Categories > Anime/Manga > Pokemon > Awakening

Part 11

by Milia 0 reviews

Category: Pokemon - Rating: PG-13 - Genres:  - Published: 2014-03-13 - 22428 words


Chapter 31: The Rocket League: Frost Bite (Part 1)

It was dark as they made their way through the snow of the winter zone. The moon and stars provided very little illumination. Any Rockets that made it that far were expected to be at breaking point by then.

"It's so cold..." Dorme complained. At least the uniforms were made with impermeable fabric, so they weren't soaking wet from the earlier rain, though their hair was. "If my hair turns into an icicle and breaks, it'll be your fault, Ashimi!"

"I'm hungry..." Ashimi was too pained by her empty stomach to acknowledge Dorme's threat.

"The rain water we collected before leaving the fall zone is freezing. It'll just weigh us down like that, lets drink up." They followed Volt's advice, though it served as little comfort.

"I want a hot chocolate," Dorme whined.

"With big marshmallows," Ashimi added.

"I wish it would snow," Jonathan looked at the domed skies longingly. "They could make it snow if they wanted."

Everyone shot him a glare. "The exhaustion is getting to you, soldier," Volt concluded. "Pull yourself together!"

"But if we had fresh snow, I could," Jonathan was interrupted by a sign popping out of the ground.

The sign's sudden emerge knocked the stick Volt was holding out of his hand. He had picked it up from the autumn zone and was using it to check for traps beneath the snow. So far there had only been knives attached to the ground so firmly they couldn't be removed, some snap traps like what some people used to hunt Ursaring, close range sprays of poisonous gas and pitfalls. At least the sign looked harmless enough.

Dorme curiously approached the white piece of wood and read the black letters inscribed on it. "The time limit for all four seasons is one day." She glared at the sign. "As if anyone could take more than twenty-four hours of this!"

"It's okay, the night is young and this is the last zone, we're practically at the finish line!" Volt tried to keep up the morale. "Let's not lower our guard now," he cautioned. The foe that awaited them was the strongest of the season Rockets, the one who was truly an elite.

The group continued forward until they reached a deep cliff. There was a metal tunnel connecting the two sides. It could be used as a bridge between the adjacent cliffs, but it wasn't meant to be. There was another sign on the cliff side. "Fly through the tunnel, one pokemon each, or less. Don't touch the walls," Jonathan read.

Volt looked up at the small flying saucer shaped pod that was notable by its red light blinking distantly above their heads. Certainly it made its presence known on purpose to further pressure the trainees with the feeling that they were being watched. In their side of the cliff there was an opening which seemed to lead them back the way they came but underground, before making a U turn at some point and crossing between the cliffs via the large pipe that connected them. Further ahead on the opposite cliff there was an opening, no doubt the exit point of the series of tunnels. "Let's go, soldiers, no time to waste."

They all called out one of their pokemon. Chari, Fearow, Pidgeotto and Magnezone respectively. Mounting their pokemon, they headed into the tunnel. Another sign awaited inside attached to a wall of ice. "You may use one extra pokemon to navigate this maze, at the cost of snowfall," Dorme read.

"Let's do it," Jonathan suggested and was met with a collective head shake from the others. "If it snows, I could-"

"Let's not get carried away, soldier," Volt tried to end the apparent madness. "Chari can melt that wall no problem."

"That's right!" Ashimi agreed, "onward!" Chari breathe fire into the wall of ice and easily melted it out of the way.

The group moved beyond it to find another wall of ice and another sign. The little flying saucer camera wasn't following them anymore, but surely there were cameras inside the tunnel. "Dead ends hold harsh punishments, one wrong move may end it all," Dorme read.

"We need to be careful with how we navigate this maze," Volt cautioned. "In our current state, I don't think we can take any punishments, let alone harsh punishments. Ashimi, can you reach out with your aura and see the structure of the maze?"

Ashimi tried to do so, but her stomach growled loudly and her aura sense faded. "Sorry, right now what I can see with the aura is only as much as I can see with my eyes." After a short pause she came up with an idea. "Golbat is really good at sensing shapes and structures. He could guide us."

"Good idea," Jonathan agreed, "then it'll snow too."

"We need to weight the pros and cons. What's worse, running into a dead end or snow?" Volt analyzed. "I would say the harsh punishment would be worse than the added cold and possible visibility problems of the snow, unless they make such a blizzard that we can't move forward at all. At least we have an idea of what that means. We don't know exactly what the harsh punishments could be and how we would fare against them."

"The way the sign was worded... Do you think there could be time penalties or instant losses in there? Maybe cold chambers that will freeze us alive or..." Dorme wasn't sure what else could be there but she knew it could be, "worse."

"I think we might be better off dealing with the snow," Jonathan insisted. He might add something else to his argument, but his previous attempts had been interrupted, so he left it at that.

"I think you're right, is everyone on agreement?" Volt asked, receiving a unanimous affirmative. "Alright, call out Golbat then."

"Golbat, I choose you!" Ashimi called out the bat. "We need you to guide us through this maze. Be very careful, if we go into a dead end we'll be harshly punished, we're counting on you!" Golbat began to release his supersonic waves. They bounced around invisibly and returned with information. He continued stretching his super sonic reach until the ice stalactites and stalagmites hanging from the walls of the tunnel began to vibrate, but the sound was too high pitched for most to hear.

They followed Golbat to another chamber past a wall of ice. A voice softly echoed from the depths of the maze, perhaps a recording, it was the voice of Jigglypuff. "As if we're not tired enough already," Dorme grimaced.

"I brought earplugs, but I don't have enough for everyone," Volt dug into his small bag to retrieve them.

"Give them to the pokemon," Ashimi suggested. "They've been resting in their pokeballs, so they'll be fine. The rest of us could use a nap. This was meant as a trap, but we can use it to our advantage."

"You want us to go to sleep in the middle of training?" Dorme gaped.

"It's not against the rules, let's trust our pokemon to keep us safe," Ashimi encouraged.

"She's right, we should trust in our pokemon," Jonathan agreed.

They all came to an agreement about that, but there was still one difficulty, which Volt pointed out. "What about Golbat? How will he navigate with earplugs on?"

"Well..." Ashimi looked at Golbat, "got any ideas, buddy?" Golbat nodded and through signs and motions communicated that he could still feel the subtle vibrations, even if he couldn't hear the super high tones. "That settles it then," Ashimi nodded.

Once all the pokemon had earplugs on, they were ready to proceed. Deeper into the tunnel, the recording of Jigglypuff's song became louder and the humans succumbed to a deep slumber. The pokemon pressed on with the mission of getting through the maze and keeping their slumbering human companions safe.

Golbat took to the front of the group, sensing the vibrations that bounced through the tunnel. He could sense the gentle vibrations of the lullaby as well, but was able to resist it as long as he didn't hear the sweet voice. He turned and flew through another tunnel, the maze was ever complex.

A torch of blue flames activated on the wall. Chari roared as she pushed back the blue flames with her own red-orange fire. She signaled for the others to move on, while she kept the blue flames under control, simultaneously making sure Ashimi didn't fall. Once all the pokemon had gotten across the flame trap, Chari increased the potency of her own fire enough to push the blue flames all the way back into the wall. She took her chance and swiftly got across the trap's area.

Golbat sent out his super sonic waves further in. Things got a bit blurry further ahead, but he knew there was no room for mistakes. He pushed himself harder until he got a reading that was good enough to trust and once again led them further into the maze.

Ninja stars suddenly shot out of the tunnel walls guided by a field of magnetism. Magnezone felt the static currents. He carefully but quickly used his electricity to alter the magnetic field and the sharp stars became attached to the walls. Magnezone kept up a gentle current long enough for everyone to get through.

A few more turns later, a multitude of poisonous darts were shot from every direction. Pidgeot and Fearow flanked the others and created a shield of wind around them to deflect the darts. They hurried through the area to a point where the trap could no longer reach them.

The temperature continued to drop as they went deeper into the maze and Jigglypuff's song became louder. Despite being protected by the earplugs, the faint murmur of the melody was starting to reach the pokemon. The cold was so intense that they could see their breath and their skin was numb. Chari transferred Ashimi from her back to her arms and signaled to the other pokemon. They couldn't talk among themselves since they had to keep the earplugs on, but they were good at communicating non-verbally. The others understood that Chari was worried the trainers would freeze without knowing it.

The pokemon changed formation. Continuing to carry one trainer each was the best way to ensure a swift escape should speedy movements become the deciding factor. Golbat still remained in the front, leading the group through the maze and warning them of upcoming traps. At times he would even trigger them on purpose, so they could see exactly how they worked and figure out a way to safely cross. Fearow, Pidgeot and Magnezone flew below Chari, so she could breathe fire from above and surround them in flames, without actually burning them. She kept Ashimi warm also and it looked like all the humans were regaining some of their natural skin color, where as it had previously been turning blue.

They continued at that pace, avoiding all the dead ends and winding paths. They worked together and watched each others' backs. At last they reached the final stretch of the maze and saw another sign, suspended from a rope on the tunnel's ceiling. "Reach the finish line in five minutes," was what appeared written on the sign. Up ahead there was a shiny sensor shield that would not stand in their way, but would immediately detect when any of them passed through. There were several barriers made out of different materials, but Golbat didn't detect any projectile weapons, just the barriers. He did think there was something odd there though, something in the atmosphere, like a current but different.

All the pokemon lined up, the pathway was pretty straight forward. They would begin the race together and attack the barriers in unison with everything they had to break them as quickly as possible. Yet as soon as they crossed the sensor barrier, a massive force pulled them down with the strength of increased gravity. They all flapped their wings desperately, trying with all their strength not to touch the tunnel's lower wall. Chari shot a ball of fire at the first icy barrier, but it was a lot thicker than the others and it regenerated quickly with sprays of water that froze rapidly. Fearow and Pidgeot flapped their wings even faster, closer to the barrier to blow the water aside and allow Chari to drill through it with her fire.

The next barrier was made of metal. Chari attempted to melt it, but it was surrounded by a protective shield that diminished the effect of her fire. Magnezone focused his electricity to push the energy aside and allow Chari to melt a hole in the center of the obstacle, just large enough for the group to squeeze through.

The third and final barrier was made of an unusual sort of glass. So far they had been moving fast, using roughly a minute to get through each barrier. Chari tried to melt through the glass, but soon realized she could not. She recognized the glass, it was the same kind as the material used at the Cinnabar Island volcano. Glass like that could withstand the temperature of boiling lava. She roared and signaled for the others to attack all together. She placed Ashimi on her back again and while keeping her breath of fire on the glass, she scratched at it. She felt it chip away very slowly, but it was something. Heat wouldn't be enough, energy wouldn't be enough, strength wouldn't be enough, but if it had enough of everything, the almost indestructible material might just be broken.

Magnezone shot massive bolts of electricity at the reinforced glass and hit it with his large magnets, pounding on it with all his strength. Golbat, Fearow and Pidgeot attacked the glass with continuous steel wing attacks, chipping away at it slowly. The combination of attacks on one focused area finally managed to crack the glass, but only one minute remained. The pokemon fought on. Golbat, Fearow, Pidgeot and Chari felt as if their wings were frozen and burning at the same time. Magnezone felt his senses fade from his energy being drained to defy the great gravity, and Chari's tail flame had gotten very small.

Without a second to spare, they managed to break through, showing that they were even stronger than the boiling volcano of Cinnabar Island. An alarm sounded, counting down the last few seconds of time left. The opening that led to the other side of the cliff was closing fast. The pokemon pushed themselves forward and rushed through, crashing in exhaustion on the snow outside. The fluffy white substance was coming down hard and it chilled them to the bone, but their mission had been a success. With the crossing of the third barrier, the recording of the song of Jigglypuff had stopped playing, but the pokemon were too focused on making it through the final stretch to notice.

With the song gone, the noise of the alarm for the last few seconds was enough to wake the humans. Jigglypuff's song had thrown them in a deep and surprisingly restful slumber. They yawned, stretched and shivered in the cold. Seeing the humans awake, the pokemon removed the earplugs and watched as their trainers gawked at them. "Chari, your flame, it's hardly there!" Ashimi exclaimed. "And your claws look like they've been burned, and Golbat, your wings are burnt and practically about to puncture."

"Pidgeot, you lost so many feathers and the feathers your wings managed to keep are charred," Dorme observed with concern.

"You too Fearow," Jonathan gently examined her wings. "I can only imagined what you had to face."

"Magnezone, I've never seen your energy supply this low, you can't even float anymore and look at all those scratches and dent on your magnets," Volt voiced in surprise.

"Everyone, thank you for protecting us, I knew you'd keep us safe," Ashimi smiled and everyone agreed with her gratitude. The pokemon felt trusted and loved, they knew their trainers would entrust their lives to them and that they could do the same.

"There's another sign ahead." Volt read, "recall your pokemon before walking past me." He looked at the exhausted group of pokemon, "all of you need a good rest, we'll take you to the pokemon center as soon as possible."

"I wonder if I can get the video file from the tunnel," Ashimi thought aloud. "I'm pretty sure Pixel can retrieve it for us. It's obvious that was an epic maze and I want to see the pokemon in action." They all agreed that would be good to watch.

The four Rockets recalled their pokemon into their pokeballs and continued their walk. They didn't lower their guard and kept on the lookout for traps hidden in the snow. "It's freezing and the added wind is annoying, but it was already too cold before," Dorme noted. "I guess the snow was worth it for that nap, it was surprisingly refreshing."

