At long last, here's the full chapter. I apologize for the wait, and I'll add the review responses later.

Those who saw the preview can go ahead and skip to the Gym battle. Without further ado, on with the story!

Chapter 37: Master and Student

Ash watched Brock make some edits to his map of the mountain range the group had been exploring, crossing out routes traveled by them and their Pokémon in their search for the next Gym.

The three of them had agreed that it would be better for them to split up and cover more ground, some of their Pokémon able to travel on their own and search wider areas. So, all in all, they made up ten groups.

Butterfree, Drowzee and Starmie were each able to travel on their own while extending their psychic senses to detect any traces of people. Pidgeot and Staryu could both fly under their own power and search from high in the sky. Unfortunately, Zubat's lack of eyes didn't let him do the same, but he could fly closer to ground level and search with his hearing and echolocation. Doduo did much of the same, running through the trees and searching with both heads.

Brock had Onix with him, riding atop the Rock Snake Pokémon's head to gain a high vantage point as well. Misty traveled on foot with Vaporeon and Poliwag operating as extra eyes and protection, Goldeen in reserve for if she ran into conflict. Ash did the same with Pikachu, Muk remaining with him for the same reason, the Sludge Pokémon's versatile fighting style and stench leaving him confident of at least stalling until he could signal his other Pokémon back to him.

And, as much as it turned his stomach, he had Pikachu help charge up the confiscated Zap Sapper for a last resort defense. The cartridge was also fully charged in his pocket since Pikachu had mentioned James using it like a taser to take out Kingler at Porta Vista.

Last evening, while training alone with his Pokémon and figuring out how the gun worked, he'd also found a slip of paper tucked inside the space for the cartridge with a phone number on it. Suspecting that Noah had been at the construction site for a reason and had slipped it in, Ash set it up as a contact in his Pokégear before having Pikachu burn the paper with a charge of electricity. Team Rocket had just recently been repelled, so he was fairly sure they'd never seen him with it, too busy tending to their Pokémon or hatching their next plan to keep too close an eye on him.

Some branches being pushed out of the way and angry muttering brought the Pallet Trainer back to the present as Misty stormed back into the clearing, Vaporeon trotting easily along and Poliwag a little more nervous at her Trainer's frustration.

"No luck?" Brock asked, already marking Misty's route off his map with an X at the end.

"What do you think?" she grumbled before Poliwag nudged at her ankle. The redhead looked down and sighed before trying to calm herself, picking up the Tadpole Pokémon into her arms and dropping to her knees to rest. Vaporeon left her side to talk with Pikachu, and Misty pet Poliwag as she wondered, "How on Earth does this place stay open if it's hidden away?"

Ash shrugged, "Maybe finding it is part of the challenge. It'd certainly make it more of an honor to have its badge."

"Well, yippee for you," Misty groused.

Brock stood up from working on the map, "All we can do is wait for our other Pokémon to get back and hope they had more luck than us."

As the minutes crawled by, Drowzee returned first, having gone a little farther afield than the trio of Trainers on foot since he could always teleport back to the start. He'd reported nothing found as well. Zubat, Staryu, Butterfree and Starmie returned afterwards at separate times with the same answer. After each of the four were returned to their Poké Balls, Pidgeot dove into the clearing, a disgruntled look on his face as he shook his head. Doduo darted in a moment later, his upbeat expressions making the group look at him.

"[We found it!]" the dual heads crowed. "[This way!]"

As the Twin Bird Pokémon led the way for the trio of Trainers and Drowzee, Pidgeot glided overhead as they made their way through the forest. The Hypnosis Pokémon fell into step next to his teammate and asked, "[So, was this Gym hidden by some kind of mirage? I'm still not sensing anything.]"

"[No, it was sitting right out in the open,]" Rick replied. "[I mean, as open as you can get in the middle of the wilderness.]"

"[We just got lucky enough to be sent in the right direction,]" Lee added. "[I'm sure you would've spotted it just as easily. It's coming right up ahead.]"

Drowzee raised an eyebrow since he still couldn't sense anything in his telepathic range. Feeling something tickle his perception, he slowed a step and glanced to the side, sweeping the area before again coming up with nothing. Dismissing the odd feeling as a fleeing Psychic-type teleporting in and out, he resumed following the rest of the group.

Exiting the forest, Doduo raised a leg and turned on his heel, pointing the lifted limb towards a massive walled compound sitting on a cliff overlooking a river a distance below on the other side of a narrow valley bridged by a sturdy plank of wood.

Ash whistled, "That's some Gym. Biggest I've seen so far."

"I guess living all the way out here means that they need a bit more space to be self-sufficient," Brock mused.

Misty returned Poliwag to her Poké Ball when the Tadpole Pokémon started quivering at the high drop below the makeshift bridge, "At least we can finally put this search behind us."

Once Doduo, Pidgeot and Drowzee were returned, Vaporeon opting out of going back in his ball under the promise of good behavior at the Gym, the three Trainers crossed over and walked up to the massive wooden gate on the front of the walls.

As Brock knocked, Ash took out his Pokédex and looked at his current team. While Kingler and Squirtle had been switched out for Drowzee and Butterfree to aid in the search, he wasn't sure who to bring in now since the traditional appearance of the building didn't give any hints about the Leader's type specialty.

Looking over his current team divided into six squares divided on the screen, he decided to go for a balanced team since he had no idea what he could be up against.

Drowzee had told him that Butterfree grasped sensing, but the Hypnosis Pokémon was still the only one that knew Teleport, which could be a powerful ace since he was gradually learning to fight while warping around, along with a few other tricks. Still, the Butterfly Pokémon remained one of his most versatile Pokémon with his powders, wind techniques, String Shot, Supersonic, Mega Drain and telekinesis. And that was without factoring in his combination moves.

Deciding to keep the two of them, Ash looked at his remaining four Pokémon before sending Muk and Doduo back. The former could soak up a lot of damage, but was very slow and didn't have much defense against status moves like powders or sound waves. Doduo, on the other hand, was a bit too straightforward without having enough power or variety to back up his skillset yet. Pidgeot could stay since he had flight, Agility, Double Team and a variety of hard-hitting strikes along with Razor Wind and other wind-based moves.

'All right, I have Pikachu, Pidgeot, Drowzee and Butterfree,' he mentally listed while clicking to send his two Pokémon back. When the list of his other Pokémon appeared, he pondered which to bring. 'Primeape has huge physical strength, but he's easy to take down for those that don't fight like him. Tentacool and Horsea are out since this doesn't look like it'll involve water. A Grass-type? That would cover Ground and Rock-types, but would be weak to fire along with Butterfree. Squirtle, maybe?'

Ash paused for a moment, 'Wait… I'll bring Jigglypuff. I owe her a good battle, and she shouldn't have too many weaknesses as a Normal-type, and she's been learning different moves. Water Gun and Ice Beam should handle things just as well with her floaty fighting style. The last one… Charmeleon. He's a good mix of fire and physical moves.'

Meanwhile, Brock had tried knocking twice more with no answer, so he eased the gate open slightly and looked before calling, "Hello?"

"Hm?" Ash hummed curiously while looking up from his device, taken out of his planning, "Something wrong?"

The Pewter Leader pushed the large wooden door open fully, "Nobody's answering. But if it's open, I guess we let ourselves in and try to find the Leader or one of the staff?"

"Sounds better than waiting around out here," Misty replied.

The trio moved along the path towards what appeared to be the main house a few yards in front of them, Ash switching his Pokémon and catching the new arrivals before fastening them to his belt. Brock tested the door of the residence, finding it to be unlocked as well.

Stepping inside, the Pallet Trainer looked around to see polished wooden floors a level above the packed dirt they stood on and tasteful decorations along with a few plants.

Brock stooped down and rubbed his thumb against the boards, bringing it back up to inspect it and finding no hints of dust or dirt specks as he rubbed the substance that came off the floor, "This place is very well-maintained, but there are no signs of anybody coming through here."

"How can you tell?" Misty asked.

"Growing up, I looked after a ten-person household," the breeder answered. "I can tell a lot about a residence from its level of cleanliness. The polish on these boards is still untouched; people walking over it should've reduced the shine."

Humming thoughtfully, Misty leaned against a wall, but yelped when it gave way and rotated for her to fall through an opening.

