Chapter Five: Fierce Lightning

Ash watched as Sobek faced off their opponent's Drowzee, which had actually put up more of a fight than he'd expected. Even though the psychic-type couldn't affect its adversary with any of its best moves, it had a nasty Pound attack and kept spitting Poison Gas. Sobek had just taken to digging underground and snapping at it whenever he got a chance. Drowzee was, at this point, playing an unfortunate game of whack-a-mole that involved the "mole" biting back quite viciously.

The other trainer seemed frustrated that Drowzee couldn't defeat its opponent, though Ash thought it was likely he had just made the wrong call because Sandile were rare in Kanto. His opponent probably had never seen one before and knew nothing about them.

He watched Drowzee get bit again from underground and decided enough was enough. "Wrap it up, Sobek. Ant Pit."

Drowzee looked around for a second as the bites stopped, then it froze when its body began to sink into the ground. Sand Tomb had it trapped—now Sobek would finish it.

Ash winced as the Sandile erupted from the ground and snapped his jaws harshly around Drowzee's body. Sobek began to shake his head ruthlessly and their opponent recalled the poor psychic-type quickly. He looked a little pale, but paid out the prize money he owed and quickly left.

Ash smirked as he watched the kid run off and knelt to rub Sobek under his jaw. The Sandile rumbled happily at the contact as his trainer praised him. "Good job, Sobek. You're ready to take on some stronger opponents, aren't you?"

Sobek hissed agreement and Ash chuckled. "You'll get your chance at Vermillion. Let's hurry up and get there, okay?"

The ground-type nodded and Ash recalled him. He stood back up and stretched, then continued on his way towards Vermillion City along Route Six.

Ash had been making his way to the port city for nearly two weeks now. He'd briefly stopped in Saffron to call his mother and stock up on supplies, but for the most part he just wanted to battle Lieutenant Surge as soon as he could. He had considered going to the Saffron Gym to challenge Sabrina, though he thought better of it after hearing about a trainer with five badges getting completely swept by her infamous Alakazam. Ash knew better than to pick a fight he couldn't win, especially against a Gym Leader as powerful as Sabrina. He would wait until he had at least five badges before challenging her.

So far, he had spent his time on the road racking up experience for his team and money from the trainers they defeated. Ash wasn't desperate for cash, but if he wanted to buy TMs at some point to buff his team's move pool, he would need as much money as he could get. Most of the trainers they took on were beaten by his Pokemon, but Ash did lose to a man that had been a trainer for nearly ten years. The guy had a Primeape that he just wasn't able to defeat with his current strength. It had been odd for Ash, losing like that. He hadn't lost many Pokemon battles before. Still, it was a good experience.

Not to mention it got Pyro fired up even more for their next round of training.

Ash had been working on his Pokemon's move pool while making their way towards Vermillion. Right now, Pyro was working on learning Flamethrower, Slash, and Smokescreen. The latter two were fairly easy and he'd already gotten them down for the most part, but Flamethrower was taking some work. It required a lot more firepower than Pyro had ever had to handle before. It would just take time.

Flamethrower had more progress than Dragon Rush or Dragon Dance, that was for sure. Nearly two months into their journey and Pyro still couldn't get a grip on the frustrating dragon-type moves.

Pikachu was still practicing Thunder Wave. Nuzzle had been easy, but Thunder Wave was a long-range move that required precise aim. Pikachu had so far gotten away with just blasting their opponents with electric shocks, but he needed to work on moves that needed pinpoint accuracy to be effective. Aside from Thunder Wave, Ash had been trying to teach Pikachu Thunderbolt as well. That was coming along nicely. It was a step up from Thunder Shock, and, like Pyro's Flamethrower, simply required practice for Pikachu to build up the power necessary to learn it.

He still couldn't do much with Sobek—not until the crocodile evolved. All Ash had managed to do was teach Sobek Crunch (which was ridiculously easy once Sobek got his jaws into something that took actual effort to bite through). He did manage to get the Sandile to learn Assurance, however. Foul Play was taking time, but that wasn't going to be too difficult.

The problem with Sobek now was his limited move pool. It consisted solely of dark and ground-type moves along with Fire Fang and Thunder Fang. That left him (and Pikachu as well) pretty sore for variation.

Part of the reason Ash was saving up for TMs so desperately was because his team needed those extra moves. They had a strong variety of attacks they could learn naturally, but TMs would open up a whole new chapter for them in battles. Ash really wanted to get his hands on a Dragon Claw TM for Pyro and Sobek when he evolved, as well as Iron Tail for Pikachu. But for now, his team was making great progress.

Well, most of them. Ash hadn't gotten anywhere with Eevee.

The little Pokemon utterly refused to get along with them. She would not train and only listened to him when Ash told the group it was time to eat. Despite Ash's attempts to be friendly, she offered only cold glares and the occasional growl for her trainer. He'd be lying if he said he wasn't disappointed that Eevee was so slow to trust him, but at least she didn't attack him outright the second he released her from her Luxury Ball. That was a good thing.

Eevee did, however, start to walk outside with him and Pikachu. Ash figured the fresh air might do her some good and let her ease up around them. She seemed to like walking, though any offer Ash made to carry her when she got tired was blatantly refused. While it was clear that the fresh air definitely helped her relax, she did not let up on her passive-aggressive attitude towards him and his team.

She wouldn't battle, though. Ash had no intention of forcing her into a fight, but all she did when they got into a Pokemon battle was sit by his feet and stare in boredom. No matter if they won or lost, all she did was stare. There were no cheers of excitement when they won or growls of displeasure if one of Ash's Pokemon were defeated. Eevee just looked void of emotion.

It worried him. Ash knew that she'd been abused, but he had to wonder exactly what had happened to make her the way she was. He had gotten her checked out in Saffron City's Pokemon Center, but all Nurse Joy could tell him was that she was a bit underweight and hated needles with a passion. Hopefully she would come around with time.

Ash paused on his way to take a look at the sky and found that it was just around midday. It was getting hot outside as well. Spring was passing quickly—it would be Summer in just over a month. He'd been traveling for almost two months now. Ash wondered how Gary and Leaf were doing. He hadn't seen either of them since the first few days of his journey. Not to mention Paul. Ash had not encountered the boy after Mt. Moon. He was sure that wherever they were, the three of them were probably training hard.

He looked back down the path to Vermillion and blinked as a figure came into view. The person happened to look his way and blinked back.

Speak of the devil.

"Holy shit, it's Ashy-boy!" Gary exclaimed. He had a Poke Ball in his hand and a large Wartortle was walking beside him. Ash recognized the turtle as Gary's starter and grinned. It looked strong.

"Nice to see you, too," Ash replied dryly. "Did you just catch something?"

"Yeah, a Meowth. Freakin' cat tried to snatch my lunch, but Wartortle taught it some manners," Gary snickered. The Poke Ball in his hand shrank and locked up. Ash realized it was due to Gary having a full party of six on his hands.

Gary took a look at Pikachu on Ash's shoulder and smirked. "So, the little troublemaker from gramp's lab evolved, eh?"

"That's right," Ash scratched Pikachu under the chin as the mouse snickered. "He beat down Misty's Starmie a couple weeks ago."

"Did he? Not bad," Gary whistled. "It took Wartortle to defeat that. My Pidgeotto beat her Staryu easily enough, but that Starmie's Hydro Pump was crazy. So what do you have on you right now?"

Ash shrugged. "Aside from Pikachu here, I've got Charmeleon, Sandile, and Eevee."

His rival's eyes bulged. "Where did you get an Eevee?! I've been asking gramps to set me up with one of those forever!"

"She's actually a rescue," Ash told him. "Officer Jenny in Cerulean got her from a Pokemon mill of some kind. She won't listen to a word I say, but she's not attacking me anymore."

Gary's wide eyes cleared and he grimaced. "Shit. Sorry to hear that. She healthy?"

"She's underweight, but it's not too bad," he admitted. "I got her transferred into a Luxury Ball to help her feel more comfortable. I just have to be patient with her."

"Good luck with that. I'd comment on the Sandile, but I think I'd rather see that in battle," Gary smirked. "But I'll return the favor first, seeing as you don't know what I've got on me. My team now is Wartortle, Pidgeotto, Nidorina, Geodude, Abra, and Machop. I've got four more back at gramp's place, plus the cat."

Ash whistled. "Have you just been catching everything you come across?"

"Hey, you never know when you might need something with a certain set of skills," his rival shrugged. "Back home I've got a Raticate, Bellsprout, Growlithe, and Krabby. I rotate a lot of my Pokemon, but Wartortle is a constant on the team. He's my strongest without a doubt."

Wartortle crossed his arms and lifted his chin proudly. Ash grinned at the water-type. He looked strong, that was for certain.

"So, I seem to remember you wanting a fight?" Ash mentioned casually. Pikachu's cheeks sparked on his shoulder and he grinned with eager delight.

Gary grinned right back. "Duh. I haven't gotten to battle you yet. Of course I wanna beat you. So how do you wanna do this?"

