Tiger Lover 16: And here we are with the final chapter for 2020, and pretty much the last chapter that was largely written when the story was first published.

It's been a bit of a rough year for all of us with Covid and all the other frustrations. Writing this story though was one of the most fun parts of it for me though, and I hope it brought all of you some decent entertainment and continues to do so. And I thank you all dearly for taking the time to read it.

There's probably going to be a longer wait for the next chapter. I have the opening scene written and another scene partly written and a general idea of where I'm going with it, but I'm in no rush right now and think I'll take it easy the first two weeks of the new year to avoid burnout, but I'll be back as soon as I can.

Hopefully with vaccines in the early stages, 2021 ends up being a better year for us all by the end. And hopefully the Pokemon Journeys anime finally grows the beard and becomes consistently good.

Actually it's Pokemon's 25th anniversary in general next year, so here's hoping we have a lot of good stuff to celebrate such a milestone.

Oh yeah, random aside, but if you want recommendations for really good and fun Pokemon stories, check out "Ash: An Inspiration" and "Ash's Just Reward" by The Warmongers of Simora.

No particular reason I'm saying this other than they're some of my favourite Pokemon fanfics right now and I feel like promoting good stuff, even if they're already popular.

Also maybe I should put a disclaimer, if there's one plot point that looks like it's taken right out of another Ash Ketchum Peggy Sue fic: That was unintentional. More at the bottom of the page.

Chapter 6: The Journey (Re)Starts Today

*Pewter City Pokemon Center, Apri 5th, 8.35pm*

Shortly after Misty and Brock's little heart to heart talk, Ash, Misty and Pikachu departed from Brock's house to spend the night at the Pokemon Center, Brock promising to meet up with them in the morning and insisting he'd "Have everything all mapped out"

Brock didn't really elaborate on that point before bidding his friends goodbye and closing the door on them, and Ash and Misty just decided to wait and ask him about it in the morning.

Once at the Pokemon Center, Ash left Pikachu in the care of Nurse Joy and then took a seat along with Misty by the nearest available PC, deciding they might as well take a look at a few more of those articles Professor Oak had sent Ash.

Ash did briefly consider calling the Professor himself, or his mother since it only now occurred to him that he'd forgotten to do either of those things during his last trip to the Center earlier in the afternoon, but decided it would probably be better to just do that in the morning. Professor Oak did say to call again when Brock was with him and Misty, after all.

Ash felt embarrassed over it, but got over himself pretty quickly and opened the previous email from the Professor. The first link after the one they'd left off on caught his and Misty's attention as Professor Oak had wrote the words "Brace yourself for this one" right under the link.

"Wow. After alien supervillains that live on the moon and goofy-looking superheroes in weird outfits, this must be something either REALLY stupid and weird, or really horrible if Professor Oak thinks this is going to shock us or something" Misty quipped, leaning past Ash to stare at the screen.

Ash groaned "I'm tempted to just not read it, but that probably wouldn't be very responsible of me, would it?" He said sarcastically. Ash shook his head and clicked the link.

Ash and Misty stared at the screen as the new webpage loaded up with bated breath. When the page became clear, they both squinted their eyes for a moment, and after it registered what it was they were seeing their eyes widened and they let out loud, piercing gasps that caused the few trainers still loitering in the lobby of the Center to briefly stare in their direction with raised eyebrows.

It looked like some kind of a News article, with a Picture of an intimidating Green-haired woman with cold, steely eyes partially obscured by shadows prominently displayed beneath the headline "Prison Break! Dangerous Ex-Gym leader at large!"

Ash and Misty fell deathly silent and gaped at the picture in the article, horrified expressions slowly forming on their faces. They both recognised the woman in the picture. She was Sabrina, the Gym Leader of Saffron City.

Ash wordlessly scrolled down to start reading the article.

"The good citizens of Saffron City and its surrounding settlements were sent into panic Yesterday evening when the City's local Officer Jenny made the announcement that a highly dangerous superhuman criminal had escaped from police custody earlier that same day.

No explanation was given for how Sabrina, the super villainous former Gym Leader of Saffron, managed to escape from the high security prison where she had been sent to serve a thirty year prison sentence for assaulting and terrorizing many Gym Challengers and random citizens of Saffron.

According to Officer Jenny, Prison staff along with the Saffron City Mystic Arts Investigation unit were baffled to find that Sabrina had simply disappeared from her cell at some time around noon, the Psychic dampening collar and bracelets the prisoner had been forced to wear left lying on the floor.

While an investigation is said to be underway, the Police have no current leads as to Sabrina's whereabouts, though Officer Jenny emphasized that all citizens of Saffron, Celadon, Vermilion and Cerulean Cities, in addition to other nearby towns and Villages like Lavender Town as well as all trainers and other citizens passing through Central Kanto should be on guard at all times until the escaped prisoner is found and re-captured.

Most of our regular readers are no doubt familiar with the story of Saffron city's most infamous Gym Leader, the Psychic-type master Sabrina. But for those living under a rock for most of the past year, we'll be glad to give you an update.

Sabrina was the daughter of Saffron's previous Gym Leader, and succeeded him as Gym Leader roughly a year and a half ago as of this writing. As a child, she was hailed as a prodigy, gifted with extraordinary Psychic powers believed to be on par with a well trained Alakazam.

Human beings with psychic powers are not an undocumented phenomenon. Though very rare, people with the ability to levitate objects through sheer force of will or read the minds of others can be encountered throughout every region of the world of Pokemon. But Sabrina of Saffron City's potential went beyond anything previously documented.

Many stories have been told by Sabrina's mother and family friends of Sabrina levitating entire rooms worth of furniture from the age of five, her mother even claiming that she had once bent her father's car into a pretzel shape once when she was seven years old because he would not allow Sabrina to watch her favourite cartoon while she was grounded. By the age of thirteen, Sabrina's powers had evolved to being able to cast illusions and take control over the minds of Pokemon to force them to do her bidding.

Following the mysterious disappearance of her father, which Sabrina's mother recently came forward with the belief that their daughter was in some way responsible for, the Psychic sorcerous took over Saffron Gym as it's fifteenth Gym Leader, becoming the tenth member of her family to run the renowned Psychic Type Gym that often ranks highly within the Top 8 most challenging Pokemon Gyms of the Kanto region in yearly Official Pokemon League Polls.

Sabrina's tenure as Saffron's Gym Leader proved highly controversial. Though a powerful and challenging leader, with only three challengers reportedly earning a Gym Badge against her in the first six months of her tenure, Gym Challengers frequently reported that Sabrina was, to quote one such trainer who preferred not to be named in this story, "Bloody Terrifying".

Many found Sabrina's cold personality, ruthless battling style and a reported penchant for reading her opponents' minds and taunting them over their personal fears and insecurities upon defeat to be highly unnerving. Several Gym Inspection Agents had actually been sent to the Saffron Gym to confront Sabrina about reported emotional abuse of her challengers and illegal misuse of her powers, but they all seemed to report back to the League that nothing was wrong and that Sabrina's actions were exaggerated, and that she had been acting well within her boundaries as Gym leader.

It would later be uncovered that all of these inspectors had suffered varying degrees of brain washing by Sabrina.

In more recent months, reports started coming out of Sabrina upping the ante by using her illusionary powers to taunt and harass challengers she didn't seem to like or behaved rudely to her, and several trainers had even gone missing after going to challenge her Gym, along with several undercover police officers investigating the Gym and several members of the local Karate Dojo that neighbours the Saffron Gym. It was later discovered that these poor souls had all been somehow transformed into dolls by Sabrina.

In response to growing concerns from citizens, higher ups of the Kanto Pokemon League along with International League Chairman Mr Goodshow voted unanimously to have Sabrina forcibly removed from her position as Saffron's Gym Leader and brought to court to account for the rising number of reports of her wrong doings. The League had planned to have Lance, leader of the Kanto-Johto Elite 4 and a prestigious member of the G-men, go to the Saffron Gym and apprehend the tyrannical Gym Leader.

However, this proved unnecessary, as before this plan could be acted on Sabrina was swiftly brought down by another giant in the world of Pokemon training.

28 time winner of the Pokemon World Championships Scrooge McDuck, owner of Silph Co. and Saffron's most prestigious citizen of the past eighteen years, and a man who has vast experience in dealing with supernatural threats and super villains including the infamous dark sorceress Magica De Spell, had caught wind of the rumours behind his city's Gym leader and conducted his own personal investigation of the Saffron Gym.

A fight apparently broke out when Sabrina caught Scrooge and his assistant Mrs Beakley snooping around in the room where she kept the dolls created from her many victims, and thankfully our dear World Champion was able to easily overpower the Psychic Gym Leader with the help of his trusty Mr Rime.

An unconscious Sabrina was later that day dumped in a cell at the Saffron Police station and equipped with a specially made collar designed by McDuck's cousin, the G-men's top scientist Professor Ludwig Von Drake, to suppress psychic powers. Sabrina would be left in prison to await further trial, while her victims that had been transformed into dolls would be restored a week later through a spell cast by Sir Merlin Prower, the Court Wizard of the Kingdom of Knothole and an old acquaintance of Mr McDuck.

A thrilling story, I'm sure many of you readers are thinking, if by now you've forgotten the headline. But the reason we've told you all this is to remind the dear public just how dangerous miss Sabrina truly is, what she's capable of and why it's a pretty big deal she's now on the loose.

The Police advise that the general populace should remain calm, but keep watch and report any and all sightings of the rogue former Gym Leader immediately, either to the police or anyone associated with the Pokemon League. The Officer Jenny of Saffron City has also stressed that no trainer or random citizen should engage with Sabrina or try to apprehend her on their own, lest they risk losing their lives or suffer the traumatizing existential nightmare of become one of her inanimate play things. Much as many people like to think highly of themselves, we can't all be Scrooge McDuck, after all.

While Sabrina is likely to still be operating somewhere in Central Kanto at the moment, one of her psychic abilities seems to include the ability to teleport, so it's possible she could be anywhere in Kanto at the moment, or even as far as Johto for all anyone knows.

Officer Jenny promises that she and the League will do everything in their power to apprehend the criminal as soon as possible. So for now, dear readers, we urge you all to stay safe"

Ash and Misty continued staring at the computer screen for a full two minutes after they both finished reading the article, jaws agape. Eventually, the two teens slowly turned to one another, exchanging worried grimaces.

"… Well…" Misty mumbled, finally breaking the silence "… Guess you won't need to challenge her again?"

Ash breathed a weary sigh, scrolling back up the article to stare at the sinister profile shot of Sabrina, eyes filling with regret.

He couldn't say Sabrina was actually that much different from how she'd been in the old timeline. Creating illusions to mess with people, traumatising gym challengers, turning people into dolls (Including her mother, originally, along with Misty and Brock)… not much about her actions in this timeline sounded different, other than how many people she'd apparently done the doll trick with.

And possibly the thing about her father, Ash wasn't really sure what happened to him before. The only adult man that seemed to have much of a role in her life as far as he was aware was that photographer.

But regardless of how terrifying and possibly unhinged she had been in the old timeline, Ash and his friends had at least been able to help reform Sabrina. All it took was a friendly Haunter from Lavender Town giving her a good laugh, and Sabrina's cold, menacing exterior melted away, and by the time Ash, Brock and Misty departed Saffron that day she seemed on track to becoming a genuinely good person.

It didn't seem like she'd been given that chance this time around, though. Ash wondered briefly if Scrooge McDuck had tried to reason with her, or had just wrote her off as a villain as the news article had kept describing her and showed her no sympathy.

The thought of the latter did frustrate Ash and briefly made him feel resentful, but that quickly subsided. Why would Scrooge have any reason to sympathise with Sabrina if she attacked him, after all? As far as he knew, she really was a villain… for that matter, as far as Ash knew, maybe she was actually much worse in this timeline and wouldn't have been as easy to convince to turn over a new leaf.

A lump formed in Ash's throat thinking about that. He didn't really know Sabrina that long or well, he'd be lying if he said she was one of his favourite Gym Leaders he'd ever met. She spent most of the time he'd interacted with her messing around with him and his friends and putting them all in grave danger seemingly for her weird, childish sense of amusement.

But Ash still felt bad for her, looking at this article and taking in all of what it said about how she had apparently turned out in this reality. She wasn't evil originally, still might not be here even. Regardless of what she'd done originally, she'd changed her ways eventually and was on a better path in life.

It just didn't seem fair that she'd had that taken away from her.

"I remember hearing about all this" Misty piped up, interrupting Ash's trail of thought. She started rubbing her head, looking just as regretful as Ash felt right now "I didn't have to think about it until just now of course, but now it's really hitting me… wow. Things really went wrong for Sabrina this time, didn't they?"

"You think…" Ash hesitated, trying to muster up as much optimism as possible "Do you think maybe we could grab Haunter again, and then if we meet Sabrina we could reform her like last time?"

Misty fixed Ash with a weak smile. Following a brief silence she shook her head and pointed to a part of the screen beneath the article's headline. Ash narrowed his eyes on the date the story was posted. April 1st… two years ago.

Ash sighed miserably.

"When the news first broke, everyone in Cerulean City, and I'm guessing most people in Kanto, were on edge for weeks afterwards. The police and the G-men kept searching for her, but there were never any sightings and Sabrina just seemed to disappear off the face of the planet completely.

Eventually, people just moved on and forgot about the fact there was a potentially murderous mind-reading Psychic possibly lurking around somewhere in the region. It just didn't seem like anyone was really in danger. Honestly, as much as we have a talent for running into strange and interesting people, I wouldn't set your hopes too high. We might never run into her… and you might not like what you find if we do" Misty explained, putting a comforting hand on Ash's shoulder when she was finished.

Ash let out a loud, frustrated groan and slowly rubbed his hands down over his face. He promptly closed the page with the offending news article and logged out of his emails.

"I think I'll read more of this stuff in the morning. Suddenly I'm not in the mood for possibly finding out that Koga works for Team Rocket now, or that Pryce likes to kidnap children" Ash grumbled. Misty gripped his shoulder and shifted uncomfortably, desperately trying to think of something to ease Ash's conscience.

"… At least Brock and I are the same" Misty said quietly. Ash looked at her with a blank expression, and she offered him a warm smile "We're always going to be your friends. That can never change"

Ash smiled. He stared silently at his lap for a moment after, then rose his left hand to place it over Misty's on his shoulder.

"Thanks" Ash said, raising his head again to look Misty in the eye. Misty was relieved to see a smile on his face again "That... that really helps"

Misty giggled, pulling her hand free from Ash's and pulling off his signature cap so she could ruffle his hair for a moment. Ash frowned at her for that gesture, blushing slightly, but he didn't openly protest or try to stop her.

"We'll set everything straight eventually. Sabrina will be fine" Misty said, making sure her tone was upbeat "I know it's hard, seeing someone you know get their life messed up like that… but you're going to fix it by putting the world back to normal. It's okay to feel bad for her, but try not to let it get you down too badly. You definitely won't be any help to her if you start moping about it and that holds you back from winning the league and everything, after all"

Ash nodded. He turned off the PC and rose to his feet.

"Yeah… I guess that makes sense. Who knows, maybe things will work out fine" He said hopefully, smiling at the approving wink Misty sent him "I think I want to go to bed right now, though. I guess I'll figure out what I'm going to do about my fourth Gym Badge in the morning. Maybe I'll feel better about this whole thing by then"

Without another word, Ash quickly started walking towards the nearest set of stairs that would take him to the floor where the Pokemon Center's guest bedrooms were, Misty following shortly after. As he was climbing up the stairs Ash did briefly stop and wonder something, however.

'If that's how Sabrina turned out, though… I don't think I even want to know what some of the really bad guys we met are like this time around'

*Pewter City Pokemon Center, April 6th, 10am"

"Free, Free! Free! *And then I was like, screw your tackle! Taste my mighty spores! And then I blasted him from behind and BOOM, Victory was MINE!*" Butterfree declared, spinning through the air and making dramatic gestures with his wings like he was punching the air.

Pidgeotto was sitting on the table and nodding along to Butterfree's dramatic recollections, looking impressed.

"Pidgeo *Sounds like quite a comeback. Good work*" Said Pidgeotto. Butterfree stopped flailing around and looked happily at the bird, despite his lack of a mouth it was clear the bug was smiling.

"Free. *I felt awesome! Sorry you didn't see it. I hope I get to watch your battle with Misty*"

Pidgeotto stretched out her wings impressively, looking confident "Pidgeotto! *I shall put on a grand show! And if Team Rocket dare try and ruin it for me again, I'll defeat them too!*"

"Pi, Pika? *Hey, speaking of Team Rocket… where've they been? Haven't seen them in this timeline since that time in the forest?*" Pikachu pondered, sitting on the table next to Pidgeotto.

"Free, free? *Maybe the Beedrill abducted them and they're having trouble breaking free? Think we should go back and help?*" Butterfree asked. Pikachu shrugged dismissively in response.

"Pikachu *They'll probably be fine. They can get out of trouble themselves. I was just curious*" Pikachu said casually. Butterfree and Pidgeotto nodded, recognising he was probably right.

Misty watched the Pokemon's back and forth discussion with a curious expression from a seat on the opposite side of the table Pikachu and Pidgeotto were sitting on. She turned to Ash, who was sitting besides her and examining the contents of his bag.

"Must be fascinating, being able to understand everything they're saying" Misty commented. Ash blinked, zipping his backpack closed.

"Oh, yeah. It's pretty cool" Ash replied non-chalantly "Honestly, it barely feels like it makes a difference with Pikachu anyway. He and I were always so in-synch I could practically understand him already, even if I didn't know exactly what the words he said meant most of the time. But, yeah, I guess it's still neat getting to really talk with everybody… it's kinda funny how it feels like one of the least weird things about this timeline to me, though"

"Mind telling me what they're saying right now?"

"I wasn't listening too closely, but Butterfree was bragging about his battle with Geodude, and Pikachu said something about Team Rocket" Ash said absent-mindedly. Misty nodded along, frowning curiously at the mention of Ash's long-time stalkers.

"I do wonder what they're up to, right now. You said you restored their memories and asked them to work with you… for some dumb reason, right?" Misty asked, giving Ash a dubious look. Ash scratched his head sheepishly and avoided looking her in the eye.

"It seemed like it was worth a shot… I dunno though, I was expecting them to have shown up to talk about it some more now" Ash said, humming thoughtfully "… I hope they're actually thinking about what I offered them, and they aren't just planning how to double cross us somehow…"

"Frankly I wouldn't be surprise if that's exactly what they're doing" Misty sighed, narrowing her eyes at Ash "It wouldn't be the first time, after all. I get why you did it, and I don't think Jessie, James or Meowth are really… you know, EVIL-evil. But they're a bunch of idiots and really short sighted. Even if it is possible for them to turn over a new leaf, and then actually commit to being good people, I just… it's probably not going to happen by just telling them the world's in trouble and it'd be in their best interest to help you. They're going to be stubborn about it. Mark my words, we're probably going to have to fight them a couple of times before they really start to come around, if at all"

"You're very cynical about them, aren't you?" Ash quipped.