Ash had snapped his head in her direction when she did so, and he grabbed his walking stick from his back before lashing out to jam the panel at the end of its spin and keep it from snapping back into place. Prying it open again, he leaned inside and found Misty rubbing her backside from where she apparently fell on it. Vaporeon slipped underneath him and moved over to check on his Trainer.

"You okay, Misty?" Ash asked while taking in the new surroundings. It seemed to be some kind of storeroom with crates dotting the walls, the threshold of the passage making way for another dirt floor where Misty had fallen.

The Cerulean Leader grumbled, but nodded while standing back up, "I'm fine, but what's with the moving wall?"

"Some old houses had all sorts of hidden passages and even some traps before modern security systems were invented," Brock explained while examining the panel. "Seems there's more to the Gym than just finding it."

Pikachu heard footsteps and turned to a passage in the corner, "Pi!"

The group followed his gaze and saw a diminutive Pokémon walk into the room. It had a round body covered in purple fur and red compound eyes with two white antennae. Peach-colored feet with two rounded toes and two short limbs in front with same-colored tiny hands similar to a Butterfree's operated as its limbs. Its mouth was underneath its pink nose and covered by its fur save for two curved fangs.

Ash pointed his Pokédex to it, causing it to announce, "Venonat, the Insect Pokémon. Its eyes can emit radar-like waves, allowing it to see in the dark."

"Well, finding a Pokémon is a start for a Gym," the Pallet Trainer commented.

Venonat hopped across the ground and out of the passage back into the entrance hall. The trio followed before pausing as the Insect Pokémon ran ahead and stopped at the corner, turning around and calling, "Veno-nat."

"I… think Venonat wants us to follow it," Brock said.

Ash pursed his lips, but stepped back into the hall with his stick at the ready, "Stay behind me. There might be more traps."

As they followed after Venonat, the Pokémon running once again, Ash swept his walking stick back and forth as he kept a fast walk. Trying to keep his eyes on the fleeing Bug-type, he stopped when his stick hit something uneven on the floor and a discharge of electricity shot out and above.

Having dashed back and held his arms out to stop Brock and Misty, he looked down and saw a hole in the floor where a spherical Pokémon with scowling eyes on its red upper half and no mouth on its lower white half lurked. The irate Pokémon continued buzzing with electricity as it glared at the trio.

Ash sighed in relief while looking at the singed, but still whole, end of his stick, "Thank goodness for wood not conducting electricity." He took out his Pokédex again, "Dexter, analyze."

"Voltorb, the Ball Pokémon. It bears an uncanny and unexplained resemblance to a Poké Ball. Because it explodes at the slightest shock, even veteran Trainers treat it with caution."

"Explodes?!" the Pallet Trainer exclaimed.

The Ball Pokémon glared harder as it spoke in a high-pitched mechanical voice, "Voltorb!"

Backing away quickly, the trio of Trainers regarded it warily from farther away, the Electric-type seeming to calm down slightly while still watching them.

"How are we supposed to get past a living bomb?" Misty questioned incredulously.

Brock wryly replied, "I'd guess very carefully."

"Wait… I think I have an idea," Ash chimed in while taking a Poké Ball from his belt. "Drowzee."

After calling out the Psychic-type, he tapped the side of his head to signal mental communication and then pointed to Voltorb while thinking, 'Use Hypnosis on that Voltorb to put it to sleep so we can sneak by.'

'Right,' Drowzee affirmed before turning to the Electric-type.

Eyes locked with its own, Ash's Pokémon waved his hands up and down in swaying motions with his fingers crooked, hypnotic waves emanating from his body towards his target as he chanted in a slow voice.

"[Sleep,]" he finished, the command echoing to Voltorb's perception, the Ball Pokémon nodding off a moment later.

Afterwards, the group edged past the Electric-type, Misty quietly but vehemently refusing Vaporeon's request for a marker to doodle a mouth on its face. The Bubble Jet Pokémon pouted as they made their way up a staircase at the end of the hall, Drowzee staying out to try sensing and dealing with more traps involving Pokémon.

Ash was still taking the lead with his stick as they reached the next floor, "Now where'd Venonat go…?"

Drowzee extended his senses and pointed to the end of the straight passage way, 'There.' The Insect Pokémon stood at the far side and hopped away around the corner when spotted.

The Pallet Trainer moved forward, still sweeping his walking stick and stopped again when it hit something.

Misty blinked at his abrupt halting and asked, "What is it?"

Ash noted that his walking stick couldn't move forward and knocked on the space in front of him, finding a perfectly clear glass wall blocking the way.

Brock placed a hand on it for a moment and noticed the print left behind, along with the lack of dust, "Somebody has to be maintaining all these traps…"

Drowzee sensed somebody arriving in the room behind the wall beside them and pointed it out to his Trainer. Ash turned and frowned at the wall, prodding it a few times in different spots with his walking stick before a large panel gave way and rotated slightly.

He leaned in before immediately pulling away as pelting sounds rang out against the spinning door. Growling, Ash let Drowzee go first at the Psychic-type's insistence and followed right behind. Misty and Brock curiously followed and paled when they saw shuriken embedded in the edge of the secret door and adjacent wall where Ash's head had been.

"What's the big idea?!" The Pallet Trainer demanded. "Show yourself!"

A female voice cackled as a figure dropped down, "'Born in darkness, living in darkness, such is the fate of a ninja.'" Landing on one knee, a young woman with long dark green hair in a ponytail was clad in a short-sleeve pink gi with red accents, a gray mesh shirt underneath, red armguards and kneesocks on her arms and legs with simple sandals fitted to her feet. "I am Aya: Ninja Warrior."

Misty raised an eyebrow at her attire, "Don't you think that color's a little bright for a ninja?"

"Maybe for the uninitiated," the ninja retorted before turning to Ash. "You, however, demonstrate passable caution and reflexes."

"You can't just go chucking throwing stars around! It's dangerous!" the Pallet Trainer berated.

Aya scoffed, "This is a training hall. If you're going to be wandering around, you should be prepared." Venonat dropped from the ceiling to stand beside her, "In any case, Venonat informed me that there were three intruders, one of them looking to challenge the Gym Leader. Nobody sees him without getting past me."

"Fine, let's battle," Ash determinedly replied while reversing his hat.

The woman crossed her arms, "One Pokémon each—choose yours now."

"Drowzee, you're up," he informed the Pokémon next to him.

Nodding, the Psychic-type stepped forward and readied himself.

"I select… Venonat!" Aya announced while clasping her hands into a sign with her index and middle fingers raised as her Pokémon hopped forward.

Ash called, "Drowzee, Thunder Wave!"

Sparks danced along the Psychic-type's fingers before he launched thin streams of electricity at Venonat. He had learned the move from Pikachu after finding some tingling sort of energy during his nightly soul searching and identifying its potential to be shaped into electricity. Regardless, the Insect Pokémon dodged the paralyzing attack and began flitting closer.

"Poison Powder," Aya commanded.

As the Bug-type jumped into the air and began shaking to drop purple dust from her fur, Ash hurriedly countered, "Great Breath!"

Puffing up with a deep inhale, Drowzee blew a gale-force wind out of his trunk and dispersed the powder before it could fall on him. Venonat was also knocked back slightly from her airborne position, but rolled back to her feet in an instant after she hit the ground. She leaped forward to make her next move as her Trainer commanded it.

"Leech Life!"

Drowzee needed no prompting and waited for the last moment before teleporting away, Venonat's fangs only biting air. He reappeared behind her in a stooped position and caught his opponent in a Mega Punch uppercut before warping again above her in a different position and dropping his leg down in a Mega Kick over the back of her head. As Venonat bounced, the Hypnosis Pokémon teleported once more to line up in the air and dropped down on top of her in a Body Slam from above.

"Venonat!" the ninja called in concern.

After his combination, Drowzee vanished and reappeared on Ash's side of the arena to distance himself before Venonat could counter. Venonat tried to stand up, but flopped back to the ground.

Aya growled and held out her Poké Ball, "Venonat, return!"

"Good work, Drowzee," Ash praised while the Insect Pokémon disappeared back into the sphere.

The brief celebration was cut off with a rolling sound caused by a Voltorb's appearance, its mechanical voice getting everybody's attention.

"It's another Voltorb!" Misty cried out, getting a Poké Ball ready.