"I agree, we made the right choice," Volt nodded. "The energy that we recovered should be more than the extra energy we'll use to get across the terrain while it's snowing."

"Plus we get a meal out of it," Jonathan had retrieved a folded up plastic bowl from his bag, conveniently compressed not to occupy much more room than a folded piece of cardboard. The plastic unfolded like origami and was effective in containing the snow. "Only freshly fallen snow will do, for the best taste it needs to be caught before it hits the ground."

"Wait a minute..." Ashimi realized in surprise. "Are you trying to tell me that those snow dishes your mom always makes in the winter holidays are actually made out of snow? I thought they were only named after snow and they were prepared from homemade ice-cream!"

"They're actually made out of snow, hold this bowl a second," Jonathan handed Ashimi the bowl and retrieved a tiny bottle from his bag. "Since I've been at Thor's winter training before, I've learned to be prepared. If we get dismissed without dinner for some ridiculous reason or another, I make a few of the snow dishes in mom's collection of secret recipes. Over the years, she developed a lot of sauces that go very well with the snow. Like this one," Jonathan added the reddish sauce to the mix and steered it with a spoon, it smelled like a cocktail of fruits. "It's a secret family recipe. It has a combination of fruit extracts with concentrated vitamins, it turns snow into something pretty nutritious and changes its consistency enough so that you'll feel full when you eat it. The best part is that it tastes great."

Ashimi's eyes sparkled as she watched the snow evolve before her eyes into a pink substance that was thicker than ice-cream or yogurt would normally be. "I want to try it!"

Before she decided to dunk her face in the bowl like a starving Growlithe, Jonathan gave Ashimi a spoon. She put a generous portion in her mouth, practically squealing in delight. "Yummy! It's just like your mom's special holiday dishes! You know what would be awesome? If grandma baked a cake and your mom frosted it, not only on top, but also between the layers. That would be an amazing combination."

Jonathan's mouth watered just thinking about it. "We really need to ask them to do that sometime soon."

Dorme and Volt were hypnotized by the sweet fruity scent of the improvised meal. The grinned hungrily and extended their hands waiting for folded up plastic bowls to be placed on them so they could collect snow that Jonathan could turn into a meal. Expecting as much, Jonathan passed them the bowls and folded up some extras as well. With different sauces and spices, he created various flavors, it was hard to believe that the main ingredient was actually snow. The group ate as they walked, and by the time they made it to their next obstacle, they were well fed.

Ashimi, Jonathan, Dorme and Volt reached a cave on the side of a tall mountain. They had walked a long way and guessed that they must be very close to the final challenge. Another sign waited for them at the cave's entrance. "You may summon one pokemon. Follow the arrows without noise," Dorme read.

"No doubt they'll be monitoring the level of sound down to the last detail. We'd best not risk a whisper while we're in there. In fact, be careful when you breathe," Volt cautioned.

"We'll have to choose a pokemon who can get us through whatever obstacles are there very quietly," Jonathan mused.

"It also can't be a pokemon we've called out before," Dorme reminded.

Ashimi swallowed the last bit of her snow food, "ah, that was good. You may have no skill for roasting marshmallows and always burn smores, but as a snow chef you're something else."

Jonathan decided to ignore the part about burnt smores, "thanks..."

"So, who do we have, soldiers? Let's analyze out remaining troops," Volt strategized. "I have Elekid, but I'm saving him for Electivire."

"I only have Hitmonlee, he's strong, but not exactly quiet," Dorme replied.

"I have Foxtrot, Vaporeon and Nya. She still needs some training though she is able to teleport. But that will probably be considered avoiding the training course and we'll get a speech from Thor about not taking the easy way out," Jonathan elaborated, and Dorme and Volt responded with nods of agreement.

"I have Clefable and Furball. Any ideas what kind of obstacles we'll face?" Ashimi asked.

"Probably obstacles that are usually noisy to get through," Volt theorized.

"It's a cave, so big boulders that need to be smashed?" Jonathan suggested. He looked at Ashimi and everyone followed his gaze.

"Smashed or moved," Volt grinned.

"Clefable's telekinesis is pretty strong," Ashimi held up her pokeball. "Agreed?"

"Agreed!" They all cheered, getting the loudness out of their system before going into the cave.

"Clefable, I choose you!" Ashimi called out the pink pokemon and those were the last words spoken for a while.

The group quietly entered the cave. Volt shone a small flashlight around, which emitted a peculiar type of light that bounced off even the most hard to see objects and made whatever it was pointed at look like it was glowing. He lifted his other hand in caution as he kept the flashlight on a thin string across the cave path that went from one side to the other close to the floor. He followed the contraption with his eyes and found that it was attached to bells. They carefully went over it without triggering the trap. They found several more such traps along the way, some positioned both above and below, leaving only a tiny space to squeeze through.

They arrived at an underground cliff side with a stone bridge that didn't look steady at all. They observed it in thought for a moment, before unanimously nodding to the fact that it had to be a trap. Surely the bridge would collapse and make a loud noise when it reached the bottom of the cliff. The cliff itself was not too deep, so quietly climbing down would be one option, but there was a better way.

Ashimi made a motion as if flying, then pointed across the cliff and Clefable nodded. The psychic fairy lifted her trainer with telekinesis and sent her floating all the way to the other side of the cliff. She was about to set her down, but Ashimi shook her head, feeling uneasy about that particular patch of ground. Clefable moved her further away, her psychic grip becoming harder to maintain with the distance and passing of time. Ashimi nodded and Clefable quietly set her down. The pink pokemon carefully repeated the process with the other humans, until they were all across.

The group continued very carefully, on the lookout for noisy traps and buried mines. Up ahead they saw several metal hooks hanging from chains attached to the cave's ceiling. The hooks held a multitude of glass cups that looked very fragile and breakable, and most importantly, capable of making a loud noise upon being broken. The hooks suddenly opened one by one, then two by two, then three by three, with increasing speed.

Clefable immediately employed her psychic powers in catching the cups. Jonathan, Volt and Dorme were about to rush over to help, but Ashimi shook her head, pointed down and made a fast motion spreading her arms. They understood, there were mines buried in that area. Ashimi signaled for Clefable to bring the cups closer so they could pick them up out of her psychic grip and that relieved the pokemon's burden.

Ashimi stepped closer where she sensed no land mines and the others followed her movements, reaching out to grab the cups and pass them between them until they could be set down in a safe area. At last the final cup was placed quietly on the ground it looked like they could relax for a moment, but this was the Rocket League and lowering their guard for even a second could cost them all the work they've done so far.

The hooks were all empty, but now the chains themselves became detached. If the metal clang of the hard ground wasn't enough to make them fail the challenge, one of the land mines being set off would surely be enough. Ashimi, Jonathan, Dorme and Volt, stretched out to grab as many chains as they could, while Clefable struggled to keep the rest afloat. There were so many that fell at the same time that Clefable couldn't focus on all of them at once.

Clefable began to gently set down the chains she had already caught and then moved on to the ones the trainers held. They were balancing on one foot, with their arms and one leg comically holding or balancing chains. Thankfully, Clefable managed to get the chains to safely before any of them lost their balance. Then they carefully continued their trek through the cave.

A large boulder was the next obstacle they found. Clefable focused on it and moved it out of the way quietly. Volt peeked behind the boulder and signaled for Clefable to stop. He squeezed in and cut some near in visible wires attached to the backside of the large rock, then gave the silent okay to continue. They proceeded through the narrow tunnel and found a wooden door. They could smash it, but that would be too noisy. Jonathan quietly picked the lock instead and they moved forward.

Up ahead there was yet another door, that one made of metal with an electronic lock that would likely sound an alarm if not properly used. In infiltration missions where they would encounter technology like this, Rocket spies had tech support to guide them along the way. Yet none of the members of their little group could call themselves a hacker. They looked at each other in puzzlement. The margin of error allowed was probably close to zero and they weren't sure were to start.

Dorme placed her palms together then parted them as if opening something. Everyone looked at the small flat electronic control panel on the door then unanimously shook their heads. They didn't know how they could possibly open it without setting off any alarms and they weren't sure what they could do once it was open anyway.

Jonathan made a motion as if pressing buttons in the air, asking if anyone had any idea what the combination could be. They all adopted expressions of deep thought before turning their palms up and shaking their heads in a 'no idea' gesture.

Volt punched the air, it wasn't a creative plan but he could think of nothing else to do. They all shook their heads again.

Ashimi pointed at Clefable, placed a finger on her forehead and pointed at the control panel. They thought about the possibility of overloading the small computer with psychic energy before realizing it wouldn't work either. The computer wasn't even an artificial intelligence unit, just a lock. Besides, virtual personalities could not be influenced by psychic powers so easily. If anything, the influx of energy would cause the circuits to overheat and likely trigger an alarm.

Clefable raised her hand for attention, then pointed to a dark corner. Upon further investigation, a very small tunnel was found there. The trainers gave Clefable thumbs up for her observation, even if they weren't sure how they were going to squeeze through there, though it was becoming painfully evident that they didn't have a choice.

Clefable volunteered herself to go first, ready to use her power to protect her human companions. She flattened her wings and tail close to her body to get through the narrow space. Ashimi was behind her and Dorme went through next, followed by Jonathan while Volt kept an eye out for surprise attacks in the rear. Besides, that way they went from the smallest to the largest, as the space was narrow and those who were taller might need a little extra time to squeeze through.

The group spend over an hour crawling through a claustrophobic dark narrow tunnel filled with jagged rocks and the occasional slippery mud puddle. It was enough to drive most people insane. When they finally made it out. They took in big but quiet breaths. The air had become quite thin and foul smelling, no doubt toxic, as they progressed through the tunnel. The tunnel only had one path to follow, but it went around, left, right, up, down, in so many uncomfortable circles, that they ended up just on the other side of the electronically locked door, after an excruciating underground journey. Thankfully, Clefable was able to neutralize the poison with her heal bell.

As they stood and stretched their cramped limbs, they knew the tunnel wasn't an alternate route, it was a penalty for being unable to hack through the electronically locked door. Ashimi reached into the shirt of her tattered uniform and pulled out the crescent moon shaped memory crystal she wore around her neck. The group exchanged solemn looks. If Zero had been with them, surely he would know how to open that door.

They looked ahead and found three piles of rocks of various sizes covering three sections of the opposite wall a few feet apart. There was also another sign to be read. The group read the sign silently, 'choose one path and open it in one minute.'

They examined the three piles of rocks, the walls around them and the ground beneath them, but they could find no clues about what path to take. Finally, Volt seemed to come up with an idea. He removed what was left of one of his gloves and carefully touched the rocks. After repeating the examination, he pointed at the pile in the middle and made a gesture as if shivering in the cold. Those rocks led to the cold winter arena exterior, where the temperature was lower than inside the cave, especially because of the falling snow, which once again turned out to be helpful.

Clefable stepped forward and the trainers surrounded her to set the rocks aside as she got them out of the way. They worked together with great speed and silence. There were a few feet of snow piled on the cave's exit, but if anything it helped steady the pile of rocks to be more easily removed in silence. Clefable lifted each trainer up to the space on the top half of the cave exit and tried to left herself up, albeit levitating was surprisingly more difficult than lifting someone else.

They pulled the exhausted pink pokemon out just in time and walker a few steps forward to where another sign was emerging from beneath the snow. 'The silent time is over, recall your pokemon.'

Ashimi let out a tired breath, "that was exhausting! You really came through for us, thanks Clefable. Get some rest now, return!"

Volt looked at the icy platform ahead. "This thing is just about the size of a gym arena."

"After all this work, we're finally at the last stage of the training," Dorme couldn't wait to get this over with and hit the Rocket spa.

"I want more snow food," Ashimi smiled sweetly.

"Okay, okay, I'll make some more as soon as this battle is over," Jonathan agreed. "But I'll get the snow from the artificial climate room at headquarters, I can't wait to get back. Speaking of the snow and cold, I want to challenge Winter."

Dorme immediately protested. "Why do you want to challenge her? Because she's pretty? Because you have a crush on her? Because you're trying to impress her?"

"Because I have the most pokemon left and haven't been able to challenge anyone in the Rocket League yet," Jonathan explained. "There was the team battle, but I haven't challenged any seasons trainers on my own and I want a Rocket badge too."

"Oh," Dorme laughed, "well if those are your reasons, I don't mind."

"It's okay then?" Jonathan asked.

"Fine by me," Ashimi agreed.

"Me too," Volt nodded, "give it your all, soldier."

The group carefully climbed the icy platform and despite their caution fell. They tried again but were unable to get very far. They wouldn't allow such a simple obstacle to stop their progress when they were practically at the finish line. They resolved to climb on top of each other in an unsteady human pyramid until they managed to make it up and helped each other get on top of the slippery ice platform.

A young woman with long white hair in pigtails that reached to her ankles approached the group. "Are you going to get on your feet and challenged me?"

Dorme jumped to her feet immediately in a burst of anger. "Hey! Don't lean down like that in that tube top, I bet the boys can see all the way to Kalos!"

Winter laughed, "I think your friends are more concerned with catching their breath." Her eyes were an icy blue with long pupils that most attributed to contact lenses, but were actually her own eyes. She was dressed in white, save for the red R on her chest. She wore a tube top that left a portion of her abdomen exposed, with a fluffy feathery trim that looked like feathers from an Altaria, though they were naturally molted, they were in perfect condition, a sign that the pokemon was very healthy. Her mini skirt was of the same design as her top, ending above her knees. She wore matching gloves that ended mid forearm and boots that reached just below her knees.

