Age 18
Female
Seen October 28th, 2019
Posted October 24th, 2019
12 posts
49 Days
A/N: This is a redo of an older project of mine that never progressed past the first chapter because I didn't feel completely happy with many aspects of it. However, I felt compelled to retry because I enjoyed the basic concept — though this version has several large changes (including the starter), so it can be seen as an entirely new fic, and this first chapter is largely worldbuilding and establishing the main concept, so hang tight! As before, though, I'm used to writing shorter fics, so please bear with me on this journey. I promise that I will continue this past the first chapter, however, as I have most of the first arc of the story outlined.

The pokémon world is one that's always interested me — and Ash, as the anime protagonist, is someone who I've loved as a character since I was a small child. Although I love his canon journey and have no real gripes with it, I feel as though a novelisation of it wouldn't be as interesting to read as something new. As for why I don't just make an original character to act as the protagonist or take one of the game protagonists and apply an Ash-like personality to them, Ash is someone I feel comfortable writing, and I feel like I'd be cheating somewhat if I essentially just made Ash with a different name. So for the most part, I can say that Ash's personality won't be too changed from canon, though it may shift at points to Ash in more intense arcs, such as Sinnoh or Kalos, rather than constantly staying in a Kanto/Alola Ash state.

Something that should probably be kept in mind throughout this fic is that Team Plasma more closely resembles B2W2 Plasma than BW Plasma in this fic, and Ghetsis is its undeniable leader, without N to act as a peacekeeping figurehead. On that topic, pokémon from all generations exist and will feature indiscriminately despite this fic being set in Unova/Gen 5, as will all the regions, types, moves and features, whether simply by being mentioned or by actively showing up. However, an in-depth knowledge of any of this isn't at all needed to read the fic.

When I originally wrote this fic, the first part of this chapter was inspired by Mateusz's fic The Mortal Earth, which is another Ash-journey reboot that starts him off in Hoenn. I really recommend that you read this fic if you have the time, because the worldbuilding in it is incredible, but my fic and Mateusz's will be very different, I'm sure.

With all that said — and I know it was a lot — I hope you enjoy this! Comments / reviews are really appreciated, so feel free to let me know what you think! Even small comments make my day.



Arc 1: Suns and Sovereigns
=oOo=
Chapter 1: Sic Parvis Magna
" Greatness from Small Beginnings. "


The barge's horn blared as it pulled into the Cruise Dock, funnels spitting up great clouds of thick smoke that billowed and stained the sky black. Overhead, a flock of swanna circled and wailed, skimming the ocean waves in search of food. Men scurried up and down the pier, hauling ropes back and forth as the ship came to a shuddering halt.

Ash raced to the bow, hands gripping the railing tightly and surveying the world ahead of him with an ardent gaze. Castelia City was a true concrete jungle; colossal skyscrapers towered above him, bustling with life and business deals.

It lay in stark juxtaposition to his memories of the rural tranquility of Kanto's rolling plains. Between its lush greenery and open expanses, his home region had ensured that its residents, for the most part, blended seamlessly into nature; very few large cities had dared disturb the rugged beauty of the land. By comparison, here in Unova, the architecture was far less tolerant of the wilderness; much like the people who lived within, it muscled its way into anywhere it pleased without regard for what lay there before — though he had heard that the sprawling metropolises were separated by harsh, unforgiving territories, so maybe Unova wasn't nearly as tame as Castelia City implied.

A voice behind him startled him out of his thoughts. "What do you think, eh, lad?"

Ash whirled around, coming face to face with First Officer Richard. Tall, sun-kissed and ruggedly handsome, he was the sort of man Ash's mother would swoon over. Long, dark hair and a smile like the sun were the sorts of things she looked for.

"Let me tell you, I've made this trip more times than I've had hot dinners and it's just as breathtaking now as it was the first time."

Ash bobbed his head; he could certainly see the appeal, as vastly overwhelming as the view in front of him was. "It's amazing," he agreed emphatically, gazing into Richard's bright green eyes. The man had kept a close eye on Ash at the request of Professor Oak; making any journey alone as a child was daunting, but to commit oneself to a solid month at sea to reach a new region when he'd never been out of his own region prior to said month at sea was, by anybody's standards, completely insane. Ash himself would never had considered it had Professor Juniper not extended a unique training scholarship to him (again, thanks to Professor Oak). "Man, I've never seen anything like it! Unova's awesome."

Richard barked a hoarse, chesty laugh at his enthusiasm. "Hah! Well, kid, I'm glad it doesn't disappoint. That old clod of a professor said this is your first time out of Kanto — you've got guts, picking Unova as your first region to battle through. It was my fourth and even I couldn't handle the heat."

"I can take it," Ash retorted. "I'm gonna be a Pokémon Master, no matter what it takes!" It was a dream he'd held onto since he knew what pokémon were; abstract as it was, he was determined to dedicate his life to it. "Besides, I thought you were born in Unova."

"And I thought you were born in Kanto," Richard shot back. Slowly, he relaxed, leaning against the railing again. "Yeah, I was, but there aren't many kids who stay in Unova for their first league. Most shoot for the Indigo Plateau — that's where things are most dynamic, what with both Kanto and Johto hosting their conferences there. And sure, they're great places to get quick experience, but your Elite Four ain't got nothin' on our lot when it comes to brutality. You wanna prove how good you really are? Unova's the place to be. Even the most battle-hardened trainers can break here." He winked. "Maybe you should just give up."

Ash bristled defensively, hackles raised like a disgruntled sandslash. Give up? He'd left his mother and embarked on a thousands-mile journey into the unknown for this; giving up wasn't an option. "No way!"

Professor Oak was counting on him to take advantage of this opportunity. He didn't want to let the man — or himself — down.

"Hah! That's the spirit." Richard chuckled, pushing off from the rail and ruffling Ash's hair affectionately. "Look, I'm not saying it's impossible to take Unova on as a complete rookie; I'm just saying it's gonna be pretty damn tough on you, especially since you weren't raised here. Y'know, Grimsley — one of our Elite Four members — nearly got hydreigon banned from official tournaments — again — and was under some real scrutiny a while back 'cause of one of its techniques in battle. They had to get in the Ethics Committee to debate on the morality of it… he was let off, since they ruled it to be a valid move, but still… it's brutal." Ash shuddered; the levity returned to Richard's voice. "But look on the bright side — Unova regulations are a little more… relaxed than those of other regions, so if you're looking to get real creative with your battling style, then this is the place to be."

Ash nodded, too dumbstruck to speak. Fewer restrictions meant an increased likelihood of danger, but with great risk came great reward — and if he was serious about becoming a Pokémon Master then he would have to learn how to adapt to Unova's infamous mercilessness.

