitted them. If they had to, they'd leave someone else to be arrested by the police so long as it meant they could get away. If it meant earning more of a profit for themselves, they would crush those beneath them without a second thought. It was just how criminals were. When you chose to work and live in a world that meant harming others for your own personal gain, it was to be expected.

Which is why when Domino saw the other Team Rocket agents refusing to meet her gaze or avoiding her entirely, she should have taken it as a sign that something was wrong. She should have immediately confronted them and demanded they tell her what was making them act like this.

But she hadn't. Instead, she had to find out by being called into the Giovanni's office.

Being summoned to personally meet the boss was usually because of two reasons. If an agent performed exceptionally well on a mission or went out of their way to benefit the organization, he'd call them into his office for a reward. Usually, a bonus to their pay or their pick of rare, powerful Pokemon. Sometimes if they proved themselves to be exceptionally skilled, he'd offer them a promotion and special training with him. Praise from the boss was rarely given out and only ever for a job well done. Those that received these rewards usually went on to become the most powerful members of the organization.

The other reason someone would be summoned to see the boss - the reason that usually left people terrified - was when they had failed him. Or rather, they had failed him in a such a way that it would put future operations at risk or jeopardize the future of the organization. In these cases, the punishments were always severe. They ranged from immediate demotion to far crueler punishments. The worst thing was these people were never heard from again.

It wasn't hard to imagine what happened to them. She would not be one of them. She would not allow it.

Domino stepped into Giovanni's office, arms fixed at her side. She was stiff as a board when she saw her boss. Giovanni did not look happy. His eyes appeared calm, but beneath the surface she could see a smoldering rage. It was the kind of rage she had only ever heard of. Having it aimed in her direction... it put her on edge.

"You wanted to see me, sir?"

Giovanni nodded. "Have you seen the news recently, Domino?"

She frowned. "No, sir. Should I?"

He didn't say a word. Instead, he gestured to the TV on the wall and turned it on. Her stomach dropped at what she saw.

"The police are reporting that the suspect in the murder of Elizabeth Burk has recently escaped police custody and disappeared into the city. This all happened in the middle of a city-wide emergency when alarms went off across the city. All have been confirmed to be false alarms done with the explicit purpose of drawing law enforcement away from the station and its surrounding area." The reporter on screen intoned. "It is believed that this was done by previously unknown co-conspirators to free Ash Ketchum. He is highly dangerous and likely armed with at least one Pokemon. It is suggested that civilians stay in their homes until his capture. If you are unable to stay in your homes, it is suggested you travel in groups with Pokemon at your side. If you see him, you are encouraged to report him to-"

Giovanni switched the TV off. "As you can see, our dear Ash Ketchum is no longer in jail and will soon be out of our reach."

That wasn't her fault! How could she have prevented someone from breaking the brat out of jail? She did her job! She made the alliance with the mob. She found out where that woman was staying. She even controlled the kid and forced him to attack the woman! She couldn't say that to the boss, though. Giovanni was forgiving, but hearing people make excuses - even if they were justified - would not help her situation. She needed to be proactive.

"What do you need me to do, sir?"

"Get out there and find him." Giovanni sighed. "The police are incompetent fools. Usually that works to our favor, but not this time. I'll be sending out grunts disguised as trainers to help, but you will be in charge. We cannot allow him to escape."

Domino nodded. "Understood, sir. This should be simple enough. Whoever helped him escape, I'll deal with them. They'll regret messing with our plans."

Giovanni frowned. "It may not be so simple. I believe his escape was orchestrated by the International Police."

The International Police... if there was any group that deserved to be considered a threat, it was them. They were different than most other law enforcement. They were crafty and competent in more ways than one. Where the police would be busy doing patrols or the Rangers would be out focusing on protecting nature, the International Police brought the fight to them instead of waiting for Team Rocket to make the first move. Where the police or the Rangers were blunt instruments that demanded attention, the International Police were group that valued secrecy and weren't afraid to... bend the rules, so to speak. They were the one's willing to do whatever it took to protect others, even if their heroics were never heard.

If the police and the Rangers were a bandage, then the International Police were a scalpel. One merely covered up the problem while the other cut it out. She'd never tangled with that group herself, but she'd heard the stories. Agents hidden within Rocket cells thwarting schemes that took years to complete. Valuable, powerful Pokemon had been within their grasp... only to be snatched away at the last moment. That wasn't even mentioning the number of their people who had been imprisoned by them.

"Are you sure it's them, sir?"

Giovanni scoffed. "No one else would be capable of pulling off a scheme like this in such a short amount of time. It just so happens that I know they have agents within the city as well." He sighed. "Why they're trying so hard to save this boy is lost on me. They may suspect we're behind all this, though I'm not sure how."

"How would they even know we're behind this? I wiped his memory just like you ordered me to!"

Giovanni hummed in thought, stroking the Persian at his side. "They may have found his lack of any memory suspicious. Suspicious enough to do some digging and look for witnesses to your hypnosis."

Her heart skipped a beat. "There were no witnesses! I swear on my life that there wasn't another Human around who would have seen us!"

He held up a hand to stop her. "Regardless of what they know, they're involved and causing us trouble like they always do."

She frowned. "Should we really be getting more involved then? If they already suspect us, sending out agents at this point may make things worse."

Giovanni shook his head. "If they escape with the boy, they'll tell him that we were behind this." He looked out the window towards the shining city in the night. "They may not have evidence to clear his name, but the boy will believe them. Convincing him to join them won't be difficult. And with how much of a role he played in the defeat of our rivals..."

"We can't allow the International Police to recruit someone like him." She finished. "I understand. I think I know where to start. I'll see to it that he's in police custody and the agents who helped him dealt with. Count on it, sir."

"Don't disappoint me, Domino."


The news that Ash had escaped from the police had sent a shockwave through the group. They were still struggling to come to terms with the fact that Ash was even capable of killing someone, let alone the fact that he was guilty. It was hard to deny when they'd been told of the evidence against him. Officers having to pull him off the woman, photos, recordings, eye-witness reports, not to mention defensive wounds and DNA evidence... it was all damning. They hadn't been shown any of it, but the confidence of the police in the evidence was enough.

For many of them, they were left without a clue about how to feel.

Angry? Betrayed? Disappointed? There were so many possible emotions they could have felt and yet they were all just left in a state of limbo. Until they saw the news and heard that he had escaped. After that... the only emotion any of them had felt was anger. If there had been any lingering doubts about Ash's guilt beforehand, they were wiped away at that point. Even with the news telling them to stay inside, no one planned on following those orders. Instead, they were all going out into the city to search for him themselves. They may not have been able to see what kind of person he really was, but they'd be damned if they let him escape without doing anything to stop him.

Or at least... that's what the others felt.

Iris wasn't entirely so certain. Ash was many things - a bit childish sometimes, hyper-focused on Pokemon, dense as a rock - but one thing that she would bet her life on was that he was no liar. It wasn't that he couldn't lie. She'd seen him do it in the past. It was just that he never did it without a reason or when there was evidence that he was lying. Yet back in that station, Ash had claimed to be innocent. He claimed that he didn't remember anything about the murder. Even with all the evidence against him, he still claimed to be innocent.

Those claims had made the others furious, but Iris had taken time to think. Ash was the last person she would ever have thought capable of murder. He spoke with such conviction in the belief that he was innocent that it made her doubt everything she had been told by the police. The boy she knew when they travelled together in Unova wasn't just incapable of hurting another person, he was the first one to put himself in danger to rescue someone else. Even if he didn't know them - even if they had hurt him or his friends - he would still risk his own life for them.

That image of Ash was completely incompatible with the one the police had claimed to have found in that hotel.

She let out a sigh. Wandering through Viridian city at night gave her a lot to think about. If only she could think about anything besides her now criminal friend. Truthfully, she wasn't sure what she would do if she found him. The part of her that still saw him as a friend - the part that doubted Ash's guilt - said she should let him go if she found him. The moral part of herself told her that she would capture him and bring him to the police to face justice for what he'd done. It wouldn't have been difficult since as far as she knew, the only Pokemon he had with him was Pikachu. When the news had said that he would have a Pokemon by his side, she knew where Pikachu had gone.

Even with Pikachu - even if he had a full team on him - Iris was confident that she could take him. Ash was a skilled trainer. In fact, he was one of the most skilled trainers she had ever met. The trust he had in his Pokemon was unmatched. The strategies that he could come up with were the kind that one had to see to believe. His instincts were second to none. Truly, if there was anyone in the world who had the capability to become a Pokemon Master it would be him. With his recent victory in the Alolan League, he was well on his way to accomplishing that.

Yet despite all that, she knew she could win. She'd been meaning to keep it a secret for when she challenged him to a match back in Pallet Town, but she had become the Champion of Unova recently. She was the first to beat Alder in years. While she still had a long way to go before she was a Dragon Master, her skills as a trainer were still elite. Iris was confident that even at Ash's best, she could win. Handicapped as he was with only a single Pokemon by his side, she knew she could win. With her authority as Champion, none of the police would question her bringing him into custody.

It was unlikely she'd be the one to run into him, though. Viridian city was huge. Ash would know how to hide in a city like this. With so many police officers searching for him as well as all the others in the group, the chances of her finding him were all but impossible-

"Oh, you have got to be kidding me."

She almost couldn't believe her eyes. She wanted to believe that it was just a trick of the light. It wasn't though. Across the street from her - hidden behind an imposing looking woman in the shadows of the night - was Ash. She almost didn't recognize him in that outfit he was wearing, but it was impossible to mistake the Pikachu riding on his shoulder. Or that nervous energy that he was giving off by looking everywhere.

Instinctively, her hand reached for Haxorus' Pokeball. This was it. With a single command, she could capture Ash and put an end to all of this. She wasn't sure what that woman was capable of, but Iris was sure that she could handle her. She was the Champion, after all. She grasped her Pokeball-

And paused. Her eyes met Ash's. Even behind the glasses, she could see that he recognized her. Ash was frozen on the spot, hands shaking at his side. Pikachu must have been curious why its trainer went rigid because it followed Ash's gaze to her own. Unlike its trainer, Pikachu wasn't frozen. Its eyes narrowed and sparks began to fly from its cheeks. Its intent was clear: if she made any attempt to capture Ash, it would make her regret it. Its care for Ash far outstripped any friendship she may have developed with it over their travels.

For a moment, she prepared herself for what would no doubt be a difficult battle. Then Ash placed his hand atop Pikachu's head and whispered a few unheard words to it. Even though Pikachu clearly wanted to fight, it stopped letting off electricity. It didn't stop glaring at her, despite whatever Ash said to it. Her attention was focused more on Ash, though.

He had taken off his sunglasses, allowing her to see his dark brown eyes clearly. Instead of the fear at being caught or anger at seeing her, all she found within those familiar eyes was acceptance. The message was clear: if she was going to try and capture him, he wouldn't put up any resistance.

She should have taken advantage of that. Anyone else in her shoes would have captured him immediately. It would have been so easy to arrest him then and there, even if that companion of his tried to intervene. Not everyone had the same history with him that she did or the understanding about what kind of person he was though.

She sent him a nod... then turned and walked away.

If she was wrong about this and Ash ended up hurting someone else... no, she couldn't think like that. She had to trust her gut and her gut was telling her to trust Ash. It had never led her astray before and she wasn't about to start doubting it now.

"You'd better not make me regret this, Ash. Or I swear, I'll hunt you down myself."


"That was a close one."

"I'm surprised she didn't try to capture me."

Anabel scoffed. "We got lucky your friend was willing to look the other way. We can't count on anyone else being willing to do that." She frowned. "We need to hurry. If your friend was able to find us, chances are we'll be spotted by the police soon."

Ash nodded and followed her through the streets. For the most part, Anabel and he had managed to make their way through the city without any major problems. This late at night, large crowds of people weren't a problem so long as they steered clear of casinos or clubs. There were a few people on the streets - wandering trainers and people looking for work - but they never paid any attention to them. As far as those people were concerned, the dangerous killer on the loose would have been on his own and attacking everyone in sight, not calmly walking down the street with a friend.

They hadn't run into any police yet, thankfully. With how large Viridian city was and how short-staffed their police department was, it wasn't surprising. They must have been spread thin splitting their time between looking for him and responding to other emergencies. Anabel had told him this wouldn't last, though. If they wanted him to escape, they needed to do it before the police could lockdown the city and set up checkpoints at all the exits to the city. The way Anabel explained it meant they'd only have a few hours at most before the city went into full lockdown.

He frowned. "Anabel, can I ask you something?"

She glanced back at him. "Keep it quiet. We don't want to risk anyone overhearing us and bringing the authorities down on us."

He nodded. "It's just... what's going to happen if we escape? I know you said you'd help get me out of the region, but what happens here? What happens to my friends?"

It had been bugging him ever since Anabel had told him the plan. Escaping was all well and good - especially since he didn't want to be put in prison for a crime he was innocent of - but if his friends or family were going to suffer for it, he'd stop this right now. He'd find the nearest police officer and throw himself at their feet. He wouldn't hurt his friends any more than he already had.

Anabel hummed. "That depends. If we can get away without being seen, the city may stay in lockdown for a few days searching for you until the public and local government demand it be lifted. If we're seen, then they'll send people after us - so losing them in Viridian Forest is essential to a successful escape." She shrugged. "And after all that? Well, the city will be in chaos. The public will lose faith in the police, the local officials will investigate how this could have happened, and the police themselves will feel the pressure to make up for this by either catching you or cracking down hard on local criminals."

So... not all bad then. He felt guilty knowing that the police might lose face because of him, but if it ended with more real criminals in prison than there otherwise would have been then he could live with it.

"As far as your friends and family go, chances are they'll be questioned. The authorities will want to know why those alarms were set off and how you escaped. They'll come out the other end no worse for wear though. There's no evidence that will point to them." Anabel told him. "At most, they'll be kept under surveillance in case you try to contact any of them."

Which meant he couldn't see or talk to any of them ever again. It hurt to know he'd never be able to share stories with his friends or hug his mom again... but if it kept them safe, then it was a sacrifice he was willing to make.

He was content to leave it at that, but Anabel clearly wasn't. She went on. "What I'd be more concerned about is Team Rocket." She let out a tired sigh. "They've already shown they want you gone. They'll hunt you down for this. Next time they won't give you the luxury of framing you for a crime - they'll kill you outright."

Ash couldn't help it. He lout an exasperated laugh of despair. "So that's it? Even if I escape, my life is over?"

"Not quite. It's possible that the International Police can-" Anabel came to a sudden stop, sticking her arm out to stop him behind her. "This... may be a problem."

Ash leaned around her body to see what she saw. In the distance was one of the exits of the city and just beyond lay the Viridian Forest, beckoning him towards it. With no police in sight, they were practically in the clear. That was when he saw what had made Anable stop them in their tracks: a crowd of over a dozen people stood around the gates.

"Can't we just sneak through? With this disguise, most people won't recognize me."

Anabel shook her head. "That won't work. Maybe if they were moving themselves, but they aren't." She gestured to the group. "They're standing guard. If I had to guess, these are trainers who've decided to help the police look for you. That disguise you're wearing won't help when they ask to see what you look like underneath. Normally good samaritans are something I'd applaud, but in this case..."

In this case, it just made things more difficult for them. "What should we do?"

Anabel released Espeon from its Pokeball. "We can't waste time trying to find another exit out of the city. We'll have to fight our way out. Our getaway driver will hear the sounds of battle and know to come meet us halfway."

Ash frowned. "But they're just trying to help. We can't hurt them."

"We won't. The most we'll do is try to rush past them and their Pokemon." She narrowed her eyes at the group. "Although its suspicious... most trainers wouldn't be out against the orders of the authorities or have the patience to stand guard around an exit. Something feels off about this."

"What do you mean?"

She shook her head. "Nothing you need to worry about. Get ready to move on my signal."

Ash took a breath. He looked to Pikachu on his shoulder, a questioning look in his eyes. Pikachu was the picture of determination. Even if Ash felt hesitant about fighting his way out, it was clear that Pikachu didn't. Seeing his long-time partner's confidence was enough to bolster Ash into moving forward. Even if he didn't want to hurt these people, he'd do whatever it took to escape.

"Okay... move!"

On Anabel's order, the two of them sprinted towards the exit. It didn't take long for the crowd of trainers to notice them. They didn't try to stop them or ask who they were. Instead, they reached for their Pokeballs and released their Pokemon. An array of Raticate, Golbat, Arbok, and Muk all instantly appeared, roaring in anticipation.

Anabel ushered her Espeon forward. When it began to glow with a mystical energy, the Pokemon that stood in their way were all thrown aside like they were nothing. This shocked their trainers who all rushed to get out of the way. It must have been shocking to see a Pokemon owned by a trainer attack without an audible command. He knew that he had been when he first battled Anabel all those years ago in the Battle Frontier.

"This must be that brat!" One of the trainers shouted. "Alright everyone, you know what the boss lady said! Raticate, Hyper Fang!"

"Golbat, use Air Slash!"

"Arbok, use Acid!"

"Muk, Sludge Bomb!"

Ash didn't have any time to wonder what they meant by 'boss lady'. Not with a veritable horde of Pokemon rushing towards him and Anabel. He was forced to jump to the side, narrowly dodging the attacks that shock the ground and destroyed where he had previously stood. He panicked when he saw a trio of Raticate leaping towards him, fangs glowing a bright white. These things weren't trying to capture him. They were trying to kill him!

Pikachu leapt from his shoulder towards the Raticate. He didn't wait for a command or for the Raticate to strike. Instead, he simply unleashed its attack. One moment he was flying through the air, the next he was unleashing a Thunderbolt so strong Ash could feel his hair standing on end and so bright that he had to shield his eyes from the light. All he could hear was the sizzle of electricity striking flesh and the cries of pain from the Raticate. When he opened them again, it was to see the Raticate thrown back. Charred, scarred, and down for the count.

He felt a hand on his shoulder yank him to his feet. "No time to sit around in shock, Ash!" Anabel dragged him to his feet. He finally noticed that even with those Raticate out of the fight - along with a few others Anabel had bested - there were still enough to surround them. Worse, there was no way they would be able to fight without leaving themselves exposed on a different side.

Not unless they had a way to deal with multiple opponents.

"I have an idea, Anabel." He whispered. "Be ready."

He turned his attention to Pikachu. "Pikachu, use Iron Tail on the ground! Kick up as much debris as you can!"

It was a testament to the trust they had that Pikachu didn't hesitate. His tail glowed, shimmering like steel, and radiating pure power. Pikachu leapt straight up into the air, only to come back down and slamming his tail into the concrete ground beneath them with all the power and momentum that he could harness. Huge chunks of concrete was thrown into the air above them, forcing the surrounding Pokemon and trainers to shield their eyes from any possible debris.

Unluckily for them, Anabel had caught on to what he was doing. Instead of raining down upon them all, Anabel's Espeon had taken hold of the debris and suspended it in midair with its Psychic. There wasn't a moment of hesitation before the debris was launched towards their enemies, whistling through the air, and slamming into their enemies with enough force to shatter the concrete and send them flying backwards. Some managed to avoid the debris... only to have it redirect itself and slam into them from behind with double the force.

Some bits of debris even went towards the trainers themselves. Some managed to jump out of the way in time, cowering on the ground with their arms shielding their heads. Others had their Pokemon leap in front of them to protect them from harms. The rest weren't so lucky and took the full force of the concrete striking them in their chest. He did his best to ignore the loud cracking and the cries of pain that he heard. These trainers may have been trying to help the police with the best of intentions, but they were still trying to kill him. He couldn't show them any empathy.

Not until he was safe.

"Come on, Ash! This way!"

With most of the Pokemon down for the count and the trainers too wary to try and stop them, now was their chance to escape. In the distance, he could hear sirens wailing. The police were fast approaching. It was now or never. He and Pikachu sprinted after Anabel and Espeon past their injured foes.

"There's our get away vehicle, dead ahead!"

He saw what she meant. A truck was in the distance racing towards them, kicking up a trail of dust behind it. For the first time since he'd woken up in a cell, he finally felt a spark of hope blossom in his chest. Just a few more yards and he'd be able to make his escape. Then after that, answers to all of his questions.

"There he is! Stop, now!" He heard an Officer Jenny shout. The police had arrived. "We can't let him escape!"

He couldn't let them get in his way.

"Pikachu, use Electro Ball on the arch of the gate!"

Pikachu leapt from his shoulder. He channeled all of his electricity into his tail, forming a massive ball of yellow and orange energy that was bright enough to illuminate the entire area. With a roar of defiance, Pikachu launched his attack towards the arch of the gate. It travelled with such speed that Officer Jenny and the other police barely had enough time to register what was happening and move out of the way, let alone do anything to prevent it from striking. When it hit, the arch collapsed in on itself and took the entire gate with it. In its place was a pile of rubble, preventing the police cars from following and blocking the police from following fast enough on foot.

Pikachu landed on his shoulder just as Anabel pulled him into the back of the truck. Once he was in, the driver quickly spun the truck around and sped away from the city. Soon enough, the police and the city they served became mere specks in the distance. He leaned back, letting out a tired sigh.

His eyes drifted to Anabel. "We made it." A semi-hysterical laugh escaped past his lips. "I can't believe we made it!"

Anabel sighed, pulling Espeon close to her chest. "It's not over yet, Ash. We still need to get you to a safe house and then out of the region soon after." She smiled at him. "Just get some sleep. I get the feeling you need it after the day you've had. I'll answer any questions you have tomorrow."

She had no idea how right she was. He was so tired... so long as he got the answers he wanted tomorrow then he wouldn't say no to a little rest.

"I'll do that... thanks, Anabel. For everything."

"Don't mention it, Ash. It was the right thing to do."
 
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Chapter 4

TheCouchEffect

Bug Catcher
Pronouns
He/His
Chapter 4: Question and Answer

Viridian city was in an uproar. It had been less than a week since Ash had managed to escape police custody and flee into the Viridian Forest. In that time, the police had done their best to keep the fact that he managed to escape them quiet. Unfortunately, there were always underpaid officers struggling to survive willing to trade what they knew to the press. Once word got out that the dangerous criminal Ash Ketchum had escaped, chaos had descended on the city.

People had panicked. Some were locking themselves in their homes with their families and refusing to come out. Others had taken to the streets to search for Ash themselves and get justice for the victim. Even more were taking to the internet to criticize the incompetence of the police and peddle conspiracy theories. This was made worse by the news shining light on all the mistakes the police had made that night. Some had even begun to question if the police were even worth the funding they received if they couldn't catch a single teenage boy.

Everyone was demanding to know one thing, however, regardless about what else they were doing: What were the police going to do now?

Nothing worthwhile, as far as the public was concerned. They held a press conference to try and placate the publics fears. That hadn't gone well once the press started to ask how Ash had escaped from his cell in the first place and the police had to admit that he had accomplices. When they had no answer for who had helped him escape or why false alarms had gone off across the city, it had sent the media into a frenzy. And when the police could only sputter and offer excuses when the family of Elizabeth Burk demanded to know if they would get justice? That had been the final straw. It was clear that no words would be able to make up for what had happened.

After the disaster that was their press conference, the police had decided that actions would speak louder than words. Search parties had been sent to the Viridian Forest to comb every inch of it for any trace of Ash. Police had been alerted in all the surrounding towns and cities to be on the lookout for him. Even outside of Ash, the police were cracking down hard on local crime within the city. You could hardly go anywhere in the city without seeing police arresting members of the local gangs or investigating local businesses for fraud. Despite all of these attempts to show the public they could still be relied on to protect them, people were not so quick to forget the VPD's most spectacular failure.

The police were doing their best to soldier through it, however. They ignored the criticisms of the public and the pressure from the politicians trying to avoid any blame themselves. As Brock and the others were learning, they were using the recent events as motivation to capture Ash and his accomplices. Which meant that aside from sending out search parties into the Viridian Forest, they were now interrogating Brock and the rest of the group as potential accomplices who helped him escape.

Not that the police were calling it that. Since none of them were under arrest, all the police were doing was 'interviewing' them. No one in the group believed that. They may not have been in cuffs or an interrogation room, but it was hard to mistake the air of suspicion and hostility radiating from the police in the groups hotel room. Brock had expected the police to come for them sooner, but he guessed they'd had more important things to do at the time.

The Officer Jenny that was sat on their couch clicked the pen in her hand and flipped through her notepad. Were this any other time, he'd have tried his hand at flirting with her. Brock always had been a sucker for a pretty face. At times like this, though, he knew there were more important things to focus on.

"Thank you all for agreeing to this interview."

Gary snorted in derision. "Not like we had much of a choice."

Brock cleared his throat. "Excuse my friend. We've all had a rough past few days."

Despite the frown on her face, he could see some trace of sympathy in Officer Jenny's eyes. "I can only imagine. Has anyone harassed you for your connections to Ash Ketchum?"

Cilan sighed. "For the most part, we've managed to avoid any harassment by staying in our room. Not many are willing to make a scene when there are witnesses nearby."

Officer Jenny quirked an eyebrow at the group. "And those few that are?"

Brock grimaced. "We've had a few people outside the hotel calling Delia a monster and... other things I'd prefer not to repeat." He frowned. "Hotel security never lets them in the building, but that doesn't stop us from hearing them."

It wasn't easy for any of them to hear what was being said about Ash's mother. They all knew how much of a wonderful person she was. The care she had shown for Ash had been enough to move all of their hearts. It took all their restraint to not march outside and let those people know what they thought about them. Had it not been for Professor Oak telling them it would only make the situation worse, Brock was convinced some of the more headstrong members of their group would have already gone to drive them away.

As for Delia... she hadn't taken it well. It was hard enough having to come to terms with the reality that her son was a murderer. Being harassed by people who had no idea who she was or care at all about what she was going through couldn't have been good for her. To hear people say that she was an incompetent mother for raising Ash to become a criminal was bad enough, but to say that she was just as guilty for what Ash did? It was despicable. She hadn't said a word or eaten since the news that Ash had escaped custody reached the public.

He hoped this didn't last.

Officer Jenny nodded. "I'm sorry to hear they're giving you so much trouble. If it escalates, please don't hesitate to call us." She sighed. "Now as much as I'd prefer not to make things any more difficult for you, I need to ask you all a serious question. You don't have to answer if you'd prefer not to, but I'd advise against that if I were you."

"We understand, ma'am."

"Good. Where were all of you the night of Ash Ketchum's escape?"

"We were all here."

Officer Jenny's eyes narrowed. "Really? Members of the hotel staff all claim that the only ones who stayed in this room that night were Mrs. Ketchum and Professor Oak."

Brock winced. Even if he couldn't see them, he knew that the others all held similar expressions.

"What's this about, officer? Are we not allowed to be out of our hotel room?" Tracey spoke up. It didn't appear to be the right thing to say if Officer Jenny's eyes were anything to go by.

"You are." She began. "It's just suspicious that you would try to hide it from us. Especially since we know that Ash had help escaping. It's enough for people to make assumptions."

"You think that we would help Ash after what he did!?" Dawn growled. "Why would we do that?"

Officer Jenny scoffed. "It wasn't hard to find out that you were all close friends of his. Some of you travelled with him across the regions while others were rivals." She leaned forward. The officers that she'd brought with her all tensed up in anticipation. This set Brock and the rest of the group on edge. "You're all famous and well-respected members of your fields. If you want to stay that way, then convince me that you shouldn't be suspects."

Brock held up his hand to stop the others from talking. With how emotional they were, he didn't want them to say something they might regret. Officer Jenny was right. All of them had a lot to lose. Not just their reputations or their jobs, but families that could be affected by this. They couldn't afford to drive away someone who could help prevent that.

"I'm sorry for how my friends are reacting, Officer Jenny. They're just emotional after everything that's happened." He apologized. "You're right. Most of us left the room last night. It wasn't to help Ash escape from police custody though."

She quirked an eyebrow. "Then what was the reason?"

"We heard that he had escaped and wanted to help capture him."

"You expect me to believe that?" She shook her head. "Nice try."

"It's the truth." He leaned forward, hands cupped in front of him. "You have to understand. Ash was our friend. He was a mentor to some of us and a brother to others. We all loved him in our own ways." He scowled. "And not one of us could see what he was really capable of. If we had, maybe we could have stopped him from attacking that woman."

"So, you all felt guilty enough to try and stop him yourself?" Officer Jenny sighed. "If that's true, then I'd say you're all acting like fools. None of you are responsible for what happened. He made the conscious decision to attack her. Still, I couldn't blame you for trying. Not when so many other trainers did the same thing."

"You believe us?"

"No, I don't." She got to her feet and made her way to the door. "Friendships aren't so easily abandoned. Maybe some of you are willing to accept the reality, but I'd bet every cent in my bank account that at least one of you isn't so willing to give up on an old friend."

"I'm telling you the truth."

"The evidence will determine that. If you really were trying to apprehend him, then I'm sure we'll see security footage of you all doing just that."

When Officer Jenny and the other police left, it was like a weight had been lifted from their shoulders. It didn't last, though. Even if no one said it, Brock knew that the others would all be thinking about what she said. Did any of them believe that Ash was innocent? If so, had they gone beyond just believing his innocence and tried to help him escape? Normally Brock wouldn't have even considered the idea possible, but after everything that had happened, he wasn't so sure. If he found out one of them had helped Ash escaped...

Well, he wasn't sure what he'd do. Not when he harbored the same doubts they did.


Failure was an unpleasant new experience for Domino. She was supposed to be the unbeatable ace operative of Team Rocket. She had a nearly flawless record of success! No matter how impossible a mission seemed, she always succeeded. She had faced down rampaging Pokemon determined to kill her without breaking a sweat. She'd had to fend off rivals both within and without of the organization. She had clawed her way to the top and earned her reputation as a Specter.

Yet somehow, a single brat had managed to make a fool of her. No, that wasn't right. As much as Ash Ketchum had been the center of her failure, he wasn't the one responsible. No, that honor went to the International Police. She knew that the group was a threat. All the stories about their interference in Team Rocket's operations were impossible to ignore. Up until this point, though, she'd never had to deal with their interference personally. If she ever got her hands on the agents responsible, she'd make them regret ever deciding to stick their noses in Team Rocket's business!

That was an issue for another day. Well... that is if she even lived to see another day. Standing outside of Giovanni's office, all she could think about was what would happen to her soon. It wasn't hard to imagine Giovanni punishing her for her failure. When the boss himself issued a mission, it meant he had a personal interest in it and expected it to be a success. Yet she had failed so spectacularly that now their enemy would have a valuable new piece on the board to use against them. All because two members of the International Police couldn't leave the obvious murderer alone to suffer his fate.

The boss had refused to see her in the days since Ash Ketchum had managed to escape. Too busy making public appearances to keep up his façade as a Gym Leader and calm the city down. From what she'd been able to piece together from the reports, the increased scrutiny from the public was putting pressure on the police. Too much for those on Team Rocket's payroll to stop the more honest police from cracking down on crime and interfering in their business. Now that things were finally calming down a bit, he'd summoned her for a meeting.

It had given her plenty of time to look into the International Police agents that had gotten in her way.

The first was a man named Looker. Even with all of Team Rocket's resources, his real name was a mystery to them. What they did know about him was his reputation as one of that pesky organizations most effective agents. Based on reports their moles within the International Police had sent them, Looker was directly responsible for the arrest of numerous high-ranking members of Teams Galactic and Plasma. He'd even done work against Teams Magma and Aqua in the Hoenn region, though nothing as impressive as his work against Plasma or Galactic. In recent years, he'd focused his attention solely on Team Rocket and proven to be one of the International Police's most effective weapons against them.

He was marked as a high value target for elimination. Sadly, all attempts to do that had failed.

The other agent was one they had more information on. Anabel Romanov, a former Frontier Brain, and current rookie of the International Police. A trainer that specialized in Psychic types and could command them without uttering a word. It was hypothesized that she was Psychic herself, at least on enough of a level to be able to command Pokemon telepathically. It had actually caused a minor shock for the public when Anabel retired as a Frontier Brain. The Battle Frontier wasn't as popular as the Pokemon League, but it was still a prestigious institution. Leaving such a highly respected position with - as far as the public knew - no reason was downright unbelievable.

If Domino had to make a guess, Anabel had left for the same reason most fools joined law enforcement: she wanted to help people. Bleeding hearts never were satisfied living their own lives and staying out of other people's business. They always had to get involved when someone else was in trouble with the foolish goal of helping others - for no other reason than they wanted to! It was outrageous! Domino didn't doubt for a second that Anabel was the one that had suspected something was off with Ash. Damn Psychic.

She flinched when she heard Giovanni's voice over the speakers order her inside. Her trembling fingers grasped the doorknob, but something in her prevented her from opening it. She took a breath to try and calm her nerves.

The wrath of Giovanni was not something one easily survived. He wasn't just a Gym Leader for a cover; he really was strong enough to be one. If anything, she'd bet that he held back in all of the battles he performed for the League. She didn't doubt that if he wanted to, Giovanni could take on any member of the Elite Four or even the Champion with how powerful his Pokemon were. Which meant that her chances of surviving if he wanted her dead were nonexistent.

Anyone else in her position would have run long ago. Domino was more skilled than most. She knew how to go to ground and hide in plain sight. She was skilled enough to defend herself against any attackers and had plenty of powerful Pokemon of her own. Give her a go-bag and a change of clothes, and she could be anywhere else in the world. With her training, she could survive longer than anyone else who had Team Rocket hunting them.

She knew they would find her eventually though. No one escaped Team Rocket forever. Whether they hid themselves in the criminal underworld or went to the authorities for protection, Team Rocket would eventually find them and make them suffer. She'd rather her end be quick instead. A lifetime of looking over her shoulder wasn't one that she wanted. She would fight for her life and try to convince the boss she deserved another chance.

With her resolve hardened, she pushed open the doors to Giovanni's office and closed it behind her. She did her best to show no reaction to the Persian in the room circling her with a predatory gaze in its eyes. To react in this situation was to show weakness. If there was one thing anyone who worked with the man knew, it was that Giovanni despised weakness.

The man in question was sat behind his desk, hands cupped in front of him. He let out a tired sigh, his sharp eyes staring into her very soul. "Ash Ketchum escaped."

"Yes, sir."

"The International Police will no doubt try to recruit him into their ranks now."

"Yes, sir."

"The local police have been poking their noses where they don't belong and hindering our business."

"Yes, sir..."

What was he expecting her to do? Get down on her knees and beg? She may have been terrified for her life, but she still had her pride. If Giovanni had already made up his mind and she couldn't convince him otherwise, then she would accept her fate with dignity. Begging was the last thing that she would do.

Giovanni took a deep breath and closed his eyes. "We'll be postponing your mission to Alto Mare. Until I am satisfied, you will be working to contain the situation here in Viridian."

Domino blinked in confusion. "Is... is that it, sir?"

"What? Were you expecting something else?" Despite everything that had happened, Giovanni laughed. "Is that why you're stiff as a log and can't meet my eyes?"

She flinched. Clearly she hadn't been so good at hiding her nerves as she thought she was. "I thought you were angry."

"Oh, I am. Furious, actually." Giovanni turned to stare at the city below. "However, I'm not so angry that I can't think. I know you're not to blame for this disaster."

She let out a sigh of relief. "Thank you for being so understanding, Giovanni."

"I'm no fool, Domino. You did exactly as you were ordered to." Giovanni crossed his arms behind his back. His Persian came to rest behind him, though its eyes never left her. Even with Giovanni's assurances that she was in no danger, she still felt that Persian was liable to attack. "I should have been more prepared in case the International Police decided to step in. Next time, I won't make the same mistake."

She didn't doubt it. No one made a fool of Giovanni twice. "What would you have me do, sir?"

"Deal with the politicians." He began. "I can only do so much to convince people to calm down. You will need to persuade the politicians not aligned with us to either get in line... or suffer the consequences."

If they knew what was good for them, they'd bend to Team Rocket's whims. Being an ally could make a man powerful and wealthy if they played their cards right. Fortune, fame, power, and love were all benefits of working with them. Being an enemy, however, only promised one thing: suffering.

"Where should I start?"

"The police commissioner had to retire recently due to an unfortunate scandal. His successor is one of those 'tough on crime' types and taking advantage of the crisis to show how competent he is." Giovanni chuckled. "See to it he learns why it would be unwise to keep that line of thinking and the benefits of working with us."


Giovanni let out a tired sigh once Domino was gone and collapsed into his chair. His Persian hopped into his lip, looking up to him with concern in her eyes. Despite how tired he felt, a smile spread across his face. He scratched her behind the ears, content to listen to the soft purring of his loyal feline companion.

The last few days had been far more stressful than he had expected them to be. He was used to stress. Between his duties as a Gym Leader and running Team Rocket, he was almost always working. Ensuring that those two duties never conflicted was a difficult task when any slip could potentially expose him as the leader of Team Rocket. Having that happen would throw a wrench in many of his future plans. He was able to handle it without breaking down or letting it affect him though. One of the many skills he'd learned early on in his career was how to compartmentalize his life and tackle his issues one at a time.

Having a plan go awry was nothing new either. It happened all the time. Whether because of foolish grunts like Jessie and James messing up their simple jobs or the police showing a rare moment of competence, failure was an accepted part of the job. The more annoying failures were always when the League and the brats obsessed with competing for fame and glory decided to interfere out of a sense of righteousness. He always contented himself knowing he was playing the League officials for fools and could crush the brats when they came to challenge his gym. So long as there were always more successes than failures and Team Rocket maintained an intimidating reputation, he could be happy.

This most recent failure was different. It was because he had been the one to make a mistake. He had known that the International Police would be involved. He had put them in the same hotel as the Ketchum boys victim. His plan had merely been to use them to add extra legitimacy to the case against the boy with such respectable agents being the ones to capture him. He had known exactly which agents were coming to the city and their unique capabilities - psychic abilities included. He had overlooked the fact that they could decide to dig deeper into Ash Ketchum's case to discover why he had done it - even if all the evidence painted a clear picture. Had he accounted for that possibility, he would have kept those agents as far away from the boy as possible or come up with a different plan for him entirely.

He had thought for a moment to break the boys mind and turn him into a powerful tool. Wipe his mind completely and make him a Champion puppet. Or perhaps turn him into a new agent for the Specters. Alas, that plan would have backfired. All it would have taken was one unfortunate encounter with his old friends and his old memories would have resurfaced. Worse, if he had ever found out they made him into a puppet then he would have turned on them in an instant.

Leaving the boy be would have run the risk of him interfering in the future. Killing him truly was the best option. Outright assassinating him would have drawn too many eyes, which meant they needed a subtler touch. Turning the public and his friends against him was easy. From there, all they needed to do was stage his death as a suicide. No one would look closer. It had all seemed so simple. With it backfiring, he had given his enemies a powerful new weapon.

Now he had to make a show of working with the police to find the boy and reassure the public that they were safe. With so many people panicking and the police scrambling to repair their reputation as competent protectors, Team Rocket's business was being impacted. A vigilant police force and a panicking civilian population meant criminals were all suffering a net loss when it came to their profits. No criminal in their right mind was going to even consider conducting their usual business until this storm blew over.

Even when he was done with his more public duties, though, he still had to be the leader of Team Rocket. In the early days of his leadership when Team Rocket had been confined to Kanto and Johto, he could more directly oversee his operations to ensure they ran efficiently. Unfortunately, as Team Rocket expanded into new regions it became necessary for him to appoint others to oversee Team Rocket's business. Namely the Admins - the most powerful members of Team Rocket, barring himself of course.

He was scheduled for a call with one of the more... troublesome of his Admin's. One he had entrusted with an important task.

The call arrived on schedule, and he pulled it up on screen.

"Giovanni, sir. It's an honor to-"

"Skip the pleasantries, Proton." He let out a tired sigh. "I would prefer to keep this brief and to the point."

Proton was one of his most skilled Admins. He a competent trainer with powerful Pokemon at his command and he had a knack for leading others. His cruel disposition kept the Grunts in line and made their enemies wary of fighting when he was involved. With a shrewd business sense to boot, he was the perfect choice for an Admin. Sadly, Proton also knew how skilled he was and took every opportunity to flaunt it over others. His confidence bordered on narcissism at times.

Proton tipped his hat towards him. "Of course, sir." He cleared his throat. "I've managed to clean up the mess my predecessor left in Alto Mare. So far we've managed to smuggle millions of dollars' worth of contraband and Pokemon to various regions around the world. Our operatives returning from missions are using Alto Mare as a safe haven from authorities chasing them as well. We've even begun approaching the banks here to see if they would be open to helping launder our money for a cut of the profits. If they refuse, I have a few other ideas to launder the money."

Excellent. Turning Alto Mare into a proper base would only benefit their smuggling operations in the Johto region and beyond. With such a small police force more used to dealing with rowdy tourists than real crime, Team Rocket's operatives wouldn't need to worry about dealing with law enforcement interfering. Shipments into and out of the region would pass through the city with ease to drop off cargo or pick up new contraband bound for eager clients in far-off regions.

It should have been under their influence years ago. It would have if the last Admin he left in charge hadn't been an incompetent fool. Tragically, he had suffered an accident on a fishing trip and left him no choice but to replace him.

Such a shame.

"Hmm. And your other mission, Proton?"

Proton grimaced. "That... is proving to be a bit more complicated than we initially thought."

His eyes narrowed in annoyance. "Explain."

Proton let out a tired sigh. "Annie and Oakley were not as helpful as we'd hoped they would be." He pinched the bridge of his nose. "The DMA was easy enough to find. It's on display in the museum for all to see. Finding this secret garden where the Soul Dew and a Latias reside? That's proving to be more difficult."

"Oh? I was led to believe that they had found it."

A snort of laughter escaped past Proton's lips. "Oh, they probably did." He went on. "Their directions led us to a hole in the wall bar that made me need a shower just looking at it. Something tells me their memories were altered - most likely by that Latias."

How annoying. "And the people their report mentioned?"

"An alcoholic and a preschool teacher. Neither of whom know a thing about the DMA, Latias, or the Soul Dew." Proton groaned. "Chances are the memories of who was involved in stopping Annie and Oakley was also altered."

Wonderful. So, they had nothing to go on. "Their information cannot be relied upon then. Continue searching for this hidden garden and the schematics for the DMA. It is vital we gain access to its secret and the power of Alto Mare's lone protector."

Proton nodded. "I'll continue to have my agents search then. The city is only so big. We'll uncover something useful eventually." He paused. "Should I still be expecting a visit from that pet of yours?"

"Mind your tone, Proton." Giovanni growled. "No, she will not. Her most recent mission went awry, and I need her to remain in Viridian to run damage control."

A smile tugged at Proton's lips. "So, she finally failed a mission?" It was clear the man wanted to laugh. "Such a shame. Here I'd gone and set up a nice room for her to stay in. Oh well. I'll just have to make do without her."

"She will not be staying away forever." Seeing the way Proton's face fell at the idea of her going to Alto Mare in the future was almost enough to make Giovanni smile. Almost. "Once things in Viridian are handled, she will proceed to her next mission. Unless, of course, you can find what it is I desire before then."

Proton sneered. "If it means not having to deal with that arrogant brat, I'll burn this city to the ground to find what we want." He paused. "Figuratively speaking, of course."

"Then you'd best get to it. Don't disappoint me, Proton."


Ash had thought that the hardest part of Anabel's plan would have been escaping from the police. With how they had managed to avoid the police and how little they'd had to fight, it had been surprisingly easy to get out of the city. Even losing the police in Viridian Forest had been simple with how much of a head start they'd had. No, the hardest part had been something he hadn't expected: the waiting.

Anabel and the International Police had stashed him in a small cabin within Viridian Forest. He had been the only one there the past few days. His sole connection to the outside world had been an old radio. No television, no internet, and no people around for miles. It was just him, Pikachu, and the occasional Pokemon that would pass by. Anabel had said that she was needed in town but would be back in a few days with her superior. It left him plenty of time alone with his thoughts. Sadly, even though he knew what he would hear, he couldn't stop himself from listening to what was happening in Viridian city and the rest of the world.

Pain. Viridian city and its residents were in a perpetual state of panic because they believed he was going to kill more people. The guest broadcasts the radio stations were hosting with professional psychologists and detectives weren't helping - not when they were deconstructing his every action and spinning it in such a way that he came out looking like a monster. According to them, he was a sociopathic killer who had gotten tired of hiding and purposely been caught in the act. It hurt more than he thought it would to be considered a bigger monster than most of the criminals and evil teams he'd helped stop over the years.

It made him realize that even if the International Police managed to help him flee the region, his life as he knew it was over. He would never be able to compete in another League again or battle against a Gym Leader for a badge. Traveling the world, meeting new people, and catching wonderful Pokemon would never be the same. Whatever his doubts about continuing his journey had been before he'd been framed, the decision had been taken out of his hands completely. Now... now he didn't know what lay in store for him.

He glanced around the small, sparsely decorated cabin until his eyes landed on Pikachu. Seeing his little buddy sleeping peacefully nearby was enough to make him smile, despite everything that had happened lately. His partner hadn't been with him the night of the attack. Pikachu had no reason to believe that he was innocent of the crime, but still chose to help Anabel free him. Knowing his partner had so much faith and trust in him that he was willing to attack the police and those trying to bring him to justice lit a fire in him. He could only hope the rest of his Pokemon back at Professor Oak's felt the same way, even if he might never see them again.

Ash tensed up when he heard the sound of a car come to a stop outside of the cabin. The sound was enough to wake Pikachu. When he saw that Ash was by the window and heard the engine outside, electricity sparked off of his cheeks. He growled and ran towards the door, prepared to defend his trainer with everything he had. A quick glanced out the window showed that wasn't necessary.

"Calm down, Pikachu. It's alright." He smiled when Pikachu hopped towards him and scurried up to his shoulder. "It's just Anabel and... Looker?"

What was Looker doing here? Ash knew that he was a member of the International Police but seeing him here was still a surprise. Had Looker helped Anabel free him? He'd find out soon. When the two walked through the cabin doors, he offered them a relieved if hesitant smile.

"Hello Ash. It's good to see you again." Looker offered him a small smile in return. "Settling in well? I know this cabin isn't the nicest place to stay."

"It's fine." Especially since the only real alternatives were roughing it in the wilderness with no supplies or going to prison. "How do you and Anabel know each other?"

Looker laughed and ruffled Anabel's hair. She growled and elbowed him in the gut, forcing him to buckle over in pain. That didn't stop the smile from spreading across Looker's face though. "This lass here is my new partner. A rookie that I'm showing the ropes. Between you and me, she's still got a lot to learn."

"I'm standing right here you know..."

Looker rolled his eyes. "Believe me, I know." His gaze shifted to Ash. "I hope you've told Anabel how thankful you are for this. It's because of her that we know you weren't responsible for the crime. She was determined to save you no matter the cost."

He nodded and offered Anabel a grateful smile - one that she returned. "I know you two risked a lot by freeing me. Thank you." This brought up a good question though. One that had been bugging him since he'd been dropped in this cabin. "Why do you two say that I'm innocent? That Team Rocket framed me? The police said that the evidence against me was airtight."

Looker frowned. "Oh, it is. The two of us were the ones to arrest you." He let out a tired sigh and sat down at the table in the room. He gestured for Ash and Anabel to do the same. "You've met Anabel in the past, so you must know that she's got some Psychic abilities of her own."

How could he forget? It had been one of the toughest battles of his entire journey. While most of his challenges had been difficult because of unique, powerful Pokemon or brilliant strategies from his opponents, Anabel had been different. While her Pokemon had been powerful, her biggest advantage had been her ability to communicate telepathically with them. Without the audible warning of what his opponent was going to do next, he had been thrown completely for a loop. Without the audible commands, he had been forced to adapt to a new type of trainer battle.

"I remember. What does her having telepathy have to do with me though?"

Anabel hummed in thought. "I can do a bit more than that, Ash. One of my abilities allows me to conduct a surface scan of your mind." She grimaced. "I can feel your emotions and hear your thoughts. With a bit more effort, I can also review your memories. Yours... they were gone."

"Gone?"

She nodded. "There was evidence of Psychic tampering. Further investigation revealed that someone used a Hypno to take control of you." She sighed. "Then they sent you to the hotel with the sole purpose of framing you. With no memory of your own and so much evidence against you, it was the perfect crime."

Team Rocket had turned him into a puppet on a string. It was still so hard to believe... the image he had of the group was almost completely incompatible with what they had done. He wasn't even sure when they could have done it! The last thing he remembered was going for a walk to clear his head and helping that girl look for her-

His eyes widened. "The girl..." He whispered.

"That girl was an agent of Team Rocket." Anabel reached into her pocket and pulled out her Pokegear, handing it to him. On its screen was the same girl who had asked for his help - a little younger and more threatening looking, but impossible to mistake. "We don't know her real name, but her codename is Domino - the Black Tulip and one of their elite Specter operatives."

Domino? He recognized that name! Now he knew why she had seemed so familiar that night! "I've met her before!"

Looker blinked. "You have?"

"It was years ago during my journey through Johto." A simpler time. He missed it. "She was there with a whole bunch of other Team Rocket agents trying to capture a Mewtwo at Mount Quena! They almost did, but my friends and I managed to stop them and erase their memories."

"Is that so?" Looker chuckled. "Sounds to me like you've been fighting criminals for a lot longer than I've known you if that's the case. I'd say that explains why they wanted you out of the picture, but with their memories gone..."

"They wouldn't have any personal reasons to do it." Anabel frowned. "They must be worried he'd get in their way in the future."

Looker snorted in laughter. "Talk about self-fulfilling prophecies."

Ash wasn't sure what he meant by that. "So, what happens now? Should I be worried about the police finding me before we move?"

Anabel shook her head. "Nope. No one would ever suspect that you're this deep in Viridian Forest. Even if they did, there's no chance they'd try to follow you."

"Why not?"

Looker gestured out the window towards the trees full of Bug Pokemon. "This cabin is within Beedrill's territory. Add in that it's breeding season..."

And no sane person would ever set foot here. Beedrill were temperamental and territorial at the best of times when you wandered into their territory. Doing that when they were all pent up and focused on breeding? Chances were they wouldn't stop chasing whoever was stupid enough to disturb them until they were dead.

"How are we here then? Shouldn't they be swarming the cabin to get to us?" He and Pikachu both glanced out the window and tensed up when they heard a Beedrill fly by the cabin. He was only able to breath once it was clear it wasn't the beginning of an attack by hundreds of angry Pokemon.

"There's a trail that leads here." Looker began. "You must have not noticed, but the route you took in your escape is a backroad into Beedrill territory. They either don't know it's there or don't care about people using it. Whatever the case, it makes this the perfect place for a safehouse. Unless the police can find that back road, you won't have to worry about them."

"We'll be moving you soon regardless." Anabel offered him a smile. "Once our friends in the city manage to calm the civilians down and recall the police from searching the forest, we'll make our move."

He blinked. "Friends? Are these the same ones who helped me escape?"

"Some, yes. Others are one's that we had to keep in the dark for their safety." Looker explained. "Don't worry. Another few days and Giovanni should have everything under control. Being a Gym Leader has its perks."

Giovanni? He'd heard that name somewhere before... "Who's Giovanni?"

Now it was Looker's turn to blink. "You don't know Giovanni? I'd have expected you of all people to know him since you're from Kanto." He pulled out his own Pokegear and passed it to Ash. What Ash saw made his heart sink. Giovanni - the man that Looker and Anabel said was a friend of the International Police - was the same man who had led the attack on Mount Quena and nearly bent Mewtwo to his will. The same man who had commanded Team Rocket with nearly unquestioned authority and put his friends in danger.

"He was there too..."

"Hm?"

"Mount Quena." He clarified. "He was there leading Team Rocket. He hurt a lot of innocent people and Pokemon."

Looker abruptly stood up. The look on his face was a complicated mix of alarmed and pained. "Are sure?" He leaned forward until his nose was almost touching Ash, forcing him to lean back. "Are you absolutely certain this is the man you saw there?"

"I'm certain."

"Why haven't you ever said anything before now?" Anabel piped up. "If you knew that he was a member of Team Rocket, you should have told the authorities!"

The answer was simple: He hadn't cared enough and had forgotten. At the time, he had thought the matter was dealt with when Giovanni and his people all had their memories erased. Without knowing who Giovanni really was, he'd moved on. He had Gym badges to collect, Pokemon to train, and new lands to explore. Even as Team Rocket continued to follow him across the regions and he saw them go toe to toe with the other evil teams, he still hadn't thought Team Rocket was dangerous enough to spare another thought.

"I was a kid back then... I was focused on other things." No need to say what those other things had been. "Does he know about this place?"

Looker shook his head, a frown on his face. "No. He is- was an ally, but only International Police agents are aware of our safehouses." He growled underneath his breath. "This complicates things."

"What are we going to do, sir?"

Looker was silent for a moment. Eventually, he let out a long, tired sigh. "Unfortunately, nothing at the moment. We don't have the manpower or resources to make any move against Giovanni now. I'll inform command and see where we go from there." His eyes flickered to Ash. "Then there's you."

He blinked. "Me?"

"You have two choices, Ash." Looker began. "Option one is we help you escape the region. We put you into witness protection outside the reach of Team Rocket. You'll have a new name and a new life. When we manage to find evidence to clear your name or arrest Giovanni and any other high-ranking members of Team Rocket, we'll have you testify against them. Then you get your old life back."

A new life... it pained him to even think about it. He didn't want that. Even if Looker claimed it was temporary, Ash knew that the chances of his name being cleared and him getting his life back were close to zero.

"What's the other option?"

"You come with us." Anabel offered him a reassuring smile. "You become an unofficial agent of the International Police and help us take the fight to Team Rocket. You'll have a personal hand in bringing them down and clearing your name."

His eyes widened in shock. "How would that even work? I don't know the first thing about law enforcement. I don't even have most of my Pokemon!"

Looker patted him on the shoulder. "No one who joins us has any idea what they're doing at first. We can teach you everything you need to know. As for your Pokemon..." He hummed in thought. "I could see about having agents infiltrate Professor Oak's lab once the situation dies down and smuggle your Pokemon out, but that would be months down the line. You would see them again though."

Ash bit his lip. "Are you sure you want me? I'm a criminal now. All I've ever even known how to do is compete in the Pokemon League."

Looker tsked. "You wouldn't be the first criminal we've worked with before nor the first who was actually innocent of his crime. You won't officially be an agent, but our work won't force you into the spotlight, so your status as a criminal won't hurt us."

"And your experience in the League will come in handy." Anabel added. "Not many International Police have the same skill that you do when it comes to Pokemon battles. Your experience in that field will help us in more ways than one."

"The point is that you can help us, Ash. Our leaders have already given us approval to train you as one of us if you accept. You can get justice for what has been done to you. Justice for Mrs. Burk and everyone else they've hurt as well." Looker crossed his arms. "But the decision is yours."

Ash looked away. He was at a crossroads now. One road promised him protection from Team Rocket. The other promised him a chance to fight back against them and clear his name. Both paths would lead him to a new life. A part of him wanted to take the first option and accept witness protection. Leave the dangerous work to those more experienced in it and take his chance at a new life. A different part of him, though... a different part of him wanted to leap at the chance to clear his name. To fight back against Team Rocket. To make them pay for all the people and Pokemon they had hurt.

He glanced at Pikachu, perched on his shoulder. One look made it clear what Pikachu wanted to do. With the fire burning behind his eyes and sparks dancing off his cheeks, it was obvious to them all that Pikachu wanted to fight. That he wanted to fight Team Rocket. Seeing his oldest friend looking so determined... it was enough to make the decision for him.

Ash stood and stared Looker in the eyes. He extended his hand forward. "I'll do it. I'll join the International Police."
 
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Chapter 5

TheCouchEffect

Bug Catcher
Pronouns
He/His
Chapter 5: Square One

A fist swung in towards Ash's head.

He stepped to the left, narrowly managing to avoid the blow. He tried to put some distance between him and his opponent by leaping backwards. It was a mistake. One he immediately regretted when his enemy took advantage of it, not giving him a chance to catch his breath or think. A swift kick - faster than he could dodge or block - struck him in the ribs. He grunted in pain and felt the wind get knocked out of his lungs. He hit the floor hard. His limbs burned with exhaustion and his vision swam, but he didn't stay where he was. He couldn't.

Training forced him to roll to the side to avoid the foot that came down where he used to be. He rolled backwards over his shoulder and forced himself to his feet. Behind him, he could hear the telltale sound of Pikachu firing off Thunderbolts against his own enemies. When he heard him cry out in pain, he couldn't help but turn to see his Partner being crushed under the metallic foot of a Metagross. Despite how much he struggled, it was clear that Pikachu couldn't do anything to escape.

"Pikachu!"

It was a mistake to turn and look. With his attention on his Pokemon, he didn't see what his opponent was doing. When his legs were swept out from under him, all he could do was gasp in surprise. Their boot was held against his throat, and he reflexively tried to pull it away. All it did was make his opponent push their boot even harder against his throat. This was the end. He couldn't do anything to escape.

"I-I yield..." He groaned out.

The boot pressed against his throat was taken off. He took in a sharp, deep breath now that he could breathe again. An amused snort reached his ears. He sat up and rubbed his throat, eyes drifting up towards his opponent that had tossed him around like a ragdoll.

"Better. You lasted a few seconds longer this time. The same goes for Pikachu." Anabel grinned and offered him a hand up. He gladly took it. He wasn't so sure he'd have been able to stand on his own. "Though you could still do better. You let yourself get distracted."

He frowned. "Pikachu was hurt."

"In a mock battle. You knew there was nothing to worry about." Anabel sighed and gestured to her Pokemon. Her Metagross lifted its leg off of Pikachu and stepped back. Ash rushed over to his partner and crouched down by his side. He looked over for any injuries beyond the norm - broken bones, signs of a concussion, or labored breathing. When he found none, he let out a relieved sigh and pulled him in close for a hug.

"Are you alright, buddy?"

"Pi."

"He says that he's fine, Ash." Anabel tossed him an ice-cold bottle of water. He gulped it down eagerly. "Why don't you two take some time to rest? We've been going for a few hours, so you should relax a bit. We'll continue later."