"And you're not?" Misty asked incredulously, waving her hands around dramatically "Seriously Ash, they followed you around for six years, seven regions, eight if you count the times you went to Galar plus all the other times you went to those other regions, and dozens of islands, all just to try and steal your Pokemon. They're as commited to being creeps as you are to being a Pokemon Master. I know we joke sometimes about how they're useless and whatever, but they can be dangerous. Just…"

Misty sighed, taking a moment to relax before giving Ash a concerned look "Just be careful, alright? It's good that you have faith in people. I don't even think Team Rocket don't have some good in them, or the potential to turn good. But… please don't let your guard down and be ready for when something goes wrong. I don't… I worry about you sometimes, alright, having to deal with those no good crooks all the time, and Brock and I aren't always there to help you. I just don't want to see you get hurt…"

An awkward silence followed for a while after that, even Pikachu, Butterfree and Pidgeotto had ended their own discussions to stare at the two trainers in concern. Ash kept his eyes to the ground at first, then eventually shook his head and gave Misty a reassuring smile.

"I promise I'll be careful" He said tenderly "I want to give Team Rocket a chance. I know it's risky, and I'm prepared to have to fight them over it. I'll accept if it doesn't work and I won't let my guard down with them… but I think it's worth trying. They all at least deserve the chance to turn good, and I'm sure they could help us out a lot if it happened. I'm going to stand by that. But I'll try not to be stupid about it. Okay?"

Misty smiled softly at Ash, letting out a content sigh "That's all I ask"

Pikachu crossed over the table and bounced onto Misty's lap, hugging her around the stomach. Misty blinked at Pikachu, giggling as she began petting the yellow mouse "Thanks Pikachu, you always know how to cheer a girl up"

Ash looked at Pikachu with a raised eyebrow and a slightly irritated expression. He wasn't sure why, but for some reason he felt oddly jealous of Pikachu cutting into that moment.

Butterfree seemingly sensed that he was jealous but misunderstood why, as he soon flew up to Ash and latched onto the side of his head, nuzzling his face affectionately against Ash's. Ash wanted to protest, but Butterfree's antennas started tickling his face so all he could do in response for a minute was laugh hysterically.

Misty put a hand to her lips and stifled a laugh at the sight of Butterfree cuddling up to Ash's head, both finding it adorable and thinking she was really glad the bug knew better than to try something like that with her. She suddenly blinked and turned away from Ash, noticing the front door to the Pokemon Center opening.

Seeing who it was entering the lobby, Misty smiled and waved "Morning Brock, over here!"

Ash's eyes widened and he grabbed Butterfree with both hands and forcibly pulled the cuddly butterfly off of his head, gently placing him down on the table before getting up and turning to watch his older friend approaching the table.

Brock forcefully slammed a large notebook against the table, leaning slightly against said table as he stared at Ash and Misty with a wide, proud grin on his face. Ash and Misty quickly noted that there were some enormous black bags under Brock's slanted eyes.

"Good morning, my dear and loyal friends. Are you all set for adventure? Because I certainly am!" Brock passionately declared. After a moment of silence he broke out in a wide, loud yawn that lasted a good ten seconds. Ash and Misty shrunk back, looking concerned.

"… Pika… *Okay…*" Pikachu said awkwardly.

"Did you…" Ash said slowly "Did you get any sleep last night, Brock?"

"Exactly two hours of it" Brock replied in an upbeat tone. Following another heavy yawn he elaborated "Most of the night I spent recalling our advenutres, and writing down a list of important landmarks and stops we need to make on the way to getting Ash to the Pokemon League, retracing our steps as well as I could remember. In this notebook I wrote down which Gyms we need to go to, which of Ash's Pokemon we met in order and where, as well as mine and Misty's we also need to recapture, and basically all the other noteworthy events of our Kanto journey"

Ash and Misty blinked, carefully nodding at Brock with uneasy smiles on their faces. Pidgeotto and Butterfree cocked their heads at him, staring blankly.

"Okay, that's pretty impressive and I guess it's a good idea we have a discussion about all that before setting off…" Misty began. She frowned at Brock "… But you really didn't need to stay up all night doing that. We were probably going to give it a day before heading for Cerulean City, you could have waited 'til now and we'd all just plan that out together?"

After struggling to stifle a third big yawn, Brock responded to Misty with a meek shrug "In my defense, it was hard to fall asleep with my head buzzing with all these new memories bouncing around in it. And I like organizing things and planning stuff out, so what else was I gonna do?"

"You want me to lend you Butterfree if you still can't sleep tonight? His sleep powder can probably help with that" Ash offered. Butterfree chirped eagerly and fluttered around the table, unconsciously releasing a small cloud of blue spores in the process that promptly knocked Pidgeotto out cold.

The three trainers and Pikachu all stared at the sleeping bird in mild worry, Butterfree took a bit longer to catch onto what happened and when he did he quickly plopped down on the table and covered his face with his wings, looking bashful.

"Uhh… I think I'll be fine. My mind seems more settled now" Brock replied in a deadpanned tone. After covering his mouth and letting out a few quicker yawns he picked up his notebook and held it in front of his chest, asking "So, want to get started?"

"Sure, go ahead" Ash said, returning the slumbering Pidgeotto to her pokeball and sitting back down. Butterfree spread his wings again and watched Pidgeotto get sucked into the ball, then waddled over to jump down into Ash's lap, earning a head pat from the trainer afterwards. Brock took a seat on the opposite end of the table, flipping open the notebook and staring at the opened pages with a studious expression.

"So, let's quickly recap. We all got sent back in time, and we need to redo our Kanto Journey along with all of Ash's other ones, with the goal of Ash winning at least the majority of the leagues he's competed in this time around, reuniting with all our old Pokemon and reminding some of our friends of how the world's supposed to be while we're at it. Thus far, all three of us have been reunited and Professor Oak and Team Rocket, for whatever reason, all have their memories back, and Ash has possession of Pidgeotto and Butterfree" Brock said, peeking over the top of the notebook at Ash "Have I missed anything important?"

"No, that's basically everything besides the weird reality changes" Ash answered.

"Good, good" Brock said with a nod, stopping briefly to stifle another yawn before continuing "So then, naturally our next order of business is going to be travelling to Cerulean City so you and Misty can have your Gym Battle. We need to stop at Mt Moon on the way so I can catch Zubat, maybe stop Team Rocket if they decide to steal the Clefairy's giant moon stone again. But you said they might consider helping us restore the timeline, so we don't know if that'll be necessary"

"Should be nice to see Seymour again, anyway. And those Clefairy are adorable" Misty said, petting Pikachu with an excited smile as she recalled the cute dance ritual the Clefairy and Clefable had performed the last time she, Ash, May and Max had visited Mt Moon.

The smile faded slightly as she realized that Seymour the scientist hadn't actually been around during that visit despite his declaration of wanting to live with the Clefairy, and though she didn't dwell on it for too long she did wonder where he'd gone off to.

"Right" Brock nodded at Misty, flipping a page of his notebook "I don't think there's anything else we need to do before Cerulean barring maybe some quick training, and aside from your Gym Battle I don't think there's anything we need to do in the city either apart from meeting up with… Angie, right?" Ash nodded, and Brock chuckled to himself "Didn't know if I was ever going to see her again, certainly didn't expect her to join us for a big adventure like this. But yeah, incase there's something you guys want to do while we're there, that's it for Cerulean"

"I should probably grab Psyduck from the Gym. And come to think of it, I left Goldeen there too this time around for some reason. I oughta fix that" Misty said thoughtfully.

Ash, Pikachu and Brock all nodded at her. After a moment they all frowned, then their eyebrows collectively shot to the top of their heads as the first part of what Misty had said fully registered and they all gaped at the tomboy, who looked between their confused faces with an amused smirk "Oh yeah, I already have Psyduck in this reality. Pretty convenient, right?"

"You didn't think to mention that?" Ash asked.

Misty closed her eyes and held up her nose in response, still smirking "You never asked"

"So, when'd that happen?" Brock inquired.

"About a year ago. My sisters were doing some modelling stuff in Hop Hop Hop Town on Princess Day, they were having some kind of festival there so I got dragged along. It was pretty fun, actually, apart from Lily and Violet making me their pack mule when they went on a shopping spree" Misty shuddered at the memory, shooting her friends apologetic looks "I'm very sorry for the times I did that to you guys"

"You should be" Ash said matter of factly, crossing his arms and staring crossly at Misty. The red head rolled her eyes and laughed sarcastically.

"Ha ha. I did get those two back pretty good by making them carry twice as much for MY shopping spree later, anyway" Misty giggled, a wicked grin on her face "Anyway, the important part is I actually caught Psyduck while I was there… by accident, when I tripped over and dropped a pokeball I found that day and Psyduck kept tapping it"

"Wow, I guess some things really are just fated to happen in any timeline, aren't they" Brock said, scratching his cheek. Misty shrugged.

"Apparently. Technically I didn't have my trainers' license yet so Psyduck ended up being registered to Daisy for a while, but he is officially my Pokemon now" Misty said, putting her head in her hands and staring at the ceiling "I remember being as annoyed about it as I was the last time. I guess I left him behind at the Gym because I thought he was useless… now that I have my old memories back, I'm going to fix that though. Psyduck can be frustrating sometimes with how spacey he is and everything, but I really do appreciate that silly duck. He's a really loyal Pokemon and my friend… plus, we're probably going to need those psychic powers of his at some point, right?"

"I'll say" Ash nodded, recalling some of the times Psyduck's splitting headaches had caused him to become an unstoppable battling machine.

Ash flinched as an image of his Kingler being struck with confusion flashed in his mind. He made a note to find a good counter to Psyduck's confusion in case Misty ever figured out how to get Psyduck to use his powers without suffering head trauma first and then used Psyduck in a battle against him.

Wait, she wouldn't use Psyduck in their Gym battle, would she?

"Well, I guess we might not need to spend too much time at Hop Hop Hop town later then. Though we should probably do something about the Hypno causing kids to act like Pokemon thing, anyway… and we might need to do one other thing while we're there, actually, but more on that in a bit" Brock said, suddenly looking rather bitter and uncomfortable. Before either Ash or Misty could inquire about why he continued speaking "Anyway, after Cerulean we have at least four of Ash's Pokemon to go round up in a row before we get to the next Gym: Bulbasaur, Charmander, Squirtle and Krabby"

"Alright!" Ash pumped a fist into the air, startling Butterfree who was nuzzling against his chest "I can't wait to see them all again!"

Ash's enthusiasm was tempered slightly by the tepid frown on Brock's face. The adult of the trio sighed and shook his head.

"Yeah… this might be where things get a tad complicated" Brock said solemnly. Misty, Ash, Pikachu and Butterfree looked at him in concern, and so he elaborated "Ash, do you remember where you found Krabby?"

Ash blinked at Brock. He scrunched up his face into a thoughtful frown and began tapping his head, thinking back "Uhh… oh… OH! Yeah, it was near a lighthouse, right?"

"Uh huh" Brock nodded, leaning forward to look Ash in the eye "Do you remember the guy who lived in that lighthouse?"

"Bill, right?" Misty cut in. Ash looked at her in surprise, prompting Misty to shrug "He's actually pretty well known in Cerulean City. He's some kind of a scientist who helped Silph Co. reach some breakthroughs with transporter technology. He's the guy you have to thank for Pokeballs teleporting to Professor Oak's ranch, or wherever else a Pokemon trainer sets up their Pokemon to go when they have more than six on hand…"

Misty's eyes suddenly widened. She clenched her teeth, looking at Ash with a tremendously awkward expression on her face "… His lighthouse is North of Cerulean City"

Ash blinked "North…" He trailed off, a puzzled look on his face that slowly morphed into disbelief, and then pure shock "… Of Cerulean City?!"

"Yep" Brock said, slowly nodding as he quietly watched Ash look like he was slowly descending into a nervous breakdown.

"… Cerulean… we travelled South, after I won the cascade badge… to get to Vermillion City…" Ash said slowly, blinking after every few words "… Vermillion City is south of Cerulean… and we got to Bill's lighthouse sometime before we got there… which is NORTH of Cerulean City"

Brock quietly nodded along, waving his hand to prompt Ash to continue. He remained silent for a long time however, while Misty just put a hand over her mouth and shook her head in embarrassment, and Pikachu proceeded to facepalm.

After what felt like an eternity of silence, Ash slammed both hands down on the table in front of him before throwing his hands up in the air, startling Butterfree so much that the bug jumped out of his lap and onto the table.


Over at the counter Nurse Joy gave Ash a surprised stare, followed by a disapproving frown over his outburst. If there had been any more trainers in the lobby at the moment Ash probably would have had a whole crowd of stunned onlookers watching him curiously right now.

As there weren't any, Ash just put his hands on his head and ruffled his hair in frustration for a minute as Pikachu let out a tired laugh.

"Pikapika, chuuu… *I know we joke all the time about how bad our senses of direction are… but wow, that's gotta be our personal getting lost record*" Pikachu groaned.

"It is kind of embarrassing, I agree… but the getting lost part isn't the big issue here" Brock said, an ominous note in how he spoke that got Ash to stop freaking out and look at him uncertainly, along with Misty and the Pokemon "You see, I have a vague idea where to find Bulbasaur. We found him at a place called the Hidden Village, which I think is south of Pokemon Tech, that school we visited. That's just South East of Cerulean, so I don't think it'll be too hard to get there again. I looked up the Squirtle Squad online, they seem to mostly terrorize a place called Tumbleweed Town, which is somewhere between Cerulean City and Bill's Lighthouse, so that'll be easy to get to…"

Brock placed his notebook down on the table for a moment and looked between his two friends with an expression of utmost seriousness "… But apart from that there was a Pokemon Center nearby… I can't for the life of me recall where exactly we found Charmander"

A deafening silence followed Brock's confession. Ash and Misty stared at Brock at first with surprised expressions, which slowly morphed into horrified grimaces as their minds started to jump to the worst possible scenarios that information could bring about. Pikachu curled up in Misty's arms, clutching her stomach in concern, and even Butterfree eventually seemed to catch onto what was bothering everyone and broke the silence with a depressed chirp.

"Charmander was left out in the rain…" Ash muttered, somewhat distantly as he stared at the notebook Brock had set down. His face twitched as he looked back up at Brock "… If we can't find him again…"

"I know" Brock said grimly, putting his hands together and leaning his arms against the table. Ash and Misty felt their hearts sink.

"It can't… we can probably figure that out" Misty blurted out, trying not to sound too frantic "It shouldn't be too hard… retracing our steps-"

"The problem is, we spent a few weeks wandering around aimlessly trying to get to Vermillion City after leaving Cerulean" Brock interrupted, curling his fingers over both hands and looking frustrated "I don't even recall how we managed to circle back around and get all the way to Tumbleweed Town and then Bill's Lighthouse, so I can't say whether we circled around past Cerulean City after leaving the Hidden Village, or headed North West from there. So Charmander could end up being anywhere a few days out from Cerulean in who knows what direction"

"We can look up every Pokemon Center around Cerulean online or something, can't we?!" Ash snapped, earning a half-shrug from Brock.

"We could, I'll certainly make an extensive list later" Brock said, still looking troubled "But with everything else different about this world… I can't promise you there'll actually be a Pokemon Center in the same location, or that Damian might not just end up dumping Charmander somewhere else this time… it's a possibility. Didn't Misty just say she has her Psyduck already?"

More uncomfortable silence followed, this time broken by Ash slamming a fist on the table, looking desperately furious.

"I'm not letting anything happen to Charmander!" Ash declared. His friends all shifted uncomfortably. Misty put a hand tenderly over his fist and fixed Ash with a pleading look to calm him down. It got the boy to look less angry at least, but did little overall to temper the mounting sense of desperation he felt.

"I'll look into all reports of abandoned Pokemon I can find, and try and map out a route that'll help us cover as much ground as possible for places Charmander might be" Brock said to his friends "If we have to, we'll all split up to cover as much ground as possible. I'll ask around on trainer and Gym Leader forums if anyone's seen a trainer named Damian, and where he might be now, hopefully that'll give us a trail to follow…"

Brock's face drooped for a moment and he gave Ash a sympathetic look "We'll do everything we possibly can to find Charmander before anything horrible might happen… but I'm not going to guarantee you it'll be easy. Maybe we'll find him straight away, maybe not at all… or maybe someone else will wander by and catch him if we're not quick enough. I'm not trying to scare you or anything, it's just… this alternate timeline stuff is complicated, Ash. I think you need to brace yourself incase things don't line up the way we want or expect them to"

Ash's body trembled for a moment and he gripped the tip of his cap, thinking back to the article from last night about Sabrina. About how everything had went wrong for her in this timeline long before he'd ever even had a chance to meet her.

Ash grit his teeth and swiftly rose to his feet, bolting towards the door.

"I'm going to go find him right now!"

"Ash, stop!" Misty yelled, scooping Pikachu into her arms as she stood up.

"Pikapi! Pikapika! *Ash, you can't just run off like that! You don't know where you're even going exactly, and it'd take a week to get there at least!*" Pikachu anxiously called after his trainer, who came to a stop halfway to the entrance of the Pokemon Center, still trembling.

Brock sighed heavily and pushed back, turning his chair to get a better look at Ash. He had been expecting a reaction like this, so remained a lot calmer than either of his friends.

"I'm worried too" Brock said simply, noting Ash's clenching fists "I agree finding Charmander should be our highest priority for a while. Heck, you and Misty can probably hold off on your Gym Battle until we do. But if the timeline of events lines up anywhere near close enough to how things would have originally happened, Damian probably won't abandon Charmander for at least a few more weeks"

"Let me try and piece together where we're going to look for him, and we'll worry more about it when we're close to Cerulean City. I get the concern, but it's going to do Charmander no good charging around in a blind panic trying to find him before he's even ready to be found" Brock finished in a stern tone. Ash turned around and glared at Brock for a moment, looking like he wanted to protest briefly before his better instincts held him back.

Eventually Ash let out a resigned sigh and returned to the table, plopping down into his seat and staring bitterly at the floor. Misty sat down too and watched him closely with much concern along with Pikachu.

She wanted to say something comforting, but between Sabrina getting arrested, Molly and Ash being surrogate siblings and everything else different about this timeline they were in, she couldn't help but worry right now that any optimistic assumption she offered might turn out to be a lie and result in Ash being hurt worse down the line, and so she bit her tongue.

