Endless

By Mikari

Drama / Romance

Chapter 2

What if Ash had grown up in Team Rocket? This story takes place in a parallel timeline to Don't Give Me Diamonds, in the same universe. It explains the event which caused the parallel timeline to be created and the events which served as a catalyst for the later merge of the timelines when they became similar enough. However, those are just details, the true focus of the story is on Ash and Misty and their interactions in a different situation. Years after starting his journey, Ash, Indigo League champion, is training to inherit Team Rocket. Misty, Cerulean gym leader, is secretly part of an organization trying to bring Team Rocket to justice.

Loyalty

Alternative 01: Loyalty From Beyond

"Where am I?" Rather than a voice, it was a stream of psychic thoughts, a mental voice. He had no physical form, but existed as a collection of energy. "Did I... die?"

"You've passed on," a female psychic voice answered gently.

"Isn't that the same thing?" The male asked with some amount of annoyance. He always had a temper. "Team Rocket was left in ruins, but at least it brought the world down with it."

"Was that your wish?" The silhouette of a Gardevoir started to slowly become clearer.

The soul paused, then replied, "no. Everything fell apart after she died, it was that which made my son and I turn against each other..."

"Do you wish to change that?" The figure of the Gardevoir was clear now.

"To change history..." the soul mused. "If I wasn't a soul floating endlessly, while talking to some kind of pokemon angel, I wouldn't believe that to be possible. I want to change it... That time when she left, I'll go after her then, if Delia remains in Team Rocket, everything will be different, she'll live and Ash will be on my side." The soul of Giovanni glowed brightly as if wanting to break free of the stream of energy that guided him.

"Stop this! You will get a second chance. The opportunity to guide your descendant into amending history, but not at such an early point. You will recover her." Gardevoir tried to contain the energy coming from the strong soul.

"Recover her? I would rather never lose her in the first place!" A tare of light appeared in the endless stream of energy between worlds. There Giovanni saw himself with Delia's letter in his hands. She had left and he had not chased after her. "Go after her!"

The Giovanni of the past heard his own voice echoing in his head. He felt what his future self felt and knew he had to find Delia. She must have gone to Pallet Town. If that was true, then it wasn't much of a hiding place. She must want to be found, but what pushed her to leave in the first place? What secret worried her? He would find out.

"Stop this!" Gardevoir closed the tare in time. "Destiny already dictated that you would change history in the company of your descendant, his family would take measures to stop a paradox from occurring. By changing history at such an early point without precautions you have created a paradox. How can you regret not going after Delia if you did go after her? This timeline... I will separate it from the main one to prevent further consequences. When both timelines reach a point where they are at last the same, they will unite again. Yet, I fear that point in time is far away. Not even I know how long it will take for destiny to mend. Now go, go to the place of waiting."

The Gardevoir emitted a bright light, which pushed Giovanni out of the stream of many colors, causing him to loose consciousness in the process. When he woke up, he was in that mysterious place again, a place where he would stay until it was time to be reborn.

To be Continued

Pokemon belongs to Nintendo.

Special thanks to Nafatali and Rocketlord who inspired me with their stories and motivated me to finish mine, and to Destinie, who also helped keep my interest in Pokemon alive with her websites.

Here are some notes about the stories...

When I wrote most of these stories, Unova was the latest region revealed (Black and White) and there were no mega evolutions yet. The only exception is Awakening, which was written around the time X and Y came out.

Loyalty

Alternative 02: Nostalgia

The sun shone brightly in the afternoon skies projecting nothing but peace and harmony to the little town of Pallet. It had been ten years since the start of his journey, ten years almost constantly on the road with only a few small breaks in between. Ten years of adventure, ten years of optimism, ten years of training to become the champion. While he journeyed on, Ash wondered when the day would come for him to claim the ultimate victory of the Indigo League; when, not if, as he shared his father's confident determination and certainty of victory one way or another.

When the day finally arrived, it felt as if it was too soon. His journey was over. Despite earning the title of champion and being offered to take the position as such, Ash refused. The victory meant something else, it meant he had another place to take, another role to play, and he didn't feel ready, even if he fought with determination every step of the way.

"What's wrong?" Ash remembered his father had asked as they made their way down the dim hallways of the underground hide out. "You look nervous, you never get like this during battles and you've already won."

Ash looked up from his current fascination with the floor and examined his father's face, not hiding a single trace of his unsure expression. "What now?" He asked with the outmost uncertainty, feeling as if his every step echoed heavily, carrying him towards an unknown point of no return. "I trained, I battled, I won, and that's what you told me I had to do. I defeated Lance and..." he paused, drowning in his own uncertainty.

"And me," Giovanni admitted without the bitterness that would come if the defeat had been at the hands of anyone else. "So now you don't know what comes next? You've proven you're strong and determined enough, but this is only the start of your training. There's still much to learn. From this point on you'll be with me as I run Team Rocket. When you're ready I'll hand over certain operations to you and supervise your progress. You still have a long way to go."

Far from being disappointed, Ash was relieved. He wouldn't know what to do if the future of Team Rocket was simply handed to him, not that his father would be so careless. The champion took a deep breath and let it out slowly as he absentmindedly petted the Pikachu on his shoulders. This was the destiny that lay before him ever since his birth, could he face it? Did he want to? Those questions had oddly enough never surfaced in his mind before. All he had to do was climb up, all he had to think was that he had to do this. Did he have a choice? What would that choice be?

Ash focused on the present as he made his way down the rustic roads of Pallet Town, his orange car leaving tire marks on the dirt path as it went. The brightly colored vehicle stopped in front of the Oak research laboratory where the young man exited it and walked past the parted gates of the front entrance beyond the brick fence. A soft pleasant breeze blew as he made his way up the steps and entered the residence as if it were his own. "Gary, are you here?"

"No, I'm off on a journey to catch one of each pokemon in existence!" Came a sarcastic reply from the backyard, the sound of which led Ash to his long time rival and friend. "So, what brings you here?" Gary inquired without even turning around to look at Ash as he exited from the back door, instead focused on his activity of admiring his grandfather's land.

"Nothing much," Ash reached into the pocket of his jeans pulling out a fat white envelope. "Just the mail." He grinned as if it were nothing. He knew all too well what was in that envelope. Pikachu, his ever present loyal companion, jumped off his shoulders and went to play with the other pokemon in the Oak land.

Gary accepted the envelope with curiosity that shouldn't have been; he knew what was in it. Maybe the source of his perplexity was not the mail, but the mailman. He opened the white envelope casually and whistled at the wad of cash it contained running his finger over the edge and watching the valuable material bounce off the surface of his thumb held together with a rubber band. "Did you get demoted to the rank of delivery boy?" Gary teased.

"I haven't made dad angry yet," Ash joked back, "I just offered to deliver the payment since I wanted to come to Pallet anyway. It's been a while." Looking away from Gary, Ash contemplated the land before them. "It's been a long time since we used to run around here calling each other names... or rather since you used to chase me around here calling me names."

"Getting nostalgic, are you?" Gary chuckled, "I guess this means your father's working you to the bone and you needed release." Pausing for a moment, Gary adopted a serious and somewhat dark expression, "the goods are in the back."

Ash's expression tried to remain serious, but a smile ultimately stretched across his face and he burst out in a fit of laughter. The action earned him a fake punch on the arm from Gary. "Right, right.... I'll make sure the goods are delivered to the boss."

The goods in question were the fruits of Gary's Team Rocket sponsored research. Gary had known about Ash's situation for some time, having found out about five years ago. It led to enmity and bitterness just when the two had apparently gotten over their rivalry to become true friends. However, they worked out their differences and ended up making a deal. Gary's research would be sponsored by Team Rocket and he would share the results in exchange. Part of the deal was that Gary refused to formulate anything that would be ultimately harmful for pokemon or humans, no poison, no chemicals riddled with side effects. Additionally his research would be free of cruelty, no live experimentation, or at least not on pokemon. As for plants, Gary had killed and mutated a large number of flowers, bushes and even small trees all for the sake of science. Ash didn't understand how he could link that to pokemon, but somehow he could.

Gary stepped forward and sat down on the grass behind the house. He pulled out a cigarette box from his lab coat and lit one. "I'm a big hypocrite," he stated as the smoke danced in the breeze in front of him. "I know that the researchers in Team Rocket are going to confirm my findings with live experimentation, yet I choose to ignore it."

Ash sat down beside him and remained silent for a long moment, "I... I just do what I'm supposed to... I wonder if I'll ever form a will of my own. It's strange, this is what I've been raised to do, this is the goal I pursued for so long thinking it was my own."

"We're both empty shells, huh?" Gary laughed bitterly. He closed his eyes and exhaled, "In the past, I never would have thought-"

The sharp sound of Ash's cellphone cut him off as Ash jumped a little at the noise. "Sorry, I need to take it."

"So jumpy..." Gary commented before fading into silence and focusing on his cigarette and the landscape before him.

"What?" Ash sounded angry, which made Gary snap into attention and stare at him, as if trying to read the other side of the conversation in his eyes. "Just like that, in broad daylight? You think you can tell me that and not expect me to go? Of course I'm going!" Ash's finger went down on the cell phone's button so harshly that he almost broke the thin high tech device in half in his hand.

"What happened?" Gary demanded more so than asked. Ash had bolted to his feet in a split second.

"Pikachu!" Ash called at the top of his lungs in an impatient and commanding voice he never used for his pokemon under normal circumstances. There was obviously something wrong and the yellow electric pokemon wasted no time in rushing back to his trainer. Ash started on his way back through the Oak residence and towards the front door, simultaneously giving Gary his explanation. "They have mom," the statement was filled with anger and frustration.

Ash nearly ran into the elder Oak, who was returning from the local convenience store. "The police?" Gary inquired with urgency as he followed Ash down the stairs, both young men rushing past Samuel, apparently not noticing him in their haste.

"No, some anti-Rocket group called the Azure Alliance. Dad warned me about them," Ash climbed into his car and caused the engine to roar to life. Without any further exchange of words he drove off in a rush.

Gary spat out his cigarette as he coughed in the dust left behind by Ash's car, which now clung to his previously clean white lab coat. He saw from the corner of his eyes that his grandfather had made his way down the steps, abandoning the bag of groceries next to the door. "This is bad," he stepped on the cigarette on the ground and turned completely to look at his grandfather. Ash was already out of sight, the orange dot that was his fancy sports car fading away in the distance. Gary knew his grandfather expected an explanation, which was best given inside, if at all.

The two Oaks headed up the stairs, with the elder in bitter worried silence and the younger filled with a frustrating uncertainty. Gary picked up the grocery bag as he went through the door, rummaging through it for a bottle of pain killers. Finding the item, he strode to the kitchen depositing the bag and the rest of its contents on the counter and pouring him self a glass of water. He knew Samuel was expectantly waiting for an answer, "you can just ask."

"There's a limit to what you can tell me," the elderly professor stated as a matter of fact. "There's also a limit to what they tell you."

"But you choose to ignore my little venture in favor of not jailing your own grandson," Gary snapped and paused to swallow the medicine that would hopefully relieve his headache. "The Azure Alliance, those anti-rocket vigilantes... they have Delia."

A look of worried horror overcame Samuel's face, before he forced his expression to become stern. "She made her choice years ago when she married into the mafia. She knew this could have happened; it was only a matter of time, especially with how Team Rocket has been moving in the recent years. She... deserves..." he paused unable to finish his intended harsh statement fueled by frustration. Instead he confessed, "she deserves nothing of the sort. I guess I've been a hypocrite giving you the silent treatment. I know that what you're doing isn't out of evil, but it's not right, still... you're my only grandson, my only family left alive. Delia was like family to me too and the whole town missed her when she closed the cafe and disappeared from our lives, with only a few of us knowing why... It's all because of him, because he called her to return."

"Return?" Gary questioned, "it's not like she was disconnected from Team Rocket to begin with. It was more of a long vacation than anything else. What's all that 'was' stuff anyway? I know you still care about Delia, as a father I'd like to think." The theory was accompanied by a raise of an eyebrow and a suspicious, almost accusing undertone.

"Of course! How else?" Samuel snapped.

"She was like the mother I never had, or more like never met." Gary admitted, why was that medicine taking so long to ease the tension in his head? "I was jealous of Ash because of her, but I never told him that. Even if I was a rival to her son, she always treated me kindly." After a silent pause, Gary occupied himself in putting away the groceries still remaining in the bag. "Giovanni's going to be pissed off if anything happens to her."

To be Continued

Loyalty

Alternative 03: Surprise

To any passer-bys the group of women looked like a quartet of best friends out on a picnic seeking to find some time away from life, from the world and its stress. The other dwellers of the park in the outskirts of Fuchsia City knew nothing of the women's conversation, but they assumed it to consist about fashion, celebrities, music, men, and other such topics. They smiled, they laughed, yet they discourage potential flirts that looked their way, making it clear to the single men that were out and about on that sunny afternoon that this was a girl's day out. All of that was written in their eyes, so different from the truth.

This was an operation of precision that the Azure Alliance, a secret organization of vigilantes, could not mess up. Their contact revealed that the mysterious wife of the Rocket boss was vacationing in a villa not too far from their current location. They could in fact see the structure in question from where they sat on their red and white checkered blanket.

Surrounded by beautiful flowers of all possible colors, some of the varieties quite rare, the picturesque villa was nothing short of a postcard scene. Its peaceful atmosphere betrayed the nature of the funds that purchased it. "We have like no idea who this woman is or like what she looks like." Daisy, the oldest of the four Waterflowers cautioned, tugging a loose strand of wavy blond hair behind her ear casually.

"Our contact has not been wrong before, there's no reason to doubt our sponsor now." Misty elaborated, picking up a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and taking a bite off it seemingly without a care in the world.

"I like feel uneasy," Lilly admitted, her face betraying her mask of bliss for a split second, before she giggled at random to ease herself back into her acting.

"We've like talked about this," Violet encouraged as she took a sip of her soda. "Our sponsor's anonymity is like an understandable safety precaution." They were anonymous too, though they suspected that their mysterious sponsor knew who they were.

A few people passed by just outside the park's grounds. From the position partially hidden behind a tree with the excuse of partaking of its shade, the sisters saw them clearly. "They came from the villa," Misty discarded her unfinished sandwich and stood, stretching naturally.

It was time for the villa's staff to take a break. According to the rumors, the wife of Team Rocket's leader was kind towards her staff and did not request all the pampering that her husband provided. It was hard to imagine given their opinion of the organization being less than favorable. One by one the sisters stood and tidied up the remains of their picnic, before going off on a little stroll, the covered picnic basket on hand.

The villa had no prominent fences, though a row of well kept bushes and flowers marked the limits of the private property. Occasionally, a few people would wonder into the yard to admire the flowers, but just as quietly and peacefully as they came, they would leave, no harm done. The four young women stopped to smell the flowers as a boy walking his Growlithe passed by minding his own business. By the time the next person passed by, a lady with a large hat who cradled an Oddish in her arms, the Waterflowers were already out of sight behind the main cabin of the small villa.

Retrieving masks from their picnic basket they trusted in the informant's accuracy in reporting a lack of surveillance cameras in this particular property. They tugged their hair into their pokemon shaped masks leaving no hint of their identity, covering their clothing in dark blue coats. The action was done swiftly; Misty wore the face of a Starmie, while Daisy, Violet and Lilly's masks resembled a Dewgong, Seadra and Goldeen respectively. Without further ado the women had Violet's Kingler force the back door open and they rushed inside, with Lilly staying behind to act as the guard.

Startled by the sudden noise, the one inhabiting the villa set the book she was reading down on the elegant polished wood coffee table and made her way towards the back of the structure curiously. She froze upon seeing the four masked figures and they too froze upon seeing her face. She stared at their coats; there was a blue A of a cerulean shade that stood out against the navy of the coats. "The Azure Alliance..."

"You..." Misty's heart was a turmoil of emotion. The informant had to be wrong. This woman was Delia, the mother of her childhood friend, her childhood crush. They had only met a few times casually in the recent years, but he was not someone to be forgotten. He was that busy friend that she kept meaning to catch up with, the friend she could never let go of in spite of distance. "Why are you here?"

Sensing her sister's distress, Daisy stepped forward, taking command of the mission and ordering her sister's Kingler to the front lines. "Who are you really? Why are you like here?" She demanded to know, the confusion slipping into her voice mixed with disbelief.

"We like need to move!" Came Lilly's urgent voice. "Jessie and James are coming." She recognized them instantly despite their civilian clothing; the Azure Alliance had some small amount of information about Team Rocket members, mostly those who operated out in the open. She also saw the reason for their lack of movement in the criminal scene lately; Jessie was very obviously pregnant, making her way to the villa at a luxurious pace with James and Meowth enjoying the scenery and the afternoon breeze beside her.

A moment of uncertainty hung in the air, "should we?" Violet inquired unsure.

"You're coming with us." Misty finally ordered. She couldn't picture Delia being a criminal, but Jessie and James were going to see her. It was true that they were coming as civilians, but the fact that they were acquainted with her enough to visit hinted that Delia might know something useful. That is if Jessie and James were heading that way at all, maybe they were just taking a break and curiously wondered into the villa's land to look at the flowers. Either way, they needed more time to be sure and Misty had the nagging feeling that she shouldn't leave Delia behind.

"Why are you doing this?" Delia's voice became upset. "What do you hope to accomplish? Giovanni will not bend to your will; I won't allow you to use me against him."

Misty's eyes went wide behind her mask. Delia was clearly involved with Team Rocket, with their leader, Giovanni. Was she really his wife? There was no time for further discussion. With clenched teeth and a shattering heart, Misty signaled to Daisy. The oldest Waterflower released her Dewgong from its pokemon and commanded "ice beam!"

The force of the hit came gentler than Delia expected, she wasn't knocked back too hard, but she felt her body go numb with the cold. Misty caught her before she hit the ground, her limbs somewhat unresponsive from the cold. "I'm sorry," she pulled a small spray from her pocket aiming it at Delia's nose and mouth area. Invisible mist was suspended in the atmosphere around her, while the Waterflower's masks did more then just hide their identity. Delia's eyelids felt heavy as they closed, making her fall into the irresistible chemically induced slumber.

Aided by the fact that Jessie, James and Meowth had taken their sweet time examining the lovely garden, the Waterflowers made their escape from the villa, discarding their masks and coats. They carried the unconscious Delia between Daisy and Violet, arm in arm, appearing to be good friends leaning on each other from the distance. They hurried to their car on the opposite path on the other side of the villa. The light blue vehicle with tinted windows carried them away from the scene of the kidnapping swiftly and they were not followed.

xoxox xox xoxox

Some time later... Jessie sighed as she tried to get comfortable on the hard cold bench of the Viridian Rocket base dungeon. Cassidy had come by earlier with a few snide remarks, but the worse was yet to come. Meowth seemed to be taking the whole thing quite harshly, curled into a moping ball of uncertainty and sadness in a corner of the small cell that was just enough to fit the three of them. James sulked at Jessie's side, his arms around her shoulders while her hands rubbed her large belly.

Confident and imposing footsteps sounded off, accompanied by other sets of footsteps that seemed to fade in comparison. The bars were removed from in front of the trio allowing them a clear view of the rocket boss himself. "What trouble have you three caused this time?" He was angry, enraged, almost murderous, but it was not directed at them and they somehow knew it, he just wanted information.

"We were too late," Jessie stated simply, not lifting her eyes from the gray stone floor.

"Everything we said, it's all true," James insisted. "When we got there all we saw were the forced backdoor, the coats and masks," he grimaced. "It must have been the Azure Alliance, the coats had their insignia. We couldn't protect her..."

"Even if she gave her attendants the afternoon off, they shouldn't have gone so far," Giovanni growled. "You two can go; this wasn't your job to mess up anyway. As for those assigned to tend to Delia's needs... they will be severely punished."

xoxox xox xoxox

The light blue car with tinted windows advanced at a steady pace towards a seemingly abandoned warehouse in Fuchsia city. The place was notorious for being the hideout of a small gang that was unrelated to Team Rocket and too small for the criminal titan to bother with them. The gang had frequent fights with the police, but the Rockets didn't care. Those fights faded away and the residents of the outskirts of Fuchsia were thankful, but none were certain of the reason for the improvement.

In truth the Azure Alliance had taken that hideout away from the band of criminals in relation to their crime of illegally trading water pokemon caught in bulk to the point where the survival of their species in the wild was threatened. That was the group's original purpose, to protect water pokemon in the wild and stopping that gang was their turning point from an environmental society just beginning to be formed, to a secret group of vigilantes.

With the technicalities and authority they overstepped to take justice into their own hands, the group was legally disintegrated and faded into nothingness in the public eye, remaining alive and slowly growing as a secret society under the care of the Waterflower sisters.

It was ironic that they would take the gang's hideout for themselves and that the police would adopt the same attitude of inaction that they had with the structure's previous inhabitants. It was in that old structure just outside of Fuchsia City with its port visible a relatively short distance away, where Delia began to wake up, though her eyes could not see light. Her senses were slow from the effects of the fast acting sleeping chemicals and her movements were so stiff and accentuated with shivers that it took her a moment to realize her mobility had been impeded by ropes.

Delia's hands were tied behind her back with ropes, her feet immobilized in a similar fashion as she lay in a makeshift futon on the floor of a place unknown to her. A black cloth was tied around her head over her eyes, preventing her from visually examining her surroundings. However, the quiet sounds near by hinted that she was not alone, which gave her an odd sense of relief mixed with fear. Though her eyes were covered, her mouth was not, which made Delia reason that they expected her to talk and screaming would be either useless, or swiftly dealt with.