Two boys and a girl in their late teens wearing Team Rocket uniforms stepped up behind Winter. The white haired elite explained their presence with an amused look on her beautiful, yet somewhat feral face. "I found these three wondering around, looking for a legendary snow chef. I happened to be kind enough to share the identity of the elusive snow chef General Electro speaks so highly of. Before we move on with the final phase of the challenge, they would like to have a word with you. You can use your pokemon if it comes to that, as many as they use."

"It's all your fault," the largest of the two boys, seemingly the leader of the trio, stepped forward and pointed at Jonathan accusingly. "Elite Rocket Winter has granted us permission to settle the score before allowing your group to proceed." The other boy and the girl stepped left and right of their leader, glaring.

"I'll battle you if that's what you want," Jonathan refused to back down. "But first I want to know what all of this is about."

"Don't play dumb, it's your fault we nearly starved!" The leader continued, clenching his massive fists in anger. He was even bigger than Volt. His navy blue eyes narrowed as he glared so angrily anyone would think he wanted to set Jonathan on fire with his eyes. He had light brown hair cut short and was wearing a standard Rocket uniform.

The other two were not so eager to talk, letting their leader be their voice. They were both also dressed in standard Rocket uniforms. The girl had purple and green hair in stripes, dark green eyes and a face full of freckles. The other boy had dark skin, brown eyes and the shadow of black hair.

"Starved?" Jonathan questioned.

"Thor sent our squad out to a frozen wasteland with no food. He used to give us supplies, but one of his winter squadrons got a penalty for being rebellious and part of it was no food. Apparently there was someone who managed to feed his own squadron just fine in the wilderness." The leader growled in anger. "Because of you, Thor decided that going without food would be the new standard because he had such a talented student in his other winter class who was oh so good at surviving in the frozen nothingness!"

"Me?" Jonathan shook his head in disbelief. "That can't be. Thor would never use me to set the standard for anything, he hates me. He would never even hint that I do anything right!"

"I told you not to play dumb!" The leader yelled. "No excuses, go Chandelure!"

"Torkoal!" The girl called out her pokemon, speaking for the first time.

The other boy soon followed, "Magcargo!"

"Looks like battling is the only way to solve this, let's win this, Vaporeon!" Jonathan called out his water eeveelution. He noticed his friends reaching for pokeballs and stopped them. "It's okay, I got this."

"Chandelure, confuse ray!" The leader ordered.

"Vaporeon, dig!" Vaporeon quickly buried himself in the snow. "Use heal bell!"

"Magcargo, melt all the snow, it can't be too deep and the ice below is too hard to dig through!" The smaller boy looked proud of himself for the strategy. However, Magcargo sunk below the snow and into a hole on the icy platform, the water from the melted snow dripping into it. "Magcargo? Get out of there!"

"Finish him, Vaporeon, hydro pump!" Vaporeon jumped out from water at the edge of the leftover snow surrounding the hole Magcargo had dug for himself. He was already surrounded by water as it was and the impact of the hydro pump was all that was needed to knock him out.

"Shadow ball!" The leader went on the attack again.

"Vaporeon!" It was too late. The shadow ball knocked Vaporeon back, away from the resting place of the fainted Magcargo he had just defeated. The trainer recalled Magcargo, but Vaporeon still had Torkoal and Chandelure to deal with.

"Torkoal, earthquake!" The girl shouted. She couldn't believe one of their allies had fallen already and by such a miscalculation no less.

"Vaporeon, melt into water and blend in!" There were puddles everywhere from Magcargo's previous attack and Torkoal's heat near by wasn't letting them freeze up again.

The large icy platform cracked, sending a fissure clear across to field. "Watch it!" The leader of the trio struggled to keep his balance. He had one foot on each side of the fissure.

"Sorry about that," the girl laughed sheepishly.

Magcargo's trainer shook his head, "you need to be more careful."

"You should talk!" Torkoal's trainer countered.

While his lackies took a moment to argue, the leader of the trio continued the battle. "Chandelure, dark pulse!"

"Vaporeon, iron tail! Vaporeon?" The water eeveelution stayed still, watching Chandelure with fearful caution.

"Looks like your pokemon is afraid to battle!" Chandelure's trainer mocked.

"Alright Torkoal, now's our chance!" The girl began, but was interrupted.

"Hold it!" The leader interfered. "You two have done enough already. Go battle one of his little friends."

"Okay," the freckled girl nodded. "How about... You!" She pointed at Dorme.

"Me?" Dorme pointed at herself. Winter gave a quiet nod as if reminding them they were authorized to use another pokemon. "You have no idea what you just got yourself into. Go Hitmonlee!"

Simultaneously, Jonathan's battle with Chandelure continued and the fire ghost was on the attack. "Hyper beam!"

"You have to move, Vaporeon!" Vaporeon dodge at the last second. The beam caught the end of his tail and he howled in pain. "Pull yourself together, there's nothing to fear. This is just a pokemon battle. After you beat Chandelure you can take a break and I'll get you healed soon. It'll be alright."

"Forget it, once an opponent falls into the despair of Chandelure's fear and confusion, there's no hope!" The leader laughed.

"Torkoal, stone edge!" The girl pointed at Hitmonlee. Her Torkoal stomped his feet but nothing happened. "Try again!"

The icy platform shook and the leader of the trio lost his balance. "I told you to stay out of the way, no more earthquakes!"

"But that wasn't an earthquake!" The girl defended.

"It's true, boss, she called for a stone edge, it was Torkoal who messed up," the other boy added.

Torkoal shook his head and tried to attack once more. The icy platform shook, but no stones emerged from its surface. "No, Torkoal, not earthquake, stone edge, stone edge!" The fire turtle's trainer insisted.

Dorme couldn't help it but to laugh, "ha ha ho ha ha! Don't you get it? We're standing on a giant block of ice. Stone edge is taking effect under it in the surface of the ground!"

The purple and green haired girl blinked in realization, "oh..."

"Hitmonlee, jump kick!" Dorme went on the offensive.

"Withdraw!" Torkoal's trainer called out in a hurry.

The turtle retreated into his hot shell before the fighter's attack landed. Hitmonlee jumped back and cooled his feet in the icy surface of the platform. "C'mon Hitmonlee, you're tougher than that!"

"If I could direct your attention back to our battle," Jonathan interjected. "Hydro pump!"

Chandelure scrambled to float out of the way without any commands from the distracted trainer, but was caught by the end of the power spray of water. The leader looked at his opponent, Vaporeon had obviously calmed down and was more than ready to battle. "Don't distract me!" He yelled at his lackeys, before once again focusing on the ongoing fight. "Telekinesis!"

Chandelure lifted Vaporeon in a psychic hold, then brought him down rapidly. "Turn back into water, Vaporeon!" There was a splash when the melted eeveelution hit the surface and Chandelure lost her psychic grip on him. Vaporeon recovered his normal form looking dizzy. "Don't give up, we're almost there!"

"Hitmonlee, close combat!" Dorme called out.

"Iron defense!" Torkoal's trainer responded.

"Super power!" Dorme continued.

"Iron defense!" Her opponent insisted. Torkoal had been hiding in his shell for almost the whole match.

Dorme huffed in exasperation, "oh forget it, just kick that overgrown hockey pug over the edge." Hitmonlee delivered a hard kick to the side of Torkoal's shell.

The turtle was sent sliding across the ice towards to edge. "No, Torkoal, stop!" The fire turtle emerged from his shell and held on to the edge of the icy platform with difficulty.

"Low kick," Hitmonlee went to the edge of the platform and kicked Torkoal off with ease.

The fire turtle landed shell first in the snow below, moving his feet wildly as he tried to right himself. After a few attempts, he finally manage to set himself right side up. Torkoal approached the edge of the broken ice platform and helplessly looked up. "You can't climb up, can you?" The girl with purple and green hair sighed, while her pokemon shook his head, stating the obvious. "Torkoal, return."

"Chandelure, use smog!" The surface of the broken ice platform was covered in the thick smog that made it very difficult to see. "Now's our chance, hyper beam!"

"Vaporeon use detect to find Chandelure and dodge, she won't be able to see you clearly either, but you can sense her." Jonathan sent Vaporeon on the final assault. More hyper beam flew by as the smog began to clear, but Vaporeon had already gotten close to Chandelure. "Aqua tail!" The fire ghost was knocked aside and before she could recover, "hydro pump!"

It was over, Chandelure had fainted. "Chandelure... return, I shall avenge you!" The leader of the trio dramatically declared. "The Fire Furrets will not be defeated!"

"Fire Furrets?" Ashimi asked in curiosity.

"Yes, the Fire Furrets!" The leader proudly declared. "We each have a Furret and the rest of our pokemon are fire types or partially fire types, so we call ourselves the Fire Furrets!"

"Hey boss, maybe we should battle with the Furrets instead of with the fire now," the smaller boy suggested.

"You will do no such thing," Winter interrupted in a harsh tone. "You had your chance and failed. It is over, now you must suffer the conveniences of your lack of strength. I shall contact General Electro to arrange your training." The Fire Furrets trio gasped and looked as if they were about to protest, or beg for mercy, or both. Their words died in their throats when they looked into Winter's wild eyes, long pupils glaring fiercely. "Or would you rather train with me?"

The Fire Furrets backed away instinctually. General Electro was scary, but at least they knew what to expect. Winter didn't usually train other Rockets, no one knew what kind of trials and tribulations she could come up with. At least Thor was a known torture, but the predatory merciless look in Winter's eyes made the trio think they didn't want to find out what she was like as a human trainer. For one thing, Thor at least let then wear coats, yet Winter paraded around in below zero temperature in a tube top and mini skirt as if it were nothing.

Winter interpreted their silence, "didn't think so, now leave before I change my mind, I am not as soft hearted as Electro." No one ever called General Electro soft, the Fire Furrets took it as a bad omen and stumbled to get down from the broken ice platform as soon as possible.

To be Continued

xoxox xox xoxox


Chapter 32: The Rocket League: Frost Bite (Part 2)

"Recall your pokemon, let us have a fresh start," Winter ordered with clear authority. Dorme and Jonathan recalled Hitmonlee and Vaporeon. Winter looked at Jonathan, "since your last challengers were such a disappointment, I will battle you myself. Go Lapras! Summon your pokemon, one that you have not used before of course."

Now that they were at the end of the challenge, the rule about using each pokemon only mattered even more. Jonathan only had Nya and Foxtrot left, Ashimi had Furball, Volt had Elekid, whom he was saving for his battle with Thor, and Dorme had already used all her pokemon. Jonathan decided to use his more experienced companion, despite the type disadvantage. He didn't feel like Nya was quite ready for an all out battle without more training, especially not against someone like Winter. "Go Foxtrot!"

"An interesting choice," Winter commented. "Lapras, use hydro pump!"

"Quick attack!" Foxtrot made good use of his speed, dodging every hydro pump that came his way.

"Whirlpool!" It sounded like an illogical move better suited to a watery terrain. Yet surprisingly, the water and snow atop the broken ice platform began to swirl and dragged Flareon into the fissure that ran across it.

"Dig with flame thrower!" Jonathan urged. Foxtrot took in a deep breath and began to tunnel under the ice by melting his way through. Jonathan rushed to follow him from the sidelines. Flareon's red fur was easy to see under the relatively clear ice. "Careful, turn around there," Jonathan instructed.

"It doesn't matter what pattern you follow, you have nowhere to go. Your pokemon will have to come out, or..." Winter grinned. "Body slam!"

"Hyper beam, get out of there!" Jonathan urged. Foxtrot pushed himself out of the flooding tunnel just on time with the energy from the hyper beam. The tunnel collapsed entirely, due to the earlier damage, the additional weakening from Foxtrot's digging and Lapras' body slam.

"I see..." Winter observed. "The ice is broken and jagged. You seek further advantages in movement." Winter looked at the Flareon, who was shaking the water from the melted ice off his fur. "It will take more than that." Lapras was faster in the water than on land and uneven terrain made it even more difficult to move. "If it's sharp ice that you want, then you shall have it, ice shard."

"Be careful, Foxtrot!" The Flareon jumped from one piece of ice to another and ran between the protruding frozen shards as fast as he could. He narrowly dodged most of the incoming projectiles, and melted a few that he couldn't dodge on time. "Use flamethrower to melt the ice and get closer!"

"A useless tactic, Lapras, that's enough ice shards, now use hydro pump!" Winter changed her strategy.

Foxtrot couldn't use his fire as a defense, so the only thing left to do was muster the speed to dodge the hits. "Quick attack!" The Flareon hurried to get out of the way, but he was too close to Lapras and couldn't move fast enough. The hydro pump hit him and sent him flying across the broken icy field. "Foxtrot!" The fire pokemon struggled to get up. The water was so cold he couldn't help it but to shiver from the hit.

"Ice beam!" Lapras was intent on encasing the opposing pokemon on ice and ending the battle.

"Overheat!" Jonathan hoped that Foxtrot had enough energy left for that. He was too cold and tiny icicles were already clinging to his tail and mane. He had to warm up or it was over. A thick mist invaded the arena as ice collided against fire. "Quick attack, go in a spiral!" Foxtrot emerged from the mist in his final effort.