"And," he continued, "there's the added bonus of all the rare pokémon kicking around." That got Ash's attention; he perked up, eyes bright. "See, Unova's pretty isolated geographically despite its international connections, so many of its species are only naturally found here — and even then, the experts reckon they've not managed to find 'em all yet. So who knows? Maybe you could be the one to discover a whole new pokémon, kid."

They stood in companionable silence for a few minutes, staring up at the skyline, until the ship's horn bellowed again, signalling that they had docked successfully and could finally begin disembarking.

Ash gazed pensively at the crowds disappearing below deck and tightened his grip on the straps of his backpack, a mixture of trepidation and excitement welling up in the pit of his stomach. Soon, he knew, this boat would be en route back to Kanto and he would be indefinitely stranded in Unova. Despite himself, a homesick lump formed in his throat; he swallowed it down with a giddy grin, and when he looked over at First Officer Richard again, he found the man smiling back.

"Well," Richard said, tipping his hat, "best o' luck to ya, kid. I'll be rootin' for you in the conference."

"Thanks, Richard."

For a final time, Ash gazed east, out over the shimmering expanse of the ocean. To his west, Castelia City called to him with raucous, sleeping cries.

With a deep breath and a last glance at Richard, he joined the masses to step out onto Unovan soil. Overhead, the swanna continued screeching. It was a sound he figured he'd have to grow accustomed to.

{oOo}

Ash's life was defined by pokémon. From the moment he'd been able to walk, he'd chased oddish and pidgey to Pallet Town's limits, staring longingly out into Route 1 and beyond; from the moment he'd been able to talk, he'd babbled incessantly about how he wanted to explore the world and become a trainer, battling his way through every region there was. His mother had always claimed he'd been destined for it — his first word, after all, had been 'pokémon' — and Professor Oak had taken those toddlerhood desires seriously, albeit with a strange, nostalgic look in his eye.

Though past his prime as a trainer, the professor was nothing short of a genius when it came to all things pokémon; his failing memory only applied to people, and he had an encyclopaedic knowledge on the history and effects of the human-pokémon bond. Ash had idolised him for as long as he could recall, trailing the old man like a miniature shadow and attempting to soak up every scrap of information he'd been able to — albeit with mixed results. He'd spent hours upon hours in the professor's ranch, playing with any of the pokémon that had been willing to tolerate him (and as for those that hadn't, he'd observed them from afar with boundless awe; Oak's tauros, for example, had been a proud, fierce and solitary old bull, and Ash had never gotten closer than ten metres before it had mock-charged him and bounded away across the pastures, leaving him squealing in delight).

It was partly why Ash decided to contact the professor first, even over his own mom. With no means of communication on hand, he found himself in the Castelia Street Pokémon Centre, ringing the professor via free video call and hoping it wasn't so early back in Kanto that the man wouldn't pick up. It was nothing short of a relief when Oak answered, and Ash exhaled, releasing a huge breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding.

"Ash, my boy!" Oak exclaimed. "It seems you've made it to Unova in one piece. I trust Richard did a good job of looking after you, then?"

Ash nodded, rendered temporarily speechless as joy crashed through him.

"How are you feeling?"

"I'm— I'm great, professor. Castelia City is— it's huge! Even bigger than I imagined!" He flung his arms out as wide as they would go, stretching his fingertips until the backs of his hands burned. "There are so many people; it's gotta be the biggest city in the world."

"It's definitely up there," the professor remarked wryly. "Have you checked into your hotel yet? Judging by the fact that you aren't in your room and are ringing me from a pokémon centre, I'd say… no. It has its own videophone, after all."

Ash blinked. "Uh… no. I forgot the name of the hotel."

"It's in the pack in your bag."

It was? Ash rummaged for a few seconds before producing a clear file, then rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. "... right. Sorry, there's just… so much going on. I'm so pumped to be here, and everything's so cool, it's just—"

"It's just that you're in a completely new region with nobody familiar to help you. I know, Ash, it's bound to be daunting. It's your first time going anywhere on your own, after all." Oak smiled reassuringly; Ash felt the beedrill in his stomach quiet, more closely resembling butterfree. "It's the Hiun Hotel, by the way. The big gold building that says 'Hiun Hotel' on it, conveniently enough. It's impossible to miss it no matter where you are in the city."

"Gee, thanks, professor. I knew you'd know what to do."

Mildly, the professor responded, "Experience is one of the perks of old age."

"It's the only one," Ash muttered cheekily with a knowing smirk, earning an indignant warning stare.

"Just because I'm on the other side of the world, young man, doesn't mean you get to mock me." Oak laughed. It was ironic; as a boy of six, Ash had idolised the professor almost fanatically — Gary had teased him relentlessly — and in truth, very little had changed in the few years between then and now. He was still that same child chasing Oak's silhouette, hoping to find comfort in its permanency.

But he didn't want to stand in the man's shadow forever. Unova was simply the first step towards independence, to an adventure of his own, and when put like that, it didn't seem scary at all. Still— "D'you really think I can take on Unova, professor? Even though it's my first time?"

"Of course, Ash, why do you say that? Have people been spinning tales about their league system again?" Ash bobbed his head.

"Listen, my boy, you've been destined for greatness from the minute you were born."

Instinctively, Ash pressed his hand over his heart, feeling the warm, tingling thrum of the feather nestled in the inside pocket of his jacket. It was as much a reminder of the expectations he had of himself, his motivations for aiming so high, as it was a reassurance that he was meant for this. He didn't doubt that battling was in his blood — there was something about it that called to him, powerful enough to make his bones shake — and if he believed in that—

"You'll be fine, Ash, trust me." Behind Oak, a phone rang; a shadow passed over the professor's countenance and Ash felt his heart sink gloomily into his gut.

"You should probably get that," he said reluctantly, and Oak nodded grimly.

"Yes, I probably should. But please don't wait another month to contact me, okay?" The corners of his eyes crinkled, and despite his bittersweet mood, Ash grinned back. He couldn't help it. "Ring your mother, go get checked into your hotel, have something to eat, and remember to have fun. This is the journey of a lifetime — grab it with both hands!" And just like that, the professor was gone. Ash stared at the blank screen for a few seconds before taking a deep breath and ringing his mom.

The journey of a lifetime.

He wasn't going to waste it.

{oOo}

It transpired, the moment Ash stepped into the Hiun Hotel, that it was one of the most expensive, luxurious hotels in Unova — no, the world. That Ash was to be staying in a penthouse like some sort of prince until he began his career as a trainer was baffling to him; he expected that one night in this place would cost more money than he'd ever seen in his life, and he wasn't sure if he wanted to truly contemplate the source of all that cash.

But he was certainly going to take advantage of it.