Ash stopped trembling after a minute and shook his head. He then raised his head to give Brock an imploring look "Can we at least leave tonight instead of waiting for tomorrow? I don't want to wait too long if we can help it. If we find the right Pokemon Center again, at least we can wait until Damian stops by… if he does…"

Brock hesitated for a moment, then gave an approving nod "Yeah, that's fine" He said, frowning slightly "My brothers and sisters won't like it and I might have to make another excuse, but making sure Charmander's going to be alright is the most important thing right now"

Ash gave a nod of his own and leaned right back into his seat, staring contemplatively at the ceiling. Images of a sickly Charmander sitting alone on a rock in the pouring rain flashed through his head, and he had to fight the darker corners of his mind so he wouldn't start dwelling too much on just how disastrously things could have gone if he, Brock and Misty hadn't been there to bring the orange fire lizard to the Pokemon Center in their normal timeline.

Ash barely knew Sabrina and couldn't even really call her a friend, and it still hurt him thinking about how badly her life ended up going in this reality.

He swore in that moment that he would NOT allow anything that bad or worse to happen to ANY of his Pokemon. Ash didn't care if he had to scout every square inch of Kanto, or even hound Damian all the way to Galar and back. He was getting Charmander back safe and sound.

With a determined grunt, Ash cleared his head and sat upright. Noticing the worried looks from his friends and Pokemon he managed to form a weak smile, which seemed to reassure them slightly.

"Okay, so finding Charmander before anything bad happens is our first move" Ash said suddenly, fixing his gaze on Brock again "Then it's off to Vermilion City when we've got him, Bulbasaur, Squirtle and Krabby, right?"

The impatient tone of his voice made it pretty clear that he wanted to get this whole journey recap out of the way quickly. Misty and Brock grew concerned again, but said nothing. They didn't want Ash panicking and rushing off, but they couldn't fault him for being on edge about Charmander's safety at the moment: They both were too right now. So Brock simply cleared his throat and opened the notebook back up, turning a few pages.

"Yeah, Vermilion City, where you'll have to battle Lt. Surge again" Brock confirmed. Misty hummed thoughtfully.

"Hey, you said you might want to find your friend Goh while we're there, right Ash?" Misty asked. Ash blinked for a moment, face lighting up briefly despite how uneasy he was still feeling as he nodded in confirmation "You got anyone else you want to, what was the word, remind while we're there? Like that Professor guy?"

"Professor Cerise, yeah. I was thinking I should remind him" Ash said, scratching his nose and thinking about his friendly employer. A thought quickly occurred to him "… I don't know where he lives, though. I don't think he bought the lab yet… I don't even think Gengar's living there this many years back, actually"

"Cerise is the Professor you said you were working for now in that last email you sent me, right?" Brock asked, earning a quick "Yeah" from Ash "You could always ask Professor Oak where to find him?"

"I think I'll just ask Goh. He's friends with Chloe and he was always hanging around with the Professor, and I know where he lives" Ash replied. He made a quick mental note to remind Chloe too. She was his friend… and, she probably thought he was hers too, he assumed… maybe? Would she be counted as an exemption from the reminding limit?

"Okay, so battle Lt. Surge, find your friends and the Professor that live in Vermilion if we can, and that's about it for Vermilion City apart from…" Brock trailed off, grimacing "… The St Anne…"

Ash, Misty and Pikachu all fell silent for a moment, and then started shivering as a bunch of less than pleasant memories rose up in their minds. Butterfree looked at them curiously, craning his head.

"Free, free? *Saint who? Oh wait, was that the big boat we were on… the time Ash traded me for a Raticate for some reason and then traded back because he regretted it?*" Butterfree asked Pikachu "Free? *Why does everyone look so uncomfortable?*"

"Pika, Pikachu? Pii *Because we all nearly died like five different times after that ship sank and we got washed up on this weird island that I think ended up being an amusement park or something? And that was after dozens of Team Rocket guys attacked the place*" Pikachu groaned back, causing Butterfree to stare at him in shock.

"… Free… *… The things you miss being inside your ball, wow…*" Butterfree said, shaking his head. He turned to Ash, who was exchanging an uncomfortable look with Misty.

"… Think maybe we can just skip that one and just head straight to the beach?" Ash asked. Misty shook her head reluctantly.

"We could… but we should probably go anyway to help keep Team Rocket from getting away with robbing everyone" Misty sighed.

Brock offered Misty a half-hearted shrug "I mean… they all went down without much of a fight last time once everyone on board remembered they had Pokemon to battle with, so we probably won't make too much of a difference…"

"But with our luck, they'll send someone competent to lead the attack this time instead of Jessie and James" Ash interjected, looking frustrated "Like Biff and Cassidy. Or Domino, or that purple haired woman from the Resort area"

Brock quickly flipped through to a much later page in his notebook, pulled out a pen and started scribbling something down "Note to self… tell Professor Oak to call the Pokemon Institute and have them investigate Domino" After he finished jotting that down, Brock flipped back to the page he was on and looked between his two friends "… I take it we're boarding that ship if we can get tickets again, then?"

"We might as well. It was heading to Porta Vista, and we need to go there anyway" Misty sighed in resignation, stroking Pikachu's head "Maybe we should tip off Officer Jenny that Team Rocket might attack the place though, so we don't have to deal with that whole mess… or maybe ask Professor Oak if he can pull a few strings to get the word out. Less awkward questions for us"

"Sounds about right. We really can't just ignore it completely, that'd be wrong" Ash said. He blinked suddenly, turning to Misty "… Wait, it was really heading to Porta Vista?"

"Convenient how we ended up there anyway, afterwards. Huh?" Brock chuckled lightly, flipping another page in his notebook "And yeah… assuming things don't go disastrously wrong and the ship sinks again, it'll hopefully take us to Porta Vista. Or we can head there ourselves afterwards if it does sink… at least we know you're not going to trade Butterfree this time, so hold on to your pokeballs and hopefully we'll be fine. Anyway, at Porta Vista we need to pick up Misty's Horsea, and I guess we better help out Moe and convince the Giant Tentacruel to not lay waste to human civilization"

"That Tentacruel was pretty reasonable before, so it shouldn't be too hard to talk it and the Tentacool down" Misty said positively, breaking out in a giddy smile "And yay! Horsea! No way am I letting my sister's hog him for themselves this time. There's plenty of Pokemon at the Gym this time!"

"And after that we pass through Maiden's Peak…"

"Pass!" Ash and Misty loudly interrupted Brock, and Pikachu quickly voiced his own disapproval. Brock chuckled weakly.

"Heh… yeah, probably a good idea" Brock said. He paused for a moment, thinking wistful thoughts about a certain stone maiden "… We do need to pass through that general area North of Porta Vista though, because it's how we're gonna get to…" Brock paused for an even longer moment, looking sadly at Butterfree. Ash, Misty and Pikachu all followed suit, quickly catching onto the implication.

Butterfree chirped awkwardly, tapping his hands together "… Free… *… Then it might be time for me to go, right?*"

"Yeah" Ash nodded at the bug. He looked between the rest of the group "I talked about that with him the other day. In short… we might be able to work something out so we see him again, eventually… but…"

"But no guarantees it's not another permanent goodbye, is it?" Brock concluded, earning sad nods from Ash, Misty and Pikachu and a very uneasy sound from Butterfree.

"Whatever happens, Butterfree's happiness comes first. I don't want to say goodbye again, but if that's how it has to be, we'll manage" Ash told his friends, and gave Butterfree an encouraging smile. Butterfree looked happily at Ash, clearly struggling not to tear up a bit. Misty, Brock and Pikachu smiled silently at the bug-type for a while afterwards before Brock eventually continued the conversation.

He suddenly looked very awkward again "Okay… last night I thought at first I was going to suggest we keep heading North after the Butterfree Migration to get to Lavender Town, so we could pick up Haunter. But…" Brock sighed heavily, looking bitterly between his friends. He quickly noted how Ash, Misty and Pikachu all looked perturbed "… So… I don't know if you've all heard, but, um…"

"Sabrina's an escaped convict in this reality" Misty answered grouchily.

"Yeah, that" Brock nodded. After Ash let out a loud, exhausted groan Brock looked down at his notes and added "Well, that saves me time… I checked online, Saffron unfortunately doesn't have an active Gym at the moment. So, Ash, I'm afraid you're going to have to get your fourth badge somewhere else"

Ash sighed "Ok, so where else can I get badges in Kanto?"

"In this timeline at least, there's about eighteen Gyms in Kanto. One for each type" Brock explained "The ones you faced off against last time were actually ranked among the top eight best Pokemon Gym's in Kanto before time reset… Saffron and Cerulean aren't currently in this timeline, Saffron because again, it's closed, and the Cerulean Gym doesn't even crack the top ten at the moment… but I'm sure Misty will fix that eventually"

"You're darn right I will!" Misty said determinedly, crossing her arms and raising her head proudly "My Gym was top THREE where I left off, and I had my eyes set on first place for next years' poll!"

"Huh, so I battled the best eight Gym leaders" Ash said, grinning a bit "… Well, seven best and Team Rocket, anyway, but still… guess I should be proud of that. What about all the other regions I did the league challenge, then?"

"Got me? I'm pretty sure you did the top eight in Johto, anyway" Brock said, looking back at his notes with a slight frown "… We got off topic, though. The point I was trying to make is that there are ten other Gyms you can challenge, soon to be eleven whenever a new Psychic type Gym opens but that might not happen this season. Don't ask why it took so long, I don't know. If you want my opinion, the best way to save time so we don't have to take too many lengthy detours from all the other stuff we have to do would be to challenge either the Ghost Type Gym in Lavender Town, the normal type Gym in Hop Hop Hop Town or the steel type Gym in Gringy City"

"Wait, all of those places have Pokemon Gyms?" Ash asked, raising an eyebrow "Did… did they always have those? Even back in our time?"

"I don't… think so" Misty said unsurely, scratching her chin "Hmm… I'm sure Lavender Town did last I checked, I met the Gym leader a while back. But apparently it was a recent thing, so… and I'm sure Gringy City didn't have one. Hop Hop Hop town maybe?"

"Huh" Ash said "Wonder if Hop Hop Hop Town's where Gary got one of his ten badges, then?" He meditated on his options for a moment "… I don't know which one to pick. I guess I'll decide when I get to Lavender Town and see what the Gym there is like"

"Fair enough" Brock nodded.

"You want to grab Haunter again, or should we just skip that?" Misty asked. Ash quietly contemplated it for a moment.

"Might as well. It'd be nice to see him again anyway. He was never really my Pokemon, but if he wants to come along I'll let him… he could probably save us if we do run into Sabrina by any chance" Ash quipped, then offhandedly added "Wonder if I'll have to sorta die again to do that, though?"

Misty and Brock laughed nervously, avoiding eye contact with Ash for a moment. Butterfree blinked, looking rather startled.

"Free, free!? *Wait-what?! What do you mean die?!*" Butterfree squeaked, prompting a lighthearted shrug from Pikachu in Misty's arms.

"Pika, pik *Long story, a Gengar pulled our spirits out of our bodies for a bit. We were fine, don't worry*" Pikachu said calmly. Butterfree still looked worried.

"Aaaanyway!" Brock said loudly, trying to shake off the awkward mood from Ash's last comment "After we're done passing through Lavender Town, we need to pass through Saffron and make our way to Celadon City for your fourth, or fifth, Gym badge Ash"

Misty shot Ash a devious smirk "Try not to say anything bad about Erika's perfume this time, or we're gonna have to take you dress shopping first… Ashley"

Misty, Brock and Pikachu all giggled loudly, giving Ash very unsettling looks of pure amusement. Butterfree didn't get why they were doing it, but enthusiastically joined in anyway.

Ash growled, turning away from his friends to hide his blush "I'll mind my manners" He grumbled, prompting a moment of full on laughter from his friends that made Ash roll his eyes.

After the laughter had settled down and Ash's mood improved a bit, Misty asked "Wait, didn't something else happen on the way to Celadon?"

"Yes, actually. Ash has to meet up with Primeape again" Brock said, smiling nervously. Misty blinked, then gulped as a disturbed expression washed over her face.

"Eh heh… better remind him before he evolves, I think" Misty anxiously told Ash, shivering at the recollection of the beating the angry monkey had delivered to Brock and would have done to them all if he had the chance the last time around.

Ash grimaced, equally worried about a repeat of that unpleasantness "… Yeah. Definitely gonna be careful about that one" He shook his head, and after a moment's hesitation he smiled "Still, it'll be nice to see him again after we don't have to worry about getting pummelled. It's been way too long…"

"Are you going to leave him with Anthony again?" Misty asked. She, Brock and Pikachu all silently hoped Ash would say yes, but the trainer himself looked uncertain.

"I dunno, I'll ask Primeape what he wants to do" Ash said, shrugging "Would be nice to travel with him for longer, but I dunno. He'll probably still want to be a P1-Champion. Last I heard he was doing great at it"

"Guess we'll find out" Brock said simply, reading from his notebook again "So, anyway, after Celadon we should pass through Hop Hop Hop Town. We don't need to worry too much about Psyduck now apparently, but you might have to challenge the Gym there if you don't win a badge in Lavender Town instead. And then Primeape can decide if we have him compete in the P1 Grand Prix again after that, and our next big stop following that should be Gringey City. Guess what Pokemon's waiting for you there?"

"Muk" Ash answered with a smile. He was sure he was going to get a full hour of hugs from the big pile of sludge as soon as he restored his memories.

"Right you are. Should be fun, dealing with all his Grimer friends again" Brock said sarcastically, and Misty covered her nose, remembering the foul stench of the gooey Pokemon "Anyway, after that I think it's a quiet trip on the way to Fuschia City for you to earn your sixth badge"

"Wait, hold on" Misty said, giving Brock a puzzled look. Brock flinched, looking for a second like he'd been caught doing something inappropriate, which made Misty, Ash and Pikachu all curious and a bit suspicious. After a moment of thought Misty asked "I'm sure there was something else important that happened between Celadon and Fuschia"

Brock remained silent and hung his head. Ash and Misty lowered their heads to the table to get a better look at his face, feeling a bit uneasy by how bitter and upset Brock appeared. They sat upright again, Ash raising an eyebrow.

After some more thought, Misty blinked and yelped "Oh, right! Vulpix!"

"Vulpix?" Ash repeated, quickly perking up "Oh yeah!" He turned to Brock "We need to stop at Scissor Street, so you can… get Vulpix… from… Suzie…" Ash trailed off when he noticed Brock still looked rather downbeat, feeling rather confused about it. He and Misty exchanged looks of concern, and so Ash leaned forward to ask "Hey… everything alright?"

Brock gave a dejected sigh, raising his head slightly to address his friends "Vulpix… I probably won't be taking her along this time around"

Ash, Misty and Pikachu simultaneously blinked, then frowned at him in confusion. Brock shook his head and elaborated "Suzie has a blog in this reality... I'm a regular reader. She's going to Hoenn in about a week to compete in a Pokemon Beauty Contest… and after that she's going to be on a tour of the region for the rest of the year while a cousin of hers manages her Salon" Ash and Misty winced, giving Brock sympathetic looks "As you can guess… we're probably going to miss her this time. So…"

Ash and Misty shifted awkwardly, the latter giving a disappointed looking Pikachu a good stroke along his head.

"I'm sorry, Brock" Ash said softly. Brock nodded, putting on a somewhat strained smile and offering a half-hearted shrug.

"Hey, I was probably going to give Vulpix back again come Johto, and I didn't get to see Suzie much after that anyway in our normal timeline. So… no biggie" Brock replied. Ash and Misty didn't buy the non-challant tone he was putting on one bit, but decided it was best not to press him on it. There was little chance of them all getting to Scissor Street in a week, after all.

Sensing the mood, Butterfree flew up onto Brock's shoulder and began affectionately rubbing his face against Brock's the same way he had done with Ash earlier. Brock was taken off guard at first, but quickly started laughing, though whether because Butterfree's antennas were tickling him or out of appreciation for the thoughtful gesture Ash and Misty couldn't tell.

They did smile at how Brock seemed to look a lot less depressed after Butterfree finally ceased snuggling up to him and plopped back down onto the table. Brock hesitated for a moment before clearing his throat.

"So, yeah… Fuschia City is next" Brock said. He yawned loudly, looking annoyed afterwards "… We can leave tonight, but I'm going to bed by ten at the latest. Man… uh, anyway. Near Fuschia City you'll challenge Koga at the Gym, that's six badges. And after that I think we had a few fun little misadventures before we eventually got to the Safari Zone. Can't imagine what we're going to do there…"

"My Tauros" Ash smiled. Misty chuckled lightly, shaking off the lingering awkwardness over the Vulpix situation.

"You're really going to catch all thirty of them again?" Misty asked.

"Of course" Ash nodded "They're my Pokemon, so they're part of the family" He turned back to Brock "I… think that's all the Pokemon I need to catch here in Kanto, unless we run into Aipom somewhere nearby… would be nice, but probably not. What's our next stop?"

"Well, that's the funny thing" Brock said, scanning his notes as he flipped through two pages "From what I recall, a LOT of stuff happened after the Safari Zone, and before we took a boat to Cinnabar Island from… I don't even recall what port we left from. But, apart from a few important things… not a lot of consequence really happened in that time apart from finding Togepi's egg, Charmander evolving twice over, and we met Todd and he started travelling with us until we met Dutch and Cassidy for the first time… and also, I think this was around the time Jigglypuff started following us…"

Ash, Brock and Misty all shivered, instinctively touching their faces as they recalled the many times they'd had to clean off the scribbles the pink fluff ball had written on them with it's marker. Pikachu nervously chortled.

"… Pika… *Yeah… let's walk on by and pretend we didn't see her, this time*" Pikachu laughed, earning a raised eyebrow from Butterfree, and an unconscious nod from Ash followed by a facefault from the black haired youth.

"Wait-Jigglypuff's a girl!?" Ash balked at Pikachu. Misty looked at him oddly.

"You didn't know that?" Misty asked, frowning slightly "I thought that was obvious"

"I'm kind of bad at figuring out what Pokemon's genders are" Ash said with a shrug. He looked at Brock and said "… I agree with Pikachu though… let's try and avoid Jigglypuff. I know she means well, but… boy, is that Pokemon a lot of trouble"

"Tell me about it" Brock shook his head.

"Should be neat to run into Todd again though. And Togepi…" Misty sighed, smiling sadly. Ash, Brock and Pikachu watched in silence as Misty stared contemplatively into space. She let out another, more resigned sigh "I missed Togepi a lot… I'm really glad I get to see him again, travel with him for a while… but…"

Brock smiled weakly and nodded at the red-head "But it's going to be tough saying goodbye again in Hoenn, ain't it?"

Misty sniffled a bit, rubbing her eyes. She didn't cry, but she looked for a second like she might have. After taking a calming breath, Misty gave her friends a reassuring smile.

"I'll be fine" Misty said, frowning slightly "I don't think I ever wanted to relive that goodbye… but it can't be helped. I really am grateful, though… getting another chance to raise Togepi, spend some more time with him… I dunno, I guess I'll just have to try and visit him again at the Mirage Kingdom after all this is over and the world goes back to normal"

Pikachu said something in a kind tone that Misty couldn't understand, but which Ash nodded to and offered a translation.

