Well, that's it for Pummello," Ash said, watching the island sink out of sight on the horizon.
He patted Lapras' shell. "Not long now."
"I know," Lapras said, with a melancholy air. "If you really want, Ash, I'll stay."
"No, it wouldn't be right. We've got those transceivers Butterfree and the others got, so I can call on you if I want you." Ash rubbed the cetacean's head, and he cooed in thanks.
Ash watched Misty swimming alongside, her various Water-types around her, and then a thought occurred to him.
"Actually, Lapras," he went on. "I think I had an idea..."
Ash's idea took some arranging. In fact, it involved enough travel time that they were a little behind schedule by the time they made it to Tarroco, and missed running into Lapras' pod.
"Don't worry," Ash said. "We'll get you back to them."
"I don't doubt it."
Captain Crook laughed cruelly. "Fire a broadside!"
Pokeballs soared out of the guns, erupting into Tentacruel surrounding the pod of Lapras.
The pirate chuckled to himself. Always the way... pick an out of the way island without a nearby Gym, and you could rob them blind. And pick up the local wildlife into the bargain.
Crook looked up, and clenched his fist as a Charizard came sweeping down to hover over the deck.
"Stop that!" the Charizard's trainer shouted down at him, and Charizard snarled agreement.
"Oh?" Crook gestured, and the guns elevated. "Or what?"
"Or I'll stop you!"
Looking closer, the pirate captain saw that the trainer was – a young boy.
"You and what Pokemon? All you've got is a Fire-type!"
Had Crook been more... well, more intelligent, he would have wondered just how a young boy had gotten hold of a final-stage Fire type starter like a Charizard.
But he wasn't very smart, so he just focused on the fact that it was a Charizard.
The guns boomed, launching Pokeballs skywards. As they reached altitude, they opened, releasing more Tentacruel.
"Water-" Crook began to argue, then the ship underneath him rocked back and forth violently, throwing him to the floor.
While he was distracted, electricity speared out from the boy's shoulder and hit all the Tentacruel – then arced down and got the ones in the water as well.
Snarling, Crook clung to the rail and hauled himself to his feet. Something seemed off about the way the Charizard was hovering, but he ignored it. "Where did that Pikachu come from?"
"My backpack?" the boy replied, sounding puzzled. "Shouldn't you be asking why you're a hundred feet in the air?"
"He's right, cap'n!" the first mate, Scuz, reported. He looked over the side. "And we're still gettin' higher!"
Crook stumbled to the side himself, and looked out.
His ship was a hundred and fifty feet in the air and rising every second, supported on a column of twisting, swirling water.
An unearthly song built until it resonated in his bones.
Then the water column flexed violently, sending the ship flying into the distance.
Crook and his crew clung on, scowling or screaming, as they shot through the air.
Hello, a powerful mental voice said. I am Psyduck, and I will be your airbag for today.
Moments before they hit the beach, the ship slowed abruptly, and crashed to the sand from a height of only a few feet. Of course, that was entirely enough to break the keel and stun the crew silly.
The police have been alerted, Psyduck added, and waddled off to reunite with his trainer – who was standing on the wharf.
And stay out, Lugia said unnecessarily.
He turned to Ash. That was actually quite fun.
"Thanks!" Ash replied, grinning. "How's Pidgeot doing?"
She is a most dedicated Pokemon, Lugia informed him. I was thinking of visiting my mate and our son at some date soon, and will be sure to take her.
"Sounds like she'll enjoy it," Ash agreed. "Oh – since we missed her at Shamouti, can you let her know to stop by Oak's ranch when she gets a chance? I might have something for her to do when she's got free time."
I will indeed. See you later, Ash.
With that, Lugia dove back into the water with barely a ripple.
Charizard and Ash exchanged a look, and then the Fire-type slowly lowered himself until he was barely above the water.
Ash stepped off, wobbling a bit on the waves, and took out a Pokeball. "Well, Lapras, guess this is it."
He called the Transport Pokemon out.
"It's goodbye, Ash, but not forever." Lapras bowed to him. "I would be honoured to travel with you again."
"Thanks." Ash hugged him. "Now, go meet your mother."
Lapras nodded, and swam off.
Faintly, Ash heard his voice. "Hey, Mom! I learned how to use Rain Dance, and Hail, and Blizzard, and..."