The room itself was unspeakably lavish; Ash gawked as he peered in, spinning slowly in its centre. It was huge, and had the sort of amenities he'd only ever seen in the movies (floor-to-ceiling windows! A view of the ocean one way and of all of Castelia City the other! An ensuite so big his voice echoed! 24/7 room service! A Caesar-size bed!). He ran his fingers over the silken sheets of his bed, then unceremoniously shoved his face into the covers, extending his arms and legs as far as they could go and finding he was nowhere near the edges.

He checked the time — 6:34pm. It was too late to begin exploring the city in any detail, so he instead devoted an hour to unpacking and another hour to having the most self-indulgent bath of his entire life. The bath itself was large enough to easily fit three of him in side by side, and he sunk down until his nose skimmed the surface of the water, retreating into a fortress of bubbles that made his skin silky smooth and smell like roses and bergamot. It was a far cry from the masculine scents Gary had often drenched himself in as an attempt to make himself seem older than he was, but it was warm, bright and soothing, and Gary was too far away to tease him about his delight.

His stomach performed a giddy swoop— imagine if Gary knew where he was! Imagine if Gary saw his palatial suite and pool-sized bath, knowing that he was due to explore a region uncharted by both of them in any shape or form. It would spark an argument about favouritism that Ash suspected would likely never end, and he abruptly decided it wasn't worth it. Not yet.

On his reluctant emergence from the rapidly-cooling water, swaddled in old pyjamas, he ordered a banquet fit for a king and scoffed it in a matter of minutes, knowing he could easily get used to such opulence.

'You'd get bored, Ashy Boy,' the Gary in his head jeered. Ash contemplatively chewed a mouthful of Wagyu tauros steak and supposed that yes, he probably would. His wanderlust was an unshakeable, insatiable beast, after all.

But more than that, his fatigue was overwhelming, and at a few minutes shy of midnight, Ash abandoned his empty plates to crawl under the covers and fall asleep in a matter of seconds.

{oOo}

Ash awoke to a rude knocking at his door. The sun had yet to peek above the horizon and the sky was the same muted charcoal-grey as the buildings

"Hhh… wha'zzit?" he mumbled, still half asleep, burrowed beneath his blankets. Another sharp knock enticed him out into the cool air and he opened the door to an immaculately-dressed member of staff. Startled into alertness, he straightened up and tugged restlessly at the hem of his pyjama top. "Uh, good morning!"

"Good morning, young sir! Did you sleep well?" She asked, smiling at him. He smiled back; her effervescence was infectious, infusing him with energy and whisking away any last traces of fatigue. "I have a gift for you, from Professor Juniper." At the name, Ash's eyes widened. "She wanted me to inform you that she regrets that she couldn't deliver it herself, but that she wanted you to receive them as quickly as possible."

"A gift from Professor Juniper?"

"There's the newest version of the Unovan pokédex — it's used to identify the many species of pokémon found in Unova and provide information on both the species as a whole and any information on the specific individual," she explained. "It also acts as a map and general reference for information on Unovan culture. There's also the latest model of cross-transceiver, which allows you to easily contact people from around the world on any communication device around the world. Think of it as a built in telephone and videophone all at once." She passed the equipment to Ash, who took them gratefully. "She hoped you would use them to assist you in growing accustomed to Unova and its pokémon before league registration officially opened."

"I… thank you," Ash said. The woman smiled.

"Don't thank me, young sir, I'm just the messenger. Professor Juniper also wanted me to inform you that her contact information is already installed on the cross-transceiver, and that if you ever required anything, she would do her best to help you."

"Thank you," Ash repeated dumbly, not knowing what to say. He watched the staff member's retreating form until it disappeared around the corner, and for a few moments, he stood in his doorway, wiggling his toes in the carpet and staring at the new devices.

Decisively, he slipped the xtransceiver on his right wrist, tugging the strap until it nestled snug against his skin. There was no point in seeking refuge in his pillows now; the day was young and so was he, and he was admittedly eager to sink his teeth into the new world.

Castelia City seemed even bigger in the early morning than it had done in broad daylight. Partially obscured by fog, the skyscrapers loomed above like titans, casting great shadows that sucked all the warmth out of the air. Ash had forgone a coat on the grounds that the weatherman had promised sweltering heat; evidently, Unova's sun was a little more sluggish than the people milling beneath it. Even at this ungodly hour, Castelia Street was so packed with workers that Ash avoided it altogether, opting to travel down the still-busy but marginally-less-so Mode Street. According to his pokédex, it boasted a famous gallery, and though he didn't have the eye for fine art, he could still appreciate the basic aesthetic.

Getting in, however, was easier said than done. The queue was more than enough to deter him for the time being, so he bought himself two Casteliacones instead and wandered until Castelia City became Route 4 and the road became significantly rougher. With each step, it seemed, the temperature increased, until Ash became sorely tempted to peel off his t-shirt and the Casteliacones began to melt in earnest, forcing him to lick ice-cream from his wrist.

Eventually, the path beneath his feet disappeared entirely, and Ash stood on the periphery of a boundless wasteland. The Desert Resort, as his pokédex called it, was named a tad ironically; despite its popularity as a tourist destination, its frequent and raging sandstorms allegedly made it much too harsh an environment to ever be considered a resort.

"Frequent and raging sandstorms, huh?" They sounded… interesting. Luckily for him, the forecast predicted no such sandstorms — not that they were ever completely accurate — so Ash steeled himself and stepped out into the wilderness, walking until the few other people he saw were left far behind and he found himself alone in the open swelter.

Occasionally, he soon learned, the desert yielded little pockets of life. Pokémon he'd never seen before — dwebble, maractus and scraggy, his pokédex chimed when he pointed it at them — milled about in the sand, sometimes sparring, sometimes sleeping, sometimes hunting. Ash observed as a round, orange-red pokémon rolled by mere inches from him, warbling to itself and leaving a trail of tiny, fleeting flames in its wake. A few minutes later, more followed, forming a long line of fast-moving spheres that skimmed his feet and left his toes feeling uncomfortably singed even through his shoes.

He followed them for a time as they made their winding way through the desert, though they were far nimbler than him, and their knowledge of the territory was impeccable; where they dipped and swerved effortlessly over the dunes, he slugged through the sand clumsily, tripping over a small lump that revealed itself to be (according to his pokédex) a very hungry, very angry sandile with a crooked stripe on its nose. Despite its diminutive stature, Ash knew it could easily take off one of his limbs, and he didn't stick around to give it the chance — he scrambled to his feet and ran blindly until its angry snarling faded into nothingness and he was undeniably, hopelessly lost.