He flashed her a thumbs-up. He took a breath and laid down on the ground beneath him. As he felt Pikachu curl up on his chest in exhaustion as well, his mind drifted to the past few weeks. He had managed to escape Kanto not long after he had agreed to work with the International Police. The trip itself had been far more uneventful than he had suspected it would have been. A short, uncomfortable flight in the cargo bay of a plane to the Johto region and he was in the clear. He was safe - as much as he could be, anyway - from the authorities at the International Police's headquarters in the region.

He hadn't really known what to expect by joining them. Maybe some sort of ritualistic initiation involving strange robes and creepy chanting or an intense test of his skills and intelligence to prove he deserved to be there like in the movies. He hadn't expected to almost immediately be put to work training. Not just training Pikachu but training him as well. They taught him how to think outside the box. They taught him to better understand interregional law. He learned the importance of being able to lie and understand people. They even taught him the basics of investigative work. It was all interesting to learn. Extremely difficult and outside of his comfort zone, but he was eager and willing to learn as much as he could.

Unfortunately, he was also required to learn how to fight. According to Anabel and Looker, he needed to be able to defend himself in case his Pokemon couldn't. He could see the reasoning behind that and had tentatively been excited to learn. At least until he'd found out firsthand what he was expected to do. It wasn't just learning how to throw a punch or block a strike. It was intense training to build muscle, improve his reaction time, make him faster, and in general do whatever it took to make him stronger. The combat training in particular was unique since Anabel and Looker always had him train alongside Pikachu's battles. Sometimes even forcing him to try and defend himself against Pokemon themselves! Once he'd even seen Anabel punt Pikachu into the wall like a soccer ball!

Those days were always the most painful for the both of them.

Ash sat up with a groan, much to the dismay of his partner who slid down his chest to rest on the floor with a tired groan of his own. He looked towards Anabel to see her relaxing with her Pokemon. She wasn't even sweating... he tried not to let that crush his pride. She had been doing this a lot longer than him. Of course she would be better at handling the exertion than he was. He just needed to keep working at it and eventually he'd reach her level.

"Anabel, do you mind if I ask you a question?"

She glanced his way with curiosity in her eyes. "What's on your mind?"

"Why are you having me train to fight?" The question had been bugging him ever since they had been doing this. Up until now, though, he'd been too caught up actually training to question why he was doing it in the first place. "It seems pointless when I have Pikachu with me."

Anabel frowned and sat down across from him. Her Pokemon all did the same, curled up at her sides. "Why do you think it's pointless?"

"Well... Pikachu is the one who does most of the fighting. He's capable of doing a lot more than I can." It was just a fact of life that Pokemon were naturally capable of far more than Humans were. They could take far more punishment, perform amazing feats of strength and speed, manipulate the elements and the world around them... He'd heard Clemont talk about how Human could do the same one day with technology, but that was far in the future from what he'd been told. "What's the point when I'll be relying on him so much?"

She laughed. "I remember thinking the same thing when I was training. But it's not so simple." It certainly seemed simple to him. "It's true that most Humans can't naturally compete with Pokemon, but it's not so cut and dry. Take me, for instance."

He blinked in confusion. "You?"

She nodded. "I am a Psychic." She began. "While I can't levitate objects or attack others with my mind, I can defend myself from almost any form of psychic assault. I can link the minds of myself and those around me to allow instant, silent communication - something that is essential in a battle. Even putting me aside, other Psychics more powerful than me can potentially match Pokémon's telekinetic or telepathic abilities."

"That's different though." He rushed to point out. "Not everyone is Psychic like you. The rest of us can't really compare."

Something he'd learned early on in his journey. He could still remember when he first challenged Sabrina for her gym badge. He'd lost, of course. He'd gone in expecting to beat her with brute force and she'd toyed with him the entire time. After the loss, he and his friends had been teleported to an abandoned town and become her playthings. He'd learned his lesson after that. Psychics were on a whole other level compared to any other trainer. It was a lesson that was only reinforced the longer he'd gone on his journey.

He wasn't prepared for Anabel to reach across and flick his nose with an amused grin. He could only gape at her in surprise. He must have looked funny because she laughed, though she tried her best to hide it from him.

"Not true, Ash." She wagged her finger in his face. "While the average person can't use the same abilities as psychics, they can become strong enough to fend off a Pokemon - at least up to a certain point."

"But how?"

"Simple physical strength and skill." She told him. "Haven't you ever wondered why martial artists train directly alongside their Fighting type Pokemon? How they're able to do that even though Pokemon are supposedly so superior to Humans?"

He... hadn't. It just seemed like a normal, everyday thing. He'd been more focused on traveling with his friends and training for the Pokemon League. There had never been any time to think about the differences between Humans and Pokemon in detail.

"Fighting types use the same martial arts as Humans, so martial artists train alongside them all the time without suffering any serious harm." She explained. "There's many instances of Humans being able to beat Pokemon of all types thanks to superior skill and a good deal of creativity." She paused for a moment. A frown crossed her face and her violet brows furrowed. "That doesn't mean it's advised that you fight Pokemon yourself, though. Only as a matter of last resort when our enemies Pokemon manage to break past your own."

Only as a last resort... he should have expected that. The battles he took part in from now on wouldn't be regulated by the Pokemon League. There wouldn't be anyone to stop his opponents from ordering their Pokemon to maim or kill him. When his Pokemon fainted, they wouldn't stop attacking or politely wait for him to switch. The old rules had been thrown out the window. He wouldn't be fighting for a gym badge or the prestige. He would be fighting for survival and justice.

He'd have to get used to it if he planned on sticking around.

"Is that why you've had your Pokemon attack me during training? Why you've attacked Pikachu?"

She nodded swiftly. "Better you both get the experience here in a safe, controlled environment than an actual battle. Your mistakes won't be punished so severely here." She explained. "With luck, you'll only personally have to fight other Humans. It's why I'm your main sparring partner, after all."

He frowned. "How often do you think I'm going to have to use that experience?"

Anabel let out a sigh. "If you're lucky, not often. Pikachu should hopefully be enough to handle any Pokemon. If he can't, though, you need to be able to defend yourself long enough to either get away or find a way to beat them." She quickly got to her feet and offered him a hand up. "Ready to continue? I think you've gotten enough rest."

Ash glanced down at Pikachu. He looked ready to go another round with her Pokemon, albeit reluctantly. He accepted her hand and got to his feet. He was determined to do better. If learning how to defend himself from Pokemon and how to fight multiple opponents at once was what he needed to, then that was what he would do. It didn't matter how long it took or how painful it was!

Misty hadn't called him a stubborn fool for nothing!

"I'm ready when you are."


He wasn't ready.

If there was one thought flowing through Looker's head as he overlooked Ash's training, it was how unprepared Ash was for the tasks ahead of him. He had a willingness to learn beyond the average recruit. Even if the lessons were difficult, the boy took to them with an eagerness that could only help him. Truthfully, he was learning fast for someone with no prior experience in law enforcement. While he took to the combat training the easiest, the reports on his progress all claimed that despite a reluctance on his part to lie to others, Ash had a natural affinity for the more covert part of the job. While his investigative skills were only average at best, the reports assured him that with time he could become competent enough to operate on his own.

It wasn't enough though.

No matter how eager Ash was in his training or how skilled he had the potential to become, it wouldn't change the fact that he wasn't ready for the missions ahead of them. His inexperience would only get in the way. He would make mistakes. Mistakes that could tip off the enemy to their presence and make their mission far more difficult. He would hesitate in the critical, life or death situations the job often put them through as anyone unused to being in those situations would. He could be hurt or killed if he were sent into the field as he was now, to say nothing of the risk everyone around him would be in as well.

Their next mission all but required someone who knew what they were doing. Even Anabel - a rookie herself- was far more experienced and had the fundamentals of the job down. She would still be learning, but the skills she brought with her would only benefit the mission. The same could not be said for Ash. The best thing for Looker to do would be to leave Ash behind. Theoretically, the boy would be safe here among the International Police. He could continue to improve until he was finally ready to join him and Anabel in the field. Meanwhile the two of them could work at their best and strike a blow against Team Rocket.

Sadly, that wasn't possible. While Looker wanted to believe that the International Police were incorruptible, he wasn't so naive. He didn't doubt that there were members of the International Police that were corrupt and had been bought or blackmailed by Team Rocket into being a mole. It was why individual agents were cautioned against sharing the details of their missions with those that weren't involved. If they weren't careful, Team Rocket could learn of their plans and adapt. The damage they could cause to the organization would be disastrous.

Which was why he couldn't afford to leave Ash behind. If he did, it was possible that a traitor in their ranks would kill Ash. Then all that potential he had would go to waste. Ash would never get the justice he deserved and any future he may have had once this was all over would crumble into dust.

For better or worse, Ash would be accompanying Looker and Anabel on their next mission. They'd have to continue his training themselves during the mission. With luck, Ash wouldn't hinder their mission too much and they could finish without any bloodshed. Perhaps Ash would even benefit from some on the job experience and come out the other side better for it.

Only time would tell.


For Proton, life was good. He ate the finest foods, he slept on the softest of silk sheets, and he mingled with high society like he was born among the fools. For a Unovan kid who grew up within the system, it was a massive step up from eating processed food from a can or sleeping on a bed that stabbed him in the back as he slept.

Sitting here in an immaculate dining room covered in expensive gold and silver ornaments, he couldn't help but let his mind wander. Joining Team Rocket had been one of the best decisions he had ever made. It had been nothing more than an impulse job at first. A freelance gig to help break into a bank when he had been in a rough position and needed the cash. One good performance there and an impressive pay off afterwards, and he was all too eager to join this mysterious organization from far away Kanto. A single year of grueling training, a few more years working his way through the ranks to prove his worth to his superiors, and a good deal of cruelty and ruthlessness had paid off when he had ascended to the rank of Admin all before he was even thirty years old.

A monumental achievement that promised him a future of wealth and power. He twirled the gleaming silver knife in his hand and stabbed it into the berry salad he had in front of him. Fresh and juicy Pecha, Oran, and Sitrus berries all topped with a nice helping of whipped cream. His favorite. If all the other foods arrayed in front of him were just as good, he'd have to find a way to wrangle the recipe out of the cook. He absentmindedly stroked the Lillipup tensely huddled into his side.

He glanced up when he heard someone enter the dining room and felt a cocky grin work its way onto his face. "Good evening, Mr. Caffrye."

Mr. Caffrye was exactly what one would expect from an art authenticator. He looked every bit the snooty, arrogant Kalosian everyone pictured right down to the greasy, slicked back hair, the formal suit a size too small, and a general air of superiority to all those around him. From what Proton had heard, the man's personality did nothing to offset the poor first impression his appearance could give. According to his people, the man was a sleazy pig with a penchant for wine and absolutely zero capability of holding his liquor. Add in that the man was rude to everyone he met and only knew how to shout at the top of his lungs?

Well Proton could understand why his wife would cheat on the man with Alto Mare's mayor.

At the moment, Mr. Caffrye's face was turning an ugly shade of red, and his face scrunched up in disgust. "Who the hell are you?"

He laughed and hoisted the Lillipup in his lap up with one arm. He pressed a mocking kiss to its neck before taking another bite off his knife of the fruit salad in front of him. "No need to be worried, Mr. Caffrye. Bartrand and I are getting along splendidly." He twirled his knife and pointed it towards the bowl. "Care for a berry? It's absolutely delicious. Far better than the local mush I could get from this city's trash that's passed off as food at the produce market."

Mr. Caffrye reached into his pocket. "I'm calling the police." The man growled. He didn't get far, though. Proton let out a tired sigh and snapped his fingers. On cue, his Crobat swooped down from the ceiling and knocked the phone from the man's hand. Mr. Caffrye let out a startled yep and leapt back. His Crobat growled and barred its fangs, venom dripping to the floor. It sizzled where it landed, leaving nothing but holes where floor had once been.

With the way the man shook, it was clear he understood that he wasn't to try something like that again.

"Mr. Caffrye, you and I both know that you're the authenticator for a certain auction being held soon." Proton began. "One where a number of high-profile paintings, sculptures, and ancient artifacts will be sold to eager collectors from all over the world."

"I have no idea what you're talking about." The lie was plain as day and they both knew it. "I'm just a simple art collector. I don't authenticate anything!"

Proton stabbed another slice of Pecha berry. "You really should try some of this. They're so juicy and perfectly ripe. It's an explosion of flavor in your mouth." He laughed and audibly bit into the slice. "The auction. I'll be slipping a few forgeries into the line-up. You're going to authenticate them as the real ones and help drive the price up."

Mr. Caffrye sneered. "If you hurt him..."

The Lillipup whimpered in Proton's arms. A toothy grin crossed his features, and he held the knife up so that it gleamed in the light. "I'm not a monster, Mr. Caffrye. I would never harm such an innocent creature like this." He tightened his grip on his knife and threw it towards the pathetic excuse for a man. It was almost funny how quickly the man collapsed to the floor after it sunk into his thigh. The way he flailed around like a beached Wailmer, clutching his wound with no idea what to do... it was definitely the highlight of his day so far. Rich bastards like this one always thought they were untouchable. Even when they were clearly at someone else's mercy.

Sadly, it couldn't last.

With a regretful sigh, he placed the Lillipup on the ground and stalked over to the man on the ground. He ripped the knife out of him - careful not to damage an artery but otherwise uncaring about whatever pain it caused the man. He wiped the blade of the knife clean of blood and set it on the table. With a snap of his fingers, Crobat landed on the man's chest with its fangs barred and hovering mere millimeters away from puncturing his jugular.

Mr. Caffrye stilled.

"You on the other hand..."

"W-why are you even interested in the auction in the first place!?" Caffrye cried out.

He raised his foot and pressed it against the man's wound. Hard. "None of your business." He chuckled as he saw the man squirm in pain. "All you need to know is if you do what I want you live, and I'll kick a little of the profits your way. You don't..."

Crobat growled with a bloodthirsty gleam to its eyes.

"Fine." Caffrye whimpered. "Just leave me and my family alone. I'll do what you want."

Proton lifted his foot and clicked his tongue at his Crobat. It was clear that it had been hoping Caffrye refused or put up more of a fight. It very reluctantly lifted itself off of the man's chest, but not before spitting a glob of poison directly next to the man's head. Proton was thankful it had missed and merely ate a hole in the floor. Watching what his Crobat's venom was capable of doing to a body wasn't pleasant to watch when he'd just eaten himself.

He returned Crobat to its Poke ball and tipped his hat at the man. "I'm so glad you've seen things my way. I think eventually you'll come to enjoy this partnership. Tell your wife I said hello and to give me a call." With a jolly whistle on his lips, he left Caffrye and his Lillipup in the man's kitchen to tend to the damage that had been done. It was a shame to leave behind all that wonderful looking food, but he other work to deal with today. The downside of power often was that he had little time for himself.

At least he got to have a bit of fun. As he let himself out of Caffrye's home, he saw that the grunts he had brought along with him were approaching. He stalked down the street at a slow enough pace for them to catch up. If they were willing to break their cover and openly approach him, he'd give them the chance to explain why. For their sake, he hoped they had a good reason.

"What is it?"

The grunt audibly gulped in fear. "How did it go, sir?"

Was that it? "It went well. That fat bastard will do whatever I want. The man is more cowardly than a Golisopod." Useful for their purposes. With him authenticating their forgeries, Team Rocket would be able to launder tens of millions through the auction without having to worry about the authorities looking into it too deeply. A stroke of genius on his part as far as he was concerned. Hidden among all of the legitimate purchases was a gold mine. Sadly, this would be a one-time occurrence, but soon enough his other ideas for front businesses would become a reality.

He'd prove to Giovanni that he was his most valuable Admin. "I hope there was more to your approaching me than that, grunt."

They nodded. "Yes, sir. We received a call from headquarters... Giovanni wants to know what kind of progress you're making on our other mission."

His heart skipped a beat. He whirled around and grabbed the grunt by the neck of their shirt to pull them close. Close enough that the worthless little grunt could see the promise of murder within his eyes. "What. Did. You. Tell. Him?"

The grunt shut their eyes. The fear rolling off of them was so strong Proton was almost convinced they would pass out from fear with how badly they were shaking. "We-we told them that everything was going according to plan. That we had almost found the Latias and were close to capturing it!"

Reluctantly, Proton released the grunt and allowed them to tumble to the ground. He sneered down at them. For all that Team Rocket had grown in strength, there were always weak-willed fools in their ranks. Hopefully once he proved how skilled he was to the boss, he could finally get some actually competent agents here. Until then he would just have to deal with the trash he was given.

"Make sure it stays that way." He paused for a moment. His hand noticeably drifted to Crobat's Poke ball. "The next time Giovanni calls, none of you are to pick up. Understand? I am the only one who will be speaking to our boss."

The grunt didn't so much speak their agreement as they did whimper and nod up at him. With a scoff, Proton stalked off down the road without paying the grunt or their weakness another thought.

While Proton's efforts to establish Team Rocket within Alto Mare and effectively turn the city into a port for their own operations were going successfully so far aside from a few minor hiccups, his efforts to find that Latias or any trace of the Soul Dew had still bore no fruit. No matter how much he encouraged his subordinates or how hard he himself searched, there was no trace of that annoying Legendary. Every lead they followed ended in a dead end and them looking like fools to the other Admins for not being able to find one Pokemon. Even their efforts to locate schematics for the DMA without arousing suspicion hadn't turned up anything!

He growled. He'd have liked to see the others try to find it, just so he could laugh and mock them when they inevitably failed. It was always easier to criticize others for their failures so long as you weren't the one experiencing the same issues. A Legendary that lived within a secret garden and could turn itself invisible on top of that meant that even if they did find the damn thing, they'd need to go in with everything they had just to have a chance of catching it. The attention that would bring to them would be bothersome and they'd likely lose at least half their people to battle or police arrest, but if it meant capturing such a rare Pokemon and a once in a lifetime find of an artifact?

It would all be worth it.


"My everything hurts..."

Anabel laughed and patted him on the shoulder. It took everything Ash had just to resist groaning in pain. "Oh, come on, Ash. It wasn't that bad."

He sent a glare her way. Her smile told him it had absolutely no effect. "You're not the one who got thrown around like a Human pinball." He let out a tired sighed. "That Espeon of yours is really strong. And that Metagross... I think it doesn't like me."

Anabel tilted her head. "What makes you say that?"

He grimaced. "Well, it kept bouncing me against the wall a little more forcefully than it needed to. I know he was holding back, but still..."

She hummed and tapped her chin in thought. "Well, Metagross is pretty prideful. It may still be angry about the time you and Pikachu beat it." Her eyes glanced to his partner on his shoulder. "Speaking of, I hope you're alright Pikachu. Do you need to see a doctor?"

Pikachu shook his head, though he winced at the movement. Clearly his old buddy was just as sore as him, even if he couldn't voice that the same way that he could.

"I'm fine too, you know. No need to see a doctor here..."

She chuckled. "Don't be so sarcastic, Ash. If you need to see a doctor, I'll take you there afterwards. Or if you'd prefer, I can take a look at you." She offered. "I am trained in field medicine, after all."

She was? Was that something she had to learn herself or was it something he'd be taught while he was with the International Police as well? A part of him hoped that he would. Who knew what could happen in the field that he may have to deal with, however far away that may be?

"Would you? Are you any good at it?"

She scoffed. "Of course I am!" A smirk stretched across her face, and she cupped her gloved hands in front of her. "I'll just need to knock you unconscious. Can't have you squirming around while I poke and prod your body to see what's wrong. Especially if I need to break out the scalpels."

He gulped and let out a nervous laugh. "N-no thanks, Anabel! I'm actually feeling fine!" He practically shouted. "I could actually go for a mile run once this is over just to prove how great I'm feeling!"

Anabel rolled her eyes and patted his head. "Well don't work too hard. Remember to give your body the time it needs to rest." She glanced around the room they were in. It was a simple room with grey walls, a small rectangular table in the center, and a large TV on the wall. "I wonder where Looker is? And why he wants you here for this?"

"Here for what?"

"A mission briefing, Ash." Looker answered as he entered the room. There was a bundle of files underneath his arms. "Anabel and I are going on a mission. And you are coming with us."

Anabel shot to her feet and slammed her hands on the table. "What!?" She shrieked. "Looker, are you insane? Ash has barely even started his training!"

She was right! He still didn't know the first thing about this job! He could barely grasp the intense form of battles the International Police used, let alone how to blend in with others or how to sniff out a crime! He'd been told it would take at least a year - potentially more - for him to complete the training. Why would Looker want to take him with them? Ash would just drag them down! He told the man exactly that.

Looker frowned and set the files he had down on the table. "He'll learn better on the job than he would here. It's not like he has no experience in dangerous situations, after all." He held up a hand to stop both of their objections and let out a tired sigh. "Listen, I share your concerns. But... the truth is he'll be safer with us out there than he would be here."

What?

Anabel's eyes narrowed. "You think that Rocket has people in the International Police?"

What!?

Looker nodded. "I do. Anyone with even a basic grasp of the situation would think the same. Whatever danger he would be in on the mission, he would at least have the two of us to protect him."

She glanced towards him. "I see... I understand then. I don't like it, but I understand." She sat back down.

Ash wasn't nearly so understanding. "What do you mean I wouldn't be safe here?" He demanded. This was the International Police. An organization dedicated to justice and investigating crimes. The idea that someone could actually be working for Team Rocket among them sounded ludicrous to him.

"There are traitors within the International Police." His eyes widened. Looker sighed. "Don't be so naive, Ash."

"It's just... why would they do that?"

Looker crossed his arms. "You tell me. Consider it an extension of your training. Why would they do it?"

Why would someone betray the International Police? Well...

"Bribes." He began. "Maybe they felt they need the money because of something going on in their personal life with their family or their health? Or maybe they feel that they deserve more than they have?"

"Indeed. Money is and always will be a big motivator in why people commit acts of betrayal." Looker commended. "What else?"

Ash hummed in thought. "Maybe... maybe they're being blackmailed? Maybe they did something in their past, and it's being used against them or they're threatening the people they care about?" He tentatively offered.

"Correct. Those are just two of many reasons that someone can betray their allies and friends for." Looker sat down at the table across from the two of them. "There are more, but those are the two primary and most likely reasons. You'll see that once you get into the field."

Ash couldn't exactly say that he was looking forward to that, but he wouldn't shy away from it either.

"So, what's our mission? Where are we going?" Anabel sighed. "Please tell me we're not throwing Ash into the fire right away."

Looker didn't say a word.

He felt his stomach drop.

"Damn it, Looker..."

Looker had the decency to cough and look away in embarrassment. "It's not that bad." He started. "It's not that different than what we would have been doing in Viridian city. We'll be rooting out corruption to strike a blow against Team Rocket!"

Ash couldn't help but find a problem with that. "Weren't you tricked into thinking the leader of Team Rocket was your ally and being played like a fiddle?"

"He makes a good point, Looker. This had better be nothing like Viridian."

"..." Looker hung his head and flicked on the TV. "So, we'll be going to Alto Mare. It's an island city in the south of Johto. It's well known for-"

"For its canals, it's ties to the Legendary Pokemon Latias and Latios, and an annual race through the canals of the city every year called the Tour de Alto Mare." He finished. "I went there when I younger on my journey through Johto. It was... an experience."

It was the only way he could describe it without going into what really happened there. A simple vacation to that wonderful city had turned into one of the most dangerous experiences of his entire life. The dead returned to hunt him and his friends down, the very water itself turned against them, and more than once he had nearly died. Thinking back now, it was one of his first real exposures to Team Rocket's true nature. In hindsight, it made him feel like a fool for not taking them more seriously. He was paying the price for it now.

It looked like his second trip to the city would only be marginally less dangerous this time. He hoped he didn't run into any of his old friends while he was there. He wasn't ready to face anyone from his past yet. He wasn't sure he would be until he cleared his name.

"You've been there before?" Looker hummed in thought. "Hopefully, you'll be able to give us some more details or potential contacts we could use while we're there."

"Well while I'm glad we'll be going somewhere nice, I'd like a little more detail about what we're dealing with." Anabel interjected. "How strong is Team Rocket's presence in the city?"

"Unfortunately, they've entrenched themselves within the city over the past eight months. They've turned it into a port for their illegal smuggling operations." Looker explained. "Practically fifty percent of all shipments being smuggled in and out of Johto are passing through the city. Our people within Team Rocket mentioned that they were looking for something in the city, but they couldn't find out what."

Ash had a gnawing suspicion that he knew what it was. He had to hope that he was wrong. A part of him wanted to bring it up with Anabel and Looker but until he knew exactly what Team Rocket's other goal within Alto Mare was, he wouldn't betray the trust that had been placed in him. Not if there was no reason.

"So, we can expect to have a hard time while we're there. What are the chances that the police have been paid off by them?" Anabel asked.

"Actually, the police of Alto Mare seem to be more competent than those of other cities. Or at least less corruptible." Looker grinned. "According to our information, they've made a few high-profile arrests and raids on Team Rocket operations. Just recently they managed to confiscate millions in illegal contraband and free over two dozen poached Pokemon."

Anabel laughed. "We'll be working with people that know what they're doing? That's reassuring."

"Indeed. What isn't so reassuring is the man leading this cell of Team Rocket." With the click of a button, Looker changed the image on the screen from Alto Mare to an intimidating looking man in the Team Rocket uniform. On the surface he looked attractive and stood out with his neon green hair, but what caught Ash's attention was the look in his eyes. Even through the still image on screen, Ash could see a cruelty behind his eyes.

"Who is that?"

"That is Proton. An Admin of Team Rocket." Looker let out a sigh. "We don't have much on him. He was in and out of Unovan foster care as a child and fell in with Team Rocket not long after he became an adult. From there he quickly rose through their ranks, leaving a trail of victims in his wake. All either dead or maimed. Some were even fellow members of Team Rocket."

Anabel frowned. "He sounds like a monster."

"He's called the 'Hammer' for a reason. Even compared to other members of this organization, he's a special kind of monster." Looker narrowed his eyes and glared at the picture of Proton. "Arresting him is one of our top priorities. If we do that then not only do we score a major win against Team Rocket, but we can also get justice for all the people he's hurt."

Anabel nodded. "Agreed. Let's just remember to be careful. I doubt he rose so high within Team Rocket by being a fool."

Ash couldn't agree more. From the sound of it, Proton was an entirely different kind of criminal than he was used to. There wouldn't be any long-winded mottos or chance to escape if things went wrong. If Ash messed up here, then he or the others could all end up dead and no one would be left to stop whatever this Proton was doing. He'd have to do his best to learn on the fly and use what little training he'd been given.

"Are the police already looking for him?" They had to be when it came to a man like him.

"Unfortunately, no. It's likely that Proton is operating under an alias and flew under the radar of the local authorities." Looker pinched the bridge of his nose. "It's not uncommon for people to pass dangerous criminals on the street and have no idea who they are. It happens all the time, especially for those who can be charming when they have to."

Ash glared at the picture of Proton and could feel Pikachu doing the same. The idea that a man like him was walking around free without a care in the world... it got to him more than he thought it would.

"The truth is that when it comes to criminals, most people will never remember their names and faces unless they do something particularly horrifying and attention grabbing. Not even if they were on a most wanted list." Anabel added. "Still... this will work to our advantage. A new identity and a small disguise should be all you need to get into the city."

He frowned in worry. "Are you sure that no one will notice me?"

"Not unless you're openly declaring who you are or run into people that you know." Looker assured him. "Just trust us and have some faith in your own ability. We'll take every precaution to get you into the city with us."

Ash let out a sigh. "Alright. I'll trust you. And I promise that I'll do my best to pull my weight and be useful to you both while we're there."

"We know you will." Looker offered the two of them a smile. "However long we're there, I can guarantee that by the time we leave Alto Mare it will be with Proton in our custody and his operation burned to cinders. Team Rocket won't know what hit them."


Humans were confusing creatures. Even though she had grown up among Humans and lived with them practically her entire life, they still found ways to confuse her. They were capable of building such wonderful, beautiful architecture that could capture the imagination and stand the test of time for potentially thousands of years. They were natural storytellers in a way that a Pokemon couldn't compete with - not in a million years. Despite being a naturally weak species, their science allowed them to do such wonderful things and help so many people. To top it all off, Humans were capable of such kindness and selflessness that they could move even the darkest of hearts. Many Humans were willing to go to extreme lengths to help those they didn't know or would gain nothing from.

For all their greatness, though, Humans could be evil in a way that no Pokemon could ever hope to come close to. Their obsession with their money - their pure greed - hurt so many people and destroyed lives for no reason. They hurt others not to defend themselves or those they loved or to grow stronger like Pokemon did, but for more selfish reasons. Hatred, greed, lust, pride... the list of reasons went on. The number of times that the world had been on the brink of catastrophe due to Human actions within the last few years alone was enough to make a damning case against them. Even disregarding that, numerous Pokemon had lost someone close to them because of Human actions - herself included.

Despite how confusing they were, she still loved them. She could only hope that one day they would all become the paragons of virtue that the best of them were. Until then she'd do what she could to mitigate the actions of those with evil in their hearts and protect their victims.

It was why she found herself here within a small warehouse at the docks of Alto Mare late at night. A group of Humans were using it to store their... what was the word Bianca had used? Contraband? Drugs? Weapons? One of those. She wasn't here for that, though. What the Humans did with their strange items didn't matter to her nearly as much as the real reason she was here: the Pokemon in cages hidden behind stacks upon stacks of boxes.

These Pokemon were of varying different species and types taken from all across the globe. The fear and anger were rolling off of them would have been enough to overwhelm a lesser psychic. Abducted from their homes and loved ones, taken to an unfamiliar place, and locked in a tiny cage, all while they had received little to eat beyond the scraps their captors chose to give them. Many of them were dripping blood from untreated wounds or were covered in terrible bruises. If she didn't do anything to help them, they were destined to be sold to Humans with cruel intentions and forced to live dangerous lives. She would do everything in her power to help them escape.

If Bianca had done her part, then the police would be on their way. Until they arrived, she would need to get to work freeing these unfortunate souls and setting the authorities up for success.

Thankfully, she was capable of turning herself invisible. She could float right in front of these criminals, and they would have no idea she was there until she revealed herself. As she maneuvered her way through the warehouse towards the imprisoned Pokemon, she reached out to the minds of the Humans around her and planted a suggestion in their minds to stay away from that area for the next few minutes. With luck, most of them would have followed that suggestion. It would have been easier to take control of them and force them unconscious or to set them Pokemon free, but she never did like messing with people's minds. It felt wrong to rob someone of their free will, even if they were a criminal.

She reached out and took hold of the doors to the cages with her mind. With practiced ease, she tore the doors from the hinges of the cages and set them aside. The Pokemon inside frantically looked around to see what had freed them before tentatively stepping outside their cages and into the open. She could practically feel the relief rolling off of them all now that they were finally out of their cages. But in the back of their minds, she could also sense an underlying fear of the Humans capturing them again.

"Does anyone know what just happened?" One of them - an elderly Durant - asked.

She chose that moment to reveal herself to them all. "I happened." She smiled. The shows she used to watch with Bianca as a child always said that smiles made people feel better. "You're welcome."

"L-lady Latias!?"

"Am I seeing things?"

"What is a Legendary doing here?"

"I knew someone would save us!"

Latias frowned. This wasn't good. With how much noise they were all making, it wouldn't be long until the Humans found them. "Yes, it's me but please don't call me lady." She wasn't old and bitter yet! "I heard what was happening here and came to help. Quickly though, do any of you have the strength left to fight?"

Her question was met with a tense silence and dejected murmurs. She had to stop herself from frowning in worry. She'd suspected as much given the conditions they were living in, but she was an eternal optimist and had wanted to hope that they would be strong enough to fight. Worse, she could hear Human's closing in and releasing their own Pokemon from their Poke balls.

"I need you all to hide." She quickly turned herself invisible once more. The Pokemon she had freed weren't nearly as shocked as they were when she had initially appeared. "Once you do, I'll create a distraction to give you a chance to escape. The Humans police are on their way. If you can't escape, they'll be able to help."

The Pokemon scattered at her command. Despite the fear she could feel from them, she could also tell that there was a spark of hope blossoming in their hearts. She would do her best to make sure that it wasn't extinguished.

When the Humans and their Pokemon saw that their prisoners were no longer in their cages, they began shouting and spreading out to search for them. Some began to look for clues to track them down. They wouldn't get so far. Latias used her Psychic to grip all of the large containers within the warehouse - some stacked so high they reached the ceiling - and threw them towards the group of criminals. Slow enough that they would be able to move out of the way, but fast and loudly enough to catch their attention.

She didn't want to kill any of them, after all.

While the Humans scrambled to dodge her attacks and find out what was going on, she subtly steered them away from the Pokémon's hiding places. By the time the police arrived, it was to a scene of Humans cowering on the ground and rushing towards them for protection from the floating cargo containers hurtling towards them. All while their own Pokemon were unconscious on the ground from having been slammed or squished by the numerous objects housed within the warehouse.

It was only after the police figured out what was going on and arrested the criminals that she lowered the crates to the ground. She sent a telepathic signal to the Pokemon that had been imprisoned - all of whom had left their hiding spots to watch her torment their abusers - and advised them to go to the police as well. Slowly, they followed her advice and emerged from the shadows and walked towards the crowd of dumbstruck police and terrified criminals.

Latias let out a quiet, pleased laugh and took off into the night towards her home. She had done everything she could for those Pokemon. It would be up to the police to help them now. It was a job well done tonight as far as she was concerned. With luck, tomorrow would be just as successful if she found another group of criminals harming others.

Bianca would be so proud!
 
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K_S

Pokémon Trainer
Hmm, so Ash is trying to wrangle a world adjustment and doing... So so at it. I appreciate that you show he's not a natural fit for it and it's his canon based trait of being a determinatior that shines.... Speaking of canon traits... he didn't tell the people overseeing his well being he's a trouble magnet...or a legend magnet... oh boy that's not going to go well. Specially with Latios pulling a 'mon ish batman.

I'd say realism... is a bit twitchy but not in a kills suspension of disbelief, more of a poking holes at it because this is going to go so bad. We've the poster child of rookie-senior cop scenario kicking up and a dose of lack of communication kills.... or maims... anyways I won't say it's an issue and it aligns the story more with the anime feel, though was that deliberate?

At this point I can sympathize with Looker and his "rock in a hard place" sort of thing, though I want to shake him. An intrenched agent and he can't figure out an out for this situation... Sheesh no wonder Rocket' so deeply entrenched. I'm surprised that if they were so really worried about compromise in the organization if they didn't just make some cosmetic changes to Ash, do a name swap, not to succeed, but to buy them time and train him up as much as possible under the cover of "intraining field agent/specialist" or something then shuffle him on the field as fast as possible and continue his training while they work.

Because of how they're talking I suspect Ash is going to be thrown into this mess headfirst when it feels like he really needs to be on the sidelines until he's more up to speed with basic combat and perhaps basic medicine so he won't be a "I need rescuing load". After all Pika can be tanked with any rock and ground type, or the creative use of an anti conductor, and Pika's all Ash has...

I'm really hoping they shunt Ash to servailence duty at first and scale him up but per Ash's double trouble magent status...
Yeah highly unlikely...

On a more fanciful side, I imagine Ash's first stint of "servailence duty" comes to an end... him being scolded by Looker, looking chagrined, swearing up and down that he is not pulling a "brock"...

"No really I didn't use this mess as a means to pick up pretty ladies, she's a Legendary.. no not like that... Latias, help!"

Then Ash suddenly has two 'mon, Pika and Latias, but utter utter accident....

Seeing Rockets organization, influence, and them in action was a nice touch. They really seem so much more put together than the government which gives the Looker/Ash sections an air of futility. They've got so many by the throat with so many angles in their favor, even if they lose the whole port in a Ash riding Latias sort of things, I can see them taking that as more of a set back and adjusting. And though evil, and having any shades of it, I'm appreciating the many personalities that fall under Rocket's order. Tehy arne't cut and paste villains, each feeling distinct... Is it permissible to root for the emipre here? I know they're awful people but I'm enjoying their sections a bit too much.

Thanks for continuing this tale... also are you OK with me posting this on a03 as well? Kick up your traffic a bit?
 

TheCouchEffect

Bug Catcher
Pronouns
He/His
Hmm, so Ash is trying to wrangle a world adjustment and doing... So so at it. I appreciate that you show he's not a natural fit for it and it's his canon based trait of being a determinatior that shines.... Speaking of canon traits... he didn't tell the people overseeing his well being he's a trouble magnet...or a legend magnet... oh boy that's not going to go well. Specially with Latios pulling a 'mon ish batman.

I'd say realism... is a bit twitchy but not in a kills suspension of disbelief, more of a poking holes at it because this is going to go so bad. We've the poster child of rookie-senior cop scenario kicking up and a dose of lack of communication kills.... or maims... anyways I won't say it's an issue and it aligns the story more with the anime feel, though was that deliberate?

At this point I can sympathize with Looker and his "rock in a hard place" sort of thing, though I want to shake him. An intrenched agent and he can't figure out an out for this situation... Sheesh no wonder Rocket' so deeply entrenched. I'm surprised that if they were so really worried about compromise in the organization if they didn't just make some cosmetic changes to Ash, do a name swap, not to succeed, but to buy them time and train him up as much as possible under the cover of "intraining field agent/specialist" or something then shuffle him on the field as fast as possible and continue his training while they work.

Because of how they're talking I suspect Ash is going to be thrown into this mess headfirst when it feels like he really needs to be on the sidelines until he's more up to speed with basic combat and perhaps basic medicine so he won't be a "I need rescuing load". After all Pika can be tanked with any rock and ground type, or the creative use of an anti conductor, and Pika's all Ash has...

I'm really hoping they shunt Ash to servailence duty at first and scale him up but per Ash's double trouble magent status...
Yeah highly unlikely...

On a more fanciful side, I imagine Ash's first stint of "servailence duty" comes to an end... him being scolded by Looker, looking chagrined, swearing up and down that he is not pulling a "brock"...

"No really I didn't use this mess as a means to pick up pretty ladies, she's a Legendary.. no not like that... Latias, help!"

Then Ash suddenly has two 'mon, Pika and Latias, but utter utter accident....

Seeing Rockets organization, influence, and them in action was a nice touch. They really seem so much more put together than the government which gives the Looker/Ash sections an air of futility. They've got so many by the throat with so many angles in their favor, even if they lose the whole port in a Ash riding Latias sort of things, I can see them taking that as more of a set back and adjusting. And though evil, and having any shades of it, I'm appreciating the many personalities that fall under Rocket's order. Tehy arne't cut and paste villains, each feeling distinct... Is it permissible to root for the emipre here? I know they're awful people but I'm enjoying their sections a bit too much.

Thanks for continuing this tale... also are you OK with me posting this on a03 as well? Kick up your traffic a bit?
Hello and thank you for the review! Yeah, Ash definitely has a lot of adapting and learning to do in his new life. I'm hoping to show how difficult such a change in lifestyle would be - starting with the physical side, but as we get further into the arc I'll go over the mental side as well. Unfortunately for him... yeah, his terrible luck is going to come back to bite him.

Honestly trying to balance the realism and anime feel is where I think I'm struggling the most. One the one hand, keeping the anime feel will help open new ideas for stories and potential plotlines, while on the other hand realism helps with the setting and establishing the threat. Soon I'm going to have to choose which style I want to go with though, since the balancing act isn't working too well.

As far as Ash's role goes, Looker and Anabel are definitely going to try and keep him on the sidelines so he can observe and learn. Whether that actually works out for them... that would be spoiling it. And now the mental image of Looker trying to scold Ash - densest boy alive - for picking up girls is stuck in my head and I find it hilarious.

Finally there's Team Rocket and I'm glad you caught what I was alluding to with them! I really wanted to show how Team Rocket was such a dangerous threat and why the International Police have so much trouble stopping them - showing the flaws of the IP and the strengths of Team Rocket. I think that it will help sell the uphill battle that Ash and co will have earning just minor victories, let alone slaying the beast that is Team Rocket.

As a side note, I just want to mention that Team Rocket are so much fun to write here. I get to use some characters that I normally never would and I get to have them driving the plot forward. Getting inside their heads and having them displayed in all their evil glory is so much fun.

And sure! If you want to crosspost this review, then I would highly appreciate it! I'm glad you enjoyed the story.
 
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canisaries

you should've known the price of evil
Location
Stovokor
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. custom/inkay-shirlee
  2. custom/houndoom-elliot
  3. custom/yamask-joanna
Hey there! I've read the first chapter of this story as per our review exchange agreement, and I am going to read and review the second as well, but I wanted to already post a review after the first due to all the thoughts I had about it.

As a disclaimer, I am not someone who keeps up with the anime, so there may be things I don't know or misinterpret as a result of this. I also have not read many (or possibly any?) fics about the anime before this, so its specific conventions are unknown to me.

Line Comments

"Shh, it's alright. There was nothing you could have done. All that matters is you survived and managed to reach the city." She tried to smile reassuringly for the young man. "I can promise you this: once I'm done here, me and all the other police in the city won't rest until we've found those who attacked you and get your Kirlia back to you."

"You promise?" Despite the situation at hand and the grim reality that justice might not be served, hope blossomed in the young trainer's eyes.

She hated that she had to lie to not crush that hope. "I promise. We've been tracking these thieves for years now and are close to catching them. With all the help you've given us with this interview, I can tell we'll catch them in no time." The words tasted like ash in her mouth.

It feels like you wanted this to seem like Jenny was doing a good deed, but I'm fairly certain giving victims false hope is psychologically detrimental to them in the long run and thus very much discouraged. I also felt like this would be against good police conduct, but since the police is suggested to be incompetent, I suppose this could be part of that.

"Ok, let's go over this one more time." Jenny tried to sooth the young trainer – who couldn't be any older than 10 years old - sobbing in front of her. "You were heading to Mauville City when three men ambushed you roughly a mile from the city gates. Can you tell me what they looked like?"

The boy sniffled pathetically. "T-they were wearing these black uniforms with big, red R's on the front of them. They had these big, black caps that blocked their faces. I'm sorry... I don't know what they look like beyond that."

Red R's? That presented a problem. "Did they by any chance happen to spout off a motto before they attacked? A flamboyant one that mentioned rockets and used an abundance of poses?"

Jenny saying "let's go over this one more time" suggests that she'd already gone through this question before, but the boy seems to answer like it was the first time the answer was given. If the boy was unwilling to give this information before, that would tie into the part about victims being uncooperative due to fearing or disliking the police, but there's really nothing in his behavior to suggests this was the case.

The weirder thing, though, is that Jenny appears surprised to hear about the red R's here, while just a little bit further it's said that this is the twelfth case this week and it's generally made out to be something very familiar to the police by now. In light of that fact, I would have expected Jenny to already suspect they were Rocket grunts before getting confirmation.

We could always call the Rangers, but they're more focused on the problems of poachers and Pokémon environments than trainer attacks.

It's nice to see Rangers mentioned here! Though "focused on the problems of Pokémon environments" sounds odd as a phrase?

Shouldn't you all be on your own journey's?

You'll want "journeys" without the apostrophe.

Not that he didn't appreciate them coming to see him. If anything, seeing everyone here made him forget all his troubles, even if only for a moment.

I felt like Ash did a lot of complaining this chapter, and his efforts to say he still appreciated what his friends had done felt somewhat hollow. This makes him out to be kind of bratty. Which he can be, sure, but I just want you to be aware of this.

Speaking of May, she looked different than the last time he'd seen her. While she was still sporting her orange vest and tight black shorts as he'd last seen her, he had a green bow in her hair instead of her old bandana. Even then, she had an air of confidence about her that she hadn't had before. Like she was more confident in herself and what she was capable of.

This may be my lack of attachment to these characters as a non-anime-viewer, but I felt like these passages about how their clothing had didn't really have enough substance to justify the halts they brought to the story.

Picnic tables had been stacked full of food from all kinds of regions,

I would have liked to see some concrete examples given for what the food was and what Ash picked out. Just "food" makes it a kind of blurry mess in the picture I'm trying to paint in my mind.

Though the diabolical looks on many of their faces - and the look of utter regret on Pikachu's - told him they were planning something he probably wouldn't like. He really hoped it wasn't like the last time they had gotten those looks on their faces.

He suddenly didn't feel very safe anymore. He felt he should warn the others, but for what… he didn't know.

This scene ended on a very creepy, foreboding note, which made it strange that there seemed to be no mention of it once the story returned to Ash again - in fact, we get a very wholesome battle scene instead.

"It was a pleasure doing business with you, Ms. Domino." The perverse grin on the man's face made her skin crawl. "I can already tell the partnership between my family and Team Rocket will benefit us all."

i knew dominos pizza had their paws in some shady shit

"I would have had Pikachu focus on dodging instead of trying to meet Tapu Koko's attack head on, but that's just me." Max boasted.

It was here that I noticed you seem to have incorrect punctuation for your dialogue. When you have a line that would end in a period followed by a dialogue tag, the period turns into a comma:

"I would have had Pikachu focus on dodging instead of trying to meet Tapu Koko's attack head on, but that's just me," Max boasted.

More information on punctuating dialogue here.

He wore a large backpack no doubt filled with all the survival supplies one could ever need and had a pair of white fingerless gloves.

It feels weird that he would still be carrying that backpack at this point when it's surely heavy and better to set down somewhere at the party. It's a minor detail, but one that made me raise my eyebrow.

Before everyone's eyes materialized small, white humanoid a white gown with two large red horns protruding from its green head.

I think you shuffled or missed some words in this line (materialized a small, white humanoid with a white gown and two large red horns)? I think the word order could also be a little better, since the beginning ("Before everyone's eyes materialized") can easily be parsed the wrong way at first (something happened before everyone's eyes could materialize).

"Pikachu didn't have enough energy to dodge it, Max. Its battle with Tapu Koko had tired it out and I thought the best way to end it would be with one full power attack." He laughed sheepishly. "And in the end it worked."
Though her eyes were unseen, she glowed as the latent psychic energy it held engulfed its body and focused its attention squarely on Pikachu with the hopes of sending Ash's partner into a forced sleep.

I noticed that the pronouns used for Pokémon were inconsistent within this chapter. Sometimes Pikachu is a "he" (which I think he should always be considering how close he is to Ash and clearly intelligent at that) and sometimes an "it". The Ralts gets the same treatment, the pronoun changing within the same sentence I quoted.

On que, Ralts dematerialized before everyone's eyes mere moments before Pikachu slammed his tail into where it she was used to be, kicking up a cloud of dust and debris.
Every time, dust was kicked up and new, small patches of scorched earth were left in the previously serene grassy field.

I can understand dust rising up after they've already battled for a while, but according to the latter part, it was a grassy field when they started, and I have a hard time picturing so much dust coming up from a strike to a patch of grass that it clouds people's vision.

It had turned from a standard battle into a competition of endurance. Unfortunately for the Ralts, its inexperience as a battler was its downfall as it rematerialized behind Pikachu - noticeably exhausted with a flushed face. It couldn't teleport away anymore. The same Thunderbolt that had struck down pseudo-legendaries, contended with actual legendaries, and even managed to take down a Rhyhorn by aiming for its horn made complete contact with Ralts.

The description makes it sound like this is a Thunderbolt just as powerful as the ones used in those cases, which sounds frighteningly irresponsible on Ash's and/or Pikachu's part. What's different about a powerful attack like this and the attacks that led to broken bones and internal bleeding in the Mightyena?

The usage of "pseudo-legendaries" felt off here, as that's purely a fan term that was created based on the Pokémon's stats in the games.

Sadly, the cries of two Pokémon desperate for a reunion with his starter and the two blindingly fast forms tackling Pikachu to the ground interrupted Ash. The result though... that was anything but sad.

Pikachu - deathly pale and stiff as a board - was pinned to the ground beneath two Pokémon. Buneary, the small bunny Pokémon that Dawn had captured and was known to have a crush on his partner had wrapped her arms around his sides and was nuzzling his cheek with her own. Glaceon meanwhile - the Eevee that they had once travelled with and helped May raise - had pinned him beneath her and was staring down at him with a teasing glint in her eyes.

The look Pikachu sent him was pleading and had a message clear as day. A moment of silence passed as the two partners shared a silent message with only their eyes. Only partners who trusted each other completely could do that successfully, and Ash was certain he had gotten the message.

If that was what his little buddy wanted, that's what he'd do.

"Alright, Pikachu, I'll leave you three alone."

Ash had thankfully already turned around, otherwise he would have seen the look of utter betrayal on Pikachu's face as he was condemned to his fate.

He had no idea why everyone else was laughing though.

I understand this is a gag, but it just doesn't make sense with the level of mutual understanding Ash and Pikachu are asserted as sharing prior in the chapter. It also has somewhat of an uncomfortable implication that Ash would consider it particularly generous to let his lifelong partner do what he wanted for just a bit.

Viridian city was the great green gem of the Kanto region. While Saffron may have been the capital and connection between Kanto and Johto, and Celadon city was the economic heart of the entire region, Viridian city simply had a natural charm to it. Its streets were filled with people from all over the world who had come to visit the lush green forests of Kanto.

You'll want to capitalize "city" when using it like this, like "New York City" does.

It was also the nerve center of a multi-regional threat that had grown exponentially in a period of only a few years. While the average citizen or tourist went about their day with smiles and Pokémon battles, Team Rocket grew in strength in the shadows, and no one suspected a thing.

The peaceful, worriless living that the description of the average citizen "going about their day with smiles and Pokémon battles" seems to set up doesn't feel like it fits with the idea of the people not being able to trust the police. I suppose they have their Pokémon with them to protect them to some degree, but if a mugger has a more powerful Pokémon, they're really just left helpless, aren't they? And there are plenty of crimes that Pokémon can't prevent, too. In a place like that, I wouldn't be so happy with the way things are.

Now, this just could be Anabel's perspective and not reflect reality, but then I feel like a person that clueless to the state of the world would make a poor agent in the first place.

---

General Thoughts

I apologize for my points in this review being mostly critical, but I hope I have managed to give them in a constructive way. There are things I like about this chapter - as a reviewer, I'm simply often more verbose about the things I think could be better.

Aside from that one gag I griped about, I do like the relationship between Ash and Pikachu and especially that we get a short bit of Pikachu's POV, too. I also enjoy Ash seeing himself in Max and helping him become a better battler. Meaningful relationships to others is a tried-and-true way to make people sympathetic to a character, and if these relationships bring out the best in that character, it's all the better for likability.

I just think this story is set back considerably by issues with the tone and inconsistent worldbuilding. The premise and the T rating warrant a more serious and grittier tone, which we do get - but the problem is that we also still get scenes very much in the style of the anime along with its cartoony quirks. These two contradict each other not just in terms of mood but how the world works. We're given a universe where one battle leads to broken bones and internal bleeding while another leads to the Pokémon falling to the ground with literal swirls in its eyes. We're given a reference to "Misty's mallet", which I think refers to an actual cartoon mallet that Misty would whale on Ash with, while also given the implication of horrid painful torture worse than death being carried out by Team Rocket.

I'm fully aware that serious injury and cartoon antics do both happen in the anime - but the difference is that, in an audiovisual medium, these cartoon antics are understood as exaggerations of real events with visual or auditory metaphors. The Ralts's eyes did not actually become swirls. Meowth does not actually consistently believe that he is a cartoon character to whom the artist "forgot to give a nose". These are absurd lapses in reality that we accept as not being a real part of the world or story, and often we are signalled this with a goofier, more simplistic artstyle, cartoon sound effects and floating stars, massive sweat-beads or pulsating veins. In writing, though, there are no signifiers to show these events are not part of that reality - they are read literally unless carefully crafted into metaphors the reader can recognize as metaphors.

What has more serious consequences than just quick references to cartoon logic, though, is when something clearly cartoony is taken as part of the otherwise serious plot. The very existence of Jessie, James and Meowth as they are presents a huge plot hole: why would this criminal organization with no hangups about killing and torturing people allow these three morons to walk and talk freely when they know the identity of their boss, which is meant to be a secret not even the international police knows? When the story seems to consistently suggest that everything seen in the anime, no matter how silly, is canon, we just have to believe that the trio does indeed know who Giovanni is.

Situations like this can be brushed aside in certain types of stories, namely ones that embrace silliness and don't try to take themselves seriously (such as Austin Powers), but here the dark portions seem to want the reader to take them seriously anyway. Maybe some people can, but to me, the anime-isms are just too drastic and plentiful for me to be immersed in the world and ignore its inconsistencies. To pull off a story like this, I believe the anime simply has to be adapted rather than presented faithfully as-is.

I understand that all this negativity is probably not what you wanted from the review exchange, so please do let me know if you would rather call it off. By default, though, I'll assume the exchange stands as is, and move on to the second chapter and give my thoughts on that as well.
 
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canisaries

you should've known the price of evil
Location
Stovokor
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. custom/inkay-shirlee
  2. custom/houndoom-elliot
  3. custom/yamask-joanna
Hey! Sorry it took a while, but I’ve now read the second chapter and here are my thoughts.

You’ll be glad to hear I thought this chapter was a lot better than the first! A lot the issues I had with the first one weren’t present in this, and some were actually patched as your DMs promised. First off, the tone is much more consistent, keeping to the more serious side - and while we do have levity at the beginning, it doesn’t contradict the darker content like parts of the first chapter, rather complementing it instead.

The events are also simply more interesting as the main conflict kicks in and the situation becomes dire. In the first chapter, the scenes with Ash were mostly pretty wholesome with his interactions with his old friends, and for a non-anime watcher, they didn’t really interest me at all. The darkness and seriousness was also mostly confined to the scenes without him, and this made me feel like I was reading about two different worlds with their own stories rather than one with two sequences of events converging. In this chapter, though, the two trains finally crash and we get to the real meat of the story.

If you’re open to experimenting a little on the structure of the story, I think it could make for a more gripping start if you actually had some scene or scenes from this chapter in the first and then presented the lighter moments of Ash meeting all his old friends in a flashback (like, “X hours earlier” at the beginning of the scenes or something). That recontextualization would offer for some juicy dramatic irony as we see him in a very nice place but know all that’s about to go to hell. (The premise does already tell us this, sure, but experiencing a taste of that misery is more powerful than simply being informed of its existence.) And, in general, people would right away get the tone that the rest of the fic is going to go for.

I really liked the scenes of Anabel talking to Pokémon. I’d gotten the impression that an unfortunate lot of anime fics push aside the Pokémon and reduce them to just battle machines, so I’m glad to see more focus on them - and the idea of non-human creatures being witnesses to crimes is an idea I’m always a fun of, too. It does kind of raise questions about how intelligent Pokémon are and how much and why they think like humans, but I think it’s keeping to anime canon if my hazy memories of that one early episode with the main characters’ Pokémon being separated from their trainers are right.

While I was reading the chapter, a bunch of questions arose in my mind about the whole phenomenon of psychic humans or Pokémon being able to control other humans to commit crimes. They did get answered as the chapter went along, but I think the order of how the facts were presented could have been slightly better. As it was now, it felt a bit like it was patching up holes as I was discovering them, like “why don’t they A” -> “because B” -> “but wouldn’t that mean C” -> “it does but it’s okay because D”, if that makes sense. It was mainly about why psychic possession was not considered a possibility or didn’t even seem to cross the mind of the police (which, I mean, does match up with the whole incompetence / unprofessionality thing brought up in the first chapter). We are informed that it’s because only very powerful psychics can do that, which makes me assume that it’s very rare and therefore not worth considering in most cases, but then Anabel comments on how there are “hundreds if not thousands of innocents in prison for crimes they didn't commit” because of this. I raise my eyebrow, but a few lines later we find out it’s also common for criminals to cry wolf about psychic possessions to try to get off scot-free, and it patches it up. Still, I believe it would be stronger to establish those later facts earlier to prevent the feeling that the system is being built as the story needs it rather than being something that was fully thought out from the beginning. One suggestion would be to have Ash say “what if I was controlled by someone else” to which the officer responds with a scoff, saying he’s not gonna fall for that old trick.

Ending with a few line comments:

Misty nodded, brows furrowed in worry. "I did. I didn't want to bring it up when he was around, but it looked like he had a lot on his mind. He looked like he was thinking about something whenever he thought no one was looking."

Delia let out a sigh. Her hands tightened around the coffee mug in her lap. "He's been like this since Alola. Ever since he won the league."

"Why would he be so... sad after winning though? It's all Ash has ever wanted. It's what he worked so hard to achieve. He should be happy, not like this." Dawn had a point.

Dawn's reply looks more like it's Misty's reply to Delia before we get to "Dawn had a point" after the line.

His dedication and drive to constantly push himself towards that dream - no matter the roadblock he encountered - was an inspiration. May herself would think of her old friend's refusal to buckle to the pressure whenever she felt like something was impossible.

This was a nice part, keeping with the theme of Ash having a positive impact on his friends from the Max battle, too.

Maybe he doesn't know what he's supposed to do know.

Typo, *now

"We're getting confirmed reports that late last night, there was an attack at The Bisharp and The Gardevoir. It is with a heavy heart that I report that the victim of the attack - one Mrs. Elizabeth Burk - passed away on her way to the hospital last night." The reporter intoned. "The person responsible for this is one Ash Ketchum, the recent victor of the Alolan League and Kanto native."

I feel like the language and choice of words here ("the person responsible for this is...") is kind of unfitting for a news broadcast? Maybe "the police apprehended the assailant shortly after (or during?) the attack and identified him as Ash Ketchum, a 17-year-old Kanto native and the recent victor of the Alolan League." Also, I'm impressed she managed to still be alive by the time they found her and began taking her to the hospital, given the description of how screwed up she was.

The officer surged to his feet. He grabbed the file he had by his side and opened it. Reflexively, Ash shut his eyes. The officer grabbed a fistful of his hair and pushed his head down. "Open your eyes. If you want to say that you can't confess, that's fine. We'll take this to trial. But you should know that you will lose because we already have everything we need." The officer tightened his grip of Ash's hair. "Look at what you did."

Wow gee I can see why the people are scared of the police now

You and I were the one's to pull him off of her, Anabel.

No apostrophe is correct, just "the ones".

In a world where evil team ran rampant,

Evil *teams?

Not like the Rangers. There were always stories of the Rangers stepping on the toes of local law enforcement or swooping in at the last minute to take credit for a case.

One of the many differences between the two organizations. She hoped she never had to run into one while on a job. International Police and Rangers didn't mix at all.