Ash thought about it. "Two-on-two? I'd like to have at least one Pokemon on my team that can carry us to Vermillion."

"Psh, it's only like an hour away. You're almost there," his rival told him.

He blinked in surprise. "You've already been there?"

"That's why I'm back here. I'm training," Gary suddenly scowled. "I challenged Surge, but he's got a kickass Raichu. The monster curbstomped me. It's a four-on-four battle and his first three aren't too bad, but then he sends in Raichu and it just destroys whatever is left."

Ash felt a little worried about that. He only had three Pokemon that could fight on his team since Eevee wouldn't give him the time of day. If Surge was fighting with four Pokemon, he might not even make it to Raichu. Gary had lost and he had way more options than Ash did. Even if he spread his training among many Pokemon, there was no way his team was weak.

Maybe he should train for a little longer…

Gary shook his head and the grin returned. "Anyways, enough about that electric badass. I want a battle with you. Let's do a three-on-three. If you get your ass handed to you, I'll babysit you back to Vermillion."

Ash scowled. "Don't kid yourself. Fine, we'll take you on."

"That's what I want to hear!"

Gary and Ash backed away from each other several paces and then faced off. Pikachu leapt to the ground and Ash nodded to him—he wanted to go first.

"Alright, if the mouse is going to play…" Gary snatched a Poke Ball from his belt and tapped the release.

A Machop appeared in front of him. The fighting-type cracked its knuckles and grinned at the sight of Pikachu, who snickered back. Ash smirked. They were both ready to have a blast.

"Your move, Ashy-boy," goaded the other boy.

"Remember that you asked for it," he replied. "Unbalance it. Quick Attack."

Pikachu lunged at Machop with a blur of speed, zig zagging to keep the fighting-type guessing. Gary smirked and retaliated. "Low Sweep. Knock it back."

Machop watched Pikachu's movements and waited until he was close enough to strike. The moment Pikachu made to actually hit Machop, the fighting-type brought its leg back with surprisingly fast reflexes and delivered a powerful kick into its opponent's flank.

The attack repelled Pikachu away several meters. He hit the ground hard and skidded a ways, but recovered quickly and watched as Machop sneered at him. But Pikachu merely grinned right back. Shots had been fired, but they would be quickly returned.

"Focus Up!" Gary commanded.

"Quick Stun!" Ash countered.

Machop tensed and flexed rapidly growing muscles in what Ash assumed was a combination of Focus Energy and Bulk Up judging from the name of the technique. Pikachu darted at it with Quick Attack, intending to immobilize Machop before it could increase its power.

Quick Stun was simply Quick Attack with Nuzzle added to it. The whole purpose wasn't so much to damage as it was to deliver a fast-acting paralysis that most Pokemon wouldn't be fast enough to avoid. Machop hadn't knocked Pikachu back too much, so it was only a second before the mouse tackled his opponent and delivered the paralysis-inducing Nuzzle.

Machop's eyes widened when it realized what had happened to it and gritted its teeth. Ash had caught it right in the middle of boosting its power and that had clearly left an effect going by the uncomfortable twitching of Machop's muscles.

Gary realized it as well and snapped. "Revenge!"

"Dodge," he ordered. "Back off and use Thunderbolt."

Machop made to grab Pikachu, but it was slowed by the paralysis and had no hope of catching the quick electric-type. Pikachu retreated a few meters and then unleashed a huge discharge of electricity. The blast hit Machop head on and the fighting-type cried out in pain.

"Don't freeze up!" Gary shouted. "Get in there! Revenge!"

"Keep it at a distance and blast it," Ash told Pikachu. "If it gets close, Quick Attack to avoid whatever comes."

Machop tried to follow Gary's commands and get in close, but Pikachu was having none of it. With the fighting-type paralyzed and weakened from the first Thunderbolt, Pikachu started his usual pranking—darting around and zapping Machop with casual shocks. The behavior infuriated Machop, but its debilitated status meant it had no chance of getting in a counterattack.

Ash let Pikachu have his fun for a minute or two before deciding enough was enough. "Alright Pikachu, that's good. Finish it off."

The mouse was sniggering with glee, but he took his trainer's words to heart. Machop was panting and furious, greatly weakened from the electrical assault. Gary looked just as angry by how easily Pikachu was getting the better of his Pokemon, but he could do nothing.

Pikachu stopped to deliver a Thunderbolt that held none of his usual lighthearted pranking. The bolt slammed into Machop and knocked the fighting-type out before it hit the ground.

Gary recalled Machop and scowled as Pikachu snickered in his victory. "That mouse of yours is just as annoying as I heard."

"He's a prankster, that's for sure," Ash said wryly. Pikachu giggled again and retreated to stand by his feet again. Ash knelt to scratch his ears, then pulled out his second Poke Ball.

He sent out Sobek for the next round. The croc locked his eyes on Gary and hissed aggressively, challenging Ash's rival. Gary looked unimpressed by the display and snapped. "Wartortle, you're up."

The large turtle casually moved forward and grinned at Sobek. The Sandile growled in displeasure at the sight of the water-type, but didn't back down. Ash knew this wouldn't be easy, but he did have a strategy for opponents like this.

"Ant Pit!"

Sobek was underground in a flash, getting away from whatever attack Wartortle could throw at him. The turtle looked around his feet warily, but didn't realize he was being trapped until his feet began to sink into Sand Tomb. However, Wartortle didn't panic like the countless others Sobek had trapped like this and simply waited patiently.

Wartortle was far too at ease in his present situation for Ash's liking. He continued his chain of command quickly. "Thunder Fang!"

Sobek erupted from the sand pit and snapped his jaws into Wartortle's shell, electricity surging from the bite. Wartortle growled angrily at his attacker, but did not react until Gary gave his commands.

"Get it off of you with Rapid Spin," Gary ordered. "Balance yourself and then Water Pulse."

The turtle suddenly retreated back into his shell and began to spin. Rapid Spin tore it out of Sobek's jaws and Ash saw a few of the croc's teeth get pulled out forcibly from his jaws. Sobek snarled, snapping at Wartortle, but his opponent had spun into the air and escaped.

Wartortle popped out of his shell and created a sphere of water between his claws before launching it right at Sobek in the center of the sand pit. The croc was still snapping around and managed to destroy the Water Pulse with an angry bite.

Gary wasn't perturbed. He seemed far more comfortable fighting with Wartortle—that brought Ash to believe that Machop had been a recent capture of his. Wartortle was Gary's trump card.

"Aqua Tail. Wrap this up."

Ash watched as Wartortle's tail became enveloped in a layer of water. The turtle began to spin head over heels rapidly, coming down towards Sobek. He narrowed his eyes. "Get it with Thunder Fang when it comes down."

Sobek glared at Wartortle's incoming figures and opened his jaws wide, electricity crackling along the fangs. Ash winced when he saw blood dripping from the Sandile's mouth—a repercussion of getting his teeth knocked out by Wartortle's Rapid Spin. But the croc was still plenty angry and aggressive enough to keep fighting.

He snapped at Wartortle as the turtle got within a few feet, but underestimated the distance and fell short of his target. Aqua Tail slammed into Sobek's skull and Ash watched his partner's eyes briefly widen in surprise and pain before he was knocked out.

Ash frowned. He couldn't remember Sobek ever being defeated so quickly before—he'd lost only a few times as it was. Wartortle had defeated the ground-type more cleanly than any other adversary before him. Ash pinned it on Sobek having not evolved yet. He was just reaching the limits of what a Sandile could do.

He recalled Sobek and Gary recalled Wartortle. Ash reached for his last Poke Ball and tapped the release button. Pyro materialized and spat a small fireball before leering at Gary. Ash's rival grinned and tossed out his own Poke Ball, unleashing a Nidorina.

Ash eyed the small blue creature speculatively. Nidorina were from the female variants of the Nidoran family, a parallel to the male Nidorino. They were more docile than the aggressive males and lacked a horn, but still had venomous barbs, a fierce bite, and a sturdy body. Ash had never fought one before, but given that she was a poison type he decided that keeping his distance was a smart plan.

"Ember," Ash began slowly. "Test her reflexes. Avoid hitting her physically. She can poison you."

Pyro swished his tail to acknowledge him and spat a few small flames in Nidorina's direction. She dodged by jumping to the side and running as Pyro strafed after her with Ember. Ash watched Nidorina carefully—she wasn't too fast, but he could tell that Gary had worked with her more than Machop. She was confident in her movements and just as calm as Wartortle. Gary also hadn't commanded her yet. He was analyzing Pyro just as much as Ash was analyzing Nidorina.

He judged her to be a substantial threat and changed tactics. "Smokescreen, then Dragon Dance."

His starter ended his barrage of flames and instead exhaled a large cloud of oily black smoke. Ash lost sight of him, but that was the idea—Pyro still took over ten seconds to charge up one Dragon Dance. Doing it outright was impossible without the opponent attacking, but by concealing his position, Pyro could gain the precious seconds he needed to boost himself.

