Categories > Anime/Manga > Pokemon > Awakening

Part 4

by Milia 0 reviews

Category: Pokemon - Rating: PG-13 - Genres:  - Published: 2014-03-13 - 13124 words


Chapter 10: A Storm of Fire and Lightning

Early in the morning, Ashimi marched out of Vermilion City, much to Zero's surprise. "Weren't you ready to head to the gym?"

"I was," Ashimi admitted. She surveyed the area and found what looked like a good spot to fulfill her purpose. "But yesterday's pokemon battle videos made me think about the mishap with Zubat and Squirtle getting electrocuted, plus the fact that I've never actually battled with Chari. Those battles we watched were so epic, I want to battle like that too. It's true that I won't be battling with everyone at the same time at the gym, but thinking about what I won't really need to do at the gym, just reminded me about what I will need to do."

"Which is?" Zero prompted.

"Face a very electric pokemon guided by a gym leader, and my previous gym leader battle taught me not to lower my guard. Electricity, that's the theme of the Vermilion gym, so my usual main fighters won't have much of an advantage in their own element. Okay, so Furball is not actually an electric type, but he does use thunderbolt a lot. Luckily, I have a new power house on the team and it just so happens that she can learn the move dig. Chari, I choose you!" In a beam of red light, the Charmeleon emerged from her pokeball. "Look at those awesome claws, these will lead us to victory! Chari's going to be a super fast digger with some training and if she's underground, then she'll have the perfect defense against electric attacks. Then she'll jump out with her fire like an erupting volcano and win the badge! I know I was feeling impatient yesterday, but I'm still making pretty good time on the journey and the gym isn't going to get up and walk away if I spend a few extra days training. If there's something I learned by battling Sabrina, is that I need to be prepared. Everything felt pretty easy until that point when she took me by surprise, and I'm not lowering my guard again!"

Zero clapped, "quite the speech, but can you back it? I'll be able to sense Chari's movements underground with my pokedex functions and time her speed."

"Great! You're more useful than a regular pokedex app!" Ashimi cheered. It was clear to see that she was very eager for the training and so was Chari. "Ready Chari?" She pumped her fist in the air, the Charmeleon mimicking the motion with a determined roar."That's the spirit! Okay, look at what I do," Ashimi began moving her arms as if she was swimming. "Try doing this, but underground. Move through the ground as quickly as possible. We'll practice until you can glide through it as easily as if it were water!" Chari's eyes went wide. "Okay, bad comparison, not water," Ashimi laughed. "Um... lava? Mud? Pudding! You need to get strong until the dirt feels as soft as pudding!" That sounded much better than water, so Chari looked eager again. "Alright! Go everyone!" Ashimi called out the rest of her pokemon and Pichu jumped off her head to join the others.

"Everyone at once?" Zero blinked.

"This way the training will go by faster and they'll all get stronger!" Despite Ashimi's optimistic energy, Clefable was cranky as usual. She went to slap her trainer, but Ashimi caught her wrist and gave her a serious look that made the pokemon freeze in place. In a few years her glare might just be as piercing as Giovanni's, or almost. "You think I wouldn't be used to this by now? You can join us in training and become super strong, or you can go sit around being cranky, but if you ruin this for the others, back in your pokeball you go. If you insist on sticking around with us, you'll have to learn to be friendly." Clefable pulled her hand back and stomped away in a huff. She picked a comfortable tree and sat under its shade.

Ashimi turned her attention to the rest of her pokemon and instructed Chari, Pichu and Furball to start digging tunnels parallel to each other for some initial simple practice. Zubat didn't look quite up to the task of digging. "It's okay little buddy, your specialty lies in your speed," Ashimi tried to cheer him up when she noticed he was looking kind of uncomfortable. He wasn't as strong as the others physically, but he was very fast and had quite a loud mouth for screeching and using sonic waves. "We still need to work on some more attacks though, you have plenty of targets here. Air slash those trees with everything you have!"

Chari, Pichu and Furball popped out of the ground at Ashimi's feet. She observed the disturbed ground that indicated their path. "Let's keep practicing, push the dirt aside and move through it smoothly, try not to show it on the surface. That was just a straight line, but you'll have to move in more directions than that. Try to follow me from underground as I move around. Hey, Zero, can you do what I do and tell me how closely they're following us?"

"Sure," when Zero agreed, he didn't imagine what Ashimi would be doing.

"Okay, here we go!" Ashimi started cheering loudly and jumping like a Buneary, to make her location clear to the three pokemon following her from under the ground. "C'mon Zero, you said you would!" Zero looked around, confirmed beyond a doubt that there was no one else around, and followed suit. "Let's go Zubat, chop that branch over there with air slash!"

'She's really training them all at once,' Zero observed. 'Well, except the stubborn Clefable, but still...'

After some time, they stopped for lunch, then resumed their training again. Ashimi started marching instead of jumping as the underground movements improved. They spend the whole day at it, then returned to the pokemon center for some much needed rest and bathing. Chari was, understandably, not too fond of water, but Ashimi managed to coax her into carefully washing with a sponge.

Ashimi returned to her training the next day as well, delaying her gym battle again. She continued practicing digging with Pichu, Furball and Chari and more slashing with Zubat. Clefable was out of her pokeball, but still unwilling to cooperate. They moved all over the area surrounding Vermilion City, until they had enough digging practice. Then it was time to move to the next level. "Flamethrower! Thunderbolt!" Pichu and Furball dug up a hole and let their electricity flow upwards through it. Chari didn't even bother digging herself up and instead blasted through the ground, creating a small volcano shape, from which flames burst. "Alright! You're doing great! You too Zubat, keep slashing at those trees! Chari, Pichu, Furball, don't stop moving, again, thunderbolt and flamethrower!" The pokemon moved underground, once again releasing their attacks into the surface with great force. "Okay, one more day to work on the timing and speed, then we'll be good to go." Ashimi decided.

The last day of training before the gym battle passed successfully, Ashimi practiced with a sort of hide and seek game where her pokemon were supposed to avoid being found underground while she tried to guess their position. Zero would tell her if she had been right, while the pokemon dug more tunnels and used already made tunnels to move around.

xoxox xox xoxox

Finally, Ashimi went to the Vermilion gym at last, with Zero tagging along to watch. It didn't take her long to introduce herself, state her business and declare, rather loudly, that she intended to win a thunder badge. Soon she found herself on the opposite side of the battle arena of gym leader Volt, who called out his first pokemon. "Go Raichu!"

"I'm so looking forward to this battle!" Ashimi could barely contain her excitement. She wanted to see if her training would pay off. Albeit Sabrina was on a league of her own, Ashimi still learned from her to always be prepared. "Chari, I choose you!" The Charmeleon eagerly stepped forward. "Let's get things started with a flame thrower.

"Raichu, dodge it and use thunder!" Volt knew that his Raichu was strong and fast. Though the opposing Charmeleon looked strong, he was still feeling confident.

"Be careful Chari, out of the way!" Chari dodged, just barely managing to get away from the electric currents. Her fire had missed, but this was only the beginning and she had plenty of tricks left. "Use inferno, make a wall of fire!" with a big flaming breath, Chari isolated herself from Raichu on the other side of the arena.

"Going into hiding? That's not going to work, Raichu, break through that firewall with thunder!" Volt called out. Having learned from a previous experience, Raichu didn't get too close to the fire and instead tried to ready his electricity to go the distance.

"Chari, stay moving, rapid fire flamethrower!" From the wall of fire, which Chari continuously fed emerged a series of fireballs like cannon blasts from the walls of a fortress.

"Dodge it Raichu, stay moving too!" Volt urged. The Raichu ceased his attacks and instead went on the defensive. Volt wasn't alarmed though, he knew Raichu had plenty of stamina and his opponent was making a big effort to keep the flames going. 'She'll tire out in no time, then we'll finish her off,' he thought.

"Her flame is decreasing..." Zero quietly observed.