It feels like this is here to remind the audience about Rangers to set up for them showing up later or something, but it comes a bit out of the blue.

Her shock must have shown because there was a flicker of amusement in Giovanni's eyes. But could she be blamed? One League obsessed brat had played enough of a role in the defeat of their rivals that Giovanni considered him more of a threat than any champion or most law enforcement agencies? She found it hard to believe. The kid wasn't that impressive as far as she was concerned. He was too naïve.

Oh you and me both sister, but it's anime country

Besides, he won't live past the weekend. An unfortunate suicide caused by the guilt over taking an innocent mothers' life. No one will look closer.

ASHPSTEIN DIDNT KILL HIMSELF

Then a small Spinarak crawled out from a crack in the wall. It was big - far bigger than any Anabel had seen before.

The... crack was big? Or the small Spinarak?

'Hmmm... she was big - though all humans are to Pokemon like you and me. Violet eyes and curly yellow hair. She was imposing as well - she tried to hide it, but it was obvious she wasn't some damsel in distress. Whoever the girl was, she was clearly capable. I certainly wouldn't want to follow her into a back alley.'

It's a bit weird for what seems to be a wild Spinarak to know about the "damsel in distress" trope, but I guess I could instead see it as an artifact of translating from Pokémon thoughts to human thoughts.

Anyway, that does it for my thoughts. You probably won't be surprised to hear that I'm not intending to continue, but the main reason for that is definitely that I'm just not a fan of the anime or its characters rather than me disliking of the story now that I've seen the sharp raise in quality with this second chapter. I'll gladly read on if I get it on my plate in some other review game or arrangement, though! In the meantime, good luck with writing onward, and see you around.
 

TheCouchEffect

Bug Catcher
Pronouns
He/His
Hey! Sorry it took a while, but I’ve now read the second chapter and here are my thoughts.

You’ll be glad to hear I thought this chapter was a lot better than the first! A lot the issues I had with the first one weren’t present in this, and some were actually patched as your DMs promised. First off, the tone is much more consistent, keeping to the more serious side - and while we do have levity at the beginning, it doesn’t contradict the darker content like parts of the first chapter, rather complementing it instead.

The events are also simply more interesting as the main conflict kicks in and the situation becomes dire. In the first chapter, the scenes with Ash were mostly pretty wholesome with his interactions with his old friends, and for a non-anime watcher, they didn’t really interest me at all. The darkness and seriousness was also mostly confined to the scenes without him, and this made me feel like I was reading about two different worlds with their own stories rather than one with two sequences of events converging. In this chapter, though, the two trains finally crash and we get to the real meat of the story.

If you’re open to experimenting a little on the structure of the story, I think it could make for a more gripping start if you actually had some scene or scenes from this chapter in the first and then presented the lighter moments of Ash meeting all his old friends in a flashback (like, “X hours earlier” at the beginning of the scenes or something). That recontextualization would offer for some juicy dramatic irony as we see him in a very nice place but know all that’s about to go to hell. (The premise does already tell us this, sure, but experiencing a taste of that misery is more powerful than simply being informed of its existence.) And, in general, people would right away get the tone that the rest of the fic is going to go for.

I really liked the scenes of Anabel talking to Pokémon. I’d gotten the impression that an unfortunate lot of anime fics push aside the Pokémon and reduce them to just battle machines, so I’m glad to see more focus on them - and the idea of non-human creatures being witnesses to crimes is an idea I’m always a fun of, too. It does kind of raise questions about how intelligent Pokémon are and how much and why they think like humans, but I think it’s keeping to anime canon if my hazy memories of that one early episode with the main characters’ Pokémon being separated from their trainers are right.

While I was reading the chapter, a bunch of questions arose in my mind about the whole phenomenon of psychic humans or Pokémon being able to control other humans to commit crimes. They did get answered as the chapter went along, but I think the order of how the facts were presented could have been slightly better. As it was now, it felt a bit like it was patching up holes as I was discovering them, like “why don’t they A” -> “because B” -> “but wouldn’t that mean C” -> “it does but it’s okay because D”, if that makes sense. It was mainly about why psychic possession was not considered a possibility or didn’t even seem to cross the mind of the police (which, I mean, does match up with the whole incompetence / unprofessionality thing brought up in the first chapter). We are informed that it’s because only very powerful psychics can do that, which makes me assume that it’s very rare and therefore not worth considering in most cases, but then Anabel comments on how there are “hundreds if not thousands of innocents in prison for crimes they didn't commit” because of this. I raise my eyebrow, but a few lines later we find out it’s also common for criminals to cry wolf about psychic possessions to try to get off scot-free, and it patches it up. Still, I believe it would be stronger to establish those later facts earlier to prevent the feeling that the system is being built as the story needs it rather than being something that was fully thought out from the beginning. One suggestion would be to have Ash say “what if I was controlled by someone else” to which the officer responds with a scoff, saying he’s not gonna fall for that old trick.

Ending with a few line comments:



Dawn's reply looks more like it's Misty's reply to Delia before we get to "Dawn had a point" after the line.



This was a nice part, keeping with the theme of Ash having a positive impact on his friends from the Max battle, too.



Typo, *now



I feel like the language and choice of words here ("the person responsible for this is...") is kind of unfitting for a news broadcast? Maybe "the police apprehended the assailant shortly after (or during?) the attack and identified him as Ash Ketchum, a 17-year-old Kanto native and the recent victor of the Alolan League." Also, I'm impressed she managed to still be alive by the time they found her and began taking her to the hospital, given the description of how screwed up she was.



Wow gee I can see why the people are scared of the police now



No apostrophe is correct, just "the ones".



Evil *teams?



It feels like this is here to remind the audience about Rangers to set up for them showing up later or something, but it comes a bit out of the blue.



Oh you and me both sister, but it's anime country



ASHPSTEIN DIDNT KILL HIMSELF



The... crack was big? Or the small Spinarak?



It's a bit weird for what seems to be a wild Spinarak to know about the "damsel in distress" trope, but I guess I could instead see it as an artifact of translating from Pokémon thoughts to human thoughts.

Anyway, that does it for my thoughts. You probably won't be surprised to hear that I'm not intending to continue, but the main reason for that is definitely that I'm just not a fan of the anime or its characters rather than me disliking of the story now that I've seen the sharp raise in quality with this second chapter. I'll gladly read on if I get it on my plate in some other review game or arrangement, though! In the meantime, good luck with writing onward, and see you around.
Hello! Sorry it took so long to get to this. I was stuck at work all day unfortunately. I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed this chapter though! This is definitely where I felt my writing really stepped up in terms of quality and with luck, I'll be able to get the first chapter up to snuff as well. Thank you so much for pointing out the grammar and spellings errors though. Now I'll know what to fix! Sadly, it seems that Word isn't the best at spotting these kinds of things.

I'll definitely be looking to change up the scenes of Ash and co in the first chapter. That idea to include a revised scene of him among friends and family as a flashback before the more serious scenes of this chapter give me some inspiration as well. I think I'll be able to make that first chapter much more engaging with what I have planned.

As far as Pokemon sapience goes, I generally tend to go with what the anime has shown: that they are intelligent creatures with feeling, desires, and the ability to choose... but with a language barrier and desire for more simplistic lives. I also subscribe to the idea that most Pokemon inherently have a desire to battle and grow stronger, but need Humans to really bring out their true potential to help explain why so many Pokemon are willing to form partnerships with Humans and travel with them. I'll be going a bit more into this as the story goes on.

Thanks for pointing out the shaky ground that the mind control crimes stands on, as well. After reading your points, I agree that I ould definitely have done better with introducing the system surrounding psychic crimes better so that it seemed more thought-out instead of spontaneous additions. When I'm going over the chapter again, I'll definitely be focusing most of my time on that to make sure it feels natural to the world.

Then there's the police. As you and others have pointed out, the police here are generally incompetent and untrusted by the public. In this regard, I'm taking the example the anime left of a police force that... really isn't helpful at all and running with it. I've come up with my own explanation for why they are consistently unreliable, but that would spoil a future plot point. What I will say, though, is that Team Rocket's rise in this story - the rise of any of the criminal teams in Pokemon, really - could have been prevented if the police and governments didn't rely on children/Champions/random good samaritans to do their job for them.

I'm glad that you enjoyed the chapters that you did read and would be open to reading more in the future! It's good to know that my writing is enjoyable to those who aren't fans of the anime. Thank you for the well wishes and I will see you around.
 
Chapter 6

TheCouchEffect

Bug Catcher
Pronouns
He/His
Chapter 6: Official Business


"Is there anything that I can get you or your Pikachu, sir?"

"No, thank you-" Ash winced as he felt a small shock to his side. "Actually... would you mind bringing me some ketchup?"

The hostess frowned. "Just ketchup? No food?"

Not unless he wanted to wrestle with his partner over it. "Just the ketchup. A bottle if you have it."

"I'll... see what I can do."

He waited until the hostess had closed the door to their room before turning and glaring at his smug little friend. "One of these days I'm going to find out why you're obsessed with that stuff. It's not good for you."

"You know, you could always say no when he asks for it." Anabel suggested. A tiny smile had worked its way across her face.

He let out a tired sigh. "No, I can't. He gets pouty when I do that. Broods, whines, refuses to look at me..."

Anabel laughed. "He probably does that because he knows that you'll give in."

He knew that. He knew that, but he still couldn't stop himself from giving in. How could he when his little buddy could so convincingly play the part of a heartbroken friend who only wanted a small snack? Then the cycle would continue.

"We'll be arriving in Alto Mare soon, Ash." Looker interjected. "You studied the alias we gave you?"

Ash flinched. "I have... I'm not too sure I like what it is though."

Anabel cocked her head to the side. "What's wrong with it?"

"Well for one, you made me look like a clown." He tugged on the horrifically neon-colored clothes they had stuffed him in. Aside from the fact it made him hard to look at, they were a size too small for his liking and chaffed in all the wrong places. Then there was that appallingly large top hat they had forced him to wear. Compared to the simple but effective trench coats Looker and Anabel were wearing, he felt like a cartoon character. "Then there's my hair... why did I have to dye it green?"

To Looker's credit, he did his best to hide his amusement behind a sip of his drink. "It's just to get through security once we dock in Alto Mare. I promise that once we're there, you can change into other clothes. The dye... well, that's up to you. Everyone is looking for a raven haired Pokemon trainer, after all. Someone as brightly colored as you won't be looked at twice."

"It's anonymity through attention. The more people that look at you and see someone who seemingly wants to stand out, the less they'll pay attention to you and potentially connect you to your real identity." Anabel explained. "Just think of this as practice. You'll need to use a variety of different identities for this job, so getting used to being different people is necessary."

"I guess that makes sense... do I really have to call myself this though?"

"What's wrong with your name?"

"It just feels wrong." He frowned. "Red Westen seems like an obvious fake name. They'll suspect something the moment they hear it."

The flat look that Anabel sent his way was enough to make Ash regret opening his mouth. "Your actual name is Ash Ketchum… and you spent the last seven years of your life catching Pokemon." Anabel scoffed. "Don't worry so much, Ash. There are plenty of people in the world with strange names. One more won't raise an eyebrow."

Well alright then... minor blow to any remaining pride he had aside, he'd take her word for it. She knew better after all.

"So, what's the plan once we do arrive?" He asked. Anything to divert the conversation away from him making an even bigger fool of himself. Ash knew that realistically he wouldn't be doing much. Looker had told him that the only reason he had been brought along was for safety and in-the-field training. A part of him did hope that he would get the opportunity to have put what he had learned to use though. Maybe see if he and Pikachu could fight in a real, chaotic battle without making the same mistakes they had during training. Or maybe sneak into a heavily guarded base under the guise of night. Even if Anabel and Looker said the movies were nothing like reality, a part of him was secretly hoping they were downplaying the reality.

They had to base the stories one some nugget of truth, after all.

"We'll head to our hotel and settle in for the long haul. Yes, that means you can change clothes once we arrive." Looker rolled his eyes at his small, quiet cheer to himself. "Afterwards, we'll be going to the police station. We've called ahead to the chief of police in this city, and they've given us the go-ahead to interrogate their prisoners."

Anabel frown. "I still can't believe that the police of this vacation hotspot were capable of arresting Team Rocket. You'd think that police in a place like this would be... well fat and lazy. The kind who took the job for show more than anything else."

Looker chuckled. "You know what they say about assumptions: they make an ass out of you and me." Both Anabel and Ash couldn't help but groan at the terrible joke. That just seemed to amuse Looker even more if the cheeky grin on his face was anything to go off of. "It's possible they got lucky or there are a few skilled members among them. Let's withhold judgement until we meet them."

Ash couldn't help but worry though. "Are you going to have me take part in the interrogation?"

"Hah!" Looker let out a bark of laughter and shook his head... right up until he realized that was a serious question. He sobered up quickly after that. "No, Ash. You haven't had any training or experience with interrogations before. You'll be observing, nothing more."

Ash let out a sigh of relief. As much as he wanted to test out his training, he was well aware that he still had a lot to learn. Especially when it came to the finer points of the job that he... wasn't exactly capable of. If interrogations were anything like he had overheard from the agents back at the base, then they needed someone with confidence and a sharp mind leading them. Someone that knew who their prisoner was as a person and how to use the evidence they had to get what they wanted out of their captives. That wasn't him.

Not yet anyway.

Maybe he'd be able to ask some of the officers at the station for some pointers after the interrogation, like the detectives that arrested the Rocket Grunts. Veterans like them would know what they were doing.


"Please tell me this is a joke."

Anabel liked to believe that she didn't judge things based on first appearances. She liked to believe that she could keep an open mind about things. An agent of the International Police had to be able to look beyond the surface level and see what was underneath. Whether it held pleasant surprises or complicated truths, keeping an open mind helped prevent them from making rash judgements or decisions. Even as a rookie, she'd believed that her training had prepared her to do just that.

Arriving at the police headquarters in Alto Mare, she'd expected to see people hunched over their desks hard at work filing reports, sorting through victims and perpetrators, or preparing to head out on patrol with their Pokemon partners. Anything that would have lived up to the expectations the reports of their success against Team Rocket suggested. To instead find a relatively small group of officers either asleep at their desks and flirting with people she was half convinced should have been in cells instead of leisurely sitting at desks sipping martinis crushed any hope or respect she may have been fostered in her heart.

This was a sick joke. It had to be! For the love of all that was good in the world, she could see the doors to one of the cells wide open and an officer passed out drunk inside! There was no way that a police force like this handled Team Rocket's recent defeats. She refused to believe it.

Looker let out a sigh. "No. No, it is not."

Ash frowned and tugged at his green hair, lifting his brown cap off of his head to do so. Unlike during their travels here, Ash had changed into a simple brown trench coat and a pair of black pants back at the hotel. Much to her own amusement, he was forced to keep his hair green. No matter how hard he tried, the color wouldn't wash out. It was almost sad how quickly his hope had turned to despair knowing he would be forced to keep his hair so disgustingly green.

He thought it was bad luck. In reality, it was a bit of an initiation for the International Police. Every time a new agent was sent on their first mission, they were given a horrifically embarrassing cover and appearance to test them. She could still remember how her first mission. Everyone thought being a spy at a Kalosian party for the rich and famous would be exciting.

Maybe it would have been if she hadn't been forced to go as a mime to entertain the rich folk. Gathering intel wasn't easy when she was trapped in an invisible box or impaled on invisible swords to make children smile.

If she ever discovered who humiliated her like that, she would drench them in ice water.

"Should we leave and come back later?"

"And risk things getting even worse?" Anabel scoffed. "Let's just get our business done and leave. The sooner we interrogate those Grunts, the sooner we can leave these people to... whatever it is they do."

"'Afraid it won't be that simple, love."

Anabel spun to find who said that. The source turned out to be an older, purple haired man with a goatee sprawled out with his feet propped up on a desk with a glass of alcohol in one hand and a woman hanging off his other arm. He was dressed in an appalling floral T-shirt and had a cocky smirk. She could feel the arrogance rolling off of the man in waves of such intensity that she couldn't help but scowl. Who was this man?

She was about to ask when Looker interjected with a growl. "Petrovic. What are you doing here?"

Ash looked between the two with a confused expression on his face. "You two know each other?"

Looker's eyes narrowed. It was the only outward sign of how he truly felt. Beneath the surface though? Anabel could feel a hurricane of emotions all clashing with one another. Rage. Shame. Shock. Even a small bit of horror. It all mixed together into horrible array of emotions that set her on edge. She took a step away from the two of them and pulled Ash backwards with her. It wasn't subtle, but if things got as ugly as how Looker's feelings were then she didn't want either of them to get involved.

"I do. As much as I'd rather I didn't." Looker said. "Anabel, Red, this is Petrovic. Fellow agent of the International Police."

"This is an agent of the International Police? Are you sure he's not some drunk who wandered in off the street? It wouldn't surprise me." She knew that it was unprofessional to give that sort of lip to a senior agent but... could anyone blame her?

Petrovic didn't seem to. "Ho ho! This lass here's got some fire in her. Beauty and bite in one package. I love it." He grinned and gestured for the woman hanging off of him to go away. She did so without a word. "Petrovic Tethras, at yer service. Ace operative, seasoned investigator, and an exceptional lover." He waggled his eyebrows at her.

She audibly gagged. Mercifully, Ash decided now was the time to take the initiative and moved towards Petrovic for a handshake. It just so happened that by doing so he also positioned himself between the two of them.

"It's nice to meet you, Petrovic."

Petrovic eyed Ash for a moment and let out a curious hum. It wasn't long before he grinned and shook Ash's hand with enough force that his entire body shook. "Nice to meet ya, boy! That's a cute Pikachu on yer shoulder. Looky here said your name was Red, right? Seems strange to be named after a color, don't ya think?"

Ash flinched back. "I didn't get to pick my name."

Petrovic's grin grew wider. "We never do."

"Enough pestering my partners, Petrovic! Tell us why you're here. This was our mission."

"Really? I wasn't told that, ya old dog." Petrovic gulped his alcohol down and slammed it onto the table. "I was sent here weeks ago to oversee how things are going. What? Ya telling me the boss' didn't tell ya?"

"No, they didn't. If they had I would have demanded a different mission." Looker looked like he wanted to say more but managed to stop himself. Instead, he let out a quiet sigh and pinched the bridge of his nose. "It looks like we'll be working together on this one, Petrovic. Bloody wonderful."

Petrovic let out a bark of laughter and threw his arm around Looker's shoulder. It didn't take a Psychic to know how much Looker hated that. Or that Petrovic knew exactly how it made her boss feel.

"Just like old times, Looky. This is gonna be so much fun."

Looker shrugged off Petrovic's arm and gestured towards the cells with a look of barely contained annoyance. "I assume you already interrogated the Rocket grunts?"

"Hooo boy I did. Let me tell ya, that was not fun." Petrovic shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. "Didn't get a lick o' useful info out of them. I swear it's as though someone put the fear of the gods in 'em. Bastards are more scared of their boss than they are of prison."

"Well, me and Anabel will take a crack at it. Interrogations never were your strong suit. Not when witnesses are around, anyway." Looker whispered that last part so quietly that she almost didn't hear it. A part of her wanted to demand answers to that. This wasn't the time or place though.

For the first time since she'd met the man, Petrovic stopped smiling. "Mind if I stand in on yer interrogation? I promise to keep quiet."

"I do mind, actually." Looker snapped. "You are to stay outside. You can observe with Red, but that's it. Understand?"

Petrovic's eyes narrowed for such a brief moment she almost missed it before he held up his hands and smiled. "Not a problem. I'll watch the master at work. Maybe teach yer boy here a thing or two while I'm at it."


It didn't take long for one of the captured Team Rocket Grunts to be escorted from their cell to the interrogation room that Looker and Anabel were currently stood outside of. It was a tiny, glaringly white room that strained the eyes. Its odd dimensions were purposefully designed to make those inside feel claustrophobic - as though the walls were closing in on them. The small camera on the ceiling, one way glass mirror for the outside world to look in, and a broken AC unit all blended together to make the perfect atmosphere for an interrogation.

According to the arresting officers, the Rocket that they had brought for the interrogation was one involved in a recent sting. Apparently the young man had been involved in smuggling rare Pokemon into Johto. Whether it was for their own agents to use as weapons, to sell to the highest bidders, or to butcher and use for more material purposes didn't matter. What mattered was that such crimes usually guaranteed upwards of a decade in prison. Most likely more in the case of this Rocket if it could be proved he had actively harmed another Human during the acquisition or transport.

"Um... is there a reason you two aren't in there yet?" Looker glanced towards Ash. "He's been in there half an hour and all we've done is watch him."

Looker didn't mind explaining to someone as new to this as Ash. He needed to learn somehow. "Silence and isolation have a way of getting to people, Red. It can make them easier to get information out of. Gives them time to think of ways that they've messed up or how bleak their future could be."

"That's all well and good, Looky, but ya ain't gonna learn anything out here." Petrovic chimed in. "The lovely lass and ya need to get in there."

Looker scowled but didn't say anything. Just being around Petrovic set him on edge. Who knew what the man had done since he'd been here or how he would ruin things going forward? Wherever he went, chaos followed. He wished that he could send the man away before any damage could be done. If this really was originally his mission, though, and command wanted the both of them here then there wasn't much Looker could do. Clearly they believed that all of them working together was the only way to make a real impact.

He just hoped the impact they left was a good one.

"Come on, Anabel." He gestured for her to follow him. "I'll be leading the interrogation, but feel free to jump in if you feel you can help."

"Got it, sir."

The two entered the room and he slowly shut it behind him. The Rocket Grunt was shaking in his seat so bad that the chair was scraping against the floor. He and Anabel paid it no mind, though, and sat down across from him. The Grunt went to speak but paused when Looker held up a hand to stop him. He leaned forward and cupped his hands in front of him, eyes narrowed just enough to give off a convincing glare.

"You know who we are?"

The Grunt audibly gulped. "N-no. Just more police."

"Close. International Police, actually. You may have met one of us before. Purple hair, terrible accent, reeks of alcohol..."

The Grunts eyes widened, and he stilled in his seat. "You know that p-psycho!?"

Looker snorted. "Much to my chagrin, yes. He's right outside actually. He was very eager to come in here for another round with you. I stopped him, though." He quickly added when he saw the boy recoil in fear. "If you answer my questions, I'll see to it you never have to be in the same room as him again."

The Grunts eyes flickered to the one-way mirror. "W-what do you want to know?"

So far so good. Whatever Petrovic did to the Grunt had terrified them, but any reservations he may have had about that would need to be ignored for the moment. He'd take advantage of that fear to get the answers he needed. Hopefully that would be enough. He refused to actually follow through on any threat he made. Not when he knew exactly what his fellow agent was capable of.

"Any safe houses, agents, or operations Team Rocket is conducting in the city would be nice." Anabel drummed her fingers on the table and cocked an eyebrow at the grunt. "Or if you'd prefer, anything about your boss, Proton, would work as well."

The Grunt reared back in shock. "Are you insane? Why would I tell you any of that?"

Anabel scoffed. "Because if you don't, we let our friend come in here for a little chat and the cameras have a mysterious glitch that wipes away minutes of footage." Looker was surprised that Anabel had caught on to his method so quickly, but it was a pleasant surprise to be sure. "You don't want that."

"I also don't want to die." The grunt growled. "Do you have any idea what they'll do to me if I talk? What he will do to me?"

"Proton won't be able to lay a hand on you if you cooperate. I promise." The grunt didn't seem too convinced, but Looker was determined. "If you tell us what we want to know and the information is good, I'll make sure no one finds out you told us. Maybe even take a few years off your sentence."

"I said I'm not telling you anything. Not about Proton!"

Time to switch directions. "Then tell us about something else." Looker asked. "Something for us to go on. Another base you have or maybe an agent you personally don't like. Anything that could be useful to us. Do that and I will guarantee your safety."

The grunt looked interested, even if he tried to hide it. "I do this, and you won't let that friend of yours near me? You'll put me somewhere safe?" He frowned. "Police aren't supposed to lie, so you have to tell me the truth."

Not strictly true... but for their purposes? "I will."

The Grunt was quiet for a few more moments before letting out a low, tired sigh. "I'm no one important. Just a cog in the machine. They don't tell people like me any of the important things. I can't tell you who our people are outside of those that were arrested with me. Team Rocket likes to keep individual groups separate so we can't rat on each other when this happens. Only those part of a certain cell or involved in a given operation know the details. "

Looker narrowed his eyes. "But?"

"But... sometimes you hear things through the grapevine. Rumors about what the higher-ups are doing or where people are being transferred. Sometimes you hear about people being put on strange missions." The Grunt continued. "Missions to look for gardens. Visit libraries. Search for people who have lived here for years."

"Why?"

The Grunt shrugged. "No clue. I haven't been ordered to be part of those missions and I don't want to. Failure usually makes Proton angry." He sighed. "If I had to guess? It's something Proton thinks will impress the big boss, whoever that is."

Anabel frowned. "Why would Proton need to impress anyone? He's already a leader in your organization."

"All I know is that the Admins don't exactly like each other. They're constantly pulling crazy schemes to gain power and impress whoever's at the top." The grunt snorted. "Sounds stupid if you ask me. Why risk all that money and power you already got just to impress someone most people don't even meet?"

Why indeed. "Do you know anything more about this?"

"Not a thing. I was only trusted to move the cargo."

"Then we can't help you." Looker sighed. "This information is useless. Maybe one of your friends will know more. I'm sure they'd be happy to receive the same deal..."

The Grunt shot up in his seat. "W-wait! Hold on, I do know more!" He shouted. "There's an auction happening tomorrow night. Proton had us smuggle in a bunch of high-quality forgeries to sneak into the lineup. Rumor is he'll be attending the auction personally to make sure it goes well!"

Really? Well, wasn't that interesting. Not even here a full day and already they had a new lead to follow alongside an opportunity to arrest Proton. It looked like for once luck was on their side. Now all they had to do was follow through on this and they could score their first major win against Team Rocket.

Looker stood to his feet with Anabel follow soon after. "Thank you. If your information pans out, I'll follow through on my end of the deal."

The Grunts eyes shifted to the mirror. "You'll protect me from Team Rocket? You'll keep your friend away from me?"

Such doubt... he'd be insulted if he didn't understand the fear the boy had. "Team Rocket won't be able to lay a finger on you, I promise. As for my... friend," The word tasted bitter in his mouth, "he won't do anything to you so long as I'm around. I promise."

Now to interrogate the rest of the captive grunts. If they could all verify that this story was true? Well then they'd have to move quickly to be ready for the auction tomorrow night.


Proton despised museums. To most people, they were places of history and learning. A place where they could go to admire the relics of ancient times or art crafted by the hands of masters. They were places where one could learn of ancient Pokemon long since extinct, the exploits of some of greatest men and women to have ever walked the land, even the stories behind the mythical beings that ruled this world.

To Proton, it was pure temptation. Everywhere he turned there were priceless artifacts that would fetch him a hefty payday on the black market. With the right buyer, he could increase his fortunes tenfold selling even one of them and the world would be at his fingertips. Information, influence, power... all things that Team Rocket gave him in spades. It helped dull the desire to steal everything this museum held within it. Other than to potentially stroke his own ego or use as decorations, there was no valid reason for him to steal any of them.

The DMA was the sole exception.

Proton scoffed and narrowed his eyes as he stared up at the very artifact in question. The Defense Mechanism of Alto Mare. One of the most mysterious, advanced pieces of ancient technology in the world. An oxymoron if he had ever heard one. Whoever had built the damn thing must have been a genius ahead of their time. Some of the technology held within it was still considered impossible by their standards. If it could be extracted from this city or its schematics were found for the scientists back at headquarters to decipher, then Team Rocket would have powerful new weapons at their disposal.

Sadly, that was all but impossible. The eggheads had told him that removing the DMA would damage it beyond repair and with it any technology that could be recovered. He'd punished them for their snide tone but kept it in mind. It wouldn't do to present Giovanni with defective hardware. As for the schematics, a thorough search of every library or historical site within this damnable city turned up nothing. They hadn't been able to find an exhibit in this museum either. He never was lucky enough to get the easy jobs.

He was quickly running out of options. He refused to report back a failure on all fronts to Giovanni, but as time went on it seemed like that was becoming the only possibility.

"Excuse me, sir, can I help you?"

Proton was broken from his thoughts and turned to see the source of the voice. It was an old, rotund man with a bushy white beard and a set of tattered blue overalls. He looked like a country bumpkin. Someone he'd have swindled for all they were worth when they came to the big city with wide, naive eyes. He wondered what that type of person was doing here of all places.

Proton let out a long, tired sigh. "Unless you know about the history of this city then I'm afraid not."

The man quirked his eyebrow, mouth quirking up at the edges. "Well as the curator of this fine museum for more four decades, I'd say I know more about this city than anyone else alive."

He blinked. "You're the curator?"

He'd expected someone... younger. Better dressed. A lot more snobbish as well.

The man gave him a wink. "Yep! Name's Lorenzo." Lorenzo jabbed a hand towards Proton, which he reluctantly shook. "What's your name?"

"Proton. My parents had a sadistic sense of humor." Or so he assumed. That was the only reason he could think of to name their child after a subatomic particle. "It's nice to meet you."

"So, what is it you'd like to know, Mr. Proton?" Lorenzo's eyes shifted the DMA looming over them. "Does it have anything to do with the DMA, by any chance?"

"It does, actually."

He snorted in amusement. "I figured. So many people only ever come to this museum to see the darn thing. As though it's the only thing worth looking at."

Well... outside the value to collectors, everything else in this museum was pretty dull. Compared to the excitement of Pokemon fossils or the wonder of ancient technology, a few random paintings or old weapons just didn't capture the same imagination.

"I want to know why it's the only one of its kind." Proton began. "I'm a history buff, you see. I love to see how Humans have advanced and developed new technologies to combat their environments. But when I look at the DMA, it's a complete anomaly. No other civilization had anything like it before or after."

Lorenzo hummed in thought. "I'm afraid I can't answer that. The designers of the DMA were very secretive about it. Understandable given the power it holds. As far as I'm aware, no blueprints or journals detailing its construction exist."

So those ancient builders took their secrets to the grave. Rat bastards. He hoped they were rotting for this!

Proton did his best to suppress a growl. "So, nothing exists then? A shame. I would have paid a fortune just for the chance to look at them." He frowned and furrowed his brows. Hold a moment. Annie and Oakley had said that the machine was damaged during their fight with the Latias and Latios. Yet somehow it looked as good as new. Something didn't add up...

"This thing must need upkeep, though." Proton gestured to it. "A hurricane is more dangerous than predicted. A Pokemon battle gets out of hand. Maybe some stupid tourist gets clumsy and nearly breaks it. You must do something when that happens."

Lorenzo was quiet for a while. Proton let him be knowing that he was likely juggling what to say next. "A few years ago, there was a crisis. I can't go into detail about what happened, but the DMA was severely damaged. I did what I could to repair it, but I can't say I know much more about it than that."

Still more than anyone else if he knew how to repair it. Proton got the feeling there was more that this man wasn't telling him. A part of him wanted to press the man and force him to tell him what he was hiding. Perhaps he knew the exact inner workings of it and didn't want to say. Or maybe he had schematics for the machine hidden away and didn't want to reveal them. A little time under the capable hands of his people and he was confident that he could make the man spill all of his secrets.

But... that would draw attention to the museum. He couldn't afford to have the authorities or any do-gooders deciding to look into this. They were already dealing with an unusually effective police force that had cost them millions in smuggled goods. If they decided to poke their noses into their other business and screw things up?

Proton couldn't begin to imagine the punishment that would fall on his head.

He'd have to find another way to get what he wanted. Something more... subtle. He'd need reason to stay in contact and get closer to the man first. Something that wouldn't look suspicious.

"Thank you for telling me." He let out an exaggerated sigh. "If it's not too much trouble, do you mind if I call on you later? I have business in the city, and I can reward you handsomely."

"Oh? I'm not sure what I could possibly help you with. I'm just the curator of this museum. Occasionally, I build gondolas as well."

He snorted. "There's an auction happening tomorrow night and I'll be attending. There's going to be an abundance of art and artifacts for sale. If I make a purchase, I'd love for you to be an outside authenticator. Make sure I'm not being conned. You never know who could be paying off those auction workers."

He cracked a smug grin. Lorenzo either didn't notice or didn't care. Instead, he hummed in thought and gazed up at the DMA with a question in his eyes.

"I know the auction you're talking about, and I suppose I can be an authenticator if the price is right. I actually know one of the artists involved." Lorenzo grinned when he saw Proton's questioning look. "My granddaughter, Bianca. She's a wonderful artist. Sold a few paintings in the past, but this auction is the first real sign of interest in her work. I couldn't be prouder."

A granddaughter? Interesting... "I'll have to keep an eye out for her work then. If she's got the capability of becoming the next great artist of our time, then I'd be a fool to miss out." He chuckled. "I can't wait to meet her."


"Promise me."

"But-"

Bianca narrowed eyes in frustration. "Promise me. Promise me that you won't do anything dangerous tonight, Latias."

Latias let out a sigh and floated down to rest on her friend's bed. A quick glance out the window of the room showed that it was late. The sun would soon disappear to make way for the moon. Most people and Pokemon would use that time to relax at home before another day of work or spend time with their loved one's before they needed to sleep again. She missed when she could just relax and have fun. Once upon a time, she could spend her nights with Bianca watching old sitcoms on TV or arguing about whether horror movies were better than romance movies - even though the answer was obviously horror. Before the... incident a few years ago, she would even find the time to convince her brother to have fun instead of brooding and training all of the time.

Unfortunately, she didn't have the time to relax as much anymore. As the sole guardian of Alto Mare, it was her responsibility to defend it in times of crisis whether they were natural or caused by Human hands. When she wasn't training her powers, she was patrolling the city for signs that someone needed her help. Ever since Team Rocket had arrived in bulk and paraded around as though they owned the place, there was no shortage of people or Pokemon in need. She didn't doubt that if she were to fly out the window at that moment and head into the city, she could find those foul creatures hurting someone within mere minutes.

It didn't look like she would be able to do that tonight though.

"I don't understand why you need me to stay in tonight." Latias pouted at the thought. "People need my help."

"I know that your job is to protect the city, Latias." Bianca sat down beside her on the bed and brushed her hand gently across Latias' head. She unconsciously leaned into the calming touch of her lifelong companion. "It's not that I want you to stop protecting people or don't want to help you. It's just... tomorrow night is important to me and I want you there with me."

Latias' eyes flickered to Bianca. "I'll have to be invisible. I doubt we can have me pass as your twin tonight."

"You'll still be there though. That's all that matters." Bianca sighed. "This auction is my chance to prove myself to the art world. With grandpa busy with the museum, I'd like to have someone I care about with me."

Well, if she was going to go for the heart... "Alright, alright. I'll be there. So long as you promise to get dessert afterwards."

Bianca grinned. "Cheesecake?"

"Chocolate and Oran berry, if you please." Latias giggled. "If this is really your big break, then you deserve the best. Plus, I should get rewarded too for all the work I've had to do recently."

"Deal! And I promise that after tonight we can go back to fighting Team Rocket." Bianca cracked a grin and pulled her into a tight, warm hug. One that she was eager to return as best she could. "Who knows? Maybe with the money I'll get from the auction tonight, I can get us some help. There's bound to be people with experience who can help us."

"Mercenaries." Latias rolled her eyes. As much as she'd appreciate having more help, hired help wasn't what she wanted. Not when they could just as easily be paid off or leave once the money dried up. There would be no reason for them to stay since they didn't have a personal stake in this fight. "We might as well just toss it into the sea."

Bianca let out a sigh. "Beggars can't be choosers, Latias. The police aren't doing anything to stop them, and neither is the League, so hired help is all we have left. Unless you can think of anyone else? Maybe you have a few more sane Legendaries willing to step in that I don't know?"

Latias scowled and looked away. As much as she hated to admit it, Bianca was right. It seemed like no one else was willing or capable of doing anything to Team Rocket. The police in this city were a joke. They had been years ago when those first Team Rocket agents had infiltrated the city and nearly destroyed it with their greed, and they were even worse now. Bianca said that they were mostly old-timers who should have retired years ago or new recruits only interested in the authority a uniform gave them. None of whom were the type of people to go out of their way against a hardened group of criminals. Latias had been half convinced the night of her first raid against them that the police wouldn't show up at all.

The fact they did had been a pleasant surprise. As much as she appreciated them doing the bare minimum and responding to anonymous tips about illegal smuggling, she knew they couldn't be relied on for much else. After all, Human's considered Alto Mare the scenic paradise where nothing serious ever went wrong. A place for them to forget the worries of their lives and get lost in a world of art, history, and culture. Not a place to worry about criminals operating with impunity right under the noses of the authorities. Never mind that the city was almost destroyed a few years ago. That was just a fluke. Nothing to truly concern themselves with.

Arrogant. Or just plain ignorant. Either way, it was a complete lie.

"Fine... so long as you let me take a peek into their minds before you hire them."

"Latias!"

"If I'm going to trust them to help this city, then I need to know they won't betray it at the first opportunity."

Even if she didn't plan to reveal herself to them, some level of trust was needed. Looking into the unwilling or unsuspecting minds of others was an uncomfortable prospect. It was like wading into an ocean of slime all while tenacles slithered and coiled around every inch of her body, pulling her in every direction. Worse was that the longer she looked and the deeper she dived, the more... wrong she felt. Like she was intruding somewhere she wasn't supposed to be and every fiber of her being was telling her to retreat.

Supposedly the more she did it, the more those feelings would diminish. She wasn't willing to do it unless absolutely necessary though. Not even to practice. The protection of her city was worth the discomfort though.

Bianca narrowed her eyes into a glare, but Latias didn't budge. Eventually she shook her head and looked away. "Fine. Just be careful, Latias." She stood and made her way to her closet, pulling out a trio of vibrantly colored and form-fitting dresses. "Now help me choose. Which one do you think would look best for a formal event? The blue one brings out my eyes, but the green and white one's seem to suit my hair and face better-"

While Bianca rattled off the various pros and cons of her dresses, Latias let her mind drift. She would be there for her friend's big night... but she'd do a quick patrol of the city beforehand. Just so she could be sure there was nothing pressing that demanded her attention. It wasn't like anyone would notice her absence when she was invisible, after all.

She'd be there in time to see her friend's big moment. After all, it wasn't like anything else was going to demand her attention there.


Interrogating the other grunts imprisoned at the police station had been easier and faster than Ash had expected. Looker and Anabel had proven to be a good team at that sort of thing. Looker had the experience to know what to ask while Anabel had her powers to help ferret out correct lines of questioning. Compared to them, he still had a lot to learn. Even Anabel - a rookie in the organization herself - was leagues ahead of him. He'd have to do his best to make up for that difference in skill and experience with pure grit.

If this was to be his new life for the foreseeable future, he'd be the best agent that he could be. Even if he technically wasn't an agent since he was a criminal...

All of the grunts that had been arrested told them the same story: They didn't know much about the other cells in the city and an auction being held to con the rich out of millions. There had also been more talk about the rumors the first one had mentioned. Rumors about searches for gardens, libraries about the history of the city, and long-time residents of the city. To everyone else they were meaningless. To him?

It set him on edge. He'd had his suspicions when he first arrived, but now it was all but confirmed they were looking for Latias and the Soul Dew. He wanted to tell Looker what their goal was. If anyone could stop them, it would be him. But... he had made a promise to keep Latias and the Soul Dew's involvement a secret. With Looker and Anabel planning to capture Proton tonight, there was no reason to tell them yet. Not when it could soon become a moot point.

It was late. A full day had passed since the interrogations. Currently they were sat inside of a vacant house not far away from the mansion being used to host the auction. The mansion in question was in one of the richer parts of the city and looked like something out of a fantasy movie. Stone pillars of white marble, gargoyles perched atop the roof and gazes with intimidating glares on their stone faces, there were even private canals that lead into the back of the house. He could even see impeccably dressed staff all greeting the guests as they arrived to show them in. Whoever was hosting this must have been from a very old, very rich family. The guests themselves were all wearing the type of eccentric, eye catching clothes that only those with more money than he had ever seen could.

"Well don't the two of ya look mighty fine."

Now Ash may not have been a genius at understanding people, but he didn't have to be for him to see that Petrovic's compliments were neither genuine nor appreciated by Looker and Anabel. While their clothes weren't of the same quality as the other guests, they were still good. Looker was wearing a black suit and a fedora... and oddly enough a monocle. Anabel on the other hand had chosen to wear just a simple purple dress with no accessories or anything else potentially eye catching. It suited her well. Hopefully they wouldn't stand out too much.

"Zip it, Petrovic." A small snicker escaped past Petrovic's lips, but nothing more. With him thoroughly silenced, Looker turned his attention to Ash. He did his best not to flinch under his gaze. "Will you be alright while we head inside?"

He nodded. "I will. I'm just supposed to sit here and watch, right? I'm not taking part in the arrest?"

"Right. Your job is to help with surveillance. You'll be listening in and watching to give advice or let us know if something drastic changes."

"Sounds fun."

Petrovic and the police that had gone with them let out a collective bark of laughter. Even Looker and Anabel exchanged an amused glance between each other.

"You... may want to temper your expectations, Red." Anabel advised.

Petrovic slapped him on the back. Ash stumbled forward, sending Pikachu tumbling from his shoulder to the ground. The two of them grumbled in annoyance, but aside from a few tiny sparks flying from his partners cheek he didn't say anything.

"Listen kid, yer about to learn about the most boring part of the job. Surveillance is without a doubt the most soul-rending thing ya could ever do."

Anabel blinked and tilted her head to the side. "What about paperwork?"

Petrovic frowned. "Ya mean ya actually do that stuff? I just push it into a shredder and pretend I do it."

Looker let out a long, tired sigh. "Why am I not surprised?" He pinched the bridge of his nose. "Red, if there is only one thing you learn from our mission here in Alto Mare, let it be this: Do not turn out like Petrovic. I will be severely disappointed."

"Yes, yes, ya don't like me. The lad gets it." Petrovic rolled his eyes. "Get going you two. Auction'll start soon and ya need to be in there if ya want this to work."

Looker nodded and hooked his arm with Anabel's. "Right, we'll be off then. Remember: watch and warn us if anything happens."

The two left the house and made their way towards the mansion. He watched their advance towards the auction but wasn't truly paying attention. Something was nagging at the back of his mind. He glanced towards Petrovic but didn't say a word. Instead, he stroked Pikachu's head and kept his eyes glued to the surveillance screen in front of him.

Sadly, Petrovic seemed to notice how his eyes would shift toward him every so often. "Something on yer mind, kid?"

He hesitated for a moment. "You and Looker... did something happen between you two?"

Petrovic snorted in amusement and leaned back in his chair, resting his feet on the table. "You could say that. He and I have a different way of doing things."

"Like?"

"Looky thinks subtlety and restraint are the way to beat our enemies. He believes throwing on a disguise and arresting these criminals so they can stand trial will work." He shrugged. "I believe ya need to go at them hard and fast. Destroy the enemy bit by bit and salt the earth so they won't harm anyone again."

Ash felt Pikachu tense up and sparks dance off of his cheeks. He scratched him behind the ears to calm him down. "Doesn't that make you no better than them? Shouldn't they stand trial for what they've done."

"Maybe in an ideal world. This ain't an ideal world though, Red." Petrovic glared at the screens that showed Looker and Anabel entering the grounds of the auction. "Our enemies kill and maim without a second thought. They live in the shadows and have the power to send the world into anarchy... but don't. We won't have a chance at beating them by following the rules."

Ash looked away. On some level, he could understand what Petrovic was saying. How could they beat an enemy like Team Rocket by following the rules? When the International Police had their hands tied and Team Rocket could do whatever it needed to succeed? After all, they couldn't stop Team Rocket when they were smaller and weaker by following the rules. How could they possibly hope to do so now that they were a giant lurking in the darkness? The answer seemed obvious: stop following the rules and fight on an even playing field.

And yet... a part of him was repulsed by the idea. Hurting others disgusted him, even if they were criminals. Stooping to the same level as Team Rocket and not following the system they were supposed to uphold would make them criminals that carried badges. Hypocrites. People to be reviled, not admired. If he did that then he would never deserve to have his name cleared, even if he was truly innocent of his crime.

"I don't expect ya to understand, lad." Petrovic sighed. "Yer one of Looky's people. An idealist if I had to guess. Only thing that'll get through to ya is reality when it kicks ya in the balls."

"I'm just trying to do what's right and stop Team Rocket."

"I'll bet." Petrovic shook his head in dismissal. "My turn to ask a question. How'd someone like ya end up with Looky, Red? Ya ain't even a trained rookie, let alone an experienced agent."

He tensed up and felt Pikachu do the same. How was he supposed to answer this? His alias had a background that he'd been forced to memorize, but would that work on Petrovic? The man was an experienced agent. What were the chances that he'd believe a lie from someone with no real experience? Not high if he had to guess.

"We've got movement! Something's happening at the auction."

Mercifully, one of the officers that had gone with them drew everyone's attention to the monitors. He was thankful for the distraction... right up until he was what was happening.

Team Rocket was there. Not in disguise as clients or members of the auction staff. No, they were brazenly stalking towards the mansion in their uniforms with their Pokemon released by their sides - an array of terrifying Pokemon that all looked ready to maim the first thing that moved in front of them. Most of those taking part in the auction had already gone inside by now, leaving only a skeleton security force outside to protect the place. For a moment, Ash dared to hope Team Rocket would see the security and walk away.

That hope was dashed when they Golbat's flew into the nearly pitch-black sky of the night to avoid detection before swopping down simultaneously and latching onto their unsuspecting victims. He flinched and looked away from the grisly sight. Even with no audio and the grainy footage of a surveillance camera, what little he could see was gruesome. His imagination made up for the rest. He could only imagine of pain of a Poison types fangs injecting its venom into your veins or your jugular being torn open and left to drown in your own blood.

They had to warn Looker and Anabel. Something had gone horribly wrong.

"Looker, Anabel, can you hear me?" He shouted into the mic. No response. Only static. He tried again and was met with the same failure.

His stomach dropped.

"Someone's jamming all transmissions." One of the officers growled.

What? Did they know that they were here watching? Or was it just do make sure those inside the auction couldn't call out? He supposed it didn't matter since regardless of the reason, the danger was the same.

"Looks like reality wanted that kick to be extra painful." Petrovic chuckled. "She always was a cruel mistress."

Ash surged to his feet. "We have to stop them!"

Petrovic cocked an eyebrow and crossed his arms. "With what? These clowns who can't tell the pointy end of a blade from the pommel?" He silenced their protests with a glare. "We gotta wait, kid. Once there's an opening, ya and I will move in to help. Until then, ya sit here, and I'll send some of these mooks to get back-up. We can always use more meat shields, after all..."

Ash almost didn't hear that last bit. He clenched his fists. He understood there wasn't much he could do. They were outnumbered and Team Rocket would soon have hostages. If he ran in now, he'd just put himself and everyone else in danger. He wouldn't just abandon them all though. Not Looker and Anabel who had believed in him when no one else would. Not the innocent people in that auction house.

He had to do something.

He felt a paw poke his cheek and looked to his partner perched on his shoulder. Pikachu's eyes were filled with determination, and he gave a firm nod of his head. He didn't want to leave everyone to Team Rocket's mercy any more than Ash did. He felt a bitter smile cross his face.

"Alright then..."

He waited until Petrovic had turned his back to bark orders at the officers they had brought with them. Once Petrovic did, Ash took off sprinting - bursting out of the house and making his way towards the mansion. He ignored the shouts of Petrovic and the others ordering him back.

It was time to make himself useful and show Team Rocket they couldn't get away with this.
 
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K_S

Pokémon Trainer
A review for chapter 6. Also to be added to the review blitz.. yeah I know it's not new but my time's so limited I'm prioritizing fics that I need to do rather than play up the score system to get prizes.

Word count.
1286
(I had to put this fic in pieces since I interspaced quotes from the original in tutorial sections so this count may not be 100 percent accurate)

Line by line review/reaction



I’m not quite believing about Ash’s disguise despite Lookers assurances to the contrary. Almost wondering if Ash irritated someone in his earliest trainee period between the clash and discomfort of his apparel…

I was seriously flashing to Pietro on my animal crossing file as Ash was grousing….

And the name… I’m feeling it’s a jab at the manga.

Yeah, Ash really isn’t getting it though and that line about getting into a real fight shows it. You usually don’t perform better out of training than in it. Training’s to show your weakness and learn in a safe environ. Granted as a ‘mon trainer you think he’d of gotten the gist of that already but it is a different field so it makes sense.

I wonder though if Looker and Anabel know his thought professes up to this point though because his throats are setting him up to loose cannon at any point…

You’d think they might of anticipated it but considering how closemouthed Ash’s been about his adventures… maybe not.

“part of him” I’m guessing more like 90 percent of him.

Looker definitely gives off dad vibes with his very very bad jokes/analogies….

I noticed some errors in the fic I thought I’d go over a few and picked a section with some samples so you can see what I’m talking about….

Original story quote :

“Not yet, anyway. Maybe he'd be able to ask some of the officers at the station for some pointers after the interrogation. For the one's that had captured Team Rocket agents, they must have known what they were doing!”


Suggested fixes:

Not yet, anyway.

(I’m suggesting paragraph break here because the “not yet” is a decisive turning point/closing for the previous idea of him going to participate in the interrogation. And while not a hard and fast rule you can break the chunkiness of the paragraph up by making a break here, there’s many areas in your fic that this trick can be used.)



Maybe he'd be able to ask the officers at the station for some pointers after the interrogation.

There’s a lot of somes in this one line. The easiest route to fix this would be to drop one of the “some”s. . It’d recommend the first one before officers since you revisit which officers/the ones involved with the takedown.

Maybe from the one's that had captured the Team Rocket agents, they must have known what they were doing!”

I’m guessing autocorrect reared its head and changed from to for…. Either way… for and from are rather weak openings to this line, a lead-in like “maybe from” would work to smooth some of the jaggedness of that opening.

Also, this sentence has two ideas in it at the same time. You can par this down to one idea per sentence and make it shorter and more concise.

Line one could be Ash’s enthusiasm for getting pointers.

Line two could be the assumption of competence.

Maybe from the one's that had captured the Team Rocket agents. Those officers must have known what they were doing!”

Both lines had a lot of “theys” in them, I cleared one of them up swapping it with “Those officers”to break up the overuse of they in that section.



Here’s how it looks put together.


“Not yet, anyway.

Maybe he'd be able to ask the officers at the station for some pointers after the interrogation. Maybe from the one's that had captured the Team Rocket agents. They must have known what they were doing!”

While the two maybes back to back aren’t great the repetitiveness does kinda showcase Ash’s youth and enthusiasm.



Neither Ash of Anabel really absorbed Lookers warnings about assumptions, their broken expectations and the minor disappointments in their lives seemed to be linked to it.

Original text:


“Ash frowned and tugged at his green hair. Unlike during their travels here, Ash had changed into a simple brown trench coat with darkly colored clothes and a brown flat cap. Sadly for him - and much to her own amusement - he was forced to keep his hair green. "Should we leave and come back later?"”

Alright, I picked this section because it has an example of excessive details that have popped up in other sections of this fic. I wanted to point out a few so it might help with any parring in later chapters if you decide you want to go that way later on.

“Ash frowned and tugged at his green hair. (alright this opening line is alright it establishes what he’s doing at that moment of the scene)

Unlike during their travels here, Ash had changed into a simple brown trench coat with darkly colored clothes and a brown flat cap.

(The “unlike during their travels here” could easily be dropped. Also, I’m seeing a lot of “ly” descriptors in your work, not a ton, but enough to catch my attention. While it’s not the worst trait it does add a lair of passivity and excess to sections. The easiest fix drop the “ly”.

Now about that cap…. Since it’s on his head and Anabel’s already tweaking Ash about his hair in her head… wouldn’t it be more natural for Ash to reach around the hat to tug on his green hair? It’d be in the way, if nothing else.. and tie Ash’s actions to his wardrobe, leading into the description of the coat. So I’d suggest jumping the descriptor of the cap up a line…


Like this.

Ash frowned and tugged at his green hair. Reaching around the brown flat cap plastered to his head to do so. He’d changed into a simple brown trench coat and dark colored clothes at the hotel.


The next section…

Sadly for him - and much to her own amusement - he was forced to keep his hair green. "Should we leave and come back later?"”

Alright, my first reaction is why? Did it not wash out, was there not enough time for him to shave it off.? No other colors could be put on top of it? Did they accidentally put permanent dye in?

Anyways if you were willing to answer that you could add a bit of humor beyond Anabel’s stated humor to this section. I’d be a nice example of show don’t tell…

The image of Looker and Anabel trying to scrub the goop out and it getting worse, or staining their own clothes and them deciding they didn’t want to join Ash in greendom could be one way to spin it.

If you don’t want to build it up, you could thin it down.

He’s already groused about it, he’s wearing a cap over it… it’s screamingly obvious Ash does not like it and would continue not to like it… so you can easily drop the “sadly for him” and just start with her amusement.

Also since we’re focusing on Ash’s wardrobe woes through another’s eyes I think the dialog should be split off from the description text, it’s about something else after all and going to shift the focus off of the cast and onto the world about them.

Here’s how it’d look put together without any adding on.

Ash frowned and tugged at his green hair. Reaching around the brown flat cap plastered to his head to do so. He’d changed into a simple brown trench coat and dark colored clothes at the hotel. Much to her own amusement - Ash was forced to keep his hair green.

"Should we leave and come back later?"”



After Pet’s comments, I’m thinking the name was a jab at the Manga/original games. Amusing how Ash is showing subtle and Anabel’s being overt. Considering the Rocket Boss had a Legend or two in his back pocket (Mewtwo possibly, or even the notes to make another one worse/best vase scenario perhaps) and is looking for means to make/control more of them, it’s more than fair the minions are more scared of him than any prison or higher power. After all, Gio can possibly sic an overpowered psychic humanoid kitty at them, police protection and all those good incentives mean very little compared to that your Boss might have Armageddon in his back pocket.

Or the means to making another one.

I like the description of the interrogation room, the use of its psychology and actual physicality was melded together well.

Coughs… Proton they’re centuries dead they are done rotting by now I’m sure…

I’m enjoying Laitis and Bianca’s back and forth. No, you can not bat’mon today I need support and affection from my favorite Legendary tonight… and in that paraphrase, humanity becomes a Legends’ cat companion...



Yeah, I expect Ash’s head will be hitting a concrete wall of reality at this point. But I’m surprised the attack actually got off at all considering the invisible guest inside. I’m sure you’ll elaborate on what’s going on in due time and we’ll see if the idealist ‘mon on the inside and the duo on the outside get anywhere or not… with this reasonably competent Team it’s up in the air as to where it’ll go and that’s something I like in your fic this far.

Thanks as always for updating this story,

Till next time K_S.
 
Chapter 7

TheCouchEffect

Bug Catcher
Pronouns
He/His
Chapter 7: Breaking And Entering

It was official: Anabel despised auctions.

There was just something about them that tested her patience. Those that attended them were all among the most stuck up, dull people that she'd ever had the misfortune to meet. Anyone who decided to spend thousands, hundreds of thousands, or potentially even millions on useless baubles and paintings was someone that didn't deserve that money. The worst part was that they always felt that they were the center of the universe and therefore deserved to be lavished with attention from everyone around them. It was sickening.

Then there was the pointless small talk and boasting about how they would easily be able to buy what they wished. Or the endless talks about business ventures and pointless gossip about their rivals. Some were even bold enough to talk about criminal activity in the open! As though they were untouchable! If she didn't have something more important to do, she'd have liked to prove them wrong just so she could see the looks on their faces as they were dragged out of here like a common criminal.

Back when she had still been a Frontier Brain, she'd been invited to events like this all the time. Auctions, parties, balls; anything that the rich and powerful could use to show off how much better they were than their peers. Some had been held for good causes and she didn't mind attending those, but the rest? She burned all the invitations and pretended she never received them. Of course, that didn't help with the one's that she actually did attend. With everyone clamoring to convince her to let them become her sponsor or join them in a 'business' venture, they quickly became annoying within moments of arriving.

Mercifully, she hadn't needed to deal with any of that since stepping down from her position as Frontier Brain to begin her training with the International Police. The universe must have had a sadistic sense of humor though, because how else would she find herself back at another auction?

At least here she had an alias so that no one knew who she was.

Looker nudged her in her side. She sent him her most withering glare. The bastard had the audacity to laugh!

"Don't look so miserable. It's not every day we get to mingle with the rich and famous." Looker snatched a tiny appetizer off the tray of a waiter and popped it into his mouth. "You might as well enjoy the luxuries before things get serious."

Anabel rolled her eyes. "I can't. My time as a Frontier Brain ruined any chance that I could ever enjoy this stuff." She let out a sigh. "You really shouldn't fill up on snacks though. Knowing our luck, something is going to catch on fire or Proton will find out we're here and run. Then this whole thing will be pointless."

Looker flickered her nose. She narrowed her eyes and jabbed him in the gut in retaliation. Amusement rolled off of him in waves.

"Don't focus so much on what-if's." He advised. "We've prepared as best we can. If we fail, then we'll learn from our mistakes and try again. Worrying about what can go wrong all but guarantees that something will. You need to focus on what's in front of you."

Anabel sighed. He was right. He could be a bit strange at times, but Looker knew what he was talking about. "I'll... try."

He smiled. "Good. Because Proton is alone at the moment and the closer that you are to him, the smoother this will go."

She nodded and shifted her eyes to their target. Among the more powerful members of Team Rocket, Proton was known for two things: his cruelty and his love for the finer things in life. It was why she wasn't surprised to see that he had chosen to arrive in a blindingly white suit accompanied with stark white gloves and fedora. Even among the array of colors that everyone had chosen to dress in, white stood out the most. Given his flair for the dramatic, she wasn't surprised to see him doing his damnedest to draw attention to himself.

She began her approach, adding a subtle sway to her hips and plastering a warm smile on her face. Their eyes met from across the room, and she could see the interest in them. The plan was simple: get close to him. Play to his ego and make him believe that she was interested. Then after the auction once they were alone - with no innocent bystanders around that could be put in danger - they would spring the trap. And if anything went wrong along the way, Looker would be close by to respond with Ash and the others not far behind.