The Ball Pokémon immediately detonated as she opened the sphere, emitting a large amount of smoke, but no fire or other attributes of an explosion. The cloud was kept at bay by the Aqua Barrier that Misty had Goldeen erect in front of their group from floor to ceiling, but they watched warily.

"You still have much to learn, Aya," a new masculine voice lectured from the smoke before it cleared to reveal a man in a royal blue long-sleeve gi with navy accents, the sleeves, waist and ends of his legs tied with navy bindings, a long red scarf around his neck. He had black hair spiked up with a few strands hanging over his forehead from a prominent widow's peak.

Aya immediately got to one knee with her head bowed, "Honored brother, I have failed."

"Life is a learning experience," he reassured before addressing Ash as the wall of water gradually lowered and flowed through the open panel door out some barred windows to the outside. "It has been many moons since a Trainer sought out the Fuchsia Gym. Do you think yourself up to the task of battling me?"

"Of course!" Ash replied with a fist held up.

Drowzee stared at the man in utter shock. He could see him, and hear him, but his psychic senses returned a complete blank. He could sense Aya's presence, the Voltorb now hiding in the floor, several more in the ceiling, but not the man right before his eyes.

'Ash,' he telepathically communicated. 'This man… he's invisible to my psychic sense, even right in front of me!'

The Pallet Trainer couldn't help but glance at Drowzee in surprise, and the Gym Leader smiled.

"Your Drowzee must perceive that I cannot be sensed," he guessed. "Such is the epitome of ninja skill, to harmonize with the environment to its fullest. Do you still feel confident in your victory, young man?"

"I've faced psychics, ghosts and whole armies of Pokémon—I'm not backing down from some ninjas!" Ash retorted.

"Then the rules are two-on-two, Ash Ketchum. Face me, Koga of Fuchsia Gym, and show me your spirit!"

While caught off guard at the Gym Leader knowing his name, Ash took another Poké Ball regardless, holding Drowzee's in his left hand.

"Drowzee, return," he called to draw the Hypnosis Pokémon back into his ball to rest in case the Pallet Trainer needed him later. With that done, he threw out the new one, "Jigglypuff, I choose you!"

Koga's Poké Ball seemed to appear out of nowhere in his hand before he threw it, "Then I shall lead with Venomoth!"

As the two Pokémon appeared, Jigglypuff took on a determined stance while Ash held his Pokédex forward.

"Venomoth, the Poison Moth Pokémon, and the evolved form of Venonat. Tiny scales on its wings disperse various toxic powders when flapped."

The Pokémon in question flew with two sets of light purple wings, the top pair larger than the bottom. His thorax was a slightly darker hue with six white legs tucked close to his body, the abdomen even paler than his wings with black lines in a zigzag pattern. The evolved Pokémon's head was more angular with its mandibles on the narrow lower end and a three-pointed crest extending from the top with black pupils in its round, protruding eyes.

The Pallet Trainer hummed as he tried to think of a strategy, but Jigglypuff got his attention and gave him a confident smile with a "Puff!" He knew that she was training herself to learn new moves at Professor Oak's corral, so he decided to trust her, not that he'd readily call her back.

"Venomoth, Stun Spore!" Koga commanded.

The Poison Moth Pokémon flew up higher and released shimmering golden dust from its beating wings, but Jigglypuff smirked and took a breath.

A stream of fire shot out of her open mouth and widened in the open air as she shouted, "Puuuuff!"

"Whoa!" Ash yelped in surprise as the airborne powder caught the flames and disintegrated in a flare, Venomoth dodging the attack with ease as he cut off the flow of Stun Spore before the fleeting blaze reached him. Then the Pallet Trainer scratched the side of his head, "Okay, guess you've been learning from Charmeleon."

"I didn't know Jigglypuff could learn Flamethrower," Brock mused. (1)

Misty shook her head, "Finally a move that suits the little hothead…"

Jigglypuff decided to ignore the slight against her and focus on trying to hit her opponent with Bubble Beam as Venomoth flitted and fluttered about the room. She had just recently learned Flamethrower, and she didn't want to push her luck on how many times she could use it. Not to mention that they were in a wooden and paper room and she didn't know if it was proofed against fire.

"Venomoth, Toxic!" Koga called.

As the Poison Moth Pokémon shot a mist of venom from between its fangs that drifted towards the ground, Jigglypuff quickly opened her mouth and initiated a Flamethrower before closing it around the forming ball, inflating at the same time. From the heat in her center and air filling her, she became a living hot air balloon and quickly floated to the ceiling, dodging the attack. Spitting out the flame afterward, she kept her body puffed up as she hovered more evenly now.

"Thunder Wave!" Ash commanded.

Jigglypuff buzzed with electricity, able to channel the paralyzing move through all her fur now, without needing to build up static as a crutch. She released the thin bolts of electricity through the air and all over the arena.

Venomoth flitted around, but one of the random bolts clipped his wing. Ash's Pokémon seized the opportunity given and dropped back to safe ground as the Poison Moth Pokémon started descending due to a paralyzed wing. She took a breath, but Ash cut her off.

"Not Flamethrower—Mega Punch!"

Puzzled, but following through anyway, Jigglypuff was surprised when Venomoth disappeared in a puff of smoke right as her fist connected.

"Water Gun straight up!"

Now nearly panicking, the Balloon Pokémon dropped to her back and sprayed a fountain of water to the ceiling, the curve of her body flattening slightly against the hardwood floor. Venomoth reappeared above, having to abort his flight path in the face of the attack, a light mist of Toxic cutting off from his mouth as the water rendered it diluted when it splashed outward and came back down.

Koga chuckled, "Good instincts, young man."

"My Bellsprout is learning Substitute too, so I know the move is about slipping away undetected," Ash retorted. "There've been tricks and traps all over this Gym, so why would the Leader be any different? I also know that doing that just cost Venomoth a chunk of their energy."

As Jigglypuff hopped back to her feet and took the time to hose away the residual Toxic venom still on the floor of the Gym, Koga seemed both excited and more serious.

"I must admit, nobody who's gotten past Aya has seen through my Venomoth's Substitute Lure the first time, nor figured out such an effective counter to reveal him and prevent his follow-up from landing," he stated. "However, a ninja exposed only fights harder and faster."

Jigglypuff and Venomoth regarded each other again, the former scowling at nearly being taken out of the fight while her opponent remained stoic.


"Ice Beam!"

While Koga's Pokémon fired bright, multicolored beams of energy from its eyes that combined into one, Jigglypuff opened her mouth and shot intertwining cyan bolts to meet it. As the two attacks collided, frosty mist and rainbow sparks emitted from the respective sides, both trying to push through the struggle.

Beating his wings while maintaining his Psybeam, Venomoth started releasing Poison Powder that drifted across the ground towards Jigglypuff.

"Watch your feet," Ash casually warned.

The Balloon Pokémon had already noticed, and she reluctantly broke off the attack and jumped up to dodge the multicolored beam before spraying a quick Flamethrower to incinerate the powder, the recoil allowing her to fly further up and avoid her opponent following her with Psybeam.

This time, since Venomoth's focus was divided, he wasn't quite quick enough in cutting off his powder and the resulting blaze from the dust burning scorched his front slightly. He tried to hit her with Psybeam again while she was drifting in the air, but Jigglypuff shot a Water Gun upwards to drop back to the ground with the knockback and ran around, dodging the repeated shots.

"Venomoth," Koga called, "calm yourself. Frustration is unbecoming, and you're just wasting energy at this point."

The Poison Moth Pokémon resumed his stare down with Jigglypuff, but was still internally indignant from being countered at every turn and slowly worn down over time. He'd been outmatched at a disadvantage before, yes, but never outmaneuvered in the first battle with any opponent.

Jigglypuff was barely starting to breathe a little heavier than normal through her nostrils while he was putting all he had in maintaining his façade of indifference, showing no exhaustion or outward emotion. His efforts to keep his composure weren't helped by the Balloon Pokémon pulling her eyelid down while sticking her tongue out.

Aya watched the match with slightly widened eyes. Her brother was usually assured a victory at least the first time Trainers challenged him, but his normal deceptions had little to no effect on Ash and, by extension, his Pokémon. Granted, Koga had mentioned that he expected the Pallet Trainer to put up a good fight, but never had it entered her mind that even a long battle would end in any way but the Fuchsia Leader's victory the first time through.