Gary's eyes narrowed. "Poison Sting into the smoke. Find it."

Nidorina spat several toxic needles into the smokescreen in various directions. Ash didn't hear Pyro react to any of them, so he assumed that the Charmeleon either hadn't been hit or was ignoring the pain of Poison Sting to keep Dragon Dance going.

The fifteen seconds Pyro needed came through and Ash immediately went into action. "Flamethrower. Clear the smoke away."

At his command, a stream of flames tore through the smoke and blew it aside, forcing Nidorina to scramble away. Pyro emerged relatively unscathed, though Ash could see a few of the stings had dug into his scales. The Charmeleon looked more angry than anything, but Ash decided he'd rather end the battle quickly—poison was debilitating and he had no idea how potent Nidorina's venom could be. It would be best to knock her out as fast as he could before the poison exhausted his starter.

Pyro spotted Nidorina and launched another Flamethrower, but she ducked under it and avoided the flames again. Flamethrower was still rather inaccurate at a distance. It served more as a deterrent than anything for now, but Ash had other ways of making it useful.

"Rush in and Flamethrower at close range," he commanded.

"Keep up Poison Sting," Gary countered. "Aim for its feet."

Pyro lunged at Nidorina, though he had to make his way around her Poison Sting when she tried to keep him at bay. Ash was patient—Pyro didn't need to get right up on Nidorina, just close enough to launch Flamethrower accurately. Once he was just a few meters away, the Charmeleon began to breathe streams of fire at his opponent.

Nidorina shied away from the flames, but her trainer wasn't about to let Pyro get away with the damage he'd done. "Tackle it! Knock that lizard back."

Ash was surprised when Nidorina literally ran right through Pyro's flames and smashed the full weight of her body into his stomach. Pyro was actually lifted off his feet and hit the ground hard, a little stunned from the blow. Nidorina was wincing from the pain of running into fire, but she shook her body and recovered quickly.

Pyro got himself back on his feet and growled angrily. Gary moved to act on his temporary advantage. "Poison Fang!"

"Dodge!" Ash said quickly. "Slash at her shoulder."

Nidorina charged again and snapped at Pyro with teeth that dripped venom. Pyro sidestepped her with his increased speed and delivered a ferocious strike to the poison-type with his sharp claws. The blow unbalanced Nidorina and she crashed headfirst into the ground.

Gary cursed and snapped. "Get up! Use Double Kick!"

Ash frowned. "Get ready to intercept."

Pyro stood his ground as Nidorina ran at him again. At the last second before she would have rammed into him, Nidorina dug her front feet in, spun around and kicked out with her back legs. Pyro's claws came up and caught her kicks, effectively immobilizing her.

Nidorina started to wriggle in an attempt to escape, but Ash wasn't about to let his opportunity go to waste. "Pin her down with Metal Claw!"

Pyro let go of her leg for just a split second and dug silver steel claws into the poison-type at the back of her head, pushing her into the ground. The steel-type move effectively disarmed Nidorina's venomous barbs. Gary was shouting orders, but Nidorina was trapped and Ash was ready to end this fight. "Flamethrower. Don't let up."

His starter blasted Nidorina at point-blank range with Flamethrower, dousing her in fire. Nidorina screeched and desperately tried to escape, but Pyro had her pinned and he wasn't letting go. Gary swore a few seconds later and recalled her, seeing that there was no chance for his Pokemon to win.

Pyro raised his head and spat a fireball in his victory. Ash smiled at the proud fire-type and recalled his starter. He wasn't sure if Pyro had been poisoned or not, but suspended animation would keep him from suffering if he had been intoxicated.

"As much as I hate to say it, you got me there," Gary grumbled. He shrugged through. "I'll hand it to you Ashy-boy, you haven't been wasting your time. That was the first time Nidorina lost a one-on-one."

"You're pretty good, too," Ash returned the compliment. Gary had definitely been one of the toughest opponents he'd faced thus far. "No one's ever beaten Sobek that fast before."

The other boy grinned. "Fair enough. Well, I said I'd show ya to Vermillion. Machop and Nidorina need some healing up anyways. C'mon."

Vermillion City was wonderful, Ash reflected. The port town was warm and sunny with a perfect view of the ocean. He and Gary had gotten lunch in the Pokemon Center while their teams were healed. Once they finished the decent cafeteria food, they ended up sitting with a group of trainers that were discussing the going-ons around Vermillion. Keeping track of the latest news was important, after all.

One particular newsflash had Ash interested.

"I'm telling you, it beat all three of my Pokemon!" A young girl protested. "I had no trouble beating any of the other ones I caught on my fishing rod, but then that thing jumped out and steamrolled my whole team!"

A couple of other trainers scoffed, but Ash and Gary were both interested in the news. Ash's rival put a question to her. "What were you fighting it with?"

"Goldeen, Mankey, and Voltorb," she said glumly.

Ash frowned. There weren't a whole lot of powerful water-types around Vermillion. Pokemon that had the potential to be strong, yes, but a Pokemon that could beat an entire team down all by its lonesome? That was a Pokemon worth looking into.

"Where was this?" Ash asked her.

The girl stared at him. "Why do you ask?"

"It sounds like a strong Pokemon. I want to catch it."

She gaped. "It'll beat you for sure! How many badges do you have?"

Ash shrugged. "Two."

"Then you've got no more chance than me," the girl said. "I've got two badges and you heard what it did to my Pokemon!"

"I'd still like to have a go at it," Ash smirked. "If anything, it'll be a good fight."

She looked dubious, but sighed. "Fine. I'll show you where I saw it. Just beat it up for me."

After recovering their Pokemon from Nurse Joy, Ash and Gary followed the girl (whose name turned out to be Jess) to a fishing spot on a currently uninhabited dock. She had brought her fishing rod with her and pointed to a spot just a few meters away from the concrete platform. "That's where I caught it. I'll see if it's still around. If it is…"

"If it's still here, it's mine," Ash declared. He didn't care if Gary had come along, but his rival was just here to watch. Gary had plenty of Pokemon—Ash still needed to build his team. This was a good opportunity. He didn't have a water-type yet and as far as he was concerned, it sounded like this one had potential.

They watched Jess cast her line into the water. She looked at Ash and eyed the Pikachu on his shoulder with doubt. "Can your mouse really beat this thing?"

"Probably," Ash admitted. Pikachu snickered, but his trainer frowned. "Though I wish you could tell us what it was."

"I didn't get a good look at it," she muttered. "It kept diving in and out of the water. I sent my Goldeen after it, but she got smacked right out in no time flat."

Gary smirked. "Well, at least you'll be in for a surprise. Maybe it's the world's strongest Magikarp."

Jess glared at him indignantly. "Excuse me, no Magikarp can beat my team!"

Her anger almost made her miss the rough jerk on the fishing line. Jess spun back around and pulled hard, wincing at the strength on the other end. "Geez, it's strong!"

"Pikachu, get ready," Ash ordered. Pikachu leapt down from his shoulder and dropped to all fours, glaring at the roiling water.

Suddenly there was an explosion of water like a geyser and whatever was on the end of the line burst out. Ash glimpsed blue skin and a flash of white, then a jet of water was fired at Pikachu. The mouse lunged sideways and dodged the Water Gun, giving Ash a chance to retaliate.

"Thunder Shock!" He shouted. Ash wanted an accurate shot first to figure out what this thing was. Thunderbolt held more power, but Pikachu wasn't as good at aiming it yet.

Pikachu fired the bolt of electricity and tagged whatever had burst from the water. Ash heard a grunt, then it fell back into the sea. Jess tugged on the rod to get it back out, but it leapt onto the dock on its own, plenty ready to keep fighting. Apparently, it deemed Pikachu strong enough to face him head-on.

Ash recognized the Pokemon instantly by the spiral pattern on its stomach—Poliwhirl. They were the secondary stage of the Poliwag line and had the potential to evolve into either the mighty Poliwrath or the frivolous Politoed. Ash hadn't thought about catching one before, but the strength this one had displayed—not to mention how quickly it recovered from Thunder Shock—had him wanting it.

Poliwhirl glared at Pikachu and launched a stream of bubbles. Ash recognized it as a Bubble Beam and snapped. "Thunderbolt! Blow them away and then use Quick Stun."

Pikachu let loose a powerful surge of lightning to destroy the Bubble Beam. A second later he darted at Poliwhirl and just missed it—the water-type had sidestepped with surprisingly fast reflexes and now had its fist clenched. The limb glowed, then slammed into Pikachu with blistering force.

Ash's eyes widened. He recognized the Mega Punch from his battle against Brock's Geodude. The fact that Poliwhirl knew it meant that it had trained hard. That made up his mind for good.

He was catching this Poliwhirl.

Pikachu was stunned temporarily from the Mega Punch, but recovered fast enough to avoid the second one that Poliwhirl attempted to smash into his skull. The mouse leapt back and glared at his opponent, who seemed to be preparing another round of Bubble Beam.