It was as good a plan as any considering they'd had barely any time to prepare.

Sadly, as was the norm for them nowadays, something went wrong.

It all seemed so normal at first. The guests were busy chatting about pointless gossip, the waiters were putting on fake smiles for everyone, and the security was sitting around completely bored out of their minds. Then the doors to the auction were thrown open. Before anyone could properly react, over a dozen Golbat flew through the doors and made a beeline straight for the security. The shock at the entrance must have been too much or maybe they just weren't used to actually needing to do anything. Whatever the case, none of them stood a chance of fighting back as the Golbat latched onto the necks of security and tore them apart in a spray of ruby red blood.

They were followed closely by a horde of Raticate and over a dozen members of Team Rocket members. They proudly wore their uniforms and strode in with all the exaggerated swagger of people who knew they were in absolute control of the situation.

One of the guests close by to the door - an older man in his fifties by the looks of it - must have thought that he could do something about that. He surged towards them with a snarl on his face. "What is the meaning of this you criminal-"

He never got the chance to finish his demand. One of the Rocket's took a single look at the man, scoffed, and slammed their fist into the man's face. He went down like a sack of bricks. The grunt then hopped up onto one of the tables and spread his arms wide, a maniacal gleam in his eyes.

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen!" He began. "Tonight's performance is brought to you by random acts of violence!"

On his que, chaos erupted in the room. The Golbat which had previously been busy ripping into the security for the auction flew into the air and began harassing the guests, yanking them into the air and roughly dropping them to the ground. The Raticate which had swarmed the room began to let off their own attacks, tearing into the walls and lightly nipping at the limbs of those who had fallen from the grasp of the Golbat's. The Rocket grunts themselves began to flip tables and toss the guests around who had been spared the ire of their Pokemon.

Her hand drifted to wear her Poke balls should have been. When it grasped nothing but air, though, she swore under her breath and moved out of the way of a pair of Raticate's chasing a man. The auction had made no Pokemon a requirement. A way to show that it would be fair and ensure no one could use them to steal the objects for sale. A decision that left them all helpless before Team Rocket.

The grunt hopped down off the table and let out a laugh. "Man, I love show business!" He cheered. "Okay boys and girls, let's have some fun!"

One of the people trapped in the room - the authenticator for the auction known as Mr. Caffrye - managed to find the courage to speak up. "W-what is it you people want!?" He shouted. "Why are you killing people? This was meant to be a simple auction!"

She couldn't agree more. Team Rocket was supposed to be using this auction to sell their forgeries. Killing and terrifying the clients wasn't going to earn them anything but the ire of the public and more attention on their actions. It made no sense! They must have missed something in their preparations, or something had happened to make Team Rocket change their plans.

The grunt wagged his finger at the man. "Settle down there, big boy. No need to get yourself worked up. Kindly hand over your Pokegear and any other communication devices while I explain." He chuckled. "We are just here to do a little shopping. Pick up some of those tiny cakes you horde, maybe a bottle of wine or two. Ah, and we can't forget a couple of those little bits of art you've got. They'll look great in my living room!"

Anabel's eyes drifted to Looker's. Through their mental link, she could feel the same questions on her mind plaguing him.

"Looker-"

"I know, Anabel."
He growled into her mind. Across the room, he was busy patching up the wound one of the younger guests had taken. "Can you contact those on the outside?"

She frowned. "Not without a link and not from this far away. What about the comms? They were supposed to warn us about stuff like this!"

"Jammed. I tried to reach them the moment this started. Team Rocket must have known that the police were here and come prepared."


She swore under her breath. That shouldn't have been possible. The only ones that knew were them and the police. She'd felt the emotions of each member of the local police that they'd brought along with them and not a single one felt anything that would have even remotely indicated they were in Team Rocket's pocket. They'd even gone a step further and watched the local police aiding them to make sure they didn't pass along a message.

So how could they have known? Who could have told them?

"It is possible this isn't actually Team Rocket and just a local gang impersonating them." Even through the mental link, she could feel his disbelief. "Though given their level of preparation and confidence, I doubt that."

Anabel turned her attention to Proton. Even though he looked every bit the fearful guest just like everyone else, underneath she could tell that he was anything but. The emotions rolling off of him were nothing except for smug superiority and arrogance. He wasn't concerned whatsoever.

"It's the real Team Rocket." She narrowed her eyes. "What do we do, sir?"

"It's simple. With no weapons, no Pokemon, and a room full of hostages? We wait for an opening to get these people out of here and call for help."

"What about the others? They must know what's going on."

"Probably."
She could feel the concern coming from her leader. "If Petrovic knows what he's doing, he's waiting for reinforcements before he comes charging in. I may hate the man, but he's not stupid. Not completely."

"If he charges in here before we can get these people out, they're going to get caught in the crossfire."

"He won't care. Which is why we need to get them out before it comes to that."


Wonderful. So, on top of needing to somehow sneak an entire ballroom full of people - some of them injured and all of them terrified out of their minds - out to safety, they had to do it before Petrovic came bursting in like an action hero and got them all killed. Why could nothing ever be simple?

At least Ash wasn't in danger or doing anything stupid. She dreaded to imagine what he would have done if he were here.

Ash had been called many things in his life. He'd been called a weakling because of how he'd treated his Pokemon with kindness. He'd been considered stupid because of how often he went into things without much of a plan. He'd been called reckless more than once. Then there was everything that Gary had called him back when they'd let their rivalry get the better of them as kids. Maybe all of those were things that he deserved to be called. One thing that he had never been called before was a coward. No matter how terrifying the situation got, he never flinched. He never hesitated to meet the danger head-on.

For the first time in his life, Ash considered running. It was hard not to when he got closer to the mansion hosting the auction and was met with a sickening silence that did nothing to hide what he knew was happening inside. Team Rocket hadn't even done anything to hide the bodies of the security guards they'd killed. Those people had been left where they died. He did his best not to look at them for too long. As it was, the sickening smell of blood and venom was enough to make him want to throw up. He'd lose it if he had to actually see what state they'd been left in.

He carefully stepped around their bodies and avoided the pools of blood that leaked from them.

"I won't let them get away with this."

It was the best that he could give them. None of them had survived the initial attack. Even if they had, Ash didn't know the first thing about first aid beyond simple bruises or broken bones. What happened to these men would have required a hospital if they'd survived. The pain would have been unbearable. And here he was marching into a situation where the same things could be done to him.

Any sane man would have stayed far away. Any competent agent would have listened to Petrovic and waited for reinforcements. He couldn't though. Looker and Anabel were trapped in there without any weapons or Pokemon to defend themselves with. The guests of the auction were even more defenseless than them! At least those two had the training of the International Police. None of the others were so lucky. They needed help. Or at least a distraction so that Looker and Anabel could do what they did best and save people.

He took a breath. "Calm down. You've faced down Legends. This is nothing compared to that."

His pep talk didn't help nearly as much as he'd hoped it would. It was too late to back out now though. He was already close to the mansion. To leave now would just endanger everyone. He pressed himself up against the wall and hid in the shadows as best he could. He hadn't seen any of Team Rocket left behind to guard the entrance or act as lookouts, but he wasn't about to risk it by walking through the front doors. Knowing his luck, he'd stumble right into the middle of them and get torn apart. He needed to find another way inside.

That would be harder than it looked. It wasn't like he could climb the wall and find a way inside from the roof. Not when it was as flat as a board and the mansion towered over the few trees nearby. Breaking a window was out of the question. That would create too much noise and the Rocket grunts would fall on him like a tidal wave. He supposed he could check around the back of the building and see if there was another way inside-

He felt a tiny paw tug on his pants and glanced down towards his partner. Pikachu was pointing up towards the wall and tapping his foot impatiently. Ash followed where he pointed and felt a surge of disappointment. His partner had found an air vent. A small air vent. He'd never fit in there. He was too big and too heavy. He'd either get stuck trying or break it the moment he tried. Not to mention the noise that he'd make! It'd take someone a lot smaller and lighter than him... to...

He realized what Pikachu wanted to do. He narrowed his eyes and crouched down to his level. "Are you sure about this Pikachu?" He whispered. "You'd be in there on your own. I wouldn't be able to help you."

Pikachu nodded and placed his paw on Ash's hand. Ash could tell Pikachu was just as determined to help as he was. He just hoped that his partner was also as afraid as he was. He didn't want his oldest friend to go rushing into danger and getting himself killed. They needed to play this smart. They needed to act like the agents Looker and Anabel were training him to be.

He really wished they'd given him more training before taking him out.

Ash let out a sigh and gave his partner an encouraging thumbs up. "Okay, if this is what you want to do then I'm with you, buddy." He frowned. "I'll try to sneak around back. This place is huge, so there's got to be another entrance I can use."

He grabbed Pikachu by the sides and held him up to the vent. Pikachu didn't need any prompting for what came next. His tail glowed an almost blinding white before turning into a sharp, reflective silver. Slowly, Pikachu forced his tail under the latch and began to twist. Ash flinched at the sudden noise it made and glanced back towards the door. Nothing. No sign that anyone inside had heard.

He gave Pikachu a small glare. He needed to be more careful, or he'd bring them all down on top of them! Ash could almost feel the way that Pikachu rolled his eyes at him. It was too late to do anything about it now though. At least the vent was open enough for his partner to squeeze inside.

"Find Looker and Anabel." He told his partner as he squirmed his way inside. "They'll know what to do. Try not to draw attention to yourself, okay? I can't lose you."

"Pi."

His partner was gone not long after. Ash would need to follow his lead. If his partner was willing to risk his life walking into danger, then he couldn't do any less! He'd find a way inside. As for what came after?

He'd do what he did best: adapt and hope for the best.

Looker was beginning to think he'd offended a Legendary in a past life of his. He couldn't think of any other reason why his missions always went wrong somehow.

He tore the sleeve off of his suit jacket and tied it around the leg of an elderly woman. She'd been one of the unlucky one's to be attacked by Team Rocket's Raticate's. Nothing life-threatening though so long as the bleeding was stopped. Plenty of scratches and bite wounds, but they hadn't caused any permanent damage. The only casualties so far had been the security force - the only one's who'd possessed Pokemon of their own. Pokemon that were still stuck inside their Poke balls and had been hidden away from them all. There was no chance they'd be able to fight their way out.

"How are you feeling?" He and the elderly woman were away from the larger congregations of people. After Team Rocket had stormed the building and secured everyone in the dining room as hostages, they'd moved through the house to capture any staff hidden away to bring back here. There was no privacy since everyone was forced to stay within sight of the Rocket grunts, but it was the best he could offer the poor woman. The only one he'd allowed to remain nearby had been the little boy who had been attached to her side when he found them.

"Like my leg is a chew toy." She groaned. "I'll be fine, young man. You should be more focused on helping everyone else. Your effort is wasted on me."

"That's not true, gram!"

Looker glanced up at the source of the voice. A boy who couldn't be more than 12 years old. He should have been out on a Pokemon journey seeing all the wonders that the world had to offer and making new friends. Instead, he was stuck in here with the rest of them. He did his best to offer the boy a reassuring smile.

"It's alright. Your grandma will be fine. We'll all be fine once these people get what they want."

The elder smiled up at her grandson. "Don't listen to me. I'm just bitter is all. Why don't you give me and the good doctor some privacy?"

The boy frowned and crossed his arms. "Why? I need to protect you!"

"I need to thank him. Now listen to your grandma and go. See if anyone else would like their wounds wrapped up."

It was clear that the child didn't want to listen but knew better than to argue. Looker watched him go and let out a tired sigh. "Just so you know, I'm not a doctor."

"Just so you know, I don't care." She countered. "Whatever you are, I appreciate you trying to help. But I have to ask... do you really believe these ruffians will just let us go once they get what they want? Or was that just a lie to calm the boy down?"

Truthfully? Looker didn't know. Team Rocket wasn't usually this bold. For all the power they held, they preferred to work in the shadows. There were only two situations Looker knew of that would provoke them to not just move in the open but make it a spectacle for the world to see. The first was what the International Police had dubbed the Smokescreen Division. A unit whose sole purpose was to convince the world that Team Rocket wasn't a real threat. Bumbling idiots and petty thieves. It was a surprisingly effective strategy. As far as the public was concerned, they were a joke. If children could defeat their operatives, then how dangerous could they be?

The only other situation that would provoke them like this was when a Legendary Pokemon was involved. Every time Team Rocket found one, they threw everything they had at them and didn't care who got hurt in the process. Tens of millions of dollars, entire cells of grunts, and the kind of technology that the International Police would have killed to acquire. He dreaded to imagine what would happen if they ever succeeded and managed to bend one to their will. He couldn't see how an auction of all things was connected to a Legendary. Not when it would make any enemy of so many of the rich and powerful.

He didn't know which was worse: the idea that there was a Legendary involved and they hadn't known or that there was something just as valuable here that Team Rocket wanted?

He couldn't tell her that. He needed to put on a brave face and keep these people calm. "If they wanted us dead, they could have done that when they stormed in. So long as we don't cause any trouble, we should be fine."

At least until Petrovic came blasting in.

"Looker, I... think there's something you need to see."

He cleared his throat. "Excuse me, ma'am. I need to go check on a friend of mine."

He found Anabel sitting down at a table in the corner of the room. A Rocket Grunt was nearby but didn't seem to be paying her much attention. Even when he came close, the man didn't seem too concerned about paying attention to them like he was supposed to. A small mercy, but they'd need to be careful.

He took a seat across from her and gave her a smile. "Hello ma'am. How are you holding up?"

"What is it you needed to show me? How bad is it?"

Anabel let out a sigh and leaned across the table. "I'm being held hostage so... I could be better."

"Look at the vent above us. Try to be subtle about it."

Looker was almost offended. He was the senior agent and yet he was being told to be subtle by a rookie agent? The only thing more galling would have been if Ash had been the one to say it. With that horrifying thought now in his head, he grasped one of the glasses on the table and brought it to his lips. He tilted his head back in an exaggerated manner to look up towards the vent.

He choked on his drink and slammed the glass down on his table. This couldn't be happening! Not on top of everything else! His eyes had to be playing to tricks on him. He glanced up towards the vent one more time.

Nope. His eyes were fine.

Anabel offered him a sympathetic smile. "Careful. A man your age shouldn't drink so much."

"I know. That's how I feel too."

Looker's eye twitched. "I'm not that old."

"Why is there a Pikachu in the vents? No, scratch that. Why is Ash's Pikachu in the vents!"

Anabel drummed her fingers on the table. "Says the man with wrinkles and gray in his hair."

"According to Pikachu, he and Ash decided to try infiltrating the mansion when they saw what was happening."

Of all the horrible ideas he'd heard in the past few weeks, this had to be the worst. "I like to think I'm refined, not old."

"Did he come with Petrovic?"

Anabel tilted her head to the side and frowned. "Do you always lie to yourself to feel better?"

"No... is that better or worse?"

It was hard to say. On the one hand, if Petrovic was here that meant Ash would be safe but then Looker would have to put up with the smug bastard gloating about having to rescue him. On the other hand, if Ash came alone then that meant he was in way over his head and Petrovic had done nothing to stop him.

"Do you always insult people trying to check on you?"

"Please tell me they're not going to burst in here like an action hero. Please give me some good news!"

Anabel grimaced. "I'm sorry. That was rude of me."

"... Pikachu doesn't know."

Looker was at a loss for words.

"Explain. Now."

Anabel looked away in shame. The Team Rocket Grunt had moved away from the table and towards the rest of the Grunts on the other side of the room. All of those that had been ordered to watch the hostages seemed to be doing the same thing.

"He and Ash split up. Apparently while Ash tries to find another way inside, he told Pikachu to find us. He wants to know what our plan is."

Looker let out a sigh and leaned back in his chair.

"The plan hasn't changed. We need to get these civilians out of the way before Petrovic attacks. Tell Pikachu to wait for our signal before he does anything."

As powerful as Pikachu may have been, he was still outnumbered and too inexperienced in life-or-death battles. If they weren't careful, their only way of fighting back would be overwhelmed and torn apart. If they were lucky, they could time it just right to get these people out at the same time Petrovic made his move.

Anabel was silent for a moment. "What about Ash? He can't understand Pikachu and I don't have a link with him."

Looker frowned and stood up from his chair. "That's the tricky part. We're going to have to trust that he's been trained enough to not do anything stupid."

She looked as confident hearing that as he felt having to say it. Or think it, as the case may be. At least they were on the same page.

He caught movement out of the corner of his eyes. The Golbat's that Team Rocket had brought with them were all spreading out and hovering around the room. He didn't have to wait long to find out why. A loud, shrill screech began to fill the room. He covered his ears and doubled over in pain. He wasn't the only one. Throughout the dining room, everyone was in the same state that he was. Mercifully, the screeching stopped after a few agonizing moment.

The same Rocket Grunt that had started the attack and commanded the room before hopped up onto a table again. He didn't seem nearly as amused as he had been the first time.

Looker dreaded to imagine what had set him off. He hoped Ash was okay.

Proton was a monster.

He knew this. He'd lied, cheated, and stolen for his entire life. Oh, and killed. He had a particular talent for that last one. He'd killed for money, power, and revenge. He'd killed because he'd been told to. Sometimes he killed just because he felt like it. He'd become so good at it that he had been recruited by a group of monsters even more dangerous than he was. For nothing more than the promise of power and an opulent lifestyle, he had sold his soul. Or what little of it was left at this point. He never had put much stock in that kind of junk.

Normal people could never understand living this kind of life. They were sheep. Always crying out for a savior but never doing anything to help themselves when it counted. They made it so easy for predators like him to have their fun. It shouldn't have been a surprise for anyone when Team Rocket had become the titanic organization it was today. For all that their rivals in other regions liked to pretend they were dangerous, they all deluded themselves with foolish ideals and the goal of creating a 'better world'.

It made him sick. Team Rocket didn't have such weaknesses. And their boss? He was the biggest monster of them all. Proton had met a lot of people in his life who liked to pretend they had power. All those imposters ever did was shout and stomp around making demands of everyone. They raged against the world for their powerlessness.

Giovanni was different. When he spoke, people listened. Not because he demanded it or intimidated them into doing it, but because they wanted to listen. When he entered a room, people gave him the attention and respect that he deserved. Most of all, he was the type of monster that other monsters feared. He was the only man that Proton knew could stare down an enraged Legendary and bend it to his will. That was the type of monster that Proton served, and he had no intention of angering him.

It took all his effort to stop himself from smiling as his plan came together. He dared anyone to not smile when things were going their way! He'd had to make some last minute changes to his plans for the auction, but so what? If he had to sacrifice a couple million in exchange for access to the most unique piece of tech in the world, then he'd do it without a second thought.

Anything to make the boss happy.

His Grunts were certainly happy to take a break from their normal duties to shake down the rich. He'd never seen so many grown men and women turn into giddy children so fast. They loved messing with these types of people almost as much as he did. He gave them props for taking such a theatrical spin on all this. The hostages may not have appreciated it, but he'd be having a good laugh when this was all said and done.

"Attention, you rich halfwits!" One of the more loud and forgettable ones shouted from his place atop the table. "So, we've gone looking through your little collection and it really is something. We'll be leaving soon."

Proton could practically feel the relief radiating off of these fools. It was almost sad how eager they were to believe that this would all be over soon. Mr. Caffrye even seemed to grow enough of a spine to step forward.

"S-so... you're going to let us go? You'll leave us be?" The man had such hope in his voice.

The Grunt's grin turned feral. "I didn't say that."

Proton had never seen hope leave so many people's eyes so fast. He was almost proud of these Grunts. They were really embracing his more predatory, showmanship style of crime. It was flattering. So long as they didn't screw this whole job up somehow, he'd be sure to reward them somehow. Maybe first pick of the next batch of smuggled Pokemon or a little bonus on top of their pay? He'd have to see how he felt when this was all over.

"See we've all decided... we can get a lot more out of this than just some paintings and old relics. So, we'll be taking some of you with us when we go." The collective gasp that reverberated throughout the crowd was almost deafening. "Now don't get all pouty on me. Once your family or friends pay your ransom, you'll be fine. Until then, you'll be relaxing with the most dashing rogues in the world."

There were many things Proton would have described Team Rocket as, but dashing was not one of them. Well... other than himself of course.

Mr. Caffrye audibly gulped. "And if no one pays?"

The Grunt rolled his eyes. "Then you'll be taking a nap at the bottom of the canals. I'm sure you're all good for it though."

With a snap of his fingers, the other Grunts surged forward and began to pull people from the crowds. A few of them struggled and looked to the people surrounding them for aid, but they found none. Not a single one of their fellow hostages were willing to put their necks on the line to help them. If anything, some of them seemed relieved that they weren't the ones being taken.

How typical.

One of the Grunts came close and went to grab a girl. He didn't get far. Proton latched onto the man's wrist in a vice grip and stared him down. To his credit, the Grunt didn't shout out in shock or tremble in fear. That would have ruined the plan.

No one ruined Proton's plans and got away with it.

"Now what do we have here?" The theatrical Grunt crowed. "Someone trying to play the hero? I didn't think any of you folks had it in you."

Hero? Him? He could feel the countless real heroes who'd opposed him rolling in their graves. That was the image he was trying to present though. Now he just needed to channel his inner self-righteous do-gooder and play his part. It should be easy.

"I'm just a businessman, not a hero." He drawled. "And you haven't thought this little scheme of yours through."

The Grunt tilted his head and let out a hum. "Oh really?" A Golbat landed on the shoulder of the Grunt, and he hopped off to table to walk towards Proton. "I hope for your sake you have good reasons for speaking up. Otherwise, my Golbat here is gonna have a new chew toy to play with."

It must have been an intimidating sight to be stared down by a dangerous criminal and his Pokemon. Anyone else in his position would have been shaking in their boots. Maybe he would have been too or kept his mouth shut... if he hadn't arranged for this whole situation in the first place.

Proton towered over the Grunts and let go of the one attempting to snatch the girl out of the crowd. "You're making enemies out of the rich and powerful."

The Grunt rolled his eyes. "Is that all? We're Team Rocket. If Champions can't do anything to stop us, these people can't either."

"Oh, Team Rocket will be fine." He jabbed his finger into the chest of the Grunt. "You and your people won't be."

The Grunt made a show of grabbing his hand and forcing it away. "What makes you say that?" He growled.

"You're unimportant." Proton took joy in the shocked gasps that tore through the crowd and the wince that the Grunt wore. "Grunts. I doubt you're ever given truly important work or know anything of value. If your performance here is anything to go by, I can see why. I bet you couldn't even hit the broadside of a barn at pointblank range."

The Grunt had squeezed his eyes shut at this point. "Now that's a little harsh-"

"I bet you thought you could just walk in here and steal everything in sight without anyone trying to stop you." He paused. "Aside from security, but they're all dead now so that's irrelevant. You never stopped to think of the bigger picture."

"Which is?"

Proton crossed his arms. "When the families of these fine people learn that you've kidnapped them, they'll hunt you down. Rich folk like them have almost limitless time and money to pursue their vendettas." He leaned down until his eyes were peering into the Grunt's. No one else may have been able to see the fear in his subordinates eyes, but Proton could. It was intoxicating. "They will find you all. And they will make you suffer for this."

The Grunt let out and audible gulp and stepped back. "Maybe." He began. "Maybe kidnapping isn't the right play... maybe we should just kill you all and take the valuables to cover our tracks. No witnesses left that way."

Proton let out an audible sigh even as the crowd of hostages began to whisper among themselves in fear. "Now you're just being stupid on purpose." He shook his head and gestured around the room. "There's no hiding your involvement here. If you leave now with your stolen art and artifacts, you won't be hunted down by these people's families. Kill them and you'll create enemies for life. Team Rocket may gift wrap and hand you over to them just to placate them."

Sure, the security force was dead... but they didn't matter in the grand scheme of things. They were no threat when they were alive, and they wouldn't be one while they were dead. No one important would mourn their passing. The same couldn't be said for the hostages.

The Grunt was silent for a moment. "And what would you recommend we do?"

Proton shrugged. "Exactly as I said earlier. Take your loot and go. You can escape into the city before the authorities ever arrive and get away without any trouble." He gestured behind him to the terrified crowd of people. "I guarantee none of them will try to go after you. Frankly, I'd bet they'll forget this night ever happened. Right, everyone?"

At his prompting, everyone began to shout out their agreement and promise to stay out of Team Rocket's way. It took all his control to stop himself from laughing.

The Grunt stepped back and narrowed his eyes. "Anyone ever told you you're too smart for your own good?" He let out a sigh. "Give the hostages back... for now. I need to think about what to do."

He didn't. The Grunt was putting on a good show, but this would all be over soon. The Grunts would leave and by the time the hostages called the police, they would be long gone. All while he came out looking like a hero. A wave of satisfaction hit him as those grabbed by his Grunts rejoined the other hostages.

"That was very brave. Thank you for saving me. Not many people are willing to stand up to Team Rocket like that."

And there was the reason for all of this. Proton turned to look at the source of the voice - the woman that he had stopped Team Rocket from grabbing. She was a tall girl with pale skin and brown eyes. She wore a flattering green dress and her dark brown hair had been styled to resemble the wings of a Latias or Latios - fitting given those were the guardians of this city. She was one of the artists for the auction. A rising star within the art community from what he'd heard.

None of that was nearly as important as who she was: Bianca Davri. The granddaughter of Lorenzo Davri, the curator of the Alto Mare Museum and the man Proton suspected knew the secrets of the DMA.

He allowed a charming smile to grace his face. "I couldn't just let them take these people. Team Rocket aren't known for their hospitality." He offered her his hand. "Proton. It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance."

Bianca stared down at his hand for a moment before slowly taking it in her own. "I'm Bianca. I'm glad that someone here is trying to stop them." The bitterness in her voice was clear to anyone listening. "Be honest with me. Do you think they'll let us go?"

If they knew what was good for them? Yes.

"Trust me, Bianca. I guarantee that this will all be over soon. So long as we cooperate and no one does anything stupid, they'll see reason and let us leave with our lives."

"I can't believe that you'd do this!"

Latias had made many mistakes in her life.

Most of her mistakes were small and easily forgivable. Splashing people with water or knocking them over while she was doing her patrols was never intentional, but the Humans never looked too closely. They were eager to chalk it up to a stray Water type lashing out or them stumbling over nothing. It was easier to accept than an invisible Legendary making their day more difficult.

She was always at her most careful during her job as guardian of the city. She couldn't afford to make mistakes when so many people's lives and happiness were at stake. After the... incident that occurred years ago, she'd vowed to never mess up that badly again. Not when it had nearly destroyed the city. Even when Team Rocket had appeared in droves, she'd been able to keep her mistakes to a minimum. Not once had a mistake cost someone their lives during her watch and she was proud of that.

Until tonight. Latias had believed that she could do a quick patrol of the city before the auction started. There should have been no harm in it. It was her job, after all. If she didn't do the patrol, she'd have been worried about everything that could have gone wrong and wouldn't have been able to focus on Bianca's night. Her best friend deserved her full attention, and she was going to get it. She may have had to tell a small lie, but Bianca would never have found out. She'd be finished with her patrol and back in time to see her friend get the recognition she deserved. It was the best of both worlds.

Now over a dozen people were dead and even more were being held hostage. Worst of all, her friend was in danger. All because she was too concerned with playing hero instead of keeping her promise to her friend. If she'd just been at the auction, she could have stopped this from even happening in the first place. No one would have had to die.

Once again, her actions caused other people to get hurt. Some guardian she turned out to be...

She shook her head. She couldn't get lost in her own thoughts and get crushed under the weight of her failures. Not tonight! She may not have been able to prevent this from happening, but she could still save everyone in Team Rocket's clutches. They may have been prepared for security and even the police, but she doubted they were prepared for a Legendary. Least of all one fighting to protect what was hers.

Invisible to the naked eye, she flew over the rooftops of the city towards the mansion that the auction was being held at. If people found it strange that their windows were thrown open by sudden gusts of wind or how the water in the canals was uneasy that night, she didn't stick around long enough to hear.

"I'm sorry, Bianca." She finally told her friend. Through the mental link that they shared, Latias could feel the anger of her friend. She could handle that. What she couldn't handle was the undercurrent of fear that was in the back of Bianca's thoughts. "I promise, I'll be there as soon as I can."

"Of all the nights you decide to ignore me, you had to pick the one night Team Rocket attacks?"


Latias didn't bother to suppress her flinch. "I didn't know they'd do this."

"That's not the point- forget it. We'll talk about this later."


That was the last thing Latias wanted to do, but there were more important things to focus on. "How many Rocket's are there?"

"Around a dozen. Maybe more if they left people outside to watch for police. As far as I can tell, they only have Golbat and Raticate with them."


This would be easy then. With the element of surprise on her side, Latias was confident that she could take that number out without much effort. The only difficult part would be making sure Team Rocket couldn't lash out at Bianca and the other hostages before she could stop them. She was confident she could pull that off though. She didn't have any other choice.

"What are they doing now?"

"Trying to decide if they're going to kidnap some of us to hold for ransom or just leave with the artifacts and art they already have."


Latias felt a shiver run down her spine. "Does it look like they're going take you?"

"I don't think so. Proton made a convincing argument."


Proton? "Who's that?"

"I think he was going to be a buyer tonight at the auction. He was the only one of us to stand up to them though. Or... at least stand up to them and not get harmed for it."


Latias narrowed her eyes. The mansion was finally within sight. "Does he seem suspicious? Team Rocket isn't known for their kindness, so I can't imagine they'd just let someone get away with telling them what to do."

She could feel Bianca's amusement through their link. "He seems like a smug prick, but no. I think he just scared them. He made it sound like if they kidnapped anyone here that they'd pay for it with their lives."

She rolled her eyes. "That should have been obvious to anyone with a brain."

If movies had taught her anything, it was that the rich Humans were practically untouchable. Unless they were up against a plucky underdog, in which case everything started to go wrong for them all at once. Team Rocket was far from being an underdog.

"Just hurry up. I don't want to bet my life on these creeps having common sense."

Neither would she.

"I'm almost there. Just keep your head down and everything will be fine."

Ash had found his way inside. Around the back of the mansion was a door into the kitchen. The lights were on, but a quick glance through the window of the door showed that no one was there. It looked like a storm had passed through the place. Food and cooking utensils were scattered across the floor, the pots on the stove were boiling over, and worst of all he could see blood spattered across the walls. He did his best to ignore the knot in his stomach.

He reached for the handle to push open the door and... nothing. The door wouldn't budge.

Ash looked up at the night sky. "What did I do to deserve this, Arceus?"

Predictably, he didn't receive an answer. Nor did the door magically open itself to make his life any easier. He let out a despairing sigh. There was no time to find another entrance into the mansion. He'd already spent too long finding this one. For all he knew, everyone inside was being tortured. He needed to force his way inside.

Luckily for him, this was not the first time he'd been forced to break down a door. The door itself was made of a solid hardwood in a wooden frame. A quick glance at the hinges showed that the door swung inwards. He nodded to himself and stepped back. He took a breath to center himself and then kicked just above the lock of the door with all his might. He heard the faint sound of wood splintering and grinned to himself. He stepped back and kicked one more time. This time, the frame of the door broke under the assault and the door flew open with a loud crack!

He stepped inside the kitchen and adjusted his hat atop his head. Now that he was inside the kitchen, he could see that there were no bodies and not more blood beyond the spatters he'd seen coating the walls and floor. That meant that whoever had been attacked was only injured, not dead. Team Rocket must have only been targeting those that could fight back.

That didn't bode well for him, but he couldn't get cold feet now. People were counting on him.

His blood chilled as he heard footsteps coming his way and he looked back towards the door that he had broken open. He should have known that someone would come to investigate the noise! If he survived this, he swore that he'd get Anabel and Looker to teach him how pick a lock. If only so this didn't happen again.

He ducked behind the counter of the room out of sight just before the interior door to the kitchen swung open. Ash peaked his head out from behind the corner of the counter to see a Team Rocket grunt standing in the middle of the room. The Grunt walked towards the now broken door to the outside world and let out a long, tired sigh.

"Balls. Proton is gonna have my head for this." The Grunt reached for his Pokegear. "Better call this in."

Ash swore under his breath. If the Grunt reported this to the rest of his group, this situation could get violent fast. There was only one thing he could do to stop him. Ash glanced up at the counter for something - anything - he could use as a weapon. He passed over the useless pieces of fruit and the knife nearby, still dripping with a thick, purple liquid. He may have been willing to fight, but he was no killer. He never would be.

Luckily for him, he wouldn't have to become one. On the floor by his feet was a wooden rolling pin. Perfect for what he had in mind. Quickly grasping his improvised weapon in his hand, he snuck up behind the Rocket Grunt as he fiddled with his Pokegear. He was careful not to squish any of the berries or other food on the ground and alert the Grunt before he was ready. Once he was close, he raised the rolling pin and struck the back of the Grunt's head with all of his might.

"Gah!" The blow was enough to send the Grunt stumbling away and forced him to drop his Pokegear, but he was still conscious. "What the-"

Never give your opponent a chance to recover. That was one of the most important lessons that Anabel had drilled into him when they were training. He was on the Grunt in a flash, raining down blows with his rolling pin without mercy. The Grunt had raised his arms to block the strikes and growled at the sight of him. On one of Ash's slower strikes, the Grunt lashed out and grabbed the rolling pin just as it was about to come down on his arm again. The rolling pin was ripped out of Ash's weak grip and tossed aside. He didn't have much time to worry about the loss of his weapon before the Grunt tackled him to the ground.

His head hit the ground hard, and his vision swam. Two rough, meaty hands wrapped around his throat and began to squeeze as tight as they could. His eyes shot open and stared up into the cruel, enraged gaze of the Rocket Grunt above him. Ash began to writhe on the floor and struggle against the Grunt, but it was no use. No matter how much he tried to squirm out from beneath his attackers grasp or claw at his arms, nothing worked. He couldn't take a single gasp of breath.

"I don't know who you are kid, but you fucked up!" The Grunt sneered. "Shouldn't have tried to play hero, brat."

This was it. He was going to die here. He was going to die alone and afraid at the hands of some random Rocket Grunt. What would happen to Looker and Anabel when they found out he'd died trying to play hero? What would Team Rocket do to the hostages after this? What state would Pikachu be in when he discovered the bloody end that his trainer was enduring? What would his friends and family think when they heard of this?

Would any of them even care? Or would they think this was a fitting end for the violent criminal they believed he was?

He just wanted to go home...

...

...

No! This couldn't be it! He couldn't just give up here! He would fight for his right to live, no matter how hopeless it may have been. Even as his vision began to blur and darken, Ash continued to struggle against the death grip of the Rocket Grunt seated on his chest. This drew a dark laugh out of the criminal.

"A second wind? Go ahead and keep struggling. You're just drawing this out!" The Grunt leaned down to mock him. "You really are pathetic-"

Ash lashed out towards the Grunt's face. His hand latched onto the side of the Grunt's face, and he pressed his thumb over the right eye of his would-be killer. With the desperation that only a dying man could muster, he began to press down on the Grunt's eye with all of his might and dig his nail into the fleshy organ. He could feel the way that the soft tissue of the eye crumbled under the pressure and the blood that gushed forth under his assault.

The Grunt reared back out of pain and scrambled away from Ash, clutching his face in agony. As soon as the Grunt let go of his throat, Ash took in a giant gulp of air and began to let out hacking coughs. This wasn't over though. Not even close. Ash forced himself to his feet, ignoring the pain that racked his entire body. He stumbled over to the stove and grabbed one of the pots of boiling water.

"You son of a bitch!" The Grunt howled in agony and lowered his hands from his wound. "When I get my hands on you-"

The Grunt never got to finish his threat. Ash threw the boiling hot water directly into the face of the Grunt without hesitation. The man reared back and let out a high-pitched, anguished scream and fell back to the ground. He was clutching his face and squirming on the floor. While no words could be heard, Ash could only imagine that he was either begging for the pain to stop or making more incomprehensible threats.

Ash didn't care. He raised the now empty metal pan in his hands above his and tightened his grip. With an adrenaline filled roar of his own, he slammed the pot down on the head of the Grunt. Once, twice, thrice. He kept slamming the pot onto the head of his potential killer until he stopped squirming in pain. By the time he was done, the man's face was a disgusting mess of blood and swollen skin. The bloody pot clattered to the ground at his feet.

Ash stumbled back against a wall and slowly slid down to the floor. His heart was pounding, and every breath set his throat on fire. He rubbed his throat where the Grunt had tried to choke him and winced at the pain that flashed through him. Slowly, he began to calm himself down and slow his heart to the point it no longer felt like it was about to burst out of his chest. The entire time he was sat on the floor, his eyes were locked firmly on the door to the rest of the mansion. That fight hadn't been quiet. He half expected other Grunts to have heard it and come to find the cause. None did though.

Eventually his eyes drifted to the still form of the Rocket Grunt in the kitchen. Cautiously, he moved towards the body and looked down at the man that would have killed him. Despite that, Ash felt only dread. He couldn't have killed the man... could he? He slowly reached out for the man's neck and felt for a pulse. It was faint - almost unnoticeable - but it was there. The Grunt was alive.

Ash let out a shaky sigh of relief. He wasn't a killer. Even when his own life was on the line, he was glad to see that he hadn't crossed a line he couldn't come back from. He wasn't a monster.

Not yet.

He couldn't stand around though. Even if he had just narrowly escaped death, Anabel, Looker, and the hostages were in danger. They didn't have the luxury of waiting on him. He needed to move. He couldn't go out like this though. If any of Team Rocket or their Pokemon saw him wandering the halls, they'd be on him in an instant. With the state he was in, Ash knew that he wouldn't stand a chance. He needed to be careful.

He glanced down at the Rocket Grunt's unconscious form and frowned. While the man himself may have been in a bad state, his clothes were fine. There wasn't a drop of blood or a single tear on them. The man wasn't too much bigger than Ash either...

He let out a scratchy sigh. "Sometimes I hate my ideas."

"What do you think they'll decide to do?"

Anabel hummed in thought and narrowed her eyes at the huddled group of Team Rocket Grunts. They'd been talking among themselves ever since Proton had stepped forward and 'heroically' talked the criminals down from kidnapping people. After that, everyone was looking at the man as though he were a hero for doing it. If Anabel didn't know that he had orchestrated all of this or that he was one of Team Rocket's Admin's, she may have fallen for it.

"I think they'll go without trouble." She told Looker over the mental link. "The real question is why he'd do this."

This auction was supposed to be a way for Team Rocket to sell their forgeries and fool them all. Now it was a heist/hostage situation, and she couldn't understand why. It felt like they were missing a piece of the puzzle that was keeping them from seeing the full picture. There was no reason for Proton to pull something like this. Not when the media would be all over Team Rocket for the deaths and trauma they were inflicting on these people.

The door to the dining room opened and a Grunt walked in with his face obscured by the hat that he wore.

Looker let out a sigh. "We're missing something important. Proton is many things, but he's not stupid. He's doing this for a reason." Looker's eyes drifted to the man in question. Their target had his arm wrapped around a beautiful girl in a green dress, the very one he'd saved from being taken. "It's possible it has something to do with that girl."

Anabel raised any eyebrow. Like Looker, she'd gone over the guest list of the auction and knew everyone who would be here. That was Bianca Davri. A local artist with some skill as a painter. No known connection to any criminal elements though. Her only living family was the curator of a local museum and reports showed that she didn't have any friends.

"If his interest is in her, it must be recent." She drummed her fingers along the table. "After all, it caused him to throw away this little money making scheme of his."

"We'll have to look into her when this is done."
Looker narrowed his eyes. "There must be more to her than meets the eye."

Anabel let out a gasp and bent over, clutching her head in her hands. A heavy weight settled on her shoulders and every instinct was telling her to run to the darkest corner she could find to hide. The psychic energy she possessed that was normally so eager to be used now felt cowed into submission - like a pebble being overshadowed by an ancient mountain.

There was another psychic here. And they were furious.

"Get to the hostages." She forced out.

Looker didn't have to wait long to find out why. One moment, the room was calm and quiet aside from the hushed conversations of the hostages and Team Rocket. The next moment, the lights began to flicker rapidly before bursting in a shower of sparks and glass while casting the room in darkness. The chairs and tables in the room all began to levitate off the ground and hurl themselves towards Team Rocket and their Pokemon. They moved with such force and at such rapid speeds that that they shattered the instant they struck their targets.

Panic set in soon after.

The hostages - once cowed into submission by Team Rocket's clear dominance - now began to scream and run for the doors. Whatever was controlling the furniture and debris swirling around the room was doing its best not to harm them. The same couldn't be said for the members of Team Rocket. If anything, the force behind this mayhem was ruthless in how it dispatched them. Even when the furniture would shatter, the remnants would be used beat and batter them around the room. The Golbat and Raticate which had once struck fear in everyone were now scrambling to survive.

Anabel felt hands on her shoulders force her to her feet.

"Come on, we need to go while we have the chance!" Looker ordered.

The pressure in her head made it difficult to speak, but she gave her partner a nod. She made her way towards the hostages fleeing towards the backdoors of the dining room alongside Looker. Then an explosion rocked the room, and the main doors flew off their hinges. She turned to look at what had caused it.

The police had arrived. At the head of them and surrounded by an assortment of Pokemon was Petrovic. He seemed surprised by the chaos that he found inside, but that didn't stop him for long. He stepped forward and released a Weezing from its Poke ball.

"Focus on Team Rocket! Ignore everything else!" He shouted.

At his command, the police rushed in alongside their Pokemon. Team Rocket had already been weakened and caught off guard by the attacks of the unknown psychic. With the arrival of Petrovic and Alto Mare's police, any chance of them escaping like they'd planned was gone. They seemed to realize it too.

Anabel had once heard that a cornered Raticate was more dangerous than any Dragonite. She didn't know how true that was, but it certainly applied to Team Rocket. Realizing how dangerous their situation was, the Grunts began to fight back against the Police in a desperate attempt for at least a few of them to make it to the exit. The dining room was filled with deadly Pokemon attacks and their cries of pain.

One such attack was a Flamethrower released by a Growlithe that missed its intended target and headed straight for the hostages. She and Looker were too far away to do anything about it. She shielded her eyes so that she didn't have to watch those poor people burn alive.

She needn't have worried. Instead of the agonized screams of people burning alive and the smell to go with it, the room was illuminated in a golden light as lightning erupted from the ceiling and struck the Flamethrower halfway. Ravenous, red-hot flames warred with dazzling golden lightning in a clash of the elements before exploding in a cloud of smoke.

From the ceiling, Pikachu dropped to the ground in front of the fleeing hostages. Electricity sparked from its cheeks as it stood protectively before them to act as a shield from anymore incoming stray attacks.

Anabel let out a sigh of relief. If it hadn't been for him, there would have been many families in mourning after tonight. She and Looker rushed by him to usher the hostages towards the exits and break them out of their terror-induced stupors. She spared a glance back towards Pikachu and gave him a nod of appreciation. He didn't look back at her. He was entirely focused on protecting them from anymore attacks.

With him watching their backs, Anabel knew they wouldn't have to worry about being struck from behind. Now she and Looker would do what they did best.

Protect the people.

It all happened so fast.

Ash had been moving through the dining room disguised as a member of Team Rocket trying to find Looker and Anabel. He hadn't been able to search for long before everything turned chaotic when the furniture began to fly around the room like a tornado. It was as though the entire room was haunted and the ghosts of past were focused entirely on hurting Team Rocket. Not something he would have been against normally, but he was dressed as them. Whatever was behind that chaos either hadn't known or hadn't cared.

He'd nearly been flattened against the wall by a table!

As if that hadn't been bad enough, the police had arrived in force. That should have been a good thing since it meant Petrovic had been there to save the day. Only... it hadn't. Petrovic had been merciless in his attack. Ash had wondered what that man had meant by salting the earth and destroying his enemy.

Now he understood. He knew that it meant to be merciless to his enemies. Petrovic and the police had rushed forward into a brutal melee to beat Team Rocket into submission. Team Rocket met every blow with two of their own, not that it meant much when the police were wearing full body armor. Their Pokemon had been just as vicious. They tore into one another with their fangs and claws, spraying blood on the ground are they fought one another.

Ash was forced to scramble out of the way to avoid everything. He had next to no real combat experience while Pikachu was protecting the hostages with Anabel and Looker. If he got drawn into the thick of the fighting in his state, Ash knew that he wouldn't last long. Skirting along the edges of the battle, he bolted for the exit as fast as his legs could carry him.

He almost made it to the doors when he was stopped. Not by a member of the local police or any of the Pokemon involved in the battle. His body stopped mid-step against his will. He couldn't move a muscle no matter how hard he tried to struggle. It was as if an invisible force had coiled around him and taken control of his body. For all intents and purposes, one had. He recognized this feeling.

The feeling of psychic power wasn't one he'd ever forget.

In an instant, he was lifted off of the floor and flung into the middle of the fight. He collided with one of the Golbat's in the air and was used as a sledgehammer to beat it into the ground. By the time that he was let go, his body ached and his vision swam. He forced himself to roll off of the now unconscious Golbat and let out a gasp of pain. It was almost too much.

He was tempted to stay on the ground. If he played dead and made himself seem harmless, everyone would ignore him for the bigger threats. That mysterious psychic that had used him like a ragdoll seemed done with him now as well. His body would probably thank him for staying out of harm's way after everything it had been put through tonight.

A Raticate rushed by him. More out of curiosity than anything else, he focused his attention on the small rodent. His eyes widened when he saw where the bloodthirsty creature was going. Petrovic was in the thick of the fight, holding one of Team Rocket's Grunts by the collar and raining down blows on the poor man. He was completely unaware of the rapidly approaching death behind him.

He acted on instinct and scrambled after the Raticate. He didn't have time to think about what he'd do to it once he caught it or what he'd say to Petrovic to explain why he was wearing a Team Rocket uniform. He felt the telltale heat and heard the sizzle of the air that always accompanied a powerful Flamethrower. He threw himself to the ground and rolled over his shoulder, narrowly avoiding the blast that would have taken his life but losing the Team Rocket cap in the process.

The Raticate leapt through the air with its fangs bared and glowing with a blinding light. It was prepared to destroy Petrovic's body armor and tear into the vulnerable flesh underneath.

Ash's hand lashed out and grabbed its tail in as tight of a grip as he could manage. He had stopped the Raticate mere inches before it could sink its fangs into the man. With a desperate roar, he reared back and spun around, slamming the Raticate into the tile floor. He didn't stop there. Keeping a hold of its tail, he began to stomp on the Raticate with as much force as his tired body could muster.

Just a few months ago, its screams of pain would have shocked him into stopping. Now in the heat of battle with the survival of himself and others on the line, he didn't hesitate for a moment. He had seen the bodies of the security for the auction. They had been shown no mercy. He couldn't afford to go easy on Team Rocket or their Pokemon.

With one final stomp and a sickening crunch, he let go of the Raticate's tail and stepped away from its unconscious body. He flinched as a hand touched his shoulder. He spun around, eyes wide and ready to defend himself.

Instead, he found Petrovic offering him a cautious smile. "Red? Yer alive? Here I thought ya went and got yerself killed." He lets out a boisterous laugh. As if the violence going on around them meant nothing to him. "Guess ya aren't completely useless after all."

Ash took a steady breath. "Thank you, sir."

A frown. "Don't thank me. What ya did was stupid and, " Petrovic's eyes widened at something behind him, "look out!"

Ash turned around to see what he was talking about. All he saw was a blue and purple blur speeding towards him. It was too fast to dodge. He snapped his eyes shut and prepared himself from the pain.

It never came. Slowly, he opened his eyes to see a Golbat suspended in the air and struggling against some unseen force. Venom coated its fangs and it gazed at him with pure, murderous intent. No matter how hard it fought to attack him, though, it couldn't move an inch. The Golbat was rocketed into the ceiling not long after he realized it. It struck the ceiling with such force that it created a small crater in the ceiling before falling back to the ground in a broken heap.

Ash could only stare at it in shock. Something had... protected him. The same psychic which had previously thrown him around like a ragdoll and beaten Team Rocket into submission had saved him from a painful, inglorious end.

"Why? It doesn't make any sense! Why would it suddenly save me after all of that?"

He was pulled from his thoughts by Petrovic letting out a sigh and patting him on the back. "Looks like ya got a guardian, Red. Lucky." He cracked his neck and lightly kicked the unconscious form of one of Team Rocket. "We're done here. Time to find Looker and Anabel... oh, and the hostages I suppose."

Now that he mentioned it, Ash finally noticed that the fighting had stopped. Team Rocket and their Pokemon had all been beaten while the Police didn't seem to have lost anyone. The element of surprise and the aid of that mysterious psychic had probably helped. All that was left to do now was find the hostages and lock away Team Rocket.

The room swayed. "They went out the back door of the dining room with the hostages." He stumbled towards Petrovic. "I'll go get them. Tell them the good news..."

He got maybe two steps forward before his knees buckled. He would have slammed into the cold floor if it hadn't been for Petrovic catching him before he could fall.

"Shit kid, I don't think yer in any state to move. It's a wonder ya even managed to survive the fight." Petrovic let out a sigh. "I'll find them, kid. Ya need to see the paramedics. Get these wounds of yers looked at."

Ash knew that Petrovic was right. He was running on fumes at this point. With the adrenaline leaving his system, he was slowly becoming more aware of the pain. Honestly, seeing a paramedic about these wounds felt like a wonderful idea.

"Okay... just tell Looker and Anabel to come see me when they can."

"Don't worry, kid. I'm sure they'll be dying to shower you with praise."

"I have never been so disappointed in someone in my entire life." Looker frowned. "You deliberately ignored Petrovic's orders, rushed into a dangerous hostage situation with no training or plan, and put everyone at risk."

Ash had the decency to flinch and look ashamed at his words. That was good. It meant that he understood what he had done wrong. Looker had known that taking him with them to Alto Mare would be risky, but he'd hoped the boy would at least have some sense of self-preservation.

Currently they were out in front of the mansion. The media and the paramedics had arrived in force not long after Petrovic's assault on the building. It was a miracle that none of the hostages had died. He doubted any of them would forget this night. Team Rocket - those that had survived Petrovic's attack - were on their way to the hospital to have their injuries checked. In time, Looker and the police would have to conduct interrogations.

For now, he and Anabel had to look after the boy. He was their responsibility.

"I just wanted to help." Ash mumbled. From his position on the boys shoulder, Pikachu nuzzled his cheek in comfort. "I didn't think-"

"That's my point: you didn't think at all." He scolded. "Because of your recklessness, you didn't just put everyone in danger. You nearly got yourself killed."

That more than anything else had shocked him. Realistically, he'd known that Ash would put himself in danger, but he'd assumed that Petrovic would have been able to protect him from harm. Looker couldn't have been more wrong. Deep bruises dotted Ash's entire body. He was suffering from a concussion and if the paramedics were to be believed he'd torn numerous muscles. The worst injury, though, had to be the damage done to Ash's throat from when he'd nearly been choked to death.

Looker had almost stormed off to find the one responsible and make him pay for that. Then he'd seen the state Ash had left him in. It was... concerning to know that Ash had been forced to go that far to save his life. It was too soon, and he was too young. Looker would have given anything to have protected his young comrade from that.

At the very least the Grunt was still alive. Ash hadn't been forced to cross that line yet.

"We're not trying to seem ungrateful." Anabel offered him a smile. "It was reckless, but you and Pikachu saved lives tonight. You should feel proud of that."

Ash let out a sigh. "I guess... what about Proton? Did we manage to catch him?"

Looker clenched his fists in anger. "No. He managed to slip away in the chaos." He spoke. "It could be months before he pokes his head out from whatever hole he's gone to hide in."

Anabel grimaced. "Maybe that's for the best. Team Rocket knew that we were here." She glanced back to the police keeping the media from swarming the former hostages. "They may not have known our specific identities, but they knew enough to jam our comms. We've got a traitor among us."

"We'll have to find out who they are before we can do anything about Proton." Looker pinched the bridge of his nose. "Until we do, we'll be shooting ourselves in the foot."

Ash chose that moment to speak up. "Why were they even here though? I thought they were pawning off forgeries as the real thing. Why try to rob them and turn this into a hostage situation?"

Why indeed. Looker didn't know. Proton was only interested in two things: money and power. This auction would have earned him plenty of the former if he'd gone through with his original plan. By changing it so drastically, he lost money and manpower at the same time. It made no sense. There was something they were missing and all they had were theories.

"We think it may have something to do with one of the guests." Anabel told him. "An artist, to be precise. He specifically went out of his way to save her from being taken by Team Rocket and spent the rest of the night around her."

Ash tilted his head to the side. "Which one? There were a few here tonight."

"Bianca Davri." Looker explained. His eyes narrowed at the way Ash paled when he heard the name. "A young, local artist. We're not sure why he was interested in her though. She has no connection to the criminal underworld and has no real wealth of her own."

"I doubt he'd sabotage his own schemes for a pretty face either." Anabel sighed. "And there's the psychic that was here tonight. Whoever they were clearly they're no friends of Team Rocket. Maybe they could be an ally if we find them?"

Maybe. He didn't want to put all of his faith in an unknown, however. The enemy of your enemy wasn't always a friend. They couldn't waste resources on finding them either. They needed to find the mole first before they did anything else. It would be difficult since any of the local police could have been behind it. It could have even been multiple working together. Only time and a thorough investigation would tell.

Ash and Pikachu shared a worried glance with one another. "Actually... there's something important I need to tell you guys."

Anabel crossed her arms in front of her and tilted her head to the left. "What do you need to tell us?"

Ash closed his eyes. "Not here. There's too many people that could be listening."

Looker took a moment to look around. While there were people nearby, most of them were preoccupied talking to the police or the paramedics. The chances of anyone being nearby to eavesdrop were slim to none.

Looker placed his hand on Ash's shoulder and gave it a comforting squeeze. "Alright. Once we're done here, we'll find somewhere private. What is this about though? Can you at least tell us that?"

"I think I know why Proton is interested in Bianca and his true purpose being in Alto Mare."

Deeper within the city there was simple coffee shop on the corner of a low-trafficked area. To the locals, it was a nice place to relax after a long day at work and enjoy the pleasures of life. For Team Rocket, it was a place for their agents to lay low when they arrived in the city and conduct important meetings.

Proton let out a roar and threw one of his cowering Grunts to the floor. With the coffee shop closed this late at night, no one would hear him rage.

After the disaster at the auction and the police raid, he had slipped away in the chaos. It hadn't been difficult when everyone else was focused on survival. He'd practically sprinted through the city towards one of Team Rocket's safehouses. The entire way there his mind was plagued by questions.

Why had their mole inside the police allowed the attack to begin? Who were the International Police agents that had infiltrated the guests? Who or what had turned the very room against his Grunts? Most importantly, how could he turn this to his advantage?

Proton slammed his fist into a wall and created a dent in the drywall. He ignored the pain and leveled a deadly glare at the Grunt on the floor.

"I want our people on the street and seen. If the police want to make enemies of us so badly, then this backwater city can burn for it." He growled.

The Grunt stumbled to his feet with the help of his friends. He let out an audible gulp and looked anywhere but Proton's eyes. "Are... are you sure that's a good idea, boss?" He mumbled. "That's gonna draw attention to us. We're supposed to keep things quiet here, so our smuggling operation runs smoothly. Tonight was already too much-"

Proton grabbed the Grunt by the throat and pulled him close. "I'm in charge here! Not some worthless Grunt that can't even look me in the eyes." He tightened his grip and watched the man squirm. "The police of this city have been messing with us for too long. Target the people. Set some fires. Make them fear us and the police will fall in line."

"That has to be the worst idea I've ever heard. You should listen to that Grunt. Unlike you, he seems to have common sense."

He dropped the Grunt to the ground and turned to look at the source of the voice. Standing in the doorway of the room was Domino. One of Giovanni's personal agents. He'd met her once before and that was one time too many. Her lack of respect and arrogance always wore his patience thin. After tonight, he was in no mood to deal with her.

"What are you doing here?" He demanded. "Giovanni said you weren't coming until you fixed your mess in Viridian."

Domino's eyes narrowed into predatory slits. "My mess is handled. Yours is getting worse by the minute." She pushed herself off the wall. "I always knew you were incompetent, but I didn't think you were stupid."

His hand hovered over his Poke balls. "Watch your tone or I'll-"

"Do nothing!" She interrupted with a pleased grin. "I'm here on Giovanni's orders. He's disappointed at your lack of progress finding the Latias. After I tell him what happened tonight? He's going to be livid."

Proton had never wanted to kill someone so badly. "There were... complications. I'm handling it."

She scoffed and brushed by him, gently pulling the Grunt he'd choked to his feet. "Causing chaos in the city won't help." She didn't even bother looking at him as she dusted the Grunt off. "You may have forgotten due to your overinflated ego, but we're a crime syndicate. We operate in the shadows. We don't go around acting like terrorists. Leave that to what's left of Team Magma and Plasma."

Proton clenched his fists. "Then what would you have us do?"

Domino shrugged. "Act like the Admin you're supposed to be." She mocked. "Keep things in the city quiet and wait for the public to move on. They'll forget this happened in a day or two like they do with any tragedy."

He rolled his eyes. "Is that all? And what about the International Police? Or the Latias we're hunting?"

Her grin turned feral. "You just leave that all to me. I guarantee that in the coming weeks, I'll draw that thing out of hiding and cripple the International Police in one fell swoop."
 
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Chapter 8

TheCouchEffect

Bug Catcher
Pronouns
He/His
Chapter 8: Flashpoint

Ash stared out the window of the hotel room from the bed at the dazzling yellow lights of the city illuminated by the moonlight in the night sky. He slowly stroked Pikachu's back and let out a quiet, contemplative sigh. It had only been a few hours since the attack at the auction and he was only now beginning to feel safe. The hostages at the auction were now under police protection. Even with those Grunts responsible for the attack arrested, that didn't mean other Grunt's wouldn't target them in the future.

Personally, he didn't believe they would. He knew exactly what Team Rocket was after and rich socialites had nothing to do with it.