Jigglypuff shot another Bubble Beam, Venomoth flying around to dodge, but not as fast as before. While he moved about, Jigglypuff fired a jolt of Thunder Wave from her hand, figuring that it would either stun her opponent or force him to use Substitute again.

He got hit by the narrow beam, leading her to get instantly suspicious and spin around on her toe, electricity buzzing as she shot a swirling mass of Thunder Wave jolts to envelop the area around her. Another Venomoth appeared above her as he got hit by several waving streams, his wings now paralyzed.

Ash made note of the move and how it was like Squirtle's Bubble Storm. 'Maybe I could do some experimenting to see if any other moves can be used like that. It'll need a general name, though.'

As the real Poison Moth Pokémon dropped to her level, Jigglypuff struck him with Mega Punch and then leaped back when he didn't break apart like the last clone. Opening her mouth again, she gathered fire into it and shot a Flamethrower before he could get away again.

Holding it for a few seconds, she let up to see that Venomoth was struggling on the ground before he went limp as he passed out.

Koga grunted with a nod, "Well done, young man. Very few Trainers have defeated Venomoth on their first try, much less so using their first Pokémon."

Aya was staring in stunned disbelief, but her eyes discreetly flicked sideways as if she heard something. Regarding it suspiciously for a moment, she dismissed it and returned her attention to the battle.

The Fuchsia Leader had returned his Pokémon and switched out the ball for another with sleight of hand, "However, Venomoth is not my strongest in pure battle ability. That accolade goes to my next Pokémon. Golbat!"

With the sphere flying forward, a new Pokémon materialized in the air. This one looked like an evolved Zubat from the fact that they shared the body and wing colors. Unlike the other Bat Pokémon, though, this one was many times larger and had small eyes with slit pupils at the top of their head, their ears smaller and resting further above at the sides of its crown. The rest of their body seemed to be eclipsed by a massive mouth with two sharp fangs lining each half and a long tongue resting in the lower jaw. Two legs hung below, letting Ash know that Golbat did in fact have a body and the mouth was just that—likely elastic or with a detachable jaw like a snake. The Pokémon's wingspan was far larger as well, easily twice their body length when fully stretched out. They also possessed a fitted anklet on their leg with some sort of grey stone fixed to it.

Ash took out his Pokédex again and the device pinged, "Golbat, the Bat Pokémon. The evolved form of Zubat. It has four sharp fangs capable of draining 300 cubic centimeters of blood in one bite."

"Yikes," he muttered. "Watch out for those teeth, Jigglypuff."

The Balloon Pokémon nodded with a determined hum.

"Golbat, open up with Double Team," Koga commanded.

With hardly any sign of movement, copies of the Bat Pokémon appeared all over the room at various elevations and poses of flight, blurring out and being replaced every few moments. Pikachu was admittedly impressed where he watched from Ash's shoulder. The sheer amount of afterimages made his and Pidgeot's Double Team look amateurish by comparison.

"Spin and use Thunder Wave!" he urged in retaliation.

Jigglypuff did so, the thin electrical bolts sweeping through the room, but not finding Golbat as afterimages were disrupted. The flying Pokémon did reappear a moment later, closing in while darting about, dodging through gaps in the attack with his mouth closed.


The same poisonous mist that Venomoth used shot out of Golbat's gaping maw as he opened it again. Jigglypuff was forced to abandon her attack and flee, allowing her opponent to close the distance behind her in a heartbeat with his mouth open wide enough to cover half of her in one bite.

"Jigglypuff!" Ash called worriedly.

But right as Golbat's teeth clamped down, Jigglypuff deflated, her elastic skin not getting pierced since it was no longer stretched out with air, resulting in him gnawing on the Balloon Pokémon ineffectually. Her flattened face was still very irritated, though, and she started buzzing with electricity, prompting Golbat to hurriedly spit her out and dodge the resulting streams of Thunder Wave while backing off again.

Ash's Pokémon inflated again a moment later and glared at the indignity of being chewed on. But she knew that she was mismatched against Golbat if he could dodge her spinning Thunder Wave, and he was way too fast for her to land a hit otherwise—not without tiring him out. Unless she used Sing, and even if she didn't have an aversion to using it – there was no glory in a cheap victory – it'd put everyone else, except possibly Koga, to sleep as well.

With that in mind, Jigglypuff turned her body slightly and reached a hand towards Ash, a sign the Trainer had worked out with his Pokémon to mean "switch out."

"[Kick his butt,]" she added, even though she knew Ash wouldn't be able to understand what she said.

"All right," he replied while holding out her Poké Ball. "You put up a great fight, Jigglypuff. Return."

After the beam pulled her back, he thought about who would be best to send out next when a hatch in the floor thudded open.

"Brother!" Aya called out.

Ash instinctively looked to where she stood, but blinked in surprise when the green-haired woman was quiet and staring somewhere else in befuddlement. Turning, he saw another Aya dressed in a purple and blue striped shirt with khaki shorts, both seeming a little ill-fitting. Her hair was also down and a little disheveled, fitting with her generally haggard appearance.

Koga seemed equally nonplussed and everyone in the room was looking between the two similar individuals.

"Who are you?" the Aya closer to Koga demanded. "Speak, impostor!"

"You're the impostor!" the new arrival retorted. "You left me in the woods for two days!"

Crossing her arms, the first retorted, "Ha, as if a non-ninja could sneak up on one such as myself."

"I still don't know how they did it, brother, but you must believe me!" Aya pled.

Turning to him, the other said, "Brother, you'd be able to tell if an impostor took my place; this fake must have manufactured her appearance!"

He glanced at Golbat, but the Bat Pokémon gave a narrow-eyed gaze of consternation. His hearing couldn't detect any changes in heartbeat, meaning either that both believed they were telling the truth, or the impostor was a gifted liar.

"Team Rocket must be behind this," Ash realized with a growl while taking out a Poké Ball. "Drowzee, scan their minds and find the fake."

When both the women turned to him, Koga abruptly whipped a kunai at each of them at different speeds to account for their positions. The second Aya spotted the motion and barely bent out of the way of the faster projectile with a bit of strain on her face while the one closer to him did the same but got nicked on the shoulder.

"Brother!" she cried in shock.

"My sister would've made a clean dodge at that speed," Koga stated furiously while pulling a tanto from a pocket in the back of his gi. "They'll never find your body."

With a blink, the look in her eyes changed and she immediately ran away while holding her fingers to her lips and sharply whistling. The Fuchsia Leader gave chase and was about to overtake her when a tile from the ceiling moved aside and a new figure dropped in. He swung to cut them down with his blade while still running, but his strike got deflected by another.

When he was forced to stop and dodge a slash from the new assailant before catching and locking their blades together, his eyes widened as he recognized them.

Magenta hair as impractically long as he remembered in that long curl, Jessie stood before him with a bowie knife in hand, Aya's imposter having escaped during the confrontation. More than that, he saw the symbol emblazoned on her vest.

"You…" he hissed, maintaining his calm even with the seething tone.

The Rocket agent smirked, "Been a while, hasn't it, sensei?"

"Sensei?!" Ash repeated incredulously.

"You are no longer my student," Koga retorted.

"Aww, you're breaking my heart," Jessie tittered. "Are you going to let one little loss come between us?"

Koga's glare intensified, "You understand nothing about a master's mindset! Golbat, Screech!"

The Bat Pokémon's shriek sent sonic waves towards both of them, Koga unaffected while Jessie was forced to break the deadlock to dodge out of the targeted area. The Gym Leader pursued her, attacking in tandem with his Pokémon.

"He can handle Jessie," Ash decided. "Drowzee, do you sense anybody else here?"

Closing his eyes in concentration, he answered, 'Yes, discounting Jessie, there are ten presences in total. This includes a team of four and two duos being in groups, making five parties. There are also many more people visible to me now; they're asleep in the spaces within this building.'

The Pallet Trainer cursed, "That was their plan! They replaced Aya to keep an eye out for me, waited until I had Koga's attention and then put the rest to sleep so they could steal everything!"

"We have to find them," Misty urged. "But we'll need to split up, and if they had a fake Aya then they know the layout and traps of this place."

'I can teleport each group to their locations, but we need to hurry,' Drowzee offered.