"Chari, break through!" Ashimi made a digging motion that Volt didn't quite catch, as he couldn't see beyond the light show of the battle. As Chari ran, releasing fire balls, the wall of flames slowly diminished, as she was no longer feeding it. She aimed at the floor until she broke through the flooring and dug into the soil beneath.

When the fire wall was gone, Volt was ready to send Raichu on the attack. Raichu was both fast and strong, but he tended to stop moving when he focused his power, even if he could react quickly and keep running immediately after. Chari could spit out a barrage of fireballs at a full run. "Where did she go?" Volt looked at his opponent, Ashimi looked as if she was in deep concentration. "Underground..." Volt realized. Ashimi appeared to be examining something in the arena, but her line of sight didn't correspond to anything but empty space. That boy who was with her, Zero, met Volt's eyes with his unusually colored gaze and chuckled.

Ashimi gave Zero a sideways glance, read something in his expression and fixed her gaze on Raichu, so as to not give away Chari's underground position with her eyes. Then suddenly, she shouted, "now!"

Volt didn't have time to think about how odd Zero's eyes were and wonder where he got those contact lenses, because he could only assume that's what they were. He wasn't sure what Ashimi was calling out for her pokemon to do, but he knew it couldn't be good for them. "Raichu, move!" The electric pokemon darted away, but the sudden burst of flames from the broken floor caught him in the hind legs and tail. Then just as suddenly, the Charmeleon was gone. "Don't stay still, Raichu, there's no way she can dig faster than you can run. Raichu shook off the pain and kept running this way and that. "Looks like our little friend's too scared to come out, go get her out, quick attack!"

"Flamethrower!" Raichu dove into the tunnel, only to jump back as he was assaulted by a burst of flames. Raichu rolled around, putting the fire out, his fur was scorched, but he wasn't out of the battle yet. 'Chari's stamina is low from all the fire she used, her flame...' Ashimi mused. 'I can't use any more fire attacks, I've already pushed her too much and I'm not about to cause her to faint from over exertion. But she's strong, she can finish this in a different way while her fire recovers.'

"You know, don't you? You watched her train, calculated how long it would take to dig," Zero knew that the tunnel was bigger than it appeared to be, there was space set up for another surprise attack. "You followed her without seeing her, and you know how much stamina she has." It was normal for him to have that information due to his peculiar nature, but for a regular person to know all that, they would have to pay very close attention and have sharp instincts. 'Using a lot of fire early on, digging the tunnels in advanced, using the last of the fire and making it look like fire was their intended final offensive move. It would be hard not to focus on all that fire, but it's okay that it's used up, because it did what it had to do. Fire from a fire pokemon is too predictable, Volt would expect it the second he saw Chari. The display of power didn't fit the true defensive strategy or the finishing move, which wasn't meant to be a fire type at all.'

"Almost there... Come out, Chari!" The Charmeleon emerged from the tunnel at her trainer's signal.

"Raichu, Thunder!" Volt immediately attacked without a second to waste.

"Down Chari!" Ashimi urged.

"Not this again!" Volt was getting very fed up with the strategy. He wasn't going to send his Raichu to get blasted with fire again, but he had to do something. Yet before he could think of what to do...

"Come out and finish this!" The arena burst open as Chari jumped out. no more fire, she had used too much before and her flame was still recovering, but through her panting, she could still fight. "Dragon claw!" Raichu tried to run, but the pain of the earlier burns made his normally speedy movements feel sluggish. Chari attacked with everything she had, putting her all into the finishing blow, slicing away with her sharp claws.

For Raichu it was too much, he had fainted. "Raichu..." Volt watched in disbelief. "C'mon Raichu, get up! We almost have her!"

"It won't work... Chari may be tired, but don't you see Raichu's burns? He'll just hurt himself if he tries to use his speed..." Ashimi pointed out.

"Raichu...return!" She was right, Volt realized. "It's not like your pokemon is doing much better though, look at her flame."

"I know... Well done Chari, come and rest," Ashimi recalled her pokemon as well.

'I used to think power was all I needed, but my father's story about his battle with Ash Ketchum made me think that I also needed speed. The speed to strike fast and the power to strike hard. It's not enough, Ashimi rendered Raichu's power ineffective and chipped away at his speed. No matter what advantages you have, they can be lost... Perhaps that goes for you too, brother, someday, I'll beat you,' Volt quietly thought.

"Hey! Earth to gym leader Volt! Do I get a badge?" Ashimi waved her hand in front of his face.

Volt was woken up from his thoughts to see that his opponent had made her way across the arena and now stood in front of him waiting expectantly and impatiently. "Yeah," he presented her with a thunder badge, "you earned this."

"Awesome! I got another badge!" Ashimi cheered and made a victory pose. She looked over to Zero who gave her a thumbs up and smirked, it would look cocky on an older boy, but on this small creature with doll-like eyes and multicolored hair, she thought that any expression could only look cute. She would have to get him a cute little gijinka hat to wear sometime soon. Her smile suddenly faded for a moment as if something was missing. Johnny wasn't there to cheer for her, though he must be feeling better from his cold by now.

Her pensive look turned into stubborn determination. She was still angry at him, she recalled. She had to prove that she could take care of herself. Then she laughed when she noticed that Volt was watching her, as if trying to figure out what in the world was going through her mind. "It was a fun battle, we'll have to do it again sometime, okay?" She quickly blurted out the words before anyone had the opportunity to ask her what her silence and the expressions that rapidly crossed over her face were about, not that Volt could possibly have a clue anyway, but Zero could be rather observant if he wanted and he knew about Johnny.

"Yes, I would like a rematch one day," Volt agreed. They shook hands in good faith and Ashimi left the Vermilion City gym with one more badge.

xoxox xox xoxox

Later, it didn't surprise Ashimi too much to see Volt when she and Zero were leaving the pokemon center, after Chari recovered. Given their battle, he had a good reason to be there and probably dropped off Raichu while she and Zero were celebrating with ice-cream. Ashimi had left Chari at the pokemon center and since she wasn't sure if a fire type who used up nearly all her fire recently would like an ice-cream cone, she brought her back a cupcake instead. "Hey Volt, got your Raichu all healed up?"

"Yes..." Volt replied, as if his mind had been elsewhere, yet there was a look of realization in his eyes, as if he had found exactly what he was thinking of looking for, or rather who. "Actually, I've decided to go on a journey. My father was away on business at Johto, but he'll be back tomorrow, I'm sure he won't mind stepping out of retirement for a while and taking care of the gym." He couldn't ask his mother to mind the gym, her team of pokemon didn't fit the theme at all. With Wailord, Steelix, Beartic, Mamoswine, Snorlax and Aggron, she didn't have a single electric type. As for his older brother, he wouldn't even ask, General Electro would surely be busy with Team Rocket stuff that Volt would likely have a hard time justifying, if he ever tried, which he wasn't going to. He somewhat understood the necessity of Team Rocket to an extent, the world had become dependent on it after all, but was that truly the only answer?

"Really? Maybe I can battle him!" Ashimi cheered.

"Figures..." Zero commented with some amusement.

"Hey!" Volt crossed his arms in indignation. "I'm the official gym leader and you already won a badge, isn't that good enough?"

"Oh, it's not like I'm in a rush to leave Vermilion City. It won't take long to..." Ashimi paused. A part of her wished she had kept the car, but he knew she would be tempted by its speed. While Jonathan loved speed as much as any teenager, he could control the need for it with the notion that if they had an accident Giovanni would have his head. As for Ashimi, deep down she knew her impatience would get to her and she'd probably run over a few unfortunate pokemon with some crazy improvised shortcut, then she'd feel bad about it and her grandfather would scold her because she could only have the car for the journey if she didn't drive it until she was sixteen, or until he thought she was ready and said it was okay if he decided to shorten her wait. "Actually, it might take a while to get to Celadon City if we're walking at least part of the way, so I should be on my way after all."

"Do you mind if I come?" Volt asked, taking Ashimi by surprise. "I want to train harder and it's been a while since I had my Indigo League journey," he elaborated. He couldn't explain it, but his determination to become a better pokemon trainer was stronger than ever.

