"So you can pretty much turn into any Pokemon you want?"
"As long as I've been in contact with that Pokemon before, I can turn into it. It took a long time fer me to stop turnin' into Pokemon against my will, but I got it now."
"What else can you do?"
Daisy's fingers tapped against the wood of the picnic table as she thought. "Well, I can put up walls'a aura when I'm in danger, an' I can use Aura Sphere as a human."
"That's it?" Ash asked, disappointed.
She nodded. "Fer now. But I think I might be gettin' a new power soon. Just got that feelin', ya know?"
Ash blinked. "What kind of feeling? Like... physical? Or mental?"
Her finger tapping became more rapid. "Sorta both, I guess. It ain't a painful feelin', but it's still bothersome."
Ash glanced at her flying fingers. She looked like an office worker madly trying to finish typing a report for work. "Do you always do that?"
"Tap your fingers like that."
She glanced down at her hands, almost as if she hadn't even realized she'd been moving them. Ash wondered if that was some sort of side affect of having Aura. Almost as soon as he thought that, his hands started itching to move. He cursed himself.
"I guess I been eager to tell ya the real reason why I agreed to meet'cha here."
Ash blinked, confused. "I thought you said you wanted to teach me more about your aura."
"Well, that's sorta true," she said softly. "But I have somethin' else to tell ya, too. Somethin' real important."
"Well?" he prompted. "Spit it out, then."
She looked up at him, almost as if his tone surprised her. He guessed it probably did. Up until now, his tone had always been calm and peaceful. Now that he knew she had held something from him, however, his irritation was beginning to show.
She looked away from him. When she spoke, her voice was so low that Ash had to lean in close to hear what she was saying. "I lied when I said that there was no other Aura Master left. There're some out there still. Two, not includin' myself. One of 'em's real old. Ninety or somethin'. The other, well he's a good Trainer just like ya, Ash. His name's Giovanni. Works for Team Rocket."
The hairs on Ash's neck stood up when he heard the mention of his most hated enemy. "Why the hell didn't you tell me this sooner?" he demanded.
She still didn't look at him. "Daddy says he apparently only found out 'bout his powers recently. It's why nobody's heard anythin' from Team Rocket in a while now. Their leader's been in hidin', trainin' to perfect his aura powers. Once he figures some of 'em out, Daddy says he'll start goin' after Trainers again. Real powerful ones, just like the ones competin' in this tournament. Use his aura powers to subdue the Trainers into givin' up their Pokemon."
Ash slammed his fist down on the table, sending vibrations through the wood. "The bastard!" he spat. "Why the hell can't he just give up already?"
"You wouldn't, if you were'n his position. It's a new way fer him to accomplish things he'd failed at before. I ain't sidin' with him. I don't agree wi' what he does. But I get why he won't quit. Not now. Not until someone shows him that not even an Aura Master can conquer the world."
Not even an Aura Master can conquer the world.
Her words echoed in Ash's head. He thought back to the time when he had defeated Paul and claimed his title as World's Greatest Pokemon Master. He had thought he'd conquered the world. Then the Pokemon League came along with the tournament and showed him just how wrong he was. Was it the same with Giovanni? He may be able to take control of the world, but he'd never control the hearts of the people.
Daisy's voice brought him back to her. "Daddy also says that only an Aura Master can beat an Aura Master. That means that it's up to me to beat Giovanni."
Ash stared at her. His mouth itched to blurt out the truth- that he was an Aura Master, too. He forced the desire down, still feeling deep inside that there was something about this girl he couldn't trust. Sure, she had shared her aura secrets with him, but that wasn't likely even close to her biggest secret. The fact that she even knew about Giovanni's aura powers was suspicious.
She finally looked at him then. "I want ya to be careful out there, Ash," she murmured. "Once Giovanni's satisfied wi' his results, he'll bring Team Rocket back. He'll start huntin' down everyone and anyone he suspects has aura powers. He'll kill anyone who gets in his way. Don't let it be you."
He stared straight into her eyes. "I won't," he promised. "I swear."
It was a few moments before she spoke. "Okay," she whispered. "I believe ya. You've made it this far. Ya can make it even further." Standing up, she leaned over and gave Ash a quick kiss on the cheek. "I'll be rootin' fer ya, Mr. Pokemon Master."
Ash fought to hide the blush that was spreading on his cheeks as she started to leave. Failing to find his voice, he just nodded and waved. Thank Arceus Misty hadn't seen that.