Pikachu hopped down onto Ash's shoulder. "You okay?"
"Yeah," Ash said, rubbing his eyes. "I'm just fine."
"Hey!" Ash called, waving. "Brock!"
"Hi, Ash," Brock replied, waving back and hoisting his bag further up his shoulder. "Long time no see!"
"A couple of months, maybe," Ash replied, coming to a halt in front of his older friend. "What are you doing here?"
Brock shrugged. "Well, this is where the ferry back to Pallet is."
"Yeah, but why now?" Ash pressed. "Did you sort everything out with Professor Ivy?"
"Yeah." Brock's expression turned a bit faraway. "Yeah, I did."
Brock's hand strayed to his belt, and Ash caught sight of a crowbar hanging there.
"Last time, Professor Ivy was doing research on the reverse world – you know, where Giratina lives."
"I remember," Ash agreed. "I've been there."
"Right. Well, she set up a machine to go there, and there was this thing called a resonance cascade..." Brock shrugged. "This time I was ready for the giant horde of Unown, hit enough of them with a crowbar, and managed to sort everything out."
"I'm sure there's a story there," Pikachu said. "One we're not hearing."
"Well, yeah, I'm simplifying things a lot," Brock agreed. "For good reason."
Any further conversation was interrupted by the arrival of Misty. "Hey, Brock!"
She grinned. "Did Ivy finally kick you out?"
"Nope," Brock replied. "I mentioned I'd be travelling with you two again. Got her number, though."
"Sorry, can you repeat that?" Pikachu asked, blinking. "I think I had something crazy in my ear. Brock actually got a girl to give him their phone number?"
"Hey!" Brock said. "I'm not that bad..."
"You are," Misty replied. "Well, okay, not quite that bad, but close."
Brock sighed. "I guess I can't argue with that."
He perked up. "Still, Philena and her assistants said they'd be happy for me to visit again, and I think I will!"
"Are we sure we ended up in the same timeline?" Misty asked.
"So, we need to get several hundred Electrode out of the city," Ash summarized.
He looked between his friends. "Any ideas?"
"Yes," Brock replied, releasing Steelix. "Okay, Steelix, dig us a path to the other side of the island."
Steelix nodded, and began digging.
"That was easy," Misty commented. "Why was this such a problem last time?"
"Two reasons," Tracey answered. "First, we didn't have Brock's Steelix to do all the digging in one go. Second, the Rockets."
"Yeah, wonder where they are..." Ash said, watching the Electrode roll out of the tunnel in a steady stream. "I mean, they don't bother us much any more, but what do they do instead?"
Jessie clicked the slide projector. "Now, this is a boy called Ash Ketchum."
She turned towards the audience. "For at least two different reasons, you do not want to fight him."
"Reason one," James said. "He will defeat you, probably without putting much effort in."
"An' reason two," Meowth went on, "he's usually savin' the world."
"What, really?" one of the grunts in the audience asked. "How can someone be usually saving the world?"
"We can name at least three instances in the last year alone," Jessie sighed. "Along with saving every town in Kanto, some of them twice. It just happens around him. Accept it and move on."
"What makes you think he's strong?" Butch asked from the crowd. "Couldn't it just be that you're weak?"
Jessie smiled a thin smile, and clicked over to the next side.
It was the skeletonized remnants of Hunter J's battleship, draped over a hill outside Fuchsia. Greenery covered it, but the outline was still visible.
"He did this to Hunter J," she said simply. "The Hunter J who regularly faces down small armies and considers Legendaries an achievable challenge. Her second run in with him got her arrested."
"Also, we got like third place in the Indigo League," Meowth added. "So we ain't the weak ones here."
"Basically," James summarized. "If you run into him, call for backup – that's us."
Some of the grunts took notes.
"Eh, probably shop for weird robots or something," Pikachu opined. "Now, do we get to head back to Pallet?"
Ash peered down the tunnel. "Looks like that's it for Electrode, so-"
A Voltorb rolled up to him, examined him, and then rolled on.
All the trainers exhaled in relief.
"I was so sure that was about to explode..." Misty said. "Phew. Well, off to the ferry, I guess."
"Well done, Ash!" Delia beamed. "We saw it on the TV – you won the Orange League as well!"
Ash blushed. "Thanks, Mom. It was a good battle."