"Quick Stun!" Ash shouted.

It was a good thing Poliwhirl had tried to hit Pikachu with a second Mega Punch—now Pikachu wasn't too far away and was able to crash into Poliwhirl before it knew what was happening. The shock of electricity had it grunting from the pain and it shuddered, unable to fire Bubble Beam again. Ash had no intention of letting it get another hit in.


Pikachu blasted Poliwhirl ruthlessly, causing the water-type's body to spasm and recoil from the countless volts surging into its body. Ash expected Poliwhirl to fall after that, but he was amazed when it refused to go down. Sheer determination kept it on its feet and he didn't have the heart to deny it a proper end to the battle.

"Volt Tackle."

Poliwhirl was sent flying by the ferocious impact of Pikachu's electrified body. It sailed through the air for a solid three seconds before hitting the ground harshly. Ash saw its body sparking and knew that it was unable to move. He primed a Poke Ball and hurled it at the water-type.

The three trainers and Pikachu watched with baited breath as the ball wriggled and shook violently. Even after being crushed by an electric-type, Ash couldn't believe how much Poliwhirl utterly refused to surrender. It tried to break free for nearly twenty seconds before finally settling down and allowing the capture device to click close.

He grinned widely. "Got you."

Jess was gaping. "Are you serious?!"

"Not bad, Ashy-boy," Gary whistled. "It's got some power to it for sure. Not as strong as Wartortle, but definitely not a weakling. I didn't expect it to know Mega Punch."

Ash picked up the Poke Ball and smiled. "Me neither, but I can't wait to find out what else it knows. Great work, Pikachu! You've earned your ketchup."

He still had no idea how the electric-type could eat so much ketchup in a single sitting, but to each their own. Pikachu grinned with delight and chirped excitedly before running back over to Ash, returning to his shoulder. Ash pulled an Oran Berry out of his pocket and offered it to the mouse, allowing him to recover his energy a little.

Jess still seemed unable to wrap her head around the fact that Ash had captured Poliwhirl with just Pikachu. She shook her head. "I can't believe you caught it. Thank you, I guess. I feel better knowing what it was that beat my team."

"Thanks for telling me about it," Ash replied. "I had no idea what water-type I was going to end up catching. This one was a great find. I better get it to the Pokemon Center, though. I can't imagine Poliwhirl feels too good after being on the end of Pikachu's Volt Tackle."

She smiled back. "You're welcome. But really, I can't believe how strong your Pikachu is! Poliwhirl beat even my Voltorb, but that was mostly because it isn't very fast yet."

"That little mouse of yours is going to be a beast when it evolves," Gary was grinning widely at the idea. "If it's even close to the strength of Surge's Raichu, I'd hate to be on the receiving end of those electric attacks."

Ash smirked. "Don't jinx yourself. Anyways, I gotta go. You coming, Gary?"

"Nah," he admitted. "I'm gonna head back onto Route Six and work on Machop."

"Okay. See you," Ash nodded to his rival and then left the port area, intent on healing up the newest addition to his team.

Ash brought his team outside to the nearest training field once Poliwhirl was healed up. They all looked at him eagerly (with the exception of Eevee) and waited for him to make the announcement.

"We've got a new teammate," Ash told them with a smile. "It's a Poliwhirl. It's pretty strong—it gave Pikachu the run-around before we paralyzed it."

Pyro and Sobek seemed impressed. Pikachu grinned, like he was remembering the battle. The mouse chittered and electricity sparked on his cheek pouches.

As usual, Eevee didn't seem inclined to care in the slightest.

Ash held the Poke Ball up and prepared to tap the release. "Remember to make a good impression, okay?"

With his team's approval, Ash set Poliwhirl loose. The water-type blinked when it found itself surrounded by four other Pokemon and then turned to stare at Ash. He smiled, doing his best to look friendly.

"Hey there, Poliwhirl. Feeling better?" When the water-type nodded, he continued talking. "My name is Ash. I'm the one who captured you. This is the rest of my team—Pyro, Pikachu, Sobek, and Eevee."

He gestured to each of his Pokemon in turn and watched as they greeted their newest companion. Well, all of them except for Eevee, who just stared at Poliwhirl like the water-type didn't even exist. That seemed to make Poliwhirl a little uncomfortable, so Ash hurried on.

"I'm going to become the strongest Pokemon Master in the world," he declared. "So I'm traveling and training my team to be more powerful than any other. You seem pretty strong. Think you have what it takes to be the best?"

Poliwhirl's eyes glinted and it nodded eagerly. Ash grinned. He liked Poliwhirl's attitude. The water-type wasn't complicated—it respected power and sought to become as powerful as it could possibly be. Ash intended to help it reach that goal. He would turn Poliwhirl into one of the greatest water-types in the world.

Ash brought out the Pokedex and held it up to Poliwhirl. "This is going to tell me a little bit about you, okay? Just stay there."

Poliwhirl nodded again, so Ash tapped the scan feature on the Pokedex. It recognized Poliwhirl and quickly brought up its information.

Poliwhirl, the Tadpole Pokemon. It can live in or out of water. When out of water, it sweats constantly to keep its skin damp. Because of this, Poliwhirl can slip out of an enemy's grip easily in battle.

This Poliwhirl is male and knows the moves: Water Gun, Hypnosis, Bubble Beam, Mega Punch, Wake-Up Slap, and Mud Shot. Its ability is Water Absorb, which heals Poliwhirl whenever a water-type attack comes into contact with it.

Just as he thought, Poliwhirl knew some great moves. He had obviously trained hard, and Ash was pretty sure he was as powerful as Sobek at the moment. Pikachu had defeated him with a little difficulty, but it hadn't been a close fight like the one Ash had against Gary. He suspected that given a week or two or solid training, Poliwhirl would easily climb in the ranks.

"I think we're going to get along just fine," Ash grinned at Poliwhirl. "So, do you want a nickname?"

Poliwhirl didn't hesitate to nod and that surprised him a little. Most Pokemon at least thought about it, but Ash found that Poliwhirl was very quick in his decisions. He paused to think about possible names for a few minutes, though eventually he decided on what he hoped was a good one.

"How about Douse?" Ash suggested. He was happy to see Poliwhirl think about it for a few seconds before the water-type nodded, solidifying the idea. "Douse it is. Welcome to the team."

Douse nodded and turned to the other Pokemon, grunting a greeting. Pyro and Sobek nodded back, Pikachu snickered, and Eevee steadfastly ignored it. Ash inwardly sighed. There would be any change in her attitude anytime soon.

"Anyways, it's just about late afternoon," Ash told them as he looked up at the sky and noted that the sun would only give them a few more hours of daylight. "So I want to get in some good training now. We're going to challenge Lt. Surge tomorrow—the Gym Leader. He uses electric-types and from what I heard, the biggest threat is going to be his Raichu."

Pikachu grinned widely at the mention of his evolved form. Ash suspected he just wanted to have a glimpse of what he would look like when he actually did evolve—though where he would find a Thunder Stone, Ash hadn't the foggiest idea. Regardless, the rest of his team (with the exception of Eevee) looked pumped up, so Ash grinned and clenched his fist.

"Alright, let's get to training! Pyro, I want you working with Douse. Figure out where he is and get him ready for our training sessions. Pikachu, you and Sobek get to sparring. I want you to work on evasion—Sobek, try to catch him. Surge's electric-types will be just as fast- faster, maybe. You've got to be able to catch them from underground. I'll alternate between you guys to check on your progress. Sound good?"

His team cheered and Ash nodded. "Then spread out and get started."

A few hours later and Ash was both nervous and excited. The nervousness was a result of watching countless trainers run to the Pokemon Center after getting destroyed by Lt. Surge. The Gym Leader was pulling out all the stops and apparently he hadn't given out a badge in four weeks. Ash was afraid that he hadn't trained hard enough to win, but his confidence was boosted by the highlight of the night.

He was excited because their training had been quite productive—Pyro's Flamethrower was looking better and Ash had gotten a good idea of how Douse fought. The Poliwhirl was in a great place development-wise. Ash thought about using the Scald TM the Misty had given him on Douse, but he decided against it—for now. Once he was sure that Douse had mastered all of the current moves he knew, then he would get Scald.

Aside from that, Pikachu was getting better at aiming Thunderbolt. Rather than only being able to blast whatever happened to be in front of him, he was starting to get the hang of actually picking out a target from a distance. There were still some accuracy problems, but Ash thought that the mouse would have it down within a couple of weeks.

Sobek had made the most progress. His aggression and agitation were rising substantially as the training went on. He was close—so close—to evolving. It was at the point that Ash decided to pull out all the stops and train for longer than normal. He wanted Sobek to fight the others and maybe the adrenaline rush would be enough to trigger the evolution that could save him in the battle against Surge.

Pikachu had been worn down by his earlier sparring with the croc and was currently eating beside the group's most disagreeable member. Eevee was watching with Ash and Pikachu while she ate, though she avoided all contact with them and the others and simply stared with boredom when she wasn't taking a bite of Pokemon food.