Though she had upon awakening moved on instinct, Delia fell back into an absolute stillness; she didn't want to be interrogated. "I know that you're awake." A female voice spoke near her. The voice was no longer muffled by a mask, but Delia knew it must be one of the women from before. "I need to know what your involvement is in this... I don't want to keep you like this." There was a certain pain in the woman's voice that Delia perceived to be real. Did she know this woman? Had they met before under different circumstances?

Sighing in exasperation at the silence that eradiated from Delia Misty reached forward to remove her blindfold. "Don't!" Violet cautioned, making her red haired sister pause.

"Leave us," seeing her own face would be enough to suspect her family, but this was something that Misty felt she had to do. Despite how Delia talked about Team Rocket and Giovanni before, Misty still held on to the hope that this had all been one big misunderstanding. After a long uncertain pause, Daisy, Violet and Lilly retreated to the basement secretly nestled beneath the old warehouse, giving Misty some time alone with their unexpected prisoner.

To be Continued

Loyalty

Alternative 04: Secrets

It had been completely unexpected, out of the blue and yet deep down she felt she had it coming. For many years, Delia pretended to be a normal person, she was seen as cheerful and sweet, which she truly was, but the wife of a mafia lord could hardly be called normal by society and its standards. The residents of Pallet Town had taken a liking to her little cafe and were sad to see it close when she felt the need to retire despite her eyes still holding the sparkle of youth just as strongly as ten years ago.

Ash's journey was over and so was her place in the outside world, her role of assisting him in his rise to power. After Ash's victory at the Indigo League she stayed in Pallet only for a few months until Giovanni urged her to return, emphasizing that there was no reason for her to come and go between her two roles and could put that secondary role that had become so primary to rest. She could return to his side completely. It was over.

Delia expected to see anger when the person who kidnapped her from the peaceful little villa lifted off her blindfold. She expected to see the enraged face of a criminal out for vengeance. A part of her also expected the hurt eyes of one of Team Rocket's unjust victims, but she kept telling herself that she could do nothing about it, while the more sincere and less mercifully hypocritical part of her brain told her that she simply didn't want to do anything. Her family was everything and they would just have to be enough.

Instead of all her expectations, which were not too cheerful to begin with, but were at least logical, Delia found a familiar face. Her eyes widened as she stared into the confused expression of a young woman she had met long ago. Delia had only seen Misty a few times during the past decade, on less than half as many occasions as Ash had seen her, not that the two had spent too much time together.

Ash and Misty were always happy to see each other, and always conscious of their respective secrets while remaining unaware of the other's. From Misty's perspective, though still his optimistic self, Ash had become more focused, just a little more serious and that gave him an air of distance. He was training, he was busy, he had no time to travel slowly from one location to another, instead rushing from one public challenge to the next in a select few formal events, then disappearing into a secret training routine that the next generation of young trainers could only theorize about dreamily, or at least that's what it looked like.

Misty felt that he wasn't out for adventuring anymore as much as he was out for improvement. Ash was well known, he had a reputation to maintain and Misty had a well camouflaged criminal record with her name on it that would surely be brought to light if she was seen with Ash. A gym leader charged with the crime of being a vigilante taking justice into her own hands and overstepping the authorities along with several other offenses, some being true and others false, was one thing.

Yet to have the same gym leader associated with the new champion who shocked the world by defeating Lance only to be apparently, too humble to take the title of champion formally was too much. His record had to remain without blemish, or else the kids wouldn't want to collect all those little Pokemon League cards, figurines and what not, which Ash was pushed to advertise, even the classic poke-Os cereals would suffer if its spokesperson was seen with a criminal, righteous or not. He was a little avoidant; she noticed it, accepted it and added to it, not truly bothered by it as she thought it was his natural response to her own avoidance which in reality flew over his head.

"Misty?" The name weighed heavily in Delia's voice as if the very sound waves that carried it would shatter. A million questions ran through her mind, but she could hardly voice them incoherent and incomplete. "Why are you? Where? Is this?"

"Who are you?" Misty cut in; her expression absolutely sour and almost fearful of the truth. "Please tell me the truth, who are you, please!" She was near the point of tears. The danger of being a vigilante didn't faze her like this, even the thought of crossing the line and performing an abduction, though it bothered her at first, was reconciled with her conscience when she excused it convincing herself that it was for the greater good. Yet this memory of times gone by, the precious memory of the traveling boy and his kind mother, Misty didn't want it to be tainted.

"I am who you think," Delia admitted, thinking that she had no right to deny it; she simply couldn't bring herself to do so. "The Azure Alliance... It started out as a group that protected water pokemon and you were openly involved in it. After a conflict with a small gang in this area, the alliance apparently dissolved. Later, a group of vigilantes emerged by the same name, but the Waterflower sisters denied any involvement with them. The leader was supposedly caught and arrested, but he wasn't the real leader, either that or a new leader was elected and the group became more hidden. I really thought that you had broken free of it, or that it was true that you never participated in the lawless version of the group."

"Even so, you're rather informed," Misty frowned, still busy with the task of taking in the shock she received with the revelation. "Then you really are his wife, you married Giovanni." Misty shook her head, trying to force the fact to sink in. It makes sense I suppose. Ash seemed stressed when I saw him a few days after his victory. I thought the press was getting to him, I only saw him for a short time, a very short time every few months, that's as often as I've seen him for the last ten years. Could the source of his stress been his new family situation?"

Delia remained silent and allowed Misty to continue with her theories. The redhead shook her head in disapproval. Of course, Ash is the champion, a position of power, if Giovanni got close to the mother, he could get close to the son. That's why Ash refused the title and instead asked Lance to continue serving as Kanto and Johto's champion, isn't it? He didn't want to be used even if you've been tricked, even if..." Misty was silenced by the fierce look Delia was giving her. Her heart felt like it stopped cold.

"Giovanni and I were married before you existed in the world," Delia snapped sharply. She immediately regretted it, being someone to feel the pain of guilt quite vividly upon gazing into someone's hurt expression. Besides, she was saying too much, what the Azure Alliance didn't know, they didn't need to find out.

Misty slowly processed what she heard; she had received too many shocks for a single day. "His father..." she let out a breath. It made sense, it was only logical, they were married from beyond the beginning of her lifetime, and therefore Ash's lifetime and they were still together, thus making it the only logical conclusion. Ash was Giovanni's son. Following Ash's victory, Misty wondered why he didn't take the title of champion, she didn't understand given how strongly Ash wanted to be the best. Then it suddenly made sense. "No... Is he being forced to quit? Is Ash leaving his career for Team Rocket?"

Delia sighed in exasperation, "you insist on making them the bad guys. Team Rocket is no more pure evil than a band of average fugitives is pure good." Her tone was even, the sugary sweetness that characterized her flowing back into her voice as she had the chance to calm down a little.

Misty opened her mouth to speak and promptly closed it again, it was clear that the fugitives Delia was referring to were the Azure Alliance, though lawless, Misty preferred to think of the organization as vigilantes. She took a deep breath, counted to ten and decided that throwing out accusations wouldn't do anyone any good. "I suppose I don't know the whole picture," she admitted, "but I know as much as the general public knows and a little more."

"That is not enough to judge each individual," Delia argued without any edge in her voice. "I don't mean to be a hypocrite," she voiced sincerely, "I know I'm not a model citizen with what I've seen and permitted, thinking I could do nothing. I know I'm selfish to seek the happiness of my family at all costs, even at the cost of other people. I'm not going to tell you I'm right, but I can at least assure you that I know where my loyalties lie. I can also say that I really, honestly, never want to see you as an enemy of Team Rocket. If you must chase a righteous purpose as I once thought of doing years ago, then I can't stop you, but know it's not an easy path and temptations are all around."

"Loyalty," Misty repeated the word that had such an odd ring to it. When one thought of loyalty, a virtuous characteristic in itself, one thought of someone good, someone just, not the mafia, not kidnappers. Yet everyone, criminal or innocent, had their own loyalties and priorities. "I have loyalties too," Misty admitted, finding strength in that mutual understanding.

"About Ash..." Delia brought up the subject worriedly. "It could harm him if this was made public, not that it's a complete secret, but the general public doesn't need to know. Please don't try to interfere with that." Delia's tone of voice made it clear that this was not a threat, but a protective warning. "Please, Misty, don't."

"I have no intentions of negatively affecting Ash... or taking any actions at all, not until I sort things out." Hasty actions could lead to terrible mistakes. The thought of such a situation reminded her that it was time to move if she was going to avoid the progression of the Azure Alliance's plans for a while longer until she could clear her head. She knew that though hidden, her sisters were listening. She wasn't going to hand over Delia as a bargaining chip to the unknown person that their anonymous informant promised to send along.

There was a quiet moment followed by the shattering of silence as the unmistakable sound of sirens filled the air. The other Waterflowers, paying no mind to their lack of masks any longer, rushed to join their younger sister on the top level as the police shouted from outside. "You're surrounded, come out with your hands on your head!"

The threat from the megaphone was ignored in favor of some running in circles from the three oldest Waterflowers and a hasty untying of their prisoner in Misty's part. The situation felt crazy, but then again, so is the life of a vigilante. "It won't do either of us any good if the police has you. Please don't try to flee from us," just as Delia had warned before, foretelling of dire consequences should the warning be ignored, Misty did so this time.

"I understand," Delia stretched, rubbing her wrists.

"The basement is like a dead end," Lilly pointed out what all her sisters already knew, to emphasize the intensity of their predicament.

"We'll have to fight our way through; it looks like we were betrayed." Misty concluded too late, her expression was filled with frustration.

"The police couldn't like kidnap her," Daisy put the rest of the plot together; her and her sisters' fright and frustration clear in their faces.

"But they can like take her from us and like keep her in custody!" Violet finished voicing the conclusion. It was all a trap, the Azure Alliance had been played into pulling off the move the police couldn't manage.

"Calm down, we need to stay on top of things..." Misty desperately insisted. It felt like a lose-lose situation, if they fought the police they really would be the bad guys. Their so called minor crimes would escalate into a level where they couldn't use influence and a good lawyer to avoid being detained.

"I'm sure by now Team Rocket knows I'm with the Azure Alliance," Delia stated, her sweet voice not matching the level of urgency that the situation demanded. She knew how to take hold of her feelings and keep calm when she had to, a skill that she picked up perhaps out of necessity. "We need to flee, I won't try to run off, I'll help in any way I can." Being rescued from vigilantes would be easier on her and less troublesome for Team Rocket than being rescued from the police. "I can talk to Giovanni, we can arrange something."

The three oldest Waterflowers remained in shocked silence while Misty processed the offer. Yes, sweet kind Delia was a lady of the mafia, even in captivity; she knew how to throw out an irrefutable offer with many implications. "In other words we're in over our necks and the police is the least of our worries. Furthermore, if the authorities get you because of us, Team Rocket's wrath will be merciless and our best bet right now is to follow your lead?"

Delia smiled, again with too much sweetness for the situation, "yes, exactly, I need your help to get safely home and you need my help to avoid a life time in prison. It's good to have you working with me, let's try our best."

Daisy's jaw dropped, "when did she become like the boss?"

Misty groaned, "it's our fault for taking stupid risks and thinking we can get away with it all for the sake of our desperate vengeance. The tables have turned and since we're otherwise sunk anyway, we'll have to listen to her." She looked at Delia, clearly displeased with the fact that they were surrounded, the door to the warehouse would soon be forced off its hinges, catching them all in a pretty bad situation.

Delia nodded, her sweetness turning to determination. "Very well, I will leave the strategizing in battle to you. Let's make an escape route as best we can."

To be Continued

Loyalty

Alternative 05: Revelations

The gusts of wind in that particular altitude were harsh, especially given the traveling speed, but Ash didn't care. Faster Charizard!" He urged almost desperately as he clung to his pokemon and Pikachu clung to him, both trying to avoid falling to the ground far below.

Naturally, Team Rocket had information gatherers scattered about. Hacking into the radio frequencies of the police was not hard with their technology. It was that which revealed the location of the Azure Alliance's hiding place. The question still remained as to why the police knew where they were and fueled the theory that the police might have been manipulating the Azure Alliance from the shadows. Either way, they had gone too far, this was personal and those vigilantes would be stopped permanently.

At top speed, Ash finally arrived at the hideout in the outskirts of Fuchsia City, near the coast. The old warehouse was easily identifiable as the place he was looking for, due to it being surrounded by a multitude of police officers, cars, motorcycles and police trained pokemon. "All they're missing is the tanks," Ash muttered bitterly, though he knew his father could provide plenty of those if his mother wasn't safely returned to him soon.

"Let's go down to the main door, I'll need to have a word with the officer in charge." Following Ash's instructions, Charizard swiftly landed in front of a shocked officer Jenny. "Are you leading this operation?" Far from leaving any open room to be questioned, Ash's tone demanded to speak with the one in charge.

"Yes," Jenny almost stuttered, before she remembered who she was and in what position she stood. Sure, Ash was the Indigo League champion, everyone recognized him these days, but he too was under the law. "You can't be here."

"I heard my mother was taken hostage for ransom," Ash stated, cutting into Jenny's speech with a tone that made her and all the other officer's present feel forced to listen. The identity of Ash's mother was known to the general population, who thought his father had passed away many years ago, before he became a public figure. "I don't want her to be harmed, that's why I'm here."

Jenny tried to gain her authority once more. This wasn't the way she usually was, no one made her feel so small like this young man's atmosphere of authority did. It was unnerving. "The police will handle the situation." She had to follow the protocol even if she knew who he was, the son of Giovanni, though revealing that fact would only bring repercussions if they had nothing to bargain with against the criminal mastermind himself.

"I won't risk it," it was obvious that Ash would not permit anyone to kick him off the scene, regardless of how many laws he might be breaking by disregarding the police's orders to leave.

Without a hint of a warning, the silence that emanated from the inside of the old warehouse was shattered along with the door itself. A current of water swept forth, knocking most of the officers off their feet and even pushing some of the lighter vehicles back. A Kingler, Dewgong, Poliwrath and Seadra stood together ready to generate another devastating team water gun.

Ash was one of the few who escaped the attack. Charizard had reacted with amazing speed, picking up his trainer and gaining considerable altitude with just one sweep of his wings. Pikachu, who had been perched on Ash's shoulders was also spared from the water offensive. "Smokescreen, thunderbolt!" Ash didn't even take notice of his mother's attackers as he had been focused on her. By the time his eyes thought to wander elsewhere, the area was already obstructed by Charizard's smoke and the atmosphere carried Pikachu's heavy voltage.

Charizard, accustomed to his own smoke, held Ash and Pikachu on one arm, grabbing Delia with the other and swiftly gained altitude above the cloud in which the officers tried to find their way out of. Once at a safe vertical distance, their lungs enjoying the fresh air beyond the smoke, Ash climbed on Charizard's back, helping his mother do the same. "Are you alright?" He gave her a quick visual examination, searching for any obvious injuries.

"I'm fine," it was clear that Delia's answer referred to the physical sense and that she was emotionally disturbed.

"We can cover this," Ash tried to console her, assuming that she was worried about the repercussions the stunt might have for Team Rocket or perhaps more so for his own image.

Delia shook her head, "the Azure Alliance... they are..." Just as Delia spoke, the smoke below cleared out with the help of a young officer's Pidgey generating a whirlwind to blow it all away. His fellow officers wouldn't criticize his choice in pokemon after this, it's not like their Growlithe did much to help. "Gone..." Delia finished. She didn't see Misty or her sisters anywhere below and it looked like the officers were also consumed by confusion.

"Over there," Ash pointed discreetly. He wanted to catch the culprits but he didn't want to hand them over to the police. He was giving them to Team Rocket. He couldn't clearly see the culprits as they swam away mostly under water, aided in speed by their pokemon. They only peeked out to the surface for short moments to take in quick breaths of air, once again disappearing beneath the soft waves of the sea. "The police probably can't see them from the ground, we can follow them."

"Ash Ketchum!" Jenny called from the ground below, clearly angered at the fact that the Azure Alliance slipped through her fingers and using them in the future would be very difficult. "Order your pokemon to come down immediately!"

Ash glared down at the officer, "my mother has been through a lot. Her health is my priority. If you want to ask questions, you'll have to wait. Or can you really be so cruel?" He was using his reputation as the beloved noble champion against them. If the press caught wind of the situation, the authorities would be severely criticized.

Besides if she went any further, given her fruitless stunt, Jenny might be uncovered as the Azure Alliance informant and manipulator, helping them with both secrets and police funds, all for the sake of taking justice into her own hands beyond what her uniform permitted. It was ironic, a vigilante that betrayed vigilantes. Jenny knew she had to let things go. "Very well..." her voice was almost inaudible under the confused and shocked expressions of the other officers.

The police had not seen in which direction the Azure Alliance escaped, they couldn't perceive the gentle movements of their trails in the water from the ground, but Ash followed the kidnappers with his eyes from the air. Flying off in the direction of Cinnabar Island, which appeared to be the enemy's intended runaway destination, wouldn't be odd. Giovanni had luxurious residences everywhere, the tourist trap island included. "Charizard, let's head over to Cinnabar Island or wherever they're heading. Stay hidden above the clouds, but don't lose them."

Charizard let out a low growl of acceptance and loyalty, proud to help the trainer that had earned his respect through hard work. The large fire pokemon followed Ash's instructions, staying hidden above and keeping his well trained eyes on the ones he was following.

"About the kidnappers," Delia breathed, it was best to warn Ash of who he was dealing with before he found out for himself.

"Don't worry, I won't let them hurt you," Ash assured with a certain threatening tone directed at anyone who might try to lay a harmful hand on her. He reminded her of Giovanni. "I wish I could stop to drop you off, but that might mean losing them and I can't let them run free after they took you hostage. I can't let this happen again."

"Ash, listen to me," Delia raised her tone momentarily in a voice she used when communicating something vital. Ash turned to look back to where his mother sat behind him, arms around her son's torso in a motherly hug both to prevent falling and to give and receive comfort. "Those people are the Waterflower sisters. Misty never left the Azure Alliance nor was the name stolen from her past organization, it's the same group with a new purpose and I would imagine new members. I don't know how many there are, but at least the Waterflowers are directly involved."

Delia could feel Ash's heart beat faster, his face full of perplexity and betrayal. "Misty..." Denial was to follow, then anger, Delia expected it. "It can't be! You were confused, dazed, you must have made a mistake."

"There's no mistake," Delia insisted gently. "I wanted to warn you before you saw for yourself. Those people swimming down there are Misty and her sisters. They're the ones who kidnapped me. Apparently, the Azure Alliance has been getting input from the police, though they were actually being used by them. At least that's what I could gather from what I heard."

The revelation left Ash in shock. Before he could fully absorb the fact that Misty was now an enemy of Team Rocket, something else stood out to Ash. He wondered about her motivations. Would Misty go this far for the sake of justice in general or some other equally impersonal ideal? It felt like too much to do if something didn't hit close to home. "What's her motivation? Did the police push her into this? Maybe they're playing dirty, she didn't want to do this, maybe she meant to keep you safe from them."

"Are you theorizing or thinking about how to excuse her with Giovanni?" Delia was sincerely unsure which of the two it was.

Ash remained silent because he didn't have an answer to that question. He really didn't want to have Misty as his enemy; he had many fond memories of their friendship and his childhood crush. They've grown a little distant in the past ten years, but she was never forgotten and when her memory would surface from time to time she was truly missed.

Misty and her sisters finally reached what could be considered the 'backside' of Cinnabar Island, if there was such a thing. It was a desolate area lacking the constant coming and going of tourist filled ferries. The cliff was stiff and hard to climb. It was part of a volcano, though it looked more like a giant wall from that perspective. Four human heads surfaced above the waves moving back and forth gently against the wall. They made their way around the natural structure until they reached a cavern that eradiated warmth due to the lava that lay a few feet away with layers of thick stone in between.

Unknown to them, the Waterflower sisters were being watched by a perplexed young man upon his Charizard. "It really is them... Until the last second I was hoping it was all a mistake," Ash let out a breath of disappointment. "It could still be; they could have an explanation.

"I honestly don't understand the nature of their apparent vendetta against Team Rocket," Delia paused and rephrased her statement. "Of course there's the entire enemy of society and major criminal organization angle, but Misty said something about a desperate vengeance that caught me off guard. I honestly can't understand what that's about, it did sound personal, but I can't remember Team Rocket affecting Misty or her family in a direct way."

"Well, we're about to find out, let's go down Charizard." With confusion still present and the tension rising, Ash kept his eyes on the cavern as Charizard approached it. The fire pokemon landed with relative silence, though if the inhabitants of the cavern were alert enough, they would pick up on the soft thud of his landing. "Get some rest," Ash whispered as he recalled the large pokemon into his pokeball in a red beam that faded back into the cavern's darkness.

The darkness was once again pierced by light when misty stepped forward holding a flashlight. The voice of one of her sisters called out her name, but she insisted, "just go!" Then turned to face those who stood before her, guarding the escape route her sisters took. "I'll take sole responsibility," she offered bitterly.

Ash shook his head, feeling quite out of place in such an unexpected situation. "I'm not here to hunt you down; I'm here to get some answers." He took a deep breath, not that it helped to calm him as the atmosphere was contaminated with heavy tension. "You know who mom is, you know who I am. It's only fair that I should know something too. I want to know why. I know you wouldn't do something like this without a good reason. It's not like you to be so rash, that's more like me," he admitted.

