A weary, disgruntled man wandered through the forest. His spiky brown hair, normally expertly styled in a futile attempt to woo girls with its fanciness, was sticking every which way as a result of the near constant presence of five moving appendages known as fingers. His face was stiff with the sun-baked mud he had once streaked across it in a moment of absent-mindedness. His clothes hadn't been changed in days, as was apparent by the smell hanging around him like a cloud of Stunky spray.
One could make the assumption that things were not right with this man, and they would be correct.
This man, Brock Pewter, had been teetering between peace and guilt over the past few days. He had learned from a passerby that his father, Flint Pewter, had died. He had been shocked, as one would have expected, but not sad. How could he be sad? His father had never been there for him. He'd been a slave to his job. Where most people had a dad, he had a father. It made him feel more guilty than sad.
He tried to forget about it, for he was in what he considered to be a much worse predicament. After some careful calculations done beneath the quiet glow of a lantern in the woods, Brock had come to the conclusion that there was a Battle Center nestled somewhere in the Viridian Forest. He'd spent days looking for it, and was now somewhat lost.
Okay, hopelessly lost.
Brock studied his map of Viridian Forest, fighting past the grime that was determined to stick his eyelids together. Spending days sleeping on muddy ground, especially in the rain, was not a happy experience. Brock was not normally one to complain, but even he, known to some as Mr. Optimism, couldn't find anything positive about sleeping on the ground with only a sweatshirt as cover.
The former Gym Leader was so occupied studying his map that he failed to register a tiny lump in the shadows beneath his feet.
Brock screamed, his map taking a short-lived trip into the branches of an oak tree. A multicolored Pokemon appeared practically out of nowhere, nearly knocking Brock flat on his behind.
"Spear!" The Pokemon snapped. "Spear, spear-ow! Spearow-spear!"
If Brock's instincts were to be trusted, which they usually were, this bird Pokemon was scolding him. He blinked at it, nearly getting his eyes stuck shut in the process.
The wild Pokemon, which Brock had now positively identified as a Spearow, lifted its wings, still cawing angrily. Brock waved his hands apologetically, hoping that this Spearow wouldn't resort to its true nature and attack him.
Of course, luck just so happened to be on vacation that day.
The Spearow shrieked one last time before swooping up and then down, aiming its long talons at Brock. The Poke-doctor barely had time to register what was happening before the Spearow's talons were in his hair, its beak pecking at whatever skin it could expose.
"Hey!" Brock cried. "Knock it off!" His arms flapped wildly as he tried to fend off the ferocious Pokemon. "Cut it out!"
The Spearow continued pecking and slashing, its screams of anger filling the entire woods.
Amidst all the ruckus, Brock reached for his best Pokemon's Poke Ball. Knowing that he needed six Pokemon to challenge a Battle Center, Brock had captured himself two wild Pokemon. While Caterpie and Pidgey weren't the most powerful Pokemon, as a former breeder Brock believed that every Pokemon could be built up to greatness with a lot of effort and love. He was proud to welcome them to his team alongside his Graveler.
"Graveler, go!" Brock yelled, throwing the Poke Ball in some random direction. The sound of the Ball breaking open was followed by a deep-throated growl Brock knew all too well.
The presence of another Pokemon drew the wild Spearow's attention away from Brock. It flew in a semicircle so that it was facing Brock's Graveler. It squawked in fury. With a jolt, Brock remembered a fact he'd learned long ago about Spearow from Ash.
Spearow were often jealous of human trained Pokemon. And he couldn't have made it any more obvious that that was exactly what Graveler was.
This was going to be interesting.
"Graveler!" he called. "Rock Blast, now!"
Two interlacing white rings appeared around Graveler's body. They soon transformed into small floating stones, which were then hurled at the Spearow.
At the last second, the Spearow flew upward, dodging the attack. Brock's jaw dropped in surprise. He had worked hard with Graveler to make its Rock Blast attack faster. He found it hard to believe that this Spearow was fast enough to dodge.
He watched as the Spearow dove for Graveler, its beak extending for a Peck attack. The attack hit, doing very little damage due to Spearow's low level combined with its poor type matchup against Graveler. The Flying-type Pokemon flew back, cawing in an irritated matter. Clearly it was displeased that its attack was ineffective, a fact that amused Brock.
"Graveler! Rock Blast again!" he ordered.
The boulder-like Pokemon tried its Rock Blast attack again. Much to Brock's disbelief, the Spearow dodged again.
How was this possible? Brock was sure his Graveler had done all it could to perfect its Rock Blast attack. And yet, here he was, being proven wrong by a Spearow.
The Spearow tried another Peck attack, which, of course, did nothing.