Calling out their Pokémon, the Trainers divided themselves into five groups. Butterfree was going alone since his psychic abilities made him more than enough to handle a small group. Ash with Pikachu and Drowzee, Brock with Zubat and Pidgeot and Misty with Starmie and Vaporeon covered three more of the intruders while a group of Pokémon composed of Graveler, Staryu, Charmeleon filled in the last spot. Jigglypuff and Goldeen were kept in reserve by their respective Trainers so that they could mobilize quickly after warping.

Grabbing their hands one-by-one, Drowzee began teleporting the groups.

Misty arrived to see a blur of black and green running by her with the sound of rapid footsteps, only her firm grip on her backpack keeping it from being lifted off her shoulder, and it nearly yanked her off her feet to keep it in her possession.

"Gah!" she yelped while being forcibly turned around as the speedy assailant continued.

Starmie's gem turned orange in anger at the assault on her Trainer and then glowed light blue she used her budding psychic powers to create a telekinetic tripwire. Even if she wasn't experienced enough to grab such a speedy target, she still made him stumble while Vaporeon shot an Aurora Beam. The temporary stop also allowed Misty to see that the green bundle on his back was an elastic bag filled with many lumps.

With his back to the redhead, the Rocket agent visibly shivered under the chilling rays of light, but powered through it and shoved his way through a revolving panel in the wall beside him to get out of range.

"Keep your senses on him, Starmie," Misty urged while leading her two Pokémon to follow the thief. "That has to have slowed him down at least a little."

'Misty, he's still moving very fast,' Starmie reported as she detected him moving through the Gym. 'I'm trying to read his mind, but… Ugh, there's this annoying song going through his mind in a loop. I'm still new to telepathy, so I can't get through to his inner thoughts like this.'

"We need to hurry before he loses us!" she cursed while taking out her third Poké Ball.

After calling out Goldeen, she had the Goldfish Pokémon flood the halls before them with Surf, hoping to make it harder for him to advance while speeding them along by manipulating the water around them. Unfortunately, Starmie reported that the thief was going up now, and they looked around the room where he'd last been sensed at their level to find no sign of what he'd used to escape.

Misty growled, "Why does this Gym need to have so many secret passages?!"

Drowzee dropped Brock off next and the breeder saw Meowth wielding one of the mechanical limbs Team Rocket had used before in a set of charcoal coveralls with the Rocket symbol in a lighter patch on the left side of his chest.

The feline agent was sapping a Voltorb of its electricity through the limb before popping out the cartridge and putting a new one in, the prehensile arm dropping the now drained Voltorb into a bag held by Mankey while Arbok and Fearow looked on.

The Cobra Pokémon noticed Brock first and hissed, alerting the other three Pokémon of his presence. Fearow's glare grew especially hostile at the sight of Pidgeot, and Meowth tossed the controller of the limb to Mankey.

"Keep grabbin', we'll hold 'em off," the feline agent commanded.

Mankey snapped a salute with a "Mochit!" before running off, not encumbered in the slightest by the sack of Pokémon larger than him.

Brock gritted his teeth since he needed to get past the three before him to get at the Pokémon they'd captured. Taking his entrenching tool from out of its pocket, he extended it, making Meowth raise an eyebrow.

"Ah, yeah, ya had dat shovel back at da construction site too," he noted while popping out his claws. "Ya really ready ta fight wit' da big boys?"

The Pewter Leader remained silent as he charged forward with the rest of the Pokémon, letting Zubat fly circles around Arbok while Pidgeot went for Fearow while he handled Meowth. While trickier for sure, there was probably still a strength difference between the cat and the rest of the Pokémon.

Zubat opened with Supersonic while Pidgeot feinted to tackle Fearow only to continue onward towards where Mankey had run off to. The Sharp Beak Pokémon chased after once she realized she'd been fooled, and it left only two-on-two remaining.

Brock swiped at Meowth below him, only for the feline agent to jump back and then zip forward again to attack. Luckily, the breeder had practiced for that maneuver and smoothly changed his grip to thrust with the handle of the tool instead.

Meowth barely dodged and had to jump back again when Brock tried to trap one of his legs with the broad D-shaped handle. He shot a trio of Swift stars from his left paw as a distraction, but Brock swatted them with the flat of the shovel to reduce them to harmless sparkles and continued forward, forcing Meowth to give ground with the breeder's larger stride.

While growling, the Scratch Cat Pokémon knew that jumping for Brock's face was a bad idea since it would leave him wide open and unable to dodge. He decided it was time to retreat with what they had.

Jumping back, he sent a flurry of stars at Brock, forcing him to defend from them while he took Jessie's Poké Ball from his coveralls. Arbok was having trouble pinning down the small Bat Pokémon on top of being disoriented by Supersonic and Confuse Ray whenever she started getting a clear line of sight on him while he bit, sliced with his wing and gradually whittled her down. Hurriedly returning the Cobra Pokémon, he put his hands near his charm and formed a mid-sized Swift star for a light source before magnifying it with Flash, forcing the breeder to close his eyes.

The feline Rocket agent ran off on all fours, having long adjusted to doing so with his shoes on. Moving further down the corridor, he found Fearow and Pidgeot tangled in battle, neither able to fight at their full potential in the narrow space. Taking the opportunity of having Ash's Pokémon unaware, he released a swarm of stars that hovered in midair before converging on Pidgeot, not injuring him much, but stunning the Flying-type. Fearow seized her chance and sped forward with Agility, spearing Pidgeot's shoulder with Javelin Strike.

Pidgeot went down, trying to get feeling back into his wing, but Meowth ran past and grabbed Fearow's leg to pull her away when she tried to continue attacking.

"No time!" he urged, hearing Brock running down the hall further back. "Let's grab Mankey and get outta here!"

Butterfree needed very little time to identify who he was brought to. James' pink rose nearly dropped out of slackened fingers as he was hefting an unconscious Voltorb into a bag on the ground with one hand. Weezing was equally shocked, both faces agape.

The Butterfly Pokémon immediately moved to seize them with Psychic, but the flower in James' grip flew towards him with a flick of the agent's wrist and he had to deflect it with Confusion before it released pink gas that dissipated into the air away from him. Weezing used that small bit of time to release a cloud of Smokescreen.

Flying forward, Butterfree quickly dispersed the cloud with his wings and saw their retreating backs, but a bomb was thrown into his path and he had to deflect that too. At the last second, his training kicked in and he closed his eyes to begin tracking the two with his psychic sensing as it occurred to him that the projectile could be a flash grenade. The burst of light proved him correct and he flew in pursuit of the Rocket officer and his Pokémon.

His antennae picked up the scent of a Smog attack, though, and he quickly flew back to avoid being poisoned or dazed. Opening his eyes, he saw that a blue rose was heading for the cloud of flammable gas with two unlit bombs set on the floor inside it. The Smog ignited before he could clear it and both bombs went off, combining into a mid-sized explosion that sent wooden shards towards him. With so many small projectiles, as well as his mounting frustration with the stalling tactics, several struck him even as he tried to use Confusion to stop them.

Dispersing the residual smoke and sawdust, James and Weezing were nowhere in sight. The duo had disappeared into the secret passages throughout the Gym from what he could detect.

Growling in rage, Butterfree sent a wave of telekinesis that probed the walls and ceiling for secret doors, the surfaces creaking from the sheer force exerted. One passage in the wall tore open from the pressure placed on it, giving the Butterfly Pokémon the most likely way the two of them had gone. Flying through the broken passageway, Butterfree gave chase to the Rocket agent and his Pokémon.

The trio of Pokémon arrived with Staryu perched on Graveler, the Rock Pokémon and Charmeleon holding Drowzee's hands before letting go so he could immediately warp away again.

Their opposition stood before them, a muscled man in the Team Rocket uniform with a ski mask added for anonymity as he wielded a Poké-Plucker with a built in Zap Sapper to drain Voltorbs. His Pokémon was a Machoke clad in the standard wrestling shorts and belt of his species, and both were holding heaping bags of Voltorbs.

"Don't got anything against you," the man warned. "Just stay back, and we don't hafta fight."

Charmeleon's answer was a Flamethrower towards both of them, which Machoke blocked by stabbing his fingers into the ground and lifting the boards and earth beneath as a makeshift shield. The wood turned out to be fire-resistant, but Staryu and Graveler still moved forward.