"I can't forgive him..." Misty's eyes were downcast carrying a great sadness. "I can't forgive the man who killed my parents."

A gasp escaped Delia as all the pieces fell into place in her head. What had happened took place so long ago that she unconsciously disregarded it as being unrelated to the current situation, it had been over twenty years. The event wasn't recent enough to surface in her memories until it was directly referenced.

Misty slowly looked up, her eyes traveling from the shocked Ash to his mother. Sadness, frustration, shame, realization, all those emotions and others overtook her face in varying proportions. "You just realized something, didn't you? You remembered something... You do know what I'm talking about."

With incredulity still holding on to some of his features, Ash slowly rotated his head towards his mother and waited expectantly. He didn't say anything, but pleaded for honesty with his eyes.

To be Continued

Loyalty

Alternative 06: Anger

The unexpected predicament had begun when the Azure Alliance, secretly being manipulated by the police, kidnapped Delia. As he rushed to his mother's rescue, Ash never would have guessed that those to blame for the abduction would turn out to be Misty and her sisters. Her reasons to take such harsh actions were unclear, until the red haired Cerulean gym leader revealed that Team Rocket, hinting specifically at Giovanni, had been responsible for her parents' death.

It was obvious that the accusation struck a chord with Delia. She knew something, she remembered a vital event. Being pushed to talk by her own son's eyes, Delia spoke softly. "It was a long time ago, there was a..." how could she properly say it? "A fight..."

"You don't need to sugarcoat it!" Misty yelled in angry frustration. "My father was a part of Team Rocket, after meeting my mother he wanted to clean up his act. He wanted to start anew and live an honest life with his family. Giovanni wouldn't let him go, he knew too much." At this point, misty could no longer hold back her tears and allowed them to flow freely down her face. "Giovanni murdered my father and that's all there is to it. He murdered my mother as well soon after. I was still a baby; I can't even remember their faces! I was given to my grandmother as a baby, with my sisters remaining in the Cerulean gym, tended to by relatives. They got every material thing they wanted, but that's it. Then when I was considered old enough, I was returned to the gym with my sisters so that grandma could rest without the work of raising a child in her old age."

Misty sobbed, gasping for air. "We lived alone receiving help from relatives, but they only thought about giving us money." More so to the three oldest, Misty had always been left out, though she never understood why. She concluded that perhaps there simply wasn't enough room in the budget to spoil four girls, but there was room for three. It didn't matter too much though, they still lacked love. "Our uncle, father's cousin whom we thought of as our uncle, was the only one who ever showed true compassion for us, but Team Rocket took him away too when I was very young. They killed my parents, they killed my uncle, they took everything away and left us without an explanation thinking we would never know!"

Delia shook her head, her eyes downcast in compassion and guilt. "That's not quite how it happened. The truth is-"

"I don't want your twisted version of the truth!" Misty screamed desperately, her hand resting on one of the pokeballs on her belt.

"Stop!" Ash ordered and the atmosphere appeared to turn into an unbearable stillness as he spoke. "If what happened was so long ago, if it took you this long to find out, then the information can be false." He tried to reason with Misty.

Trying to tame her wild emotions Misty took a deep breath, leaving the pokeball to rest on her belt untouched. "I will listen," she finally decided.

Delia let out a deep breath having an internal debate with herself. Should she tell the truth? She couldn't bare to lie to her son who clearly wanted to hear the full truth. "Your father didn't simply want to leave Team Rocket in peace; that might have been negotiable with a little compromise. He tried to sell out the organization to the police at a critical point. Many Rockets were put in harm's way because of his betrayal and it was one of the biggest police raids Team Rocket underwent. Because of that, choosing to protect his organization and avenge his followers, Giovanni killed your father. One shot through the heart, it was quick."

"That's supposed to be a consolation?" misty growled through gritted teeth.

"Please try to understand what he did," Delia pleaded. "Giovanni's action was harsh and extreme, wrong, but it could have been worse for many others if things were left as they were. Tidus had become an enemy to Team Rocket, he-"

"Don't even say my father's name," Misty's voice was low and bitter. "Not if you're going to make up excuses. My father did what he thought was right, he didn't run away. I can't accuse him for that. Even if it was to defend his organization, I can't let Giovanni's actions pass either. This wasn't just limited to my father, it was about my mother and father's cousin too. Why did they have to die? Are you going to tell me they became enemies of Team Rocket too? What do you claim they did?"

"She tried to kill me," there was a bitter edge to Delia's voice as she revealed the truth. "Worse yet, she tried to kill Ash. Of course you wouldn't know, you were a baby. I don't blame you if you don't believe me, I'm just tainting your sweet memories built on theories. The one who chouse your mother's sentence was me." Delia's confession brought forth gasps of surprise from both Misty and Ash, their eyes locked on her. "Coral tried to avenge Tidus by killing me. Given that I was pregnant and very close to giving birth I was unable to put up much of a fight. I nearly drowned and Ash along with me. The reason why she was able to go that far in the first place was because I foolishly ran off in anger leaving my guards behind. I had a bad argument with Giovanni about Tidus' sentence, but following Coral's actions, I admit I lost all pity for them."

"You're lying..." Misty's voice was barely above a whisper while her faced betrayed the words. She knew Delia was telling the truth, somehow she simply knew. "Giovanni killed my father and you killed my mother?"

"Indirectly," Delia admitted, "I suppose that doesn't make it better, if anything it makes it worse. I barely made it out of that experience alive. Labor was induced to save Ash and all the while I gave birth and the doctors ran around doing what they could, I wondered if my baby would survive, I wondered if it was too late or if he would suffer the terrible effects of my near death experience with his own death or with some irreparable damage. I was grateful when my son was miraculously born healthy. For the unforgivable crime of putting Ash in danger, I sentenced Coral to life in the dungeons. There she struggled to survive for several years until she finally died."

A thick silence hung in the air for several minutes. "I still want vengeance," Misty whispered. "I guess there's nothing more left for me but to live and fight or die. I'm an enemy of Team rocket, aren't I? If I am to be hunted, I might as well go on a hunt of my own."

"It's not too late for you. I'll talk to Giovanni this once. Lay low and move back into your normal life. Your unlawful record will be frozen, if you prove yourself to be trusted to stay out of trouble, you'll be left alone." Delia offered. "This will take a great deal of convincing on my part, don't waste your chance."

"I don't think I want your so called mercy," Misty whispered bitterly, the fight was gone from her eyes, at least for the time being. She didn't even bother to continue her interrogation asking about her father's cousin, who had played the role of an uncle for her and her sisters. She didn't want to hear some story about him being some terrible traitor that had to be punished. She didn't want to hear anything more from anyone related to Team Rocket.

"Too bad because you desperately need it!" Ash suddenly snapped harshly. He was past the point of denial and into the territory of anger with his temper having become more noticeable in the recent years.

The flare of anger in Misty's eyes was immediate as her gaze met Ash's. "you're in no position to talk, you're-"

"The son of a murderer?" Ash snapped in anger, not willing to listen to anything anyone said. His choice of wording brought an upset gasp from Delia which he ignored. "You should talk, you're the daughter of a murderer yourself, or at least a would be murderer." All his tensions were coming undone and he couldn't help it but to unleash his anger. He stepped forward glaring fiercely. "If you're given a chance take it and use it well. You're in no position to protest!"

"You can't abuse your father's power with me!" Misty yelled back, raising her hand in a moment of aggressive instinct to slap Ash's face. Her palm made contact harshly, the echo of the hit being followed by a scream of pain coming from Misty as Pikachu gave her a harsh shock which knocked her back several feet. This was different from Pikachu's power from her younger days traveling with Ash. The static clung to her every cell and Misty found herself trapped in a paralysis that left her limp on the cave floor.

"Please stop!" Delia shouted, but refrained from any further arguments as the atmosphere became still again.

Misty twitched as she tried to force her aching body to respond. This was the same Pikachu who refused to battle her in as much as a friendly match even if Ash had asked him to do so in the past. The same pokemon now attacked her without his trainer's command in defense of that same trainer. That was what he had been taught it seemed, pokemon too had their own loyalties.

Ash was frozen in shock for some time. His hand slowly traveling to the affected area of his face adorned in a stinging shade of red. "Don't count on me," his voice was barely above a whisper at first, then turned harsh. "We're not friends anymore Misty, don't count on me to defend you if Team Rocket hunts you down, I'll just look the other way!" He turned away and once more released his Charizard from his pokeball. "Mother, let's go."

With a look of shock and fright, Delia was unable to move for a few seconds. "Ash..."

"I said let's go!" Ash snapped harshly, taking Delia's wrist and pushing her to hurry climbing on Charizard's back. He climbed on himself, "hold on," he made only the shadow of a pause to allow his mother to do so before he commanded, "take us home as fast as you can." By that he meant the Viridian City gym, Charizard already understood that 'home' was no longer Pallet Town. The powerful fire pokemon took off, disappearing in the skies above.

In the cavern, left behind to drown in her thoughts, Misty got to her feet and stretched. Her every muscle ached, Pikachu had certainly gotten stronger while her pokemon got little training aside from choreographies designed to amuse a crowd and battling amateur trainers with impossible dreams to become pokemon masters. This was thinking of Ash alone, never mind the armies that stood behind him uniformed with red Rs.

She leaned against the cavern wall and sat there for a moment contemplating her next move until the arrival of cautious footsteps snapped her out of her deep thoughts. She was relived when the source of the footsteps came into view. Daisy, Violet and Lily were back, Misty knew it was only a matter of time before their will to escape for the sake of the greater good gave in and they came rushing back into what could be inevitable captivity for her sake.

Misty stood wordlessly and gave her sisters a bitter forced smile. "I need to have a long talk with you." A part of her knew that what Delia said was true, but a part of her didn't want to believe it. First things first, she needed to know exactly what happened. Either way, she would never justify her parents' death, but if she at least understood the full extent of the circumstances surrounding it she could better decide what to do without the foolishness of following anonymous leads that could be traps from the police. It made sense; they must have dug out some old records and put them into use for their benefit.

The four sisters retreated into their little hideout in Cinnabar Island to recover some of their energy and decide their next move. Misty knew the revelations she had to share would be shocking and harsh, but her sisters deserved to know the truth.

To be Continued

Loyalty

Alternative 07: Hope

To say Giovanni was displeased was quite an understatement. He was angry and when the leader of Team Rocket was angry, the dangers that could break loose at any given moment were unpredictable at best. Delia and Ash had just finished explaining the recent happenings involving Misty and her sisters, with Delia elaborating on most of the narrative, given that she was far better informed about the past. Her speech also seemed more objective than the way Ash would add in his surprise or disbelief about Misty's actions and his optimistic theories about her intentions.

Needless to say, when someone else's speech seemed optimistic making Delia's appear slightly pessimistic by comparison; one could conclude that the other person was being way too optimistic. Delia was a hopeful by nature, though she had her moments of coming to terms with reality, she tended to look on the bright side more often than not. "After all that, they're still out there plotting to cause more trouble. Delia, I don't want you wandering off outside the guarded properties. If you insist on vacationing away from the busy atmosphere of the city, which I would prefer you wouldn't do, but you're stubborn enough to try, it will be done with a team of competent guards to tend to your security." A few years ago he might have simply told her to stay where he left her, but he knew that would just make her run off faster if only to prove that her kind disposition didn't mean she could be bossed around.

"Was it true?" Ash blurted out pacing a little across the Viridian gym office. Giovanni still sat behind his desk where he had been found yelling into the phone something along the lines of mobilizing the troops when Ash and Delia entered via the large window. Naturally, he would have preferred to be informed immediately upon Delia's rescue, rather than waiting for his son and wife to make the trip back before knowing that Delia was indeed alive and Ash was not doing something stupidly reckless and counterproductive in an attempt to save her.

Giovanni glared and got up from his desk, making his way at a luxurious pace to the liquor cabinet that sat forgotten in a corner of the office. He barely had time to breathe lately, let alone have a nice refreshing drink. He proceeded to serve himself a beverage, completely ignoring the other two inhabitants of the office, certainly not in the mood to deal with another bout of denial from Ash. Wasn't he past that stage already? Shouldn't he be combusting with anger and challenging every living creature he laid eyes upon to a battle in an attempt to solve everything with power, a concept for which Giovanni blamed himself with little regret?

"Ash, honey," Delia patted the empty space on the fancy little couch in the corner of the office, elegant and formal. "Sit down, sweetheart."

Huffing in annoyance, Ash did as he was told, crossing his arms in vexation. When his mother took that sweet tone with him as if speaking to a child, it was her sugar coated way to say, 'these are the facts, like it or not, you have to deal with them.' Perhaps he would have preferred the dry and direct version of the statement if only because he was old enough to understand that it would all lead to the exact same conclusion, only faster.

"Tidus did betray Team Rocket, he did some bad things, selling out his comrades to the police and interfering with important business deals." Delia patiently explained, trying to put on a mask of reassurance past her own disturbing worries about things that happened so long ago she had, feeling guilty upon the realization, forgotten about. "That's why your father did what he did, although I was certainly not happy about it, I accepted it. As for Coral, perhaps she is the key to making peace with Misty."

"I doubt it," Ash mumbled bitterly. "Even if her actions against you," he paused and corrected himself, "against us, were terrible and deserved a punishment, telling someone that they're mother's a killer who deserved to die doesn't seem like a way to make peace with them."

"I lied," Delia admitted and for a moment Ash couldn't figure out to what specifically she referred to. "I did indeed have Coral locked in the dungeons, but as far as I know she didn't die." Delia paused and looked at Giovanni. "Did she?" Her husband ignored her in favor of his drink and she continued. "I just didn't want Misty to get any crazy ideas about rescuing her. That would certainly put her in a bad position and we are trying to give her another chance, aren't we?" Delia once again looked at Giovanni, this time her eyes much more insistent and demanding of an answer than before.

"No, we're not, these annoyances need to be dealt with," Giovanni finally spoke. His anger was still very much present, not even diminished by a single drink no matter how much alcohol it contained. He slammed his glass down on top of the cabinet. He turned to face his wife and son, his gaze staring a hole through Ash, who promptly closed his mouth after he had opened it to protest. Anyone would think it was a sign of obedient resignation, but Giovanni knew better than that. "Don't you even think about running off to do the rescuing yourself," he warned Ash. "I don't even know if," he paused remembering the name that he had disregarded long ago and just recently recalled when Delia mentioned it, "Coral is still alive."

"Don't you keep tabs on your prisoners?" Ash accused, his angry tone half controlled by this point.

Giovanni took a seat on the couch leaving Delia in the middle between Ash and himself, as a barrier of calm that would hopefully prevent his sometimes rebellious son from giving him a headache. His precious Persian strode over to be petted because regardless of the situation and its implications, he thought that there was no excuse for neglecting giving him constant attention. "It was a long time ago; I had no use for her. I was only humoring your mother in keeping her alive. I'll have someone check and in the mean time you're going downstairs and training. I'll be expecting a full result of whatever training exercise you choose, I'll leave the training program up to you."

"In other words I should keep myself busy and out of trouble," Ash pouted, his tone slowly losing its edge. He would have to wait to find out more about Coral and if she was indeed still alive. Until he knew, there was no use in moving without a proper plan. Besides, if he stopped to think about it logically for a split second, he could deduce that the dungeon in question wasn't even in the Viridian underground base or else he would know about it as he had made it a point recently to visit every area of the vast facility. Given how little he knew, it was best to wait impatiently, because waiting patiently was an impossibility for him. "Alright, I'll stay out of trouble." With that assurance in the air, Ash exited his father's office and headed off to find someone that could cover for him while he did exactly what he knew he shouldn't be doing.

Sure, he said he would stay out of trouble, yes, it would be stupid to go on a wild Farfetched chase for Coral without even the smallest truly significant clue concerning her whereabouts, if she was even still alive, but he wasn't going to do that anyway. Ash was going out to find Misty and he was indeed going to keep his word and stay out of trouble, because you're not in trouble unless you get caught.

xoxox xox xoxox

Taking an elevator down to the lower more accessibility controlled levels of the Viridian Rocket base, Ash stopped at the unofficial information center, also known as the infirmary. If the person he was looking for wasn't there, he could most likely at least learn of his location. "Have you seen Comet?" He inquired peeking into the white room that was simply too white for comfort, especially with how the red stains stood out in a trail from the door to a bed behind white curtains with red droplets, the hallways having already been cleaned. Morbid curiosity reared its ugly head and Ash had to add another question. "What's all this blood about?"

"Hey princey!" A blond woman, who served as Team Rocket's resident pokemon doctor at Viridian City, ignored the question momentarily instead supplying a greeting for an answer. She twirled a strand of green dyed hair, the two matching locks framing her face in the same color of her eyes. "It's an infirmary; it's supposed to be bloody." She finally replied, though the explanation was less than satisfactory. She paused as if asking silently if Ash was sure he wanted to know.

"I don't think I-" he was about to say he didn't really want to know, his curiosity giving way to the self defense of one who doesn't wish to hear an unpleasant fact that they can go on living without knowing.

It was too late as with an obnoxious smile Laiki elaborated. "It was a Slowpoke, or I should say is, as he still lives. Some rookie wanted Slowpoke tail and instead of just requesting it at the cafeteria she went and tried to play chef, which turned out badly. She then dumped the bloody creature in my care, because everyone always brings their bloody junk to the doctor, and ran off. I told her the Slowpoke died, which is a lie. I still need to have someone come over to mop up this mess because I'm not doing it myself, I just finished getting cleaned up after taking care of the pathetic patient." Needless to say she was nothing like Nurse Joy.

Ash's nose twisted in disgust before he inevitably tried to look on the bright side. "At least the Slowpoke was confiscated alive."

"Yeah, the cafeteria staff will make good use of him eventually, just keeping the meat fresh," Laiki joked with another annoyingly morbid smile.

Ash shuddered before he could stop himself, he enjoyed a good old Slowpoke burger as much as a Taurus one, but he didn't need to witness the messy side of it all. "I asked where Comet is?"

"I don't know, maybe having some fun with Pixel?" She winked, leave it to Laiki to find a way to twist every conversation into something morbid, or suggestive, or both. "I should be asking you something too, princey, where are the goods from your hot Pallet pal?"

Ash took a moment to realize who Laiki was talking about. Of course, she meant Gary, whom she shamelessly flirted with any chance she got, much to Gary's annoyance as he was used to being admired with awe, not... cornered by an experienced hunter, for lack of better term. "I forgot to bring the goods..." Ash realized, he took off in a hurry leaving Gary with the payment and taking nothing in exchange. Not that it mattered too much, Gary would have the results of his research ready and safe until someone officially picked them up.

"Oh goody! I get to go pick them up myself," she licked her lips and Ash instinctively backed away. Laiki was his friend, but she could be a little disturbing at times. She was beautiful with a figure that caught the attention of many men, but she was so forward and confident she could somehow manage to intimidate even the most womanizing Don Juan with the loosest morals, which he wasn't to begin with. "Hey, don't give me that look princey, I'm not going to pounce, after all, your daddy did say, and I quote, 'if you lay a finger on Ash, I'll kill you' and I'm not feeling particularly suicidal, nor am I expecting such a mood to strike."

"Right... Well, Comet's not here, so I'll be on my way. Try not to drive Gary up a wall," Ash requested knowing full well that his appeal would fall on deaf ears.

"No problem," Laiki grinned indicating that she was about to throw out another mischievous remark." If he doesn't like it against the wall, I'm perfectly alright with using the be-"

"Goodbye Laiki!" Ash left the infirmary, not in the mood for any more of Laiki's peculiar remarks. He wanted to go search for Misty but he needed someone to cover for him just in case, hence why he couldn't take off without finding someone to excuse him should anyone inquire of his whereabouts. He felt like a child asking a friend to call his parents and say he was sleeping over when he was in truth going somewhere else entirely.

He couldn't simply call, not with his cell phone being part of the Rocket network as much as the receiving cell phone was. Ash shrugged and continued on his way down to the living quarters, a row of small rooms where Rockets inhabited under the unsuspecting streets of Viridian City. He was pretty sure he would have his cover up ready soon and would be on his way to perform the much more difficult task of finding someone else, because he really had no clue of where to look for Misty; she couldn't still be in Cinnabar Island, could she?

To be Continued

Loyalty

Alternative 08: Clues

Only the sound of constant typing was heard in the room of many screens. The images were holographic, floating in mid air above the projectors as if glass rectangles were levitating, showing pictures moving in them, except these weren't pictures. They were codes, codes that made Ash's head spin if he looked at them for a second too long, and two seconds felt like long enough. The many technologically oriented Rockets in the room remained focused in their respective tasks, the nature of which remained imperceptible to Ash. Finally, he spotted a blue haired girl in front of one of the floating images, typing into a keyboard that looked like it had a few extra keys in comparison to a regular one. "Pixel," instantly, Ash felt glares on him as the eerie quietude, aside from the sound of typing, was broken.

They were so used to the sound of the keys being rapidly pressed that those present in the large room could easily ignore it. They had gotten used to the constant clicks of nails on keys too, and this girl was one of those who made such sounds with blue painted long nails. As soon as it sunk in who the so called intruder was, the Rockets returned to their tasks not daring to glare further. "Be right there," with a rapid succession of key strokes, Pixel saved what she was doing, logged off and walked out of the room.

Out in the hallway, Ash shook his head to clear it. "I'll never get used to those codes; honestly I don't know how you can understand them."

Dark eyes showed amusement as she grinned, "it takes practice."