Praying to Arceus that it would work, Brock decided to try one last Rock Blast.
Brock couldn't help but smile as the attack made contact. Spearow, being a Flying-type, was weak against a Rock-type attack like Rock Blast. Brock watched as the Tiny Bird Pokemon fell to the ground with a weak croak.
Brock grabbed one of his empty Poke Balls. With a loud cry, he threw the holding capsule at the weakened Pokemon. The Ball sprang open, sucking the tiny bird inside.
Brock watched intensely as the Poke Ball shook. He had spent so long using Pokemon that had been caught for him at the Gym that he had forgotten the thrill of catching his own Pokemon.
The Ball snapped shut, glowing briefly as the Pokemon within was captured.
"Yes!" Brock cried, running forward to grab the Poke Ball. "I caught Spearow!"
"Grav!" Graveler cried out in joy.
Brock attached the Spearow's Poke Ball to his belt before recalling Graveler to its own Ball. As was typical of any Trainer when they caught a new Pokemon, he immediately began planning out what he would do with his Spearow.
He went from simply planning out a move set to trying to decide between evolving and not evolving. Fearow was a great Pokemon, but something about its evolutionary predecessor was more appealing to Brock. However, if he couldn't gather up strong enough Pokemon, he'd never be able to defeat the Battle Centers. His mind waged war with itself as he tried to decide. His train of thought was broken only by a single intruder.
He knew from years spent studying Pokemon that Flying-type Pokemon usually lived in flocks, and came to one another's aid when a member of the flock was in distress. Spearow were particularly notable for their flocks, which often took the unspoken law of looking out for one another to extremes.
So where was this Spearow's flock? Surely it wasn't all alone?
His question was answered by a collective inhuman scream that echoed through the previously silent woods.
Looking up, Brock saw exactly what he had been dreading most. A mass of bird-shaped shadows were descending upon him, shrieking madly. In the lead was a much larger shadow, which quickly materialized itself as a Fearow, likely the flock's leader.
Not even bothering to stop and wonder what had taken them so long, he ran. Pumping his legs like he'd never pumped them before, he sprinted through the woods. Branches slapped him in the face and raked his hair, but he ignored it. It wasn't like there was much this forest could do to ruin his appearance any more than it already had.
Now, Brock was by no means an athlete, but he was quite impressed with how well he was doing as he fled from what had turned into an ugly scenario. He had a feeling it was from the adrenaline, but he was still proud of it. He could only wonder what would happen if his energy supply ran out.
What a great way to start a journey.
Meanwhile, Ash wasn't having any easier of a time than Brock was.
"What do you mean I can't fight him?" he asked, waving a pointy finger at Benjamin Taylor. "I'm registered!" He pulled out his confirmation slip. "See? See? See!"
The Vermilion City Battle Center King looked thoroughly unimpressed. "The Tournament rules state that a challenger must have six Pokemon to battle me. I am not one to break rules for some delinquent boy.
"Delinquent boy!? I'm a man, not a boy! Do you even know who I am!?"
"Does it matter?"
"Of course it matters! I'm Ash Ketchum, the World's Greatest Pokemon Master!"
"So what you're telling me is that you believe that makes you superior?"
"Of course it makes me superior! I'm the best Trainer in the world!"
"If you were really the best Trainer in the world, you would be out there catching Pokemon so you could battle me, rather than standing here arguing with me."
"How dare you challenge my supremacy?"
Misty watched from the sidelines. Ash was not someone who threw around titles and declarations of supremacy. It was clear to her that whatever mature composure he had walking into this place had vanished, to be replaced by a childish one that wasn't earning him any plus points with Benjamin. She sighed. He may have gotten more mature and polite, but he still hadn't fully lost his immaturity. That fact was obvious to her at that moment, seeing as Ash's anger was revealing it to her in full.
Every time Misty thought she had an understanding of the grown-up Ash's personality, he did something to change it. From what she had managed to scrape together so far, he was mature and polite when faced with an emergency or calm situation. However, when provoked he turned into an immature, childish monkey that reminded Misty more of the old Ash than anything else. So which Ash did she like more? The mature one, or the cocky one?
She wasn't sure.
Benjamin, who by this point had grown quite irritated, was still trying to reason with Ash. Misty felt a flash of sympathy for him. When Ash was on a rampage, there was no reasoning with him.
"Mr. Ketchum, would you care for me to call President Kimbel and have him explain the rules to you? Would that satisfy you more than my own words?"
"Don't 'Mr. Ketchum' me, you turd! I want to know why Misty was allowed to bypass the 'six Pokemon' rule when I'm not!"
Yep, Ash was definitely childish when angry.
Benjamin's face was growing redder by the second. "Don't call me that."