"Drat," he muttered, glancing around him frantically. The winds were beginning to pick up, and though it wasn't quite yet a sandstorm, he didn't want to be out in it for any longer than he had to. A nearby cave caught his eye, and despite his wariness, he knew it was his best chance of shelter and slogged his way through the sand to get to it. It was dark, but it was quiet, and it seemed empty enough; he crawled inside, settling at its entrance and gazing out wistfully.

Behind him, something shifted with a sharp, raspy exhale. He froze.

Slowly, acutely aware of the presence at his rear, Ash turned to peer into the shadows. Blazing golden eyes gleamed back at him from deeper within the cave. His blood turned to ice inside his veins.

"Hello?" he whispered, hardly daring to breathe. "Who's there?"

Metal scraped against stone, echoing hollowly through the cave; the thing shifted again, its snarls bouncing off the walls. Ash swallowed around the lump in his throat, holding his hands up in a gesture of surrender and hoping it understood him.

"It's okay," Ash began, voice quiet and low, "I'm not gonna hurt y— woah!" The thing moved like lightning; Ash more felt than saw it prepare to attack, the only physical indication being the reddening of its eyes, before he flung himself backwards in a flailing panic. A paw slammed into the ground where he had been half a second ago and flinging metallic, burning sparks into the air; some landed on his bare skin, startling a pained yelp out of him. "Hey, calm down!" he yelled, but the creature ignored his pleas, lunging for him again. He leapt out of the way a second time and hit the dirt hard, scraping his arm on bare rock, breath punched out of his lungs. "Stop it!"

Outside, the sandstorm raged at full-force. Ash spared only a brief glance in its direction, realising there was no easy escape.

Again, the creature attacked, and Ash rolled out of the way. It kept pressing forwards, pursuing him around the cave with a relentless determination. However, after a mere minute, its movements seemed to grow sloppier, as though it was beginning to tire. Another poorly-timed lunge and Ash could tell it was struggling to match the ruthless pace it had set for their stand-off, but he kept scrambling out of the way — sometimes with more success than at other times — blood seeping between his fingers, until finally, it succumbed to exhaustion. With a pained grunt, it fell forwards and collapsed, all four limbs giving out beneath it. Panting harshly but no longer running for his life, Ash could properly study his attacker.

It stood a few inches — half a foot at most — taller than him on all fours and was unmistakably canine, though it possessed several unusual features that Ash couldn't quite place. Its fur was primarily a deep blue, albeit so caked in dirt it was almost unrecognisable, though its underbelly and limbs were white, and its face seemed covered in some sort of golden (now brown with filth) armour — though that was perhaps an illusion. That same gold featured in almost wing-like appendages extending from its shoulders. Red, ribbonlike fur extended from behind its lower jaw, curling around its forelimbs, and they seemed prehensile, judging from their curling, snakelike movements. Its muzzle was flecked with open wounds, and somewhat restricted with some sort of twine. Thick, heavy-looking cuffs, bound by an equally-thick, equally-heavy-looking chain, were clamped around its hind legs (one of which seemed hesitant to touch the ground even now), tight enough for the skin around them to be rubbed red and raw.

No wonder I was able to dodge, Ash mused. White-hot anger flashed through him at the thought of somebody hurting a pokémon like this.

Ash couldn't discern the full extent of its injuries from his distance, so he tentatively inched closer — then flinched away when it growled at him, shuffling backwards until there were several long metres between them and it seemed content with his retreat. Jostled by his motions, the pokédex in his pocket beeped weakly; he pointed it at the strange pokémon and it came up with nothing. Whatever this thing was, it wasn't native to Unova.

"Are you okay?" he asked it once it seemed to have calmed down, but that only seemed to aggravate it. It bared its teeth and made a pitiful, aborted attempt to stand, abandoning it when pain visibly lanced through it and brought it back to the ground. "Hey, take it easy," Ash said, leaning forward despite himself. "I'm not gonna hurt you, okay? Just relax."

Relax, clearly, was not a word in this pokémon's vocabulary. It tried — and failed — to stand several more times, frustration mounting with every non-success. Ash itched to run and aid it, but its feral response to his every move kept him sitting noiselessly until it had no choice but to admit defeat and lay still. He understood that stubborn desire to triumph alone — but that didn't make it easy to watch.

"Hey." The creature's focus snapped to him. From its position laying on its side, it snarled warily. "Are you hungry?" He rummaged through his bag with slow, exaggerated movements, careful not to upset the canine. "I don't have any meat, or any berries, or… whatever you eat, but I have… these." He produced his lunch, sandwiches slightly flattened from his earlier attempts to avoid a premature death, and made a dramatic show of sliding them towards the pokémon. It tensed, rumbling suspiciously, but after a few uneventful seconds, it quieted again.

"I'm sorry for intruding," he apologised when the silence became unbearable. Those gold eyes returned to his face blankly, as though the creature was unable to process his words. "I wish you'd let me help you, but I know you won't, so I'll try to get out of your way as soon as possible. I just can't go right now, 'cause the weather's pretty bad." He poked at the flaking blood on his arms restlessly. "My name's Ash, by the way. Ash Ketchum, from Pallet Town, in Kanto. If you were wondering."

He continued to talk until the winds finally died and the sun began its slow descent beneath the horizon, bleeding red across the sky. The undulating sands were swept into new shapes, none of which boasted any familiarity, but his pokédex regained signal (which he used to mark the cave's location) and mapped out the quickest route back to Castelia City. Strangely, the concept of leaving the cave was less thrilling than he'd thought it'd be. Though the strange pokémon was far from friendly, a part of him wanted to see it again — and he hated to leave someone that was so desperately in need of care. Injured and jaded, it had clearly been damaged by people in the past, and Ash didn't want it to stay hating humanity. Hating him. There was, after all, no such thing as a bad pokémon — just hurt pokémon.

"You'll still be here tomorrow, right?" he asked before he could stop himself. Logically, he knew there was no way anything that badly injured could leave safely, but something unpleasant still wriggled in his chest. "I'll bring some more food for you, then. Better food." And some healing supplies, he thought, but neglected to mention them. Having recovered some of its strength, the pokémon staggered to its feet and limbed back into the shadows at the back of the cave, ignoring him entirely. Ash was dense, but he knew a dismissal when he saw one; he sighed, knowing not to push his luck. "... goodnight."

His head a spinning, jumbled mess of thoughts, he stumbled out into the evening and back to the Hiun Hotel.

{oOo}

The following two days brought terrible sandstorms; much to his chagrin, Ash was forced to avoid the Desert Resort. He dedicated his time to research, trying to unearth the identity of the creature in the cave and only ever getting as far as re-establishing that it wasn't a registered Unova native. He contacted Professor Oak looking for further answers, but the man couldn’t discern the creature’s species based on Ash’s descriptions alone, instead vowing to search for any potential leads. In the meantime, Ash read up on basic pokémon care, practiced bandaging his own leg, stocked up on potions, food and water, and checked the weather obsessively until the Desert Resort was reopened to the public. The minute he was, he raced back to the alcove using the marker on his pokédex.