"Lapras, hydro pump!" Lapras shot consecutive powerful water attacks, but couldn't turn in a circle fast enough to hit Foxtrot. Winter knew that if Lapras stayed still, the Flareon would change tactics and be able to position himself behind the water type even faster. "Body slam where you are and hydro pump again!" Though it was painful to break the sharp ice around Lapras, it was the fastest way to gain access to speedier and more accurate movements. With the ice beneath Lapras' body being smoothed, he could easily spin around and shoot hydro pumps in any direction.

"Foxtrot, flame thrower ahead, keep it above ground!" Just as Lapras was ready to attack, Foxtrot released his fire and melted the obstacles, sliding forward on the slippery ice just on time to dodge the majority of the hydro pump when only touched the tip of his tail. Another hydro pump would soon follow, so something needed to be done soon, "fire blast at Lapras, aim low!"

No matter what Lapras did, the distraction would work. Stopping the fire blast with hydro pump would buy some time for the Flareon to approach from behind, and if the fire was ignored, it would melt the ice Lapras stood on and the water pokemon would splash down into the pool, also creating a distraction. "Water pulse!"

"Ember!" It wasn't a strong attack, but it was all that could be done. Jonathan knew that if he pushed Foxtrot to produce more fire than that he might faint from the effort, besides, the fire wasn't being used as an offensive move, but rather a defense to make opening a path easier. Dizzy and looking confused, Foxtrot jumped on Lapras' shell.

"Hydro pump!" Winter urged, no one had the skill or the guts to get their pokemon that close to Lapras before.

"Last resort!" Foxtrot bit Lapras' long neck, preventing the water pokemon from bending it enough to aim at him. He clawed and tried to choke the water type in a struggling effort.

Lapras cried out and struggled against him, but ultimately fainted. "An unexpected outcome, Lapras, return. Is it a draw or did you actually win?"

Without Lapras below him, Foxtrot was left motionless, save for his shivering. "Foxtrot, say something," Jonathan had never battled this hard with any of his pokemon before.

The Flareon slowly lifted his head and replied in a shaky voice, "flareon flare..." He attempted to stand if only for a moment, but simply didn't have the strength to do so. A wave of dizziness invaded his aching head and the world went black.

"Foxtrot?" Jonathan had ran to him. No doubt about it, he had fainted. "You did great, that was an epic battle. I'll get you healed soon, return." With his loyal companion back in his pokeball, Jonathan looked at Winter. "My pokemon fainted too, so I guess it's a draw?"

"No, Lapras clearly fainted first, you've earned this badge." Winter's badge was also shaped like a little rocket, it was blue with a tiny red R. "I congratulate you for coming this far, agents, you've almost finished the challenge."

"Almost?" Volt inquired. "You mean the battle with Electro, right? I'm ready!"

"The general is not a part of this challenge, if you have an additional battle to tend to, you can do so after you finish the seasons challenge. You've obtained what you came for, the four Rocket badges, but even after you accomplish your goal, there will be more obstacles to come. Now you must battle for the right to leave this area and truly complete the challenge by exiting the winter zone by proving that you're not at your last drop of power. After all, Rockets must rely on more than just luck," Winter explained. "I want a rematch with you," she looked at Jonathan like a hunter looks at prey, but I also want to battle Giovanni's granddaughter," she mused. "I'll battle you both, at the same time with my strongest pokemon. Go Altaria!" The majestic cloud bird emerged from the pokeball, extending massive fluffy wings as if beckoning a fierce storm. "I usually only use my water and ice pokemon for this type of battles and don't bother my Altaria with weak challenges, but this occasion is special. Call out your pokemon, Altaria will defeat them both!"

Jonathan and Ashimi exchanged glances and called out the only pokemon they each had left. Furball was certainly a strong challenger, but Nya was so inexperienced in comparison to the others that Jonathan couldn't help it but to worry about her.

"Altaria, sing!" The large cloud bird began to sing a sweet melody.

"Furball, stop that song, thunder!" Ashimi urged her pokemon to go on the attack before the song put them all to sleep. Altaria took to the skies without stopping the song. "Don't stop, keep shooting electricity until you hit her." Finally, Furball's efforts paid off and Altaria was silenced at last.

The powerful bird shook off the effects of the attack and kept on flying. "Sky attack," Winter commanded.

"Furball, watch out!" The Meowth jumped out of the way as Altaria swooped down, waking him out of the remnants of drowsiness. The dragon bird attack again, turning on the air and rapidly returning from the other side. That time Furball couldn't dodge fast enough and the attack hit, throwing him several feet back. "She's coming again, you have to get up!"

"Nya, wake up," the lavender kitten had quickly succumbed to the effects of the earlier sweet melody and was still napping. "C'mon Nya, get up, we're in the middle of a battle here!" No matter how much he called her, the small Purloin wouldn't wake up and if he directly interfered that would only get him disqualified.

Altaria positioned herself above Furball before he could move out of the way. "Dragon breath!" It was a direct hit from above.

Furball was knocked to the ground painfully, just as he had been managing to stand. He let out a loud pained meow as he received the full strength of Altaria's attack. Nya's eyes finally opened at the sound of the alarmed cry and she looked around in confusion, wondering if it was all part of a strange dream. "Nya, use night slash!" The kitten only meowed in confusion and ran over to Furball. "Okay then, use scratch."

Altaria landed next to the two felines. Nya looked up at the new arrival and finally looked like she was going to do something. She walked over to Altaria and cuddled her cloud-like feathers, purring contently. She returned to Furball's side and cheerfully encouraged him to join her in playing with that soft pokemon that came from the sky.

Altaria picked up Nya by the fur on the back of her neck and placed her on the side lines. "Sending an untrained pokemon to battle, I wonder I if should take your badge away."

"Nya's a good pokemon, she just takes a moment to really get into the battle," Jonathan excused. "C'mon Nya, we need to win this, go back out there and help Furball!"

Altaria focused on the Meowth."This should be over soon," Winter mused aloud. "Pluck!"

Furball scrambled to get out of the way of Altaria's sharp beak. "Run for it Furball!" Digging through the jagged ice wouldn't work. Ashimi would have to wait for an opportunity to attack. Altaria's beak went down, missing Furball by a hair. As the dragon bird lifted her head to attack again, Ashimi called out, "thunder!"

The attack hit and Altaria backed away. "Still have some fight left in you," Winter laughed. "Draco meteor!" Altaria's body glowed as she summoned a rain of meteors.

Furball dodged several of the falling space rocks, but had no chance to counter attack. The meteors were coming too fast and one of them crashed into him. "Furball!" The feline heard his trainer and tried to get up, but it was all happening too fast.

Nya meowed in distressed complaint, as if telling Jonathan that the pillowy pokemon was hurting her friend. "Yes, I know Altaria is hurting Furball. This is a battle and you're supposed to be helping him. Do you understand? Go help him!"

"Dragon rush!" Before Furball could recover, Altaria went on the attack again. It looked as if the attack would end the match, but there was a flash of light and Furball was gone. "What?" Winter spotted the two young felines several feet away behind Altaria. "It's as if they teleported, but how could that be?" She locked her beast-like blue eyes on the Purrloin and hissed like a wild cat, "there is definitely something strange about that Purrloin."

"Can you still fight, Furball?" Ashimi asked with concern and her feline friend nodded stubbornly, he wasn't about to give up as long as he was conscious. "Don't worry about moving, save your energy for attacking. Johnny, I'll leave the movement to Nya."

"Right," Jonathan agreed. "Nya, keep teleporting when I tell you to, okay? Make sure you take Furball with you, now jump on the pillow." Nya meowed eagerly and teleported along with Furball. The pillow was Altaria and the two cats appeared on her back.

"Water pulse!" Furball attacked with the liquid element, the liquid being absorbed by Altaria's fluffy cloud wings like sponges.

"Dragon pulse!" Altaria turned her long neck to attack the two felines that had dared to jump on her back.

"Teleport!" Yet before the dragon bird could attack, the cats were gone. Altaria went after them again. "Wait for it... Teleport!" Nya made Furball and herself disappear at the last second.

The felines appeared on top of Altaria again, "thunder!" Furball attacked on Ashimi's signal. The fact that Altaria's cloudy feathers were filled with water intensified the effect of the electric attack. When Altaria tried to counter attack, Nya teleported them to safety again.

"Fly high, Altaria!" Winter urged. The large bird flapped her static filled wings and uncomfortably gained altitude. "Sky attack!" Nya was able to teleport out of the way on time, along with Furball, but Altaria was moving too fast for them to jump on her back. "Mist!" A thick foggy veil invaded the arena, making ot impossible to see. "Draco Meteor!" The rocks fell at random in great speeds.

"This is really intense!" Dorme exclaimed.

A meteor crashed near Volt, "tell me about it!"

"Nya, don't stay still, keep teleporting!" That should keep them safe from Altaria's attack, but no doubt Nya was getting tired by now and Furball was pushing himself beyond the limit as it was.

"Focus Furball, watch out for a chance to use thunder on my signal!" Ashimi tried to sense Altaria's location, "now!" But the dragon bird was constantly on the move too fast for the electric attack to hit. "Try again!"

"Dragon claw!" The draco meteor attack ended, but the mist had not cleared out and Altaria was looking for her targets, trying to grab them with her talons.

'There has to be something I can do,' Jonathan thought. If only he had a better understanding of what Nya could do, he could come up with some kind of strategy. Nya meowed loudly in complaint, she must have gotten tired of teleporting, which meant the two cats were now like defenseless sitting Farfetchd. 'Nya exhausted her ability to teleport for now, but there must be something else she can do, something different from what a regular Purrloin could do.'

The sun was starting to raise in the horizon, indicating that the twenty-four hour period would end in just a couple of hours. "Sunny day!" Winter took advantage of the sun to dispel the mist that was no longer needed as a cover for Altaria, now that her opponents were no longer rapidly teleporting around. The sun brightened, reflecting off the ice in blinding rays that where more uncomfortable due to the early morning angle. The icy arena looked as if it was frozen and on fire at the same time. "Altaria, finish this, dragon claw!"

"Barrier!" Jonathan wasn't sure if it would work, but surprisingly it did. Altaria's sharp talons collided with a field of energy that protected the two felines. Jonathan knew that Nya could use scratch attacks, she had seen her do it with a scratching post, but other than that, she had not shown the ability to use any other offensive moves. Maybe defense was her specialty, then maybe... "Heal pulse!"

Furball was energized by Nya's healing energy and once again ready to go on the attack. "Thunder!"

"Altaria, fly!" The battle had turned out to be longer than Winter expected. Usually, Altaria finished her opponents quickly without this back and forth of offense and defense.

"Gravity!" The dragon bird tried to dodge the incoming electric attacks, but her body felt very heavy as Nya focused her psychic powers on increasing the gravity in the area. As a result, Altaria could not escape and was trapped in the continuous electric discharge of the powerful Meowth.

Altaria let out a loud screech and one last dragon pulse before finally fainting. The two felines were thrown back by the force of the attack and left unable to stand, but none the less conscious, even if it was just barely. "Altaria, return, you finally faced worthy opponents, my friend."

The tired cats were recalled to rest in their pokeballs among congratulations and cheers of celebration.

Winter approached the trainers. "You may exit the winter zone and officially claim victory over this training course. However, you are required to do so via the subway on the other side of this mountain. Follow me," Winter approached the edge of the small mountain, opposite to the side from where they came and jumped.

Ashimi, Jonathan, Dorme and Volt made their way down more carefully. Their curiosity for Winter increased. She wore a revealing outfit in the freezing cold and was not bother by it. The distance of the fall wouldn't be enough to kill someone, unless they had a really bad landing, but it should be enough to seriously hurt and at least sprain an ankle or something. Then there was the possibility of her eyes not being contact lenses after all.

Winter led the group to a cave on the other side of the mountain. The tunnel led to a subway station with a bullet train in another pipe-like tunnel. "You may board, the train is programmed to follow the proper path, so you don't need to steer it, although you still need to provide the energy yourself, with a pokemon you haven't used yet, as per the ongoing rules."

The group looked at Winter with expressions of surprise. They had already called upon all their pokemon except Volt's Elekid, whom he was saving for the battle with Electro. There was no other choice, so Volt called him out. The group boarded the long metal train and the front cabin's door closed. Inside they found a control panel depicting a map that showed the preprogrammed route that would take them from the northern Kanto mountains, where they were, to the Viridian Rocket headquarters. There was also a clock counting down how much time was left before twenty-four hours passed since the start of the training course, and there wasn't much time left.

"We're not done with this training yet, the only way to win is by winning this final race." Volt observed the glass-like orb set on a thin yet strong pedestal in the middle of the control cabin. The screen scrolled instructions below the map indicating that they should charge the orb with electricity. Elekid got to work on that and the train began to move faster and faster as Elekid's charge increased. "Don't stop, Elekid, keep a steady charge going and we'll make it back to Viridian on time!"

"So, what do you think Winter is?" Dorme asked conversationally.

"Here come the theories..." Jonathan commented. "Not a vampire and not a werewolf, definitely not a sparkly version of either of those."

"An exceptionally dedicated athlete?" Volt asked unsure.

"Human with special powers?" Ashimi suggested. It was logical, but it didn't sound as grand as it actually was.

The door from the second wagon to the control cabin suddenly opened. The four trainers were focused on their conversation and the energy transfer from Elekid to the train. They jumped in surprise and froze when they saw who it was. "Battle?" They whispered guardedly.

"Not here, we'd best not overload the train, perhaps another time," Winter calmly replied. They had not seen her board another wagon further down the train. "As for what I am, the answer is a mutated human." A long silenced passed. Finally, Winter tilted her head and the four staring young Rockets mimicked the action in curious expectant silence. "Is there a purpose for your staring?" Though when battling, Winter was in her element, just as much as when she was filming music videos, when she was not either fighting or projecting a scripted persona for the media, she was somewhat awkward.