Ash stuck out his tongue. "Why? Are you too childish to accept my argument?"
The Battle Center King bowed his head. Misty could tell he was doing one of those "count to ten" things. She honestly hoped he was a karate expert planning to kick Ash's sorry little butt. He deserved it for acting like a second grader.
At long last, Benjamin raised his head. The color of his face had come down a few shades. "Ash. I'm sorry that the rules are the way they are. I don't like it any more than you do. But I still have to reject you. If you come back with a full team, I'll take your challenge."
Ash was quiet. He stared furiously at Benjamin, his eyes glowing with fury. His whole body shook, making the hair on Misty's arms stand up for reasons unexplained. He looked like he wanted to tear Benjamin in half and feed his mangled body to the Houndoom.
He raised a hand and pointed a finger at Benjamin. "I want my challenge. Now. And dammit, I'll get it. Even if it means I have to force you."
Both Benjamin and Misty were taken aback at Ash's sudden change of nature. The temperature of the air inside dropped a bit, almost as if someone had adjusted the air conditioning.
Misty knew better than to think that.
Benjamin gaped at Ash for a few minutes before chuckling. "Don't make me call security on you, kid."
"I can handle them, too." Ash's voice was eerily quiet, making icy chills run up Misty's spine.
Benjamin looked surprised again. He blinked several times at Ash before resuming his normal face. He shrugged. "If you say so." He began to reach for a walkie talkie on his belt.
Ash's extended hand closed into a fist. Benjamin's arms snapped to his sides. His body wriggled as he tried to free himself.
"What the hell is this?" he demanded. "What is going on?"
Misty knew exactly what was going on.
Ash was using his Aura. Whether with or against his will, Misty wasn't sure. She bit her lip, praying for Ash to stop before things got out of control.
Ash smirked in a very un-Ash-like way. "Changed your mind yet?"
Benjamin looked confused for several moments before realization hit his face. "You?"
"That's right," Ash snarled. "I can do much worse, so I suggest changing your mind about battling me."
Fear was slowly creeping up Benjamin's face. "How?" he choked out.
Ash's eyes glittered with a menace that was foreign to him. "Change your mind. Or else."
"Do it, Benjamin," Misty pleaded softly. "Please. Before he hurts you... or worse."
Ash laughed then. Not a joking laugh, but an evil one. Misty's hands tightened around her knees, her fingernails leaving marks in her skin.
"Then I guess we'll do this the hard way."
Misty watched in horror as Ash brought his arm back and flung it forward like he was throwing a baseball pitch. Benjamin flew some forty feet, slamming into the back wall of the Battle Center.
"Ash!" Misty screamed, running toward him. "Stop!"
He ignored her as he stalked toward his victim. Benjamin was lying on the ground, dazed. Using his Aura, Ash lifted Benjamin a few feet off the ground before slamming him down again. He started repeating this maneuver, all while mocking the Vermilion King.
"Do you want to fight me now? No? What a coward you are, then! Afraid to fight me. Afraid to lose. You're a fucking coward, Benjamin Taylor." He said the man's name with scorn. "A fucking coward. I bet even your own mother would agree with me. Would she? I bet she would. You don't deserve this position. You never did. Why don't you just pack up your bags and leave? You aren't cut out for this job. You should just quit now before you're fired for your incompetence."
Misty grabbed Ash's shoulders in an attempt to stop him. "Ash, stop it! You're going to kill him! Stop it!"
He did stop- but only to bat her away. "Stay out of this, Misty. This isn't your fight." His eyes blazed with a mixture of fury and insanity that made the red-haired girl take a step back. As he turned back toward Benjamin, he said one last thing. All of the anger and contempt he felt was evident in those seven words.
"This is something I have to do."
Brock peered out from under the rocky outcrop. He was now at the edge of Viridian Forest, having run what he figured to be half a mile or more on his escapade from those Pokemon. He listened and looked for any signs of their immediate presence. The last thing he wanted was to leave his safe haven for a warm greeting from a frenzy of angry beasts.
All seemed quiet.
Releasing a breath he hadn't realized he was holding, Brock stepped out from under the outcrop. The sky above, divided between towering trees and clear blue, was empty. Using the observation skills he had learned as a child, he studied the surrounding area for signs of a Pokemon's presence.
He found nothing.
Sighing, Brock started walking until he was completely out of Viridian Forest. So much for looking for a Battle Center in the woods. He pulled out his map of the Kanto region and started thinking.
Where was the most likely location for a Battle Center? It had to be hidden. Hidden really well, in a place where no one would bother to look because they were too busy searching the big cities. But where? He was pretty sure there was no Battle Center in Viridian Forest. Now that he thought about it, placing such a place so close to the starting line seemed irrational. So where else could he look?