He poked his head into the cave to find that the strange creature was still there — as was his lunch, untouched and filthy. In a mockery of his initial visit, the pokémon charged at him, snarling, but he was better prepared; he stayed on his feet, ducking and dodging like a boxer in the ring, and when the creature collapsed, he rushed to catch it, receiving a heavy forelimb to the stomach for his trouble and landing flat on his back with a grunt.

"So stubborn," he muttered, pushing himself up and rubbing his head. "I'm only trying to help, you know." Refusing to be deterred by the callous treatment, he set his bag down and pulled out several containers of tauros jerky, acutely aware of the piercing gaze following his every movement. "Apparently tauros jerky is popular with dog pokémon, and you're kind of a dog, so... here, try this." Conscious of the creature's persisting wariness, he opened the containers and slid them across the cave slowly. Clearly sceptical, it glanced rapidly between him and the boxes, before nosing experimentally at one of the containers. Ash held his breath, wiggling his toes nervously inside his shoes. To his dismay, the pokémon still turned away from his offerings.

Even so, watching it turn its nose up, he thought he was beginning to understand. This, it seemed, ran deeper than wariness, or a simple lack of hunger; this was a matter of dignity — and survival. Humans had betrayed it before, chained and wounded it in previous encounters: what was to say that Ash wasn't the same, and that accepting his food wouldn't lead to more hurt? He could see why it was so unwavering on the matter, but if it kept this up, it wouldn't survive for much longer.

"Here, I'll eat some." Presumably, the creature didn't trust him, but seeing him eat would surely reassure it that the food was safe, so Ash reached over and shoved a piece of tauros jerky unceremoniously into his mouth. The flesh was surprisingly salty when he crushed it between his teeth, and it was ridiculously tough, but he chewed and swallowed resolutely. "Look, it's good, see? Now you can eat one!"

The beast remained frozen, eyeing the meat disdainfully. Clearly it wasn't eager to cave so quickly, but Ash was no push over. He crossed his arms and legs and puffed out his chest.

"Alright," he said decisively. The creature blinked curiously at him. "If you won't eat, then I'll just have to not eat with you! And then, when you're ready, we can eat together." That is, he thought, if it doesn't kill me first.

Unsurprisingly, the pokémon was far too recalcitrant to give in easily. It had to be aware of humanity's comparable fragility, but if it was, it clearly didn't care enough to pity him and eat; it wasn't dissimilar to the tauros back at the ranch, or the nidoking who thought they ruled the world and refused to stoop so low as to accept anything from anybody. Equally as obstinate, Ash refused to so much as look at the tauros jerky despite the desperate rumble of his stomach. In an attempt to stave off the hunger, he substituted food for water, and in an effort to distract himself from the temptation of eating, he talked incessantly, bounced around the cave entrance, and tried (and failed) to scale its walls. When he grew too hungry to exercise, he settled for crossing his arms and legs and squeezing his eyes shut in a mockery of meditation as afternoon became night and the first few hours of their hunger strike became the first few days of their hunger strike.

On the third day, another tempestuous sandstorm rocked the Desert Resort. The winds shrieked and howled, battering the cave walls, and both Ash and the strange creature retreated further inside, becoming tolerant of one another's presences for the sake of self preservation. Behind the whirling veil of sand outside, shapes began to move, teetering unsteadily through the dust as though disoriented and lost. Ash cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled, ignoring the creature's warning growl.

"Hey! Over here!"

The shapes drew closer until Ash could recognise them as desert-dwellers: darumaka, sandile, scraggy and maractus. Weak and battered by the elements, they crawled into the cave, freezing when they saw the canine behind Ash and casting it an anxious glance.

"It's okay," Ash coaxed, holding his arms out, "we won't hurt you. C'mere, you can wait out the storm with us. It's safe in here, I promise."

Bolstered by his words, the pokémon huddled trustingly around him, crawling into his lap and under his shirt and clinging to his arms with affectionate grins. "Hey, that tickles!" he laughed as a scraggy nuzzled against his side. A maractus draped itself over his right ankle, thorns digging lightly into his calf. One of the sandile puffed up as it drew close enough to scent him and croaked at him indignantly. "Oh," he said, recognising its fierce little eyes and the crooked stripe on its nose. "Sorry for tripping over you that one time. I promise I didn't mean to."

It rumbled grouchily, butting against his stomach in what he hoped was a sign of forgiveness and not a warning that its nose would be replaced with its teeth. When it nipped his hand gently and curled up against his hip, he knew all was excused, and he scratched between its eyes as thanks. Still lurking in the shadows, the strange creature watched him with what Ash could only describe as startled amazement. Ash smiled at it meekly.

Eventually, fatigue dragged him into a murky sea of visions, and he dreamed of home.



Ash awoke slowly, warm and fuzzy despite the cold stone pressed against his back and the stinging pain in his arm. Disoriented, he grabbed at the source of his discomfort, encountering smooth, leathery skin. His eyes flew open. He looked down. The sandile biting his arm looked back at him with a cheeky, playful twinkle in its eye.

"Good morning to you too," he said with a yawn, pushing himself up and prying his arm out of the sandile's grasp. It wagged its tail with a ferocity that whipped its entire body from side to side, tongue poking between its sharp baby teeth.

He peeked experimentally out of the cave; the world beyond seemed to have settled somewhat, but he was admittedly wary of the apparent calm given the way the sands still moved and hissed like an angry arbok. "It looks better, but you should probably stay here for a bit longer just to be sure," he called over his shoulder, receiving vocalised agreement in response.

Rubbing his palm over the feather against his chest, Ash quelled the hunger pangs and noticed, in his surveyal of the cavern as he crawled back to his original spot, that many of the desert pokémon were focused unblinkingly on the untouched containers of tauros beef jerky with a ravenousness not unlike that which he felt himself. Still lurking in the darkness, the injured canine met his gaze; he held it deliberately as he spoke, addressing them all.

"The food's all yours, if you want it," he offered slowly. "Help yourselves."

The pokémon needn't be told twice; those with carnivorous natures (which was, Ash noted, all of them except the maractus) swarmed the containers voraciously, tearing into the tauros jerky with ravenous delight. Ash watched them with something like envy — and that quickly became shock as the mysterious beast joined them, lingering half a foot from one of the containers and sniffing it with renewed intrigue. It tentatively took a piece, holding it between its teeth, and turned its attention to Ash. With blatant and careful intent, it slid the container with a paw until it rest directly between the creature and Ash.