Ashimi, Jonathan, Dorme and Volt exchanged looks, then finally Ashimi asked again. "We're curious. Could you explained?"

Winter nodded, "I see no reason to withhold such information from members of Team Rocket." She began a rather automatic, somewhat mechanical explanation. It wasn't a conversation, it was providing an answer to a question, as if it was a completely impersonal matter. "The media only knows that I was orphaned at a young age and raised by relatives. My mother's name was Nana, she gave me no name. My father had no true name, but people called him the Bloody Killer, and he still holds the strongly standing record for most direct, single handedly committed murders by an individual."

Ignoring the wide eyed shock in the others' faces, Winter continued. "Nana was obsessed with the legendary serial killer and spent a long time stalking him. She caught up to him in a few occasions, but they didn't stay together for long. Looking back on her morbid obsession I know for certain she had to be insane. After a while, she gave birth to me and took me along in her quest to find the Bloody Killer again. She was not a caring mother and didn't like me very much, perhaps disappointed that I didn't have a stronger killer instinct."

"Eventually, the Bloody Killer must have gotten tired of his stalker, because he killed her, though for some unknown reason he spared me. I lived in the wild, north of Kanto, close to the Johto border for a while until Team Rocket found me. I was sent to a laboratory, but Delia found out and snuck me out. Giovanni was opposed to her actions at first, he must have thought I was going to kill her, since I did seriously injure several Rocket agents during the whole process and perhaps some might have died. Yet Delia insisted on teaching me many things, such as how to live among humans," Winter explained.

"Delia named me Stella and introduced me to my grandfather and uncle, who like her, were also nice to me. She also gave me Swablu, who evolved into Altaria. Thus I grew up in Team Rocket with my adoptive mother, Delia, my grandfather, Luke, my uncle Comet and aunt Pixel and Laiki." Winter let out a breath as she finished her explanation. "That was not difficult to explain..." She said it more so to herself than her audience. "Then why didn't I tell him?"

Stella, alias Winter, shook the thoughts away and once again focused on the young Rockets looking at her. "What is it? Have you forgotten that both Comet and the Bloody Killer were modified clones of Luke, thus in a sense his sons? That would make me Luke's granddaughter and Comet's niece. It's a pity that I didn't get to meet my cousin Zero."

Ashimi finally found her voice, "so that makes you my relative too. Since my maternal grandfather was Luke's cousin and all."

"That is true," Stella agreed, though her thoughts seemed set on wandering elsewhere.

Ashimi handed her Zero's data crystal for a moment. "I'll bring him back somehow."

Stella held the data crystal. She had a special perception similar to a pokemon's instinct and sensed a familiar feeling from the crystal. "You have a unique talent, if anyone can awaken him, it will be you." After holding the crystal for a moment, Stella returned it to Ashimi. "However, I must also warn you, I sense danger, as if an evil force is preying upon your soul." Those ominous words hung heavily in the air, threatening to fall when they least expected.

Unsure of what the danger was and when it would strike, the winter Rocket elite left the topic at that and instead revealed something that was a smaller but more immediate issue. "You will have to increase the power of the train in order to make it back to Viridian on time. We are close to the point where it will begin to meet resistance. I will leave you to it." The white haired singer paused at the exit of the front wagon that led to the next one and glanced at Jonathan. "Your Purrloin hardly notices she's different, don't change that." Winter headed into the next section and towards the back of the train.

xoxox xox xoxox

Meanwhile, at the Viridian Rocket headquarters, general Electro entered Dr. Laiki's office early in the morning. The pokemon doctor was yawning and putting away some equipment and materials that looked distinctly not medical. "Oh, hey, how's it going, Thor? Here to get your pokemon checked out? Did you come across another inexplicably colored creature?"

"Not exactly," Electro admitted. He told himself that he couldn't keep the curiosity to himself for much longer and asked, "can you tell me about White Star?"

"Of course," Laiki smiled teasingly. "What do you want to know? How to get tickets for her next concert? The title of her next upcoming song? Her measurements?"

"None of those," Electro stopped her before she continued listing random things.

"Good, because I wasn't going to tell you," Laiki grinned. "If you want to know any of that stuff you can get the information from her official website. Now tell me, what juicy detail do you seek? But remember this, I will only tell you what I know she wouldn't mind me telling people."

Electro went to the point. "What is she? Some kind of cyborg, or a full android? Are her limbs robotic like Pixel?"

Laiki shook her head, "Pixel doesn't have robotic limbs, she has robotic armor, but she still keeps all her original limbs. While robotic limbs are quite strong, they are less precise with small details due to a reduced sense of tact. Making armor that can transmit tact to the skin under it is relatively easy, but making synthetic skin that can transmit tact to the brain with the precision of real skin, not so easy. White Star doesn't have robotic limbs either, she's not even a cyborg."

"But she's not an ordinary human," Electro insisted. "I've seen what she can do." He recalled running into her at headquarters earlier and inviting her to go out.

xoxox xox xoxox

Electro remembered White Star's words of rejection with their peculiar phrasing, "I have no intentions of seeking a mate, therefore no reason to participate in any courtship rituals."

She had walked away and he had tried to follow her. "Wait, hear me out a second." Feeling ignored he placed a hand very lightly on her shoulder, bare with her usual tube top. He hardly even touched her but felt as if he had his hand on her bones, as the texture was not as flexible as skin should be. It was odd because she was slender, but by no means bony. Yet the strangest thing was her temperature. It was so hot he couldn't explain why she wasn't in an emergency room with a team of doctors fussing over her fever.

White Star had paused in her walk, grabbed his wrist and shove him against the wall. "Do not touch me."

Electro was shocked by the sudden strong force and could only stutter, "what are you?" Confusion and surprise clear on his face.

White Star looked as if she would answer his question, but paused as if she wasn't sure that she really wanted to, and instead punched a hole in the wall next to his head. "Ask someone else," she walked away without looking back.

Electro couldn't explain the odd event or the hole in the wall. He could certainly punch holes through walls with ease, but his muscular physique made it pretty obvious. How could slender White Star be so strong?

xoxox xox xoxox

After some inner debate, Electro had decided to do exactly what White Star suggested and go asked someone else. That took him to the Viridian headquarters' pokemon clinic, where he intended to consult Laiki's vast knowledge about business that was not her own. The doctor giggled at the general's conclusion that White Star was no ordinary human. "No kidding, general obvious. Let me give you a little science lesson about androids, cyborgs and mutants. It's not my field of expertise, but I think I can manage explaining the basics clearly enough. Of course the real science behind it all is much more complex, but these are the concepts."

Laiki began her explanation by stating a few facts. "Androids are robots that look and for the most part act like living creatures, they are fully mechanical. Virtual androids are the same thing, but they don't start out with a physical form. They are materialized from the virtual plane to the physical world with a technique similar to that used for Porygon. Mutants are humans with different genetics than regular humans which can greatly vary. They can either be mutated at some point in their lives or be born with the genetic differences. Naturally, there are genetic differences between all humans, but I'm talking about bigger stuff than just a few details."

With the vocabulary out of the way, Laiki continued her explanation. "I'm sure you must have heard someone say that matter is mostly empty space. Well in certain types of mutants that empty space is reduced allowing for more matter to fit into a visually smaller space. The tighter fit also means higher temperatures, but those temperatures would be normal in relation to the biology of that type of body. It happened to Comet and it happened to Stella. And that, is why Comet only needs to be attractively well toned to pack a punch a normal human would need ridiculously big muscles to deliver, kind of like yours. Although he still has enough empty space to keep his skin with a flexible texture."

Laiki continued, while Electro listen with curious attention. "As for Stella, alias White Star, alias Winter, she's in a class of her own when it comes to making good use of her empty space. Her matter is much more compressed than Comet's, which means a higher body temperature and a rock hard built in a tiny, deceivingly fragile figure. Technically, she is more solid than steel. Her cells have flexibility in the sense that she can move and has plenty of agility, but if you poke her, her skin won't bent slightly inward like it would for the rest of us, because there's just no place for those cells to go in the space already occupied by other cells."

"If you were to literally try to sweep her off her feet," Laiki joked, "you'd find that she is quite heavy, because even if she looks thin, she has an incredible amount of muscle tissue packed into the small visually perceivable area she occupies. As for her origin, it has to be kept a secret from the media, but she usually doesn't have any problems with telling Rockets about it. The whole not being ashamed of her origin lesson was something she learned all too well."

Laiki looked thoughtful, "I'm surprised she didn't tell you the story herself. Maybe she was busy and in a hurry to be somewhere else and didn't have time to answer any questions or maybe you pissed her off. If it's the second one, I'd be shaking in my boots if I were you, she didn't get to be a Rocket elite because of her pretty voice."

"She had no reason to feel offended," Electro pouted.

Laiki giggled, "aw, don't get all adorably pouty now. She shoots down every man that tries to ask her out. That's what happened, wasn't it?" Electro didn't answer, but he didn't have to, Laiki had heard similar stories before. "If it's a celebrity asking her out, she just says she's too busy with her music. If it's a Rocket she talks about her story and that's enough to scare off most suitors. If not, a quick demonstration of her massive strength and grown men will run and hide like scared children before she snaps them in half. You know what? Since you're such a giant and have such giant muscles, maybe you'll actually be durable enough to survive a hug without being crushed."

Electro let out a breath in exasperation and leaned back on the chair that was clearly too small for him. He said nothing, so Laiki broke the silence with a laugh. "I'm just kidding, Delia had Stella making origami pokemon until she learned to control her strength. Her first single, Paper Heart, wasn't about heartbreak like the media assumed, it was about learning to fit in."

"So what is her story?" Electro finally asked, "but first tell me what that weird smelly stuff was you were putting away when I got here. Was it part of some experiment?"

"Silly rumors," Laiki rolled her eyes with mild amusement. "I'm not conducting Frankenstein style pokemon experiments in here. If you must know, mister curious, that smelly stuff happened to be top quality vitamin enriched hair dye. I finally got around to drag Comet over here and dye his hair back to orange. I told him to leave the white hair to his niece."

"His niece?" Electro blinked in confusion. "I didn't know he had a niece."

"Stella," Laiki grinned in amusement at Electro's surprise. She then proceeded to tell him the story about the Bloody Killer and his crazy fan girl.

After a long silence, Electro finally found his voice. "That movie that's coming out next year, 'The Killer's Apprentice,' is based on that, isn't it?"

"Very loosely," Laiki replied. "Whoever wrote the script probably based it on old rumors and urban legends, and likely had no idea the Bloody Killer actually had a psycho fan girl. They most likely just wanted an excuse to add a costar and throw in some romance. It'll probably turn out to be a collection of stupidly romantic sexy murder scenes."

"When done right in a movie, murder scenes can be exciting and suspenseful, but it's not easy to picture a romantic sexy murder," Electro admitted.

"Unless the murder victim gets revenge by coming back as a zombie to seduce the killer," Laiki grinned mischievously.

Electro thought the concept was very odd. "Is there really a movie about that?" He thought the question was stupid after he had already asked it, because the answer to that question, no matter how odd the concept was, would always be an resoundingly obvious yes.

But instead all Laiki said was, "role play."

"A video game?" Electro assumed.

"Never mind," Laiki returned to the main subject. "Like I said, Stella usually has no qualms about sharing the gory details of her past, so I don't know why she punched a wall over it."

Electro blinked, "did I mention she punched a wall?" He thought about it, but he didn't recall voicing it.

"Details, details," Laiki disregarded. "Maybe she thinks you and Comet were fighting for real when you were helping him not be so berserk. By the way, it looks like he got that under control. Anyway, I doubt that's the cause, she would have mentioned it to Comet and he would have clarified. Maybe you did something else to make her be so... unwilling to communicate."

"I can't think of anything I could have done to upset her, but thanks for the info." Electro tried to get out of the chair but found that it was stuck, which sent Laiki into a fit of giggles. He wasn't fat, in fact he was all muscle, but muscle occupied plenty of space and was quite heavy. Electro finally managed to pry the chair off and stood to his full towering height. He tried to look indifferent to the chair incident and exit the doctors' office with as much dignity as he could muster.

When Laiki finally got her laughter under control, Electro was already gone. She spun on her chair to face the desk and began to look over some patient files on the computer. "Or maybe she just likes you..." She mused aloud.

xoxox xox xoxox

Meanwhile, Ashimi, Jonathan, Dorme and Volt were almost to Viridian City, though Elekid was clearly exhausted. They tried to cheer him on, but the train felt heavy and they were running out of time. Elekid whimpered and mumbled what sounded like an apology. "Don't give up, Elekid, it's not over yet!" Volt tried to encourage him, but Elekid's electricity was diminishing and the train was slowing down. "C'mon, don't lose the momentum, soldier!"

Ashimi placed her hand on Volt's shoulder and her felt silent and she stepped forward. "Rest up Elekid, we don't want you to get hurt." Everyone, Elekid included, stared at her in shock. "Isn't that what's most important, Volt? After all, we all know how hard trying none stop is."

"Yes, of course," Volt nodded. "I don't mean to make you suffer. I just didn't want you to give up because I know you have it in you. Sorry Elekid, I didn't mean to push you so hard, I just really trust you and believe in you."