He let out a sigh and closed his eyes. When he had first arrived in Alto Mare, he'd been eager to help Anabel and Looker. He'd been eager to take part in the operation and show off the skills he'd been taught. Like the fool everyone had always called him, Ash had imagined that he'd be like those iconic heroes he'd seen in movies as a kid. Instead, he had nearly been killed because of his recklessness and put everyone in danger.

He shouldn't have expected anything else. He wasn't an agent. He was a kid in over his head. Had he really been so arrogant to believe that a few months of training would make him ready for this type of work? That he knew better than experienced agents?

Ash was disgusted with himself. He needed to do better. He needed to trust Looker and Anabel. They knew what they were doing. Starting now he'd dedicate himself to becoming an agent that could stand beside them. He would show them that they could trust him not just to look after himself, but to have their backs. Assuming he was given the chance after his stunt tonight, anyway.

He heard the door to the room open and turned to see Anabel and Looker walk inside. They had gotten themselves out of the ruined clothes they'd worn for the auction and were back in their trench coats. For his part, he'd practically ripped the Team Rocket uniform off of him and thrown on his old clothes. He'd have even put on the disguise he'd been forced to wear to sneak into the city.

Anything to get rid of the reminder of what happened.

He cleared his throat. "Where's Petrovic?"

Looker shut the door behind him. "At the hospital. He decided he wants to guard those Grunts we captured personally. Something about not trusting the local police to do their job."

Anabel rolled her eyes. "Considering what we saw when we first arrived? I can't blame him." She lamented. "If they somehow lost those Grunts after what we went through tonight, I'd be furious."

"Oh, I would be too. I just hope he can keep his temper in check with them. We still have to question them tomorrow." Looker took a seat on the bed in the room opposite from him. Anabel chose to lean against the wall with her arms crossed. "So, what was it you needed to tell us, Ash? You said you think you have an idea about what Team Rocket is after?"

Ash took a breath to steady his nerves. This was it. The first step towards becoming a better agent.

"I know why they're here." He stressed. "Promise that you won't interrupt until I'm finished. I'll answer all your questions then."

Looker frowned. "Okay..."

"Years ago, when I was on my journey through Johto, my friends and I came to Alto Mare." He began. "It was supposed to be a simple vacation. A break from traveling and collecting gym badges. We wanted to see the sights and take part in the local culture. I even got to take part in the Tour de Alto Mare." He kept his gaze firmly on the two of them. "I might have even managed to win if a Latias hadn't dragged me off course."

Their eyes widened in shock and doubt. They both kept quiet, though, like he'd asked. "Not long after while I was exploring the city, I stumbled across two women harassing a girl. I stepped in to help her escape but that just drew their attention to me. That almost cost the city everything." He continued. "I later found out that those two women were named Annie and Oakley. They were agents of Team Rocket sent here to capture the Soul Dew and the Latias and Latios."

He never had forgiven or forgotten about those two. Working for Team Rocket had been bad enough. Capturing Latios and holding his friends hostage had confirmed to him they were monsters. What came after though? That had cemented them as people to revile.

"I ran into that girl I rescued a few hours later and she led me through the city to a secret garden. Then... well I was attacked by a Latios protecting it and the girl that took me there was actually Latias in disguise. Then the girl she was disguised as - Bianca - and her grandfather appeared." Looking back, he'd been far too trusting when he'd followed her. "Things calmed down after everyone realized I wasn't a threat. They let me relax in their garden and even told me about the history of their family. I even got to see the Soul Dew with my own eyes. It was fun but... it didn't last."

Ash could see the questions in their eyes. He couldn't blame them. This was already an eventful story. It wasn't over yet though. He still had the worst part to tell. He grimaced and looked down at Pikachu. His partner sensed his discomfort and hopped up onto his shoulder to offer what little support he could.

"Later that night, Annie and Oakley snuck into the garden. They managed to capture Latios and would have captured Latias if they had been a little luckier. Worse, they stole the Soul Dew from its place in the garden. Then when they went to the museum and activated the DMA, they took over the city and captured my friends." He flinched at the memories of that night. "They could control the water, manipulate the architecture of the city, and even resurrect the fossils of the Pokemon that once terrorized the city. Despite all of that power at their hands, Latias and I were able to stop them. We were able to free our friends."

His hands tightened into fists. "That should have been the end of it. But... the Soul Dew was never meant to leave the garden. It had been corrupted and destroyed by the DMA. Once it broke, all of the water for miles around receded. Then it came rushing towards the city in a massive tidal wave." He could still remember the all-consuming terror that had gripped his heart at that moment. The feeling of all hope leaving him wasn't something he would ever forget. "This city should have been destroyed and everyone in it should be dead."

Anabel wore a complicated expression. "What happened?" She softly asked.

Despite the interruption, Ash pushed on. "Latios and Latias did their duty as the guardians of this city. They managed to stop the tidal wave from destroying the city and restore the water to it. It wasn't without a cost though." He let out a tired sigh. "Latios gave his life in the process and became the next Soul Dew. Then... well, that's it. Annie and Oakley were arrested. The Soul Dew was placed back in the garden. Hardly anyone in the city even knew they were so close to dying. And I went back to my journey as though nothing happened."

Anabel and Looker were quiet for a moment. Long enough that it set Ash on edge. Did they believe him? Did they think that he was lying to them? The uncertainty was putting him on edge.

Looker let out a quiet hum. "That's quite the story, Ash. It's pretty unbelievable."

He felt his stomach drop.

"However," Looker went on, "you've been involved in these kind of situations before. I'd be a fool to dismiss this just because it seems unlikely. Especially when it gives me the context for what those Grunts told us at the police station."

Ash felt as though a weight had been lifted off his shoulder and he felt a tiny smile spread across his face. "So, you believe me?"

Anabel let out a chuckle and strode across the room to sit down beside him. She wrapped her arms around him and pulled him close. "I don't see why you'd lie about this, Ash. Not after what happened tonight." She gave him a warm smile. "You may be inexperienced, and you may not have had much of a choice joining us, but you are one of us. I'm willing to trust you."

Looker nodded along with a small smile of his own. "As am I. Despite your recklessness tonight, I trust you." He told him. "I do hope that you'll answer my questions though?" Ash gave him a small nod of confirmation. "Okay... to start, why did you hide this from us?"

"It's not that I didn't trust you." He rushed to reassure them. "I made a promise to Bianca and her grandfather that I'd keep everything that happened here a secret. The less people that know the legends of Alto Mare are real, the safer everyone will be." Or so he'd thought, anyway. "When I heard that Team Rocket were looking for them, I thought that I could keep my promise by helping catch Proton."

Anabel frowned. "Proton isn't the one behind this search, Ash. It's Giovanni. Even if we rooted out Team Rocket from the city entirely, he'd just send more. The threat would never end."

Ash cringed. He hadn't thought of that. Arresting Proton would be a good thing. From what he'd read in the International Police's file on the man and what he orchestrated tonight, he knew Proton was a monster. With him gone, the city would experience some peace and his friends here would be safe. Until Team Rocket sent someone else to take over the search. Sooner or later, they would find the garden again and put the whole city in danger with their greed.

"Earlier you mentioned that the Soul Dew leaving this garden almost destroyed the city." Looker crossed his arms in front of him. "Is this true?"

"It's what Lorenzo - Bianca's grandfather - told us after the water started to leave the city." Ash let out a sigh. "I'm not sure what to do. If arresting Proton won't stop Team Rocket, they'll find the garden eventually. Once they do, it will only be a matter of time until they steal the Soul Dew."

"And when they do they'll destroy this city." Looker narrowed his eyes. "There... may be something we can do. If you're willing to go along with it."

He gave him a firm nod. "I'll do anything if you think it will help."

Looker stood up from his seat on the bed and walked over to look out the window at the calm city below. He crossed his arms behind his back. "I'll alert the director of the International Police about the potential cataclysm that could happen if the Soul Dew is removed from the garden. If we can prove that it exists and give them its location, we could have agents permanently posted here to protect it. We can even protect Bianca and her grandfather."

Ash frowned. "They'd have to know about Latias and the others as well."

"Wouldn't that be for the best?" Anabel said. "As it stands, it sounds like the only real defender this city has is this Latias. If they're willing to work with us, we can provide them with manpower and resources. We can even try to create evacuation plans if Team Rocket succeed in stealing it."

"Or we could try to find ways to prevent the removal of the Soul Dew from destroying the city." Looker added. "The International Police have some of the brightest minds on the planet in our employ. If anyone can figure out how to save this city, it's them."

It was a good plan. While he had faith in Latias' ability to defend it, anyone could be overwhelmed through sheer attrition. With the help of the International Police, they could have a chance of stopping Team Rocket from ever getting their hands on the Soul Dew. Or even better, find a way to prevent the destruction that came with its removal and hide it somewhere far away.

There was just one problem.

"You'd need the approval of Bianca's family and Latias for this plan to work. They won't let anyone they don't trust even near the garden."

Anabel smiled. "Oh, don't worry about that. I may have a plan to get their support. I'll just need your help."


"Things are going to get worse."

Latias turned visible and floated down onto the bed in Bianca's room. The two of them had finally returned from the crisis at the auction and the two of them were exhausted. All Latias wanted to do was curl up in a nice, soft bed and drift off to sleep. She couldn't though. Not when her friend was still on edge.

She let out a sigh and lowered her head onto one of the pillows. "They are. This is the first time Team Rocket has done something this drastic. I wonder what pushed them to do this?"

Bianca huffed and plopped down beside her on the bed, bouncing on the soft mattress. "It doesn't matter what caused this. What matters is that they're escalating." She growled. "So many people were hurt. All those security guards were killed, and they didn't even bat an eye. And for what? Art? No art is worth someone's life!"

Latias couldn't help but agree. She liked to think that she understood Humans better than most Pokemon. Most Pokemon could never understand why Humans placed so much value on art, money, or the simple pleasures that came with civilization. And her fellow Legends? Those pompous fools couldn't understand anyone who wasn't a Legend - Human or Pokemon. They could never understand the beauty of a simple painting or the emotions that could come from a well-written tale. Those were some of Humanity's greatest treasures!

Yet they were not worth any life.

"I'll need to increase how often I patrol the city. If Team Rocket have stopped trying to be subtle, they could start targeting the public."

"That's not a bad idea. I'll do my best to keep an ear open for any sightings." Bianca turned to glare at her. "Don't think I've forgotten how you lied to me though!"

Latias flinched under the burning gaze of her friend. "I'm sorry!" She cried. "I thought I could just do a quick patrol and be back before you knew it. Everything should have been fine-"

"It wasn't fine though!" Bianca jabbed her finger into Latias' face. "People died. People that could have survived if you had just kept your promise and been there!"

Latias couldn't handle the look of sheer disappointment in Bianca's eyes. She knew that she had messed up! No one knew that better than she did! This was the worst that she had ever done as guardian since the night her brother died. Now people had lost their loved ones and those responsible - the leaders of Team Rocket - were still out there.

"I know, Bianca." She whispered into her mind. "I should have been better. A better friend and a better guardian. All I can do now is promise to make up for it to you and the victims. I'm sorry."

Bianca closed her eyes and laid down on the bed. "You know I can't stay mad at you. Especially when you were just trying to help." She let out a sigh and patted Latias on the head. "You couldn't have known Team Rocket would do this. No one could have. I'm sorry for blaming you."

Latias gave her a smile and pushed her head into Bianca's hand. She always gave the best head pats. "It's okay. You've been through a lot tonight."

Bianca hummed in thought. "Do you know why the police showed up?" She inquired. "Team Rocket took away everyone's Pokegears. Did you do something?"

She shook her head. "No, once I heard what was happening I came as quick as I could." She frowned. "I... think I know why they were there though."

"Well don't keep me in suspense. Why were they there?"

"There was someone in a Team Rocket uniform that helped fight them when the police arrived. He must have been a spy in their ranks." Her eyes narrowed in thought. "I... think I recognized him."

Bianca tilted her head to the side in confusion. "Really? Who is it, Latias?"

"Someone I thought we'd never see again..."


It had been two weeks since the attack at the auction. That time had been chaotic for everyone within the city. Once the media learned of what happened and spread the story to the public, the residents of Alto Mare were more on edge than ever. The police were flooded with calls from people worried about Team Rocket or accusing their neighbors of being criminals. It didn't help that not a single one of these alerts were true and only ever wasted the time of the underfunded, incompetent police force. With so many other problems to focus on, no one had the time to wonder why Team Rocket had been so quiet.

Ash, Looker, and Anabel had certainly been busy. Finding the mole within the police had been more difficult than Ash had thought it would be. Oh sure, there'd been plenty of corruption. Most of them were guilty from slacking off on the job or ignoring the minor crimes that plagued the city. Some were guilty of shaking down shops for protection money. A few of them had even taken mistresses on the side and were using the budget meant for surveillance to pay for expensive dates.

None of them were working for Team Rocket though. None of their interrogations of the captured Grunts or investigations had discovered that. Not even Petrovic and his threats had managed to flush them out. He had suggested using more... violent methods to get answers, but Looker had staunchly refused. Ash had been glad to hear that at the time. They were supposed to be better than Team Rocket, not stoop to their level. They could beat them while still maintaining their moral standards.

Ash was certain of it.

What he wasn't certain of was Anabel's plan. With the investigation into the mole turning up nothing and Team Rocket being unusually inactive, they were finally moving forward with her idea. While Petrovic stayed behind to continue searching for the mole within the police, Ash and the others were taking a trip into the city now that the public was finally calming down. The normally bustling streets and happy people were now quiet and somber. The shadow of Team Rocket was smothering the charm of this beautiful city. They sooner they could deal with Proton, the sooner they could put people at ease.

That was what lead to them standing outside of a small home on the edge of one of the canals. There was a workshop for gondolas outside but this early in the morning meant that no one had stopped by for repairs. The perfect time to hold an important meeting.

Looker glanced his way. "Are you ready, Ash?"

He took a deep breath. On one of his shoulders, Pikachu looked at him with concern in his eyes. "Yeah, I'll be fine. I'm just nervous."

Anabel smiled and patted him on the shoulder. "There's nothing to be worried about. We'll be right beside you."

He let out a sigh and gave her a grateful nod. "Thanks. I appreciate it. Let's get this over with."

As a group, the trio of agents moved towards the house and up the stone steps of the house. Looker knocked and the door and patiently waited with his arms at his side. Anabel was looking around the area with a pleasant smile on her face as she enjoyed the architecture of the city. By contrast, Ash was fidgeting in place and doing his best to cover his face with his brown cap.

After a few moment, the door opened and revealed Lorenzo standing in the doorway with an air of drowsiness about him. He regarded them all with a cautious gaze for a moment and narrowed his eyes.

"Can I help you three?"

Looker offered him a comforting smile and reached into his pocket to pull out his badge. "My name is Looker, and these are my associates Anabel and Red. We're members of the International Police and we have a few questions for you, Mr. Davri."

Lorenzo's eyes roamed over them all and he reached out to take the badge from Looker's hand. "International Police eh?" He hummed. "Can't say I've ever heard of you."

An easy smile graced Anabel's face. "We work for the United Regions. We're a collaborative police agency dedicated upholding the law and protecting people from criminals."

"I see. You're like the Rangers then?"

A look of annoyance crossed Looker's face, but it was gone as quick as it came. "Not exactly. We focus on organized crime, terrorism, and anything else which could have an effect on an international scale. They prefer more... environmental and Pokemon-based crimes." He explained. "We understand that your granddaughter was one of the victims of Team Rocket's attack at the auction two weeks ago?"

Lorenzo's eyes darkened as he passed Looker's badge back to him. "Yes, she was. She's already spoken to the police about this though."

Looker nodded. "Yes, we understand. But we have reason to believe that you and her will become targets of theirs in the future."

His eyes widened. "Are you certain?"

For the first time since this conversation began, Ash found the courage to speak up. "We have reason to believe they specifically targeted the auction because Bianca was there."

Lorenzo's gaze lingered on him for a moment. "I see... please, all of you come in. I'll go get Bianca. She should hear what you have to say as well."

The three were lead inside of the small but quaint home. Looker and Anabel took a seat in the living room while Lorenzo upstairs to wake Bianca. He was leaning against the wall by the doorway. It gave Ash the chance to think about what he was going to say. Anabel's plan relied on him being able to convince Bianca and Lorenzo to work with them. The issue was his status as a wanted criminal. Chances were high that once they learned who he was they'd react poorly. Not that he could blame them.

News of his crime had been broadcast far and wide. With his status as the Alolan champion, it was to be expected. Like all champions, he had been catapulted to stardom once he'd won the league. Being the first champion of Alola had only made it worse. His status as a consistently skilled competitor in the Leagues cemented the medias fascination. The interviews and awe that had followed him immediately after his victory had been... uncomfortable to say the least. Luckily for him, he hadn't stayed in Alola long enough for it to be a recurring thing. Professor Kukui had said that things would calm down once he was back in Kanto. Well... that and something about wearing masks to avoid the fame.

It hadn't mattered. In the end, the one thing people loved more than a victory was a fall from grace. Within only a few hours of the media learning of his crime, every region that took part in the Pokemon League knew of what he'd done. His escape not long after had garnered even more press and last he'd heard there was endless speculation about where he could have been hiding. Some people thought he was still in Viridian Forest. Others thought he'd gone for the oceans and was hiding out on a boat. Some even thought he'd scaled Mount Silver and was making his home at its peak.

None of it was true, but that didn't matter. What mattered was that the speculation kept him on people's minds. He doubted there was a single person in the world who didn't at least know what he'd done. Hopefully Lorenzo and Bianca would at least be willing to give him a chance to explain.

When the two of them finally came down, they sat down on the couch opposite of his two partners. Both of them looked tired but interested in what they had to say.

"So... my grandfather and I are targets?" Bianca asked.

Looker leaned forward to place a photo on the table. "Do you two know this man?"

Lorenzo nodded. "That's Proton. He's an art collector and a history buff. He came by the museum a few weeks ago to ask about the DMA."

Ash and Anabel exchanged a worried look. "And what about you, miss Bianca?"

Bianca's eyes were narrowed as she looked at the picture. "I met him at the auction. He stopped Team Rocket from kidnapping people. He disappeared in the chaos when the police attacked though. Is he alright? Is he also a target?"

Looker scoffed. "Oh, he's more than fine." He took the picture back from them. "Proton is one of Team Rocket's bosses. He has a reputation for senseless violence and collateral damage."

The room descended into silence as Lorenzo and Bianca processed that new information. It must have been shocking to learn someone they knew was a dangerous criminal. He couldn't claim to understand but he knew that it must have been difficult to process.

"Oh." Bianca eventually managed to say. "So, what happened at the auction is my fault?"

Anabel leaned forward and looked her firmly in the eyes. "You are not to blame for what happened. The only ones responsible for what happened are Proton and his lackeys."

"Why is he interested in us though?" Lorenzo spoke up. "We're not important. We have no money and power. There's nothing they could gain targeting us."

Looker leaned forward and cupped his hands in front of him. "We both know that's not true. What they want from you is far more valuable than simple money." He spoke. "After all, what is money compared to the power of a Latias and the Soul Dew?"

The tension in the room was so thick Ash could have cut it with a knife. He could practically see the wheels turning in their heads. How did they know about Latias and the Soul Dew? What did they want from them? Should they deny any knowledge or come clean? All important questions. Luckily for them, they didn't have to ask any.

"You must be wondering how we know this." Anabel's eyes shifted to him. "It's okay. You can reveal it to them."

Lorenzo and Bianca both turned to look at him with curiosity in their eyes. Ash's heart was beating so loud and fast that he could practically hear it in his ears. He took a slow, steady breath to try and calm himself, but it didn't work. With shaky hands, he slowly reached up to pull the cap off of his head and stepped forward. An uneasy smile spread across his face.

"Hey. It's been a while, Bianca. Lorenzo."

They didn't recognize him. Not at first. He'd barely been twelve years old when he first met them and in the years since he'd gotten taller and more mature features. The heavy black trench and hat that he wore couldn't have helped, but with the cap gone they had a clearer view of his face now. Even weeks later, Ash had still been unable to completely wash the green out of his hair. It was an unsightly mixture of green and black that hurt to look at.

Slowly, however, they began to recognize him the longer they looked at him. The shock was expected. He was far different and had a worse reputation than when they'd last seen him. He expected them to recoil in disgust or maybe lash out in anger with accusations. Maybe even try to plead with him for mercy out of fear. All reactions that would have hurt him to his core.

What wasn't expected was for Lorenzo and Bianca to share a brief glance at one another to pass some message he couldn't understand. Slowly, Bianca stood up from the couch and moved closer to him. He could feel Pikachu tense up on his shoulder protectively. Ever since Viridian City, Pikachu had gotten protective of him. He couldn't - wouldn't - let him hurt someone just because they disapproved of who they thought he was. Least of all someone he considered a friend.

He took Pikachu off of his shoulder and placed him off to the side. He gave his partner a firm glare and a silent message not to do anything. Pikachu narrowed his eyes and turned aside with a huff, little sparks of electricity bouncing off its cheeks. He clearly didn't agree with Ash's decision, but he would do as he was told. That was all he could ask for.

Ash turned back to face Bianca and silently gulped now that she was close. When they were younger, they'd practically been the same height. So many years later, he was a full head and shoulders taller. Even so, under her critical gaze he felt smaller than he'd ever been. He rested his hands at his side and managed to resist the urge to look away from her.

"Ash... you look well." Bianca's tone was even and gave nothing about her mood away.

He gave a short nod. "I..." He didn't know what to say. What was he supposed to say to her? Anabel and Looker had wanted him to reveal himself, but they hadn't known any more than he did about how to handle this kind of situation.

"I never expected to see you again, you know. Not after everything that happened."

He opened his mouth as if to say something, but no words came out. Bianca moved closer and raised her arms. He closed his eyes and braced himself for the inevitable blows. With what he'd been through recently, the miniscule amount of pain she could inflict would be nothing. If she felt he deserved it, then he wouldn't resist.

His eyes shot open. A gasp of shock escaped his mouth as her arms wrapped tightly around him and brought him into a hug. Dumbly, he wrapped his arms around her to return the hug. He shot a look towards Looker, Anabel, and Lorenzo. Each of them looked somewhere between surprised and amused. No help from them, it seemed.

"Thank you." She mumbled into his chest.

He blinked down at her in confusion. "For... what?"

She turned her head to look up at him with a coy smile. "For helping save us at the auction." She explained as though it were the simplest thing in the world. "That was you dressed as a Grunt, wasn't it? The one that was saved from a Golbat attack?"

He frowned. "How did you know about that?"

"A mutual friend of ours was there." She said vaguely. "She told me you were responsible for the police arriving."

"Ah... the police were there before Team Rocket arrived. We knew they'd be there, but we never thought something like that would happen." He admitted. "Honestly, me disguising myself as a member of Team Rocket was a last minute decision."

Anabel rolled her eyes. "Not a very bright one either since he put himself in danger needlessly."

Lorenzo let out an amused snort. "He wouldn't be Ash if he didn't act a bit reckless. It's part of his charm."

He managed a small smile. "I'm not that bad." He chuckled. "So... you two aren't angry at me?"

Bianca pulled out from their embrace and stepped back with a complicated look on their face. "Not angry, just... confused." She explained. "We saw the news reports of what you did the same as everyone else. At any other time, we'd be calling the police. But after a few weeks ago and now you showing up with these International Police, we're willing to give you a chance to explain."

Ash let out a sigh and walked over towards Pikachu. He sat on the ground next to his partner and allowed him to scramble into his lap. Absent-mindedly, he began to scratch his partner behind the ears. A chance to explain... it was more than he'd expected. He couldn't mess this up. Where to begin though?

"What do you two know about Team Rocket?" It was as good a place to start as any.

Lorenzo frowned. "They're a Kantonian crime syndicate that have infested Alto Mare. From what I hear, they mainly focus on smuggling and stealing Pokemon?"

"That's how they started out years ago." Looker interjected. "They've expanded into other types of crime since then."

Ash nodded. "They're still responsible for close to 30% of all Pokemon thefts world-wide though." It had been one of the first lessons he'd been taught upon his recruitment into the International Police. While 30% didn't sound like a lot, when one considered how large the world was and how many other criminals there were - both independents and organizations - it was startlingly large. "In recent years, their main targets have been Psychic types."

Bianca leaned forward. "Why? I know Psychics are powerful, but it's not like they're invincible."

"They don't have to be invincible." Anabel let out a sigh and leaned back in her seat. "Psychics have far more practical uses than just battling. One of them being their ability to control the minds of others."

Bianca's eyes widened and she looked to him in sympathy. "Are you saying that you were under the control of a psychic?"

Ash grimaced. "I was. I don't have any memory of being controlled or the crime though." He clenched his eyes shut in frustration. "I was weak. I couldn't do anything to resist them, and a woman lost their life because of it."

"That wasn't your fault, Ash." Anabel's voice was full of such genuine worry that he couldn't bear to look at her. "It takes an iron will and years of training to resist a psychic assault. You can't blame yourself."

Maybe not. That didn't mean he wasn't though. No matter what Anabel or Looker said, he was used as a weapon. He had been the one to kill her. The blood had been on his hands. It didn't matter that Team Rocket had forced him to do it. If he had just stayed in the hotel that night, she would still be alive.

"Anabel was the one who discovered I was controlled." He pushed on. "If it hadn't been for her, I'd have accepted responsibility for what happened... and probably have been killed by now."

"I'm a psychic." Anabel added upon Bianca and Lorenzo's questioning looks. "Once I took a look inside his head, the evidence all pointed to his innocence. Further investigation showed that Team Rocket had decided to frame him."

"Not that it can be proven." Ash said. "There's no hard evidence and the only witness was a Pokemon - which can't give testimony to anything. So Looker and Anabel helped me escape. They've given me the opportunity to help fight Team Rocket and clear my name."

"Which brought you here." Lorenzo finished. "Well, I can't say we don't appreciate the help. Our city can always use more people willing to do the right thing."

Ash chuckled. "I'm sure Latias will appreciate our help at least." Bianca and Lorenzo's eyes widened in shock, eyes flickering to Looker and Anabel while their mouths fell open. He rushed to reassure them. "I told them everything. They know about Latias, the Soul Dew, and what happened years ago. I tried to keep it secret..."

Looker chose that moment to speak up. "He did. He revealed it to us after the events at the auction." Looker frowned in worry. "Don't blame him. He only did it out of concern for the two of you and this city.

Lorenzo turned his skeptical gaze to Looker. "And what do you plan to do now that you know?"

Looker smiled. "At the moment? Arrest Proton and kick Team Rocket out of the city." He declared. "As for what comes after? I was thinking of a partnership between you and the International Police. One that could help protect this city from complete destruction. All I ask is that you hear me out before deciding anything."


Looker and Lorenzo had spoken at length about the International Police and what they could do to aid in the protection of Alto Mare. Lorenzo had seemed interested in the idea of dedicated manpower and resources. Not only would Latias have allies in her fight, with the International Police taking permanent residence in the city they could mold the lackluster, corrupt local police into a truly effective fighting force. As far as Ash was concerned, there was no reason for them to reject it.

The only issue was the Soul Dew. Neither Bianca nor Lorenzo wanted to International Police studying the DMA or the Soul Dew. They didn't like the idea of anyone tampering with those. If either were damaged beyond repair, the entire city would be put at risk. Lorenzo had nearly lost his temper when he heard Looker suggest finding a way to safely remove the Soul Dew. Not to mention he hadn't liked the idea of anyone possessing them - International Police or not. To Lorenzo, no one could trusted with that kind of power.

It had seemed like the promising alliance that would safeguard Alto Mare would be destroyed before it could even begin. Luckily for them all, Bianca had suggested that they seek Latias' opinion. As the true guardian of this city, the final say on whether or not the International Police would be allowed to work with them was up to her.

That was how Ash found himself walking through the streets of this historic city with only Pikachu by his side. Given his history with Latias, it had been decided that he would be the best one to approach her. Put a friendly face to the International Police, or so Looker had said. Meanwhile, Looker and Anabel would head back to the headquarters of the police to continue their search for Proton.

Walking through these streets brought back memories. If he closed his eyes, he could imagine he was a kid again. What he wouldn't give to return to those simpler times when he could spend every day with his closest friends. When the thought of catching new Pokemon and meeting new people was enough to make him excited for whatever the day would bring.

He shook his head and let out a small sigh. If only things were that simple. He couldn't get caught up on dreaming of a past long gone. The present was what mattered. If he could convince Latias to work with them, then he could save so many people. Not just the nameless, faceless people of Alto Mare but his friends too. They had been pushing their luck fighting Team Rocket already. Now that Lorenzo and Bianca had captured their interest, it would only have been a matter of time until they made their move.

Even all these years later, Ash was able to traverse the maze-like backstreets of Alto Mare as though he'd never left. In another life, perhaps he could have called this city home. Despite the presence of Team Rocket, the city still had an air of calm to it that he could appreciate it. Maybe when this was all over - if he could ever clear his name - he'd get a little home here.

It wasn't likely to happen, but he could dream.

Latias' home was a garden within the heart of the city hidden by an illusionary wall by a small water fountain. When he finally found the entrance to the secret garden, he paused. Bianca claimed that Latias knew he was here, even if she didn't know why. How would she react to him just showing up out of nowhere in the most secret place within the city? Was he even welcome anymore? Lorenzo and Bianca had been quick to assure him that he would be but... he wasn't so sure. If there was one thing he knew about Legendary Pokemon, it was that they were a prideful bunch.

There was only one way to find out.

Taking a quick breath to steady his nerves, he and Pikachu stepped through the illusion. They appeared on the other and moved through the narrow, granite hallway to find the garden. It was... as beautiful as he remembered it. It took his breath away. The trees and flowers were so vibrant and full of life. The pools of water scattered through the large garden had water so refreshing to look at he longed to drink from them. There even Pokemon running around and playing with one another. Mainly Yanma, Poliwag, and Pidgey's but there were others as well. Even when they noticed him standing at the edge of the garden, they waved in happiness before going about their day.

"This place is exactly like a remember it." He mumbled. "As peaceful as ever. Let's hope that Team Rocket never finds this place."

Pikachu nodded in agreement at his feet before scampering up to rest on his shoulder. Ash turned to regard his partner for a moment. "Well? Can you tell if she's nearby?" Pikachu took a quick sniff of the air before shaking his head. "She must not be here then. Well... nothing else to do but wait."

The two of them moved through the garden and allowed themselves to relax. Ash moved past the Pokemon playing in the pools of water and gave them a smile. As nice as it would have been to sit down and watch these Pokemon enjoy their simple life, he had something more important to do while he waited for Latias to return.

He had to pay his respects.

In the center of this serene sanctuary was a small pool of clear blue water. It was utterly unremarkable aside from one simple thing. Submerged in the center of the pool was a small jewel that could fit in the palm of his hand. It was an iridescent shade of blue and seemed to glow with a blinding energy in its center. It was one of the most beautiful jewels in the world. Any collector would have given their limbs for the chance to own it.

It was also the only thing standing between this wonderful city and a watery doom. The Soul Dew. It may have looked like nothing other than a simple, if beautiful, jewel but Ash knew better. He'd seen what this thing was capable of in the wrong hands once before. He would not allow Team Rocket to get their hands on it. Especially not when it contained the soul of the very creature that had sacrificed itself to save them all.

"Hey, Latios... it's been a while." He began. Pikachu hopped off his shoulder to sit on the edge of the pool and run his paws through the cool water. "I'm not sure if you're still conscious in there or if you even remember me, but I wanted to thank you."

There was no sound in the garden other than the rustling of the leaves and the chirps of the Pokemon playing.

Ash let out a short laugh. "Yeah, I guess you can't say anything. Not that I'd have understand it even if you could." He said. "I just never thanked you years ago. Funny, isn't it? You sacrificed yourself to save me and everyone else... and I was too self-centered to spare even a few words for you."

Silence.

"That's not to say I wasn't grateful!" He rushed to reassure the Soul Dew. "I thought you were so cool and so brave for sacrificing yourself. You were like one of the heroes that you'd hear about in old stories. The kind that can face insurmountable odds and certain death without a hint of fear to protect others."

He ran his hand along the surface of the water and allowed a sad smile to grace his face. "Except you weren't fearless, were you?" He asked. As predicted, there was no answer. "It's stupid to think you weren't afraid. You must have been terrified. Your family was in danger. Your home was about to be destroyed. The legacy of your father was about to be swept away. You were about to die. Anyone - Human or Pokemon - would have been scared."

Pikachu looked up to him in worry. Ash couldn't bear to look him in the eyes.

"I think I can understand why you did it though." He let out a shaky breath. "You were scared of dying, yeah. But you were terrified about what would happen to everyone else more. You couldn't stand the thought of anything happening to them. So, you were willing to give everything you had just to make sure they survived - no matter the pain."

He clenched his eyes shut and tightened his hands into fists. "I went through something similar recently. Not at the same scale but... my friends were in danger. Innocent people too. They were caught in the middle of one of Team Rocket's schemes. And I rushed off without thinking knowing I had to save them." He laughed even as tears began to gather at the edge of his eyes. "Everyone said it was a stupid idea. That I should have sat back to let those more experienced deal with it. And they were right."

A tiny yellow paw rested itself on his arms. Ash looked down at Pikachu and tried his best to give him a reassuring smile. It must not have worked because Pikachu let out a low growl and began to rub his cheek against his arms in an attempt to make him feel better. It helped more than Ash had thought it would.

"The thing is... I couldn't just sit by and do nothing. Not when everyone was in so much danger." He whispered. "The idea that they would have been hurt while I sat by and did nothing? It was unacceptable to me. So I tried my best to help them. Not that it did a lot of good. I nearly got myself killed and it turns out Latias was there to save the day, so I wasn't even needed. Just another stupid decision on my part."

He shook his head. "And now I'm rambling... sorry. This is probably the first conversation you've had in years. You don't need to hear me pity myself." He sighed. "I just want you to know that I understand the sacrifice you made for us all - better than anyone. So, thank you, Latios. I'll do my best to make sure it wasn't in vain."

"He would have appreciated knowing you thought so highly of him, Ash."

Ash spun around and raised his fists to defend himself. Pikachu hopped away from the pool of water and lowered himself to the ground, electricity sparking off of him dangerously. Ash's eyes frantically searched the clearing for the source of the voice but... nothing. There was no one else in the garden but him and the native Pokemon.

"Who said that?" He dared call out. "If you're not a threat, show yourself!"

A giggle filled the air. "If I were a threat, you'd already be on the ground." The voice was clearly amused at his response. "Still, I guess it would be rude to stay invisible."

Mere feet away from them, the source of the voice revealed itself to be Latias. She slowly shimmered into view as she lowered her cloaking ability. She was bigger than last he'd seen her with a wingspan easily larger than himself. Her feathers seemed to be a far darker shade of red than he remembered as well, and her eyes shined with a maturity that only came with age.

He quickly raised his arm to wipe away his tears even as Pikachu finally relaxed at his side. She didn't need to see that he had been crying. "Latias! You look great... how much of that did you hear?"

He hoped she didn't hear all of it.

Sadly, as usual his hopes amounted to nothing. "All of it." She smiled sadly and floated closer to him. She gently nuzzled his face, and he could feel... acceptance coming off of her. "I wondered when you'd finally show up. It's been weeks!"

He flushed in embarrassment. "It must have skipped my mind." It sounded like a weak excuse even to him. "Since when could you talk?"

Latias pulled away and rolled her eyes in amusement. "Since always? Maybe you've just finally decided to start listening?" She teased. "I'm using telepathy. I learned it not long after you left. It's nice to finally be able to talk with you Humans."

His eyes widened. "That's amazing, Latias!"

Latias grinned. "You think that's impressive? Listen to this." She turned to look at Pikachu. "It's been a while, Pikachu. You look stronger than ever. Still stealing ketchup when he isn't looking?"

What came next nearly left Ash speechless. Pikachu held a paw behind his head and let out a loud laugh. "I don't have to steal anything! All I gotta do is give him the sad eyes and he folds like a house of cards!"

"I knew you were messing with me!" He growled in response. His eyes widened in shock. "Hold on... I can understand you!"

Pikachu looked up at him in bewilderment. "You can!? Then I take it back! I really do get depressed when you don't give me ketchup!"

Latias giggled in amusement. "I can also help the brain translate Pokemon language. You're welcome."

He and Pikachu looked at her in awe. "You really are amazing, you know that?"

Latias smirked. "Oh, I know." She tilted her head to the side in curiosity. "So... what brings you back to Alto Mare? And why were you there the night of the auction?"

Ash frowned and mentally slapped himself. He was here for a reason! He couldn't go getting sidetracked by his old friends new abilities. "How much do you know about my situation?"

Latias blinked in confusion. "I know that other Humans consider you a criminal. The news say you murdered a woman." She must have noticed his flinch because she rushed to speak again. "Not that I believed them! The boy I knew years ago would never have done that."

Her faith in him was astounding. His friends had all lost faith in him the moment they heard the evidence against him. Even he hadn't believed his innocence until Anabel had looked into his mind and confirmed it for him. Yet here in Alto Mare was not one, but three people he hadn't seen in years willing to give him the benefit of the doubt...

He didn't know if that was touching or naive. Frankly, he didn't care. It meant more to him than they would ever know.

"Well... long story short, I was hypnotized by one of Team Rocket's Pokemon to k-kill that woman." Even now, the thought of actually taking a life filled him with revulsion. He swore that he would never take a life for as long as he lived. All life was precious. "The International Police - the ones you saw at the auction - rescued me. They're helping me clear my name and I'm helping them fight Team Rocket."

Latias' eyes glowed with a blue light. A shiver ran down his spine as he felt a... presence for lack of a better term enter his mind. Unlike Anabel who had clinically worked her way through his mind or the psychics he had encountered in his journey that smashed through his defenses, this presence was gentle. It slowly worked through his mind and emotions as it searched for answers. Once it found what it wanted, it slowly retreated from his mind and left him with a feeling of content.

He shook his head. "What was that?"

Latias floated up until she was looking him in the eyes. "I took a look into your mind." She explained. "I know it's intrusive but... well I wanted to make sure it was true. Now I can say for sure. There's a chasm where your memories should be."

He shifted uncomfortably in place. "Ah... can you not do that again?" He asked. "It's nothing against you. I just don't like psychics poking around in my head after what happened."

Latias' eyes widened. "No no no! You don't have to explain! After what happened, I completely understand!" She rushed to reassure him. "While I was in there, though, I did notice a few other things?"

Pikachu hopped up onto his shoulder and tilted his head to the side. "Like what?"

She frowned. "Why you're here in Alto Mare and the deal they want you to make... among other things."

The look of pure concern she gave him made Ash feel uncomfortable. He couldn't say for sure what she'd seen in his mind, but he could take a guess. If she really had heard his confession to the Soul Dew, she must have gotten curious and seen what happened at the auction.

Ash cleared his throat. "So... what do you think?"

Latias sighed and floated over towards the pool that contained the Soul Dew. She ran her claws through the water and kept her back turned to him. "Do you trust the International Police, Ash?"

"Of course!" He nodded firmly. "We're the good guys. I trust Looker and Anabel with my life!"

"I'm not talking about them." She clarified. "I'm talking about the other members. Their comrades and superiors. Would you trust them with the secrets of Alto Mare?"

He paused. Did he trust the International Police? His first instinct was to say yes even without Looker and Anabel being part of the equation. They were the ones upholding the law and fighting against Team Rocket. Even when everyone else turned a blind eye, they were there acting as the bulwark against chaos. Yet at the same time... agents like Petrovic existed. He may have had the best intentions, but that man took pleasure in the brutality. If they were willing to use those types of agents, were they truly the paragons he thought they were?

"I can't talk about the entire organization. I've only been with them a few months." He said after a few moments of silence. "What I know is that their only interest is in protecting people. Some of their people may have the wrong methods, but they all want what's best for people."

Pikachu hummed in thought. "You're strong, Latias, but you're on your own." He added. "It's only a matter of time until you're overwhelmed. The International Police are the only ones with the manpower and resources who can help."

Latias let out a slow, tired sigh before turning to face them once more. Her eyes shined with worry. "Help who? The city or themselves?" She pushed. "You know what happens if the Soul Dew leaves this garden for too long. What if in their war against Team Rocket, they decide having it here is too much of a risk? What if they try to take it regardless of the consequences?"

Then everyone in this city would die. There was no other outcome of the Soul Dew leaving the city and they all knew it.

"They wouldn't do that." He said instead. "Even if some of them may be more... eccentric than others, none of them want the destruction of an entire city on their conscious. At best, they'll study the Soul Dew to find a way to safely remove it. I don't believe for a second they'd take it if it was still a danger to the city though."

Even Team Rocket didn't seem like the type to want the destruction of an entire city. That was more Plasma and Galactic's thing. Team Rocket probably didn't even know what taking it would do. Unlike the International Police, however, he couldn't say for certain they'd ignore the temptation to steal it.

Latias stared at the two of them long and hard. It was as if she was judging whether or not her trust in them could be extended to their allies. Finally, she sighed and moved back towards them. "I'll consider it... I want to meet Looker and Anabel first. If I can trust them and they help remove Team Rocket from the city, then I'll allow an alliance."

Ash smiled. "Good! They'll love to meet you and I'm sure you'll like them. Trust me, they're the best people in the world."

She rolled her eyes. "I'm sure I'll find out for myself later. For now, though, you have some explaining to do! I wanna hear all about your adventures travelling the world!"

For the first time in what felt like ages, a genuine smile graced his face.


"Do you think he'll be able to pull it off?"

Looker spared a glance towards Anabel and hummed in thought. It wasn't an unreasonable question. They needed this alliance to work. With cooperation from a Legendary and natives of the city, the International Police could make a difference here. Given Ash's history, he was confident that the boy could get results. He knew better than anyone how important it was that they worked alongside the law.

On the off chance that he couldn't though? Things would get... messy. It wasn't just that a Legendary was running amok in the city, there was a doomsday switch that would go off the moment someone took it out of wherever this garden was. If Latias and her people refused? They would have no choice but to act. If that meant fighting a territorial Legend and seizing control of the Soul Dew so it was in safe hands then that was what they would do. They didn't have any other choice. Thousands of lives were on the line.

"Ash can be persuasive when he needs to be." He said instead. "Have a little faith, Anabel."

Anabel huffed and leaned back in her seat. The two of them were back at police headquarters in Alto Mare. The building was massive yet still managed to be cramped with pale paint that should have been replaced years ago. When they'd first arrived, they'd found police asleep at their desks and drinking on the job. Even after revealing who they were, the lazy attitude hadn't changed. Looker and his young partner had been shuffled off into a small office room on the first floor to conduct their investigation and left alone.

Petrovic had laughed the entire time. It had taken every ounce of his self-control not to break the man's nose.

"I have faith in him." Anabel crossed her arms. "I'm just worried what we'll do if they say no."

Looker frowned. "Whatever we have to. The city is more important than the pride of a Legend." He sighed. "The director will know what to do if the alliance falls through."

Anabel tilted her head to the side. "Speaking of the director... do you know who they are? I've heard how we answer to them, but I don't actually know what they look like. Or anything about them really."

A small grin spread across his face. "That's the biggest mystery in the International Police, my friend." He said. "No one knows who they are or what they look like. All we know about them is they helped end the Great War and they created our organization in the model of the old intelligence agencies. Well... that and the rumors they challenged Yveltal to a game of riddles, but that's probably a lie."

Anabel's eyes narrowed in thought. He could see the questions swirling through her mind and her desire to ask more. It was the same reaction every new agent had when they eventually learned the mystery of their illusive leader. He doubted he'd ever stop being amused by their painfully curious expressions.

"So, no one knows who they are?"

Looker shook his head. "Nope." He made sure to pop the P as he spoke. "There's plenty of theories, of course. Some think he's a grizzled old veteran who got tired of the death and destruction. Some people claim that they're an incredibly powerful and hyper intelligent Pokemon pulling our strings. Hell, some of the crazier ones think the director is an AI developed during the war that went rogue."

Anabel blinked in bewilderment. "And what do you think?"

He shrugged. "I think it doesn't matter who or what they are. They're helping preserve the peace and that's all I care about." A slow grin crossed his face. "If I had to make a guess though... I think it's not a single person. I think it's a group. That's the only explanation for how they could achieve so much without having their identity revealed."

Before she could ask any more questions, there was a loud crash as something heavy fell to the ground and there were many shouts of alarm. Looker and Anabel exchanged a brief look before they got up to leave their small office. What they emerged to find was officers scrambling out of the door and clerks frantically shouting into phones at those on the other. Petrovic saw them and moved towards them with a grim expression on his face.

Seeing his arrogant comrade with such a look immediately set him on edge.

"What's going on?" Anabel asked.

Petrovic sneered. "We're getting fucked is what's going on." He growled. "We're getting alerts across the entire city."

Her eyes widened. "What kind of alerts?"

"It'd be easier to tell you what we aren't dealing with." Petrovic cracked his neck in annoyance. "We've got fires at the docks, there was an explosion at the northern Pokemon center, three of the largest banks are reporting robberies at the same time, hospitals across the city have lost power, and there's reports of rabid Pokemon attacking crowds of people on every street corner. It's all hands on deck."

"Is this Team Rocket?"

Petrovic scoffed. "I doubt it. There's been no mention of anyone wearing their uniforms or stealing Pokemon."

Looker's eyes narrowed. "That doesn't mean it's not them." His fists clenched in rage. "They've been quiet for weeks and we never knew why. It looks like they were preparing these attacks."

"There's no proof it's them." Petrovic growled. "They've never done something on this scale before and I can't see any reason why they'd start now." He turned his back and marched away, though not before calling out over his shoulder. "I'm going to see if I can save the people being attacked at the marketplace. You're welcome to join me."

Anabel nodded. "Right- huh?" She glanced back at Looker as he caught her arm in his hand. "What's wrong?"

"This feels off, Anabel." His eyes narrowed. "Attacks, tragedies, and emergencies happening across the city all at once? To the point that every officer and trainer willing to help is stretched thin? Doesn't this remind you of anything?"

Realization slowly dawned on her. "Viridian... it's like what we did at Viridian to free Ash."

It was said that the most dangerous enemies weren't those with the most powerful Pokemon or vast resources on their side, but those that learned from their defeat. Those that survived to learn their weaknesses and adapt the strategies of their enemies to suit their own goals. It seemed that Team Rocket was taking a page out of their book. Imitation was supposed to be the highest form of flattery, but all Looker felt was disgust.

He nodded. "Exactly. Notice how out of everything being attacked or experiencing some emergency, the museum wasn't mentioned at all?"

Her eyes narrowed. "You think they're going after the DMA? How would they even get it out of the museum? It's massive!"

"I don't know anything for sure." He sighed. "That's why I need you to go to the museum and make sure it's safe. Until we have the city back under our control, I'm ordering you to guard that museum with your life. Understood."

She gave him a firm nod. "Understood." She took off sprinting out the door towards the museum.

Perhaps he should have gone with her as back-up, but he needed to stay here. If he went into the field, he wouldn't be able to see the entire picture. Even if the police headquarters in this city was lacking compared to the International Police, it was still the center of information. Once Team Rocket made their move, he would be ready to act. He was confident that Anabel could look after herself in the meantime.

She was the strongest of them, after all.

He needed to find out what Ash was doing and cover his bases. He dialed Ash's number and raised his Pokegear to his ear. On the third ring, Ash picked up. Looker cut him off before he could speak.

"Where are you?"

"I'm with Latias like you told me. Is something wrong?"

"You could say that." A morbid laugh escaped him. "I think Team Rocket has made their move. They're trying to spread us thin across the city with emergencies and distract us from their real goal."

He could hear Ash suck in a deep breath on the other end. "What do you need me to do?"

Looker narrowed his eyes at a map on screen in the center of the room. It showed the current state of the city in real time and the situation wasn't looking good. Half of the city was shadowed in a bright red and on fire. If what he could overhear from the dispatchers and clerks was any indication, the city was in complete chaos.

"You said that the garden is hidden?" He asked. "No one should be able to find it or what's inside?"

A moment of silence. "No. Latias says she erased the memory of the garden from Annie and Oakley's minds. There's no way Team Rocket could know about it."

Thank Arceus for small mercies. "Then I need you and Latias to find Bianca and Lorenzo." He ordered. "They're targets so we need to offer them as much protection as possible. Anabel is on her way to the museum and I'm overseeing the situation from headquarters. If either of you are attacked, I'll try my best to send reinforcements your way."

"Understood, sir. We'll find them."

"No heroics this time, Ash." He warned. "I don't want you putting yourself in unnecessary danger. Am I clear?"

"I won't, Looker. I promise I'll think before I act this time."

That was all he could hope for. With a tired grunt, he hung up the Pokegear and turned his attention to the crisis map. He needed to figure out what their target was. While it was a safe bet they were after the Soul Dew and everything related to it, he couldn't get tunnel vision. If he focused too hard on the Soul Dew or the DMA, he could overlook an important detail. That could be a mistake he'd pay for in innocent lives.

Before he could spend any time truly thinking over the situation, the building violently shook from an explosion and sent him sprawling to the ground as the room was field with dust and debris. He scrambled to his feet and looked towards the source of the explosion. Where once there had been an old cement wall was now a gaping hole large enough for a truck to fit through. Once the dust settled and he could see clearly once more, he paled in worry.

Stood at the newly made entrance was over a dozen men and women with an assortment of Pokemon by their side - ranging from Golbat and Raticate to Machoke and Arbok. Their trainers were dressed in raggedy hoodies and baggy brown pants with masks obscuring their faces. Each of them was wielding a blunt weapon some kind in their hands such as baseball bats and crowbars.

One of them twirled their bat and stepped forward. "Remember what the boss said. Kick the shit out of them but try not to kill anyone. Otherwise, it's time to have some fun!"

The was all the warning they received before the crowd of deadly Pokemon, and their trainers charged forward to brutalize them all. Some of the clerks and dispatchers were too slow to react and fell under the initial blows. Their cries of pain were loud and hard to listen to, but they were not the last sounds of dying men. They were taking the orders of their boss seriously at least.

This had to be Team Rocket. Regular criminals would never have been bold enough to attack police headquarters in broad daylight. Even if they could pull it off, the retaliation would have meant the violent end of the gang sooner or later. For all that Team Rocket tried to hide their involvement by dressing their members up, he could see through it. What he couldn't understand was why they would attack in conjunction with everything else. What were they trying to distract them from?

He'd have to worry about that later. He had to focus on the here and now.

He reached into the pockets of his trench coat and pulled out two Pokeballs. He tossed them in the air and in a flash of light his Pokemon were released into the world. Growlithe and Croagunk had been his partners since he was a kid. They'd been with him through the worst moments of his life. When he joined the International Police, it had only been natural that he take them with him.

All it took was a single look around the chaotic room and they were prepared for battle. The same couldn't be said for the others who had stayed behind at headquarters. Even now they were either being beaten by the disguised members of Team Rocket or frozen in shock. If they were going to have any chance of repelling this attack, that couldn't last.

"Stop standing around!" He shouted. "Release your Pokemon and fight back! You're the protectors of Alto Mare, so start acting like it!"

That seemed to rouse some of them into action. With angry, desperate roars they released their own Pokemon and grabbed nearby items to use as weapons. It wasn't an impressive display, truth be told. Most of them only had Poochyena's, Sentret's, and Lillipup's. As far as weapons went, it was only small paper weights, pencils, and whatever else they could be used to bludgeon someone into submission. Compared to the heavily armed gang members and their imposing Pokemon, the odds weren't in their favor.

He'd have to tip the scales back in their direction.

Looker gave a silent nod to his Growlithe and Croagunk. That was all the command they needed to rush forward into the fray. Team Rocket didn't seem particularly alarmed. Not when their own Pokemon were almost all fully evolved. They learned quickly that their arrogance was a mistake. His partners may not have had the power of their evolved forms, but they made up for it with experience.

Growlithe leapt into the thick of the fighting and rammed itself into the side of an Arbok at full force. The Arbok was pushed back a few feet but appeared more annoyed than hurt. The violet serpent growled and lashed out with its tail as it glowed brightly with the purple, toxic energy of a Poison Tail. Growlithe waited until the last moment before it leapt to the side of the tail just as it slammed into the concrete floor where it had once stood, sending debris flying onto the air.

The moment it landed, Growlithe latched onto the Arbok's tail with a painful Crunch. The Arbok let out a pained cry as its foul smelling blood began to seep from the wound into its attackers mouth and it began to thrash around in an attempt to throw the faithful hound off. This only made Growlithe bite down harder and dig its feet into the ground to hold its opponent in place. With its jaws still clutching the tail, its fangs lit up in a blaze of fire and scorched the flesh of the Arbok. The smell of burning, putrid flesh was enough to send those with more sensitive noses in the room into coughing fits. All except for Growlithe who's eyes blazed with fury.

While the Arbok continued to whimper and struggling against the bite of its attacker, Growlithe spun around and threw the Arbok through the air with surprising strength given its small size. It sailed through the air and slammed into a small group of Raticate that had been gnawing on the legs of one unfortunate clerk caught in the crossfire. Growlithe reared back and took in a gulp of air... before releasing a stream orange flames from its maws that caused the air to sizzle. Faster than the Human eye could track, the Flamethrower traveled through the air directly over the bodies of the injured before slamming into the Arbok and Raticate in an explosion of heat that caused everyone nearby to sweat.

The screams of the Arbok and Raticate were never heard as the flames robbed the air from their lungs.

For its part, Croagunk had leapt directly in-between a blast of Acid and an injured Sentret. Thanks in no small part to its natural Poison typing, it was capable of tanking the corrosive liquid with ease. It was fortunate too as the acid that splashed off of his body and fell to the floor ate away at the concrete with sickening ease. The Arbok that had launched the attack narrowed its eyes in frustration and its fangs glowed as it prepared to lash out with a vicious Bite.

It never got the chance. Croagunk surged forward with speed that belied its true size and jabbed its left hand directly into the lungs of the Arbok in a Sucker Punch. The snake lurched forward and let out a silent gasp of pain as it choked on air. Croagunk regarded it with cold contempt and reared its right hand back, curling it into a fist. Air began to coalesce around its fist until it began to freeze over, and the air visibly wafted around it.

Croagunk's fist rocketed forward in an Ice Punch and slammed into the eye of the Arbok with so much force that bones could be heard fracturing even over the din of battle. The Arbok flew through the air and slammed into a wall, creating spider-web cracks where it impacted. It slowly slid to the ground where it lay unconscious, eyes frozen shut by a thick layer of opaque ice.

Croagunk paid little attention to its fallen opponent once it was clear they were no longer a threat and rushed back into the thick of the fighting. Its goal was clear: defend those that couldn't defend themselves.

If Team Rocket had come expecting an easy beat down, they were getting far more than they bargained for.

For his part, Looker hadn't just been sitting back while his Pokemon fought in the thick of the battle. The moment his Pokemon had left his side, one of the Grunt's charged towards him with a booming battle cry. He had a slim, metal battle in his hands which was already coated in blood and had already reared back ready to swing. Looker simply rolled his eyes at the telegraphed attack and waited patiently for the Grunt to get close. In the man's battle frenzy, he must have thought Looker was frozen in fear. That was a mistake that would cost him.

Once the Grunt got within striking distance, he swung wildly in a horizontal arc with enough force to crack open a Human skull with ease. Looker quickly leaned out of the way just enough for the bat to miss and swing wildly out of the way. With so much strength put behind the swing, it was out of his control. Not for long, but a few moments were all Looker needed.

Stepping into the Grunt's guard, Looker launched his fist into the man's exposed throat. Reflexively, the Grunt dropped the bat and stumbled back in pain while clutching his throat. While the Grunt let out pained coughs, Looker scooped the bloody bat up off of the floor and twirled it in his hand for a moment. He could tell by the weight and texture of the grip that it was cheaply made but it would do. The Grunt's eyes practically bulged out of his skull when Looker stabbed the tip of the bat into his exposed stomach.

The Grunt doubled over in pain and clutched his gut with his eyes clenched shut. If nothing else, that made what came next easier since the man wouldn't have to fear. Raising the bat high into the air, Looker brought it down with as much force as he could muster onto the back of the Grunt's skull. There was an audible, wet crack as the heavy bat smashed into its target and some of the blood spattered back onto Looker's face. The unfortunate Grunt crumpled to ground like a sack of bricks with vacant eyes and blood pooling beneath him.

Death was not a new phenomenon for Looker. When you lived a life of intrigue and dedicated yourself to fighting the worst Humanity had to offer, it was a common occurrence. Ash didn't realize it yet, but sooner or later he would be forced to cross the same line they all did. As distasteful and horrific as it was, sometimes it was a necessary evil in this job. He would do his damndest to make sure it didn't happen before Ash was ready to deal with the consequences though. It was the least he owed the boy.

An anguished cry erupted in the room and drew his attention away from the body of his would-be attacker. Visibly shaking with rage in the center of the fighting was a single Machoke. It seemed to ignore everything going on around it even as attacks bounced harmlessly off of its powerful muscles. The Machoke's eyes were locked firmly on the grunt that lay at Looker's feet. Slowly, its eyes slid from the body to him and the bloody bat in his hands. Realization dawned on him.

This Grunt must have been its trainer.

The Machoke's eyes blazed with fury and its fists clenched so hard he could see blood leaking from its hands. With a guttural roar of pure rage, the Machoke barreled through anyone in its way and threw them out of its path with such power he could hear bones break. It didn't matter if they were members of Team Rocket or the police, they were all treated with the same lack of restraint or care. It only had one goal now: to make him suffer and avenge its trainer.

Looker tensed up as the Machoke drew near with startling speed. Fighting any Pokemon in close combat was a dangerous gambit for a Human. Standard operating procedure was to use Pokemon of their own to deal with the danger. Failing that, firearms and excessive explosives were all highly effective on Pokemon without natural armor. When retreat wasn't possible, the only option was to grit your teeth and do whatever it took to survive.

Fortunately for him, this kind of scenario was precisely why the International Police made it mandatory for all agents to learn how to fight Pokemon.