Running at first, the Rock Pokémon wrapped his arms around himself and jumped off his feet to roll forward, picking up speed with his special rolling Tackle that Brock had helped him learn.

Using the uprooted floor as a ramp, he soared overhead and landed on the other side of the hall, turning around to effectively box the duo in.

Grunting, the man kicked the wall beside him, revealing it to be a decoy that fell away and led to the outside. Jumping out with Machoke close behind him, the trio of Pokémon moved to the edge to see a long drop down into a river that they just splashed into.

Cursing that he and Graveler couldn't follow them, Charmeleon turned to Staryu and said, "[Try to get those Pokémon back.]"

"[Right!]" the Star-Shaped Pokémon agreed before diving downward.

Hitting the water with a small splash, he could see the thief and his Machoke swimming downstream with the bags over the water on their back – likely tied around their necks – so he sped along to catch up. Surfacing in front of the duo, he fired Swift to harass them before diving again and swooping closer to try stealing one of the bags. They swiped at him, but the water slowed their blows and he used Minimize to make himself even harder to hit.

Wedging himself between the human's neck and the bag hanging over his back first, Staryu grew again and forced him to untie the bag since the knot was choking him as it got pulled back. Quickly grabbing it with two points he set it on one of the protruding rocks upstream for safekeeping before going for Machoke. But the human took one of the Voltorbs out of the other bag and turned before chucking it at the Star-Shaped Pokémon.

Caught off guard by the speed at which it flew, it hit Staryu directly and flared before blowing up in a small explosion. Both Pokémon fell in the water and the thief urged his Pokémon to hurry as they swam faster.

Underwater, Staryu glimmered with golden sparkles as he used Recover, the water able to rejuvenate him enough from unconsciousness. Grabbing the passed out Voltorb drifting along the surface, he shakily flew atop the water and set it on top of the others.

'That was the most damage I've ever had to heal. If that Pokémon hadn't already been sapped of electricity, my gem might've been cracked,' Staryu thought. He then noticed that the Machoke and his Trainer weren't paying attention to him anymore and were focused on swimming away.

Glimmering with another use of Recover to top off his energy, the Water-type dove back into the water while thinking, 'They have to be heading somewhere…'

"I should have known you, of all the troublesome bunch, would be the one to find me."

Ash glared at the Aya impostor, who was still talking with her victim's voice. Once they'd arrived, Drowzee teleported to the other end of the hall to box her in and Pikachu had his fingers pointed for a Lightning Arrow the instant she made any sudden move.

"Any Pokémon you have for yourself would give you away," the Pallet Trainer pointed out. "I want Aya's Pokémon back, and any information you have on Team Rocket."

"We all want things; doesn't mean we get them," she retorted.

Putting his hands in his pockets, Ash said, "Drowzee can just read your mind, you know."

"Right, of course," the fake ninja sarcastically agreed.

The Hypnosis Pokémon tried to do that, but found a solid barrier underneath the memories and thoughts that made up "Aya." Not a psychic one—simply pure mental discipline in compartmentalizing and repressing memories. If he didn't know better, Drowzee would think the memories of Aya's life were genuine, as if the impostor herself truly believed she was Koga's sister. There was only a dim echo that affirmed otherwise, one he'd bet she could suppress just as easily.

'Ash, whoever this person is, they only have Aya's knowledge in the open; everything else is locked away,' he reported privately to his Trainer.

Ash frowned, thinking, 'Can't you get past the block?'

'If I had, oh, a good hour or two to pick the defenses and find a weak spot. But not quickly.'

"Judging by the look on your face, I'm guessing your pet just told you what I already know," the false Aya chimed in with a smirk. "My mind's off limits to anyone but-"

A floor panel abruptly burst upward behind her and everyone's eyes widened when the real Aya surged upward to stand behind her and put her in a hold with a kunai to her throat, "Give me Venonat right now or I'll start cutting off body parts."

Ash felt nauseated at the threat, but tried not to let it show on his face as he quietly gulped back the bile that rose in his throat. Also, it became obvious why the fake hadn't been concerned; she'd been standing right near an escape route.

"You're bluffing," the fake retorted.

Pressing the blade hard enough to cut through the skin, but drawing no blood, Aya said, "You left me bound in the woods for two days and have my partner in your possession. Furthermore, if nobody knows who you are outside of Team Rocket, nobody outside will know if you suddenly disappear. Don't test me."

The disguised agent narrowed her eyes, "…Fine."

Reaching into her stolen gi, she took out a shrunken Poké Ball and started handing it over before abruptly tossing it up into the air. Aya's eyes instinctively tracked it, but she realized the trap and started driving the blade in right before she got elbowed in the ribs.

Having jerked her head away from the blade after tossing the sphere, only a little bit of blood spurted out of the slit in her disguise as the impostor shoved past Aya and quickly escaped down the still open trapdoor, keeping her in the way of Ash to avoid Pikachu's electricity. The Electric-type tried anyway, aiming for the entrance to the underground passage, but missing from having to aim around Koga's sister.

Venonat's shrunken Poké Ball clacked to the ground and rolled a bit as Ash started running after the fleeing agent, only to see Aya nursing her ribs and making her way towards the ball.

'Drowzee, can you track that spy?' he asked in his mind.

The Psychic Pokémon replied, 'I can sense where she is, but that matters little with the convoluted passageways of this Gym. We could wind up going in the complete opposite direction.'

With that in mind, the Pallet Trainer made his decision and began approaching Aya.

The ninja ignored him at first as she expanded the ball and opened it, seeming relieved when Venonat appeared. The Insect Pokémon was still worn out from the battle earlier, but approached and nuzzled at her Trainer's legs.

"[I'm sorry,]" she implored in her screechy voice. "[She looked, acted and smelled like you, and after you came back, I realized that the Poké Ball was locked.]"

Aya didn't seem concerned about what her Pokémon was saying and stooped down before falling into a sitting position, "I thought I'd never see you again…"

After hearing what Venonat had said, Ash made a note to be wary from then on since the impostor could be anywhere, anyone around him. He'd been lucky enough to have Aya break out of wherever she'd been left, but the next time might not be so easy. With that thought tucked away, he cleared his throat.

When the duo before him looked, he said, "Hey, I don't know much about first aid, but I just bought a really good med kit. If you need to use some supplies, feel free."

Back in the room Koga and Jessie had been left in, the duo was still fighting, Jessie having managed to disarm the leader of his lighter blade with the bowie knife, only for him to immediately grab her wrist in a joint lock and force her to release her weapon. A somewhat hasty kick had managed to part him from her, and the two had switched to martial arts, knowing that going for their weapons would leave them vulnerable by taking their eyes off their opponent.

Golbat, meanwhile, was bound and glued to the floor in a web-like paste that Jessie had shot from her wristband early in the battle. His mouth was also shut since it would've choked him otherwise by getting lodged in his throat, so he couldn't even use his sound-based moves.

Having begun using her ballet style, Koga dodged through her blows, and she smirked as she turned a kick into a cartwheel, ending in a pirouette that would strike with a kick when he predictably sidestepped her swinging feet.

When her limb hit nothing but air, her eyes widened as she saw him drop into a handstand with his legs in an upside-down split, now being too low for where her kick had been aimed at his torso. And rather than leaving himself vulnerable, he swung his weight and did a double leg sweep that forced her to jump with the first leg and caught her with the second higher up.

As she landed on her side, he kipped up back to his feet and she rolled away to dodge his follow up sliding kick, the Gym Leader now moving in a snake-like way with whip-like strikes of his limbs and angling his hips and torso to barely dodge strikes and take advantage of openings in the moment.

She tried grabbing him and locking him in a ballet duet to land some blows and prevent him from striking, but he immediately reversed their positions and pulled her into a familiar pose, the arm closest to him forced to the small of her back where his lay while the other was held to the side as the two faced each other.

"You," she spat. "You took my style and added to it."

"I told you that you understand nothing of a master's mindset," Koga retorted as memories came back.

After he'd gotten over the shock of losing against her, his mind had been awhirl with the possibilities of incorporating her graceful movements into his school's curriculum. His family had always stuck to the sharp, fast and efficient kata, but she'd shown that he himself still had more to learn. Never had Koga been prouder of any of his students, to have surpassed him in at least one aspect.