"He's sure that would make Togepi very happy if you could meet again there"

Misty gave Ash and Pikachu a wide, grateful smile and rubbed Pikachu's head for a good half a minute, much to the yellow rodent's delight. When she was done with that, Misty briefly put on a thoughtful expression before facing Brock "What about meeting Santa Claus? I'm sure that happened around that time, does that count as important?"

Brock made to reply, then hesitated for a bit as he mulled it over, then finally shrugged.

"I mean… it's a pretty big deal in itself, meeting Santa I guess… but apart from stopping Team Rocket from ruining Christmas, I don't… think, anything happened that had lasting consequences for us…" Brock offered meekly.

"I kind of wanted to remind Santa, actually" Ash said, garnering curious stares from his friends "I mean… he's Santa Claus, so if we asked him he'd probably be able to help us out somehow…"

"I… guess…" Misty said uncertainly.

"You can do it if you want, we won't stop you" Brock shrugged, staring intently at his notes "… Not sure where the beach we found his Jynx was though, or if we'll even be there by Christmas… it's eight months away, and if we don't keep getting lost too badly we might be able to get all this other stuff sorted a while before then, I think"

"I mean, we should try and find Jynx again" Ash said "It wouldn't be right to just let her be stranded on a beach somewhere"

"I'm sure Santa would find her eventually, or that magic Lapras" Misty suggested "Santa travels the whole world in a single night and knows his way around. I don't think we'd have to worry about that Jynx being lost forever if we couldn't find her…"

"If we're in the right area at the time we'll definitely try taking Jynx to the North Pole again, but there's other things we should probably focus our attention on more. So, yeah, let's assume what Misty says is true and not worry too much if we don't end up meeting Santa again this time" Brock said, earning an approving nod from Misty and a semi-begrudging nod from Ash.

"Well, okay… what do we do after Cinnabar Island?" Ash asked.

Brock put a finger to the current page of his notebook and quickly read off "Some sort of misadventure with a Blastoise, help Misty's sisters with a play or something at their Gym, then a bunch of Clefairy in a spaceship start stealing a bunch of stuff, and finally we arrived at the Viridian Gym, and you battled Team Rocket for your eighth badge" Brock looked up at Ash inquisitively "… Still going to challenge that Gym?"

"Probably" Ash said, scratching his head "I don't know if it'll be Jessie, James and Meowth this time or Giovanni, but I'll go to the Gym anyway and find out"

An awkward silence hung in the air for a minute as Ash, Brock and Misty avoided looking directly at one another, thinking long and hard over that situation. Brock was the first to speak up again.

"You said we have to beat Team Rocket for good this time, right?" He asked "Before the League, even?"

"Yeah" Ash nodded. Brock hummed quietly.

"… And, you got any ideas for how we're going to do that?"

"I was going to hope Lance would have a plan, whenever Professor Oak managed to get me in tough with him" Ash awkwardly replied, scratching his head "… I kinda asked Jessie, James and Meowth for help with that… but I haven't seen them in days, so until they pop up again I don't know what their answer is going to be. They might agree, they might not"

"Well assuming they don't, which is likely…" Brock said with a stern frown "And even if they do agree to it, in fact… that's going to be extremely difficult. I suggest we look into figuring out where their main hideout is while we're on this little adventure, because apart from finding that out and calling in the G-men and the police, I got nothing apart from maybe trying to call Officer Jenny on Giovanni after you beat him, if you do have to battle him this time, and have her investigate the Viridian Gym"

"I doubt it would be that easy. The guy's a crime boss that hasn't been caught despite having his cover blown for nearly two years, he probably doesn't keep anything that could count as evidence against him in his Gym. Or at least he'd be pretty good at hiding it" Misty said cynically.

"Exactly, which is why we're probably not going with that idea. It'd likely just put a target on our back for worse Team Rocket goons than Jessie and James to start stalking us" Brock said in an equally cynical tone.

Ash groaned "Okay, I get it, beating Team Rocket is hard… we'll figure it out sooner or later. Let's just find Charmander real quick and get a bunch more of our Pokemon so we're actually capable of fighting them before we worry too much about beating them, alright?"

"Fine, fine. That's probably for the best" Brock nodded, flipping the pages of his notebook one last time "Hmm… well, apart from figuring out a plan of attack on Team Rocket… I think that about raps up all the really important stuff we need to do before the League, except finding Mr Mime…"

"He's already at home" Ash said, much to Misty and Brock's surprise. Ash shrugged impishly "Don't ask how, apparently he's lived with us for years…"

"… Huh, alright then" Brock said, a satisfied grin forming on his face "Well, then I guess that's all the big stuff I can think of. You guys remember anything important we need to do?"

Ash, Misty and Pikachu took a full minute to mull it over.

"Hmm… not at the moment, no" Misty shrugged "I mean, I think there's probably some stuff we're forgetting… but we can probably figure that out along the way. I mean this all happened years ago as far as we recall, I'm amazed you put all that together as clearly as you did. Though you did have a whole night, I guess"

Ash continued to frown thoughtfully, tapping his head "I could swear SOMETHING big happened before the League…"

Brock and Misty raised their eyebrows at their friend.

"Really?" Misty asked, gesturing for Ash to elaborate. But all he could do was hum loudly, his mind continuously drawing a blank no matter how hard he thought about it.

"I don't know. It's just…" Ash frowned harder "I get this… feeling, that there's something I should remember… but it's just not coming to me. I'm not sure if I'm just being paranoid, or… I don't know. It's a weird feeling"

"… Heh. Well, like Misty said, it's been years, so…" Brock waved his hand dismissively "I wouldn't worry too much about it. At least, not yet? The League's a while off, maybe it'll come back to you if it is anything important"

"Hmm… maybe" Ash admitted.

"Was it the giant Alakazam and Gengar?" Misty asked with a sly smile "I mean… that was a wild one"

"I don't… think that's it" Ash replied. After meditating on it a bit further, Ash finally decided to just shrug it off "Forget it. Maybe it is nothing"

Ash wouldn't forget about it however. It would continue bothering him for most of the day, along with Brock and Misty who after some further thought came to feel a similar sensation of "Something happened back then and I don't know what"

For now however, they all elected to push the thought aside, having much more pressing, current issues to worry about.

So on that note, Brock shook his head and said "By the way Ash, do you remember this pleasant little Kingdom called Rota? It's not too far North of here"

Ash blinked, then nodded in confirmation.

"Yeah. The Tree of Beginning is around there, and we met Lucario at Cameran Castle" Ash replied. Misty raised a brow.

"Was that the place with the Mew and the talking Lucario you mentioned once? After we split up when you were off doing the Battle Frontier?" Misty asked, earning nods from her two friends.

"Yeah…" Ash trailed off, the image of Lucario turning to crystal and fading away flashing through his mind. His lip quivered, and he gave Brock a serious look "I'm going to try and remind Lucario too. I want to see if we can prevent him dying this time"

"I thought you would" Brock said with an approving smile "Which is why I looked up the date of Rota's next Tournament for deciding the "Hero of the Year". It's due December fourteenth. Win that, and we might get the chance to set Lucario free early this time"

Ash's eyes widened and he let out an excited gasp, slamming his hands against the table "Really?"

"Yup. You won the last tournament you competed at there, so it shouldn't be that hard… and even if you lose, we'll all get another chance to compete when you're challenging the Battle Frontier again" Brock said. He fixed Ash a stern, but sympathetic stare "… Of course, you do realise that even if things work out so that Lucario doesn't have to sacrifise himself this time… that's probably going to be temporary. We're trying to set the timeline back, right? And he's not going to be alive in the normal one"

Ash fell silent, feeling the full weight of that sudden reality check hit him like a charging Tauros.

He'd planned to prevent Lucario's death and ask for his help in setting the timeline back to normal since before he'd even set out from Pallet Town the other day… and yet somehow, the reality of what would happen to Lucario when they were done fixing the world had slipped his mind, like a lot of other things it seemed.

So now he had to wonder… was it right to restore Lucario's memories, knowing he would end up dead again anyway at the end of all this? Would that be cruel to his friend?

Would Lucario even want to be revived? If there really was an afterlife… surely he would have landed in a pleasant one. Lucario was a hero, after all. He fought for justice and gave his life to save Mew and the Kingdom of Rota. If there was a heaven, he'd definitely earned a place in it, maybe along with his master Sir Arron. Could Ash really pull Lucario away from that, just to help him with his current problems?

Lucario would probably agree right away. He was noble enough, and Ash was his friend. But it still seemed like a big burden to put on the aura Pokemon.

For a second Ash thought maybe he could just release him from the staff, get him to see Sir Arron hadn't betrayed him without restoring his memories and letting him enjoy his remaining life in this reality at Rota… but then, would that really be much better? He was still going to be dead again eventually…

Ash lowered his head. It really hit him now… when they did eventually set the world right… a lot of what he and his friends were all going to do in this timeline was going to look kind of… pointless, when everything just went back to normal.

Ash had no idea how to process that idea. It hurt his brain trying. After a prolongued silence that caused Misty, Brock, Pikachu and Butterfree to look increasingly concerned for his well being, Ash slapped the sides of his face and took a deep breath.

He looked at his backpack that still sat on the table, recalling the crystal that Arceus and the Beyonder had left him, the one that would supposedly let them contact him when they felt like it. Ash decided to just talk any of that weird time-travel morality stuff out with them and focus his current thoughts on Lucario.

Speaking of, the idea of dragging Lucario out of the afterlife still bothered Ash greatly. But mulling it over, and trying to think of this situation from Lucario's perspective, or at least as close as Ash could imagine how he'd feel about it from what Ash remembered of him… maybe Lucario would actually want to come back, if it meant saving the world.

The timeline they existed in was presently gone. That probably included whatever afterlife Lucario had been sent to, if one existed at all. If the world wasn't saved… Lucario, and everything he died to protect, would be gone forever… his sacrifice would mean nothing.

Maybe it wasn't fair to drag him into this… but nothing about this situation was fair. It was a cruel joke being played on Ash, and the entire world, all for the amusement of some jerk God from another universe.

Maybe he couldn't say with complete accuracy how Lucario would feel about having his mind and soul dragged through space and time to help on a quest to restore the timeline, knowing it would mean he'd lose his life again in the process… but Ash figured…

If he was in Lucario's position… he would certainly agree to help. Even agree that it's what he would have wanted.

So with that, Ash clenched a fist, turned to Brock with a look of utmost seriousness and, though briefly hesitant, told him with total honesty "I understand what you're saying… but I'm sure Lucario would still want to help us. At least he'd get a few more years to live and enjoy life… and we need all the help we can get. Lucario's a strong Pokemon… who knows, with his help I might be able to win a few of the Leagues I lost last time. I know he's probably going to die again either way, but… if that's how it has to be, I'd like to still have him by our side. Give him a chance to help us out… I sure don't want to risk watching him die the same way, or just leave him stuck in that staff while we're in this timeline, if we can help it"

Brock took a while to respond, just quietly staring at Ash in contemplation for a while. Eventually however he gave Ash an approving nod "Fair enough. I respect that decision"

Ash sighed, smiling weakly at Brock.

Misty suddenly piped up "December 14th, you said we should go to Rota? Right?"

Brock nodded, and Misty placed her right hand over the side of her face and hummed thoughtfully.

"I don't know if we'll even get there in time. Who knows where we'll be by December… we'd probably have to miss out on meeting Santa Claus, unless we REALLY booked it to get to whatever beach Jynx wound up on by Christmas eve"

Ash frowned in disappointment at that suggestion. He sighed and shook his head "Well… we don't know if Jynx would end up on that beach again, but I'm sure Lucario's still in that staff… I guess I'd rather remind him than Santa, if I had to choose"

"You could always just compete in the tournament when you were supposed to" Misty pointed out the obvious.

Ash shrugged "The more tries we have, the better probably… I don't want to risk losing the next tournament we could go to while I'm challenging the Battle Frontier this time, and then Lucario does just end up stuck in the staff until the world goes back to normal" He scratched his head, a lightbulb going off in it "I could try writing a letter to Santa explaining everything that's going on if we miss Jynx this time. I could ask to meet him and give him his memories back then?"

"I'm sure that would be a very interesting letter for him to read" Brock said in a deadpanned voice. He shook his head "We have plenty of time yet for you to make up your mind on all this. I suggest really thinking things over, and only going ahead with this "Remind Lucario" idea if you're REALLY sure at the end of the day it's worth going through with. At any rate, we have a date for when we could go get him out of that staff if you want to, so no need to rush into things"

Ash considered it for a minute, then realized that Brock might have a point. Maybe he shouldn't rush to a decision. Perhaps he'd feel differently about the morality of the whole scenario of restoring Lucario's memories after a few months of thinking things over and getting more perspective on this altered world, and what it meant to set it all back to how it once was.

At any rate, it was all causing his head to thump a little at this point, so maybe it was time for a change of subject at least.

"Is there anything else we should maybe do differently this time around?" Ash asked. Brock, Misty and Pikachu scratched their chins, thinking it over for a moment.

"… Probably…" Brock said, suddenly letting out another loud yawn. The reminder of his recent sleep deprivation made him groan "… Of course, maybe my head's just not clear enough to consider that right now"

"Yeah, I think we've done enough planning stuff out for today" Misty concluded "Maybe we should just focus on getting to Cerulean City, and finding Charmander and the other Pokemon before worrying anymore about this stuff. I mean, we are on a ticking clock until the next League takes place… it's almost a year off sure, but the time can pass a lot quicker than you'd think"

"Oh right, Charmander!" Ash jumped in his seat, nodding vigorously at Misty "Yeah, uh, right. Let's focus on what's in front of us right now… "

And with that decided, Ash, Misty, Brock and Pikachu all took deep breaths and exhaled loudly, the former three sitting back in their seats and just quietly contemplating everything that had been discussed. After a good three minutes of increasingly awkward silence, Ash finally returned Butterfree to his pokeball and let out a frustrated grunt.

"I already can't wait until this is all over" Misty muttered.

"Same" Brock and Ash chanted, Pikachu offering a disgruntled "Pika!" In agreement.

"Nothing we can do but ride it out, for the moment anyway" Brock said sardonically, scratching his neck "… Like I said, I'll check the Pokemon Center's website later and try and figure out a roadmap for finding out where Charmander might be. For now, I guess the two of you should go shopping for pokeballs and whatever else you might need. I'll pack food, medicine and other stuff we'll all need for the trip. I should have enough money in my savings to keep restocking supplies until we get to Celadon City, at least, but I suggest you keep winning gym matches and maybe some local tournaments and stuff along the way for prize money, Ash. We'll need it"

"I'll help with that" Misty chimed in, earning a grateful nod from Ash.

"I wonder what Angie's going to think of all the crazy stuff we've got here in Kanto" Ash wondered aloud, prompting a small laugh from Brock.

"We'll find out. I'm sure she can handle herself just fine, though. She was as headstrong as you from what I remember, after all" Brock told Ash with a teasing smile. Misty raised an eyebrow at him, and then groaned playfully.

"So she's liable to get us all killed doing something crazy every week, then?" Misty quipped. Ash glared at her, and Misty stuck her tongue out in a manner that reminded him of Lana whenever she was messing with people.

Misty then looked thoughtful for a minute "It's gonna feel a bit odd though, travelling with someone new… apart from Tracey and I guess Todd for a while, I'm not used to going on a long trip with people besides you guys and my sisters. Should be an experience, having another girl to talk to through all this"

"I'm sure you two will get along great" Brock said with a smile "Snark aside, Angie was a pretty interesting and likeable person. She can command Pokemon pretty well too, so she'll definitely come in handy fighting Team Rocket or whoever"

"I just hope she's not as shopping crazy as most of the girls I know, otherwise I'm not looking forward to the Princess Festival this year with the both of you around" Ash grumbled, a disgruntled look on his face that made Misty laugh sarcastically.

"Is that all then, or is there anything else we ought to do before we head out later?" Misty asked. Ash thought about it for a moment, then jumped slightly in his seat.

"Oh right, I never called Professor Oak back yesterday!" Ash said, slapping himself. He looked at Brock "I was going to call him when you were with us, and you're here now, so-?"

"Yeah, alright" Brock nodded "He'll probably have some good advise for what we should do going forward, too"

And so with that the trio rose to their feet, Pikachu bouncing out of Misty's arms and onto the table before leaping onto Ash's shoulder before the group made their way to the video phones.

*Professor Oak's laboratory, Pallet Town, 10.40am*

Professor Oak entered his home through the back door, his trousers and the bottom half of his lab coat covered in mud. He heaved a heavy sigh as he pulled off the lab coat and put it on a coat hanger, then wobbled around a bit as he approached a nearby Sofa and collapsed on it.

"I'll REALLY be glad when Tracey and Bulbasaur get here. Curse this frail body… I was so much more fit in the old timeline, I don't get how four years can make such a difference…" The old man complained.

The Professor had just spent the whole morning feeding the many dozens of Pokemon kept at his ranch, fixing fences, getting a start at digging a new pond for the water Pokemon and having to break up at least six fights over food, territory or some other disagreement in the process. He'd gotten flung through the air at one point by a rather agitated Machop punching him in the chest when he had lectured it about not bullying smaller Pokemon like Rattatta and Oddish.

It was pretty exhausting, and he still wasn't even finished with the morning chores!

The Professor rolled his eyes, stroking the part of his stomach where Machop had struck him. Samuel Oak loved his job, loved interacting with Pokemon, looking after them and learning new things about them through daily interaction. Pokemon were his passion, and furthering people's understanding of them, including his own, through exploring the bonds they shared with humans was something he was immensely proud and satisfied to have dedicated his life to.

But gosh darn it. On days like this, Oak really had to stop and ask himself why in Arceus' name he never thought to hire an intern before Tracey conveniently showed up with Ash after his Orange Island adventure, and why in this timeline he still hadn't hired one despite being nearly a decade older than when Tracey came along.

He may not be decrepit, but Samuel certainly couldn't imagine he would be able to reasonably handle Ash's thirty Tauros whenever they got sent over and started stampeding around his ranch every twenty minutes with no regard for what was in front of them.

It wasn't like he couldn't afford to hire an intern, or a couple of assistants like Cerise and several of his colleagues in other regions had. He may not have been rich, but as a world renowned top Pokemon scientist with many friends in high places, Professor Oak's budget wasn't stretched so thin he couldn't afford to pay one or two people a good living wage.

True, in this reality Daisy would frequently come along in the afternoons and on weekends and offer to help him out with the more physically strenuous daily routines, but it wasn't her job (That was working part time at Delia's restauraunt while she was still figuring out what her long term goals would be) and Oak had always stressed the importance of her having a social life and stuff to concern herself with outside of helping with his research and caring for the Pokemon at the ranch if she eventually decided against taking over the family business.

So, while he was definitely grateful for her assistance (even if he'd been awkwardly trying to avoid having lengthy discussions with her the past few days, for... mental health reasons), it wasn't really the same thing as having a full-time, committed assistant.