The Machoke reared its fist back once it drew close. The fist pulsed with rabid, red energy and the Machoke's muscles throbbed. Fueled by animalistic rage, the Machoke lashed out with a Strength attack that could have turned him into a fine, red paste. Luckily for him, Looker was able to roll under the blow and out of the way of the attack behind it. Raising the bat, he slammed the body of his weapon into the side of its right kneecap.

Machoke grunted in pain but was otherwise unharmed. It turned on a dime and swept its arm out in a wide, horizontal arc. Looker leapt backwards to avoid the blow and raised his bat defensively in front of him. In a burst of speed, the Machoke was on him and launching a flurry of punches, chops, and kicks that all glowed with the powerful energy of Fighting type attacks. If the Machoke had been in control of its temper, he likely would have fallen under the assault. With its mind clouded by rage, its moves became predictable.

Not clumsy or any less dangerous, but predictable enough that he was able to bob and weave around the lethal attacks. He was never able to go on the offensive. Not without risking one of those blows landing and shattering his bones into a million pieces, but he knew that an opportunity would present itself. The longer he kept avoiding the blows, the angrier the Machoke grew. The Pokemon would grow reckless and give him an opening to capitalize on.

His predictions proved true when the Machoke growled in annoyance and raised its right hand into the sky. Quicker than the untrained eye could perceive, it brought it down with such force and precision that he would have been cleaved in two if he hadn't moved. He dodged to the side at the last possible second and could feel the wind rushing past his face. The Brick Break slammed into the floor with such power that the ground shattered underneath it. Wasting no time, Looker reared back with the bat once more and smashed it into the Machoke's right kneecap again.

Unlike last time, the Machoke visibly flinched as the bat connected with a meaty thwack and stumbled to the ground. Someone like Ash would have felt sympathy for a Pokemon in obvious pain and moved to retreat. Looker knew better. When an opponent was off balance, you couldn't afford to show mercy or restraint. He raised the bat down and swung with as much force as he could muster at the right kneecap.

This was his undoing. Mere moments before the bat would have connected with the Machoke's bruised leg, its hand shot out and grabbed the weapon in the middle of its arc. With almost pitiful ease, it squeezed its hand shut around the metal and snapped the bat in two. With another roar of anger, the Machoke was back on its feet and moved to attack. This time he was too slow to dodge and was punished for it with a powerful punch to the chest that sent him flying through the air.

He slammed through a wooden desk and rolled to a stop not far from the rubble. His vision swam and his entire chest burned with agony. Before he could think of moving, he was lifted up off of the ground and slammed into the nearby wall so hard he gasped in pain. Two powerful hands wrapped around his throat, and he reflexively brought up his own to try and pull them away. Predictably, it accomplished nothing.

No matter how skilled or strong a Human was they would never be capable of overpowering a Pokémon's raw, supernatural strength.

Looker forced himself to gaze into the smoldering eyes of the Machoke. It held nothing but contempt and hatred for him but was staying its hand. With its strength, it could have snapped his neck with barely any effort whatsoever. No... he could tell that it wanted him to suffer a slow, agonizing death for killing its trainer. As he felt its hands begin to slowly tighten around his neck, Looker knew that if he didn't act quick then his fate would be sealed.

"You must... really hate me." He forced out with gritted teeth. "Can't say I blame you if that was your trainer..."

The Machoke's eyes narrowed and stopped squeezing his neck for a moment. A moment he capitalized on.

"I don't regret it though. That man was scum that deserved worse." The Machoke snarled and bared its fangs as it began to squeeze his throat even tighter. "I... on the other hand... have no intention of dying today."

He raised his left arm above them in a quick, dramatic flourish. Instinctively, the Machoke's eyes were drawn to it. With it distracted, Looker was able to work his right hand inside of his trench coat and unsheathe a simple, silver knife from his belt. With as much speed and power as he could summon in his weakened state, he thrust the knife into ribcage of enraged beast. With a quick twist of his wrist, he yanked his dagger out of the Machoke and began to slash its chest in quick, rapid strikes.

This proved to be too much for it. Machoke released him from its grip and stumbled backwards while clutching its wounds in its hands. Once he hit the ground, Looker rushed towards the Machoke with his dagger poised to strike and ignoring the way that his throat throbbed in pain. Still clutching its wounds, the Machoke's entire body began to glow a dark, pulsating red before trying to lash out in a powerful Revenge attack.

Looker twisted around the blow to the right side of the Machoke. His enemies eyes widened as it realized what was going to happen, but it was too slow to react in time. Looker slammed his boot into the side of its right kneecap with all the force he could muster. He was reward with an audible crack and a cry of agonized pain as the Machoke stumbled to ground in pain.

With Machoke focused on its crippling wound, Looker worked his way behind it and readied his knife. He grabbed the back of the brown ridges atop its skull and forced its head back. The Machoke realized what he was trying to do and tried reach behind itself to grab onto him, thrashing in his hold the entire time. It was too late for that. In a single, swift motion he slammed his knife in the exposed throat of the Machoke and sliced through it from end to end. Its struggles slowly came to an end in his grasp as the severity of the wound finally began to set in.

With one final twist of his knife, he pulled it out and pushed the dying Machoke to the ground. Even as its life ebbed away and its crimson blood pooled beneath it, the Machoke glared up at him with all the hate in its soul and weakly tried to grab onto him. He easily avoided its grasp and turned away him it. It was no longer a threat and so there was no need to focus any more attention on the pitiful creature.

His little brawl with the Machoke had lasted less than a minute and largely gone unnoticed by the Grunts and their Pokemon. They no doubt had expected him to die and decided to focus their attention on more pressing threats. He twirled the knife in his hand and narrowed his eyes at the exposed back of one of the Grunt's kicking one of the younger dispatchers on the ground.

It was time to show them why you never turned your back on the International Police.


Proton let out a sigh and traced his fingers along the edge of the DMA. He gazed up at the ancient technological marvel with disdain. So much fuss over a worthless piece of tech that was all but useless without access to both a Latias and a Soul Dew. At this point, Proton was convinced they were wasting resources trying to learn its secrets. If he could do things his way, they would focus more on their smuggling operation and draw out that Legendary.

Sadly, Giovanni saw things differently. If his boss wanted its secrets then Proton would make sure he got them. He had no interest in being the next chew toy for the boss' Persian, after all.

He turned his attention to the rest of the museum and leaned back against the DMA with his arms crossed in front of him. Grunts were patrolling the halls and snatching the most valuable pieces of art from the walls while scientists tinkered with the ancient machine. At his side, some of Team Rocket's scientists were conducting scans of the ancient machine and sharing scientific terms which each other he hardly understood. They were the only one's here which was a little disappointing. It was the middle of the day and not a single person had shown up. Not even the curator!

That had spoiled both his fun and his plan to take the man hostage. At least his Grunts would be able to take both the old man and his granddaughter once they raided that little house of theirs. He was half tempted to join them... but that would go against Domino's plan.

As much as he desperately wanted to wipe the smug look off her face by ignoring her, he was on thin ice. He wasn't scared of her, of course. She may have been a deadly agent, but she was a child compared to him. A brat. She thought she was a predator worthy of fear and respect. She was not deserving of either as far as he was concerned. She treated their line of work like it was a game.

How he longed to show her what a true predator was capable of. Sadly, she was here with the authority of Giovanni. Which meant that if he went against her orders, he'd be going against Giovanni. His respect for the man far outweighed his hatred of Domino. So, he would grit his teeth and obey her orders.

No matter how foolish they may have been.

Proton narrowed his eyes at a nearby Grunt and motioned for them to come to him. Like the obedient little dog, they were, they rushed over the moment he called.

"Yes, sir?"

Proton cleared his throat. "What's the situation in the rest of the city?"

The Grunt frowned. "It's all going according to plan. The police and trainers are stretched thin dealing with everything. It's complete chaos out there." The Grunt explained. "But... it's not gonna last. Our people in the field say that it'll only be a few hours at most before the authorities have everything under control."

Proton snorted in amusement. Of course they would. As incompetent as the police of this city may have been, it was in Team Rocket's best interest they keep order in the city. They just needed their attention - or more specifically, the attention of the International Police - focused on something else. It wouldn't do for them to interfere with Domino's little plan.

Not that he didn't have problems with it. For someone that had been quick to lambaste him for taking hostages and making a show out of that auction, she hadn't hesitated to do far worse. The casualties after today would be in the triple digits and it wouldn't surprise Proton if news of this spread to neighboring regions by tonight. Even with their members dressed in their civilian clothes, that wouldn't fool the International Police. They'd know Team Rocket was responsible for this even if no one else did.

And she had the gall to criticize him for drawing attention to them. If the public became convinced they were behind this, they'd be considered terrorists like their rivals in other regions. He refused to be lumped in with those psychopaths from Galactic and Flare! That kind of infamy would spell the end of Team Rocket if they weren't careful.

He gazed up at the ceiling in boredom. "What about the attack on the police headquarters?"

"It went off without a hitch." The Grunt shrugged. "Far as we can tell, our boys are trashing the place and everyone inside. It doesn't seem like the police in the city have any idea it's happening either."

Lucky them. He wondered... were the International Police at their headquarters or did they rush off into the city with all the others? It didn't matter in the end, he supposed. So long as they were too busy to realize they were being manipulated like puppets on a string, Proton was content to leave them alone.

He could always have his fun with them once the Soul Dew was in their hands.


The city was in chaos.

Looker had told him that Team Rocket was creating emergencies throughout the city, but Ash hadn't realized what that meant. As he sprinted through the city, he could see what his mentor meant by spreading the police thin.

People were running away in terror and all but trampling one another to do so. The reason why became clear the moment anyone became curious. Throughout the city, wild Pokemon were rampaging through the streets and attacking everything in sight. Almost all of them were exotic in the Johto region. He could see Durant burrowing through the stone walls of homes and Bewear's tearing up the street beneath them. In the canals, Floatzel were sinking all the gondola's they could find and trying to pull those nearby under the waves. Even the skies were filled with Talonflame and Stararaptor battling for dominance with anything that they set their sights on.

There were so many Pokemon from a variety of regions that the only way they could all collectively be here was from smuggling.

They weren't ignoring one another either. Whenever the rampaging Pokemon noticed one another, they would immediately abandon whatever or whoever they were attacking to try and pummel one another into submission. A trio of Talonflame bathed themselves in orange flames and swooped down to pluck Durant off of the field, carrying it high into the sky and letting their flames burn its steel armor. A Floatzel launched itself out of the water and tackled a Zebstrika, blasting it at point blank range with a powerful Hydro Pump. In retaliation, the Zebstrika let off a powerful Thunder attack that arced away from it and struck everything nearby.

Ash wasn't sure what Team Rocket had done to drive these Pokemon crazy and make them ignore any injuries they received. Had their minds been completely shattered and left them as little more than living weapons? Did Team Rocket pump these creatures full of drugs and released them into the city for the populace to suffer the consequences? Whatever had been done to these Pokemon, innocent people were put in danger because of them.

And he could do nothing to help them. Every fiber of his being was urging him to intervene with Pikachu and fight the berserking Pokemon. He may not have been able to defeat them all, but he could draw their attention away from the civilians long enough for them to escape. If he did that, though, he wouldn't be able to protect Bianca and Lorenzo if Team Rocket was targeting them.

As much as he hated even thinking it, the reality was that protecting them was more important than stopping these rampaging Pokemon. It was what a good agent would have done and what Looker had ordered him to do but... why did it hurt so much? Why did he have to choose which people were more deserving of his help?

Not even Latias could step in to help. Through the mental link they'd established in the garden, he could feel that she was close by and invisible to the naked eye. As the guardian of this city, protecting it from threats like this was her sole responsibility. Now she was forced to choose between the city and the people that she loved the most. It must have been an agonizing choice to make when you could see the consequences of it first-hand.

Mercifully for the both of them, their help wasn't needed. Just as they rushed past a group of tourists frozen in terror as a Bewear barreled towards them, a trainer nearby tossed a Pokeball directly at the powerful Fighting type and sucked it inside. The ball had barely touched the ground before it shattered into a thousand pieces as the Bewear burst out. The attempted capture only seemed to enrage the Bewear further and cause it to turn its murderous gaze on the trainer that had dared throw the ball.

It was enough to snap the tourists out of their state of terror and send them running in the opposite direction. As for the trainer, he couldn't be older than fifteen at most. Yet here he was standing his ground against one of Alola's most dangerous Pokemon. The boy took a breath and grabbed two Pokeballs. He tossed them in the air and released a pink Gastrodon and a Sawk. Both looked powerful but the question was whether they could stand up to the might of a Bewear?

Ash would never find out.

It didn't take much longer before Ash, Pikachu, and Latias were close to Lorenzo's house. They passed by more rampages than they could count but these one's were thankfully being contained by the police and the brave trainers nearby willing to lend a hand. If the smoke rising over the city was any indication then the same couldn't be said for everywhere.

The odd thing was that once they got within a few blocks of Lorenzo's house everything became strangely... quiet. There were signs of battle from destroyed houses and scorch marks on the street, but there was no blood or any bodies in sight. He couldn't hear any battles happening nearby either and he doubted these Pokemon would be capable of being stealthy with the state they were in.

It set him on edge.

"Latias, hold on for a moment."

She appeared before his eyes in a bright shimmer of light as she ended her invisibility. Her eyes were narrowed in frustration and her claws twitched in anticipation. Whether that was because of what they'd seen in their journey or annoyance at being stopped, he didn't know.

"What is it? We don't have time to just stand around!"

Pikachu frowned and flattened his ears against his head. "She's right. Why are we stopping?"

He gestured weakly to the silent, vacant streets that surrounded them. "Doesn't this seem odd? There's no one anywhere near here and it doesn't look like anyone was hurt despite the violence that happened."

Pikachu narrowed his eyes. "They could have all escaped without anyone getting hurt. It's possible the police were able to stop the Pokemon and evacuate everyone to safety."

"Maybe..." He mumbled. "Latias, have you been able to contact Bianca or Lorenzo?"

"I've been trying since this all started but I haven't been able to establish a connection with either of them." Fear flashed through her eyes. "I thought their panic was just making it hard to contact them, but do you think something could have happened!?"

"I can't say anything for certain." He sighed. "All I know is that Team Rocket knows Bianca and Lorenzo are connected to you somehow. More importantly, they wouldn't create this kind of chaos unless they wanted to distract us from their real goal."

Latias become to visibly shake with psychic power. "Then we need to get moving! If they're after my family, then we have to protect them!"

"We will!" He rushed to reassure her. "We just need to be careful that we're not walking into a trap."

Pikachu hopped off of his shoulder and onto Latias' back. "Do you have a plan then?"

"Something like that. If we do this right, I think we can stop Team Rocket from getting what they want."


Domino took in a deep breath of fresh air and closed her eyes.

This garden was everything she had imagined it would be. As the personal home of a Legendary, she had expected it to be beautiful and ornate beyond measure. What she hadn't expected was how... peaceful it was. The air here seemed cleaner than anywhere else in the city and the entire place radiated a sense of calm that compelled her to relax. As if all of her worldly worries no longer mattered. That if she simply rested in this tranquil garden then everything would be alright.

She was sorely tempted to do just that. Unfortunately, she had a mission to accomplish. With a disappointed sigh, she stepped into the garden.

As much as she despised Proton, she could understand why he'd been having difficulty finding this place. For once, his failure wasn't a result of his arrogance. An entrance hidden in plain sight behind an illusion of a simple brick wall? No wonder it had stayed hidden for so long. They'd been looking for tangible entrances concealed in important monuments or historical buildings. No one had ever thought to go searching random back alleys and investigating every wall for an illusion.

She'd need to inform Giovanni once she delivered the Soul Dew. The next time they dealt with a Legendary, they needed to be aware of the potential for illusions.

Chances were they would never have found it if it weren't for the International Police. After the fiasco at the auction Proton had orchestrated, she'd demanded constant surveillance on these agents once they learned who they were. She was a little shocked that the agents were Looker and Anabel. What were the odds that the very people that had humiliated her in Viridian City would be her opponents on this assignment?

The truly surprising discovery was that Ash Ketchum was here. He may have taken on an alias and changed his appearance a bit, but she never forgot a face. Domino had suspected that the International Police would recruit the brat. He seemed like the type of be motivated by lost causes and a foolish sense of justice. Add in the natural desire for revenge on Team Rocket for ruining his life and she could imagine he had leapt at the chance to join them.

She couldn't understand why he was here though. It had only been a few months since Viridian. He couldn't have been properly trained yet. Either Ketchum was a prodigy when it came to this line of work, or something had forced Looker to bring him here. Whatever the case, she wouldn't question it. Tailing him from that meeting he had with the Davri's had been as simple as sticking to the rooftops and out of sight.

People never bothered to look up and she would be forever grateful for their incompetence. The stroke of pure luck that the Ketchum boy knew where the hidden garden was had just been the icing on the cake.

She paused as a group of Pokemon moved to intercept her. She couldn't help but roll her eyes in amusement. An assortment of Yanma's, Poliwag's, and Pidgey. Far from an intimidating sight. Still, she couldn't afford to ignore them. That would just risk them running off to tell the Latias her garden had been compromised.

She unclasped a Pokeball from her belt and tossed it into the air. A large Hypno materialized in front of her and clutching its pendulum tightly in its hand. It glanced between her and the aggressive crowd of Pokemon.

She gave it a dismissive wave of her hand and sauntered towards the dangerous creatures with her hands in her pockets. "Hypno, deal with these things will you?"

Despite Hypno's reputation as being a difficult Pokemon to train, this one obeyed her commands with the kind of obedience only years of conditioning could instill. With only the briefest of nods, the Hypno turned to the crowd of Pokemon and began to slowly swing its pendulum from side to side. Had any of the Pokemon noticed the faint blue glow that surrounded it, they might have been able to prevent what came next.

One by one, the Pokémon's eyes glazed over, and they all slumped to the ground as sleep overtook them. A few managed to stay on their feet and slowly hobble towards Domino. Avoiding them was as simple as taking one short step to the side or knocking them over with her boot. A crueler person would have taken joy in the weakness of these creatures, but Domino prided herself on her professionalism.

She wasn't Proton!

Once all of the Pokemon in the garden were under the sway of Hypno, she gestured for it to follow her. None of them were particularly powerful or rare so there was no reason to capture them.

Not when the true prize was right in front of her.

In the center of the illusive garden was a simple pool of water. Submerged within it was the most beautiful blue jewel that Domino had ever seen. The Soul Dew. The physical embodiment of the soul of a Latios - something Human's had once considered a god. This little thing would be worth a fortune to potential collectors. With the power contained within it, it could be used to change the world.

Anyone else would have been tempted to take it for themselves. Proton certainly wouldn't have hesitated to keep it for himself.

She was a loyal agent though. She could never betray Giovanni.

Domino reached into the pool and gently pried the Soul Dew from its place in the center. She held it up in the air so that the sun could glint off of it and hummed in thought. She wondered what Giovanni had planned for this. He wasn't the type to want world domination so she doubted this would be used for that. She'd seen him scoff at collectors of powerful artifacts as well so it wasn't like this would just be an ornament for him.

It wasn't normally her place to question him but... her curiosity was getting the better of her. Perhaps he'd be in a good enough mood to explain why he wanted it when she delivered the Soul Dew.

She glanced up at the once clear blue sky to find it filled with thick, black smoke. Her plan had gone off without a hitch. Domino would admit that she had taken great pleasure in using the International Police's own strategy from Viridian City against them. It was so cathartic knowing they were susceptible to the same tricks they used. Granted, she'd had to make some adjustments.

They didn't have the ability to create false alarms like they had. Luckily for them, Team Rocket excelled at creating real emergencies. All it took was a little coordination on their part, a few simple disguises, and the right drugs to enhance the aggression and power of the Pokemon smuggled into the city. Once that was done, all they had to do was strike at the most important parts of the city and the authorities would be stretched thin dealing with it all.

She hummed in thought and tossed the Soul Dew between her hands. By now, Ketchum and the Latias would be arriving at the Davri's home. The plan had originally called for her to be with the Grunts interrogating them but... that wasn't really important anymore. They knew where the garden was now and could create the perfect ambush for Latias whenever they pleased. They could drag every scrap of information about the DMA out of the old man and his granddaughter later.

They couldn't afford to delay delivery of the Soul Dew. Experience had taught her when to cut her losses. If she went to the Davri's now, there was a good chance that she'd find the Grunts beaten into submission and put herself in danger. It was a pointless risk. As much as she would have enjoyed taking her frustration out on Ketchum, the mission was more important.

Domino let out a sigh. She supposed she could always return to the city after she delivered the Soul Dew. Now that she thought about it, that would be glorious. The capture of a Legendary, the delivery of ancient tech, revenge on the International Police, and a chance to humiliate Proton?

She liked the sound of that.

Domino pocketed the Soul Dew and turned to Hypno with a pleased smile. "We're done here. Hypno, teleport us to Olivine City. We have a boat to Kanto to catch."


Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide to live by.

Anabel's father used to tell her that when she had been a child. At the time, she hadn't understood what he meant. How could she? To her innocent mind, breaking a toy or being denied dessert might as well have been the end of the world.

As she grew older, she eventually understood what he meant. She couldn't allow herself to be controlled by the hard times in her life or the mistakes she made. She needed to learn from what had gone wrong and use it as motivation to improve. As a veteran of the Great War, her father understood better than any why moving on was important. His lessons about failure and tragedy had been what allowed her to push forward as a trainer during her journey. Had it not been for him teaching her how to use failure as a motivator, she would never have become Frontier Brain or joined the International Police.

There was no wisdom to be gained from the chaos in Alto Mare though. This city was supposed to be a place of peace. A home for anyone with an artistic soul and a love of culture. This was a place that any trainer had to visit at least once during their journey. For many couples be they young or old, it was a haven of romance that could ignite of fire of passion within anyone. She would have loved to experience everything it had to offer in better days.

Now the city was burning, and its people were being terrorized. All for the petty greed of Team Rocket.

What lessons were there to learn from this? Team Rocket prioritized their greed over the lives of the innocent? Never underestimate how far they were willing to go? Always be prepared?

She didn't need a city to burn to understand that.

Anabel gazed up at the museum with narrowed eyes. It was... perfectly fine. The chaos engulfing the rest of the city had spared this historic landmark. There wasn't any hint of the fires or the crazed Pokemon rampaging through the rest of the city spreading here. Compared to the rest of the city, the museum and its surrounding area was a bastion of peace.

She wouldn't be fooled so easily.

If the museum was Team Rocket's true target, they wouldn't want to draw attention to it. A quick glance around showed that most of the people nearby were locking themselves in their homes. She couldn't blame them for that, but if the chaos did spread to this part of the city then their homes wouldn't be able to protect them. For their sake, she hoped that they were prepared to defend themselves if they weren't able to avoid it.

The Human's weren't the only one's hunkering down to avoid the danger. Hidden in the alleys between the houses and on the roofs of the buildings were small groups of Pokemon huddling together for safety. Compared to the powerful, psychotic Pokemon attacking the city the native Pokemon of Alto Mare were just as vulnerable as its citizens.

"Oi! I need to speak with one of you for a moment!" She called out to a group of Pidgey's perched atop nearby home.

One of the Pidgey glanced down at her and seemed to scoff. "What for? Not like you'll be able to understand what I have to say anyway."

Anabel rolled her eyes at the dismissive Pidgey. "You'd be surprised. Most Pokemon don't usually have anything interesting to say, but I kind of need you right now." She took no small amount of pleasure at the shocked look on the faces of it and its flock. "So... willing to talk now? I'm kind of in a hurry."

The Pidgey shook itself out of its surprised stupor. "What's in it for me, Human?"

Anabel could only sigh. For all the differences Human's and Pokemon possessed, one thing they had in common was greed. Pokemon were just better at hiding it. With that in mind, she reached into her pocket and pulled out a single granola bar. From the way its eyes lit up in hunger, it was clear she had won its cooperation.

"That building over there," She pointed towards the museum, "have you seen anyone suspicious enter or leave it recently?"

The Pidgey tilted its head and blinked in confusion. "Now that you mention it, yes. Normally the only Human's that go there are tourists. I'll never understand why but you Human's seem to enjoy your 'art'." It chirped. "Today was different... there was strange man in white that went in a few hours ago with over a dozen others with him. That was hours ago though and they haven't come out."

Anabel frowned and narrowed her eyes in contemplation. "Did the man in white have pale green hair?"

"Yeah. He was also wearing one of those hat things your kind are so obsessed with." The Pidgey squawked. "Look I don't know anything else. Can you just gimme the food?"

She was tempted to toss the granola bar into the canals just to spite the Pidgey for how disrespectful it was being but that would just create more problems. However satisfying it would be to see the look of shock and horror in its eyes, she knew that it would come back to bite her. Chances were high it would try to attack her at the worst possible moment.

So, she grit her teeth and tossed the granola bar up to the Flying type. Still wrapped, of course. She wasn't going to make this too easy for it. With that done, she turned her back to the Pidgey and made her way towards the museum.

Looker's suspicions about the chaos in the city had been correct. She had known in the back of her mind that he was, but she wanted to hold out hope that they were jumping at shadows. No such luck. If Team Rocket really had orchestrated all of this to target the museum, she wouldn't put it past them to target Lorenzo and Bianca as well.

She pulled out her Pokegear and dialed Looker's number. This was the best opportunity they had to catch Proton. If she could get reinforcements before the Admin left, they could take a major player off of the board. Even better, they would have the element of surprise since she doubted he was expecting anyone to show up at the museum with the rest of the city in chaos.

Except... nothing. The Pokegear went straight to voice mail. No matter how many times she tried, Looker wouldn't pick up. Even when she tried calling police headquarters directly she didn't receive an answer. Anabel turned back towards the direction of headquarters to see that the smoke from the chaos in the city had begun to block out the sun.

Something was wrong. Had Team Rocket or one of the berserking Pokemon attacked headquarters after she left? She couldn't imagine there was any other reason her calls wouldn't be picked up. A part of her wanted to rush back to just so she could be certain everyone was alright and offer help if they needed it. But if she did that she'd be abandoning the museum and giving Proton an opportunity to get away from all of this without facing consequences.

She couldn't afford to take that risk. Not when the DMA was within his grasp. She needed to have faith that Looker and everyone else who had remained behind at headquarters could handle themselves.

Anabel could worry about them later. While it wasn't ideal, she had no choice but to take the fight to Proton. Normally she would have preferred to go in with a small army at her back, but she knew that wasn't possible. She would have to rely on herself and her Pokemon for the coming battle. If there was one bright side to this situation, it was that Ash wasn't here instead of her.

Knowing him, he would have gone rushing in with nothing more than a hope and a prayer. Unlike the auction, fate was unlikely to be on his side and he would have died against such overwhelming odds.

Luckily for her, she had the foresight to come up with a plan.

Anabel unclasped a Pokeball from his belt and tossed it into the air. Her Mismagius materialized before her eyes in a flash of light and slowly opened her eyes. Mismagius turned its gaze towards the sky and hummed in discomfort. While Mismagius were a species known for the pleasure they took in tormenting both Human's and Pokemon, even they had their limits.

Mismagius turned her gaze to Anabel. "Who is responsible for this?"

"Team Rocket." Mismagius's eyes narrowed with hate. "It's too late to stop this... but we can catch the one responsible."

"Point me in their direction. I've been meaning to practice my incantations."

Anabel pointed towards the museum across the canal. "They're in there. Don't do anything rash though." She warned. "All I need you to do is do a little scouting for me. I need to know exactly where our enemies are."

Mismagius frowned. "Fiiiine... but we'd better make them suffer for this."

Anabel rolled her eyes. "I'm sure you'll get the opportunity soon."

With a tense nod, the Mismagius floated towards the museum and disappeared from view. For a Ghost type like her, walls might as well have not even existed. Despite how much Mismagius enjoyed tormenting criminals, Anabel knew she would remain hidden. No matter how sadistic she was, Mismagius had the same desire to fight injustice like she did. For all the eccentricities that Mismagius had, she was glad to have the Pokemon by her side.

It didn't take long for Mismagius to return. Within only a few minutes, Mismagius appeared in front of her eyes with a self-assured grin.

"Most of them are congregated around some giant machine in the center of the museum. The... DMA, I think." Mismagius told her. "There are a few on the upper level searching for small pieces of art to steal, but not many."

"Do you think you can get them all to gather together? Preferably away from the dangerous machine we're trying to protect?"

Mismagius rolled her eyes. "That'll be easy. Fighting that many at once is going to be trouble though."

Anabel smirked. "Not if we play our cards right." She reached out and grabbed Mismagius' cloak-like body in her hands. In an instant, a Psychic link had been established between the two. She grabbed the Pokeballs which held her Snorlax and Alakazam from her belt and held them out for her Pokemon to take. "Place these two wherever you feel they can do the most damage"

With a brief nod, Mismagius floated off towards the museum while clutching the Pokeballs of her teammates in her cloak appendages. Anabel turned her gaze to regard the museum for a moment before taking another Pokeball off of her belt. She tossed it into the air and released her Salamence. When it materialized, it was curled up into a ball on the ground and covering itself with its massive wings.

Slowly, Salamence unfurled his wings and stood to his full height. He took a deep breath and growled as the stench of death and despair flooded his senses. Unlike Mismagius, Salamence began to dig his claws into the ground and looked as though he was ready to tear apart the first enemy he saw. Given his species' reputation, that kind of rage could level an entire city if it wasn't controlled.

Fortunately for her, she knew how to direct him. She stalked forward and gently placed her hand on his head. "I know. I don't like this either, Salamence." She whispered. "We'll make those responsible pay though."

"Good..." He growled. "What's your plan?"

She climbed onto his back and tightly wrapped her arms around his neck. "For now, just fly us to the roof of that museum over there. Quietly, if you can."

With a single flap of his powerful wings, Salamence lifted them off of the ground and flew them up above the museum. If Team Rocket had bothered to place any sentries outside to watch for police, they would have noticed her long before now. In their arrogance, however, they had refused to believe anyone would bother them while the rest of the city burned.

That arrogance would be Proton's downfall.

She slid off of Salamence's back while he hovered a few feet off of the ancient roof. When it had first been built, she imagined that it was a pinnacle of engineering and the tallest building in Alto Mare. With the advent of modern technology and building techniques, however, it was eclipsed by towering hotels that befit the holiday hotspot. Despite that, it was still one of the most beautiful buildings in Alto Mare with its ornate statues of Latias and Latios alongside its marble pillars.

It would be a shame to have to damage it, but it was a small price to pay to protect the DMA.

Anabel snatched another Pokeball off of her belt and released her Espeon. Unlike Salamence and Mismagius, Espeon stood alert the moment she was unleashed from her Pokeball. She huffed and glared down at the roof beneath her paws. Anabel knelt down beside Espeon and placed her hand atop her head. In an instant, a Psychic link between them was established.

Espeon was one of her most valued team members. She was faster than everyone else besides Salamence, had Psychic power that rivaled the strongest of her kind, and was versatile enough to adapt to any situation. Her true strength, however, was her ability to act as an amplifier for Anabel's own Psychic powers. With no more than a thought, Anabel established a link with all of her Pokemon. Not just with her but between all of them.

When most trainer's used Psychic Pokemon, they were only ever concerned with their offensive capabilities. Competing in tournaments and contests encouraged trainers to prefer flashy displays of Psychic energy or telekinetic force. Even on the defensive, they created elaborate barriers of energy to protect themselves from powerful attacks. What those trainers and even some Psychic specialists failed to realize was how powerful their more... passive abilities were.

With their minds all connected to one another, they could act as a singular being. Commands, warnings, and information of all kinds would be transmitted instantaneously from one to the rest of them. In this state of mind, Anabel and her team would operate with peak coordination as a single entity in multiple bodies. Any move the enemy made could be countered quickly and effectively without having to utter a single word.

This technique was simply known as Battle Coordination. In the past, it had been used to lead outnumbered and underpowered armies to victory when it should have been impossible. Kingdoms had risen and fallen thanks to its power. While the ability to command armies was far outside of her power, she was more than powerful enough to enhance a small team like hers without collapsing under the weight.

With only a single thought, she commanded her team to move into position and begin their attack.

Down in the museum, Mismagius floated into the center of the building and hovered in the shadows. Team Rocket hadn't noticed her presence yet which suited her just fine. With a devilish glint in her eyes, Mismagius began to let out a haunting melody. It echoed through the building and sent the career criminals to their knees, clutching their ears in pain.

Proton stumbled towards her with the Grunts and scientists he had brought with him not far behind. "Someone shut that thing up!" He tried to shout over Mismagius' brutally harmonic incantations. Once it was clear that none of his lackeys were able to ignore their pain long enough to reach for their Pokeballs, Proton growled and shifted his hands to his belt to unleash one of his own monsters.

He never got the chance. The far right wall of the building didn't so much collapse as it was shattered under the assault of her Snorlax. The ground shook so badly from Snorlax's footsteps that paintings which hung on the walls tumbled to the ground. With a bellowing roar, her Snorlax set his sights on Team Rocket and began to surround himself in a shimmering golden energy. With far more speed than a Pokemon his size should have been capable of, Snorlax rushed forward with the power of a Giga Impact and tore up the marble floor beneath him in a spray of debris and gore.

While Anabel detested death of any kind, the situation was dire enough that she was willing to cross that line. The only one that couldn't be killed was Proton. The information in his head was too valuable. The Grunts and scientists he had brought with him were expendable.

If they weren't risking an entire city for their greed, she might have felt some sympathy for them.

At the same moment Snorlax broke through the wall of the museum and launched its assault, Anabel and Espeon stepped away from Salamence. With a short flap of its wings, Salamence distanced itself from the roof of the museum and took in a massive gulp of air. While he was incapable of seeing inside the museum even with Battle Coordination, the information that flowed through their Psychic link would more than make up for it.

With a guttural roar, a stream of white-hot flames shot from Salamence's mouth. It didn't so much blast through the marble as it did atomize everything that stood in its path. The Flamethrower melted through the thick marble as though it weren't there and slammed into the ground of the museum, engulfing everything nearby in an ocean of flames that would have put any Fire type to shame. Through their link, Salamence instantly knew that it had missed Team Rocket by a good distance from behind.

A mistake that he quickly moved to correct as he directed the Flamethrower towards the cowering criminals.

On the upper levels of the museum, Alakazam regarded the attack with casual disinterest. Through their link, Anabel and the rest of her team could feel the disdain for Team Rocket. In his mind, the battle was already over and a pointless waste of time. Despite these feelings, Alakazam raised his spoons and directed them towards the debris sent flying through the air by Snorlax. With pitiful ease, he seized control of every piece with the power of its Psychic and launched them at Team Rocket from all sides in a tempest of marble and wood.

For her part, Anabel and Espeon leapt through the molten hole that Salamence's flames had created in the roof. Through the combined power of Espeon and Alakazam, they were able to gently float down to the ground. Once they touched down, Anabel reached into her trench coat and took out her shock baton. With a flick of her wrist, it extended to its full length and glinted in the light of the flames. At this point, the fire control system kicked in and the sprinklers began to cover the museum in water to combat the fire.

It didn't manage to make a dent in the flames.

At her side, Espeon's eyes glowed a brilliant shade of purple and reached out towards the smoldering ground around them. Slowly, the embers and residual flames began to rise off of the ground. They coalesced into a brilliant ball of flame held together entirely by the Psychic power of her companion. Faster than a speeding bullet, the flames were launched towards the criminals. The moment before it would have hit, the flames morphed into a dozen flaming tendrils and lashed out at Team Rocket, snaking around and holding them all in place even as they thrashed against the searing heat.

It was over as quickly as it began. In less than ten seconds, Anabel and her team launched their attack with deadly efficiency. Held in place by the flames under Espeon's control, half of Team Rocket were crushed under Snorlax's brutal attack and turned into a shower of gore that forced Anabel to cringe in barely restrained horror. Alakazam used the debris to batter the surviving members of Team Rocket out of Snorlax's path and directly into the path of Salamence's fire. Their screams were cut off before they had a chance to even begin.

All the while, Mismagius' is cackling with sadistic delight at what was happening beneath her shadowy form.

For anyone else, an ambush like that would have taken considerably longer to plan and could have gone wrong at the drop of a hat. For her team, the ambush might as well have been a practiced motion that had become second nature to them.

By the time it was over, the only survivor on Team Rocket's side was Proton. For the first time since she'd learned of the monster, he wasn't sporting a cocky or cruel grin on his face. Kneeling on the ground with a leash of flames gripping tightly onto his throat, all she could see was a mixture of shock and horror in his eyes.

She ignored the rush of pleasure she felt at having given this monster a taste of his own medicine.

Salamence landed behind her with a powerful gust of wind and leveled a heated glare at Proton. Behind him, Snorlax growled down at the puny criminal even as Alakazam and Mismagius regarded him with utter contempt. Even if Proton was incapable of understanding Pokemon, the desires of her team were abundantly clear.

She stepped forward and reached into her trench coat to pull out her badge. "You're under arrest, Proton." She declared. "I'd list what your crimes are, but we'd be here all day."

Proton narrowed his eyes at her. "I recognize you... you were at that shitshow of an auction a few weeks back." He growled.

It was tempting to zap him with her baton. "A lot of people died that day." She tightened her grip around her weapon. "Even more are dying today."

Proton scoffed and held his hands up in the air above his head. As if the fire coiled around his throat wasn't evidence enough of his surrender. "If I had things my way, none of this would have happened. Unfortunately for us both, little Domino is calling the shots now."

Anger sparked to life within her. "Where is she?"

His lips twitched in amusement. "Not a fan of hers? Can't say I blame you. She is a hypocritical brat." He drawled. "She hates you and your partner almost as much as she hates me. I'd tell you to watch your back... but it won't matter."

Her eyes narrowed. It didn't surprise her that Domino held a grudge against her and Looker after Viridian City. While the public was unaware of Team Rocket's involvement, that whole fiasco had been an embarrassment for the crime syndicate. She couldn't imagine them letting Domino off easy after messing up a job that badly.

"Once I'm done with you, she'll be next." She declared. "Domino's not as clever as she thinks. Sooner or later, she'll make a mistake she can't recover from."

Proton giggled in amusement. "Ah... truer words were never spoken. You've got no idea how refreshing it is to hear someone else see's the brat as the disappointment she is. Unfortunately, I'm afraid you won't be there when she finally gets what she deserves. Only I have that honor."

"From where I'm standing, it looks like it's the other way around."

Proton rolled his eyes. "Maybe. But you see... none of you International Police agents are leaving this city alive. Not you. Not that relic Looker at police headquarters. And that new rookie of yours - Red Westen? He'll be taking a long walk off a short pier real soon once we find him."

So, this attack on the city wasn't just meant to distract them? Team Rocket was specifically targeting her team? She needed to get back to headquarters and help Looker or failing that warn Ash to keep his head down.

"How do you know-"

He cut her off with a bellowing laugh. "Sorry, lass, but I'm afraid the time for talk is over!"

He snapped the fingers he held above his head. It was the only warning that she and the rest of her team received before a swarm of Crobat descended from the ceiling. Though... swarm wasn't quite correct. It was more like a tidal wave of Crobat suddenly appeared out of the darkness and descended upon them all with venom-coated fangs.

In unison, she and her team turned towards the army of Crobat and launched their own attacks. Scorching flames, blinding beams of energy, and Psychic propelled chunks of debris met the tide of enemies head on and... passed through them?

Her eyes widened in realization, but it was too late. Hidden among the illusions created by Double Team, the real Crobat gathered a sickly black aura in its jaws. Faster than any of them could react, the Crobat launched its Dark Pulse. It traveled through the air and slammed into the ground at the feet of both Espeon and herself. The two of them were sent flying away from Proton.

While it wasn't enough to break the Battle Coordination, it was enough for Espeon to lose control of the flames around Proton's throat. Acting on what must have been pure instinct, Proton leapt of the way mere moments before Snorlax brought his fist down where the criminal had been standing. He was lucky to be fast enough. If he was even a second slower, he would have been slammed into the ground with enough force to easily shatter bone.

Proton stumbled backwards while clutching his burnt throat. "You didn't think I'd go down that easily did you?"

He reached down to his belt and grabbed his Pokeballs in a single handful. While the swarm of illusionary Crobat continued to harass her team and keep them off balance, Proton tossed his Pokeballs into the air and summoned his team to his side. In a bright flash of light, he released his Houndoom, Tyranitar, Muk, Weezing, and a pink Jellicent. Every one of them looked just as bloodthirsty and sadistic as their trainer.

Worst of all, there was a collar wrapped tightly around Houndoom's neck. The crown jewel of the collar was a simple red and black gem: a Mega Stone.

She didn't have time to worry about that weapon in the arsenal of her enemy. The moment Proton's Pokemon gained their bearings, they rushed forward and clashed with her team in a battle that would have been the highlight of her career as a Frontier Brain had she maintained that position.

Salamence was the king of the skies. In the air, there wasn't a single species of Pokemon alive or machine that Humanity had created which was capable of competing. Their raw power and maneuverability were enough to make even Garchomp and Hydreigon think twice before fighting in their domain. The issue was... Salamence needed enough room to build up its speed and pull off its midair maneuvers.

No museum could ever compare to the wide-open spaces of the sky. Compared to that, Alto Mare's museum might as well have been a cramped box.

It was certainly one that worked to Crobat's advantage. With its smaller size, maneuvering in the museum was far easier for it than her fearsome dragon. With the aid of its illusionary doubles, it was able to confuse Salamence long enough to latch onto the back of his neck. It gathered a stream of bubbling, violet liquid in its mouth and spewed it at point blank range directly onto the cobalt scales of Salamence. He had just been poisoned by Toxic. Despite his every attempt to shake the Crobat off, it refused to leave.

With a frustrated roar, Salamence flew backwards directly into one of the marble support pillars in an attempt to crush it. The moment before impact, the Crobat gracefully dislodged itself from his back. Salamence was unable to stop himself and crashed through the wall, showering debris into the canals of the outside world. As if to mock him, Crobat cackled sadistically and flew to the edge of the hole. Purple electricity sparking across its body was all the warning he received before it unleashed a powerful blast of Venoshock that struck Salamence head-on.

Salamence's roar of pain echoed through the air.

If the local residents somehow hadn't noticed the battle at the museum before, it would be impossible for them to ignore it now.

When Snorlax and Tyranitar clashed, the two seemed to be evenly matched in their raw strength and visibly struggled to push the other back. In the wild, Tyranitar were among the most feared Pokemon any trainer could encounter. They were the undisputed lords of the mountains and took any sign of Human's in its territory as a challenge to its authority. Too many trainers had gone missing after accidentally wandering into their territory.

While not as infamous, however, Snorlax were one of the few Pokemon capable of standing up to Tyranitar and surviving. Their hunger was the bane of farmers everywhere and many would-be trainers had gone bankrupt attempting to feed them. What wasn't as well known about the docile species was their temper. When an enemy managed to enrage a Snorlax - typically by stealing its food or forcefully waking it from slumber - entire ecosystems could be destroyed in the fallout.

Her Snorlax wasn't so easily angered by such petty issues. The suffering of the innocent though? That was more than enough to send it into a blood rage. Such anger only served to make the Tyranitar more eager to fight Snorlax as a worthy rival. The grapple that the two were currently engaged in forced them to dig their feet into the ground and shattered it beneath them.

Snorlax lacked one important advantage that Tyranitar had however: a powerful set of jaws that regularly turned solid stone into gravel. Proton's Tyranitar reared its head back before lurching forward and clamped its jaws around Snorlax's left shoulder. The sickening crunch of bone breaking, and flesh being torn asunder could be heard even over the din of battle. With its teeth sunk deep into the fatty flesh of her teammate, no one was able to predict when electricity began to spark, and lightning was channeled directly into the powerful muscles of Snorlax through a powerful Thunder Fang.

Even in Snorlax's state of blood rage, he could feel his muscles begin to spasm from the point blank electricity and the agonizing pain from having his shoulder shattered. If it weren't for his blood rage dulling the pain, Anabel was convinced that he would have collapsed from the pain then and there. Instead Snorlax tried to fight back by slamming his right fist into Tyranitar's armored underbelly.

With his left arm all but crippled and the full weight of Tyranitar bearing down on him, it was useless. Snorlax stumbled backwards and fell to the ground, creating a small crater where he laid. Unlatching itself from Snorlax's shoulder, Tyranitar let out a victorious roar and leapt directly onto the stomach of Snorlax. The full weight of the armored pseudo-legend was enough to knock the wind out of him long enough for Tyranitar to begin raining down hammer blows with its stony claws and tail in a deadly Thrash attack.

Every hit caused a miniature earthquake to shake the building.

Up above the chaos on the ground, Mismagius and Jellicent phased in and out of existence as they blasted each other with the mystical energies they summoned out of the void.

The ocean was full of an almost endless number of both wonders and horrors. In the distant Unova region, however, the ocean was more known for being a death sentence. With Pokemon like Jellicent patrolling their waters, it wasn't hard to see why. Every year there were rumors that another ship had sailed into the territory of schools of Jellicent and been dragged to the depths of the ocean as punishment. While none knew exactly what happened to the unfortunate victims of these attacks, what was well known was Jellicent's desire to feed on the life energy of everything around it.

Compared to Mismagius, however, Jellicent had a sparkling reputation. In ancient times, Mismagius were believed to be the souls of powerful witches that refused to afterlife solely to torment the living. It was complete nonsense, but the reputation was well deserved. Even in the modern world, there were countless stories of how Mismagius would appear in random towns or cities for the sole purpose of amusing itself with the residents reactions. The headaches and illusions they were known to create had sent more than one settlement into a downward spiral of madness.

The only thing more infamous than their method of amusing themselves was their terrifying temper.

Mismagius flew through a domed case containing the preserved weapons of some ancient, forgotten battle such as rusted spears and swords. Jellicent was close behind her and had summoned large spheres of dark blue water at its side. One by one, it launched these Water Pulse's straight at Mismagius' head. Instead of dodging, Mismagius continued flying straight at a wall and phased through it with ease, completely out of sight. By comparison, the Water Pulse's slammed into and destroyed the strong marble wall. Undeterred, the Jellicent floated through the debris in search of its opponent.

Unbeknownst to the Jellicent, Mismagius had flown up to the roof and was now phasing through the ceiling as silently as it could. Golden electricity sparked around its body before it arced through the air directly towards the Jellicent's unguarded back. At the last possible moment, a shimmering blue dome of energy surrounded the Jellicent. The ocean monster must have heard the sparking of electricity and moved to protect itself. While the deadly Thunderbolt surrounded the protective shield of the Jellicent, the creature took the time to orient itself towards Mismagius.

The moment her attack ended, the Jellicent lowered its Protect and summoned the shadows of the room to its tentacles. With the speed and efficiency of a master, the Jellicent formed a massive Shadow Ball and hurled it at Mismagius. Despite her best attempts to dodge it, Mismagius was too slow, and the Shadow Ball slammed directly into her face. She was sent flying back and slammed into a painting of the sea that had so far survived the battle. It shattered under her weight as she fell to the floor.

Her eyes shot open, and she forced herself off of the ground. As she did, the shadows began to coil around her even as electricity sparked across her body and illuminated the area. In response, the Jellicent trilled in sadistic delight at the fact it could continue playing with its prey.

The battle of the specters was far from over.

Compared to its allies, Proton's Houndoom regarded the entire battle with disdain. It must have thought the entire situation was beneath it. With an almost casual gait, the Houndoom stalked towards her Alakazam. In its eyes was an almost cruel, predatory fire that promised it would be taking its time with Alakazam if he wasn't careful.

In ancient Kalos, legends claimed that death followed Houndoom wherever it went. The stories all claimed that whenever the howl of a Houndoom could be heard that the Grim Reaper itself - Yveltal - was not far behind. It was claimed that if one heard this howl that the only way to survive was to hide and offer a prayer to Xerneas for salvation. While those legends had been proven false in the modern era, Houndoom was still a creature to be feared.

By comparison, Alakazam was as revered and trusted a Pokemon there could be. With their immense Psychic power and intellect, they could adapt to any situation. The wisdom they held was highly sought after by people from all walks of life regardless of whether they were trainers, scientists, or any other profession.

All the wisdom in the world wouldn't help her Alakazam against a Houndoom, however.

Despite the chaos happening around him, Alakazam maintained his mental grip on the chunks of debris he had used to bludgeon Team Rocket into submission. While his Psychic power couldn't do any damage outright, he could still manipulate the battlefield to his advantage. With control that could only come from years of careful practice, the debris swirled around the Houndoom before launching at it with enough velocity to shatter bone on impact. Houndoom merely rolled its eyes at the display of power.

In a flash of light, a powerful blue shield materialized around Houndoom. Despite the constant barrage of debris, Houndoom's Protect held with remarkable ease under the assault. By the time Alakazam's attack ended, all of the debris had been shattered into tiny pebbles and specks of dust from the force used. With a cocky flash of its teeth, Houndoom surrounded itself in flames and leapt forward with the speed of a Flame Charge. It left a trail of fire in its wake and charged directly up the walls to the second floor.

Alakazam's eyes widened in shock, and he let out a gasp. He was too slow compared to his opponent, however. Houndoom leapt onto Alakazam and pinned him to the ground with its full strength. With a maniacal snarl, the Houndoom summoned a fire that put even Salamence's flame to shame. Houndoom's fire engulfed the two in a raging Inferno attack that lit the entire museum in an orange light. The sprinklers which had up until this point continued to rain water on them all seemed to malfunction from the sheer heat exuded by the fire and stop working altogether. Alakazam's cries of pain were only amplified in her teams mind through the Psychic link as the blaze burned away at him.

The Houndoom merely continued to pin Alakazam in place and cackle at his pain. Despite its Fire typing, it should have been taking damage from the powerful Inferno though! Or so Anabel believed until she saw that the flames were being absorbed into it. Flash Fire... such a simple ability and yet so deadly at the same time when used correctly.

With such powerful flames burning away at him and no way of escaping the Houndoom's claws, Alakazam was doomed if no one stepped in to help him.

Fortunately for him, Espeon realized that the instant she heard his Psychic screams. One moment, she was by Anabel's side hunched over and ready to protect her trainer. The next moment, she was gone in a mad dash powered by a Quick Attack. In the blink of an eye, she covered the distance between her and the Houndoom before leaping into the air above it. Her tail glowed briefly for a moment before hardening into iron and slamming directly into the side of the fearsome beast.

Espeon were not a physically strong species, but they didn't have to be. Espeon was strong enough to send the Houndoom tumbling away from Alakazam and put an end to the raging Inferno which had consumed her teammate. She landed defensively in front of him and growled a warning at the Houndoom. It scoffed in amusement and bared its fangs in a threatening manner, saliva dripping to the floor.

She spared a glance back at her wounded teammate. Through their Psychic link, her concern for him was clear as day. Alakazam forced himself to his feet and tightened his grip on his spoons. His skin was charred, and he smelled of burnt flesh, but he would survive. Houndoom's flames were powerful and toxic beyond comprehension, but modern medicine would be able to reverse most of the damage. He wouldn't sit by while his teammate risked her life for him.

They would face this herald of death together.

For her part, Anabel was doing her best to stay out of the way. In a confined space like the museum with such powerful Pokemon all battling at once, she wouldn't just be useless. She would be an active hinderance to her team! Instead, she opted to stay out of the way and moved to put some distance between these fearsome monsters. She had no intention of leaving the fight though.

As powerful as his Pokemon were, Anabel could see Proton taking cover close by the DMA. He must have realized that despite the battles, none of her Pokemon were willing to risk damaging it. If she could just reach and subdue him, she could force him to call off his monsters. Or failing that, forcibly return them herself.

With a brief nod, she moved took a step towards the DMA. That was as far as she got before a Sludge Bomb impacted the ground in front of her. She was forced to leap back to avoid the deadly, corrosive sludge which even now ate away at the floor. Her eyes darted to source of the attack and found both Proton's Weezing and Muk rapidly approaching her.

Clearly Proton had trained his Pokemon to go for the weak link in any fight - in this, the seemingly defenseless Human. Even with her shock baton, Anabel knew that she stood no chance against these two powerful beasts. Luckily for her, she had kept her final Pokemon in reserve for just such an occasion. Her hand fell to her belt and pulled off her final Pokeball, tossing it directly at the two advancing Poison types.

Muk let out a mocking laugh and surged forward, snatching the Pokeball out of the air and letting it sink into its putrid body.

Anabel smirked in delight.

In a blinding flash of light, Metagross materialized before their eyes. By the time Muk realized its mistake, it was too late. Metagross let out a roar of anger and stamped its massive steel forelegs down onto the Muk. The living pile of toxic waste cried out in anguish and tried to slither away, but it was too slow. Held in place by Metagross' Psychic energy, it was helpless against its brutal assault. Proton's Weezing tried to help its pinned comrade by firing off a Dark Pulse, but Metagross shrugged off the beam of dark energy with ease.

Energy began to collect within Metagross' mouth as it prepared a Hyper Beam. Muk's eyes widened, and it struggled against the Psychic hold even hard, trying to fire off blasts of poison and acid with every movement. Weezing noticed its partners struggles and let off another Dark Pulse, but like before it bounced off without doing any real damage to Metagross. In under five second, Metagross had fully charged its Hyper Beam and let it loose at point blank directly into the gaping maw.

What followed was a blinding explosion that filled the room with a foul, rotten smelling smoke. By the time the smoke cleared, all that was left where the Muk had once been pinned was a small crater and tiny patches of toxic sludge. In the center of this carnage was Metagross. With its enemy slain, it turned to the one that had dared to annoy to and attack while it was preoccupied. It leveled an arctic glare at the Weezing and launched itself forward with a burst of speed.

In that instant, Anabel reached out and connected Metagross to the Psychic link between them all.

Under the influence of Battle Coordination, Proton would learn how deadly a Metagross could truly be.

Proton began to laugh nervously from his position behind the DMA. "Well... looks like you're not as weak as I thought. Most people would be dead by now." He shouted. Then a cruel smirk graced his face. "As much as I'd love to drag out your suffering, though, I'm afraid I have to leave now that you've caused so much noise. Just remember... you've got only yourself to blame!"

He raised his left arm and allowed his sleeve to fall down. It revealed a thick leather band wrapped tightly around his wrist and in the center of it was a large, pale Key Stone. Without the slightest bit of hesitation, he raised his right hand and placed his fingers atop the stone. The Key Stone flared to life with vibrant energy that cast Proton in an ethereal light that didn't fit him.

On the other side of the museum, his Houndoom's collar glowed as the Mega Stone reacted to the activation of the Key Stone. The lethal canine was surrounded in a ball of energy that burned so brightly Anabel wouldn't have been surprised if people on the other side of the city could see it. She could practically hear her heartbeat in her ears and she all but screamed her orders through her Psychic link with the team. On command, Espeon began collecting vast amounts of electricity in front of her gem stone. Within seconds, the collected lightning had formed a makeshift cannonball easily twice as large as her skull. At her side, Alakazam slammed his spoons together in the formation of a cross. Within a few seconds, a sphere a shining white and ocean blue energy formed in front of him. In perfect unison, Alakazam and Espeon released their Focus Blast and Zap Cannon attacks at the evolving form of Houndoom.

While the accuracy of these moves was notoriously unreliable, against a stationary target there was no chance of them missing.

Just as the devastating attacks would have struck the Houndoom, the energy which had cocooned around it exploded out in a violent burst of power. It blew the attacks completely off course and destroyed even more of the once pristine museum of Alto Mare. What emerged from the volatile energy was the imposing form of a Mega Houndoom. The raw heat its new form exuded was enough to make even Salamence sweat from his position outside of the museum. If it had been a deadly opponent for Alakazam and Espeon before, then it was even more so now.

If she had a Mega Stone of her own, then perhaps Anabel and her team might have had a better chance. Without one, they were fighting an uphill battle. The only option was to retake control of the battle.

Anabel sprinted towards Proton. At the same time, her mind sent several orders to her Pokemon thanks to the aid of the Psychic link. With enough trust in her, they might be able to pull this off.

Metagross narrowed its eyes up at the Weezing quivering above it. With a scoff of pure disdain, silver energy gathered within its massive maw. The Weezing cried out in terror the moment the Flash Cannon was released and threw up a Protect to ward off the attack. However, the shimmering blue shield was unnecessary as the silver beam of energy missed it completely by half a dozen feet. The Weezing began to laugh at what it believed to be Metagross' poor aim.

Until it heard Crobat cry out in shock and anguish as the Flash Cannon slammed directly into its unprotected back. Weezing had barely enough time to turn and see its ally tumble out of the sky before it felt the terrifying stranglehold of Psychic energy grip its body. Metagross used its mental power to fling both the Crobat and Weezing to the ground so hard that there were audible cracks when they connected with the floor. Metagross leapt through the air and came crashing down atop the two immobilized with the full force of a freight train, shattering the ground beneath it with ease. When it stood back up to its full height, purple blood dripped from the underside of its carapace.

With the largest threat to Salamence dealt with, he soared back into the museum with as much speed as he could muster. While he wasn't at full strength due to the potent poison coursing through his body, he was still strong enough to make a difference. He began to glow with a pulsating, crimson aura and his muscles began to bulge. With a ferocious roar of pure anger, Salamence slammed into the back of the Tyranitar that had up until this point been busy brutalizing Snorlax. He dug his claws into Tyranitar's armored carapace that there were visible cracks. Salamence carried the titanic monster through the air with the power of draconic Outrage and smashed through a wall to the outside world.

As battered and bruised as he was, Snorlax let out a groan of pain and forced himself to his feet. After the pummeling that Proton's Tyranitar had inflicted, he was in no shape to continue. Even with adrenaline pumping through his system and rage clouding his mind, he could feel every bit of damage that had been inflicted. Countless bones had been broken, he had numerous deep gashes profusely gushing ruby red blood, and his face was so swollen he could hardly see. Not to mention that one of his arms was all but useless. If this had been a battle at the Battle Frontier or the Pokemon League, he would have been disqualified long before he reached this state.

Reality was often far crueler than such simple competitions led children to believe.

Outside of the museum, Salamence had dragged Tyranitar along the stone streets and pinned it to the ground with his own considerable strength. In his enraged state, he didn't have the mental capacity to think of a plan. If he did then he would have traveled a few yards further and trapped the Tyranitar beneath the water of the canal. Instead, all he could think of doing was ripping the mighty behemoth of a Rock type out of its shell and tearing it to shreds. With this in mind, Salamence slammed his claws into Tyranitar and beat it like a drum.