Going to the business at hand, Ash inquired, "do you know where Comet is? Laiki said he was with you."

"He's out on a mission," Pixel replied as a matter of fact, not hinting at the fact that she had information that Ash might want to know... yet. She couldn't tell him, she was under orders not to. Even so, it was only a matter of time before Ash realized it.

"Oh," the timing was inconvenient yet at the same time too convenient. Ash always asked Comet to cover for him, twisting the situation around not to actually get him into trouble. The young man, whose red-orange hair ironically reminded Ash of Misty's color had been a Rocket all his life. His father was one of the first few members of Team Rocket to join under Giovanni's leadership. "Do you think you could do me a favor then? Could you cover for me?"

"Right," Pixel chuckled, "I should tell your father if he asks that we're off training our pokemon... can do, except that might be painful."

"How so?" Ash inquired unsure.

"Because I'll have to hurt you as proof, you know I do have a liking for collateral damage during a fight and I tend to break the rules and aim for the trainer. It wouldn't be believable if you're uninjured," Pixel grinned happily, like a child in a candy shop.

Ash opened his mouth to comment and closed it again. He really didn't want to deal with a sadistic computer geek right now. "Right, then just say I'm hanging out with Gary." Ash retrieved his cell phone from his pocket. "As for the location tracking issue, I suppose I could drop this off and-"

Ash was interrupted when Pixel snatched away the phone. "I can hack up a fake signal. Happy mystery hunting." With a bright smile, that made Ash wonder just how much she knew, Pixel returned to the high tech room where she was before. He considered inquiring further, but let it go.

xoxox xox xoxox

As he left the Viridian Gym, Ash spotted Jessie and James heading out and ran over to them. "I heard you two took a detour to the dungeon," he asked with concern. Dealing with Jessie and James was part of his training in his younger days and later they became his true friends. He looked at Jessie's belly, "are you okay? Are they okay?"

"We're fine," Jessie spoke with a regal calm tone to her voice. This was, despite the recent happenings, ironically one of her good days. Her massive mood swings knew no boundaries and rarely followed any semblance of logic, sending her in a random chaotic turmoil of emotion for no apparent reason in some days. In other days, like today, she was cool, calm and collected with a sea of patience and tranquility that nothing short of the apocalypse could disturb. "And how are you, twerp?" She smiled.

"Relieved to see you in good spirits," Ash admitted, chuckling slightly at the silly nickname that Jessie still used even after he grew taller than her. Last time he caught Jessie in a bad mood he ended up with a black eye, James already had two of those on that day. His father had laughed and commented on his poor reflexes having been unable to dodge. Ash had pouted profusely, but was relieve that Giovanni wasn't angry about the occurrence, but rather amused, offering to give Ash what he called a much needed boxing lesson, which the Indigo champion politely declined.

"We just recently talked to Delia," James revealed. "She sent this," James handed Ash a sealed envelope. "I'm glad we ran into you, this mission as pretty easy." If only all missions were as easy as delivering an envelope. "But I still have the feeling that we're forgetting something..."

Ash fingered the envelope with anticipation and began to tare it open full of curiosity. "Where's Meowth?" It was odd not seeing the talking Pokemon with the pair. It would be just as odd for them not to see Pikachu on Ash's shoulders as he always was. The small yellow electric pokemon leaned to look at the letter his trainer pulled out of the envelope.

"Meowth!" James suddenly exclaimed with a look of realization. "I knew I was forgetting something, I forgot to let him out of the pokeball where we had to keep him during the... detour." Taking the pokeball from his belt, James activated it with Meowth emerging from its red beam. Before anything could be said, another red beam came from a different pokeball James was carrying and the shape of a Victreebel formed. The pokemon, promptly attempted to swallow James whole, leaving him to kick around upside down, half his body trapped inside the creature.

Ash had to look up from the process of reading the letter. "Some things never change. See you later!" Waving goodbye, Ash headed to his orange sports car with Jessie smiling as she saw him off and rubbing her belly, she was expecting twins. Ash could barely hear James bidding his farewells from inside his confinement while Meowth tried to get over his disorientation as he was not used to being put inside a pokeball. His mouth was running away with him, it looked like he certainly missed having someone to talk to. Ash paused and decided against using his car, instead taking to the skies on Charizard. His mother's letter wasn't only a letter, it included a map.

xoxox xox xoxox

Some time later, Charizard landed on Cinnabar Island and Ash dismounted, thanking the pokemon and returning him to his pokeball. He looked ahead to the busy tourist filled streets. A few people recognized him and came over to ask for an autograph. Landing in the middle of the busy area was a bad idea. He didn't want to disappoint anyone or cause unnecessary suspicion, so he played along as he searched the area with his eyes. To his surprise, he found misty very easily. She was sitting at an outdoor table at a cafe with a milkshake she had barely touched on the table in front of her. She was alone, having probably come up with some excuse to make her sisters leave her.

Ash understood, she wasn't hiding because she wanted to be found, she was willing to face him. She was probably motivated by the prospect of her sisters' safety more so than anything else and perhaps a little by their past too... or a lot. He slowly made his way through the crowd, shaking hands and signing his name, or rather the name that he was famous with. Eventually he reached Misty's table and sat down, with people coming and going from his side.

For several moments they didn't speak, not with their voices and not even with their expressions. They kept up an act of being inconspicuous and pretending they were just another pair of ordinary friends, except one was a champion and the other a gym leader, yet as such, their association would not be anything unusual to those who knew nothing of the hidden truths. Ash ordered something to eat and spent most of the time when he wasn't consuming his food, tending to the requests of curious tourists.

Finally, the pair left as if they had planned this meeting all along. Misty led the way with Ash walking in silence next to her. They reached a crowded hotel and headed for the elevator. As soon as they were inside and moving up, their expressions turned serious. Yet they waited before speaking any words. The elevator doors opened after what felt like an eternity and they stepped out to a long hallway adorned with a painting of Magmar with a volcanic background. The fiery colors were all over as they made their way to a door which Misty unlocked with a keycard.

They entered the room and the door was closed behind them. Their silence was replaced with the unbearable need to say something. "All this secrecy, all these years..." Misty accused.

"Listen Misty," Ash wasn't even sure what he could say. Her glare was piercing and fierce and his face was set in seriousness, as if carved from stone. "I don't know what happened exactly and I'm not going to pretend that everything is all good and nice, but..." His argument fell apart because he didn't know what his argument was.

"But what?" Misty snapped. "Why are you even here?"

"Why are you here?" Ash snapped back, throwing the question back at her face. "You knew I would come, didn't you? You wanted me to find you so you stayed there in plain sight. What if it backfired? What if I wasn't the one to find you?" He reproached. "Don't give me that look of distrust!" Pikachu jumped off his shoulders as the tension in his body increased. "I never told you for your own good, to keep you safe from this. This is my destiny and that I have always known. As for the past... you can't say your side is completely without blame, not that I'm justifying mine."

Misty's hands balled into fists and for a moment it looked like she would punch Ash, but she didn't. "I know; dad was careless about choosing his battles, apparently. As for mom, she was understandably upset and vengeful. She was enraged, as am I, but she shouldn't have tried to kill Delia... and you. Regardless, Team Rocket is still my enemy. If you are Team Rocket then..." she paused as if this was harder to say than she expected, "so are you."

"I am Team Rocket," Ash accepted without a hint of doubt or denial. "But I'm not your enemy. I'll do this for you; I'll help you find your mother. She could still be alive."

Misty gasped, her face becoming hopeful, then distrusting, "but Delia said..." she fell silent.

"She wasn't sure," Ash explained. "She assumed the worse so as to not get your hopes up, but there's still a possibility. Can you set your bitterness aside and work with me to investigate this?" His serious expression changed into a hopeful one.

Then Misty saw it, she saw a clear hint of the boy she once knew. He was still there; he was still very much alive in the young man standing before her. She slowly nodded her head, pushing her voice to function, "yes." Making a small pause, she added a valid question, "where do we even start?"

Ash produced a folded piece of paper from his pocket, revealing it to be a map, "here," he pointed to an X that was on the map. The location was near the Sevii Islands. "Mom gave me this as a clue. She hates taking sides. It really bothers her when dad and I have a disagreement. I think she's just evening the score by giving me this information, making the argument a little more balanced. I don't know what we'll find there, but it's a start."

To be Continued

Loyalty

Alternative 09: Discoveries

The location on the map was in the open sea where there shouldn't be anything, but Ash didn't question it for a second. He and Misty rode upon his Charizard as swiftly as the fire pokemon could carry them. They eventually reached the location marked on the map and found, water... Ash examined the map again, he and Misty had traveled in silence occupied by their own thoughts. The proximity at riding on Charizard's back felt odd as they tried to stay away from each other without risking falling at the high speed.

Charizard flew in circles over the spot until Ash finally spoke, "Maybe this isn't the place."

"Only one way to find out," Misty jumped off Charizard and dove into the ocean below before Ash even had time to react to her comment or interpret her intentions. A few seconds later, Misty's head emerged from the water with crushed hope. Hope because she had found something, crushed hope, because she crushed it herself. She didn't want to set her heart on something only to find that the reality was much harsher. "There's some kind of underwater facility. It's actually pretty tall." She demonstrated what she meant by moving to stand on the top of the tallest chamber, making the ocean water only reach up to her waist. It was a low tide today.

"We just need to figure out how to get in," Ash hopped off Charizard, who growled in annoyance at being splashed with sea water as Ash landed next to Misty. "Thanks for the ride," Ash recalled his pokemon.

A short and uncomfortable moment of silence passed. They knew who they were and the position they were in, but traveling together, despite this being for a very different reason, reminded them of their adventures of the past. Misty had her reasons to be bitter, she kept reminding herself of that, yet she knew she couldn't really blame Ash for the past. On the other hand, he did stand with his family despite what they did, yet they had been kind to him at least, she mused.

Misty knew that though Delia was human and as such made mistakes, she was a good mother and a kind hearted person. She simply chose loyalty over justice. Yet the bitterness didn't go away completely with those thoughts. Why couldn't things be changed? If not changed then at least she could... Misty's thoughts were interrupted as the floor beneath her feet disappeared and she sunk deeper into the ocean along with Ash. She was a strong swimmer, but she couldn't resist the current pulling her down like suction.

Ash, Misty and Pikachu were pulled down through a transparent pipe. The ocean water was thankfully drained from it as they went along. They were eventually thrown into the floor, the pipe making a curve at the end, which helped to reduce the impact of the fall like a slide. They tried to get back on their feet, coughing out the sea water that had made it into their lungs as the area around them lit up.

The structure resembled a mix of metal dungeon and experimentation laboratory right out of a mad scientist movie. However, the machines looked poorly maintained, as if the facilities had not been used in a long time. Ash and Misty almost expected guards to come running towards them but no one did. None the less, if the lights were on there might be someone there albeit the mechanism could have been somehow automatic or triggered by their combined weight standing above the pipe; maybe it was simply an old structure that gave in.

Silently they began to explore the structure, heading from the large tall chamber down a narrow corridor. The silence was so deafening and the questions so imperative that Misty simply had to ask. "Have you ever thought to defy him? Your father?"

"Yes," Ash replied with sincerity and smiled as if fondly remembering mischief. "It was fun at times, and very stressful at others." His expression turned serious. Letting out a breath, he looked at misty and voiced. "I think I should explain myself. I'm sure you think I must have changed a lot."

"Your morals especially," Misty commented bitterly.

"That has not changed," Ash firmly insisted. "There are many things that Team Rocket used to do and still does that have been reduced if not changed because of my mother and my insistence and our efforts to find alternatives. It's an odd feeling; it's a contradiction that I can't explain. How can you admire someone and feel resentment at the same time? I asked myself that many times and mom told me the answer she found. I can admire who he is even if I disapprove of what he does, the genius, the idea, the ambition, not the methods, not the sacrifices. But if I walk away from everything then I'll miss the part of my life that I like and won't be able to change what I don't like."

Misty listened silently, trying to grasp everything that Ash was saying. He sounded very sincere.

"We've had our harsh disagreements," Ash admitted. "It was especially hard on mom, she hates seeing us fight. It got pretty hard. For a period of time I was Team Rocket's number one enemy and I thought I hated my father, except I could never really hate him. I suppose we got past that over time and I grew up. I learned why Team Rocket is needed and saw the beneficial side of it. I want to make it different. The law isn't always effective and rules sometimes needs to be bent if not broken. But that doesn't mean it has to be evil. I can prove myself to dad, prove I'm capable, prove I'm not naive or ignorant and show that I can make my ideas work. Team Rocket is his life's work and I can't destroy it, I'll make it better. Does that count for anything?"

Misty found herself feeling reassured, "it does. I guess you're not so different after all, not as much as I thought." She let out a breath in a mix of stress and relief. "This still seriously bothers me though."

"Understandable and it bothers me too," Ash admitted. "I've just had a little more time to deal with it, to be prepared. Not that I ever could be completely, but..."

"I think I get it, you do what you can," Misty understood. "That's what I told myself when I started the Azure Alliance; we need to do what we can. I suppose, I don't have as much bitterness for you specifically as I thought."

The wall of ice between them felt like it was lifting. Ash smiled a hopeful smile. His eyes were full of determination; it was a sentiment that assured that even in the face of adversity, everything would somehow work out. "I'm really glad to hear that."

Footsteps echoed coming from the opposite direction. Ash and Misty became guarded. Surely their presence had been noticed, their own footsteps had been sounding off clearly in the deafening silence. Then the one who was walking towards them came into view, one Rocket, just one, dressed in their classic black uniform with a red R. Ash let out a breath of relief, recognition invading his features. "I take it you're glad I'm not someone else?" The Rocket inquired with a smirk.

"Very," Ash nodded. Comet was another of the Rockets Ash got along with well. He was the one who usually backed him up if his latest attempt to modify Team Rocket before his time needed support. But without getting into trouble, without taking it too far, without any direct disobedience on Comet's part, that was why it worked. "I should have guessed dad would sent someone ahead. Why are you here?"

"Just to keep an eye on you," Comet admitted, then looked in Misty's direction, his blue eyes focused and curious. His hair was the same color as hers. "I didn't think you'd bring your secret lover here though. This place is pretty run down for a date," he joked.

Misty looked like she wanted to protest, but she couldn't find her voice. This young man looked almost identical to her father's cousin who had been supposedly killed, aside of course, from the age difference and another particular detail. Her uncle Luke always had a tan, he loved the beach and being outdoors. This Rocket didn't seem to get enough sunlight to tan, perhaps his missions mostly took place at night.

Ash huffed and shook his head. "Laiki?" He inquired and Comet nodded in response. Leave it to the local Viridian Gym doctor to spread all sorts of rumors right away. "Gossip... but nothing else is new, she spreads it in hopes of getting some real information in return, in hopes of confirming a theory."

"It's a valid espionage technique, infect the area with lies to force the truth out." Comet commented, well aware of Misty's curious eyes on him. He grinned knowingly at her studying gaze. "Do I remind you of someone?"

"Luke," Misty voiced, wondering if he would even know who she was talking about. With Team Rocket, she bitterly mused, anything was possible.

"I have been told before that I look a lot like my father." Comet revealed and misty gasped, he was expecting such a reaction and only grinned and took a few steps closer, as if giving her the chance to compare his face with the face in her memories.

While Ash looked back and forth between the two in confusion, misty pulled out a very wet old photo from her pants pocket. When she felt unsure after learning of who Ash was, of his connections, she looked at some family photos and thought. She carefully removed the photo from the other one it was sticking to. One was of her parents from a time before her birth and the other of her uncle and elder sister along with a much younger version of herself. He was actually her father's cousin, not his brother, but he had been kind to the Waterflower sisters. "Uncle Luke... was he just keeping an eye on us?"

"Yes," Comet admitted. "After Tidus' death and Coral's imprisonment, Delia was worried about their children, whom she thought shouldn't be blamed for their parents' actions. Taking them into Team Rocket was an option, but Delia opposed that choice. She asked my father to keep an eye on the four little girls and make sure they were alright. Eventually, his presence in their lives became complicated as relatives started asking too many questions and he had to cut all communications. It was for you too, the redhead was the one that reminded them the most of Tidus, of Luke, of Team Rocket..."

Misty's face was a mix of sadness and realization. "I brought back bad memories... That explains why I never even got a doll set to myself. Luke was in Team Rocket... is he still? He is alive isn't he?" Her resigned sadness and shock evolved into urgency.

"Yes," Comet replied. "You may speak to him if you wish. However," he paused, expression becoming serious. "Out of loyalty to Giovanni, I must prevent you from finding Coral, out of loyalty and friendship to Ash, I give you this information." Comet turned to leave, while Misty looked rightfully shocked.

"Wait..." Ash whispered in deep thought. "Wait!" He called out in realization and surprise. "Wait just a minute, you two are related?" He looked back and forth between Misty and Comet. Taking a better look at them, he could see the family resemblance. They were only distant relatives, but they obviously carried the same blood. "How come I never knew?"

"I didn't know until recently either," Comet confirmed. "Well, I really must be going now. I would advice against staying here. The structure is very unstable and could come apart at any moment. This laboratory and dungeon stopped being functional years ago, Delia can explain why." It was her influence no doubt, her request. He made a mock salute gesture with two fingers on his forehead and a playful smile. He had no malice, only amusement in everything he did. "I do hope we don't meet again, at least not until it's over... because it's already begun." Comet dashed away the same way he came, down the corridor, turning the corner and disappearing from sight.

"Come back here!" Misty finally got her voice to work, her words almost cracking to pieces as if it was difficult just to speak. She needed more information, she had to catch him!

Ash's eyes widened in realization. "Misty, no!" She didn't know what it meant, Comet's warning, but he did. He knew all too well, not just from him but from Pixel, Laiki, Jessie, James and several others.

To be Continued

xoxox xox xoxox

Loyalty

Alternative 10: Ruins

Footsteps echoed through the metal corridors of the underwater structure. Comet was fast, but Misty had no intentions of letting him escape. She reached the end of the hallways that gave way to another large chamber and there was a bright flash of red light.

Gyarados, Comet's first pokemon obtained as a Magikarp from his father to keep as a pet when he was very young, the power house. Scyther, captured and trained continuously, the master of speed. Zangoose, a pokemon that almost perished to protect his master on a day when a valuable lesson was learned, he lived thanks to Ash's assistance in Comet's mission, the fierce protector. Absol, a pokemon obtained as an egg, skilled and smart, the cunning trickster. Krookodile, intimidating, aggressive, yet ultimately tame and friendly, though only outside of battle, a pokemon obtained during a special mission in a distant land, the devourer. Zebstrika, speedy, wild, feisty, a pokemon caught by Pixel in that same Unova mission, later given to Comet to join his team, energetic, stubborn and impatient, the hyper racer.

"What is this?" Misty stopped cold, facing the six pokemon. Was it a challenge?

"It has already begun," Comet reminded. "It's not a hunt as much as a race though, your call." He kept a cool attitude the whole time, as if he was used to this, even amused by it.

"A race it is," Ash voiced and the red beams once again returned to call the six titans back into their dwellings.

"In that case... I'll be off to the next location. There is nothing here... only ruins..." Comet left, disappearing down another narrow corridor in pitch darkness.

This time Misty let him go, turning to look at Ash with questioning eyes. "What was that about? He looked ready for a war for a second and then he left. What is this hunt? This race? What has begun?" She was angry, frustrated, excluded from things that Ash apparently understood which she felt concerned her very much.

"His mission and, being his partner I would guess Pixel's mission, have already begun," Ash revealed. "Their Rocket mission," he smiled in a mix of annoyance and amusement if such a paradox was even possible to be contained in a single expression. "This is something we do for each other. Comet, Pixel, Laiki, Jessie, James and some others who are my friends in Team Rocket all have a great loyalty to my father, but also to me. That can only be possible as long as those loyalties don't interfere."

"How can they not?" Misty inquired with impatience.

"Because we respect what we need to do." Ash concluded, his face flickering serious for a second before once more appearing relaxed. "A hunt is when we are all after the same prize, they'll interfere with me even if I don't seek a confrontation. A race is when we go our separate ways and don't need to fight unless the prize is in sight. This is a race, we're looking for clues and we were just given another. I don't know what those ruins Comet mentioned are about, but it was a free hint worth exploring."

"I see," Misty frowned. "Then he was warning you that you stand as enemies for the time being, even if you're also friends?"

"Yes," Ash nodded as he headed towards another metal hallway next to the one Comet had gone through. "It's more like being rivals, kind of like how it was with Gary, except the competition and the truce are more clearly defined."

"And he enjoys the competition," Misty huffed. "He's my relative; my parents were his relatives too. Uncle Luke is his father. My sisters always looked to him for protection and support; they can never stop caring about the kind uncle that reassured them after our parents' deaths. Honestly, neither can I. To think he's a Rocket, to think he's loyal to Giovanni?" She trembled in tension as if not knowing how to interpret her own emotions. Her teeth and fists were clenched as she stood unsure.

"Loyalty means tolerating a disagreement; I learned that the hard way, but I'm glad I did. Mom always said that if you live life thinking it's all or nothing, then you'll most certainly get nothing," Ash recalled.

Misty sigh, unsure, upset, yet intrigued. "You've grown up..." she concluded, not certain if that was a good thing or not.

"I had to," Ash grinned, showing that same face that Misty remembered, older, but the same. "Look on the bright side; we're a little closer to solving the mystery, because sometimes competition is exactly what's needed to move forward."

He wasn't so different after all, she noted. "You still love competition."