So what was really stopping him from hiring some regular helpers?

Pride, he surmised. Definitely pride, probably mixed with a sense of denial over the fact that he was, actually, an old man now.

The Professor chuckled to himself and smacked his head.

"I guess I can't ever claim with a straight face that Gary's ego came out of nowhere" Professor Oak quipped. His laughter was cut short by a fresh spasm of pain in the center of his body, causing him to clench his teeth. When it passed the Professor suddenly recalled how exhausted his limbs still felt, and he cursed himself for being so careless.

Then again… maybe this version of his body normally wasn't so easily exhausted, actually, and the main reason he was really feeling his age the past few days had more to do with stress.

Because oh boy, had he been stressed out this week.

The whole jumbled memory problem wasn't actually bothering him AS much at the moment (He still couldn't tell which version of his life something like fourty percent of his recollections belonged to), usually now his angst over that was reserved for the silent hours in bed before an uneasy sleep finally took hold of him.

What was causing the Professor daily grief, and had also inspired him to later that evening book an appointment with his doctor after he was sure he'd come dangerously close to having a heart attack over it after finding that note on the ground, was the theft of his own grandson's starter Pokemon right out from under his own nose.

It had taken the professor a good twenty minutes and several bites to both ankles from the Charmander Terry would never show up to collect before Oak had even been able to get over the shock over having been burgled to be able to speak coherently enough to phone the police, and have an Officer Jenny dispatched to investigate his lab and file a case.

Most unfortunately, it appears that along with obliterating the window of his lab (Through which he had to assume the thief had snuck in while he was elsewhere), Pikachu's thundershock earlier that day had taken out the labs security cameras, so he failed to catch the thief on camera.

And worse still, several days later the police seemed to have barely any leads, the most any of Pallet Town's residents could report that seemed suspicious was a few people having briefly caught sight of a brown haired teenage girl in a black dress that none of the townsfolk seemed familiar with sneaking around the outskirts of the town that morning and the previous day.

Which certainly gave the detectives and officers assigned to investigate the burglary something to look out for, but so far he'd heard of no significant developments.

It horrified Samuel, the very idea that someone could just waltz into his lab and steal a Pokemon, any Pokemon, right from under his nose. He felt no end of personal shame that it had been the beloved starter Pokemon that in their past lives Gary had raised to its final stage, but all of the Pokemon left in his care were precious to the old man. Even the ones that belonged to wandering trainers from Pallet he cared for like they were a part of his family.

And knowing Squirtle was out there somewhere in the hands of a crook, using him for who knows what purpose or possibly abusing the poor Pokemon in some way… it was just…

He felt so helpless. So stupid and useless for failing to prevent such a catastrophe. The past five days, hindsight had been bludgeoning him with new reasons to feel guilty over the incident. The main one right now being: why had he not installed a better home security system BEFORE Squirtle was stolen? He'd had one installed as of yesterday, but it hardly did him any good AFTER a pokemon had already been kidnapped.

What especially baffled him about Squirtle's theft though was that note that had been in the Pokeball left in place of Squirtle's own. And how the burglar had seemingly jokingly proposed that they may, or may not return Squirtle at a later date.

What possible reason could anyone have for stealing a Pokemon… temporarily?

The police had been quite thorough in their search of Oak's laboratory and the rest of his home: Nothing else had been taken. Not any of his valuables, not his research papers or any of his Pokedexes (Though maybe that was because they were locked up in a box that required a key he carried with him in his pocket… a pity really, if for whatever reason the thief had taken one of those it would be something to possibly track them with if the thief activated the device). Not even Charmander's Pokeball, or any of the pokeballs in the back room containing Pokemon that hadn't been let out for their daily exercise yet.

Why would anyone sneak into his own home without the Professor noticing, just to steal one Pokemon? Did they even mean to steal Squirtle specifically, or just any of the starter Pokemon? The thief said in the note that they needed to borrow it for "Something important"… but what did they mean by that? What could be so urgent as to motivate a person to steal a starter Pokemon from a lab?

Professor Oak furrowed his brow at the thought of it all. He could only hope that whatever the thief was doing, Squirtle was being at least reasonably well looked after for the time being.

Gary was due to leave on his journey in two days, having finally gotten over his case of the flu, and he would most likely be leaving with the Charmander that remained in Oak's care. He had been pretty angry and indignant that his choice of starter Pokemon had been swiped away, and even vowed to drag the thief to jail himself if he got his hands on them.

Samuel wondered just how much worse he was going to take it whenever Ash got around to restoring his memories of the old timeline…


Professor Oak's eyes twitched.

'I don't know why I never changed that ringtone. That tune somehow does a better job at driving me up the wall than the memory restoration'

Forcing himself to his feet and shaking off the ache in his middle section, Professor Oak dragged himself into his lab and checked the caller info on the screen of his video phone. No name, but it was coming from a Pokemon Center so it had to be one of the Pallet Trainers that usually left their reserve Pokemon at Oak's Ranch. And the old man bet himself a million Poke dollars it was going to be Ash.

As it turned out when he answered the call, it was Ash. With Brock and Misty in tow, no less.

Despite all the stress he'd been under, Professor Oak couldn't help but smile and wave at the friendly faces "Ah, Ash. I see you met up with Brock after. I take it you're familiar with me, right?"

"If you mean I remember everything, then yes" Brock said with a nod, smiling back at the professor, as did Misty.

"It's good to see you, Professor. How've… how've you been?" Misty asked. She was putting on a friendly face, but the concern in her voice made it evidence to the professor that Ash had probably recounted how shaken up he had been over his memory restoration to her. Samuel did appreciate the sympathy, and gave her a curt nod and the warmest expression he could muster.

"Oh… fine… mostly…" The Professor lied. He could tell none of the three youths (Or… maybe that word wasn't appropriate for Brock anymore. He looked very much like an adult this time around, on close inspection) were buying it, so Oak quickly shook his head and spoke to them all in a more serious tone "Oh, all right, I guess I shouldn't hold off on this anyway… have either of you seen a teenage girl with long brown hair and a black dress travelling with a Squirtle? Or just… anyone else that looks suspicious at all? I mean, besides Team Rocket"

Ash, Brock and Misty all exchanged curious looks, worried frowns forming on their faces. Pikachu muttered something from Ash's shoulder that got Ash to look even more nervous, and the trainer turned back to the screen to address Oak's question "Um… no… why do you ask?"

Samuel heaved a heavy sigh, crossing his arms "Because someone, possibly fitting that description I gave you but we're not certain, stole Gary's Squirtle the day you left"

The three trainers all simply stood motionless and stared at the screen at first, then Pikachu actually fell off Ash's shoulder right before the trio all let out shocked exclamations, looking frantic.

"WHAT?!" Ash screamed, leaning into the phone screen so that it now only showed his horrified, and also passionately angry, face "How… why… who would… THAT'S TERRIBLE!"

"You're telling me" The Professor said, sadly rubbing his head. Ash leaned back from the screen, allowing Misty and Brock to come partially back into view, both looking at Oak with as much concern as Ash.

"Terrible is right, I'm so sorry Professor" Misty said, looking very much like she wanted to punch the Squirtle thief.

"The police are on the case. With any luck they'll catch the thief soon… but I doubt it'll be straight away" Professor Oak said bitterly "I just thought I should let you all know… weirdly, the thief implied that they might return Squirtle on their own eventually. They left a note saying they needed to "Borrow" it for some kind of important purpose they couldn't mention, and that I might get it back eventually"

Ash, Brock and Misty all looked as utterly perplexed at that information as the Professor himself was.

"That's… very curious" Brock said, scratching his chin and looking to be deep in thought.

"Whether they meant to return it or not, stealing a Pokemon is still a horrible thing to do" Misty said with some contempt. Ash nodded at her, looking very much in agreement.

"Do you need us to go catch this person and get Squirtle back then?" Ash asked, sounding ready to go.

"I wouldn't suggest investing too much time into it" Professor Oak shook his head "I would have asked you to if I'd realized it by the time you called me at the Viridian Center, but when I realized what happened afterwards I was out of it for a while… I regret not calling you now, but that's hindsight for you. But right now I have no idea where the thief is or what direction they went in, they could be in Pewter City right outside that Pokemon Centre you're calling from, or they could be at Tojo Falls by now for all we know"

"We could still try!" Ash said with the level of fiery determination Oak expected him to have about a subject like this. Normally the Professor would shake his head while secretly admiring Ash's youthful spirit, but right now was a time to be serious.

"Search around Pewter City for the rest of the day if you want, that would certainly be helpful" Oak replied, giving Ash a look of authority "But there really isn't much else I think you can do at the moment. The police are on the case, people with training in tracking down criminals like this that you all don't have. I understand how horrifying and frustrating this situation is, believe me a part of me wants to be rushing around hunting the thief down myself too. But I'm sure there are other urgent matters that you all have to attend to right now, am I right?"

Pikachu jumped back onto Ash's shoulder as the headstrong teenager looked uncomfortable and conflicted, like he knew what the Professor was telling him was true but the overwhelming instinct he seemed to possess that was always urging him to help everyone else with their problems was still screaming at him to go save Squirtle right now.

"Well… we do really need to find Charmander" Ash admitted.

Samuel recalled that Ash's Charizard had originally belonged to a trainer called Damian before he met it as a Charmander, an abusive pest of a boy who had told Charmander to wait on a rock for him to come back while having no intention to ever return to retrieve him.

An utterly shameless, callous act that really warranted a phone call to Officer Jenny, in the Professor's opinion, but he supposed Charmander blasting Damian in the face with flamethrower was decent karma aswell.

"Then let that be your primary focus for the time being. Keep an eye out for this thief, and if you encounter them and think you can retrieve Squirtle I won't tell you not to do so. Though I'd advise you be careful, for all we know it's not actually a teenage girl we're dealing with and the thief could be someone very dangerous, and your Pokemon aren't at their peaks right now"

Ash, Pikachu, Brock and Misty all still looked very concerned, but after exchanging grimaces they all seemed to resign themselves to the possibility the situation really was out of their hands for the time being. Though Oak knew that wouldn't stop them all from trying their best to ensure Squirtle's safety anyway.

"Does Gary know about this?" Ash asked tepidly. Pikachu gave a concerned "Pika pika"

"Of course" Oak sighed "He's not happy about it, but he's determined to go on his journey anyway. He'll just have to start out with a Charmander this time until we can get Squirtle back. He'll be leaving in two days. I can't say when you'll most likely bump into him, but I'll keep you updated on where he's going whenever he calls"

Ash's shoulders sagged and he let out a nervous groan "I almost hope it takes a while. I don't know how I'm going to apologize to him for this whole mess if we don't get Squirtle back for him by then"

"It's really not your fault Ash. No one could have predicted something like this would happen. This is all on the Beyonder, not you" Brock said wisely, putting a hand on Ash's shoulder that Pikachu wasn't perched on.

Oak gave Brock an encouraging nod "Exactly. I doubt Gary is going to be mad at you for this, Ash"

Ash smiled half-heartedly for a moment, scratching his head awkwardly. Brock frowned thoughtfully and asked "Why's Gary only leaving in two days, anyway?"

"Oh, just a case of the flu. It's all good now" Oak replied.

"Ah, I thought it seemed odd I haven't seen him this time" Said Brock, scratching his head curiously "… Or any of the other trainers from Pallet besides Ash, now that I think about it?"

"Amagi got attacked by the Spearow flock and elected to stay home longer, still hasn't left again I don't think. And Terry was too lazy to set off on a journey this time" Oak said, rolling his eyes at the mention of the male trainer. He rubbed the sides of his head with both hands, groaning internally "Makes me wonder if the only reason this didn't happen last time was that all four new trainers actually did show up at a reasonable time, or if the thief only made this attempt in this timeline"

Ash put on a disturbed scowl at the implications of that suggestion, his right hand darting to Pikachu's head to pet the yellow mouse whose eyes had turned completely white and expanded in horror.

A long, awkward silence followed where the Professor's eyes kept drifiting around his lab, as neither he nor the two teenagers and one adult on the other side of the video screen seemed to know how to further the discussion they were having. Eventually Oak returned his gaze to the phone screen, and after a few seconds of just observing the anxious grimaces on Ash, Brock and Misty's faces he let out a quick, mirthless laugh.

"Life isn't fair, I know. But this situation is out of our control for the moment, frustrating as it is we really do need to just let things run their course and hope the police find the thief as soon as possible, or that we at least find a lead on Squirtle's whereabouts. If something comes up I'll let you know, and hopefully we can resolve the problem then, but right now you all need to focus on things that are in your control" The Professor explained in a somber, matter of fact tone. He cleared his throat "Speaking of, is there anything either of you need from me?"

Misty, Brock and Ash looked uncertainly between themselves, and after a brief pause they all shrugged.

"Give us a minute. It's hard to remember now after such a bombshell" Misty answered.

The Professor chuckled darkly and nodded in response. Brock held up a notebook he had been carrying and stared contemplatively at it for a moment before his face lit up in realization.

"Oh yeah. Can you call the Pokemon Institute and ask them to run a thorough background check into a blond haired woman called Domino that works for them. She's an elite member of Team Rocket" Brock said.

Professor Oak scratched his chin "Really? I'll definitely see what I can do about that. The more leads we have to valuable Team Rocket agents, the better" The professor snapped his fingers and fixed Ash with a prying look "I just recalled. You're going to want to catch all your Tauros at the Safari Zone again, correct?"

Ash simply nodded in response, surprised by the serious and foreboading look the Professor gave him right after.

"Well then, I advise you all start training like crazy. You're going to have to fight for the privilege of going there again" Professor Oak said, earning uneasy and befuddled looks from Ash and his friends. Oak cleared his throat once more and elaborated "You once told me that you, Brock and Dawn all competed in the Hearthome City Tag Team Tournament, correct? Well, in this reality they hold a similar event in Kanto once every three years in Saffron City. Guess what the prize is"

Ash and Brock looked at each other, both frowning thoughtfully and mulling it over. Misty was the first to come up with an answer.

"They let you go to the Safari Zone?" Misty asked uncertainly. Ash, Pikachu and Brock blinked at her as the Professor nodded in confirmation.

"Correct. And in this reality, winning the Tag Battle Tournament is the ONLY way to gain access to the Kanto Safari Zone" The Professor said sternly. Brock and Misty's eyes widened and they both looked worried, though not nearly as much as Ash who let out a noise that reminded the professor of a wounded Houndour.

"WHAT?!" Ash exclaimed, putting his face right up to the screen again "Are you kidding me?!"

"I'm not kidding" Oak replied bluntly, crossing his arms and giving Ash the most "Strict Teacher" look of authority he could muster "Frankly it always baffled me that the Safari Zone allowed so many trainers to go in with thirty Pokeballs and catch as many Pokemon as they could, surely that would deplete the Pokemon population of the whole area pretty rapidly. The methodology this time does make more sense. But it does make things far more complicated for you, unfortunately. The next Tag Team Tournament would probably happen around the time you'll be challenging the Battle Frontier again at least, so I should warn you now: if you're serious about recapturing your Tauros, I advise you go into that Torunament with every intent to win, or you may never have the chance to get all thirty of them again in this timeline"

Ash retreated from the screen once more and let out a deep, frustrated groan, looking scandalized. Pikachu made a less dramatic groan, while Brock and Misty just nervously scratched their elbows. The Professor felt a lot of sympathy for Ash, and for the Tauros themselves.

As much trouble as they could all be, the old man was rather fond of the stampeding bulls and the ranch felt oddly still and quiet without them. Even if it would only be until reality was restored most likely, the prospect of just not having them around was pretty sad.

"When'd you say this tournament was again, Professor?" Brock suddenly inquired.

"I… think the twenty fifth of July? Or, sometime late in that month, I dunno you can check online" The Professor shrugged "You have just over three months to get ready for it, at any rate. I can't say who'll be competing in it altogether, the entry numbers vary wildly each year, oftentimes veteran trainers compete and sometimes a lot of them don't, few people who win the Tournament usually enter again anyway. If you all compete maybe one of you will get lucky and be partnered up with Bruno of the Elite Four"

A moment of silence passed as Ash and his friends all let that information sink in. Ash eventually shook his head wearily.

"I was already getting fed up with some of the changes to this world. But between Sabrina the super criminal, us having no idea where to find Charmander, what happened to Gary's Squirtle, and now I might not even be able to catch my Tauros again… I think I officially hate this reality now" Ash summized.

Professor Oak scratched his head "I don't begrudge you at all for that, my boy" The face of his oldest grandchild flashed in his mind, and the old man put on an uneasy smile "… But, it's not like everything about this life is bad, right?"

"Good or bad, I just want it all to go back to normal as soon as possible" Misty said, rubbing her head tiredly. Oak's awkward smile lessened, and Misty seemed to catch onto how uneasy he felt "Is something wrong, Professor?"

"Eh" Samuel Oak grunted, eyes shifting back and forth nervously for a moment as he struggled to respond. Taking a quick breath, he managed to fake a wide smile and say "Oh, just the same old hang ups, you know. I'll cope"

The three friends didn't look thoroughly convinced by that excuse, and Pikachu especially looked at him suspiciously.

"Are you sure there's nothing else we can do for you Professor?" Ash asked "Even apart from trying to find Gary's Squirtle?"

'Do you think you could figure out a way to prevent my granddaughter from being erased from existence when you have Arceus set the world back to its original form?' The Professor thought to himself. He shook his head dismissively.

"I… no, Ash. For now just keep retracing your steps, I'm fine handling my own business for the moment" Samuel Oak replied, biting his lip and holding in a heavy sigh.

He wanted very much to plead with Ash to find a solution to his conundrum over Daisy. Wanted very much to bring up the fact that she, and many other individual people, only existed in this particular timeline, and have a frank, hard discussion with Ash over the moral implications of resetting reality…

… But what good would any of that do right now? Ash had so much on his mind right now, even without the two heavy burdens Samuel had just dropped on him. It would be unfair to put Ash on the spot like that so suddenly while he was sorting through his own baggage.

And really, if the esteemed Professor Oak, recognized by many as the smartest professor in Kanto, had no clue what to make of the situation with Daisy and everyone else like her, then how could he expect Ash to have any clue what to do about it?

Maybe if they got in touch with Arceus later on the Alpha Pokemon could concoct a feasible solution, but the Professor had no idea when they would be able to do that.

… They had plenty of time. Winning this bet with the Beyonder would take years, surely there'd be plenty of better opportunities to discuss things further. Ash had no love for this reality right now, but surely the more he travelled and got to know people here the more the implications of what resetting reality again would mean for the denizens of this timeline would sink in eventually.

Did he even remember Daisy yet? Or had any memories associated with her from this timeline not surfaced in his mind? Samuel decided that he should probably make an effort to bring her up somehow before Ash met up with Gary and reminded him… his grandson would be far less… what was the word young people used? 'Chill' about the issue of her not existing anymore with the regular timeline restored.