Ash recognised a peace offering when he saw one. With shaky hands, he reached out to take one of the tauros jerky pieces, placing it on his tongue, still staring at the creature. It blinked once; he mirrored it. And together, they broke their hunger strikes.

That night, the desert finally slept, and its inhabitants trickled one by one out of the cave, leaving the food containers bare behind them. Ash saw them off with bittersweet goodbyes, waving his arms over his head until they all disappeared into the sunless wild. Once the sounds of their chattering cries faded into nothingness, he turned back to the skulking creature, hands on his hips— and gawked, because its paw was resting on a very long, very sharp sword — or something that resembled one, anyway.

"Is that yours?" he asked dumbly; its tail thumped the ground once in assent. "You have a sword?"

By way of explanation, it bowed its head, attempting to fit its jaws around the hilt — but the twine around its muzzle prevented it from opening its mouth far enough. Realisation dawned on Ash.

"Hey," he said, "I'll be back tomorrow with some stuff to get that thing off your face, if that's okay? And some more tauros jerky, 'cause you sure seemed to like that." It dipped its head in acknowledgement, no trace of malice in its eyes, and Ash resisted the urge to run and hug it. Instead, he fidgeted restlessly, hands curling and uncurling at his sides, and gave it the widest grin he could possibly muster. "Sleep well!"

And as he ran back to Castelia City, he swore he could hear it howling after him.

{oOo}

Clad in dark, flowing fabric and flanked by uniformed bodyguards, a figure prowled the dunes restlessly. He stopped, pivoted and brought his cane down in the sand with a muffled whump; the bodyguards scattered, fanning out and roving as though searching for something. From his position hidden behind a rock, shoulder pressed against its still-cool surface, Ash shielded his eyes from the sun and watched their mostly-fruitless patrolling — until one paused mere inches from him, stooped and combed their hands through the sand, tugging free a twisted piece of metal and holding it to the sky. Though it was rusted and bent poorly out of shape, it had clearly been created with the intention to be used as a muzzle of sorts.

"Ghetsis, sir!" the bodyguard called, drawing the dark figure's attention to the object in their hands. The appraising stare was accompanied by a slow, almost-comical tip of the head, and then he was approaching, slow and deliberate and with an almost-concealed limp, to pluck the metal out of the bodyguard's grasp. Untouched, the cane clattered against the rock behind which Ash crouched. "It has to be nearby. Soon—"

Passing the metal object back, Ghetsis raised a single finger, silencing the bodyguard. "You must be a very observant man, Vishal, to have found this so quickly — yet you aren't observant enough to realise that we are currently being listened to. By a child, no less."

Vishal paled; Ash's blood ran cold, an abstract sense of doom settling over him. Ghetsis regarded the rock impassively, expression inscrutable. "Hmm? Are you going to hide there all day, boy?" When Ash failed to move on command, the man's voice shifted to something low, crooning and unnaturally soft. It sent helpless shivers down Ash's spine. "Come, now. Vishal doesn't bite."

Drat. On leaden legs, Ash emerged from behind the boulder, fists clenched defensively. Ghetsis regarded him with a rapacious eye. "I didn't mean to overhear," he protested weakly.

"No? Do you make a habit of hiding behind rocks?"

"I…" To that, he had no answer. Mute and indignant, he folded his arms over his chest, as though the action could protect him. If anything, Ghetsis only seemed more amused by his floundering. "I'm just exploring. I'm… not from here," he finally muttered. "And the league doesn't open its registrations for another week, so… I've been coming here for the last week." The 'my presence here has nothing to do with you' went unspoken. Something indescribable shifted in Ghetsis' gaze.

"I see… are you enjoying your exploration so far?" Ash nodded mutely. "And are the Unovan people treating you well? I know they can be a little… abrasive." Another nod, and Ash allowed himself to relax a fraction. Ghetsis snapped his fingers at Vishal, who stiffened and pulled a small device from his pocket, handing it over obediently. How the bodyguard gleaned the command from such an insignificant action was beyond Ash, but the efficiency was enviable. Ghetsis fiddled with the screen for a few seconds before turning it towards Ash. It displayed a very, very familiar pokémon. Ash tensed instinctively.

"This," the man said, "is a creature known as Zacian. It's unspeakably rare — and incredibly important to me. A few weeks ago, mine unfortunately disappeared; we've traced it here, but we've yet to find it. It was hurt, you see, and I am terribly worried. I don't suppose you've encountered it while exploring, have you?"

Ash carefully schooled his features. He'd seen for himself the hatred in that pokémon's eyes, the fear and mistrust in its every move. He'd seen its injuries and the cuffs around its ankles. Ghetsis' concern seemed authentic, but there was something dangerous in his voice, a predator's croon that Ash didn't want to trust. "No, I haven't," he lied carefully, brain screaming don't flinch don't flinch don't flinch! The screen was removed from his vision; his gaze dropped to his shoes.

"Are you sure?" Ghetsis prompted, voice barely above a whisper. The air shifted, chilling so suddenly it punched the breath from Ash's lungs. He bobbed his head jerkily, heart rabbiting so quickly he feared it was going to leap out of his throat.

A gloved hand curled beneath his chin, tilting his face up. Ghetsis was dangerously close, countenance impassive. He dragged a thumb along Ash's jaw, studying him as though he was nothing more than a thoughtless piece of meat; Ash subtly tried to retreat, but the grip on his chin tightened to the point of pain, holding him firmly in place.

"Sir," Vishal said quietly.

"What's your name, child?" Ghetsis queried, disregarding the bodyguard's words. Ash fisted his hands into tight, white-knuckled balls behind his back and tried not to snarl.

"Ash. It's Ash Ketchum, from- from Pallet Town. In Kanto." The man narrowed his single eye and leaned even closer, breath fanning over Ash's face. Ash swallowed the urge to panic. "Please, I haven't seen that pokémon, I swear. I'm just exploring," he insisted, forcing the desperation he felt not to bleed into his tone.

"Sir," Vishal repeated, urgent and steadfast. Ghetsis glanced at him, then returned his attention to Ash.

Blessedly, after several long moments of scrutiny, Ghetsis relented, smoothing his fingers over Ash's shoulder and stepping back.

"… if you do, please, let me know. Run along, now… Ash." He didn't need telling twice; Ash stumbled away, breaking out into a sprint only once the man was out of sight and not stopping until he was safely back in Castelia City. His breath came in harsh, shallow, rapid gasps, head pounding and lungs burning. If he hadn't been certain before, he was now — that pokémon— that zacian— needed to be protected. There was no doubt in his mind that Ghetsis was someone it needed to be kept from. If he found it…

No — he had to get it out of that cave. It was a risk, asking it to trust him enough to come with him — it was barely willing to put enough faith in him to eat the food he brought, and even that, he suspected, had come from a grudging need to survive. But if he could convey the gravity of the situation, then maybe… it was worth a shot. It wasn't as though he — or the zacian — had many alternatives.