"I don't mind, you could give us a ride on your car," Ashimi suggested hopefully.

"I don't have a car, I'm only thirteen..." Volt pointed out.

"What!?" Ashimi exclaimed in surprise. Zero blinked at her reaction more so than Volt's revelation. She figured he probably had Volt's age on a file or something and already knew, or he was honestly somehow not surprised. Given that Volt was looking at her strangely because of the outburst, she continued. "You're taller than Johnny and he's fifteen, and not a short fifteen year old either."

Volt crossed his arms, unable to understand what was ever so unbelievable. "some people are taller than others," he stated in a matter of fact tone.

"Yeah, I guess, and I suppose you're still not as gigantic as your father, probably won't be..." Ashimi mused aloud.

"Hey!" Volt wasn't sure how to react to that, but he knew he should form some sort of complaint.

"Oh, I didn't mean that in a bad way. I think Surge is totally cool. I wouldn't have considered battling him if I didn't have a lot of respect for him," Ashimi assured.

"That... That's not it..." Volt frowned. Strange as it was, he was actually bothered more so by her theory that he would never be as tall as his father, his older brother was. It was silly, yet it was another thing in which he couldn't beat his brother. Sure, he was tall, but in comparison to Surge and Electro he was short, never mind that most people were tiny by that comparison.

Ashimi waited for him to elaborate, but when he didn't, she shrugged it off. "Let's get walking then, we have a long way to go!" She headed out of the pokemon center with Volt and Zero following.

Zero watched the scene unfold, ever observant as was his nature. 'I bet Ashimi misses that friend of hers, Johnny, and she probably doesn't remember her little outburst right after we left Saffron City which ended in her ranting at her cellphone, without actually having a call active, and blocking him. She's probably wondering why he won't text her... Oh well, she'll figure it out eventually.'

"What are you snickering about, Zero?" Ashimi looked back at him as they made their way down the street.

"Nothing," Zero put on an innocent smile. Ashimi brushed off her suspicions and continued on her way, yet the mischievous glint in her eyes made his AI algorithms yield the result of strongly recommended caution.

To be Continued

xoxox xox xoxox


Chapter 11: Unexpected Alliances

Determined not to speak to Jonathan until he decided to speak to her first, Ashimi rushed through Saffron City in a taxi. It was the fastest route to get to Celadon City, though she was tempted to just swim round the peninsula's border. She didn't know if virtual people could swim, but she was probably enough of a good swimmer to carry Zero on her back if she had to, though they could probably get a boat or something. But that would be silly, she refused to metaphorically cross the road just so she could avoid walking directly next to Johnny, but she also refused to get out of the cab until she carefully examined the street to make sure a certain blue-violet haired boy wasn't around. Volt wasn't sure what in the world was going on, but he had a feeling that the cool and confident trainer who had bested him in battle was having a rather childish moment.

Volt didn't have time to give it too much thought during the taxi ride though, as his gaze kept going to Zero and how still he was, as if in a trance. Lights seemed to flash in his odd eyes which he blinked only purposefully and never involuntarily. He stared at the light and thought he could make out the vague silhouettes of ones and zeros. That lasted until Ashimi commented on the video that had been playing on her tablet, looked to him to see why he wasn't replying and realized he had been ignoring her pokemon battle conversation. She preceded to attempt to elbow him in the ribs, which ended up being in the stomach since he was noticeably taller. Thus the trip continued with such little antics taking place now and then, but still, nothing of vital importance occurred during the taxi ride or their inevitable short stops along the way.

Eventually Ashimi, Volt and Zero arrived at Celadon City. Ashimi was thinking about going straight to the gym, but a message on her phone made her pause. Earlier, Volt had received a text that made him cringe, but had gotten over it quickly enough, calling it nothing and not revealing what it was about. Now for Ashimi there were the usual words of encouragement from her parents and grandmother, but also something else, a message from her grandfather. Giovanni only ever messaged her if he had a reason to, and the reason was often very good or very bad. She wondered if her progress wasn't fast enough or if he somehow knew she was going on foot and taxi and disapproved of her inability to work with the Rocket agent that was supposed to be assisting her. Yet Giovanni didn't mention anything about it. She didn't doubt he knew because he found out about everything, albeit he appeared to be ignoring the situation and leaving it up to her to resolve.

Giovanni's message was actually somewhat humorous in tone, which was a pleasant surprise for Ashimi. 'Surge emailed me saying you destroyed his gym and inspired his son to become your follower. Good job on both accounts, here's a reward.' Ashimi laughed and showed Volt the message to see his reaction.

"What? I didn't say that! I told dad I was considering traveling with you to the next city. I figure he'd know who you are since he knows Giovanni and Ash and... Well, there's my brother's job as Team Rocket's military general." Volt wondered just how upset about the mess left behind at the gym his father really was. He gave him a scolding, not really for the result of the battle, but because of the state the gym's floor was left in, which was his job as the official gym leader to repair, but he didn't actually tell him to go back and fix it, instead advising him to make the best of his journey. Volt was on the fence about Team Rocket and the same could be said about his opinion on Ashimi at first. Before their battle, he didn't really know her, aside from knowing of her name and existence, so he didn't judge her until now. When she won he was impressed with her skill and resourcefulness. He began to think she wasn't bad at all, but that wasn't really the point. The point, or rather points, were what his father thought and what Giovanni thought.

What if Surge was allowing this journey to encourage him to join the Rocket military and hopefully achieve a rank like that of his brother? He kept talking about how they couldn't just pretend the Rockets weren't there and how the best they could do was join them and thus help shape them, turn them into something better over time, but Volt wondered if it was possible to achieve that by serving the Rocket empire, rather than somehow facing it. Albeit how exactly it could be faced was not something he knew the answer to. As for Giovanni, was he encouraging Ashimi to try to turn him to their side? Would she try? No, she didn't appear to be sneaky like that and if she had some plans, showing him the message would be counter-productive.

"Well, it's decided!" Ashimi suddenly declared. "We're going to the Celadon City shopping center! I might as well put this reward to good use! Hey Volt, since I couldn't have gotten this without you, I'll get you a present. Oh and Zero, I'm going to get you the cutest gijinka hat!" There it was again, that glow of mischief in her eyes. Zero took an automatic step back, but no one seemed to notice. Ashimi looked at her phone again to see if there were any more messages and found something odd... Blocked messages? Her service provider was Team Rocket, their satellite had the best anti spam technology with real Porygon-Z sorting the messages, rather than a program.

Ashimi didn't need to block anyone, so why was there something other than a zero there? She gasped, suddenly remembering that in a moment of anger she had blocked Johnny. She unblocked him and looked through the messages, but it seemed like he was busy with Rocket business and that she should call him when and if she wanted him to return. The stubborn side of her wanted to just wait for him to show up like he always did, but she knew that wasn't fair. She was the one that told him to leave her alone after all, so she could prove herself. Maybe her battle with Volt and the acknowledgement she received was proof enough. If that was the case then it was time to make peace. She sent a message and put her phone away, glancing at the case as she did. She knew Johnny was probably in the middle of Rocket business and had to get it done before joining her, but that was okay. Then with renewed determination and cheer, Ashimi hurried to the Celadon City shopping center...

xoxox xox xoxox

Two hours later, Volt left the Celadon City shopping center running like a panicked maniac. Ashimi pouted and watched him go. "All I did was ask him to try on a gijinka hat..." Zero walked up next to her and pointed towards someone who happened to be hidden behind a mountain of plush toys.

Ashimi walked around it and found Dorme, giggling and enjoying some pictures on her phone. Dorme looked up from her task and shrugged. "Did you know Volt is Thor's little brother?"

"Thor?" Ashimi inquired.

"General Electro, from Team Rocket," Dorme specified.

"Oh, him..." Ashimi had heard rumors about the general and he didn't sound anything like Volt. "So why were you taking pictures of Volt in hats?"