"It's a pity Gary isn't here. He's too busy off in Kalos." Delia looked off west for a moment, then grabbed her son's hand. "Come on, everyone's waiting! We're all very impressed with you."
"Ah, Ash, nice to see you!" Professor Oak said, embracing him. "Still in one piece, I see?"
"Yeah," Ash agreed. "The Shamouti thing went better than last time, actually..."
"Yes, Damos and I saw. Well, come along... oh, May and Max got in touch."
"They did?" Ash smiled. "Good to know."
"Yes, they're a little disgruntled at how long it will be before they can be trainers, but..." Oak coughed. "At least they do have their Pokedexes to tide them over."
"Did you help set it up for Max?"
"Indeed I did!" Oak nodded. "Thank you for reminding me. Now, where did I put those papers..."
He picked up a sheaf off a nearby table. "Here. This will register you as a mentor for Max, so that he can accompany you on a Pokemon Journey before he turns ten."
Ash eyed the thick stack of paperwork. "I might want to fill that out later."
"Well, there's no rush..." Oak agreed, dubiously. "Maybe I'll keep those for you, then."
"Probably a good idea," Ash agreed. "Oh, any new ideas about the GS ball?"
"I was hoping you had some. None of your new Aura powers told you anything?"
"Nothing." Ash held it out. "It's got a constant level of Aura on it, but otherwise nothing more I can tell."
"Does the Aura have any recognizable properties?"
"I did check." Ash shrugged again. "Nothing I recognize, no. It's just untyped Aura."
"I see. That's a shame." Oak took the ball and examined it, then returned it to Ash. "Perhaps it's a mystery we're supposed to never find the answer to."
For the next few minutes, Ash had Oak check his most recent team changes over. Lucario was duly admired – the story of his evolution was a good one – and Snorlax was pronounced to be in rude health.
"Rude health," Oak repeated clearly.
Ash just looked blank.
"It means he's fine," Oak sighed. "Kids these days..."
"Is that everything?" Ash asked, once Snorlax was back in his Pokeball and the two could move around the room comfortably again."
"Pretty much, yes." Oak frowned. "Oh, can you send Tracey in? I want him to meet Damos – my two assistants need to get to know one another, after all."
I have already met him via the engram, Damos observed neutrally.
"Yes, but you could hardly talk back," Oak shrugged.
"I'm really not needed any more, am I?" Ash asked.
"Well, not everything revolves around you," Oak replied with a chuckle.
"Actually..." Pikachu hedged. "It might. Quite a lot does."
Oak sighed. "You certainly distort rhetorical language, that's for sure."
"Do you have to leave so soon?" Delia asked, frowning. "You just got here!"
"Yeah, I know," Ash agreed, and winced. "But – Johto awaits."
He frowned. "And – I'm kind of nervous, too. I want to make sure we're roughly on time, because – while, so far, I've been able to meet and catch all the same Pokemon... I'm scared. Worried that, if I set off late, I'll never meet Totodile, or Noctowl, or... or any of the others."
Delia nodded. "I... well, I don't pretend to understand everything you've ended up caught up in, Ash, but you've done alright so far. I suppose I have to trust you – and your bodyguard there."
Lucario and Pikachu both nodded solemnly, then exchanged glances – wondering precisely which of them she had meant.
"Thanks," Ash said, relieved. He stepped forwards, and gave her a hug. "Sorry I'm leaving again so soon."
"That's okay," his mother replied. As they broke apart, she took a small box out of her apron pocket. "Oh – this is for you. For luck."
Ash opened the box, Pikachu peering in to see it.
It was a small pin, attached to an equally small piece of jewellery. The main head of the pin was a five-pointed white flower, with a faintly yellow core and stamen.
"I had it made by a shop that does trial gym badges. It's an orange blossom," she explained. "To go with your indigo one."
With care, Ash removed the pin from its box, and attached it to his jacket. It shone faintly as it caught the light, bright next to the deep purple of the other custom badge.
"Thanks," he said, voice catching slightly.
Delia caught it, but said nothing, choosing to smile. Her own eyes were a little damp, too.
After another quick hug, Ash set off with Pikachu on his shoulder. Lucario fell into step behind him, and Brock and Misty joined him at the gate.
Professor Oak joined his friend, Tracey in tow, and they watched until the three Trainers were out of sight.