"It brings improvement with each challenge," Ash approached the dark tunnel where there were stairs. "Let's have a look at those ruins..." He didn't know why there would be ruins below the facility, but surely they must have something to do with the reason for which the laboratory was built there in the first place.

xoxox xox xoxox

The metal walls evolved into stone walls the further down the stairs they went. There was a low hum in the atmosphere giving the dark place an eerie feel. It sounded off as crashing waves, but that couldn't be it given how deep underwater and far from the shore they were. There was a heavy pressure in the atmosphere, as if the ocean was pushing against the old structure threatening to crush it and it probably was.

The stone walls of the chamber the stairs led to were carved with pictures of human figures in various poses as if performing some kind of ritual and representations of many different water pokemon from all over the world. It was surreal, it was enchanting, it was powerful... Among it all Ash felt something, it was frightening, sorrowful, angry. His aura abilities felt awake and aware, as if his instinct was warning him that there was something sinister there, something terrible, something tragic.

The floor of the stone temple that looked very old and worn, inexplicably built so long ago and sunk into the ocean to be rediscovered hundreds of years later, had many circles like ripples in water carved into it. The circles varied in size and distance from each other holding water in their canals as it dripped in small drops from the ceiling and walls. It was a wonder the structure was still standing and full of breathable air.

Misty stepped into the center of the chamber where the smallest circle was and she heard a voice. She couldn't understand what it was saying, but it was pained, ghostly, detached, otherworldly. "Do you hear that?" She turned around from her visual explorations, spinning inside the circle where she stood to face Ash.

"Yes," Ash confirmed his face focused and... pained? "I can feel it, I can hear it, but why can you? Unless it's calling out to you..." No, this wasn't directed at him, it was directed at her, he could only hear it because of his abilities. "You shouldn't be here," he cautioned as he closed the distance between them. "This feels terribly sinister." His head was spinning, his stomach hurt, the concentration of negativity was making him sick.

"Pika..." Pikachu went from his shoulders to his arms in fear. This was terrible, even for one so brave.

Ash took another step forward. A barrier of glowing see-through blue emerged from the circle on the floor. "Misty!" He reached out to her but was harshly thrown back.

"Ash!" She saw him get thrown against the wall. She saw Pikachu attack the barrier with electricity to no avail. She saw the scene becoming twisted and blurry, then she disappeared. Misty was no longer there.

Ash bolted to his feet. "Misty!" He dashed to the center of the circle were there was nothing now. The presence of dark intent, or sorrow, of vengeance, of... evil? Was still there, albeit it was faint, hiding, guarded. "Misty!"

"Chu!" Pikachu let out another bolt of lightning at the spot where she once stood as if that would bring her back. "Pikapipi!"

Ash raised a hand in a gesture to stop and Pikachu ceased his efforts instead hurrying to climb back on his shoulder. Ash sat down on the circle where Misty had stood when she disappeared and closed his eyes in concentration. Pikachu hopped off his trainer and stood next to him, guarding him.

xoxox xox xoxox

"Ash? Ash!" Misty called out at the top of her lungs, but her voice remained unheard. She looked at her ghostly semi-transparent hands. She was still in the ruins as far as she could see; Ash and Pikachu were also still there. Yet at the same time she was somewhere entirely different.

"Misty..." she turned to find the source of the voice. This voice was not the one that called her there. It was very different, sorrowful, but gentle, resigned yet melodious, merciful, concerned, motherly. "Misty..." The woman of long blond hair and ocean blue eyes stepped towards the redhead, wrapping her arms around her.

"Mother!" Misty exclaimed as she recognized the other ghostly presence. "Mother, is it really you? What is this place? How did we end up here? How do we go back? What's happening?"

"Shh..." Coral gently soothed. "My little Misty, I'm so sorry..." Her face was filled with sadness, as if a terrible fate had befallen her youngest child.

"Mother, please," Misty tried to calm herself to allow Coral the chance to explain. "Tell me everything. About father, about you, about Team Rocket, about this place," she listened.

Coral closed her eyes and nodded expression solemn. She opened her eye again, bright orbs of endless azure. "For you to understand, you must know the story of your ancestry. Long ago, before people could even dream of what a pokeball would be, long before the skyscrapers and the roads were built, there was a village in the coast. It was a peaceful place, the home of the Azure Tribe, your ancestors from long ago. The tribe was home to people who might have been called shamans by some. They communicated with the water pokemon with a special regard for them as they believed that water was the source of all life."

"There was also another tribe, a tribe of alchemists who abused the power of their concoctions and called forth black magic. The terrible sorcerers sought to enslave the water pokemon and conquer the Azure Tribe. However, a legendary water pokemon became enraged and attacked the land with massive tidal waves. Many tragically perished and those few who survived no longer knew a distinction between the Azure Tribe and their enemies. They worked together to rebuild their land, missing the help they used to get from the water pokemon that no longer heeded their call."

"Eventually, the people faced so much hardship that they became divided, accusing one another of evil alchemy and sorcery, as what had brought forth the calamity from the sea. A terrible battle broke loose among them and from its ashes there rose the new Azure Tribe. They blamed the ocean and its inhabitants, seeking vengeance and to forcibly tame the pokemon that lived there. Many pokemon perished in their efforts until finally the Azure Tribe was destroyed."

"The land now known as Kanto used to stretch far south in a large peninsula. That land was swallowed up by the sea and this temple along with it. This place holds the sorrow of humans, of friends who became enemies when loyalty was broken in the face of a disaster. This is the place that represents the broken trust of those who held on to what seemed convenient and beneficial at each moment and chased after revenge. It is not the pokemon or the ocean that seeks vengeance. The legendary that was angered was appeased with the demise of the sunken peninsula that was swallowed up by the sea, leaving only the peaks of its tallest mountains to be seen above the waves, now known as the Sevii Islands and Orange Islands."

"The true Azure Tribe will not forgive the one who brought corruption to their peaceful life seeking power and ruined their alliance with the sea. You are the chosen one to carry this burden. You are the most suitable vessel out of all the descendants of the Azure Tribe leader," Coral's eyes were filled with tears. "The ghosts of the past have chosen you to avenge them, to erase the seed of the sorcerer whose alchemy started it all. You are the new shaman the new vessel of sorrow and I wish it wasn't so."

"I don't understand..." Misty voiced in a barely audible whisper.

To be Continued

Loyalty

Alternative 11: Legends

Ash was perfectly still, surrounded by a faint glow as he tried to find Misty or at least reopen the supernatural gateway that had swallowed her up.

Not far from him, but in a different plane of existence that was parallel yet not physical, Coral continued her revelations to Misty. "The spirit of vengeance had entered your father. The Azure Tribe demanded that the leader acted. It was because of his mercy that the alchemist sorcerer was not stopped years ago; he forgave too much until things got out of hand. They blame him as their new leader, just as now they will push you to avenge them."

"But I..." Misty tried to focus, to grasp the situation. "I'm not even the oldest. Are my sisters in danger too of the same thing?"

"No, you are the leader; it is not about who is the oldest, but about who is the most suitable. Back then it was your father." Coral's face was full of sadness at the bitter memories. "He cause great trouble to Team Rocket, not for the pursuit of justice, but because he was trying to kill Giovanni, the descendant of the enemy. Tidus did not want to betray him, the spirit that possessed him forced him to. Giovanni would not believe it, though he was the cause. He was the one who sent your father to investigate this place not knowing of his connection to it while he was still in Team Rocket. I was caught in the fight. When Giovanni killed Tidus, I swore to get revenge. He took the one I loved so I tried to do the same to him."

"That's why you attacked Delia..." Misty realized. Ultimately, Delia was not directly the cause of her father's death and in a sense Giovanni was retaliating. Of course, Tidus was not to blame either if he was possessed.

"She and I are not so different," Coral admitted. "We would give up the world for our family."

"What do you mean?" Misty asked, but before her urgent question could be answered, she heard a voice. This was not the angry voice that now slept within her. This was the voice of her childhood friend calling her name like in their adventures of the past. "Ash? Ash!"

"Misty!" Ash was there, ghostly and see-through just as she was, but he was glowing. His body was no longer sitting where it should be, only Pikachu was there, waiting impatiently for his trainer's return. "We need to go back, we can't survive here for too long, I can sense it!"

Ash extended his hand to Misty and she took it without hesitation, her other hand holding her mother's. Ash focused on going back, on forcing the gateway open with his abilities. He appeared again in the physical plane in the ruins, falling to the floor with Misty landing on top of him, both breathless from the strain of crossing over to the plane where they belonged. They got to their feet and Misty searched for her mother. "Mom?" She saw a light and a silhouette. "Mom!" She jumped to her feet and tried to reach the shadow of light as it faded. "Mom!"

Misty felt Ash's hand on her shoulder. "She's gone..." he gently voiced.

"Gone?" Misty questioned fiercely, with tears forming in her eyes. "What do you mean gone? She was right there. Why didn't you bring her back along with me?"

"I did," Ash tried to explain. "But it was too late. She had been there for too long, her physical body had already been reduced to dust... She has... passed on." He knew this wasn't easy for her. Thinking her mother was dead and finding her only to lose her again.

"How did she become trapped there? What must I do?" Misty cried. "The Azure Tribe... what does this all mean? Did you hear it? Could you hear what she was saying?"

"Yes..." Ash admitted, as he petted Pikachu's soft fur. "I don't fully understand it, but it looks like our ancestry is more complicated than I thought. We'll have to remove that."

"Remove what?" Misty inquired, drying her eyes and trying to focus on what needed to be done. Something had been set in motion, she could feel it. Her mother's admission about giving up the world for her family bothered her. What did it all mean? What really happened back then?

"I can sense it; a vengeful spirit made of a collection of spirits now sleeps inside you. It was here." Ash looked into Misty's eyes with an intense gaze. "Let me try."

She nodded, closed her eyes and remained perfectly still. Ash place his hand on her head and closed his own eyes in focus. He tried to call out to what was inside her, to appease it. "Aura!" A voice screeched in their heads. "How dare you wield the power of aura, unworthy son of the sorcerer? It is an insult!" The surreal voice echoed. "You must die!"

Ash felt a sharp pain as if he was being crushed from the inside. Pikachu was in alarm. Ash tried to speak, but couldn't find his voice, he and Misty still as statues. Finally, he pushed his vocal cords to function and dragged out a quiet command of "thunder bolt..." The shock of electricity sent Ash and Misty in opposite directions to the floor. Ash sat up, seeing Misty do the same, "I don't think I can coax that thing out of you after all. I'm just making it angrier."

"It's... not your fault..." Misty breathed. "But I do need to know more about this. Your parents must know, maybe even Luke knows something too.

"Maybe," Ash admitted, he looked very troubled.

"What is it?" Misty knew that this was a lot to take in, especially for her and Ash somehow ended up being linked to it in an unexpected way too, but there was more to it than that. "What's troubling you? Aside from the obvious I mean."

"It's that thing..." Ash wasn't even sure how to refer to the spirit. "Misty... Keep your will strong, don't let it overtake you. I'll free you from it," he looked into her eyes. "That's a promise."

She knew she could count on him just like she had in the past. "Why? Why are you doing this for me? Is it that you somehow feel responsible?"

Ash shook his head, his determination clear. "Because I want to. That's all there is too it. You were my traveling companion and my friend. I'd like to think that you could still be. We didn't choose to be enemies and we can choose not to be. I know I said I wouldn't help you, but I was just upset about mom. She was alright in the end, I know you wouldn't have hurt her. I'll do this for you; I'll make sure you're not controlled by that terrible spirit. I'll get it out of you somehow. It's not out of guilt or responsibility; I'll do this because I want to."

Despite it all, Misty couldn't help it but to smile. "Some things never change. You can't see a problem and leave it alone; you're always wanting to help. It's like... loyalty."

"I guess so," Ash grinned the familiar cocky smile that he use to have back when he turned his hat backwards as he threw out a pokeball in a battle he fully expected to win. "For now, let's get out of here."

xoxox xox xoxox

After finding a way out of the underwater facilities, Ash and Misty returned to Pallet Town. Misty called her sisters to assure them that she was alright and that she would take a while to return. If it was up to her, she would keep them out of all this danger. The cafe where Delia used to work and live was closed and the house had not been inhabited in many years. Instead they went to the Oak residence where Misty remained while Ash returned to Viridian City to further investigate the past.

The words access denied flashed across the screen and Delia sighed. "I can't access the files, but I know someone who can." She offered.

The door to Giovanni's office burst open at that very moment and the Rocket boss himself entered. He found his wife and son at his desk crowded over his computer. His meeting with the main executives of Team Rocket was obviously expected to last longer than it actually did. He gave them a stern look and inquired with a voice that demanded the truth. "What are you doing here?"

Ash confessed with no resistance. "Searching for an explanation about Coral. It's obvious you know more than you were letting on."

Giovanni went to the sitting area of the office and sat down. Ash hurried after him, standing in front of him impatiently while Giovanni reached over to pour himself a drink from the bottle that had been left on the coffee table before. Under the watch of Ash's impatience, Giovanni revealed, taking a calm sip of his drink. "Coral was imprisoned in a secret underwater facility built over legendary ancient ruins. Theories concerning Lugia, Kyogre and several legendary pokemon surrounded the ancient shrine, but none were proven to be true. Tidus knew something about that place, yet he took that information to the grave. Coral refused to reveal what she knew, thus she was kept there. An experiment was conducted to try to communicate with the strange forces that inhabited the ruins and she disappeared during it, never to be seen again. That is the whole story. You have been there, haven't you?"

"I have," Ash admitted. He sat down next to his father as he came to a realization. "You permitted it. Even if you sent Comet ahead to check out the area you didn't do anything to stop me."

"Yes," Giovanni admitted. "This was a mystery that could not be solved. A mystery that was seemingly taking up more resources than it was worth. You have a knack for unraveling legends. How many have you discovered over the years?" Giovanni paused, looking to Delia who was still occupying his chair behind the desk. "The password is a2u12e7r1b3."

Curious and surprise, but not too much, Delia entered the password. "I guess this means you've already given Ash a mission." She concluded as she looked over the files.

"Yes," Giovanni confirmed. "Unravel this legend," he tasked his son with a new mission. "Report all that you find. If there is a legendary pokemon involved, I want to capture it. As for Misty, not she or anyone else will be able to take Delia hostage again. As long as there is no carelessness involved, the Azure Alliance doesn't really represent a danger. If anything, they'll keep the police occupied chasing after a gang that they can more realistically take on and reduce their useless, but still annoying, efforts against Team Rocket."

"Does this mean that you'll tell me what you know?" Ash insisted.

"Yes, it is all in the system. Something about ancient tribes and superstitions," Giovanni replied with a calculating voice.

"I know that part already," What followed was Ash's narration of what he heard being spoken by Coral's ghost and thus as a consequence, the revelation of her ultimate fate. "So you see, Tidus didn't want to betray you, he was possessed and now Misty is too. But I intend to save her."

"You say that power is not from a pokemon, but from embittered humans of ancient times?" Giovanni mused over Ash's words. Delia had come to join them and was listening intently. "So it was all set in motion by our ancestor?" He wore the shadow of a grin as if considering if that was something he might do in his ancestor's place, though he would have been more careful and cunning about it.

"Do you believe me?" Ash asked with a touch of seriousness and at the same time, the inexplicable assurance that he would be believed.

Giovanni chuckled lightly. "You've told me stories of stranger things and I have even witnessed some. There is no reason for me to doubt what you have told me. I'll make you a deal. The Azure Alliance may continue causing trouble to other criminal organizations and the police, but is to avoid all contact with Team Rocket. Bring back information; I want this mystery to be solved."

"There are no legendary pokemon to be captured this time," Ash reminded.

"I understand, but none the less there is power. If not for the sake of obtaining a power, then for the sake of adverting a threat," Giovanni vaguely explained, hinting at something unsaid.

"But you said the Azure Alliance was..." Ash paused, coming to a conclusion. "There is something else you know of that you're not saying." He glanced at the computer on the desk.

"Look through the files if you wish, but that last piece of information..." Giovanni revealed with a look of confidence, "exists only in my memories." That wasn't entirely accurate though, there was one other who knew and another who was very close to a vital aspect of the hidden truth without knowing it.

To be Continued

Loyalty

Alternative 12: Danger

Later... Ash, Misty and Gary were at Pallet Town discussing their next course of action. Ash thought Gary might be able to come up with an idea. They were all sitting outside in a sunny day that looked much calmer than it was. The information in the Rocket database was nothing Ash did not already know from what Coral revealed. He wasn't even sure where to start and Misty, despite being the one possessed, held no communication with the spirit inside her.

"Do you think Agatha might be able to help?" Gary suggested. The situation was surprising to say the least, but Ash really did have a knack for getting caught up in legends and the supernatural.

"Maybe..." Ash considered going to her for help, this was different from a situation concerning a ghost pokemon, but there was a sort of ghost involved.

The plan could not be placed into motion, as a loud noise pierced the air unexpectedly. There was a loud bang and a sharp pain overtook Misty as she collapsed to the ground in a growing pool of blood. All heads turned towards the source of the noise where there was a woman holding a gun, red hair, blue eyes... The woman stepped back and broke into a run with more agility than a pregnant woman should have.

Ash considered going after her, but Gary was already on the chase, ordering his pokemon to stop her. Yet a cloud of smoke overtook the area and when Gary managed to get through, she was nowhere to be seen. He was quick to put his pokemon on the job of searching every inch of the Oak lands, Pallet Town and the surrounding areas.

"Misty! Hold on!" Ash attempted to use his aura abilities to help her, but it wasn't completely effective.

"Make way, princey!" Laiki arrived out of seemingly nowhere. Though her job was treating pokemon, she had a fair amount of knowledge in human medicine as well. "Aren't you glad I disregarded what you said about not spying on Gary? I bet you're glad I'm here now!" She was swift in her actions, providing much needed first aid, though it was only temporary. It wouldn't be enough to help Misty recover completely, but it would be enough to keep her alive until she could be taken to a hospital.

xoxox xox xoxox

The whiteness of the room was asphyxiating, he hated hospitals. At least Misty was stable, Ash consoled himself in that. Her face was pained yet serene as she slept with machines keeping track of her vital signs. "Keep an eye on her." Ash headed towards the door of the hospital room in Viridian City where Misty had been moved via helicopter.

Gary and Laiki stood aside to grant him exit. The flirty blond woman replied with more cheer than the situation should merit. "Will do!" She linked her arm with Gary's, pulling him too close for comfort.

Gary slipped away from her grasp, "I'm pretty sure Misty is as safe as she could be here in Rocket territory, unless Giovanni dictates otherwise. But if it'll make you feel better, Laiki and I can take turns guarding her."

"Or we could guard her together," Laiki suggested with a wink of her green eyes.

Gary grinned with the look of one who had already grown accustomed to having to fend off such advances from this particular source. "Not happening."

Feeling reassured despite their antics, Ash nodded in gratitude, "thanks guys."

Out in the hallway, just outside the room, Gary stopped Ash for a short moment longer. "Where are you going?"

"To get to the bottom of this," Ash's face was set in strong determination.

"I don't think that woman was really Jessie," Gary pointed out. "She shouldn't be able to move like that with how close to giving birth she is. Something like that would leave her panting out of breath in her current condition."

Ash nodded in agreement. "That wasn't Jessie, but if I'm going to find out who it was and why she did this, so I can make sure to give her what she deserves, the real Jessie might have a clue."

"Revenge," Gary theorized, which caught Ash's attention. "She could be someone who wanted to get revenge on Jessie by framing her and provoking you to anger against her. Who has a grudge against Jessie?"

Ash thought about it for a moment as a look of realization invaded his face. The answer was as clear as day. "Jessiebelle..." Realizing the implications of this, he moved closer to the window and called out Charizard, aiming the red beam outside. The large pokemon appeared in mid air, flying next to the window. "Jessie and James might be in danger!" Ash exited via the window and jumped on Charizard's back, with Pikachu on his shoulder as always. He had no time to waste.

xoxox xox xoxox

Charizard landed in front of Jessie and James pokemon daycare center, which was in reality a small checkpoint for Team Rocket. It was also their home away from home for they spent most of the time at the main Kanto base in Viridian anyway. Everything was quiet and calm; it was in fact too quiet. Usually the yard would be filled with small pokemon running around playing under the watchful eye of a more experienced pokemon from Jessie and James, sometimes Meowth himself.

Ash recalled Charizard into his pokeball, thanking him for the ride and went for the front door. Rather than the chimes of the little bells on the door as it open, he got nothing, the door was locked from the inside. He tried again. "Jessie! James!" There was a click and a few steps back. James stepped aside to allow Ash passage. The scene inside the front counter room of the day care center was not a favorable one at all.

Jessiebelle was there, holding a small Eevee hostage at gunpoint. The little one was terrified. The other pokemon had been placed in pokeballs at Jessiebelle's command. Jessie was glaring at her from a corner of the room as if she wanted to rip her look alike's head off. If not for the hostage she would have tried and, angry as she was, possibly succeeded. "I thought you would come and I beat you here. I guess that detour caused by Misty slowed you down, didn't it?"

Ash gave her an even deadlier glare than Jessie, if that was even possible. "Why are you doing this?"

"Revenge..." Jessiebelle stated simply and bitterly. "Don't you know I'm doomed? I invested in Team Rocket some time ago as you might have heard. Giovanni found out I've been leaking information to the police. I was the one who told Jenny all about how to get to Delia and Giovanni knows. I was also the one who built a connection between Jenny and the Azure Alliance. Their original anonymous informant was me, before I passed on the duty to Jenny. She was my pawn you could say... But it's all over, Giovanni knows it all. I'm sure Team Rocket will come hunt me down soon."