Sobek, Pyro, and Douse were fighting in a three-way. Ash had pit them against each other in the hope that more competition would increase the odds of the Sandile evolving tonight.

"That's it, Sobek!" Ash encouraged the croc as he pulled off a Thunder Fang on Douse. Sobek gnashed his teeth into the Poliwhirl, but Douse smacked him off with a Wake-Up Slap. The Sandile recoiled with a hiss from the super-effective move and dug underground. Pyro suddenly lunged at Douse in a Dragon Rush and met a Mega Punch head-on. The pair heaved against each other for a few seconds before Pyro's greater strength forced his opponent back.

Douse bounced off the ground and landed upright again, then fired a Bubble Beam at the fire type. Pyro's claws glowed and he slashed the attack apart, though a few of the bubbles exploded and dealt him some damage. The Charmeleon grinned at his success, but roared when Sobek exploded from the ground and snapped on his arm with a Crunch. Pyro snarled and bit right back with a Fire Fang, making the croc hiss. The two fighting Pokemon growled furiously and refused to let go until they were suddenly blasted apart by a Water Gun from Douse.

Sobek got the worst of it and hit the ground with a furious hiss. He struggled to his feet, breathing more heavily than Pyro because of his lesser stamina. Douse fired another Water Gun at Sobek and the croc snapped a Thunder Fang into it. The shock traveled up the stream of liquid and mildly shocked Douse, but Sobek took more damage from his opponent and nearly collapsed.

Ash bit his lip. This was bordering the limits of what he was willing to do in training. Too much longer and Sobek would faint. He just wasn't as powerful as the evolved Pokemon that he sparred with, but Ash could see that he was ready to evolve. He was so infuriatingly close

The ground-type steadied himself and growled challengingly at Douse. The Poliwhirl blinked, apparently uncertain if another attack was a good idea. Sobek looked pretty banged up. Douse glanced at Ash and grunted questioningly. Ash bit his lip and looked over the ground-type carefully. The Sandile's eyes still held that familiar fire, no matter how tired he was.

One more go. If Sobek didn't evolve, Ash would stop for the night.

"Last move," Ash ordered finally. "Pyro, back off. Douse, Sobek, don't hold back."

The Charmeleon went back to Ash and stood beside Pikachu and Eevee as Douse cracked his knuckles and gave Sobek a firm look. The Sandile lashed his short tail and hissed as fiercely as he could.

Douse lunged and clenched his fist, preparing a Mega Punch. Sobek awaited him with open jaws, snarling with the aggression his breed was known for. Lightning crackled along his fangs. Ash watched as Douse leaped into the air and brought his fist down on the Sandile just as Sobek reared up to counter with Thunder Fang.

But Sobek aimed too high and took the Mega Punch right in the stomach. The Sandile went flying and hit the ground with a harsh thud that made even Eevee wince. Ash knew that was it, reaching for Sobek's Poke Ball a moment before he heard the croc roar and suddenly the dark of evening fled from a blinding light.

They watched, transfixed, as Sobek's body and tail doubled in length. His back legs grew substantially and allowed him to rear up into a bipedal stance. Sobek's front limbs lengthened into arms with large claws and hands, while his jaws grew even stronger. When the light finally faded, Sobek opened his fanged maw and let out a roar, reveling in his newfound power.

Ash grinned in delight. The Krokorok in front of him was more than he could have hoped for. Sobek stood as tall as Pyro and had all the raw power he so desperately needed to keep up with his evolved team mates. Now he had caught up with them and Sobek knew it.

The croc looked his new body over and hissed with satisfaction. He flexed his claws, making a few experimental swipes in the air. Sobek awkwardly tried to walk, but receded to all fours when he nearly tripped. He growled in annoyance—apparently walking in a bipedal fashion took some practice after spending all his time walking on all fours.

Ash walked over to him, standing a few meters away. Sobek looked up at him as his trainer held his hand out. "C'mon, Sobek. Try and walk over here."

The Krokorok nodded and unsteadily rose to both feet. He took a hesitant step and wobbled for a moment, then got his balance and took another step. Then a third. A few steps later and he had reached Ash, who set his hand at the corner of Sobek's jaw and scratched the sand-colored scales there. Sobek's throat rumbled in a pleased sound. Ash grinned. His friend still liked that spot.

Once Ash and Sobek had made contact, the rest of the team came over to inspect their friend for themselves. Pyro and Sobek grinned at each other with sharp fangs. Their profiles were surprisingly similar now and Ash could tell they were just waiting for a chance to have a go at their team mate. He would be lying if he said he didn't want to see them spar.

Pikachu jumped onto Sobek's head and snickered as the croc snapped at him in annoyance. But there was no true aggression in the motion, which was proven by the ground-type's amused smirk. Douse walked over and made a happy grunt, which Sobek returned with a growl. Eevee simply padded over to get a brief whiff of the ground-type's new scent, then sat back down and resumed her bored stare.

Sobek looked at Ash, who nodded approvingly. "You look amazing, buddy. I think Surge and his electric-types are in for a nasty surprise."

The Krokorok bared his fangs in vicious delight. Ash mirrored it with a wild grin. He wanted to let his newly evolved friend have a battle before Surge so he hand an idea of how to act. Glancing at Pyro, he deemed the Charmeleon to have enough strength for a short battle.

Besides, the two reptiles were eyeing each other aggressively. Ash figured letting them beat the snot out of each other early on would help curb that.

"Pyro, Sobek, care for one last fight?" Ash asked.

The pair of them growled eagerly, getting in their team mate's face and hissing. Ash smirked and backed off with the rest of his Pokemon. He watched the pair of them snarl a moment longer before stating clearly.


Ash looked up at the Vermillion Gym the next day. He had slept in a bit late because they stayed up longer than normal for training, but Sobek's evolution was more than worth it. Now he felt like he had a fighting chance. Surge's winning streak would be over once he left this place.

He walked into the gym and found that two trainers in military uniforms were guarding the entrance to the battlefield. Ash frowned. "I'm here for a battle."

One of them eyed him with a sneer. "How many badges do you have, little baby?"

"Two," his eyes narrowed.

The other scoffed, but before he could say anything, the doors behind the two trainers burst open and a kid ran out carrying a Rattata that had clearly been annihilated. Ash blinked as the kid ran past him, bawling his eyes out. Both of the guards snickered after the defeated trainer and one of them nodded to Ash. "Sure you want to go through the same punishment that baby went through? Surge doesn't go easy on anyone, even if they are chumps. Trainers with two badges aren't good enough for him."

Ash glared at the trainer. "Why's that? Is Surge too scared of getting wiped out by a new trainer?"

Both of the trainer guards glared right back at him and looked so furious that Ash thought for a moment they might actually attack. But then there was a roaring laugh and a massive figure that positively dwarfed Ash pushed past the doors and leered down at him.

"Those are some fighting words, punk!" Lt. Surge boomed. The man grinned maliciously and Ash saw that a huge Raichu was on his shoulder—the same place where Pikachu was usually on his. Raichu had the same vicious grin that its trainer did, but Ash didn't back down. He glared at the Gym Leader and his ace.

"That's why I came here," Ash declared. "My name is Ash. I want a gym battle."

Surge sneered. "Huh, a baby with fangs. Don't see those too often. Fine, I'll wipe you out. Then I'm going fishing. Raichu has more trouble blasting Gyarados than these weaklings—and they have a type disadvantage!"

Ash didn't even want to imagine Surge fishing for Gyarados—and for fun it seemed—when he was right about to fight him. He did his best to stand up tall, but it was a pathetic effort compared to Surge's gigantic build. Still, the Gym Leader jerked his head and grunted. "Come on, then. Let's get this over with."

They walked into the main room and Ash saw that the battlefield was fairly plain. He supposed that was to be expected. Surge appeared to be one that didn't need extravagance.

A third gym trainer that had clearly judged the last battle smirked at Ash and began his announcements. "This official gym battle will now get underway! Both trainers will use four Pokemon and the battle will end when all of either side's team is unable to battle. Furthermore, there will be no substitutions."

Surge pulled a Poke Ball off his belt and tapped the release, causing a Pikachu to appear on the field. Ash knew exactly what he was going to do. If he wanted a chance against

Sobek appeared on the field with an aggressive hiss. He locked his eyes on the Pikachu and bared his fangs, ready to unleash his fury upon the electric-type.

To the ground-type's credit, Surge looked surprised. "Huh. What do you know? This might actually be fun. Alright little baby, you get the first move."

The gym trainer slashed his hand down. "Begin!"

Ash did not hesitate. "Sobek, Crunch!"

Sobek lunged at the Pikachu and snapped at it viciously. The mouse leapt back and skittered away from its attacker as Sobek continued to sink his teeth into it. Pikachu was obviously faster than the Krokorok, but that didn't stop the ground-type.

Surge snorted. "Quick Slam."