Checking his watch, Ash saw that it was 9:39. Having learned from the listings early this morning that he was scheduled to have his preliminary match at 10:15, he decided it was time to head over to Stadium 2. Throwing out the empty egg sandwich wrapper and Styrofoam cup he had, he started making his way over.
Despite having spent a lot of time training his Piplup, Ash had ended up deciding against using the tiny Pokemon in his preliminary battle. In this type of situation, if he made a slip-up, it would cost him the competition. So, he'd decided to reserve Piplup for the actual journey and instead opt for a much stronger, more experienced Pokemon. The bird Pokemon had been rather displeased with him, but had improved its mood upon being informed that it would be used very frequently throughout the Quest to Be the Best.
Ash arrived at Stadium 2 just in time to see the battle before him reach its end. He recognized one of the Trainers as Chili, his good friend Cilan's brother. The Striaton City Gym Leader's fiery red hair whipped back and forth in the wind as he called out an order to his Simisear. The resulting Flamethrower knocked the opposing Sawk flat on its back. The Fighting-type Pokemon struggled to get to its feet. Its Trainer screamed desperately at it, demanding that it get up and continue the fight. The Sawk was too injured, however, and couldn't make it back to its feet. The judge waved his flag and called out that Sawk was unable to battle, thus making Chili the winner of the battle and the one to move on to the Quest to Be the Best. Ash felt happy for his friend's brother, but also sympathetic for the boy that had lost.
As soon as Chili and his opponent had left the field, one of the tournament runners directed Ash onto his lowered platform. His nerves really started to kick in then, making his breaths short and his heart go wild. He clutched his chosen Pokemon's Ball tightly in his hand as the platform began to lift him up onto the battle field.
The sunlight was a bit disorienting when Ash first reached the surface, but he got used to it quickly. As soon as he did, he saw who his opponent was. He didn't know who the guy was, but he looked tough. With ripped muscles and a leather jacket over a black skull shirt, Ash figured he must have at one point been in a motorcycle gang of some sort. The judge introduced him as Aaron from Blackthorn City. A virtual coin flip was then done, which decided that Aaron would be the first to throw out his Pokemon.
Ash watched, expressionless, as Aaron threw out his choice. Druddigon. Not surprising, seeing as Blackthorn City was home to hundreds of Dragon-type Pokemon.
Pulling out the Ball that held his own choice, Ash threw it high in the air. "Garchomp, I choose you!"
In a flash of light, the Dragon/Ground-type Pokemon appeared and roared.
"Battle begin!" the judge cried, madly waving his flags.
"Druddigon, start it off with a Dragon Tail! Go!" Aaron called.
The Pokemon shot forward, its tail glowing a bright blue. It was definitely fast for a Druddigon.
"Garchomp, Dig!" Ash ordered. The shark-like Pokemon burrowed its way underground just seconds before Druddigon's tail slammed down on the space where it had been. The Pokemon looked around, confused.
"Jump, Druddigon!" Aaron ordered, almost in unison with Ash's voice.
Both Pokemon did as their Trainers asked, with Garchomp's attempted attack missing. Seeing that both Pokemon were in close range, Aaron ordered a Dragon Tail that made direct contact. Garchomp slammed into the ground with a loud groan.
"Give it another Dragon Tail!" Aaron ordered. "And make it a good one!"
As Druddigon charged at Garchomp, Ash called out his own order. "Catch it!"
Getting to its feet, Garchomp held out its arms. Much to Aaron's disbelief, the Pokemon caught the attempted Dragon Tail in its arms, successfully absorbing the majority of the attack's effects.
"Hyper Beam!" Ash screamed.
Before Aaron ever had a chance to call out a counter attack, the beam of orange-y light had made contact with Druddigon's scaled body. The Pokemon flew backward, slamming into the ground and skidding a ways. Ash held his breath, hoping that the attack he'd worked so hard to perfect had been enough.
"Druddigon is unable to battle!" the judge called. "Pokemon Master Ash wins, and will move on to the Quest to Be the Best!"
The crowd roared at the announcement of Ash's victory. Ash beamed, waving to the crowd. He ignored the crestfallen look on Aaron's face, knowing that he'd start to regret winning if he did. Ash recalled Garchomp to its Poke Ball, and the platform he was standing on descended.
As soon as Ash's platform had reached the lower level, he turned and got ready to walk off the platform. However, somebody made him freeze in his tracks.