His gut told him to search other remote locations. Mt. Moon, perhaps? Or maybe the Safari Zone?
His heart told him otherwise. Deep down, he knew that he should go home. Visit his family, who were probably much more torn than him about Flint. Help them recover and ease the guilt he felt.
Brock stood in one place for a while, trying to decide. Home or victory? Which was more important? He had always had a rocky relationship with Flint. He didn't even refer to him as Dad. Just Flint. He didn't even know when his birthday was or what his favorite Pokemon was. His father had left him at a young age to raise his siblings while he toured the world, happy and carefree. The only thing he had ever done for Brock was take over the Gym again so he could go with Ash on a journey. Even then, he had dumped the Gym back on Brock after he had gotten his DPM, claiming that he was "getting too old for those rowdy young Trainers".
No, going home for his father wasn't the answer. Even though Brock wanted to be there for his family, he didn't think he could bear to listen to their undying declarations of love for him and their praise of him, like he hadn't abandoned them when they were all wee ones. Yes, abandoned. Brock thought that was a proper term for what Flint did.
But what if there was a Battle Center there?
That was the question that drove Brock's heart home, not his father. If there was a Battle Center there, Brock wanted to find it. He had to. He was going to prove to his father - to everyone - that he was more than Brock Pewter, Gym Leader. Or Brock Pewter, Doctor of Pokemon Medicine. No, he was going to be more than that. By the time he was done, he'd be Brock Pewter, the strongest Trainer in the world.
It had to end that way.
"Ash!" Misty clung on to the Pokemon Master for dear life as he thrashed around. Her attempt at stopping him by jumping on his back and holding on to him by his neck had stopped him from attacking Benjamin. However, his tirade was far from over.
"Let go of me!" he screamed. "Let go of me!"
"Ash, stop! Just stop! This isn't you! You aren't a murderer! It's your Aura that's making you do this! Get it together and stop this before you kill someone!"
"Leave me the fuck alone, Misty!" he roared. "I don't need your help! I don't need anyone's help! I'm fine on my own!"
Despite his bucking and screaming, she refused to let go. "No, you're not fine! You've turned into a maniac because of your Aura! Listen to me, Ash. Please! You have to!"
"Yes! You must!"
"No! Now let. Me. Go!"
He spun around on his heel, grabbing Misty's arm as he did so. With a massive amount of strength, he pulled the resisting girl off of him and flung her to the ground. She looked up at him as he stepped toward her, the intensity of his emotions making his veins pop and his eyes bloodshot.
He raised a fist, the likes of which was surrounded by Aura. His voice and his fist shook as he spoke.
"I-I told you to stop! You didn't stop! No one listens to me! No one respects my power! You all will see! I'll show you! Right-right now!"
And then came the first hit.
It was jarring. Ash had hit her before, but only ever in a joking matter. The worst he'd ever done was slap her, and only upon being provoked to do so by Misty's endless teasing.
This was much, much worse.
Pain shot through her right cheek as she fell back, crying out. "Ah!"
Ash raised his fist again, his whole body glowing with Aura now. "For so many years I've been ignored!"
By this time, Misty was seeing stars. She couldn't believe that this was happening. Ash, her best friend, was hitting her. And most certainly not in a joking manner. She knew this was Aura Ash, not the real Ash, but that didn't make the pain any less real.
One final hit.
Misty was flat on the ground now, her face pressed against the cold metal floor. All she was aware of was her own pain and Ash - no, Aura Ash's - looming presence over her. She felt his emotion like it was radiating off of him- which it pretty much was.
Blackness crowded as Misty prepared herself to take another hit. She'd always read about things like spouse abuse and child abuse, but never before had it felt so real.
And Aura Ash wasn't even her family.
Ash was preparing to hit the redhead again, but stopped mid-swing. His face went slack, his eyes suddenly hollow. His vision blurred for a moment before focusing again on the near-still form of Misty.
Misty, who's eyes were against the floor, had no idea that Ash had stopped swinging. As such, her body was extremely tense. She felt the tears beginning to fall, mixing with the blood that was dribbling out of her mouth.
The sound of Ash's voice, calm but confused, instantly relaxed her. Something about his tone told her that Aura Ash was over. She felt relief fill her from toes to head, and that made the tears fall even faster.
"Arceus..." Ash's soft voice reached Misty's ringing ears as realization hit him. Misty was lying here because of him. Him.
He had let his Aura take over. Again.
Misty coughed, dots of blood appearing on the ground beneath her face as she did so.
"Misty... I'm so sorry."
The ex-Gym Leader barely registered his apology, for her mind was clouded with a mixture of pain and shock.
"I need help."
And that was the last thing she heard before the blackness won.