"If you're angry at Team Rocket, then why didn't you shoot me? Why did you shoot Misty?" Ash shouted with challenging anger. His opponent was armed, but it didn't faze him in the least. His eyes at that moment were very much like his father's eyes.

"I hold no grudge against Team Rocket, I only hate that traitor," she motioned towards James with her gun, then to Jessie, "and the witch that stole him from me!" Then she aimed the weapon at Ash, who showed no physical reaction to it. "They are stupidly loyal Rockets. Do you know what would hurt them more than even their own deaths? Sorrow for their precious leader, the death of his son; but it wouldn't work if they couldn't see it. That's why I had to make you follow me, I knew you would find me if I gave you a clue in the form of my disguise."

Jessie and James' eyes grew wide in realization. "You plan to kill Ash!" James exclaimed with great worry and fear.

Jessie fumed, "now listen here, you sad excuse for a copycat, we're not going to let you lay a finger on the twerp!"

"Would you sacrifice your precious little pokemon then?" Jessiebelle's gun was once again aimed at the Eevee's head. That Eevee was the child of James' Growlithe, Growlie, his life long companion and Jessie's Flareon Flare, a pokemon she got from Ash. "Why don't you make the choice for them, Ash? Are you going to forsake this sweet little pokemon? It's just an insignificant Eevee, I'm sure your father could give you a hundred more if you just ask him nicely."

Ash remained silent, his bravado starting to fade. He wasn't afraid for himself, but he was terrified for Eevee, Jessie, James and the other pokemon. That Eevee was the child of the Flareon he trained since she was an Eevee. He later gave her to Jessie so that she could be with Growlie. Besides, no life was insignificant. He couldn't throw away Eevee's life; he couldn't cross that line, for he feared it would be the point of no return. It was a border that his father had surely crossed years ago, a border that he never wanted to cross himself. "Let Eevee go, your fight is with me."

"How stupid, putting your life on the line for just one pokemon," Jessiebelle mocked. "You are truly pathetic; your father would be ashamed!" A loud bang pierced the sound waves and a bullet Jessiebelle's head, the glass window behind was shattered and all eyes moved from the collapsing corpse to the man standing at the window.

Everything happened in a split second. Jessiebelle lost her grip on Eevee and the gun. She fell lifeless to the floor, blood gushing out from the back of her head, mixing with the crimson of her hair. She fell, Eevee fell, the gun fell. The pokemon hit the ground narrowly avoiding being caught under the weight of the dead body. The small pokemon scrambled towards James, who was the nearest safe person. Simultaneously a second shot rung out as the gun hit the floor and went off on its own.

Giovanni stood at the window, face set in disapproval. He looked like he was about to scold Ash for his foolishness but he spoke no words, he froze in place, the whole room froze as if the world was moving in slow motion. The second gunshot, the accidental gunshot of Jessiebelle's discarded weapon caught Jessie at an odd angle piercing her belly though not deeply, the bullet brushing her abdomen and coming out diagonally.

Jessie gasped, her voice was caught in her throat and she did not have the strength to scream. Her hands automatically went to her belly as her knees gave out and she fell to the floor in a growing pool of blood. It all happened in seconds, yet it felt like an eternity that would never be forgotten. James was by her side immediately calling her name, but she heard nothing, everything was a distant echo for her. All that Jessie could focus on was her own agony.

Ash rushed towards her with a glow in the palms of his hands. He pushed his power to somehow connect to the lives that were in danger, to Jessie and to her children. He held on to those lives with his own as tightly as he could, begging them not to let go. Everything was a blur. The ambulance arrived quickly, the paramedics summoned by Giovanni surrounded Jessie, giving her the best first aid science could provide. Ash didn't let her go the entire time, he kept his power focused on her, focused on those small flickering lights that were startled almost out of existence. He blocked out the rest of the world, he was unable to hear any of their voices, he kept his focus strong, he held on for as long as he could, until he was so exhausted that all he saw was darkness.

To be Continued

Loyalty

Alternative 13: Bittersweet

Ash wasn't sure for how long he slept. This was a consequence of pushing his abilities too far, of wanting to do more than he was meant to do. It was his attempt at bending destiny and it always left him in exhaustion. The worse part this time was that he didn't know if he succeeded and he feared that he failed. "Ash, honey... how do you feel?"

Ash slowly turned his head to the side, his head hurt and his vision was just starting to clear up. He slowly sat up, the room was white, the endless white of a hospital. "I have a headache, but I'm okay." He responded to his mother's gentle concern. Ash searched for answers in his own memories, but couldn't find them. He must have passed out before anything was definitely known. "How is Jessie?"

Delia's face was a mix of relief and sorrow as she tried to find a way to explain. There was no way around it, no way to change the truth. "Jessie is alright," she replied honestly yet incompletely. "She is recovering; the doctors say she'll be fine. The wound wasn't deep, her vital organs were unaffected, it was only a flesh wound for her." The hint of something more, something worse, was left hanging in the air for a few more seconds.

"And?" Ash's vision was clear now. He could clearly see his mother's expression. Her face was tired as if she had gone without rest for a considerable amount of time, perhaps a whole day or two, he wasn't sure for how long he slept.

Delia looked into her son's eyes. Her eyes were still slightly red, she had been crying before, it was easy to notice. "And the little boy will be alright as well." There was another moment of silence and it was obvious it pained her to say anything more.

Ash's face held a frown. "The little boy... one child, only one..." His twin didn't make it out of the ordeal alive. It was a great relief that Jessie and her son were going to be alright, but the other child, the loss was bitter, tainting the occasion.

"Ash..." Delia stumbled over her words. "I..." She trailed into silence, her own thoughts so jumbled together that she couldn't organize them into words. "Your father..." Ash got to his feet and Delia stopped him. "You just woke up; you shouldn't be getting up so soon."

It was when he felt a tug on his arm that he realize there was a drip. He removed it, pulling out the needle hurriedly and cringing at the feeling of pain. "I'm fine," he insisted with the stubbornness that Delia had become all too familiar with in both the son and the father. "I want to see Jessie and the child. I want to talk to James and call Misty." He paused, giving his surroundings another studious glance. "Where am I?" He knew he was in a hospital, but he didn't know where.

"Viridian City," Delia answered simply. "Misty is still here, Jessie, James, the baby and Gary. Laiki has gone back to headquarters though, the doctors insisted because she was... scaring the patients and Gary... albeit in different ways."

Making the patients think they were worse off than they were, to vent her frustrations with their worries was something Laiki would do. As to what she could do to spook Gary, Ash quite honestly didn't want to know, but he guessed that it possibly entailed high rated, inappropriate use of medical equipment for non-medical indecent purposes. Laiki wasn't a bad person really, not evil at least, but she wasn't exactly a caring soul beyond the few exceptions that she truly held dear and she held a rather loose set of morals that were peculiarly adjusted to the convenience of the situation and her whims.

'I see..." Ash finally voiced as he once again started for the door. "Get some rest mom; I won't leave the building for a while, so you don't have to worry." He smiled for her sake, trying to tell her that the worse was over... but it wasn't.

xoxox xox xoxox

Out in the seemingly endless hallway of the hospital, Ash found himself face to face with Giovanni sooner than he expected. The Rocket boss was walking over from the opposite side of the white hallway, heading in the direction to his room where his mother still was. The atmosphere was quiet as this area of the hospital was off limits to most, save for a few trusted visitors and the top ranked doctors and nurses. Ash didn't stop; he wanted to check on everyone and didn't have time to get into a discussion and possibly an argument with his father right now. He didn't breathe a word as he focused on the path ahead, continuing to put one foot in front of the other in an automatic rhythm.

"Ash," it was his father's voice which made Ash stop cold, even if he was determined not to speak with him at the present time. "Say it," there was a slight hint of annoyance in his voice, but there was mostly exhaustion, frustration and disappointment.

Ash's lips parted to speak, for a split second he thought the disappointment was directed at him and he was ready to either argue back or make up an excuse like he usually did, except this time he wasn't sure which of the options could best fit the situation he was in. Then he realized that Giovanni's disappointment wasn't directed at him, it was directed at himself. "Father?" He questioned unsure.

"Just say what you're going to say," Giovanni insisted unenthusiastically. "Get it all out of your system, do it now."

Ash tilted his head to the side in confusion. "What is it that you want me to say?" Maybe he was still tired, but he didn't understand at all. It was the calm after a storm. It was a time following the tension that had been so great, that they couldn't muster too much anger afterwards because they were simply tired. It was a bittersweet moment, a small truce to recover their bearings and go back to discord, or move on to a semi-satisfactory resolution.

"About Jessie and her children, about that child." Giovanni prompted with a slight hint of impatient that showed in his eyes, but didn't reach his voice.

"The one that didn't make it..." Ash understood. He closed his eyes, expression grave. Then he let out a deep breath and opened his eyes again. "It was an accident. I know it and I'm sure Jessie and James know it too." Yet that theory wasn't enough, not until he heard it from Jessie and James directly, if he even could. "It was Jessiebelle's fault, if she hasn't..." Ash paused, Jessiebelle, he had all but forgotten about her. She was dead. "You shot her..."

"You can't be realizing that just now." Giovanni looked at his son curiously. Had it not sunk in? That wasn't the main issue anyway; Jessie's child was, because Jessie and James were his friends.

"It didn't hit me right away," Ash admitted. There were other things going on, but that was no reason to disregard that particular happening. "I was so worried about Jessie that I didn't even think about Jessiebelle. Couldn't she had been stopped in another way?" Ash held no fire in his voice. The situation seemed hopeless; he had felt so very helpless that time.

Giovanni gave Ash a stern look. "You were ready to throw away your life for an Eevee, even if you should have known she would have killed the pokemon anyway. Not that saving it would have been worth it. What has your mother told you? What does she remind you of when you stupidly put yourself in danger thinking it's selfless and noble?"

Ash frowned, "that there will be worse consequences to pay with my sacrifice than what could have happened otherwise." The anger was back in his eyes for only a split second. "But that's not my wish!"

"Neither is it mine," Giovanni raised the volume of his voice to match Ash.

Ash looked at the floor, speaking in a softer tone. "I know. We disagree on things but... You would be upset if anything happened to me, I know that. Is that why you shot her? Because she intended to kill me?"

"Do you even require an answer?" Giovanni looked into Ash's eyes, scolding, angry, disappointed, yet concerned. "Sometimes I think I've failed to teach you common sense, but I shouldn't be surprised. You're a hopeless optimist like your mother, but you don't take things sitting down, like me. That's a very dangerous combination. Do not forget that your actions will affect other people, sometimes in ways that you don't intend, so don't do anything stupid."

"I'll try," it was an answer that Ash had given his father many times before and he really did try... but it didn't always work out exactly how he expected. No more words were exchanged between the two as Ash continued on his way.

xoxox xox xoxox

Ash took a peek into Misty's room. She was apparently sleeping on her bed, while Gary flipped through a pokemon science magazine on a chair next to her. He didn't even notice the door open a little and close again. He would have a word with Gary in a little while and Misty appeared to be in a stable health condition. He worried that Jessie and James were doing far worse, though not because of their physicals state.

He hurried towards Jessie's room and knocked on the door. James' voice from inside granted him entrance and Ash let himself in. The room was spacious, though there were so many there that it made it look smaller than it was. Jessie was on her bed, stirring awake as if Ash's arrival had woken her from a light nap. James was next to her with a small baby in his arms wrapped in a blue blanket. There were pokemon all around them, Meowth, Eevee, Flare, Growlie and the rest of their teams.

Ash approached Jessie's bedside, asking as he did. "How are you doing?" He felt like it was a stupid question, but he didn't know what else to say.

Jessie yawned, "I've had better days, but I'll be alright. Come see little Jonathan." She moved her head to glance at the newborn child. "I was so close to my due date that he was just fine with coming to the world a little early."

"Say hello to uncle twerp," with only those words as a warning, James handed the baby over to Ash. Ash stayed still as a statue when the tiny newborn was passed on to him. "Don't be so stiff, relax," James encouraged.

Ash tried to do so. He had held plenty of newborn pokemon in his arms before. Albeit pokemon, even in their first few minutes of life, didn't look this fragile. Jonathan was a healthy boy, but a human and newborn humans were especially delicate. Big blue eyes opened slightly to glance sleepily at this new person that was holding him. Those innocent eyes looked at him with curiosity in a small sweet face with a few strands of blue-violet hair atop his head.

Ash smiled at the child. It was clear that Jessie and James were holding on to him for hope. Yet he couldn't stay quiet about the darker event, but he didn't have to say anything either. As if reading the flicker of sorrow in his expression, which Ash would have guessed she was too drowsy with mediation to perceive, Jessie voiced. "It was an accident. Many more would have been lost if not..." She was sad, her sorrow was a deep one as was James' but they knew there was nothing more to be done and they still had one child to be grateful for.

Ash nodded, they understood, but he wasn't sure he did. James continued, placing a comforting hand on Ash's shoulder, though he felt he should be the one comforting them. "You were danger, you could have been killed and Giovanni couldn't allow that. This isn't even how he usually does things, he forces his opponents to face him, he gets information, he shows that he's in control; he doesn't just take a desperate shot. But he had to, because you were in danger and now that I have Johnny I can understand."

To be Continued

Loyalty

Alternative 14: Associations

It was a few days before Misty could leave the hospital. The being that took residence in her body made her heal very fast, but it also had consequences. She could feel her consciousness slipping. Daisy, Violet and Lily had been over to visit with a special permission that Ash managed to get after much insistence. Perhaps Giovanni only agree to make him be quiet. Misty handed all her pokemon to her sisters at the time. She was afraid to lose control of her actions and command her dear pokemon to do something she would regret if she was in her full senses.

Before leaving the hospital, after her sisters where let out and went on their way back to Cerulean City, unaware of the entirety of Misty's perils in hopes of not worrying them and getting them unnecessarily involved, Misty went to see the baby for the last time in she didn't know how long. Jessie was sitting by the window as a pleasant breeze blew; James and Delia were there with her. Misty's eyes met Delia's for a moment. She was informed of the recent happenings, Misty noticed that right away. Ash must have told her. There was an apology in Delia's eyes, but before she could speak, Misty shook her head and made herself smile. She wanted peace and Delia was pushed out of the wish to protect Ash. Protecting a loved one could make people do things that were extreme.

Misty held the baby for a while before Ash arrived to get her so they could be on their way. They gave their goodbyes and went on their way. Team Rocket was keeping an eye on the situation, but Giovanni's expectations were not too ambitious. This wasn't about legendary pokemon; it was about a human grudge. None the less, to prevent a repeat of the past, to rid himself of another enemy of Team Rocket, this had to be dealt with once and for all. The Rocket boss knew that Ash intended to seek Agatha's advice and perhaps in this situation that was what was best.

xoxox xox xoxox

Out of the hospital and into the Viridian City streets, there was a hint of a bright shade of red-orange hidden under a black hat, as someone wearing black approached, though the jacket covered the red R on his chest. "Hi," the greeting was simple, casual and to the point.

"Uncle Luke!" Misty suddenly exclaimed.

"Like how have you like been?" Luke asked calmly, with a kind smile.

Misty's jaw dropped. She struggled with her words until she finally stomped her feet and placed her hands on her hips. "You disappear for all these years leaving my sisters and I to think you're dead and that's all you can say? Do you know how much we missed you? You were all we had left after our parents..."

Ash looked around nervously, he was for once the one who was most aware of the situation they were in, they were in public and people's heads were turning towards them at the sound of Misty's outburst. He placed her hand on her shoulder in both comfort and warning. Misty took a deep breath and lowered the tone of her voice, going over her words in her head an extra time before speaking. "I know you had to, I know you had your duties... your loyalties... but still."

"I'm like sorry, you know?" Luke was, as always, casual and relaxed, but he was sincere. "But you like don't need to like worry now, you know?"

It was the same speech pattern that made abundant use of the word like that Misty's sisters often fell into. This was where they got it and it made her think about how much of an influence he was to them all those years ago. "How so?"

"Because you're like on Ash's side now, you know?" Luke grinned. "If you like join-"

"I haven't," Misty argued with an edge in her voice. "I haven't joined," she cautiously looked around not mentioning the name of the organization, "them," Team Rocket. "I'm just... we're only... We've teamed up to take care of something and Ash is helping out."

"Oh..." There was a hint of disappointment and perhaps more so concern, yet Luke's seemingly eternal smile returned as it always did. "You should like think about it, you know? Things are like not exactly like they appear, you know? Sorry I can't like stay and like catch up more. I like have some things I like need to do like now, you know?"

Misty nodded knowing not to inquire about what things because she knew he couldn't tell her. He was surely talking about his Team Rocket duties. "See you later?" She asked unsure.

"Like totally!" Luke cheered as he ran off in the direction of the Viridian City gym.

Misty sighed, "what an unusual family I have..." she mused with a hint of bitterness.

"You and I both," Ash's voice made her eyes travel to his face. He was grinning as if thinking that it was troublesome, but he was still thankful for them.

Misty decided to focus on what currently needed to be done as she followed Ash to his car. "Where is Agatha right now?" She got into the passenger seat of the bright orange car next to Ash, who was driving.

Pikachu hopped on to the middle of the dashboard where he liked to sit to get a good view of everything. "Not far," Ash replied. "She has a house here in Viridian and she's there right now. We'll be there in a few minutes."

Misty leaned back on the plush seat. She could barely remember him, though it didn't look as if Luke had changed much over time. Then again, it wasn't like he switched sides and joined Team Rocket, but rather he had been in Team Rocket since before she was born. "Have you known Luke for long?" She asked out of the blue.

"Yes," Ash truthfully replied. "Although, when I was younger he was always away on some mission. I barely said hi every now and then, but I knew who he was. I knew Comet too, but we didn't become close friends until later. When we were younger it felt as if we lived in different worlds. He was always with Team Rocket and I spent a lot of time away from it in my own journey. At the same time I was always with Team Rocket since I ran into them so often, especially Jessie and James. But I wasn't going on mission for them and Comet was. We trained differently, lived differently... Then there was that mission..."

"Mission?" Misty inquired curiously. She didn't expect any details about the mission itself, but rather wanted to hear about what made Ash and Comet become close friends.

"Comet and I always got along and respected each other as pokemon trainers, but that time, after I backed him up in a mission that he was ambushed on... That's when he started giving me hints about what he was sent to do for Team Rocket when he thought it affected me," Ash recalled. "He would still go on his missions and we even battle if we had to, but we could trust each other to still be friends afterwards. We even got into a fist fight once. One moment we looked like we were trying to kill each other and the next we were laughing it off. Mom saw it and later scolded us for giving her such a scare... right after she helped us up from the cliff we almost fell off from."

Misty laughed. The situation was still critical and she could feel the power inside her draining her will, but she couldn't help it but to smile at Ash's story. "I can imagine that."

Ash grinned back at her as his car approached a mansion. The place looked ghostly even in the middle of the day, as if it was haunted and in a sense it was, although the ghosts were pokemon. The gates parted by themselves, allowing Ash to drive in and park in front of the mansion.

xoxox xox xoxox

At the Viridian Rocket base, Laiki stretched out in her chair in front of her desk at the infirmary. "It looks like things are at a lull." She yawned glancing at the two human companions, Comet and Pixel and their pokemon. There were also two others who were not really their pokemon, but Giovanni's. The boss' spoiled Persian was there, along with a female Persian whose red forehead gem was like a horn. "What are you guys planning to do now?"

"Investigate when the time comes," Comet replied calmly, "then do what we must."

Laiki raised a curious eyebrow, "meaning?"

"This time as far as we know, there are no legendary pokemon involved in the mix," Comet reminded. "But there is an ancient hidden power and that, plus Ash is enough to make an action filled adventure. Something is going to happen and I don't want to miss it."

"Of course something is going to happen," Laiki chuckled. "With princey involved, something always happens. He's like a magnet for the powerful and supernatural."

"I don't want to miss it either," Pixel voiced.

"There you are, so eager to jump into an adventure," Laiki spoke in an exaggeratedly nostalgic voice. "It feels like only yesterday that you got lost in the vast maze of hallways in our underground city of a sweet home."

"That was yesterday," Comet pointed out teasingly.

Pixel pouted, "I found my way out, didn't I? I'm just so used to being able to see everything in electronic maps. It's so easy to navigate that way, although I'm not really navigating myself, more so directing the field agents I'm giving tech support to, just like characters in a videogame."

Laiki giggled, "I'm sure you have a blast... but really this does remind me of when we first met. When you two met, it wasn't such a great day for you, was it, Comet?"

"That's what I thought at the time," Comet admitted. "But even if I felt like I failed because I couldn't have finished that mission without Ash's help, I guess in the end it was all for the best. If not for his little interference, I would be short one pokemon or worse."

Laiki smiled with more amusement than her peculiar statement should merit. "Make sure you tell me all about it after the latest adventure is over while I make you cringe as I so kindly disinfect your scratches laughing the whole time."

"And who says I'll get a scratch on me?" Comet challenged.

"It's been a while since princey got a few bruises," Laiki mused. "That means that his next adventure will be intense and if the prince gets scratched so will the subjects."

"Then maybe we should join the fun early, to make sure the prince doesn't get bruised too badly," Pixel suggested.

"I second that," Comet agreed as he and Pixel started to leave.