Each blow was delivered for the strength of a sledgehammer and created horrific dents within the once impressive armor of the Tyranitar. Despite this, Tyranitar refused to utter a single sound throughout the assault. It was as if it believed that by allowing itself to make its pain known to the world that it would acknowledge its weakness. Instead, it endured the attacks with clenched teeth. Until finally... it saw an opening. When Salamence raised both of his claws in the air to deliver one final devastating blow, Tyranitar sprang into action. As Salamence's claws came down, Tyranitar caught and halted them mid-swing. Its claws glowed with a pulsing violet energy that was reminiscent of Dragon Claw. Letting out a mighty roar, it heaved Salamence off of its chest and slammed him into the ground with such force that he was left seeing stars in confusion.

Once Tyranitar had forced itself to its feet, it moved behind the still downed Salamence with malicious intent. With its claws still glowing with draconic energy, Tyranitar gripped Salamence by his snout with one of its claws and hoisted him up until he was roughly sitting upright on his tail. With a slow lick of its lips, Tyranitar gripped the underside of Salamence's jaw with its other claw... and began to pull in opposite directions. Even in his confused state, Salamence knew what Tyranitar was trying to do. He began to thrash and twist in the grip of the Tyranitar, flapping his wings and doing everything in his power to escape this death sentence. No matter how hard he struggled, however, Tyranitar's strength was too much for the poisoned dragon.

Tyranitar had pried Salamence's jaws wide open. Even now it looked down into the terrified eyes of its prey and let out a deep laugh that sound more like boulders smashing together than any real speech. It would be so easy for it to pry just a little further and a little harder. Tearing off Salamence's jaw wouldn't just be satisfying for Tyranitar, it would give it a trophy it could happily present to Proton as a sign of respect. The only issue was that Salamence was unworthy of such a quick death.

For daring to interfere in its battle with that pitiful Snorlax, it would make the overgrown lizard suffer.

Tightening its grip on Salamence's jaws to hold him in place, Tyranitar opened its own. The air began to hum in excitement as tiny flecks of energy began to gather in its gaping jaws. Soon enough, a massive golden orb had grown to encompass it. As Tyranitar continued to charge its Hyper Beam, Salamence tried one last ditch effort to escape the clutches of his would be killer. He gathered as much energy as he could and spewed it out in the form of a Flamethrower - hoping that if nothing else, Tyranitar would flinch at the intense heat and light long enough for its grip to loosen. Unfortunately, no such luck. The moment the Flamethrower ended, Tyranitar angled itself above Salamence as it readied itself to use its most powerful attack and destroy this insignificant worm from the inside out.

A pale glowing fist slammed into the side of Tyranitar's skull.

Massive chunks of the armor on its face flew off and it was sent soaring through the air, letting go of Salamence completely. The Hyper Beam that it had been preparing didn't disappear, however. Instead Tyranitar lost control of it completely and fired it off without any care. The deadly beam of energy lanced through the stone homes of the public nearby in a dazzlingly brutal display of golden energy before carving its way through the statues of the Eon Duo and into the smoke-filled sky. Tyranitar tumbled along the ground before eventually falling into the murky waters of canal.

Snorlax spared a brief glance for the sputtering and shivering Salamence on the ground but couldn't waste any more time. Moving as fast as his injured, cumbersome body would allow he sprinted to the edge of the canal that Tyranitar had fallen into. Down below, Tyranitar hissed in pain and thrashed in the water as it tried to drag itself to dry land. Snorlax leapt into the air and shined in the light as its entire body turned to stainless steel before he plummeted down onto the injured Pokemon. Empowered by Heavy Slam, Snorlax crashed into the beast with such forced that the two of them sunk below the waves.

The two of them crashed into the bottom of the canal and kicked up a cloud of sand, sending the aquatic Pokemon nearby fleeing in terror. While Snorlax had no desire to remain down here, it was his only chance at victory. He could hold his breath for at least a few minutes with how large his lungs were. By comparison, Tyranitar was not so lucky. For a Rock type like it, being submerged completely in water would have been akin to a Human be submerged in a vat of acid. Despite its frantic thrashing and hate filled eyes glaring up at him, Snorlax refused to remove himself from its chest.

Rearing back its one good arm, he powered up a Hammer Arm and launched it directly into the exposed throat of his enemy. Even with the added resistance of water slowing down the velocity of his attack, his fist struck with enough force that Tyranitar's mouth was forced open in a silent scream. The moment that happened was when more water rushed into its lungs.

For the first time in the entire battle, fear filled Tyranitar's eyes. The look it sent him was practically begging for Snorlax to let it live. It would find that Snorlax had neither pity nor mercy for monsters that preyed on the innocent. Slowly over the course of a minute, Tyranitar's struggles gradually grew weaker and weaker... until finally it succumbed to the hopeless of its situation. The cruel eyes which had once regarded his team with disdain were now dull and lifeless. It was fitting that such a cruel creature met an equally cruel end. Without a second thought, Snorlax pushed itself off of his fallen foe and catapulted itself to the surface.

Once he was above the water, Snorlax took in a large gulp of air and began to drag itself up onto land with the aid of Salamence.

Back in the museum, Espeon and Alakazam weren't so much fighting Mega Houndoom as they were desperately trying to stay alive. With the raw power it now held, Mega Houndoom was more than capable of burning the two of them to ashes if it desired. However, like its trainer it preferred to play with its food before it enjoyed a meal. The blasts of fire it spewed were little more than a sample of what it could do and yet every time its new toys would frantically dodge out of the way with such fear in their eyes. It was as though its birthday had come early!

Up above them, Mismagius and Jellicent continued their spectral battle. They phased in and out of existence as the fundamental elements of nature clashed in an array of colors and a cacophony of explosions. Mismagius huffed in frustration as the Jellicent's endless barrage of Shadow Balls and Water Pulses overwhelmed her own powerful Thunderbolts. She grinned mischievously and disappeared in the shadows. Jellicent's eyes darted around room and had already begun forming a new Shadow Ball to defend itself. Just as it floated above what little remained of Muk, Mismagius appeared out of Jellicent's own shadow surrounded in oily black fire and slammed into its unprotected back. While Jellicent recoiled in pain, Mismagius capitalized on this opportunity and slammed a Shadow Ball into the aquatic ghost at point blank range.

Jellicent soared backwards through the air in visible discomfort. Despite the opportunity to press her advantage, Mismagius flew backwards as far from the Jellicent as possible. She stuck her tongue out and cackled in in obvious mockery of her adversary. Jellicent huffed in annoyance and summoned another Water Pulse, flinging the cannonball of pressurized water towards her head. Just as it was about to collide with her, it came to a sudden stop mere inches before it impacted. Jellicent stared in shock as the Water Pulse twisted around Mismagius and rocketed down to the ground to slam into the unsuspecting back of Mega Houndoom.

For the first time since Mega Houndoom was released, there was no malicious amusement in its eyes. Instead, it cried out in pain and turned to level a heated glare at the Jellicent. To its credit, Jellicent didn't cower under its gaze and instead created another Water Pulse. There was no fear for the specter despite the massive power difference between the two. While Proton's Pokemon engaged in a tense stand-off with each other, Mismagius gave a brief nod of approval to Espeon and Alakazam for the quick thinking even as they cowered behind a stone pillar.

As if suddenly remembering their opponents were still alive, Mega Houndoom and Jellicent pushed aside any animosity between them and leapt to attack their enemies. Just as Jellicent was preparing a new Shadow Ball, Metagross leapt up from beneath it with one of its legs glowing as brightly as a star and leaving the trail of a comet. Jellicent attempted to summon a protective barrier around itself, but Metagross' Meteor Mash blew through it as though it wasn't even there and sent it rocketing into the sky. The moment before Jellicent would have slammed into the roof, Mismagius flew forward and lashed out with the most powerful Thunderbolt she could muster. The lightning struck with enough power to hold it in place, even as it cried out in pain.

Once the Thunderbolt ended, Jellicent plummeted to the floor and laid there in a broken heap. Mismagius narrowed her eyes at her disabled opponent and summoned one final Shadow Ball to deliver the coup de grace. Her aquatic rival let out one final, haunting scream before dissolving into a puddle of pink slime.

By the time Anabel reached Proton, she was able to see the worried scowl on his face. Watching his prized monsters being brought down by her own - no matter how much damage they suffered - must have been horrifying when his freedom was on the line. With all the people that he had hurt over the years, she refused to let him escape.

She swung her shock baton directly for his face. "Give up! You only have one Pokemon left. Surrender now and I'll guarantee you'll be treated fairly."

Proton narrowly dodged the attack and leapt back. The typical arrogance she had come to expect from criminals like him replaced any fear he felt. "Maybe I've only got one, but there's this little thing called quality. Houndoom barely has a scratch on him while half of yours are ready to keel over and die!"

Anabel scowled. As much as she hated to admit it, he wasn't wrong. Despite having the numbers advantage, the battle could still swing wildly out of her favor. If even one of her teammates fell under the power of Mega Houndoom... she didn't know what she'd do. Her team had been with her since she was a child. They had been with her through both the best and worst moments of her life. When she decided to pursue a career protecting people instead of a life of fame, they had supported her wholeheartedly. She could only hope that they were strong enough working together to beat the beast.

She lashed out with her shock baton, sparks flying off its steel tip. Proton sidestepped the attack and latched onto her arm with both of his hands. Her eyes widened and she tried to struggle out of his grip but he was too strong. With a ferocious snarl, Proton whirled around towards the DMA and slammed her bodily against the base of the machine. Without pause, he lined her arm up with the edge of the machine and rammed her arm into it with as much force as possible. She endured the pain with gritted teeth and tried to rip her arm out from his hands, but he wasn't letting up. He kept slamming her arm into the DMA until she was eventually forced to give in from the pain and loosened her grip on the shock baton.

The moment her weapon clattered to the ground, Proton threw her aside and reached down to grab it. Anabel landed on her back but forced herself to her feet just in time to see the Rocket Admin twirling her weapon in his hand.

"Well, isn't this a fancy little weapon." Proton drawled. "I see the International Police spares no expense for its agents. Shame I couldn't bring a toy of my own, but little Domino said she didn't want me 'jumping the gun'. That girl and her damn puns."

Anabel silently cursed as Proton sprinted towards her a moment later. He swung wildly with the shock baton without any thought or care put into his strikes. Each potential blow was filled with raw strength and his grip on the weapon was far too tight. He had clearly never used a weapon like this before but it hardly mattered. With the added functionality of the electricity, even a glancing blow would be debilitating.

She did her best to dodge and twist her body around the uncoordinated attacks of Proton. Occasionally, he would over extend and she could land a quick jab to his face but it was never enough. As soon as her blow land, he would backpedal and swing the shock baton in unpredictable arcs to ward off any further attacks. Then he would charge again, slowly but surely pushing her back. If the International Police hadn't placed such importance on the ability of their agents to evade attacks, she would likely have been hit by now.

Her luck ran out however when she felt her back hit the DMA. Her eyes widened as Proton swung the baton with full forced into her stomach. She clenched her eyes shut as the electricity coursed through her body. Every muscle felt like it was on fire and as though there were a thousand tiny Beedrill eating her from the inside out. A scream of excruciating pain tore past her lips as she collapsed to ground. She was unable to move a single muscle and it took all of her willpower to command her team to ignore her pain. They needed to focus on Mega Houndoom.

She would be fine. Her shock baton was only releasing enough electricity to stun her. Fortunately for her, Proton hadn't figured out how to amp up the power to lethal levels. Unfortunately, that just meant he'd likely keep shocking and beating her until she was dead anyway. With her body not responding, however, there wasn't much she could do.

Proton scoffed and grabbed the back of Anabel's head by her long, violet hair. "Pathetic. One hit and you're down for the count."

That was the only warning she got before her face was slammed into the metallic surface of the DMA. She felt more than heard her nose break under the force of the blow. Her vision swam and pain flared to life in her face anew. Proton didn't stop at just once, however. He kept slamming ramming her head into it. Eventually he must have been satisfied as he threw her to the floor behind him. Her face had been completely blooded and she could hardly breath out of her nose. Even with feeling slowly returning to her as the after-effects of the electricity left her body, moving anything made her body ache.

Proton chuckled darkly above her. "Ah... it's always nice seeing you hero types fail. So selfless and full of hope. I just love seeing your spirit fail." He turned his back to her at her feet as he gazed up at the DMA with what she could only imagine was a cocky grin. "You know, I don't know what the boss wants with this machine. Whatever it is though is gonna leave the world speechless. I can't wait to see it!"

Somehow Anabel wasn't surprised that Proton was taking the chance to gloat. Taunting her with the knowledge that Team Rocket had something sinister planned and that she could do nothing to stop it. It was cruel in a way that only this man could be.

More important though was how arrogant it was. Even if her entire body felt like it was on fire and even if she was forced to breath out of her mouth instead of her nose, she wasn't out of the fight yet. The people of this city were counting on her. If Team Rocket's people tampered with the DMA and that somehow caused the calamity Ash had told them about? So many would die. So many wonderful people that added so much joy and good to the world.

She couldn't allow something as insignificant as pain to stop her from preventing that!

With a burst of speed and strength, she slammed her foot with all of her might into the back of Proton's knee. Proton hadn't expected her to have any fight left her and fell forward to the ground face first, dropping the shock baton in his surprise. Anabel forced herself to her feet and leapt on top of his back the moment he tried to scramble to his feet. Taking fistfuls of his green hair, she began to slam his face into the ground with as much force as her beaten body could muster. Finally being given a taste of his own medicine, all Proton could do was grunt and groan in pain as she hammered his head into the ground.

After slamming him into the ground five consecutive times, she rolled off of his back and gasped for breath. At this point, her lungs were on fire and her arms felt like they were lead weights. All she wanted to do was lay down and rest.

She was not so lucky. Even with the damage done, Proton was more durable than she had believed. Struggling to force himself to his feet, he glared at her from behind bloody eyes. His once roguishly handsome face was now completely destroyed and replaced by a visage of bloody violence. Fitting for a man like him.

"You bitch! When I get my hands on you-"

He never got the chance to finish his threat. The moment she realized he wasn't going to stay down, Anabel snatched her shock baton off the floor. She lashed out and slammed it into the side of his head with what little strength she had left. When it connected with the side of his head, the very same electricity that had been used against her were used against him. He let out a high-pitched scream of pain and began to convulse from the volts of lightning before collapsing the ground.

Aside the odd involuntary twitch of his body, he seemed to be unconscious. The pain must have been too much for him to handle.

In a moment of weakness, Anabel gave in to her spiteful thoughts and jabbed her shock baton into his back. Proton let out an unconscious, pained whimper as his body began to convulse once more from the electricity coursing through his body. Eventually she pulled her weapon away and collapsed to her knees beside his unconscious form. Every breath she took made her wish for the sweet embrace of unconsciousness, but she couldn't afford that luxury.

Her team still needed her to maintain their Battle Coordination and she would be damned if her weakness saw them falter before Houndoom.

While she and Proton had fought their battle by the DMA, on the other side of the museum her team had surrounded the Mega Houndoom. While the cruel gleam in its eyes had been replaced by a cautious gaze, it didn't appear overly worried. By comparison, half of her team were about to collapse from their injuries. One wrong move could mean their end.

In the end, Metagross was the one to make the first move. Both of its forelegs glowed brightly with the power of a Meteor Mash, and it launched itself forward. Out of her entire team, it was the her only one that had a chance of taking a direct attack without serious harm. Or so Anabel had believed until she saw the Mega Houndoom began to smile. The hellhound surrounded itself with an oily black aura and leapt forward to meet Metagross' charge. Just before the two collided with one another, Mega Houndoom swerved to the side and completely avoided Metagross's blows. With a delighted cackle, Mega Houndoom bodily slammed itself into the underside and sent Metagross flying away with more force than it would have been capable of were it not for Foul Play.

As Metagross rolled to a stop barely a few feet away from her and the unconscious Proton, she saw massive dent within Metagross' armor. Mega Houndoom took delight in her shocked expression and summoned flames in its mouth, prepared for launch a Flamethrower. With her injuries, she would have been too slow to dodge and forced Metagross to choose between sacrificing itself for her or watching her die.

Fortunately for them both, it didn't come to that. Just before Mega Houndoom was going to fire its attack, Alakazam seized control of what little remained of Proton's Muk. Psychically grasping the few bits of sludge, he levitated them off the ground and launched them directly into the eyes of their would-be killer. Even dead, the remains of Muk were still a potent toxin that could weaken the strongest of fighters.

Mega Houndoom recoiled in a mixture of pain and anger, attempting to shake the sludge out of its eyes. With the Psychic grip of Alakazam, however, it refused to budge. Up above them, Mismagius tightly closed her eyes. A high-pitched, almost melodic chant escaped her lips. It could almost have been considered beautiful if it weren't for the slightly demonic undertones of the chant. When she was finished, Mismagius' eyes shot open, and she emitted brilliant pink light that illuminated the entire room. While her allies were unharmed, the moment the light touched Mega Houndoom it cried out in agony and wildly fired off a Flamethrower into the ceiling, completely missing Mismagius.

By the time her Dazzling Gleam faded, Mismagius crackled with static electricity and launched a Thunderbolt into the exposed back of their enemy. Even with the sludge blinding it, Mega Houndoom had a general sense of where she was now and angled its jaws up towards her. Just before it could launch a Dark Pulse and obliterate the annoying Ghost type, Snorlax chose that that moment to leap forward with a glowing fist. Amped with the power of a Hammer Arm, Snorlax's fist collided with Mega Houndoom's ribs the moment Mismagius ceased her attack. The canine's eyes widened in pain from behind the sludge and extinguished its flames as it was launched through the air, colliding with a wall.

A crater was formed where it collided with the wall, and it slid to the ground. With a ferocious growl, it summoned a raging Inferno and... surrounded itself in the flames? While Mega Evolution had given it a major power boost, its Flash Fire ability had been replaced and they were all left wondering why it would subject itself to the attack. The answer became clear with the sludge covering its eyes turned ash and revealed the enraged glare behind them. With its sight returned to it, the Mega Houndoom used the fire surrounding it to amp up the power of its Flame Charge and leapt forward. It blazed so brightly that it could almost have been mistake for a Flare Blitz were it not for the astonishing speed it displayed.

Salamence met its attack head-on. Under the influence of Outrage, he was the only one capable of stopping the attack. Thanks to the combination of his draconic nature allowing him to resist the flames and his enhanced power in this state, Salamence halted Mega Houndoom in its tracks. What he could not do, however, was overpower it. As such he was forced to hold it in place until the flames gradually died down.

By the time they did, Salamence's Outrage hand ended and left its vision swimming. Sensing the opening, Mega Houndoom leapt forward with the same oily black aura it had used against Metagross. With how weak Salamence was, Foul Play would be lethal. Just before it could strike, Espeon reached out with her Psychic power to the case of ancient weapon in the museum. The rusted spear within rumbled within its enclosure for a moment before launching itself through the class with the power of a speeding bullet. The spear lodged itself into the side of Mega Houndoom, sliding past its ribcage and puncturing a lung. With a simple flick of her eyes, Espeon twisted the spear and then snapped it in half, leaving the rusted tip inside of the deadly monster.

The Mega Houndoom stumbled in place and coughed up thick, black blood on the ground. On shaking legs, it leveled a glare at Espeon and opened its jaws to prepare a Flamethrower... only to be sent into a fit of coughs, hacking up blood with every breath. It was almost pitiful seeing the once powerful and cocky monster look so weak and afraid.

Her team had no pity to spare. Salamence shook himself out of his confused state and reared back before slamming his tail into the Mega Houndoom, sending it tumbling across the ground. Snorlax grabbed the canine by its imposing horns and slammed it bodily into the ground with as much force as he could muster before tossing it into the air. With a contemptuous laugh, Mismagius launched a Thunderbolt that electrocuted the Mega Houndoom and sent it flying across the museum. Having finally struggled to its feet, Metagross reared back with a Meteor Mash and slammed its right foreleg into the ribs of Proton's final monster, sending it flying into a wall.

The Mega Houndoom slowly slid to the ground. Her team watched in tense anticipation for it to get up and try to attack them again. It never did. In a blinding flash of light, the creature reverted to its previous form. The once mighty Houndoom was now a broken mess. Instead of fighting to the end with a roar to shake the heavens, it had died with a whimper against half dead opponents.

A fitting end as far as Anabel was concerned. While his team may once have been good Pokemon, they had all shown the same cruelty as their trainer. She would shed no tears over their deaths. Not when weighted against those of the entire city.

Anabel struggled to force herself to her feet, catching herself against the side of Metagross. She sent a relieved smile to her entire team and let out a slow, slightly hysterical laugh. They had managed to take down one of Team Rocket's highest ranking members without a single casualty on their end. With Proton in their custody, the International Police had a real chance of dismantling Team Rocket's power base in the city. Even better, she had managed to stop them from tampering with the DMA and bringing a brutal end to the city by mistake.

Not bad for a rookie agent if she said so herself.

All she had to do now was inform Looker of her success and wait for reinforcements. Once they took Proton off her hands, she'd be all too eager to see a doctor. Both her and her team desperately needed it after what they went through.

There was just one issue. A quick glance outside showed that the damage done to the museum and the surrounding area hadn't gone unnoticed by the local residents. Even if they were afraid to approach, they began to crowd together on the other side of the canal. It didn't take a Psychic to know they wanted answers about what had happened here.

If she had her way, answering their questions would be Looker's job while she relaxed after a hard day's work.

Now that the danger had passed, she deserved it.


As it turned out, caution had been the right decision.

Peeking out from behind the corner of a nearby alleyway, Ash and the others were able to get a good look at Bianca and Lorenzo's home. On the outside, everything looked fine. There was no sign of the chaos in the rest of the city having spread here at all. If Ash didn't know any better, he would have suspected that nothing was wrong. Standing outside the entrance to the home, however, was a man that neither he nor Latias recognized.

He was... unremarkable in every way. He didn't have any standout features and the clothes he wore were the kind he'd expect from a tourist right down to the sunglasses over his eyes and the floral shirt. He seemed utterly bored out of his mind and more focused on the cigarette in his hands. Ash knew that the man was more than just a simple tourist though.

He was with Team Rocket. A Grunt or at least someone they had hired for this job.

Ash turned to Pikachu atop his shoulder. "Can you smell how many of them there are, buddy?"

Pikachu closed his eyes for a moment and raised his head to the sky, nose twitching slightly. "Bianca and Lorenzo are inside." He began. "I can smell three others - the one outside and two in the house. No Pokemon but they may still be in their balls."

Ash saw a look of worry in Pikachu's eyes and frowned. "What else?"

Pikachu's eyes flickered to Latias. "I... could also smell blood. Human blood. A lot of it."

Latias sucked in a sharp gasp.

Ash's hand lashed out and grabbed Latias' arm. She was more than strong enough to rip herself from his grip, but he hadn't planned on holding her. When she turned her artic glare on him, he almost backed down. He steeled his nerves and kept his grip firmly on her, however.

"Latias, calm down."

"How can you ask me to calm down?!" She growled inside his mind. "Your friends - my family - are hurt!"

"We don't know that for certain." It felt like a weak excuse even to him. The idea that Lorenzo and Bianca had wounded one of the Rocket Grunts was laughable at best. "I'm not saying we can't help them. We just need a plan."

"There are three of them, Ash. They don't even have their Pokemon out!" She argued. "With my invisibility, I can sneak inside and get rid them in seconds!"

"And what happens if that's what they want you to do?" He hissed. "Bianca and Lorenzo were targeted for a reason! Team Rocket has probably planned for you to try rescuing them and is prepared for it!"

"There's no way-"

"Don't be reckless!" He scolded. "Take a moment to calm down and think. Rushing in will just put them in danger if things go wrong. Wouldn't you rather be certain they won't get hurt in the crossfire if this goes wrong?"

Latias looked like she wanted to argue. Ash couldn't say he blamed her. If it was his mother in danger, he wouldn't have had the patience to wait either and gone rushing ahead without thinking. That would have been a mistake though. He refused to allow Latias to make that mistake when he was here to be the support she needed.

Latias clenched her eyes shut. "What do you suggest then?"

"I'll draw them out." He stated. "While they're focused on me, Pikachu will sneak inside to free Bianca and Lorenzo so they can escape. Once they're safe, you'll reveal yourself and we can catch them in a pincer attack."

Latias growled and turned herself invisible before his eyes. "Fine... I just want them to be safe."

"I do too. Trust me, I won't let them get hurt."

With a brief nod to his partner, Pikachu hopped off of his shoulder and made a dash for the house. He stuck to the shadows as best he could, but he needn't have bothered. The Grunt stationed outside seemed bored out of his mind and was staring off into the distance, cigarette hanging loosely from his lips. In seconds, Pikachu disappeared around the corner of the house.

Before leaving the safety of his hiding place, Ash reached into his pocket and pulled out his Pokegear. He needed to tell Looker about this so that he could send reinforcements in case things went wrong. After he dialed and there was no answer, Ash felt his anxiety flare up. Why wasn't Looker answering? Had he just not noticed or was something happening back at headquarters that meant he couldn't answer?

Ash couldn't allow himself to worry about that.

Not when he had a plan to see through.

Ash took a deep breath to steady his nerves and stepped out from behind the alleyway. Obscured to the world, Latias floated close behind him. Through their mental link, he could feel her coiled and ready to lash out at the first opportunity. He could only hope she was able to keep herself in check. By the time the Grunt noticed him, Ash had come to stop in the middle of the street with his hands in the pockets of his trench coat.

It was the only way to hide how much his hands were shaking in terror.

"Hello there!" He shouted with what he hoped sounded like confidence. In the empty streets of Alto Mare, his voice echoed around them loud enough for Pikachu to hear from wherever he was hiding. "Do you mind if we have the chat?"

The Grunt kept turned his attention to Ash and stared at him in silence for a few moments. Dropping the cigarette to the ground and stamping it out with his foot, he slammed his fist onto the door to the house. "Boys! Get out here!"

Ash did his best not to pale at the sight of two more Grunts moving out of the house. Like the sentry, each of them was wearing plain clothes and the same sleek black glasses over their eyes. His blood ran cold when he saw the dried blood on the hands of the two that left the house. Though he couldn't be certain, they seemed to tense up once their gazes landed on him.

What he wouldn't give to have more Pokemon at his side or even a weapon of his own. He'd need to talk to Looker about getting trained in one.

"Who are you?" One of them called out.

An uneasy smile spread across his face. "Someone in way over their head." He admitted. "I know who you are though. You're Team Rocket."

In unison, the Grunts all snatched their Pokeballs from their belts and looked prepared to unleash their Pokemon on him. They probably would have if it weren't for him taking his hands out of his pockets and holding them in the air above his head.

"Now now, there's no need for violence." He called out. "I'm just here to talk."

"If you know what's good for you, you'll walk away." One of the Grunts tossed his Pokeball into the air. Following his lead, the other two did the same. At their side appeared a Dusclops, Raticate, and Glalie appeared at their sides.

Seeing such deadly Pokemon glaring at him sent a chill down his spine.

"I could say the same for you!" He declared with far more courage than he actually felt. "You see, I work for the International Police! I've already called my superiors to summon reinforcements." They didn't need to know he hadn't been successful. "They should be here soon. If you flee now, you might escape."

With their eyes obscured by those glasses, he didn't know if that worried them or not. Everything was quiet for a few seconds before one of the grunts stepped forward with the Dusclops by their side.

"Bullshit."

Ash's eyes widened.

"If there really were police on their way here, there's no way you'd be foolish enough to show yourself to us." The Grunt grinned. "After all, you must know that Team Rocket has a bounty on the head of every International Police agent."

His heart skipped a beat. He hadn't known that! Why hadn't Looker or Anabel told him that?!

"I'll tell you what, agent." The Grunt called out. "We'll let you walk away and forget this ever happened. And in exchange for this generous offer, all we're gonna need is that partner of yours."

His eyes narrowed. "Partner?"

The Grunt lazily pointed over Ash's shoulder. "That Latias, of course."

That was all the warning they received before the Dusclops sprang into action. The Ghost types single eye glowed red and teal light began to surround the area. In less than a second, they were all surrounded by teal walls of light that loomed high into the sky. With the Trick Room set up, one of the Grunt lashed out with his hands.

"Raticate, Super Fang!"

With astonishing speed, the Raticate surged forward with golden glowing teeth and leapt over Ash's shoulders. He didn't have to wait long to find out why. Latias let out a loud shriek of pain and momentarily lowered her invisibility. The Raticate had latched onto one of Latias' wings and was even now trying to gnaw through the draconic appendage. It was liable to do that too. While Super Fang was often forgotten about by most trainers, it was one of the few moves that could allow even a rookie trainer to cripple a Champion's Pokemon.

Latias attempted to shake the Raticate off of her by flying into the sky but was intercepted halfway by the Glalie halfway there. With a truly maniacal smile that was full of sparkling white teeth, it opened its massive jaws and clamped down on Latias' other wing. There was an audible crack as Glalie began to Crunch on the wing and stopped Latias in her tracks. She growled in frustration and hovered in place, eyes beginning to glow with a mystical blue energy. At that moment, the Dusclops leapt into the air, and it appeared as if its fists wear surrounded by a raging blizzard. With a haunting moan, the Dusclops used its Ice Punch to send Latias hurtling back towards him just as Raticate and Glalie detached themselves from her wings.

Ash managed to leap aside and roll behind a nearby trashcan just as Latias slammed into the ground, creating a small crater where she landed.

His eyes widened in shock. "Latias... are you-"

"I'm fine!" She growled in his mind. True to her word, she forced herself off of the ground with a thunderous expression on her face. She wasn't unscathed though. While she was capable of keeping herself airborne, it was clear to everyone that she hadn't come out unscathed. Her wings had visible indentations and were dripping golden ichor. Worse, one of her eyes was swollen shut from where the Dusclops had slammed its fist into her.

"Go invisible!" He cried out. "If they can't see you, it won't matter if they're faster now!"

Latias sent him a brief nod and faded from view once again. He felt his spirit drop when he heard the Grunts let out a collective laugh.

"Don't you realize that's pointless?" With a snap of their fingers, one of the Grunts pointed his finger towards the sky. "Glalie, use Ice Beam about five feet in front of you to the left."

No one was more shocked than Ash when the Glalie not only followed the command without hesitation but when the attack connected. Once more Latias' invisibility was disrupted and she was sent tumbling towards the ground. She managed to stop her descent moments before impacting the ground and leveled a wary glare at her enemies.

"In case you haven't figured it out, we can tell where that thing is whether its visible or not." One of the Rocket's reached up to tap the side of their glasses. "Gotta love the RND department for making such fancy toys."

Another Grunt let out a dramatic sigh. "Shame us Grunts don't get to use them so often. Nooooo, we're not worthy of them!" He spat a glob of spit on the ground. "Arrogant higher-ups. As if the Operatives and Admins are the only ones who deserve them!"

"Look at the bright side, at least that Domino woman was willing to lend these to us."

Ash paid the Grunts no mind they babbled on without a care in the world. Domino was here? The woman who had ruined his life? Not only that but she'd come with the equipment needed to capture Latias? It made sense but... why hadn't she shown herself yet? Was she still waiting for the right moment to strike? Or had she decided there was something more important than a Legendary that needed her attention?

The uncertainty he felt set him on edge.

"Enough about us." One of the Grunts drew his attention away from his inner thoughts. "This is your last chance to run. Be a good little agent and take our generosity."

Latias never took her eyes off her enemies, but he could feel her concern through their link. "Ash... maybe you should take the offer. This may be more than you can handle." She whispered. "If I lose, I need you to protect Bianca and Lorenzo for me."

Anyone else in his position would have taken the offer. As injured as she was, Latias was a Legendary. She had power that few other Pokemon could ever hope to achieve. With Pikachu inside hopefully freeing Bianca and Lorenzo from whatever bindings Team Rocket had used on them, winning wasn't even necessary here. Once he and the others were safe, Latias could just fly away and lose these criminals within the city.

Except under the effects of the Trick Room, any attempt to flee would be met with immediate force. At the very least, it would force her to expose her back and give them the chance at a free hit. Not to mention the fact that he didn't trust Team Rocket as far as he could throw them. There was no guarantee they would actually allow him to leave.

He took a breath. "I can't do that. I'm sorry." His apology was meant more for Latias than the Grunts. "I won't abandon a friend in their time of need."

Latias sighed. "You're as stubborn as ever." Despite her harsh words, he could feel her gratitude through their link. "But... thanks. For sticking with me. Just watch yourself."

The grunt huffed in annoyance. "If this is the hill you want to die on, so be it." He snapped his fingers and gestured dismissively towards him. "You two deal with him. I'll stay here in case the Latias tries to go invisible again."

Ash didn't give them a chance for the Grunts to rush him. He took off sprinting towards Lorenzo's workshop, followed closely by the two Grunts who were meant to fight him. The Pokemon ignored him as he sprinted by them though whether that was because they didn't view him as a threat or they were worried about turning their backs to Latias, he didn't know. He was just thankful he didn't have to worry about them yet.

Ash charged into the door to the workshop with his shoulder, audibly throwing them open as he burst into the workshop. It was cramped, dusty, and filled to the brim with various types of wood. Lining the walls was both powered and ordinary tools. In the center of the workshop was even a half finished gondola that was missing the seats on the inside.

The Grunts weren't far behind him and had simple knives in their hands. While Ash would normally have preferred to put as much distance between him and any attacker as possible, he couldn't do that now. With no other choice, the only option he had was to limit the way his enemies could engage him.

It had been a lesson Anabel drilled into him. When facing multiple opponents and there was no escape, finding ways to take away that number advantage was the only option. The best way to do that was give them limited space to move in and force them to attack one at a time instead of all at once. Even more essential was ensuring no one could sneak up behind him and catch him from behind when he wasn't looking.

Lorenzo's workshop allowed him to do both. All that was left now was actually fighting the hardened criminals. Neither of which seemed like the kind to hesitate before killing someone. With those knives in their hands, he didn't fancy his chances taking them on unarmed either. Perhaps if he was willing to use some of the tools on the walls that Lorenzo used he would stand a better chance, but Ash staunchly refused to do so. If he wasn't careful with them, he could accidentally kill these men.

Instead, Ash snatched up a wide plank of wood off of the floor and held it out in front of him as a shield. This caused the Grunts to laugh and twirl their weapons in the hand.

"Really? Wood? I thought you International Police were meant to be dangerous." Ash could imagine the Grunt rolling his eyes behind his glasses. "Oh well, this should be easy at least."

The Grunt rushed forward and thrust his knife towards Ash's head. His eyes widened and he reacted on instinct, bringing his shield up to block the attack while backpedaling away from the blow. There was a loud thunk as the knife slammed into the makeshift wooden shield and his eyes widened as he saw the tip of the knife penetrating just beyond the shield.

His shock soon turned to relief when it remained there. The criminal trying to kill him grunted in obvious frustration as he tried to pull the knife out of the wood, but it wouldn't budge. Ash seized the opportunity by twisting his shield to the side and roughly yanking it towards him. The Grunt kept a tight hold on the knife and was pulled along but had his arm twisted at an awkward angle. The Grunts eyes widened when Ash surged forward and slammed the wooden plank into his face, forcing him to let go of the knife and tumble backwards into his teammate.

He didn't stop there. In such a cramped workshop, the other Grunt didn't have the room to attack. Not when his ally was blocking the way forward and clutching his face in pain. Ash took advantage of that by bracing himself and sprinting forward, holding the shield out in front of him like a battering ram. He slammed into the Grunt that had lost their knife and threw them back into their partner, sending them both sprawling to the floor.

Ash narrowed his eyes down at the Grunt at his feet. He raised the wooden shield above his head and brought it down on the criminals head with a grunt of exertion. The Grunts glasses shattered under the blow, and he cried out in pain before going still. The rise and fall of his chest was enough to let Ash breathe a sigh of relief. The man was just unconscious, not dead.

Which still left the other Grunt. He managed to turn just in time to see the Grunt leaping toward him, knife held in a reverse grip. The Grunt raised the knife into the air and brought it down in a blow that was aimed for his head. Ash narrowed his eyes and brought the wooden shield up with the hopes of catching the blade in the same way he had the earlier one.

The Grunt had been expecting that and kicked Ash in the gut just as the knife scraped across the surface of the wooden plan, forcing Ash to stumbling backwards and drop his shield to the ground. With his protection gone, the Grunt surged forward and began to wildly slash for Ash's face. He was only just fast enough to avoid the life-threatening blows, but he hadn't come out unscathed. There were rough, jagged cuts along his arms that bled crimson blood and stained his trench coat. With each narrow graze, Ash was tempted to stop in his tracks and clutch them in pain. To do that would mean standing still and to stand still in such a narrow space was death.

Unfortunately, the choice was taken away from him.

When Ash's back hit the wall of the workshop, his heart skipped a beat. A feral grin split the Grunts face and he thrust his blade forward. Ash only barely managed to twist his body to the side and avoid being impaled on the end of the knife. With the Grunt throwing his entire body behind the blow, the knife sunk into the wooden wall with a harsh thunk. Ash wrapped one of his hands tightly around the Grunt's wrist to keep him in place before delivering a devastating strike to the criminals throat with his elbow.

The Grunt's eyes bulged, and he let go of the knife to stumble backwards, clutching his throat in both of his hands. Ash pounced on the opening and curled his hands into fists. His fist lashed out and struck the Grunt directly in the nose with as much force as he could. Once more the Grunt was forced to recoil in pain and shock, though it certainly wasn't the last. Running on pure adrenaline at this point, Ash was relentless in how he struck the criminal with his fists in a rapid series of blows. He made sure to target the Grunt's face and throat but once the older man tried to throw up his arms to block his blows, Ash switched targets and sent a devastating blow into the man's gut.

The Grunt had no idea what he was doing. Even with Ash's limited training and experience in a fight, it was clear the Grunt was out of his element. Without his Pokemon and weapon, he was helpless. Ash counted himself lucky for that. He didn't want to imagine having to fight someone with actual experience yet. This was already taking everything he had!

The fight eventually came to an end with one final, decisive blow. Ash launched an uppercut into the jaw of the Grunt and sent him flying back to the ground. He landed with a dull thud and laid there unmoving on the ground, his face bloodied and bruised beyond belief. For his part, Ash allowed himself to breathe a sigh of relief once he realized he had a moment to catch his breath. He winced in pain, however, and glanced down at his hands. They were covered in blood and shaking so much he was almost certain that he'd broken some of the bones in his hands.

There was nothing to do about it though. While it hurt, he didn't have much of an alternative to his hands. However deadly a fist could be, Ash would take them any day over the far more deadly hammers and saws lining the wall of Lorenzo's workshop.

Stepping over the unconscious bodies of his attackers, Ash peaked out of the door to see how Latias was handling herself outside. He was greeted by the sight of Latias panting and covered in wounds while crumpled to the ground. To her credit, her enemies were all sporting various injuries of their own, but it seemed like effects of the Trick Room had been too much for her. Team Rocket had chosen their strategy well.

Ash's eyes widened when he saw the Grunt gingerly take a Pokeball off of his belt and rear back to throw it. Ash growled and grabbed the closest thing off of the wall that he could - a simple ball-peen hammer - and stepped out from the workshop.

He wouldn't allow his friend to be captured by the likes of them.

"Oi! Fuckface!" He shouted at the top of his lungs. "Catch!"

His shouting was enough to distract the Grunt from his throw and draw his attention to Ash. Good. That meant he'd see what came next coming. Ash reared back and hurled the hammer with all of his strength. The Grunt swore and leapt out of the way of the hammer, dropping his Pokeball in the process. It was wasted effort though. With Ash's shaky hands and his desire to not kill anyone, the hammer flew clear above where the Grunt had been standing and smashed through the window of a house on the other side of the street.

An enraged roar was the only warning he received before the Dusclops surged towards him and wrapped its massive hands around him. Ash winced in pain and paled in terror as he stared into the menacing eye of the deadly Ghost type. At that moment, Ash realized why the creature was willing to abandon its fight against Latias to target him.

He had threatened its trainer. Even if the man had been a criminal, he obviously meant a lot to the Dusclops. Ash didn't blame the Pokemon for looking at him with such hatred. He doubted any assurances that he didn't want to kill the man would help though because this creature certainly wanted to kill him.

It would have too if Pikachu hadn't chose that moment to burst through the window of Lorenzo and Bianca's house with a roar of his own. If the Dusclops had been angry at the threat to its trainer then Pikachu looked absolutely livid at the sight of his own in danger.

Even under the effects of Trick Room, Pikachu managed to cover the distance between him and the Dusclops with the use of a Quick Attack. During his sprint, his began to flare with static electricity that coated his body completely and turned the attack into a devastating Volt Tackle. He collided with the side of the Dusclops with enough force that it dropped Ash to the ground and was sent flying back into the Glalie and Raticate it had fought beside.

Ash's eyes widened. "What are you doing here? You're supposed to be helping Bianca and Lorenzo escape!"

Pikachu was hunched down on all fours, cheeks sparking with deadly electricity. While Volt Tackle had hurt him, he was still in far better shape than any of the others. "I wasn't going to just sit by while that thing had its way with you!" His partner snapped. "Lorenzo is in no shape to move and Bianca won't leave him."

Ash's blood ran cold. That... left them no choice then. Their only choice was to win this battle. Even with their enemies injured, however, Ash didn't think the odds were in their favor. Against three powerful Pokemon under the effects of Trick Room, even Pikachu would struggle.

They needed an equalizer.

His eyes narrowed in realization and flickered to Latias. "Can you still fight?" He shouted over the battlefield.

Through their link, Ash could feel a tiny fraction of the pain she was experiencing. "Y-yes!" She grimaced. "But... I don't I can move too quickly even if Trick Room ends."

That was fine. With what he had planned, she wouldn't need to move an inch. "The canals! Use the water!"

The Rocket Grunt forced himself to his feet and lashed out with his hand. "Stop her, you idiots!"

To their credit, Team Rocket's Pokemon tried to attack Latias and disrupt her concentration. Each of them was interrupted by Pikachu when he surged forward with the same combination of Quick Attack and Volt Tackle as before, slamming into the Glalie and using it as a springboard to collide with the Dusclops and Raticate. By the time Pikachu was finished with his attack and had leapt away from them to catch his breath, it was already too late.

Latias' eyes glowed with a familiar mystical blue energy, and she reached out towards the waters of the famous canals of Alto Mare. A lesser Psychic would have been able to control a small stream of the water with expert precision or vast amounts of it with the skill of a barbarian but never both at the same time. For a Legendary like her, she was able to lift enough water out of the canals that it cast a shadow over the street. Instead of sending it crashing down onto their enemies and crushing them beneath the weight, the water moved with a mind of its own and lashed out with such speed that he almost missed what came next.

Tendrils of the clear blue water wrapped around the midsections of both the Rocket Grunt and the Pokemon that had been attacking her. They were only able to utter brief gasps of shock before being dragged into the floating mass of water at enough speed to give them whiplash. Once they were within the watery prison, they began to struggle and claw for a way out. No matter how hard they tried, however, none of them were strong enough to break the psychically enhanced grip of the water.

Soon enough, they would drown if no one helped them.

Ash pointed a shaking finger at the water and closed his eyes. "Pikachu, Thunderbolt! Just enough to knock them unconscious!"

Pikachu sent his trainer a sharp nod and surrounded himself in golden electricity. With a ferocious battle cry, lightning lanced off of his body and directly towards the floating mass of water. Once the Thunderbolt struck, everything within became illuminated in a golden light. Though no sound could be heard from within, it was clear that those inside of the water were screaming in agony.

Once those inside stopped convulsing, Latias allowed her control of the water to slip and dropped it to the ground. While the water pooled on the ground and began to slowly make its way back into the canals, the Grunt and their Pokemon remained unmoving on the ground. Ash cautiously moved towards them each to check their pulses and let out a sigh of relief once he confirmed that they were still alive. He paused over the Grunt's body and snatched the glasses off of them.

The International Police would be interested in studying this technology.

That was a concern for later though. For now, he had to focus on his friends. He rushed over to Latias' side and crouched down to inspect her wounds. They were bad. If she had been anything other than a Legendary, he doubted she would still be conscious let alone have had the mental fortitude to pull off that trick with the water.

"How bad is it?"

He managed to smile at her reassuringly. "Normally I'd take you to a Pokemon Center and you'd be back to normal after a nights rest. Without one though..." He trailed off before letting out a tired sigh. "You'll probably need to take it easy for a few weeks. Not to mention we'll need to get you the right medicine for these wounds."

Latias groaned. "I was hoping you wouldn't say that."

Pikachu hopped up onto his shoulder and smiled down at Latias. "Look at the bright side: at least the next few weeks should be quiet. I doubt they'll try anything after this."

Latias eyes widened, and she surged off the ground... before tumbling back onto the street with a pain grunt. "Are Lorenzo and Bianca okay?"

Pikachu shifted uncomfortably and averted his eyes. "Bianca is fine. They just had her tied up is all." His partner sighed. "Lorenzo is in bad shape though. I think he tried to resist. He was unconscious when I found him and was beaten pretty badly."

Ash grimaced. "How badly?"

Pikachu closed his eyes tightly. "He's old, Ash. Maybe he'll survive if we can get him to a hospital quickly enough. But if nothing happens soon then it may be too late."

He didn't need to be a Psychic to tell how devastated the news made Latias. With a sigh, Ash took Pikachu off of his shoulder and stood to his full height. He looked down at Latias with sympathy in his eyes and clenched his fists at his side.

"I'll go tell Bianca that the danger is past." He told her. "I don't think that her or you should be alone right now."

Latias could manage anything more than a silent nod. He didn't blame her. First her brother lost his life fixing Team Rocket's mistake and now Lorenzo - her surrogate father - might die? All because of their interest in her? He could only imagine the torment she must have been putting herself through in her own head.

He wished there was more that he could do to help.

Ash made his way into the once comfy little house and flinched at the sight within. The cozy little home had been utterly destroyed. Furniture had been tossed around, the decorations on the wall had been torn apart, and the once happy photos that could be seen in the house were now shattered on the ground.

Worst of all was the sight in the center of the living room. Bianca was on her knees visibly shaking with her hands clenched into fists in her skirt. Her hair was completely frazzled and her eyes were bloodshot from how much she was crying. Her sobs were little more than whimpers but in the otherwise silent house they were as clear as day. Lorenzo...

Lorenzo looked worse than he'd expected. There were no knife wounds on his body or any sign that Team Rocket had used their Pokemon to attack him. That did little to comfort him given the state of the man's face. Lorenzo was normally a kind looking man with a bright smile and a bushy white beard that could brighten anyone's day by looking at them. Now it was little more than a swollen, bloody mess that disgusted him to even look at.

He didn't deserve this. How could Team Rocket have been so cruel?

Ash crouched down beside Bianca and gently laid his hand on her shoulder. She flinched away at his touch in fear but visibly calmed down once she realized it was him.

"Bianca..."

What was he supposed to say? What could he say? Nothing seemed right. In the end, he decided that silence was better than pointless platitudes. Instead, he merely helped her to her feet and pulled her into a gentle hug. Though she didn't return it, she did clutch at his shirt and sob into it.

"T-they... they wouldn't stop hurting him." She whimpered. "E-even when he was unconscious they just wouldn't stop!"

He clenched his eyes shut. "I'm sorry."

"They just kept laughing." She continued. She was furiously shaking the entire time. "They kept saying that unless I told them how the DMA worked or where Latias was that they'd do the same to me!"

Ash didn't think he had ever hated anyone quite like those Grunts in his entire life.

"It's alright." He whispered. "I stopped them. They won't hurt you or Lorenzo anymore."

Slowly, Bianca lifted her head off of his chest and looked him in the eyes. "Did you kill them?"

His hands tightened around her, and he was forced to look away. "No." As much as his rage may have made him want to at the moment, Ash wasn't a killer. He could only hope that never changed. "They're unconscious. Once the police arrive, they'll take them away. They'll never see the light of day again."

Bianca tilted her head down. "Oh..."

He did his best to ignore how disappointed she sounded.

"Latias is outside." He told her. "Come on. Neither of you should be alone right now."

Bianca looked down at her grandfather. "I can't leave him..."

"I'll look after him." He promised. "Just let me help you outside and then I'll come right back. I can make sure his wounds don't get any worse."

Even if he doubted it would make any difference, it was the least he could offer the man.

It seemed to be enough for Bianca. With the brief of nods, she allowed him to help her out of the house. The entire time, she remained glued to his side as though her life depended on it. With how much she was shaking, he wouldn't be surprised if she would collapse the moment he let go. The moment they were outside and she saw Latias, however, Bianca let out a gasp and tore herself from his grasp to go sprinting off towards the Legendary.

The display of almost sisterly concern the two displayed for one another brought a small smile to his face. It did nothing to diminish the tragedy that had happened today, but it gave him hope. So long as the two had each other, he knew they would be alright.

And who knew? There was always the chance that Lorenzo could pull through. All he needed to do now was call Looker again and... find... out...

Ash could hardly breath as his eyes were drawn to the canals. As if on autopilot, his legs carried him to edge of the water. With a shuddering breath, Ash collapsed to his knees and felt tears gather at the corner of his eyes.

"No... it can't be."

The water had begun to leave the city.

That could only mean one thing.

Team Rocket had stolen the Soul Dew... and doomed them all.
 
Chapter 9

TheCouchEffect

Bug Catcher
Pronouns
He/His
Chapter 9: Sea Change

It was happening again.

The doom of Alto Mare, the theft of the Soul Dew, the rushing water, and the deafening silence. Ash's head pounded with his heartbeat, rocking his body with every breath he took. He could hardly focus on anything, let alone think. His throat felt so dry that he couldn't utter a single sound.

This couldn't be happening. The Soul Dew was hidden in the most secure place in the entire city. Even with Latias not there to defend it, the Pokemon that made the hidden garden their home would have defended it. That was irrelevant though. Team Rocket should never have been able to find the garden in the first place!

Except they had. Somehow, Team Rocket had managed to infiltrate the garden and steal the Soul Dew. Had they known its location all along and this attack on the city had been meant to distract them from protecting the Soul Dew? Or… had his involvement led them directly to it like last time?

He didn't know which would be worse.

It didn't take long for the water to leave the city. It moved with such speed and purpose that he could have been forgiven for thinking the water had a mind of its own. The Pokemon that had once swam through the peaceful canals were trapped within its cool embrace, pulling them along with it. In less than a minute, the canal in front of him was completely devoid of all water and he had no doubt that it was the same across the entire city.

Ash wasn't a stranger to danger. In his journey as a Pokemon trainer, he had put himself in danger countless times. Sometimes it was to protect innocent people and Pokemon from vile criminals while other times it would be by complete accident. No matter how common it was for him to encounter deadly situations, he would never get used to the feeling of mind-numbing terror that shook him to his core.

Even this deep in the city, it was impossible for Ash to miss the tidal wave that towered over the city from a few miles out. Every direction he looked, he could see the deep blue water of the ocean casting a shadow of death over the city. Despite the law of gravity dictating that the water come crashing down on them all, it stood motionless before the eyes of the city.

He knew that it wouldn't last long.

The people of the city knew that too. Last time this happened, everyone in the city had been asleep or locked in their homes. They hadn't known the danger they were in. This time? One moment the city was so quiet that he could have heard a pin drop on the opposite end. The next there was a deafening cacophony of screams as people and Pokemon alike realized the destruction awaiting them.

Their screams were so loud that Ash was broken from his stupor and forced to cover his ears with his hands, not that it helped much. He wouldn't have been surprised if people on the mainland could hear the panic.

Even if they could, there wasn't much they would be able to do to save the city.

Ash heard a cry of pain and stumbled to his feet. He spun around to see the source of the voice and saw Latias, crumpled on the ground with an expression of pure agony writ on her face. At her side, Pikachu and Bianca were frozen in fear and hadn't yet noticed the state of their friend.

He rushed over and crouched down at Latias' side, breaking the two of them from their terror. His hands were shaking, and his vision swam from the pure panic coursing through his system, but he did his best to check her wounds.

"Don't move." He mumbled. "The bones in your wings are broken and you've lost a lot of blood. You can't afford to make this- "

"Worse!?" She snapped. Her eyes were blazing with barely contained fury. As it was the ground trembled with Psychic energy. "My city is about to be destroyed! I can't just sit here and do nothing!"

As if to prove her point, she tried to lift herself off the ground through sheer force of will. To her credit, she was able to make it about a foot in the air before she tumbled to the ground again with a pained grunt. Bianca let out a gasp and rushed to her side, doing her best to put pressure onto the profusely bleeding wounds and coating her hands in golden ichor in the process.

Ash clenched his eyes shut. "There's nothing you can do, Latias. Nothing any of us can do…."

Tears had gathered in her eyes, though whether that was from the pain of her injuries or their impending death, he didn't know. "No! I refuse to be useless again! I won't allow my brothers sacrifice to have been for nothing! I can't let you all down again!"

Ash winced from guilt. Her words were like daggers straight to his heart. As if the deaths of his friends and everyone else in the city weren't bad enough, this made Latios' sacrifice all those years ago pointless. It was an insult to his memory to think he gave his life for a mere five years of survival for Alto Mare.

"You haven't let us down, Latias." He cradled her broken wing in his hands, careful not to grip it too hard or cause her any pain. "You did the best you could."

Latias snapped her eyes shut. "My best wasn't good enough. It never is. If I was half the guardian my brother was, I- "

Her eyes widened and she let out a gasp of shock. Before his eyes, the injured form of his friend disappeared. In her place was a carbon copy of Bianca in every way. Or at least it would have been if it weren't for the ruby red blood that caked her clothes, a leg that had been broken at an awkward angle, or an eye swollen completely shut. He barely had a chance to fully understand what had happened before he heard the powerful flap of wings above them.

Ash spun around and looked towards the sky with Pikachu at his side, letting off deadly sparks of electricity. Up above them was an absolutely massive black bird as dark as the night sky. Upon closer inspection, its feathers, talons, and beak all appeared to glint in the light as if they were made out of steel. Its piercing red eyes had him frozen to the spot.

While he had never met one of these Pokemon before, he had seen Corviknight's in the past as a child on TV. The Galarian bird was well known for its sheer power and remarkable cunning. If it had wanted to, it could have killed them all and there was nothing any of them could have done to stop it.

Mercifully, it landed a few feet away from them and a portly man with thin gray hair and a bushy mustache hopped off of its back. He took one look at them and destruction around them before gasping.

"What happened here!?" The man rushed over with his Corviknight not far behind.

"We were attacked." Honesty was the best option here. He didn't need to give this man the wrong idea and have him sic his Corviknight on him. "A couple of criminals tried to take advantage of the chaos. We stopped them."

The man hummed in thought. "I see… well that hardly matters now. Come, climb onto Corviknight and we'll get out of here."

"Climb on…?"

The older man grunted in annoyance and moved towards them. "Are you blind, boy? There's a tsunami headed towards the city! No one in their right mind is sticking around if they can help it!" He gestured wildly to the sky and helped Bianca to her feet. "Take a look for yourself."

Dumbly, Ash looked towards the sky and felt his eyes widen in shock. If the towering tsunami was casting Alto Mare in a shadow from every direction, then the sky had been almost completely obscured. Up above were hundreds- no, thousands of Flying types and other Pokemon capable of flight in the sky. From powerful Pidgeot and Fearow to deadly Hydreigon's and Altaria. There were even more strange Pokemon such as Magnezone and Heracross high above the city. The one thing all of these radically different Pokemon had in common was that they were carrying Humans on their backs and in their claws. He could even see what must have been a flock of wild Pidgey collectively carrying people into the sky!

That was without even mentioning the dozens of helicopters hovering above the city at the same time.

Despite the severity of the situation, Ash felt hope swell in his heart. The people weren't all doomed. Unlike last time, everyone had been out in the city and awake when the water began to leave the city. It had been foolish to think that they would all just willingly accept their fate.

For once, he was glad to have been a fool.

"They're fleeing the city…."

The man grunted as he hoisted Bianca up onto the back of his Corviknight with Pikachu not far behind. "That we are. I was on my way towards the center of the city to see if anyone needed help when my partner here saw you all below us." He grinned. "Be sure to thank him when this is all over."

At this point, he'd have kissed the dang thing if it saved him and his friends.

Ash hurried over to Latias and helped her up off of the ground. While it may have looked to the world as though he was cradling her in his arms to accommodate her broken leg, in reality he was only providing support to help her levitate towards the Corviknight.

The gray-haired man frowned. "These criminals must have done a number on her. I'd say she needs a hospital, but I don't think she'll see one for a while yet."

Bianca chose that moment to speak up. "She'll be fine. We can worry about a hospital if we survive." Her eyes flickered to him. "Ash… can you get Grandpa? He… he won't be able to make it on his own."

Ash winced and glanced towards the Davri family home. He had completely forgotten about Lorenzo. A tiny, cynical part of him fueled by fear of the tsunami in the distance whispered that he should abandon the man. He might as well have been dead already and would only weigh them down. Surely he would want Bianca and Latias to survive even if it meant his death.

The disgust that pulsed through him at the thought was enough for him to squash that evil thought. No matter how injured Lorenzo, there was always the chance he could survive. He deserved the chance to survive after all he had endured.

If anyone deserved to be left here, it was him for thinking such a terrible thought.

With a brief nod, Ash took off sprinting towards the house and burst through the door. Lorenzo was where they had left him, still unconscious in a pool of his own blood. With as much haste as he could muster, Ash grabbed the elderly man by his shoulders and dragged him out of the house as fast as he could. Lorenzo was too heavy for him to completely lift off of the ground so this was the best that he could do.

Once he was closer to the Corviknight, its trainer helped him hoist Lorenzo up onto its back behind Bianca. He was worried that the man would have slid off until he felt Latias in the back of her mind. He relaxed as he realized she would keep him in place with her Psychic power.

The older man climbed up onto Corviknight's back and offered him a hand. "Come on, we need to move! Who knows when that water will come crashing down?"