"If he grows up to be like his brother, I'll have blackmail to defend myself," Dorme grinned victoriously. "He probably noticed the pictures and thinks Thor bullied me into spying on him or something. He was probably afraid I'd report he was lazing about trying on hats instead of training to recover from his recent defeat. The progress report of your journey was meant for Giovanni, but you know how the Viridian pokemon doctor is, Laiki has a talent for intercepting gossip and shared the information with a few of us. Also, pretty good training session before the gym match I'll admit, but I've been training too!"

"Alright, I'll take that as a request for a rematch!" Ashimi assumed, though she wasn't far from the truth. "There's only one problem, Volt left and it's going to be difficult carrying all my shopping bags on my own. If I can just get them to the pokemon center, I can mail them from there."

Dorme crossed her arms with a look of disapproval. "I'm not going to carry your stuff around. Why did you buy so much gijinka stuff anyway? Just look at all this... All those poke-hats and dolls and... An eeveelution charm bracelet, it's so cute! Ehem..." Dorme put on a serious expression again, after her small fangirlish outburst. "I'll help you carry your things for a price..."

"The bracelet?" Ashimi sighed, already knowing the answer.

"Good offer," Dorme smiled.

"Oh, alright... C'mon Zero, we're ready to... go? Zero?" Ashimi spotted the boy staring off into space, tiny lights reflected in his eyes. "Zero, what's up?" She shook his shoulder as if to wake him.

"Oh... Hey... I was just doing some debugging," Zero replied.

"But you did that during the whole taxi ride. Are you okay?" Ashimi frowned in concern.

"It's nothing!" Zero smiled, though it was a lot more than nothing. He was only a prototype and not entirely a successful one. "Are you ready to go?"

"Yes," Ashimi put a Pichu hat on Zero's head, "now we match."

Dorme observed the scene with curiosity. That boy, his hair, his eyes, his chibi-like form. "Aw, what a little cutie, he's like a doll."

"He's a virtual boy made by Team Rocket, not quite a Porygon though, but he does have integrated pokedex functions," Ashimi patted Zero on the head as if he was her brand new toy.

"A virtual being... Made like a Porygon, but human? I had no idea Team Rocket could do that. I want one!" Dorme squealed.

Zero pouted, which only made him look cuter. "I'm not just a doll, you know."

His claim was met with a chorus of "aw!" from Ashimi and Dorme.

xoxox xox xoxox

Ashimi, Dorme and Zero made it to the pokemon center and dropped off Ashimi's purchases, then they went out to find a spot for Ashimi and Dorme's rematch. They found a spot to have their battle in front of the Celadon gym, which was at the moment closed. "Go Hitmonlee!" Dorme released her fighter from his pokeball. "This time I'll win! Ah! Ha ha ho ha ha!"

"I wonder if the gym will be open tomorrow..." Ashimi stared at the sign on the door as if she had momentarily forgotten what she was doing.

"I detect the presence of pokemon inside, though I can only track them if they are outside of their pokeballs. Venusaur and Exeggutor were called out just now," Zero revealed.

Dorme glared daggers at her opponent. "Never mind the gym! You should be thinking about our battle!"

"Huh? Oh right, this should be a good warm up!" Ashimi wondered if she could get Clefable to battle, she hadn't really made any progress, but it couldn't be forced. Thinking better of it, she decided to send out her Meowth. "Furball, I choose you!"

The doors of the gym suddenly opened and a pair of vine whips emerged from the darkness within wrapping around Ashimi and Dorme, pulling them inside. "After them!" Zero hurried inside, followed by the surprised Hitmonlee, Furball and Pichu, who had fallen off Ashimi's head when she was suddenly taken.

The Celadon gym was like a green house on the inside. The scent of flowers was all around and the feeling of humidity hung in the air. The vine whips released Ashimi and Dorme to stand on one side of a pokemon battle arena. On the other side there were two girls. One of them appeared to be the gym leader, Kirameki, wearing one of the elegant kimonos she was known for. Her long straight black hair reached down to her waist and her light brown eyes had a sharp look to them, unlike the gentle kindness she was rumored to possess. "You have selected Meowth and Hitmonlee," Kirameki spoke. "Let the battle commence!"

"What?" Ashimi and Dorme exclaimed in confusion. Zero, Hitmonlee, Furball and Pichu watched the scene, unsure of how to react. However, what shocked them the most was not the gym leader's unexpected declaration of a team battle, but the identity of her partner. "Daala!" Ashimi and Dorme exclaimed simultaneously. They gave each other odd looks, as if questioning how the other knew her.

"I've been investigating Daala's actions. She seems to be an odd combination between mask-less vigilante and pokemon trainer for hire, kind of like a traveling mercenary of sorts, but without the oversized sword," Dorme explained.

"If you've been following her, then you must have noticed she's out to get Team Rocket, especially me it seems." Ashimi realized that would explain why she kept running into Dorme. Even if Daala took on other jobs on the side, Ashimi was her target and Dorme was investigating Daala while taking care of a few other Rocket duties, so it was to be expected that they'd run into each other. However it didn't look like Dorme was trying to directly confront Daala as much as keep an eye on her movements, as if trying to get information from her indirectly. That could only mean that what Ashimi knew was only a part of something bigger.

"Get your head in the game, Ashimi," Zero cautioned.

Ashimi woke from her racing thoughts and focused on the present. Dorme had said something, but she only half heard it and now Kirameki was speaking. "Miss Daala's personal business is irrelevant to me. I have hired her as my partner in battle and that is all there is to it." She giggled cutely, as Kirameki was known to do, but it felt forced, like an act. "Should you choose to forfeit the battle, I shall deny you the chance of obtaining a rainbow badge."

"That's not fair!" Ashimi protested, "it's not like I was going to back down anyway!" She would have the element advantage if she sent out Chari, but Kirameki had already decided that the selected pokemon were Meowth, aka Furball, and Hitmonlee. It didn't matter, Furball was strong, he could still win, but what about Dorme? Ashimi looked at her, the problem wasn't her skill as a pokemon trainer, it was the aspect of effectively working together.

"Looks like they want to take us both out at once. I won't fall that easily, try to stay out of my way, Ashimi." Dorme hastily begun the battle. "Hitmonlee, use jump kick!"

"No, don't!" Ashimi called out, but it was too late.

"I told you not to get in my way!" Dorme snapped. Hitmonlee dashed forward and jumped into the air. It looked as if his kick was right on target.

"Venusaur, grab him with vine whip!" Daala's pokemon stretched out her vines and caught Hitmonlee in the air.

"Exeggutor, tie up Hitmonlee with grass knot!" Kirameki followed up.

Hitmonlee was tossed aside, wrapped in vines. Ashimi let out a breath with an, "I told you so..."

"Venusaur, charge up your solar beam!" Daala made good use of the distraction to prepare for the next attack.

"Don't underestimate me!" Dorme growled. "Break free, Hitmonlee!" The pokemon struggled for a moment, then drew his legs apart, breaking the vines, and hopped to his feet. "Blaze kick!"

"Use egg bomb, Exeggutor!" Kirameki called out in a hurry. Her pokemon reacted fast and released the explosive sphere towards Hitmonlee.

"Jump over it, Hitmonlee!" Feeling energized and ready for payback, Hitmonlee jumped high, his legs glowing with the heat of the upcoming attack.

"No, don't jump over! Roll under!" Ashimi called out.

"Solar beam!" Daala's Venusaur released the massive beam of energy, which collided with its target.

Hitmonlee fell to the ground in pain. "Hitmonlee! Ashimi, stop meddling and do something!"

"I would if you weren't planning to have Hitmonlee turn on Furball the second I send him out there!" Ashimi shouted back.

"What?" Dorme was taken aback, but she had a hand in the cookie jar expression that revealed Ashimi's theory wasn't wrong. "How did you even know?"

"Easy, that look on your face is like a pokemon using nasty plot," Ashimi replied. "That and the fact that you kept eyeing Furball instead of looking at your opponents. They dragged us here from a distance with vine whip. Plus from her position at the far end of the arena, Venusaur would have trouble aiming low because she'd probably end up hitting the ground before reaching the target, but shifting to the right, left or up wouldn't be much of a problem."