Misty was standing behind him, an unreadable expression on her face. He reached out to her, but she brushed by him and took his place on the platform. Confused, Ash watched as the platform raised Misty up to the battlefield.
Suddenly feeling a deep desire to watch her battle, Ash rushed back into the entrance area. Fans were there, desperately seeking pictures and autographs, but he pushed past them all. They continued to follow them until he made it into the Victor's Lounge, where security then stepped in to keep them out.
Much to Ash's relief, the T.V.s in the lounge area were showing footage of the battles and not some interviewing bullshit. Finding the one that was showing footage of Stadium 2, Ash sat down in front of it.
He watched as Misty sent out her choice, a Starmie. Her opponent, a middle-aged woman, sent out a Mienshao. The battle was fierce, lasting much longer than Ash's had. Both sides showed their strength, proving that they both deserved to be standing where they were. Ash sat on his seat the entire time, and ended up having the equivalent of a freak out when Starmie's Hydro Pump knocked out the opposing Mienshao. He stood up, yelling and clapping. He then proceeded to sit back down when he got some angry-ass stares from the others in the lounge.
Ash's attention was caught back to the screen as the next two Trainers rose up to the battlefield. On one side was the Johto Gym Leader Falkner, and on the other was Brock. Ash found himself wildly cheering yet again when his other best friend won his preliminary battle.
Although he planned to, Ash never ended up leaving the Victor's Lounge. Just when he was about to, either a really interesting battle began or one of his friends got up to fight their preliminary battle. The hours began to pass as one by one Trainers fell. Serena beat a man named Oliver, Iris a woman named Izzy, May defeated Carter, and Dawn beat Reynaldo. The list just kept going on and on. Even some people who Ash hadn't thought of in ages, like Barry and Bianca, were participating. Barry ended up winning his match, while Bianca lost her's. Ash was glad Bianca lost, though. Not because she was an enemy of his, but because her opponent was Gary. Ash wanted Gary to make it through the Quest to Be the Best so that he could get crushed in the final round.
By the time all of Ash's friends (and rivals) had gone through, it was past seven o'clock. Ash couldn't believe it when he saw it. How could he possibly have managed to stay for so long? Shaking his head in disbelief, he started making his way toward the Pokemon Center, who would be serving a special all-you-can-eat buffet for today's victors.
Upon arriving, Ash saw that most of his friends were already gathered. Brock, May, Misty, Dawn, Iris, Serena, and Clemont were all seated around a large table that had been pushed off to one side. Grabbing himself a plate and piling it high with food, Ash went and took a seat in between Brock and May. As soon as he arrived, a chorus of praise for his performance that day broke out.
"Your Garchomp was amazing! I wish I had a Pokemon like that!"
"That Hyper Beam must have taken so long to perfect!"
"Aaron never stood a chance!"
The only people who didn't say anything were Misty, which bothered him, and Serena, which also bothered him. Misty stabbed angrily at her chicken, while Serena sifted through her soup with her spoon.
He must have had a concerned look on his face, because May asked, "What's wrong, Ash?"
He jumped, looking at her. "Oh, oh nothing, May," he replied. "Just hungry, that's all."
She laughed. "Well, go ahead and eat, then!"
As he ate the surplus of food he had gotten from the buffet, his friends all launched into a flurry of chatting and laughter. Journey plans were discussed, theories on which Pokemon the Battle Center Trainers would have were argued over, and battle tactics were formed. Ash occasionally joined in, informing his friends of where he'd be heading to first and what he planned on doing with his Piplup.
The entire time, Misty only said a word or two, and Serena said nothing. Ash got the gist that Misty was angry with somebody, while he had no clue what was wrong with Serena. He thought back to when they'd been reunited a few days ago, when she and some guy had been discussing something sensitive. Ash's curiosity in regards to the subject peaked again, refusing to back off so he could think about anything else. He waited patiently as she slowly ate her food, waiting for the moment when she would leave.
After what felt like an eternity, she finally got up and excused herself. Ash watched her as she delivered her plates to one of the busboys and walked outside. Taking that as his cue, he picked up his napkin and wiped his face. "Well, I think I'm going to head back to my hotel room. I want to get some rest before training tomorrow."
His friends nodded in understanding. "Well, it was nice talking with you, Ash," Clemont said. The others murmured agreement. Saying goodbye, Ash gathered up his plates and walked away.