'Maybe I should lay off on Ash for procrastinating on telling his mother about this whole Beyonder nonsense, though. I'm hardly any better' Oak half-jokingly thought to himself before clearing his mind and addressing Ash and friends once again "If there's anything you need to talk with me about though, something you think I should be focusing on, let me know before you take off again to Cerulean"

The group of friends all hummed contemplatively for a moment before Pikachu whispered something in Ash's ear that got him to nod along and ask "Do you have any ideas for what we're going to do about Molly and Spencer?"

"Molly and Spencer?" Brock looked confused for a moment.

"Hale, remember. We were talking about this on the way to your house yesterday" Misty said off handedly.

"Oh yeah, now I remember. And Molly's sorta like Ash's sister now, right?" Brock said, chuckling sheepishly as he scratched the side of his head "Don't know how that slipped my mind…"

"It happens, don't think too much of it" Oak said, recalling how he had told a curious child three days ago that Gengar was part fairy type because of his screwed up memories. The Professor resisted the urge to facepalm over the recollection of that blunder and instead inquired of Ash "I assume your question is along the lines of, do we try and stop Spencer and Molly from moving to Greenfield or at least convince Spencer to drop his research into the Unown before he gets kidnapped again, or do we let things play out the way they did originally and fix it the same way when you all get to Johto?"

"Well… basically, yeah" Ash said with a casual shrug.

"We've talked about it a couple times, and we don't really want to put Molly through the kind of grief she went through last time and let all that reality disrupting stuff happen at Greenfield again. But we don't know if simply avoiding anything to do with the Unown would mean we'd never get Molly's mother back for her" Misty explained, putting a hand on her hip and looking frustrated "I guess Molly would get her mother back anyway once the world's back to normal, but it feels like it'd be pretty cruel to deny her and Spencer the chance to have her back in this timeline too while it's around"

"Yes, it's quite a conundrum, isn't it" The Professor nodded, thinking it over for a long moment "… Hmm. Well, let me ask you a question Ash. Do you think you'd be able to remind Spencer and Molly of the timeline we all originally came from, like you did for me, Misty and Brock?"

All eyes were now curiously pointed at Ash, who shifted uncomfortably and scratched his nose, looking very unsure of himself. Eventually he shook his head.

"I don't… really know… I don't think I can, though" Ash said, a troubled frown on his face "… Arceus and the Beyonder said that I can't remind just anyone. They have to be people I know, and had some sort of impact on… maybe I can remind Molly? I talked to her quite a bit at Greenfield. But I don't remember much about Spencer at all, I definitely didn't meet him after the Unown went away. So… yeah, sorry. I doubt it would work"

"Uh huh" Oak nodded, having expected as much "Well then in that case… I don't think I can stop Spencer from researching the Unown. I'm convinced a big part of why he got as dedicated to his research as he was the last time was guilt over the disappearance of his wife… the same thing certainly holds true this time around. If I just tell him to cut it out, he'll probably take it very badly and ignore me because he'll think I'm saying figuring out what happened to his wife is a lost cause…"

"And he probably wouldn't believe anything we tell him about our timeline anyway if we can't restore his memories" Brock surmised. The Professor snapped his fingers and pointed at Brock's head on the screen, a look on his face that said "Bingo"

"Not to mention if he did actually believe it, he'd probably just rush to awaken the Unown quicker" Oak said, causing Ash and the others to flinch slightly. The old man scratched his chin and frowned thoughtfully "It's quite a pickle. Spencer's coming home in two weeks, and leaving Kanto three weeks after that. We have very little time to make much of a difference in how their story plays out… and unless we find a way to contact the Unown without getting trapped in their dimension ourselves and get Molly's mother back ourselves, which I'm sorry, I don't have a plan for right now… I think we're kind of stuck here for the moment. I'll contemplate the matter and see if I can come up with something… but perhaps sitting on this one and letting the events play out really is our only option"

Ash, Misty and Brock all exchanged looks of defeat and sighed.

"Pika pi" Pikachu muttered grumpily.

"I was really hoping we could come up with a better plan than that" Said a disappointed Ash.

Professor Oak offered the boy a comforting smile and a casual shrug "We've still got time. An ideal solution could always miraculously drop into our laps… but probably not. Having knowledge about how all the important events of our lives play out for the next couple of years can certainly be useful, but it doesn't make us all magically prepared to effortlessly nip every potential problem in the bud. Even without taking into account how this is a very different version of reality and not everything is likely to play out exactly the same way as we think it will, we were all thrust into this situation with no prep time to plan anything out. I know it's frustrating to keep hearing "Let's just let things play out" but the fact is that simply going through the motions and waiting for a good opportunity really is the only solution to some of these things. At any rate, I have faith you'll resolve the Unown problem again whatever happens and Molly and her family will be fine"

That did seem to renew some of Ash's confidence thankfully.

"You might want to keep in touch with Molly whatever we end up doing. The little dear adores you, and having someone to talk to regularly might ease her loneliness a tad. Who knows, maybe the Unown's reality warping will be less extreme in that case, if nothing else" The Professor pondered aloud.

"I was going to" Ash said seriously. The Professor had to chuckle at the look on his face, that sort of protective older sibling scowl that Daisy always put on whenever Gary was in trouble and needed her to bail him out of it. Whether Ash's memories of this timeline were up to date or not, it seemed clear he was taking quite naturally to his position as honorary big brother.

"Very well then. Let's drop this subject for now, we can pick it up whenever the Charmander situation is resolved, or any of our other more urgent matters. What else do you all want me to try and do for you?" Oak asked.

Ash seemed reluctant at first to really drop the subject, but after rapidly shifting through seven different kinds of frustrated expressions he just shook his head and inquired "Do you think you can call up anyone in Vermilion City and warn them about the St Anne? Team Rocket attacked it when we went on a cruise there the last time around"

"Ah yes, I remember that now" The Professor nodded. After some consideration he said "I'm acquainted with the Captain, so I'll tell him to up security as best he can. And I'll send an anonymous tip off to the Officer Jenny of Vermilion City to be on guard for suspicious individulas when you're on the way, see if that helps. If I think of anything else I'll let you know. Any other Team Rocket schemes coming up I should know about besides the usual Jessie and James endeavors?"

"Butch and Cassidy were running a fake daycare center to steal people's Pokemon sometime before we left for Cinnabar Island…" Brock replied, trailing off for a minute as he looked deeply thoughtful. He glanced at the notebook he was still gathering and then gave an apologetic shrug "I forgot where that was though, I'll check a map of South East Kanto and get back to you sometime. But I think that's the only other major Team Rocket scheme we dealt with our first time travelling Kanto"

"Very well, let me know the town or city they were operating in and I'll look into it in a couple of months, see what we can do" The Professor nodded, motioning for either of the three to continue.

Another moment of silent consideration before Ash asked "Any idea when I can meet Lance yet?"

"He's in Johto at the moment from what I hear. The League's being hush hush about it though, so I assume its G-men business. We could be waiting a while" Oak answered, shaking his head "No need to keep onto me about that one. I'll let you know when I know anything. Or when you're competing in that Tag Team Tournament in Saffron City, I'll try and get away from work and meet up with you for that, and see if we can have a more formal discussion about everything"

"That would be great" Ash nodded, his and his companion's faces all lighting up briefly. He looked upwards and scrunched his nose in contemplation before concluding "Well, in that case, maybe that's enough for now. We should probably get going anyway to try and find Charmander, or that lousy thief that took Gary's Squirtle"

"Yes, that's probably for the best. I do have quite a lot of chores to get through" Oak nodded, giving Ash a serious look before adding "And I'll repeat: Don't stress yourselves out about Squirtle. If you can't find anything yourselves it's not the end of the world… again" He rolled his eyes "Also, I take it you read those articles I sent you over, since you mentioned Sabrina earlier?"

"Most of them" Ash said.

"Well good. I'll send you more if I think of anything else that would be relevant to you, or just useful to know about in general. Call me back and keep me informed of your progress whenever you reach a new city, but otherwise just go at your own pace for now and I'll… well, I'll do whatever I can to support you"

Ash hesitated for a moment as he, Brock and Misty silently mulled over everything that had been discussed. Eventually they all gave the old man grateful nods, and somewhat strained smiles given all that was on their minds, before Ash said "Well, alright then… thanks a lot for everything Professor. We'll talk to you again"

"Safe travels, my boy. Good luck with everything" The Professor said with a smile and a wave. Ash waved back before the Professor hang up the call, the phone screen going black.

Professor Oak took a deep breath, exhaling loudly. Part of him did still feel like he was making a mistake procrastinating on discussing the Daisy Oak issue with Ash, but frankly considering the poor boy had a lost Charmander, a difficult tournament to prepare for in a much shorter amount of time than was surely preferable and a million other issues to worry about, it was surely not the time to start piling his own problems on top of Ash's.

There was also a slight concern that Ash might get hung up with finding Gary's Squirtle and get lost on a wild goose chase and hindering his progress, but Oak was sure the concern for reuniting with his old Pokemon would override that pretty quickly. Or heck, maybe he'd actually find the thief pretty quickly, that would be a welcomed convenience. Ash did have a wonderful talent for running into and foiling the schemes of a wide variety of criminals.

Whatever the case, Samuel knew he would just have to have faith in Ash.

A look of determination spread across the old Professor's face. He gave his limbs a good stretch and cracked his knuckles before marching out the door of his lab, tapping the sides of his face as he passed through the doorway.

'I think I've done enough moping the last few days. The whole world is counting on me to focus and do my best to support Ash and get him through this crazy misadventure. I'll get these chores out of the way, and buckle down on some serious planning'

*Viridian City Gym, 11.30am*

"Marowak, use bonemerang!"

"Nidoking, use take down!"

The Gym Leader's Nidoking let out a mighty roar and charged forth, seeming to just shrug off the large bone thrown his way as the purple beast struck Marowak with a mighty shoulder tackle, sending Marowak flying straight into his trainer, knocking them both against the wall.

The challenger, a teenage boy with black hair styled in a large ponytail and dressed in a green kimono, shook his head and let out a groan, shaken but not terribly injured from the impact. The same couldn't be said for his partner Pokemon, who he looked down to discover had been knocked out cold by Nidoking's attack.

"Marowak!" The young man known as Otoshi yelped, frantically nudging his partner. Marowak responded to this with a low, strained groan, too weak to move for the moment. Otoshi let out a sigh and returned Marowak with a sad smile on his face "You performed well, my friend. I only regret that I lacked the discipline to steer us to victory"

The young man dressed in samurai garb rose to his feet, and after shaking off the pain in his stomach where Marowak had been sent flying into him Otoshi took several steps forward and bowed to his opponent as a sign of respect.

Sitting in a chair on a balcony on the other side of the room, a brown haired man wearing an orange business suit watched Otoshi bow with a look of indifference. The Gym Leader casually rose to his feet and returned Nidoking to his pokeball, fixing Otoshi with a look that was both firm and devoid of emotion as the young man looked up at him expectantly.

"Hmph" Giovanni grunted, closing his eyes and shaking his head "I suppose I'll give you some credit, that battle was much less boring than all the hopeless rookies I've been forced to deal with in the past two weeks. You actually managed to defeat at least one of my Pokemon"

Giovanni's opened his eyes and then narrowed them at Otoshi, who flinched slightly as Giovanni's tone grew harsher "But you still have a long way to go if you have any ambition of winning my badge. How many did you say you'd acquired, three? Win four more and train until your Pokemon are worth something, and then maybe I'll accept a rematch. Otherwise don't bother wasting my time again, I have better things to be doing than wasting time on trainers I know are beneath me"

Otoshi gulped, clearly somewhat put off and annoyed by the harsh criticism, but nonetheless he composed himself and kept his tone respectful as he clasped his hands together and bowed to the Gym Leader once more "I understand. Marowak, Doduo and the rest of my team and I will train hard and return when we are at our peaks. This battle has taught me much, and for that I thank you"

"You're welcome" Giovanni said dismissively, motioning for Otoshi to leave, the look on his face making it clear to the young man he wanted him to do it quickly. With a nod, Otoshi walked out of the Gym at a hurried pace. When the door slammed shut behind him, Giovanni let out a content sigh and retreated through the curtain behind his chair, entering a hallway that would lead him to his private office.

Giovanni didn't much care for his duties as a Gym Leader.

No, that wasn't entirely accurate. The position served him well in scouting promising new talent for Team Rocket, the criminal organisation he secretly operated that was his prime concern, and he enjoyed the various perks that his status would grant him, along with the good publicity. It was crucial for a man in his position to maintain a respectable public image.

Rather, Giovanni didn't care for weaklings. Far too often, especially nearing the start of a new League season, Giovanni was forced to contend with an influx of hapless rookie trainers just starting out on their journeys. Most of them had no clue what they were doing in an official battle other than awareness of a handful of type advantages. It was such a painful waste of time that could be far better spent directing more lucrative schemes.

Giovanni had high standards for the trainers that challenged his gym. Most Gym Leaders kept a rotation of Pokemon of various different evolutionary stages and experience levels, alternating appropriately depending on how many Gym Badges a trainer possessed. Giovanni followed this method like all the rest, but the weakest Pokemon he would use was a Rhyhorn that could still give the Raichu Lt. Surge used against trainers with four badges a good thrashing.

Some called it overkill, including a few of the Gym Inspectors he'd had to accommodate on occasion.

Giovanni called it a reality check. A fine lesson in his opinion for big-headed upstarts that life was rarely if ever fair, and that ambition alone would get them nowhere. Only grueling hard work and the great power that resulted from it, along with a sharp mind that knew how best to direct that strength, would allow a Pokemon trainer to get anywhere in this world.

It was rare that any trainer with less than seven badges would earn an Earth Badge from Giovanni. The rare exceptions he would do everything in his power to curry their favour and sway them to join Team Rocket. And if they proved too morally upright for that, he put them on a watch list of potential victims for his higher class subordinates to mug. Because even if he couldn't have a fine new agent, why waste good Pokemon?

They were far easier to break and mold into living weapons to direct at Team Rocket's enemies, after all.

That boy Otoshi could have perhaps been such a trainer if any of his Pokemon besides Marowak, who had put up an excellent performance against Giovanni's Golem, matched up to the bone-wielder's power. Giovanni suspected that either Otoshi favoured the Marowak and neglected his other Pokemon in turn, or if he did train them all with the same level of conviction perhaps he had simply acquired Marowak while it was already quite powerful and it just had much greater potential.

At any rate, Giovanni didn't expect Otoshi to win against him whenever he did get around to winning seven or more badges to challenge him again if he did not fix that glaring flaw. He supposed he could always find some use for that Marowak someday at least whether Otoshi won or lost, though.

There seemed to be a lack of Marowak and Cubone at his organisation's disposal recently, if Giovanni wasn't mistaken. He should probably send some grunts out to fix that, they could probably round up a good number of them around Lavender Town and the caves North of it.

"Meow" Giovanni's Persian perked up from his bed as his owner entered his office. As Giovanni took his seat by the desk at the back of the room, Persian got up and yawned, giving it's legs a good stretch before wandering over and plopping his head down on Giovanni's lap, staring up at the man expectantly.

A slight smile appeared on Giovanni's face as he gave the feline Pokemon a good pet, but his expression quickly turned cold once more as a beeping sound came from the computer placed on the desk in front of him, a light flashing just above the screen.

Giovanni pressed a button by the side of the monitor, and the face of a purple haired woman with glasses, his secretary Matori, appeared on the screen.

Matori gave Giovanni a curt nod and a salute "I just wanted to inform you that we've received a call from grunt squad J, agents Jessie, James and Meowth. They wish to deliver a progress report. An overdue one at that" Matori muttered the last part under her breath, a condescending frown briefly flickering onto her face before she turned her expression neutral again "Do you want me to transfer the call, or should I put them on hold, sir?"

"Transfer the call, I might as well get it over with" Giovanni sighed lowly, rolling his eyes at the mention of those three clowns. He'd been anticipating a progress report a few days ago, recalling that they planned to ransack a Pokemon Center. Matori hadn't been sure which one they planned to attack, but Giovanni had since heard reports of three Rocket agents making a mess in the Viridian Center recently.

He had every intention to chew them out over that, the last thing he needed was his underlings causing a fuss in his city, that would motivate the police to start hammering down on investigating suspicious activity. Not helpful at all for a gang leader trying to keep a low profile.

Matori nodded at his instructions and reached forward. A second later the screen turned static, and Giovanni assumed a more dignified posture and put on his most threatening scowl. The monitor soon changed to show Jessie, James and Meowth standing in a spotlight in a pitch-black room. The three Rocket grunts saluted Giovanni.

"You're all very late" Giovanni said plainly. The three stooges under his command all faltered, flailing around so badly they nearly fell over. After straightening themselves up they all began bowing in a panic. Giovanni maintained a cold demeanour, but internally he was quite enjoying the sense of fear he inspired in them.

"We're… we're sorry, boss. It was… we ran into some trouble" Meowth said, an unnaturally wide smile on his face as the cat started sweating a bit.

"Oh, really?" Giovanni asked, waving his hand and prompting them to elaborate. The Trio hesitated for a moment before Jessie cleared her throat.

"We regret to inform you that our operation to rob the Viridian City Pokemon Center was a failure. But in our defense, we ran into interference from an enemy we couldn't have planned for" Jessie explained. Giovanni began petting Persian again, raising an eyebrow slightly at the purple haired woman.

"No, really?" Giovanni said, a cruel smirk on his face "What was it this time? Was Agatha of the Elite Four passing through town and I missed the memo, or did a random trainer visiting the center have an Ursaring on hand and you all thought you could incapacitate it by throwing a Butterfree net over it's head and putting oven mits on it? Or am I thinking of last month's failed mission with that last one?"

The Trio all shifted uncomfortably at Giovanni's mocking tone, James offering him a shrug and a sheepish grin "Actually, it was Sonic the Hedgehog"

Persian let out a painful cry as his master's hand suddenly stopped caressing his head and instead tightly gripped his fur. For a brief moment Giovanni's eyes widened, an uncharacteristic expression of pure horror that neither Jessie, James nor Meowth had ever seen from him before on his face. The mob boss caught himself quickly and instead put on an absolutely furious scowl that was far more familiar to his underlings.

"WHAT?!" Giovanni roared, causing all three Rocket agents to jump backwards in fright, briefly obscuring themselves from view as they inched out of the spotlight in the dark room they were in. They quickly scurried back into view, scratching their heads impishly "Sonic the Hedgehog! Are you sure?!"

"Are there any other blue hedgehogs with super speed that we outta know about?" Meowth quipped, shrugging half-heartedly. An apologetic look appeared on his face as Giovanni narrowed his eyes at him, and the cat shrunk back behind Jessie's legs.