"Oh..." Dorme frowned. She hated to admit it, but those were pretty good observations.

"Incoming!" Zero reminded them that a battle was still actively taking place.

Exeggutor had released a series of seed bombs right at Hitmonlee before he could recover from the solar beam. "Furball, get Hitmonlee out of there!" The Meowth rushed into action, pushing Hitmonlee out of the way. He got hit a few times with the seed bombs as a result, but Hitmonlee was shielded from further damage, the fighting pokemon probably wouldn't have been able to take a hit like that after all he had endured. "Exeggutor's long range attacks are a problem."

Dorme clenched her fists as her sides and looked at the battle intensely. Blaze kick would have the type advantage, but Hitmonlee would have to get close to get a good hit in and then it would have to be a very strong one. "Hitmonlee, meditate and get ready." Though the area was open to attacks, Hitmonlee trusted in his trainer and sat cross-legged, closing his eyes. "I'll take him out, just give me one shot."

Ashimi looked at Dorme unsure, considering her offer for a moment. If she was done playing the rival and ready to battle seriously, could she keep her word? Hitmonlee was strong, but he was at his limit. Daala and Kirameki were on the attack again, there was no time to consider this further. "Alright, one shot. Furball, thunderbolt full power non-stop!" Furball was surrounded by electricity, shooting off one bolt of lightning after another without rest. The power was overwhelming, though it was consequently depleting Furball's energy reserves fast. Daala and Kirameki were forced to go on the defensive, doing what they could to give their pokemon directions in dodging the incoming onslaught. Even Zero was far less quiet than usual, cheering along with Pichu.

Hitmonlee opened his eyes, feeling energized. He got on his feet and looked at the storm of electricity before him. "Go Hitmonlee!" Dorme sent him on the attack. Hitmonlee dashed forward, just as Furball's thunder storm died down. "Blaze kick!" Before Exeggutor could recover, Hitmonlee delivered a devastating blow that knocked him out completely. "Well done, Hitmonlee!"

"No way! Exeggutor return!" Kirameki looked frustrated and angry, her deadly glare a far cry from the delicate and serene expression the gym leader was said to always wear.

"It's not over yet!" Daala's voice rung out furiously. "Venusaur, earthquake!"

The ground began to shake violently. Furball was lightheaded from all the energy he used and couldn't react right away. "Hitmonlee, grab that cat and jump, go for the final strike, hi jump kick!" Dorme urgently commanded. Hitmonlee scooped Furball into his arms, taking the beginning to the earthquake's effects on by himself. Then he jumped and with the last of his energy aimed his final kick at the center of Venusaur's head. Exhausted from the effort and from all the damage he took, Hitmonlee fainted at Venusaur's feet, but his last effort was not in vain.

"Venusaur, finish this, tackle them!" Daala urged.

Furball didn't have any more energy to give after the series of massive electric attacks he released. But he could still use his claws, even if he was exhausted. "Furball, slash Venusaur to bits!" Before Venusaur could recover from the daze of Hitmonlee's kick, Furball went on a relentless attack with the last of his energy. Venusaur cried out in pain, but was unable to defend herself and finally succumbed to defeat. Furball was left breathing heavily, barely able to stand after the great strain, but he was feeling satisfied. "Yes! We won!" Ashimi cheered, her voice mixing with Zero and Pichu, and even Dorme joined the victorious celebration.

Kirameki slipped away while they were enjoying their victory and it was Daala who got their attention. "Well done, but your victory will be short lived. Go Houndour, set this whole green house of a gym aflame!" Leaving a wall of fire to cover her exit, Daala made her escape through the gym's back door.

"Hitmonlee, return!" Dorme hastily called back her pokemon.

"Furball return!" Ashimi recalled her pokemon as well, and called out another one. Squirtle, I choose you!" The flames were spreading fast, with plenty of plants that made perfect fuel for the fire. Squirtle squeaked in fright and retreated into his shell. "You've got to be kidding me, not now!"

"Never mind the gym, we need to get out of here!" Dorme urged, coughing with the smoke. She dashed towards the front doors of the gym only to find them locked. "Why is this closed? Where did Kirameki disappeared to anyway?" They had been so focused on Daala's attack that they haven't thought to look for the gym leader.

"Maybe you can knock the door down with a pokemon?" Zero suggested.

"I can knock it down myself!" Dorme attacked the door with a series of hard kicks and forced it open. "I guess Thor's training paid off after all, but I still hate that guy. Hey, Ashimi, let's get moving!"

"I can't!" Ashimi was heading deeper into the spreading flames, with an uncooperative Squirtle in her arms. "I heard someone calling for help, maybe Kirameki is still in here after all."

"I thought she was the one who ran off and locked us in. Daala went the other way so it couldn't have been her," Dorme rushed to join Ashimi despite her arguments. "We have to get out now."

"Ashimi, are you sure you didn't just hear Daala trying to confuse you?" Zero guessed.

"No, I'm sure I," Ashimi coughed through the smoke. "I'm sure I heard someone. Chari, I choose you!" The Charmeleon emerged from her pokeball. "You're a fire type, so the heat won't bother you as much. There's someone trapped here, could you get them out? I think the voice came from that way." Chari nodded and dashed through the flames in the direction Ashimi pointed.

Fed up with the situation and Squirtle's inaction, Pichu hopped into Squirtle's shell and shocked him out. The little turtle jumped right out of his shell, leaving a surprised Ashimi holding the empty shell. In his panic, Squirtle started shooting his water gun in every direction, soon diminishing the flames. Chari returned from her rescue mission, helping Kirameki make her way to them. Fortunately, Squirtle's wild water gun rampage proved to be strong enough to put out the rest of the flames. Chari looked at the empty shell her trainer held, blinked in confusion, then looked at Squirtle. Their eyes met for a moment before Chari closed her eyes and covered her face. Squirtle turned bright pink, then rushed back into his shell where he hid.

"I didn't even know Squirtle could do that..." Dorme finally voiced.

"I believe it is rare, but yes, a few Squirtle have been found to be able to come out of their shell completely. In this case it's not surprising because the shell is fake," Zero explained.

"Fake?!" Ashimi loudly exclaimed.

"Yeah, maybe his original shell was broken by an accident or a bigger and tougher pokemon who tried to make him dinner," Zero theorized. "Maybe that's why he's so scared."

"A shell-less traumatized Squirtle, you sure got the short end of the stick with that one," Dorme laughed.

"Maybe he'll grow a new shell when he evolves into Wartortle." Ashimi hoped so for Squirtle's sake. She only got a glimpse, but that scar on his back looked nasty, the poor dear must have suffered a lot at such a young age. 'Maybe this Squirtle was given to me on purpose to see how well I could train him,' Ashimi thought. "Don't worry Squirtle, I'll help you conquer your fear and you'll be strong!' With that promise in her heart, Ashimi return Squirtle to his pokeball.

"Well I guess you learned not to hire someone like Daala," Dorme huffed.

"What are you talking about?" Kirameki looked both frightened and confused.

Upon taking a second look, Dorme noticed something that would have been obvious if not for all the oddities going on. "Your kimono is a different color."

Chari gave a short explanation, which Zero translated. "Chari says this girl was tied up when she found her."

"Then the one we battled did escape the gym through the front doors," Dorme realized.

"I don't know what's going on," Kirameki softly voiced. "There was a red haired girl, she attacked me. I tried to fight her off, but she knocked out my pokemon, then she knocked me out too. When I woke up I was tied up and the gym was up in flames!"

"A red haired girl..." Ashimi mused aloud.

"Not like you, her hair was crimson red instead of red-orange," Kirameki clarified.

"She must have been the fake Kirameki, a wig and a kimono was all it took to trick us. I can't believe they got away," Dorme frowned in frustration.

"But we beat them in battle!" Ashimi tried to look at the positive side.