Ash touched the fabric over Ho-oh's feather, warmth seeping into his fingers. A legend's warmth. A hero's warmth.

"Listen, my boy, you've been destined for greatness from the minute you were born."

He had to start somewhere — here, he decided, would be it. But he was stranded and with precious few options; he couldn't risk seeking out the creature's cave while the desert was crawling with its enemies. So he made a decision: if Ghetsis and his cronies hadn't found the zacian by nightfall—

Then it was coming with him.

{oOo}

Ash trembled, unable to tell if it was from cold or fear. Looming over him, a blood red spectre against the black of the night sky, a krookodile (helpfully identified by his pokédex) bared countless rows of curved, scimitar-like teeth, jaws agape in a deep, pulsing roar. He gulped, searching for an escape route, but nothing leapt out at him; the krookodile could easily outrun him from this distance, and at easily half his height, it wasn't the type of pokémon he could push through without meeting certain death — not that survival seemed likely.

'Great going, Ashy Boy,' Gary's voice sneered in his mind, and Ash gritted his teeth, fighting spirit renewed. If he was going to die here, he wasn't going to go down easy. He'd give this krookodile some bruises to remember him by.

The predator's eyes glinted and Ash tensed, fists raised and arms lifted to shield his face as he braced himself for the coming blow.

It never came. Above him, there was a flurry of panicked movement, and when he peered around his self-made shield, the krookodile was curled in on itself, low to the ground and slowly backing away. It hissed nervously, gaze locked unflinchingly on something behind Ash. Something, evidently, that was somehow more terrifying than a krookodile. Ice settled in the base of his spine, creeping up his back.

But when he risked a glance behind him, there was nothing there but open earth — and, in the distance, the bright and blinking lights of Castelia City. He furrowed his brow, glancing back at the krookodile, but its frightened posture hadn't changed; it was snarling and whining as through faced with death itself— and then it vanished, burrowing beneath the sand at Ash's feet, spraying him with dirt.

"... huh," he mumbled, dusting himself off. "That was weird."

And then, as soon as he'd spoken, he was bowled over from behind by a very fast, very furry thing. He spluttered and coughed, face-down in the sand, thrashing and squirming like a caught caterpie until he was able to twist onto his back and gasp for air in a thick red mane that smelled of clean animal.

"Hey, what—" His attacker snuffled curiously, pushing its face against his stomach, and when its nose wasn't followed by teeth, he began to relax. "Hey! That tickles!"

After a few searching moments, the pokémon's wandering nose stopped over Ho-oh's feather. It froze, claws splayed over his chest, then sat back on its haunches, pinning his thighs and barking at him, the noise sounding more like something dying than anything friendly.

"Oh man, I hope that's a good noise," Ash mumbled, and the pokémon repeated itself loudly, tossing its head back and dragging it out. "O… kay. Do you have a trainer?" he asked. Tentatively, he reached out, brushing his fingers against its muzzle. It leaned into his touch with a happy, high-pitched keening sound, tongue lolling. A broad smile broke out across his face. "Oh, you like that, huh?" He lifted his other hand, mussing up the pokémon's fur with vigour. "Who's a good… uh…"

"His name is Mountebank. He's a zoroark."

Ash looked up at the sound of a hurried voice; the zoroark — Mountebank — hopped away from him with a playful yip, bounding over to its source. Standing a few feet away from him, where nothing but sand had once been, a tall, lanky boy with a mane of green hair large enough to rival Mountebank's watched him with wide, wary eyes. "Where did you come from?"

"... I've been standing here for the last five minutes," the boy explained, no slower than before; his words seemed to melt into one long sound. Ash had to squint to concentrate.

"But—" Ash could've sworn there was nobody there a moment ago. He decided not to press, rolling to his feet with a grunt.

"Mountebank was the one who saved you from that krookodile," the boy continued. "It was too agitated for reason… so Mountebank used illusions to convince it to leave you alone."

"Woah, really? Mountebank can do that?" Ash peered with renewed wonder at the zoroark, who seemed very pleased with itself. He extended a hand to it, and it took it in a great, clawed paw. "Wow, thanks, Mountebank! I dunno what I would've done without you. I'm Ash Ketchum, by the way, from Pallet Town in the Kanto region!" The zoroark's human companion fidgeted restlessly, glaring at the contact point between Mountebank and Ash; Ash turned to him with a tentative smile. "What about you? Why are you out here? Are you Mountebank's trainer?"

The boy stared at Ash vacantly, expression uncertain. Seconds of silence stretched into minutes, and Ash felt his confidence wane.

"Are you okay?" he asked, wondering if the boy ever blinked. He looked questioningly at Mountebank, but the zoroark yielded no information. It seemed as content as ever, muzzle pressed against its companion's hip. "Uh… I'm just gonna… go. See you—"

"W— wait!"

He paused. The strange boy fumbled uselessly, before speaking at somehow twice the speed of before.

"I'm not Mountebank's trainer, he's just my friend, and I'm looking for pokémon that might need my help because they've seemed on edge lately—" He broke off, wringing his hands, eyes bulging. Ash blinked dumbly. "I'm N. Just— just N."

"Nice to meet you, N," Ash said in lieu of a genuine response, struggling to process N's words in full. "Hey, you mentioned helping pokémon, right?"

"Well… yes," N replied cautiously. "All pokémon are my friends, so I try to help as many as I can."

Ash found himself nodding along, grinning. Something about N seemed off — at best, he was eccentric — but Ash could work with a shared love of pokémon. It was the glue that bound the most unlikely of people together. "Hey, they're my friends too! I want to meet as many as I can and learn about them all. It's part of my goal to become the world's greatest Pokémon Master!"

N regarded him dubiously, eyes cold and hard. "Pokémon… Master…?" His voice grew tense and feral, rising in pitch. "So you plan on enslaving pokémon and forcing them to do your bidding?"

"What? No!" Ash's hackles rose. "I just told you they're my friends! We're gonna become strong together — but only if that's what they want!"

"And you think any of them want to battle?"

"Of course! It's in their nature! It's how they get stronger!"

They glared at each other, both refusing to budge, until Mountebank nudged N with a gentle yap. N's focus snapped to the zoroark with thinly-disguised shock, tension seeping from his shoulders.

"You think so?" he murmured; Mountebank yapped again, causing N to recoil. "You can't be serious. Him?"

Ash clenched his teeth, confused and offended. "What's going on?"