"Yes, it was Sonic the Hedgehog. He appeared out of nowhere in a flash of light and tied us up, and then left us for Officer Jenny. We managed to escape with some difficulty, fighting our way past a squad of elite officers and making a dash for our balloon. We don't know where Sonic is at the moment though, unfortunately" James explained in a calm, even tone that didn't match up at all with the anxious look on his face.

Giovanni took a deep breath and exhaled loudly.

"And why in the world am I only finding out about this now?" Giovanni demanded. His frown intensified as the trio of Rocket's all gulped and exchanged awkward looks, as if begging one another to come up with a decent excuse.

"We're… we're very sorry, boss" Jessie said, bowing curtly and sweating bullets "We… w-wanted to… we were being closely followed by the police for a while, and we wanted to make sure Sonic wouldn't find us again after we lost them. A lot of… um… complicated things happened, and we weren't able to contact you until we arrived here in Hop Hop Hop Town. Please forgive our tardiness"

"Apology not accepted" Giovanni simply replied. Jessie, James and Meowth let out high-pitched squeals and dropped to their kneels, grovelling pitifully. Giovanni rolled his eyes in disgust and shook his head "… But regardless of how long it took you to report this, Sonic the Hedgehog being in Kanto IS vital information that I was not previously privy to. So I'll let you off with a stern warning this time"

The Trio of grunts looked up at Giovanni with blank expressions for a moment, seemingly stunned speechless that they'd been spared from punishment. Then their eyes started watering and they all started bowing repeatedly, chanting "Thank you, thank you boss!" Giovanni just groaned internally, struggling not to let his disgust show through his scowl.

Giovanni cleared his throat loudly, getting the Trio to cease their groveling and jump to their feet in attention. Giovanni put his hands together and glared expectantly at his subordinates "Tell me the full details. What did the hedgehog say? Do you know why he was there?"

The Trio exchanged odd looks, and given the awkwardness on James's face for a moment and the way the other two looked at him Giovanni could swear something happened that they had no intention of telling him about.

Could have to do with the obvious lie about the three of them fighting their way through a squad of elite officers, maybe it was James' idea? It was likely something embarrassing along those lines, they were too loyal and pathetically spineless to keep anything that mattered a secret from him. And if he found out they had, Giovanni would have them all beaten to within an inch of their lives.

Giovanni tapped his hand against his knee, quickly growing bored of the trio's protracted silence as they just started looking thoughtful for a moment, when Meowth finally responded to his questions "He didn' really say too much. Jus' dat he wuz passing through, saw our balloon floating by and decided ta stop us. He didn't want Nurse Joy to tell Officer Jenny he was dere, for some reason, which I guess is kinda suspicious. But apart from dat, he just made some bad quips and gave us a standard hero lecture, and then took off sayin' he was gonna search the place for more Team Rocket agents. Dat's about all we knows, we didn't see him again"

Giovanni hummed loudly, closing his eyes for a moment and mulling that information over. He opened his eyes in response to a curious meow from Persian, who he sent a warning look to.

Persian flinched, carefully retreating back to his cat bed. It was rare Giovanni gave him such an aggressive look, but Persian knew it meant to stay well away until his master calmed down if he knew what was good for him.

Giovanni watched Persian skulk off for a moment before shifting his glare to the screen showing the Rocket Trio. In a stern tone he said "Very well. You can send the rest of your report to Matori, and I'll read through the full details later. For now, your orders are to lay low and not draw attention to yourselves, do you understand?"

Jessie, James and Meowth looked back curiously at him.

"I… yes, of course. But… why?" James asked, and Giovanni mused it was really fortunate he and the other stooges weren't in the same room so he wouldn't have to throw a paperweight at his head.

"Sonic the Hedgehog is the most dangerous known threat to Team Rocket as an organisation. Even the G-men are more manageable, the only force in this world that could wipe us out faster if they had time to do so are the Power Rangers" Giovanni explained "Until we know for sure what he's doing here in Kanto, and what his objective is, it is imperative that we all suspend our current operations to not risk confronting Sonic until he's either left the region, or we have a way to monitor his movements and counter him. All previous confrontations between Sonic and our Johto Team Rocket cells ended in disaster, we can't afford to suffer similar losses here in our home region"

The Trio all looked very nervous at that, clearly as shocked as he was that they were all lucky enough to even be in a position to report back their run in with the blue blur. They all slowly nodded in understanding and saluted Giovanni.

"U-understood, sir" Jessie said, trying to look and sound dignified. Giovanni had to admit, she was at least better at it than her teammates "We'll lay low for now, and resume operations when it's safe. If we see Sonic again though, we'll report it back to you… will there… is there anything else you want us to do, boss?"

"Just don't do anything stupid" Giovanni said crossly. He rolled his eyes "Difficult for you three, I know. Do whatever you want as long as you're undercover and not causing a fuss until I give the order it's safe to resume your normal operations. If you catch any useful wild Pokemon send them over, but don't go stealing anything or breaking into any more Pokemon Centers, or do anything to draw attention to yourselves. I still expect regular weekly updates of your movements, and if the situation escalates in a manner that would put Team Rocket as a whole in jeopardy, I'll order you all to return to headquarters"

"Sir, yes sir!" The Trio responded. Giovanni gave them a curt nod and quickly turned off the computer, releasing a loud groan of frustration as the screen went black.

Sonic the Hedgehog… in Kanto.

If Giovanni were the kind of man who allowed himself to get desperate he might have tried to write off the whole idea as just a crazy cover story the Trio had come up with to downplay another one of their bumbling screw ups, but it actually made sense.

The report he'd looked into of what happened at the Viridian Pokemon Center on Saturday night was suspiciously vague about how the invading Team Rocket agents had been initially captured, with the Nurse Joy apparently refusing to make the details public beyond it was supposedly a citizen's arrest. The only other people in the Center at the time were two teenagers, both of whom were apparently rookies. Giovanni wouldn't put it past those three idiots to lose to beginner trainers, but if they had been the ones to foil the scheme why was that not reported?

So, going by their testimony, Sonic had just been stalking his City and keeping an eye out for Team Rocket agents. Giovanni grit his teeth, infuriated by how vulnerable that made him feel.

For the past six years, since the day Sonic became a world renowned hero by defeating that lunatic scientist from Johto, Giovanni had been keeping a close eye on the super-speeding hedgehog, even moreso when he started meddling in the affairs of his agents in Johto.

The hedgehog was like a force of nature, more powerful than any non-legendary Pokemon he'd ever heard of, and crafty as all hell. No matter what tactics, powerful Pokemon or advanced weaponry his elite agents had thrown at him, the Mobian speedster seemed to blast his way through all of it with practically no effort.

Within just four years, half of the Johto branch of Team Rocket had been desecrated. It was nothing short of a miracle the Mahogany Branch still managed to hold out.

The only thing that seemed to stop Sonic and his band of Freedom Fighters from flushing Team Rocket out of Johto completely seemed to be the fact that he was frequently getting wrapped up in continuous battles against Dr Eggman and various other villains, sometimes even travelling to regions further away in the process.

By some stroke of luck, he had only travelled to Kanto once in the time since the great war in Knothole, and even then not for long, and Giovanni had frequently pulled every string he could to help keep it that way by orchestrating further distractions.

But it had been months, nearly half a year even since Dr Eggman had last enacted some kind of crazy scheme, and outside of Lord Zedd and Rita's continued assaults on the Hoenn Region that the Power Rangers normally dealt with themselves, there wasn't a lot of super villain activity going on in most regions recently, just the normal kind of crime orchestrated by the likes of Team Rocket and it's various rival gangs, and freelance criminals like Pokemon Poachers.

It was only a matter of time, really, before the lull in world-threatening chaos led Sonic straight to Giovanni's doorstep. He'd been dreading and planning for a large-scale confrontation between the Freedom Fighters and Team Rocket since day one, knowing the day would come eventually so long as the damn hedgehog continued to draw breath.

It was highly likely that he was here for Eggman, of course. There had been rumblings and vague rumours in the criminal underworld that the mad scientist might have been operating around here, but his spies had had a hard time verifying it. If Dr Eggman was operating in Kanto, then maybe that would hold Sonic's attention for a while and then Giovanni could orchestrate a way to get him out of the region once the doctor's latest scheme was foiled.

But he couldn't rely on that prediction. Sonic had just been scouting Viridian City for Team Rocket agents, so it was equally possible the lack of activity from his archnemesis had pushed Sonic into joining Lance's efforts to snuff Team Rocket out here in Kanto. And even if Eggman was his primary objective, the hedgehog was drawn to conflict and criminal activity like a Bewear to honey.

All but the most shadowy and undercover of Team Rocket's operations would have to be postponed or abandoned, up to and including the attack he had been planning on the St Anne. Giovanni clenched his fist at the thought of how badly this would impact his organization's annual income, but he wasn't stupid.

Until his chief scientists and strategists came up with proper counter measures for fighting back against the mobian freak, it was in his best interest to not take any unnecessary risks and up surveillance, try and get a read on the Hedgehog's current location and trajectory.

He would definitely need to put pressure on Namba, Zager and his other scientists to speed up progress on their anti-Sonic projects. And perhaps it was time he checked back in with old Dr Fugi and that special project his dear old mother had invested in before her passing.

Giovanni massaged his temples and let out a low, angry groan before turning his computer back on and calling back his secretary.

"Put all of Team Rocket on red alert immediately, Matori. We have an emergency we need to verify"

*Hop Hop Hop Town, warehouse district, that same moment*

Jessie, James and Meowth exchanged uncomfortable looks with one another. James scratched his head sheepishly.

"Well… that didn't go as badly as expected" James said in an effort to lighten the mood. Jessie and Meowth just looked downbeat.

"I guess we can't tell him dose fossil Pokemon came from a lab if we're not allowed ta steal anyt'ing at the moment" Meowth said, scratching his chin "Guess we'll be holdin' on ta dem a little while longer than we t'ought"

"That stupid blue hedgehog sure picked an absolutely perfect time to butt into our business" Jessie grumbled, seething over it for a long moment. When she calmed down she looked up thoughtfully, eventually shrugging and turning to her teammates with a scheming grin "On the other hand… if we're effectively off duty until that Sonic guy buzzes off from Kanto, that actually gives us plenty of time to go off and build up our Team for the upcoming decisive Twerp battle without looking like we might be slacking off, so… not a total loss"

"Good way to look at it, I guess" James said, scratching his head and mulling over the boss's instructions. A concerned frown spread over his face "… He wants us to hand over any wild Pokemon we might catch. So, I guess we don't tell him about this team we're building at all?"

"We weren't going to mention the Aerodactyl and other fossil Pokemon we planned to keep for ourselves, so I don't see what difference it makes" Jessie shrugged indifferently.

"Other dan the fact he'll probably get mad we didn't tell 'im and demand we hand over all the strongest Pokemon we end up catchin' if he finds out, ya mean?" Replied a deadpanned Meowth, making Jessie flinch and roll her eyes.

"Then we won't let him find out. It's not like we really got in trouble for all the other times we go against the boss's orders or the rest of Team Rocket. We didn't even suffer retribution for the time we got into a fight with Butch and Cassidy and freed that Lugia, so I hardly think we have much to worry about catching a bunch of wild Pokemon for ourselves. It'd be a benefit to Team Rocket in general if we had stronger Pokemon to act out our schemes with anyway" Jessie reasoned. Meowth looked at her oddly.

"Didn' we get fired soon after dat whole t'ing with the Lugia, though?"

Jessie nearly fell over in shock. She barely managed to straighten herself up and shot back "Well… yes, but we reapplied and got accepted back in. So, it wasn't really an issue, right?"

"We were up ta our necks in dept to da boss for years afterwards. And I think we still are, actually" Meowth pointed out, crossing his arms and giving Jessie a smug frown.

Jessie growled defiantly and threw up her arms "Alright, I GET IT! We've suffered a lot of setbacks. But from now on things will be different" Jessie's lips curled up into a sinister grin, and she cackled in anticipation "Soon we'll have an elite, unstoppable team of Pokemon at our disposal... just as soon as we've finished this"

Jessie clapped her hands together, and suddenly the warehouse that the Rocket Trio had taken refuge in became fully illuminated, revealing a half-finished giant robot modelled after a Bewear, with an appropriately enormous jetpack attached to it's back.

Jessie, James and Meowth took a long moment to admire the current results of their handiwork, which was shaping up to be a perfect recreation of the robot that had given a dreaded Guzzlord a good run for it's money back at the award ceremony for the Alola League.

A most formidable and useful mech that would be. And the Rocket Trio had no doubts that it would easily be able to subdue a bunch of ancient Pokemon.

"Doesn't seem like we'll be able to remain very inconspicuous travelling across the region in this thing, though?" James casually observed.

"Why do you think we built the jetpack? We'll fly it over to Grampa Canyon from high above the clouds, where no one will see us" Jessie answered confidently. She looked down at Meowth with a daring smirk "Got anymore unwanted reality checks?"

"Lots of em, but I'll save dat for the next time somethin' blows up in ya face" Meowth snarked in response. Jessie rolled her eyes, giving the cat a mildly amused glare before rubbing her hands together in anticipation.

"In that case, it's right back to work"

*Pewter City Outskirts, 7pm*

"Route 3, dead ahead"

Ash stared intently at the sign post for a moment, slowly raising his eyes to look over it out onto the Eastern path leading out of Pewter City.

"Pika *Well… I guess this is where the real work begins*" Pikachu commented from his trainer's shoulder. Ash nodded unconsciously in response before turning around to face Misty and Brock.

The trio had spent the next few hours following their phone call to Professor Oak wandering around Pewter City, asking people if they'd seen a brown haired teenage girl in a black dress or at least someone with a Squirtle that seemed really enthusiastic to get away from them. Their efforts proved largely fruitless.

They did cross paths with one teenager that fit the Professor's description of the Squirtle thief, but ultimately they deduced that she most likely wasn't the culprit, and all that little investigation earned any of them was a good slap to Ash's face (There was still a red mark on his left cheek, actually).

So after sadly accepting the Professor's advise of putting the search for Gary's Squirtle on the back burner for now, Ash, Brock and Misty returned to Brock's family home, where after downloading a pokemon Center related app to Misty's pokegear and planning out a route to try and find the Pokemon Center Charmander would hopefully be found near (Their first stop would be a Centre just past Mt Moon), Brock gave his father a couple of lectures and a long list of instructions to help him look after all of his younger siblings properly.

And now, a long series of hugs and heartfelt goodbyes with said siblings and one last family dinner later, here Ash and his friends were, ready to hit the road.

"You know, all things considered… it is kinda cool to be travelling with you guys again" Ash admitted. He looked away, scratching his head sheepishly "Yeah, I know the reason we're doing this is kinda crazy and serious, and I'm sorry I had to drag you into it… but…"

"I get what you mean" Brock cut him off, a smirk on his face as he too stared into the distance "I'm still not crazy about the timing or the reasons for all of this… but, now that we're about to really get going, it's hard not to feel nostalgic"

"As much as I'm worried about a lot of stuff, I guess I would be lying if I said there's not a bunch of things I'm looking forward to doing with you guys again, too" Misty said, sighing contently. A few seconds of serene silence later she laughed and sarcastically added "Of course, let's not get too nostalgic and get lost on every route"

"I'd say that pokegear of yours would probably keep that from happening…" Ash shook his head and chuckled "… But we'll surely find a way"

The three old friends shared a good laugh at that. When they were finished Ash turned around again to stare at the path leading to Mt Moon, a more serious expression taking over his face as his thoughts returned to more serious pressing issues.

Of Charmander, most likely due to be abandoned sometime in the near future.

Of his herd of Tauros, marching merrily along in the Safari Zone, and the tournament in Sapphron City he apparently had to win to get them all back.

Of the villain teams he had to thwart, and the Leagues he had to win, so that the world home to all the people and Pokemon he knew and loved could have a future.

Ash clenched his fist... and a confident grin spread across his face.

The trials and tribulations ahead worried him… but he was Ash Ketchum. And no matter how daunting the task, or how much grief this new world threw at him, as long as his friends were by his side there was no challenge too daunting to put him down.

"Alright then… here we go!"

And with that declaration, he burst forward like a rocket, Pikachu barely managing to maintain a grip on his shoulder as Ash darted down the path to Route 3 at breakneck speed.

Misty and Brock just stared after him blankly for a moment before sighing in unison, both looking weary yet amused.

"And there he goes…" Brock deadpanned.

Misty rubbed her temples, her lips rising into a playful smirk "Honestly, should we have expected anything else from him?"

"Nope" Brock simply replied before taking after him.

Misty shook her head, shaking her fist and frowning after Ash and Brock in mock disapproval before following their lead.

All of them remained blissfully unaware of the mysterious figure watching them from the rooftop of a nearby Pokemart. She was a tall woman, with long dark green hair and dressed in red.

The woman's cold, piercing blue eyes watched the trio of Ash, Misty and Brock depart with a calculating expression. She pulled out a Pokegear and held it to the side of her face, keeping her predatory gaze locked on the trainers as she spoke.

"Ash Ketchum is leaving Pewter City as we speak. He has both his original companions with him, along with a Pikachu, a Butterfree and a Pidgeotto. He has yet to reunite with the assistant, and will most likely pass through Mt Moon before making his way to Cerulean City" The woman spoke in a calm, even tone. Her voice was soft and devoid of emotion, but carried a certain menacing quality to it that could make an unassuming listeners blood turn cold.

"I see. He's moving a little faster than anticipated" A deep, dramatic voice answered from the Pokegear. There was a thoughtful pause before it swiftly commanded "Keep a close eye on his movements until he reaches the next city. Report all relevant developments immediately. And do try not to snap the boy's neck, we need him alive for the moment... It's no fun if the game ends too quickly"

"Understood, sire" The woman nodded, her cruel gaze focusing on Ash's shrinking figure in the distance. Her eyes glowed purple "There is nowhere he can go where I can't follow"

A portly man dressed in standard hiker gear passed by the Pokemart at that moment, briefly glancing up and spotting the woman on the roof before quickly returning his gaze frontward and walking along. He abruptly stopped after five steps and shook his head, blinking rapidly.

He turned to look at the roof again… only to find nothing was there.

*Cerulean City, West Side. Friday April 7th, 12pm*

"Poliwhirl, use water gun!"

"Brace through it, Sandshrew!"

A large stream of water struck the yellow pangolin Pokemon dead in the center, and though it seemed to wince slightly at the initial impact, the Sandshrew stood it's ground until the water gun dispersed, looking none the worse for wear.

Much to the shock and amazement of the large crowd of citizens that had gathered around to watch this Pokemon battle. And to the utter bafflement of the bandana wearing trainer commanding the blue tadpole Pokemon.

"What the…" Was all the man could manage to say.

Sandshrew's trainer, a teenage boy with spiky green hair wearing a black and red shirt and blue shorts, smirked victoriously at that outcome. Proof that all their special training had paid off.

"Now use dig!" Aj commanded.