Before he could find her again to ask for her assistance in teaching her ballet hybrid style, along with the potential of turning other dance styles into variants, she had disappeared from the Gym. Despite her average stealth skills, she'd managed to slip past the staff's patrols along with the other students in the compound.

Still, the Fuchsia Leader took the lesson she taught him to heart and redoubled his own training, both him and his Pokémon, resulting in Venonat evolving into Venomoth and requiring an Everstone for Golbat so that he could continue to be used for Gym battles. He himself had studied various dance styles and incorporated moves from several into his personal repertoire, the most prevalent being rumba (angling the torso and waist for narrow dodges), tango (grappling), flamenco (footwork) and break-dancing (unpredictability).

With the changes in his curriculum, Koga held optional dance classes and offered various fighting styles based on them in addition to the compulsory standard style. Learning a complex style without a foundation would only complicate the process, after all.

And now here she was in front of him yet again, her allegiance to a criminal organization. His greatest pride now massively disappointed him by using her skills for thievery instead of protection like his school proclaimed.

"I have nothing more to say to my rogue student," he stated while freeing his hand by sweeping her foot and forcing her into a lopsided tango dip. "I intend to stop you here and now."

Removing a smaller blade from his gi, he aimed for her neck only for her to flip back out of the dip and put them at the maximum distance she could. Koga still sliced along her wrist instead before she could wrestle her hand out of his grip. Jessie felt a numbing sensation spreading from the wound.

'Poison,' she mentally cursed. 'Paralytic. I probably have a few minutes at best before I can't move for however long it lasts. If he'd gotten my neck, it'd have been a lot quicker.'

Jessie smiled, not letting her worry of getting captured show, "That's nice, but I've done my job by now. And you didn't expect me to come into this without some sort of leverage, did you?"

One of the ceiling tiles moved aside, and Koga glanced up before taking a shocked breath through his nose. A Beedrill was lurking in the crawlspace above and had one of its arms wrapped around a young, purple-haired girl in white gi that was still asleep while bound in silk thread. The other stinger was aimed at her abdomen in threat as the Poison Bee Pokémon watched him.

"This is dishonorable, even among ninja I haven't trained!" Koga shouted as he turned his glare back to his former student.

"Of course I didn't forget little Janine," Jessie taunted. "She joined shortly after me and thought the world of you, so it's a given that she'd be lurking around here to watch her father battle. While Team Rocket are thieves, not murderers, a full-fledged Beedrill sting would put her in oh-so much pain. Do you really want her to go through that just for me?"

The Gym Leader's seething gaze lingered on her for a moment before he replied, "…Very well. Return my daughter, and you will be allowed to leave."

"You think I'm an idiot?" Jessie asked. "I go up, you stand under the open tile, and our Vileplume dusts you with Sleep Powder, then Beedrill lowers your daughter with String Shot."

With a growl, Koga followed as a Vileplume made an appearance up above to lower a rope as the paralysis was starting to affect the Rocket agent further. He watched her shimmy up with one arm and her legs, saying, "Know this: If I ever meet you again, I will not hold back in order to capture you."

Jessie made her way into the crawlspace and replied, "Duly noted. Vileplume?"

A wave of Sleep Powder rained down from above and Koga held his breath as long as possible while pretending to go down.

"Don't be fooled," he heard Jessie say. "Sensei's built resistance to all sorts of poisons, powders, even man-made drugs, and he can hold his breath for a long time. Plain exposure isn't enough; pour it on thicker and wait for him to breathe."

'Do not call me your master after using my family against me!' the Gym Leader mentally growled while keeping still, the soporific powder now coming down in a thicker shower, making his exposed facial muscles and hands feel slightly lethargic.

Despite his best efforts, he eventually had to take a breath and the powder going up his nose started to take effect, especially as he began losing the fight for consciousness and his rigid control of his breathing.

The only comfort afforded in the last seconds was that he saw Janine lowered down in front of him on a thick string of silk thread before he passed out.

Staryu had stealthily followed the Rocket agent and his Machoke down the river, using Minimize to stay out of sight once they climbed onto the bank far downstream from the Gym. Moving from tree to rock and avoiding any branches to keep silent, the Star-Shaped Pokémon continued tailing them, hopeful of finding something useful that he could show the memory of to Starmie or Drowzee.

After several minutes, the trees parted to show a clearing, and Staryu dropped to the ground, hiding at the base of a tree while peeking out, also needing to avoid making any noise in surprise.

A metal airship was parked in the empty space, a ramp extended from the center to lead inside, and several agents including James and Meowth were milling about the entrance. A few of Jessie's Pokémon were present as well, but not the agent herself. Staryu took a moment to focus on the new faces.

A brunet boy with a buzzcut was speaking with James, apparently giving his report of Vaporeon and saying that Misty must have been training since the halls he'd been in were flooded before he escaped up to the next floor. He seemed to be a regular grunt.

The masked agent that he'd followed went up into the ship with his Machoke, not saying anything yet, but Staryu had already met him.

The only girl present was a pink-haired one, hovering over a redhead boy with glasses tending to Arbok and Fearow's light wounds. The latter was perhaps the medic, but he didn't know what role the girl filled, if any besides a standard grunt.

Coming back down the ramp, the bulky agent still had his mask on, apparently not wanting to chance even being seen in passing outside the ship without it.

"Ah, Frank," James greeted. "I noticed that you only had one bag of Voltorbs. Did you run into some opposition?"

"The girl's Staryu followed me," the older man answered. "They shrunk down and slid b'tween the bag and my back before growing to pry it away. I managed to chuck another Voltorb at 'em and knock 'em into the water when Self-Destruct triggered."

"…Into the water, you said?" James asked at length.

Figuring his cover about to be blown, and with the agent and Meowth already turning towards the direction Frank had come from, Staryu flew off in a spin without paying mind to being spotted as he regrew to cover more distance at max speed. Since he didn't want to get slowed by the trees, he flew above them.

"Gyarados, bring that Pokémon back!" he heard James order. "It mustn't return to Ash!"

Pushing himself to his limits as he heard a Poké Ball open and surging wind, Staryu nearly balked at the sight of Gyarados flying in his peripheral vision, but doing so would cost him precious distance. While he seemed to be slightly faster in raw speed the Atrocious Pokémon was undulating and manipulating the wind to gain on him.

Staryu doubled back, trying to get out of his pursuer's sight by buzzing around his long body and forcing him to try maneuvering to keep up. Once he nearly forced the Water/Flying-type to tie himself into a knot, a length of Gyarados' own body in his face, Misty's Pokémon shrunk down and headed back towards the trees for cover and to sneak back to the stream.

He heard Gyarados roar in frustration above and stayed hidden among the leaves in his shrunken form, on the opposite side of the trunk from the sea monster's position.

'Now, go search and get lost in the woods,' Staryu urged. 'If you go back to the Gym, Misty and the others will smack you down. If not, I'll be free to go myself…'

But he heard the rustling of leaves followed by something heavy crunching the grass as Gyarados apparently descended into the forest. After a low growl, the only sound ringing out was a slight whine growing in pitch and volume.

'What could that- OHBYTHEMOTHER!'

Staryu immediately dropped and pressed himself flat to the ground face-up as the building noise released with a boom. A Hyper Beam cut through the trunk he was hiding behind near the base as it carved a swath of destruction with multiple explosions going off in a rapid-fire din of bursts. To dodge the falling tree, he took off immediately for the water as he grew again, seeing that a good portion of the forest had just been leveled in a circle.

Gyarados panted, but forced himself to slither across the ground in pursuit even if he was slowed down. Training with James had mitigated the effects of Hyper Beam slightly, but he was still a long way from using it with little to no drawback.

Seeing that the sea monster was moving across the ground instead of flying, Staryu took a sharp left to head into the sky in a direct route to the Gym while staying next to the river. No sense in going where Gyarados would both be able to follow and recover with the water.

A bolt of electricity zapping him cut that plan off. The Star-Shaped Pokémon writhed in the air, but it stopped shortly after making contact, allowing him to use Recover to heal off the damage. He had no time to wonder who shot him since the wind blew fiercely again and Gyarados was roaring after him anew.

Staryu immediately went back to the river in the valley, having more options than open air would provide. Gyarados likely wouldn't fall for the same trick twice, and some potential allies were still there in the bag he'd left them in.