Pikachu dodged another bite from Sobek and then suddenly darted forward. It put all the power in its little body to deliver a fierce Slam, strengthened by the increased speed from Quick Attack. The force was enough to push Sobek back a few feet, but he snarled and managed to snap his teeth into Pikachu's tail before it could dart away. The mouse squealed in pain and wriggled in an effort to get away.

"Throw it, Sobek! Use Dig!"

Sobek spun and threw Pikachu harshly across the field, making the electric-type smack into the dirt. While Pikachu was stunned, the ground-type quickly dug into the battlefield and disappeared.

Surge muttered something under his breath. "Agility. Keep it guessing. When it comes out, bash its pretty head in with Iron Tail."

Pikachu recovered and began to blur around the field with such speed that Ash had trouble keeping his eyes on it. As much as he hated to admit it, Surge's Pikachu was faster than his, though it didn't seem to have as much power. That had him worried considering that this electric-type was evidently weaker than the massive Raichu still sitting beside Surge.

It was a few seconds before Sobek erupted from the ground and tried to slash at Pikachu with his claws, but the mouse easily darted around him and then leaped up. Its tail glowed silver and then it flipped, smashing the Iron Tail into Sobek's head. The Krokorok roared, but it was from fury more than pain. Sobek spun around and snapped at Pikachu aggressively, but the mouse managed to escape by a hair's breadth.

Ash grit his teeth. Pikachu was too fast for Sobek to catch outright. The mouse kept blurring around him and dealing small hits, and even though that was a small amount of damage, it was still damage that Sobek would carry on into the next battle when he beat Pikachu. When, not if. Ash refused to believe that the mouse had any chance of defeating Sobek—for one, the Krokorok's pride would not allow him to fall to such an adversary right after evolving.

Surge apparently realized that Pikachu wasn't doing enough damage and decided to up the ante. "Double Edge."

Pikachu put some distance between itself and Sobek before charging the ground-type, who snarled a challenge. Ash really didn't want him to take a Double Edge, but a plan formed in his mind as he considered it. He decided to go for it.

"Take it!" Ash shouted.

Sobek dug his claws into the ground and braced himself just in time for Pikachu to smash recklessly into him. This time the force was enough to knock the wind out of Sobek, but Pikachu suffered as well—the recoil of Double Edge took effect quickly. Ash jumped at the chance. "Assurance!"

The Krokorok spun around and slammed his powerful tail into the electric-type, sending it flying away with a cry of pain. Ash grinned at the obvious success. Assurance grew in power if the opponent had taken damage shortly before the attack was executed. The recoil of Double Edge served that purpose well.

Surge was grinning. "Not bad, kid! Take a hit to return a bigger one, eh? You've got some balls!"

Ash smirked and issued his next command. "Ant Pit!"

Sobek dove underground again and created a huge pit of sand in the middle of the field, right below Pikachu's feet. The electric-type had just pulled itself together after getting hit by Assurance, but quickly found the ground at its feet sucking it down.

"Double Team!" Surge ordered. "Agility. Go for Double Edge when it pops up."

Ash smiled as he watched Pikachu create multiple copies of itself, but the mouse was unable to move properly on the quicksand. Double Team was no good as a defense against Sobek—his sensitive snout would detect the real Pikachu's location quickly, seeing as the copies were only illusions with no real mass. Pikachu's struggled only allowed the croc to home in on it faster.

"Finish it, Sobek," Ash said clearly. "Crunch."

The ground beneath Pikachu exploded as Sobek burst out of the sand and snapped his huge teeth into the electric-type. Pikachu squealed and tried to escape, but Sobek had a strong grip on it this time and shook it ruthlessly for several seconds. When Pikachu stopped resisting, the ground-type hurled it away and watched with satisfaction as his prey hit the field and didn't get up.

One down, three to go.

Surge recalled Pikachu and smirked. "That overgrown lizard of yours has got some good power. Let's see if it can last."

The next Pokemon was a Magneton. All three of the individual Magnemite that made up its body sparked and locked their three eyes onto Sobek, who hissed at the steel-type. He was even more fired up than before and Ash could see a faint crimson in his eyes—Moxie had activated.

Ash watched the croc warily. As a Sandile, Sobek had slipped into Moxie only a few times, but when he did he became much more aggressive than normal in battle. Frequently, Ash recalled him when Moxie activated so that he wouldn't take things too far.

As a Krokorok, Sobek was far more savage and Ash had no idea what to expect from him now that Moxie had activated.

Surge apparently hadn't noticed though, and began to issue his orders. "Metal Sound, then Flash Cannon. Keep your distance."

Magneton sparked and then suddenly blasted the whole field with the horrible sound of shrieking metal. Ash threw his hands over his ears and gnashed his teeth, feeling his spine crawl. On the field, Sobek was roaring furiously and used Dig before Ash could say anything. Even if he hadn't commanded Sobek to do that, at least he was now out of Flash Cannon's line of sight.

"Magnet Bomb," Surge grinned. "Blow the field up!"

Ash watched as Magneton formed several large silver spheres and spun to launch them over the battlefield. A moment later, they all exploded and caused the ground to erupt. He heard Sobek snarl and realized that the croc had been hit, but he didn't even get to speak before Sobek exploded from the ground and snapped at Magneton with a maw of flames.

The Fire Fang made contact as Sobek's jaws clamped onto Magneton. Surge's Pokemon sparked frantically and attempted to escape, but the Krokorok was furious from battle-lust and the adrenaline of Moxie. Sobek generated another surge of flames in his mouth that exploded on Magneton and shook it just as ruthlessly as he had Pikachu.

Magneton actually made a couple of Magnet Bombs to make Sobek let go, but even that wasn't enough to deter the croc. Sobek's mouth blazed with more fire and Ash flinched when he heard a crack. It sounded like Magneton's steel body was beginning to get dangerously weak under the intense heat and Sobek's powerful jaws.

Surge apparently thought the same because he recalled Magneton a second later. He frowned at Sobek and watched as the ground-type's eyes flared from his second adrenaline boost in this battle. The Gym Leader's eyes widened. "Moxie?"

Sobek roared angrily. He wanted to keep fighting and Ash knew there would be no stopping him. Across the field, even Raichu was flicking its tail with unease. Surge sent out his third Pokemon—a Voltorb.

The electric-type didn't even get to spark before Sobek lunged at it, completely disregarding the fact that Ash hadn't even given a command. Ash opened his mouth to protest the croc's actions when Surge barked. "Explosion!"

Ash flung his arms over his face as a flare of heat and light signaled the execution of Explosion, followed by a concussive blast that demolished the already damaged battlefield. He heard Sobek roar, but there was pain in his voice now and then silence. When the intense light faded, Ash looked up and sighed.

Sobek was down from Voltorb's sacrificial attack, but it was just as well. Apparently, he wasn't skilled enough to handle Moxie yet. Ash would remember that—it disturbed him how much Sobek had lost himself in the adrenaline rush of his own Ability. He returned the Krokorok to his Poke Ball and looked at it with a smile. "You did great, buddy. Take a break. You've earned that."

Surge recalled Voltorb and scowled at Ash. "I don't know where you got your hands on that Krokorok, but it obviously isn't ready to use Moxie. Remember that."

His rough words made Ash angry, but he refused to let Surge get to him. Picking out his second Poke Ball, Ash got ready for what was probably going to be the toughest fight thus far.

Pikachu appeared as Surge knelt beside Raichu. The Gym Leader scratched Raichu's ears and jerked his thumb at the smaller electric mouse. "Shock them stupid."

Raichu sniggered eagerly and rushed onto the battlefield. Its cheek pouches sparked with electricity and Ash braced himself—this was the Pokemon that destroyed all others when the rest of Surge's team failed. It had defeated even Gary. He wouldn't fall to the same opponent.

"Quick Attack!" Ash shouted. "Evade whatever it uses."

Pikachu lunged towards Raichu, darting from side to side in order to make himself a more difficult target. Raichu continued to smirk as it awaited Pikachu, seemingly unwilling to move. Then a second before Pikachu would have crashed into it, the larger electric mouse blurred away.

Ash's eyes widened as Raichu suddenly appeared behind Pikachu and leaped onto it, crushing the smaller electric-type with a Body Slam. Pikachu had the breath knocked out of him and could only lay there, stunned, as Raichu brought its foot back and delivered a horrifyingly powerful Mega Kick.

Pikachu skidded across the field harshly, but pulled himself to his feet. He was dazed from the impact and glared at the snickering Raichu. Ash bit his lip. He knew Raichu would be strong, but that was just ridiculous. The electric-type could move with blistering speed and deliver ferociously powerful hits in no time flat. As it was, he was pretty sure Pikachu could only take one more hit from the beast of a mouse before he would be defeated.

"Volt Tackle!" Ash commanded desperately. It wouldn't cause as much damage against Raichu since it was an electric-type move, but the move had more raw power than any of Pikachu's other attacks. It would do the most damage before Raichu defeated its opponent.

Surge grinned widely. "Your mouse can use that too, eh? Good! Let's return the favor, Raichu."