Sandshrew thrust its claws into the ground and started digging, disappearing into the ground in the blink of an eye. Poliwhirl blinked nervously and jumped back, anxiously looking around and trying to feel for vibrations in the ground. It sensed something moving directly beneath it, but before the Poliwhirl could properly jump back Sandshrew burst out of the ground and delivered a harsh uppercut to its center.

Poliwhirl cried out in pain and stumbled backwards, quickly finding itself balancing on one foot. Poliwhirl attempted to right itself and keep battling, but the pain from the dig and the last three attacks Sandshrew had landed proved too much for it and Poliwhirl collapsed on the ground, eyes swirling in defeat.

"Poliwhirl!" The bandana wearing trainer yelled, rushing to check on his fallen partner.
Aj grinned proudly and gave a hearty laugh.

"And that makes ninety victories in a row! Ten more and we take on the Pokemon League!" Aj declared. He looked down at his Sandshrew, who had rolled up in front of him. With a proud smile he leaned down to address his Pokemon "Terrific work there, partner. Think you can handle another round or two, or should I swap out?"

Sandshrew shook its head and flexed it's arms at his trainer, responding with a determined "Sandshrew, sand!"

Aj laughed, slapping Sandshrew's shoulder "That's the spirit! Keep that up, and we'll be league champions!" He stood tall and addressed the crowd with a proud grin.
"Alrighty then, who wants to be victory number ninety one!?"

A wave of excited chattering broke out among the crowds, and a few trainers rushed forward to meet Aj's challenge. After shaking hands with the bandana-wearing trainer, Aj accepted a blue haired girl dressed like she was ready for a picnick as his next opponent.

"Boy, people around here sure do love making Pokemon beat each other up" Commented a less involved onlooker, sitting on a table outside of a nearby café.

She was a sixteen year old girl. And she wasn't human.

She was a mobian, a hedgehog to be exact, with pink fur and much shorter quills than Sonic, though her eyes were a similar shade of green. She wore a red dress with a similar coloured headband adorning her head, and she also wore a pair of golden rings around her wrists along with the same white gloves as Sonic and Tails.

Her name was Amy Rose. And she was a member of the Knothole Freedom Fighters.

"Your tea, miss" Said a waiter from the café, carrying a tray with a cup, a saucer of milk and a teapot. He placed the cup on the coaster in front of Amy, then carefully began preparing her tea.

"Thank you very much, sir" Amy said with a polite nod, eagerly holding the cup up to her lips and taking a sip, savouring the taste of the hot liquid in her mouth before swallowing. She gave the cup an approving smile "Delicious"

"Glad you approve, madam" The waiter said with a courteous bow. Amy smiled widely at him before putting the cup back onto the coaster and taking another bite out of the half-finished slice of chocolate cake she had been served earlier. She turned back to the scene of the trainer battle, where Aj's Sandshrew was now squaring off against a Nidorina, the crowds gathered around them roaring with excitement.

Amy furrowed her brow curiously at the scene. She'd seen her share of Pokemon battles on TV and during travels outside of her home region, but it was always an experience to see first hand just how much human cultures adored and reveled in them.

Back in Knothole, Pokemon Training was traditionally discouraged, having actually been illegal for a thousand years in the past in the region. The laws had slowly changed over the past few centuries as Knothole opened up international relationships with the human regions more, and younger generations were starting to take more of an interest in the international battling scene. There had even been talks of hosting the Pokeathlon in Mobotropolis in two years time.

But in general, Mobians still largely had a different view of Pokemon to humans. While Pokemon trainers visiting from other regions were allowed spaces to battle for training purposes, public battles were discouraged and frowned upon, and Mobians rarely kept Pokemon as anything other than pets. And even then only certain kinds, like Meowth, Aipom or Mareep, and they were never kept in pokeballs.

Amy watched as Aj's Sandshrew blinded the incoming Nidorina with a sand attack before striking it back with a powerful tackle, giving the yellow ground type an impressed nod.

Amy herself was mostly in favour of the practise of Pokemon battling. To an extent, anyway.

She'd been around Pokemon enough to know that they were naturally inclined to it, they loved nothing more than getting stronger and it was their favourite form of play. She frowned on Trainers who pushed their Pokemon too far or had their Pokemon battle in overly violent ways, but as long as people mostly understood their Pokemon's limits and the Pokemon themselves clearly enjoyed the fighting, she could see the merits in it.

Though she had a personal policy of delivering a good wallop to anyone she caught daring to abuse their Pokemon. A lot of Team Rocket agents especially could tell you horror stories about their personal experiences with the dreaded "Pink smasher of heads"

Amy turned away from the ongoing battle for a moment to finish her cake, her thoughts turning to why she was here in Cerulean in the first place.

She, Sonic and Tails had crossed the Johto Border and arrived at the Indigo Plateau a few weeks ago now, having heard the reports of Eggman Robots being spotted in the region. Tails had decided to investigate the area around Celadon City, while Amy had spent the past two week investigating the routes between Lavender Town and Cerulean, as well as the area directly North of the city. Sonic meanwhile had mostly just taken to running about all over the place.

So far her investigations had proved mostly fruitless. If Eggman or his robots were operating in the area, they were doing a surprisingly good job of hiding themselves.

Tails had at least been more successful, having picked up a chaos energy signature near Vermillion the other day which led to him and Sonic fighting a pack of powerful Pokemon robots. Nothing quite like any Badniks she or the other Freedom Fighters had fought before by the sound of it, so Eggman definitely had to be lurking around plotting something.

Sonic and Tails had reported in two days ago that they'd met with a member of the G-men named Looker, and that in two days there would likely be a formal announcement to the people of Kanto that Eggman was suspected to be at large in the region. Why they couldn't just do that right away escaped Amy, she was hardly intimidated by most of Eggman's standard robot goons these days with how many she and her friends had smashed the past few years, but she knew Eggman could be extremely dangerous. If people's lives were in danger, why not tell them straight away?

She concluded that politicians and the like were just lazy cowards that valued keeping businesses running as normal over public safety. That was definitely the case in places like Orre and some parts of Unova anyway, so why not Kanto too.

Amy rolled her eyes at the thought of it all as she swallowed her last bite of chocolate cake and took another sip of tea.

Amy herself was supposed to meet up with Sonic and Tails in Saffron City in two days for that announcement actually, but she wasn't in a hurry to leave. She felt rather embarrassed actually that she had so little to report so far, and a bit paranoid that she was missing or overlooking something. So she was going to give it another day of patrolling the area to see if anything came up.

'But then again, maybe I'm just being a bit egotistical there. If Eggman and his band of creeps are operating around here, they're being uncharacteristically reserved about it. So it's not like proof is just going to come flying into my face' Amy thought to herself.

Well, it didn't fly into her face. Rather, it ran screaming through the nearby gates that led to Route 4 and interrupted the battle the crowd had been absorbed in.

Amy continued sipping her tea curiously as she watched a man with brown hair and glasses wearing a labcoat cut between Aj's Sandshrew and its Nidorina opponent and start loudly shouting something at the crowd of people. Amy couldn't make out everything he was saying from her distance and with how frantically the man was talking, but pretty much the whole crowd was giving him exhausted or irritable looks. She was absolutely sure she heard him scream something about robots though, which definitely peaked her interest.

"Who's that guy?" Amy asked her waiter, who was just staring at the man with the labcoat with an odd mix of embarrassment and amusement.

"Oh, that's just Seymour" The Waiter replied, shaking his head and chuckling lightly "He's a scientist, really interested in studying Clefairy. He's a nice guy, but also kinda eccentric, a lot of people around here consider him… kind of a wacko. I wouldn't worry too much about him, he probably got spooked by something and thinks aliens are invading again…"

"Not that that's never happened" Amy said casually.

The waiter scratched his head "Yes, but we're not in Hoenn, so…"

Amy frowned thoughtfully at Seymour the babbling scientist for a moment. She quickly finished her tea and set the cup down.

"I'll be back in a minute, I want to ask him something" Amy told her waiter, quickly jumping to her feet and running up to Seymour, who was flailing his arms around and still screaming wildly. She cleared her throat loudly to get his attention, introducing herself after he abruptly went silent "Hi there. My name is Amy Rose. Is there a problem here?"

"Amy… Rose…?" Seymour the scruffy looking scientist said slowly, adjusting his glasses and staring intently at the Mobian teenager. A look of euphoria soon dawned on his face, and he dropped suddenly to his knees and threw his hands onto Amy's shoulders, frightening her slightly "Oh my gosh! You're Amy Rose, of the Knothole Freedom Fighters! This is PERFECT!"

The gathered townsfolk all started whispering to one another and staring curiously at Amy. Miss Rose herself just giggled awkwardly from the attention, and struggled to look Seymour in his sparkling eyes "Uh… yeah, I am. Wow… I can't believe you recognised me…"

Amy was never exactly an unknown, but compared to Sonic, Sally or some of the other Freedom Fighters like Tails and Bunny she had never been one of the most famous of the group outside of Knothole and Johto, even though she'd been involved in most of Sonic's big adventures in some way. She'd been surprised that only five people had actually recognised her on her travels through Kanto so far actually, not counting Seymour here, especially since while she had run into several other Mobians here or there they didn't appear to be a common enough sight in Northern or eastern Kanto that she expected to casually blend into the local populace.

The look on Seymour's face made it seem like he would have a hard time believing that though.

"Of course I recognised you. I'm a big fan of you guys, you're all amazing! The way you and Big the Cat tore apart that slot machine robot last year was magnificent!" Seymour said in a reverent tone that Amy had to blush at.

"Hehe, yeah, well… Big did most of the tearing, I just smashed the buttons" Amy said, trying hard to sound modest. She shook her head and gave Seymour an imploring look "So… what's got you so worked up?"

Seymour blinked rapidly, removing his right hand from Amy's shoulder and smacking his head with it "Right-right, of course! It's a good thing you're hear, Mt Moon is under siege!"

"From what?" Amy asked, even though she was already certain of the answer.

Aj the trainer cut off whatever Seymour's reply was going to be, rolling his eyes as he spoke "Ol' tall tales Seymour here was just blatherin' about how robots like the ones that Dr Eggman guy makes were mucking about the forests near Mt Moon, and we should call in the G-men or somebody to fight 'em. The guy probably got hit by a falling boulder again and was hallucinating, like the time he claimed the Clefairy were preparing some sort of heist with a spaceship, so just ignore 'im. Everyone knows that freak never shows his moustached face here in Kanto"

Aj seemed quite sure of himself in that assessment, and while the exasperated looks the rest of the townsfolk had been giving Seymour earlier suggested they were all initially in the same boat, the curious stares most of them were now fixing Amy seemed to imply they were quickly changing their minds. Amy noticed Seymour himself seemed rather hurt by the accusations Aj was making, so offered him a sympathetic smile.

"Well, I wouldn't be too sure about that" Amy said knowingly "After all, a lot of Eggman's wayward robots have gone rogue and ended up in weirder places before… anything's possible"

Aj's eyebrows rose at that, and he looked away sheepishly and kicked the ground. The rest of the townsfolk started muttering to themselves in hushed, concerned tones. Amy smiled awkwardly, hoping they all didn't question her cover story.

She may not have agreed with the League having kept the possible Eggman presence under wraps for so long, but she was responsible enough to accept that she had to keep quiet about the likely severity of the situation until the official announcement was made and not stir up a panic.

Seymour looked positively vindicated by her words.

"You really believe me then?" Seymour asked, already tearing up slightly. Amy shrugged playfully.

"Only one way to find out. Just a sec" She told Seymour. She quickly ran back to the table outside the café and pulled out a large wad of pokedollars which she handed to the waiter who had been serving her "Here, this should pay for the cake and tea"

Amy quickly started skipping back towards Seymour. The waiter stared at the large wad of money in his hand in utter bewilderment, anxiously calling after Amy "Madam, wait! This is way too much!"

"Keep the change as a tip!" Amy called back, waving her hand towards the waiter briefly. The Waiter stared after her in disbelief, looking very guilty about accepting such a large amount of money out of nowhere… but only for a moment.

"Well, alright then" He said gingerly, tucking the wad of cash into the left pocket of his vest.

Amy smiled expectantly at Seymour the scientist, crossing her hands behind her back.

"So… think you can lead me to where you saw these robots? I'd like to investigate" Amy inquired. The look Seymour gave her reminded her of the faces Cream and Charmy had made when she and her friends had dressed Big up as Santa Claus last Christmas.

"Yes, yes of course! Follow me!" Seymour declared, grabbing Amy's hand and whisking her away towards Route 4, dancing and prancing along as he went. Much to Amy's discomfort as she struggled not to trip up or be flung around by the overenthusiastic scientist.

Aj watched them leave with a curious look on his face. When he and his opponent eventually resumed their battle the crowd barely paid any attention to it anymore, now more curious about whether Seymour the so called wacko's stories were all more plausible than they'd all given them credit for.

TigerLover 16: And there we are. This turned out much longer than expected, but I feel happy with how it turned out. I felt the story really needed a scene of the characters just planning out the stages of their journey, and it gave me a good excuse to practice writing the dynamic between the original gang some more now that I finally have Ash, Brock and Misty all together. And Angie too in about 2-3 chapters, that'll be fun.

And I get to set up some other story details including introducing more of our villains, including Giovanni. Yeah, Team Rocket won't likely play too big a role in the early parts of Kanto aside from the TRio, but as the story goes on I will start setting up the eventual conflict between them and our heroes.

But, anyway:

* So, I've mentioned a popular fanfiction called Pokemon Reset Bloodlines a couple of times. Readers of that story would probably notice that the "Ash has to compete in a Tag Battle Tournament to get into the Safari Zone" idea is also something that happened in that story... this was a complete accident.

Basically what happened was I forgot that was a thing in Reset at the time I wrote most of this chapter, which was several months ago now and I was planning stuff out further back than that.

I can't explain the details of why without spoiling some major stuff, but I wanted to do a Tag Battle Tournament for several reasons that specifically NECESSITATE it be like the Hearthome Tag Battle Tournament, so I decided to set one up. I wanted there to be some kind of stakes involved so there was a bit more pressure and tension than it just being a regular tournament, and I didn't want the Safari Zone in this Canon to be something any trainer could go to at any time because that always felt like something that was too questionable outside of a video game context, so it all just seemed like a no brainer.

... then one day after I'd already written the first half of this chapter I was browsing the chapter selection of Reset and had an "Oh... whoops" moment.

I thought about having the Safari Zone disconnected from the Tag Tournament to avoid being too similar but wasn't quite sure how to set it up, so by this point I just decided screw it, people would probably find it suspicious there's a Tag Battle Tournament here too anyway.

I want to note that while there might be other similarities between Secret Journeys and Reset Bloodlines, this'll probably be the most overtly similar major development and I don't intend to copy ideas wholesale from it. Paul is not going to be a Kanto rival, and Iris and Anabel aren't going to show up halfway through the region as new companions/eventual girlfriends for Ash, neither will Snivy or Goomy show up so early. Ash isn't a descendant of Sir Arron, he won't catch 14 extra Tauros along with Yanma, a shiny Chansey and all of Muk's Grimer friends, the Sensational Sisters won't be as bad as their Reset selves, etc.

Most other similarities are probably going to come down to common fanfiction ideas, come more from other sources (Gym Leaders evidently alternating their teams based on challengers accomplishments from Pokemon Origins, more villainous Sabrina has precedence in the Adventures manga, etc). Or because like this example, I kinda goofed. Or because I already had stuff planned that unintentionally lines up with stuff that happens in Reset chapters published after this point, I suppose.

I want to make it clear I plan to go in some different directions with the Tag Tournament compared to Reset and I mean no disrespect to Cross, he's a good writer and Reset Bloodlines is great, you should all go read it.

* Yeah, Sabrina isn't a Gym Leader anymore in this timeline... and she's probably not going to become one again anytime soon.

I'm sure a lot of you are wondering why, so here's part of my goal with this story. Namely that unlike in a story like Ashes, not everything can be fixed or conveniently improved on, and while a lot of things can work out better for various characters in this timeline, with the reboot certain things from the old timeline are going to be irreparably lost, or changed to a point that, for better or worse, they can never quite go back to the way things used to be.

Sabrina is one example of this. And we'll see more examples before long. New universe Sabrina didn't get redeemed, and spoilers but it's probably not going to happen the same way anytime soon, and even if it's possible there's going to be consequences that can't just be swept under the rug.

A secondary reason for this is... well, I didn't want to repeat every step of the Canon adventure wholesale and I wanted to shake up some of the Gym Challenges with things like Ash challenging characters from the crossover series. Sabrina's replacement will be the first example of something like this.

For fans of the Gym Leaders, Ash will still challenge the majority of the Canon ones, including all of the Johto Gym Leaders, and like Sabrina most of the ones he doesn't battle will still have some kind of role, so hopefully that doesn't upset people too much.

I don't have a full list of Gym Leaders who'll be swapped out... though probably half the Kalos ones, because a lot of them are boring to me, no offense.

* Title is sort of a reference to Journeys' dub opening... mostly because I didn't know what else to call it. I'm not great with chapter titles.

*Yeah, no Vulpix for Brock, sadly. Again, consequences. If I get a lot of angry reviews about it though maybe Brock'll get it by the Battle Frontier arc, but I have no plans for now.

* Spoilers, the drama with Charmander is probably going to be resolved quickly and anti-climactically, but there might still be a twist to it.

* The whole "Send my grunts to catch some Cubone and Marowak near Lavender Town" comment from Giovanni isn't meant to set up Ghost Marowak. I just felt like being horrible.

* Genuine question: Has anyone ever read a Pokemon/Sonic crossover where Amy Rose meets Seymour the Scientist? Or am I actually the first to do so in a story?

* In regards to SupersonicBros123's comment about characters of the day having a larger role in the story, yeah, some of them will, others won't. Otoshi here will probably be a recurring secondary rival for at least Kanto for example, along with Ritchie and maybe Aj, and some other minor characters will have expanded roles. Others like Seymour will show up where it's appropriate, but probably not every character of the day will be adapted.

Keith the Farfetch'd kid probably won't have a chapter about him for example and some stuff like the Big P Pokemon Race might happen again off screen if I can't find an original way to reinterpret those events, because I don't want the story to stall as much as the Johto series.

At least one character from the AU movies will likely show up soon, others might appear either as one offs for the fun of it or if there's a way they can serve the story.

* The bit with Brock and Misty from the end of last chapter was originally the opening scene of this chapter and there was going to be an Angie scene introducing her Aunt Winry. I moved them to last chapter and the next one respectively for pacing reasons, and I think it works better this way.

Daisy Oak was similarly going to make an appearance in Oak's scene briefly, but she'll be introduced next chapter instead along with Gary.


And, I guess that's it for 2020. Here's hoping the next few chapters turn out entertaining whenever they come out.

Thank you all for reading, and I urge you all to leave your thoughts on the story and what you want to see happen in it, in 2021 and beyond. Happy New Year and stay safe, everyone.