Elekid smiled and started charging the train again. The vehicle resumed its movement against the forces that felt as if they held it back. The power was being rerouted to a reserve as part of the test which meant that less was spared for the movement of the train itself, giving the impression that it was heavier.

As Volt watched Elekid power the train, he realized that he had been pushing Elekid hard, just as Electro probably did when he was his pokemon. Maybe that's why Elekid's brother evolved and he didn't, the pressure got to him. Ashimi must have been able to sense that, how did he not notice it about his own pokemon? Well, better late than never. Volt felt as if he had learned quite a few lessons from that training, they all had. Things could only get better now.

xoxox xox xoxox

The train finally arrived at the Viridian Rocket headquarters and the clock on the display panel froze with only one minute and eleven seconds to spare. The group let out a collective breath of relief as they thanked and congratulated Elekid for his efforts.

Winter entered the front of the train and officially declared the training over, adding an explanation. "If you had failed to get here on time, the train's autopilot would have moved it to another area where the penalty training would take place."

The train's door opened and the group exited to find Electro already waiting there to see the train stop or move on, in which case he would need to hurry to its alternate destination as well. He was really hoping that it would stop and chose to wait there to show he did think it would. He was glad to see that the train stopped and surprised to find that Winter was in it. "White Star, what a surprise to see you here."

"I was scheduled to report to headquarters and there was no reason to doubt they would be able to provide enough power to complete the final challenge of the new seasons training," White Star replied.

"They made you that confident in their skill? Good, good," Electro laughed. While he tried to think of a way to talk to White Star for a little longer, his stalling was interrupted by one of his pokeballs going off. There was a flash of light, but they didn't see the beam extend out to release the creature it contained. Instead they witnessed Electro doing a funny little dance. "Stop it! Don't crawl up my back!"

A small unknown thing appeared on Electro's right shoulder, peeked its little blue head out of his sleeve, crawled to his other side and repeated the action. Then the fuzzy blue thing crawled up his neck and the side of his face to perch on his head. "Pichu!"

All eyes remained on the small creature as a few quiet, "aw," drifted through the air.

White Star curiously looked at the tiny pokemon that Electro was removing from his head. The creature was small and his hands were big, so he was able to fit her in his palm. "May I?" White Star reached out and picked up the Pichu. She seemed to be a normal Pichu in every aspect, save for the fact that she was blue. The singer petted the Pichu, who giggled contently.

"Pikablue wasn't a joke?" Volt stared. When Surge's couple of Raichu had their first Pichu, Electro already had pokemon of his own and decided to let his younger brother keep the new pokemon as his starter. However, he mentioned that if they had another, he wanted to train the next one. When Surge emailed that Volt's Raichu now had a baby sister and that she was blue, thus She was nicknamed Pikablue, Volt assumed that it was all part of a practical joke.

"No, she's real alright, mischievous little thing. No one can figure out why she's blue. In every other way she's a normal Pichu, with normal Pichu abilities, as far as science can tell anyway. Mom says Rina might have eaten something odd before laying the egg," Electro explained. "No one knows for sure why this happened, but regardless of the color I'm training this pokemon to be strong!"

White Star handed the blue Pichu back to his trainer. "Treat this pokemon well or I'll kill you."

Electro was taken aback at first, but it didn't take him long to process that if Winter was going to keep an eye on Pikablue, that meant they would be running into each other every now and then. "Yes, ma'am!" He grinned cheerfully. People didn't usually respond to her glaring death threats with such a positive attitude, which made the famous White Star muse that the Rocket general was even stranger than she thought. She began to leave and Electro called out to her, "I guess I'll see you around, White Star..."

She paused and for a moment Electro thought he should get ready to dodge a punch, a kick, or both. Yet the white haired elite merely glanced back and said, "call me Stella." Then she swiftly left without another word.

"Stella," Electro grinned like a dumbstruck idiot as he recalled Pikablue. The quiet murmurs coming from the four young Rockets standing nearby made him snap out of it and recover his serious composure. "Attention!"

Volt, Jonathan, Dorme, Ashimi, and Elekid, who had not yet been recalled, all stood straight and saluted military style. "Our battle," Volt began, after a silent moment. Elekid stood beside him and tried to look ready. "Will have to wait," the Vermilion gym leader finished. Elekid stared and tried to protest. "Now isn't the right time, Elekid," Volt reasoned with him. "I realized I had a lot to learn and wasn't training you quite right. Next time, we'll be ready to win."

"Sounds like you got a little wiser," Electro noted. "I hope you all did. It would make me look bad as a trainer if my best summer and winter students and my own brother couldn't get through this training, even if it was designed to be ridiculously hard. And if Giovanni's granddaughter couldn't make it, that would make Team Rocket as a whole look bad."

'No pressure,' Ashimi quietly thought sarcastically.

'Lucky, I can do it all for you,' a voice in her head replied to her thoughts. It was a warped and impossible to identify echo of a distorted sound. She couldn't tell if it was male or female and didn't even know how she could understand what it said.

A cold chill ran down her spine, but she pushed the sudden panicked feeling aside. 'It's because my earrings are cracked,' Ashimi reasoned. 'I'm just being over sensitive to the auras around me again. I managed to overcome it once and I won't let it get to me again.' She tried to remain calm and made no clear outward indication of discomfort, beyond what could be attributed to being tired.

Electro had continued his speech in ways that surprised the others. "I didn't want to credit you too much so it wouldn't go to your head, but you've all done very well. Just make sure you don't slack off! Volt, we'll battle whenever you're ready. Until then, train hard and find a way to give the Elekid some real confidence, not just in appearances, I'm sure Electivire will be happy to see his brother grow strong... At ease, soldiers!"

Electro left the four surprised young Rockets to muse over his words. Was the way he acted his own way to show his trust and confidence in their abilities? Did that last part mean that he was also happy for his brother? Perhaps the terrible Thor wasn't so terrible after all, but they wouldn't let him catch them with their guard down.

To be Continued

xoxox xox xoxox


Chapter 33: Beauty

Ashimi, Dorme, Jonathan and Volt were finally well rested after the Rocket League. They had watched the video of the winter zone maze they slept through, had more snow food and got ready to continue their training... Right after the holidays. The group stepped out to the Viridian Forest, which was just as green as always.

"I remember there used to be snow here when I was little," Ashimi looked up at the foliage that thickly covered the skies in green. Her Pikachu, whom she called Lightning, as there were a few chus in her family, was riding on her shoulder, having grown too big to be a comfortable hat.

"It used to," Jonathan recalled, but the mutant trees pass chemicals to the trees above them and they keep things warm, Kanto is a tropical area now, except in the mountains up north, it still snows naturally there every now and then."

"It's almost Christmas," Dorme reminded. "After the holidays, the Indigo League will be right around the corner in the spring."

"I need to go shopping," Volt grimaced. "My brother will probably send a bunch of expensive and possibly lethal trinkets to our relatives as if he were shopping for himself with no thought what so ever for what use they could have for that stuff. At least I can beat him in sending thoughtful gifts... Even if I'm kind of bad at picking stuff."

"Don't worry about that, now you have us to help you shop, we can all shop together!" Dorme cheered.

Volt wasn't sure if he should be thankful for the help or plotting his escape. Jonathan tried to remain unnoticed, but he knew they would drag him along too.

"Let's do our Christmas shopping online this year," Ashimi suggested, surprising everyone.

Dorme gasped and protested. "What about the thrill of going from store to store in a Christmas present treasure hunt?"

"We won't have time for it if we're going to accomplish the mission to make it snow!" Ashimi declared. "Even if Kanto is a tropical environment now, we can still make it snow, that's what artificial climate control is for. I'll ask grandpa if we can borrow some machines and have a white Christmas this year!" Before her friends had the opportunity to point out the flaws in her plan, Ashimi had ran off back inside.

xoxox xox xoxox

A few minutes later at Giovanni's office, the Rocket boss found himself shaking his head and trying to reason with his granddaughter. "No snow, it'll ruin the crops being farmed east of Viridian and that's become Kanto's primary supply of fruits and vegetables."

"I'm sure they'll be fine," Ashimi tried to sound convincing.

"If you want to cause a famine in Kanto, wait until you're the boss, then you can terrorize the world however you want." It was hard to say if Giovanni was being sarcastic or not.

"I won't make it snow in the farms," Ashimi changed tactics, "only in the Viridian Forest!"

"The forest is too warm, the snow will turn to rain," Giovanni reasoned. "If you want snow, just go to one of the climate control rooms."

"But it's not the same," Ashimi pouted. "I know, how about I borrow one of the big climate control machines in the poles? They have two in each pole anyway and they only need one to work. That has to make things cold enough!"

"Absolutely not," Giovanni spoke so harshly it made Ashimi fall silent and step back. "You will not touch those machines, young lady. It's too risky if the primary pole freezing mechanism fails and there's no backup. Do you know how fast the polar caps will melt and how much land will be flooded?"

"But what if we had a ship and-" Ashimi was interrupted.

"We are not going to fill a server with two of each pokemon, put it on a ship and digitalize ourselves into it like in that movie Noah's Matrix or whatever it's called. The earth's atmosphere is too warm, so the sea level wouldn't go down for centuries," Giovanni explained. "We'd be stuck living on the ship for the rest of our lives. Plus human digitalization hasn't been achieved," though not for lack of trying. "You can cause mass extinction by flooding when you're the boss, but I just don't have the energy left to deal with another mass panic and near apocalypse."

"Queen," Ashimi quietly corrected, reminding him of her wish to turn Team Rocket into a prosperous kingdom. "And I don't want to destroy my own kingdom."

"Then I suggest you don't let the poles melt," Giovanni voiced with finality.

Ashimi sighed and quieted for a moment, then cheered up as an idea came to her. "We should have a Christmas party in the north pole! We won't touch the climate control, I promise! We'll just build harmless snow men a reasonable distance away!"

Giovanni knew that getting Ashimi to give up on something was like getting Ash to give up on something: near impossible. "I suppose that's alright. I'll grant you and your friends access to the north pole, but do not mess with the climate control. The fact that Team Rocket keeps the poles from melting and causing massive floods all over the world is part of the reason why the world is so compliant and I don't want that getting ruined," Giovanni emphasized. Never mind that it was because of Team Rocket, their mutant rain forests, and rearranging of tropical territories that the polar melting had become an immediate critical issue rather than something to worry about in the next five hundred years. But hey, if you could replace it, breaking it wasn't such a big deal after all.

"I thought it was because of the radioactive laser satellites," Ashimi voiced.

"That too, but people have been worked up about the poles melting since your parents were small children, so they've had time to imagine all sorts of possible scenarios. When it became an immediate issue, people were convinced the world was going to end and that every bit of land would be covered in water. The latter would have been fairly accurate. You were only a toddler at the time and probably had no idea what was going on. You were cranky about not being allowed to play outside until the great flood threat was over," Giovanni recalled.

"Wow, that must have been... Interesting," Ashimi laughed.

Giovanni smiled, "and very chaotic, but ultimately, I decided it wasn't my style after all. I prefer to actually have a world to rule over."

"I promise to behave and not bring forth the apocalypse," Ashimi smiled sweetly.

xoxox xox xoxox

Ashimi exited her grandfather's office to the hallway where her friends were waiting. "We can't make it snow in Kanto without causing a famine and we can't borrow the poles' machinery to focus the snow in the warm Viridian Forest without risking massive floods all over the world and mass extinction for various species. So instead we're just going to visit the north pole."

"Sounds good, I've heard that no one is allowed near the poles with the exception of Team Rocket." Volt thought it might be an interesting experience.

"And Team Flop, but don't call them that," Jonathan commented.

"What's Team Flop?" Ashimi inquired.

"It stands for Flood Prevention, but there's supposed to be a story behind the nickname," Jonathan replied.

"I heard about that!" Dorme exclaimed. "Team Flop is actually Team Magma, or what was left of it at the time when people panicked over the poles melting and flooding the world or something, mom told me a story about it. People worry over everything, the boss clearly has things under control. Anyway, Team Aqua loved the idea of flooding the world, so they reemerged, turned from harmless cult to water terrorists, and tried to sabotage Team Rockets' efforts at the poles. Team Magma reassemble as well and joined Team Rocket, offering to dedicate themselves to guarding the poles to ensure they don't melt and flood the world. They were supposed to be the Flood Prevention Squadron, but were nicknamed Team Flop because the reemergence of Team Magma was a flop and they needed to join Team Rocket to actually do anything."

"That means we have a mission!" Ashimi declared with great determination. "I imagine that the Flop, I mean, Flood Prevention Squadron of today are new members and maybe descendants of the Team Magma of the past. Even if people from back then are still a part of it, it's not fair for any of them to carry that stigma. Team Magma and Aqua might have been the enemies in the past, but they're all gone now, we're all Rockets and our team shouldn't be divided like that. The Flood Prevention Squad is doing an important job and they should be treated with dignity as members of the Rocket Kingdom!" Ashimi marched off full of determination. "To the north pole!"

"There she goes..." Jonathan watched quietly.

"This holiday season is going to be very busy, but if anything it will be interesting," Volt breathe.

"Ashimi, can we make a stop on our way to the north pole?" Dorme hurried to catch up with the red head and started whispering to her. The boys didn't know what that was about, but they didn't like it.

xoxox xox xoxox

While Kyurem shaped jet broke the sound barrier, Ashimi was focusing hard. She had recovered her energy and was concentrating her aura on Zero's data crystal. Dorme had a mischievous grin plastered on her face while Jonathan and Volt were stuffing their faces with gummy Teddyursa to ease their nerves.