N regarded him disdainfully. "Oh, right," he deadpanned, "I forget that people can't hear them like I can."

"Hear… pokémon? Like, speaking? Actual speaking?"

"They have their own languages." He said it as though it was obvious. "It's easy for me to understand them all, just as I can understand you." Ash had never heard of people and pokémon communicating like that; true, some pokémon were able to transmit thoughts via telepathy, but the number of species capable of such a feat were exceptionally limited. Typically, the closest one got to communication was understanding a pokémon's intentions after years of living and working with one, but N didn't seem to be referring to seasoned guesswork.

"Wait," Ash blurted suddenly. "So you can understand every pokémon? Even ones you've never met before? Maybe even types of pokémon you've never even seen before?" N nodded; Ash knew it was risky, but it was worth a shot. The chance to properly communicate with the injured beast was one he couldn't afford to miss. "Will you… come with me? I think I have a pokémon that might need your help."

N still looked suspicious, but the zoroark nudged him towards Ash, and he took that as a yes.

He just hoped everything worked out. With a steady breath, Ash led the way to the cave.

{oOo}


The zacian glared at N. N gaped back. Nestled at his side, Mountebank tensed, muscles rippling beneath his ebony pelt.

"Ash," N started, "what— how did you—"

The question died in his throat. The zacian's eyes shifted red and it lunged for him in much the same way it had lunged for Ash during their first meeting. Mountebank attempted to intervene and was flung aside; he was only narrowly able to land on his feet, firing off a dark pulse that the zacian was only just able to dodge.

"Mountebank!" N called, horrified. "Please, wait, stop! You can't— you've got to—" his pleas fell on deaf ears, drowned out by the zacian's snarling. It crouched, preparing to leap at N again—

But Ash beat it, and by some miracle, wound up sprawled over its back, arms wrapped around its neck. He slipped; it lurched, unsteady on three legs; and his weight wrenched it over. It collapsed on top of him, shoulder digging painfully into his stomach, and his head hit the ground with enough force to temporarily stun him. Time froze. As quickly as it had flown into a rage, the zacian quieted, relaxing in his grip.

"Ash!" N squeaked.

"I'm okay," Ash groaned, feeling very not-okay. Above him, the zacian felt like it weighed a thousand tonnes, crushing him into the ground, and his tongue was thick and fuzzy in his mouth. "This is just its way of saying hello. Right?"

The canine rolled off of him. Vision blurry, he struggled to sit up, and the zacian nudged against him with its muzzle, pushing him until he was able to stand, and he accepted its help without thinking. He stumbled. It caught him. He leaned against its shoulder, wheezing painfully. "Thanks, but you've really gotta stop attacking everyone who comes in here. We don't want to hurt you — we just want to help."

The zacian rumbled quietly in response, glancing suspiciously at N and Mountebank; N drew in a sharp, pained gasp.

"It says it thought you'd betrayed it," N whispered, expression stricken. "It saw me, and it thought I was someone else, and… it thought you'd brought its captors right to it."

"Oh." Suddenly, Ash felt very foolish. Still woozy, he set his hands on either side of the zacian's face. This close, its pupils were so large they almost swallowed the gold entirely. "Hey, you and me are friends, right? Friends look out for each other, not… stab each other in the back. I'm on your side, okay?"

The creature shut its eyes and relaxed into Ash's touch; his chest ached with affection. "Amazing," N murmured. "It… it wants to believe you." When Ash looked back at him, his gaze was fixated unblinkingly on the cuffs around the creature's ankles, the wire around its muzzle. Something ugly flashed in his eyes.

"Ash," N said into the silence, "this is- this is why the desert is crawling with Plasma corps. They're looking for this pokémon, I'm sure of it."

Ash shuddered, thinking back to Ghetsis. His intrusive gaze and bruising grip still lingered in his mind. "Yeah," he mumbled, "I think I met some of them earlier today. There were a bunch of guys in this weird uniform, and they were all following a man. One of them called him Ghetsis."

The life drained from N's face at the name; he flinched, curling in on himself and rubbing his arms. "N?" Ash asked, concern furrowing his brow. N was silent for what felt like a lifetime, and only Mountebank's insistent nuzzling brought him from whatever dark, terrible place his thoughts had wandered to.

"Yes, I— I'm fine. But if he's looking for it, then this pokémon won't ever be safe here. He won't stop until he finds it. He… he never stops until he gets what he wants."

"You know him?"

"I… I did. But it doesn't matter." N rubbed his face wearily; when he straightened, his countenance was grim. "We have to get this pokémon out of here before Ghetsis finds it, for its own sake. It's not safe to be here any longer. We may already be too late."

"If Ghetsis isn't here right now, then it's not too late," Ash said firmly. "But I have a plan." He fumbled in his pocket and pulled an empty poké ball out; the zacian backed away, eyeing it warily. Behind him, N hissed judgmentally, breath whistling through clenched teeth. "Zacian, I know you don't trust people. I don't blame you, either, after what they've done to you. But N's right — you aren't safe here, and there's no way we can get you out of here quickly when you're hurt like this. Ghetsis' pokémon will be able to smell you wherever you go.

Tension began to ebb from the zacian's body, though it still seemed doubtful. Ash kept talking, hoping it would begin to understand. "But… if you're in a poké ball, you'll be undetectable. We stand a better chance of getting you out of here that way. I promise we want the same thing." He held the poké ball out, eyes wide and earnest. "It's up to you. You could always chance it, if you really wanted. I'd still try and help, if you'd let me. But I think we'd be better off together, as a team."

The zacian studied him unreadably. Ash held his breath and kept his arm outstretched, waiting for a decision to be made. The zacian stepped closer, maintaining eye contact, and reached out with its muzzle. There was a familiar, hollow click, and with a pulse of crimson light, the pokémon disappeared. The ball snapped shut. Palpitated. Settled with a rich thunk.

"You… you caught it," N breathed, and Ash couldn't tell if he was awed or reproachful.

He ran his fingers over the red half and pocketed it. "Yeah. Let's get out of here before those Plasma guys find us."


A/N: Thank you for taking the time to get to the end of this first chapter! I know a lot of it was just setting up the scene, but now a lot of that is done, it should be easier to move onto the action in later chapters.

Once again, comments / reviews are really appreciated, whether they're short, long or somewhere in between; I love the feedback! It lets me know that people are enjoying my work and that encourages me to continue. Since this is an unbeta'd work, any spelling or grammar mistakes are my own, and I'll endeavour to fix any you find! Even though I proofread, I tend to miss the small things.

Furthermore, if you have any pokémon in mind that you want to see in this fic, don't hesitate to let me know either! They don't have to be pokémon introduced in gen 5, either. I know zacian certainly isn't.