After he had delivered his dirty dishes to the cleaning staff, he walked outside. Thankfully, Serena hadn't gone far. She was leaning on a nearby fence, looking out across the village. As Ash approached, he noticed how sad she looked. Trying to keep a neutral face, he leaned against the fence beside her.
She looked at him, surprise lighting her otherwise dark eyes. "Ash? What are you doing here?"
"Just enjoying the view," he responded.
She sighed. "Come on, Ash. I know that's a lie."
He looked at her in mock surprise. "Oh really?"
She rolled her eyes. "I know why you're here. You want to know what's bothering me."
His tone turned serious. "Of course I do. Like I said earlier, you're my friend. I'd do anything for my friends."
She was quiet for a while. "I haven't told many people this. Only what few good friends I have."
Hurt shot through Ash. "I'm not a good friend anymore?"
"No, no, you still are. I just don't get to see you as often as my other friends."
He looked straight at her. "Then tell me, Serena. Please. If I'm really as good of a friend as you claim, then tell me. You can trust me, I swear."
Tears were beginning to form in her eyes. The first time she spoke, her voice was too low for Ash to hear. "What?" he asked, sounding rather stupid.
She faced him then, the tears beginning to slide down her cheeks. "I'm going to have a baby."
The whole world dipped under Ash's feet. "What?" He couldn't keep the shock out of his voice.
She looked sharply away from him. "I knew you wouldn't understand."
"No, no, it's not that. I was just surprised, that's all. I wasn't expecting that." His words jumbled together, making his sudden nervousness apparent. "How did it all happen?"
She glanced down at her hands, which were gripping the fence so hard her knuckles were white. "I found out that I was expecting about seven weeks ago. Edward, he's my boyfriend. Well, was. He proposed to me as soon as I told him. Anyway, I don't really know how it all happened. I was going through a rough period when I met him. It was right after my mom died. He found me crying in the forest one day, and took me in. Made me feel whole again. I didn't really mean for this all to happen, though. I really didn't. What am I going to do?"
Ash leaned harder against the fence. "Well, for one, don't worry. You've got me, and you've got Edward. He sounds like a great guy, if he's willing to stick with you through this. You'll be just fine, Serena. After all, your mom was pretty young when she had you."
"That doesn't make it any easier. Ash, neither of us have a job! We're going to have to move in with Edward's mom. I don't want my child living a life of poverty!"
"It won't. As long as you and Edward love it, this baby will be just fine. Love is more important than money. Take it from the guy who has all the money in the world."
Serena started nodding slowly. "I'm just scared of what the future holds. Scared that Edward will leave me when the responsibility becomes too much."
Ash gazed out across the village. "Serena, if he's decided to marry you, it means he doesn't want to leave you. It means that he loves you. I may be no love expert, but I know that much. He clearly cares for you, and your unborn child. You. Will. Be. Fine. Okay?"
She was nodding more certainly now. "Okay. Thank you, Ash. Now I see that I should have told you sooner. I'm sorry."
He squeezed her shoulder. "Don't be. I understand."
"Hey, Ash, Serena?"
Both Trainers turned at Brock's voice. The Pewter City Gym Leader was standing right behind them, his phone in his hand. "Do you guys mind coming back inside? We're all going to take a selfie together before we split up to train for our journeys."
Ash nodded. "Sure. We'll be right there." Once Brock had gone back inside, he turned to Serena. "You good?"
"Yeah," she murmured. "I'm good."
He smiled. "Let's go."
They went back inside, where all of Ash's friends had gathered for the selfie. While Ash and Serena had been gone, Barry, Ritchie, and Drew had showed up. Ash chuckled a bit as he noticed how close May was standing to Drew. Ash found himself a space next to Brock, while Serena ended up in between May and Ritchie.
"Alright," Brock said. "Are we ready?"
As soon as everyone gave their approval, he lined up the camera and took the picture. The flash was quite disorienting, something that everyone laughed about after. Brock then proceeded to take individual selfies with everyone- including the on-duty Nurse Joy. He then proceeded to flirt, which earned him a nice hard slap from Misty. Upon recovering, Brock cracked open a bottle of sparkling grape juice and poured everyone a glass.
"It's been a long time since a lot of us have seen Ash. Since then, each of us have grown and changed. It was that growth and change that earned us all places in this tournament. I wish all of you the best of luck with what is to come, and may the best win." He lifted his glass. "To victory!"
"To victory!" everyone repeated. Glass clanked against glass as toasts were made. A huge smile spread across Ash's face.
This was going to be a great year.