"Alas, I'm stuck guarding the wounded in the castle," Laiki grimaced dramatically, then she waved goodbye with a grin. "See you later!"

xoxox xox xoxox

At Agatha's mansion, Ash and Misty exited the car and walked up a few steps to the ominous structure. The double doors of dark wood that marked the entrance to the luxurious residence opened up, apparently by themselves, and the pair went inside. There was no sign of human life, though Ash was sure that Agatha was somewhere in the residence, probably watching them. Not surprisingly, the faint presence of ghost pokemon was felt all around.

"Agatha?" Ash called out as he ventured a few steps further in, looking in every direction. He was determined not to jump in a startle if Agatha randomly popped out of a dark corner. "Agatha?" He called out again and once more received no reply.

"Does she know we're coming?" Misty asked; the silence of the mansion was eerie.

"I talked to her on the phone before I went to find you," Ash replied. "I'm sure she knows we're here..." He approached the stairs as Pikachu jumped off his shoulder and wandered over to the coffee table where there was a bowl of candy. The small yellow pokemon helped himself to some candy. Ash went up a few more steps until unexpectedly, a trap door opened and he dropped.

"Ash!" "Pikapi!" Misty and Pikachu called out to him. They ran towards the stairs past the grandfather clock where ghostly purple hands grabbed Pikachu and pulled him in. The trap door on the stairs had closed and Misty found herself alone in the room... Alone with the ghosts that refused to fully show their presence out of hiding. What was this about? What was Agatha trying to do?

To be Continued

Loyalty

Alternative 15: Links

At the Viridian Rocket base infirmary, Laiki's cell phone rang and she picked it up curiously. She didn't know this number. "Hello? Are you a secret admirer? Of course, you must be!"

"I'm not," the voice on the other line sounded very much like an old lady.

"Oh... wrong number..." Laiki frowned in disappointment.

She was about to hang up, but the voice stopped her. "Don't be so hasty, I have a message for your friends, but it seems their phones are off. Does that mean they will be joining us? If not, then please extend my invitation." The voice was very ghostly.

"Listen lady, I don't know who you are, but cut the mystery act," Laiki felt a cold chill run down her spine. "I mean it! You have no idea who you're calling here!" How was it even possible to feel someone's presence so strongly over a simple phone call?

"I do know who I'm calling, Laiki," the elderly woman replied. "Ash will need help; send him friends who can keep secrets... do not come yourself." The call disconnected.

"Friends who can keep secrets..." Laiki repeated in puzzlement, then suddenly the answer came to her. "Agatha, you're Agatha!" The call had already ended. "I can keep a secret!" Laiki huffed. Comet and Pixel were already on their way, so that left Gary...

xoxox xox xoxox

The door to Agatha's mansion opened by itself with Gary and Laiki stepping in, though she was not invited. "So much for staying in the castle." Comet grinned from his place sitting on the couch next to Pixel, who was tinkering with an odd machine.

Gary stepped past the door and towards them. "Care to explain what's going on?"

"I'm not exactly fully informed," Comet admitted.

"And neither am I," Pixel added. She took off her headphones and set them down on the coffee table next to the machine of many dials and lights. "There are too many ghosts in here; I can't track a specific flow of energy with so much interference." She looked towards the stairs, then the doors on top of the inner balcony, then the doors on that room. "We might just have to-"

An interruption appeared in the form of a Haunter holding a scroll. The pokemon dropped the scroll in front of Gary with the young researcher catching it instinctually. Just as suddenly as he came, the Haunter was gone. Gary unrolled the scroll and read it. "As I said, there are no shortcuts; you will have to go through the maze... Do not be stubborn, but be persistent, for the energy you spend will help further his purpose." That was the end of the scroll. "This means Ash, doesn't it?"

"I don't know why Agatha can't be clearer about what she wants us to do," Laiki pouted. Never mind that she had not been asked to do anything.

"There was a similar message before," Pixel pointed out. "It told us to find Ash. I guess that means looking for him by actually looking, rather than tracking him down."

"We'd best be on our way," Comet started towards the stairs. "If we split up we should find him faster, but there's so much ghostly interference here, we'll be out of communication."

"We'll just have to deal with it," Gary decided. "I'm not sure what's going on, but it sounds like Ash needs our help."

Thus the four of them split up, after Gary insisted to Laiki that she should not follow him. Gary and Comet went through different hallways upstairs, while Pixel and Laiki went their separate ways downstairs. By the time Comet and Pixel had first arrived at the mansion, there was no one there to be seen, Misty had already wondered in deep into the haunted structure before they arrived.

xoxox xox xoxox

Two opposite doors opened in a room with many ghost pokemon statues. Some appeared to shift slightly when no one was looking. The room was dim and eerily quiet, making footsteps sound off louder than they normally would. "Gary?" Laiki called out hopefully, searching for the source of the hint of non-ghostly movement in the dim large room.

"No, just me," Pixel came into view. "I haven't found a single trace of Ash or Misty anywhere."

"Me either," Laiki let out a bored breath. "I don't get what Agatha is trying to do."

"All these hallways are confusing," Pixel frowned. "I miss my digital maps."

"I really wish we had those." Laiki agreed. "Hey Pix, remember when you lost your way at HQ back when you were a rookie?"

"Yeah," Pixel laughed lightly at the memory. "That was when we first met."

"And when I saved you," Laiki chuckled.

xoxox xox xoxox

A few years prior... Pixel walked down the long confusing hallways of her new home. She was officially dead to the world at her own request. She never liked her old life, the existence of a boring civilian who never did anything worth remembering. She craved for adventure and was more than willing to throw herself into it. However, her first attempts ended in failure and she left the newly expanded tech department, with no choice but to give up her first pokemon, a Porygon she had named Prism. She ended up running around making deliveries for a while until her place in Team Rocket could be more accurately determined.

Turning a corner, she almost bumped into another Rocket, this one with the face of a true criminal. His deep green hair reminded Pixel of the color of moss and his dark violet eyes had a certain sinister look to them. She stepped aside and walked past the unknown man, not paying him any mind. This was Team Rocket, a criminal organization, it came as no surprise that there would be people who actually looked like criminals.

Further down the hall, she came to a room that resembled a lobby and was equipped with several vending machines. A few people in Rocket uniforms were hanging around chatting idly. She approached one of the vending machines where a red haired man had just retrieved a drink from. Unlike the man from before, this one didn't quite look like a criminal, instead having the typical face of a good boy, though there seemed to be a hint of hidden mischief in his blue eyes. She didn't know if he was a rookie or not, she didn't really know anyone all that well yet.

Retrieving her drink from the vending machine, she left off in the direction from where she came. Within the Rocket base deep under the Viridian Forest, day and night made no difference, though Pixel had the vague notion that it was night time outside, not that it mattered, as Team Rocket operated twenty-four seven. Taking a wrong turn, she went down a hall of rooms with unfamiliar numbers in a hallway belonging to the accommodations of new recruits, the place where she would take residence for some time until she was later promoted, though such hopes were still far away at the time.

The man with green hair emerged from one of the doors, spotting the blue haired girl, an obvious rookie, apparently lost. Seeing as she had taken a wrong turn, she went back to find the proper room number, though this time she was followed. "Hey, rookie."
"Me? What?" She sipped her drink with indifference; she was now a criminal too, so she saw no need to make a fuss out of a criminal talking to her. "By the way, my name isn't rookie, it's Pixel," it was a codename as part of leaving her old identity behind to exist only as one of Team Rocket's secret agents.

"You need to know who's in charge here, rookie," he snarled. "Now listen up..." He paused seeing as the girl was walking away ignoring him. "Hey!" He grabbed her by the shoulders making her turn around to face him. With little more than an angry growl she kicked him as hard as she could in the most painful place possible, taking him completely off guard. This allowed her to escape his grip and move behind him, kicking the back of his legs to make him fall. "You'll pay for this!"

He was about to get up and Pixel knew that if he did that would be bad news. She did the only thing she could do; she jumped on his back, repeatedly. Laughter invaded the atmosphere as a blond woman with two green locks framing her face arrived on the scene. "I thought I heard yelling and what an amusing scene I've found! Although, you should break it up before the squad leader sees this, the grumpy old fool will probably put you both through a lot of extra training." Pixel jumped off the green haired man's back, wondering if he would listen to the seemingly higher ranking agent. He got to his feet quickly, obviously with no intentions of listening, his anger clear on his face. "I don't think that's such a good idea," the blond warned.

"Don't meddle!" The man glanced at the blond just long enough to see the reason for her confidence. She held a gun aimed right at him, point blank.

A loud bang was heard, which effectively alerted the squad leader in charge of all the agents in that hallway. The older Rocket hurried to the scene of the commotion to find an excited looking blue haired girl with the expression of a kid in a candy shop, a satisfied blond he recognized as the resident pokemon nurse, and a green haired man, one of the recruits he was in charge of, trying to stop the bleeding from his arm. "You again? That's it!" He pointed his own gun at the moss haired man for emphasis. "I'm shipping you to Hoenn for some intensive training. When I say stop picking fights with your teammates I mean it; you too young lady."

"But I'm..." Pixel began to say, wondering if she should continue or just shut up.

"She's not part of your squad you old coot. Ever heard of retirement? Give someone hot a chance!" Laiki stepped in.

The squad leader grumbled, loosing a few more of his graying violet hairs in stress. "You know no discipline!"

"Whatever, let's go, the rookies should be just about done with a training session and I planted a hidden camera in the guys locker room!" Laiki announced happily, then hurried off with Pixel following her. Away from the moss haired man and the squad leader, Pixel thanked the blond for her help. "It was nothing, but let me tell you rookie, you need to be more careful, don't make threats you can't keep, but you have the right idea with the hit them before they hit you strategy. A surprise attack might not always work though. In cases like that, you need to look real cute and say 'hey there handsome, want to have some fun?' Then when he thinks he has you right where he wants you, slip something into his drink, knock him out and steal everything but the clothes on his back, and if he's hot, steal that too."

"Um... I'll remember that..." Pixel quietly replied.

Laiki giggled, "the name's Laiki, by the way. What do you call yourself, rookie?"

"Pixel," she replied a little shyly.

"Pixel... you look like a rookie, a defenseless girl... but you have quite the mean streak in you. I bet you're a total sadist at heart! So, want to join me in some man watching?" Laiki offered.

"I... I think I better get ready for my next assignment," Pixel ran off, this time going down the correct hallway.

Laiki giggled, "I have a feeling this isn't the last I've seen of her."

xoxox xox xoxox

Laiki's guess turned out to be correct, as a few days later Pixel made her way to the infirmary even if she had no necessity to be there. "Sunglasses indoors, that's the in thing, huh? Well, have a seat my peculiar friend, I thought you'd come by."

"I'm just being careful," Pixel replied as she sat down on one of the unoccupied beds of the infirmary, then resolved to lie down and rest, removing her sunglasses and folding her arm over her eyes to shield out the brightness of the white room. "How did you know I would come? I have no pokemon that need treatment."

"You're an outsider, someone with no previous criminal experience," Laiki explained, she had her ways to obtain such information. "As such, it's easy to guess that you would be drawn to try to find an ally in Team Rocket. Given what happened the other day, I guess that ally is me. Don't get me wrong, I only stepped in because I saw you have guts, normally, I show no mercy to sheltered rookies, I guess you're not that way after all. A bit naive to how a criminal lifestyle works maybe, but I think you can get the hang of it. I'm not one to help the helpless, so make sure you become a worthy ally. Speaking of which, if you tell me you're scared of Salacious, who by the way is many miles away in Hoenn by now, and are actually trying to hide your identity with sunglasses, I'm going to be very disappointed."

"Salacious? Who's that?" Pixel inquired.

"The guy whose hair looks like moss," Laiki informed.

"Oh him, I had forgotten all about that jerk," Pixel laughed. "I wasn't wearing sunglasses to hide from anyone, the doctor told me not to stare at anything bright for the next few days. This means I'm banned from video games and the internet so I'm dying of boredom, but I really don't want my laser surgery to get messed up or I might end up with even thicker glasses than before."

A moment of silence followed, until it was shattered by Laiki's giggles. "So that's it, you know, I can actually picture you with geeky glasses, but somehow you'd probably look cute in them. Ah well, I guess that's a thing of the past if you got your eyes fixed."

"Yeah, I like this new high definition world," Pixel laughed. "I might have been demoted to the bottom, but I'll just take it easy and not worry. I'll do what I can and things will turn out well, I just need a change of strategy I guess."

"You're sure confident for a rookie dealing with demotions right from the start. Just as I said, that's having guts. So... are you ready to put your recently healed eyes to good use? I'm sure you'll very much enjoy some high definition man watching!" Laiki cheered.

Before Pixel could reply, someone from behind the white curtains that separated the infirmary into sections got up and headed for the door. Pixel sat up to curiously look at the source of the footsteps. It was that red haired young man she saw near the vending machine before, but he look like he went through quite a beating. He had several visible bruises in shades of black and purple and a black eye along with a few cuts here and there.

"Aw, did we wake you from your nap, Comet?" Laiki teased.

"I'm probably better off not hearing your conversation. There are things I don't want to know," Comet approached the door.

"Wait," he stopped at Laiki's voice and turned around.

With a grin that didn't match his current state, but was still real, he assured. "I just got a promotion, I should be happy, I mean I am happy. I'm just busy; I need to train my pokemon and myself to make sure I'm ready for my next mission." Then he left.
"Was he another rookie?" Pixel curiously asked.

"Comet?" Laiki laughed, "Yeah right, he's more like the opposite of a rookie. He was born and raised in Team Rocket, I joined when I was really young, but Comet has never lived outside of Team Rocket. He just got promoted and if you've seen the ranking charts, that's really something. Things just got a little rough for him on his last mission, but he managed to get it done. He's been upset over the setbacks, even if the boss still recognized his against-all-odds victory. Although, Giovanni doesn't know he had help... Somehow, I think he cheered up just now... Ah, but don't go getting all shy around him. Let's see some of that predatory spirit!"

Pixel shook her head with a slight pink tint on her face. "I'm not... um... maybe I should go rest in my room. See you later, Laiki." She hurried away.

"Wait a minute, what about man watching?" Laiki called after her to no avail. "I guess she won't be joining me this time..."

To be Continued

Loyalty

Alternative 16: Exorcism

One of the doors that led to the room of many statues was opened, granting passage to an old lady that looked far more harmless than she was. The ghost master slowly made her way towards the two young women who occupied the room other than herself and the hidden ghosts. "Laiki, come, child, if you insist in being here, you shall witness the trials along with me."

"Trials?" Laiki inquired with the raise of an eyebrow.

"What trials?" Pixel further questioned.

"I must test you," Agatha explained, leaving the statement purposely ambiguous.

Pixel huffed, "like I care. I know you're high ranked and all, but I couldn't care less about your approval unless it's an order from the boss. I'm sure Comet won't participate either."

"Indeed," surprisingly, Agatha smiled. "It is that resolve of loyalty that made me choose you for this, because I know there's one exception, yet at the same time there are none. You are like the knights of a kingdom loyal to the king... and to the prince as well."

"What about me?" Laiki protested. "I'm loyal to Team Rocket too!"

"I know," Agatha acknowledged, before her face turned serious and she shook her head slightly as she let out a breath. "But you're too easily distracted and trigger happy. This is an operation that most not be burdened with extreme emotions, it must be full of the purity of amused loyalty. Besides, there are only four cardinal points, to add a fifth would render the spell useless."

"So we're elements of a spell," Pixel concluded. "Care to elaborate?"

"It is an exorcism..." Agatha began to explain how the spell she had in mind would work, albeit she was only scratching in surface of its complexity.

xoxox xox xoxox

Just as Pixel and Laiki had run into each other while exploring Agatha's haunted mansion, Comet, Gary and Ash had inexplicably crossed paths as well. "Gary, Comet!" Ash rushed towards the center of the circular chamber with a dome-like roof of black stone, much like its walls and floor. "What are you guys doing in Agatha's basement?"

Before they could ask Ash if he knew about Agatha's true intentions, they were presented with the enigma of Ash's question. "Basement?" Gary echoed. "Weren't we upstairs?"

"We were," Comet confirmed. Running into Gary, who was also exploring the upper floors was not such a big surprise after the many twists and turns of the hallways, but he didn't remember heading down at any time.

"This is deep underground," Ash pointed out. It was a fact that he was certain of and neither Gary nor Comet was about to question his keen aura empowered senses. "I've been trying to find Misty, but I haven't been able to get to her. She's here, I just don't know where exactly. Aside from knowing that we're deep beneath the earth, I can sense little else and all these ghosts fogging my senses are giving me a headache. I was separated from Pikachu too, but somehow, I know he's alright, I think he's with Agatha."

Footsteps were heard as Pixel joined the others in the chamber. "Hey..."

A chorus of automatic, puzzled sounding "hey?" replied to her.

"What's with those looks of confusion, I'm not that late, am I?" Pixel observed their faces for a moment longer. "I take it this means Agatha didn't explain herself?"

"Did she tell you something?" Ash inquired with urgency.

"Yes and no, she wasn't exactly specific, but I got the basic idea," Pixel revealed. "We're performing an exorcism. Agatha has been researching the supernatural for many years. She tried to do this when it happened last time, but it didn't work. Tidus was consumed by the hatred of his ancestry and completely taken over. Agatha said the chances of success are much better now because the north can use aura."

"The north?" Ash questioned.

"I'm not sure about what she means, but it looks like we'll have to take our places soon." Not a second passed after Pixel spoke when various ghost pokemon faded into existence.

A Chandelure floated above and from the ghostly light it projected, Misty faded into existence as if the ghostly forces all around were strong enough to teleport her there. The Chandelure continued to float above, spinning in pace as Misty floated motionless in the center of the chamber as if in a trance. There was something malicious in the air... something malicious and tragic.

A Shuppet approved Comet, becoming a Banette as it got closer. Yet it was not evolving, it had been a Banette all along, the Shuppet was an image of the past that resonated in the haunted chamber. For a split second, a man who looked very much like Comet was seen standing on the western side of the chamber, which was somehow mysteriously devoid of doors or passages, completely sealed off as if it had been that way all along. Comet stepped forward; his father couldn't be there, could he?

The image faded into nothingness, leaving Comet to stand in the same place where his father stood years prior. Comet realized that he too was an image of the past. Luke had participated in the attempted exorcism that failed to free Tidus years ago. There was something in that spot where he stood, the feeling of a link of loyalty, it flowed from his father to the leader of Team Rocket, somehow, Comet knew. Then the flow of energy dissolved into nothingness and a new flow began. Perhaps he was beginning to understand.

xoxox xox xoxox

A few years prior... in one of the many training rooms of the Viridian Rocket base, Comet was training with his Gyarados and Scyther. "Alright you two, we have one less ally for now and the missions will only get harder from this point on, so let's get ready." There was no use in regretting the past, he just had to improve. Like his father had said, he had to make the best of what he still had.

The mission that almost ended Zangoose's life and left the pokemon in a long recovery was supposed to be a simple one that took an unexpected turn for the worse. Comet wasn't supposed to be expected, there wasn't supposed to be an ambush waiting for him. It was a simple one person job that a trained Rocket agent should be able to handle. A certain enemy of Giovanni who had been hindering his business, owned a villa in the middle of a valley. The picturesque little valley was at a low clearing between several mountains, next to which there was a large lake. The lake had grown with the passing of time, making it vital for the preservation of the villa that a dam was built to stop the water from flowing into the low plains of the valley.

Comet's mission was simple, he was to sneak in, plant a time bomb on the dam and sneak out, leaving it to blow up. The damage done to the dam's weakest point would be enough to summon a chain reaction causing it to give up under the pressure of the contained water and it would flow the villa next to it. The surrounding mountains would obstruct the flow of water, causing the valley to become a sort of extension to the lake and thus making all hopes of restoring the villa to its previous luxurious and dry state to be extremely difficult at best.

Things seemed to be going well in the beginning. Finding the place in the middle of the night and getting close to it was an easy task, almost too easy. At the time, agents didn't always have additional tech support when sneaking around, so they lacked that extra pair of eyes and ears that could see and hear things that those directly involved on the scene would not perceive in the same way. It was a time when the Rocket tech department was still growing and the importance of hackers and technological support was beginning to be truly recognized. For that mission, Comet was alone with his pokemon as his only available allies.

Since no one was supposed to be expecting his arrival, Comet didn't think there would be all that many guards; however, the lack of any guards at all made the situation seem very suspicious. Even if an attack wasn't expected, a place as important and valuable as this should at least have some vigilance. To make matters more suspicious, he didn't notice any lights from the villa when he saw it from afar. It was almost as if it had been deserted in advance as a safety measure for his arrival. That made no sense; there should be no suspicions and the information given to him by the executives had never been wrong before. Perhaps the villa's master was called out on urgent business and had to leave. None the less, his precious villa would be ruined all the same as a warning from Team Rocket that no one should ever anger the boss.

The cliffs next to the dam were extremely steep and the dam was quite strong around the edges. The weak spot was in the middle in the shape of a gigantic glass window. Of course the glass was specially reinforced to be very resistant, but the bomb was powerful enough to shatter it. The window view was actually composed of two windows parallel to each other with a narrow hallway in between, the view of the lake aquarium on one side and the villa on the other.

With no one to stop him, Comet headed for that hallway, ignoring the alarm of his instant telling him to turn back. It was a bad time to get too confident as he was ambushed before he could plant the bomb. Gyarados was too large to fight comfortably in the enclosed space between the two glass panels, leaving Comet to rely on Scyther and Zangoose, his only pokemon aside from Gyarados at the time. Very outnumbered and thus overpowered, the mission turned into a retreat that led him to the top of the dam.