Kirameki let out a tired breath. "At least it's all over. I thank you for saving me and putting the fire out. It looks like I'll have a lot of rebuilding to do around here. It's not much, but please accept these rainbow badges as a token of my gratitude. It sounds like you beat the trainer who was able to beat me, so you've more than earned them." The rightful Celadon gym leader pulled out two badges from the sleeves of her kimono and gave them to Ashimi and Dorme. Though Dorme wasn't there for a badge, she accepted it anyway and just played along, while Ashimi made a victorious pose. The Celadon gym would be closed for a while for repairs, but at least the real Kirameki wasn't injured and her pokemon would recover.

To be Continued

xoxox xox xoxox


Chapter 12: I'll Fight For You

Ashimi, Dorme and Zero returned to the Celadon pokemon center, where their pokemon were allowed to rest and recover. The two girls and Zero settled into one of the rooms to talk. "After Hitmonlee is ready to go, I'll be leaving," Dorme announced. "It looks like our rematch will have to wait."

Ashimi looked into the other girl's eyes. "What do you know about all of this?" She glanced at Zero, "and you?"

Zero shrugged, "don't look at me, I haven't been sent to investigate anyone, I just hang around."

Ashimi turned her questioning eyes back towards Dorme, who sighed. "I've been following Daala because of her actions as a sort of vigilante and more so because of her vendetta against Team Rocket. I don't think it's anything personal, but rather she's one of those people who just doesn't want Team Rocket to rule and made it her business to disrupt the organization. We think that Daala is part of a group and I've been tracking her while keeping a certain distance, trying to catch her in the act of contacting her allies."

"Who's we?" Ashimi interrupted, noting the plural when Dorme mentioned the group theory.

"The higher ups at Team Rocket," Dorme revealed. "Of course, something like this wouldn't slip under the radar. I've heard rumors of a gang from Giovanni's past that resurfaced years later and wasn't noticed until they caused trouble. Team Rocket won't make the same mistake twice, the executive board is keeping an eye on this matter."

"Tempest..." Ashimi quietly voiced. "That was the name of the gang from long ago, I've been told the stories. But grandpa made sure to hunt down every last one of them. Plus it was a long time ago, many of them would have passed away by now and the few that are left will spend the last of their days in jail. Do you think this is related to those stories?"

"No, that was a lesson learned, this is something new," Dorme explained. "The group is believed to still be very small and Team Rocket's not the only one tracking them. Sabrina's organization, the Espers, has been involved as well, but to what extent, not even the Rocket executives know."

"What about the girl with crimson hair?" Ashimi inquired further.

"She's another suspicious person I've been investigating," Dorme revealed. "Up until now, I had thought she and Dorme were working separately, but I guess my theory was wrong. They're pretty misleading, those two, especially the redhead, really slippery. As if I need another reason to dislike redheads," Dorme half joked.

Before Ashimi could retort, there was a knock on the door, so she instead ended up saying, "come in."

Nurse Joy entered with Pichu and the pokeballs that held the other pokemon. "Here you are, they're all better now. Don't stay up too late," Joy left after hearing a chorus of assurances that they would go to bed early, which she was well aware were not true.

As per her habit during her time of rest before going to sleep, Ashimi let all of her pokemon out of their pokeballs while Dorme clipped her pokeballs to her belt. Clefable didn't attack her trainer this time, instead leaving the room silently through the window. She had heard everything going on at the Celadon gym from her pokeball. Even when Squirtle acted like a useless coward, despite being the best equipped to deal with the fire, Ashimi still didn't abandon him. Then she learned of Squirtle's impairments and instead of giving up on him and focusing on her strong pokemon, she vowed to make him overcome his limitations. Clefable was starting to think that Ashimi wasn't so bad after all. The feelings of sympathy and, she barely dared to think it, admiration, she had developed for the human were confusing. Maybe she'd feel better after she cleared her head, so Clefable decided to go for a walk.

"Where's she going?" Dorme wondered in curiosity.

"Around, I suppose," Ashimi shrugged. "She'll probably be back after a walk, if she wanted to run away she could have done so by now, I don't lock my pokeballs anyway."

Dorme didn't quite understand the situation. Ashimi seemed to have an odd relationship with some of her pokemon. Zero settled into a corner for some quiet debugging time, while Dorme headed to the window. She might as well go out through there instead of having to be seen leaving by Joy and be told she should be getting some sleep instead. "I'll be going now."

"Don't you want to wait until morning?" Ashimi offered.

"Nah, I really don't have a minute to waste. I need to crack this case and get the information back to Team Rocket," Dorme climbed out the window. "I also need to think of what to say in my progress report."

"You know about Daala's connection with the redhead, you know what at least some of their pokemon are and you know about their battle tactics," Ashimi reminded. "You've made plenty of progress right there. I'm sure that must count for something!"

Dorme was surprised by Ashimi's suggestion. Because she hadn't accomplished the main purpose of her mission, to uncover any other members of the supposed anti-Rocket group Daala was thought to be a part of, she hadn't thought about the progress that she did make. "You're right, I'll make sure to mention that."

After Dorme left, Ashimi packed up her purchases, mailing the gifts away to their proper destinations as well as sending her own collectibles home. She carried the boxes out of the room with some help from Zero and her pokemon. Conveniently, the pokemon centers operated a package delivery service. Their logo was an envelope with a pokeball to signify mail and the pokemon center. They also had mail boxes scattered around that could hold small packages. The logo was ironic because no one really used paper to mail written messages anymore and pokemon were transferred digitally, they were stored that way as well since long term digitalization was mastered.

When Ashimi, Zero and the pokemon returned to their room, they found that the glass of the window had been pushed closed, though it was still unlocked. It was Zubat who noticed it first, when he wondered why the breeze that circulated through the room before had stopped. Taped to the window's glass there was an envelope, Zubat pointed it out, finding it to be suspicious.

"Envelope?" Zero looked to the window and spotted the small white envelope. "Ashimi, look at what Zubat found," he pointed.

"Huh?" Ashimi picked up the envelope. "Who left this here?" There was nothing written on the outside. She opened it and found pink fur and nail clippings. "What in Mew's name is this? Why would someone send me shaved fur and nail clippings? Oh there's a piece of paper in there too." She proceeded to read it aloud, "I have your Clefable, I was going to send you a finger as proof, but the fur and nail clippings will just have to do. If you want to see her alive again, come to the bakery in the backstreets of Cerulean City alone. Do not bring your pokemon."

A wave of cries of alarm passed over the pokemon, but Ashimi was quick to calm them. "It's okay, it looks like there's no way I can have my journey separate from my life as a Rocket. I'm sure grandpa just sent someone to give me a test. Relax, neither Clefable, or me, or any of you for that matter, are in real danger. Well, I might be in danger of getting scolded if I fail and that is scary, but I'm not in mortal danger and I have no intentions of failing anyway. Stay here with Zero, everyone. I'll get to Cerulean in a taxi, I'll leave early in the morning and call you when it's all over. Johnny will probably be done with his Rocket business by then, so I'll likely catch a ride back with him. No worries, I'll be back before you know it."

xoxox xox xoxox

The next morning, Ashimi left Celadon City early. Zero and the pokemon remained at the center to await her return. Though she looked confident, Pichu had a bad feeling about this that spread to the other pokemon and Zero. "There is a way to stay informed," the virtual boy realized. "I'll send an email and ask Laiki about what's going on. She has all the latest gossip, so she should know about what kind of test Ashimi will be facing."

With the email sent, it was only a matter of waiting for a reply. The answer did eventually come, but it wasn't what Zero had expected. "I got a reply..." Pichu, Furball, Chari, Zubat and Squirtle looked at Zero expectantly, with various degrees of curiosity. His lack of enthusiasm didn't sit well with the most perceptive of the team.

Zero recited the email he had received, leaving out the silly salutation of 'hi cutie-chibi!' which carried an excessive seven exclamation points. "I haven't heard about Ashimi being tested recently. I thought Giovanni was pleased with her journey's progress and the dedication and resourcefulness she has shown so far. Last I heard he rewarded her with a nice monetary sum to commemorate her victories. Though he is planning to test her later, I have no knowledge of any tests being scheduled for the present time. Has something happened? Be careful, there are some very sneaky anti-Rockets on the loose." Zero stopped there as the ending signature of 'love, aunty Laiki,' didn't add any relevant information to what he was trying to communicate.