'Do you want him back?' A mysterious echoing voice spoke in Ashimi's mind.

Ashimi looked up, but it was evident that no one else could hear it. She attributed it to a sensitive aura due to her cracked earrings, but she wasn't sure what she was sensing up there. The jet was piloted by a Pyrogon-Z that commanded the autopilot programs and Ashimi didn't think she was sensing the poke-pilot. The only other occupants of the jet were her friends and the pokemon, but the voice was unfamiliar and somewhat alarming. Even so, Ashimi couldn't help it but to answer, 'of course I want him back!'

'Then I will give him your energy.' Though the voiced frightened her, Ashimi sensed that it wasn't lying. It really was trying to establish a connection between their auras. 'You will have to keep a continuous flow of energy to him. Are you willing to do that?'

'Yes,' Ashimi replied in her mind. 'I'll stay by Zero's side and give him all the energy he needs. Please, bring him back!'

Jonathan paused in his gummy Teddyursa devouring session and looked at Ashimi. Rather than focused, she looked lost. "Ashy?" There was no reply, "Ashy?"

The crescent moon shaped data crystal Ashimi held pulsated with her energy. Jonathan fell silent, Volt dropped the gummy he had just picked up in frozen shock and Dorme stared wide eyed.

First there was only a silhouette, then it was filled up with rough polygons that slowly became more well defined. Finally, the ghostly figure took on a familiar shape and turned more vivid until peculiar pupil-less blue to black gradient eyes opened. "Ashimi?"

Ashimi felt a dizziness rush to her head. Her fear for the creature in her mind dissipated as if lulled by a sweet venom. "Zero..." She whispered. A ripple of energy passed through her, the voice was giving her strength, yet at the same time consuming her defenses. 'Who are you?' She thought.

'I am a legend,' the voice ambiguously replied.

'A legend,' Ashimi hugged Zero and let the comfort of his return wash over her. She assumed the voice belonged to a legendary pokemon, maybe an old friend of her father, or maybe a new legendary that she would be the first human to make contact with. She felt the presence retreat into the depths of her aura and no longer felt herself able to communicate with it. She let it be for now, she was very grateful to have Zero back and could think of little else.

"Ashimi... Your energy..." Zero noticed it, his data was as scrambled as ever, but the aura that flowed into him projected it as it should be.

"I'll keep you safe, I'll give you all the energy you need," Ashimi smiled. "Just stick with me and you'll be fine."

xoxox xox xoxox

When the jet landed, Jonathan and Volt tried to calm the foreboding feeling that overtook them, but they simply couldn't. They were very happy to see Zero again, but the landing reminded them of the stop Dorme wanted to make.

"Here we are, Floaroma Town!" Dorme happily announced. She held one of Zero's hands and Ashimi held the other.

"Let's go to the pokemon center to get Nidoran sent over," Ashimi smiled.

The group made their way to the pokemon center, cheerfully sharing stories with Zero. Soon Nidoran joined them and jumped on Zero's shoulder. Dorme busied herself with some forms and handed them to Joy, who cheerfully reminded her to be on time.

The group headed into one of the center's guest rooms where Dorme started digging through her bag. "We'll have to leave through the window so Joy doesn't suspect anything. There's not much time to prepare, so let's get to it!" She pulled out four kimonos. "It's too bad you're too young to be in the contest Zero, you'd make such a cute little girl. Oh well, with the four of us lovely young ladies competing, we have to win!"

Jonathan and Volt exchanged panicked looks. "Lovely ladies?" They backed away until they were against the wall.

"Oh the fun times I'd be missing," Zero laughed.

'I think you're just as awesome as a boy or girl, aniki,' Nidoran complimented.

"Honestly, I rather not find out about the latter," Zero laughed.

"C'mon guys, you gotta help me!" Dorme pleaded, she batted her eyelashes and put on her cutest pouty look. "I really need to win this contest, but it's not just about beauty, it's but about putting on a pretty show with the pokemon. My pokemon are trained to be tough fighters and beautiful as they all are, I don't know how smooth the transition from warriors to show pokemon will go. This way one of us had to win!" Dorme insisted as if her very life depended on it. "And since entering the contest was my idea, no matter who wins, I get the prize!"

"But why do we have to dress up as girls?" Volt whined. "Guys can enter pokemon contests too!"

"Like I said, it's a mix between beauty contest and pokemon contest. The beauty contest part is for girls only," Dorme explained. "Relax, no one's going to test your DNA or anything, looking like a girl is enough."

"No," the boys complained.

"Ashimi!" Dorme whined.

"Sorry guys, I promised Dorme I would help, so as grandpa would say, do it or else." The phrase was indeed spoken by Giovanni in many past occasions, but never for an event like that.

Jonathan and Volt exchanged looks of fear, then of determination. Finally they nodded and challenged, "or else what?"

Ashimi wasn't sure what to say. "Well, I hate to pull rank and abuse my Rocket connections..."

"What are you talking about? You're the future boss, so get to bossing them around!" Dorme exclaimed in exasperation, though it was clear that Ashimi didn't really want to do that. The blond girl let out a frustrated breath, "fine, I'll do it myself. Do what I say or I'll blackmail you!"

"With what?" Jonathan challenged.

"Yeah, you got nothing on us, soldier!" Volt confidently added.

"Yes I do, remember the incident that led to being knocked out with a frying pan?" Dorme reminded Volt. "Nurse Joy totally got the wrong idea and thought you were trying to make out with me. I'll tell your father you're a pervert, have Joy as my witness and he'll ground you until next century, you horribly undisciplined and disrespectful soldier!"

"You can't!" Volt begged. "None of that is even true. You were trying to kill me and I was trying to stop you, it was a matter of survival. Passion had nothing to do with it, it was all simple and innocent survival of the purest kind!"

"And I'll tell your brother too," Dorme cruelly added.

Volt grimaced and sighed, "alright, you win. I'll wear the kimono and pretend to be a girl, but only this one time. After this, we're even and you have to promise me you won't blackmail me again."

"Sure I promise," Dorme grinned and crossed her fingers behind her back.

"Since you have no blackmail on me, I will not be participating in any of this," Jonathan declared.

Dorme thought for a while. "Ratattas, he's right, I've got nothing."

"Why not just think of it as a Rocket mission?" Ashimi suggested. "Your parents are masters of disguise and they used those skills all the time when they were trying to steal dad's Pikachu. It's the same basic concept except you're trying to win a prize instead of stealing a pokemon."

"Not the same thing," Jonathan pouted.

"Close enough?" Ashimi tried.

"Candy bribery?" Zero suggested.

"Not even that will work," Jonathan refused.

"I thought of something!" Dorme exclaimed with a mischievous grin. "I'll tell your grandparents that you miss Alice and talk them into sending her over!"

"No!" Jonathan exclaimed in desperation before he could even think about feigning indifference. He let out a resigned breath, "you win..."

"It feels good to be a winner," Dorme smiled in satisfaction.

"So what's the big prize?" Zero curiously inquired.

"A Vulpix," Dorme spoke as if she had already won. "Not just any Vulpix, I'm talking about the daughter of Suzy's famous beauty queen Ninetales. Suzy is a famous pokemon stylist and everyone knows her gorgeous Ninetales, the softness of her fur rivals even Johnny's beautiful hair! Suzy has said that Ninetales' daughter wants to see the world, so she's looking for a traveling trainer for her. Because Vulpix is shy around boys, she's looking for a girl who understands beauty and proves it by winning the contest. Such a sweet pokemon can only be amazingly beautiful, like her mother. I must have her in my team! Now that you understand my reasons, let's get ready!"

xoxox xox xoxox

Two hours later Dorme, Ashimi, Volt and Jonathan were all wearing kimonos. Zero was wearing a technology inspired yukata with dark colors and bright ones and zeros in random patterns. He also had a Porygon-Z hat with a black and green palette switch, because the girls really wanted to see him wearing a cute outfit. He was thankful he still got to dress as a boy.

Volt had a platinum wig that Dorme insisted brought out his teal eyes, which were accentuated with silver makeup. Metallic colors dominated the intricate electrical patterns on his kimono and the loose fabric and thick waist bow tried to hide his decidedly male physique.

Jonathan's kimono followed the same design, with pink tonalities and a cherry blossom theme. "Why can't I wear a wig too? What if I'm recognized?" He cringed at the sound of his own words coming out in a feminine voice that was not his own, due to the voice modifying choker around his neck.

"Short hair can look good on girls too and there's no way I'm covering up your pretty hair. The pink bow does a fine job of balancing the look so you don't look too tomboyish. Don't worry, the light pink makeup really softens up your face, no one will suspect you're anything but a beautiful girl." Dorme adjusted her mistletoe hairpin for what felt like the millionth time, but Johnny once again failed to notice it's presence and significance. She lifted the skirt of her soft green kimono slightly and sped up her walk to the meadow near the town, where the contest would take place. The mistletoe adorning the fabric stood out with its darker grew leaves and bright red berries that matched her lipstick.

Ashimi was just glad Dorme didn't insist on high heals and instead thought the traditional sandals usually worn with kimonos would be a better match for their outfits. Ashimi touched her hairpin just to make sure it was still there. It was a beautifully carved diamond snowflake worth a small fortune, she had received it as a gift from her grandfather last Christmas and didn't want to lose it. It was not really the monetary value of the jewelry that she cared about, but the memories attached to it, as that year Giovanni took a little extra time off for the holidays, probably at Delia's insistence, and was there for the personal festivities more that he had been in previous years. Ashimi's kimono fit with the snowflake theme with white and silver on pale blue, making her red-orange hair stand out.

The five of them made it to the meadow were the contestants and audience had gathered. The place was filled with murmurs that had a worried tone of uncertainty to them. "Your attention please!" Suzy went up on a small stage in the center of the meadow. The voices around her quieted as all eyes focused on the elegant beautician and the stunning Ninetales that stood next to her. "I deeply apologize for the delay. We have not been able to find Vulpix, she seems to have a case of stage fright. It is vital that Vulpix is here to witness the contest and choose her own trainer, so until we find her, please be patient."

The murmurs in the crowd started up again, louder than before. Dorme gave her friends a determined look. "Now's our chance to score some bonus points with Vulpix, we have to find her! Zero, can you sense where Vulpix is?"

"No, sorry, my pokedex functions have been offline since I came back," Zero sadly replied.

"It's okay, chibi, we're just happy to have you back," Dorme consoled. The five decided to split up to cover more ground through the meadow, except Zero, who went with Ashimi, to make the continual energy transfer between them easier.

Unknown to them, Mont Blanc, alias Summer, was in the crowd that gathered to watch the contest. He saw Dorme and Ashimi but didn't recognize the other two lovely ladies in their company. This was his chance to score some bonus points with Dorme by finding Vulpix before anyone else did and putting in a good word for her with the pokemon.

xoxox xox xoxox

While searching in the wooded areas around the meadow, Mont Blanc saw a lovely Vulpix. "Hello there," he smiled at the creature and tried to call her over, but she ran away. "Wait, come back!" 'That's right,' he recalled. 'I heard Vulpix is shy around males, both human and pokemon. That's why Suzy was looking for a female trainer for her in the first place.' He set his hover skate board on the ground, or rather floating a few inches above it, and jumped on top to give pursuit. The Vulpix turned out to be not only beautiful, but also rare. Her fur was a golden color that was not unheard of, but quite unusual among her kind.

xoxox xox xoxox

Not too far away, Jonathan caught a hint of movement from the corner of his eyes and went over to investigate. He found a Vulpix that was the regular red color that was common among her kind. Her fur was a frizzy mess and her mane and tail refused to retain the smooth curls Vulpix usually had. She certainly didn't look like a princess of beauty, but Jonathan tried to approach her anyway, maybe she was just having a bad fur day. "Here girl, it's okay, I won't hurt you." The Vulpix cautiously approached and allowed Jonathan to pick her up. She seemed to be alright, albeit slightly confused. She sniffed him curiously, then jumped out of his arms and ran away. "Vulpix!"

xoxox xox xoxox

A short distance away, Dorme was searching through some bushes when she spotted a beautiful golden Vulpix. A shabby looking red Vulpix emerged from the bushes next to the golden one and quickly ran off further ahead. Seemingly concerned about why the disheveled member of her species was in such a hurry, the golden Vulpix ran away as well before Dorme could get to her.

Jonathan arrived on the scene and saw Dorme. "I saw a Vulpix and even managed to pick her up, but she took a sniff at me and ran away. I knew this cherry blossom perfume was a bad idea," he grumbled.

"I saw her too but she ran off," Dorme mistakenly assumed Jonathan was talking about the golden Vulpix. "The cherry blossom perfume is fine, in fact, Vulpix probably wouldn't have let you pick her up without it. She must have somehow perceived your own natural scent beyond the perfume when she got a closer sniff and figured out you're a guy. She's shy around boys, remember?"

"She can tell I'm a guy? That kind of makes me feel better," Jonathan admitted.

xoxox xox xoxox

In another area nearby Mont Blanc found the golden Vulpix. The clever fox pokemon kicked a rock at the hover board, making it tilt suddenly as it shifted to pass above it. Mont Blanc was caught off guard, lost his balance and fell. "I can't believe a pro skater would be knocked down by such a simple trick." He got up to find that the mischievous fire pokemon was laughing at him. "You think that's funny? Watch this!" He jumped back on the board and used the surrounding trees as if he was in a skate park. He jumped, flipped and spun in the air, landing perfectly.