He had lost the bomb in the fight and it was in enemy hands. Comet and his pokemon were both injured as a result of being so outnumbered. Yet he wouldn't give up. He wasn't going to fail his mission, he couldn't. "Gyarados!" Comet released the large pokemon into the side of the dam where the lake was. "Destroy the glass with hyper beams; keep hitting it until it shatters!" Gyarados obeyed, immediately going on a relentless attack. "Scyther, go on the other side and attack the other glass wall!" Scyther flew towards the dry side that was parallel to the villa, continuously attacking the glass on that side.

The situation left Comet with only Zangoose to aid him against the enemies. The lake's water splashed onto the narrow surface of the dam's top bridge, drenching him and his numerous opponents in cold water mixed with their own blood. Suddenly, a loud bang pierced the air. Comet wanted to look, but he was occupied with the thugs that were trying to restrain him, yet he knew that sound to be a gunshot and he knew it had to have been meant for him. He tried to put some distance between himself and his attackers. Then he saw Zangoose bleeding with a bullet wound.

"Zangoose!" Comet tried to recall the pokemon, but the pokeball was knocked out of his hand, rolling across the floor of the dam's bridge as it shook. What now? He could jump and have Scyther catch him, making a speedy get away through the air. Then he could recall Gyarados from there, make a temporary retreat and come back better prepared to finish his mission. But what about Zangoose?

"Thunderbolt!" The world was consumed by a yellow flash. Lightning was all around Comet and Zangoose, he could feel it stinging, but only lightly as the atmosphere was electrified. It wasn't a direct hit; somehow, everyone around him was being electrocuted but not him. The light cleared and a several pokemon stepped forward to fight under the command of Giovanni's son, Ash.

xoxox xox xoxox

In the present time, Comet closed his eyes and focused.

"That was a lot to take on alone." Ash's voice ran through his memories.

Then his own past reply followed. "I failed... For the first time I failed."

"The dam was destroyed, just like my father wanted," Ash had pointed out after the mission was over.

"With your help... But you're the boss' son; I'm supposed to fight for you, not you for me. What would Giovanni say?" Comet insisted in disappointment.

"He doesn't need to know," Ash assured. "In fact, I would prefer that he doesn't know I was there. Besides, you have something else to worry about, Zangoose needs medical attention. You should have retreated sooner, he could have been killed."

"If not for you, he would have been..." Comet frowned.

"Don't be so hard on yourself, just be careful next time." Ash tried to smile reassuringly, in a friendly way. "One more thing," he pointed out with importance. "It's true that I'm not supposed to fight for you... but you're not supposed to fight for me either, because we should fight together."

Comet mirrored Ash's grin, the faces were different but the expression was identical. He had a lot to think about, a lot to discover about working with his pokemon... and he would do it...

A Misdreavus floated towards Pixel, guiding her to the eastern side of the chamber where the image of Coral faintly flickered before disappearing. At the same time the Misdreavus became a Mismagius. It floated next to Pixel as she too closed her eyes and focused.

A Duskull approached Gary, guiding him to the southern area of the chamber, where he stood facing Ash. The image of Delia was there for a split second before it disappeared. Simultaneously, the Duskull became a Dusclops.

Ash watched as Gary took his position next to the Dusclops. His mother had been there years ago. She had participated in trying to free Tidus before his will was consumed and he was pushed towards betrayal. Finally, Ash looked towards the spot where he was to stand a little further towards the northern side of the chamber. The image that appeared like a forgotten specter for a split second was of his own father. "Dad... like always you know more than you let on. You wanted me to find an alternative because this method failed last time. But you realized that there was no time left... and no other choice..."

Ash stood on the northern side of the chamber where the image of Giovanni had been. Finally, his ghostly partner for the spell appeared, fading into existence with eerie silence. A vortex of shades of violet and purple levitated a stone as it floated next to Ash. The Spiritomb's green eyes and mouth became visible in the middle of the vortex, there was nothing more there aside from that. The green spheres that Ash expected to see spinning in the vortex were completely absent. Trusting in the exorcist, Agatha, Ash closed his eyes and focused. A compartment opened in the center of the dome's ceiling with a line of light appearing from it.

To be Continued

Loyalty

Alternative 17: Souls

Agatha's mansion had a prominent tower in its center. The tower was directly above the chamber were the exorcism was being conducted, with an opening on its floor that served as a tunnel of light going all the way down to the chamber. Agatha looked at the tunnel, seeing the glow of Chandelure below, dimming and brightening at a steady rhythm, everything was finally in place. It was time to try again and this time, it had to be enough. Even if all others failed before her, and her as well, this had to be brought to an end. "It's time for me to fulfill my promise... Agatha whispered. "This time it will either work, or end in an absolute tragedy, their freedom or their death... because of who they are..."

Laiki shuddered visibly as she and the other three inhabitants of the top room of the tower gave her wide eyed expressions. The tower was gray on the outside, decorated with shades of purple and violet. On the inside it was a majestic ivory with lavender swirls. The vertical tunnel that led to the chamber below faded from white to gray to black. "You're really creeping me out..." Laiki commented. "Oh if only I had a hot man to hold me in his arms! I'm sure that would distract me."

"Indeed," Agatha gave Laiki a warning look. "But this is not the right time to complain about such things. Please maintain your quietude."

Laiki nodded her head; she didn't want to mess anything up. "Got it, I'll be as quiet as a tomb!" Another shudder ran down her spine. "Let me rephrase that, I'll be as quiet as a very quiet living human."

"Good enough," Agatha agreed, then she sat next to the tunnel in the northern area. "Are you ready?"

"Pika! Chu!" Pikachu was facing Agatha from the southern area. He nodded vigorously; ready to do whatever it took.

Agatha then looked at the other two. He was at the west and she at the east. "Are you sure you want to do this?"

"Yes," Jessie replied with unbreakable determination. "My body still needs to recover, but exorcisms are about the mind, right? I'll be fine."

"Same here," James asserted. "We're Rockets too and Ash risked his life for us. We need to help him in any way we can. Delia and Meowth can take care of Johnny for a while, then we'll return to them with good news!"

"Very well, if you're certain," Agatha agreed. "However, you must not underestimate this task. Even if your bodies are perfectly still, the mental strain will be great. This may be far more difficult than the past attempt, which failed... but it is our last chance... because of who they are..." Agatha made a pause and everyone waited for her to elaborate. "But even so, Ash wields the power of aura, that is a sign of the possibility of success, so let us strongly believe!" Agatha began to chant a spell with ancient words that only she could understand. All of the participants of the exorcism began to glow along with their ghostly companions. "Everyone... Focus on your wish to help Ash and give that power to me, so that I may pass it on to him..."

xoxox xox xoxox

At first there was only silence for Ash, then he heard the soft waves of the sea and felt a gentle breeze. He curiously opened his eyes and found that he was no longer in the dim black chamber, but instead he was at a beach in a stretch of land that looked like the tip of a peninsula. He looked towards the ocean, then back towards the land. There was a tall volcano further to the north with smoke reaching to the sky.

Someone approached walking along the beach quietly. "I see you cannot get your mind off it. I am the same way, Blaze."

Ash looked at the woman who had spoken; her eyes were a pure blue and her hair a long brilliant red. She was dressed in elaborate tribal garments in shades of blue with golden jewelry that held many pearls and small seashells. "Aquamarine," the name escaped him before he could stop himself. This was Misty, he knew it, but he had called her Aquamarine. She had called him Blaze and somehow he knew the name belonged to him. He was there, but at the same time he was someone else, someone from a distant past. That's when he realized that he too was somehow dressed for the era in a tribal style, with predominant shades of red.

It looked like Misty had been completely overtaken by this other persona, a persona of the past. For a split second an echo of the past attempt at an exorcism could be seen by Ash. He saw a man much like himself, Blaze, and a woman much like Misty, Aquamarine. Beside Blaze stood Giovanni, his advisor and beside Aquamarine was her advisor Tidus. Then he knew, his aura could perceive it. The shaman of the past was not a man at all; it was a woman by the name of Aquamarine. The chosen one for vengeance and the enemy seeking reconciliation were the advisors that had to make the two leaders reconcile, the princess of the Azure tribe and the prince of the Crimson tribe.

This time however, Ash and Misty had not appeared as advisors next to the spirits of the past. They had taken the forms of Aquamarine and Blaze because of who they were... Words rung out clearly in Ash's head. 'For centuries to come, the grudge shall remain, as strong as the sun, with unforgiving blame. It is not of anger, of fear or despair; it is because of...' The voice was ominous and echoing, the sounds distorted yet clear. Then the voice faded away into silence.

"Blaze," Aquamarine called once more. "This is no time to be distracted. Our tribes are at an unrest," she approached him nestling in his arms. This was Misty, but she had the mind of Aquamarine.

Blaze's mind wanted to surface, yet Ash's aura permitted him to stay in control. "Allow him a moment..." Agatha's voice rung out in Ash's head.

Ash closed his eyes for a moment an allowed Blaze's consciousness to resurface as if it was another facet of himself.... and it was, because he was Blaze's reincarnation. Blaze wrapped his arms around Aquamarine. "The Volcano Master demands a sacrifice. My tribe left Mount Cinnabar to chase after the Ice Spirit and sacrifice it to the volcano. I do not agree with this, but if it's not done, the Volcano Master will drown this land with lava."

Aquamarine looked distressed. "The Ice Spirit is friends with the legendary Ocean Master, who will be terribly angered if the Ice Spirit is sacrificed. Please, even if I am an outsider, guide me to the Volcano Master, perhaps I can negotiate..."

"It's too dangerous!" Blaze protested. "Only high ranking members of the Crimson tribe are allowed there. The volcano master won't tolerate someone from the Azure tribe trespassing."

"I have to try!" Aquamarine insisted. "Please, Blaze, do you not trust me? I know we were both distrusting of each other when your tribe first left the mountain and came to the shore. But has that not changed during these past few months? Have I not earned your trust?"

"Yes," Blaze replied, "that is why I worry for your safety, because you've earned my trust and my love..." The secret lovers shared an affectionate kiss.

Agatha, who was watching the scene unfold, felt Ash's energy ripple through the psychic link. She chuckled in good humor, though only Ash could hear her. "Be still, grandnephew, allow your past self to show us what truly happened." Ash's energy settled and he didn't steal control back from his past self.

xoxox xox xoxox

That night, the members of the Azure tribe and the Crimson tribe called for a meeting. The Crimson tribe wanted to sacrifice the Ice Spirit, while the Azure tribe feared the vengeance of the legendary Ocean Master should the dear friend perish. Agatha's voice reached Ash again and only he could hear her. "Last time, I could barely see what was happening. It is because of your aura that I can see clearly now. It makes me wonder about what really happened back then. It seems Aquamarine and Blaze were lovers, but I could not perceive that before. They're love is forbidden by their tribes and thus they did not show it with their advisors near by. This time instead of playing the parts of the advisors, you play the parts of the tribe leaders, because you are their reincarnations."

Agatha's psychic voice continued. "I was counting on your aura to make this easier. I was also fearing that Misty's consciousness would be consumed by Aquamarine's rage. Now I must confess I am confused. How could such affection turn to anger? How did Aquamarine end up hating Blaze? Or was it something else that happened. This legend that birthed so many other legends is unclear, but we must solve it. The fact that you two have reincarnated and found each other is no coincidence. It is a sign that this must be settled once and for all!"

xoxox xox xoxox

The debate between the Azure tribe and the Crimson tribe continued late into the night and a consensus was not reached. In the past, the advisors had also failed to appease the animosity of the two tribes. Unknown to Giovanni and Tidus, the advisors of the previous exorcism attempt, late into the night after the debate had ended, Aquamarine and Blaze journeyed to Mount Cinnabar, where the volcano was the highest peak. This was something that had remained unseen by Agatha last time, as the disaster of the sinking peninsula at dawn had taken them by surprise and the exorcism failed. As a result, Tidus was completely overtaken by the past's need for vengeance.

Blaze and Aquamarine stood atop the volcano, the burning hot lava boiling below. "Oh great Volcano Master, hear my call and appear before us!"

The ground shook and a thick cloud of black smoke rose from the volcano as a flaming being emerged from the lava with a menacing roar. The creature known as the Volcano Master would later be called Magmortar by the pokemon research community. "Crimson Prince, where is the Ice Spirit?" The powerful being spoke.

Blaze seemed surprised that the pokemon could speak his language, but reacted quickly and apologized. "Please forgive me, Volcano Master," Blaze bowed, with Aquamarine following the motion. "I have not been able to locate the Ice Spirit."

"Bring me the Ice Spirit!" The angry Volcano Master demanded.

"Please, oh great Volcano Master, I beg you to tell me what drives you to seek vengeance upon the Ice Spirit? What can we do to quell your anger?" Aquamarine offered.

"Foolish humans! You understand nothing!" The Volcano Master growled. "I remained here so that my flames would not consume your village. I remained here so that the volcano would not erupt. Yet you make such foolish assumptions and are unable to grant me this one wish? I care not for your tribes; I will abandon my task here and find the spirit of ice myself!"

"This is it!" Agatha called out to Ash through their psychic link. "This is what truly happened; this is what initiated the disaster. The legend we knew, it was not completely accurate, this is the truth. Magmortar left the volcano, the volcano erupted and the flames consumed the land. The Ice Spirit must have died because of his heartbroken haste or maybe for a different reason... The legendary ocean master blamed the Volcano Master and the humans and in his grief for the loss of his dear friend, thus he destroyed the peninsula, yet the tribes blamed each other. Now is the time, you must appease the Volcano Master!"

Blaze's body began to glow as Ash pushed forward his current consciousness. Aquamarine gasped in surprise as he witnessed the scene. "Volcano Master!" Ash called out. "Please explain everything to me, you and I are similar... we both have the aura!"

The Volcano Master glowed in return. "Because the request is from a fellow wielder of aura, I shall tell you," he agreed. "It is the Ice Spirit, my dear Froslass that I seek. But it is not because of vengeance, for she is my beloved. Ever since my appearance changed," when he mysteriously evolved from Magmar to Magmortar. "My flames have driven us apart for I would harm her without wanting to do so. Yet I have managed to obtain a measure of control, I wish for my love to return to me, but if I leave the volcano to search for her, it will erupt."

"So that's the reason..." Ash realized. "Please be patient for a little longer, I will find Froslass and tell her what you've said. I'm sure she will return then. Please stay here, don't allow the volcano to erupt!"

A terrible wail of agony pierced the air as a group of people from the Crimson tribe arrive with an injured and dying Froslass. "Blaze!" They cried out in anger. "You have defiled our tribe's sacred ground by bringing the enemy here!" They fiercely accused. "It is us who have saved this land with this sacrifice!" They threw the injured Froslass to the volcano.

"No!" Magmortar shouted in agony, but it was too late. Froslass was already dead when he caught her. "My beloved!"

"The Volcano Master, he speaks!" The Crimson tribesmen exclaimed.

That's when Ash realized that Blaze had no way of understanding the words spoken by Magmortar. Aquamarine had never seen the Volcano Master before, so she was not shocked by his ability to speak, as she was expecting anything from the volcano deity. Ash concluded that the reason why Magmortar could be heard in the human language now, was because the pokemon's aura resonated with his. The Volcano Master was aware that there was someone else there along with Blaze; he could somehow identify who was in control. Yet at the same time, they were the same. In the past, Magmortar's wish had been terribly misunderstood and in the reenacting of the exorcism it was happening again.

"No!" Agatha exclaimed through her psychic link with Ash. "It's happening again, we are failing!"

"Misty!" Ash couldn't allow her to be consumed; he couldn't allow her spirit to be killed like this. In a surprising twist, Blaze's consciousness resurfaced, pushing Ash's mind back and taking control once again to protect Aquamarine from the angry mob.

Magmortar abandoned the volcano, rushing down beside Blaze and Aquamarine without touching them and setting the tribesmen in flames that rapidly consumed them. The angry Volcano Master rush to the base of Mount Cinnabar and burned everything in sight as the ground shook and the volcano began to erupt. There was lava, molten stones, ashes and smoke everywhere. Aquamarine and Blaze took on a ghostly appearance as they floated above the disaster, unable to stop it. The truth was so much more violent and cruel to witness than what they had previously thought had happened.

The legend had been lost in time and the truth was a shocking twist. The land was being destroyed and its burning inhabitants cried out in pain and agony. Lugia, the Legendary Ocean Master answered their call, blaming Magmortar and the humans for the death of his dear friend Froslass. Unleashing his great power, Lugia created massive tidal waves that sunk the peninsula, which had already been destroyed by fire. When it was all over, only the peaks of the highest mountains remained above the sea.

The restless spirits of the people of the Azure and Crimson tribes had a terrible vast anger against each other. They blamed each other, they blamed their leaders and they would become terrible vengeful spirits. "They are our responsibility," Aquamarine sadly voiced.

"Yes," Blaze agreed.

The powerful Lugia appeared before them. "You claim to take responsibility for the foolishness of your fellow humans that you failed to lead? If that is so, then what will you do? My anger has been appeased by vengeance; I have no further business here."

"They're darkness..." Blaze spoke seriously, "clean their spirits and give their darkness to me."

"No, give it to me," Aquamarine argued.

"Cleaning their spirits so that they may pass on will take many years. From time to time their anger will surface. I shall give their darkness to both of you in a way..." Lugia decided and in a brilliant flash of light everything faded into an endless white nothingness leaving only Lugia's voice to echo. "For centuries to come, the grudge shall remain, as strong as the sun, with unforgiving blame. It is not of anger, of fear or despair; it is because of the love that they share." Blaze and Aquamarine had taken the burden of the violent souls of their tribe into themselves because they loved their people and each other. "When fire becomes ash and water becomes mist, only then shall they be freed..." Lugia's final words to the tragic lovers were a prophecy and a promise.

xoxox xox xoxox

Epilogue

When Ash woke up he was at one of his father's mansions between Kanto and Johto. His parents were there and he understood why they couldn't tell him about the exorcism earlier. They needed to get things ready with Agatha and analyze the dangers with the little information they truly had. They knew he would have rushed things if he found out and they were trying to protect him. "Where are Misty and everyone?" He sat up, noticing Pikachu on the bed, sleeping next to him.

"Misty's okay," Delia assured. "She's resting in her home at Cerulean City. It is the end of the Azure Alliance and everything was resolved in relative peace. As long as they don't anger Team Rocket again, everything will be okay. Jessie and James are taking a vacation and focusing on caring for their son for the time being. Gary went back to Pallet Town to rest and Comet and Pixel are resting at Viridian. Agatha is at her house, they're all alright, just tired."

"Tidus died during the failed exorcism," Ash realized. "Coral couldn't accept that, the traitor wasn't even the real Tidus..." He paused looking at his father. "You knew that... and I think Misty understands it too. Then Coral was consumed with anger and grief, she wasn't possessed, but she wasn't herself. I don't think the Waterflowers will pursue vengeance anymore."

"You better be right," Giovanni replied somewhat sternly, but Ash could see in his eyes that he was relieved that his son had come out of all the dangers alright.

"I know it..." Ash assured. "What about the angry souls that Misty carried?"

"They have been absorbed by Spiritomb," Giovanni revealed. The pokemon's purple vortex had become blue and instead of green spheres it held pink spheres in its swirling energy. "Most of them have already passed on, the rest will remain in Spiritomb until they are ready to let go."

"Then it's finally over..." Ash breathed. 'Just like Lugia said...' he thought.

xoxox xox xoxox

A few days later, Misty and Ash met at a private cafe in Pewter City, left undisturbed in the most secluded corner of the VIP section. "Does your father know you're here?" Misty took a sip of her strawberry shake.

"Probably," Ash moved the straw around his chocolate shake before taking a long drink. "He has a knack for knowing things no matter how much people try to keep them a secret. Besides, I'm sure he expected us to meet up at some point. As long as you're not picking a fight with Team Rocket, I don't think he minds that much."

"I don't agree with everything they do, but I think I can learn to be tolerant... So please, when you do take over, make it better." Misty smiled.

"You know that's what I intend to do," Ash grinned back. He wasn't sure how he would accomplish it, but for once he wouldn't rush things. This time he would take things one step at a time.

"I'll help, if that's okay..." Misty offered.

"If it's okay with you..." Ash left the statement hanging.

A short moment of calm and pleasant silence passed until Misty inquired. "Do you remember anything from the exorcism?" There was a slightly pink tint on her face that for once, didn't escape Ash's notice.

"Um..." Ash remembered the kiss, he remembered Blaze's feelings for Aquamarine and he remembered his own feelings when he worried that Misty's soul would be lost. He laughed casually and finally replied, "total blank!"

Misty chuckled, "figures," she teased playfully, as if she knew that he did remember. She was only a spectator unable to control Aquamarine's actions, but she saw everything and felt everything. "Maybe you'll remember someday."

"Maybe you'll remind me," Ash whispered playfully, albeit quietly enough so that Misty didn't quite catch what he said.

Misty glanced at Ash curiously, but he only smiled back. She looked at her watch where a Seel's fins, one longer than the other, bent at an odd angle to indicate that it was one forty five in the afternoon. "Brock's sculpture exhibition will be starting soon; we should be on our way to the gym."

Ash speedily finished his chocolate shake and stood along with Misty. "How many sculptures of Lily do you think he made this time?" The two walked side by side with smiles on their faces as they exited the cafe.

To be Continued

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