Raichu's grin matched its trainer's. As Pikachu cloaked himself in electricity and began to rush his opponent, Raichu mirrored him. However, Ash realized that Raichu's Volt Tackle was far more concentrated and thus held a lot more power. His heart sank when he realized there could be only one outcome.

The two Volt Tackles collided, but Raichu forced Pikachu back not a second after the impact was made. Pikachu was sent flying and crashed into the ground with enough force to make a crater below his body. Ash recalled him into his Poke Ball—there was no doubt that Pikachu was unconscious after taking a hit like that.

Raichu shook itself as the recoil took effect, but it didn't seem tired at all. Surge smirked. "Your baby mouse still has a lot of work to do. That was one of the sloppiest Volt Tackles I've ever seen. Wouldn't you agree, Raichu?"

The huge mouse sniggered and nodded. Ash glared at the electric-type and picked out his third Poke Ball. Douse appeared and cracked his knuckles, fixing his gaze on the massive Raichu on the other side of the field.

Surge sneered. "Wow, a fish? Really? Raichu, get to cooking."

Raichu rubbed its paws together and sparked again. Ash wasn't about to let it get away with whatever electrical horrors it had in mind. "Douse, use Mud Shot."

Douse spat a blast of mud, which Raichu dodged with contemptuous ease. Ash noticed that it wasn't quite as fast as before though, and figured it was because of the recoil from Volt Tackle. He realized that Raichu was a bit of a glass cannon. It could deal out devastating amounts of damage with incredible speed, but receiving even a mild injury would slow it up. There was no way Raichu would go down easily, but if Ash could slow it down, he might have a chance.

"Bubble Beam!" Ash commanded. "Spread it over the field. Don't let it get away."

He watched as the Poliwhirl unleashed a stream of large bubbles across the battlefield, caging Raichu on Surge's side. Raichu blasted them away with a bolt of lightning, but it gave Ash a few seconds to come up with a strategy. "Blast it with Water Gun. Short bursts—if you fire a stream, it can still shock you."

Douse grunted and began to carry out his orders. He fired quick shots of Water Gun, attempting to snipe Raichu before it could launch its own attack. The first couple of shots actually hit the mouse, but it started running again before long and dodged the rest. It seemed annoyed that its fur was wet and began to zig zag as it ran, closing the distance to Douse.

Ash saw Raichu leap into the air to deliver a Body Slam and saw his chance. "Avoid it, then Mega Punch!"

As Raichu came down, Douse sidestepped it the same way he had when he battled Pikachu the day before. Clenching his fist, the Poliwhirl waited for Raichu to hit the ground and then smashed Mega Punch right into the electric-type's face. Raichu yowled and went flying, but did a flip and recovered its balance easily.

"Mud Shot!" Ash followed up quickly. "Water Gun. Keep it at a distance."

Douse struck again with a burst of mud, which only grazed Raichu before it landed on the field and started to run again. His Water Gun bursts missed their mark though, as the mouse slipped into Agility and evaded them.

"C'mon Raichu, quit playing about," Surge yawned. "Fry it."

Ash didn't like the sound of that. "Fire Mud Shot repeatedly!"

As Douse moved to follow his commands, Raichu's cheeks sparked and the air was suddenly charged with ozone. It was the only hint Ash had of what was coming before an intense beam of electricity was fired at Douse. The flash of energy blinded Ash and he was forced to close his eyes as the sound of an explosion rang out.

When he opened his eyes, he found Douse's smoking form lying unconscious on the ground. Ash sighed and recalled him. He had no idea what kind of attack Raichu had used, but he suspected it was probably Charge Beam. He wasn't aware of any other move that was remotely like that.

Surge smirked. "Three down, kid. Fork over number four so I can go get my lunch."

Ash grabbed Pyro's Poke Ball and hit the release, unleashing the Charmeleon upon the already ravaged battlefield. Pyro spat a fireball and glared at Raichu, who glared right back. The mouse was finally looking tired and Ash was pretty sure it wanted to end the fight as soon as possible. Ash intended to do just that—but not in the way Raichu would prefer.

"Ember," he ordered. "Keep moving as you attack. If you stay in one spot, it'll destroy you."

Pyro flicked his tail in acknowledgement and began his assault. He started to run to the right, spitting small flames at Raichu as he went. The mouse began to run in the opposite direction and dodged easily until it got to the halfway point on the field, where it skidded to a stop at its trainer's command.

"Volt Tackle," Surge told his Pokemon. "Wrap this up."

Raichu began to rush forward, cloaked in the same deadly charge that it had defeated Pikachu with. Ash acted on impulse and shouted. "Smokescreen!"

Pyro ceased the shots of fire and suddenly blew out a mass of oily black smoke. It spread quickly, covering his position just seconds before Raichu dove into the dark haze and vanished. Ash tensed, waiting for the sound of an impact. He wasn't sure if Pyro had been quick enough to evade Volt Tackle.

A screech suddenly broke the tense silence and Ash's eyes widened as Raichu was sent flying out of the smoke cloud. Pyro lunged after it, his claws still glowing bright from the impromptu Slash.

"Flamethrower!" Ash commanded.

The Charmeleon acted instantly and spat a fireball at Raichu while it was still airborne. Ash grinned with satisfaction as the attack made contact, damaging the electric mouse further. Across the field, Surge finally started to look a little nervous.

"Thunder!" Surge barked. "Fry that lizard!"

"Dragon Rush!" Ash yelled, desperate to keep up the pressure before Surge's Pokemon could use the ridiculously powerful electric attack. "Don't let it use Thunder!"

Raichu's cheeks sparked as it began to charge up a huge amount of electricity. Pyro was still running at it and propelled himself off the ground. His pupils narrowed to slits and made contact with Raichu's—the mouse froze for a crucial split second under the intimidating appearance of the dragon-type move.

Raichu's foot had just touched the ground when Pyro barreled into it, carrying the electric-type off its feet once again before crushing it into the wall. The Charmeleon backed off quickly and waited for any retaliation with a snarl on his face. Ash didn't move until he saw Raichu lying on the ground. A broad grin broke out on his face as Pyro spat a fireball into the air in victory.

Surge's jaw dropped. "Wha—wait, I lost? To a kid?"

Apparently, the referee was just as stunned because he completely forgot to call the match. Pyro ran over to Ash and bumped his head into the boy's arm, enticing Ash to scratch the fire lizard's warm scales. He was ecstatic—they had beaten Surge! Not even the Gym Leader's monstrous Raichu was able to stop them!

"Good job, buddy!" Ash exclaimed as he scratched Pyro's chin. "You were great."

Pyro made a delighted rumble and waved his tail again. The two of them looked up as Surge walked over with Raichu cradled in one of his huge arms. Ash realized the electric mouse was awake, though it looked pretty tired.

Rather than the scowl Ash expected, Surge was grinning widely. "Looks like you know how to use those fangs of yours, kid! That was the most fun I've had in weeks. Good job."

Raichu snickered tiredly. Ash wasn't sure what to make of that, but apparently Raichu liked fights that were worth its time—even if it lost. He decided he could respect that. He felt the same way about battles.

Surge dug his spare hand into his pocket and pulled out a badge. "This is the Thunder Badge. Not a whole lot of trainers have gotten this one yet. The League told me to get rougher with all the babies since I gotta hand out these damn tickets with the badge."

Ash blinked when Surge pulled a scrap of paper from the same pocket and passed it to him. He frowned. "What's that?"

"A ticket for the St. Anne cruise liner," the Gym Leader told him. "It's a big boat for trainers and rich people. The ship is scheduled to stop here in Vermillion about three months from now in July—that ticket will let you hop on board for a three day trip to Cinnabar Island. I'd take advantage of it, kid. They have tournaments on the boat that give out rare items and Pokemon as prizes."

That got Ash excited. He didn't really need a vacation, but the idea of a tournament on a huge boat sounded like fun to him.

Surge smirked at the boy's enthusiasm. "These tickets are the whole reason I was told by the League to start ripping the babies apart. Apparently only the best trainers are allowed onboard. Personally I don't think real trainers need something like that to get them working hard, but whatever. You got lucky being the first to beat me since I was given the order to let loose—that ticket there is for first class. Every other baby that beats me after this is gonna get some cheap room."

"Thanks!" Ash grinned.

"You earned it, I reckon," Surge shrugged. "Say, how about we grab some grub at the Pokemon Center? Raichu needs a checkup and I reckon your Pokemon do too."

They were definitely a sight that attracted attention—Ash eating at a table in the Pokemon Center across from Surge, who had gotten three burgers and put each of them down in something like two bites. Most of the trainers watching seemed to be shocked that Surge was begin civil—after all, most of them had been thoroughly steamrolled by the electric-type Gym Leader.

"Ah!" Surge grinned after downing the last of his drink. "Food always hits the spot after a good battle, eh?"

"Definitely," Ash agreed. He was still eating, but he didn't mind talking to Surge. The Gym Leader was surprisingly friendly despite being defeated by Ash. He suspected it was because Surge respected strength, and the boy had proven he was strong enough to stand up for himself.