The door to the room suddenly opened without warning and Jonathan entered with a greeting of, "hey Ashy, I'm back." He paused, looking around the room and wondering if he had entered the wrong one. But no, it had to be where Ashimi was staying, there was Pichu and her other pokemon.

Chari let out a stream of what sounded to Johnny like repetitions of her species' name with the syllables varying in order in some occasions. Her tone was rather scolding and she waved her clawed index finger back and forth at him. Zero translated, "Chari is saying you can't just barge into a girl's room without knocking."

"Sorry... Where is Ashimi anyway? And who are you?" Jonathan asked.

Zero answered Jonathan's question in the clearest and most summarized manner he could. He quickly explained who and what he was, leaving out the part about his system's instability and got him up to date on the latest happenings about Ashimi's pokemon and her battles. His explanation ended with the discovery of trickery and Clefable having been kidnapped for real. "We just figured that out when you got here."

"Then there's no time to waste, we have to catch up with Ashy!" Jonathan hurried out of the pokemon center along with Zero and the pokemon. Zero put most of the pokemon back in their pokeballs for easier transportation, save for Pichu. They hurried into the indigo sports convertible and rushed out of Celadon City.

xoxox xox xoxox

Passing through Saffron City on their way to Cerulean, Jonathan and Zero found someone they recognized between the two cities. There on the side of the road, Dorme was having a battle against Daala. "Don't give up, Oddish, attack with petal dance!"

"Roll away Donphan, tackle that annoying little plant!" Daala knew that Donphan was badly poisoned and wouldn't be able to continue fighting for long. She had expected to face her Hitmonlee again. Then Dorme surprised her with an unusually strong Oddish. The everstone on the pokemon's circlet had been properly disguised and didn't really look like an everstone.

"Give it everything you have, aim for the sides!" Oddish's sharp petals surrounded Donphan, cutting him on the sides of his body were he didn't have as much tough armor.

The force of the attack combined with the continuous strain of the poison finally pushed Donphan over the edge and he fainted. "Donphan!" The pokemon did not get up and was recalled into his pokeball, to be replaced with a new combatant. "Return... Go Houndour, flamethrower!"

"Oddish, watch out!" Oddish was tired from her battle with Donphan. She had to keep moving constantly and make an effort to get through his armor. Facing the element her kind was weak against was not something she was prepared to do in her condition. She dodged as fast as she could, but Houndour took a big breath and let out another burst of flames that spread out like a fan and finally caught up to Oddish. "Oddish return! Go Hitmonlee!"

"Enough of this..." Daala glared. "Venusaur!"

"That's not fair!" Dorme complained.

"Go Foxtrot, flamethrower!" The Flareon rushed into battle with a massive fire attack aimed at Venusaur.

"Johnny!" Dorme happily exclaimed. Without warning she jumped on him, nearly tackling him to the ground on the side of the road.

Johnny stumbled back, taken by surprise, then steadied his feet, a bit red in the face from the close proximity. "Um... Where's Ashy?" He finally managed to ask.

Dorme pushed him back, holding him at arm's length and glared straight into his eyes. "What did you just ask?" Her hands moved from his shoulders to his neck.

One false move and she'd be gripping his throat with everything she had. "No-nothing?" There was an uncomfortable pause and her fingers twitched. He slowly began to raise his arms to get a hold of her wrists and free himself, but her grip increased and he froze. "Dorme..."

Seeing as Jonathan and Dorme were caught up in their own business and Daala wasn't willing to wait for them to resolve their differences, Zero decided to take action. "Pichu, Furball, double thunderbolt!"

The massive burst of electricity caught Dorme and Jonathan's attention and she finally let her arms fall to her sides. The situation was not in Daala's favor, she was outnumbered and the Rockets didn't look happy.

Jonathan cleared his throat and pretended he didn't just narrowly avoid death. "Daala, where is..." He glanced at Dorme from the corner of his eyes and finished, "Clefable?"

"What?" Both Daala and Dorme expressed a chorus of confusion.

"Didn't you kidnap Clefable?" Jonathan inquired.

"I prefer not to involve pokemon like that." Daala frowned in disapproval, her so called ally had acted on her own, even if Daala had told her not to go through with the kidnapping. Despite sharing a common purpose against Team Rocket, the two girls occasionally had their differences.

"What's this about?" Dorme interjected.

"Clefable got kidnapped and," Jonathan took a step back, away from Dorme before speaking the A name. "Ashy went to look for her, she's heading right into a trap at Cerulean City."

"Clefable was taking a walk alone when I left Ashimi at the pokemon center. I spotted Daala a little further ahead and followed her, she couldn't have kidnapped Clefable," Dorme revealed. "As for Ashimi, I haven't seen her. Go play knight for her if you want, it's not like she appreciates it anyway!"

Daala watched the scene unfold for a moment longer before recalling her pokemon into their pokeballs and breaking into a run. Pichu and Furball looked at Zero, who shrugged and let her go.

"Dorme..." Jonathan's expression turned serious. "I know Ashy doesn't need anyone protecting her. That's what she thought I was doing and that's what we argued about. I trust Ashy, I know she can take care of herself, but I still want to be there for her, and that goes for you too!" Dorme gave him a doubtful look. "I was looking for Ashy, but I would have stopped to battle at your side anyway. Ashy's my childhood friend, that's all there is to it. If the two of you would just get along then I..." He trailed off into silence, would he return Dorme's feelings then? If he did, would Ashimi still continue to hold the first priority even if he was dating Dorme? Would that be okay? He didn't know the answer to any of those questions and he didn't want to think about it right now.

Dorme laughed with a bittersweet tone. She let out a breath, closed her eyes and relaxed her shoulders as if in resignation. "One day a realization will hit you and you'll see her as more than a childhood friend. Then you'll realize something else." She slowly lifted her head and looked into his eyes, "she's unobtainable."

A cold chill ran down Jonathan's spine, he remained silent for a few heavy seconds until he finally snapped out of his trance. "Don't say such silly things, Dorme, you know I don't look at Ashy that way..."

"Yet," Dorme recalled Hitmonlee and ran off to continue in Daala's pursuit as the first few drops of rain began to fall from the cloudy skies. It wasn't storming, it was only raining.

"Such drama," Zero yawned. Jonathan decided it was best not to comment on the subject any further and silently got back in the car. Furball returned to his pokeball and Pichu hopped on Zero's head. Then once again, they were on their way to Cerulean City.

xoxox xox xoxox

After what felt like the longest trip of her life, Ashimi finally arrived at the bakery in the backstreets of Cerulean City, under a light rain. She didn't take time off during the trip, though she had started out feeling confident and even waited until morning to leave Celadon City. A cold feeling crept into her being along the way and she felt compelled to rush to the scene of the test. It felt like an odd place for a test, but she would find out what it was like in a moment. The taxi left her at her destination and she walked into the bakery which had a closed sign on the door, but it was unlocked. The shelves were notably empty, devoid of the sweet treats they once held.

"Hello? Is anyone here?" Ashimi walked around the counter and towards the door behind it. There was a small kitchen area there and a storage closet. She examined the closet and found a ladder leading to the basement. She went down into a dark tunnel, heading towards the light in the end, filtering through the half open door. She pushed the door open and it made a terrible screeching sound as it turned on its hinges.

There she was, a red haired girl with green eyes. Her eyes and hair were different, but she had the same facial features as the fake Kirameki. Ashimi wondered if her current appearance was also a disguise she could remove to blend in. There was something about the way she looked that didn't ring true. Then Ashimi realized it, it was the girl's hair, it was the same color as Jessie's hair, fixed into the same style. Ashimi blinked in confusion, who was this girl and why was she copying Jessie? She couldn't be a part of Team Rocket if she was Daala's ally. This wasn't a test, it was a trap. The mysterious girl grinned with a confident glare. Her eyes were the same color as James, but the look in them was distinctly different, bitter. "So you're finally here," the crimson haired girl spoke.