Vulpix was amused and clapped her paws together, giggling contently. She approached Mont Blanc, jumped into his arms and licked his face. "Ha ha, I guess you're not so shy after all. Let's get you back to your trainer. When the contest ends and she asks you who you want to go with, make sure you pick Dorme, this is her picture." He showed the pokemon and image on his cellphone. "Don't forget to let her know I put in a good word for her." The golden Vulpix had no idea what he was talking about, but he was amusing, so she didn't mind.

xoxox xox xoxox

Mont Blanc hurried back to the middle of the meadow. Suzy was trying her best to entertain the crowd while her assistants searched for Vulpix. The area was filled with awe and clapping at the talented and beautiful Ninetales.

"I found her!" Mont Blanc loudly announced as he made his way through the crowd towards the front near the stage.

"Oh my, that's a very beautiful and rare Vulpix!" Suzy exclaimed. "But she's not my Vulpix."

"She's not?" Mont Blanc was taken completely by surprise.

"That's a wild Vulpix." An old lady in the crowd who had come to see her granddaughter participate in the contest spoke up. "No one knows how she got to this area, but many have tried to catch her and failed. It looks like she's taken quite a liking to you, young man."

"Sounds like you made a new friend," Suzy smiled. "Thanks for trying to find my Vulpix. Since this golden one doesn't have a trainer, why don't you keep her? Like the lady said, she seems to like you."

"I guess I will," Mont Blanc decided. He offered a pokeball into which the golden Vulpix was willingly caught.

xoxox xox xoxox

Meanwhile, Dorme and Jonathan had caught up with Volt, Zero and Ashimi, who walked over to them with a shabby looking Vulpix in her arms. The Vulpix seemed uneasy about Zero and Lightning, then her discomfort increased when she saw Jonathan. "We found her, " Ashimi passed the pokemon to Dorme. "She really is shy around boys."

"This isn't her," Dorme held the pokemon anyway and tried to comfort her. "Suzy's Vulpix is golden, she's even more beautiful than I imagined. I saw her, but she ran off."

"Is this a wild Vulpix then?" Zero concluded.

Dorme shrugged, "must be. But look at the poor dear, she could certainly use a trainer to groom her. I can't stand to see this creature suffer like this. It's alright sweetie, I know it sounds unbelievable with how my hair looks now, but I actually have a bit of a frizz problem myself. Like yours, my hair tries to be curly, but doesn't quite make it. Maybe a lightly wavy look is right for you too. I know how to prepare a lot of homemade hair products, not even the salon exclusive lines can compete. It's the stuff I use on my own hair, so I can guarantee it works!" The Vulpix looked doubtful, yet at the same time, a little hopeful. "I'm going to take care of this Vulpix, you can go back to the stage in the meadow and see if the contest is ready to start. Let me know how it goes."

"What?" Volt exclaimed, making Vulpix squeal and bury her face in Dorme's arms.

"Don't scare her!" Dorme scolded. "It's okay, sweetheart, they won't hurt you. These guys are totally harmless wimps, I got them blackmailed good!"

"Hey!" Volt and Jonathan protested.

"What? I'm reassuring her," Dorme defended.

"You could just tell her we're nice guys," Volt grumbled.

"Yeah," Jonathan agreed.

"I know!" Ashimi exclaimed as an idea came to her. "Zero, show Vulpix that boys are not scary."

"How do I do that?" Zero asked.

"Just be your adorable self!" Ashimi smiled.

Dorme gave Vulpix to Zero with a reassurance. "It's okay, there's no such thing as cooties, and if there was, cute little Zero wouldn't have any." Vulpix seemed to calm down a bit, though she was still shy because of the insecurities her uncooperative, fur, mane and tail had given her.

Mont Blanc suddenly arrived looking for Dorme. "My sweet Dorme, I have an early Christmas gift for you." He saw her hair pin and grinned widely. "But first things first, I must honor the long standing Christmas tradition of the mistletoe!" Dorme removed her hairpin and held it over a nearby thorny bush. "That was mean," Mont Blanc frowned, but quickly recovered. "I happen to find a beautiful ultra rare golden Vulpix. I thought she was Suzy's, but it turns out she was wild, so I caught her and I have her right here in this pokeball. I'm willing to share her with you, if you're willing to share your heart!"

"That golden one was wild? Just how many wild Vulpix are there around here?" Dorme wondered in surprise, then her expression shifted to seriousness and she emphasized, "the answer is no."

"I've heard there have been some pokemon that are unusual to this area being spotted near the Fuego Ironworks ruins, but no one really knows how and why they got there," Ashimi voiced. She knew it was only a matter of time before someone from Team Rocket came to investigate.

"I guess that explains why there were two wild Vulpix running around. Speaking of which," Dorme picked up the shabby Vulpix Zero was holding for her. "I already have my own Vulpix."

"That's your Vulpix?" Mont Blanc stared. "But she's... I thought you'd be pickier than that..." He called the golden Vulpix out of her pokeball. "Just look at them, no competition!"

Vulpix whimpered and hid her face while Dorme raged. "Don't you dare insult my pokemon. Your Vulpix is very beautiful, but so is mine! Besides, if she choose you as her trainer, you should be honored and train her yourself. Now apologize to the Vulpixes and leave!"

Mont Blanc was shocked by the speech and could only stumble over a "sorry," before scurrying away, somewhat ashamed.

"That was... unexpected," Volt admitted. "I mean after making such a fuss about hair and beauty."

"Just because a person cares a lot about beauty, doesn't mean they have to be vain," Dorme lectured. "Don't worry, I haven't forgotten my promise to you, Volt. Things have just been busy lately, but I'll give you a full hair treatment soon. Just let me take care of Vulpix first. You can be a gentleman and let the lady go first, okay?"

"Take your time." Volt was hoping it was a long time, long enough for her to forget about his hair.

"You guys should head back to the contest. I'm going to shop for berries in town and get started on some homemade hair products for Vulpix. We can meet up at the pokemon center later." Dorme petted Vulpix's tangled mane, or tried to, but her fingers wouldn't pass smoothly through the mess of knots and frizz.

"About that, I assume you're dropping out of the contest because you already have a Vulpix," Dorme nodded and Jonathan continued. "Then why do we have to enter?"

"Because I don't want all my work making you beautiful to go to waste. Don't forget," she pointed at Jonathan, "you're Lala," then she pointed at Volt, "and you're Lulu. Now get out there and do your best!" Dorme cheered. "Ashimi, Zero, you two keep an eye on them and make sure they really try!"

"No problem," Ashimi chirped.

"You can count on us," Zero agreed. Jonathan and Volt could only exchange distressed looks.

xoxox xox xoxox

Later, at the pokemon center guest room, Dorme had fixed Vulpix fur, mane and tail quite nicely with her berry based hair treatments. Vulpix's mane and tail didn't curl like they did for most members of her species, but it now had a soft wavy style that gave her a unique and sophisticated look.

Dorme was just applying the finishing touches with a brush when Volt and Zero arrived, followed by a pouty looking Ashimi and Jonathan. "Look, isn't she gorgeous now?"

Vulpix seemed to be quite happy and no longer extremely shy around boys. She was still a little shy, but not enough to run away or hide her face in shame. Everyone complimented Vulpix, which clearly made her very happy.

"How was the contest?" Dorme asked conversationally while she held up various hairpins and ribbons, trying to decide which would look best on Vulpix. "And what's with all the pouting and frowning? It couldn't have been that bad!"

"They couldn't find the missing Vulpix," Volt removed the voice modifying choker and continued in his own voice. "So they went ahead with the contest and gave away a cash prize instead." He grinned at Jonathan, "miss Lala won. Suzy was quite impressed with her pretty hair and asked if she would consider growing it long then making it into a wig when she got tired of it. Suzy said she would love to have such pretty hair to show in her hair care talks and even asked what the secret was. But pretty miss Lala was shy and said it was just natural. She captivated the audience with her timid cuteness," Volt teased.

"Shut up," Jonathan grumbled. "I only won because Nya's random silliness is so cute." He removed the choker and tossed it aside. "I'm just glad Mont Blanc didn't stick around long enough to figure out who we are."

Dorme laughed, "I told you your hair is special." She tied a cyan ribbon around Vulpix's tail and clipped a matching star shaped hairpin on her mane. "What's up with Ashimi?"

"She's mad because she lost," Zero patted her arm in consolation.

Ashimi slid to sit down on the floor and hugged Zero like a plush toy on her lap. "Correction, I'm mad because I lost to a boy. How could a boy be a prettier girl than me? Shouldn't I be a prettier girl, given the fact that I'm actually a girl?"

That made Dorme laugh even more. Her amusement was interrupted by a knock on the door to their pokemon center guest room. The group quieted and Volt hastily put the wig he had just removed back on.

Ashimi stood and opened the door to find Suzy and Ninetales. "Please excuse us, we're here to find Vulpix." She recognized the contestants. "Ashimi, Lala, Lulu, I apologized for changing the prize of the contest at the last minute. I knew Vulpix couldn't have gone far and that Ninetales could find her daughter if she tried, but I wanted Vulpix to return on her own. She was initially okay with the plan, but then started having second thoughts and I didn't want to force her to go with a new trainer. I'm sorry..."

"It's okay, we understand," Ashimi replied, to which Volt and Jonathan could only nod quietly so as to not reveal their true voices. "That means that Vulpix wasn't wild after all..."

"I can't keep her?" Dorme stood aside and Vulpix was finally revealed to Suzy's line of sight.

The beautician gasped in awe, "Vulpix?" The small red fox made her way over to them and exchanged a few words with her mother let her trainer pet her, then walked back to Dorme. "I don't know how you did it, but you groomed Vulpix a lot better than I could. I tried every hair product I could get my hands on and the most exclusive brands, but nothing worked."

"It's my own hair homemade formula of hair treatments," Dorme proudly declared. "It's all natural made with berries." She couldn't believe such a famous stylist was impressed with her work.

"Looks like Vulpix found a new trainer after all. I've never seen her so happy and confident," Suzy smiled. "That's it, I'm done relying on the brands the market has to offer. I'm going to study how berries work on hair and come up with my own brand of hair products! Please take this, and some for your friends too, as a token of my thanks for helping Vulpix and for the inspiration." Suzy pulled out five golden cards that she handed to Dorme.

Dorme nearly fainted with glee. "Year long passes to Suzy's exclusive spa! It's a dream come true!"

After a short conversation, during which Volt and Jonathan remained very quiet, they exchanged their goodbyes. Suzy stopped at the door, as if something was bothering her and she couldn't leave until she fixed it. "Your wig..." She straightened Volt's wig. "You know, there are cute outfits for boys too..." Then the beautician left along with her Ninetales.

Volt's jaw dropped and his face turned red, "she knew..."

"Relax," Dorme reassured, "she only knows you're a guy, she doesn't know who you are."

"I hope not," Volt grimaced.

"What about me?" Jonathan pouted.

Ashimi mimicked the expression, "I guess you're pretty enough to be a girl, and an even prettier girl than me."

Volt grinned, "at least people know I'm a man."

"At least pokemon know I'm a man," Jonathan countered.

Dorme and Zero just laughed until Ashimi joined them and soon they were all drawn in. "Let's go out and have a big dinner tonight, my treat," Jonathan invited. "But first let me change out of this ridiculous disguise."

xoxox xox xoxox

Meanwhile, Daala made her way out of Floaroma Town. She recognized Ashimi, though was she pretty sure Ashimi didn't recognize her. She looked quite different with her curly black hair straightened and dyed a pale lavender. No one in the contest knew who she was. She didn't win, but she wasn't feeling particularly disappointed about it. There was something peculiar about the winner though. She could have sworn she saw the short haired girl somewhere before, but couldn't quite place where or when. She was pretty sure the tall one with the platinum hair, or wig, was a guy, but didn't think she knew him.

Daala released her newly traded Braviary, climbing on his back and instructing the bird with a few directions. Exeggutor had been Janebelle's pokemon, he had a new trainer and a new life now, away from the hardships of the life she chose to continue living. It was time to let go of the past and start anew, seeking to accomplish her goals her own way, without Tornado.

To be Continued

xoxox xox xoxox


Chapter 31: The Fire Furrets are named after the Fire Ferrets from Legend of Korra.

Chapter 32: Nya is a mutant with her dark element being switched for psychic. She adapted better than her mother, who just turned pink, but still isn't quite like a full psychic pokemon. She's more of a defender than an attacker, she can use a scratch attack, but doesn't currently know any other attacks aside from that. Her other abilities are psychic in element, specifically abilities in the status classification.

Pikablue is a reference to the new blue pikachu said to be coming along with a detective Pokemon game, and to the time long ago when Marill was rumored to be another of Pikachu's evolutions.

Chapter 33: The Kyurem shaped jet is a reference to the Blue Eyes White Dragon jet Seto has in Yugioh. Suzy's Ninetales is the same one who traveled with Brock for a while as a Vulpix in the anime. Lala and Lulu are names some of the Slayers characters commonly use when in need of false identities.

xoxox xox xoxox


Winter is partially based on Sing Love from Black Rock Shooter. Her artistic name of White Star is also based on the game and on the name of her "clone" Stella. Her mom is named after Stella's sister, Nana. The Rocket Stella has a soft spot for mutated or unusual creatures. She only acknowledges those who seem to have a certain level of unique originality and finds eccentricities and oddities to be interesting. Her Altaria evolved from the Swablu Delia had in Don't Give Me Diamonds.
Sign up to rate and review this story