Any minute now if his experience last time was any indication. Ash was all too eager to get out of the city before it hit. Except… he hesitated just before taking the offered hand. He glanced back towards the unconscious Team Rocket Grunts and their Pokemon.

They had tried to kill him and his friends. Their organization had ruined his life and the lives of so many other innocent people. More importantly, they had helped Team Rocket inadvertently cause this disaster in the first place. No one would have blamed him if he abandoned them here. In a way, it would have been justice for all of the suffering they and their organization had caused.

He could never live with himself if he abandoned them though. No matter how disgusted he may have been with them or how much suffering they caused, no one deserved to die. Least of all in a tsunami. If he left them here to certain death then it would be as good as wielding the blade himself.

Bianca's eyes narrowed and she tightened her grip on the Corviknight's back. "Ash, don't! Get on before it's too late!"

He ignored her and rushed towards the workshop. In the distance, he could hear the sound of rushing water and knew that the tsunami had begun to close in on them from all sides. His heart leapt into his throat, but he didn't let that stop him from dragging the Grunts out into the open. He yanked their Pokeballs off of their unconscious forms and hastily returned their Pokemon to safety.

Motivated entirely by survival, Ash found the strength and speed to toss the unconscious criminals up onto the back before hopping up himself. Even if he could feel her displeasure through their Psychic link, he made it clear to Latias that he expected her to keep them from falling off the same as Lorenzo.

The gray-haired trainer grunted. "Cutting it close, boy. Not many would bother saving people that tried to kill them." He didn't bother waiting for a response and slapped the side of Corviknight's neck. "Get us out of here!"

The Corviknight didn't need to be told twice. If Ash had been worried about it being able to carry all of them and still be able to fly high enough, then his fears were pointless. As a Steel type, Corviknight was far stronger physically than nearly any other Flying type. With a single flap of its wings, it took off into the air and forced them all to grip its feathers as tightly as they could to avoid being thrown off.

In less than twenty seconds, they had managed to reach the same height as the horde of other Pokemon in the sky. They managed to angle themselves in the center of a flock of Pidgey that gave them a clear view of the city below.

Just in time to see the tsunami hit.

The first thing to capture Ash's attention was how loud it was, completely drowning out any sound coming from the city in the center of the waves path. When the tsunami moved, the earth rumbled and the very air shook from the enormity of the water bearing down towards the city. The smell of brine and stale sulfur was so strong that his eyes watered.

When the tsunami struck, it struck from all sides. Like a guillotine descending upon the vulnerable neck of a prisoner, it hard and fast with no chance of stopping it. The warehouses and buildings along the edge of the city were the first to fall, but they were far from the last. While some of the rampaging water would flow down the carefully crafted canals of the city, most of it smashed through buildings, monuments, and anything else in its way with pitiful ease. In mere seconds, half of the city had been completely submerged underwater and more would be joining it soon.

He heard Bianca whimper in distress in front of him. While he wasn't much better, he put his hand on his shoulder and squeezed comfortingly to show that he was here. She steadfastly looked away from the carnage below and kept her eyes shut. As much as he wished he could have done the same, he couldn't find the strength in him to look away.

The waters of destruction had smashed through houses, toppled marble pillars, uprooted trees, and otherwise removed all traces of Human civilization as though it were never there in the first place. Even boats and gondolas which had been dragged out to see were now used as wrecking balls by the waves. The remnants of the once beautiful city were now little more than debris that was used by the water to smash through anything else in its path. Even the museum – the pride of the city – had been subsumed by the waves completely.

The only buildings to survive the ferocious assault of the waves were a few hotels, corporate buildings, and the police headquarters. While the buildings had been bashed and battered by the debris in the water, they held firm. While he was too high up to be certain, he was convinced that he could see people clustered together on the roofs of the buildings. It gave him hope that more people were using them as shelter from the danger.

He paled as he heard a loud crunch that reverberated through the air. He didn't dare move or react in a desperate hope that it had just been his imagination. It hadn't. Before his very eyes, one of hotel buildings which had stood tall in the face of the disaster wobbled in place. Down below in the water, cargo ships and massive chunks of debris were thrown against the foundation of the hotel. Cracks began to spread up and inside of the building until with one final, gargantuan wave the building tore itself in half and toppled over into the tempestuous waters below.

It sunk beneath the waves with a deafening crash. A massive plume of water was launched into the air in its wake, sending everyone above it scrambling to fly away or risk being knocked into the watery grave below by hundreds of pounds of water.

Ash watched with bated breath as the water continued to rage through the ruins of the once great city of Alto Mare, swirling debris in an apocalyptic maelstrom that didn't look like it would calm down anytime soon. Mercifully, the few other buildings still standing weathered the assault with no sign of crumbling.

The destruction of Alto Mare was far from over… but at least the worst of it was past them.


"We're coming to you live from Goldenrod City in the sunny Johto Region." The reporter on screen cleared here throat and gestured out to the beautiful port city behind her. "It has been a week since the tragedy of Alto Mare. Authorities claim that the tsunami that destroyed the city was the largest and deadliest in recorded history. Experts believe that it was caused by a small earthquake out in the deep ocean, but video recordings show that the water actually came from within the city and surrounding area."

The reporter paused for suspense. "They assure us that these recordings are complete fabrications despite the sheer number of them and accounts from survivors of the tragedy confirming this to be the case."

Left unsaid was why the survivors of the tragedy would have any reason to lie about the disaster that destroyed their home.

The reporter moved deeper into the city towards the port. The camera panned out to show that the port had been turned into a makeshift refugee camp for the survivors of the city. Rows upon rows of tents spanned the entirety of the docks in all shapes and sizes. On the outskirts were humanitarian workers and police moving in and out doing their best to help.

The reporter stepped back into frame. "The refugees have managed to find sanctuary within Goldenrod City. While the influx of thousands of people may have been a daunting task for some, the people of Goldenrod have risen to the challenge. Even now, people are opening their homes to help those who have lost their own. For those who have nowhere else to go, emergency services have done their best to give them everything they need to survive until they can move completely into the city."

A large truck slowly drove by the camera with a small mountain of crates in the back. Essentials such as fresh food and water to medicine and dry clothes were being brought in and out of the refugee camp day and night.

"The response from the international community is one of collective mourning for the victims." The reporter allowed a small smile to grace her face. "As Johto's staunchest supporter, Unova has donated over ten million dollars' worth of relief aid and has promised more in the event it is needed. In a more surprising turn of events, Kanto has also offered to support Johto in whatever way it can to aid the refugees. Could this be an end to history of animosity between the two regions? Only time will tell. Tune in later as we hear first-hand accounts of what it is like to live in the refugee camp- "

May let out a sigh and turned off the TV, setting the remote aside on the counter of the bar in her hotel suite. She swirled her drink in her hand and closed her eyes in thought.

"It's tragic, isn't it?"

She peaked one eye open and glanced behind her towards the living room. It had been a few months since Ash's escape from the police in Viridian City and May had returned to her journey since then. As much as she would have liked to stay and comfort Delia, she had responsibilities. Currently, she was in Castelia City of the Unova region to compete in contests.

While she had been exploring the city, she'd come across her rivals Drew, Solidad, and Harley. Like her, they had all decided to travel the scientific center of the world and see what challenges these contests held for them. While she was used to traveling alone, renting a suite they could all share would give her a chance to catch up with them.

May frowned and set her drink aside. "Tragic doesn't begin to describe it. How could something like this even happen?"

Harley grunted from his spot of the couch and set aside his Cacturne hat, running a hand down his face. While normally she would have expected him to mock or patronize her, it seemed that even he wasn't immune to this kind of tragedy.

"How it happened doesn't matter." Harley muttered. "I doubt any of the survivors care. I'd bet they're all more focused on what will happen to them now."

Solidad had her eyes closed tight and was hunched over a table, her salmon hair tightened into a loose ponytail and hanging over her left shoulder. "They'll be fine… they've got the sympathy of the world right now."

Drew scoffed and flicked his emerald hair out of his eyes, glaring out of the window. "Sympathy will only take them so far. They've lost their homes and their possessions. Chances are most of them will never be able to recover from this."

Solidad looked to him with her eyes wide in worry. "Everyone has been donating money and supplies to help them though. Even the regional governments have been stepping up."

Drew let out a tired sigh. "And that will only continue until people forget about them in a few months or the next tragedy happens. After that? Well, we'll just have to hope most of them have gotten back on their feet."

Harley frowned and tightened his fists. "It's not right! Those people don't deserve this."

Drew gained a far away look in his eyes. "They don't. We'll just have to hope that they can get some justice one way or another."

Harley growled. "I just wish there was something we could do."

May couldn't help but agree. She had never felt so useless before in her whole life. So many people had just survived the worst day of their lives and had their entire world shattered. If she were in their situation, she didn't know what she would do. To suddenly lose her home and potentially her family all at the same time? The very thought made her shiver in despair.

She could only hope she would have had even a tenth of their strength. To face so much adversity and still find the strength to move forward? It was inspiring. If only there was a way for her to help them. She didn't have the money to fix all of their problems or build them a new city. Worse, she didn't even have any skills that could be useful to them. All she was good at was being an entertainer.

Hold on… that gave her an idea.

"The contest…."

Drew glanced her way. "What about it?"

She forced herself to her feet and slammed her fist into her palm. "This contest is being broadcast across the world." Most were only broadcast locally or regionally, but when famous contestants such as her and her rivals took part? It wasn't unusual for them to gain international attention. "We could talk to the other contestants and the judges about dedicating it towards the survivors of Alto Mare. If we're lucky, they may make a call to action for everyone to donate and help in any way they can."

"Or even give the prize money to the refugees instead." Solidad perked up with a smile. "This is a brilliant idea. It may not seem like much compared to what they're getting from governments, but a few hundred thousand dollars can't hurt!"

Drew cupped his hands under his chin. "Even if they don't, we could always make an agreement with each other to donate the prize money that we win."

Harley chuckled. "Looks like you do have a brain in that big head of yours after all!" May let the backhanded compliment slide. If he was willing to insult her again then it meant he was back in high spirits. "Yeah, this sounds like a plan! Let's all agree to work together to win this and help those people!"

As the others all talked among themselves about how best to approach the judges and other contestants with their plan, May leaned back against the counter. Truth be told, this was the least they could do. It was like Ash always said, if you could help someone then you had a moral obligation to do so.

Thinking of him brought an uneasy feeling to her stomach and she quickly downed her drink to drown it out. While the suspicion of the police had eventually fade after his escape and she had moved on with her life, she couldn't help but wonder what had happened to her old friend.

A better person would have spent time worrying about when the police would capture him or how he could have turned into a monster. She… couldn't help but worry about how he was doing though. Was he safe? Was he still running, or had he managed to find a new home for himself? Did he know what the world thought of him? Was he even still alive?

These should have been the last things on her mind. He was a murderer and a monster. She should have felt only disgust at the mere thought of him! And yet… there was always a hint of uncertainty in the back of her mind. Ash was the kindest person she knew and an inspiration to anyone he met. He would never kill anyone.

She didn't know if anyone else felt the same. As far as the public and her friends were concerned, she always put up the front of someone firmly against him. She couldn't afford not to. Privately though? Doubt ate away at her and she worried for her old friend.

If nothing else, she could use the lessons he had taught her to help others. She had the power to make a difference and she wouldn't squander it.

She was certain that if Ash was even half the person she thought he was and knew what had happened to Alto Mare, then nothing in the world would stop him from doing the right thing.


Monster.

Terrorist.

Inhuman.

These three words had plagued Domino's mind for past week. Every time she looked in the mirror, she recoiled in disgust and anger. In the rare moments of silence and isolation she had, her own thoughts turned against her. She couldn't even sleep for more than an hour or two a night before she was plagued by horrific nightmares of the dead. She must have looked absolutely terrible with baggy, tired eyes and frayed hair.

At any other time, she would have been horrified. Stood in the center of Giovanni's office in Viridian City, she was expected to be at her best. As a Specter, she was supposed to be the best of the best. At the absolute least, she should have been able to look like she wasn't about to collapse from exhaustion.

This was different though. She had never felt so… guilty before. As one of the top agents within Team Rocket, she was always given the most dangerous missions. She had killed before and done so without remorse or hesitation. More than once, she had ruined people's lives and made them wish for death. Most of the time, they were criminals like her or at least people aware of the risks fighting criminals such as the police. Vigilante types like Ketchum too stupid to keep their noses clean didn't deserve any sympathy either.

But this? A whole damn city had been wiped off the map. An unthinkable number of people had lost their lives. How many of them had woken up that day expecting everything to be normal? How many of them would never be able to enjoy the simple pleasures in life again? How many children had she robbed of their future?

She may have been a criminal, but there were lines that even she was unwilling to cross. Yet somehow… she had become an even worse monster than Proton. She wouldn't be surprised if she was the worst monster since the end of the Great War.

Her only saving grace was that no one knew Team Rocket was responsible for this. No one besides her and the International Police, anyway.

It didn't do much to help.

Domino stood silently with her hands crossed behind her back and a neutral expression on her face. Giovanni was leaning back in he chair behind his desk while the setting sun illuminated him with an almost divine glow. At his side was his regal Persian, eyeing with what she would swear was a dark sense of amusement. The way it licked its lips whenever she flinched at the slightest movements told her that she was spot on.

Giovanni didn't bother paying attention to her. He wore a complicated expression on his face and looked about a thousand years old. Compared to his normally stern visage, it was clear that he was just as troubled as she was.

"Report."

Domino flinched at the underlying intensity in his voice. "I arrived in Alto Mare as you instructed. Once it became clear to me that Proton's incompetence would lead to failure, I exercised my authority to take control."

His eyes narrowed. "And you used the control to launch an attack on the city?"

She didn't dare look away from his gaze. To do so would have been a sign of weakness. "I needed to distract the International Police." She deflected. "By creating emergencies across the city, I ensured we could move unimpeded. I also ordered that all active agents wear disguises and refrain from killing anyone. That way nothing could be linked back to us."

Giovanni tapped his finger against the table, causing his Persian to lazily hop into his lap to be scratched behind the ears. "And if any of these agents were captured? They could have revealed our involvement."

"They wouldn't dare when they know when can get to them." No one betrayed Team Rocket and got away with it. "Moving on, the distraction work. Proton led a team to study the DMA up close while other agents moved to capture two people connected to it."

He quirked an eyebrow. "And what were you doing in this little plan of yours?"

She pursed her lips. "I was originally supposed to lead the capture team. However, once I confirmed that Ash Ketchum had joined the International Police and was active in the field," she ignored the rush of pleasure at seeing Giovanni's shocked look. Like her, he must have been shocked they would put him in the field so soon. "I followed him to the hidden garden of the Latias. For once, Proton wasn't just incompetent. It was hidden behind an illusion of a wall in a random alley in the center of the city."

Giovanni frowned. "Interesting… I will make our people aware of this. Knowing that Legendaries are capable of using illusions against us will save a lot of time and lives." He sighed and scratched his Persian between its shoulder blades. "How did this happen then? It doesn't sound like you planned for this."

She let out a shuddering breath. "I waited for Ketchum and the Latias to leave the garden. The state of emergency was enough to draw them out even if I hadn't planned for them. After that? I entered the garden and took the Soul Dew. I didn't want to risk staying in the city when we had the main prize. The way I saw it, once the Soul Dew was secure then we could focus entirely on the Latias. We knew where it lived and who upkept the DMA, after all."

Giovanni hummed in agreement. "A wise choice. Better a partial victory than a total loss." He set Persian down on the ground and stood up from his chair, gazing out at the city below. "Where is it?"

Domino took that as her que to move forward and took the Soul Dew out of her pocket. She hadn't dared take her eyes off it or risk it in the hands of anyone else. Not after what stealing it cost. She placed the beautiful blue jewel on his table and stepped back a respectful distance.

Giovanni gently lifted the Soul Dew up into the air, letting it glint in the light of the setting sun. The orange rays mixed with the dark blue glow of the jewel to illuminate the room in a beautiful array of colors.

"Fascinating… the power of the soul in the palm of my hand." He whispered. "Wars have been fought over less in the past."

Domino frowned. "And now a city has been destroyed for it." She ignored the growl of warning the Persian gave her. "Sir… we both know that taking the Soul Dew was what destroyed the city. Did… did you know when you gave me this mission?"

She didn't what she'd do if he did and still sent her anyway.

Giovanni was quiet for a moment before setting the Soul Dew down on his desk. "No. Annie and Oakley failed to make me aware that taking it would result in this tragedy. Had I known, I would have left the damn thing where it was."

She released a breath she didn't know that she had been holding. Giovanni was a criminal, but he wasn't a monster. No matter what someone thought of him, he couldn't be accused of being insane or needlessly cruel. It was good to know that the man she respected felt the same way she did.

"I will be speaking to them about this soon." He went on. "If I find out they knew this would happen and didn't care to tell me, they will regret it."

Domino couldn't find it in herself to care at this moment. The two of them may have been fellow Specters and mentors to her, but if they had known this would happen? She would not shed any tears at their funeral.

She'd expect nothing less if she were in their shoes.

"May I ask what you plan to do with the Soul Dew?" She dared to ask. Normally she wouldn't have questioned him like this, but after all the trouble they had gone through, and all the lives lost to attain it? She felt she deserved some answers.

To her relief, Giovanni didn't ignore her or lash out in annoyance. Instead, an easy smile spread across his face. "A soul is a powerful thing, Domino. The soul of a Legendary is the most powerful of them all. When used correctly, it can perform miracles and make the impossible possible." He laughed. "More than that I cannot say. You'll know when I have need of you."

When, not if. That meant that he planned to tell her eventually, just not now. Domino could live with that. She didn't truly care what Giovanni planned to use it for. Frankly, in her mind there was no one more deserving of its power. So long as he made the loss of Alto Mare meaningful and she had a place at his side, she could eventually come to live with what happened.

Domino nodded. "I understand, sir." She sighed. "What happens next?"

Giovanni closed his eyes in thought. "Team Rocket will put pressure on the local criminals of Goldenrod to leave the refugees in peace. Meanwhile, I will keep applying pressure on Kanto's government to provide aid to them. If for some reason they prove too stubborn to follow through on their promises, I will personally give them whatever resources they need to survive."

She blinked in surprise. "That's generous of you."

He leaned back against his desk. "We destroyed their home. Whether we intended it or not is irrelevant. I will atone for this mistake and help them recover." He shook his head. "At the very least, I can ensure the children have a future beyond simple survival."

Despite the heavy topic, she felt a tiny smile work its way onto her face. This was the Giovanni she was loyal to. Not the ruthless crime boss that ruled from the shadows. Not the wise Gym Leader that mentored young trainers. The true Giovanni was a man who had a code of honor. A true gentleman that stood above petty criminals with a vision of the future.

He was the man who had given her a home and a purpose. For that alone, he had her loyalty. Once the survivors of Alto Mare knew he was on their side, they would never need to fear for themselves or their children again.

"What about the business?"

He sighed. "We'll need time to recover in Johto, but operations in other regions should be relatively unaffected. With Proton captured, I'll need to find someone else to fill his position."

She hoped that whoever it got that honor was more tolerable. She refused to work with another Proton. It was a low bar, but Domino wouldn't be surprised if someone even worse ended up replacing the cruel man.

"And me?"

"You are on vacation effective immediately."

Her eyes shot wide open. "What!? But sir- "

She couldn't get out any more words before Giovanni pushed off of his desk, placing his hand on her head and ruffling her blonde hair. "You have been working nonstop for too long. I had planned to force you to rest regardless of how the operation in Alto Mare turned out." He frowned. "After this tragedy though? You're in no state to work."

"But I'm fine!"

His eyes narrowed. "Don't lie to me." He scolded. "Your actions caused the death of nearly an entire city. Even if you didn't intend it, it still happened. It's natural that it would weigh heavily on your mind."

She clenched her eyes shut. "I'm strong enough to work…."

He smiled. "You are not weak for needing time off." He ruffled her hair one more time before stepping back. "You have the next few months to yourself. I expect you to speak with a therapist at least once a week, but you have the rest of that time to yourself."

She sighed. "I don't have a choice, do I?"

He tilted his head to the side. "Do you feel like I'm giving you one?" He chuckled. "I recommend you visit Lavaridge Town in Hoenn. Its hot springs can cure any ailment and help distract you from the stress of our work."

"I'll think about it… thank you, sir. I appreciate it."

"It is the least I can do for such an exemplary agent."


Ash, Looker, and Anabel were all sat together in a small hotel room. The orange rays of the setting sun filtered through the curtains of the room, but the light didn't do much for the tense atmosphere. Over the past week, the three of them had been so busy that they hadn't all been together since before the tragedy.

When the tsunami struck Alto Mare, Ash had been worried that Anabel and Looker hadn't made it to safety in time. Mercifully, his worries had been unfounded. Looker and the police had gathered on the roof of the police headquarters and rode out the calamity there. Despite their injuries, Anabel and her Pokemon had been some of the few to take to the skies on the back of her Metagross and Salamence. More impressively, she had been able to capture Proton and even rescue a small group of people before the waves hit.

Since the end of the tsunami and their arrival in Goldenrod, they had all been busy. Looker had taken Proton and the other captured Grunts to the police to hold while he reported back to the leaders of the International Police. Anabel had been confined to a hospital to rest and recover while her Pokemon were all handled by Pokemon Centers. Meanwhile, he had been busy working with the refugees at the docks and helping them in any way he could. Ash didn't know where Petrovic was beyond the fact that he had apparently survived.

Now that they were all finally together, they could discuss what they had failed to stop… and what they would do moving forward.

Ash scratched Pikachu behind the ears and glanced towards Anabel sat on the edge of her bed. "How are you feeling, Anabel?"

She managed a small smile. "About as good as I can. Face is still a little sore, but I should be back to normal with a little more rest."

Looker hummed in thought but didn't turn away from the window. "That's good. After managing to capture Proton, you deserve all the rest you need." Ash could have sworn there was a hint of pride in his voice. "Not bad for a rookie."

Anabel frowned. "Has he said anything?"

Looker sighed and tightened his fists. "Not yet. The smug bastard hasn't given us anything useful. He seems to think that he's untouchable and his stay with us in only temporary."

Ash felt an ember of hatred spark to life in his gut. Proton truly thought that he was going to get away with this? That they would just let his role in the destruction of Alto Mare go? Or did he believe that Team Rocket and their spies in the International Police would free him?

"Tell me we're going to prove him wrong."

Looker scoffed. "Of course we are. We just need more time to work on him and apply pressure. One way or another, we'll make him cooperate."

Good. Once Proton realized that working with them was the right thing to do, he could pay for his crimes and help them move against Team Rocket.

Anabel chose that moment to speak up. "What about the refugees? Is there any plan for us to help them?"

Looker turned around and leaned back against the window, crossing his arms in front of him with a grunt of annoyance. Ash felt his stomach drop. "Less than we should be. While we don't have the authority or resources to force people to support them, our people will be doing their best to persuade people in power to provide as much aid as they can."

"That sounds like a good thing though…."

"It isn't." He snapped. "They'll make small, token efforts at best to appease us but nothing substantial. We can't afford to force the issue either or we'll risk making enemies of people that we need as allies. And then there's Team Rocket…."

Ash frowned, gently stroking Pikachu's back. "What about them?"

Looker closed his eyes in frustration. "As of now, all knowledge that Team Rocket caused the destruction is to be suppressed. That means that the three of us and Petrovic are not allowed to spread word to the public or anyone else in the organization."

The response was immediate. Both he and Anabel surged to their feet to shout out their protests. Even Pikachu had leapt up with sparks flying from his cheeks. Before any of them could get a word in edgewise, however, Looker held up a hand to silence them.

"I don't like this any more than you do but our orders are clear." He growled. "Command says that revealing Team Rocket are behind this will only cause unnecessary panic."

"Unnecessary? A city was destroyed!" Anabel growled. "A quarter of a million people are dead! People should be panicking! Who knows what disaster they'll cause next?"

Ash flinched at the mention of the casualty numbers. Alto Mare had been a center of culture and tourism for the world. Before the disaster, roughly two hundred and seventy thousand people had lived on the island. Thousands more came to visit every day. In the aftermath, barely ten thousand had survived thanks to the aid of people with Pokemon capable of flight and brave Psychic types willing to risk death to save them by teleporting into the city from the mainland. From what he'd heard, everyone within range that had the power to help had stepped up.

He should have been inspired by the bravery and heroism of people risking their lives to save a doomed city. Instead, all he felt was a deep sense of disgust at the horrific loss of life for the sunken city.

"The truth will do more harm than good." Looker had closed his eyes at this point and set on the edge of one of the hotel beds. "If the public knew, they would be terrified. They'd think that a any moment, Team Rocket could destroy their city. At best, people would be afraid to leave their homes and lose faith in the government. At worst, they'll see threats in every shadow and turn on each other out of fear their neighbors are agents for Team Rocket."

Ash could imagine it. There was an old saying that a person was smart, but that people were stupid. In a way, it was true. Once people gave into mob mentality and were ruled by their fears or emotions, they lost all reason. If people learned about the true downfall of Alto Mare, he could easily imagine the chaos that would follow.

"Maybe keeping it a secret from the public is a good idea." He allowed. "But… why other members of the International Police?"

Looker sighed. "Because we're people too. No matter our skills or line of work, we all still have emotions. If they learn about this, there will be agents that go off the rails and let their emotions control them. They could put people's lives in danger out of a desire for bloody vengeance. We can't let that happen when we're already in a delicate position."

Anabel wore a complicated expression but sat back down on the bed opposite of Looker. "I… understand. I don't agree, but I understand." She shook her head. "How long do we have to keep it secret?

Looker shrugged. "Until they need to know. Once enough time has passed and we're in a more secure position, I'm sure we'll spread word to the rest of the organization. We just can't take any risks right now."

It made sense, he supposed. Why take such a big risk when it was safer to keep things quiet? People said that the truth should always be revealed, but his time with the International Police was showing him otherwise. If people had known about the Soul Dew, this tragedy would have happened far sooner. If they knew that Team Rocket was behind this, the world would be shaken to its core.

Sometimes, ignorance was bliss. He certainly missed the days when he thought he lived in a simple world with simple problems.

Looker focused on him and tilted his head to the side. "Ash, how are Bianca and Latias doing?"

Ash squirmed uncomfortably under the curious gazes of his teammates. Once they had arrived in Goldenrod, Bianca and Latias had stayed close. With Team Rocket's interest in them, Ash and the others had all collectively decided that they shouldn't be left alone. Mercifully, there hadn't been anymore attempts to capture either of them since the tragedy. Not wanting to take any chances, however, they were always kept close by one of them. Even now, they were only a few doors down in in the hotel.

Unfortunately, they rarely left the room if they had a choice. Neither of them were taking the destruction of Alto Mare well. As if that wasn't enough, Lorenzo had died before they even reached Goldenrod. An inglorious end for a man who deserved better. Losing both a home and a father figure in the same day would have been devastating. Ash couldn't blame them for wanting time to mourn.

"They're… as well as they can be." He eventually decided on. "I think it'll take some time before they're back to normal. If they even can be after everything that's happened."

Anabel frowned. "What do they plan to do now?"

Ash shrugged. "I don't know. It didn't seem right to force any answers out of them."

"You should speak with them, Ash. Whatever they need, the International Police will provide." Looker advised. "Make it clear that whatever they plan to do, we will be happy to support them. Latias especially."

"What do you mean?"

"Latias was the guardian of Alto Mare. She protected it for years and now it has been lost forever under her watch. Meanwhile, she lost both her brother and surrogate father because of them." Looker explained. "The way I see it, she'll want revenge."

Ash crossed his arms and frowned. On his shoulder, Pikachu shifted in place. "You want me to take advantage of her loss and trick her into joining us?"

Looker's eyes widened in shock at the accusation. "No! All I'm saying is to make the offer. She's motivated to fight them and can only be an asset. If she's going to take the fight to them anyway, then we might as well work together. Her power with our resources will strike a decisive blow."

"Not to mention we can guarantee that Bianca is protected from any future attacks." Anabel added.

It still seemed dirty to prey on her emotions and desire for revenge, but Ash could see where they were coming from. As much as he may not have agreed the morality behind it, he understood Latias was too important to not even make an attempt to recruit her.

Ash sighed and turned to leave. "Alright… I'll make the offer."

He didn't wait to hear what else they had to say. Once he left the room, he took a deep breath to calm his nerves and stalked down the hallway towards where he knew Bianca and Latias were staying. While he had a key to the room, he knocked out of a desire to preserve some sense of control for them. While there was no answer, the door did click open to let him in.

Once inside, he shut the door behind him as quietly as he could. Neither Bianca nor Latias looked to good. Bianca had such bloodshot eyes and unkempt hair that it was clear she hadn't been getting much sleep. Even Latias in her true form showed clear signs of exhaustion with bags under her eyes. Despite this, both of them tried their best to smile for him.

He couldn't blame them for failing to manage that.

He took a seat on the bed next to them and leaned back with a sigh. Pikachu hopped off of his shoulder and scurried into Bianca's lap offering her what comfort he could.

For a few moments, they all sat in silence. Neither of them had the heart to say anything and Ash wasn't sure how to even start. Nothing seemed good enough given what they had been through. Eventually, he decided to keep things simple.

"How are the two of you doing?" He glanced their way in worry. "Really, I mean. Don't tell me you're fine just because you think it's what I want to hear."

Bianca let out a brittle laugh, scratching Pikachu behind the ears. "What do you want us to say? We're surviving. It's all we can do."

Ash reached over to place his hand on her shoulder as a sign of solidarity. "I'm sorry." It was all he could say. He could never truly understand what they were going to and to even suggest that would have been an insult. "We'll make them pay."

It was the only promise he felt comfortable giving.

Bianca sighed. "Thank you… why are you here? Just checking up on us?"

Not quite. "I guess I wanted to find out what you two have planned. With everything that's happened… I want to know if I can help with what you plan to do next."

Despite the depressing atmosphere, Latias giggled in amusement. She floated off of the bed until she hovering just in front of his face at eye level. In the back of his mind, he felt the familiar tingle in the back of his mind that signaled a Psychic was at play. He suppressed his gut instinct to recoil in fear. With Latias, he knew there was no reason to worry.

"Always trying to be a hero… you sure know how to make someone feel better."

Ash frowned. "All I did was offer to help."

Latias nuzzled into his neck. Instinctively, he reached up to stroke her neck. "Just knowing someone is willing to do that is enough."

Bianca's lips quirked upwards. "She's right. You can be charming when you want to." She didn't even give him a chance to respond to that before pushing on. "As for what we'll do… well, I don't have anywhere else to go. I'll stay here and try to make a new life for myself. Hopefully I'll be able to continue my art career."

Given her status as one of the few survivors of Alto Mare? Ash had a feeling her popularity would skyrocket. Tragedy sold, or so he'd heard. The chance to own a painting made by one of the last citizens of what may have been the largest cultural city in the world would entice plenty of people with deep pockets.

Ash smiled. "You'll do great, Bianca. I know that you'll recover from this. You're too stubborn not to." He internally cheered at the brief laugh that escaped her lips. It was a positive sign. "What about Latias?"

The draconic Legendary pulled out of his reach and shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know. Alto Mare was my whole life. This is the first time I've ever even really left the city. With it gone…."

In that moment, Latias looked like the most vulnerable thing in the world. As a Legendary, she had power that was unrivaled by all but her fellow Legends – her fellow gods. After a mere week she had fully recovered from wounds that would have been crippling for most other Pokemon. Yet with all that power, she had chosen the simple life of a guardian.

She had a good soul. The soul of a hero. Others may have called her foolish or naïve, but he knew better. Latias was someone willing to dedicate her life to protecting others without ever worrying about gratitude or glory. To her, the simple act of helping people was enough of a reward. If more of the world were like her, Alto Mare would still exist.

Without it, she suddenly had no true goal. Perhaps she would choose to make Goldenrod her new home and protect it like she had Alto Mare. Maybe she would decide to travel the world and right wrongs wherever the wind took her. Whatever she chose to do, he was certain she would be a beacon of hope for those in need.

Looker and Anabel wanted her to join them. He couldn't deny that she would be a powerful ally and could help them save countless lives in the future.

Ash took the chance. "You could always join the International Police."

Latias froze. "What?"

"Come with us." He offered once more. "You're a guardian, Latias. You're always going to protect people, no matter where you go. If you join us, you can protect the entire world, not just a single city."

Pikachu chose that moment to speak up and hopped off of Bianca's lap. Thanks to Latias, he was able to understand what his partner was saying. "The International Police are the only one's fighting Team Rocket. If you help us, we can bring them to justice and stop them from causing another Alto Mare."

Latias glanced towards Bianca. "I can't just leave Bianca unprotected."

"She won't be." Ash promised. "Regardless of whether or not you join us, Bianca will be protected. Looker and Anabel have promised me that. Team Rocket won't threaten her ever again."

Despite the assurance, she still looked uncertain. He could see that she wanted to agree but something was holding her back. Whatever it was, he would need to try his hardest to convince her.

"I don't know… allowing them into the city to protect the Soul Dew was one thing. Working with them directly though? How can I be sure they won't try to capture or study me?"

Before Ash or Pikachu could even begin to speak, Bianca chose to answer for them. "Ash could always capture you."

He spun to look at his friend with wild, surprised eyes. "What?"

Bianca chuckled. "Don't look so surprised." Bianca smiled. "You're our friend, Ash. We trust you. If there's anyone that could keep Latias safe, it would be you. More importantly, I know for a fact you see her as more than just a tool."

Latias hummed in thought and moved close enough to his face that her snout was touching his nose. "That's true… if I were your Pokemon, I know that you wouldn't let anyone use me like a tool or a lab experiment."

Of course he wouldn't! Even if Latias was a different species, she was more than a weapon to him. She was a friend that had saved his life and deserved his respect. He would never allow her to be used like a disposable tool. She was too important to him to allow that to happen.

"If you really trust me that much… I guess I would be willing to capture you." Ash reached into his trench coat and pulled out a simple, green Pokeball. Just before he tapped it on her nose, he paused. "If you ever want your freedom or feel like you can't trust me and the International Police, just let me know. I'll release you on the spot."

Bianca laughed in amusement beside him while Latias raised one of her clawed hands to pat his cheek. "And that's why I trust you enough to go with you."

Without any further delay, Latias gently tapped the Pokeball and was sucked inside. The ball didn't even shake once before signaling that he had effectively captured her. If his younger self were in his position, he would have been cheering at the prospect of catching a Legendary. As it was, Ash could only smile as hope sparked in his heart.

With Latias on their side, Team Rocket's days were numbered.

They just didn't know it yet.


There were few things in this world that Looker despised more than cutting a deal with a criminal. He understood that they were necessary for the justice system to function. Without the ability to make deals, the system would collapse under the combined weight of millions of people waiting for lengthy trials for potentially decades. It was why he would begrudgingly accept that they were necessary and would use them when he had to.

That didn't stop him from hating every second of it though. While he would agree that lesser criminals or those that showed remorse could benefit from them, he never did like how it was always the worst that received deals. The most cruel and vicious that made the world a darker place and took pleasure in every second of it. It always felt like he was letting them get away with their crimes and implicitly telling the victims that their pain was meaningless.

Across the steel table from him in the center of an interrogation room, Proton was loudly munching on a basket of chili cheese fries with his bare hands. Far from the picture of excellence of beauty he normally styled himself as, Proton's face covered in bandages and slowly fading yellow bruises from his fight with Anabel. With his glamorous white suit having been destroyed, he had been forced into a baggy set of brown trousers and stained floral shirt.

It was better than he deserved.

Proton moaned in obvious delight, tossing a cheese covered fry into his mouth. "These really are good. Truly, the best fries in Goldenrod. If I died with a belly full of these, I'd die happy."

Looker narrowed his eyes. "Good enough for you to cooperate with us?"

Proton let out a big, belly laugh and rattled his chains against the table. Given how dangerous Proton was and his volatile temperament, the man had been chained to the table by four separate sets of chains on his arms and legs. That was to say nothing of the fact he had been denied the right to use any actual silverware.

The Rocket Admin picked up a fry dripping in gravy and thrust it toward him, spattering his face in the disgusting stuff. "Oh, they're good, but they ain't that good. Now if you brought me a double cheeseburger then maybe I'd be more willing to sing."

Looker suppressed the urge to growl and lash out in anger. The smug energy radiating off of the man was infuriating. Even when he was at their mercy, the man still believed that he was the one in control. The level of confidence that required bordered on reckless arrogance. More importantly, it made one thing very clear to him.

"You don't feel an ounce of remorse, do you?"

Far from looking shamed by the accusation, Proton smirked with his chipped teeth. "Now why would I need to feel that?"

"Your people destroyed Alto Mare."

It would have been a risk to say such a thing normally. Any member of the police could have been willing to leak that information to the public. Luckily, Petrovic had been unusually cooperative with him today and had been determined to keep the officers away from the room.

Clearly even his bloodthirst saw the horror in destroying a city.

Proton rolled eyes and continued to feast on his fries. "Oh please. I had nothing to do with that. As far as I knew, I was just taking some time to visit the museum when your little friend assaulted me and mine."

Looker gripped the edge of table so hard his knuckles had turned white. "Your people caused the chaos in the city. You forced authorities in the city to respond. Because of that, Domino was able to steal the Soul Dew."

Proton quirked an eyebrow. "And we didn't know stealing the damn thing would cause that tsunami, you dense bastard. Why would we? That kind of violence is pointless." He sighed. "Now we lost a beautiful city and so much money. Such a shame."

"Is money all you can think about?"

Proton tapped his chin with a fry for a moment before shrugging in boredom. "Pretty much. It's not like there was anything else of value there. Those people all had such worthless, dull lives that I'll bet they loved the excitement. Well… at least those who survived."

Looker didn't bother controlling himself. He reached across the table and threw the half-eaten basket of fries against the far wall in his rage. "How can you believe that? You act like some kind of monster!"

Proton snorted in amusement. "Why bother hiding what I feel? Those people were meaningless to me, and I won't be losing any sleep over them." He declared. "Domino though? That brat is probably on the verge of a mental breakdown. It must be such a sight to see!"

He was insane. No, that wasn't the right word. Whatever Looker may have thought of the man, it was clear that Proton had a strong grasp on reality. He genuinely didn't feel guilt for what he had helped cause. Worse, he didn't seem to care about anyone's life besides his own. That someone like him had amassed so much power was… disturbing.

He would need to try a different tactic. Appealing to someone's guilt and empathy was only possible when they felt them.

"Do you enjoy your life, Proton?"

Now it was Proton's turn to appear caught off-guard. "Come again?"

"Do you love life? The fancy suits? The beautiful women hanging off your arm and the decadent food you eat? Or at least the power you wielded as an Admin for Team Rocket?"

Proton snorted. "That a trick question? Of course! My life with Team Rocket has been something out of a movie." He leaned forward to cup his hands in front of him. "There's nothing quite like knowing I can walk into almost any room and be the most feared man there. The women and the riches are just a bonus. The real pleasure comes from knowing that I hold power over life and death. Almost like I'm a… god."

How disgusting.

Looker held Proton's gaze with as much venom in his eyes as possible. "Well, I hope you enjoyed it. That ends today." He held up a hand to stop whatever Proton had to say in response. "You will be giving me what I want and there are two ways I can get it."

Proton snorted and leaned back in disbelief. "Enlighten me."

"Option one is you cooperate with us. You give us intel on all ongoing operations, safe houses and training facilities, as well as everyone who works for them that you know of. Then we shuffle you into witness protection as say a… garbage man or a janitor in some backwater town until we need you to testify in court against your comrades."

Proton growled and tightened his hands impotently into fists. "And option two?"

"I throw you into a deep, dark hole and leave you to the tender mercies of our 'enhanced interrogation' specialists."

Proton sneered. "Torture. And here I thought you International Police were meant to uphold the law."

Looker laughed softly and held the criminals gaze. For the first time since this started, Looker could see a hint of fear in the mans eyes. "We die in the dark so the innocent can live in the light. Do you really think we're above getting our hands dirty?"

The International Police didn't have a motto or a calling card. Their line of work was too serious for any of them to bother with that nonsense. There was a common saying among them, however. As men and women doomed to risk their lives to fight dangers the public knew nothing about, they would never be thanked. The only reward they ever received would be the knowledge they kept society safe.

It was not the glamorous life the movies made it out to be.

Proton began to sweat. "You think I'm afraid of your little knives? Team Rocket can do far worse."

Looker ignored him. "I wonder what would break you first. The isolation and starvation? Maybe the knives and poisons they're so fond of? Or could the waking nightmares of our Psychics be what does it?" He snorted in derision. "Who am I kidding? You'll crack the moment they break out the hungry Weedle."

"Enough!" Proton slammed his fists onto the table to silence him and gulped. "I-I need time to think about this!"

How typical. Eager to be the one inflicting the pain, but once even the possibility of him being the victim revealed itself he folded like a house of cards. Proton talked a big game, but he wasn't nearly as strong as he thought he was. Like everyone else, though, the fear of pain was a powerful motivator.

His weakness was Looker's gain though.

Looker scraped his chair against the ground and turned his back to the man. "You have one hour. For your sake, I hope you make the right choice."


Not even ten minutes later, Proton heard the door to the interrogation room open again.

He growled and gripped his chains as tightly as he could. "It hasn't been an hour yet, so you can fu- "

His words died in his mouth as he someone else stood in the doorway. Instead of Looker, there was a man with a familiar, disgusting shade of purple hair and unkempt goatee. On the mans face was a leer filled with so much contempt Proton wished he could wrap these chains around his throat.

"Ah… Petrovic. Come to put pressure on me for Looker?"

The man scoffed and slammed the door shut behind him. "Cameras are off and all the police are busy. You can cut the act."

Proton frowned. "Fine. What are you doing, Petrel?"

Petrel grinned and spread his arms wide as if he was going to hug him. Proton wouldn't have dared accept it even if he were still in good shape. Petrel was the kind of man to promise you the world and his eternal loyalty, then stab you in the back and rob you blind.

Why Giovanni kept him around, he would never know.

"Why, I came to free my old buddy Proton from the dastardly clutches of the International Police!" He stuffed his hands into the pockets of his trench coat. "We're comrades, after all. Us Rockets gotta stick together."

Proton grunted in annoyance. Just his luck. Now he'd be stuck in debt to this fool for who knew how long. Still, it was better than having to choose between torture and betraying Giovanni, so he'd take the humiliation without too much complaint.

"Yeah, go team! Woo." His lack of enthusiasm was plain as day. "Just get me out of these chains before Looker comes back."

Petrel laughed. "Not a problem, old pal." Despite his words, Petrel didn't move an inch. "Just one thing… what exactly were you and Looker talking about?"

Proton narrowed his eyes in suspicion. "Looker wanted me to become a rat. You know, the usual song and dance all the Grunts get."

Petrel nodded in understanding. "Ah, I see. What'd you say?"

What was he getting at? "I told him to piss off. There's no way I'd betray the boss!"

Petrel cocked his head to the side as though he were a curious child. "Oh? That's not what I heard." His easy smile took on a murderous edge. "From what I heard, you flipped at the first hint of pain."

His heart stilled. "You can't be serious! I didn't even accept his offer."

Petrel hummed in clear amusement. "No. All you did was say you'd think about it." He chuckled. "What was it you always said? Anyone who even thinks of betraying us should be treated like an enemy?"

"That hardly matters now!" He all but screamed. He almost hoped Looker or one of the officers would burst through the door to see what was going on. No such luck. "You're here, so it's irrelevant! Free me and we can leave!"

"Why would I do that?"

"Because I'm the best Admin the boss has!" He all but shouted. "I'm the one that handles the dirty work and strikes fear in our enemies! Without me, Team Rocket might as well be a defanged Litten!"

Petrel scoffed. "You always were full of yourself. Acting as though you were Arceus' gift to the world." He sighed. "Honestly, you've always been trouble. So violent and flashy that you'd have fit right in with Galactic and Plasma when they were still around."

Proton's heart was beating so fast that he could feel it in his throat. This wasn't how this was supposed to go! He couldn't die here! There was still so much he needed to do!

"L-let's talk about this- "

Petrel reached into his pocket and drew out a silver revolver. Proton instinctively tried to back away and find cover, but his chains kept him from moving even an inch out of his chair.

"I think you've told me everything there is to know. And after everything the boss did for you, you'd think you'd be more loyal."

He was loyal! More than this deceitful insect! There was a difference between loyalty and a death wish though! He would follow Giovanni to the ends of the earth and spread his empire across the world. If he needed someone dead, he would do it without hesitation. If anything ever happened to the man, he would be the first to avenge him out of respect. But to give up his life and accept torture with no hope of rescue?

Proton had his limits. Like everyone, he was selfish. No matter how loyal he was to Giovanni, Proton would always be more loyal to himself. Anyone who didn't put themselves first was either a fool or lying to themselves.

Petrel offered him a mocking grin and raised the pistol. "Tell you what? Since I'm such a nice guy, I'll make it quick. A nice reward for your years of service, eh?"

"No… no please!"

The last thing Proton saw was the cruel eyes of his former comrade.

Then he saw no more.
 
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K_S

Pokémon Trainer
Review line by line,
Of auctions aka chapter 7

Ah, the joy of class dispute, fun times. I’m thinking Anabel would have loved this… there was an artist, who got forwarded 30k for artistic fees, he sent along with a blank piece of canvas as “art” and titled it “Take the money and run”.

The worst of the patrons and their attitudes would be known as having mastered the social art of “sucking”, a trait admired by black holds, Kirby, and vacuums and very little else. And in my humble opinion only Kirby can carry the look and do it well.


Funny how Looker’s more optimistic than Anabel here, really you’d think he was the rookie almost. Wonder if he’s an art nerd in his off time.

Now did anabel get that hit in when she jabbed him, because it’d feel more real if he blocked her, with a snack tray or something or just shuffled back a little and made her overbalance, else there’d be a moment of “ouch” on his side that he’s not really acknowledging.

At least Proton’s not wearing a bright red r on his shirt like he was during the takeover plot in SS/HG.

Alright, so saw a small setting opportunity here. When “the golbats threw open the door”… it’s small but if you show how they did so. After all gol’s don’t have arms, but wings, and their feet don’t seem equipped to handle anything like knobs. So, did they “gust” the doors down? Body slam them like flying battering rams? Chew through with their fangs? Unscrew them with the fangs then sweep in with an attack of some sorts? I’m honestly a bit shocked they didn’t sheer through the windows (ala the birds)… This comes up from time to time in all your fighting scenes but this one was the easiest to offer a suggestion for.

Anyways sometimes going that extra bit of description can really set a tone. And flying glass and swarming bats would knock even the seasoned off their toes.

If it was the Origin’s take over the tower swagger, I’m sorry but just no, hopefully not that bad borderline drunk toddling they did in that episode.

Snorts, I will give the Rocket grunt a point for humor…

Wait the Rat’ are tearing into the walls with paintings? I’m imagining a few grunts freaking out and directing them away from specific walls in the background here.

I suspect the no-mon policy is going to be revisited by the survivors, those ok enough to think that is.

I’d guess less mimic gang and more two heads of the same beast having a snit fit bout who is getting what and garning whaever favor they can get out of it… while throwing the less successful head under the bus.

Also known as… I’m sure Ash’s spirit ‘mon is a tauros... with a lead-in like that this is going to go bad.

Actually, if they don’t notice him Ash booking it might draw off a few guards or ‘mon, so not utterly useless…

Now my vote, old-fashioned servant entrance… nah we’re going the stereotypical hawk eye route. Well, Ash’s small enough to swing it… maybe.. if he could send ‘chu that’s an option.

Talk to Gio, Looker, his breathing offends multiple legends depending on the verse he’s from…

So wondering why looker doesn’t just snatch a few security guard’s pokemon and adlib something here…

It’s interesting to see Looker in this light, his tone shift from Anabel, to the old woman, to the kid, it’s a subtle shift in word choice in how he talks and even thinks when addressing them that shows he has a rather soft side to him. And you handled it with a nice touch

Ya know if Ash had shared and cared Looker would have had a hint as to what Rocket was really after and be royally panicking right now… wait with Anabel’s talents and ‘chu approaching… perhaps we’ll get that scenario after that.

At least Anabel didn't shoot back with the “you're only distinguished dear” salvo…

Now considering that Ash already did something stupid in sending his signature ‘mon forward to see how he can “help” when being directly ordered no too… Looker’ s holding onto his optimism by a hair, and that hair’s name is delusion. Or perhaps encroaching senility…

Also if this is the state of the police world no wonder Nanu is such a royal mess.

It’s weird, how fixated Proton is in being “above” the masses (like Red in Haunter Hunted) but really he’s utterly henpecked under his Boss and only a sheep with a carnivorous slant. Also, he’s shockingly direct/brash all things considered. He’s throwing away millions for a piece of tech that could have been discreetly studied and duplicated and the millions gotten if separate plots were tossed together all at once.

Now I’m imagining the low grunts as eager children given a stick and a bunch of old people pinatas.

Dashing… proton? Ego thy name is Proton.

Though if he plays his cards right Bianca might fall for it, until a certain friend of her takes a gander at Proton, does an aura read, and demands a bath after…

So the residential legend is getting a spiderman guilt complex and the idea of not being in more than one place at once might kinda ping off… because legends might be able to do so…

Knowing ash’s luck getting an answer might be the worst thing possible to ever happen. Though considering whose approaching the wrong legend might be hearing this and get a mite offended.

Ummm Ash, blunt damage can be as lethal as stabbing… Looker didn’t mention this in his training yet… oh geeze… also crippling/disabling via taking out an eye… ouch… and the added burn damage. The grunt’s not going to be doing nothing more than scream when the damage sinks in.

I’ll admit, while I get some of the back and forth of the fight and forcing Ash to kill really distinguishes this Ash from canon, I’m surprised he didn’t try to fumble a more humane solution or balk at the last moment since he’s barely scraping by in combat classes before this point and is hardly hardened at this point. The change feels a bit rushed, but consider the setting might be the only way for Ash to keep functioning.

How Ash manged not to ruin the guys clothes with the boiling water will be one of life’s little mysteries.

But considering who is coming, dressing as a Rocket seems a very stupid idea.

You’re telling me Ash is Mario/bowsered a rabid raticate… this can only end badly. If brutally. Looks like the local legend got a hint and backed off of the fake Rocket.

You can hear Petrov’s sarcasm universes away, my vote is Looker is going to start with skinning and make boiling water seem a nice ending to his upbraiding.

Nah the grunts blind in one eye and possibly short a face, but not dead, yet. There’s a bit of a modern batman complaint here, he might not be killing them but he’s leaving them in an infinitely worse state before the encounter, where disabled is the best option.

And here’s hoping Ash really thinks and starts spilling the metaphorical beans when he hears that name. and it looks like he’s brightening at least in that regard…

Hmm I’m sensing a Domino Proton catfight/territorial dispute in the cards… Though with Domino finding proton when he’s down we’ll see how much fight he has in him in the next chapter I suppose…

Overall this was a fun chapter, thanks for sharing.
 

TheCouchEffect

Bug Catcher
Pronouns
He/His
Review line by line,
Of auctions aka chapter 7

Ah, the joy of class dispute, fun times. I’m thinking Anabel would have loved this… there was an artist, who got forwarded 30k for artistic fees, he sent along with a blank piece of canvas as “art” and titled it “Take the money and run”.

The worst of the patrons and their attitudes would be known as having mastered the social art of “sucking”, a trait admired by black holds, Kirby, and vacuums and very little else. And in my humble opinion only Kirby can carry the look and do it well.


Funny how Looker’s more optimistic than Anabel here, really you’d think he was the rookie almost. Wonder if he’s an art nerd in his off time.

Now did anabel get that hit in when she jabbed him, because it’d feel more real if he blocked her, with a snack tray or something or just shuffled back a little and made her overbalance, else there’d be a moment of “ouch” on his side that he’s not really acknowledging.

At least Proton’s not wearing a bright red r on his shirt like he was during the takeover plot in SS/HG.

Alright, so saw a small setting opportunity here. When “the golbats threw open the door”… it’s small but if you show how they did so. After all gol’s don’t have arms, but wings, and their feet don’t seem equipped to handle anything like knobs. So, did they “gust” the doors down? Body slam them like flying battering rams? Chew through with their fangs? Unscrew them with the fangs then sweep in with an attack of some sorts? I’m honestly a bit shocked they didn’t sheer through the windows (ala the birds)… This comes up from time to time in all your fighting scenes but this one was the easiest to offer a suggestion for.

Anyways sometimes going that extra bit of description can really set a tone. And flying glass and swarming bats would knock even the seasoned off their toes.

If it was the Origin’s take over the tower swagger, I’m sorry but just no, hopefully not that bad borderline drunk toddling they did in that episode.

Snorts, I will give the Rocket grunt a point for humor…

Wait the Rat’ are tearing into the walls with paintings? I’m imagining a few grunts freaking out and directing them away from specific walls in the background here.

I suspect the no-mon policy is going to be revisited by the survivors, those ok enough to think that is.

I’d guess less mimic gang and more two heads of the same beast having a snit fit bout who is getting what and garning whaever favor they can get out of it… while throwing the less successful head under the bus.

Also known as… I’m sure Ash’s spirit ‘mon is a tauros... with a lead-in like that this is going to go bad.

Actually, if they don’t notice him Ash booking it might draw off a few guards or ‘mon, so not utterly useless…

Now my vote, old-fashioned servant entrance… nah we’re going the stereotypical hawk eye route. Well, Ash’s small enough to swing it… maybe.. if he could send ‘chu that’s an option.

Talk to Gio, Looker, his breathing offends multiple legends depending on the verse he’s from…

So wondering why looker doesn’t just snatch a few security guard’s pokemon and adlib something here…

It’s interesting to see Looker in this light, his tone shift from Anabel, to the old woman, to the kid, it’s a subtle shift in word choice in how he talks and even thinks when addressing them that shows he has a rather soft side to him. And you handled it with a nice touch

Ya know if Ash had shared and cared Looker would have had a hint as to what Rocket was really after and be royally panicking right now… wait with Anabel’s talents and ‘chu approaching… perhaps we’ll get that scenario after that.

At least Anabel didn't shoot back with the “you're only distinguished dear” salvo…

Now considering that Ash already did something stupid in sending his signature ‘mon forward to see how he can “help” when being directly ordered no too… Looker’ s holding onto his optimism by a hair, and that hair’s name is delusion. Or perhaps encroaching senility…

Also if this is the state of the police world no wonder Nanu is such a royal mess.

It’s weird, how fixated Proton is in being “above” the masses (like Red in Haunter Hunted) but really he’s utterly henpecked under his Boss and only a sheep with a carnivorous slant. Also, he’s shockingly direct/brash all things considered. He’s throwing away millions for a piece of tech that could have been discreetly studied and duplicated and the millions gotten if separate plots were tossed together all at once.

Now I’m imagining the low grunts as eager children given a stick and a bunch of old people pinatas.

Dashing… proton? Ego thy name is Proton.

Though if he plays his cards right Bianca might fall for it, until a certain friend of her takes a gander at Proton, does an aura read, and demands a bath after…

So the residential legend is getting a spiderman guilt complex and the idea of not being in more than one place at once might kinda ping off… because legends might be able to do so…

Knowing ash’s luck getting an answer might be the worst thing possible to ever happen. Though considering whose approaching the wrong legend might be hearing this and get a mite offended.

Ummm Ash, blunt damage can be as lethal as stabbing… Looker didn’t mention this in his training yet… oh geeze… also crippling/disabling via taking out an eye… ouch… and the added burn damage. The grunt’s not going to be doing nothing more than scream when the damage sinks in.

I’ll admit, while I get some of the back and forth of the fight and forcing Ash to kill really distinguishes this Ash from canon, I’m surprised he didn’t try to fumble a more humane solution or balk at the last moment since he’s barely scraping by in combat classes before this point and is hardly hardened at this point. The change feels a bit rushed, but consider the setting might be the only way for Ash to keep functioning.

How Ash manged not to ruin the guys clothes with the boiling water will be one of life’s little mysteries.

But considering who is coming, dressing as a Rocket seems a very stupid idea.

You’re telling me Ash is Mario/bowsered a rabid raticate… this can only end badly. If brutally. Looks like the local legend got a hint and backed off of the fake Rocket.

You can hear Petrov’s sarcasm universes away, my vote is Looker is going to start with skinning and make boiling water seem a nice ending to his upbraiding.

Nah the grunts blind in one eye and possibly short a face, but not dead, yet. There’s a bit of a modern batman complaint here, he might not be killing them but he’s leaving them in an infinitely worse state before the encounter, where disabled is the best option.

And here’s hoping Ash really thinks and starts spilling the metaphorical beans when he hears that name. and it looks like he’s brightening at least in that regard…

Hmm I’m sensing a Domino Proton catfight/territorial dispute in the cards… Though with Domino finding proton when he’s down we’ll see how much fight he has in him in the next chapter I suppose…

Overall this was a fun chapter, thanks for sharing.
Ah, thanks so much for the review! I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Thank you for the tips! I'll do my best to add those little details to any scenes moving forward. While I generally have the broad strokes of scenes down, it's the little details that I struggle with sometimes. I'm getting a bit better at it but it's something I need to stay aware of.

As far as Looker goes, he is just struggling to maintain his sanity. If there was ever a man who need a stressball and a vacation, it would be Looker. The poor man has so much on his plate it's a wonder he's still sane, let alone as gentle as he is.

To answer your question, though, Team Rocket took the Pokeballs off of what was left of security and hid them so the guests couldn't use them.

As for Proton? I'm glad you noticed! Proton is a hypocrite of the highest order. Add in his natural cruelty and disdain for everyone else and you've got a dangerous criminal. Only downside is his skills are *almost* as good as he thinks they are. And unfortunately, his Grunts take after him.

As for Ash, his whole world is shattering. If he had been in the right state of mind, he wouldn't have gone that far. With adrenaline rushing through him and being so close to death, though, his natural inhibitions against violence were lowered. Which is only going to get worse as time goes on, unfortunately.

Right now, Ash is still in that phase where he's not thinking things through or really understanding that his actions have consequences. As time goes on and the illusion shatters, he'll fully understand.

Once again, thank you so much for the review and I hope that I answered your questions!
 
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