"Right," the Gym Leader looked at Ash with a smirk. "I'll be frank with you—you've got a lot of potential, kid. Your Krokorok needs a lot of work with Moxie, your Pikachu's Volt Tackle is second-rate and that Poliwhirl is just a minnow, but they've got the makings of something good. I didn't get to see too much of your Charmeleon, so I'll bet it's about the same. Take my advice on this—challenge yourself. Don't go back to swimming with bottom feeders and put those fangs of yours to good use."

Ash nodded. "I know. I caught Poliwhirl yesterday and Krokorok actually just evolved last night. We'll have to practice Moxie on the trainers we meet on the road. I'm not really sure how to help Pikachu with Volt Tackle, though. I had enough trouble teaching it to him."

"You're a new trainer, right?" Surge scratched his chin thoughtfully. "How long you been training?"

"Two months, give or take a week."

"Huh. I'm actually amazed you made any progress with Volt Tackle at all," Surge remarked. "That's not an easy move to teach. Then again, you only just got the rough concept of it down. It's by no means anywhere close to perfected. Your Pikachu uses up too much electricity on it. It's excessive and not concentrated enough. Right now, I'd say it's halfway between a Wild Charge and Volt Tackle. Work on his control whenever you can."

Ash nodded again. He was soaking up whatever information Surge gave him. The man was an expert on electric-types—any advice he offered was priceless in regards to training Pikachu. Ash wanted Pikachu to reach his maximum potential.

"I dunno much about Krokorok or Poliwhirl, or Charmeleon for that matter," the Gym Leader shrugged. "But as far as Pikachu goes, I can help you out a good bit. Try teaching him Electro Ball. It's not overwhelmingly strong, but it'll teach him how to control and concentrate electricity better. He needs work on his speed as well, so here's a simple training regime—teach the baby mouse Agility, then have him run back and forth about a hundred meters for an hour or so. He won't like it, but he'll thank you for it later."

Ash smiled at that. He could imagine the pranks he would receive for putting Pikachu through exercises like that. The mouse did need work on his speed and stamina, though, and Surge's advice sounded legitimate to him. "Thank you. I really appreciate it."

"If you want to show me your appreciation, come back for a rematch after you train all your little baby Pokemon into a real fighting force," Surge grinned fiendishly. "My team needs a good workout and you fit the bill. Plus I want your mouse to fight Raichu once it evolves—that's something I'd really like to see."

That turned his smile into a fierce grin. Surge's battle-lust was infectious. "You're on."

"Good!" The Gym Leader roared in laughter. He stood up and held his hand out. "Well, I gotta get back to the gym. My break is over and I've got more asses to kick. See you kid. Don't get soft."

"I wouldn't dream of it," Ash replied, shaking Surge's hand before the huge man strode off.

"Ash, I'm so proud of you!" Delia Ketchum practically squealed on the other end of the PokeNav. Ash had just told her about his victory at the Vermillion Gym and she was near ecstatic from the news. He'd kept his promise since Cerulean City to stay in touch with his mother every week or so. That helped to assure her of his safety and kept Ash from ending up on the receiving end of his mother's anger should her knowledge of his wellbeing be neglected.

He smiled back at her through the video phone. "Thanks. I caught a Poliwhirl out here too—his name is Douse. Oh, and Sobek evolved!"

"It sounds like you're doing very well," she said happily. "So where do you think you'll be going next? There are still a few months before the St. Anne arrives in Vermillion. What are your plans?"

Ash frowned slightly. "I'm not really sure. I definitely plan on going to Celadon and defeating Erika—it sounds like she's going to be easy compared to Surge. I might try to drop by Fuchsia as well if I have time. But I need to have a plan to face Sabrina after that. She's…well, I've heard that she's one of the most powerful Gym Leaders in Kanto. Her psychic-types are crazy strong. I'm sure Sobek can probably beat one of her Pokemon, but there's no way he can handle all three by himself."

"Yes, I've heard that as well," Delia murmured. She was quiet for a moment, then her face seemed to clear. "Have you thought about catching a ghost-type? Psychics are very prone to damage from ghost-type attacks."

"Ghost-types aren't exactly common," he replied. "I don't even know where to go looking for one."

"Hmm…Oh! I remember Professor Oak saying that there are ghost-types in Lavender Town!" His mother exclaimed. "That's not too far from Vermillion, either! Maybe you should go there before heading to Celadon. It would give you more time to train it."

Ash thought about it. "Lavender Town, huh? I'll check it out. Thanks, mom."

Delia smiled. "Of course, dear. Good luck, and stay safe!"

"I will. Goodbye," he said before ending the call and leaving the video phone for the next trainer to use.

Ash went to his room in the Pokemon Center. It was too late in the day to leave now and frankly he wanted a break before setting out for his next destination. He also needed to plan out the next stage of training for his Pokemon. He didn't want to just hit the road with no goals in mind for his team.

Surge had given him a good plan for Pikachu, so Ash considered the electric-type's training set for the time being. Pyro needed to perfect Flamethrower and both of his dragon-type moves. Ash still had no idea why they were so ridiculously hard to learn. No matter how hard Pyro tried, he just could not seem to harness the correct type of energy necessary to execute them. He knew dragon-type moves were notoriously difficult to learn, but this was absurd.

Ash wanted to try and teach Pyro Mega Punch. He knew that the Charmeleon line could learn it, and he hoped that Douse could provide a good example for Pyro to learn. He just wanted Pyro to have a little extra variation. In the instance that Slash wouldn't work, Mega Punch would give him the option of brute force.

Sobek was the next order of business. Now that he had evolved, Ash intended to get him TMs as soon as possible, but until then, he wanted to work on Moxie. It had been made blatantly clear in the battle with Surge that Sobek was unable to control his aggression once the ability activated. He needed to learn how to maintain his composure—that would make him a more effective fighter.

As for Douse, Ash was going to use the Scald TM on him soon. He wanted to try and work on Hydro Pump as well. The water-type move was insanely powerful and would probably take them weeks, if not months to master, but Ash had faith that the Poliwhirl could do it. Douse was just as dedicated to training as the rest of his team. If anyone could do it, he could.

Eevee was Eevee. Ash would simply continue to show her kindness and make sure she was healthy. Her aggression was swiftly becoming a thing of the past, though her social skills were still nonexistent. He was patient—Eevee would become more friendly in time. At least, he hoped she would.

Ash sat down on the bed and took out the Poke Balls containing his five friends. One by one, he set them all loose in his room, watching as they all gave him their attention. He smiled at the group.

"You guys were amazing today. I'm really proud of you all. We were the first team to beat Surge in over a month. That Raichu of his destroyed every other trainer that came his way."

Pyro rumbled happily at the praise. Pikachu snickered and Douse bounced cheerily. Eevee's glare was mildly less frosty, but it wasn't quite friendly either. Ash didn't mind. She was getting better—he was sure of that.

Sobek seemed annoyed and Ash moved to reassure him. "Sobek, you fought so hard today. You should be proud. You beat two of Surge's team and forced him to sacrifice a third. We couldn't have won without you."

That seemed to placate the disgruntled Krokorok, because he grinned toothily and nodded. Ash scratched the ground-type's jaw and then looked at all the others. "Tomorrow we'll start traveling towards Lavender Town. We're going to try and add a ghost Pokemon to the team."

The news had mixed results. Pyro and Sobek seemed fine with it. Pikachu looked curious, if the twitching of his ears was anything to go by. Douse looked slightly nervous and Eevee just didn't care.

Ash internally shrugged. "Anyways, that's our next destination. We'll be training hard along the way, so rest up."

His Pokemon nodded and then moved to settle in their various spots around the room. Pikachu curled up on his trainer's stomach when Ash lay down and Pyro stretched out on the floor, resting his burning tail on his fireproof blanket. Sobek mirrored Pyro and Ash smirked a little at how similar they were. Douse sprawled out on his back on the floor, his round body rising up and down as he breathed. Eevee jumped onto the end of the bed and curled up, her back to Ash and the others.

Ash looked over his team one last time before he closed his eyes and fell asleep.

A/N: Version 2.0, updated on 2/18/2021

I've been without power for 60+ hours because of that damned arctic storm. I'm exhausted. And cold. And starving.

Here's the latest team update for the chapter, featuring Gary's team since he's also important.

Also, for more detailed team updates including a list of moves known by each Pokemon and their abilities, check my profile out.

Ash Ketchum


Pyro (Male Charmeleon)

Pikachu (Male)

Sobek (Male Krokorok)

Eevee (Female)

Douse (Male Poliwhirl)


Gary Oak


Wartortle (Male)

Pidgeotto (Male)

Nidorina (Female)

Geodude (Male)

Abra (Male)

Machop (Male)

At Oak's Lab:

Raticate (Female)

Bellsprout (Female)

Growlithe (Male)

Krabby (Male)

Meowth (Male)