Unseen near the perimeter of trees surrounding the leveled forest, Electabuzz lowered his arm as he'd fired as much electricity as he could without having to channel it through all his fur. Doing so would've shocked Jessie, who was draped over his back unable to move.

"[What do you think that was about?]" Vileplume asked next to him.

Under Jessie's instructions, she had released the Electric Pokémon from the ball she'd kept in reserve on her belt, and she'd had them make their escape. Beedrill hovered vigilantly over the duo, constantly sharpening his Twineedle stingers against each other as he kept watch for attacks.

Electabuzz adjusted his Trainer and answered, "[Whatever it was, your Trainer wouldn't send Gyarados after another Pokémon for no reason. I was just doing my part to help.]"

"[We should keep moving,]" Beedrill insisted agitatedly. Having his "queen" incapacitated was driving the Poison Bee Pokémon up the wall, and he wanted to get her healed as soon as possible.

"[He's right,]" Jessie's other Pokémon agreed, taking only a slightly quick jog so as to not jostle his passenger. "[If things have gotten hairy, we might need to leave quickly. Let's hurry back to the airship.]"

Staryu was frantically trying to dodge behind outcroppings, diving and surfacing from the water while occasionally doubling back as he tried to keep ahead of Gyarados. The sea serpent was still flying, able to more freely maneuver than he would in the stream.

Hydro Pump had nearly blasted him against the wall, but Staryu used Light Screen to block the residual spray as he dodged and tried to get out of sight with Minimize in the mist that descended from the cliffs. Unfortunately, the Atrocious Pokémon had grown wise to that trick and simply tried to catch him in his mouth whenever he did so since his shrunken size didn't boost his speed, making him slower to escape. And Light Screen only guarded against elemental attacks, not physical ones like the sea serpent's giant fangs.

The only bright spot was that Gyarados refrained from using Dragon Rage since it would be all too easy for Staryu to slip out of sight from a cyclone if he managed to escape its suction somehow, especially one that picked up water.

Misty's Pokémon was running out of places to hide, though, with Gyarados gradually closing the distance between them.

The sea serpent, meanwhile, had a flash of inspiration and pulled forward slightly more before ducking down, tucking his head against his front as he spiraled forward in a flip, the rest of his body following suit in a swirl pattern.

Staryu was baffled at the sight and didn't see the tail coming until it was too late. As Gyarados extended his rear half mid-flip, he effectively made himself into a giant limb slapping down the other Water Pokémon with his back fin. Hurriedly scrambling to capitalize before Staryu reoriented himself, the sea serpent used his momentum to finish the flip and surge forward to grab his quarry in his teeth.

With the Atrocious Pokémon's jaws about to eclipse Staryu, Minimize and Light Screen wouldn't help him here, so he fell back on the only other defensive move he knew. Briefly glowing with an orange light, the Star-Shaped Pokémon gained an extra sheen to his skin right before the massive fangs clamped down on his body, the sharp points being stopped with a metallic clang.

He internally winced, since getting bitten by a Gyarados was painful even with Harden active. And it was only a temporary measure since the sea monster could still bring him back to Team Rocket once he broke through his endurance. Sure enough, James' Pokémon began repeatedly gnawing on him with a frustrated growl.

Trying to think of a way out during the repeated clamping of the fangs against his hardened body, Staryu knew he only had one shot. He hadn't gotten to offensive moves yet in his training, but he'd seen Starmie use the move plenty of times when he was learning Light Screen.

Still trying to break his opponent's defense with his teeth, Gyarados grunted when he felt a tingling on his tongue and then screeched when it turned to painful zaps of electricity. Spitting out the Star-Shaped Pokémon, he hurriedly tried to shake off the damage as Staryu shakily flew away, straightening out as he glimmered golden for a moment. The attack, while harsh on his insides, had only served to enrage him.

'Not bad for my first try, but I doubt it was as powerful as Starmie's Thunderbolt,' Misty's Pokémon thought while rushing as fast as he could. Having led Gyarados upstream the whole time, he finally saw the bag of Voltorbs right where he'd left them, which likely meant that they were still mostly unconscious.

Staryu shrunk down and dove into the bag, releasing his fledgling electric attack among the Ball Pokémon stuffed inside. It wasn't nearly enough to fully recharge them, but it woke them up from being drained earlier.

"Voltorb…" one droned.

Another responded, "Voltorb!"

As one, all of them turned and spotted Staryu inside the bag with them.

"[Who are you?]" they mechanically asked in unison. "[Where are the intruders?]"

The top of the bag abruptly cinched closed, the container jerking about before swaying as a growl emanated from right beside it.

"[No!]" Staryu cursed.

Outside, Gyarados had grabbed the top of the bag in his teeth, sealing it and beginning to take Staryu and the Voltorbs back to the airship. But before he got far, the bag abruptly started pulling and stretching out of nowhere, becoming encased in a blue glow before it ripped apart from too much strain, dumping its prisoners.

The Atrocious Pokémon looked around and saw a new arrival hovering above him, Butterfree's compound eyes still glowing as he used telekinesis.

"[I may have lost sight of your Trainer, but I have a score to settle with you, too,]" the enraged Butterfly Pokémon growled at the sea monster. "[Especially with these around to help.]"

Gyarados noticed the Voltorbs moving into position as they floated through the air, the Ball Pokémon eclipsed by the glow emanating from Butterfree's eyes and looking equally angry.

"[You belong to an intruder.]"

"[Your master and his compatriots took many of our brethren.]"

"[You will be DESTROYED!]"

The Atrocious Pokémon roared and tried to use Dragon Rage, but he saw a speck of motion out of the corner of his eye an instant before something small crashed into it. Gyarados roared again in pain, his concentration broken from the impact to the sensitive body part.

Next thing he knew, Gyarados was swarmed and covered with a almost a dozen Voltorbs, one even being stuffed in his mouth. He could only regret his failure before they all flashed white.

Multiple explosions blasted out, producing a deafening uproar as they overlapped and eclipsed the sea serpent in a massive fireball of destructive power. Butterfree couldn't hold onto the Voltorbs with the sheer force they released, but the spent Pokémon had done their job as they fell or rolled off their target into the water. After the residual smoke cleared, the Atrocious Pokémon was revealed to still be standing, if only barely.

Gyarados took wheezing breaths with smoke emerging from his mouth and throat, burns over the rest of his body. He made a strained effort to move before he toppled in a dead faint into the river with a huge splash of water and began being washed downstream by the current.

But a red beam shot through the air and hit the downed sea serpent, converting him to energy and pulling him away. Butterfree followed the line back to its source and saw it retreat into an airship already in the distance. While he had moderately strong telekinesis, Butterfree was loath to admit that he couldn't damage a giant metal construct like that. He could follow it, but to what end?

Glaring at the departing ship for a few more moments, he spotted the unconscious Voltorbs further down the river and caught them before lifting them to carry in a telekinetic "cup" that Drowzee had taught him to make.

"[Hey,]" Staryu called as he grew back to full size beside the Butterfly Pokémon. "[Thanks, you really saved me back there. How'd you find us?]"

"[I tore my way out of the Gym after James escaped my telepathic range,]" Butterfree explained without turning. "[I saw the damage from the forest being blasted, and after I was in the area, it was only a matter of sensing where you two were.]"

Even though he was staring at the Voltorbs as he steered them ahead to ferry them back to Fuchsia Gym, his voice became more solemn, "[I wish I could say I followed for you, but I didn't even know you were out here; I was just in the right place at the right time, and you managed to stop him from countering by hitting his eye.]"

"[Hey, what matters most is that you were there, and saved my skin! I wouldn't have been able to do anything from that bag,]" Staryu dismissed happily with a spin in the air. Then he became serious, "[I followed one of the agents too and got some valuable information for Starmie or Drowzee to see. Faces to put to those new members Team Rocket has.]"

I'm very sorry to cut this off here, but this chapter was getting so obscenely long that I looked for the best stopping point and this is what I found. I hope that the rest of the chapter was worth the wait.


1. Jigglypuff can indeed learn Flamethrower via TM in Generation III, and Fire Blast in Gen I. By the logic of the latter, they should also be able to spit fire without condensing it into the special symbol.

See you when I see you.