They stood in a simple basement with gray unpainted walls and a crude table to the side. Next to it there was a level on the wall. On the opposite side there was a stained old cloth covering a section of the wall and it was slightly moving as if breathing uneasily. Switching between looking at the cloth and the crimson haired girl at fast intervals, Ashimi finally asked, "who are you?"

"Jaina Joan Kojiro," the name was spoken bitterly as if it was a reminder of betrayal.

Ashimi stared at the girl. "Kojiro," she whispered. "That's Johnny's last name, it's his father's last name, but you're copying his mother's hair."

"I'm not copying anyone," Jaina insisted. "This is simply what I look like."

"Liar!" Ashimi shouted. "I know you were pretending to be Kirameki. You think you can trick me by pretending to be Johnny's relative? He comes from a family of loyal Rockets! Even his grandmother, Miyamoto, is remembered as one of the greatest Rockets who was there from the very beginning!"

"What about his father? Do you know his story?" Jaina growled as if the issue was personal.

Ashimi hadn't heard anything from James' family. As far as she knew he was the first generation to become a Rocket in his line. But what did it matter? Jessie and James were people her parents trusted and they were loyal, as was their son. "I have no doubts of his loyalty either."

"You know nothing!" Jaina shouted, "it doesn't matter though, you're about to learn the hard way what Team Rocket really is!" She pulled the cloth off the wall to reveal Clefable. The pink pokemon was strapped to the wall with metal cuffs on her arms and legs that prevented the use of her powers. She looked badly beaten and had a very strange collar around her neck with odd lights and circuitry.

"Clefable!" Ashimi ran to her and started pulling on the cuffs in a futile effort to free her. "I'm sorry I took so long to get here, I'm really sorry!" Ashimi cried. 'If only I haven't assumed this was a test, if only I haven't waited until morning before starting out,' she regretted.

"You can't win," Jaina laughed. "You don't have any pokemon with you," she took note of the lack of pokeballs on Ashimi's belt. Her bag had been left behind with Zero as well, since she didn't expect the trip to take too long. "If you want to leave, the price will be that pokemon's life. Show your true colors and sacrifice her for your own sake. If you kill her I'll let you go and if you don't," Jaina pulled out the whip that was wrapped around her waist, as she stretched it out, it became electrified. "I'll kill you."

Ashimi clenched her teeth in frustration, how could she had fallen for this trick? How could she had assumed her enemies would let her rest after their latest battle? "Don't worry Clefable, I'll get you out of here alive, I promise."

"Idiot," much to Ashimi's surprise, Clefable spoke.

"That collar is a special piece of technology, isn't it? I'm sure Team Rocket has their own version, but why would they make it public? They like their pokemon as slaves without the ability to communicate with humans. Sadly, this one couldn't tell me anything useful," Jaina mocked. She saw that Ashimi was tense and trembling. Mistaking the fury for fear, she swung her electric whip and hit Ashimi on the back.

The damage was notable, but Ashimi refused to acknowledge it. "You hurt Clefable to get information?" She was furious. "Information that she didn't even know?!" Jaina's only reply was a cruel chuckle. "You'll pay for this!" Ashimi glared with an incessant fury in her eyes, much like her grandfather in his younger days.

Jaina took an involuntary step back, then steeled her resolve and attacked with her whip while Ashimi charged towards her. The whip caught Ashimi on the shoulder and she stumbled in pain, but regained her balance and continued her attack. Jaina rushed to pull the whip back and swing it again, she couldn't fully do so on time and instead swung it low, hitting Ashimi's legs. The distance between them was closed and Ashimi grabbed the whip's handle with both hands, intent on ripping it out of the other girl's grasp. If she didn't disarm her, she wouldn't be able to last in the fight for much longer.

Jaina let go of the whip and kicked Ashimi away in the stomach. Ashimi fell to the floor completely out of breath, with the whip in her hands. It was a good weapon and the fact that Jaina gave it up so easily made every mental alarm in her head go off. Jaina pulled out a small controller and in the same split second, Ashimi threw the whip back at her. It was too late for Jaina to avoid the hit, she had already activated the self destruct detonator and the weapon exploded as it reached her. "Not bad," Jaina growled. "Now we're both injured, but I'm still stronger."

"Yeah, well I'm faster," Ashimi challenged, "and I have Clefable!"

"That useless creature?" Jaina laughed cruelly. "That thing couldn't save you if it wanted to!"

'Why?' Clefable thought frantically, 'why doesn't she try to escape? Why doesn't she save herself?' For the first time Clefable was willing to fight for Ashimi, but she couldn't.

"That's not true," Ashimi tried to steady her gasping breaths and ignore the pain. "Things look different in the heat of battle, but Clefable has a clear view. Clefable, I'm not as strong as my opponent, but that won't matter if she can't actually hit me, so please guide me and I'll set you free!" Ashimi went on the attack again.

'Guide her?' Clefable stared at her trainer in shock. 'What am I supposed to...' "Watch out for her kick!" Ashimi jumped back, narrowly avoiding having her feet swept out from under her. 'I... I see it, there's a pattern to her fighting style, can Ashimi see it too? No, she's too focused on fighting.' "Dodge left! Dodge right! Punch!"

Ashimi's hit connected with Jaina's face and she stumbled back, but didn't fall. Jaina recovered very quickly and kicked Ashimi away. "I told you, I'm stronger than you, there's no way you can overpower me!"

Ashimi could barely get up, but she pushed herself to her feet. 'Wait a minute, that's it, I understand what Ashimi was trying to tell me!' Clefable realized. "Get up Ashimi, victory is close!"

"Ha! That stupid pokemon is delusional!" Jaina went on the attack again.

"Move to the right, dodge, kick, go back, back!" Clefable called out. Ashimi had managed to get a few hits in with her advantage in speed, but Jaina was simply too strong for her, until she reached her goal. "It's right behind you, kick backwards high!"

When Ashimi followed Clefable's instruction, her true plan became clear. The whole fight had been a distraction to reach the level on the wall. It was the only clearly visible mechanism in the room and the cuffs on Clefable didn't look like they used any type of key. The cuffs on Clefable opened, but Ashimi was trapped in a corner. Before Jaina could strike, Clefable went on an all out attack, punching, kicking and biting. Jaina pushed the pokemon away, only to be lifted by Clefable's telekinetic force that sent her crashing against the wall. The crimson haired girl lost consciousness on impact and slid down the wall to the floor, motionless.

Clefable tried to speak, but the exposed circuitry of her collar was damaged and her words once again sounded to human ears as repetitions of her name. She quieted and tried again, before finally removing the damaged collar and glaring at it in frustration. "It's okay Clefable," Ashimi assured. "I know what you want to say," she smiled.

To be Continued

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Chapter 10: Though Ashimi does tend to rush in on many occasions, she is also capable of planning and plotting when the side of her that takes after Giovanni surfaces.

Chapter 11: Dorme's mention of an oversized sword is a reference to the various mercenary video game characters who like to carry big swords... I never get tired of them. In Bulbapedia, Hitmonlee's attack appears listed as hi jump kick rather than high jump kick, it's probably because of the character limit or something, but I decided to go with the name from the game. As with my previous story, I've been using Bulbapedia for reference information for the battles and some creative license for the attacks like they do in the anime. Many thanks to the people who contribute and maintain Bulbapedia, I wouldn't be able to write pokemon battles with more than a few tired old attacks without it.

Chapter 12: Dorme is the daughter of Domino, so of course she'd get some pretty important missions. The girl's got connections, but that's not to say she isn't strong on her own. She is both a talented pokemon trainer, and skilled in martial arts.

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The crimson haired girl: A mysterious girl who calls herself Jaina Joan Kojiro. She seems to be allied to Daala, though they don't always agree, they are both anti-Rocket. She claims to have a connection with Johnny's family, but tricky as she is, no one knows if there's some truth to it, or if it's just another of her lies.
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