"Here we go again," Oak said, with a melancholy air. "I never really thought about what it was like, being the one left behind – when I first set off, I mean."
Delia nodded. "I'm not sure if it's harder or easier, this time. I mean, I know now his Pokemon are very tough – but he's getting into scrapes I never dreamed of."
There was a loud crash sound from the ranch.
Damos' projector beeped. It appears that Ash's Squirtle has broken something. Possibly the ground.
"Oh, why did he have to leave the Squirtle..."
"This," Ash pronounced, "is stupid."
He gestured around at the fog-bound forest. "We're lost. Again! How can we possibly be this lost?"
Lucario shrugged. "I honestly don't know. Why are we in a forest in the first place – isn't there a road?"
"Well... yeah, there's a road," Ash agreed. "But we decided not to use it."
"The word 'shortcut' is a pernicious lie," Brock said sagely. "We really should remember that in future."
"It worked fine in the Orange Islands," Misty muttered. "Maybe that's because on the ocean you can just point and go."
"You know," Lucario added. "Perhaps it would be easier to see where we were if you were getting an overhead view. Hint hint. Charizard."
"...yeah, I should have thought of that before now," Ash admitted.
"Feels like old times," Pikachu said. "Does Charizard know Defog?"
"Don't think so..." Ash released his Flying-type. "You heard?"
"I certainly did. Climb on!"
"Yep!" Ash said. "We're just a few miles from New Bark Town. It's..."
His voice petered off.
"Oh, come on," Pikachu said. "Did you forget to make a note?"
Charizard pointed. "That way. It's confusing, I know."
"Yeah," Ash agreed, glad for the save. "Thanks."
The Fire-type shrugged. "Don't mention it."
"Great!" Misty said, trying to sound optimistic. "Here we go, then!"
"Well... great." Brock looked at the lake. "Of course there's a lake in the way."
"Huh?" Ash looked puzzled. "What's the problem?"
He stepped out onto the water. "Seriously, have you guys not been listening when I talk about how to do this?"
Brock shrugged. "I've been beating up Unown with a crowbar for the last two months."
"I usually swim," Misty added. "So, yeah, not really all that interested."
"Fine." Ash pulled the ball off his belt. "Sorry, Charizard, looks like you'll have to give these two a lift."
"Uh... Ash..." Lucario pointed.
"Huh?" Ash turned, Pokeball still raised, and saw-
Calmly walking forward on the surface of the pristine lake, tiny ripples spreading out from every footfall.
"...huh, that's right," Ash said distantly. "We met you here last time."
"I have been given to understand that, yes." The blue Pokemon advanced to within a foot or so of Ash, and then paced around him. Cool red eyes scrutinized him, blinking occasionally.
"My lord Ho-Oh told me you would be here sometime soon. You have matured considerably since last time I saw you."
"How long have you been watching me?" Ash asked, following the movements of the Legendary Pokemon.
"Years. On occasion only, but since your young childhood. My brother Beasts and I criss-cross Honshu, seeing who has the potential to become such as you." After a moments' pause, the blue Pokemon nodded. "Excellent."
Suicune lifted its gaze to Ash's travelling companions. "I see the Riolu who travelled with you has evolved."
Lucario nodded. "I have."
"A worthy companion, indeed." Then Suicune turned to Pikachu. "You, too, I have heard of. Far stronger and nobler than your stature would suggest."
Her gaze lingered for a moment on Misty, then Brock, and finally returned to Ash. "Young hero... we have discussed this, Entei, Raikou, and I. Entei feels I am being sentimental, but that is brothers for you."
Strangely, the Aurora Pokemon seemed a little uncertain. "None of us will simply offer ourselves up to you without a fight – but if you can catch us, then caught we shall be."
Before any of the friends could quite react to that, Suicune bowed. "We will meet again."
Then vanished in a blur of blue motion.
"...did she just say what I think she said?" Pikachu asked.
"That I had permission to catch them?" Ash checked. "Because yeah." He blinked. "Wait. She?"
"You can't tell?"
"No, actually." Ash shook his head. "With a Pikachu it's easy, but a lot of Pokemon it's not obvious. And voices don't always help."
I can, Dexter supplied. Scanner.
"That's enough from you!"
By the way, have you ever heard of GPS?
Stunned silence. Then all five, Pokemon and human alike, facepalmed.